All posts by Heidi Mueller

The Future is Continuum

I just had an unexpected “ah ha” moment. It was particularly unexpected as I was not looking for it. It started with a post on computers for seniors.
In this post I will describe how I came to believe that continuum is the future of smartphones.

What is Continuum?
Continuum can mean different things at different levels. At one level it means your Windows experience is the same no matter which size of device you are working on as the code is the same. On another level it means if you connect your phone to a large monitor, the display adapts accordingly (see Microsoft’s explanation here…)

I think this video of Jamie Ramsay illustrates it well:

My Experience
No, I have not actually used continuum. My old Lumia 830, even though it runs Windows 10, its hardware is not continuum-capable, however…
A while back in a post on computers for seniors I stated that if I could only afford one device it would be my Lumia smartphone! I was already using my Lumia extensively but then set about creating a series of online courses to formalize what I knew. The result is a spectrum of courses covering both everyday fun stuff as well as work-related stuff.

For the sake of completeness, I added a Bluetooth keyboard to make entering lots of text in Word easier. I was surprised how well it worked. Then for the Excel course I added a Bluetooth mouse and again I was pleasantly surprised.

At the end of the PowerPoint course, I felt I needed to show how one would actually do the presentation. For that I got a wireless display adapter for a large monitor.

It was then that it hit me—even though my Lumia 830 is a very basic smartphone by today’s standards, I was actually using it in “continuum” mode, and I liked it!

The Future
As manufacturers become more acquainted with continuum, I can imagine a range of accessories and services becoming available for continuum-ready phones. At the same time the corresponding continuum-ready programs will become more prevalent.

I have seen that I can be entirely productive with just my Lumia 830 on its own. Adding the Bluetooth accessories, when needed, enhanced what I could do.

New Smartphone Courses

After my comment in a recent post, that if I had to limit myself to just one device, I would choose my smartphone – I decided to create  courses for my smartphone.

It does not look like a phone because it isn’t

The starting point was that a smartphone was not really a phone but indeed a portable personal computer, that can also take photos.

The difficulty

When I started planning for these courses, I soon discovered just how difficult it was to videotape a smartphone screen successfully!

If the focus is not spot on, then the text on the Lumia screen becomes blurry. Add to that reflections on the Lumia screen and that my head accidentally getting in the way of the camcorder.

The Solution

Fortunately, I found a better way. Microsoft has created a marvelous desktop program: Project My Screen. This program allows one to mirror what is on the Lumia screen on the desktop screen.


100_0717wAs the photo shows, the Lumia is plugged into the desktop USB port and its screen is mirrored on the desktop monitor.

Not only that, I can operate the Lumia normally using my finger and the desktop monitor follows. Also, I can use the desktop mouse on the monitor and the Lumia follows!

Now I can use my regular screen capture program (Camtasia) on the desktop to record the course videos—the result is clear text, no reflections and my head never getting into the video.

It is still a lot of work but it does open all kinds of possibilities as I believe smartphones will play an increasingly important role in every day business and play.

New Courses

So far I have developed two courses:

The first is an introductory course intended to give a sense of what is possible, while the second course covers a rather specific application for smartphones.

The thing that amazed me most was what could be achieved with the Lumia 830. A few years back it was an “affordable flagship” but by current standards it is more an entry-level phone.


The Smartphone Miracle

lumia 830 The phone that I use, is the Lumia 830. At its release Microsoft billed it as an “affordable flagship”. It was actually quite expensive but I closed my eyes and bought it—it was the only Windows flagship available in Canada at the time. Over time I learned what Microsoft has packed into to the phone, I was surprised that they could sell it for the price they did.

In this post we will look at what goes in to make a smartphone and why I think it is actually a technical miracle.

Under the Hood
Let’s look at the main components of the phone. As the diagram below shows, it is essentially the same as any computer.


If we take a look at the specifications on the Microsoft site, we see that the main memory is 1GB, the microprocessor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, and the main storage is 16GB.

Your operating system, Windows 10 in this case, as well as all your programs (called apps in mobile world) are stored in the C drive which is a solid state drive so it is fast and has no moving parts.

What is really amazing is what is packed into this small device. A quick look at the specs tells us that we have a graphics processor, global positioning (GPS), magnetometer, accelerometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, antennae for cell phone, Wi-Fi, Blue Tooth, a main camera with Zeiss lens and optical stabilization, an FM radio, noise cancelling microphones, and more.  In our diagram these are collectively represented by the Hardware Connections box.

Many of these components are included on the microprocessor chip, which is why it is called a SoC or system on a chip.

The most obvious hardware component is the high definition Corning Gorilla Glass display, which has 24bit true colour and a pixel density of almost 300 pixels per inch.

How It Works
When you turn your phone on, the essential core Windows modules are loaded into the main memory. The phone then displays the Start Screen. The icons on the Start Screen represents the programs (apps) you use most often. You can customize the Start Screen to suit your particular needs.

When you tap on an icon on the Start Screen, the corresponding app, is loaded into main memory and the microprocessor executes it. The program will talk to and activate the hardware components as needed.

For example, when you select the Phone app, the microphone and small speaker are activated, allowing you to speak and listen to the phone conversation.

You can load several apps into memory but because the main memory is only 1GB, only one app is active at a time. Open but inactive apps take up very little memory as only the essential information is stored. You can switch to the other open apps quite easily. The phone simply deactivates the current app, and loads the new app back into memory from the C drive.

So the main memory has the core Windows components, your selected app, and any data it uses. You can set the phone to store the data on the SD card (D drive). This is particularly helpful for big files like photos and videos. On my phone I have a 32GB card.

A Trade-off
When you put all these things into a smartphone, you still need to leave some space for a battery. The Lumia has a 2200 mAh battery which is adequate but does not last long when doing power intensive tasks like watching videos. The phone allows for wireless charging which is useful.

So the Miracle?
What I find a true miracle is that one gets a full PC in such a small 140mm package that can run full-featured programs, and then it can still do all the other things like shoot photos and videos, make phone calls, send text messages and emails, listen to music, and browse the web!

For more information, visit previous posts on the Lumia:

Why Choose a Windows Phone?

The Lumia 650, the current replacement of my first Lumia 620

In a recent blogpost I wrote that a smartphone was a good candidate as a computer for seniors and I showcased my Lumia 830. Some readers commented that nobody uses Windows phones anymore. But is that true?

In this post I will make the case for why you should consider a Windows phone.

Not Popular
Firstly, it is really true that Windows phone is not popular, it has a 1% market share. You would have a hard time finding a Windows phone in many of the big box stores, and if you do, the sales people are not very knowledgeable about the phone. They will probably discourage you from considering a Windows phone lamenting the cliché “there are no apps”. Surely they must be right…

My Story
Everybody I knew had a smartphone, so I decided I wanted to be “with it” and get one too. So off to the Telus store I went and they recommended a Samsung Galaxy. Oh my, was it ever confusing! So I dutifully got a book (300 pages) on the Samsung Galaxy. Many coffees later and a well-thumbed manual, I was not really more clued in—but at least I had worked out how to make phone calls.

Then I saw an interview on TV with Kevin O’Leary and he mentioned a Windows phone – I had not even heard of it up till then. So I ordered a cheap Lumia 620 on Amazon just to try it I out. I was amazed at how easy it was to use! Even though it was a low end phone, it did everything I really needed in a way that I intuitively could understand. My expensive Samsung ended up in desk drawer where it still remains.

The App Gap
When I bought my first Windows phone, I had not even heard of the “app gap”. What is it? Most articles on Windows phone will state something like this “Apple and Android have 1,500,000 apps but Windows has only 500,000”. And that is probably correct, give and take a few thousand, but what does it mean? Does it mean that one will have a less satisfying experience when using a Windows phone? Not at all. The core apps that people use 90% of the time are available on all three platforms.

In real life, people don’t spend a lot of time perusing the app store and downloading a suite of apps—it would take a lifetime to check even just the 500,000 Windows apps. Research shows that most people use Facebook 50% of the time, and a few other apps, the rest of their time on their phones. So the app gap is not a real factor when considering a Windows phone.

Don’t let technical review articles, or incompetent sales staff quoting the app gap ad nauseam, put you off. Windows phones are readily available from the Microsoft store, as well as online from Amazon.

You will appreciate just how easy it is to learn and use the phone. Your real life experience with Windows phone will be a pleasant surprise.

This old video, dating from the time I heard Kevin O’Leary mention Windows phone, still explains it well.

The Best Computer for Seniors

He’s looking smug, must have made the right choice!

What type of computer should a senior get? It depends!

Now that may not sound very helpful, does it? But please bear with me a little and it will become clear.

In this post I will discuss the pros and cons of various options to make your choice a little easier. All the options are computers that I personally own and use.

They all run the latest, easy-to-use Windows 10 operating system so it is easy to switch from the one to the other.

The Desktop

On the one end of the spectrum we have the traditional desktop PC (personal computer). It normally consists of a tower, a monitor, keyboard and mouse. So it is huge and typically requires a dedicated computer desk.

My workhorse on its desk. It is several years old and still chugging along.

A variant of the desktop is the “two in one”. Here the guts of the computer that is normally housed in the tower, is now built into the monitor. This is an elegant solution that frees up a little desk space for sure. They tend to be a bit more expensive and complicated to maintain.

A laptop, tablet, and smartphone.

The Portables

There is a wide range of options in this group. I will discuss three representative models (a mid-sized laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone).

Their main claim to fame is that they take up less space, consist of one unit and are portable.

All three have touch screens which allows you to zoom and scroll with ease, even if you don’t have a mouse.

My-Computers4The Laptop

The laptop is the oldest portable computer design. Here everything is built-in: screen, computer and keyboard. It has been popular for years with people on the move like students and business people.

The advantage of a laptop for seniors is that it takes up less space than a desktop, and can be used anywhere. You can work on it in your study for example and later carry it to your bedroom to watch a movie.

The mid-sized 15” Dell model that I show here, while lovely to work on, is actually quite heavy and many seniors might find it at best “luggable”.

The Surface Pro 4 with keyboard

The Tablet

Tablets are smaller and much more portable. The model I show here is a 12” Surface Pro 4 from Microsoft and I use it with a detachable keyboard as shown.

It is certainly light and small enough to take with you to your local coffee shop, yet it is powerful enough to do some serious work on it.

Also included is a stylus which opens new possibilities of working. More on that in upcoming posts. Notice how sharp and accurate the screen is!

The Lumia 830 shown with the table for size comparison.

The Smartphone

Yes, the smartphone (in this case a 5” Lumia 830) is also a computer capable of doing serious work!

And it does pretty well as phone and a camera too.

It is also, obviously, the most portable of all the choices. I have with me all the time. The photo shows the smartphone alongside the tablet.

The Cost

These devices are not cheap. At the time of writing, they each cost $1000 CAD, give and take depending on the model and accessories. You can get cheaper but you will enjoy the pleasure of owning a quality device long after you have forgotten how much it cost you.

The hidden cost: to get the full benefit of computing for seniors you really need access to the Internet. For that you will have to talk to your phone or cable TV company. They will provide you with a router/modem and a hefty monthly fee that over time will add up to more than the cost of your computer.

An ADSL modem supplied by Telus

This will give your desktop a fast wired connection to the Internet (the yellow cable in the photo) and wireless connections for your mobile devices (the two antennas).

What to Get?

Finally, what do I recommend? It is comforting to know that you can’t go wrong. Any of the choices will work just fine.

  1. If you still want to do serious work, like writing your latest novel, or editing a documentary video, a desktop computer is a good choice. You will appreciate the large screen and keyboard.
  2. If you lean more to the entertainment side, like visiting websites, movies on Netflix, or reading ebooks, the tablet is the way to go. Remember, you still can do serious work on it,  but you can also watch a movie, in your favourite armchair, with it on your lap –  no problem.
  3. If you do want to do serious work needing computing horsepower, but space is a concern, then a high-end laptop would be a good choice.
  4. If you can only afford to get one device, go for the smartphone. In real life I own all of these devices, but in the end I spend most of my time on the smartphone. I do my emails, write articles like this one, read e-books, watch movies, check the news, shoot and edit videos, and do my banking. Even if I lost all three the other devices, I would still get along just fine. My phone is several years old—when my ship comes in, I am buying the latest model…

Getting to Know Office 365

office365So you now subscribe to Office 365, what does that mean? For one, you now have a powerful arsenal of productivity tools at your disposal!

The schematic diagram below represents what I call the core Office 365 ecosystem for individual, home and small businesses. Confusing isn’t it!

the-ecosystemThe Office 365 Ecosystem

In this post I will attempt to shed some light on how you can get to know Office 365 in a realistic manner.

The Ecosystem
The big overlapping ovals represent the productivity programs of Office 365—these are the tools you use to do or create things.

They are shown as overlapping ovals because they have overlapping functionality. So you can write a letter in Word and in Publisher but Word does it better, Publisher will do flyers better. You can create a table of figures in Word but Excel does it better, and so on.

The horizontal rectangles represent programs that provide supporting functions.

The programs that make up Office 365 are tightly integrated and work together very well. So you can compose a letter in Word, include a table created in Excel, and do a merge email using Outlook with addresses stored in Access—you get the picture! It sounds overwhelming, does it not?

The Impossible Learning Curve
The diagram implies a huge amount of learning that awaits you. No, you don’t have to know all of it—nobody does! You learn as you need, when you need.

Each of these programs has a plethora of options, but if you know the core features of each program you will be able to do 99% of the tasks that are likely to come your way.

One advantage of Office 365 is that the programs share many features in common. So once you learn one program, the next one will be that much easier to master.

HMD Training
Knowing how overwhelming learning Office 365 may appear at first, we have adopted a powerful approach to learning. Our courses are project-based. So rather than teaching all the possible features of a program, we tackle real-life projects. It is like sitting next to an expert while they complete the project step by step, from start to finish .

The courses are graduated: the first course uses only the core features of the program. Then subsequent courses tackle more complex projects, but still in the same step-by-step fashion.

We have not yet created courses for all the programs but will do so over time. It takes a lot of time to design and record online courses.

A Strategy
Where do you start, which program to learn first? That depends on what kind of activities you have. An author should start with Word, whereas an accountant may want to focus on Excel. For most people I would start getting to know Word well first.

Then progressively do the introductory courses for the other programs as you have time. This will be easy and fun as you discover new ways of being productive.

Be sure to visit to see the range of courses we have available!

Looking Good in the News

example-newsletter-foldedNow that Publisher is included in Office 365, we have access to a powerful page layout tool.

In this post we will describe our unique course, Newsletters with Publisher.

Why Newsletters
Newsletters are an important marketing tool for many organizations. However, you should look good in print! Now Publisher 2016 included with Office 365 makes it possible to create a professional newsletter with ease.

The Course
The course is unique in that it covers not only the tools in Publisher, but also the newsletter concepts that make your newsletter look professional.

This new online course consists of eight lessons and will take you step-by-step through the process of designing a newsletter from scratch using MS Publisher 2016. Every lesson contains extensive notes in addition to the videos.

Along the way you will learn some newsletter design concepts. For example we discuss the importance of repurposing content and illustrate this by using posts from this website for the newsletter articles.

Although the focus of the course is newsletter design, the techniques learned will be useful for many other graphic projects.

This course is part of our Office 365 for small business series.

Visit the course page today


Book Promotion on a Budget

book coverThe key to the success of a self-published book lies in the promotion—and this is no easy task.

I was recently asked if I could help a mutual friend with her book. In this post I will describe how we went about it.

Setting the Scene
The book has been self-published. Our starting point is an entry on Amazon with a book description and a small graphic of the book face. We have a copy of the book and have read it. The author has spent a lot of money getting the book published so has minimal residual funds for promotion.

The book is an historical novel, so we don’t have access to photographic material. The author is elderly and not really up to making many public appearances.

Our Approach
We felt the best approach was to create a book website ( as the main promotional vehicle. Other activities will serve to drive people to the website for more information and buying instructions.

In this case we have to rely on people finding out about the book via search engines (Google/YouTube). This would require us regularly creating keyword-rich content.


  1. Create a website using WordPress with a basic free theme. This would include typical pages like About the Book, About the Author and a blog. Make sure to include a SEO plug-in.
  2. Compile an editorial calendar listing when we would publish what content where. For SEO to be effective, it is important that one has regular content. With all the other things going on, an editorial calendar keeps one on track. The idea is to create posts in the blog at least once per week, and more regular posts on Facebook and Twitter.
  3. book-cover-3dCreate required graphics e.g. 3D book cover, website header graphic etc. We have no other visual material, so we designed a look and feel that would permit rapid creation of images for social media.
  4. The editorial calendar includes the creation of video. Video has become very important and with YouTube one can make sure that the uploads are keyword-rich. As video is more time consuming, we aim for one per month. Early on in the project we created two essential videos: a book video (aka book trailer), and a recorded book excerpt (reading).
  5. We encouraged the author to obtain reviews/endorsements from friends/family and to use every opportunity for word-of-mouth promotion. Books are too expensive to just give away, but a “book business card” with the website address has made up for that.
  6. When funds/time allow, create a promotional DVD by using the videos already made to send to book stores, libraries and book reviewers.

Side Benefits
As there is no financial incentive, we looked at what other benefits we could get from the project. Of course the experience gained in any volunteer work is always worthwhile.

And one gets indirect, personal exposure when one posts about the book on social media sites – this post is an example.

As we also create online training, we saw a real potential for turning the work into a range of online courses. For more information visit

One can promote a book on a very low budget. The main cost being the webhosting and domain name and the business card printing.

It does represent a considerable time investment. This can be mitigated by repurposing content and graphic elements as much as possible for example creating a DVD from videos already made.

The book was a good read too so that is a bonus!

Computers for Seniors

laptop6fpoCan computers play a role in the lives of seniors, or are we “over the hill”? Should computers even be considered?

In this post I will look at why I believe that computers can play an important role in the lives of seniors.

Not all the same
Seniors are not a homogeneous group. Some have been using computers for most of their careers, while others have not touched a computer ever. But many seniors face common problems like loneliness and resulting depression.

The Advantages
Computers can do so many things that they can be useful for all seniors. We will list just a few:

  • Access to information at any time—weather, health, news, diet, finances.
  • Communication with friends and family, and virtual friends who share your interests.
  • Entertainment in the form of online movies, radio, eBooks, podcasts, chess, bridge, etc.
  • Online banking and purchasing.
  • Support for your hobbies, whether knitting, cooking, photography or the Internet of Things.
  • Gaming and other tools to enhance dexterity and mental agility.
  • Contribute your skills and experience through online mentoring.

The Challenges
There are several factors that prevent seniors from considering a computer:

  • Physical limitations like poor eyesight and limited hand dexterity.
  • Many fear using a computer as they are “sure to mess things up”.
  • Many don’t understand what computers can do for them so they don’t see the point.
  • Many have downsized so they have limited space in their accommodation.
  • Lack of funds.
  • Steep learning curve.

The Risks
There are risks to consider:

  • What if you actually “mess up” your computer, who do you turn to for help?
  • Scammers who take advantage of vulnerable seniors.
  • Excessive use may promote a sedentary lifestyle.

The Takeaway
The advantages that computers can provide are really quite compelling. The challenges and risks, while real, can be managed and mitigated.

Personally I am a senior who has grown up with computers as it were. I am also a computer instructor and have personally seen what a difference  computers can make in the lives of seniors.

Long Documents in Microsoft Publisher

Basics-of-Publisher-GraphicsMultipage documents include newsletters, whitepapers and product guides—all tasks that a small business or organization will regularly need.

These can be a challenge but with Microsoft Publisher 2016 it is easy and quick to produce good looking multipage documents—once you know how!

To help we have a developed this new course that will take you step-by-step through the process of designing technical guide using MS Publisher 2016.

It is a good introduction to the use of Publisher for more advanced documents.

This course is part of our Office 365 for small business series.

Click here to visit the course home page for more information →