Virtual Credit Cards Put Online Card Requirements under Your Control

The following was originally posted on the Shoreline Area News, February 1, 2014 as part of the Tech Talk series.

While leading a discussion on electronic books recently, an attendee raised a question about security. He didn’t like the idea of having his credit card “on file” with the eBook retailer. Unfortunately, most providers of eBooks devices and applications seem to require this. I recently tried to download an eBook from Barnes and Noble. Though the eBook was free, they still required a credit card on file to complete the transaction.

The Price of a “Buy” Button
It’s not just eBook stores. Anyone who has a iTunes account, buys apps for their tablet or smartphone, or uses Google Wallet or a Starbucks card often has a credit card on file. In a world where purchases are made with a single button, giving out your card info has become a necessity. While there are legal protections against fraudulent charges, it is still uncomfortable to not control your own credit card.

The Flexibility of Virtual Cards
There are card companies who offer “virtual card” for customers in place of your regular credit card. CITI calls their program, Virtual Account Numbers. Bank of America’s service is ShopSafe.

Both these services let you set payment limits and expiration dates from one month to 12 months, providing the period is within the expiration date of your regular credit card.

Using ShopSafe
I used Bank of America’s ShopSafe and found that it works well, though finding the feature on the web was a bit challenging. To find Shopsafe in a current BoA account, go into your current credit card area after signing in to view your card activity. Then switch tabs to Information and Services. Finally click on ShopeSafe under Features to display ShopSafe’s activity window. From here you can create a new card number and manage any existing numbers you have created.

The ShopSafe activity window is built using Adobe Flash Player which does not work well for some mobile devices like iPads and iPhone but should work fine elsewhere. When I have had problem displaying the window, usually closing the web browser and logging back into the Bank of America web will solve that problem.

One requirement for ShopSafe card numbers is that they are tied to a specific merchant. Once you have used a card number to pay for something, that card can only be used at that place of business as a security measure. Fortunately, you have no limit in creating additional card numbers to use elsewhere.

Finding vCards
As useful as virtual credit cards are, not all credit card vendors offer them. American Express shelved their vCard plan a few years ago in favor of prepaid credit cards, a sort of debit card that you can load the card with cash for use. Discover has discontinued its Secure Online Account Numbers service, effective February 6th of this year.

While prepaid credit cards provide a number of the same benefits as virtual credit cards, they may not be protected under the same liability rules as your regular credit card. You should check with your credit card vendor to confirm this and what kinds of virtual cards they offer.

Remember, its not “real”
While virtual cards are great for online and telephone purchases, they do not include a physical card. As a result, you cannot use them for on-site purchases or a purchase that requires you to present your card to confirm merchandise pick-up.

That said, it’s nice to have a card number in situations where you would prefer to limit the time or amount available.


A Little White Lie Trips Up Apps

Author’s note: I recently started writing a tech column for an online community newspaper on the theory that if I couldn’t regular commit to regular posts on my own blog, it might be easier to commit to someone else’s publication.  We’ll see how this works.

The following was originally posted on the Shoreline Area News, January 25, 2014 as part of the Tech Talk series.

“Quicken 2014 says my Windows 7 is not supported.”

That was the problem posed to me a few weeks ago by a client who had been using Intuit’s accounting package for years, faithfully upgrading it each year. Starting Quicken after his most recent upgrade produced two puzzling error messages.

The first message stated that Quicken does not support “running as administrator.” Closing that message produced another message, stating that “Quicken requires Windows XP Service Pack 2 or later to run.” and adding that his version of Windows is not supported.

Since my client had the only account on the PC, he was the administrator, but the first message suggests he shouldn’t be. The other message suggested that he might be running a pretty old version of Windows. It was very confusing.

Why were these messages appearing? Because Windows 7 was telling Quicken 2014 what it thought it wanted to hear … all in the name of program compatibility.

Compatibility Is in the Eye of the Application

As Windows has changed in feature sophistication and security, its compatibility with existing applications becomes more problematic. Older applications are unaware of these changes and often have difficulty handling the new restrictions placed on them. The most common compatibility problems occur for programs when (1) they either do something no longer permitted or (2) the Windows version is interpreted incorrectly.

As a result applications, as they start up, typically make requests of the operating system to check for earlier, incompatible OS versions. Unfortunately, many applications misinterpret the results of those requests, disqualifying a new, unfamiliar OS.

For this reason, Windows has included the ability to “lie” to applications, telling them that the current version of the operation system is actually earlier version of Windows that is more acceptable to the application.  This functionality has been built into Windows for the last decade or so under the name “Compatibility Mode.” Compatibility mode will also change Windows’ interaction with the program to accommodate the use of old-style program requests. The latest form of this is included in the Program Compatibility Assistant.

Older programs are also unaware of many security restriction Windows now have in place to protect the system and other applications from malware infection. So these programs often fail if they cannot access or save to protected areas of the hard drive or system memory. In order to run successfully, they need “administrator access.” or to “run as an administrator.”

The Compatibility Tab

As a result, the properties for a program displays a tab for Compatibility (example shown here from Windows 8). To view this on your Windows 8.1 and earlier system, Right-click on a Desktop or Explorer program icon and chose Properties from the resulting menu.)

Though settings have evolved over the time, two of the most useful are “Run this program in compatibility mode for…” and “Run this program as an administrator.”

The first allows you to tell an application you are running in a previous version of Windows. The second grants the program “administrative rights” to access normally protected parts of the system.

Compatibility Settings are a Double-Edged Sword

Of course, setting administrative rights and a different version of Windows can also backfire, especially with an up-to-date version of a program like Quicken 2014.

A check of the compatibility tab on the icon for my client’s version of the software showed both the administrator and compatibility mode options checked and the compatibility mode was set to Windows XP, Service Pack 2.

Now the error messages actually make sense. Quicken 2014 does not support any version less that Windows XP, Service Pack 3. And, as it was designed to work within the security boundaries of Windows 7, an objection was made running the using less secure administrator settings.

How Were These Compatibility Settings Applied Initially?

Its hard to know for sure, but I suspect the icon and its compatibility settings were “inherited” from one version of Quicken to another over the years, until a version of the software was installed wouldn’t tolerate them in place anymore.

This Could Happen to an Application Near You

Given that Windows XP, an common compatibility emulation for Windows Vista, 7, and 8/8.1, is reaching its “end of support” cycle this year, we will probably be seeing more of these scenarios in the coming months. More and more application updates will drop support for Windows XP, and if Windows XP compatibility settings are in place, they will also complain as Quicken 2014 did for my client.


New Approach with Microsoft Office Could Eliminate Competition

This article originally appeared in the Shoreline Area News on February 6, 2013.

New Office Logo

Microsoft’s Office 2013 officially launched this year after months of previews and promotions. With  this launches, the company has the developed a version of the product that could conquer its greatest competitor…itself. Many industry pundits are pointing to Google Apps or Google Drive as Office’s prime competitor. However, the biggest thorns in Microsoft’s side leading up to the release of Office 2013 is Office 2010, Office 2007, and Office 2003 for Windows (or Office 2011, Office 2008, or Office 2004 for the Mac), the versions you and I all use…and our desire to hold on to them.

The Paradox of Progress
We like the idea of progress; that new ideas and ways to do things will stimulate creativity, business, and prosperity. On the other hand, the changes that come with progress often bring chaos and a sense of instability. So we hang on to anchors and try to ride it out the best we can. Most people develop a enough expertise to get by, whether its laundry or letter writing. The hope is that the tools we use to do these things won’t evolve enough to disrupt our daily progress on other fronts and require our attention. Microsoft certainly saw this when it released Office 2007, eliminating menus for what it called a “ribbon-based” user interface. While the new interface exposed buried features and encouraged fuller use of the Office programs, many users clung to Office 2003’s menu system and the time they had invested in it. Today, over 1 out of every 10 Office users still use the ten-year-old version. Portion of the Office  2007 ribbon word_2003_new_pane


Subscribing to a New Model
The game changer for our reluctance to upgrade is the focus on its new online subscription version, Office 365 Home Premium. Instead of paying larger amounts every few years for a major upgrade, Microsoft would prefer an annual subscription of $99/year for Home Premium, covering 5 PC or Mac computers. It gives them a regular income source, provides you with a continually improved version of Office for multiple systems without the disruption of a major upgrade, and helps eliminate the competition with previous versions of its software.

The idea is not new. It’s been used for a few years both by Microsoft and other software makers with large and small businesses as a way to encourage stability on both sides. Businesses like regular subscriptions for which they can budget and software makers appreciate regular cash flow compared to the boom and bust of major software releases. While certain online software makers have used consumer subscriptions (anti-virus makers as an example), this is the first major manufacturer to do so.

A Future without Anchors?
Microsoft isn’t totally forsaking the traditional software paths. It will still offer Office 2013 in stores. With 90% of the market using Microsoft Office, it can’t afford to ignore regular retail channels right now. However, it’s possible that the disk-based version of Office 2013 could be our last anchor in the continuum of Microsoft Office…and its last major competitor. Pictures of boat anchor


“It was working fine until I installed/updated/changed that @%$^$@%^ thing!”

In the years supporting computer software, this is probably the most common phrase I have heard and continue to hear. For most regular folk, computers straddle that chasm between a modern convenience and an infernal contraption….and it seems like it only takes one thing to topple it the wrong way. It could be a new tool, a security update or even removing something that you didn’t need any more that could balance. Often, it not clear what is updated or changed, especially with all the automatic updates that software programs make to correct bugs or stay ahead of bad guys wishing to exploit their code

When I hear about the situations, the system has been often troubles for days and often weeks. So, “it was working fine until..” is usually follow by “I just want it work like was “before.”

You can never go back…well, maybe you can
A decade ago, this was a tough thing to do and often required a new installation of the system and applications to take the machine back to a state before the problem occurred. For Windows, this pattern changed, starting with Windows XP and the ability to “roll back” a driver for the device having trouble. By saving the old driver and its configuration information, you could restore it easily in case there were problems with the new driver. This was great for situations where you knew that new driver was the culprit. If it wasn’t clear who the culprit is, never fear! There was another option: System Restore.

System Restore periodically stores a snapshot or “restore point” of the current system, applications, and settings, and allow you undo changes made since that restore point was established. While System Restore is a reasonable name, it doesn’t begin to describe its capabilities to people who have had to use it. Macintosh OS X has a version of this feature with more exciting name (Time Machine) and while there are differences between the two tools, they both let you roll back the system to an earlier time…hopefully a time before your problem started.

A good idea with mixed reviews
System Restore made its first appearance in Windows ME before finding itself in Windows XP and future versions. While the idea was laudable, the initial reaction to the utility was mixed, largely because of the amounts of disk space the feature used. Back then, average hard sizes were much smaller. At the release of the Windows XP, 300 gigabytes (GB) drives were just hitting the market and people were more likely to have a drive in the 40-80 GB range. Since System Restore could take over 10% of that drive, people were often advised to lower the maximum space it could use or turn off the feature all together.

Fortunately, space is less of a problem these days with terabyte-sized drives costing the same as those old 80 GB drive. Yes, System Restore takes space… and that space is good insurance against trouble. Just how much size depends on your version of Windows:

Windows XP Drives over 4 Gig Drives 4 Gig and under
  12% of total disk space 400 megabytes (MB)
Windows Vista All Drives  
  15% of drive size or 30% of free disk space
Windows 7 Drives over 64 gig Drives 64 gig or under
  5% of drive or 10 GB Max 3% of drive max

It’s all about timing
Of course, the concern about disk space was also fueled by how often the system automatically sets restore points. In the opinion of many, Windows XP created restore points too often:

Windows XP Restore point is created every 24 hours of operation..
Windows Vista A restore point is created every 24 hour period if no other restore points were created that day.
Windows 7 Restore points every 7 days unless other restore points are created during that period.

With a 24 hour interval, people weren’t terribly happy with how System Restore worked in Windows XP. Also, since the time period not a 24 hour time period but 24 hours of system operation, the interval timer would pause and resume as people shut down or suspended their computers. This made the actual timing of the next restore point difficult to predict.

While the user interface does not provide a way to change this interval setting, you can adjust it by changing a setting directly in the System Registry, something I usually only recommend for knowledgeable people used to working in the Registry (if you are…see Resources for how). Joli Ballew wrote a great article on using System Restore in Windows XP that will help you better use the tool and adjusts many of its settings.

In Windows Vista and Windows 7, the system shifted further away from a rigid schedule, depending more on the actual system changes to determine when to set a restore point. Since most of issues that System Restore can address are related to these system changes, setting a restore point prior to these changes is the most effective and efficient approach. Here are some of the activities that will set a restore point:

· Application installations that work with System Restore. For example, if the application uses the Windows Installer or to add itself to the system, it will set a restore point before any changes are made.

· If an item is automatically downloaded through Windows AutoUpdate, restore point is set prior to installation.

· When you begin a System Restore operation, a restore point is set just in case you need to return to the current system. This is helpful if System Restore fails or the roll-back results in missing applications or settings you had not anticipated.

Understanding what you can lose in a System Restore
While knowing some of the mechanics around restore points is helpful, probably the most important thing to understand is what is saved when a restore point is set and what is not saved. System Restore does not change your documents or saved data at all, only the files and settings used to maintain the system and its applications.

The positive side of this is that system rollback won’t impact your documents when you restore to an earlier time. The downside is if the application you used to create the documents was installed or modified after the restore point used, you will likely have to reinstall or reconfigure the application to return it to the same state it was before the restore.

I recently had to use System Restore on a client’s machine to take the system back a month in time. While this resolved her problem, it also meant that the system needed nearly an hour of security updates to the system, anti-virus software, and other normally automatic updates to other applications. It was as if she had shut the computer down for the month and then had to catch up all at once.

The other point to remember is that System Restore is not a substitute for backup. It only stores executable files, the system registry and other files important to system operation. Windows XP uses the file extensions listed in Filelist.xml (found in the windows\system32\restore folder) as its guide for the files to save. For Windows Vista and Windows 7, that file is not used. You can find the listing of extensions on the Microsoft Developer Network website.

You should make sure that your documents and other hard-to-replace data are separately backed up and protected. If you have downloaded executable files that you need to keep, even if they are in the My Documents folder, I recommend you rename them prior to a system restore. If the restore point is before the file was downloaded, it will be removed unless you do this.

Going back with System Restore can help
As long as you take these precautions, System Restore can be a valuable tool to take your system back before the problem started…providing that the problem is due to a system change. While uninstalling or correcting the offending application are good first and second steps, System Restore is a solid third step to consider.

Resources
All Windows versions
eHow:
How to Set a Restore Point
Microsoft Knowledge Base:The Registry Keys and Values for the System Restore Utility

Windows XP
Joli Ballow:
Windows XP System Restore Is Easy to Use
Kelly’s Korner: System Restore for Windows XP
Microsoft Storage Team: Understanding how System Restore in Windows Vista treats executable files
Microsoft Knowledge Base: How to set a system restore point in Windows XP
Windows BBS: How to schedule creation of restore points

Windows Vista/7
How-To-Geek:
Create a Restore Point for Windows 7 or Vista’s System Restore
Microsoft Developer Network: Restore Points


Commons QA: Moving Email between Web Mail Services

imageFebruary 27th was our first Computer Q&A session at Third Place Commons. Though we had light attendance (something I expected for the first time), the event went well and was a good shakedown for how we should do things. While I over-prepared my short talk of passwords, those present appreciated it and the resources I shared on how to build good passwords and store them. My concerns about filling the rest of the time were unfounded thanks to the lively participation of those attending. It was a full 90 minutes of questions, discussion, and personal connection:

Migrating from Comcast to Frontier Email
Thanks to the lovely lady who provided a challenging question about migrating her mail and address book from Comcast webmail to Frontier. Everyone contributed to that the answer, especially since the changeover was happening in 24 hours. While we didn’t have a ready answer for transferring the mail itself, we did encourage her to use the export feature in Comcast to save her address book entries before her access to the service ended. Alas, she didn’t leave her name so we weren’t able to follow up on the next step, importing into Frontier’s email.

Answer: Export addresses through Comcast’s export and then use Frontier’s import option to bring them in. While you can get the details below on this, I also have a long-term solution (listed as Alternative #2) to avoid these kind of migration problems.

Exporting From Comcast WebMail


Watching the Net has a nice walk-through of the export process for Comcast’s Webmail. Use “MS Outlook Express CSV” as your format and save it to your desktop with a name that you will remember.

If you are using Comcast’s “SmartZone,” I am told it’s a little less straightforward:

  1. On the tool bar, choose “Preferences,” not Address Book.
  2. Scroll near the bottom page and locate “Import/Export.” Click on the Export button there.
  3. Under Export, click on “Comcast Contacts.”
  4. Click on Export.
  5. A dialog box will appear with export choices. Highlight “Contacts” and click OK
  6. You will get a new dialog opens permitting you to save Opening Contacts.csv. Save it to your desktop.

Note: Since I don’t use Comcast, I have not be able to confirm this procedure. If you are a Comcast user and can verify this, please let me know in the comments of this post.

imageAddress Book Import to Frontier Mail
Okay, you have used Comcast’s export (or some other provider) to produce a CSV file. CSV (Comma-Separated Variable) files are very simple text files that use commas to separate information for each address book entry. This files can been loaded into other programs (like Microsoft Excel) to view or modify.

To transfer the contents of this CSV file, we need to follow the steps outlined the Frontier FAQ item named “How can I import my Outlook Express Address Book into Frontier Mail?” We can skip the first eight steps in the item since we already have our CSV file. Step 9 of the FAQ item is our step 1 below:

  1. Browse to the Frontier Mail page and login to the account to which you wish to add your Outlook Express Address Book.
  2. Click Preferences, and then select the Import/Export option on the left-hand side of the window.
  3. Click the Browse button in the Import section of the page.
  4. Locate the CSV file that you saved to your desktop earlier, and click the file to select it. Click Open.
  5. Click Import.
  6. You should see a message indicating that your contacts have been successfully imported. Click your Address Book to view the new entries.

Alterative #1: Using an Email Client to Migrate your Address Book and Email.
Another way to do get both the address book and your email is to use a local email client and set up Comcast to pull your email into the email program using the POP3 protocol. That will give the email client access to both your address book and previous email.

Here’s the procedure from eHow using Outlook Express that comes with Windows XP. The process is similar for Windows Mail (in Windows Vista) and Windows Live Mail (available as a download).

Once Comcast is added, you also add Frontier to the email client (see Frontier’s FAQ for how to do this) and just transfer items over using the email client.

Alterative #2: How to Avoid Mail Migration Problems Completely
As you have seen, moving from one email address to another can be a complicated process especially if you store emails and your address book online.  I find that people who depend on the email addresses issued through their Internet provider face this challenge every time they switch to a new provider. While moving emails and address books behind the scenes are usually provided when providers change things themselves, you are largely on your own if you make the switch.

One way to break this cycle of dependency is to use one of the free email services. If you have a Yahoo Mail, Google Gmail or Windows Live Hotmail account, if doesn’t matter which Internet service provider is involved or whether you change from one provider to another.

Through it all your email remains untouched. ToMuse listed these and some lesser-known web email services in their listing of Top Ten Email Providers.

More to Come
Intriguing as it was, this was only one question from February’s Computer Q&A at the Commons.  There were other questions from the event…I will share them in subsequent postings.

Our next Commons Q&A session is March 27th.  Please join us if you can!  More details can be found at bostonlegacyworks.com.


Multiple Certificate Errors Can Simply Mean a Date Mismatch

image

The Signs: Secured web sites that use “https:” as part of their address appear to get some sort of certificate error, an issue with invalid certificate or a failure of the secure connection. Usually this will happen on multiple sites you access.

The Reason: It’s likely that your system date does not match the current date.

The Story:  The solution sounds pretty weird and disconnected, doesn’t it? How could all these website errors actually be just because the date of the machine is wrong? It’s also be embarrassing for those of us to who are tech-wise and likely to dig deep into the system. There we are, looking for data corruption or other sophisticated sources of trouble before checking the computer’s notion of the today’s date.

So, what is the connection between the system date and these problems? It’s the classic case of your computer responding to specific symptoms without understanding the central cause.

What are Security Certificates?
For all of its greatness, the Internet is still a frontier populated by anonymous web sites and users looking to connect.

In the real world, it is the same when you first arrive in town. You have to learn who to trust, who will hire you, where you can put your money, as well as where good places to shop and eat are. It all comes down to building “trust relationships.”

Most of these relationships start with recommendation from friends or friends of friends. You know where your bank branch is and often the people who work there.

Building Trust through Association

Web sites, especially ones where you want to share personal information, buy, sell, or move money need a way to prove they are really who they say they are. The lack of personal connection or physical location means there has to be a different way to prove their identity and a security certificate is a way to do that. So, sites register for these certificates like applying for a business license.

Instead of registering with local government, they register with companies like Verisign, Thawte, or Entrust. These companies provide what is known as “authentication services” and certify that the web site is registered with them. Their whole reputation is built around being a trusted source, not only with the companies that register sites with them but also with Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google, and others who build the web browsers we use to explore these web sites.

Each time you access a web site over a secure “https:” (also known as SSL) connection, that web site shares its security certificate with your web browser. As your web browser also has certificates from the authentication service companies, it can compare information and, if everything checks out, authenticates the web site. Since the web site is trusted by the authentication service and your browser also trusts than same service, you have that “friend of a friend” trust relationship.

How your system date fits into the picture.
One of the many items checked in the authentication process is the valid date range of the certificates.  If the system’s date is within the valid dates on any of the certificates involved. I say “any certificates” because there can be multiple  certifications the browser need to review in order to complete its checks. The date range supplied with each certificate can vary quite a bit. I have seen ranges from a year to nearly a decade. If your computer’s date is outside the date on any certificate, the following errors will display when you try to reach that web site:

Internet Explorer:

There is a problem with this website’s security certificate

Firefox:

Secure Connection Failed

Chrome:

The server’s security certificate is not yet valid!or
The site’s security certificate has expired!

Chrome’s message seems to be the clearest. The body of the Chrome’s error message actually suggests you check the system date! However, this hasn’t stopped people discussing this problem over and over again on the Google forums and elsewhere. For the current versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer, it is easier to understand the confusion.

To be fair, there can be other causes for this error on a specific website. Malware, settings corruption, or simply an out-of-date certificate from the web site could be a cause. However, my experience is that when you get these errors on multiple secure web sites, the culprit is  is an incorrect system date.

What can cause your system date to change?
This may be the biggest mystery for many people. While programs and users are capable of changing system dates, Windows has been become more restrictive in how this is done in recent versions. The reports I get around this problem usually occur in Windows XP.

XP makes it really easy to double-click on the date on the right side of the Task Bar to look up a calendar. It’s also very easy to click on “OK” and press “Enter” and actually save that date you looked up as your system time…and never notice that a change was made. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, it’s easier to look up the calendar (single-click versus double-click) but you have to go through a few more steps to actually change the date.

Another possibility might be the CMOS battery that helps hold the system date while your computer is off. If you don’t turn the computer on much, this battery gets more of a workout and might fail over time, the causing the system to revert to an earlier date. If your computer loses its date frequently, the battery is probably the culprit. These batteries are often removable and replaceable. You can either do this yourself, or have a professional do it for you.

Resources:

Troubleshooting Certificate Errors

 

Microsoft:

About certificate errors

 

TroubleFixers:

Security Certificate Error While Opening Web-sites

 

Google:

Are you seeing red?
 

Lockergnome:

How Do I Fix “Invalid Or Expired Security Certificate” Errors?

Learning More about Certificates

 

Microsoft:

Using certificates for privacy and security

 

Mozilla:

Using Certificates

Changing the Date

 

eHow:

How to Change Time and Date on Windows XP
 

Microsoft:

Set the clock (Windows Vista)
 

SevenForums:

How to Change the Date and Time in Windows 7

 


Reducing Mouse Dependency

Imagine a world where computer mice had not yet been invented. Everyone would use their keyboard to move around the screen, run programs, access information, and, of course enter data. Would you feel lost? If so, read on. This is for you.

Understanding Your Mouse Dependency. mouse[1]
A computer mouse is a marvelous tool. While it has only been around computers in any significant way for the last 15 years or so, it help shift us from typing at a command prompt to using a graphical interface like Microsoft Windows or the Apple Macintosh OS. It shaped how we use the Internet. Clicking links on a web page is a function designed specifically for a mouse to perform.

It’s not surprising that a world without such a device would be hard to fathom. However, if you cannot see or do not have the fine motor skills to move a mouse accurately, that world is your reality. The mouse’s essential functions depend on knowing where its pointer is on the screen and positioning it successfully to perform the task you need done.

Given the way most of us have learned how to use a computer, using it without a mouse sounds like a very difficult task. However, people who are blind or less mobile often use a computer more efficiently than sighted people. They use key combinations to move around, start programs, and get things done. We often lose time and sometimes patience trying to find right things on the screen or moving between the mouse and keyboard. If you lose your mouse pointer frequently, have difficulty clicking on the right thing, or are just weary of switching between the mouse actions and keyboard typing, there are great lessons to learn from those who don’t use the mouse at all.

Keyboard Shortcuts
The nice thing about keyboard shortcuts is that you only have to know a few basic ones to start seeing improvements. Some are dedicated keys on your keyboard.  They allow you to move around on screen like the arrow keys or start something like the Enter key. Others are “keyboard modifiers.” Keyboard modifiers provide additional capabilities by pressing one or more modifier keys with another key. The Shift key as an example modifies a regular lower case “a” to be displayed as the capital letter “A”. Both dedicated and modifier keys are listed below for PC systems supporting Microsoft Windows:

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If you are using a Apple Macintosh, there are also dedicated keys there. Most Modifier keys for the Mac are labeled differently from those used in Windows PCs. See the links at the end of this article for more details.

Getting Started with Keyboard Shortcuts.
For people accustomed to using a mouse, using the keyboard may seem strange. If you look at keyboard lists, number of key combinations may seem overwhelming. However, starting simple with a few dedicated keys help you see the advantages and much less effort. You can start with this LegacyTech article on tabbing:

LegacyTech: Using Tabs with other dedicated keys to move around and support keyboard input

For more Information, there is a great article in PDF format by Eduardo De Leon from New York University. It covers keyboard use for both Windows and the Macintosh. If you cannot view PDF files, you can download Adobe Acrobat Reader to see the article.

Keyboard shortcut reference lists are also available from and Apple:

Keyboard shortcuts for Windows
Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts


Insights on Accommodation, Ease of Use, and Universal Design

Insight: low vision expoOn Saturday, I attended Insight: a low vision expo put together by Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted. With about 300 people preregistered and many more registering onsite, it was an interesting and diverse group of mostly older people. Some fell into traditional classification of blindness. Others could be placed more on a spectrum of vision ability due to a number of age-related conditions. Of adults age 40 or older in the United States, more than 2 million have glaucoma, more than 4 million have diabetic retinopathy, and more than 1.75 million have age-related macular degeneration, according to the National Eye Institute. They were all well-represented at this event.

For people with a range of visual impairments to continue functioning successfully and independently there is also a spectrum of accommodation and improvements to computer and software. As Microsoft Technical Evangelist Daniel Hubbell pointed out in his keynote to the event, many accommodations have evolved beyond traditional requirements into more mainstream usage or, in his words, “customer preference.”

Part of this is that a number of accommodations are simple customizations that simply make sense for our aging population. However, the disability label doesn’t sit well with people who still feel relatively independent. Dan mentioned the problem his dad had with clicking on the Control Panel’s wheelchair icon in Windows XP to get to the accessibility options he needed. “That is not me,” he told Dan. He didn’t feel disabled and wasn’t about to consider himself that way. Now Microsoft uses a more abstract icon to get to the same features and calls them “Ease of Access” instead of “Accessibility Options”…and we all use them in one way or another to see, hear, and move more successfully in Windows.

This shift from accommodation to usability is not surprising. While the Americans with Disabilities Act drove cities and municipalities to create “curb cuts” or ramps at street corners to accommodate wheel chairs, the primary users of those cuts are people with baby strollers and bicycles. A feature that I added to my kitchen during a remodel a few years ago was a cabinet that raised the dishwasher off the floor. While this is a feature initially designed for wheelchair users, it is now an option among cabinet makers.  Why? Besides the offering it as an accomodation, it simply makes sense to raise the dishwasher loading area to a more comfortable level. The term Universal Design is now used to describe this approach and is now part of college curriculums for architects, product designers, and engineers.

Dan in his keynote highlighted some of the more dramatic Ease of Access features in Windows 7, an updated Magnifier application and Screen Recognition, a feature that first appeared in Windows Vista. Both are great option for Windows users who have difficulty seeing or controlling applications. He also made a brief reference in response to a question from the audience about changing font sizes in Windows. The shortness of time prevented Dan from doing into this area in more depth other than mentioning the option to make the text on your screen larger or smaller. This ability is also available in other versions of Windows besides Windows 7 but is less discoverable. Given that this feature is more useful if you understand a little be more about it, we will explore that option in an upcoming blog entry.

This is the first Insight expo hosted by Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted. Unlike a number of other disability conferences, the attendees for this event were not largely disability advocacy groups, accessibility aids vendors, or consultants. They were regular people from all walks of life in search of information and resources to help them be creative and independent as they grow older and deal with vision impairments. I had a great time and got to meet some very interesting people. Hats off to CSBPS and their sponsors for making this event happen!


Welcome To LegacyTalk!

The modern PC is an amazing device. It is a virtual “Swiss Army Knife” of capabilities, allowing us to interact with the world from our armchair. Using a PC as the central tool, we can read, compose, design, organize, manage, connect, and build rich experiences individually or collectively. It can help run a business, a social group, or offer entertainment and creative opportunities.

The PC is also a mysterious device for many of us, a box with great possibilities wrapped in gibberish, complexity, and unpredictable behavior. It has also become a the device to access services, work, or get information. The technology has become commonplace and necessary.

If you feel lost and need to understand how your PC can help you, Boston LegacyWorks is here to help. If you just want to function better in today’s connected world, we can help with that too! 

Through LegacyTalk, we will explore ways to unravel the mystery and improve your experience. With LegacyTech on BostonLegacyWorks.com, you will find resources and tools to help with that process. We are just the initial stages of site development but hope to have the pieces in place very soon. So, come visit us, share your thoughts here and through our site comments. Thanks for checking us out!