Monday, April 14, 2014

Windows 8.1 Update

The latest Windows 8.1 update rolled out last week, and most in the tech community see it as Microsoft’s attempt to win over PC users who found the operating system too tablet/touch screen based. The general consensus is that Microsoft achieved that goal, and I think PC World may have said it best: “Simply put, the Windows 8.1 Update no longer treats keyboard-and-mouse users as second-class citizens.”
The update should detect whether or not you are using a PC or a tablet and tailor some of the updates accordingly. (Full disclosure: I had some issues getting all of the PC pieces of the update to install on my Lenovo Yoga RT, and I wonder if it’s because it sits so close to the PC/tablet line that Windows didn’t know quite what to do.) A lot of the updates for PC users focus around the fact that even if they have a touch screen computer, there’s a real chance the user will be clicking a mouse instead of tapping a finger. For instance, hovering the mouse over the upper right corner of an app reveals our old friend, the Red X. Clicking that to close an app is distinctly easier than swiping from the top of the screen to the bottom in just the right way with a mouse. 

Another mouse-friendly change is the ability to right click on apps on the Start screen.  And what’s found in the menu that pops up when you right click? Among other things, the option to pin apps to the taskbar. So, even though the Calendar Metro app was designed for touch screen tablets and not a PC, I can now pin it to the taskbar and open it directly from the Desktop.

And speaking of the Desktop, if you’re using Windows 8.1 on a PC, it should now boot directly to the Desktop, skipping the Start screen. (This is one of the features I didn’t get with my troubled updates, but it’s pretty simple to do it manually. Right click on the taskbar and select Properties. Under the Navigation tab, click the box next to Show my desktop background on Start. Click Apply and OK.)

But what if I want to open the Calendar app when I have OverDrive Media Console open reading a book from the library? The taskbar is now accessible everywhere, not just the Desktop, by simply moving the mouse down to the bottom of the screen and hovering for a second—the taskbar pops up. And when I return to the Desktop to write myself a note in Microsoft Word, OverDrive Media Console shows up on my taskbar as an open program.

One last feature I want to mention (although there are many more) is the slow return of a true Start menu when working in the Desktop. A right click on the Start button now offers many of the options we had all come to expect from the Start menu, including the option to Shut down or sign out. So, no more hoping to swipe in just the right fashion over on the right side of the screen praying the charms menu will grace you with its presence so you can shut down. A simple right click in the bottom left corner over the Start button lets you click your way out, just like you did for years and years. And Microsoft promises to restore the Start menu to its former glory in a later update. Fingers crossed.

For some more information on the new features in the update, check out:

If you’re having problems with the update, these links might help:


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Five tips to turbo charge your web browsing habits

Of all the programs installed on your computer, the web browser is probably the most frequently used. Since you spend so much time surfing the internet, why not learn some ways to do it quicker and more efficiently? This post will highlight five browsing habits that will enable you to spend less time clicking buttons in a browser and more time viewing websites.

1. Take advantage of tabs

Tabs allow you to have multiple pages open at once and are great for multitasking and research on the web.

Tabs have been around for a while, and for a reason—if you're not using them, you're missing out on one of the best ways to browse the web. Tabs basically allow you to keep multiple webpages open at once, and you can switch between open tabs quickly. Rather than using a single window, open up new tabs to keep other webpages open and ready for you to return to.

Tabs can normally be opened by right-clicking on a link and selecting “Open in a new tab” (exact option varies by browser). You can also open a link in a new tab by middle-clicking the link with your middle mouse button/scroll wheel.

As an example of how tabs can improve your browsing experience, let's say you're researching something on Google. Rather than open each new link in the existing window, open the links in tabs so you can return to your search results quickly. Plus, if you find a site you want to keep open for reference, you don't have to navigate away from it—simply leave it in an open tab alongside your search results.

Be careful to close tabs after you're done with them, though—having lots of tabs open can slow down less powerful computers.

2. Use keyboard shortcuts

Why use the mouse when you don't even have to take your hands off the keyboard? Keyboard shortcuts take a bit to learn, but they shave valuable seconds off common tasks. A few seconds here and there might not seem like much, but they add up. Some of the most common and useful keyboard shortcuts for web browsing are as follows:
  • Ctrl-L highlights the address bar, allowing you to immediately begin typing a URL or search term.
  • Ctrl-T opens a new tab.
  • Backspace returns to the previous page, unless you're in a text input field.
  • Tab advances to the next input field—useful for when you're logging into a site and have to jump to another text box.
  • Enter/Return typically sends data if you're filling out a form.
  • Ctrl-H opens your browsing history.
  • Ctrl-D adds a bookmark/favorite.
There are many more shortcuts out there, and some are dependent on the browser you're using. These were tested using Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, but they should be universal.

3. Store frequently accessed bookmarks on the bookmarks toolbar

The Bookmarks toolbar can be enabled by
right-clicking near the top of the browser window.
There's no better place for your most frequently visited sites than the bookmarks toolbar. It's conveniently located and even displays colorful icons for your bookmarks, making them easier to recognize.

The bookmarks toolbar might already be present in your browser—it's usually right below your address bar. If you can't find it, it's easy to enable. Right-click on the top of your browser window and select “Bookmarks toolbar” (or “Favorites bar” if you're running Internet Explorer). You can move existing bookmarks to the toolbar and place new bookmarks directly onto it.

4. Ditch third-party toolbars

The Java installer includes the Ask Toolbar. If you don't
uncheck it during installation, you'll end up with the
toolbar in your web browser.
There are good toolbars and there are bad toolbars. Third-party toolbars such as the Ask Toolbar or Yahoo! Toolbar would qualify as the latter. If you have too many of them, they can be detrimental to your computer's performance.

The functions of many search toolbars can be replicated by simply using bookmarks in the bookmarks toolbar, so why take up valuable screen real estate?

To completely get rid of third-party toolbars, you'll have to uninstall them from your computer. You can do this by going to Programs and Features in the Control Panel.

5. Take search shortcuts using DuckDuckGo

If you really want to take your web browsing to the next level, consider using search shortcuts on DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo is a search engine just like Google. One of the nice features it offers is the ability to use shortcuts to directly search other sites like Wikipedia, Amazon, and many more.

DuckDuckGo uses special keywords preceded by a “!” character to search other sites. (A complete list can be found here.) For instance, if you want to search for “library” on Wikipedia, you can just type “!w library” into your address/search bar. This brings up the appropriate Wikipedia entry in your browser almost instantly.

By entering the above search query into DuckDuckGo,
you will be presented with the Wikipedia entry
for the term "library".

If you combine this method of searching with keyboard shortcuts (particularly Ctrl-L to access the address bar quickly), you can open pages in mere seconds, all without touching your mouse!

DuckDuckGo has the added benefit of being a privacy-oriented search engine that doesn't track or profile you, unlike Google. Don't get me wrong—Google is great for searching the web, and I still find myself using it as a secondary search engine. That said, DuckDuckGo is my primary portal to the web these days.

- - - - -

With these five time-saving tips, you should be able to use your web browser more quickly and efficiently, with a little less clutter along the way. I think everyone can agree that the time you normally spend fighting your web browser's interface is better spent actually surfing the web.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Get to Know Your Device

It’s difficult to adjust to a new tablet or smart phone. Often there is no manual in the packaging which means users must figure things out for themselves. Where do you turn for this information? Some rely on friends and family; some search online for answers; others just stumble upon how to do this and that as they use the device; many call the Library and ask for help.

Based on these interactions we have compiled a list of six things you should know about your device. Ranging from the more basic tasks (how to connect to WiFi) to more complicated (bookmarks; remove apps) this list is designed to help you get more comfortable using your device. Whether you have an Apple product (iPhone/iPad/iPod touch); Android device (Samsung Galaxy, Google Nexus, Kindle, etc.); or Windows 8 below are links to videos and instructions that should simplify your life.

        I.            Connect to WiFi

How to connect to WiFi is one of the most common problems new users have. In order to fully take advantage of everything your device can do it must be connected to Internet. So learning how to connect to WiFi, no matter where you are – home, library, hotel, cafĂ©, etc. – should be one of the first tasks a new user should learn. No matter what device you have the process is simple. See below for more information.

o   How to connect to WiFi on Apple iPhone/iPad/iPod touch:

o   How to connect to WiFi on an Android device (like Samsung Galaxy, Google Nexus, etc.):

o   How to connect to WiFi on a Windows 8 device:

      II.            Tabbed Browsing

Nearly all browsers now offer tabbed browsing – a feature that enables you to open multiple websites in a single browser window. Open web pages in new tabs and toggle back and forth between them. If used correctly it can greatly increase your web browsing speed. Chances are you already use tabbed browsing and have not even noticed. Some devices open a new tab every time you click on a link. This means you could have dozens of open tabs and have either not noticed and don’t know how to get rid of them. To learn more about tabbed browsing on your device – including how to close open tabs – see the links below.

o   Tabbed Browsing Safari (Apple):

§  Quick tip – close multiple tabs quickly:

o   Tabbed Browsing Chrome (Android):

o   Tabbed Browsing Internet Explorer (Windows 8):

    III.            Bookmarks

By using your web browser’s bookmarks feature you can save shortcuts to your favorite web pages and navigate to them in seconds from anywhere. Email, banking, news, social media – quickly access these sites by adding a bookmark. Most browsers call them bookmarks; Internet Explorer calls them Favorites. No matter the browser it takes just a couple clicks to set up a bookmark.

o   Add Bookmarks to Safari (iPad):

o   Add Boomarks with Android Browser:

    IV.            Delete or Remove Apps You Don’t Use

Your device’s manufacturer preloaded all kinds of apps to your device before you purchased it. De-clutter your home screen by removing apps you use infrequently. Free up storage space by deleting apps that you never use.

o   Apple:

o   Android:

§  Remove from Home screen:

o   Windows Start Screen tutorial – organize tiles and Pin/Unpin to Start:

Now that your Home screen is de-cluttered and you have freed up space by deleting apps you don’t use spend some time exploring the App Store for apps you might use. Like free apps to get free digital materials from the library – Hoopla (movies, TV shows, music); Zinio (digital magazines); and OverDrive Media Console and Kindle (e-books).

      V.            Symbols

Because of the limited screen space tablets and smart phones rely more and more on symbols. For example, to find the search bar on most websites you no longer should look for a clearly labeled SEARCH button. That has been almost universally replaced by a magnifying glass icon. Click that magnifying glass and a search bar will appear. Menu, home, and share are all icons as well. This can be a constant source of confusion for new users. Eliminate frustration by getting familiar with these symbols.  

o   Apple Menu Symbols:

§  Apple Status Bar Icons:

o   Various Share buttons. If you see something like this tap on it for options to Share what you’re looking at via message, apps, email, or social media:

    VI.            Your Device is Loading

So you open your web browser, type in a web address, and then click “Go”. Or you search for an app, and then tap “Install.” It might not be obvious how to tell if your web page is loading or if that app is installing. Instead of re-tapping “Go” or trying to reinstall the app look for a status bar to ensure your device is loading.

o   Apple Loading Graphic. If you see this wheel know that your device is loading your request:

o   Android Loading Symbol:


So there you go. Master these six topics and time spent with your device will be much more enjoyable. We’d love to hear from you - Do you still have questions? What did we leave out? What essential tools do you use with your device? Have you discovered a different way to accomplish these tasks? Feel free to share in the Comments section below.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

GCF: Goodwill Community Foundation

Need a little help with Math, Reading, Technology, or perhaps Job Skills but don't have time for traditional learning styles?  GCF, a Goodwill Industries support online learning program, might be what you need. 

GCF is a selfpaced, online learning opportunity with more than 750 different lessons for you to access and use to improve your skills or learn a new one in the fields of Math, Reading, Technology, and Job Skills.  It is free for anyone who wants to use.  All that is needed is a computer or mobile device with Internet access.

Once you have accessed the GCF website, click on the option of your choice.  A second box will appear with additional options for you to select.

Example:  Computer Basics
You will then be directed to individual lessons, interactivies, extras, and videos.  All are self-paced and focus on the selected topic. 

Example: Computer Basics Interactives
You will get full color, interactive screens that will help you along the path to learning.


Many sites require accounts but GCF does not require an account.  It isn't necessary to have an email, usernames, passwords, or other information for accounts.  Just sit back and learn.

Happy Learning,