Simon's Blog - Home Page

This blog is an addition to Quantock Online. Unlike the rest of the site it's not specifically about the Quantock Hills. Hopefully it will answer some of the questions that I'm often asked about computers and the Internet and point out some of the more interesting web sites I've found. On the computing front I intend to aim articles at the beginner to intermediate user - I'll try not to get too 'geeky'!

Not sure how a blog works? Then take a look at the 'Help' page. To go to the main site at any time click on 'Quantock Online' in the header.


Published by Simon on 24 Jul 2009

New Word documents

As mentioned in a previous post, Microsoft Word is now, by default, saving files with a .docx extention. The problem is that anyone with older versions of Word - and that’s a lot of people - can’t read these files without downloading a patch.

If this is causing you a problem you can easily change the default setting in Word so that it saves all documents in the original .doc format. See this link for how to do it.

Published by Simon on 19 Jul 2009

Remote Access

How do we keep running the web site when we’re on holiday? There are some areas, such as e-mail, the blog and the forum, that I can access over the Internet but for anything else this could be a real problem.

The trouble is that, even with access to someone else’s computer, it won’t have all of the files and programs that we use. OK, so we could load everything on to a laptop and lug that around, but there’s an easier, free, solution that allows us to actually use the computer at home from any other computer, even if we’re abroad - as long as it’s switched on and connected to the Internet.
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Published by Simon on 18 Jul 2009

Build a web site

On more than one occasion I have been asked about how best to produce a web site for somebody‚Äôs club. Here’s one solution.

The aim of this article is to show you how to make a web site for your organisation for free using Google Sites. It will demand minimal expertise, not much more than basic word processing, and more than one person can have access to add content to the site.The information could all be obtained through Google, but this will give you a step-by-step guide to building a site without having to trawl through lots of help pages.

Download the full article in pdf format to print out (2.4 Mb). It’s 18 pages long, but the majority is made up of screen shots so that you can see what to do.

I have produced an example web site to go with the article. This also contains some further advice, such as how to optimise photographs and how to convert documents to pdf format.
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Published by Simon on 17 May 2009

Questionable E-mails

“Quick, pass this on to everyone you know!” - How to decide if you should.

Most of us have had e-mails that start off along these lines. The message then goes on to warn you of some dire virus that anti-virus programs are powerless to defend you against, or that you will go into a draw to win some marvellous prize if you pass the mail on to at least 8 more people, or that you must never open an e-mail from Joe Bloggs because that will enable him to take over your computer - and possibly even the world!
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Published by Simon on 26 Apr 2009

Music - Spotify

If you haven’t come across it yet, Spotify is an absolutely brilliant web site both for listening to the music of your choice and for discovering new music for free.

All you need to do is download the free player to start building your own playlists or listen to the various ‘radio’ stations that are grouped by music genre. You just register with an e-mail address, and no, you are not inundated with spam because of it. Their catalogue of music is very comprehensive and thousands of albums are being added every week.
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Published by Simon on 07 Nov 2008

Money as debt

What do you actually know about how money works? With the current state of the economy you might find this informative, animated film by Canadian artist Paul Grignon of interest.

I came across the film a few months ago and was really impressed - as have been a lot of other people on the net (but not the bankers I suspect!). “Is it worth putting on the blog?” I asked my 18yr old son - “Definitely!” was the reply, so here it is. The film’s 47minutes long, but certainly worth watching.

Published by Simon on 04 Nov 2008

Freecylce

Do you want something for nothing, no strings attached?

Or are you trying to get rid of something that’s cluttering up your house, but is just too good to throw away? Why not give it to someone who could use it - much more environmentally friendly than taking a trip down to the dump.

That’s the idea behind Freecycle. I first came across this when a neighbour asked me to help him collect a nearly new bed settee from Taunton. (It was damn heavy to carry up 3 flights of stairs!).

Freecycle is a not for profit organisation first started in the US in 2003 and has since expanded somewhat. For example the Taunton group, which was founded in 2005, currently has nearly 5,000 members and the Bridgwater group, founded in 2006, nearly 3,000 members. People are giving away all sorts of things from furniture and clothing through to paving slabs and plants. As their web site says:

The Freecycle concept has since spread to over 85 countries, where there are thousands of local groups representing millions of of members — people helping people and “changing the world one gift at a time.” As a result, we are currently keeping over 500 tons a day out of landfills!

To join a group all you have to do is visit the Freecycle web site and search for a location near you. Then just click to join that group (free). Groups are hosted on the Yahoo! network which means, if you haven’t got one, you will have to sign up for a free Yahoo! account, which is quite straightforward.

Published by Simon on 12 Oct 2008

Print Screen

Just a quick post prompted by yet another person telling me that the ‘Print Screen’ button on the keyboard is not working.

The ‘Print Screen’ button is located just to the right of the Function buttons on a full sized keyboard (F1, F2 etc.) It has ‘Prt Scr’ written above ‘SysRq’. Now, you might reasonably assume that pressing this button would cause a snapshot of the screen to appear from your printer. But no! What actually happens is that a snapshot of the screen is saved on the ‘clipboard’.

After pressing the ‘Prt Scr’ button you simply have to paste the contents of the clipboard into another program, such as Word. So, ‘Prt Scr’ to capture an image of the screen, open the program you want to use and then paste into a new document (right click on mouse and select paste) - now you can print it out!

Tip: If you have several windows showing on the screen and you only want to print one of them - click in the window you require, hold down the ‘Alt’ button (bottom left of keyboard) and whilst holding down the ‘Alt’ button press ‘Prt Scr’. Only the window you require will be copied to the clipboard.

Published by Simon on 05 Mar 2008

One of those weeks…

You might have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently. Well, it all comes down to computers - you see, like cars they go wrong and, like cars, there is never a good time for it to happen.

I had a week off over half term. Feeling relaxed and full of good intentions on Monday morning I set about sorting out a few things on the server, something that had been on the ‘to do’ list for a while. As usual all data is safely backed up to another disk, so I confidently set about the job. Next thing I know and a message pops up informing me that one of the hard drives is failing. Still, that’s no problem we’ve got a mirrored RAID array (which means that there are two disks in the computer that acts as a server, both holding identical copies of everything, including the operating system).

But…I had forgotten about the law of sod, which decided to choose that moment to come into play (and he even had one more trick up his sleeve!). To cut a long story short everything on the server was lost - but remember the data was all backed up safely on yet another disk so there was still a get-out clause. Quantock Online is safely tucked away on an Internet server, so that was quite safe - but several years worth of family photos, correspondence etc. I do not want to lose.

Wait two days for new disks to arrive. Put disks in computer. Re-install operating system. Replace data on system from backup files. Sort out connections to other computers (thanks Chaff, the help was really appreciated - especially as it went on into the small hours!). Everything back to normal. Well, not quite. You see the server also has other software on it that is used for testing out the web site - which means (if you’re really that interested), Apache, PHP and MySQL still has to be re-configured to how I’d set it up before. Ho,hum, there go a few more hours…

Sod. Remember him? Well the sting in his tail was this. My other job that week was to talk myself into parting with cash for some clever software that could have saved hours of work in re-configuring everything in the event of serious failure…

Still, looking on the bright side, at least all the data was safe. I hope your data is. Maybe that should be the subject of another posting.

Published by Simon on 18 Feb 2008

StumbleUpon

According to NetCraft as of January 2008 there are over 155.5 million web sites out here on the Internet.

Hmm, that’s a lot of web sites. Don’t know about you but, if I’m looking for something specific, using Google and following links on relevant web-sites seems to get me the information I need. But what about something new and interesting? I can remember sitting in front of a search engine thinking ‘I fancy seeing what’s out there, I just want to be entertained - but what the hell am I going to type in? Arrrgh! This is already taking too much thought.’

Then came the answer: StumbleUpon. Just download a free toolbar for Firefox or Internet Explorer, hit a button and you’re presented with a random web site. But it’s actually rather more clever than that. You can choose from categories of interest for the types of site you would like to visit - the sites have been recommended by other ‘Stumblers’, currently about 4.5 million of them. Give a site the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ and StumbleUpon refines the offerings it serves you. Press a button, what you see doesn’t grab you? Press the button and move on. Stop when you find something of interest. No thinking required! Oh, joy!

Usual warnings

Don’t just download anything from the Internet unless you’re sure it’s safe. You will see that StumbleUpon has lots of awards and is recommended by IE add-ons. It is also a recommended add-on for Firefox

Make sure your computer is adequately protected - you will be visiting a lot of web sites. Check out my posting, Essential Security .

MAKE COFFEE
- it could be a late night!

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