About Computers for Newbies & Everyone Else

March 7, 2017

Surface Pro

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 5:54 am

I am testing a new type of computer, at least for me.  They first came into the public view in early to mid-2013 depending on where on the globe you are located.  You know the one as the marketing for this “new” computer was worldwide and abundant.  You know all the happy people dancing around to a “snappy” tune, and flipping/closing their small computers in rhythm like they were in a euphoric trance.  Yeah, you have it now, the Microsoft Windows based, “Surface Pro.”

First was the Surface, next the Surface Pro, then a 2, and 3 which has progressed into the current Surface Pro 4.  Of course, that is not all Microsoft now has. The Surface Book, Hub and in December, 2016 the Surface Studio rolled out.

First what is different about it?  It is smaller than a usual notebook, more the size of a tablet with a very thin keyboard.  Approximately 11″ x 7″ x 0.6″.  When the keyboard is attached, it is closer to an inch thick.  There is a foldout section on the back to provide a stand to keep it upright with a couple of positions.  You need that “wedge” to support the actual screen/computer as the keyboard is only a hinge with no support like you may be used to with a regular notebook.

Surface Pro 2

Surface Pro 2

The keyboard is slightly smaller than some other brands of notebooks but not significantly.  It also includes a touchpad – similar to all the others.  I choose to use a wireless USB mouse with this one which functions well.  I have been typing on it regularly for a couple of days.  I am having no problem hitting the correct keys – other than caused by my regularly average typing.  (Hallelujah, for auto-spell checking in word processors!)

You have three keyboard options.  First, you can use the keyboard like any other notebook and type on it.  Next, you can fold the keyboard over to become the back surface of the notebook. It then becomes a tablet.  When in tablet mode your screen rotates when tilted like any other tablet and you can use the touchscreen.  Finally, you may choose to detach the keyboard all-the-way and have a Windows tablet.

It has good response and speed although nowhere near as quick as some larger notebooks I have used.  I have been using spreadsheets, word processing, web browsing, email, a very few online games (no pc games or Steam) and everything works as it should.

I cannot really find a lot to nitpick about with this nice little notebook/tablet combo.

Well, OK, there is one major issue for me, the price.  For the top of the line Surface Pro 4 today you may figure about $1,400.  Oh wait, that does not include a keyboard which may be had for an additional $55 – $130.  I am currently testing an older (2014) Surface Pro 2 which again I find to be a very decent system.  The price on one of these is around $550 and again that is without a keyboard.  I pulled these prices off of Amazon so you may be able to find others elsewhere.

Surface Pro 4

Surface Pro 4

My problem is at that price I can find two equally decent regular notebooks or tablets (with Bluetooth keyboards included.  If money were no object, sure, I would not mind owning one.  However, not currently for me.



August 23, 2016

What’s in Your Backpack?

You may or may not have a backpack. I (like most geeks) do. I have no idea why they became so popular over the years other than the advent of the notebook computer. When I was a kid in middle school I carried one to hold my books and paper notebooks in and could not wait for the day I would be rid of the stupid thing. Now, here I am, quite a few years later and I have one slung over my back most of the time I am out and about.

Targus Port BackpackLike I said before, you may not have one but according to sales figures most people do. In 2014 it was recorded that 58% of the US population owns a backpack. Many of us are not using them for work and school but many are.

Prices of backpacks go form the cheap little kid ones at $10 to hundreds of dollars for the cool people who need leather and/or a big name brand.

A couple of warnings here. There were about 14,000 injuries for kids related to backpacks in 2014. I am sure there are more this year. Mostly strains, pulled muscles and other pains in the back. The suggested weight of your backpack and the kids’ should be no more than 10-15% of your body weight, so be careful out there.

Pentel Classic Deluxe Mechanical PencilNot that you care but here is a list of the contents of my Targus Port Backpack: Android tablet, Windows 10 Notebook with 500 GB drive, a small paper notebook (yes, I still write occasionally), my favorite Pentel Classic Deluxe Mechanical Pencil, (my last one as they no longer make these) a pen, several wall chargers to plug in my multitude of cables, (some of unknown variety) 2-USB memory sticks, (one blank and one with programs to fix computer issues) small high-intensity flashlight, usually a couple of extra batteries, a loaded external hard drive just in case and a cheap set of earbuds to listen to music while writing an article.

And then there is some personal stuff. My darts, a traveling humidor, (yes, for a duo of fresh cigars) an old lighter, my faithful old Leatherman, a couple of candy-type snacks (I have to toss the current ones out, they look really old) and even some medical stuff for a Type-1 diabetic.

Go to or email me and let me know if you carry a backpack and what’s inside. Oh yes, I checked and mine is well below the 10-15% of weight rule. It still weighs in at a hefty 14+ pounds.

There is one final word of warning from the doctors in charge of back pain. Make sure you use both straps, one for each shoulder to keep the injuries down.

May 10, 2016


Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 5:33 am

Dollar sign

I have purchased a few items from online stores over the years.  I have become quite disappointed with one of the online stores I have used.

I received an email from one of the major online tech stores recently that seemed to be too good to be true.  It had the usual good prices on many devices and of course several notebook computers.  One of them popped right off the page at me. 

It was an extremely high-end 2-in-1 flipbook.  The keyboard and monitor on the notebook fold backward until they are flat together.  This means that you have a regular notebook with a full keyboard or a Windows 10 tablet depending on how it is folded. 

The most amazing part of the email was that it was listed for $200.  I knew it was worth more.  After checking online, the closest price I could find for the identical model was $1,100.  So I thought I would buy one.    

I clicked the email link, got to the site, scrolled down the page and there it was in all its glory.  I read the full write up and I was excited by the possibilities…yeah, I am a geek.  $900 off retail!

I continued on with the adventure by selecting the computer and putting it in my shopping cart.  I got to the shopping cart and guess what?  The price went from $200 to $645.  Now that is still a great price with  $455 savings but a lot more than "my" price.  The $200 worked for me but the new price once in the shopping cart, nope. 

Not being one to give up easily I got screen shots of all the items: The email, the webpage right on up to the shopping cart showing where the price started and where it ended.

To me it was a clear demonstration of the old "bait and switch" technique.  I thought it would be fine and their upper management would surely see the error of their ways, giving it to me for the "proper" price.

I called the company’s support number and was handed off to a manager.  After giving them my story they asked if I could provide a document and I was ready with my screenshots.  Pure proof.  So I emailed it to them as requested.  They said they would get back to me in a few days. 

The next afternoon I clicked the same email link to check the online price.  That computer was not even listed any longer.  I had kept it in my shopping cart so I went there and it said that the item was sold out and I could no longer purchase it for any price. 

Well after two weeks, several calls and emails they told me they were sorry for the inconvenience but to help me out they gave me a $25 discount on my next purchase.  WOW, thanks a lot for the equal trade.

I spoke to a lawyer friend of mine about the bait and switch. He said that basically when you click an email you get what you get and you have no recourse.  It has been tested in the courts.  So, yeah, after a few hours work I got $25.

July 14, 2015

Chromebook Update

Over time I have received emails asking about Chromebooks.  I wrote about mine when I got it almost two years ago.  Since the emails keep coming there must be interest in them.  This is not hard to imagine since they are a very good deal for many people.

Here is a very quick rundown of  Chromebooks (CB from here on out).  They were created by Google and run the Chrome browser operating system, also by Google as is the Android OS. 

Chromebooks are relatively inexpensive usually from $199 to $400.  Microsoft OS notebooks (Windows 8.1 now) run from about $350 to $1500.  Yes, you can find higher and lower prices on both types.  I saw a very nice CB on sale the other day reduced from $199 to $129. 

Chromebook computerChromebooks resemble notebook computers.  They are slimmer and lighter than a regular windows notebook weighting in at around two pounds.  You may perform any online functions the same with either type of computer.  One big difference with a CB is that everything is done online.  So you do need an internet connection to use it at full efficiency. 

You can perform some of the functions without being connected to the internet but for it to operate to the fullest degree you need a web connection.  It is a cloud based device meaning that everything it does is stored on or taken from the web. 

I can do most personal business work from my CB with only a couple of exceptions.  With the free Office Online app Microsoft released a while back ( I can work in Office from my CB.  OK, for you Google fans, yes, you can also use Google Docs but I find Office to be much better…online and off.

Office Live           Google Docs

I cannot do all of my corporate work without logging into my business computer; however, for the average users that is fine since you may not work for a large business.

Another difference is they do not have an internal hard drive.  They do have a small internal SSD, Solid State Drive.  The one I have has a 16 GB drive – the same as my old phone.  Well then, where do you put stuff?  The Cloud is the answer.  I put all of mine on Dropbox (use the following link for more space, ""), ("" same deal with that link but more space) or Google Drive which you must have to set up your CB.  Yes a Gmail account is required to use your Chromebook. 

image                    image

One of the questions I often get has something to do with people hearing that Chromebooks are outselling regular notebook computers – is that correct?

Well, OK, they are selling a lot of them and many people (myself included) promote them at every turn.  Still when you consider that over 90% of the world’s PC market is made of the Microsoft operating systems nothing can touch them at this point in time.  The remaining 9-10% are split between Apple, Android, Linux, Chrome and others.  The current percentage for the Chrome OS is slightly over 1% and expected, by some, to be 2% by 2017.

Chromebooks are not killing the competition but are part of it and I hope their use grows.    

May 12, 2015

PC Spring Cleaning, Part 2

Last week we started looking at spring cleaning your PC.  We will continue this week with monitors, notebooks and tablets.

Get a soft lint-free cloth.  Use a microfiber cloth like you could use to clean you glasses and maybe some Isopropyl alcohol. 

Do not get any abrasive cleaners, glass cleaners (including none of the blue glass cleaners), no online monitor cleaners no matter how good the price, dish detergent, (well maybe but more on that later) no water, or paper towels. 

Shiny new monitorFirst, and very significantly, disconnect ALL cables/wires, especially the power cable from your monitor.  Electrical shocks are not good for you or the computer!

Use your compressed air can mentioned last week and blow all of the grit and dust off of every part of your monitor.  Now use the microfiber cloth and clean the "glass" part first.  Wipe it well but lightly if there is something stuck to it or something that will not easily go away.  You can do the same with the exterior monitors of your notebook and/or tablet including the glass and Smart TV. 

If you have a spot or an area where you have a smear of something try this.  Get warm water and very lightly moisten one of your microfiber cloths.  You will need a dry one later to dry the surfaces.  Use the slightly moistened cloth and see if that takes care of it.  After it is clean use your dry microfiber to dry it all up.  It should not be a dripping mess with water running down the monitor, if so you could damage the monitor or notebook.  Be sure it is just moist, not wet. Do not spray the water on the monitor either.

But what if you have some real dirt buildup on the monitor, say something the warm moist cloth could not remove?  This calls for a nonabrasive dish detergent.  Dawn and Joy are often recommended.  Fill a cereal bowl with warm water.  Put in one drop of detergent and only one drop, not a squeeze.  Mix it together, slightly moisten the microfiber with the mixture and clean again.  Once you are done, rinse out the cloth very well with clean warm water and get all of the soap out.  Wring it out thoroughly and get as much water out of the clean cloth as possible.  Remember always moist never wet.  Use this cleaned cloth to wipe the gadget down to remove all soap.  Finally use your dry microfiber to buff off the monitor, tablet or Smart TV.  This last step should get rid of any dry swipe marks. 

Your last resort on a bad spot is Isopropyl alcohol.  Very lightly wipe and then dry with microfiber as before.

If you think you see me in a coffee shop using a napkin to clean my notebook…that is most definitely not me! 

March 16, 2015

2015-03-16 Show Notes

Here are the notes from today’s show. Please enjoy reading, learning and clicking.

Also, the podcast is available for you to listen to 365/24/7 so have at it.

Ron’s Android App Recommendation
(This app can be found on Google Play from your Android phone,
tablet or viewed on your PC from the link below.)
Gas Buddy (

Get local Gas prices as you need them 
You can get any grade, including diesel and any brand name of gas you use.

You may also check prices online before you leave or on any phone system used today.

Here is the link for Android devices,

Nest Protect Smoke Alarm helps stop burned toast sirens!
It doesn’t just start yelling at you.

Before turning on a loud, howling alarm, Nest Protect gives you an early warning we call Heads-Up. Nest Protect lights up yellow and speaks with a human voice. It tells you where smoke is or when carbon monoxide levels are rising. This gives you an earlier warning if there’s an emergency, or allows you to silence Nest Protect if it’s just a nuisance alarm, like an overly enthusiastic toaster.

No more frantically swinging towels at the smoke alarm to quiet it down. If there’s a nuisance alarm, just stand under Nest Protect and wave your arm to hush the alert. As you wave, your hand should be 2-8 feet away from the alarm.

Laptop Comparison Chart
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place online that you could go to, tell it what you were looking for in a new laptop and it would tell you. Boom! You are done and it is here.

Take a look at "Laptop Comparison Chart" which is totally interactive at finding the notebook you want. Pick it by screen size, weight, hard drive, ram and more.

One page with most every search engine featured.

Music, Google, Flickr, YouTube, Weather Channel, Ebay and many more. It also includes most of the top email sites.

Thanks for listening, reading or whatever!  Come back to WSVA for the next show on April 20 to see what’s new in Tech.

And don’t forget to read the article here or on the Daily News Record every Tuesday.


October 28, 2014


I went through almost my entire college career without taking notes.  I found that when I took notes I was busy writing and missed what I really needed to get from the lecture.  I was/am not good at shorthand; neither the genuine one nor my own made up version.

Lo-and-behold, technology triumphs again!  This creative technology started out in mid-2000s and after an iteration or two became known as, "Livescribe."  

Basically, you have a Livescribe pen and special paper.  The pen basically contains an ink cartridge and a laser camera in the tip.  It also has a cap, on/off switch, small screen, USB port for charging and syncing data, microphone, speaker and an audio jack.  Costs vary depending on where you get them.  Check out for information on the current three versions.  Each one does a little something different. 

You tap a button on the paper labeled Record with the pen, hear a beep and start writing notes.  When you are done, tap the Stop label.

Livescribe Pen and NotebookLook at the notes you just took and they look, well like notes.  However, the paper has almost imperceptible dots on it.  Now tap at the beginning of the notes and the pen will play the audio portion of what it recorded in your written text.  If you were to number five items and tap on number four, the speech you were listening to when you wrote "4." will play.  A friend of mine uses his for illustrating sophisticated Network Diagrams.  When he goes back in his notebook and taps on one line in the diagram, it plays back what was being said at that time so he is reminded of every component.  Amazing! 

I heard of these before and thought it was a silly gimmick and a waste.  When my friend Nick pulled his out at a meeting we recently attended and started using it I was e-awestruck.  He tapped a note he had taken a year ago at the previous year’s seminar and I could hear what it was all about.

All of the audio and written information is stored in the pen.  Once you are done with your note taking you can attach (depending on the version of pen you have) the pen to your computer and transfer the information there.  It creates a PDF file of the information.  Later you can open the file with the free Adobe Reader and read the notes.

But that is not all.  The recording is also in the PDF file.  Simply click on a line with your mouse like you did with the pen on paper. The audio recording will play back on your computer speakers.  It is much clearer on the computer than the pen.  Also good in the event of a lost paper notebook.

Simply explained, the laser camera in the pen tip records what is written on the paper using the small dots to coordinate its position.  The camera records everything that goes on the paper.  The audio is obtained in the tiny microphone which synchronizes with the text.  All of this data is stored in the pen’s memory.

It does a lot more, search for Livescribe online and see the demos.  I think I will make a note about that!

September 9, 2014

Google Hero and Yet?

As you regular readers know I am a fan of Google and yet on occasion they fail me totally.  Mostly this is due to them doing away with applications I use and enjoy: Google Reader, Calendar Sync, iGoogle, Google Notebook just to name a few.

But I enjoy their products so much that I have purchased hardware from them.  Namely the Nexus 7, 2013.  They always add the "2013"; however, it should have been named Nexus 7.2.  Alas, they did not ask me.  It had been working very well until 90 days ago or so. 

Occasionally when I turned it from portrait to landscape the screen would not always, "flip" to match.  It was a bother at first and I ignored it for a while.  I could always start a program that must run in the correct alignment and then it would lock there.  That would be good until the next time I turned it.  I do not play many games but one day I had a few minutes and fired up, "Go-Go-Goat!"  You are required to tilt the tablet to make the goat jump in the correct direction.  Since the gyroscopic feature in the Nexus was dead he jumped straight up and died every time.   

I contacted Google and the nice folks there gave me three things to try as a solution.  They also told me that since I was under warrantee they would replace it with a rebuilt unit if these fixes did not work. 

Two of the resolutions were easy but regrettably did not work.  The third was easy to do but basically it was to reset my Nexus to the factory settings and rebuild it.  That takes a while and is quite a pain.  After putting it off for 2-3 weeks I did it and guess what?  That did not resolve the issue either.

I called tech support at Google again and they assured me my refurbished unit would arrive the following Monday.  Tuesday then Wednesday — I called again.  I was told by the first rep that it was already delivered…to Austin, TX.  What?!  I asked him to check my order and it was correctly set up with my address in Virginia.  He passed me along to a shipping person.  They were also pleasant and helpful. 

There was a problem with the shipment and he would check it and email me the next day.  You guessed this correctly too, nothing but the sound of crickets the next two days.  The next time I called I was apologized to and handed to a supervisory rep. 

Samantha was her name and I got a voice mail which assured me that she would return my message as quickly as possible.  She really did.  That afternoon I got an email from her saying she would investigate and let me know what was up within 24 hours. Sure?!

The next morning I received an email from her stating that she was sorry for the mix up.  She had found the problem, shipped out the correct unit which I should have by the end of the week.  She also gave me a credit to my Google account for having the hassle.

I got the Nexus Thursday, a day earlier than she had predicted.  Though it had taken three weeks instead of the initial, "couple of days" they did right by me.  I shipped mine back immediately and the replacement has been working fine. 

I will continue to be a Google Fan-boy for now.  Until they do away with a few more apps that I use.

May 20, 2014

Google, What are you Telling Me?

As you regular readers know, I like Google.  Google is not perfect but they have many great apps.  In the past I have been disappointed in their corporate decisions to do away with some of their more desirable apps.  For instance iGoogle homepage, Calendar Sync and Google Reader to name a few.

I learned something else disappointing this week.

Over the past year or so I have become a fan of Google’s Chrome browser.  Before any of you run out and switch to Chrome from Firefox, (my old favorite) remember the most important thing when deciding on a browser is, "How do you like it?"  You do not have to change but you could always try various browsers from time-to-time and find out what you may like.  It is easy to change back at any time.

I use a Google tablet, the Nexus 7 2013 I also use the Chrome browser as my default browser on the Nexus.  In recent months I have purchased Google’s Chromecast which basically allows you to turn your almost Smart TV into a full fledge Smart TV for $35.  As I originally wrote this past January, it is an excellent device at an excellent price.

Basically, if you are using the Chrome browser on your computer you can play a video in your browser, or music or slideshow which you already know.  If you have a Chromecast device hooked up to your TV you can "send" that media to your TV to enjoy it on a full screen and hear it through better speakers.  This makes it a much more pleasurable experience than watching or listening on a smaller screen. 

Chromecast buttonWhen you have something playing, or getting ready to play, in your computer’s browser you click the Chromecast button and it automatically appears on your TV.  It is a very easy to use and it shows quite a good picture and sound.

So I have three Google products running, their tablet, their browser and their Chromecast.  They are all in excellent working order.  This week my wife and I missed one of our favorite TV shows, "Castle."  If you go to you can view their shows shortly after they air on the site.  This is true for most of the networks. 

I started up my tablet, went to, got "Castle" running and guess what?  No Chromecast button so I could not send this show to the TV.  Please note:  I could, once I hooked up my notebook computer, but that was not my intention. 

I Googled for what I was doing wrong and there was not a tremendous amount of information about it online.  So I called Google support and guess what?  Even though I am running all Google products in working order they do not yet have a way to "Cast a Tab" with an Android tablet or phone.  I asked if it was being worked on and they "thought so" but there is no expected completion date. 

What are they thinking?  But who am I?  What are your thoughts?

May 6, 2014


I have mentioned OneNote by Microsoft several times in recent articles.  I have had many emails asking me to do an introduction column regarding this application.  So here it is.

In my opinion OneNote is one of the most overlooked and enigmatic applications in the Microsoft stables today.  MS has not mentioned it much until the last year or so and many people do not want to learn a new program.  However, if you gather information for columns, presentations, or thoughts for anything, OneNote could be your new best friend. 

image First off, you get OneNote from Microsoft.  It is available for most any platform that you have.  So you can install it on a PC, MAC, Android, iPhone, Windows phones, etc.  There is also an excellent version available on the web which will work in any browser.  To download it and learn more about it (I have covered only the tip of the berg) visit  Costs vary from free to whatever your Office version costs since it is part of MS Office.

OneNote uses an organizational process you may be familiar with. Picture a regular old spiral notebook like you used in school…well sort of.  Your notebooks consist of Sections and Pages.  For example, here is the way I use it for article research. 

I have one notebook labeled Columns.  This is where I keep research on articles I write.  I only have one notebook for my published articles; however, you can have as many notebooks in OneNote as you want – until you run out of space on your hard drive.  I then create a Section which is represented by a "tab" at the top of the notebook pages.  For example, for this article I have a tab titled "OneNote."  In that tabbed portion of my notebook I keep all of the information I have thought of and read about related to that tab. 

Next, I have created Pages which also have labels running down the right side of the notebook.  I have one labeled "Thoughts" which are the things I think about writing regarding OneNote.  I have another page titled, "Microsoft" which is information I have found about it at their site.    

When I am finished gathering information on a topic I open OneNote and write about what I have found.

OK, now for the best features of OneNote.  When I read a site that has information regarding something I want I can select text and drag it into a OneNote notebook page.  It copies it over exactly as it appears and adds a link to the webpage so that later I can click that link to return to the original site for more info.  Depending on which browser you use (everything is obviously built for Internet Explorer) you can send the entire webpage to OneNote.  This copies all of the text, graphics, and clickable links over, too. 

There is much more you can do with OneNote.  Along with typing you can draw diagrams, write in your own hand, insert spreadsheets or existing files, share notebooks for collaboration, email entire notebooks or just small portions, etc.  

If you gather anything for business or even recipes you find online you should really consider OneNote.  There are other similar apps online like Google Keep and Evernote but in my opinion none of them compare to the features available in OneNote. 

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: