Mark writes about Microsoft Windows, computer topics, and digital photography.

Jan 092014

Just got a Windows 8 PC? Here’s how you can update to Windows 8.1

For those of you who managed to get a new tablet or desktop computer, complete with the latest Windows 8.1 update, then you are all set and ready to go. However, for those of you who purchased a device that came pre-installed with Windows 8 only, have no fear. Here are a few suggestions to get you updated and running.

Just got a Windows 8 PC? Here’s how you can update to Windows 8.1

 Posted by at 11:53 am
Jan 092014

Xbox has been a huge success for Microsoft until Xbox One. If you’re considering it, read this review.

XBOX: Fail | Hal’s (Im)Perfect Vision

As I dig into this keep in mind that we aren’t talking about gaming here, I have yet to play a game on the Xbox One.

XBOX: Fail | Hal’s (Im)Perfect Vision

These issues are reminiscent of Vista and Windows 8 — missteps, at best. However, Microsoft will probably fix many of these issues. The overall trend of merging the interface across all devices — computer, game system, phone, and devices yet-unimagined — is probably a good one, if only for “branding.”

 Posted by at 11:47 am
Dec 302013

The Fujifilm Finepix HS50 EXR feels like a DSLR. It is much larger and heavier than other superzooms, though that may not matter to some users.

This camera has the fastest shutter of any camera I’ve used (I don’t use any DSLR). You point, you press the shutter, and the image is almost instantly captured. I think this feature sets the Fujifilm apart from all other superzooms and is its major strength.

One unusual feature is that the zoom is entirely manual. Just as with a DSLR or traditional film camera, you turn the barrel to move the zoom. Sony has a feature similar to this except that the zoom is powered, whether you use the lever or the barrel. The Fujifilm zoom is very smooth and absolutely quiet.

The lens is threaded for 58mm filters and the lens cap fits very securely. A sensor detects your face near the viewfinder (EVF) to automatically switch between the LCD and the EVF. This feature worked very well for me (Sony has this on some superzooms, as well). The EVF has the highest resolution of any point and shoot and is a real pleasure to use.

The image processor in the Fujifilm is slightly larger than other superzooms. I didn’t see any significant benefit, though in theory is should result in better images. See sample images comparing the Fujifilm to the Canon.

Two years ago, I tried a predecessor to this camera and returned it to Amazon. Almost all of my objections to that camera have been resolved in this camera. (See Why I’m Returning the Fujifilm HS10.)

In the past six months, I have used the Canon Powershot SX50 HS, the Sony CyberShot 200v, and the Fujifilm Finepix HS50 EXR, arguably the top 3 superzoom point and shoot cameras on the market at this moment. Each has its strengths and weakness, its fans and foes. None of the three is perfect. All three produce great images in bright light outdoors, making them excellent for landscapes and wildlife. My complaint that applies to all three is that the image quality doesn’t live up to the superzoom. You’ll get close, but you may not like what you see, especially as you crop.

 Posted by at 2:51 pm
Dec 232013

Sometimes, an app misbehaves. In many cases, ignoring the app for a while may help. Restarting may help. Windows 8.1 has a ‘trick’ for restarting an individual app: with finger or mouse, drag the top edge of the app toward the bottom. When the app screen shrinks, don’t let go. Wait for the shrunken app to flip to show the app icon (or splash screen), then drag back up to let the app expand again. If an app stumbles despite this, you may want to run the App Troubleshooter (below), which will check all of your apps.

Troubleshoot problems with an app – Microsoft Windows Help

In many cases, the Windows Store will automatically notify you if there’s a problem with an app and try to fix the problem. If you continue experiencing problems with an app, or if you’re unable to open the Store, try running the Apps troubleshooter. This tool can automatically identify and fix some problems with apps and the Store. It’s only available in English, but will work on PCs running any language.

If running the troubleshooter doesn’t help, here are some things you can try to fix the app yourself.

Troubleshoot problems with an app – Microsoft Windows Help

[hat tip to  Winaero]

 Posted by at 11:27 am
Dec 222013

Themes – Microsoft Windows


A theme is a combination of desktop background pictures, window colors, and sounds. You can preview each theme’s image collection by clicking Details. To get a theme, click Download, and then click Open. This saves the theme to your PC and puts it on your desktop. See Personalize your PC to learn more.

Themes – Microsoft Windows

Follow the link to some very lovely images that are freely available. Use themes to change the look of your desktop in Windows 7 and up. Windows 8.1 can use the desktop background on the Start screen as well, creating a consistency between the two screens that many people find appealing.

 Posted by at 1:00 pm
Dec 192013

I’m comparing two superzoom (aka ‘bridge’) cameras, high-end point and shoot cameras (each with a single fixed lens that zooms). The Canon has a 50x zoom (compares to 1200mm on 35mm cameras) and the Fuji has a 42x zoom (compares to 1000mm). I took a series of photos as similar as I could. Each is hand-held and using automatic settings. When I zoomed, I only used optical zoom, not digital. The first photo in each column is from the Cannon and the second from the Fujifilm. My intent was to compare the image quality of each, which you will notice includes some color and exposure differences that might be adjusted through camera settings or in post-processing. (If you want to see the original full-sized version of a photo, select it.)

IMG_4118 DSCF0461 wide

IMG_4119 DSCF0462 500mm

IMG_4120 DSCF0463 1200mm / 1000mm

xIMG_4118 cropped DSCF0461 cropped 

The two photos above are cropped from those first two photos. I often crop photos to emphasis a portion of the photo. The next two are cropped from the maximum zoom.

IMG_4120 cropped DSCF0463 cropped

The two images above may show my ultimate frustration with superzooms — they promise too much or their reach exceeds their grasp. I can zoom into a subject I can’t stand to look at later. (Ignoring color/exposure differences and just noting sharpness.)

But perhaps I am too ambitious. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect a shot that spans 10 miles (and one mile vertically) to be crystal clear. Below are a comparable series in my sideyard.

IMG_4121 DSCF0465 wide

IMG_4122 DSCF0466 500mm

IMG_4123 DSCF0467 1200mm / 1000mm

Crops from above:

IMG_4123 cropped DSCF0467 cropped

Lastly, a series 10 feet across the patio.

IMG_4124 DSCF0468

IMG_4125 DSCF0469

IMG_4126 DSCF0470

Cropped from above:

IMG_4126 cropped  DSCF0470 cropped

I’m primarily a landscape and wildlife photographer. Where these cameras let me down most often is in photographing birds, a fast-moving, challenging subject. But if I can’t make out details (let alone accurate color), I can’t begin to identify a bird (which is hard enough under the best circumstances).

In this regard, the Fuji has one strong advantage over every superzoom I’ve ever used: it is fast. There virtually no lag between pressing the shutter release and taking the photo. (The Fuji uses phase detection instead of the more common contrast detection, technically speaking. It also has a slightly larger image processor than most superzooms, though far smaller than most DSLRs, the high-end cameras. On the other hand, if they made a 1200mm lens for a DSLR, I could neither afford it nor lift it.)

 Posted by at 6:47 pm
Dec 122013

More often than not, I access www.outlook.com through my browser, but I use Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone apps as necessary. Outlook mail is great. SkyDrive file storage is very good, especially for automatically replicating files across the 3 computers and one phone I use regularly. The People function isn’t quite as good as gmail Contacts, especially for groups, but it is OK. And Google Calendar is hands-down better than Outlook’s. I’m mostly google-free these days. Why? Primarily because I got tired of Google killing services like Reader and Picasa, but also the changes in gmail and the complicated failure of Google+.

Outlook Blog – Outlook.com makes it even easier to switch from Gmail

Today, we are announcing a new service that makes it easier than ever to import your Gmail account to Outlook.com. This will be rolling out to everyone over the coming weeks, so if you don’t have access to it yet, check back soon.

Outlook Blog – Outlook.com makes it even easier to switch from Gmail

 Posted by at 8:47 pm
Dec 062013

Interesting tip from Sergey Tkachenko. I’ve been using Start screen search more lately — just start typing on the Start screen. ‘Type to search’ is one of the few features of Windows 8.1 that I miss on Windows Phone 8, where it isn’t practical.

How to speed up search on the Start screen in Windows 8.1 | Winaero

To search the required app or Control Panel quickly, you need not type its full name. All you need to type are the beginning letters of every word in the app name.

How to speed up search on the Start screen in Windows 8.1 | Winaero

 Posted by at 2:11 pm
Nov 272013

I’m just beginning to appreciate the changes, especially the Recent Notes with thumbnails. Keep in mind this OneNote app is FREE to Windows 8 users. It’s a great program with just enough features for note-taking, journaling, and list-making. (I have the Windows 8 Phone app, too, making it easy to keep up with notes when I’m away from a computer.).

OneNote Blog – A BIG OneNote update for Windows note-taking devices

[Microsoft] released an update to the OneNote Windows Store app that significantly improves how you capture, find and view the notes you care about most. We were inspired by Windows 8.1 and the new devices that are perfect for note-taking: tablets with pens, such as Surface Pro 2, and smaller tablets, such as the Dell Venue 8 Pro.  This update makes it easier to capture notes using the Windows 8.1 Share Charm, enables you to scan things with your camera and search them, and shows your recent notes with page previews.

OneNote Blog – A BIG OneNote update for Windows note-taking devices

 Posted by at 2:24 pm
Nov 262013

I find it as sign of the ruthlessness of corporations, that they look for ways to attack their competitors from within. There is nothing noble about the vaunted market forces. Like all things human, there is violence and blood — and greed. Apple is moving from innovator to stifler of innovation.

Apple acquires Israeli tech firm | ABQJournal Online

Apple has acquired Israel-based motion technology company PrimeSense for an undisclosed sum.

PrimeSense spokeswoman Kayla Egbert confirmed the deal, but says the company isn’t revealing additional details.

Founded in 2005, PrimeSense makes chips used in three-dimensional sensing products. Its technology is used in Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect, which lets gamers use their bodies to control the movements of on-screen characters.

Apple acquires Israeli tech firm | ABQJournal Online

 Posted by at 9:37 am
Nov 242013

Dell’s 8-inch Windows tablet makes a big impression | ZDNet by Ed Bott

[T]his tiny tablet has earned a place in my travel bag. And based on reviews I’ve read from buyers at Amazon and Dell, I have lots of company. Dell appears to have a genuine hit on its hands. [read the rest at the link]

Dell’s 8-inch Windows tablet makes a big impression | ZDNet

added to mjh’s Amazon computer wishlist

 Posted by at 9:10 am