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Bits and Bytes

John P. Reid | August 8th, 2017

Computer Column #344

John P. Reid, <[email protected]>

This column has dealt recently with heavy topics such as Internet fraud and chain store retail analytics. We will be lighter this month. Antiquers are multifaceted. Their interests go far beyond old stuff. We will list 12 small jobs a computer can do, often at little cost. Some will be familiar to readers, but perhaps there are new ideas.

Not all these jobs can be related directly to antiques collecting or dealing. But who knows? Music can be used at a wild party or as background music for an antiques shop or show. An e-book can be a romance novel or a reference book in an antiques field.

Music is easy to download with a computer. In fact, the earliest mobile devices such as Apple iPod were all about downloaded music. Many services with modest charges are available. Apple iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes), available for Apple devices and Windows desktops, has one of the largest collections. Popular songs are often first released there. Old-timers such as “Mairzy Doats” or “Remember Pearl Harbor” are sometimes found nowhere else. Classical music is offered as well. New recordings are about $1.29 each, while older ones are often $0.99 each. Price per song is less when an album is downloaded. Amazon (www.amazon.com/MP3-Music-Download/b?ie=UTF8&node=163856011), Google Music (https://play.google.com/music), and the Microsoft Store found on the Windows 10 menu are among the other good music sources. A web search will turn up many sources, some free.

Editing music with a computer is possible. A popular free music editing program is Audacity (www.audacityteam.org/download) for Windows, MacOS, or Linux. It has a bonus; if a video file from YouTube is opened with Audacity, the video part is discarded, leaving only an editable and savable audio file. The editor can change the music’s tempo without changing the pitch to adapt a song to a chosen dance or dancer. Pitch can be changed to match the key used by a singer or instrumentalist. Irregular volume can be smoothed out. A portion of the music can be selected and saved as a new file. Using Audacity is not easy, but the online help and support is excellent.

Your computer can be running Jukebox even as other work is going on. The free iTunes software stores downloaded songs and plays them through the computer sound system. Music can be selected and played in any order. Playlists can be made for future use as background music or for a party. Additionally, Windows computers can create playlists in such software as Windows MediaPlayer.

MP3 tags hidden in downloaded music files tell a mobile player or a car radio what album and song name to display. If these are not informative, tags can be edited with the free downloadable Mp3Tag Universal Tag Editor (www.mp3tag.de/en). Getting the edit to stick can be confusing, so read the built-in help files.

Tuning a musical instrument used to be done with a tuning fork or pitch pipe. Inexpensive electronic tuning meters are now available. The violins in a symphony orchestra tune to the oboe, but nowadays the oboist first tunes the oboe with a tuning meter. If you have an Apple or Android smartphone or tablet, there are free apps that turn the device into a tuner when needed. The free DaTuner Pro on Google Play works well on Android. There are many available for Apple iOS on Apple iTunes.

Music score editing can be done online or with downloaded software. My favorite is the downloadable MuseScore 2 (https://musescore.com), available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, or Chromebook. Menus can be set for any of 60 languages. It is free unless certain professional tools are needed. Sheet music of any genre and complexity can be created on single or multiple staves or in notation for guitar, percussion, medieval chorus, and other forms. A huge library of scores of familiar works arranged by users is available. Simple tunes can be handled from the screen menus, but complicated work may require using the free 239-page handbook downloadable as a PDF file.

A dictionary is useful when writing. Web search will find good online dictionaries, but the Internet is not always available or quick enough. The Microsoft Store, available from the Windows 10 start menu, has dictionaries for downloading. I prefer the free Advanced English Dictionary. The Free Dictionary by Farlex is also good. Better known is the Oxford Dictionary of English at $24.99. Apple’s MacOS includes the Apple Dictionary.

Labels, nametags, and business cards are hard to print with most word processors. Avery, the label and paper firm, offers Design & Print (www.avery.com/avery/en_us). It solves many problems. Free software can be downloaded for Windows or Apple MacOS. An online version works on all computers as well as Android and Apple iOS mobiles. One hint: Mailing lists in Microsoft Excel may not work well if there are blank cells. Save a copy of the Excel file in CSV (comma-separated values) format to use in Avery Design & Print.

Big pictures cannot be printed on most computer printers. However, a large poster or photograph can be printed by splitting it into multiple letter-size pages to be pieced together. The free RonyaSoft Poster Printer (www.ronyasoft.com/products/proposter) does this on Windows computers. The picture is printed as multiple pages with cutting lines and alignment marks to be pasted together. The pasting is picky work, and a good paper cutter helps. There used to be a similar product called PosteRazor for Apple Macintosh (www.sourceforge.net), but it has not been updated since 2013.


A 33" x 33" picture of a mosaic tabletop, created by Jane Reid and based on a Native American carving, will be computer printed as 12 letter-size sheets to be pasted together using software mentioned above. Image courtesy Jane Reid.

Cooking is close to a universal interest. Enter the name of any dish in an Internet search engine and dozens of recipes pop up. There are more than 310 recipes for my favorite, Mexican posole soup. Closer to home, there are 180 recipes for New England seafood chowder, including Lydia Maria Child’s fish chowder from the 1830 The Frugal Housewife (www.foodreference.com/html/chowder-1830-309.html).

Many people never learned touch typing in high school, especially us older men. There are dozens of online courses in touch typing. Many are free. One is Touch Typing Study (www.typingstudy.com), but sample several to see which seems most natural. Some are even organized as games. Over 100 keyboard layouts, including the Dvorak keyboard, are accommodated.

Language translation is often useful but sometimes problematical. There are several translation websites, including Google Translate (https://translate.google.com) and Bing Translate (www.bing.com/translator). Either is good for finding the sense of a foreign phrase. They may be riskier if translation from English to another language is needed. The translation may not be understood by a native speaker and may even be a vulgarity. Foreign language dictionaries are available online.

Reading books on a computer, tablet, or reader such as Amazon’s Kindle is a great way to pass a slow day in the shop or while waiting for your auction lot to come up, though e-book reading is declining as digital fatigue grows. It is also a way to avoid toting reference technical books around.


Originally published in the August 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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