Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Short Blogging Interruption

I'll be taking a break from posting while sunning on a tropical beach. I'll be back the second week in January. Thanks for reading my blog!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy New Year: --For Boomer Readers

My gift to you this holiday season is more information about a web site I can't live without. I think most Boomers--especially Boomer readers--- will find easy to use and full of great information.

I've been a member of Goodreads for a while, ever since one of my relatives suggested it to me. This is a website for inveterate readers, but you have to take some time to make good use of it.  On this site, you post the books you've recently read and rate them, using an easy to use five star system.Users can publish a review of a book if they want, but this is not required.

Users don't have to write out lengthy book info to find books, because they can search by author, title and other key words. The search box is easy to find and use. There are several tabs on the Home Page.  If you hit the My Books tab, you will go to your book list.  Using the green Add Books tab  you can search for any book you want to list.

Another tab lets you search for any books you want to read. For example, I wanted to see all the books that Lee Child wrote since I am headed on vacation and needed a light, exciting read. I entered his name and all his books popped up.

You can look at books your friends have entered, and you can use these for recommendations. I've been absolutely delighted with this service. I found I have a cousin with similar taste to mine in books. I wind up getting what she reads, and I hope I give her some good tips too!

The site solves a problem for me: so many books, so little time. I want to hone in on books I'll enjoy when I have time to read. My mother was a fanatic reader who would bring home stacks of ten books at a time from the library. She would go to the library and browse to her heart's content, and she found her books through trial and error. I go to school, have an empty nest that gets filled with young adults sometimes, write this blog, volunteer, and spend many hours researching this blog. I don't have time for trial and error. I read the New York Times Book Review. And I  go to Goodreads at any time of the day or night and search for books. I can order them online, or if I can wait, I'll make a list for the library. Either way, it's a great resource for me.

Goodreads is an excellent place for Boomers to explore books and authors. When you hit the Explore tab, you are given a list to explore. I hit the Books section and came to a group of lists on which site users had voted. I lost myself in the list of Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once.  Then I looked at the Best Books of the Decade list. Soon I was clicking off and rating as many of these books as I had already read, and I was making a note of the ones I hadn't read for future reading. If you hit the Authors button you will come to great interviews with authors and other reading material about the authors of books. Fledgling writers publish their own stories and chapters on Goodreads, and that's another interesting section.

While writing this post, I found another use for the site. I will now begin to use it to keep track of all the light reading I do on vacation. I think I've read every single Kellerman (both husband and wife) book out there, but maybe I haven't. If I begin listing them and keeping track of them, maybe I'll figure out which ones I haven't read! Stay tuned. 

I hope I've given my Boomer readers some inkling of why I enjoy this web site, and I hope you'll give it a try. I have no connection with Goodreads in any way. I just love to read.

Here's a list of some other web sites for readers. Maybe you'll like these better.

This will be my final post before heading on vacation. I'll be back the week of January 11th. I promise not to post from the beach!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My own take on Texting Help for Dummies (Over 50)!

A website I recently visited had some information about texting aimed at the over 50 crowd, so I thought I'd post the link here.

Texting Help for Dummies (Over 50)!
Posted using ShareThis

Do I text? Yes, moderately.
I find that texting is the best way to contact some members of my family at certain times and to reach some people while they are at work. It seems to be the best way to contact some friends who may not be able to look at emails during meetings, for example. I only text people who want me to text them, and I'd never knowingly text anyone who was driving! I know lots of boomers who constantly text their kids at college.  And I know some who have never gotten the hang of it. So this blog post could be of use to them.

What the Texting for Dummies article doesn't address is how to begin texting. On the iPhone (and other phones) there is a menu item called messages.  You go to that item and there will either be a little icon that looks like a pen and paper, or a listing that says compose or something similar. Different phones use different language (write, compose, create) or icons. Nevertheless, if you select the pen and paper on the iPhone or one of these synonyms, the text message form will come up. You select the person you want to text from your contact list, and their phone number will be added in the "To:" field.

At times, I've felt stuck in this contact field! I couldn't figure out how to get out of it to actually create and send the message. On the iPhone there is a little field box above the keyboard. If you touch the field box you can begin typing your message in it. When you are finished typing, hit send.

Of course, one of the problems with texting for those of us used to typing is the little keyboards we must use. On a regular phone, we are faced with trying to use the phone's keypad. The Blackberry and other smart phones have better keyboards. On the iPhone, I can use a pretty efficient touch screen QWERTY keyboard. It's not the same as typing on a computer, but it's doable.

Many cell phone packages come with unlimited text messaging. If you decide give texting a try, please, please get an unlimited package or at least a big enough package to accommodate your needs. Text messages cost cell phone companies pennies to send, yet they are a huge part of their revenue, and individual text messages without a package deal can cost up to 25 cents each.  Most people at one time or another underestimate how much messaging they do and get hit by a big bill. Don't let this happen to you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Games and Boomers--Let's have some fun

The holidays are here and between now and New Years I will probably blog about some lighter topics in keeping with the season. 

Let's face it, Boomers are gamers. I didn't realize how much I enjoyed some games until the PC came along and I became hooked on Spider Solitaire. Then I was addicted to Free Cell. These two games came with my computer and I didn't have to do a thing to get them. Then a friend of mine told me about Text Twist on Yahoo Games. I went to the site and bookmarked it so I could come back any time I wanted.

Recently, Google featured some favorite applications of famous people. I can't remember whose recommendation this was, but some famous person found a great version of the original Tetris and put it on his Google home page. Of course, I had to have it, so I play it online. I only play the original 1989 version of Tetris that I got to know back then, but there are many updated options on this site.  Now all of these time wasters are available to distract me when I sit down at my desk to do something useful.

Games on the iPhone are slightly different. They actually fulfill a purpose. Games are great time fillers when you are waiting in an endless line at the post office or when you are waiting for a flight. They entertain you when you might not be doing anything and fill smaller time periods when you might not pull out a book to read. As you can tell, I am enjoying gaming on the iPhone quite a bit.

My son introduced me to a game called "Words with Friends," an app for the iPhone by NewToy.  It is like Scrabble with some exceptions. The only problem with "Words with Friends" is you have to play it with people who are on social networking sites and who are your friends on those sites. So right now I am only playing with my son. I welcome other gamers.

Do you remember the old days, when people used to play chess via the mail? They would mail their move to an opponent and vise versa.  Similarly, with "Words with Friends", you play a word on the board, and your friend is notified that it is now his turn. When he or she goes to the game on the iPhone, your word shows up on their playing board. You can take as long as you like to make the next move.  I've found this a delightful way to pass some time.

I have to say, when I first downloaded the app, I had no idea how to begin playing and needed someone to show me. App developers really have to work on making their sites Boomer friendly. Spell out what you do to begin a game and how to invite friends.  Don't assume everyone can just figure it out intuitively.

One of my friends recently recommended playing Scrabble on She says she plays on this site every day. I went to the web site and it was daunting. I couldn't figure it out. I'll need her to walk me through it. I'm guessing she had one of her adult kids walk her through it the first time she decided to use the site.

I'll let you know if I have any success with this in coming posts. In the mean time, have a wonderful holiday season and thanks for reading.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Boomers: Get Out There and Take Classes Online!

Recently I've gotten a lot of interest from friends of mine who would like to go back to college to complete degrees or to get a Masters and are fascinated that some of the classes I am taking are taught online. I know this isn't a new phenomena. A friend of mine was going for her PhD online at least ten years ago. Her program involved some online courses and some on site coursework. I remember she flew out to her host university's campus to participate in some activities. However, recently some of my friends want to know: how does taking classes online work? So I'm going to try to answer their questions in this blog post.

At Pace University, and many other universities, online courses are taught through the website and a portal program called Blackboard. You access Blackboard with your university email address and password. When you open the program, you are given all kinds of options. I click on the one that says "Courses in Which You are Enrolled." That brings me to another page where the professor has made announcements for the week. On the left hand side of the page is a list of other options.

The majority of my courses include "lectures" from an instructor which are posted on the web site under the Course Documents section. Assignments include readings from the assigned books or outside articles which may be posted to the website under the Course Documents section. Sometimes a video clip or Powerpoint to watch is posted. Or students may be asked to find their own examples through the library web site. In one course which was being taken by Masters in Publishing students from across the US and even one on an army base in Germany, we were told to go to a magazine newsstand and select a relevant magazine for an assignment. In other words, while assignments may be online, students often use books, magazines and other materials to complete their assignments.

In many classes, much of the course work is done via the Blackboard Discussion Board. On the Discussion Board the teacher may pose a question, ask for a reaction to the reading, ask for questions on the lecture or lead a discussion on any number of open ended topics. Sometimes a professor says you have to respond to one or more of your classmates, but often the discussions are so interesting people tend to interact with many more of their classmates. Also, Discussion Board topics are much more useful when the instructors weigh in on the subjects with their expertise and points of view.

Key to keeping an online class interesting and engaging is the teacher's ability to be organized and to be available to students via e-mail and other communications options. Since you can't see your professor in person, you have to get good at framing questions precisely so that the correct question gets answered. Teachers need solid lecture notes to make this work.

Online learners are also asked to do group projects and collaborate. Sometimes they collaborate via Blackboard tools. Sometimes they use other collaborative tools like Google Docs, a free collaborative offering from Google. Papers are collected online too. Students create Microsoft Word files for their papers and drop the assignments into a "Digital Drop Box." Like the drop box at Blockbuster, once you put your paper there, you cannot retrieve it.

People may be surprised to learn that tests can be given online as well. Sometimes tests are simply questions that  students can take as much time as they want to answer, and then post the answers to the Assessment section of Blackboard. Sometimes there are timed tests that have to be completed within a time frame stated in the Assessment section.

I know some online Universities use videos of teachers giving lectures, but that hasn't been my experience at Pace. Nor do I have to tune in to a "live" class at a certain time, which I know is a staple of some other University classes.

While I take some of my classes on campus, I enjoy my online classes as well. Done correctly, with great care from the instructor, the student gets individual attention even though he or she is just a name and an email address. I can't tell you how good returning to school has made me feel, fellow Boomers. So I highly recommend that those of you who haven't tried this before, take a class online to see how it suits you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Facebook Privacy--What it means for Boomers

Facebook changed its privacy policy this week, and basically reset everyone's privacy settings so that everyone can see everything you post. And Friends of Friends can see your photos.  If you click here, you will be sent to an excellent blog post by Brian Krebbs at the Washington Post that explains exactly what Facebook did. (Warning: you  may have to close an ad before you can be linked to the blog. It's annoying but worth it.) 

I don't intend to go over the same material Krebbs covered in this blog post. I only want to warn my fellow Boomers, especially the ones who are only occasional users of Facebook, to get in there and check your privacy settings immediately. I think that Boomers have an expectation of privacy that the younger generations who have grown up with social networking don't share. Yet, we have to expect that everything we put on the web will be fodder for some search engine sometime in the future, unless we protect it.

Do you really want Google or Bing pulling up posts you made to update your status? Take something innocent, like a post about a sick member of the family. Once that post is available to be indexed by Bing or Google, it is on the web for posterity, my friends. Your birthday is another example. If you let Facebook make this information public, then you are inviting marketers into your life. This blog article by Kaila Colbin shows how Facebook's decision to pull the privacy rug out from under its users is motivated by the the ability to sell the information it is collecting on us. I understand there are many ways that marketers can get this information anyway, but why make it easy to be a target for them?  The only way to protect your information is to make sure you keep your privacy settings updated.

Like many of my Boomer friends, I use Facebook to keep up with family and friends. I'm not interested in cultivating a vast number of friends of friends. And I am angry with Facebook for resetting my privacy settings --really without much notice. Frankly, I think they should have used my old settings as the default, and asked me to opt in to their new settings, which I would have refused.

Also, there should have been more notice given. While there was a big banner telling me to update my settings when I signed on last week, the keepers of the Facebook community didn't email me, and believe me, they have my email address. We all should have been warned before they made this huge change.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Turning in My Kindle

As I discussed in previous posts, I was privileged to be given a Kindle e-book reader by Pace University as part of a beta test of this device for use by graduate students. At the end of the semester, I was given the opportunity to buy my Kindle for less than half price. I've chosen not to buy it. In this post I want to examine my reasons why.

I was disappointed with the Kindle. Certainly, the device held three rather bulky text books in a small space, no bigger than a notebook, and that was a good thing. I was able to adjust the type size, a boon for a boomer who doesn't like to wear her glasses to read. (I'm talking about me!) And I could search for different topics in each book, something that came in handy in an educational setting. In addition, I liked that all versions of the book could be synchronized, whether I was reading the book on my Kindle, PC or iPhone.  However, the Kindle left much to be desired. I may buy an e-book reader in the future, but I think I'll hold out for one made by Apple. Most of my problems with the Kindle had to do with navigation (the book equivalent of flipping pages), and I think that's one area that Apple gets right.

The litany of things I didn't like about the Kindle is long. First, I didn't like that it doesn't have page numbers, only locations, and that there is no quick and easy way to see where you are within a chapter. Second, I was really unhappy with the little joy stick navigation device.  If you are in a book's table of contents and want to go to Chapter 3, you have to use this joy stick to point to the chapter you want to go to and then click it. The button is hard to use and maneuver. In the same vein, I didn't like the little keyboard and wound up using it as little as possible. Third, I didn't like the Sprint network Kindle used to download the books. I have no Sprint coverage in my house. I had to take my Kindle for a ride out in the car for it to download the books I ordered. Forth, well you get the idea...I don't think I need to beat up on Kindle. For some people, this device might be just what they needed, and I hope they enjoy it.

I'm just looking for something else. If I buy a e-book reader, I want it to mimic the way I use books and add some features I didn't know I needed but like. I want to flip through the pages with a flick of my finger. I want to be able to tell that I'm half way through a chapter easily. I want to be able to bring the e-book reader to the beach without worrying about it getting full of sand, gumming  up the electronics. I want to underline passages if I want, with little effort, and make notes easily, maybe even in hand writing.

I worry about the price point of my ideal device. After all Amazon was willing to let me have my beta tested Kindle for only $200. I won't spend $1000 on an e-book reader and that is the rumored price of Apple's new offering. It may be a while till I have access to a reader again, but I'll be keeping up with developments in this area. I think boomers are a great market for e-book readers, so when the companies finally get them right, we'll all benefit.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How to Use This Blog --for Boomers who want to know

First let me apologize for my silence these last few days. I've been waylaid by a sinus infection and spent much of the time sleeping rather than blogging. However, I'm back and hope to be a more regular contributor now.

This blog post is about How to Use This Blog, with some comments about how to use blogs in general. I know that many people my age don't understand this relatively new method of communications and feel stupid asking people about it. Yes, they've heard about blogs, and maybe they know what one is, but they are at a loss to find blogs they might enjoy reading.

One of my friends, who is very knowledgeable about the web, has simply ignored blogs because she didn't understand them. However, she was interested enough in my topic of Tech and the Baby Boomer to ask me how to find my blog. After she read it, however, she didn't understand how to interact with it. And she couldn't find it again the next time she looked for it.  So here is a short primer on how to read and interact with this blog.

You can find my blog at  But you can also find it through certain search engines. If you Google my name "Esther Surden" my blog listing in Blog Catalog will be among the first items you'll see.  A direct search result for this blog will be lower in this list.  If you click on this link, either from the search engine or from Blog Catalog, your browser will go to the this Blog's home page.

Since my blog is still a little hard to find on search engines, I'd suggest that people who come here, bookmark this page so they can come back. Just click on the tab at the top of your page that says "Bookmark" or "Favorites." That will allow you to save the Blog's home page as a place to come back to.

Let's say you've landed on my home page, now what? You'll see my latest blog entry on top. Blogs are like a diary, written with the last entry on top. You can read just one entry, or scroll through and read more. I hope you'll want to read more.

After you've read what I have to say, please comment. The comment section is after the post. To comment, just hit the link under the post that tells how many comments there are for a post. It will open the posted comments section and lead you to a box labeled "Post a Comment". Write what you like in the white box below.

In my blog, you won't be published right away. I monitor the comments to prevent spam. Under the comment window you'll see a  box that says "Comment As" and you'll have several options. You can use your AIM user name, your Google user name, or a name with a URL. You can also be anonymous.  Once you've decided how you want to be listed, click the preview button to preview your comments. Once you are satisfied with your comment, click the Submit button. After you submit the comment, I will get the comment from Blogger, look at it, and post it.

Of course there are other things you can do with my blog.
  • You can email blog entries to other people by clicking the little envelope under the post.
  • You can look up related content, by clicking on the Sphere icon that looks like a miniature globe. Sphere provides links to stories or other content that is similar to the content in my post. You'll have to deal with some ads if you click this link, however.
  • You can subscribe to my post via email, through the form in the right hand column. 
  • You can get my blog posts and comments sent to your home page through something called an RSS feed. (I'll be dealing with this in a future post)
  • You can Follow my blog posts through Google Friend Connect, if you want to join that program. (I'll also touch on this in a future post)
  • You can Tweet the post or share it on Facebook, if you want to.

Feel free to use my blog as your guinea pig --a place you can experiment with your skills at commenting or sharing. In another post, I'll talk about using some of the larger and well respected blog sites. Getting to know them can enrich your life.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Changing Your Facebook Profile Picture

Recently, a friend of mine asked me how she could change her profile picture in Facebook, so I decide to change mine to see how the process went. It was very easy to do and I think any Boomer should be able to follow the simple instructions in this Yahoo answers.

It's probably best to get the new picture ready (select it, know what file it is in) before you swap out pictures. Then you just go to your profile, move your mouse over your picture, and see the menu that pops up. Click on "Change Picture" and follow the instructions to upload a new picture or get rid of the one you have.  Actually, I liked my friend's old picture. But everyone has the right to change their face to the world any time they want, and Facebook does make it easy.

My friend's difficulty made me realize the tremendous differences we all have in our knowledge of  programs, even ones we use frequently. We may know Facebook enough to use it to update our walls and communicate with friends, but if we let a younger member of our family set up our profile page, we may not know how use some of the other functions.

The Help function on Facebook is really hidden, down at the bottom right corner of the page. It would be nice if the wise people at Facebook put it somewhere people are actually going to look for it.

When I first started using Facebook, I was baffled by the notice that came with  accepting a holiday card (for example) that said "Allowing [Put Application or Game name here] access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends' info, and other content that it requires to work. I thought it would make me give Facebook access to my entire email address book. Instead, what really happens is that Facebook looks at the friends and relatives you have on the site, and ASKs you if you want to send something to them. You can send something to all, some or none of them. In other words, the warning sounds scarier than it really is.

Anyway, I hope this information helps my friend swap out her picture. She could have found helpful info in many ways: by plugging in "change profile picture on Facebook" into a search engine, by looking at Yahoo Answers or a similar site, or by consulting the Help function on Facebook.  I'm glad she asked me.