Identity Theft Made Easy

Posted by Kathy on October 11th, 2013

Identity theftThis afternoon I went down to the computer labs in my building at work to hang up signs about National Cyber Security Awareness Month. (Huh. How ‘bout that. A government site that’s still running….)

While I stood arranging things, I noticed a student sitting at a computer, talking on her cell phone. She was obviously giving information about some kind of account she needed to verify.

I know this because she blurted out all kinds of personal information, including her social security number, within earshot of me and all the other people present in the lab.

This, while I was putting up signs about safeguarding your data and protecting your identity online.

I laughed to myself when she spelled her name and for each letter, gave a word that started with each letter. “A as in apple. R as in rover. K as in…. K as in…. K as in….”

I wanted to scream out “kangaroo!!!!!!” to help her along, but she eventually thought of a word that started with K, the poor thing.

Then I wanted to tell her “You should probably take your conversation somewhere private because we can all steal your identity based on the information you gave out so far.”

But then she gave the person on the phone her birthdate.

Something something 1994.

I have underwear older than her.

This disturbed me, so I mentally punched her in the face and left her to give out all the rest of her personal information for those still in the lab.

I just don’t understand how a student smart enough to get into the university where I work can be so utterly careless when it comes to keeping her privacy.

Although….. if I stayed long enough, I might have gotten a credit card number. I did have some shopping to do.

Facebook Meth

Posted by Kathy on August 10th, 2013

candy crushThanks to my friend Sharron, I now have a name for the monkey on my back that’s been strangling me the last few weeks.

That monkey is Candy Crush, or Facebook meth, as Sharron so bluntly and accurately referred to it. I’m happy to report I’m off it. Blocked. No more. Fin.

For all the articles I’ve read about how to beat the game levels, I think I’ve read just as many about how people kicked the habit and blocked it from their lives. So now this makes another one for the pile. Writing this post is the most productive thing I’ve done in a month.

So, how did I get here?

The Candy Crushers in my life warned me in earnest not to start. “Just don’t,” they said. “Learn from my mistake,” they said. And for a while I was fine without it, had little interest. But then.

Like a child who’s been warned not to touch a hot stove and burns themselves doing it anyway, I added it to my apps and was instantly hooked. Here is how that first hit got me to where I am today.

Candy Crush Your Hopes and Dreams lets you bank only 5 lives, with an automatic one life renewal every 30 minutes.

I remember emailing my sister and saying “That’s ludicrous. Who would wait 30 min. for a life renewal? I can’t play this thing. I’m out.”

But I wasn’t out because I’d already had a taste of the candy. And the candy was good. “Delicious! Sweet! Divine!

You can get more lives by requesting them of other players, but how fast you get them is dependent on their availability and willingness to give lives.

No problem. I’ll just request them of my husband’s Facebook account. Log out of mine, into his, send the life, go back to my account, retrieve it and request another. Do this five times as fast as possible. Play those games, go get more.

I played morning, noon and night this way. It disgusts and embarrasses me to admit that I played Candy Crush Your Spirit for four hours a day, at least. All the while, professing that I wanted to get back to blogging. All the while saying I needed to stop. All the while, ignoring everything productive, save for my day job.

When I played during prime time hours, renewing lives was easier because many other Crushers were also playing. But as soon as I’d request and receive lives from them, I’d ask for more. And I thought “OMG. These people. These people know how bad I have it. I’m mortified. I need to stop. But can I have another life first?”

One person did start messaging me during my early morning sessions. He’s in a later time zone than me, so sometimes when I’d be playing at 4AM my time, he’d pop up and say “Morning. My, you’re playing early today.” In my head, that sounded like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Shame washed over me. He’s watching, knowing I have a problem, but enabling me by dutifully sending me lives as soon as I request them. I didn’t want him knowing I’d become such a slave to this beast, but he had the power to feed me lives. Lives that kept the hamster wheel turning.

As the weeks went on, things got worse. My husband Dave asked if I could work on his current maddening level. Now I’m playing my lives and his lives, requesting more from and to each account. Log in, log out, round and round we go.

I mention to my sister that I passed levels for Dave and now she asks if I can work her tough level, too. And so I do. I get her account information so I can log in and out to request and retrieve lives. I’m doing this for three accounts now. Mine, my husband’s and my sister’s.

I am in a very bad place.

It sickens me that I played three people’s games today for almost 12 hours. Yes, 12 hours. I only stopped to eat and vacuum a little. I see two cats roaming around the house and remember Oh, I have cats, don’t I? Hi, Lucky. Hi, Shadow. How’ve you been? Long time, no see.

Even though I was cross-eyed and catatonic at Hour 10, I pressed on. See, I’d been stuck at level 182, blowing through a couple hundred lives with no payoff. The addition of boosts would certainly help my game, but you have to pay for them.“Don’t ever pay for boosts,” they said. “Don’t give them real money. Just don’t.”

I considered myself “not that bad off,” as long as I didn’t pay for anything.

But.

But.

But.

Somehow I managed to achieve a near-win on Level 182. Only a single jelly remained on the board. Crush it and I win the level. I couldn’t clear it with the existing candy alignment, but I could if I had a lollipop boost to smash it with.

Ignoring all warning and reason, I opened my wallet, clicked Purchase Boosts, filled in my credit card information and bought $10.62 worth of lollipops to finish a level that had just robbed me of most of my Saturday.

After I paid, I clicked the shiny new lollipop and smashed that last jelly to smithereens. I felt euphoric! Eat it, Level 182!

But my euphoria instantly turned to regret and depression. I had just wasted perfectly good disposable income on something that had taken over my life, something so useless, something that kept me from blogging, kept me from having a normal routine, a normal life.

I puttered around the kitchen a while, wringing my hands, knowing what I had to do.

I scooted up to the laptop again, clicked Account Settings, Blocking, Block Apps, and entered Candy Crush into the box.

Die Facebook Meth, die!

I wish I could get all those hours back, wish I’d put it toward blogging, wish I’d put it toward anything else. But I can’t. It’s gone.

A new day starts in 3, 2, 1……

Wanted: SWF With Tech Support Skills

Posted by Kathy on April 19th, 2012

tech supportSo I was talking to a client at work today. I had just reconfigured her laptop and mentioned that for her to connect to her home wireless network again, she’d have to remember her network password.

Uh-oh. No one ever remembers that.

We joked that it’s good for at least one person in any household to be the Rememberer of Passwords and other impossible things.

That person in my house is me. I’m also tech support for all our equipment, except the monstrous TV setup that only my husband understands.

If he goes, I’m screwed, because I can’t understand how to work the controls for that bastard.

But for home computing, I’m your man.

Which means if I go first, this is the ad my husband will place on Match.com to find a new mate:

WANTED: SWF with tech support skills. Must be able to disinfect viruses, keep all software up-to-date, troubleshoot problems big and small, install all new systems as needed and remember passwords for everything. Mac skills a plus, because I’m thinking about getting one. It helps if you have a Barbie doll figure, but seriously, if you can manage my home network and answer all my techy questions, your hardware doesn’t matter.

So who’s the tech support in your house?

In Which We Give Thanks for Teeny Tiny, Light-Weight Technology

Posted by Kathy on May 4th, 2011

My team was recently moved to new offices at the university where I work. We’re now housed behind rows and rows of stacks at one of the two campus libraries.

Taped to the door of our makeshift kitchenette is this “Carrel Policies” note, apparently written for library patrons in 1972, where I suspect it remains as a reminder of how far technology has come.

To wit:

carrel policies

Did you see it? At the bottom?

personal effects

OK, here’s the part of the show where we find out who’s old enough to have lugged a typewriter to the library to work on a paper or other scholarly work.

Also, how far out of alignment is your back?

Ahhh, the good ‘ol days. No thanks!

Malware Bytes

Posted by Kathy on September 22nd, 2010

malwarebytes In my line of work, I find myself cleaning malware off my clients’ computers two or three times a week. Sometimes that involves an entire reinstall of Windows, applications and data. You have no idea what I’d like to do to the people who spend their time invading computers with their crap programs.

I’m not a violent person, but let’s just say my punishment would involve burying them in sand up to their necks and unleashing an army of hungry fire ants. It may also involve gasoline, a match and maniacal laughter. OK, so maybe I am violent.

The one thing that’s troubling for users when they acquire malware is that they feel almost physically violated. Some look like they’re going to cry. All are annoyed, and rightly so. Yet others react to it as though I told them they have a case of head lice.

This is what the discussion feels like when I inform them of their infection:

Client: I have what?

Me: You have head lice.

Client: How did I get it?

Me: Likely a website.

Client: But I’m careful.

Me: Head lice is everywhere.

Client: How can I prevent it?

Me: It’s hard to avoid it.

Client: But I haven’t been hanging around sites with head lice.

Me: You wouldn’t really know it if you were. Lots of normal-looking sites have head lice.

Client: How do I get rid of it?

Me: I clean it with head lice remover.

Client: Will it work?

Me: Not always. Sometimes we have to chop off your whole head. It could take hours.

Client: So if you get rid of my head lice and I lose my whole head, can you at least save my data?

Me: Yes.

Client: Wow, I really want to punch those stupid people who gave me head lice.

Me: I’ve got it covered. See these fire ants?

* If you have a bout of head lice on your Windows PC, you can remove it easily (most of the time) with the free Malwarebytes program. It’s best to run it in Safe Mode.

Beware: Baby Lambs Cause Computer Viruses

Posted by Kathy on June 2nd, 2010

lamb A friend emailed me today about how she acquired a particularly nasty virus that rendered her computer unusable. Let this be a warning about where you can pickup bad things on the interwebz.

Anywhere.

She had just gotten back from a wonderful trip to the UK. She reports:

It’s a funny story really. There were so many baby lambs in England and we got to bottle-feed one. So, last night before I left for home, I Googled videos of bottle-feeding baby lambs because I missed all the lambs. There were a ton of cute baby lamb videos. I found a whole Web site of baby lamb videos called Ewe-Tube.

While on that site, I accidentally clicked on an ad that gave me the virus. I could tell right away that something was wrong because it started downloading files to my computer. Ctrl-Alt-Del wouldn’t even work. It’s just occurred to me that baby lamb is redundant. Anyway, who would think that baby lambs could be harmful? What kind of a sicko puts a virus on a baby lamb Web site?

I agree. What kind of sicko does that? I say viruses should be limited to stupid places people visit on the web, like porn sites and … well, just porn sites. Not baby lamb sites. The baby lambs don’t want to hurt you. They want to love you and wrap their cuteness around you and give you lamby kisses and hugs. More if you bottle-feed them.

Lambies good, viruses baaaaaa-d!

Don’t even go to that Ewe-tube site, even out of curiosity. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone getting a comp-ewe-ter virus.

God. Remember when the Internet was free of crap and spam and viruses and spyware and junk? It should just be full of baby lambs and cotton candy and rainbows.

And our blogs.

So let’s hear it. Have you ever picked up a virus from a place you least expected it? Share your horror stories. It might make my friend feel better.

Sure, Now You Tell Me

Posted by Kathy on May 10th, 2010

Today a laptop was delivered to me for virus/malware removal. Before I got started on my work, I wanted to clean the laptop because the screen was kind of funky and so was the keyboard.

I spritzed a little cleaner on a cloth and wiped down the screen and then went all crazy on the keyboard.

A little too crazy.

With one quick swipe, the CAPS LOCK key went sailing.

Cray-ap!!!

Keys on regular USB keyboards are pretty easy to snap back on, but laptops are a different animal.

Why?

Because this is what the the underbelly of a laptop key looks like.

CAPS LOCK

Ridiculous, huh?

I tried everything.

I Googled how to replace keys on the make and model of this particular laptop. I did find one link, with pictures and everything, but this key mechanism looked nothing like the pictures.

And so I sat there for half an hour studying it, trying eighteen ways to get it to clamp down.

I figured that the two thin metal pins went through the holes on the left and right sides, as shown above. That much seemed straightforward.

But that white thing above it that looks like a tiny toilet seat needed to hook over a very small metal anchor on the side closest to me. But no amount of fiddling or carefully applied pressure would get it to snap on!

I enlisted the help of my co-workers who tried for a few minutes, but quickly gave up.

“You’re screwed. Can’t be fixed.”

Just then, a hardware tech happened into my office and so I showed it to him.

“Oh, that’s messed up,” he says. “Better have Keith (another tech) work on it. He’s great at fixing these things. Better yet, just give me the serial number and I’ll get a new keyboard from Dell and come back to put it on.”

I didn’t exactly want to do that because my client was really short on time this week and I doubted he’d have time allow more work on it.

So I emailed Keith and sent him the picture.

“Is there any way I can fix this myself?” I asked.

“Oh, man. Those are nasty. But if you bring the laptop down, I’ll try to fix it,” he said.

I really wanted to fix the key myself, especially because I’d broken it and felt like a royal doofus. I also since found out that the laptop wasn’t under warranty anymore, so getting a new keyboard would cost money. Money spent that would be my fault.

I finally gave up the fight and called the client. I left voice mail that I’d cleaned the malware off the laptop and also cleaned the keyboard, which resulted in the loss of the CAPS LOCK key. And then I begged for forgiveness and told him that we’d have to deliver the system to the shop for repair and that I was sorry for the inconvenience.

My apologies took up the entire 3-minute voice mail limit before I was unceremoniously cut off.

About ten minutes later the client showed up.

Laughing.

“Kathy, that key has been broken for years.”

And right then and there, my head exploded all over the wall. I gathered up my brain and pieced it back together much better than I was able to reassemble the CAPS LOCK key.

And that was my Monday.

How was yours?

I Promised No More Math, But….

Posted by Kathy on September 20th, 2009

question_mark I don’t know why my family keeps sending me math questions to answer. Despite my protests that I don’t do math, my niece Amy sent me this equation and asked if I knew how to solve it.

x (.23) = x – 10

She actually knows the value of “x” because a site called Wolfram Alpha lets you enter all kinds of equations and it’ll give you the answer. If you want to compute the eigenvalues and eigenvectors of a matrix, head over there and check it out. Then shoot yourself because no one should want to know the eigen-anything of anything.

I suspect my niece hangs out at this site for fun, since she once took a college physics course for its entertainment value. I don’t know how she’s related to me. Me no do school for fun.

Anyway, Wolfram solves for “x,” but doesn’t tell you how to arrive at the answer.

There’s a Junk Drawer magnet and a pat on the head for anyone who can explain the method to find “x.”

Remember to show your work.

Go!

Was I on Drugs or Something?

Posted by Kathy on October 9th, 2008

scrambled_letters Every month I have to prepare a report of activities at work. I keep notes in my calendar for each task and then quantify them.

Taking a look at one item today, I realized I might have been on drugs or something when I recorded the following:

9/17: Met with Tim to have him login and mortyupe his data; help w/email; sent Thunderbird-at-home instructions.

I have no idea what it means to “mortyupe” your data. But it sounds painful. And who’s Morty? For the record, I asked Tim to review his data to make sure I backed it all up.

For all of you who are irritated you didn’t win a Junk Drawer magnet in yesterday’s contest, here’s another chance.

Any idea what I meant by that? I actually typed that word straight to my laptop. From my head. It wasn’t a case where I couldn’t translate my own handwriting.

Help me. Tell me it was an easy mistake to make. What was I saying?!?! If nothing else, reassure me that these mental blips are OK and I won’t soon start speaking in a language no one understands, not even me.

Meet Phil

Posted by Kathy on July 23rd, 2008

microphoneUPDATE: The fine folks at Odiogo emailed me this morning to report that they gave my blog a female voice! My older posts are still in Phil’s voice, and I’m not sure whether they’ll change over to “Phyllis” down the road.

Anyway, this post no longer makes sense because it was intended for Phil. You can listen to it anyway if you like. I talk about boobs.

Here is the content of the original post:

In order to make the most of this post, please scroll to the bottom and click on the Listen Now button next to Kathy’s name. I’ll wait.

Ready? OK. Let’s get started.

My name is Phil. I’m the voice of Odiogo, a cool, free, text-to-speech tool where you can voice-enable your blog!

Kathy invited me here because a few of her readers have weak eyesight and would benefit from this technology. In addition, you can download the audio files to your iPod and take Kathy on the road with you.

My name isn’t actually Phil, but it’s the name Kathy gave me because Phil is an every man name and she likes it. Also, it’s the name of the host of her favorite reality show, The Amazing Race, which, by the way, she was not accepted for. Bastards.

Anyway, Kathy told me I could say anything I want on this blog post, but only this one. After today, I have to say exactly what she wants me to say. For now, I can let my hair down.

So, get this. When I started out at Odiogo, I was under the impression that I would be hired along with a group of other fake voices. Both men and women.

But it turns out that Odiogo is willfully violating all the Equal Employment Opportunity and affirmative action laws on the books by hiring only men for the part, which is very stupid because like, Kathy’s a woman, and it would sound dumb if I said something she wrote, like, “I went for my mammogram today and my boob got stuck in the scanner.” See, I do not have boobs. Not even manly boobs. I’m very fit.

I was hoping Odiogo would hire at least one woman so I would have someone to go out with after work. I’m single. Is that hard to imagine? What? You don’t think I sound sexy? Oh, I’m very sexy. They just gave me a bad voice.

It’s the same kind of voice they use for those hellish automated telephone menus when you call a company to request service or complain about something. Do you know how you can avoid most of them? Press zero on the key pad and you go straight to a human. Little tip from me to you.

Anyway, back to my sexy voice. I’m all business while I’m at work, but you should hear me after I’ve had a few beers. I’m smooth. I’m awesome. The ladies love me.

In fact, they like it when I get up at the bar and do karaoke. Here’s a sample of the latest song that got all the women hot.

I’m a model. You know what I mean.
And I do my little turn on the catwalk.
Yeah. On the catwalk. On the catwalk. Yeah.
I do my little turn on the catwalk.
I’m too sexy for my car. Too sexy for my car.
Too sexy by far.
And I’m too sexy for my hat.
Too sexy for my hat. What do you think about that?

See? You can’t resist me. Please answer my call for help. Leave a comment below and let Kathy know how much you want me to have women to work with. Tell her that she has to contact Odiogo and inform them of their grave mistake and they need to hire a chick to read Kathy’s posts.

And not just any woman. She should be a built brunette and have legs that go on for miles. That’s how Kathy sees herself and frankly, that’s the kind of woman I want to hang out with in the recording studio.

Do a guy a favor, eh? Thanks, and now I’ll turn Kathy’s blog back over to her. You’ll always find the Listen Now button at the bottom of her posts so you lazy asses who don’t want to read, can still get a dose of The Junk Drawer.

Before you go, head on over to Humor Blogs dot com and click on the smiley button to show her the love.

Over and out.

The To-Do List Meme

Posted by Kathy on March 26th, 2008

to_do_list One of my favorite bloggers, Kev over at Special Kind of Stupid, is paying me back for tagging him with a meme in November. He’s assigned me the “To Do List” meme, a list of five things I have to do unrelated to work. Here goes nothin’.

1. Send two friends their birthday cards I bought two weeks ago. One is sitting in front of me as I type, the other is on my desk at work. I see the cards every day and every day I tell myself to mail them already. Yet, every day they sit there not wishing anyone a happy birthday. So JD and Alice, I’m thinking of your long gone birthdays and hoping you had good ones. I do realize I’m possibly the worst friend in the world. Please forgive me. Still, I wouldn’t expect the cards any time soon.

2. Clean the litter boxes in the basement. Ever since our arthritic cat Stinky started having trouble taking steps to get there, we decided to move one of three litter boxes to the second floor where she spends most of her time. It seems like all three cats are using it, but you never know. The boxes in the basement may now look like two huge archeological digs and we’re going to need a backhoe to clear it out. I wonder if those kids we hired to shovel our driveway do poo detail.

3. Backup my hard drive in the home office. Yeah, I know. I’m a computing consultant. I should backup regularly, but I haven’t done it in months. Yesterday a client came to my office nearly in tears because his hard drive crashed and he needs tax data recovered. It might cost him a fortune to save it, assuming it’s possible. My advice to everyone is “You don’t put on your seat belt expecting to get in a car accident, but you do it anyway, just in case.” Same with your data. I half-jokingly told my distraught client to pray to St. Isidore. For the uninitiated, he’s the patron saint of computers and the Internet. Who said you couldn’t learn anything here?

4. Clean up the remnants of the pumpkin on my back porch. Yes, part of my autumn display is still there. From October. I’ll spare you what it looks like after having spent six months exposed to the elements. I did at least get rid of 90% of it, but the 10% that’s left would give you the dry heaves if you saw it. But if you’re into science experiments, I’ll be running the Guess the Mold, Win a Prize contest in April. Stay tuned!

5. Write my final blog post. I have a will for myself, but I don’t have a will, so to speak, for my blog. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, how would you guys know where I went? I know it sounds morbid, but I’d like to write a post that will be published in the event of my death. I would hate to have people asking where I am in the comments section and my husband having to deal with that. You’ll know if it happens. The post title will read simply “I’m Dead. The Junk Drawer is Now Empty.” It’ll be hilarious.

I Can See Clearly Now

Posted by Kathy on February 18th, 2008

LCD Quick Monday morning tip for the squinty-eyed among us. This computing tip is Windows XP-specific. There’s a little-known setting in your Display Properties called ClearType that smoothes the edges of text on certain kinds of screens, especially LCD flat-panel monitors.

If you use Windows Vista, the setting is already turned on by default. If you use a Mac, consider passing this on to your Windows friends if you have any. You still love us, don’t you?

To turn the setting on:

1. Right-click an empty area of your Desktop.

2. Left-click Properties.

3. Click the Appearance tab.

4. Click the Effects button at the bottom right of the screen.

5. Be sure there’s a checkmark in the box next to Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts.

6. Change the option from Standard to ClearType, then click OK.

7. Click OK to exit Display Properties.

Does the text on my blog look better to you? If you don’t like it, change it back. If you do, share it with your squinty-eyed friends!

Can’t Read Light Text on Dark Backgrounds?

Posted by Kathy on January 20th, 2008

my eyes hurt Some of my favorite blogs are designed with white (or light) text on a dark background. There’s only one problem. I can’t read them.

Evidently I’m one of those people who finds the contrast straining on the eye. It’s OK for a minute or so, but if I’m reading a lengthy article, after a while my eyes get very tired and I have to stop.

Also, when I click onto another page, the image from the light-on-dark page remains, sort of like a picture negative.

So what do I do to keep reading those blogs? I created a little bookmarklet in my Firefox web browser that contains java script to swap the color contrast. When I click the button, light goes dark, and dark goes light. Ahhh! Much better.

The only problem is that I can’t find a way to do the same thing for my readers who use Internet Explorer. Believe me, I’ve tried. If anyone knows how to create a bookmarklet for java script, let me know and I’ll post it.

To create this bookmarklet in Firefox, make sure you have an active Bookmarks Toolbar. Click View > Toolbars and make sure Bookmarks Toolbar has a checkmark next to it. If not, click it and it’ll be activated.

Drag this link up to your Bookmark Toolbar and drop it there. It’ll create a button that you can rename if you want. Right-click the button, left-click Properties and in the Name field enter something like Switch Contrast or whatever you want to call it. Click OK.

Now when you visit a blog or web site that uses light text on a dark background, click that button and the colors will be inverted!

If you don’t have Firefox, you can get it here. I’m not a fan of Internet Explorer, so I take every chance I get to sing Firefox’s praises. If you need some help with this tip, drop a comment in the drawer or email me at kathyblog07 [at] gmail [dot] com and I’ll be happy to help you!

Post addendum: Whoops! I need to clarify that I did not write the java script. I created the bookmarklet from script I found on the web. I cannot properly credit the person who wrote it because there is no linkback to his site. All I know is his name is Robert. That’s all I could find at the site I found the script on. So, thanks Awesome Java Script-writing Robert Somebody. You’re saving our eyes!

A Tech Tip From My Cat

Posted by Kathy on December 29th, 2007

shadow Until now I had only considered my cat Shadow’s butt to be a weapon of mass destruction. Last month I wrote about how she mortified me by dropping a fart grenade in front of my plumber.

Today I’m happy to report that Shadow can use her butt powers for good, as well. It dispenses tech tips.

Here’s how it happened:  My husband Dave was doing some online shopping when Shadow decided the keyboard would be a fine place to get comfortable. She laid down across the whole keyboard and her butt landed hard enough on some keys to screw up the screen Dave was viewing while he was scrolling with the mouse.

The screen content went from normal size to gigantic with that little trick of hers. Once he shooed her away from the desk, Dave had to figure out which key caused the screen text to enlarge so much. After some fiddling around, he discovered it was the CTRL key. It seems if you press CTRL while scrolling up or down, the screen’s text size enlarges or minimizes as you scroll.

In almost ten years of working in the computing industry, I have never known about this little tip. And I can really use it now, since my eyes are not what they used to be. The beauty part is it’s not just for web browsers. The technique works in programs like Microsoft Word, where the view is enlarged, but your font size stays where you want it.

What makes this technique better than other text enlarging maneuvers is that you don’t have click around menus inside each program to find what does the job. That’s what I used to do — for years. Now it’s just a simple CTRL and scroll!

Thanks, Shadow, for sharing your buttalicious talents. See how much better it is to use your powers for good?

It Would Have Paid to Wait

Posted by Kathy on December 21st, 2007

At this moment, I’m trying not to scream.  I have just read that Google rescinded the change that forced me to move my blog to WordPress. All that pain and suffering was almost for nothing.

From BloggerBuzz:

December 20, 2007


You Blog, We Listen

Two fixes just went live, before we sign off for a brief holiday break:

  • Unregistered commenters can once again provide an auto-linked URL [Help Group Thread]
  • Images in the Header page element will no longer be cropped vertically [Help Group thread]

We apologize for having broken these features for you. Your blogs and Help Group posts showed us the true extent to which you used and cared about these features, so please let us know if they’re still being problematic.
Thanks for your patience!

What this means for people leaving comments on Blogger blogs is that they can again leave links directly to their blogs without having to use or create a Google account.  Simply click on the Nickname field and then a URL field is enabled, where you can enter your blog’s address. No more having to setup an OpenID account or login to Google.

Do I regret having moved to WordPress now? Not exactly. I still have way more control over my blog and more flexibility with features than I ever had with Blogger. There are some very cool and useful widgets and plug-ins that I’m using now with WordPress and that I’m planning to implement in the future. So all is not lost.

I just wish I hadn’t been forced to learn a new platform so quickly. That’s not how I operate. I prefer having enough time to research things and move ahead cautiously and carefully, instead of flying by the seat of my pants like I did with the migration to WordPress. At the time I moved, there was zero indication that Google would come to their senses and bring back the URL field for direct blog links.

I recognize that there are far greater problems in the world than my difficult migration to WordPress, I really do. But it did cost me a significant amount of time and effort. And hosting is not free, so there is a cost there as well. When Google states “We Blog, You Listen,” they should add “And We Fail to Think Ahead and Don’t Know How to Communicate.” The way they went about the change, with no concern for its implications in the blogging community and no warning, is deplorable for such a large corporation.

Bringing back the feature now is too little, too late for me and others who fled to WordPress or other blogging platforms. And, for that, they deserve a huge bag of coal for Christmas. And a punch in the face.

How I Moved to My Own Domain

Posted by Kathy on November 23rd, 2007

I recently bought my own domain name, JunkDrawerBlog.com, and made the switch from the default Blogspot address (kathyfrederick.blogspot.com) to the new one on Wednesday.

Today I’ll review why you should move to your own custom domain and how I got there with the help of fellow blogger, Blog Bloke. I focus on the Blogger platform, but WordPress, Typepad and other users can benefit from this, too.

There are several reasons why you should get your own domain name:

Credibility: Bloggers with their own domains enjoy a higher level of credibility than those who don’t. Having your own domain shows you’re putting time into your blog and want to distinguish yourself from the millions of other blogs that are created every day. A custom domain says “I’m a serious blogger and I’m here to stay.”

Memorability: For the four months I used my default Blogspot address, I became increasingly frustrated with giving out my blog’s address. It was too long and completely forgettable. Sure, I could send people a link, but if I gave it out verbally, there was almost no chance it’d be remembered. That meant I lost a potential reader. With JunkDrawerBlog.com the recall level increases significantly.

Pagerank: When you use your own domain, your site will be ranked higher in search engine results than if you use the Blogspot sub-domain. Higher pagerank puts your blog in front of more eyes, and that’ll bring you more traffic.

Branding: With my own domain, I’ve essentially branded myself. With my old address, kathyfrederick.blogspot.com, I identified with my personal name (not my blog, where the focus should be), and with Blogger (why should they get all the attention?). With JunkDrawerBlog.com, my blog name is the focus and it becomes my brand and my identity.

How I made the move to JunkDrawerBlog.com

To be honest, there were times I just wanted to pay someone else to do it so I could get back to writing, which is why I’m blogging at all. Just because I’m in the computing field didn’t mean I wanted to spend my time figuring out the intricacies of making the transition.

That’s where Blog Bloke comes in. There are gazillions of blogs out there on the topic of blogging, mostly with a focus on how to make money. That has never been and will never be the reason I blog. What I needed was help with the technical aspects of blogging itself, and not vague descriptions about how to employ certain techniques and methods. I needed detailed tutorials and I hit the jackpot with Blog Bloke.

When I finally decided it was time to bite the bullet and move over to JunkDrawerBlog.com, I used this post as my guide, and it’s what I recommend you study and refer to when it comes time for your move. Believe it when he says it’s proven to work. It worked for me. In fact, it was the only tutorial I found that gave specific enough information to get the job done.

Why I almost had a heart attack

The above tutorial works under certain circumstances assumed to already be in place. The one tweak I had to make for it to work was return to GoDaddy, where I registered my new domain, and “unpark” it. When I first bought it, there was a question during setup that I answered incorrectly, which caused me to almost have a coronary when I followed the rest of the Bloke’s tutorial.

When a domain is “parked,” it means it’s not yet available for public consumption. Domain registrars usually park a domain by default when it’s registered. My mistake was accepting that default option. When I transferred my Blogspot address to the new domain, up came a huge “404 Server Error” and no blog!

I immediately undid the transfer and then spent the better part of Wednesday researching why my blog wasn’t displaying. Once I discovered the concept of parking and unparking, I went back to GoDaddy and unparked the domain. Then I resumed the transfer, as per Bloke Bloke’s tutorial, and my blog magically reappeared. I also started breathing again. When the blog you’ve worked so hard on suddenly isn’t available, it’s a very scary and panic-inducing event. Don’t let this happen to you! It ain’t pretty.

I’m still no expert on the technicalities of blogging, but Blog Bloke is. Check out his blog for everything you could possibly want to know about making your blog a shining star among millions.

Blog Bloke is a class act and I thank him for all the FREE help he’s given me during my blog’s upstart. He just made me a member of the Blokester Network and I couldn’t be more honored.

Introducing JunkDrawerBlog.com!

Posted by Kathy on November 22nd, 2007

Well, I finally did it! I bought my own domain name, JunkDrawerBlog.com.

I’m still hosting my content on Blogger, but now I’m redirecting everyone to the new address. It’s far easier to remember than the old one. The good news is you don’t need to change anything to get to The Junk Drawer.

If you’ve bookmarked me, or subscribed to my feed, you’ll notice that only the URL has changed. If you’re sharing my site with anyone (and thanks if you do!), just tell ‘em I’m at JunkDrawerBlog.com and they’ll find me.

One final note: If you are considering starting your own blog, listen to me and listen to me good. Before you do anything, buy your own domain name so you don’t have to go through the hassle of switching over later, like I did.

I’ll explain how painful that was in a future post so that you’re sufficiently scared into doing what I tell you.

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving! May your pants still fit you by the end of the day.

 

7 Windows XP Time-saving Techniques You’re Not Using

Posted by Kathy on September 7th, 2007

In my line of work, I frequently stand over the shoulder of someone I’m helping with a PC problem. Often I ask them to replicate their problem and when I see how slowly they navigate through Windows I take the opportunity to show them a faster way. Their response is almost always "Oh my God. I’ve been doing it the hard way all these years!"

Improve your efficiency with these 7 time-saving techniques:
  • Close programs via their Taskbar buttons. Don’t maximize each window, then close it by clicking "X" in the upper right corner. Instead, right-click the program’s button, then click Close.

  • View your Desktop in one click instead of manually minimizing each open window until the Desktop is all that’s left in view. First make sure you have Quick Launch enabled. Right-click and empty area of the Taskbar, click Toolbars > Quick Launch. Now you will see the Show Desktop icon next to the Start button. When you want to quickly get to your Desktop, just click that icon.

  • Stop digging around for Windows Explorer in the programs menu. Open it by right-clicking the Start button, then click Explore.

  • Add program shortcuts to the Taskbar. First, enable Quick Launch in the Taskbar (right click the Taskbar, click Toolbars > Quick Launch). Next, unlock the Taskbar so you are able to resize it and make room for shortcuts (right click the Taskbar, click Lock the Taskbar to remove the checkmark). Finally, drag shortcuts to the Taskbar and release.
  • Pin frequently used programs to the Start Menu (only available in the Windows XP Start menu, not the Classic Menu). Click Start > All Programs. Locate a favorite program, right-click on the program’s icon and select Pin to Start Menu. Now that program will always appear at the top of the Start Menu.

  • Find files faster. When using Windows Explorer you can type the first letter of a file or folder and Explorer will jump to the first file or folder starting with that letter. Single left-click (not double click) on any folder or file, then type a letter to jump ahead to it.
  • To grab several adjacent files at once using only your mouse, position your cursor just outside the files you want to encapsulate, then drag the mouse around the set of files you want to copy so they are shaded. Release the click and you’ll see the files have been selected and you can act on them all at once (copy, cut, move, delete, etc).

If you were stranded on a deserted island…

Posted by Kathy on September 2nd, 2007

The results are in! I polled readers on what tech toys they couldn’t live without and I was a little surprised by a few things. First, here are the items in order by popularity:

  1. Internet
  2. Books, cable TV (tie)
  3. DVR
  4. Cell phone/iPod (tie)
  5. Digital camera

I’m not at all surprised by Internet’s first place finish. I know the weekend I had to go without it made me wonder what I did all those years in its absence.

What did surprise me was the lower ranking of the ubiquitous iPod. I thought I was the last person on earth who didn’t have one and is thus not hopelessly addicted. I also think I’m the last person who hasn’t read the Harry Potter series or watched an episode of American Idol beyond the first couple weeks when the worst singers perform. That’s gold!

I’m also surprised that cell phones weren’t first on the list. I know few people who don’t have theirs within arm’s length at all times. I have one for work purposes, but not for personal use. Perhaps part of that is because I don’t have children, so I’m not in need of constant communication with people who need to know when I’m picking them up and what’s for dinner.

I’m not entirely shocked that video games didn’t get a single vote. It may indicate that no one under 20 years old reads my blog, except for my niece who just thinks I’m so cool for having one. Even she places her iPod and cell phone above video games. You know, they don’t make enough video games for girls. There must be a shortcut on programmers’ keyboards for "blood" and "more violence!" since that seems to be what sells best. And girls are just not into that.

My heart warmed to see books so high on the list. With all our digital paraphernalia it’s nice to see people still love to curl up with a good book. You don’t turn it on, it doesn’t need to be recharged and it won’t crash or be incompatible with anything.

By the way, I highly recommend Crashing Through by Robert Kurson. It’s a riveting story about Mike May, a man blinded by a chemical accident at the age of 3. May gets a chance to see again through revolutionary and risky surgery. May’s experience isn’t at all what you’d expect for a person who regains his vision after a virtual lifetime of blindness.

Thanks to all those who participated in the poll. And if I didn’t list a gadget or technology that you can’t live without, comment below and tell me what it is!

5 Firefox Must-have Extensions

Posted by Kathy on September 1st, 2007

Firefox rules — plain and simple. If you don’t have this web browser, you don’t know what you’re missing. And you’re missing everything. So go get it right now. I’ll wait.

OK. Ready now? The main reason I prefer Firefox over Internet Explorer is the degree of flexibility it offers me to customize my browsing experience. One way it does this is through extensions (or add-ons), small pieces of software you install to add features and functions not available in the base installation. There are hundreds to choose from and these are the five I can’t live without:

  • AdBlock Plus: This extension blocks ads and banners from within web pages, leaving you with a much less cluttered screen. This is an extension I installed for my legally-blind father, who is now much less distracted by annoying ads. It helps him focus on pure content. Here you can see the difference when you use Firefox with AdBlock (on the left), vs. IE without an ad blocker (on the right) By the way, that "Winner" advertisement was spasmodically flashing red and black, and I almost had a seizure.

  • Forcastfox: Still using that resource hog, WeatherBug? Get rid of it immediately and install this add-on instead. You get an unobtrusive real-time Accuweather forecast for your selected city. This highly customizable extension displays right in your toolbar or statusbar. If you work in a windowless office, you can’t be without this one!

  • ColorfulTabs: Tabbed browsing made even more beautiful! This extension colors each tab individually to improve the overall appearance of the browser interface. If your eyes tire from staring at a PC all day, ColorfulTabs is a must. Here are three webpages open in the same browser window, each with its own distinguishing color.

  • StumbleUpon: Channel-surf the Internet! This add-on helps you find and share great websites based on your personal interests. Click the Stumble button to channel surf the best-reviewed sites on the web. Click the thumbs-up or down buttons to rate sites and StumbleUpon will "learn" to deliver more of what you want.

  • Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer: This extension lets you synchronize your bookmarks between multiple PCs. You can also login to my.foxmarks.com to manage your bookmarks from anywhere.

You can browse for these and other add-ons at the Mozilla extensions page. When you’re ready to install one, follow these instructions.

We’ll use ColorfulTabs as an example. Note: Make sure whatever extension you install is supported for your version of Firefox. This will be plainly noted under the extension’s description. Click the Install Now button to begin.

Some extensions have End User License Agreements that you must accept in order to use. Click the Accept and Install button when prompted to do so.

At the Software Installation window, click the Install Now button to continue.

When the installation completes, note that you must restart Firefox for the extension to take effect.

How to e-mail smaller digital pictures

Posted by Kathy on August 22nd, 2007

Ever e-mail digital pictures to your friends and family only to be told they were too big to view very well? Save the grief and make your digitals smaller before emailing them.

To do this in Windows XP:

1. Locate your digital picture on your hard drive or external media.

2. Right-click the photo and choose Send to, then click Mail Recipient.


3. You’ll see a choice to make pictures smaller. Click OK.


4. Your default email program should automatically open, showing the smaller attached picture.

5. Address and send. That’s it!

7 Ways to Get Better Tech Support

Posted by Kathy on August 18th, 2007

At one point or another, you’ve been frustrated with a computer problem and needed to reach out and call the tech support line. It’s possible you would rather have your fingernails pulled out, one by one, than talk to a help line person. It doesn’t have to be a bad experience if you follow these 7 suggestions:

1. Relax. The person you’re calling is there to help you and probably will do a good job of it. Give them a chance. Avoid screaming and ranting, as that tends to get the support person’s back up against a wall and that won’t do either of you any good.

2. Take good notes. If you are calling because you received an error while using a program, it’s extremely helpful to write this down. You can even take a snapshot of it for reference (CTRL+Print Screen, then Paste into MS-Word). Your problem can be solved much quicker if you have the entire message handy.

3. Patience, Grasshopper. Understand that the person you are calling likely has other customers or clients in the queue already. Try not to jump ahead, claiming your problem is an emergency. Most of our calls are emergencies. That’s why we get calls. You not only frustrate the tech support staff, but you also force other people to wait. If you were in the queue already, would you want someone else trying to nudge ahead in line?

4. Show respect. It takes a healthy amount of education and training to provide good technical support. A common complaint among my colleagues is that we do not feel our profession is well-respected because society thinks "anyone can do it." Doing it, and doing it well are polar opposites. Trained professionals do it exceptionally well.

5. Ask for training. Many computer problems can be avoided with a little user education. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know how to do something. Use your problem as a learning opportunity. Good technical support staff will offer additional help past the point where an immediate problem is resolved. It never hurts to ask, and it shows you are willing to learn and minimize your computing problems down the road.

6. Fess up. If you’ve tried and failed to solve the problem on your own (and perhaps made things worse in the process), it helps to know what transpired. Often, we can reverse-engineer the problem, which almost always leads to a faster solution.

7. A little humor never hurt. We all know how stressful computer problems can be. Try to take the edge off and use a little humor. It sets both parties at ease and usually leads to a more satisfying experience for everyone.

5 Ways to Manage your Email

Posted by Kathy on August 15th, 2007

Research reveals that the average American worker spends from one to two hours handling email every day. Depending on your job, that number may be higher. For some — much higher. Email revolutionized the way we communicate at work, but it can also be the bane of our technological existence. If you find yourself the victim of email overload, try some of these tips to manage your mail and reclaim your workday.

  1. Don’t need it? Delete it! If you’re a packrat, you’re in trouble. One of the biggest email problems users face is the sheer volume of messages they receive every day and the tendency to keep everything. Some tricks: Pick off the easy ones first. If you have a quick answer, send it, then delete the message. And not just from the Inbox – get rid of it in Trash, too. Stop re-reading the same message. Be realistic. If you know deep down you’ll never reply to the message, delete it and move on.
  2. Set aside time to review email. Establish a routine for checking email. It may be that you block off time at the start of the day, again after lunch and then before you leave the office. Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted during this time. Deal with messages immediately: Delete it, forward it, schedule it, respond to it, or file it. Consider closing your email program outside of these scheduled times so you won’t be compelled to check for new messages constantly.
  3. Setup a filtering system. If you belong to a listserv or receive daily messages from the same place (such as bulletins or announcements), filter them out of the Inbox and into another folder. Then when you have time, go to that folder and read them at once. This will keep your focus on one topic and minimize the time it takes to deal with them.
  4. Setup a file folder system. Many of us keep messages for reference purposes only. Build a file folder system that categorizes these reference messages for quick access later. The important thing is to get them out of your Inbox.
  5. Limit unnecessary responses. You don’t have to respond to every message, especially just to say "Thanks" or "OK." The more email you generate, the more someone else has to act on it.

Slingo: The End of an Era

Posted by Kathy on August 11th, 2007

For those following activities in The Dad Zone, you’ll know that I was planning on getting him Verizon DSL soon. That day came today. The setup was a breeze and Dad’s now surfing the web infinitely faster than before. He’s so thrilled that his internet polka stations are playing smoothly, every last one of them. He can’t get enough of this new (to him) technology, he’s going to get right on the phone and brag to all his friends that he’s using broadband now. Good for him!

So after getting DSL configured and working, I decided to try migrating him over to Mozilla Firefox for times he’s reading his news websites and playing the radio feeds, simply because AOL does a lousy job of rendering these sites and doesn’t always know what media players to use for the stations. Firefox is so much easier, plus he knows how to quickly enlarge text on screens with a touch of a button. Something else AOL sucks at.

After moving all his AOL Favorites over to Firefox and getting him used to the new interface, he asked me a question I’d been wanting to hear for years: "Now that I’m using Firefox, what do I need AOL for?" I told him all it’s good for now is playing Slingo.

What he said next made me want to both strangle him and hug him at the same time.

"I don’t need Slingo."

"WHAT?!?!?!?!?! It’s ALL YOU TALK ABOUT!!!!! And if you stop playing it on AOL, you’ll lose your lifetime score!"

"Eh…. I can live without it. Besides, I can’t get higher than 108."

So, incredibly, I’m in the position to get him off AOL, stop paying the insane $250 annual subscription fee, get him browsing the internet the easy way, and stop hearing about how he can’t crack the Top 100. What a glorious day this is. I only wish I’d asked him years ago if he can live without Slingo. As crazy as it sounds, no one ever thought to approach him with that question. His Slingo score was all we ever heard about.

I intend to download a "free standing" version of Slingo for him, which means he can still play the game. It just won’t know about his AOL lifetime score and he’ll have to start anew. We also have to wait until Slingo Deluxe works on Windows Vista. Right now, it’s not compatible, but I expect it will be in the next few months.

Rot in hell, AOL.

Knock knock. Your modem’s here.

Posted by Kathy on August 4th, 2007

I received my dad’s modem from Verizon already. I only ordered the DSL service for him on Wednesday. I’m not very anxious to get down to The Zone any time soon. I’m granted a reprieve of sorts. Verizon said I can’t install the modem or the software until the service is turned on remotely by them. This won’t be for a few days. So for now, I just have to gear up for the visit and maybe beg my sister Ann to come with me, if only to keep Dad at bay. Poor thing. She returns from a relaxing beach vacation tomorrow. Maybe I should wait a day before calling.

Weirdest tech problems resolved

Posted by Kathy on August 1st, 2007

I see all kinds of strange PC problems in my line of work. Sometimes the simplest steps can resolve the most perplexing problems. Here’s a list of some crazy things to try that you might not have thought would help.

  • If you use a wireless mouse, and all of a sudden your system doesn’t respond, or responds strangely to your mouse movements, check the batteries. They’re probably dying.

  • If you suddenly can’t print and you know you don’t have a paper jam, unplug the printer (don’t just turn it off). Remove and re-insert the plug, then try to print again. This technique cures a lot of printer ills.

  • If you use a flat panel monitor and suddenly all of your icons look really big and unclear, pull the plug from the back of the monitor and re-insert it.

  • If you use USB flash drives with Microsoft Windows, always remove the device via Windows before yanking it out of your system. This minimizes the chance that you’ll corrupt the drive and the data on it. To remove it in Windows, right-click the little green hardware icon at the lower right of your screen. Left-click the drive you want to remove. When it’s safe to physically remove it, Windows will tell you so.

  • Can’t get your wireless connection to turn on your new laptop? Look for a wireless ON/OFF switch on the sides or front of the laptop. Some models have physical switches that override whatever your wireless setting is configured for in the operating system.

  • As dumb as it sounds, reboot your computer every now and then, especially if you’re prone to leaving it on 24/7. The refresh will do it good.

PC a little sluggish lately?

Posted by Kathy on August 1st, 2007

Most people are aware that they need to protect their PCs from viruses, but they take few measures to prevent against spyware, an equally annoying threat to your PC’s happiness. Spyware can slow your system down over time, cause numerous unwanted pop-ups and make your system unstable.

Follow these instructions for downloading, installing and running a free program, called Spybot, to protect your system from spyware. Your PC will love you for it.

http://www.lehigh.edu/computing/docs/spybot/guide.htm

.

Broadband in The Dad Zone

Posted by Kathy on July 31st, 2007

For those of you familiar with The Dad Zone, you know I still had work to do. One of my chores was to get my Dad broadband access so he could do his own "iTuning." And because I’m a bad daughter, I hadn’t gotten around to yet. Until today.

I got the call at work. When I saw Dad’s number on the caller ID, I almost didn’t answer. You all know why. So he tells me he got a great deal in the mail to get Verizon broadband access for $14.99/mo and he only had until TODAY to sign up. One eye roll and a mental groan later, I’m on the phone with Verizon trying to order it for him. He had called himself, but his attempt at getting the poor sales rep on the other end to fill out the online request for him failed. So that left the job for me.

It was an easy process, I have to say (bless your hearts, Verizon). I’ll be receiving the modem and installer CD in the mail in a few days. I’m just praying that installation goes well. But as we all know by now — THINGS WILL GO WRONG.

One little tidbit I learned from my Dad. He can get the $14.99 deal for one year and if he calls Verizon when the year is up, he can renew another year at the same cut-rate price. See, they don’t tell anyone that. The only reason he knows this inside information is because he asked the rep "So what’s the price going to jump when the year is up?" They told him as long as he called them (they won’t notify him when the deal is over), he can continue at the lower price. This is interesting because I just got a great deal after fighting with RCN over my own broadband. I’ll have to file a reminder to call them in a year and see if I can continue at the slashed price.

Moral of the story: Be like my Dad and complain about the prices of things these days. You never know what rewards you might reap.