Today I almost gave up before I started. First, there was a blog post that I felt needed a comment, and I was guiltily trying to get it written without using up the entire hour, when I learned that there was yet another wrinkle in my ongoing struggles with the insurance company over a medical procedure from last year. (It isn't even an acrimonious battle; everyone agrees that the company should have paid. But one small error in a procedure code has taken months to rectify.) I thought we had finally gotten it straightened out, but this morning another charge popped up that the insurance company says it has paid but the provider says it hasn't received. I managed to take myself out of the middle and now have them talking directly to each other on this one—but by the time I was done my computer time was well over an hour, and the day barely started.
Still, I plowed on, deciding merely to log the time while trying to keep it down. That worked somewhat (though I did keep coming back to the machine more than I had hoped), until mid-afternoon, when I realized that the timer had been running throughout a long conversation with Porter and now read nearly four hours. Probably three of that was legit, but not really knowing the truth I again gave up the fight. At least I lasted longer than I did yesterday.
Last night I finished a project that had kept me welded to the computer for the better part of several days, and I awoke wondering if it would be possible to go through a day limiting my computer use to one hour. The experiment started out well enough, though I had accomplished but the minimum of my normal morning computer routine when I realized I'd already used up a quarter of the time. It was not too hard, however, to set the routine aside and turn to (mostly) non-computer-related projects. I felt empowered, and looked forward to a day of accomplishment. Occasionally I needed the computer briefly for something I was doing, but managed to do the job and get off, resisting the temptation to check blogs, news, or e-mail.
That lasted till maybe 9 a.m. (More)
What drives spam? Money, obviously. And sin. Sin on both ends: the sin of greed on the part of the spammer, and the sin that the spammer is hoping will entice his victim to throw money his direction. Spam, therefore, may be a diagnostic tool, an x-ray scan revealing the broken and diseased places of our society.
If the spam that hits this blog (and is mostly filtered out before you see it) is any measure, the sickest area of our society is sex, although that observation is a bit like peering at an x-ray and announcing that the patient's leg is broken when anyone can see the jagged bone protruding from the flesh. Porn of the worst kind, body part enhancements, "performance" drugs: "greed meets lust" is a terrible combination. (More)
Someone else posted an enthusiastic link to Michael Hyatt's Do You Make These 10 Mistakes When You Blog? That I am not so enthusiastic is probably due to having a serious problem with the first sentence, which reads,
Assuming you want to increase your blog traffic, there are certain mistakes you must avoid to be successful.
After reading Hyatt's article I realized that not only do I make several of the mistakes, but I often make them on purpose. That's when I realized the real problem: I'm not convinced I want to increase my blog traffic. (More)
This article about the mathematics department at the University of Rochester credits much of their recent success to an online homework system developed by two U of R professors.
Any system that results in 80 percent of undergraduates taking calculus, without any requirement to do so, bears looking into. (More)
You'd think that being freed from the 9 - 5 routine, Mondays wouldn't bother me. (What's with 9 - 5 anyway? When I was employed I never worked that few hours in a day!) And normally that's true. This week was another story.
It began when the alarm went off at 4:30...a.m. That's when I took Porter to the airport for a week out of town on business. Still, that was only bad in hindsight; normally getting an early start imbues the day with productivity, and I was looking forward to digging right into my many awaiting projects. I returned home, drove into the garage, walked through the door, entered my office, and turned on my computer. Which promptly turned itself off. Further attempts disclosed the unsettling warning, "Fan error." (More)
Check out this TED lecture: Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology, not only for what might be ahead in the world of computing (hint: the line between computing and interacting with the real world is about to get quite blurry) but also for what a brilliant mind can think of when pondering the workings of an ordinary computer mouse. You are in a taxi on your way to the airport and want to check the status of your flight. Who needs an iPhone? Simply look at your boarding pass, and a tiny device attached to your body reads the information and projects back onto the card that your flight is 20 minutes delayed. Thanks, Janet, for sharing this.
The latest version of Thunderbird, 3.01, includes a number of significant changes from Version 2. I think I'm going to like it, at least once the fix a major bug, which I understand they are working on. The old Thunderbird allowed the assignment of nicknames to e-mail addresses, so, for example, I could set up simple two-letter codes for people I write frequently, and typing those codes into the "To" field auto-completed the correct address. The new Thunderbird still allows nicknames, but they work differently: the named address becomes merely one of many suggestions made by the auto-complete engine, and it's rarely the first. Hence I, and from the word on the Internet, many others, have been embarrassed by sending e-mails to the wrong people. What's more, the auto-complete engine insists on searching all addresses for possible matches. I have three address books in Thunderbird: my Personal Address Book, one I call Archives, into which I put addresses I might want once in a blue moon, and one Thunderbird adds, called "Collected Addresses," which it populates from e-mails sent and received. All of these are useful, but I'd like to be able to tell Thunderbird to ignore all but the Personal Address Book.
Like Firefox, Thunderbird now uses tabs. In Firefox (and Internet Explorer) it's annoying, because the button to open a new tab is right next to the button to close the tab, and I'm forever closing tabs by accident and often losing work in the process. But Thunderbird doesn't have the "add tab" button to foul me up, and it's handy to be able to have several search results and a few e-mails all open in tabs. Thunderbird remembers what tabs you had open when you exited the program, and restore them when you open it again. (More)
If you haven't received a call from us lately, it's not only because I don't like to use the telephone.Shortly before Thanksgiving, our previously excellent phone service started giving us trouble. Callers could hear us fine, but what we heard from them was distorted. Back in the good ol' days of monopoly telephone service (black, rented phones and impossibly expensive long distance), if something went wrong, you knew who to blame, and they knew it, too. Now I can call Switzerland for three cents a minute, but problems invite an endless circle of finger-pointing. Especially when the problems are intermittent. Before—possible points of failure = 1: the telephone company. After—possible points of failure = many: the cable Internet provider, the VoIP provider, the VoiP phone, the modem, the router, or some combination. (More)
My recent visit with our grandchildren reminded me of why I don't like video/computer games. I don't mean I don't like to play them; I know all too well how addicted I can get if I allow myself to get started.It began, of course, with television. When the technological wonder entered my home when I was seven, I was already familiar with its delights, thanks to the generosity of our neighbors. We matured together, television and I, and with such a sibling it's no wonder we bonded strongly as the years passed. It was not a healthy bond, and I'm thankful that I went to college before televisions were ubiquitous in the dormitories, because those four years of abstention were the beginning of my liberation. It would be many years and much struggle before I could declare myself free, but never again would the glowing opium box control my life. (More)
Like many people, I have mixed feelings about Facebook, finding it simultaneously useful and annoying. But here's a funny thing about Facebook, as reported by Eric Schultz, who is the Chairman of the Board of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and writer of The Occasional CEO. (The NEHGS library, both online and in person, is one of my favorite and most helpful resources for genealogical research.)
This last summer, in the midst of its 164th year, NEHGS had the single greatest month of membership growth ever. Ever.
The reason? Facebook.
Yep, that surprised the board, too.
I'm sure there must be a legitimate reason behind the new Federal Trade Commission rules for bloggers, but it looks pretty nonsensical from my perspective, another example of one-size-fits-all rules that inconvenience millions in an attempt to collar a few offenders. It invites comparisons with the TSA's airport screening, except that I'm a lot more worried about terrorists than about those "I lost 300 pounds on this simple diet" ads.
The Federal Trade Commission on Monday took steps to make product information and online reviews more accurate for consumers, regulating blogging for the first time and mandating that testimonials reflect typical results. Under the new rules, which take effect Dec. 1, writers on the Web must clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products. Testimonials will have to spell out what consumers should expect to experience with their products. [From the Hartford Courant, October 6, 2009]
So here goes. I suppose I'll have to put it in my About link, too.
I don't mean to pick on the FTC; they have a tough job. But I'm much more interested in disclosures, say, of gifts given by textbook publishers to school boards, or from pharmaceutical companies to doctors. When Internet bloggers attain the respect, authority, and power of doctors and school boards, when it takes more than common sense to realize their reviews might not have universal applicability, then I may be convinced of the need for regulation. I won't be in that category anyway.
I have no idea what others should expect from anything I review or comment on. I'm one person, not a research laboratory. You may love a book I find objectionable; you may dislike the recipe I say is fabulous. Such is life. Sometimes I get books for free, from publishers, which I'll acknowledge in the review, but no small tip is going to make me say I liked a book when I didn't. (So far, I've received all of one book this way, and I haven't read it yet, which is why you haven't seen any such acknowledgement.) I also get incalculable return from Lime Daley, but I like to think that's because of my familial relationship with the owners, not because of any endorsements I make on this blog.
Many years ago, Porter attended a course taught by Bill Oncken, which added at least two phrases to his vocabulary: "Don't be a monkey-picker-upper," and "Feed it, or shoot it, but don't let it starve to death." The first advises against meddling in tasks (monkeys) that don't belong to you, especially after you've delegated them. The second requires you to work on tasks, or scrub them, but never let them languish.
I have a backblog of over 100 items about which I want to write—and that's only the ones in my bookmark list, which are less important than those on my mental list. Flush from success with whacking my e-mail inbox from over 200 down to less than 30, I feel Bill Oncken's ghost hovering over my shoulder and challenging me to take on the backblog.
If these were real monkeys, the ASPCA would have had me arrested months ago. Some of them have already died of starvation; all I must do is dispose of the bodies. Some intrigued me at one time, but I now don't find them worth the time and effort; these I will happily execute with a click of the delete key. Some remain healthy enough to go into a "priority pen" until they can be tended to properly...after I extend Oncken's options a step further: I intend to take most of these monkeys and turn them loose to forage on their own.
Thus I am reviving my "Casting the Net" series, and you will see, in the coming days, posts with several short comments and associated links. I hope to put in enough detail to enable readers to decide quickly whether it's a subject worth pursuing or ignoring, but you won't get the detailed commentary and quotations I normally like to include.It's either that, or declare blog bankruptcy.
Google Fast Flip seemed like just another gimmick, but having given it a test drive I'm already hooked. Pick a newspaper, say the New York Times. Or a topic, such as Health. You're presented with an eye-catching snapshot of the beginning of the first article. You can see the headline, the first several paragraphs of text, and probably a graphic, pull-quote, or summary. Oh, and also some ads—but (shhh, don't tell Google) the ads are blessedly easy to ignore.
If you like what you see in the article, you can click on it to read the rest. Or you can hit your computer's arrow key and move quickly on to the next article. Did I say quickly? That's why I'm so excited about this. No point-and-click, no waiting for a page to load, just one keystroke and you're there. In a flash. It takes me about a second per article to determine whether or not I want to know more—usually not, it doesn't take much time to scan a lot.
This is far more satisfying than scanning news headlines in a feed reader. The headline itself does not usually give enough detail, and I find myself wasting too much time clicking on links that might have been interesting but are not. With Fast Flip I can take most stories with a single glance, while for many others I find that reading the first several paragraphs tells me what I want to know without having to bother to click through to the whole article. When I want more detail, it's there—but doesn't intrude unless I seek it out.What will Google think of next? I hope this catches on in a big way; as yet there is not a great choice of sources.
I know enough about my computer's software to get by; in fact, I know enough to do many wonderful things. But what I don't know exceeds what I do to a depressing degree. Only today did I stumble upon the fact that with Office 2007 I can publish documents in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format.
It's not obvious, because there's an add-on required, but the add-on is free and available from Microsoft. It's a quick and very easy download and installation process; it would have taken less than a minute had I not bothered to read the directions and the license agreement. :)I don't know what I'll use this new-found ability for, but now that I know about it, I'm sure I'll think of something.