Self Help: Web Site Issues

This article is part of a series on how to solve basic computer issues yourself.

Today’s article will help you with problems you may encounter on the web. A common problem is that some web site is misbehaving. Maybe you can’t logon, or maybe some feature or page of the site isn’t working properly.

In this scenario, you are probably thinking: I can’t believe that those idiots at major-fortune-500-company have a bug like this on their web site! If it’s this bad for everyone, no one can buy or use their product.

You’re probably right that if this problem was affecting everyone, it would already be fixed. So, there is probably something you can change on your computer to fix it.

After each step below, try accessing the problem site again, looking for any change or improvement.

Solution Steps

  • Keep Calm – computer problems don’t respond well to anger or curse words, but they can seldom resist an icy cool analysis.
  • Make sure you are visiting the correct site. Are you at goggle.com or giggle.com? Does the correct site name end in .com, .org, or something else?
  • Make sure your internet is working for other sites. Are you able to browse to other major web sites? Try Apple.com, for example.
  • Make sure your web browser is updated to the latest version:
    • Chrome: select Chrome/About Google Chrome
    • Safari: open the App Store and click Updates
    • Firefox: select Firefox/About Firefox
  • Open the affected site in a Private Browsing Window/ Incognito Window. This will disable extensions and ignore web history and fixes many issues:
    • Chrome: select File/New Incognito Window
    • Safari: select File/New Private Window
    • Firefox: select File/New Private Window
  • Clear your browsing history and cache. Sometimes outdated cache information breaks a site’s functionality. Note: This will log you out of all web sites, and you will have to re-login to all your favorite sites.
    • Chrome: select Chrome/Clear Browsing Data. Select All Time.
    • Safari: select Safari/Preferences. Click Privacy. Click Manage Website Data. You can choose to Remove All, or remove just the data for the affected site.
    • Firefox: select Firefox/Preferences. Click Privacy & Security. Scroll down to Cookies and Site Data. Click Clear Data.
  • Check your ad blockers and similar browser extensions. For example, if you have Ad Block+ installed, you may want to exempt your problem site to prevent accidental blockage of site features. You can try temporarily turning off extensions to troubleshoot. To see a list of your installed extensions:
    • In Chrome: visit chrome://extensions/
    • In Safari: select Safari/Preferences and click Extensions
    • In Firefox: select Tools/Add-ons and Themes
  • Resize or reorient your browser window. Maybe a button or other control you need is off-screen.
    • Try entering full-screen mode on the Mac (green button in window header).
    • Try a different screen resolution. System Preferences/Display
    • If you are on a mobile device, turn it sideways
    • If you are using the mobile version of the site, try requesting the desktop version, or vice versa (using a site-specific menu).
  • Try quitting and restarting your browser.
  • Try restarting your entire computer or device.

The steps above will solve a surprising number of strange web issues. Let us know what worked for you.

Read the Friendly Manual

Your Apple device didn’t come with a manual in the box, but they are available for free, and they are very nice.

Apple publishes manuals for all their hardware and software and makes them available in the Books App. The Books App is included on every Macintosh, iPad and iPhone.

Books Icon

There are very nice manuals for every model of Macintosh, iPhone and iPad, as well as Apple Watch, Home Pod and Apple TV.

There are users guides for iOS, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

Of course, there are many other books in the store about these subjects, by many different publishers, and most of them are not free.

Once you’ve opened the Books App, to find the free, Apple-published items, look for the Apple User Guides link on the right hand side of the Books App, under Quick Links. The guides are usually named either User Guide or Essentials, for example, iMac Essentials, or iPhone User Guide.

In the Quick Links Section of the Books App, Click Apple User Guides

You will definitely learn something from these. Amaze your friends and family with your expertise — Read the Manual!

March Meeting Notes

In our March virtual meeting, we talked about Continuity Camera and on-line user guides for Apple devices.

With Continuity Camera, you can use your iPhone to scan documents directly into apps on your Macintosh. It is particularly useful in Mail, Notes and Preview. If you scan paper documents into Notes in this way, they become searchable in the Notes app.

The answers to many questions about your device are contained in the user guide for your particular device, e.g. iPhone, iMac, or iPad. Apple has the user’s guides online. Apple doesn’t keep the user’s guides for older versions handy, so if you are planning to keep a device into vintage or obsolete status, download the applicable user guide before it goes out of date.

I will give you some links, but they are likely to go out of date. The consistent way to find the user’s guides is:

  1. Open https://support.apple.com/
  2. Click on your device at the top
  3. Scroll down. Near the bottom of the page, you will see something similar to this. Click on the User Guide link.

iPhone User Guide

iMac User Guides

MacBook Air User Guides

iPad User Guide

Helping Someone Remotely

How can you help another computer user from a distance? I am going to show you a super easy way to help another Mac user using software that came with your computer.

Sometimes we get questions about computer problems from friends and family. It would be so easy if we were in the same room and could see and interact with their screen. But if they are far away, or in 2020, staying isolated because of Coronavirus, how do you help them?

If you and the other person both have Macs, and you can send and receive messages using the Messages app, then the answer is just a click away.

The Messages App

To connect to your friend’s computer, we are going to use the Messages App (formerly known as iMessage). This application comes with every Macintosh. It isn’t obvious, but the humble Messages app has a superpower. It can remote control a computer screen.

It might be good to first verify that you can send and receive messages to and from the remote computer. You must be connecting to your friend via their email address, which should be associated with their Apple ID.

If you see the blue text bubble(s) when messaging your friend, the next steps should go smoothly. If you see green text bubbles, or can’t send and receive messages at all, see the Difficulties section below.

To begin screen sharing, make sure that the correct friend’s conversation is highlighted in the Messages window. Then, select Ask to Share Screen from Messages’ Buddies menu.

Ask to Share Screen menu item

This will cause a message to appear in the upper right of your friend’s screen asking them to allow screen sharing:

Accept Screen Sharing

When they click Accept, they will get one more message:

Click Accept to allow remote control

For troubleshooting with a trusted friend, it is usually easier if the recipient allows you to control their screen as well as observe it. Control is the default.

Once they click Accept, screen sharing will begin.

Either party can end screen sharing. Remember that if the computer restarts, or if you quit the Messages app, screen sharing will end and need to be restarted.

I have successfully talked some very inexperienced computer users through this process on the phone. They only have to be able to see when they receive a text message, and then click Accept twice. After that, you will be able to help them.

You’ll probably be talking to your friend on the phone to get this started. When screen sharing starts, it also starts an on-line voice conversation. You should be prepared to end the phone call when this happens to prevent echo, feedback and confusion. You will still be able to speak to each other via the computer (if both computers have microphones and speakers — most do).

Difficulties

If this is not working as expected, check the following:

  • Both computers must be running MacOS
  • Both computers must be connected to the Internet
  • Both parties must have an Apple ID
  • Check that the email addresses being used for communication are listed in System Preferences/Apple ID under Name, Phone, Email in the Reachable at section. If not, they can be added there.

Helpful Freebies From Apple

In their quest for help with their Apple gadgets, many users overlook the free resources provided by the Apple mothership.

Apple provides a number of helpful text and video tutorials on their support page. Either select your device or topic there, or use the search on that page to find what you are looking for. Most common tasks and questions are covered.

Apple also has a series of free eBooks covering many of their hardware and software products. To find these, open the Books app that came with your device. You will have to sign in with your Apple ID. (Your Apple ID is the same as your iCloud credentials, and is the one ID and password you use for all Apple services.)

You may find that you already have a User Guide for your devices in your Books library. There’s more available, though. If you click the Book Store icon, you can find more books to download. Any book which says Get instead of a price will be free. You can search for “Apple”, or “iPhone”, for example, to find applicable books. Note that there are often different versions of the same book for newer and older versions. Choose a version that matches what you have.

Here are links to some of these useful (free!) books. Enjoy.


Meeting Topic: Apple’s Numbers Spreadsheet App

March 21, 2017 Meeting Topic Overview: Numbers

by Jamie Cox

The current version of Numbers as of March 2017 is 4.0.5.

There are three ways to run Numbers:

  • On the Macintosh
  • On iOS (iPhone or iPad)
  • From a Web Browser on iCloud

 How to Get Numbers

Numbers probably came with your Mac or iOS device, or get Numbers via the Mac App Store ($19.99), or get Numbers  via the iTunes App Store ($9.99).

Competition / Alternatives to  Numbers

Controversy Since iWork ’09

When the new version of Numbers for the Mac came out some features were dropped. Most of them have not been added back in. Reviews of the apps have been definitely mixed. Numbers only gets a 3-star rating on the App store (both versions).

3 stars
Ratings for Numbers on the Mac App Store

Two-and-a-half to three stars is a pretty terrible rating, especially for an Apple app. As you can see, the ratings are very mixed with most reviewers giving either one star or five-star ratings. The ratings for the iOS version are very similar.

Guide to Star Ratings

The one-star reviews are mostly from people upset about advanced features removed from the previous version. The five-star reviews tend to be from people who have come to the application fresh, with no special expectations.

Numbers includes hundreds of distinct features. The chart below highlights just a few of my favorite features as compared with Microsoft Excel.

Comparison of Features Between Numbers and Microsoft Excel

Documents, Sheets and Tables

Numbers documents can have multiple sheets. Each sheet can have multiple tables. When you create a new Numbers document, it has one sheet with one table on that sheet.

If you have used Excel, having multiple sheets should be familiar. The main difference is that the sheets appear at the top of the window instead of at the bottom.

The concept of having multiple tables on a single sheet may be new to users of older spreadsheet programs. It is a very nice feature, which allows you to separate groups of data or  formulas which are of different types instead of lumping them all into the same grid of rows and columns. You can arrange the tables on the page however you like.

This document has two sheets. Sheet 1 has two tables.

 

Formatting Controls

Table Style Controls

Numbers uses a consistent set of formatting controls very similar to those in the Pages word  processor we discussed last month. These are presented  in a pane on the right hand side of the window. These controls look simple, but all together, they have a lot of power. In addition to the pre-defined Table and Text styles, you can create and save your own preferred styles.

Formula Editing

Type an equals sign to enter formula editing mode for a cell. Color coding appears showing the source cells used in your formula. This  makes it easier to understand if your formula is correct or to see the source  of errors.

When you copy or fill a formula into additional cells, Numbers automatically adjusts cell references relative to the current cell. If you want to override that to select an absolute row,  absolute  column, or absolute cell, you can use the Preserve Row/Preserve Column options.

The Numbers Formula Editor

Importing Files From Excel

A common task in Numbers would be to open an Excel document created by someone else. This can work fairly well, but is not completely painless.

Original Excel Template on left, Numbers Import on right

This imported okay, and the amortization calculations agreed, but the date formulas were not imported correctly and would have to be re-done in numbers.

Large Files

One of our members asked how Numbers was at handling large files imported from Excel. To test this I created a large spreadsheet in Excel with 40,000 rows and about 14 columns. The file size in Excel was 3.7 Megabytes. Numbers opened it without complaint, but it took about 30 seconds. When saved as a native Numbers document, its size increased to 6.3 Mbytes, but the native document opened in Numbers in about five seconds.

Although I didn’t get any warnings in Numbers, I did get one “Not enough memory” message in Excel while cutting, pasting and filling to create the document. Excel handled it gracefully without crashing.

iOS Numbers App

The Numbers app on iOS is deliberately very similar to the version for  Macintosh.

Numbers App on iPhone

FYI, Excel also has an iOS app which is free in the App store. It looks like this:

Excel on the iPhone

The Excel app is apparently read-only until you register for and log in to a Microsoft Office 365 account.

 Conclusion

If you want a spreadsheet program to perform the usual tasks of calculation, sorting and organizing, and you don’t have much prior experience with spreadsheets,  you will find Numbers a very useful application. It’s especially easy to learn because of consistent controls across Mac and iOS versions and consistency with Pages and Keynote.

If you know what a pivot table is, or have a lot of spreadsheets already in Excel format, you may be dissatisfied with the limitations of Numbers.

 

Basic iPhone Gestures

I’ve met several people who say they just want to use Facebook or email, but are having problems using their iPhone. They are often surprised by the results of their actions, and sometimes flail away at the screen in frustration.

Trying to use Apps on the iPhone (or iPad) without understanding the basic gestures is like hopping in a car, wanting to drive across town, without being quite sure what those pedals on the floor do.

Here’s a quick rundown of the iPhone controls and what to expect from them. I’ve seperated gestures you make on the touch screen from operations involving the power button, the home button and the whole phone. Many of the functions I have indicated below can be customized in Settings, but these are the default actions. Gestures may have special meaning within certain Apps, but these are the most common usages.

Starting at the very beginning, here’s how  to use the power button, located on the upper right side of your phone. Holding the power button for 3 seconds brings up the Slide to Power Off screen. If your phone is powered down,  you will need to hold the power button for a few seconds until you see the Apple logo and the phone begins powering on.

Here’s  what you can do with the Home Button at the bottom center of the iPhone/iPad. Touch ID is only available in the iPhone 5s and newer. For a click, press hard. For a tap, just touch it lightly. Only a light touch is needed for the fingerprint sensor.  If anybody knows some function that requires only a single tap of the home button, please  leave me a comment.

There are a few things you can do with your whole phone, without pushing any buttons. When you phone is asleep, lifting it to a vertical position momentarily turns on the screen so you can see the time, date and notifications.

Here are the gestures for the iPhone touch screen. These are the most commonly used and the area where people have the most trouble. In particular, the iPhone is very sensitive to any sideways or vertical motion of your finger when you touch the screen. If it notices any motion, your gesture is interpreted as a swipe instead of a tap. Tapping is probably the most common gesture, so it’s important to master it. When tapping make sure you move your finger up and down only, without sliding it sideways at all.

One of the most common problems with the touch screen is unintended actions. The screen is very sensitive to the slightest touch. In fact, it will sometimes sense a touch if your finger is just near the screen. So, keep all your fingers away from the screen until you actually want to do something.

Remove your finger promptly when tapping or you will get a Press & Hold. If you want to use Press & Hold, you don’t have to press hard, just rest your finger — again, no sliding. This is probably most useful to open the sharing menu for a photo.

These are special, iPad-only gestures:

For a device with such an easy-to-use reputation, this is a pretty big list. But, make sure you understand these and you will have a much easier time using your device.

Tutorials Online

There are several sources of helpful Macintosh and iOS (iPhone and iPad) tutorials available to you online.

Apple has a series of short tutorials on various subjects. They used to have video tutorials. I don’t see those anymore. Instead, they have short well-illustrated tutorial pages. These are accessible from the Apple Support page.

If you prefer video tutorials, take a look at www.themacu.com . The videos on their Quick Lessons blog are free. There’s a nice list of interesting topics. You can buy their longer tutorials through the App store. Their App is called TMU Tutorials. Macintosh “All Access” is $19.99.

ScreenCastsONLINE has quite a complete collection of thorough Mac and iOS tutorial videos. A subscription to ScreenCasts Online is $21 per quarter.

There is also a free ScreenCastsONLINE YouTube channel with useful tips of the week.

If you watch someone else using an App, you usually have that Aha moment when you think “I could do that!”.  So, take a look at some of these useful tutorials and get more out of your Mac, iPad or iPhone.

 

 

Beginner’s Guide to Email Usernames and Passwords

Beginner’s Guide to Email Usernames and Passwords

Email is one of the most basic services that people expect on their Mac, iPhone or iPad. It is also one of the things that many beginners have trouble with. If you have a good understanding of your own email accounts you will have an easier time using all on-line services.

The Basic What’s What of Email

Email Address

An email address is a string of characters that the email system can use to send or receive email. Usually an email address belongs to a single person or to a company.

Here is a typical email address:  [email protected]

Email addresses must be in this specific format:  The first part is a username then one at sign: @, then a domain name. Email addresses must not contain any spaces.

Email addresses are usually given in all lower case.

When you create a new email address, always create it in all lower case

However, the part of the email address after the @ is not case sensitive for the purposes of sending email. So, mail sent to any of the following addresses should all reach the same recipient.

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

The username part of an email address (the part before the @) is often treated as case sensitive by email clients and servers, so always use the same capitalization.

Email addresses are public. They are not secret. They should not be used as passwords.

Your Email Provider

You should know who your email provider is. It is usually a well known company.  Most people have email provided by their Internet Service Provider (ISP). Many people have email accounts with more than one provider.

Sample email addresses for common email providers:

Google – [email protected]

Apple – [email protected]

Yahoo! – [email protected]

Notice that the email domain is not necessarily identical to the company name.

Customers of Bright House Networks in central Florida have email addresses like:

[email protected]

The rr stands for Road Runner, which is Bright House’s name for their internet service.

Remember your Email Address and Password – Exactly

It seems obvious, but you need to memorize your email address and password or write them down someplace safe, preferably both. If you can’t access your email, you may lose access to other services as well. Your email account is the key to your on-line kingdom. Pay attention.

Your Email Password

After your email address, the other thing you’ll need to access your email account is your password. When you first create your email account you will be asked to create a password. You should do so very carefully, and write it down in a safe place. Passwords should be kept secret.

  • Capitalization of characters in passwords always matters

  • Do not reuse any part of your username or email address in your password

  • When logging on, your password must match exactly the expected password

Unfortunately the exact rules for what is allowed or required in passwords varies depending on the site or email provider you are using. The following rules are a good starting point.

  • Create a password at least 10 characters long

  • Use a mixture of UPPER and lower case letters, numbers and symbols

  • Avoid dictionary words and names

Example passwords:

Randomly generated: Nm4$tL&vWv

Easier to type on iOS: mtvv4$&NLW   (don’t need to shift keyboards as often)

Too Easy to Guess: ABC.def.123

Very bad: 7/December/1941    (especially if that’s your birthday)

Watch out for letters and numbers that can be easily confused. Is that a lower-case ell or a one?  A zero or an oh? It might be best to avoid using these confusing letters/numbers in your passwords. Be sure to be extremely clear about these distinctions when you write down your password, so you can decipher it when you need to enter it again.

Logging On

You will want to log on to the Mail app on your Mac or iPhone. Your credentials will be your email address and password.

Most email providers also provide a web mail service where you can connect to their mail system directly without using an app. Usually this is good for situations when you want to read your mail while using someone else’s computer. However some people use email that way all the time — it’s your preference.

For example, if you have an email account through Google’s gmail, you can log on at gmail.com, or mail.google.com. There you should enter the same email address and password you created initially.

Confusion with Other Services

Many web sites, maybe most web sites, want you to log on using an email address even if that site has nothing to do with email. Why do they do that? Because it identifies you uniquely — no two people can have the same email address. That makes it easy for the site to keep you separate from all the other people using the site, and to recognize you when you return.

For example, eBay is an auction site. It has nothing to do with email. It invites users to sign in using their “Email or username”.

You may use your email address as your username on some site, and others insist on it. Almost all sites want to you to enter your email address even if they give you a different username. This is so they can use email to help you reset your password if you forget.

Here’s the important thing:

Even though you may logon to a site using your email address, that’s just a coincidence.

Do not reuse your email password at a different site – Make a new password

Ultimately you should have a different password for each site you use, e.g. one for Facebook, one for Yahoo!, one for eBay, even if you use the same email address to log on to each one. I know it can be difficult to remember these. So, you must have a system for writing them down or remembering them.  This is why password manager apps are so popular.

For Beginners: Write down your usernames & passwords neatly for each site

There’s a lot more to say about email, but this is enough for one beginner article.