Alternatives to Google Search

At the last meeting of the Cardiff U3A Computer Group I rather fell flat on my face when comparing the returns provided by three different Search Engines – Google, Bing from Microsoft and DuckDuckGo (a new entrant which is open source) and which doesn’t track, or make available to others, what your browsing/searching history is. In other words it protects your privacy and the search results returned are unbiassed by your previous browsing/searching and it doesn’t return results biassed by what advertisers have paid Google to push themselves up the list!

I have tried using DuckDuckGo in its most basic form for a couple of weeks now with a Safari browser and found it to be reliable, fast and pleasant to use. A rather good article of a week’s trial of using DuckDuckGo in preference to (but alongside) Google can be found here, and I would recommend you read it. Another article which summarises the differences of this search engine to Google can be found here. This page might help you phrase efficient searches using DuckDuckGo. You do have to add it to the browser Chrome, unlike Safari or Firefox where it is provided as an alternative automatically from the Preferences Setting.

Bing is the main competitor to Google Search and is now the search engine used by Yahoo. Essentially, it’s very similar to Google and returns the same sort of results – you might find it useful useful to bookmark this page to help you phrase efficient searches.

So you’re not convinced? That’s OK. At least you ought to know how to construct a good Google search to get the best results. This page from The Guardian is as good as any in giving you sound advice. Essentially it makes the following points:

  1. Be specific, by putting your search term in parentheses “search term”;
  2. Exclude stuff you’re not going to be interested in using the – sign, eg -notthis;
  3. Use OR (|) and AND (+) in a search, and combine them with “search term” and -notthis, as desired to improve the search;
  4. Use qualifiers such as inurl:”search term”, intext:”search term”, or intitle:”searchterm” to search for “search term” in the uRL, the body of text of an article, or the title of an article; and finally
  5. Use * (the wildcard character) to extend searches, eg walk* would return walks, walker, walked, etc.

That’s about it. I could go into using Advanced Search (Google) but I think that’s beyond the scope of this post. For me, if I do some of these things I’m sure the quality of my searches will improve.

 

Getting started with digital photography: Part 1

A new venture for Thought grazing …

This article starts from the assumption that you already have a digital camera, or smartphone, and doesn’t pretend to give advice on how to proceed to purchase one except to say that I would strongly recommend buying from a camera shop for the after-sales service you would get. In buying a digital camera you’re buying into a system – Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic etc. – it can be a painful (and expensive) decision to change later, so it’s worth talking to someone who can talk about their experiences, or who can match your needs to what is available.

So therefore this article focusses on the software and in later posts – the processing of images using software.

Photography is a hobby that cries out to share its results (images) with other people and so therefore it’s best to work back from answering the question – what are you going to do with the images? By answering that question, the rest of the toolkit and the workflow you adopt is easier to answer. Typical workflows might be …

I just want to take a photo and print it.
I want to take a photo and possibly share it on Facebook, Instagram.
I want to take photos and make them into photobooks.
I want to take photos and post them to a website.

… of course it could be all of the above. One thing tends to unite them however, you need a place in the cloud to store your photos, from which you can then share them. If at all possible you should adopt a platform t

hat provides the maximum flexibility to allow you to do all of the above, and more, so that you don’t need to keep changing your systems as you develop your hobby. I’ve written about my workflow here.

So apart from the local USB disk-storage I use (with its backups, of course) to store and post-process my images, I use Google Photos as my main way of sharing photos in albums eg Orchids from Changi Airport, linked to the free storage (as long as you don’t store images at high resolution) you get on Google Drive. I do have other cloud storage/sharing platforms, but this is the one I use for photographs. I do also have a flickr account to share images – and I use it occasionally, as I do Instagram. As you develop your interest in photography, you may wish to have a more professional platform (I have used 500px), or the sharing platform that may be provided by your preferred software supplier (eg Adobe).

If you’re starting-out (or don’t want to spend any money) then you can use the editing software available within Google Photos, or if on a phone, or tablet, use Google’s Snapseed apps. You can still get Picasa for Windows 

and the Mac, which is software Google bought and supported for a while, but it is probably better to bite the bullet and use their Photos app in a browser, as it integrates well with Drive and Google+.

Then of course you might (like me) be an Apple user, and could of course use their Photos app and iCloud, but at the moment the editing facilities offered in the app are not (in my humble opinion) as good as Google’s. You can sync your smartphone “camera roll” to Google Photos automatically which is nice.

Other free photo-editing options are available. I will however after reviewing the other possibilities, only mention and discuss Google Photos on this blog.

If you’re a bit more sure that you want to invest in digital photography then there’s no better (imho) software than Adobe Lightroom. I’m not going into a whole set of reasons why you should invest in Lightroom rather than Photoshop Elements, or Apple’s Photo app, Paintshop, or even full-blown Photoshop. However for me these are the main benefits …

  • It doesn’t matter where your images are stored; you don’t have to import them into a database, but you can choose to import new images into a single location of your choice which is unconnected to the software.
  • It employs a catalogue which references where the images are stored. You can have multiple catalogues referencing the same set of images.
  • All changes (edits) to the images are stored in the catalogue. 
  • The original images are left untouched. This is called non-destructive editing.
  • You can go backwards and forwards through your edits, and can even create multiple virtual copies that allow you multiple versions of the same image, but only one actual (original) image.
  • You can store your images in Collections which equate to virtual albums unconnected to the actual folders the actual images are stored in.
  • You are supplied with a huge range of Plugins to allow you easy publishing to social media sites (eg flickr, Instagram, Dropbox), in addition to publishing to photobook websites (eg Blurb) and print sites (eg Smugmug).
  • You can apply presets to your images at import, developing or export so that the same look and feel can be achieved.
  • It integrates well with a whole range of other software such as WordPress (for blogging).

… I just feel that (for me at least) Lightroom is the best at the moment and it integrates with Adobe’s other software. It also now has a mobile version that allows editing on your iPad (or iPhone) if you subscribe to their Photography Creative Cloud Plan. This costs c.£9 a month and gives me both Lightroom and Photoshop, storage space in the cloud, and more besides, plus all the upgrades.

If you decide to go down the Lightroom route then here are a couple of resources you might wish to reference …

Laura Shoe’s Lightroom – http://laurashoe.com/

Lightroom Killer Tips – http://lightroomkillertips.com/
Adobe Training – http://tv.adobe.com/product/lightroom/ and https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/tutorials.html

… and for Lightroom tuition, you’ll do well to beat  …

Scott Kelby’s Lightroom books for digital photographers, New Riders

IT @ 93 – my mother

My 93 year old mother lives nearly three hours away from me, and not much less away from my sister. About 10 years ago I persuaded her to get a laptop, with a printer, and she soon took to emailing friends and family and looking at the photos we shared with her. In her youth she had used a typewriter and those skills very quickly came back.

With the arrival of the first tablets I soon realised that here was a device that she could adopt as her ability to type declined as her arthritis limited her dexterity. She’s now on her second iPad. It’s been a godsend. As well as her email which she still uses regularly, she uses the social network Google+ to chat with her grandchildren, and watch the progress through videos of her great grandchildren. She plays online scrabble with a grandson in Australia, and others as well and she occasionally wins – which gives her a huge amount of pleasure – as does the occasional Facetime (video call – skype-like) session she has with us.

She also reads the news off the web and browses the internet using Google. Just recently she took her first photograph using the iPad and shared it with the family. All of this in a safe and secure IT environment with privacy ensured so that only the family share in these communications.

The iPad has kept her in touch with her family. She passionately advocates its use and adoption to her friends as a way of them keeping in touch with their relatives and with her. It’s become an essential part of our “care package” for her.