Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Quick Start Guide for Zoom Meeting Hosts

  1. As with any other new technology, it's helpful to have attended a few meetings and learned how to navigate and customize your settings as a participant before you attempt to host your first meeting. Luckily, such opportunities abound.
  2. The main difference between hosting and attending a meeting is the ability/responsibility to keep the meeting running smoothly for everyone. Check out some of the Zoom training materials https://zoom.us/resources and/or practice if you can with just a few people so you can get used to muting and unmuting others and look at and customize your settings before you try it with a larger and/or public group.
  3. Know that there are differences between the free account and paid ones. 
    • The most notable is the time available. Free accounts are limited to 40 minutes or less for three or more participants. Paid can go for unlimited amounts of time.
    • Free accounts don't include a telephone access number. Users must join via the Internet.
  4. The issue of security has recently made hosting and running a successful Zoom meeting even more of a challenge. Unfortunately, with everyone rushing to online meetings and virtual events, many of the anonymous characters whose goal in life would appear to be making the Internet a most distasteful place for others have turned their attentions to disrupting Zoom meetings. As of Saturday, April 3, 2020, Zoom has set some security precautions as default settings. 
    • Scheduling a new meeting now automatically includes an added password. This is automatically added to the meeting URL. For someone manually entering a Meeting ID, they will also have to enter the password. You cannot disable this feature. Please note: URLs with passwords should not be shared on public websites. This defeats the security feature of the password. Instead consider sharing the information with Meeting ID and instructions for whom to contact to obtain the password. You can send individual invitations to key participants by email including URL with password.
    • Invited participants will also be placed into a waiting room before they can enter the meeting. This does make it a lot more cumbersome, especially if you are hosting a relatively large gathering, especially with people or user names you can't readily identify. New users may not have customized their settings and may enter the waiting room as simply iPhone. Zoom provides a lot of information about Waiting Room on their website https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115000332726-Waiting-Room

    Some of the best information and advice I've seen recently comes from the ADL: How to Prevent Zoombombing https://www.adl.org/blog/how-to-prevent-zoombombing
  5. As the ADL article recommends, it's useful to have at least two co-hosts. One can be responsible for the content of the meeting while the other monitors chat, waiting room, muting and unmuting participants, turning on and off video, etc. All of these things can influence the quality of the meeting. For example, turning off video can help improve sound quality when there are bandwidth issues. Muting attendees who are not speaking avoids disruptions from dogs barking or other intrusions. Unwanted guests may have to be removed. It's much easier to handle these issues when you're not also trying to lead a discussion or give a presentation.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Zoom Quick Start Guide for Meeting/Program Attendees

Many of us are turning to Zoom for video conferencing to replace meetings and other face to face gatherings during the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic.

Some are relatively experienced with logging into and/or hosting video meetings. Others are having to do this and guide others for the first time. For the latter, I've put together this guide as a means of helping to make this new tool a bit easier.

  1. You will receive an invitation.
    Perhaps it comes as an email. (Be sure to check some of your other folders if you're expecting an invitation and don't see it. Gmail, for one, tends to sort these coming out of mail programs as Promotions. You may find meeting/event invitations there as well.)
    Or you may find it in an event notice from a newsletter or Facebook page.
  2. The invitation will probably look something like this:
    Topic: Anytown Virtual Event
    Time: Mar 30, 2020 10:00 AM Mountain Time (US and Canada)

    Join Zoom Meeting

    Meeting ID: 555 555 5555

    As of April 4th, the meeting links will look much longer as they include an encrypted password for extra security. It will look more like this:

    But clicking on it should take you directly into the meeting.

    If someone will be joining the meeting from a computer, tablet or smart phone with Internet access, all s/he needs to do is click on the link above. It will prompt the user to download the necessary app and/or go to the Zoom website where they can join the meeting.

    One tap mobile
    +16695555555,, 5555555555# US (San Jose)
    +13465555555,, 5555555555# US (Houston)

    One tap mobile may not be particularly useful for most users. When we tried it out, it worked fairly easily if one could copy and paste from email into their phone's dialer. Then it provides a quick way to dial in and listen to the audio portion of a meeting but not the video. Might be an option for someone who is fairly comfortable with technology but has limited or no bandwidth where they're located.

    Dial by your location
    +Above phone number (San Jose)
    +Above phone number US (Houston)
    Followed by additional phone numbers for other US cities and/or just US
    Meeting ID: 555 555 5555
    Password: 654321

    This would be the option I would recommend for anyone who has a cell phone, but not a smart phone, or perhaps is not at all comfortable with technology. Here they just select a number. The locations may make a difference if there is a local one, if not any of them should work. The user will then be prompted to enter the meeting ID. So, all it takes is a phone number followed by the pound sign #, then the meeting ID followed by the pound sign #

    Note due to increased demand, free accounts no longer come with phone support. Someone who wants to join a zoom meeting hosted by a free account must do so via the Internet using an app or web browser.
  3. Or you may find an online gathering you'd like to attend via a Facebook event notice or email list. In which case, you may only get the following information
    Time: Wednesday, April 29th, 05:30 pm MDT
    Location: Join Zoom Meeting https://us04web.zoom.us/j/123456789
    Meeting ID: 123 456 78

    Clicking on the Zoom Meeting link should provide you with access to the meeting. There is no phone access available.
  4. Waiting rooms are also becoming increasingly common as hosts strive to make their meetings more secure. You can make things easier on hosts by downloading Zoom ahead of time and setting up the app for your computer, tablet or smart phone with your name. That way, hosts don't have to try to guess who iPhone might be. https://zoom.us/download#client_4meeting
  5. It's good meeting etiquette to mute your microphone except when you're talking. It cuts down on background noise and makes it easier to hear and follow the main speaker. If you're in the Zoom app, you'll find a microphone at the bottom of the screen. Click on it to mute and unmute. If the host has everyone muted but allows participants to unmute to speak, remember to mute again when you're done speaking.
  6. Users who want to get more comfortable using Zoom can view one or more of the tutorials on their website. I would recommend starting with Join a Meeting

  7. There are additional tutorials available in the Zoom Resource Center under Zoom How to Videos https://zoom.us/resources

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pandemic Broadband Service Changes

Updated 3/26/2020

Some of the ISPs and wireless providers have made changes to their service offerings largely in response to the FCC's Keep Americans Connected Initiative https://www.fcc.gov/keep-americans-connected. I've scoured the websites and Facebook pages for Montana ISPs and the major national wireless providers. Most have statements about closing offices and payment options. If I found additional information, I'm including it here along with links. If your provider isn't listed, the only information I found pertained to office closings, contact information, and/or bill payment. I've discovered that many appear to be updating their Facebook pages more often than their web pages. That may be the best place to look for the most current information. I know that most of the small ISPs are coops and are run on very small margins so they probably can't afford the grand gestures of Charter/Spectrum and Verizon, for example. But if you have specific needs during this time I would encourage you to contact them to see what can be worked out.

In addition, there are numerous small cellular providers known as MVNOs. A couple of the better known ones are Consumer Cellular and TracPhone. I didn't look up to see what any of these might be offering at this time. But if you or some of your community members find yourself in a pinch, mobile hotspots are almost impossible to fine. It might be worth looking into a cheap cell phone and low cost no contract data plan from one of these many providers. Just be sure to check which network they use for their data. T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T should work in most of the state. Sprint doesn't work in Montana.

Montana ISPs and National Wireless Providers

3 Rivers

Three Rivers has asked schools to provide them with names of students and if their home is set up with a landline they will hook internet up for free until April 30th. 
Individuals cannot contact them directly, it had to have come from a school official. 
Thanks to Aaron LaFromboise for this update.

Access Montana

Access Montana will provide free internet installs to residential and small business customers

Access Montana will offer a $25 credit per month on internet services for new accounts

A $25 monthly credit for internet services will be offered to existing customers that have a member of the household in school or have switched to remotely working for their job. Please call 406-676-3300 and ask how to apply for this credit

Access Montana will refrain from suspending any customers that have been affected by COVID-19

Late fees for nonpayment will not be charged on the accounts also affected by COVID-19


AT&T - March 24, 2020

AT&T Offering Schools 60 days unlimited data for Laptops, Tablets and Hotspots; Also Offers free access to Caribu Video Calling App

With the unprecedented impacts COVID-19 is having on society, keeping millions of students and teachers home for the foreseeable future, we’re stepping up to enable virtual classrooms across the country.  Beginning today, we’re offering schools a way to save on unlimited wireless broadband connectivity for students.  Through May 22nd, qualified schools activating new lines on qualified data-only plans for school-issued tablets, 4G LTE-enabled laptops and hotspot devices will get the wireless data service at no cost for 60 days.

And schools know they need to protect their students while online – so we’re also making  AccessMyLANTM for the qualified lines available at no cost for 60 days. This service allows school administrators to manage the internet sites their students can access to help protect them from unsafe content and also to block malicious sites, malware and hacking attempts.  Please visit the Community section, under Supporting Education, on this site to learn more about these offers.

Additionally, to help keep families connected during this uncertain time, AT&T is also funding 60 days of free access and unlimited usage of Caribu, a video-calling application that allows family members to read, draw, and play games with one another while in distant locations. The Caribu application, which integrates children's books, coloring activities, and games will be available to families across the country and around the world, free of cost, for the next two months.

Caribu is the second recipient to receive a contribution from AT&T’s new $10 million Distance Learning and Family Connections fund, announced last week.  AT&T has also contributed $1M to Kahn Academy to help improve and expand online learning resources to meet growing demand from parents, teachers and students, including those who rely on free resources and need Khan Academy the most.

AT&T is also underwriting expenses for a “one-stop” resource center to support eLearning Days from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) available to all educators in schools to help them handle school closures and the increase in virtual learning due to COVID-19. Click here to learn more. https://www.setda.org/outreach/press-releases/press-release-2020/press-release-att-supports-setda-elearning-coalition-amidst-covid-19-virus/


Blackfoot joined FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Initiative – March 16, 2020

In agreeing to the Keep Americans Connected pledge, Blackfoot will commit to the following:
  1. We will not terminate service to any customer due to an inability to pay bill
  2. We will waive late fees 
  3. We will open Wi-Fi hot spots to any customer who needs them


Charter to Offer Free Access to Spectrum Broadband and Wi-Fi For 60 Days For New K-12 and College Student Households and More

Interbel – March 16, 2020

Due to ongoing closures and the resulting increase in internet demand, an additional 100 Gb of data cap space will be added each members account starting today March 16, 2020. We also want all of our members to stay connected to loved ones and informed about current events, as a result we are suspending all disconnect activity thru the end of April.

Mid-Rivers March 16, 2020

It is our practice to waive late fees, set up payment plans for customers who may need it to prevent disconnection of services, and offer a hand up in hard times.  That hasn’t changed, so contact us if you need help – we want you to remain our customer and keep your critical services.

As Mid-Rivers offers a rather unique plan whereby customers are charged by data usage, they attempt to assuage concerns about increased usage and costs by offering tips and links whereby one can monitor and limit data usage to hold down costs. Editorial comment not from website


Nemont Statement on Working or Education from home – March 17, 2020

If you are a current customer and are now working from home or your children are utilizing distance learning due to COVID-19 please contact our customer service at 800-636-6680 or chat online at nemont.com and select the chat function to talk about options for your internet speed.

We know you may have additional questions about Nemont operations during this unprecedented situation. We will issue further statements with any new updates as they become available.

Signed onto the Pledge to Keep Americans Connected


Triangle Community Wi-Fi – Free Wi-Fi in Select Locations

We are proud to announce that we are implementing Community Wi-Fi programs in our service area!  

As a value-added service to your broadband, all Triangle Communications broadband members will have free access to Wi-Fi in select locations.


When a Verizon customer is experiencing hardships because of COVID-19, Verizon will waive late fees for 60 days from March 16, 2020 to May 13, 2020, and will not terminate service to a customer who's been impacted by the events involving the Coronavirus. If our customers are experiencing a hardship, they should call our customer service team to discuss their situation and available options. Customer support contact numbers, an online chat feature and support content can be found on the following pages:

Verizon will offer free international calling to countries identified by the Center for Disease Control as level 3 impacted by the coronavirus effective 3/18 through the end of April. This is available to wireless postpaid consumer and small/medium business customers, and landline home phone customers. Unlimited calling will be included for mobile and landline calls, with the exception of Iran, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia provided 300 minutes of free calls per month. Effective 3/19, wireless prepaid customers will also receive a total of 300 additional minutes to call level 3 countries.

Verizon will also waive activation fees on new lines of service and upgrade fees starting March 18. This applies to all purchases and service-only activations made through Verizon digital channels, such as verizonwireless.com and the My Verizon app.

Through April 30, Verizon will offer unlimited domestic calling to customers on limited-minute plans. Eligible customers will receive a text message to inform them of the offer. No action is necessary; the offer will automatically be added to eligible accounts. [Updated on 03/20/2020]

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Buying a new PC for your library?

Some of you who've been around the Montana library community for a few years might recall fondly  when Montana State Library personnel would periodically post current recommended computer specifications for those looking to buy new PCs for their library. We stopped doing that several years ago, when Mike Price, our computer guru at the time, stated that just about any computer currently on the market would suffice for library usage. And I think he's right. But that still doesn't help much when you find yourself overwhelmed with all kinds of numbers and terms in a language that doesn't make any sense.

I've been asked for help by a couple of librarians lately so I thought I'd share what some of the terminology means and how I make my way through the jumble.

The key question to ask and answer is, what will you be using the computer for? If it's for office applications, browsing the web, answering emails, etc., you can get by with a fairly inexpensive computer with modest specifications. And by modest, I'm referring primarily to Processor and Memory or RAM. If you want a computer for graphics or video processing and/or especially for gaming, you're going to need much faster processing power, more memory and better graphics cards. All of that makes for a much more expensive computer.

My favorite place to start shopping for computers is the Costco website. I like it because they have a nice mix of higher and lower end computers without there being thousands to choose from. So, I can do some quick comparisons to get an idea of what's reasonable. So here I grabbed a quick comparison of the cheapest and most expensive models they had on their website:
Description Dell Inspiron Desktop - Intel Core i5 CyberPowerPC Supreme Liquid Cooled Gaming Desktop - 9th Gen Intel Core i9-9900K
Storage Type Disk Drive + Solid State Drive Disk Drive + Solid State Drive
SSD Size 128 GB 1 TB
RAM Included 12 GB 64 GB
Processor Intel Core i5 Intel Core i9
Optical Drive DVD±RW No Optical Drive
Hard Drive Size 1 TB 3 TB
Graphic Card Intel UHD 630 NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080Ti
Generation Intel 9th Generation Intel 9th Generation
Price $499.99 after $200 off $2,799.99

Keep in mind, these are ends of the spectrum. If you're looking for a PC to do office applications, you'll be looking more at computers on the Dell end. If you're looking at gaming PCs or high end graphics/video editing PCs, you'll be looking more to the CyberPowerPC end.

A few points to keep in mind. These two computers feature both hard disk and solid state drives. That seems to be increasingly common. You may also see just solid state drives or SSDs. You'll notice that these are generally smaller than the hard disks. They're also faster and more expensive. They give you a quicker start up for one thing. You'll note that the Dell has a DVD drive while the gaming PC has no optical drive. A DVD drive is handy if you have software or perhaps movies on DVD you'd like to run on the computer. Otherwise, everything must be downloaded from the Internet or added on with an external DVD drive.

The RAM varies considerably between these two computers. More RAM generally gives better performance. The processors are both Intel 9th generation. That can be helpful information if you're comparing computers and one has older components. These specs don't provide the number of cores or the speed in Mhz, but the i9 is a faster and more powerful CPU. Another big difference in performance and price comes with the graphics cards.

If you want to see just what is needed to run the particular software you're looking at, you can always go to the requirements page for that software. As an example, here are the requirements listed for Office Professional 2019 from Microsoft as of 1/14/2020:


Computer and processor
1.6 gigahertz (GHz) or faster, 2-core

4 GB RAM; 2 GB RAM (32-bit)

Hard disk
4.0 GB of available disk space

1280 x 768 screen resolution

Graphics hardware acceleration requires DirectX 9 or later, with WDDM 2.0 or higher for Windows 10 (or WDDM 1.3 or higher for Windows 10 Fall Creators Update).

You can see that the lower end Dell is probably sufficient, but you may want to get more details to make sure that the processor meets the specifications.

If you want to run Adobe Photoshop on the PC, here are the specifications as of 1/14/2020:

Minimum Requirements

Intel® or AMD processor with 64-bit support*; 2 GHz or faster processor

Operating system
Microsoft Windows 7* with Service Pack 1 (64-bit)**,
Microsoft Windows 10*** October 2018 update (64-bit) version 1809 or later

2 GB or more of RAM (8 GB recommended)

Graphics card
nVidia GeForce GTX 1050 or equivalent; nVidia GeForce GTX 1660 or Quadro T1000 is recommended

Hard disk space
3.1 GB or more of available hard-disk space for 64-bit installation; additional free space required during installation (cannot install on a volume that uses a case-sensitive file system)

Monitor resolution
1280 x 800 display at 100% UI scaling with 16-bit color and 512 MB or more of dedicated VRAM; 2 GB is recommended †

The Dell is probably okay for everything but the graphics card. Photoshop requires a more advanced graphics card but not one as high end as in the gaming PC. You can either shop for another PC with better graphics capability or shop from a website that will allow you to customize certain features of your PC. The Adobe Photoshop system requirements page gives lots of information on compatible graphics cards.

So, while there's a lot of information and the numbers and details can be confusing, there are really only a few that you really need to concern yourself with. And what you get in those depends on what you want to do with the PC. If you have that planned out ahead of time, you know what you have to look for as a minimum. Then, it's usually a good idea to get a bit more to allow for improvements and greater capabilities and demands over the next few years.

If you still have questions ask your tech support and/or contact us at the State Library.