Archive for the ‘computers’ Category.

Google API’s and Mac

I have an old iMac that I’ve been using as a server. Because I like Linux, and because it was easier to configure LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) than the similar components in OS X, I installed Kubuntu 6.06 on it (I’ve always liked the KDE desktop better than the Gnome desktop, which is the default for Ubuntu). Everything was fine until I decided I wanted to try out a Google API.

Google APIs require PHP 5.1.4 or higher (actually it was needed for the Zend engine, which is required for the Google API). But Ubuntu 6.06 (and Kubuntu 6.06) didn’t have upgrades to PHP 5.1.4. After a lot of trials and failures, I decided to fall back on Apple’s OS X and install MAMP (Mac, Apache, MySql, PHP). This particular machine could only take OS 10.3.* on it, which limited the MAMP I could use. But it included PHP 5.1.6, so I was happy. For a while.

I got everything up and running again, and even figured out how to get local network access working. Then I got back to the Google API. The first step, with MAMP, however, was to secure it, since the default install is with user “root” and password “root.” So far, that wasn’t a problem since MAMP on this computer was only accessible on the local network, firewalled from the Internet. But using a Google API requires access to and from the web.

The MAMP application has a FAQ page, accessible from the start page, that looks really helpful, but isn’t. You can get there by clicking in the FAQ button at the start page:

MAMP start page

Of course, the part about which versions of the included programs are installed is helpful. But I had already checked that before I downloaded MAMP. It’s the part right below that, under the “How can I change the password for the MySQL database?” that is unhelpful.

MAMP FAQ page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First of all, mysqladmin is not in that location (/Applications/MAMP/bin/mysql4/bin/mysqladmin). It’s in /Applications/MAMP/Library/bin. The php config file location is closer to what’s listed: /Applications/MAMP/bin/phpMyAdmin/config.inc.php

Second, trying to run the suggested command in tcsh got me nowhere. It turns out the default shell was changed to bash in OS 10.3, but upgrades (which this is) keep tcsh as the default. Fortunately, bash is available, but the default has to be changed in the terminal preferences.

So, just to make sure bash is really there, go to the /bin directory in the terminal (using the Finder will just show the documentation):

bash in the Finder

Change the directory to root level by typing “cd /.” Then type “cd /bin” to get to the /bin directory. Then type “ls” to list everything in that directory (see bash listed in the screenshot):

While the terminal is open, go to the Terminal preferences:

Preferences

Notice the path listed is for tcsh:

tcsh set

Change it to /bin/bash:

bash path

Close the Preferences window, quit the Terminal application, and relaunch it. bash will be at the top of the Terminal window instead of tcsh now.

Now running the command listed in the FAQ page (with the path modification) will change the password in MySQL.  But before you actually press the Enter key to run the command, highlight the new password and copy it using the edit menu at the top of the screen.

/Applications/MAMP/Library/bin/mysqladmin -u root -p password NEWPASSWORD

(where NEWPASSWORD is the password it is to be changed to). The php config file will also need to be edited. I have eMacs on this machine, which worked nicely.  Don’t try to do it in Text Edit.  That will not work nicely at all.  Open the config.inc.php file (in MAMP’s phpmyadmin folder) in a code editor like bbedit or emacs. Find the lines

$cfg['Servers'][$i]['user']           =   'root';          //MySQL user
$cfg['Servers'][$i]['password']       =   'root';         //MySQL password

Replace ‘root’ in the password line with the one you copied. Save the file and close it.

Now, according to the MAMP faq page, it’s finished. Not.

It turns out there’s also a couple scripts to change in MAMP, documented over on network0.  There’s also a handy section on securing MAMP itself by password protecting the htaccess folder using an online .htaccess password tool (http://www.tools.dynamicdrive.com/password/).  So now that I’ve got it locked down it’s time to figure out how to open it up for Gdata on that Google API.  🙂

Too much marketing and not enough meat

A message to the SeniorServ list from Allan Kleiman alerted me to BigScreenLive. Since I’m always interested in what’s available for older adults, especially the ones with limited computer experience, I had to instantly check it out. Now, the upfront disclaimer here is that I haven’t actually tried it out yet, but I do see a few problems right off the bat.

The first problem, which instantly affects their credibility with me, is when they state, right on the front page:

Our goal is to make computing effortless and enjoyable. While our software runs on any PC, we also recommend hardware to make it easier.

but on the Software and Hardware page, they state,

To get started, you will need:

  • Access to a computer with Microsoft Windows XP or Vista. [emphasis mine]
  • A monitor resolution of at least 1280 x 800. The experience is optimized for a resolution of 1280 x 1024, which is most 17 inch or larger monitors.
  • A high-speed internet connection.

People are aware today (yes, even the Seniors) that PC does not necessarily mean a Windows machine. Let’s have a little truth in advertising here, please.

But even larger problems loom. Who, exactly, is the site for? Children of older adults? Retirement communities? Older adults themselves? Older adults themselves range from very computer savvy to totally clueless (and generally content to stay that way). The computer savvy ones, of course, wouldn’t even look at the site; neither would the totally clueless. That still leaves a wide range of computer users, some who are already doing the things BigScreenLive wants to introduce them to, some that are struggling to learn even the basics just to be able to do the things on BigScreenLive, and some who are frustrated by the very things BigScreenLive offers to help with.

I suspect the target audience is children of older adults: the ones who call me about signing up their parent(s) for computer classes. For this group, the site looks the most inviting and promising, because this is a group that is already fairly comfortable on computers, and that wants their parents online also, but without the frustrating computer problems older novices face. The marketing makes it look like the perfect solution. Will its marketing be successful? Probably so, with enough money. I keep thinking of how many people continue to use AOL.

Whether it is a good product is another question, however. From looking through the site, and watching its tutorial, it is evident that older novices would need training just to use the program (for example, they have to know how to enlarge the text themselves). The e-mail program, while fairly basic, will definitely be confusing to novices. It boasts “Easily upload digital photos to the Family Album” (emphasis theirs). Easy, maybe, for the adult children, but not for the older novice, without some training (which is the whole problem to begin with). I think the product would be really useful for about 2% of Seniors wanting to use the computer. But I think far more will be “given” a subscription, with little hope of actually using it.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #9

My dad’s advice: It’s hell getting old. Don’t do it.

Two very significant things are happening this century. First, Americans are living longer than any previous generation, so we are all discovering, directly or indirectly, the handicaps that come with old age. Second, computer technology has become truly mainstream, catching a whole generation off guard. Consequently, computer illiteracy has become one of those old age handicaps, and it is acutely felt by those who are otherwise functioning extremely well in society.

The older generation sees their grandchildren interacting with all kinds of computers with ease, yet they have difficulty just getting their heads around some of the most basic concepts like menus and scrollbars. I haven’t kept track of how many older adults I have talked to about computers, but I’m sure if I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “I feel so stupid” I’d be as rich as Bill Gates.

I repeatedly tell members of the older generation they are not stupid, they are inexperienced. They wouldn’t think of themselves as being stupid because they can’t play a piccolo or speak Swahili. Neither should they feel stupid because they can’t use a computer…yet. Did they learn to read in a day or a week? How long were they taught penmanship? ( “Oh! Years!”) And that was when they were young, like their grandchildren.

Learning to use a computer is doable, no matter how complicated it looks to them. But a big factor in their success is their attitude. In addition to making it easier for them to learn, it is important to counteract the self image they come in with by reminding them that they are learning, that it is not as hard as they imagined, and that they can do it. It is a wonderful thing to see their faces brighten as they realize they have learned something, and therefore are not stupid after all. As their attitude and self image changes, barriers start coming down and they pick up more determination.

Tip #9: Encourage them. Not just with positive reinforcement, but with active encouragement that reminds them what they have accomplished.

Excellent training guide

This comes from Karen Vargas, via the Seniorserv discussion list. The National Institute on Aging has created a Toolkit for Trainers, with guides and curriculum for use in training seniors in Web skills and finding health information. From the press release:

Trainers who download the toolkit at <www.nihseniorhealth.gov/toolkit> will receive a set of materials they can customize to their students’ skill levels and interests. These include lesson plans, student handouts, Web searching exercises and illustrated glossaries. An introductory video gives a quick overview of the curriculum and a glimpse of Internet classes in action. Tips on how to set up a senior-friendly computer classroom also are provided

I have only glanced at the class materials. What really caught my eye was the “Quick Tips for a Senior Friendly Computer Classroom,” under “Training Tips” near the bottom of the page. It is a nicely done PDF with a very organized way of looking at training seniors. There are several suggestions I had not thought of before (or hadn’t thought seriously about), such as asking the students if they are comfortable being addressed by their first name, and providing space on handouts for students to take notes. I can attest that the rest of the suggested tactics work well (full disclosure: one of my articles is cited in the bibliography).

There are only a couple suggestions I would take issue with. The first is the suggestion to keep class length to around 90 minutes or less. My rule of thumb, from experience, is 60 minutes or less. The other suggestion is to have students work in pairs during hands-on activities. It sounds like a good idea and does work well some of the time. But on many occasions I have also seen pairing students become a detriment to one of the two students. This usually happens when one is significantly more advanced on the computer than the other, or when the two are married. In both cases, one will dominate and the other will passively allow the other to control the session, and learn nothing.

That said, this is a guide that should be in every trainer’s hands as they prepare for classes and training sessions with seniors. Definitely check out the materials.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #8

Nearly everyone who takes computer classes at our library does not want a book about how to use a computer. The typical response is, “I can’t learn by reading a book. I have to be shown how to do it.” There are many different learning styles. Some learn by watching. Some learn by listening. Some learn by taking notes. Some learn by doing and re-doing. All of us learn from mistakes.

Older adults, although they are more careful, in order to avoid making mistakes (one of the reasons they go more slowly), and despite their best efforts, will make mistakes while learning to use the computer. To those of us who grew up with computers or live with computers now, the mistakes can seem pretty incredible. More importantly, those newbie mistakes are usually easy to fix, so the typical response is to just fix it for them with one or two mouse clicks.

With very few exceptions, however, it is better to allow them to fix their mistakes by telling them what happened, why it happened, and walking them through, step by step, how to fix it. Although it takes longer, if they made the mistake once, they will probably do it again, so learning how to fix it themselves is important. It also helps take the mystery out of computers and raises their confidence level. Sometimes we even help them make a mistake, if it’s a common one, just to teach them how to fix it. For example, sooner or later they are all going to click the right mouse button and get a popup context menu. So, when training novices, we tell them to click the right mouse button, then explain what they are seeing and why, and how to close the popup menu.

Tip #8: Mistakes are learning opportunities. Teach them how to fix their mistakes.

Software Freedom Day 2007!

In between conferences and other fun stuff, I was persuaded to organize another Software Freedom Day locally. Last year’s event highlighted some of the disconnect between expectations and reality among the visitors. The expectation seemed to be that Linux could resurrect any machine: “Here’s my computer. It’s 18 years old, and I used to use DOS on it. Help me put Linux on it so I can use it again.” Needless to say, we were totally unprepared for that. But I have since found that there are a lot of people out there who think buying a computer should be a once in a lifetime event. Well, maybe I exaggerate, but not much! I think I’d better dust off the dinosaur distros for this year’s event, just in case.

Here’s our announcement:

  • The Palm Beach County Linux User Group is proud to announce its second SoftwareFreedom Day/Installfest as part of SoftwareFreedom Day 2007, the biggest international celebration and outreach event for Software Freedom globally, with hundreds of teams from all around the world participating. This year the Palm Beach County Linux User Group will be hosting the event at the North County Regional Library, 11303 Campus Drive, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, from 10:00 AM to 12:00 P.M. on September 15, 2007. Google Map location is here.

    As part of the SoftwareFreedom Day celebration, the Palm Beach County Linux User Group will be giving away CD’s with free and open source software for Windows and Macintosh computers, including programs for graphics editing, browsing, word processing, anti-virus, e-mail, web editing, and games. Free CD’s of the popular Ubuntu Linux operating system will be available, as well as demonstrations of Linux, and assistance installing Ubuntu on personal computers. Monitors will be provided for those bringing a CPU to install Linux on.

    Stop by for giveaways, demonstrations, and to learn about Linux, a free and open source operating system available for any type of computer.

Unlike last year, we will probably get some curious people just from those passing by, on their way into the library. I wonder how many other libraries are venues for Software Freedom Day? It seemed like a natural to me (although it wasn’t my idea), since libraries are also in the business of open access, freedom, and making materials available for free (but for a limited time!). What’s really amazing to me is the sheer numbers of places all over the globe that are doing this.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #6

The cognitive slowing that occurs with aging affects an older adult’s ability to maintain linear connections required for learning. Most teaching involves steps, but the older adult’s ability to remember those steps is affected by the aging process (see Tip #2). What may seem obvious for younger learners can no longer be taken for granted. They will not necessarily make the connection between a cause and effect without explicit instructions broken down into discrete steps. An instruction to “click on ‘New’ in the File menu” may be easy for a younger learner, but what the older adult hears is “file” and “new” and tries to figure out what is where. They need an instruction like the example above broken down into discrete steps, such as: “Move the cursor to the upper left corner and click on the word ‘File’. Move the cursor over the word ‘New’ in the list that opens. When the word is highlighted, press the left mouse button.”

Consistently using specific step by step instructions begins to take the mystery out of computers for older adults. It also reduces the load on their processing, which is already taxed.

Also, since repetition is important (see Tip #4), handouts or other materials intended to give them practice should use discrete, numbered steps. Numbering is important as a way of isolating each step. For example, instructions to copy and paste might be broken down into four distinct steps: highlighting something, copying it, moving to the destination, and pasting. Each step should then have detailed instructions. Using the example to copy and paste, printed instructions for steps one and two might look something like this (but would, of course, include relevant visual cues):

Step 1 (highlighting):

Place the cursor on the item to be copied

Hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor across the item

When the item is highlighted, release the mouse button.

Step 2 (copying)

Move the cursor to the top of the window

Click on the word “Edit”

Move the cursor over the word “Copy” in the list that opens

When the word “Copy” is highlighted, press the left mouse button

Tip #6: Use discrete, step-by-step instructions, both verbally, and in printed materials

Where to find the videoclips

After much trial and error, (there’s probably another post coming comparing video sharing sites), only one site has successfully uploaded and converted part two of the Connecting the Disconnected videos. It is not the sharpest image rendering, but at least it works. 🙂 I much prefer dotsub.com, but they are still working on why the clip, which works perfectly on my end, stops halfway through playback after uploading. This is what happens on all the other sites except for (drum roll, please) Grouper.com. One is supposed to be able to embed the video at Grouper here in WordPress, but after several failed tries, I have given up on that.

So here are the links to the two videos:

Connecting the Disconnected, Part 1

Connecting the Disconnected, Part 2

Be sure to turn the sound on for Part 2 🙂

These are from the first half of my presentation at the pre-conference workshop on Libraries, Older Adults and Technology, and are intended to give you a glimpse of what it feels like to be older and trying to learn new technology. Enjoy!

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #5

The extensive crystallized intelligence available to older adults, which is not only stable, but continues to grow, does have a drawback. Although building on existing knowledge and skills is a good thing (see Tip #3), it is actually easier for an older adult to learn an entirely new term and concept than it is to learn a concept associated with a word that already has a familiar meaning. This is because the attentional processes, which involve controlling the attentional focus and excluding irrelevant information, decline with age. Learning to use computers requires learning new concepts and associations for familiar words, such as “shortcut” and “button.” But declines in attentional processes make it more difficult to exclude prior associations with familiar terms and replace them with the new associations.

Imagine going to a reunion after many years. People’s appearances have changed, and you must make new associations to continue to recognize them. But imagine finding everyone’s names have also changed. You can recognize them, but to learn the new names you must first suppress the tendency to associate the faces with the old names. The more familiar the name and face, the more difficult that is to do. As we get older it becomes even more difficult to exclude the prior associations when learning new concepts.

This can be made easier with visual cues. Consider the difference nametags would make at that imaginary reunion where everyone’s names have changed. Cues, such as “cheatsheets” and labeled graphics, when combined with repetition (see Tip #4), greatly enhance retention.

Tip #5: Give them visual cues

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #4

I should probably pause here to point out that there is wide variation among older adults’ abilities, skills and experiences. Because aging is such a highly individualized process, the older a population group, the greater the differences will be among the group’s individuals. This means it is virtually impossible to predict how easy or difficult new technology will be for anyone based solely on age. For some, physical and cognitive declines begin as early as the thirties. For others, the changes are not noticeable until well into their sixth decade. Still, there are some generalizations which can be made, especially when it comes to learning, and especially since the group we’re talking about here is over sixty (most seem to use 65 as the cut-off for “older adult”).

One of those generalizations is the need for repetition in the learning process. With cognitive slowing, repetition seems to be the adaptive technique adopted by everyone. Even when they understand a concept or task, older adults will ask to be guided through the steps again, and again. Even when they have mastered a procedural skill requiring only a few steps, they need to return to the task and repeat it periodically to retain it. The more they repeat the new skill, the more likely it will “stick,” becoming part of their “crystallized” intelligence.

So here is Tip #4: Be repetitive.

Be very repetitive. Come back to a learned skill frequently, even while building on that skill and knowledge. Don’t just give them opportunities to practice a new skill, encourage it. Emphasize the necessity of practicing the new skill. Require practice, if possible. I have found older adults will forget what they have “mastered” within two days when they do not practice the new skill. I sometimes compare learning to use computers to learning another language: the more they use it, the easier it gets, and conversely, the less it is used, the harder it is to remember.