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Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

I’ve been away from the ‘net since leaving Texas for Maryland, so I’ve been catching up with a few things, stuff you can’t get into heaven without, like a surplus of junk emails. It feels good when I delete them in batches without reading them. And as Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “What is right is what you feel good after,” or words similar to those.

But one thing I haven’t felt good about. Before leaving Texas, I shipped my laptop and some very important papers via FedEx. Yes, I know it was a dumb decision, but I had a couple of good (I thought) reasons. The laptop and the papers were crammed into a laptop carrying case that would have made wrestling the thing through security, a mile walk to Gate 43 and more muscles than I possess to lift the whole thing into the overhead rack. Besides, I had another carry-on equally as cumbersome. At the time, shipping seemed to be the most logical solution.

At any rate, I hauled the whole thing to a mailbox packing and shipping place staffed with friendly Texans and arranged for its arrival in Maryland the following Wednesday. And then I paid a handsome sum of money for the professional services of the packaging company and FedEx, secure in the belief that the America free enterprise system is an error-free environment, what with professional humans and 21st Century technology tracking my package from Port Arthur to my doorstep in a faraway state.

On the appointed date, we decided on a short daytrip to the Air and Space Museum Annex near Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia. We knew FedEx would place my package carefully near the door if, by chance, delivery was early. And we knew the delivery person would leave a door tag, informing us that my package was either on the porch below the tag or deposited in the care of a trusted neighbor in this respectable, young professional neighborhood.

When we returned around three in the afternoon, we saw neither a package nor a door tag. Like good, trusting, patriotic Americans, we figured we were on the end of FedEx’s schedule for the day. No big deal. But just in case, we booted up a desktop and entered our assigned tracking number.

Holy Schiese! Our package had been delivered. But not to our address. At 2:45 p.m. or thereabouts, a FedEx home delivery driver had dropped off our package at a totally dissimilar address in Damascus, Maryland, a full sixty miles north of us.

Jesucristo! We panicked. For the balance of the day and into the following morning, we burned up the lines between us and FedEx. Lord knows how many customer relations specialists or whatever we talked to. And Lord knows how many different explanations we received for the glitch, which we didn’t consider a glitch but a major foul-up. Who cared about North Korea, Paula Abdul and American Idol, or Harry Reid’s constant whining. We cared nothing for Keith and Bill-O’s juvenile feud. Obama’s birth certificate? So what if the guy was born in Kenya? We wanted out package.

To further complicate matters, one of us drove the 60 miles to Damascus, located the address our box had been delivered to, and knocked on the door. A nice lady answered and when informed of the purpose of the visit, said, yes, the package had been delivered. She was even kind enough to retrieve the opened box from her trash bin. Only problem is it wasn’t our box. It was another box entirely with our tracking number written across the top.

Long story short, we fired up the lines to FedEx’s customer service office, threatening to call every 30 minutes until my package was located and delivered. One of the agents finally informed us that the package should arrive tomorrow.

And, lo, on the following day, a FedEx delivery van pulled into the driveway and a neatly dressed man stepped out carrying the package.

“Good morning,” he said politely, “here’s your package.”

What a let down. Curse polite and helpful employees. They take the joy out of blaming others. We were prepared for eternal cultural warfare in the manner of the ancient Romans and the modern Demorepublocrats.

Addendum: How did the mix up begin? Two packages with the same tracking number. A computer glitch? Human error? In the final analysis, just another unsolvable mystery.

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We’ve learned over the past few days that John McCain doesn’t know much about…well…anything.

John is a Technophobe. I heard him remark on television that he doesn’t know a thing about modern technology, like computers and the Internet and such. He said his wife is always available if he needs help.

What does that mean to you? To me, it means that he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground about the real world.

But there’s more. He sounds like a few Naval officers I once knew, fine men, each of whom had a horde of sailors around as aides to do their bidding.

The wife of one of these fine men, a fine and patriotic women in her own right, once complained that her husband couldn’t wipe his own ass by himself.

I don’t want to cast aspersions on John McCain. I’m sure he is fully capable of maintaining his own personal cleanliness in a pinch. The act doesn’t require any knowledge of technology.

Beyond the basic instincts required to perform the fundamental acts of life, however, what does he know about the Facebook Generation?

I daresay nothing. And yet, this generation is expected to turn out in record numbers in the upcoming election in support of Barack Obama.

You’d think McCain would at least learn enough Facebook lingo to fake it in an effort to identify with a large segment of the American voting population but it doesn’t look that way from here.

McCain relates well to his own cohort group. The over-50 population shares his values and feels comfortable about a McCain presidency.

And make no mistake, this age group is also expected to turn out in record numbers this year. Overwhelmingly, they will vote for McCain. Will their numbers be higher than the Facebookers when vote-casting time arrives?

Right now that’s one of the great unknowns of the modern era. Traditionally, seniors vote in very large numbers. The younger generation has been noticeably absent on election day. Perhaps McCain is confident of victory, so confident that he doesn’t feel it necessary to identify with the technological crowd.

But sooner or later older generations must inevitably relinquish power to those coming up behind them. The questions for both the younger and the older generations in the election of 2008 is “Will this be the time?”

Phrased in more immediate terms, “Can we continue to tolerate technophobes in a technologically savvy 21st Century?”

The First Law of Technophia: Postpone the acquisition of knowledge until someone invents a programmable Automatic Super Speedy Hygienic Assurance Watercloset (ASSHAW).

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Yesterday evening, a woman I hadn’t seen in a year or more  dropped by much to my dismay. This woman is known for her tendency to drop-in unexpectedly, feigning sincerity and gushing over my wife and I.

Then she got down to business. She wondered if I would do something for her. Just a little thing. Could she use my computer to send an email with an attachment?

I hesitated. Boy, did I hesitate. I suspected at least two hours flushed down the tube while she panicked her way through the process of figuring out how to connect to her work e-mail account from my home computer.

But I was wrong. Two hours on the computer and two more hours later, she was sitting in our living room, moaning and groaning about everything that I could not have cared less about. Among other things, she’s a non-stop talker.

Which isn’t the worst part, really. More, she knows everything about everything, including how to screw up my computer.

She’s apparently paranoid, or at least frightened of most things in life except irritating me. One day, she walked over in a red-faced panic, carrying a small box she’d just received in the mail. She wanted me to open it for her. Why? She thought it might have had an explosive device in it. She didn’t want to be blown to smithereens.

But she didn’t mind if my brains wound up splattered all over the place.

Anyway, she sat in a chair in our living room and began rambling. Now, this woman is a sociology teacher in a local college. She has a lot to ramble about. I happen to believe sociology is bunk and she knows my tendencies along these lines. No matter.She applied sociological theory to the presidential race and wound up with a masterful non sequitur.

I hate Barack Obama! He’s arrogant, lacks experience, blah, blah, blah!

She repeated every conservative criticism of Barack that has ever been uttered and perhaps a few that haven’t.

I’m listening and nodding affably, hoping she will soon leave because my wife and I are a mite hungry.

Anyway, as I listened, I wondered what odd confluence in her life had turned her from a flaming left-wing liberal revolutionary who used to demonstrate in the streets into a John McCain lover.

The answer came to me in a moment of silence in her tirade. The once-young liberal had aged. She’d grown not old but cautious. Fear now ruled her life and change is something to avoid. She had fallen victim to the respectability that accompanies a successful career, the possession of a home and things, and a modicum of money in the bank. Now, in contrast to her youthful free spirit, she had a stake in things.

As she finally left, I felt sorry for her, not because she had become fearful but because she was alone. Her fear was a product of loneliness. Sad. Very sad.

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Solitude
The house is quiet now that the hordes have departed. I’ve been thinking of a few pearls of wisdom some of them passed along. I’ll try to incorporate them in a post shortly.

Basic Brown
Willie made some cogent observations in his Chron column yesterday. Among other things, he said what I’ve said for months, namely that Obama is his own worst enemy. I’m convinced that Barack is on the edge of losing this election unless he begins to drive the discussion away from Iraq and toward the economy.

Let’s face it. He doesn’t look like a commander in chief. Yes, he looks presidential, but the two are horses of a different color. A stubborn prognathus jaw is required of a CIC. A President has to look, well, thoughtful, stately, Presidential. Barack meets the second spec, but needs a little surgery to create the appropriate pissed-off look of a well-rounded modern American head of state.

Firefox
I downloaded the latest edition of the Firefox browser a few days ago and it has been working well so far. The new one is Version 3.0.1, a much improved browser according to the hype. Previous editions were unstable and on several occasions, I removed the program to prevent computer lockups. If my latest download continues to work as it has for the past several days, the bugs that put the whammy on my machine are gone. Let’s hope…!

The latest version came with a new feature that I like, the ability to enlarge images on the ‘net with your mouse or pad. Most browsers permit type enlargement, but Firefox is the only browser I know about that will enlarge an image.

On my laptop, I can enlarge images by holding the Ctrl key down and clicking ++ several times to get a larger image. On my desktop, the feature works by holding down Ctrl and rolling the mouse scroll wheel.

I don’t know if this feature has any practical application unless you have a fetish for finding warts, pimples, and wrinkles on the faces of people you don’t like, which isn’t a bad idea come to think of of.

Are you into romance?
The Romance Writers of America (RWA) is holding its annual conference July 30-August 2, 2008, at the Marriott Hotel, 55 Fourth Street, San Francisco.

Holy Romance, Lover Man! Is that a suitable location for the flowering of love? I suppose so. An imaginative writer could cook up a plot involving love at first sight between a street denizen who turns out to be a member of Britain’s Royal family and an innocent maiden from Hays, Kansas. I just threw Hays in because there aren’t too many innocent maidens in SF.

Golf can be hazardous to your health
Poor ole Michelle Wie had another kiss of death planted on her Saturday. After playing three rounds of sub-par golf, which put her one stroke behind the leader in the LPGA State Farm Classic going into Sunday, LPGA officials discovered that she had  departed the “Signing” area after the completion of her Saturday round without signing her scorecard, an automatic disqualification.

What else could happen to this poor kid? I can’t think of anything, unless perhaps she gives birth on the 18th hole when she’s fifteen strokes ahead in the world’s most prestigious golf tournament. Birthing during a tournament is probably an automatic disqualification.

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For the past several weeks, I’ve been using Windows Live Writer to write and publish blog posts.

I switched from Word 2007’s blog feature because it had become unbearably unstable. The program would crash at inappropriate times, requiring in some cases a complete restart. If any of you use Vista, you’ll know that it’s slow on the uptake.

So I started scouting the Internet for an alternative, stand alone tool. Live Writer came highly recommended by a number of sites dedicated to reviewing a variety of software. Based in these recommendations, I downloaded the program for free on my laptop and desktop. I haven’t been disappointed. Here are some of the features I like.

  • The ability to publish a post on on a variety of blog servers such as WordPress and Blogger, two of the most popular.
  • Easy insertion and positioning of photos. The process is painless and virtually automatic.
  • A feature called Live Search Maps powered by Virtual Earth. This tool is simplicity itself and permits the user to insert maps and adjust their size as desired. You can also add a red Push Pin to draw attention to a particular location, but I’ve encountered difficulties labeling the pin. I think it’s actually a hyperlink of sorts.
  • The map below illustrates the map feature.  You can reduce the map’s size and convert it to a Bird’s Eye View if you wish. The Bird’s Eye View is an aerial photo.

  • The ability to view your post as it will appear on your site. This feature gets your post about as close to WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) as I’ve encountered. Still, I’ve had trouble positioning the map above so that it appears properly when viewed in Web Layout mode.
  • A handy side-bar for inserting hyperlinks, pictures, tables, maps, tags (Technocrati), and videos.
  • An exceptionally simple method of setting your categories.
  • A Paste Special feature that includes an HTML code thinning tool that removes extra HTML code such as that found in Word-prepared documents. Word coded documents tend to result in odd layouts when posted to the Internet.
  • When everything is complete to your satisfaction, click the Publish button and viola! your post magically appears on your site.

Have I encountered any disadvantages? Yes, but the ones I’ve noticed are minor. Here are my pet peeves.

  • If you need to squint to read small type, you may be unhappy with Live Writer. I found no means of magnifying fonts for easy reading as you type while retaining your default font size when your post is published. The only workaround I’ve found so far is to format your Font in, say, 16 point type and then return it to 11 or 12 point before publishing your post.
  • I’ve also found that the spacing of bulleted paragraphs is perfect when I prepare my blog but somehow annoyingly inserts an extra line when published. I’m still looking for a workaround because I like my posts to look a little tighter.

Everything considered, the minor annoyances become irrelevant when balanced against the advantages of stability, ease of use, simplicity and speed. As a blogger who prefers a clean program without seldom used bells and whistles, this is the one for me at the moment. On the other hand, if you’re a professional blogger, Live Writer may not meet your needs.

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…all systems go…mostly…

This morning I began looking for information about the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin when I ran across a photo of a young woman under the heading “She’s an inmate in Santa Rita.”

Thinking perhaps this was a story about a poor unfortunate female trapped in the American web of justice, I clicked the link and suddenly found myself trapped in an endless web of warnings about malware in my machine and how the only way to protect myself was to click Next.

I’m kind of dumb but not that dumb. Still, the more I attempted to escape from the Santa Rita Jail, the more I became convinced that I had been transferred to The Black Hole of Inner Space.

I still don’t know how I managed to extricate my poor machine from this hell.

After gulping several cups of coffee to steady my nerves, I thought, “What the heck? It’s time for a system scan anyway.”

I am tighter than I am dumb, so I use free versions of Spybot and Ad-Aware SE. I booted up Spybot first.

This is my unlucky day. Another maze. Spybot, instead of running normally as usual, defaulted to some remote location on the web and wouldn’t let me go until I had upgraded my version to the latest one. For some reason, I now have two versions.

Okay, I started the newer one and it ran though a full systems scan and gave me an all clear sign. What a relief.

Then I clicked on Ad Aware. Again, I was prompted to update the program, which I did fairly easily, noting that I wanted a full system scan again.

This time, when the Ad Aware scan was completed, I saw a bunch of flashing red lights and a little icon which looked suspiciously like a tiny crab opposite a message “19 Critical Objects,” emphasized with the obligatory red font just in case my bowels weren’t loose enough.

With a shaking hand, I checked all 19 and discovered some interesting things. None was actually critical. The risk factor of each was low.

And all were tracking cookies, the purpose of which is to keep track of the sites I’ve visited for the purpose of inserting ads in the proper spot. That may well explain an ad for a porno site one day when I was reviewing an analysis of The Ten Commandments by Eliot Spitzer.

The third thing I noticed was that all of the tracking cookies had been planted courtesy of Internet Explorer. I thought that odd since I rarely ever use IE. I’m a Mozilla Man. Has IE managed to co-opt my browser?

Not really. Microsoft wouldn’t stoop that low. Would they?

No, certainly not. I recalled using IE one time a couple of weeks ago. Apparently during that one-time use, someone managed to slip 19 tracking cookies into my cache.

Lesson learned. Clear the cache every time you use any browser. You may find your machine trapped in porno hell.

Either that or restrain your prurient desires.

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Map My Heart

I have a new toy and as usual, new toys consume my time until they grow old.

This one is a program called Mapjack, and I stumbled across it on CBS5 Eye on Blogs.

It’s a handy tool for searching for addresses as you would with Google but with an added feature, a clear color photograph of the building or whatever else is located at the address.

So far, Mapjack has mapped San Francisco and Sausilito, and Chiang Mai, Thailand. I haven’t figured out the Thailand connection but the pictures sure are purty.

Cities and locations in the planning stage include Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, Pacifica, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Vegas.

Mapjack has a simple interface. If I can figure it out, so can you. If you need help, however, Mapjack’s Help menu has it all laid out. Simplicity in action. Here’s a screen capture shot of the layout. Kind of fuzzy, but you get the idea.

mapjack

My preferred learning style is to jump in and just do it, click here, click there, click over yonder and see what happens. If you hit a wrong button, your machine won’t explode.

We learn more from our mistakes than from out successes. At least that’s what a pundit said about Eliot Spitzer, et al.

So, just by fooling around Mapjack and making a few mistakes, I had a great deal of fun and compiled a short list of anomalies a new user should watch for:

  • The program has an annoying habit of defaulting to Sacramento when searching for some authentic addresses in San Francisco even though Sacramento isn’t an available city at this time. There may be a simple answer to this glitch, but I just haven’t worked it out yet.
  • The program may or may not show the picture of the exact location you have entered. In fact, unless you can find the address clearly visible on a curb or a building, you may never know if the one you’re looking at is the right one.
  • Not all streets in San Francisco have been completely photographed. You may find a location in the map in the bottom pane but sans picture in the picture pane and a message informing you that no photo is available.
  • Occasionally, an address in a telephone directory or other public record may not coincide with an address in Mapjack’s database. I’ve had a couple of Mapjack error messages reporting that no such address exists.
  • You may also find the exact address you are looking for, but it will turn out to be a mail drop, like Mail Boxes Inc. I surmise individuals use such an address to avoid snoopers, a wise move. This isn’t a Mapjack glitch, but the knowledge can save a user some time when looking for the address of a specific person.
  • And this one is really odd. I stumbled across it solely by accident. A really bad habit of mine is entering nonsense in a search window to see what happens, stuff like mzcgter. That didn’t produce anything in Mapjack, but then I started entering the names of people. An odd thing happened. Results popped up, but not of addresses. We’re talking organizations and retail establishments. What the hell is the connection between a name and a bookstore and how has Mapjack come into such information? It’s a mystery so far. If you check this out, let me know your thoughts.

Beyond the nosiness factor and the newness of looking at pictures in brilliant color with the tools to sharpen the images, I don’t know if Mapjack serves a practical purpose, although I can foresee tourist agencies adding a Mapjack to their site as an inducement to sign up for tours.

But my guess is that the program will be used primarily by folks looking for old sweethearts, classmates, ex-coworkers, and drinking pals.

And there will be stalkers checking out neighborhoods. Be very careful. As usual, if you suspect any kind of stalking, Internet or whatever, report it to the police.

By the way, the title of this post refers to that famous song about cable cars climbing halfway to the stars.

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