As smart as it gets – how a phone helps you track and motivate yourself

header March 2016
Now that the days are getting brighter, and summer is approaching, you might find yourself thinking of ways to improve your health & fitness – and you may even be thinking of that bikini or those shorts you’d love to be able to wear at the beach without embarrassment…. So here are some ways in which you can utilise your constant companion, that smartphone, in this quest!

So where have I been…?

Personally, I swear by tracking all my walks (and runs and – though rare – cycles) using a fitness app called Strava. Strava was originally aimed at athletes in training, and allows you to link it to a heart-rate monitor using Bluetooth. This means that, if running or cycling, you can analyse your activity level afterwards, and also see your speed and heart rate for any point of your walk.strava dot com

Do you remember Count Count from Sesame Street? He was one of my favourites. I love keeping track of things, and since I discovered Strava for tracking walks, runs, cycles, and much more, I haven’t looked back. The free version is enough to get you started (and, as in my case, probably hooked, if you’re that type of person).

What I like most about Strava is that it records where I go, and lets me draw red lines on maps by simply walking around. To me, that is hugely motivating.

2016-03-02 12.36.40A loop walk from our house in Kelly’s Bay via Skerries Rock, Townparks, Dublin Road out the Dublin Road, up towards Milverton, past Ardla Cemetery and the gates of Ardgillan, down to the sea and back via Barnageeragh to our house is 8.8 km and includes going up and down 91 m in total. Who would have thought!

You can add comments and photographs, and it builds up to a wonderful collection of tracked wanderings. I must admit that I am much more likely to take an extra walk, especially when abroad, just to create another entry in my personal time line!

You can share your data with “friends,” connect with others, write comments, like people’s efforts and follow them etc. – which isn’t what I do, as it’s enough for me to see for myself what and how I’m doing, but many others love that aspect.

Balbriggan

Balbriggan

Another great thing is that when I’m in a new place – like recently, when I went on a walk in an area of Balbriggan I had never seen before – I can see where I am while I’m walking, if switching to Map View. I like walking for a certain amount of time, say 15 minutes, and then turning round and retracing my steps – but as my sense of orientation isn’t always great, it helps being able to see the line on the Strava map, and just making sure that the bleeping dot that indicates where I am stays on that blue line. That way, I’ll certainly find back to my car without too many difficulties!

Ellmau, Austria (skiing)

Ellmau, Austria (skiing)

Strava can be set to a large number of sports, including skiing, mountain biking, etc.; it’s optimised for cycling and running. For those, you can even specify which bike / pair of shoes you are using (and they let you know when they think it’s time to replace them, too).

Get in that extra walk.

Wangerooge, Germany

Wangerooge, Germany

Sevilla

Sevilla

What’s more, you can even use Strava when abroad, without it costing an arm and a leg in roaming charges – just set “location” to “on,” but “data roaming” to “off,” and you can record as normal & look at your mapped walk afterwards when you’re back where you can get WiFi. A whole new dimension to exploring a new city or going on a long, leisurely stroll along the beach – now you can figure out how many glasses of Sangria or ice creams you have just earned. Careful! Don’t undo the good work you’ve just done with that walk…

This blog article is based on my monthly column on all things digital in the March 11, 2016 edition of Skerries News.

If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for future columns, you can contact me at Sabine@cccSkerries.com

 

Cloud Storage And You

The Cloud is For Everyone

If you have any files (photographs, documents, spreadsheets), you should seriously consider using a cloud storage service. The cloud is for everyone!

Clouds on a blue sky over Skerries

When people speak of “the cloud,” they mean networks consisting of a large number of connected computers that are normally located in computer warehouses. Rather than being stored on one specific computer, data is shared across these networks, with in-built redundancies: If one computer goes down, the data is still available on another computer.

If we’re using the internet, we’re in the cloud. We often don’t even think about it, just take for granted that we can see our email, log onto Facebook from any computer that is connected to the internet, and our posts, our photographs, everything will just be there for us – stored on some server somewhere in the internet. So there we are, using “the cloud” on a daily basis.

Cloud storage has real advantages for the individual. There are a number of ways that each of us can use it. The most common ones are Dropbox, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple’s iCloud and Google Drive – you’ve probably heard of them, as most new laptops come with a certain amount of free storage space, such as OneCloud.

Once you have saved your files to the cloud, you can access them from any computer with internet access – a great advantage! No need to bring documents on USB sticks, or to lug your own laptop around with you. Your sister wants to see those videos you made at Mam’s 60th? No problem. Fellow u-12 coach is interested in your training plan? Just find a computer, go online and call it up. Bingo!

Cloud Mode 1: The cloud as your back-up

The Cloud is a useful place to back up your data and has taken the place of an external hard drive for many people. Maybe you worry about losing your files on your computer – hard-disk crash, theft, or just a failed upgrade to a new operating system can all endanger your things. In this case, using storage on the cloud is a safe and easy way to back them up. You may have to be selective, if you want to store videos or large amounts of photographs –  or you may wish to pay and increase your storage space. For many, it will be enough: The free space of 2 Gig, offered by Dropbox, for instance, can hold 480 songs (based on average song length), 1,200 typical photographs, or over 40,000 Word doc pages.

If you need more space in the cloud, you can pay for it. Typically, €2 per month already gets you a sizable increase.

Cloud Mode 2: The cloud is where your data lives – and your applications!

Let’s say you have very little, if any, space to store files on your device (e.g. you have a Chromebook, or a HP Steam netbook). Or you constantly use different computers, like in libraries or internet cafés (maybe you’re travelling a lot).

Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive have online storage AND online applications. That means you can create documents (texts, presentations, spreadsheets…) online, without having to download or own any program. I’ve used Google Drive a lot in different contexts, and it’s very straightforward. While the Microsoft Office suite has a lot more powerful tools, you may only need those in rare circumstances.

And then there were three… Working together online

An additional bonus of cloud storage is the ease with which you can share documents. It’s very important, of course, to choose the right access level! You can let others view files (lowest level), or comment on them, or edit them (highest).

If you are preparing a presentation with others while using Google Drive, for instance, you can edit the same document at the same time. You’ll be able to see who else is working on it right now, and you’ll see their changes on your screen. There is even a chat function so you can discuss what you are doing.

Beware…

Having sung the praises of cloud storage, I must add a warning, too.

When your data is in the cloud, you don’t have 100% control over it. There are, of course, data protection procedures which especially the larger players like Apple, Google, Dropbox and Microsoft have to abide by. Still, it’s better to familiarise yourself with the situation by actually reading the terms and conditions, and not just checking that box. This includes the question whether third parties might get access, such as the state or the Gardaí.

A very good background article on Cloud Storage was written for Gizmodo by Adam Clark Estes. It’s called “What Is The Cloud – And Where Is It?” and tackles the origins and history of cloud computing as well as security and safety concerns. Overall, Adam too comes  down on the side of “life without a hard drive.”

If you’d like to get an idea how often governments ask for user data, you could start with the Google Transparency Report.

So what to choose?

New computers often come with free storage space on the cloud, and you may find it best to go with the package included with yours.

Personally, I started with Dropbox some four years ago, and I love it. Once installed, it looks like an additional drive on your computer, and all files are physically stored on your hard disk as well as synchronised to the internet. You can access your material online, but you can also work on them when there is NO internet. We are so used to having internet access all the time, but being able to do offline editing may still be necessary in a number of other circumstances (for instance, I’m writing this on the train where there is unreliable WiFi access), which is why I like having my files on my laptop. Dropbox automatically synchronises all files when I’m online; when I’m offline, I have a copy of everything on my laptop, the way it was when I last went online and the computer synchronised. You do need to check that your files are always up-to-date, though, because it can happen that you work on an older version.

I also use Google Drive a lot, because it makes collaboration so easy, and because I can use it with students who may not be using the same computer every time we work together. Also, it’s possible to search (Google) images and information straight from within your document – another bonus.

Outlook: Cloudy with a chance of more?

The cloud is here to stay, and it has serious advantages for the everyday user. For safety (backup), ease of access, and collaboration, it beats external hard drives and USB sticks hands-down. If you’re not using it yet, do give it a try!

This blog article is based on my monthly column on all things digital in the Feb 12, 2016 edition of Skerries News.

If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for future columns, you can contact me at Sabine@cccSkerries.com

 

Useful links

drive.google.com

dropbox.com

onedrive.com

icloud.com

IT Pro: Google Drive vs Microsoft Skydrive head-to-head review

 

Google Search: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

techie column beam

Digital Thoughts for Non Techies – a monthly column in Skerries News

Just Google it!” That’s what many of us do when we come across something we don’t know, or to settle a dispute. That actor in the movie everyone seems to be talking about. The difference between cappuccino and latte. Ray O’Shaughnessy. Ham Sandwich.  Population of Fingal.

Over the years, search has gotten a lot simpler, and a lot more sophisticated at the same time.

You can now just type in questions, and Google makes sense of them for you. Like:
How to draw a minion, how to eat a pomelo, how to bleed radiators. (All of these were among the top 10 “how to” searches in 2015!)

what is skerries like

Google even personalises search results, based on what it knows about you – some people find this useful, others creepy. I tend to be more on the “useful” side – as I teach coding to kids, for instance, the “Scratch” I’m interested in is the one to do with computer programming, not the one to do with DJs, nor the one dealing with the paint of cars; and when I type in “Doctor Who Episodes” I get results relating to a certain BBC television programme, not something about a doctor who deals with episodes of, say, influenza.
Google also knows where you are (if you allow it to see your location), so when I for example type in “weather,” it shows me the current temperature in Skerries. Handy!

weather

Beware, however, of advertisements that look like search results… A lot of the time, the top links have a small yellow rectangle on the left-hand side, with the word “Ad” in it. And these are not the actual results (also known as “organic search results”), but – you guessed it – ads! Especially when looking for flights or insurances, you might end up in the wrong (and more expensive) place…

ryanair not ryanair

By the way, if you see something on the internet that you’d like to search for, simply select the word(s) with your mouse, then right-click and click on “Search Google for”…””. Google will open up a new tab with the results for you.  No need to type!

right click to search

There are some other great search tricks – such as:

  • get information on a flight if you know the flight number – try “EI105” – very handy if picking up people from the airport, you can easily check if the plane is on time!
  • get the weather forecast for any place – try “forecast Vancouver”
  • set a timer (type in “set timer 10 min”)
  • type in “translate [foreign word]” and you’ll get the translation straight away, no need to click anywhere else, Google will even find the language for you – try “translate do rogha”
  • type in a maths problem – the answer will be in the search results, together with a calculator app! Try “56088 / 456”
  • find out when your favourite series is on again, or was on last: “ros na run episodes”
    This one is also great if you want to quickly get to a recap of an episode you may have missed.

Insider Tip: Seven search terms for those who like the (slightly) unexpected…

Type in (or of course select, right-click and select “search Google for…”) the following and see what happens!

  • Do a barrel roll
  • Google in 1998
  • Blink html
  • Fun facts
  • askew
  • zerg rush
  • Atari Breaktout [then click on image search]

And possibly my favourite:
– A long time ago in a galaxy far far away

a long time ago in a galaxy far far away

Did you try any of the suggestions here? What do you find Google most useful for? What would you like me to explore in one of my next monthly columns? Let me know!
This monthly column on all things digital from a Skerries perspective is written by Sabine McKenna, who has been using computers since the 1980s, and set up Creative Computing Classes Skerries in 2012. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for future columns, you can contact here at Sabine@cccSkerries.com

The above article appeared in the mid-January 2016 edition of Skerries News.

Jan mid 2016 Skerries News front page

Hour of Code 2015

This December, practically all cccSkerries groups are participating in the Hour of Code. Starting with code.org/mc we watched Jeb of Mojang / Minecraft fame and then worked our way through a coding tutorial – amusing for those who can already code, and a good introduction for those who can’t. Why not try it yourself? 🙂

It being Minecraft-themed added to its attractiveness, of course.

And then there are those of us who like Doctor Who.

So we are trying their Game Maker platform as well. This is more assembling a game than actual coding, but worth a go as well, especially to those of us who are Whovians and maybe find the time until the Christmas Special that little bit long…

Hit the pic to open it!

aaaa

By the way, if you would like to join one of our cccSkerries classes, or know somebody who would, we have limited availability at the moment for Introduction to Coding, Minecraft Club, and Computer Wizards. Start in January!

See cccSkerries.com/weekly or contact me at Sabine@cccSkerries.com!

Five reasons why you might join Facebook after all.

 

Digital Thoughts for Non Techies – a new monthly column in Skerries News, by Sabine McKenna

Digital Thoughts for Non Techies – a new monthly column in Skerries News

Want to keep up with what’s happening in Skerries? Be on Facebook!

Dec 2015 Skerries News front pageYou can, of course, enjoy Facebook for seeing what your friends and family share, and for sharing your own thoughts, pictures, and opinions with them. Many people enjoy this part of Facebook. Others prefer not to. Either way, Facebook has evolved into a platform that is about much more than that perfect cappuccino you just had, or your favourite holiday haunt. It’s become part of the fabric of our local community. And that can be a brilliant thing!

If you have been reluctant to join Facebook so far, I would advise you to think again, and here are five reasons why – all from a Skerries point of view.

Facebook search how

One. Fancy going to a play, a gig, a movie? See what’s on.

Skerries Theatre Group, Raff’s On The Corner, Blue Bar, Rockabill Film Society

Two. See what’s happening in the community.

Skerries Community Association. Skerries Tidy Towns. Skerries Town Twinning. Skerries Adopt A Beach. To name just the first five that come to mind. And of course Skerries News!

Three. Try a new hobby or activity? There are quite a few to be found on Facebook!

Millhill Ladies Badminton Club. Skerries Camera Club. Skerries Chess Club. Skerries frosties (swimming). Skerries Watersports Academy. Skerries Women’s Volleyball Club. Yoganamara. And many, many more.

Four. Shop local!

Wisteria Skerries. Aidan O’Brien Butchers. Chic Boutique. Greg Reddins. Skerries Bookshop, Red Island Wine Company. All hairdressers, as far as I can tell. Delis. Restaurants.
The shops in Skerries Mills Courtyard, like Karen Wilson Art and The Stash Cupboard. The list would go on and on!

And five: Know what’s on for kids, too.

Many schools have Facebook pages, many parents’ association have Facebook groups.
MSPA (Moore school of performing arts), Needles & Pins, Skerries ArtSchool, Skerries Cookie Club.

The beauty of Facebook is that you don’t HAVE to see all this – just what YOU are interested in.

SCA on FacebookAnd this is just the start, I haven’t even gone near information about local attractions like Skerries Mills or Ardgillan Castle, local artists & writers, or local services! There are loads more of voluntary / charitable / community organisations, certainly worth a full column in their own right. Fingal County Council, the local libraries, the met office… all of those have information available online – at times useful, at times colourful, and sometimes both.

Once you’ve joined Facebook, all you need to do is search for Skerries!


 

Insider TiFacebook snipp: – You will not automatically see everything posted by a page you follow. If you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing, you need to tell Facebook. You can do that by going into the page, and hovering over the “Liked” button. Then go to “Posts in News Feed” and “Notifications.”

 


 

This post first appeared in Skerries News, Dec 1-14, 2015, p. 33.

Christmas Laptop Present Thoughts

Some of the cccSkerries laptops.

Some of the cccSkerries laptops.

Halloween is hardly over, and the thoughts turn to Christmas.

For many, a laptop for the youngster(s) in the house is a consideration. I’m often asked which I would recommend…

That’s a difficult question as it really depends on what you need the laptop to be able to do. Is it general use, bit of googling, research for school projects, some video-watching, bit of not-too-intense gaming? Then you need roughly what I need for my cccSkerries classes, and I find my cccSkerries workhorse computers (which serve me well for general coding purposes) do the trick.

They are Acer Aspires like this one,  £239 currently, and Lenovos like this one, £299. I run them on Windows 10, and I use Google Chrome for accessing the internet.
[Those are not affiliate links, for those who wonder about such questions – I’m only linking to Amazon as that’s where I buy my laptops, to make it easier to find them.]

Edited to include the following paragraph, thanks PH who wrote:

 “Just thought I’d mention that Lenovo themselves have great deals online. So eg The Lenovo G50-30 you mention is only €329.99, whereas through Amazon with Sterling conversions etc £299 could be €425………..so be careful & save yourself €100…………”

And you can find the G-Series here.

Refurbished laptops might be an option, too – I have never used Laptopsdirect.ie but they seem to have an interesting list of refurbished Acer laptops, at very good rates. Worth a look, too.

There is no need to purchase Microsoft Office as you can use Google Drive and the various Google Apps, like Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides, for free once you have a gmail address (which would need to be set up and managed by an adult for under-13s).

Insurance? 

Is it worth adding up to a third of the product price for insurance? Many places offer this at the check-out.

I would normally decline. I find that I am more careful with tech items that I don’t buy comprehensive insurance for. And if the worst comes to the worst… not having bought insurance for four or five items means that I can “afford” the next one to break – and if it doesn’t, I have made a profit, compared to buying insurance! Happy days!

A Minecraft Space Station Project

In the summer of 2015, during a number of sessions of our cccSkerries Minecraft Club, Eoin (age 10) used the time to build something great.

While the others were having adventures on our shared server, he created two space stations and four fighter planes.

This was done for the 2015 EUMETSAT  Learning Zone Minecraft Competition.

EUMETSAT is the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, and Ireland is one of its 30 member countries.

We made a short video (just over four minutes) of his entry – hope you like it!

PS: Unfortunately, the entry didn’t win a prize – but it’s still fantastic, don’t you think? The judges said: “It was a real challenge to evaluate the wide range of satellites from so many entrants as fairly as possible. All of the designs were exceptional from their backgrounds, ideas and / or interpretations, to the amount of effort that went into them.” See the 2015 Learning Zone Minecraft Results page for the winners.

Scratch Competition Studio 2015

2015 Scratch Competition Entries

All these projects were created by participants in our cccSkerries Coding Classes (beginners and advanced). For the National Scratch Competition 2015, we had to pick 10 as we could not enter more than that. Here are our ten contestants! We should know by the end of April how they got on. Fingers crossed! – Sabine

PS: Wait for the page to load (might not work on a phone / tablet), then click into the project you’d like to watch or play. Enjoy!

Scratch Competition Studio 2015

  • draw your own things by destroyer200
  • “green flag to start.r to rub out.space to stop drawing.a to start drawing again.it may glitch at the start.arrow keys to move.press small line for skinny line.fat line for fat line.white for rubber”

  • weather by bazzab
  • “press green flag and see what happened. ENJOY!!!”

  • Purpleman (BETA) by ChikenEater
  • “Arrows to move and space to jump. There may be a few glitches and only levels 1 and 2 are programmed.
    V.1.0: Added this game to Scratch.
    V.1.1: Added Level 2”

  • The Zombie Infestation 1.3 by MrSupreme4543
  • “W = up A = left S = down D = right ( you’ll get used to it once you’ve played it a couple of times) Left mouse button to shoot You can use your arrow keys to select weapons. (To properly play make sure you have a mouse and its best to play this on a computer) ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
    Notes and Credits
    V1.3 Added the crosshair back changed the hit marker a bitV1.2 Finallyyyyyyyyyyyyy character selectI have a started a character select but its taking some time so just pick one of the circles.V1.1 Added a high score system (new accounts will only have a personal score system upgrade your account to have a chance to be the best)New people have started working on this with me
    egganiki : http://scratch.mit.edu/users/egganiki/
    space sphere : http://scratch.mit.edu/users/space_sphere/
    but remember i’m in charge and get the most credit (saying that in the nicest way possible) (:

    Added a super secret easter egg

    V1.0 added a main menu

    V0.9 added so when a zombie dies he respawns somewhere else deleted the health pack added health regen but it is very slow edited the hit marker

    V0.8 Added a shotgun press left arrow key to select

    V0.7 Added weapon selection by arrow keys UP = USP.45 DOWN = AK-47

    V0.6 added ak47 no more movement by arrow keys.

    V0.5 Added stuff to randomize where everything spawns and i tried to add a AK47 but its pretty glitchy and you cant use it now i’ll try to get it to work.

    V0.4 just did some stuff readying variables for a time in the future

    V0.3 Added a health bar for the player and loads more zombies and
    in the comments tell me what you want in the game.

    V0.2 Added more zombies and they can now die also changed the survivor to Santa Claus.

    V0.1 The game is made but nowhere near complete.

Sabine in dlr Libraries

I’ll be in Dún Laoghaire / Rathdown a good bit in April & May, so if you know someone in the right age interested in Scratch (Deansgrange) and / or Minecraft (Dún Laoghaire, Stillorgan, Blackrock), pass on the word! 3 sessions, free, must be booked with the libraries directly.
Scratch Coding Deansgrange: 3x Wed April 15/22/29
3-4.30 Age 7-10yrs /1st-3rd class
5-.6.30 Age 10-12yrs/ 4th-6th class
deansgrangelib@dlrcoco.ie

Minecraft Dlr LexIcon 3x Wed in May: 6/13/20
3-4.30 1st-3rd class
& 5-6.30 4th to 6th class
dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie
Minecraft Stillorgan library. 3x Thurs in May: 7/14/21
3.30-5pm 10-12yr olds
stillorganlib@dlrcoco.ie

Minecraft Blackrock library 3x Sat Mornings in May: 16/23/30
75 mins sessions
10-11.15 for 7-10yrs
11.30-12.45 for 10-12yrs.
blackrocklib@dlrcoco.ie

Sabine in dlr April May 2015