Trails End Computer Club

Bulletin for the week of DECEMBER 21, 2014

WEEKLY MEETINGS
EACH Wednesday 

Program or Lesson 9:30 - 10:30 AM
One on One Help 10:30-?
In the Library


SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS:

If you would like to meet in a small group to discuss special computer related subjects or form a Special Interest Group lets discuss it.

Our bulletin is also available on line by visiting tecc.apcug.org and clicking on bulletin.


Our weekly program or lesson is intended
to be of interest to all computer users.
Following the program an allotment of time will
be available for one on one help to those
who want a better understanding of something done
 during the presentation.

Upcoming Events, Next Meeting January 7, 2015

Wednesday JANUARY 7, 2015 Meeting
 9:15 AM Set up your computer
 9:30 AM Presentation
10:30 AM One on One help

IraGoogle Chromecast - Inexpensive Competitor to Cable and Satellite Entertainment

by Ira Wilsker

 

                                                                                                                    WEBSITES: 

2https://www.google.com/chrome/devices/chromecast/index.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromecast

https://www.google.com/intl/en_us/chrome/devices/chromecast/index.html

http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/devices/chromecast/index-opt-a.html

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/streaming-chromecast-passes-apple-tv-150024539.html

http://www.cnet.com/products/google-chromecast/

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2422300,00.asp

https://www.google.com/chrome/devices/chromecast/apps.html

https://support.google.com/chromecast/?hl=en#topic=3447927

https://support.google.com/chromecast/answer/2998336

https://www.google.com/chromecast/backdrop/

 


 
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           You may have seen the recent TV commercials for a new device from Amazon called Fire Stick, which is so new that it is just starting to be shipped.  Another device which recently came on the market with great fanfare is the Roku Streaming Stick.  Several other comparable devices are in development, or recently came on the market creating a crowded field of competitive products.  One that has been on the market since the summer of 2013, is Google's Chromecast, which has become well established with "millions" sold, according to a July, 2014 statement from Google.  One may wonder what all of the buzz is about, and why so many companies are developing or producing these items.  How did Google manage to sell "millions" of Chromecast devices (their words) in the first 12 months that it was available? The answer is simple - these relatively inexpensive items have become an entertainment tool that for many users, can somewhat compete with satellite or cable TV at a fraction of the price.

            One of my daughters recently "cut the cable", even though she was on a very good fiber optic system with hundreds of TV channels, dozens of movie channels, and other features, because in her eyes the monthly cost was becoming prohibitive.  She also has a separate very high speed internet service which she believed could be better utilized for entertainment purposes, as well as providing a reliable connection for her chosen digital telephone service.  She and her husband like streaming movies, sports, music, features, and other entertainment;  living in the Dallas area, all of the local TV stations, both local and network, are available over the air for free, using an inexpensive digital antenna hooked up to the TVs around her house.  By connecting her TVs to the internet, using some of the readily available and inexpensive devices, she has found that there is nothing that she is really missing from her former expensive cable service, other than a large monthly bill.  By her calculations, she believes that she is saving about $150 per month using these alternative devices to connect her TV to the internet in her home.  Some of the newer "smart TVs" that recently came onto the market do not need external devices to connect to the internet, as they are already capable of receiving alternative internet based entertainment through an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection.  Since she does not (yet) have a new smart TV, one of the devices that she uses is the Chromecast device from Google.

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          A Chromecast device, which Google refers to as a digital media player,  looks very similar to a common USB flash drive, and is about the same size and weight, but has an industry standard HDMI plug, rather than the USB plug found on a typical flash drive.  Specifically a Chromecast device is 2.38" long, 1.38 inches wide, and 0.47 of an inch thick, and weighs 1.2 ounces.  Inside, where the magic takes place, is a Nexus Q microprocessor (CPU), with 512 MB of fast DDR3L RAM, and 2 GB of storage.  Power is supplied through a standard micro USB plug and power source (included), similar to the chargers and plugs used on most of today's smart phones.  The standard HDMI plug on the end of the Chromecast plugs directly into an available HDMI port on the TV (most newer TVs have multiple HDMI inputs), and Chromecast receives the digital media through Wi-Fi utilizing the common 802.11 b/g/n protocols at 2.4GHZ.  Obviously, the user needs to have a decent home Wi-Fi system in order to utilize the Chromecast.  The device itself is readily available in the big box stores, discount stores, online retailers, and direct from Google, and carries a suggested retail price of $35.  Bargain shoppers can currently find the Chromecast on sale online for as little as $22 including a bundle of digital media streaming services.

            Installation of the Chromecast is a simple and fast three step process; Google says, "Plug in and Play" which consists of plugging the Chromecast into an available HDMI port on the TV and powering the device through the included micro USB plug, connecting the device to the home Wi-Fi, and then "Enjoy - Cast apps from your mobile device to the TV."  Casting apps is the process of selecting entertainment channels using any compatible smart device attached to the home Wi-Fi, such as a phone or tablet, including Android tablets and smart phones, iPhones and iPads, Chrome for Windows, Chrome for Mac and Chromebooks.  In effect, the hand held smart device becomes the remote control, and the apps are the selected streaming media sources.       

            The list of streaming media apps that are available for the Chromecast is extensive, and includes a large selection of both free and paid subscription services.  Google has an updated app directory at http://www.google.com/chrome/devices/chromecast/apps.html and as to be expected from Google, is totally searchable, or content can be displayed by genre'.  Among the category headings are Featured, New, TV & Movies, Music & Audio, Games, Sports, Photos & Video, and "More".  Selecting a media source from these app directories connects directly to the appropriate download; if it is a paid or subscription app, such as Netflix, that information is clearly displayed prior to any purchase.  Among the more popular casting apps are HBO GO, Netflix, Watch ESPN, Just Dance Now, Showtime Anytime, YouTube, and the large assortment of digital media available from Google Play.

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       The "Featured Apps" include the most popular apps, and includes in addition to the more popular apps listed above, Nickelodeon, Hulu Plus, Comedy Central, Sesame Street, Pandora, game shows, Disney, Starz, Encore, iHeart radio, Major League Baseball, Crackle, NPR, Vudu, and dozens of other apps.  The "Music and Audio" lists hundreds of domestic and international streaming music sources, including some local and international radio stations.  Personally I am not into digital games, but the "Games" section lists about 75 streaming games that can be played on the Chromecast.

            I would expect that one of the major uses of Chromecast would be to watch sports, and the "Sports" selection may satisfy fans of most major sports.  Included in the Sports apps are,  WatchESPN, UFC.TV, MLB.TV Premium, MLS MatchDay, NFL Game Pass, MLS Live, Red Bull TV, a high school sports channel, and several foreign sports channels.

            The "More" category includes dozens of casting apps including PBS for Kids, TED Chromecast, UDEMY (online classes), ABC News, Funny or Die, FM radio stations, a baby monitor, QVC, iFood TV and Recipes, religion channels, local and international TV news stations, and many other apps.

            Often, we may see something online or on our smart phones that we would like to view on the big TV screen; Chromecast can handle that.  According to Google, "Whatever you’re listening to or watching -- you can cast it straight from your Windows, Mac, or Chromebook directly to the TV. To cast from your laptop, just add the Google Cast extension to your Chrome browser."  Owners of Android smart phones or tablets can broadcast directly from their screen to the TV using the appropriate app.

            Chromecast devices are popular, with users receiving over 400 billion programs in the first year (source, Google).  According to the news site Gigaom, in an article dated December 7, 2014, "Streaming on Chromecast passes Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV in US", the author Kevin C. Tofel explains, "What happens when you offer the combination of a simple user experience, a growing choice in streaming apps and a low cost? You sell a lot of that product and people use it. That’s what happened in 2014 to the Chromecast according to Parks Associates, who say that Google‘s $35 streaming stick now trails only Roku players in the U.S. when it comes to streaming content."  While Roku released a competitive stick device during the summer of 2014, larger Roku streaming players have been on the market much longer than the Chromecast.

            Amazon, who is no slouch when it comes to introducing and implementing new technologies, will be shipping by the time that you read this its new $39 Fire TV Stick, as a direct1 competitor to Chromecast and similar devices, but offers improved Wi-Fi connectivity, more internal memory, a more powerful dual-core processor, and other technical enhancements.  Basically, the Fire TV Stick offers much the same content as Chromecast, but adds the hundreds of thousands of movies and TV shows currently available at no additional cost to Amazon Prime subscribers (currently $99 per year) which for many users is price and selection competitive to Netflix, plus offers a lot of benefits in addition to streaming media, such as free second day delivery of most items from Amazon.   The Fire TV Stick also includes a separate remote control device, or the user can use a free smart device app as a remote control.  In terms of disclosure, I pre-ordered an Amazon Fire TV Stick at a greatly discounted price, and will review it when it arrives.  Since I already have an Amazon Prime account, I will be able to utilize Amazon's massive video and TV library when the Fire TV Stick arrives.

            One suggestion that many readers might find helpful if considering using one of these Wi-Fi connected stick devices to provide digital content to a flat screen TV; if the TV is physically located in close proximity to the Wi-Fi router, such as in the same room, signal strength should be fine.  An easy way to roughly figure Wi-Fi signal strength is to connect a smart device to the Wi-Fi, and note the signal strength (bars) precisely at the location where a stick device would be connected.  In my house, our bedroom TV is a distance from the Wi-Fi router, with several walls in between, giving only a "3 bar" Wi-Fi strength where the Chromecast is currently connected to that TV.  To improve the signal strength, I purchased a deeply discounted, factory refurbished, major name brand "Wireless-N Range Extender", and mounted it on the stand directly below the HDMI port on the bedroom TV; now my phone shows all 5 Wi-Fi signal strength bars, indicating a very strong signal, which has dramatically improved the performance of the stick device.

            Either as a replacement for, or as a substitute to cable and satellite TV service, these stick devices may be a very cost effective way of "cutting the cable" as my daughter did.  As inexpensive as these stick devices are, and with the entertainment capabilities that they provide, one of these new stick devices may be a worthwhile investment.


Easy Basic Backups

By Jim Cerny, 2nd Vice President, Sarasota PCUG, FL

August 2014 issue, Sarasota Technology Monitor            www.spcug.org               jimcerny123 (at) gmail.com

 

Unfortunately it is not a perfect world and, as you know, any mechanical device can fail.  Because your computer and/or your hard drive can fail, everyone (this means you) needs to take the extra step on a regular basis to make sure that you have a good backup.  I am always surprised at the number of people who just don’t do backups at all – they will have a real problem if something goes wrong. There have been many “backup” articles written and I would encourage you to read some of them.  But the purpose of this article is just to give you the basics first and then you can decide what further steps you need to take and what more information you may need.  Here is the “basic backup” information:

  1. Why do I need to do a backup? – In case your computer or hard drive fails
  1. What is a “backup” anyway?  It is simply a copy on another memory device.
  1. What should I back up?  This is good question. I do not backup my entire “C” drive, I only backup those files that are important to me – those files I NEED to keep.  I do not backup my software/programs. For example, I have many documents (files) which I created using the Word program. Well, I can use someone else’s Word program and their computer in an emergency to open those files from my backup device.  I can also use “Open Office” to open those files. I just need my files which I have backed up and a computer that has Word or is connected to the internet. Get the picture? A backup is also great when you get a new computer and need to put all your files in it. I backup everything in the “My documents” and “My pictures” folders – that is, I backup all the files I have in “My documents” and all “My photos”. I do not backup “My music” or “My videos” because I don’t have any of those that are important to me. You do NOT have to backup your email or anything that you have saved on the internet cloud (such as on Google Drive, or Dropbox for example). Certainly you may choose to use the internet cloud as your backup device. NOTE:  Photos and videos take up MUCH more space than other files –see below.
  1. How often should I do a backup? As often as needed so that you do not lose anything important. I do a backup every three or four weeks.
  1.  How do you do a backup? I use either an external hard drive or a thumb drive that plugs into a USB port on my computer. (I don’t recommend using CD or DVD disks for doing backups as you will probably run out of space on the disk and have to use too many of them.) I just connect my drive, create a new folder on the drive called “backup 7-31-2014” (the date). Then I just open the Windows Explorer and drag the entire “My documents” folder to that backup folder, and then do the same for “My pictures.” It takes about 20 or 30 minutes, but you can do other things on your computer in the meantime. While the files are being copied, you will see a green bar lengthen from left to right until the copy is complete. There is also a time estimate shown which is usually inaccurate.
  1. How much space do I need on the device? To find out how much space you are using now on your “C” drive for any folder, open up the “Windows Explorer” program and, on the list of folders in the left column, find “My documents”.  RIGHT-click the mouse on that folder to get a pop-up menu, then left-click on “properties”. You will see how much space that folder is taking up and that is how much space you will need on your backup device to copy it. It will also tell you how many files are in that folder. My “My documents” takes up about 300 megabytes. My “My photos” takes up well over 6 gigabytes. So I will count on needing about 7 gigabytes of memory for EACH backup. If you get an external hard drive, pay the extra bucks and get a one-terabyte drive and you will have lots of space. Or you can get a 32 or a 64 gigabyte thumb drive which, for me, can easily hold my last two backups.
  1. How many backups should you keep? I only keep the most recent two backups.  After I create a new backup, I delete the oldest from the device to save space.
  1. Anything special about photos? Yes, they take up much more space. On my computer, my pictures take up almost twenty times the space of my documents or other files. So, I handle my pictures differently. I only keep the last two years of pictures on my computer. Every year I copy the oldest photos (from three years ago) to CDs and put them in my photo album. If you have really special photos, you should back them up with your other files and not put them on a CD. I have heard stories that CDs may not last forever and can deteriorate.

 Are there other choices or ways of doing backups? You bet. There are programs that you can buy or download from the internet that can automatically do the backups for you. Sometimes backup programs come with the memory device you purchase. There is “the cloud” option too, where you can put your files on the cloud and let that company keep them for you (i.e. such as using Google Drive or Dropbox). But their free space is limited and you may have to pay for more space. Perhaps one of these other ways will be more to your liking, but by all means do your backups. One of the worst-case scenarios is that your computer quits working, you decide to buy a new computer, but you cannot move any of your files to the new computer because you didn’t make any backups! Every once in a while, ask yourself: “What would I do if my computer quits working?”    


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