Duo your lingo up with Duolingo!

This is a longer version of the article submitted to SkeriesNews for their 21 April 2017 edition.

duolingo-10So you’re thinking about that summer holiday, as you would, this time of year. South of France maybe. Or Italy. Spain beckons. Or that city tour to Germany you’ve been promising yourself? Finally make it to Russia, see the Kremlin for yourself? You could probably get by with English there, but wouldn’t it be more fun to be able to understand and speak the lingo a bit?

Indeed it would, and there is an easy (and free!) way to prepare yourself for the linguistic challenge – in just 5 minutes a day!  Continue reading

Dublin Tech Summit 2017

A Skerries Perspective

This article was published in the 24 February 2017 edition of Skerries News.

dublin-tech-summit-03

What will all the developments in technology mean for our daily lives, here in this seaside town in North County Dublin? What is in store, technologically, for the next generation – what will life be like for our son, who is now 16, when he is our age? Indeed what will life be like for us all in one, two decades? That’s what I found myself wondering after attending the two-day 1st Dublin Tech Summit in Dublin on February 15 and 16.

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Instagram and Skerries

instagram-and-skerries-in-skerries-news-nov-2016Q: So what is this now, Instagram???? Can’t people just share their pictures on Facebook?

A: Well, you go to Instagram to see good, interesting, fascinating, beautiful, handsome, intriguing, happiness-inducing images – mainly shot with a smart phone, and practically always square. You share them – normally not with anybody in particular, but with anybody who is looking. Whereas on Facebook you share pictures with family and friends mainly.
Or, as Instagram puts it: “Instagram is a fun and quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures. Snap a photo with your mobile phone, then choose a filter to transform the image into a memory to keep around forever.”

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Coding for All – Really?

For a numberSkerries News September 2016 of years, “coding” has been touted as the next big thing, the skill that our children will need in order to be part of the “smart economy” of the future; the skill that will make our youngsters rich and their parents proud, once they have created that million-dollar app. Coding clubs, so-called CoderDojos, for kids have sprung up all over the world; a number of countries have introduced programming into their curriculum, and in June of this year, the Minster for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, has asked the Irish National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to consider approaches to introducing the teaching of coding in primary schools. But is that really necessary? Is it even desirable?

As a former primary teacher (between 2010 and 2013, I worked in a number of North Dublin primary schools, both as resource and class teacher) and current “digital educator” (a term I may have made up myself, I’m not entirely sure), I can see both advantages and disadvantages of introducing every single child to programming. Continue reading

You are Here

Google Maps All the Way to your Holiday

july 2016 shot

Published as monthly Techie Column in Skerries News, 01 July 2016

It’s the time of year when holidays are on everybody’s mind. Whether you’re dreaming of going somewhere, or deciding which place to book; in the middle of planning the nitty-gritty of your trip, or getting ready to leave; when you’re actually there – and when you’re back home afterwards, Google Maps can add a lot to your vacation.

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Start taking the tablet!

Techie Column Header June 2016

A slightly shorter version of this post appeared in the June 3, 2016 edition of Skerries News

If you (or someone you know) belong(s) to those who don’t use the internet much (yet), because computers with their big screens and keyboards don’t suit, and smartphones are just too fiddly, then you might want to consider going the middle way- tablets!

Tablets are great because they can be taken practically anywhere, and yet their screens are big enough to actually see what’s happening.

Two experiences over the last year

About a year ago, a lady came to me for individual lessons. She had been given a smartphone for her 70th birthday – and returned it a couple of days later. She really didn’t like the tiny screen, and the way she never seemed to be able to tap on the correct link or icon. We tried a laptop, but she found it quite frustrating to use mouse and keyboard. But then she got herself a tablet – and never looked back since! The larger touchscreen was ideal for her. After two more sessions, she was able to do what she most wanted to – send and receive emails, take pictures and share them with friends and family, and stay in touch via Facebook and Messenger. I regularly see her updates from Skerries and from Spain, and they always cheer me up.

2016-05-08 21.30.50And last month, I once more saw how good a tablet can be in certain circumstances.  My mother, who is 79, was knocked off her bike and fractured her shoulder. She had to have surgery and spent ten days in hospital.  She has been using computers for a good while, and one of the first things she asked me to do when I went over to Germany following the accident was to check her email. She doesn’t have a smartphone (too small, too fiddly), and with an injured shoulder, the laptop wouldn’t have been very useful. A tablet once again was just right. I got a decent, not-too-expensive Lenovo, set it up for her, and brought it into hospital. After a short while (and with some assistance at first), she took to it and was now able to stay in touch from the hospital bed. She could find contact details for insurances and lawyers, she was able to google facts on her injury, and she could also send and receive emails.

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Learn it with Quizlet!

This column appeared in the 6 May 2016 edition of Skerries News.

Techie Column Header April 2016

Brushing up a language? Preparing for the Driving Licence Theory Test? Going on holidays, and you’d like to know the names of the most important sites to impress your pals who are going with you? Or even a Junior or Leaving Cert student with a list as long as your arm, of things that you ought to memorise, pronto?

Whatever your reason, there are many ways to learn facts, words, or numbers.

My favourite online place for this, and one I’ve recommended to anyone who would listen for long enough, is Quizlet. It’s a recommendation that my son brought home from school, and then promptly ignored. (He’s doing the Junior Cert this year.)
Life-long learning is one of the things I firmly believe in, and so I’m in the process of learning Spanish. Vocabulary doesn’t stick as much as I seem to remember it doing, so a different approach to just writing words down and hoping for the best was needed. So I went to Quizlet.com and created an account for myself.

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Five Thoughts on Email & Seven Quick Pointers for Setting It Up

Techie Column Header April 2016

This column appeared in the 8 April 2016 edition of Skerries News.

First thought: By now, it’s for everyone. These days, it seems to be expected of everybody to be on the internet and to have, at the very minimum, an email address. No computer? The library has some you can use for free!

Second: It’s simple. Using email has become pretty straightforward. If you’re new to it, don’t be shy to ask a friend or family member to walk you through it – after a couple of times, you’ll be able to do it all by yourself.

Third: Beware of spammers and tricksters! “This is Apple Corporation. Your account has been suspended. Please click here.” Don’t! “You have been selected for a tax refund.” No you haven’t! Most of these would end up in your spam folder. Delete and ignore.

Fourth: Don’t send too many Emails yourself, for instance by responding using “reply to all” to a group email, one that goes to many. Make sure that you only reply to the original sender – unless everybody needs to see it.

Fifth: Manage your inbox! A few minutes at a time make it easy to keep on top of it. Don’t let the messages build up… you don’t have to open every single one. Selecting and deleting them unread is often a good option. The subject line will give you a good idea.

Five quick pointers for setting up your email:

1. Choose your email name wisely. If at all possible, I would go with your actual name, with a dot between first name and last name. It’s easiest to read. Of course, if you’re John Smith, then john.smith@gmail.com will be gone long ago, so adding something like e.g. your location might be useful: john.smith.skerries@gmail.com is probably still available! Many use their year of birth – fine, if you’re happy to give it to everyone…. Me, I’d prefer my location.

2. Your password should be something you will always, always remember. Many places require them to be secure, so 1234 or password won’t work. Short Irish sentences do, however, especially when combined with punctuation marks and a number, such as anbhfuiltuanseo!2016 (no, I don’t use that as my actual password for anything, it’s just an example!)

3. Who to go with? Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail all are favourites. Personally, I use Gmail a lot. (More about Gmail in a future column.)

4. It’s probably a good idea to have keep work email and private email separate. For instance, if you are away from the office for a while, you don’t want to have to log on to your office email just to find that check-in information for the flight back.

5. Subscribe to email newsletters – if you are genuinely interested in receiving them! For instance, there is the near-daily Skerries Newsflash (see below) sent out by Skerries Community Association (SCA). This one I definitely do want.

6. Unsubscribe from newsletters regularly. You might have given your email address to a number of organisations, and now they send you emails. Again and again and again. And these clutter up your inbox. Don’t let them! Nearly all of them have an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom. Make use of it. Take some time to go through your inbox and unsubscribe from all the updates that are not useful or amusing to you.

7. And finally: Check your spam folder regularly. About 5% of emails that I receive and that Gmail moves there are not spam at all, and some of those would have been quite important NOT to miss.

Insider Tip: Skerries Newsflash

Every day, Dee Langton, one of the Directors of Skerries Community Association, takes the emails sent to newsflash@skerriesca.com and copies their text into the Newsflash, which then is sent out automatically early in the morning – community news, “small ads” type notices… if you get this, you’re certainly better informed about what’s happening in Skerries. (You can subscribe by sending an email with the subject line “Please add me to the Newsflash” to newsflash@skerriesca.com). Anyone can submit an item, though it is at the discretion of the SCA what goes in.

SCA Newsflash Promo Nov 2014

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

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