Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kinder and Gentler Gadget Use

I recently came across a column by Lewis D. Diuguid in the Kansas City Star entitled "Gadgets too often stop us from enjoying life." Mr. Diuguid recounted many moments in which he found tech  intrusive: a man distracted from being in the moment with his wife in the movie theater, checking emails on a smartphone; parents talking on the phone in the car, ignoring their children; board meetings where devices left open on the table make annoying noises announcing the arrival of new messages.

Writing about these constant interruptions and distractions, Mr. Diuguid asks that we "put them (devices) to the best possible use for ourselves, our families and this community." In other words, he wants us to stop and think before we take out a smartphone or other device when we are in a social setting.

So where do I stand on this issue? I love technology but Mr. Diuguid isn't wrong here, especially as he gently admonishes us to interact with each other in person as much as we can. I've run into these situations myself. Out with a group of friends I rarely see, a couple spent time distracted from conversation, checking for texts from their grandchildren. Out to dinner, one couple I know constantly takes calls from their children. On the beach, someone is always conducting business in a loud voice when others want to relax.

I recently had a conversation with a friend whose sister uses a DVD player and headphones to keep her child quiet during a restaurant meal. I remember and understand: children are a challenge in a restaurant. My own kids were quite high maintenance and we brought a bunch of toys and workbooks along to help them cope with what can be a long time sitting for a little one. However, we also talked to them. They remember the science starter questions we brought along with us and how my husband taught them math and reading while waiting for chicken nuggets.

At home,  I must say I wasn't above parking the kids in front of Sesame Street and yes, even Power Rangers and Ghostbusters when I was exhausted or was trying to get a bit of writing finished. But that wasn't all I did. I tried to engage my children, and I bet you did too.  How are children going to learn how to behave and carry on conversations with adults unless we go through the painful process of helping them learn?

I noticed that digital gadgets were isolating as soon as digital music players became popular and my teenage children had them. Now, when we took car trips, they wouldn't complain as much. However, car time was the time when we really talked. We played car games and interacted, and they got silly and it was fun. Now we had nothing but silence between us.

A friend of mine who still has a teenaged son, says his son doesn't go out to ball games with his friends. Nor does he go over other kids' houses to watch the game on TV. Instead he sits at home and watches alone, sometimes on TV, sometimes on some other device, but interacts with others during the game, texting. Is this isolating behavior? I really don't know. Something is changing in the way we interact with others.

And in some ways this change is very, very good. I've written before about how the iPad can help the isolated elderly and disabled keep in touch with others. It certainly helps me. I don't like to "sit on the phone" but I'll write a quick email to let someone know I've been thinking about them or I'll update my Facebook status to reach out to my extended network of friends. 

Everyone here knows that I am a big proponent of technology. There is nothing I like better than being able to download a book at a moment's notice, use GPS to find where I'm going, or consult Google to figure out an answer to a question I have.

However, as Mr. Diuguid reminds us, "gadgets come and go...What counts, what must endure are relationships we forge with one another."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Posting Pictures and Albums to Facebook and Picasa

As you know, since I talked about it in my last post, I recently uploaded some pictures of my children's graduations to Facebook.

For my friends who aren't on Facebook, I uploaded the photos to Picasa. Picasa is the Google photo sharing site, and it is free as long as you don't exceed its limits. Google also has Picasa photo editing software you can use that straightens pictures or sharpens them easily. I find it much simpler to use than Photoshop, although it doesn't offer the tools serious photographers need.

Right now Picasa gives everyone more than a gigabyte of storage. You'd think that would be enough, right? I'm about half way to reaching that mark right now. Buying more storage is cheap, however. Google will charge you $5/year for 20GB.

As it turns out, it's very easy to post pictures and albums to sites like Facebook and Picasa, and to keep them private. Also, don't worry that you are going to lose your pictures should these online sites ever go out of business. You'll still have the photos on your computer. That is, if you've mastered the art of moving pictures from your devices to your hard drive.

Some of you Boomers reading this will laugh at this last line and others will recognize yourself in this. I don't know how many of my friends are waiting for someone tech savvy to "take" their pictures from their cameras and put them on their hard drives. This is easy folks, as long as you remember which cord came with your camera!

Usually all you have to do is attach one end of the cord to the camera and the other end to the USB port on your computer. I know, the place to attach the cord on the camera may be hidden in a compartment. You may have to ask someone the first time you try to find it. Or look at the book that came with your camera. Then just find an empty USB port on your laptop or desktop, and plug the cord in. You might have to turn your camera on to get the process rolling.

Depending on what software you have on your computer, the next steps could be simple or hard. In the best of all worlds, the computer will automatically upload the photos onto your system's hard drive. You'll see them zip by on the screen and into your system. Otherwise you may be prompted to start the uploading process. You also may be asked which one, of a number of programs, you want to handle the transfer. Nothing you click here is wrong. Usually, I let Microsoft handle the transfer process.

You might also be asked where on the disk you'd like to place the pictures. Some people designate a photo sub-folder in their Documents folder on their hard drive and others might prefer to have the photos delivered to a folder on their desktop.

Here's where some people get stuck: The system sometimes asks you if you want to erase the camera's data card after you've uploaded the pictures. That is entirely up to you. If you are afraid of losing the pictures, don't click erase. You just might need to buy a lot of storage cards for your camera.

(There are other ways to "get the pictures off of the camera." You can take your camera card to one of those machines in a pharmacy or Target, put the card in the matching slot, and get your pictures that way. That will create print copies of the pictures on the card, although that's not the primary subject of this post.)

After I've transferred the pictures from the camera to the computer, uploading to a site like Picasa couldn't be easier.  Go to Picasa and sign up. Then you'll be asked if  you want to upload some pictures. It used to be that you could only upload 5 pictures at a time. Now you can upload as many as you want.  This is what the uploader looks like:

Notice that you can restrict access to the pictures to "Anyone with a link." That way, only the people to whom you email a link will see your pictures. Since I don't think my pictures should be made public, I choose to restrict access. Choose a title for your album. I usually choose a descriptive title along with the date.  Here is the folder that includes one of the pictures I sometimes us as my head shot.

Press "Continue" and you'll be confronted with a dialog box which will instruct you to find the folder on your computer that  you want to upload. This is usually the folder that you stored the pictures in earlier.  Find it and select "Open" and the process should begin.

The process for uploading photos to Facebook is easy too.  At the top of your Facebook page you'll see this box. Click on "Photo" and you'll see these options:
If you choose the Upload a Photo tab from your hard drive you get this window:
Click "Browse" to find the photo you want and then click "Open." You've just added a picture to Facebook. Adding an Album is simple too. Just click on Album and Facebook provides this hint:
As Facebook says, you can select multiple photos from your computer by holding down the Control key. Or you can use their "Simple Uploader" which asks you to name the album first. Notice that I only share my albums with my friends.

I named my album : Sample. Click Browse and find the photos you want to upload to Facebook. Then click Upload Photos.

And that's about all there is to it. Give it a try yourself, and enjoy sharing photos of your important events with friends and family, without having to send out multiple emails to each.