Monday, April 11, 2011

How Can I Have My Parents Or Grandparents Use The Internet And Manage Photos Without A Computer?

Background: A technology-ambivalent Baby-Boomer parent wants internet and photo printing, but hates computers (updated for AirPrint):

Recently someone asked me about how to enable a technology-ambivalent parent to access email and web from home and manage their photos without a computer. They live in a suburban area and don't want expensive internet service. They want to do email/web and store/print photos of their grandchildren, but not much more.

One solution to help them get online:

I think the following solution may work for this situation. The critical piece is the Apple AirPrint service. This service allows simple user-friendly wireless printing from iPads. Internet and photo management comes through the iPad itself, which maximizes ease of use and minimizes security issues, in my opinion.
  • An 3G/4G iPad with Apple Care - You can get inexpensive internet access from AT&T or Verizon. No contracts.
  • iPad Camera Connection kit
  • "Grandparent-friendly" camera with SD Card media
  • AirPrint compatible wireless photo printer
  • Secured wireless access point (Use Cisco LinkSys or Netgear with WPA2/AES Shared Key) - only for the printer, no internet, one-time setup and connection to iPad


  • Buy the latest 3G/4G iPad with Apple Care and the Camera Connection kit. The Apple Care is important, since it will allow you to completely outsource tech support to the Genius Bar.
  • Buy the camera and a large memory card for the camera.
  • Buy an 802.11G or 802.11N basic wireless router.
  • Buy an AirPrint capable photo printer from those listed on Apple's support page.
  • Buy a decent initial supply of photo paper for the printer.
  • Buy replacement cartridges for all of the ink colors. The initial cartridges are usually only half full.
  • Schedule a time slot at an Apple Store Genius Bar.
  • Bring your parent with the iPad, camera, and Camera Connection kit to the Apple Store.
  • Have them work with the Genius Bar to:
    • configure the camera and the Camera Connection kit
    • create an Apple ID
    • buy and set up a wireless data plan.
  • At their home, configure the wireless router without an internet connection.
    • Configure WPA2-PSK security.
    • Create a strong private shared key (many different characters).
    • Write the key down and write the wireless router admin login down and keep them with you. Your parent won't need it.
  • Configure the iPad to use the wireless network with the private shared key.
  • Set up the AirPrint photo printer. Store the extra paper and ink cartridges.
  • Configure the AirPrint photo printer to use the wireless network with the private shared key.
  • Configure the iPad to print to the AirPrint photo printer.
  • Test your parent's workflow:
    • Take pictures with their camera
    • Connect the camera to the iPad
    • Download the pictures into the iPad
    • Print the pictures to the AirPrint photo printer.
Note: You pay up front for simplicity and ease of use. This solution is not cheap, but for those who don't want to be "family tech support," I think it will minimize support costs more than any other solution. Regarding Android, you need a printing application from a printer vendor. If HP or another vendor provides an Android printing application for their photo-capable printers, they will enable a similar stack on Android.  That being said, I do not know of a support system for Android that's equivalent to Apple Care plus the Genius Bar.  You will almost certainly have to do more of the support yourself.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Using Google and Bing in Systems Administration - A Brief Note.

Use both search engines

Although Microsoft and Google claim that they do not alter search results to promote their interests, they do. It's not necessarily a bad tactic [1]. Just be aware of the behavior.

General Steps

  1. If you have a general problem, troubleshoot until you have a specific issue/question.
  2. If you cannot figure out the answer, run it through both Google and Bing.
  3. If you get results, it's either known configuration problem or a known issue with your product. Hopefully there will be a solution.
  4. If you get no results, you can generally assume that you are making a common configuration mistake, the solution to which is considered so self-evident that user community of your product doesn't feel it's worth writing up. Re-read your manuals, guides, and tutorials.

See the XKCD flowchart for a similar process for family IT problem resolution.

No Results At All

If you get no results on a specific issue search for a product that is specific to a particular domain, it is worth just searching for the product itself. In my professional opinion, if you get no results for the general search, your use of the product might be risky for your organization, depending on your specific circumstances of course. If you get empty searches in Google and Bing, the product is not used by enough users to have been blogged about or to have been the subject of a forum post. Also, it's not well known enough that anyone has cared to review it. You may have trouble hiring administrators for the product, and, if the company has bad tech support, you have no other support options.


[1] For example, if Google truly feels its cloud apps are better than Microsoft's, they should list theirs first. Otherwise, they are not acting in their customers' best interests (from their point view). Likewise, for Microsoft.