Friday, January 31, 2014

Senior Flying to Family Wedding Via Google

My nephew Jack is getting married in March.  Yesterday I concluded making my travel arrangements.  I did all of those online using my Mac Air laptop. Much to my astonishment, I discovered once again that the easiest way to accomplish this goal was to go directly to Google.  I had earlier discovered this when I wanted to send flowers to my mother.

I tried getting tickets other ways first and although I was getting results, they were not results which were good for me.  For example, first I went directly to the airlines and checked out flights.  That was disastrous. The times, prices, change of planes and so forth were all horrible. Then I went to one of these flight aggregator sites which specializes in finding the best fares. I did no better than I had done with the airlines directly and the prices were still horrible.

Then I opened the Google search engine. I put in these key words "flights cleveland to new orleans senior". One of the first few sites listed had the easiest way to fill out a set of boxes and get results.  I did so and within seconds was staring at a direct flight roundtrip from Cleveland to New Orleans discounted to me as a senior for $303 total, including all tax, on United Airlines. This was $350 cheaper than anything else I had uncovered.  Further, I was able to fill in my driver's license security information and also register my disability status so I get loaded onto the airplane first.  I even was able to pay with PayPal and did not have to haul out my credit card. It took me no more than ten minutes and I had wasted at least forty minutes at each of the other websites where I'd tried to get my tickets.

This had happened me a few months earlier in buying the flowers.  I thought I was being as forward thinking as possible by installing the FTD (florists) app onto my iPad.  With this app I was supposed to get fantastic deals plus just have to touch a few keys and be done.  Hah! Half an hour later I did not like anything I saw as arrangements plus the costs were atrocious.

So I opened the google search engine and entered the following key words "ftd cleveland to chicago". Right away in my first page of results I saw a website which appealed to me. I clicked to it and found lovely arrangements and great prices.  Then, as I was checking out and leaving my Gmail address for contact, the website knocked $9 off the total because I was a Google member.

I am also using the Chrome Browser owned by Google when I do this. Plus in the Chrome web store I added free items to Chrome to make it even better. One of these was an extension which added pictures to all of my Google search results.  This was a big help with something visual like flowers.

Jim and I, as you might expect, couldn't be any more different on this. He uses a Google Chrome Browser with no add ons. Mine has full bells and whistles.  I have one extension which removes all of the ads on webpages. I have three custom buttons for my favorite sites.  I have a shortcut button to every google service. I have a translate button for foreign languages.  And on and on and on. So we are both heavy Google users but I use everything Google has to offer us while he uses the basics. Below are my add ons to the Chrome browser on my toolbar (click to open to larger size).

Additionally, the chrome browser is also available as an app for my ipad and iphone.  It also automatically syncs the info from the chrome browser on my Mac Air to my iPhone and iPad. I only use the Chrome browser on my Mac Air.  It is my browser in chief on iPhone and iPad. Jim uses it on everything too but the Chrome App is much better on IOS than on android.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Seniors as Artists, Craftspeople and Hobbyists--Get Started Online

Seniors with interests to pursue do much better in general over seniors who have lots of time on their hands. We saw this firsthand with Jim's parents. His Mom had tons of interests, sewing, cooking, aqua size class, lunch groups, and so forth. There weren't enough hours in the day for her. By contrast, his Dad had no activities.  For awhile he golfed but each year that goes by makes it harder to rely on sports as your chief activity.

Your body simply cannot take anything but milder sports as you advance in age. Around our condo community the seniors who overdid it in sports are the ones currently with huge medical problems. If you planned on doing solely sports in your senior years, you need to rethink that plan.

So what has this got to do with my saying yesterday that I would continue talking about online commercial transactions?  Everything. Because nowadays when I need to explore my hobby, craft and art options, I search online before even thinking about doing something in person.

A few months ago I hit a dry spell in my fiber art.  I needed to learn something new to shake myself out of it.  In one of my craft magazines, which I read in my iPad's newsstand, there was a website with online fiber classes.  So I looked up this website and discovered Craftsy and its fiber courses. The picture to the upper left shows all the interests currently covered at Craftsy.

The class to the left was the one I picked at Craftsy.  It was $19.  I could take it on my laptop or install the app and take it on my iPad or iPhone, or use all three off and on. These fiber workshops in person are expensive to attend.  It would be more likely that I'd drop close to a hundred bucks to take the same course in person. I installed the app on my iPad and took about half of it and immediately came up with a fresh idea.  I closed my iPad and minutes later was fully engrossed in a new project. I can go back and finish the course any time I want which I will do when I hit the next creative lull.

I had earlier taken some of my computer classes at Lynda online. Recently I discovered that the site was offering some other kinds of courses such as art photography and marketing online (as in promoting this blog).  So I went on over there to take a look and this is what I found.

Jerry and Maggie are two major art photographers who teach at art colonies and universities. They are major talents in the arts.  I can take this course at Lynda but it handles the payment differently.  I have to become a member of the website and pay $25 a month.  I can join for only one month and watch as many videos as I want on the site for that month.  But I cannot just buy this course.  My membership will, of course, automatically renew if I don't make sure I cancel it.  I hate this kind of arrangement, as do most consumers.  Nevertheless, this is awfully tempting.

I have just touched on the tip of the iceberg here because the online world is a dream for anyone with any hobby interest. One of the first ways I discovered the richness of the online world was that I was a big reader and there are lots of communities online for every reading interest. This led me into doing reviews online which led me to my status of becoming an Amazon reviewer which led to my becoming a Vine member and receiving free products for review.

The online world if properly used can widen up the senior's world enormously. A friend of mine was complaining about running into bad people online and asked if I had the same problem.  I said no and I discovered the difference was that I spent most of my time online with people similar to myself, who had a lot of hobby interests.

He by contrast was spending a lot of time on these sites where you put in your comments on issues of the day and people get into huge "flame wars" as a result--hurling inflammatory accusations at one another, with political entries causing the most of this.  I sometimes hear from such a flamer on one of my Amazon reviews. This person wants to start a fight with anyone over current American politics. Amazon has a button for me to prohibit future contact from that person so I push it.  Hobbyists, artists, craftspeople, etc., have no interest in starting these flame wars. They want to learn and grow.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Seniors and the Lure of eBay, Amazon, PayPal, et al

Seniors are generally more reluctant than most to start buying online, especially at the big selling bazaar of eBay. I have been buying there since the early 2000s.  Jim began buying with Amazon first, which is generally the case with seniors.  He joined Amazon Prime and fell in love with it.  Then very gradually he entered the eBay environment too. He has never sold online whereas I have both bought and sold on these online venues.

The overriding issue with buying online is: Is it safe or will someone scam me or steal from me? (ebay scam shown left)
People will try and dupe you online.  I am not convinced that this is any greater than the scamming that goes on in every day real life. But most of the efforts to steal from you or lure into trouble come at you from your email accounts. If you use a state of the art email account like Gmail, it will filter out most of those scams for you so only a very few make it through. Essentially all of these scammers lure you over to a bogus website where they try to get you to surrender your critical info as to identity and financial accounts.  One basic rule will save you from all of this. Only do financial transactions by going to the website itself on your own, not from a link in your email. Conduct your business on that valid website, which locks down behind you for security after you have logged into it. Also, by using PayPal for most online buying experiences, you limit your exposure even further.

Like Jim, you might find joining Amazon Prime your easiest first step. Amazon's basic pitch to you can be found in its ad, shown left. The number one reason Jim vaulted into it was for the first item, the free shipping. The $79 fee for free shipping seemed a little steep to me but I buy very little on Amazon whereas it is his primary buying stop. The streaming video is very nice and there is a lot of choice in the free shows.  There is not the huge choice you get on Netflix but if you were primarily looking for free shipping, it is a nice extra. The third and final item is misleading.  You have to own a Kindle eReader device in order to get those titles.  For those of us on other devices, we get nothing. My sister has the Kindle and Prime and is as big a fan as Jim for this program.

eBay today is more like Amazon than it once was. Back in the beginning, all of its sales were auctions.  Today 70% of its business is at a fixed price where you "buy it now", just like on Amazon. eBay is all third party sellers as eBay itself sells nothing. Amazon is a mixture of third party sellers and a vendor itself.  (The Prime program only applies if Amazon itself is the vendor.)  Jim started very small on eBay, buying a teapot first.  Then he graduated upwards to a drum. It was not just the moderate prices which drew him in but the unusual merchandise was an even bigger draw. The simple fact is that you can get merchandise on eBay which simply does not exist elsewhere.

I am an artist.  I have found supplies on eBay that are unique. I was recently doing fiber art projects and found fabrics there that were long "out of print". I love the textile designers Alexander Henry and Kaffee Fassett.  I was able to find fabrics of theirs that had been out of circulation for years. This appeal to artists and craftspeople was so strong that another business in competition with EBay emerged as we got further into the 2000s.  This was Etsy.

Etsy focused on the niche market of arts, crafts and vintage goods and supplies sold at fixed prices. Going to Etsy is much like going to the best arts and crafts fair in your city. Meeting the artists and craftspeople is every bit as much of the experience as ending up with their art works. Etsy's artists and craftspeople are from all over the world too. Lately I have been buying these wonderful handmade tunic dresses from Thailand at Etsy.

If you are on an iPad or iPhone, there are apps for all of the etailers I have just mentioned.  These apps are so good for the IOS system that I find myself rarely going to the websites with my Mac Air laptop. For those of you on android tablets or phones, the apps are not quite as good or plentiful but they are fast coming along. To the left is the Etsy app on an iPad in action.

We have just scratched the service of online etailing here and tomorrow I will post another entry for seniors about online commercial transactions.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Seniors, Computer Clubs and to Photoshop or not to Photoshop

Most of the seniors in my condo know that I am good at computers. Sometimes one will stop me as I'm walking to the pool and ask me a question about them.  One comment I've learned to brace myself to answer is, "I want to learn Photoshop." (shown to the left) The next question I ask is delicate, "What's your skill level with using computers generally?" After some blustering and more questioning on my part we eventually get to the point: they barely have any computer skills. They can use email, play games online, go to ebay and amazon, and the like but ask them to download and install software or set their preferences for both the system and each program and they are lost. This person would have to spend an enormous amount of time building his or her computer skills before even beginning to tackle Photoshop.

If you are one of these seniors I've just described, you need to ask yourself how much time you'd like to spend in learning more about computers.  The honest answer I get 99% of the time is "almost none." I can sympathize with this answer. It requires tremendous motivation at 65+ to want to tackle this big a learning curve. What you need to do is realistically ask yourself what you want to do on computers.  Then you pick your devices to buy based upon those end goals.

For many of you, your goals are easily reachable by buying an iPad and an iPhone and skipping everything else. Jim would put up a fight, telling you you need a Samsung phablet instead.  However, the two us are arguing over which brand you buy at that point, not what kind of device you need to be on. Tablets and phones were built with the idea that you want to just touch them and be able to accomplish your end goal quickly.  Laptops and desktop computers were not built with this goal in mind. So my very best advice to you is buy a fully loaded iPad and iPhone, get some in person lessons over at the Apple store (usually free) and call it a day.

But let's assume you are the one percent willing to put in the time, that computers in all forms have become your projected senior hobby. What is your next step? I would still advise you to go the Apple route because you will need all of Apple's support system to achieve this goal, especially if there is an Apple store not too far away from you. Also, Apple users have a community.  They have clubs in every city with monthly meetings.

They take cruises together.  They have conventions.  Some people call this the Cult of Mac but if you want to jump into a pool of people willing to help you, this is your best bet. Before you start buying, show up at the Apple store and have them fully show you everything you'd like to consider as your machine or device.

Also go to an Apple Club meeting near you and steep yourself in the community pool of knowledge. Read about such a club by looking at the one near me here and shown at left. From there, check out your community college and you will generally find out that as a senior you can audit any of their classes for free.  This includes their graphic programs which use Macs for teaching students how to use Photoshop. The college where I took my Photoshop course is shown below with its free program.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Technology for Senior Households

I will have more than one entry on technology and seniors as I consider this a key topic for all of us in improving our lives. Certainly everyone in my age group has seen us go from no tech to high tech during our life spans thus far.  My husband and I both traded our manual typewriters for an electric one when we were in college and that was our high tech investment for 1968 (he typed the papers for both of us so I made out well on that swap). My no tech life is in the photo to the left.

Let us consider today how home environment overall can improve from the use of high tech.  I will use our own lives as examples. We went from a four bedroom colonial with a basement to a two bedroom condo, i.e. from a full scale house to a flat style apartment. That is a huge reduction in physical space. However, we had also become very high tech over the ensuing years.

Jim has both a PC and Mac.  They are both laptops but he uses them mostly at a desk.  He also has a Samsung combo phone and tablet.  I have a Mac Air laptop (with a Macbook from four years ago as backup), an iPhone, three iPads and one iPad mini. I also have five auxiliary hard drives where I store books, movies, tv shows, documents and so forth. And I have music on three iPods. I rarely use a desk.  I am a bed and sofa person.

We both have high computer skills with my having spent more time on developing skills on various types of high end software, such as Photoshop. It was not easy gaining these skills because we had to pick up all our knowledge at middle age. I wish I had been one of these kids picking it up right from the get go instead.

Now let's examine what we don't have in our household as a result. We no longer own any tv sets, hifi or stereo, bookshelves, landline phone, or radio. We own no physical books, no CDs, no videotapes, no DVDs, no DVD or CD players. Yet we now have more books, music, movies and tv shows than we ever previously had. This is the wonder of the digital world.  It is very tiny and enables you to drastically reduce your living space. We need no shelving of any sort anywhere. For example, if I need to refer to a recipe or cookbook, they are all digital so my kitchen is no longer littered with them. I have no stacks of magazines as I get those all digitally as well. I carry an iPad into both the kitchen and the bathroom when I need the pertinent reading matter.

The one disadvantage would seem to be that it is hard to watch movies and tv on these devices together.  Well, that had become impossible anyway.  Due to my hearing and now my vision problems, I needed a much higher volume than he did and also now need the screen right up close to my face. I would get complaints from my condo neighbors if I used the volume as high as I need it.  I use headphones for everything instead and thus maintain the peace and quiet of living here.

We also have the usual arguments which define our era, i.e. should we be using Apple based products or PC-android based or should we go wholly open source and vault into Linux. I am firmly in the Apple camp after many distressing years of using PCs while he is primarily in the PC-android world with only minimal Apple use.  Neither of us use Linux although we tried it. However, we both use a lot of open source (free) software which was largely inspired by Linux's development. Thus, we use the free Open Office instead of MS Office.  We are each happy with our choices so it is hard to make a sweeping statement about which way you should go.  But we will make recs in later entries on this blog.  I also do consumer reviews on Amazon so will be referring you over to my high tech reviews over there. I do have one to make today.  I specifically tailored my review of my Mac Air on Amazon to the senior market.  You can find that review here.

This seems enough for one entry and I will pick up the technology discussion with tomorrow's entry.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Changing A Personality at 65+ Years

When I was 26 years old I started psychotherapy with a psychiatrist which ran for the next ten years.  I found it very beneficial but I cannot say my personality changed significantly.  I was even warned about this going in, that therapy could improve my life but couldn't change who I was. This fits in with every known tenet in this form of medicine, that the personality is set at a fairly early age (some go as young as 7) and doesn't vary much after that.  I find myself reflecting upon this today because it seems that lots of people would like to change me at age 65. People would like to convert me to their political beliefs, or religious beliefs, at a somewhat alarming rate. They also believe they can completely change the way I eat.

This focus with what we eat and prolonging our life span through healthy lifestyle is very recent and only affects the affluent in very well developed societies. This is because everyone else lives in societies and circumstances where you better eat whatever you can or you will probably starve to death.  I assume this is why we were made omnivores, to increase our chances of survival.

I have no quarrel with the Vegan or Mediterranean diets and also believe their proponents are right, that if you are destined to be long lived, either will probably enhance that longevity. However, I find it highly unlikely that those in the 65+ age range will be able to embrace either diet 100%.  Add to that the fact that some of the food in both diets is becoming contaminated and the odds further diminish. By contamination, let me relate the following about my husband, Jim.  The last time I brought home vegetarian sushi he refused to eat it because of the seaweed around it because it came from the Pacific Ocean and the contamination issues about food found there (the radiation from the Japanese nuclear leak being a big factor). When I mentioned anchovies the other day to him, I got the same response but I said, "Aren't anchovies found in the Mediterranean Sea?" He agreed that might be true in which case they may be ok.

So now, along with weighing a plant based diet vs a Mediterranean based one, I also have to weigh which ocean was used?! That opens up a whole other avenue of controversy over what was used on the food. What kind of chemicals were used on the plants?  Were antibiotics used on the cattle or the poultry?  And so forth and so on.

Plus I have my former religion to also add to the mix. Raised Catholic I ate fish on Fridays, Lent, and Advent under pain of mortal sin. When I was 19 I was told that the rule no longer applied.  I could eat meat now without incurring mortal sin.  I hate to admit this but that was the number one reason I left the religion.  I was so mad over all those fish sticks I'd had to eat on dates while everyone else ate burgers that I could barely see straight. 

Although I had many philosophical problems with Catholicism at that point, it was hamburger deprivation which led to my leaving the religion at age 19.  Thus when someone, like PETA, wants to tell me that I am an immoral person (translate "mortal sinning" person) because of which food I eat, it really takes me back to the days when Catholicism made a chump out of me with the "infallible" no meat on Friday rule. Extreme 100% conversion demands raise my hackles immediately for if there is one thing I do think is bad for you, it is extremism. PETA in the food movement currently occupies that too extreme position for me.

There are more moderate voices in the what you eat based health movement and these are the ones I presently heed. For example, Mark Bittman of the New York Times follows a part time vegan approach. He eats vegan up till 6pm every day and allows himself to eat other foods after that.  

Bittman's cookbook is VB6. This means he is eating 14 vegan meals each and every week, which is considerable. There is also a cookbook The Part Time Vegan by Cherise Grifoni. She calls such an adherent a Flexitarian. Pop singer Beyonce is one of the adherents of this movement. Both books are pictured to the left. The flexitarian option also removes any elements of a religious conversion to one's dietary choices. If one is only doing it part time, it is impossible to claim any moral higher ground. There are after all no part time Catholics, no part way mortal sins and no part time atheists. The above two books are now on my to-be-read list (TBR) and since I am already eating and cooking this kind of food part time, they should be a logical next step.

In conclusion, I believe there are many seniors like me who would like to add healthier eating to their to-do list but expecting 100% conversions to anything at this late date is just too daunting an ordeal.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Public Library Use for Seniors

Today's public libraries are the best suited for senior use than at any other time in their history. The reason for this is the rise of the use of computers, mobile and otherwise, in every facet of our lives. This has changed the way libraries look at every facet of what they offer patrons.

First, libraries no longer are book storage places. Rather a sampling of the library's contents are displayed and stored there but most of what patrons' want has to be ordered through placing a hold.  You can place holds online with your library.  It sends you an email when your hold item arrives.

Of course, that only covers actual, physical books, records, movies and so forth and not their digital counterparts.  If you want to "take out" a digital item, such as an ebook or audiobook, you can obtain it online and download it onto the overdrive app.

Then there is the inviting physical space. Libraries want you coming into their buildings to enjoy yourselves, not to store huge stacks of books. Increasingly, inviting centers of activity are created, such as children/grandchildren's areas, atria reading rooms and teen centers. This cabin for example is set up in one library so that the children can play while the adult in charge can sit down in a window and relax and read (back and to the left of cabin). 

If you need to get away by yourself, one of my libraries has a fire burning in its reading room for adults.  You can't get much better than that. Some libraries have even added actual coffee shops right within the library itself or a state of the art coffee machine. Special interest clubs and discussion groups are also offered. 

Outdoor areas are also laid out invitingly around the libraries. This is the gazebo at one of my libraries, which is inside Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Ice cream socials are held here among other things. Notice I said "one of my libraries."  This is because my library card now covers a consortium of libraries spread over many counties.  I can use as many of these as I want.  They, of course, all have free, high speed internet access. Libraries, of course, also have desktop computers for personal use although I have instead always made use of the easy way I can set up my laptop or iPad for use with a comfortable chair.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Senior Swimming: Anything But the Crawl

Are you doing any of the above?  If yes and you are a senior, you are not doing your body any favors. You need instead the full cushioning effect of the water to protect a body that is now easily subject to injury.

However, if you are using a swimming stroke that cushions your body in full, as shown to the left, you are on the right track as a senior and have many wonderful swimming years ahead of you.  This is my exercise as a senior and I use everything but those competitive strokes nowadays.

When a person of any age or sex is swimming in our condo pool, usually nine out of ten of them are swimming the crawl. I used to be one of them. However, some years and injuries ago I realized I was not helping my body by swimming this one stroke. The primary reason I was hurting my body was that I was lifting it out of the cushioning effect of the water every time my arms did another overhand reach forwards. 

By contrast, the sidestroke, shown below, involves your entire body being cushioned by the water with every stroke.

The breaststroke also cushions our body with every stroke.  We are keeping all movements under the surface of the water.  It doesn't matter whether you are using the old frog kick of our youth or the more fashionable whip kick of modern times. All motions are underwater which is the point of exercising in the water.

One of the first strokes we learn as kids is the dog paddle.  This is because it is an instinctive stroke.  All you do is move your arms and legs forward underwater as if you are trying to run and that motion propels you forward. The only difference between us and the dog is that we can use the legs as much as the arms in our version.  We don't use the legs as a drag.

I am not urging you to go out and take swimming lessons.  Instead, I am recommending that you utilize your old swimming strokes from the time you were growing up and put them back into use.  You will stop stressing your upper body by continually pulling your topmost body and arms out of the cushion of the water.  Small matter if you do not remember these strokes perfectly. Moving your arms and legs underwater is what matters no matter how you do it.

There is no "stroke" easier than treading water.  You just move your arms and legs in any style you wish although many prefer moving as if they were riding a bike and the more vigorous types as if they were human eggbeaters. The point is that you are moving constantly and with the cushion of the water. In modern times belts are often used around the middle so as to remove any skill worries and so as to just concentrate on the exercise aspect. Others use "the noodle" to help support themselves in the water. It takes very little skill to use either a belt or a noodle but you are maximizing your exercise benefit with either, i.e. win-win. These are shown below.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Silver Sneakers, Best Deal Going for Couch Potato Seniors

When we became eligible for Medicare, we got our extra coverage through AARP.  This led to our eligibility for the Silver Sneakers program. The health plan thus pays for our Health Club membership.

There are many facilities which participate in the program and you have to find the one which suits you.  Our community rec center was built in the 2000s so it is state of the art with two swimming pools, tracks and everything else you could ask for in fitness.  With silver sneakers it is also free for both of us. Jim likes the oval indoor track and the stationery bike. I like the whirlpool, pools and steam room. This is over a $300 savings yearly for us!

There are also special free classes for us. These include yoga classes, water workouts, and so forth. Other rec center members have to pay for their classes. This also saves at least another hundred bucks per person per annum.

Then there is the special equipment developed for us. Silver Sneakers has the niftiest kick board for pool use I have ever used. I use it in both deep and shallow water. This wider shape gives you much more stability in the water.

This has worked out extremely well for us. I wish I could say that I found the Silver Sneakers website a delight to use as well.  I did not. I found it so counterintuitive that I asked the rec center to set up my Silver Sneakers account with the website as I found the people there impossible for processing my account.  The rec center took over and processed it for us. I did need it initially, however, to discover what health facilities near me qualified. Here is a link to its website,  silversneakers. Here is link to its location finder. This is how the location finder worked me, shown in the below photo (clicking on it loads a much bigger pop-up photo).

The reason this works out well for everyone involved is that the silver sneakers users tend to use the facilities when no one else does.  They are in no way restricted in when they use the facilities but generally most of us show up either in the morning or mid day and are long gone by late afternoon forward.  This is when everyone else shows up. Also, there is a special sign up device so that the health plan only pays for those of us actually showing up. For those seniors who join but rarely use the center, the plan is not stuck with a big bill.