CTPC User Group

 

  1. Preview of the Next CTPC Meeting
  2. IoTMT (Internet of Too Many Things) - Greg Skalka
  3. Strolling Down Memory (Core) Lane - Museums and online resources help preserve computing history - Gabe Goldberg
  4. Moving Beyond Windows XP and Office 2003? Try Office 365 Home - Nancy DeMarte
  5. Image Processing Software, Part 3 - Dick Maybach
  6. The Hidden Tabs in Microsoft Office - Nancy DeMarte
  7. Interesting Internet Finds - Steve Costello
  8. Review of the WOW! Computer - Jon Mazur
  9. How to Recover a "Crashed" System - Ira Wilsker
 

Preview of the Next CTPC Meeting - Tuesday, January 27, 2015 - 6:30 p.m.

Holiday Gathering

We’re planning an informal Holiday Gathering for Tuesday, December 23rd at 6:30 pm at Uncle Joe’s. Members should have received an email invitation from me on December 9th.

Nothing fancy but it’s one more chance to get together before year’s end. Spouses and friends are welcome but please let us know who’s coming so we’ll have an accurate count for a reservation. We can split the tab as we normally do or order separately from the menu, whichever everyone prefers.

I’ll make the reservation based on the count as of Friday, 12/19. In case Uncle Joe’s can’t accommodate the number of people who are coming, that will give us a few days to find a larger place – but that probably won’t be necessary.

We look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you there!

Walt Graham

Don’t forget our new location: the United Congregational Church of Norwalk on Richards Avenue (directions here). Pizza and refreshments at Uncle Joe’s will follow. CLICK HERE for directions from the church to Uncle Joe’s.

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Greg Skalka, President, Under the Computer Hood User Group, CA, August 2014 issue, Drive List, www.uchug.org, President (at) uchug.org

IoTMT (Internet of Too Many Things)

The Internet of Things (IoT) describes a situation in which everything is networked together on the Internet. Presently computers, tablets and smart phones dominate the Internet, but other kinds of devices are being added to the network all the time. A lot of us probably have some of these other devices already. I have networked hard drives and IP cameras that can be accessed through the Internet from anywhere I can connect. My smart TV and networked Blu-ray player can receive content, including streaming media, from the Internet. There are already refrigerators, thermostats, door locks, sprinkler timers and light bulbs available that can be connected through the Internet. It is said that the real power of the IoT will come about when machine to machine (M2M) communication i s the predominant traffic. All that interconnection holds the promise of greater efficiency, knowledge and control in our lives. At that point, however, will humans get to use the Internet anymore, or will we have reached the Internet of Too Many Things? Is there too much stuff on the Internet now?

The power to control or query objects over the Internet is just the beginning. It is great to be able to check the weather report online while away on vacation, and remotely turn off your landscape irrigation when rain is forecast at home. This still requires thought and intervention on your part, however. With the appropriate weather sensors and intelligence, your sprinkler controller could measure the local weather conditions and adjust its irrigation cycles autonomously, but this would require costly sensors that you would also have to maintain. Since local weather information is already available on the Internet, it would be more cost effective to have the sprinkler timer query the Internet for the local weather and adjust its operations accordingly, saving water and money. A sprinkler controller like this will be available soon (www.skydrop.com).

Many common devices could provide additional benefits by being networked. Refrigerators could sense when they were empty and order grocery deliveries. Cars could schedule their own periodic maintenance and service appointments.

Once “things” can get their own information from the Internet, they should also be able to communicate with each other. This will provide us with more benefits and greater efficiency, while freeing us from the drudgery of monitoring every aspect of our household’s operation. Home lights and ac that are informed of your car’s arrival and greet you with a pleasant environment are just the beginning. Garage door openers could be told by your car that the engine has started, and open the door automatically. This would have the additional benefit of inhibiting potential suicides (for those determined enough to close the door manually, the opener could contact the online suicide hotline).

If our present Internet of Few Things is any indication, the benefits provided by this future Internet of Many Things may be offset by questions raised and problems created. Security is a significant problem for our online lives today; an exponential increase in networked devices probably means a similar increase in risks. Our government is concerned about the implications that networked infrastructure such as the electrical grid, ground and air traffic control systems and water distribution would have for national security; hopefully those implementations will be secure enough. There is typically less concern for security on the consumer level, but in an IoT world the effects could be just as troubling. If the electrical grid controls were sufficiently protected, terrorists (or criminals) could perhaps achieve the same ends by taking control of the devices in the homes and businesses on the grid. Instead of turning power off at the source, all loads on the grid could be remotely turned off (or on, perhaps overloading the grid).

Internet-connected TVs and refrigerators have already been hacked; now add light bulbs to that list. An Internet security firm recently demonstrated that LIFX smart LED bulbs (http://lifx.co) can be hacked due to deficiencies in their security. The company released a firmware upgrade to correct the security problem, but how many existing users of their light bulbs will be able to perform the update?

That is one of the unintended consequences of the IoT - having microcontrollers in most items in your home. And with microcontrollers come firmware, and with firmware comes firmware updates. I already get firmware upgrade messages on my Samsung Smart TV. What happens when I have to perform firmware updates on my toaster oven, microwave, blender, electronic door lock, water heater, electric razor and toilet? Will I spend all my time checking and updating my household devices? If I leave it to my “things” to update themselves unsupervised, will that just open up a gaping security hole?

Another unintended consequence of having so many smart devices is all the information they generate. While more information is usually good, too much information may not be. I already get texts and emails from Amazon when my packages ship. I get informed by my bank when my credit card is used without the card being physically present to the merchant (as in online). I get informed when the tracking device in the car my daughter drives leaves a specified location. All these messages are useful, but I am finding that most of the texts I am receiving on my phone are these automated messages, not communications from humans. I can see the benefit in having my refrigerator tell me that its inside temperature is 60 degrees F. I would like to know if my water heater thinks it is leaking. I can’t, however, imagine any communications I might need to have from my electric toothbrush, electric razor or electric can opener. I hope device manufacturers would keep this in mind and not spam us with messages from our own products. I think most IoT devices would best be seen and not heard from.

An obvious consequence of the IoT world is the need for more Wi-Fi bandwidth. No one wants to have to route Cat5 cable to their refrigerator or have an RJ-45 socket on their electric razor. Most all IoT connections will need to be through Wi-Fi. This will require everyone to have a Wi-Fi router, causing greater interference issues, especially in apartments. Encrypted links will be required for security, perhaps leading to more configuration and connection problems. Fortunately, for most devices other than TVs and computers, the bandwidth required on each connection will be very low.

Too Much Information?

With the IoT, there will definitely be more information available on the workings of your household appliances and thus your household. Privacy may be a major issue. Recently manufactured cars continuously record operational data that includes speed, miles and how a car is driven. This information can be useful to insurance companies to better rate drivers. It is also of interest to the police in accident investigations, and to lawyers when they become involved. There are concerns now about who owns this data and who can have access to it. I hope the IoT devices don’t raise the same legal questions. I don’t want to see my appliances being required to “testify” against me.

The big fear of course is that through the IoT our devices may unite and turn against us. Hopefully our household appliances won’t collaborate with each other and our national intelligence assets, become self-aware and attempt to exterminate all humans. I’d hate to think my GPS car tracking device could be the start of the Terminator. If it is, though, we have unfortunately given the enemy too much help already, as the one thing I feel there is definitely too much of on the Internet is information - the personal kind.

In the 1984 sci-fi movie “The Terminator,” the T-800 Terminator cyborg (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) travels back in time from 2029 to 1984 Los Angeles to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of the person that will lead to the machines’ defeat in the future. Not having the Internet as a resource in 1984, the Terminator had to use a paper phone book to methodically find and eliminate all three Sarah Connors listed there. If the Terminator had arrived in 2014 instead, its job would have been much easier, as Sarah Connor no doubt would have posted an abundance of personal information, including photos and perhaps here schedule, on her Facebook page. Accessing her postings, the cyborg would have no doubt been able to find her more easily, and perhaps more quickly identify her from among the other Sarah Connors.

Most of us have performed a Google search on our names to see what information was available about ourselves. How many have also done a Google Image search? I’ve found the results are interesting. I’m pretty careful about keeping my personal information off the Internet (I don’t have a Facebook page, and only have the most basic stuff on my LinkedIn page, with no photo). My Google Image search found only one photo of me, from my Southwest 2014 presentation. There actually is another Greg Skalka in Texas, who was foolish enough to provide LinkedIn with a photo; he is the first search result listed. With an uncommon name like mine, the remaining results are much less related. I guess we’d all better hope my offspring aren’t the source of humanity’s savior from the IoT gone berserk; as the Terminator would likely be done with me in one shot and wouldn’t have to “be back.”

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Gabe Goldberg, APCUG Advisor, Region 2 / , Gabriel Goldberg Computers and Publishing, Inc., LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/gabegold Twitter: GabeG0, Gabe (at) gabegold.com

Strolling Down Memory (Core) Lane - Museums and online resources help preserve computing history

I had very mixed feelings the first time I saw computer technology I'd used in my career exhibited as museum artifacts. And I had a similar reaction to seeing mainframe genealogy ("System/360 begat ...") in computer history books. While the good news is that today’s mainframes are close relatives of that first generation on which many of us grew up, it's easy to forget how much things have changed, and how far we've come. (Remember 25MB 2314 disk packs, giant 100MB 3330s and timesharing mainframes with half-megabyte memory?) At the same time, newcomers often lack the perspective to understand how things originated and why the computing world looks the way it does.

So it’s interesting and instructive touring real-world and virtual computing museums, lovingly created and maintained by generations of professionals—many of whom designed, built and used the equipment written about and shown.

But where to start? Searching yields about 407,000 website hits. https://www.google.com/search?q=%22computer+museum%22 Of course, adding keywords such as "mainframe" and "IBM" winnows results to only 127,000 and 66,000, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, the first general search result is the Computer History Museum. http://www.computerhistory.org/ Organized in the 1960s to exhibit Gordon and Gwen Bell's personal technology collection in Digital Equipment Corp.'s Boston lobby, it’s now housed in a multi-million dollar showplace in Mountain View, Calif. Its website offers a wealth of overview and in-depth reading material. Exhibits include technology "prehistory;” modern computer origins, development and history; game playing; system restoration; and seminal industry contributors recognized as Museum Fellows, including Konrad Zuse and IBMers Fran Allen, Erich Bloch, Gene Amdahl and Bob Evans.

A major new exhibit, "Revolution: The First 2,000 Years of Computing," includes a mainframe gallery, based around an IBM System/360 Model 30 CPU and showing three 2411 magnetic tape drives and a 1311 disk drive. In short, it's a typical smallish System/360 installation. A small display also describes System/360 solid logic technology (SLT)—halfway between integrated circuits and transistors, chosen when integrated circuits weren’t quite mature enough to use on a large scale and transistors were already "old tech." Searching the online Revolution exhibit for mainframes http://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/search?q=mainframe yields more than 60 hits. The main System/360 story is here. http://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/mainframe-computers/7 

Further north along the West Coast, another museum has a different orientation: presenting major historic computing technologies in action, showing how people used them. Founded by Microsoft's Paul Allen, The Living Computer Museum in Seattle includes such blinky-light wonders as Princeton University's huge System/360 Model 91 console panel. Real old-timers can try their hands and test their memories working on an IBM sorter and keypunch, and try to convince relatives that these were once mainstream computing technology. Non-IBM computers include DEC’s PDP-7/8/10KI/11, Sigma 9 and Unisys V380. http://www.livingcomputermuseum.org/ 

Many museums cover the whole computing spectrum, exhibiting different amounts of mainframe history and technology. A bit off the beaten path is the American Computer and Robotics Museum in Bozeman, Mont., describing itself as "The world's oldest continually operating museum of its kind" and "Inch for inch, the best museum in the world." http://www.compustory.com/ 

In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Institution—nicknamed "The Nation's Attic”—of course has computing resources. An online COBOL exhibition lets you "learn about COBOL, or Common Business Oriented Language, one of the first computer-programming languages to run successfully on different brands of computers.” The Computer History Collection includes artifacts related to producing, collecting, modifying, manipulating and using information in modern American society, with two dozen mainframe computers or components. There's plenty more to be nostalgic about, including 100 peripherals, 1,000 electronic components and 450 electronic calculators. Plus 150 cubic feet of documentation—which sounds like less than what I had to move whenever I changed programming jobs! http://americanhistory.si.edu/cobol/introduction  http://americanhistory.si.edu/comphist/

Overseas are several museums in Germany, where many computers and related technologies originated, and where IBM has for decades had major development and manufacturing facilities. Stuttgart has Computermuseum der Fakultat Informatik, which includes a 4331 Model 2 complete with at least a few of its manuals.

http://computermuseum.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/index.en.html 
http://computermuseum.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/dev_en/ibm4331/ibm4331.html
http://computermuseum.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/cm003_en.html 

Not far from Stuttgart, there's indeed history galore was exhibited at the IBM museum in Sindelfingen. Unfortunately, it’s moved to IBM’s Boeblingen Lab where they’re building a new exhibit, but focus has changed and the primary audience is IBM customers. So it’s not open to the public.
http://www.theage.com.au/news/Perspectives/History-galore-at-IBM-museum/2005/01/31/1107020294580.html 
http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/documents/pdf/HistoryofIBMDataProcessing.pdf 

The Heinz Nixdorf Museums Forum in Paderborn, Germany, is billed as the world's largest computer museum. In more than 6,000 square meters of floor space, it depicts the 5,000-year history, present and future of information technology, from origins of numbers and characters in 3000 B.C. to the 21st century computer age. The museum's depth is shown by having separate curators for areas such as "punched card technology, PCs and media history" and "typing machines, office technique, German computers and Nixdorf.” While it surprisingly has no IBM mainframes, it features original ENIAC components, two Zuse devices (Z11 and Z23) and a Cray 2. http://www.hnf.de/en/ueber-uns.html 
http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/documents/pdf/HistoryofIBMDataProcessing.pdf 

IBM itself has a few historic information resources, found by searching IBM.com.
http://www.ibm.com/Search/?q=%22ibm+museum%22

Endicott, N.Y.—where IBM and many technologies/products originated—is represented by its Visitors Center. While not tech-centric, it includes the Thomas J. Watson-IBM room which examines his professional career and development of IBM.
http://www.endicottny.com/VCmuseum.html 

The Rhode Island Computer Museum has a diverse collection (from Apollo Jabba to Wang Peripherals) but not many mainframe or IBM items.
http://www.ricomputermuseum.org/ 

Some museums specialize, such as the Computer Graphics Museum in Salt Lake City, though, i’s presence is still largely online. I'd love to see an IBM 2250 Graphics Display Unit, something I battled with supporting under VM/CMS.
http://computergraphicsmuseum.org/ 

A group called Mid-Atlantic Retro Computing Hobbyists runs a museum in Wall Township, N.J., with five exhibits: mainframes, minicomputers, homebrew-era computers, business microcomputers and consumer microcomputers.
http://www.midatlanticretro.org/ 

For more online resources, there’s a list of physical and virtual computer museums.
http://ed-thelen.org/comp-hist/merged.html#PhysicalCompMus
http://ed-thelen.org/comp-hist/merged.html#OtherCompVMus 

Yahoo's directory lists about a dozen computer exhibits.
http://dir.yahoo.com/computers_and_internet/history/museums/ 

Wikipedia describes and lists various museum categories: online, North American, European, Latin American, Middle East and Oceania, along with further reading.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_museum

Many online communities exist for reminiscing and chatting about bygone systems; two such lists are here. http://www.classiccmp.org/lists.html 

Researching this article tempted me to join multiple museums, but I'll content myself with mapping their locations and attempting to connect the dots by visiting as many of them as possible. Perhaps I'll log equipment and systems found on which I worked.

Much has been written on computing's origins and evolution. Two books essential for mainframers are “IBM's Early Computers” and especially “IBM's 360 and Early 370 Systems.”
http://www.amazon.com/IBMs-Early-Computers-History-Computing/dp/0262022257/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377020591&sr=1-1&keywords=ibm%27s+early+computers 
http://www.amazon.com/IBMs-Early-Systems-History-Computing/dp/0262161230/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377020724&sr=1-2&keywords=ibm%27s+early+computers

Sometimes museums are found in surprising places. I describe a friend's home as being decorated in "early mainframe,” since he's tastefully placed various mainframe components—large I/O devices and controllers and such, not mere circuit boards or control panels—in rooms and hallways. They made me feel nostalgic, since I'd used and worked on many of them. My wife was less impressed, calling the house a computer mausoleum, proving that one person's interesting museum is another's ... well, let's not call it that. So check out the worldwide assortment of tributes to computing technologies we've all used which shaped today's world. And explore the computing world's diversity; browse a bit beyond System/360 and its descendants to see how others have computed.

This article first appeared on http//www.destinationz.org and is used with the author's permission. Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with and written about technology for decades. He can be contacted at destination.z@gabegold.com.

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Nancy DeMarte, 1st Vice President, Sarasota Technical User Group, FL, June 2014 issue, PC Monitor, www.thestug.org, ndemarte (at) Verizon.net

Moving Beyond Windows XP and Office 2003? Try Office 365 Home

Graphic #1 With all the publicity recently about the dangers of staying with Windows XP since Microsoft has stopped updating and supporting it, you might have overlooked the fact that support has also been cut off for MS Office 2003. For those who have decided to upgrade to Windows 7 or 8, it should also be the time to consider upgrading Office. For a home user, Office 2013 makes the most sense. And for those who own multiple computers, Microsoft is offering a real deal if you purchase Office 2013 through a subscription, rather than a standalone package. The subscription version of Office 2013 is called Office 365 Home. Since its introduction in 2012, Office 365 Home has continually been enhanced with improvements to the programs, new benefits, and better pricing options. Here are nine of the current features:

  1. Office 365 Home can be installed on five PC’s, Macs or tablets. (The standalone Office 2013 Home and Student allows installation on only one PC.) Plus, you can uninstall the 365 suite and install it on another machine any time during the subscription period.
  2. The Office 365 Home suite includes automatic security and program updates to its seven programs, all of which load automatically in the background as they become available.
  3. OneDrive (formerly called SkyDrive) is available to anyone with a Microsoft account. Office 365 subscribers get 1 TB of cloud storage.
  4. Windows 8.1 owners who also have Office 365 can keep the contents of their OneDrive folders in a special desktop OneDrive app. As changes to files are made either in OneDrive or in the desktop app, the two folders are automatically synchronized.
  5. Office 365 Home owners also receive 60 minutes a month of free phone calls on Skype, which Microsoft purchased in 2011. This includes international calls to a large number of countries and does not require a Skype account.
  6. Office 2013 and 365 both offer Office on Demand, which allows a person with either version to use Office on a Windows 7 or 8 PC even though it’s not installed. If you are using a computer without MS Office, you can log into your MS account, go to OneDrive, open the file you want, and edit it in its application. This feature is not available yet for Mac computers.
  7. For co-editing a document or spreadsheet with a person in another location, Office 365 and 2013 both offer access to Office Online, basic Office programs which are available across devices – tablets, PCs, Macs.
  8. In April 2014 Microsoft introduced free Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for the iPad. Everyone can use these to open and view documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. But only Office 365 owners can edit these files.
  9. The programs which are part of the Office 365 suite are constantly being upgraded. Some are just simple tweaks like placing an icon in a more logical spot on the ribbon. Others are new features altogether, such as the pivot tables in Excel and the ability to open a PDF file in Word. The effect of the changes is subtle, but generally makes the applications easier to use.
So how does the cost of an Office 365 subscription compare with the boxed Office 2013? It depends on the version. Programs included in the Office 365 Home suite, Personal suite, and University suite include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access. These three suites are all subscription-based and non-commercial. The Home version costs $99.99 per year or $9.99 per month and can be installed on 5 PC’s, Macs, or tablets, with transferrable licenses. The Personal version costs $69.99 per year or $6.99 per month and can be installed on 1 PC or Mac and 1 tablet. The University version is a four year subscription that costs $79.99 and requires the owner be a full or part time student at an accredited college.

If you don’t renew your subscription, the programs will remain on the device, but will not function. Files created with the programs, however, will be saved.

The standalone products have one time prices. Office Home and Student 2013, a standalone product, costs $139.99 at the Windows Store and can be installed on one PC or Mac. The suite contains four applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Office 2013 Home and Business includes five programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook) and costs $219.99. Office 2013 Professional includes the same seven applications as the home subscription suites, but costs $399.99 for installation on one PC or Mac.

So how will you decide what version of Office 2013 to buy? It all depends on your situation. In our home we have four computers, so Office 365 Home is the perfect choice. If we had one PC, then Office 2013 Home and Student or Office 365 Personal would be versions to consider. Whatever you choose, you will find that the Office programs in the 2013/365 suites have some interesting new features that make the suite easier to use and more powerful than earlier versions.

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Dick Maybach, Member, Brookdale Computer Users’ Group, NJ, April 2014 issue, BUG Bytes, www.bcug.com/, n2nd (@) att.net

Image Processing Software, Part 3

In the February and March 2014 Bytes (available at http://www.bcug.com/) I discussed basic image processing with free software, and in this article I'll cover two specialized techniques, panoramic and high dynamic range (HDR) images. Both involve combining several separate images into one.

Hugin (http://hugin.sourceforge.net/ available for Linux, OS X, and Windows) is my preferred tool for creating panoramas. The screen-shot shows two of the six frames that I stitched together to create a panorama. In previous screens, I selected the images and told Hugin to create control points (points in different images that should coincide on the panorama). These appear as crosses identified by numbers in squares. The table below the images shows the offset distances (in pixels) between the points when they are overlaid. The green bar above the images indicates that Hugin is happy with the alignment; however, I had to eliminate several points to get this approval. If the number had become too small, I could have added more by hand, but this is tedious and fortunately is seldom necessary.

The resulting panorama appears below, although I adjusted the brightness and contrast with RawTherapee and GIMP after Hugin had finished with it. The Olympus bundled image processor also creates panoramas as do many modern cameras, but I find that often the results from Hugin are far superior. Hugin doesn't understand raw, so you must develop your images before using it. Although most panoramas are one-dimensional, that is composed of a single row of images, Hugin can create two dimensional ones, made from multiple rows of images. You also can choose from several different projections when creating the final image.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography attempts to overcome the dynamic range issue. You are probably disappointed with some of your pictures where the blue sky and white clouds have become a uniform pure white, and you can see nothing the shadows, which have become pure black. While recording in raw format can help some, it too has much less dynamic range than our eyes. The solution is to take several pictures of the same scene with different exposures. Some will have the highlights properly exposed (but the shadows will be black) and some will show what is in the shadows (but the highlights will be white). We then use clever software to combine these so that a single image shows both the highlights and the shadows. The problem is that there is no way to display the result, since the usual media (computer displays and paper prints) all have severely limited dynamic range. Thus we must perform tone mapping, which decreases the exposure of the highlights and increases that of the shadows and yet doesn't cause color shifts or other unpleasant effects. If done properly, the result is a low dynamic range image that looks close to what our eyes saw originally. If done improperly, the result can be a caricature, more artistic than realistic. Many modern cameras can perform HDR processing directly, but as with panoramas, adding human judgment to the process often greatly improves the result.

The screen-shot shows Luminance HDR (available for Linux, OS X, and Windows) working on a high-dynamic-range image, which was created by combining five raw images with different exposures (-2, -1, 0, +1, and +2 EV). The camera was hand-held, and the auto-alignment feature of Luminance was used to align them. Compare this to the LightZone screen-shot in my March 2014 article and you can see that the exposure of the room here is much better and that through the window is marginally so. (This isn't because of a shortcoming of LightZone, which after all had only a single image to work with.) More exposures covering a wider range than four f-stops would have produced a better image. As with LightZone, Luminance HDR has no provision for correcting distortion, so further processing with GIMP (or pre-processing with RawTherapee) is needed. Also, if you look carefully at the edges of the image, you can see where the images did not line up. Again, a light cropping with GIMP would remove this.

In some cases, I've found that although Luminance HDR uses the Hugin algorithm to align the input images, the alignment isn't that good. I can often do better by using Hugin to align the images and create a floating-point HDR file, which I then input to Luminance HDR for tone mapping. I assume this is because in Hugin I can optimize the control points, where using Luminance HDR everything is automatic.

The screen-shot shows the last step in the creation of the image. In previous screens I selected the files, let the program align them, and created a high-dynamic-range image. This screen shows the tone mapping, where the dynamic range is compressed so that it can be displayed using a low-dynamic-range medium such as a display or a print. The thumbnails along the right allow selection of the mapping algorithm, and each has a different set of controls, shown on the left. Drago processing, shown here, has only two parameters, which makes is quick to adjust. The strength and the weakness of Luminance HDR is the freedom to choose from eight algorithms and your control over the parameters of each. Knowing the best algorithm for each image and developing a feel for how the parameters affect the tone mapping takes a good bit of experience. Those used to the hand-holding provided by commercial software will find their initial experiences frustrating.

HDR photography is tricky and tedious, and works only in special cases. For example, outdoor pictures with large areas of foliage in the foreground are seldom satisfactory, because the leaves are always being blown about, and this makes it impossible to align the individual images. Luminance HDR has an anti-ghosting feature to overcome this problem, but it works best when the motion is confined to a small area. If you think you have a situation that calls for this technique, go ahead and take your pictures with their bracketed exposures. Before you start the HDR process though, select just one or these images and develop it carefully with the tone-mapping features of RawTherapee or LightZone. I often find that the result is just fine.

Expect some frustration from your first digital image processing efforts. It was a big day for me when I could consistently obtain results that were as good as the JPEG images straight from the camera. I find it helpful to display a camera JPEG image to which I can compare the one on which I'm working. It's easy to go seriously wrong, one small logical step at a time, if you work without a reference.

References:

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Nancy DeMarte, 1st VP, Sarasota PCUG, Florida, www.spcug.org, ndemarte (at) Verizon.net

The Hidden Tabs in Microsoft Office

Unless you are a frequent user of programs in Microsoft Office version 2007 or later, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the commands on the Ribbon. Well, I have news for you. Those tabs along the top of the ribbon contain only the tools that were determined by studies to be used most often for everyday tasks. There is a whole other group of tabs in Office programs which appear only when needed. Called Contextual tabs, they are one of the most useful additions to the newer Office versions.

A contextual tab is a hidden tab that is displayed on the right end the tab row of the ribbon, but only when an object in the workspace is selected. Depending on what kind of object is selected, one or more tabs may appear. Above these tabs is their title, such as Table Tools or Drawing Tools, or, as shown in Figure 1, Picture Tools. Note that these titles are always colorful, perhaps to attract your attention that they are available. Tools on the Picture Tools Format tab can help you set a specific size for the photo, apply styles or special effects like shadow or glow, and do simple photo editing.

Figure 1: Partial View of the Picture Tools Format tab in Word 2010

Sometimes you have to click the actual tab to open it. Other times, as in Figure 1, it opens by itself. As soon as you move away from the object, the tab disappears. For example, if you insert a table into a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation, the title Table Tools and two new tabs show up at the right end of the ribbon: Design and Format. You must click one of the tabs beneath the title to reveal the applicable tools. Figure 2 shows part of the contextual Layout tab which is open in a Word document that contains the table you have selected.

Figure 2 Partial Table Tools Layout tab in Word 2010

This Layout tab gives you a variety of options, including aligning text and objects within the table, “auto fitting” the table to its contents or the window, and splitting or merging cells. Clicking the Design tab presents a group of tools for formatting the table with borders, styles and shading. These two tabs contain almost every command you need to work with a table except basic font and paragraph options, which are on the Home tab.

This concept extends to any objects that are inserted into Office programs. For example, in Excel, if you insert a Pivot Chart, four contextual tabs appear, entitled PivotChart Tools.

Figure 3: PivotChart Tools with Design tab open in Excel 2010

Some contextual tabs are found in several Office programs, such as Picture, Drawing, and Table. Others are program-specific, such as Excel’s PivotChart Tools. Excel has other exclusive tabs, too, such as Link Tools, Sparkline Tools, and Equation Tools. Even Microsoft Paint, part of the Windows operating system (not Office), has a Text tab under the title, Text Tools, which appears when you click the text icon (A) on the Home tab. Word and PowerPoint share many of the same contextual tabs, such as those described above, plus SmartArt Tools and Header and Footer Tools. PowerPoint, the slide presentation program, has a few unique tabs, such as Audio Tools, shown in Figure 4. Almost anything that can be inserted into an Office file has contextual tabs.

Figure 4: Audio Tools Playback tab in PowerPoint 2010

Here are three advantages to this system of contextual tabs that I have observed:

  1. The critical tools for working with inserted objects are located on these tabs, so you don’t have to search for them.
  2. You don’t have to do anything to make them visible. They pop up automatically when you select an object.
  3. Because they hide when not needed, they don’t clutter the screen.
The commands on these contextual tabs include some of the newest and best tools that have made Microsoft Office a leader in the Office suite world. I’m not sure I have even found all the contextual tabs yet, but I have used many of them and have appreciated their convenience. I think these hidden tabs were one of the most creative and helpful improvements in Office in a long time.

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Steve Costello, Boca Raton Computer Society, editor@brcs.org, http://ctublog.sefcug.com/

Interesting Internet Finds

In the course of going through the more than 300 RSS feeds, I often run across things that I think might be of interest to other user group members.

The following are some items I found interesting during the month of July 2014.

What’s New in Android 5.0 L?
http://www.maketecheasier.com/whats-new-in-android-5-0-l/

Have you been hearing about the new Android 5.0-L? Been wondering what it is all about? If so check out this post from MakeTechEasier.

Can I Make Phone Calls from Within Gmail?
http://www.askdavetaylor.com/can-make-phone-calls-within-gmail/

Dave Taylor explains how to make phone call for free with your Gmail account.

Picasa Tip: Picture Sort Order, Folder Sort Order
http://picasageeks.com/2014/07/picasa-tip-picture-sort-order-folder-sort-order/

Jim and Chris Guld explain how to sort pictures and folders in Picasa. You can find more Picasa tips like this in their free weekly articles at http://picasageeks.com/ and check out http://geeksontour.tv/ for non Picasa related tutorials.

How to Train Google Now to Show You Better Cards.
http://www.greenbot.com/article/2449596/how-to-train-google-now-to-show-you-better-cards.html

Have an Android and use Google Now? This post from Greenbot, shows you how to train Google Now so you get better cards over time.

How to Start System Restore When You Can No Longer Log Into Windows
http://www.7tutorials.com/how-start-system-restore-when-you-can-no-longer-log-windows

If you should no longer be able to log into Windows, this post will tell you how to start System Restore anyway. Keep this handy, because it is likely you will have the problem sooner or later.

What Is RSS and How Can It Improve Your Life?
http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/what-is-rss-and-how-can-it-improve-your-life/

If you have been reading this column or the Interesting Internet Finds posts for a while, you know that I get these kinds of things from RSS feeds. Check out this MakeUseOf post to learn about RSS feeds, then check out some for yourself. I guarantee you will find lots of useful things for yourself.

**********

Most Fridays, more interesting finds will be posted on the Computers, Technology, and User Groups Blog:

http://ctublog.sefcug.com/tag/interesting-internet-finds/

The posts are under Creative Commons licensing.

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Jon Mazur, President, CPUser Group, PA, http://cpusergroup.apcug.org, Cpusergroup (at) hotmail.com

Review of the WOW! Computer

How many of you think computers are still hard to use? Well I think I have the answer for you. I recently had the chance to review quite possibly the world’s easiest computer, from setup to actual use. I’m talking about the WOW! Computer from FirstStreet. My 72 year old brother was actually looking to purchase a new computer and had asked me to do a little research on computers that would be easy for him to use. I stumbled upon the WOW and suggested he check out some videos I found for him online. After a few back and forth discussions with him, he decided to go for it. He got in to computers in 1995 and after 12 years of frustration using Windows, he had me convert his two other machines to Linux and he has never looked back. The reason that I mention Linux is that the WOW actually runs a custom version of Linux called Tiny Core Linux. After he found that out it was a no brainer.

Here are some highlights of the WOW! Computer:

Once my brother received his computer it took no more than 10 minutes for him to set it up and he had it working and online in about 15 minutes and he is not that computer savvy. The computer, as mentioned before, runs Linux but has a custom front-end interface that is truly user friendly. See the above photo which is what you see when the unit is powered on. The use of email, web surfing, video chatting, photo viewing, CD/DVD playback and much more are all included. Other key points to keep in mind are listed below.

Product Specifications:

Conclusion:

This is truly a great computer for those of you who are tired of the Windows or Mac rat race or who just want to simplify your computing life. My brother, for the first time in many years, truly is enjoying using his computer. A couple of things to keep in mind. The computer uses a closed ended software system. Meaning you cannot install any software on it yourself. So if this is something that you like to do, then this system is definitely not for you. Also the cost of the computer is $1079 with the printer or $1029 without. This may be a little steep for most people but keep in mind that you are getting lifetime tech support that is U.S. based. In closing I would say that this is a system that is pretty much maintenance and worry free.

You may contact me at cpusergroup@hotmail.com if you need further info on this system or visit the FirstStreet website at: http://tinyurl.com/lces9wu 

http://www.firststreetonline.com/Electronics+amp+Gadgets/Computer+amp+Office/WOW+Computer+with+22+Inch+Monitor.axd 

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Ira Wilsker - Ira hosts “My Computer Show” a call-in tech support show on KLVI radio, 560AM, from 4-5 p.m. Mondays, Pacific time. The show streams live over the net at KLVI.com and on the free iHeartRadio app. His call-in number is 800-330-5584.

How to Recover a "Crashed" System, Windows 7 and 8

WEBSITES:

Yesterday I received a frantic phone call from a distraught individual. He had a fairly new Windows 7-64 desktop PC not covered by warranty, and it would not properly boot up. It would briefly show that manufacturer's splash screen, and then nothing else; the screen was black. After a period of time, the power saving feature appeared on the otherwise black screen and stated that the computer was going into hibernate mode. Nothing typical could bring the computer back to life; a full repeat of the "power on" cycle only produced a repetitive black screen and shutdown. The computer would not even boot into safe mode using the F8 key, and it took several boot attempts to get to the BIOS setup using the F10 key (this varies by computer model); the BIOS appeared to be properly configured. There was no practical way to get to the "System Restore" function, and rollback the PC to an earlier date and time.

Immediately prior to this boot failure, the individual had installed a new paid (renewal)version of a popular system maintenance utility which he allowed to perform a full diagnostic. Intentionally selecting the "Power down if no problems are found" function, the diagnostic utility went through a lengthy series of tests, found no errors, and dutifully shut down his computer. That was the last time it ran satisfactorily.

Fortunately, he had another Windows 7-64 desktop in his home, so he had the ability to research his predicament, and create some bootable rescue CD discs. If we can remember the joy and excitement of setting up a new PC, one of the procedures presented during the setup, but still available later, is the creation of a set o f bootable recovery discs or with newer computers, a recovery bootable USB flash drive. While this bootable rescue disc set is often vital in recovering and restoring what many call a "crashed" computer, very few PC users ever create the set, even when prompted during setup, and at other times by the integral "PC Action Center".

If you are one of the majority who has never created a Windows bootable recovery disc utilizing the function built into Windows 7 and 8, the process is relatively fast and easy. In Windows 7, the bootable recovery disc can be created by going to Control Panel - System and Security - Backup and Restore - Create a System Repair Disc. A window will open instructing the user to insert a blank CD, which the system will use to create a bootable recovery CD. In some cases it may take several CD discs to create a complete recovery set, so be sure to have several blank CDs available. Windows will proceed to create the bootable set. When completed, label the discs with a permanent marker (I use a "Sharpie"), put them in a case, and store them somewhere safe where you can quickly find them if needed. Most modern factory built Windows computers do not come from the factory with recovery or system CDs (or DVDs), but instead have a second partition on the hard drive with all of the critical operating system files; it is many of these files that will be used to create the recovery set. In some cases, where this second partition was never created, or it was deleted (some users do this to get more space on the hard drive), it may be necessary to insert an original Windows 7 installation disc. To use the system repair or recovery disc, insert the bootable CD in the drive, and then reboot the computer, following the on screen prompts to run the restore and recovery.

The process of creating a set of restore bootable discs in Windows 8 is similar to that of Windows 7, except some of the instructions are worded differently. Using the keyboard shortcut "Winkey+W" to open the Start screen Settings search, and type "recovery". One of the choices will be “Create a recovery drive”. Windows 8 supports creating recovery media on a USB flash drive (minimum of 256MB free space required, much more if a backup partition is created), or blank CD or DVD discs can be used. Follow the onscreen prompts, and the rescue media will be created. Label the media, and store it in a safe place where it can be readily found when needed. If needed, simply insert the USB or DISC, and reboot the computer, then follow the on screen prompts.

While the "official" system recovery discs may be very useful in recovering and restoring a system that will not boot, or boots with significant errors, there are also several third party bootable discs (mostly free) that can be created to detect and repair most common errors, or to scan and delete most malware that may have taken over the computer. Detailed instructions and recommendations on resolving most of these crashes are available from Gizmo's TechSupportAlert.com at techsupportalert.com/best-free-security-list-part4.htm?page=0,2. Another very large list of recovery and repair utilities that can create bootable CDs or USB flash drives is at technibble.com/large-list-of-useful-computer-repair-cds. One of my personal favorites is the "Ultimate Boot CD" available for free download from ultimatebootcd.com. This "Ultimate Boot CD" when burned to a bootable CD using an ISO burner (another readily available free utility) or to a USB flash drive (instructions are included in the download), contains dozens of utilities to diagnose and repair hard drives, memory tests, BIOS diagnosis and repair, CPU diagnosis, hardware diagnosis, video and keyboard diagnostics, malware scan and removal, and many diagnostic and repair utilities. For those who like a variety of competitive utilities, another free comprehensive bootable CD or USB flash drive containing several dozen diagnostic and repair utilities is the Falcon Four Ultimate Boot CD, available for direct download at falconfour.wordpress.com/tag/f4ubcd. It should be noted that the latest build of Falcon Four Ultimate Boot CD works fine on Windows 7 and Vista, but does not currently work on Windows 8 systems.

Gizmo's TechSupportAlert.com recently had an updated feature containing detailed but easy to follow instructions for creating a bootable recovery CD or USB flash drive. These instructions can be viewed at techsupportalert.com/create-bootable-rescue-cd.htm. Included with these directions are links to six of the most popular (free) bootable recovery discs.

While apparent "crashes" do occasionally happen, it is more common that an error may appear on the Windows screen while running indicating that one or more critical system files may have been corrupted or cannot be found. To remedy this situation, all recent versions of Windows have a built in "System File Checker" that can check for missing or corrupted system files, and quickly and easily replace most of them.

Probably the most efficient way to detect and repair almost any necessary system files is to do it from a command prompt in safe mode. Getting to safe mode in Windows is simple; starting with the computer off (turned off, not hibernating or sleeping), turn on the computer with its power button then immediately start tapping the F8 key in the top row of the keyboard. Keep tapping the F8 key every second or two until the computer opens a black screen with white fonts; one of the choices will be to boot into "command prompt" which can be reached with the up and down keys on the keyboard. The computer will rapidly complete its very limited boot process, and when done, will only show a single command prompt on the screen, such as "C:\". At this prompt type, " SFC /SCANNOW" (no quotes). It can be in upper case or lower case, and will check the system files. While the SFC /SCANNOW function can normally detect and repair most missing or corrupted system files with the first pass, there are cases where the command must be run several times in order to repair or replace a badly damaged system. Alternatively, the SFC /SCANNOW command can be run from within Windows, while Windows is running. Click in the menu on "RUN" and then enter SFC /SCANNOW in the box; be sure that it is being run with "administrative privileges". The process of running SFC /SCANNOW in Windows 8 is very similar to that of Windows 7, with both Windows 7 & 8 specific instructions available from Microsoft at support.microsoft.com/kb/929833.

For most of us, it is not the proverbial question of if we will suffer a computer "crash", but more likely "when" we will have that problem. Computer crashes are often different, and mostly unrelated to hard drive crashes, as computer crashes are mostly software based, but can also include the failure of hardware components. At a minimum, we should all have a set of bootable recovery discs (or USB drives) created by our operating systems. It would also be a wise idea to periodically create one or more (I have several) of the free third party repair and recovery discs. By personal choice, being cognizant that utilities are often frequently updated, I periodically download newer, updated versions of the third party products, and burn them to CD, discarding the older versions. Blank CDs (and new USB flash drives) have become very inexpensive, so cost is not an issue. While it may take several minutes to download or create a set of bootable recovery media, the investment in time and money is but a shadow of the fiscal and emotional cost we pay if our computer crashes, and we do not have appropriate recovery media. Along with good contemporary backups, both of our data and "shadow" or "image" (complete) backups of our hard drives, it is better to have them than not.

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