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Bob and Joy Schwabach
Bob and Joy Schwabach write the "On Computers" newspaper column.
Bob and Joy Schwabach write the "On Computers" newspaper column.

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An eco-friendly place to visit in Botswana is one of our "Internuts" this week.

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(this week's column)

Our attention was captured recently by a Wall Street Journal article about executives playing video adventure games. One was 34, another 49. Their ages were apparently meant to surprise us, but in fact it’s normal.

There has always been an assumption that only kids play video games. It depends on the game. In fact, in the decades we have been writing this column — and it is the oldest and longest running technology column in the known universe (and parts of New Jersey) — the great majority of video game players have ranged from their mid 20s on up. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average male player is 35, the average woman 44.

We’re talking about complex games like Call of Duty, Clash of Clans, League of Legends, WarCraft, etc. These games outsell hit movies, and they’re a good deal for the entertainment dollar since they can be played for years, not just a couple of hours.

Games like these require teamwork, strategy, and initiative, which also requires lots of thinking. A dozen people can play together. You can make treaties with opponents, contracts, agree on terms — and there is often not one opponent but several. Breaking treaties and other agreements can be costly, since you become known as unreliable and others won’t deal with you. This is way beyond kid’s stuff and it’s great fun.

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(from this week's column)

Stand-alone push buttons are getting hot. Out of printer ink? Just push a button to order more. The buttons are only $5, ink quite a bit more. Is there any inconvenience in this convenience? We can see some.

So here’s how it starts: Amazon sells $5 “Dash” buttons that you stick around the house. Press one labeled “Charmin” to automatically re-order toilet paper. Press “Tide” to get detergent. (Amazon then kicks in and sends you whatever quantity you normally order.) The office giant Staples has a trial version of an office supply button. And there are others. Remember the old “Panic” push-buttons that were sold as a novelty item? We’re getting there.

We tested a “goButton” from a company just getting started on, the site where you raise money from strangers. The pitch is this: What if employees could push a button whenever they needed printer ink, had a plumbing problem or a paper jam? They’d push the goButton (terrible name) and a service professional would arrive. The buttons are configured in advance through an app on your phone, and can be changed as the need changes.

The company sent us a couple of prototypes. One was labeled “support.” Another was labeled “Refill.” Pushing either one brought a text message and an email saying our order had been accepted or support was on the way. The messages included the name of the person who pushed the button and the company that responded.

Any potential problems with this? We can see a couple hundred. At a business, for example: What if every time a printer jams, someone pushes the “help” button? A tech would arrive but the person sitting next to you has already fixed the problem. Sorry, you have to pay for the tech guy’s time anyway.

How about home use. How many people do you know who would push a “help” button every time they had some problem with their computer or the internet? Got any kids around who would think it’s fun to push buttons? How about cats doing their “kitten on the keys” walks?

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(from our weekly column) Back to the Future
We downloaded Microsoft’s “Creator’s Update,” for the latest and greatest in Windows 10. It’s Microsoft’s way of giving you a look at the wonderful things that are coming up for Windows. Why do we do these things? It’s our duty.

So the latest update of Creator Updates took an hour to install and trashed our Windows 10 computer. Programs like PowerPoint and Word wouldn’t start. Nor could they be reinstalled. Dead icons appeared everywhere. It wasn’t a virus, it was a look at future Windows updates. Thanks.

In the Windows “Recovery” center, there’s a helpful hint saying we should revert to a previous version of Windows 10. We clicked that and reverted. It was like reverse digital evolution. We got a black screen with the message: “Disk failure or boot failure.”

So that Windows 10 machine is now buried in the basement next to other dead relatives. It is and was an HP Pavilion All-In-One that Joy bought five years ago. (Never buy an all-in-one computer, says Bob, who uses an HP laptop connected to a larger monitor and keyboard.) Before it was murdered by Microsoft’s “Creator Update” it had been giving signs of oncoming dementia anyway. Though it uses the same Internet connection as our Google Chromebook, everything it did was deadly slow while everything on the Chromebook was real fast.

“Sic Transit Gloria,“ as they used to say back in the Roman Empire. (Gloria always used public transit.) We turned to old reliable, a refurbished Windows XP machine. Works fine. Cost us $70. The downside, of course, is that it is vulnerable to all kinds of cyber attacks. So, the answer is don’t connect it to the Internet.

Though Microsoft officially abandoned support for Windows XP in April, 2014, the reality is there are millions of them still in use. Aside from personal users, most automatic teller machines still use Windows XP, and there are probably business and military users as well. Why not, they work fine. Many readers have told us they held onto their Windows XP computers as long as they could, because of their ease of use. We couldn’t agree more; all those features added to Windows 10 to supposedly make life easier just made it more complicated.

Because of the recent ransom–ware panic, Microsoft issued a security patch. They had to. So if we wanted to go online, as long as we get the latest patch and use a lightweight anti-virus program like Avira for older machines, we should be okay.

Our $70 XP machine was purchased from Amazon. It came with the free “OpenOffice,” which is similar to Microsoft Office, pre-installed and handles the latest Word documents in the “docx” format, as well as PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheets and other Office programs.

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(Here's the first item from our latest column. More at

Is your computer hyper tense? Does it suffer from anxiety, mood shifts, lethargy or even narcolepsy? You can get a free checkup at Belarc Advisor tells you about your dear machine’s hardware, software, security settings, and whether or not you need updates. Our diagnosis: updates of six programs were deemed “critical.”

But updating programs in intensive care is a hassle. Have you been to the Adobe site lately? It’s hard to find the update section. We had two copies of Adobe Flash, which is built into Chrome; we got rid of both. We also got rid of something called “Adobe Air.” Then there’s “Java.” Do we really need Java? We looked it up and the answer came back “No!” We looked up Apple QuickTime. The answer came back as “crapware.” This is a technical term among programmers and refers to programs that come installed as trial versions or worse when you but a new computer. We uninstalled all.

And the result? Our computer runs just the same as before, still playing YouTube videos and doing all our other activities. All is fine, and we’re safer than we were. In fact, we feel downright chipper. If we need to reinstall something it will be the latest version.

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