Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Joys and Trivialities of Holiday Travel

Ahh, what a wonderful holiday I had.

I drove down to So Cal to visit family and during the transit, the award for A-Hole drivers on the way down would go to BMW's.  More of those cars were prone to be in their own death race rally than the rest of us.  Gotta love it when you're doing 80 and a car flies past you like you're in reverse.  When the speed limit was 55, everyone went 70.  Now that it's 70, everyone is going 85 or 90, thinking they are talented enough to actually drive at that rate of speed.

We then visited family and proceeded to get the flu, an upper respiratory thing or strep throat.  Or whatever mutant germ these all formed to attack me with their special version of their green mucal invader.  It seemed everyone had something different. I'm waiting for all the different germs to cancel each other out!

A bunch of us had a boys night out while I was down there.  I think the girls spiked our drinks or food. Each of us fell ill with something.  The odd part is, we all fell ill with something different.  Insidious species, the female gender, can be!

On the drive home to the Bay Area, Lexus drivers took the A-Hole cake award on this leg.  In a traffic pattern that's a mile long with nowhere to go, I have to wonder exactly what is that is on fire as they change lanes 10x in a mile or two.  Just where are you going.  All for naught it seemed, since we seem to be on the same off-ramp 40 miles down the road looking at our next caffeine fix for the next leg of the trip.

The holidays were fine and hope you have good ones too!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Manifest Hope Art Contest

MANIFEST HOPE:DC (www.manifesthope.com) and its partners MoveOn PAC, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Obey Giant launches a contest today, calling for entries of visual artwork from artists across the country in an online contest. The online contest calls for works that use positive messaging to convey the urgency and importance of encouraging a national dialogue about three themes - Heath Care Reform, the Green Economy and Workers' Rights.

MANIFEST HOPE:DC and its partners are offering the public an opportunity to submit art in an online contest, with three chances to win.  The contest is composed of three parts.  Artists can make one submission per category, totaling a maximum of three submissions:

  •     Manifest Opportunity - Stimulating The Green Economy
  •     Manifest Change - Health Care Reform
  •     Manifest Unity - Protecting Workers' Rights

Submissions will be reviewed by a panel of judges including famed artist, Shepard Fairey; Director, Spike Lee; Washington DC based musician, Eric Hilton of the Thievery Corporation; Curator of Contemporary Art at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Anne Ellegood; SEIU 775NW Healthcare President, David Rolf; Creative & Cultural Director of MoveOn.org, Laura Dawn; and Co-Founder and President of Green For All, Van Jones. Fifteen finalists will be selected to show in the MANIFEST HOPE:DC Gallery alongside well-known artists such as Shepard Fairey, David Choe, Ron English, Ray Noland, Maya Hayuk, Sol Sender and Mike Murphy.

MANIFEST HOPE:DC is produced by Evolutionary Media Group and brings together a diverse coalition of organizations working to achieve shared goals.  
MANIFEST HOPE:DC Gallery
3333 M Street NW
Washington DC 20007
www.manifesthope.com

Source: Press Release - Evolutionary Media Group

Ya Gotta Love Your InBox Offers

I just love the interesting things I get in my e-mail inbox. Do these people actually think this crap works? Well, sadly, it must if they keep doing it. It's like carpet bombing. Drop 1,00 bombs get one hit and it's worth the payload.


Let's see - - First I must drop some thanks:


Thanks for...
  • "Emailing me instead of calling me" emails. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that!
  • Thanks so much for the "Investment Letters of opportunity", but I'm going broke on my own just fine.
  • The offer to "Launder foreign money for you" has always been tempting, but I don't need any new (jail) friends.
  • Letting me know I won money, but I don't want to send you my banking information,
  • For offering to help me Lose Weight I don't have to lose,
  • The opportunity for Creating Real Estate Success - real estate is such a booming business these days.
  • For the Unsecured Credit Line offers,
  • The Viagra Offer,
  • To all the Online Chemists wanting to help me with all my Health Needs
  • For the 10k in the next 30 days?? Wow, people must be lined up out the door!
  • For the "$5k referral" that sounds just like the scenario that has this country in this foreclosure panic. a-hole.
Thanks everyone. Obviously there's tons of money floating around out there that completely unknown but really nice strangers want to help give me,... but I'll just keep plugging along on my own for now.

Twits.

Computer: Excel 2003 Data Label Issues

The other day I was encountering a problem with a co-worker could create charts with a VB script we put together, and she could see the data labels she placed in the chart. She was using Excel 2000. But when I went to run the scripts in my Excel 2003, I could not see the data labels as is. I could expand the Y scale, and they would become visible, but that is not what we wanted to do after putting together a rather complicated VB script. YET, I could send her the files I created, and she could see the data labels. That led me to believe it was another infamous upgrade/improvement process from MS.

I found this Microsoft KB article addressing a very similar issue, that, when applied, fixed our scenario.

If anyone has a similar problem, check it out.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Secret Garden

Did you know there's a real secret garden out there?

It's the botanical garden on Mt Scopus on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem! Founded in the 1930's.

Right now, it's purpose is to preserve groups of plants and species on the brink of extinction. For much more detailed info on this wonderful endeavor, check out haaretz.com.

If you were looking for info on the movie, check out Cinema Static.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Vent about ACDSee 9

I've been a faithful user of ACDSee products since they've been shareware.  I love(d) it.  But I think it's getting too big for it's own britches.

I've got ACDSee 9.  It's installed on different computers between home and work.  And they (The Photo Manager) are all doing the same thing.

I have to start the image manager 3x to get it to work properly.  I sometimes can't do the same thing more than 4 times before it takes a crap and it's just getting annoying.  Well, if anything, it makes me leery of any newer version since they've abandoned this version to bigger and better versions.  (I keep checking their site for updates for this version, to no avail.) 

It would seem I will probably need to buy a newer version and HOPE it is more stable than this POC that is driving me crazy.  At this juncture, I'm not sure what to do.  I'm acclimated to their features but I should not have to acclimate.  And the pecuilar behavior that exists on completely different computers just makes me suspicious.

I don't want long boot times
I don't want to have to start it more than once to use it.
I want to use it and not have it crash, which it does more often than not.
It takes forever to load at times too...  well, actually, it loads slow everytime.

So now I have to start tooling around with different apps yet again until I find something useful.

Sigh.

That's my mini-vent because I was in a rush to look at images and couldn'd do it.  Thanks for your patience!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Computer: For the New User - Converting CD's into MP3

If you need to convert files to MP3, you can use either Windows Media Player or Applie iTunes.

For WMP:
Right-click along the top of the window.
Select Tools.
Then Options.
Click the Rip Music tab.
Choose MP3 as the format.

For iTunes (on a Mac)
Under the drop-down menu labeled iTunes, selct Preferences.
Then selct the icon for Importing.
In the drop-down menu for Import Using, select the MP3 Encoder, then click OK.

Both programs work equally well and allow you to select a bit rate of up to 320Kbps. If you want to take up less space on your hard drive, opt for a lower bit rate; use a higher bit rate if sound quality is more important to you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Feel-Good Story of Reward

With around $100 million in sales last year, Peer Bearing Co. was recently acquired by a Swedish company.

Danny Spungen, whose grandfather founded the company, said it was a unanimous family decision to thank employees with bonuses.

Nice bonuses.

They decided to share a whopping $6.6 million amongst it's mere 230 employees. The funds were pro-rated per time of service, but what a nice thing to do for their staff.

Imagine getting a bonus check in mid-September for $33,000? I'd be lucky to see $330!

Every now and then it's nice to see feel-good moments and deeds like this.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

source

Friday, December 19, 2008

Remember Those "Victims" of the Tiger Attack At The SF Zoo??

So they taunt a Tiger, (Allegedly of course), they get attacked and the Tiger gets killed for it. 
Nice...  Zoos need more video surveilance, etc., etc.

Then they sued for damages.  Another nice loophole in the Justice System.  I firmly believe when you are robbing a bank and trip on the doorway, the illegal activity should trump any possible legal claims about getting hurt tripping on the door, but that's just my humble opinion.  (Yes, that happened somewhere.)

So I felt like spreading the wealth on the Tiger attack victims today:

Tiger-attack survivor Amritpal "Paul" Dhaliwal was sentenced Thursday.  Highlights include:
  • He must stay away from all Target stores in Alameda County
  • He's been linked to other crimes in other Targets in different counties
  • He is currently serving a 16-month sentence in state prison for violating his parole due to a reckless-driving arrest in San Jose, which involved a high-speed chase
  • He pleaded no contest to the grand theft charge in exchange for the dismissal of one other count of grand theft and three counts of commercial burglary
  • Kulbir Dhaliwal, 24, was sentenced last week to 10 days in jail for public intoxication and resisting arrest
But don't forget as his defense attorney reminded us:  "He is psychologically and emotionally wounded by the tiger attack,".  How do defense attorneys sleep at night... upside down?

Rumor and other past articles have shed an ill light on the two brothers from day one of the Zoo attack and yet they somehow have a legitimate foot to stand on... I don't get it.  Funny world, how it's developing with all it's rules and laws.

The entire article is a bit more coherent in structure...  I just had to vent. 

[ source:  The Daily Review, Inside the Bay ]

Computer: Worse Virus Ever WARNING Debunked - No Postcard From Hallmark Yet.

by Bruce Simmons  (BrusSimm)
Tis the time of year where you start receiving well meant, but fraudulent warnings from your friends about viruses that don't exist... again.

I have received yet another well meaning e-mail warning me of the most destructive computer virus ever, coming at me in the form of a fake header saying you have a "Postcard From Hallmark", and other such similar headers.  Whoa be me, but don't open anything like that or more importantly, don't click on the links that show supposed warnings!  That's where the real virus lurks, at the end of the fake link.  Better yet, before you forward this well meaning e-mail to all your friends, do your own research.

Most destructive virus ever??  How much worse can it be than of the three variants already out there:
  • Erase your files
  • Make your Computer a Zombie Bot
  • Collect keystrokes and info like passwords and account numbers.
To calm my nerves, I jump out on Google and verify. 

For instance, when I searched for "Postcard From Hallmark", I found results from Urban Legends and SNOPES declaring it a hoax.  (BTW:  The email declares that Norton Anti-Virus and SNOPES verified the information.)

This brings something else to mind:  Have you ever gotten an email that says if you forward this good luck charm to 10 or more friends, something cool will happen at a link in the email?  How does that "link" know you've sent the email?  How does it know you've sent more than 10 emails?  Hmm.  There have been subtle and unproven rumors that mass forwarding of emails just helps spammers collect email addresses through the same function.

To be more realistic, when someone who doesn't protect their PC as well as they should gets some form of virus or malware infection, the emails that have hundreds of forwarded email addresses are captured and THEN your email address becomes fodder.

Play it smart and though you are thinking of your friends, think smart first and verify the warning, FOR REAL, at
What surprises me is that the same person repeatedly sends these warnings out and no matter how many times I "reply-all" and debunk the warning, they never change their ways.  They do mean well.  I just wish they'd read well!

Folks, verify from the originator before opening things.  That's all you need to do to stay safe.

Calorie Mindful Eating Out

I was looking for some info on something I wanted to eat, and came across this site:

http://www.calorie-count.com

It's not all encompassing, but it has a lot of stuff in it as a starter point.

In my case, I was looking up a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish and found the exact info I was looking for, but other places are fully staffed with info too. If there is no grade next to an item, you wont see a calorie chart. At least in the few items I checked on under Applebee's.

Then I came across http://www.nutritiondata.com/ & well, there's lots of stuff out there and it depends on what you are looking for..

My wife hit on this site, Dotti's Weight Loss Zone and it has a lot of info base on points from some Weight Watchers. It's a simple but thorough site.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Millions of New Pics Online from LIFE

LIFE and Google just released over 10 million new pictures on the internet that have never been seen before.

These images can be found when conducting a search on Google.com or on Google Image Search. Users can also search through the LIFE Collection directly by visiting http://images.google.com/hosted/life.

The collection will be one of the largest collections of professional images on the internet and as the scanning project moves along, the images will become available.

This is ~70 years of photos folks.

On top of that, the LIFE Photo Archive will include
  • The Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination;
  • The Mansell Collection from London;
  • Dahlstrom glass plates of New York and environs from the 1880's;
  • Hugo Jaeger Nazi-era Germany 1937-1944;
  • DMI red-carpet celebrity shots;
  • Pix Inc. personalities;
  • the entire works left to the Collection from LIFE photographers Alfred Eisenstaedt, Gjon Mili, and Nina Leen.

Imagery will also be available to purchase through QOOP.com, a leader in online art sales.

All comments are welcome from Place of Thoughts readers.

source: Time Warner press release

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Vacuum; A Cat Ride

This is just too funny and I can't help myself in posting this. Enjoy! And here all this time I've been buying my cats mice shaped toys. What was I thinking?!?!?!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Troublesome Home Loan Practices

Of all the processes that go on within a real estate transaction, there are a few things that need to be paid attention to. Though not illegal, it can be annoying to be on the receiving end of subtle errors in the decision making processes.

Four of the more troublesome practices within the loan process, as recognized by the Federal Reserve are:

Prepayment penalties: When borrowers seek to pay off expensive loans early they may be hit with a fee of as much as six months of mortgage payments. (It's usually specified in your paperwork.)

Failure to require escrows for taxes and insurance: These expenses add to the monthly costs of home ownership but mortgage servicers do not always require borrowers to bank the payments in escrow accounts with them. As a result, the payments may be put off, resulting in tax delinquencies or insurance coverage lapses.

Stated income and low-documentation lending: "So-called "liar loans" that encourage borrowers to exaggerate income to qualify for larger mortgages than they can handle. (Can we say housing market crisis? Or market meltdown?)

Failure to give adequate consideration to a borrower's ability to repay a loan: Many loan originators have no monetary interest in loans after the deal is done. That encourages them to approve borrowers they know, or should know, cannot afford to make the payments.

These practices are not, in themselves, issues, because borrowers may rightly choose a loan with hefty prepayment penalty if that lowers the interest rates on their loans.

The problems arise when loan originators apply these provisions indiscriminately or with predatory intent. (If you read your contracts, you won't be surprised.)

See the whole article (dated Jun '07, but still relevant) over at money.cnn.com
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Computer: Do You Have Any Home Wi-Fi Dead Spots?

Have you noticed that in different spots in your own home, your Wi-Fi reception can be questionable at times? It can be annoying but sometimes the remedy is pretty simple.

Rather than go on and on about repeaters and omni-directional antennas and other such high tech gadgets that are more confounding than useful, I've come upon a few easy fixes. Not to mention that in my own experiences, repeaters have not been that successful for me despite the premise of how they would seem to work.

First, you want to verify it's a location issue. Put your laptop right next to your wireless router and make sure it is picking up the signal.

If the signal is fine, great, it's not the router or the laptop.

There are a few remedies for strengthening the signal which could be just as easy as relocating your router to a more centralized location in your home, or raising it up in the room it's in to keep the signal clear of obstructions.

Obstructions? Yep. Materials like brick, concrete, metal and water seem to be developing reputations for signal interference.

Other things that can get in your signal path are things like your CD collection. The mylar on the CD's can refract more than light and if you have a collection right next to your router, or where you sit, if possible, relocate the CD's, the router or where you sit to see if that helps any.

Also, if your router is set to 'Auto Channel", try picking a channel and see if that helps.

There are many options and most of them cost money. My preference is try the old stand by of free first before blowing money on something you may not need. And though there's no guarantee these options will work for you, at least you now have a few ideas under your belt.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Your Cell Phone Battery Life

Cell phone batteries.


The most annoying little items after about a year in use. On my own older phone, after about a year the battery started to wind down.. after 2 years, my battery indicator would drop by one bar per call. (It only had 3 bars!!)

So I replaced the battery.. sort of.. I bought a new phone, and technically I got a new battery in the process, I hope.

I was tooling around on the Verizon website (I went with Verizon Wireless because under my Consumer Reports online subscription, Verizon Wireless had the best reviews across different markets) and I came across some of the following tips for helping your battery last longer:

Tips for extending battery life
Avoid exposing the battery to extreme heat and cold. (I'm good with that.. I hate exposing myself to extreme cold and heat, so the phone should be safe.)

For the first 3 charge cycles, fully charge the battery overnight and allow it to fully discharge before recharging (battery conditioning). (So you need to be brave and let your phone die on you the first 3 times of use.)

Charge and re-condition a battery after an extended idle period.
A lithium-ion battery may be damaged by extensive overcharging (continuously on a charger for more than 24 hours). (Oops... I might be guilty of that with my old phone.)

Keep your phone, batteries, and the contact terminals clean. The contacts can easily be cleaned with a pencil eraser. (My old phone had bad contact design, or at least a tech at one of the stores told me that.)

Use the battery. If possible, avoid letting your battery sit idle for long periods of time.
Use only the phone options and accessories that you really need. (I tend to minimize my items in use on my phone, so I got that one covered.)

Hope this helps

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gift Cards and the Consumer

Did you know that almost 50 million people purchased gift cards in 2006?

Of those 50 million folks, 61% of them spend more than the original gift card amount and that 33% of the total value is never used or redeemed by the user.


That's a wacky set of statistics from vantage card, but then gift cards can be quite the convenience. It erases the trauma of figuring out what to get someone, keeps the outlet focused and everyone is happy. IE: If you ever get me a Starbucks or Peets' gift card, you could never go wrong in my book!

Over at couponing.about.com, they note that that in 2007, over $26 billion will be spent on gift cards and that around $8 billion of that won't be used!! WOW!!! Send me your gift cards!! I can make great use of $8 billion worth of coffee.. though I don't think I'd ever sleep again!

Despite the ease of the gift cards, some have hidden fees. Credit card gift cards for one.. (Are you surprised?) Some malls also depreciate the face-value of a gift card when it's not redeemed within a specific time.

So be sure to find out all the details of a card before snagging it. (Yea, I know I'm a bit late for the Christmas season, but I just got this thought today!)


Sources:
vantagecard
couponing

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finding Out Of State DMV's

Moving just plain sucks. And then once you've moved, if it's out of state or town, it's even worse because you find yourself wandering about lost, dazed, confused... grumbling... hungry... need brains... Oh, wrong blog.


OK, so if for some reason you can't find your own state's dmv website, or you're moving and don't know what that state's DMV website might be called, check out this general link to all the (Well, most) states DMV websites from the USPS.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Perspective On Lender Fees

When you are in the middle of a real estate transaction, there is a lot of different paperwork that comes swirling at you. It can be confusing and one tends to follow the advice or guidance of their agents. The trick is, they can only offer guidance and the bottom line of understanding your paperwork falls completely on you. The present housing crisis is a great example of people not getting the best information.


One of the tidbits I'd like to look at right now is Lender Good Faith Estimates. They may look different between the different lender offerings and could be confusing, but they effectively, are all the same.

-----

Read the rest of my article over on my Associated Content account for insight to contracts, closing papers and just how much power you do have over all the agents in the process.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Freaky Computer Avatars That Think

If you've ever been in Second Life and encountered an avatar named Edd who was terse in his responses and a little focused on his own goal, don't worry - you werent getting the cold shoulder. Heck, you weren't even dealing with a human.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute put the AI together and set him loose in Second Life.

Don't worry, he's got limited ability to converse and reason, but sure enough, he's been put on the loose! Well, in a controlled sense.

Second Life is a great controllable environment where AI's can be tried out and an inexpensive methodology for testing.

I think it's a neat premise and hopefully it's not going to be called Sky-Net!!!! dOh!

Read the rest of this interesting concept at USA Today.
If that link is dead, this google search should find the info.
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Monday, December 8, 2008

Computer: Wanna Secure Your Wireless Router?

When you install or have a wireless network at home, do you secure your network? You should. Folks can pull up within range of your home and use your service without you really knowing about it. I've seen too many cars parked in odd spots in front of homes, with the driver on their laptop. Gee, what could they be doing?

If someone can access your connection, they can also access your computer if it's on. If someone is insidious enough, they can do things you probably don't like. There are too many things to ponder that they can do to your files or computer. Let your imagination run wild.

But there are things you can do to prevent, or at least hamper the hacker who might want to add your computer to their zombie network.

Here are some basics to know:

Change the SSID (the name) of your network and disabling the SSID broadcast. This will protect you from the opportunist who’s in a hurry.

Disable DHCP/Access Control. This will not stop a hacker with even minimal knowledge, as there are many tools which will sniff out available IP addresses on your network, but again, the casual hacker can be stopped.

MAC address filtering again will only hamper the opportunist as a hacker with a little know-how will be able to clone your MAC address--and see everything on your network.

BUT if you really want to put a snare in the process, there's always
WPA: A randomized pre-shared key of at least 10 characters would take half-a-million years to crack. (Note: A random key means that it shouldn’t be a word that exists in any dictionary (hackers have extensive dictionaries that include all common passwords, English words, nicknames, and misspellings of words. This is called a “dictionary attack.”) A random key is a meaningless mix of lower- and uppercase letters and numbers, and sometimes special characters like punctuation, depending on whether your router supports it). If you’re not sure how to get a random key, or have writers block, you can find software that will generate a key for you (type “software generate wpa key” into your favorite search engine).

Keep it smart, play it safe!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cool Things (More) In Google Earth

Wanna see some airplanes?

Try typing this in your Google Earth window:  (It's been said this works in google maps, but Earth is funner...  er, or, more fun.)
44°53'35.66"N,   93°12'12.35"W.  Set your eye altitude for 1200 feet.  (Eye altitude is on the far, bottom right.)
or
40°45'51.84"N,   74°00'00.61"W.  Set your eye altitude for 900 feet.
or
This is called Blackbird Park.  These are two retired birds, engines pulled, but for public visiting... free.
34°36'9.48"N,  118° 5'8.86"W.  Set your eye altitude to 3268 feet.  (Yes, that's a U2 behind them)

Check out this big bird at Edwards Air Force Base:
34°56'49.90"N,  117° 53'09.43"W.  Set your eye altitude to 3263 feet.

Check out this display collection at Edwards:
 34°56'7.16"N, 117°52'54.19"W.  Eye Altitude:  3000 ft.

Of course, if you don't want to do all the typing, and have Google Earth go this Google Earth Blog link and get the add-on for the SR-71's, and planes in flight kmz files.

Have fun gang.

Need a Screenshot But Can't Afford Software?

Hey all! If you're new to the web, or just don't use computers all that much we don't always know how to tackle some silly or simple needs when they arise.

For example, say you need to send an image of your desktop or an open app window to a friend who's helping you do something.

That's not too hard to do actually.

First, I recommend opening up WordPad. To get that open, you need to go to:
  • Start,
  • Programs,
  • Accessories
It's located there.

See my screen shot showing the open menus on my system while I was writing this.

I say open WordPad because you'll need a place to paste the image you are about to take. If you have Word or some other editor, that's fine too. I'm just picking the simplest application for everyone off the top of my head because WordPad comes with your MS operating system.

Now here's the trick, and it involves a key on your keyboard that has Print Scrn on it.

To snag the whole screen on your monitor, press
  • Shift and Print Scrn.
If you just want to snag an application window itself and not the whole beast, try
  • Alt and Print Scrn.

Once you've snagged your screen shot, you just need to go to your open document, and hit paste and bingo: you've got an image from your screen in your document and now you can email that beast right off to your buddy who's helping you out!

There are software applications that do this also, but they're things you have to pay for. SnagIt is one. I use ACDSee and I like their screen shot utility and there are countless others, both free and purchasable. SnagIt has been around a long time.

I have to tell you, writing about screen shots and testing them, and then trying to hop back and forth between the screen, my test document and the writing interface was really confusing at moments. I wasn't sure where I was at spots!! My head spins... I must go.

I hope this helps someone and remember, comments or questions are always welcome here on Bruce's Place of Thoughts. If you have a question, just leave it in the comments section. If you don't want it approved to being posted, just say so upfront in the comment and I can answer your question either through this blog or in email.

Thanks for coming by - Bruce

Friday, December 5, 2008

Easy Food For a Sick Dog

If you've ever had a pooch who's gotten sick and developed a sensitive stomach and gotten finicky with what they eat, you might want to consider Gerbers Baby Food.

It's easy to eat & digest. It worked for my dog fairly well. -Bruce

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fun With Excel Visual Basic: Reading A Cell

The other day I desperately wanted to figure out how to read an Excel spreadsheet cell with Visual Basic for Excel. Seemed simple enough but no matter where I looked, all the answers to this rather simple problem were about 10 lines long, minimum.

Grr... programmers.

FINALLY, after a few days of searching, emailing and calling, I came across someone who answered my question. That is, once I got the right question.

If you want to read a cell from an Excel spreadsheet, using Visual Basic into a variable for later use in a macro / Visual Basic script, all you need to do is the following:
  • var = WorkSheets("Sheet 1").Cells(row,col)
Sheet 1 would be the name of the sheet at the bottom of the page,
Cells(row,col) is the number of rows down, columns to the right, starting your count from 1.
For instance, cell F3 would be Cells(3,6).

I'm not treating it like a database, I'm not doing fancy - I am just reading the cell for latter use in the routine.

Disclaimer: This works for the Excel file that contains both the sheet with the cells and the VB script in the same file. It does not account for reading a completely different worksheet from a different file, but I suspect this tidbit will get you going on the right path.

Enjoy. I finally did!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

If You Are Tired of SPAM

I am tired of spam. When I was a real estate agent, I signed up for my RealtorAssociation not realizing that the real estate industry looks to make money from every angle possible, including having their email lists snagged by every possible real estate related industry business so you get spam forever and a day.

I won't even touch on the advertisers that are allowed to spam you in-network like on the tools you pay for to do your job.

So every Tom, Harry and DICK who's looking to send you their real estate related sales pitch hits this database up and collects the email addresses, in one fashion or another.

I love the "businesses" with the aol or hotmail or yahoo addresses. That's just too funny and so unprofessional looking that it almost doesn't even merit a nod. Just go away people.

At some point, I want to be able to stop some of these nuisances. For instance, the Genesis Training Group based in Idaho doesn't get it. Their link to unsubscribe seems to be fake, or more to the point, does not work. So I've sent them 5 Opt-Out requests to no avail.

I know I've opted out 5 times. I keep an excel spread sheet, sorted by originating email address, the date and the action I took on that date. In my mind, when you keep records and have to refer to them when contacting the authorities it holds more water than just gesturing in air with your arms in words.

So after my fifth request, what the heck to do I do? When I'm just sick enough from a source, I report SPAM. That's what I do.

If you want to report a specific ISP sender, you can use these email adresses:

Hotmail report_spam@hotmail.com
MSN report_spam@msn.com
GMail gmail-abuse@google.com
Report GMail spam*
Menu Option to "Report Spam"
AOL*
tosspam
Yahoo! Stores store-spam@yahoo-inc.com
Yahoo! Hosted Domans domains-abuse@yahoo-inc.com

* These options are for internal, ISP users. IE: An AOL account can forward their spam email to tosspam in the AOL system. (source: spamlinks.net)

If you receive emails that appear to exploit children, by all means, report it immediately to the CyberTipLine website.

If you are inclined to get securities related spam, you can forward the offending emails to:
enforcement@sec.gov

Per the SEC Center for Complaints and Enforcement Tips web page.

Anyway, back to my battle. I've got a site that's sent me emails a few more times despite my "Opt Out" messages to them. It's time to test the process!!

Comments are always welcome from Place of Thoughts readers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Real Estate Insights: Builders Can't Force You to Use Their Lender

New-home buyers: Don't forget that your builder can't require you to use their preferred lender. They can only suggest. Some may suggest in such a way that does not seem like a suggestion, but it is.

When a builder tries to get you to use some affiliated lender by either offering incentives or even possibly withholding incentives, the right response from you is to slow down and look things over more carefully.

Federal real estate settlement rules require that incentives be legitimate and not built into the price of the house or the cost of your loan.

In other words, they should not impact your loan!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Computer: EXCEL - Comparing Columns of Date

So once again I'm chasing some numbers in Excel and I needed to compare a column of 275 #'s against a column of 1000 #'s. Here's how I did it:

So if your 1000 row column of data in column A. Place your 2nd column of 275 #'s Data in Column C. (You can actually put it whereever you want, it will still work.)

The formula you want to put in column B between A1 and C1 is:
=IF(ISERROR(MATCH(A1,$C$1:$C$250,0)),"",A1)

So what we are doing is comparing cell A1 to the entire column C to see if it matches.
Now grab that anchor and drag it down the sheet. The $C$1:$C$250 is not going to change because we locked it in with the $ signs, but A1 will change to A2, A3 as you drag the anchor.

Poof, you instantly have a comparison of the 2 mismatched rows of data.

I'm not done yet. I've been doing a lot of programming lately, so here's an option if you have so many rows of data in one column that it would be easier to write a Visual Basic macro than drag that anchor 60,000 lines. Check out this trick:

Press ALT+F11 to start the Visual Basic editor.
On the Insert menu, click Module.
Enter the following code in a module sheet:

Sub Find_Matches()
Dim CompareRange As Variant, x As Variant, y As Variant
Set CompareRange = Range("C1:C250")
For Each x In Selection
For Each y In CompareRange
If x = y Then x.Offset(0, 1) = x
Next y
Next x
End Sub

Press ALT+F11 to return to Excel.

In Excel 2003 and earlier versions,
choose Macro on the Tools menu,
then click Macros.

In Excel 2007, click the Developer tab, and then click Macro in the Code group.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Computer Resource Useage on Start Up

A question that's been posed to me:

I am running Norton Internet Security and Norton Systemworks on a Gateway Pentium 4 (2.8 GHz with 496 MB of RAM) using XP Home Edition. It is annoying that it takes my computer so long (several minutes) to get through the initial Norton start-up process when I turn it on from a cold start.

Am I system resource limited here (especially memory) or is this just a "feature" of Norton's products?
~~~



Though you've asked a question about Norton software, I think the question more bears an issue of the amount of RAM you have in your computer, so I am going to go down that road with my answer.

With RAM, the more the merrier. 500MB of RAM is literally not enough. It's barely enough for the operating system alone! I'm betting your system uses it's swap disk space (Virtual Memory) a lot while running. I say that because at a minimum, XP uses around 256Mb of RAM. That doesn't leave a lot of RAM for my other applications.

For example on my system right now, my memory usage looks like this snapshot to the right and as you can see, FireFox (My preferred browser), is using more than the amount of ram you have available for any program.

Virus protection program is using another 95k, Skype 44k... well you get the picture. More is always better so you can run all the programs you need without hinderance.


More RAM, priceless… oh sorry, wrong ad.

If I only had 500Mb of RAM, the system would then start using my Virtual Memory, and that requires disk access, because that is where the extra memory stuff is stored to be used. That alone slows down your processes as RAM access itself is near instantaneous as opposed to the disk access process.

On the other hand, security utilities can load up memory as they set up their modules for protecting your computer, but that's the price of gas to get somewhere, so we need to focus on your memory issue.

I have several gigs of RAM and have set 1/2 that for Virtual Memory. (It helps to have a 200 gig hard drive).

But also keep in mind that some of your start up time involves all your system programs accessing your hard drive to obtain the information to run correctly to put into your RAM. It's a mixed bag. It takes my system a few minutes to boot from scratch too.

So my take is to increase your amount of RAM to what ever specifications your computer distributor says it can handle and be sure to buy matching / identical sticks of RAM to eliminate potential manufacturer idiosyncrasy conflicts.

Here's a great article to read on the issue. pcworld.com

Thanks for the question Danny. -Bruce

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Sadness of Holiday Shopper Greed

A Walmart worker was killed by shoppers who were so eager to get in the store at 5 AM, that when he opened the doors, shoppers charged in and trampled the poor man to death.  Co-workers were injured trying to save him.

Times are tough, good prices are very important to all of us, and yet...  this.

I'm speechless.

source

A Funny Thought

I mean, it is called Bruce's Place of Thoughts, right?

Bipolar? Quadripolar? Octipolar?
Is sarcasm considered a mood disorder?
God! Don't let that get out to the AMA.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

Hello.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.  (If you are reading this afterward, I hope you had a good one.)

I'm thankful for many things in these tough times and I can only wish you all the best and thank you for spending some of your valuable time here with me as I rant and report.

Best Wishes,

-Bruce

A Collection of Consumer-y Links

If you've ever had a problem with a product or service, the links I've collected at my website may be a great starting spot.

There's links to such information as:

The Consumers Union Advocacy site
Informative materials by Consumers Union's advocacy offices on a variety of issues, including health care, financial services, food safety, product safety, and more.

A U. S. Consumer Gateway
A clearinghouse of info from federal agencies.

Federal Citizen Information Center
Full-text versions of federal consumer publications available free

Government Agencies (Lots o' .gov sites)
State Agencies
Other organizations offering help and information (Like Better Business Bureau)
Consumer advocacy groups

Check out my collection at my Bruce's Consumer Links Page.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Thoughts On Car Key Security

by Bruce Simmons.

Car keys are expensive to replace these days.

Smart Keys
The codes for "smart chip" chip keys embedded on your ignition keys can only be kept by the car's maker, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).

To make things easier in the event you may need to get a locksmith to make copies of one of these types of keys is to keep your identification code number (it came with the keys when you took delivery of the car) in your wallet or purse.

If you don't retain the # someplace safe, the process to duplicate keys could take days and be expensive to have a dealer order copies. Even if you are able to get a AAA respondent to get you in your car, the locksmith might not be able to copy the ignition key.

Alternative Key Idea
If you have a key that has external teeth, you can skip the whole locksmith / roadside assistance thing by using one of those credit-card type keys made of plastic and cut to match the original key that you can keep in your wallet just in case you lock yourself out. AAA clubs in many states provide credit-card plastic keys as a courtesy or at a nominal fee to members.

Or pre-order a key now, before anything happens and keep it in a safe place.

An Idea I Use:
I don't advocate this for anyone, but I do use a magnetic key holder with a spare key in it for my vehicle, and it's in a place that only I can reach, if I lay in the right spot and reach in the right way towards it's hidden niche. Yes, I get dirty. But I consider it my price for being silly and losing the key to begin with. (For the record, 5 times in the last 11 years, it came in real handy and saved my butt!!)

The magnetic holder is pretty impressive because it stays in it's place, no matter how high in the air I get my vehicle while off-roading. I jar my teeth, my possessions in the vehicle, but it holds tight. I don't know who made it, but it's impressive.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tidbit Tuesday: The Do Not Call Registry

What do you know about the Do Not Call Registry?

-- Established June 2003 to block unwanted telemarketing calls
-- 143 million phone numbers have been registered
-- The FTC has received 2.8 million complaints
-- The FTC has completed 29 cases for telemarketing violations
-- The registration lasts for five years only. Renewal is required
-- The registry grants these exemptions:
  • calls for political campaigns,
  • charities and surveys;
  • calls from businesses that have an existing relationship with a customer
-- The registry is restricted to personal phone numbers;
companies cannot place their phone numbers on the registry
-- To register or file a complaint, visit www.donotcall.gov or call (888) 382-1222

The first round of registrants who signed up in 2003 will need to apply again if they want to remain on the registry. The first round of registration expires in the summer of 2008.

Some say the registry is increasingly being targeted by lead generators who aren’t abiding by the rules. The FTC usually ends up going after the big fish and the small fries tend to sneak by.

A web site called Kill the Calls, a clearinghouse for Do Not Call Registry complaints, believes the problem is growing. In one two month span, they’ve received 700 complaints from visitors to the site.

According to the Do Not Call Registry rules, calls for political campaigns, charities and surveys are exempted. Also, calls from businesses that have an existing relationship with a customer are allowed. And business phone numbers cannot be blocked.

I like this one:
Cell phones can be registered on the list, but they are already protected from telemarketing calls, which are illegal when made to cell phones.

Something to be aware of:
Some telemarketers initially call with a survey but then try to sell a product or service, which is in violation of the FTC rules.

So remember to renew when you need to, and do your part and report violators!
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Monday, November 24, 2008

Is Twitter Up For Sale?

It was reported that the gang from Twitter rejected a $500 million offer from Facebook.  WOW!  If they've turned that down, what exactly do they have up their sleeves?

Twitter has been an incredible phenomenon.  It's popularity is second to none, despite it's flaws.  That definitely says something when in the early days you'd get the whale tail saying something was wrong, and still people came back.

The $500 mil was in the form of stock, and Twitter folk do believe they are worth more than the inflated stock price of Facebook.  Schmaht folks they are!

Strangely, Twitter isn't making money, but does have an annual tab of $75 mil for all the text messages it sends.  So if Facebook or Google or Microsoft just sit and wait... the deal might get better for them.

Either way, now I worry.  If someone takes over Twitter, what happens to the the service?  Does it get better, upgraded, worse?  If MS buys it, I'll probably dump it.  Google or Yahoo would be great, but again, Yahoo may become an MS-bot somewhere down the road.  Oh the choices!

source

Computer: How To Change MS Word Document Associations

So if you've actually made the commitment to Open Office (http://www.openoffice.org/) and you need to change the association of your MS documents to OO, here's how:

For Windows Vista:
1. Close OpenOffice.org.
2. In the Notification Area, next to the clock, right-click on the OpenOffice.org Quickstarter icon and select Exit Quickstarter.
3. Click the Start Button and select Control Panel.
4. Select Programs.
5. Under Programs and Features select Uninstall a program.
6. Scroll down and find OpenOffice.org. Select it and click the Change button from the menu. This will bring up the OpenOffice.org Installation Wizard.
7. Click Next.
8. Select Modify.
9. Click Next.
10. Select or deselect the Microsoft Office documents that you wish to change the default association.
11. Click Next.
12. Click Install.
13. When the Installation Wizard completes, click Finish.
14. Close the Programs and Features window.

For Windows 2000 and Windows XP:
1. Close OpenOffice.org.
2. In the Notification Area, next to the clock, right-click on the OpenOffice.org Quickstarter icon and select Exit Quickstarter.
3. Click the Start Button and select Control Panel.
4. Select Add or Remove Programs.
5. Select OpenOffice.org and click the Change button. This will bring up the OpenOffice.org Installation Wizard.
6. Click Next.
7. Select Modify.
8. Click Next.
9. Select or deselect the Microsoft Office documents that you wish to change the default association.
10. Click Next.
11. Click Install.
12. When the Installation Wizard completes, click Finish.
13. Close the Add or Remove Programs and Control Panel windows.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

PhotoBucket Uploading Trick

A Website Service Tidbit by Bruce Simmons:

Online Photo Services I Use

Amongst all the photo services out there, I've been using
I don't mind Picasa at all, but I don't want to swarm my storage limits for my blog image source so I preserve that for my blog images only.

Flickr is fine too, if you don't mind a restriction or two.

I end up using PhotoBucket for my personal needs for now, and I don't mind it. I have one gig of space, can choose the limit on my image sizes, if I want to, and find it mostly intuitive.

BUT
Organizing in Photobucket
I do have an issue with how Photobucket organizes my images.

I like my pics in the order that I took them. It's an easy time reference for me but Photobucket has a different idea on how to organize my images. And at the time of this printing, I don't know any other way around it, except for one that I discovered from watching the upload process.

If I want my pics to be in the order that I took them, and they'll be named accordingly from the camera, I pick the last pics first and select backwards so that the first image is picked last. (This has been in the bulk uploader, but I suspect it would work for the standard upload method too.)

Then when Photobucket uploads and does it's thing, my images are already in the order I like and I can move on without nary a bit of maintenance on my part.
Printing Pictures
As far as printing images go, despite everyone's offers of services, I like Walgreens.

It's super fast because so far, I've never had to wait more than 44 minutes after upload.
And the prices are comparable and sometimes better than the offered prices in the online services.

Not to mention, that for me, headed to Walgreens is a nice 10 minute walk in my quaint little downtown block.

Hope this was a helpful tidbit.

Reader comments or suggestions are always welcome.

[Image Cr: Rayanne Alves, sxc.hu.]
---

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Young Man Kills Himself While Internet Viewers Watch

A 19-year-old man by the name of Abraham Biggs announced on a web site he was going to kill himself, and then on a live web cam 12 hours later, took an overdose of sleeping pills while everyone on-line watched as he went to sleep and subsequently, stopped breathing.

He died while internet voyeurs watched.  It took some time for his breathing to stop after he took the pills, but he died.  During the online feed, some folks egged him on while others tried to talk him out of it.

For those of you who would dare egg someone on to kill themselves, you f*ing disgust me.  Do you have no morale fiber in your being?  Give me a break.  I can only say that what goes around, comes around and I truly hope that is the case for those of you who egged Abraham on.

There are many other issues and questions about this incident, but that's my primary feeling on this.  Other issues were how people allowed this to happen, why the authorities didn't get there in a timely fashion, etc..

For me, why would you go to watch something like this if you weren't there to try and talk him out of it.

You can read the rest AOL News.  Some people really suck.

Real Estate: Home Inspections

by Bruce Simmons :

Someone asked me about whether they should get a home inspection before selling their home.

I wrote back:

A home inspection is something usually done by the buyers. They don't always do it, which surprises me, but it is what it is. The only advantage of you getting a home inspection would be to discover any issues that you may have to address / repair during a contract.

These issues will be presented to you when the buyers have their own home inspection, AND may very well have their own inspection regardless of whether you do or not.

But if there is a major issue underlying the home, knowing is half the battle and you can have it taken care of before getting into a contract, to keep the contract from going on and on. But that is an extreme case.

Buyers: I only have this to say to you: ALWAYS get a home inspection. Even if it's a new home. In one example, a split seam on the septic tank was noted on a 3 year old home! You just never know so play it safe.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Car Thefts In The U.S.


The NICB (National Insurance Crime Bureau) is a non profit organization dedicated to preventing insurance fraud.

They have services like the ability to check the VIN of a motor vehicle to check if it's an stolen or an unrecovered stolen vehicle.

They gather stats on various subjects. According to their stats, the 1995 Honda Civic is the most stolen vehicle in America.

In 2006, according to the NICB, the Nations hot spots for stealing cars was:
  • No. 1: Las Vegas/Paradise, Nev.
  • No. 2: Stockton, Calif.
  • No. 3: Visalia/Porterville, Calif.
  • No. 4: Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • No. 5: Modesto, Calif.
  • No. 6: Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue, Wash.
  • No. 7: Sacramento/Arden-Arcade/Roseville, Calif.
  • No. 8: Fresno, Calif.
  • No. 9: Yakima, Wash.
  • No. 10: Tucson, Ariz.
  • San Diego is 11th,
  • San Francisco is 12th.
  • The San Jose /Santa Clara region ranked 24th.

In 2007,
  • No 1 was Modesto, CA., bumping
  • Las Vegas / Paradise Nev region to No. 2.
  • No 3 was San Diego, up from 11th in 2006.
  • Stockton dropped from 2nd to 4th.
  • San Francisco moved from 12th to 5th.
  • The San Jose / Sunnyvale region moved down from 24th to 32nd.

NICB Hotspots
-----

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Internet: TinyURL

When you look up the website TinyURL, DO NOT BE FOOLED by the duplicators that are out there.

The true URL for the site is      http://tinyurl.com/

I just almost got duped by a site because wasn't paying attention or in a hurry, so to speak.

TinyURL takes long web addresses and makes them small...

When you have real lengthy links, TinyURL can really help!

That's my thought for the moment.  Enjoy!

A Thought About Safeguarding Keys at Repair Shops

A Bruce Thought:

When you leave your key at a repair garage, do you just hand over your entire key ring when leaving your car?

When leaving your car at a repair garage, remove your car key from your key ring and give them the car key.

Though most new vehicle keys are difficult to copy, your home keys could be copied illegally and disreputable employees would know when you'll be out picking up your car!

As I always suggest, why become a statistic!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Word Trick-Tips - Adding Random Text

Adding Fake Text to a Word Document?

This could be used to test a page layout / design you've chosen:

In a Word document, type
=rand(4,5)
and then press ENTER.

The numbers in parentheses correspond to the number of paragraphs (4) and the number of sentences per paragraph (5).

If you want one long paragraph, just place one number in the parentheses, which will designate the number of sentences that should appear in the paragraph!
~~~

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tis The Season: TO BE EXTRA CAREFUL ONLINE

I'm all about keeping my readers informed.  Whether you are new to the internet or just not aware of some schemes or scams going on, I just want to make sure that you don't go blindly forth into the dark electronic pathways of the holiday internet pathways without some guidance, or monkey on your shoulder keeping you alert.

Holidays are fast approaching and spammers and other cretins of the digital pathways are lurking out there, waiting for the right moment to mug your computer, steal your info, or make you into a spam bot.

Only do business with known, reputable online outlets

I don't care how good the price sounds, if you step "in it", you only have yourself to blame. 

I once got swept up in a "great" price on Ebay, and got royally effed.  Fortunately, via the attorney generals office of the state from where the seller came from, I had wonderful recourse.  It also helped that I was all over this guy like a dog on a bone.  Almost so, to the verge of being a stalker.  But that's what you have to do sometimes because law enforcement is so swamped with these kinds of cases, that the crime has to pass a certain $$ threshold for them to sit up and take notice.

Make sure your virus and security suites are Up-To-Date

Make sure that you are using virus software.
Make sure that you are using the latest definitions for your virus software.
Make sure that your security suite is updated with the latest and greatest patches and updates.
Make sure your operating system itself is also updated with the latest security patches and updates.

Why?  Spammers are looking to re-connect with bunches of virus infected computers around the world to start sending out spam once again.  Spam makes up 90% of the world's e-mail.

Not to mention it annoys the living crap out of me that my own computer, my private, personal computer could possibly be used to do this.  Be vigilant.

In the end:

Be extra cautious.
If it sounds too good to be true, well, you know how that line gets finished.
Use known retailers.
Don't give out personal information for any requests:  As far as I can tell, no business will ask you for your personal information via email.

If you are asked for info, or to update your profile -
  • Close the email you got. 
  • Close the browser you just used. 
  • Reopen your browser and go to the site that just requested your info.
  • Log in the way you ALWAYS log in.
  • Check for messages inside the site that way.
Most organizations have an email associated with wanting to be apprised of spam email regarding their company.  I ALWAYS go out of my way to make sure they get the fraudulent email that was sent to me.  Maybe it's for naught, but it's something that I can do to take part in stopping this process.

Readers comments of Bruce's Thoughts are always welcomed.  Any insight, experiences are never wasted on our readers here.

Bicycle Security: Lock It, and Lock it Right

When anything gains momentum and popularity it's inevitable that the dark murky ilk of society will show up. Catalytic converters are a great example where the dark underbelly of humanity is crawling under SUV's and cutting away the converters for the precious metals in them. Hence, some places are now selling and installing security gear to protect your catalytic converter.

People, you have to love them.

Read the rest of my article over at Associated Content.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An Observation On Blog Growth and Networking

When internet travelers traverse the digital paths of the 'verse called the web, we're looking to communicate, network and grow our readership.  One of the ways to grow your readership is by interacting (<-- key word, INTERACT) with forums and posts.

What that means is that when you hit up a forum, you're supposed to leave worth while commentary.  Engage the denizens of the forum in useful banter.  That's what draws them to you.  Showing that you do actually have something to offer, of a unique nature.

The same can be said for when you leave comments in someone's posts.  Leaving comments that help further the conversation started by the post is the key to creating valuable connections and networks.

When I leave comments, I try to further the subject matter.  Not leave a single sentence with a link to my website spamming the damn thing.  It's a useless waste of time on both our parts.  Yours for writing it, mine for having to weed through it and read it.  It's pretty obvious from a distance.

I see this so often under Darren Rowse's blog that it just seems annoying and the commentary left behind, in the majority of cases, is just fodder and disgusts me to the end that I can't believe people think useless statements will make people come hoping on over to their blog.  Give me a break.

Darren had a post up about social sites and the traffic they could generate.  He shared his traffic stats and his experience.  I added to his information by leaving a comment about the statistics of generating retainable web traffic.  Information I learned when I was a real estate agent.  Yet, this and other post generate comments like

I appreciate how you think in an article like this

Truly fantastic post - one of those for which it is worth to subscribe to a blog

I didn't know you could track adsense with analytics.

And these were some of the better comments.  Yes, I am being cynical.  I blame society for this, but other times, it just annoys me that I subscribed to comments so my inbox can fill up with this fodder.

If you want to make people think favorably of you, for traffic to be generated, leave something useful behind.  Get people to understand that you have something of value to contribute to their day.  Catch their attention, not their ire.

OK, I'm done with my Bruce-Rant. Thanks for putting up with me.

Computer Monday: How To Add Page Numbers to An Open Office Document

If you use Open Office in place of Word, you'll find that it is fairly competitive in how it handles word processing. I use Open Office to create PDF files. Though the PDf files aren't as small as they could be, I can still do it, and Open Office is free, hence, creating PDF files are free.
You can look into it here: http://www.openoffice.org/

So say you want to add page #'s to your Open Office document:
Here's how:

1. Click Format, and select Page.
2. Select the Footer tab.
3. Check the Footer on checkbox.
4. Click OK.
5. The footer will be inserted at the bottom of the page.
6. Click inside the footer.
7. Click Insert, mouseover Fields and select Page Number.
8. Use the text alignment buttons to properly align the page number on your document (left, center, or right).
9. Format the page number (font type, size, and color).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wanna Talk To A Human Instead of an Answering System?


Tired of the automated phone systems when you call for help? Tired of not being asked the right questions at your time of distress? Just looking to talk to an actual human?

Or do you want to share an experience that will help others circumnavigate the automated answering system of a mega company and you've learned the secret!

Paul English is tired of it too and that's why he started Gethuman.

Based in Boston, he's a consumer advocate and entrepreneur who got tired of this system instilled by corporations that ends up dodging callers and started this list and effort back in 2004.

The premise behind the site is a movement with a goal. That goal
Is to convince enterprises that providing high quality customer service and having satisfied customers costs much less than providing low quality customer service and having unsatisfied customers.
It's an admirable goal if I do say so myself!

They also have a GetHuman Customer Service Club that consists of companies that have proven themselves to have superior customer service.

In December of 2005 when I first came across this site, they had a list of 90 companies. My take is that they've grown just a teeny bit since then. Today, they have a list of 778 companies. That list also has user ratings associated with each company.

I think it's worth checking out!

GetHuman.com home page
Image Credit: Screen Capture from Get Human.com site.
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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Consumer: Are Used Cell Phones for You?


I’m always keeping an eye out for when I can do my free upgrades at Verizon.

When I bought my RAZR, contract costs and specs helped me purchase the thing. I don't do impulse buying. It took me a few months of reading around and looking at different things. Face it, I don't want to blow money buying a lemon of a phone. (I haven’t done that yet.)

Some time back, Cingular started offering refurbished phones.

It seems the refurbished phone market can be a booming business as people are returning older phones rather than tossing them out. AND in some cases, some folk are returning new phones, but once a phone has been sold, it can’t be marketed as new anymore.

Naturally, if you angle for the best deal on a phone price you'll also be signing a multi-year deal with the carrier.

An example in the article I came across:
Cingular sells a new LG CU500--a flip phone that supports the high-speed HSDPA network--for $150 with a two-year contract (a $50 mail-in rebate brings it down to $100); a refurbished model is $50 with a two-year contract, no mail rebate required (or available).

Keep in Mind:
There are used phone distributors out there. ReCellular, Wireless Galaxy to name a couple. (Not endorsements, just resources.)

When you buy a used phone, any warranty will probably not come from the manufacturer and look at the warranty closely and see what it covers and who’s responsible for what.

And when you buy into this package deal, is it worth the length of the contract from the provider?

Just food for thought gang.

Source article
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons
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Friday, November 14, 2008

More Uselessness From AOL and Verification Emails

I previously noted that AOL is blocking emails at their source, (AOL is Blocking Email for You...) and not letting me decide whats spam and what's not.  I've noticed it when I sign up for services and never get the verify email from them.

I thought you should know that today, we can add Bloglines to the list of services they don't let through their spam filters.

To be fair, I could not find anywhere on Bloglines, a reference to the email address I could expect this email from, hence, I could add it to my address book over on my junk AOL account.  Damn...  does this make my junk email account on AOL, well, junk?

Just more things to know for the new or exploring web user by BruSimm.

The Annoying Nuisance Called Publisher's Clearing House

Wow.

According to Wikipedia, (One of my favorite, open-source info channels) PCH (Publisher's Clearing House) is a multi-channel direct marketing company, that offers discounted prices on magazines and household merchandise, all with the chance to win money during the process.

So when I received an email from them, I jumped on board, knowing what I was getting into.. I thought. I mean, how hard can it be these days. Email instead of snail-mail?

Egads. I get an email every single day with yet another opportunity to make sure I am entered in their multi-million, or thousands a day, or thousands a year, or .. oh, I lost track - drawing.

But they send me an email every day for this drawing that's coming up sometime in 2008. (So I got a lot of link clicking coming up.) I get many varied emotionally based crap titles in my emails.
  • "Substantive info on giveaway #****",
  • "IMPORTANT NOTICE",
  • "Will you become a millionaire?",
  • "Will I become a TEN million dollar winner?",
  • "Will [my address] become their final destination?",
  • "My payment option Decision that is required",
  • "Intent to Award Super Price",
  • "A final Chance to Become a winner in seconds",
And so on and so on. These are annoying, and emotionally baiting email titles that could draw many people in, I get them every day, with a new spin on the email title.

With each email, I click joyously on the link to enter / verify my intent or ability to receive my reward that inevitably, will MAY BE be mine! I just can't stand the excitement!! I get directed to a webpage with lots and lots of magazine offers. I scroll through and finally click on the entry link which takes me to another web page with more offers, to confirm that I want to enter in the drawing that I just confirmed wanting to get into. Every now and then, I get asked if I am sure I don't want to buy anything, and I have to explain myself to some degree, or sometimes, I have to confirm that I saw the offers and declines, because entry into the drawing does not require a purchase.

I normally, am very anti-marketing. I do everything to diss, avoid, or report marketers to spam@uce.gov, or my ISP's spam blocker. I find marketing spam an intrusion on my privacy and my private property (My computer hard drive) and I do take the time to do my part in reporting them.

So, initially, I was very 'down' on the organization, PCH, but it seems that after the founder and his family died, the ownership of the organization passed onto a number of charitble trusts.

According to Crain's New York, nearly 50% of company profits benefit charitable causes ranging from the arts to social services to the environment. The New York Botanical Garden, the National Audubon Society and the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association are just a few of the major beneficiaries, so I lighetened up and started to participate.

I'm a very scrupulous about what I want to buy, but sooner or later, I will purchase a subscription to support their efforts. Then again, if I 'win', I can share some of my proceeds with the charitable organizations' directly! I'll let you know how it turns out.

In the mean time, I have to answer my PCH email and click on the 2 or 3 links that will guarantee my chance to maybe win lots of money, if I'm lucky, maybe.

And it all starts here, at www.pch.com, where you can become a millionaire!!!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chase.com: Tough Login Policies Annoy This Consumer

A Brusimm Rant :

In any of my other credit / banking accounts, I can log in from anywhere I want.  From home, from my laptop while at Starbucks and even work.

Yet if I want to log into Chase.com, I HAVE to log in from work only.  Why?  Because they force you call in and get a security ID key if you ever log in from a different computer, EVERY TIME.  And once they do that, you can't go back to the other computer without jumping through the same hoops again.

When I called to inquire about this policy of theirs, the Chase representative quoted policies that were drafted due to 9/11 scenarios and Homeland Security regulations.


BZZZT!!!  Not! Thank you for playing but if that's the case, why can I log in to my other accounts from anywhere I want?

I smell marketing web tracking at work here folks.  It's the only reason I can think of why they'd make it so hard to access your own account.

Disclaimer:  More than likely, this won't affect very many people at all.  Most I know have their one computer and that's that.  They wouldn't even notice. 

But for those of us who use multiple computers, egads man.  Lighten up on us.  Use a certificate that we can install across the board instead of making us call you every time we change computers.

Word Trick-Tips - Setting Document Locations

by Bruce Simmons

Setting your Document Locations

Word defaults to the My Documents folder.
If you don't use My Documents to store your work, you can specify your own sub folder or location

To change the default working folder for Word documents:
1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the File Locations tab.
2. In the File types list, click Documents.
3. Click Modify. To select an existing folder to display as the default working folder, locate and click the folder you want in the folder list. To create a new folder to display as the default working folder, click Create New Folder, and then type a name for the new folder in the Name box.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quote for a Wednesday - Winston Churchill

Personally I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Twitter Tidbit - A Thought

Did you know that the archive of Twits has a 3200 Tweet archive limit? Like I've even hit 320!!

Bagel Stores in Menlo Park: Hear My Orders!

The following events took place over the course of a few weeks time of experiments but I have consolidated it down to what it looks like today for continuity purposes:

On some days, I like to walk to work, grab my bagel, hit Starbucks and be on my way. Doesn't seem that hard of a challenge really, but a challenge it became!

My first stop: The Posh Bagel on Santa Cruz: Sometimes you're opened at 6 like your sign says, sometimes you're not! That's OK, I could adjust my walk time a little. But when your customer asks for their bagel to be toasted, the correct answer would be "yes". Not, "But it's good the way it is."

Yes, you heard right.

That's a fine attitude to have in this economy. I know if I had insisted, I would have gotten what I wanted, but it was curious enough for me to take note and move on. They just lost a confirmed weekly customer.

You can see the reviews they have received over on Yelp.com.
~~~

Next down the street on Santa Cruz was Bagel Street Cafe.

I've seen the great reviews on the place and admittedly, it's open on time every day, at 6 AM like it says it is. That's nice. It seems that the non-bagel fare is what draws people to this establishment.

Maybe it's the way I order a bagel. When I asked for a toasted bagel here, the response was "It does not need to be toasted."

With a raised eyebrow, and already a shortened patience meter, I took my cue and moved onward.

You can see their reviews over at Yelp.com also.

Where, oh where could I find a bagel to have with my coffee?
~~~

Finally, I thought I'd try the bagels at Starbucks. The Asiago Cheese Bagel. It's the only one they offer at my store and when I ask for it to be toasted, they ask back: "And would you like cream cheese with that after we toast it?"

Wha..!?

You mean I can have my bagel toasted, and not be questioned about it? Weird, I was getting used to being told no.
~~~

So there you have it. A quick walk down Santa Cruz Blvd on any given morning and all the hard work to get a toasted bagel has finally been achieved in the simplest fashion: With a yes.

Thank you Starbucks.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

Computer Monday: Word - Inserting a Comment

To insert a comment into a section of text when reviewing a document,

Press ALT+CTRL+M

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To browse a document press: ALT+CTRL+HOME

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To remove manual character formatting on selected text, press: CTRL+SPACEBAR

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Computer Monday: Child Safety / Protection OnLine

MySpace had yielded sometime ago by yielding to demands by US state justice officials that it expose sexual predators who may be prowling the youth-oriented networking Web site.

The move ended a standoff between MySpace and prosecutors from eight US states that had demanded the identities of convicted sex criminals who have posted their profiles on the News Corp-owned (Fox) Web site.

To me, the sad / scary part is when they started looking, MySpace ferreted out ~ 7,000 profiles of sex offenders. Wow.. if your kids are out there, make sure they are aware of what's out there.

In light of this article, I've added a few links for your information:


Be Informed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wanna Find The Cheapest Gas In Your Town?

Tired of wondering if you're paying too much for gas to get from point A to point B? Ever wonder where the best prices are around your neck of the woods, or which way to go looking for it? I mean face it, it would be moot to wander about town burning up gas trying to save money buying it.

Check out http://www.gasbuddy.com/

Just slap in your zip code or click on your state and see what registered users from that site have supplied to their database of gas prices! I's a community of users that helps each other out.
Enjoy your new found savings!


Image cr: Cindy Seigle, Flickr.

This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License (cc-by-sa-2.0). In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it under this or a similar cc-by-sa license.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Free Speech, (Both Sides of Your Coin)

An observational opinion by Bruce Simmons.

Confusion.

Way back when Imus opened his mouth and inserted his foot all the way to the knee cap, that verbal move was reminiscent of a moron move. There is no way any person should insult others the way he did and it sent a message to radio personalities about the loyalty sponsors have to their purchasing contingents. Sponsors aren't stupid.

That whole affair seemed to have sparked an interesting perspective on the limitations of free speech.

Americans have many freedoms and rights. One of those rights is free speech. When exercising free speech, we should look at the small print that says use your head if you have questionable opinions or tendencies. Use your head and consider your political and social consequences.

The Imus incident was yet one more stepping stone for certain political groups to once again attack rap music, and that form of freedom to express one's self. I'm not a rap fan. I don't support or enjoy the idea of some of the theme's I've heard in the media that some rap music has.

But that's where I express a freedom of mine, and that's the choice to not expose myself to it. It isn't hard. Just don't turn it on. Only those who want to hear it, who need, for the moment to identify with it tend to listen by going to concerts, buying the albums, or listening on the radio.

For some, who know they've tuned in to a shock jock,.. why? If you're going to be insulted, why tune in? When Howard Stern was on free radio, I never liked his shtick. It seemed pointless and annoying. But rather than complain, I just never turned it on. There, my personal problem is solved. (I'm trying to lead by example here.)

At that moment, the Imus moment, the freedom of speech seems to be threatened, but in reality, it's just fine.

We, as intelligent people, should balance how we approach people, represent ourselves, and be in tune with our readers & listeners. Imus is a great example that we need to look at the hand that feeds us, and act accordingly. Of course, decent persons don't have 'Imus' kind of issues either, but he's served his purpose in showing us this one facet of free speech.

I'm done expressing myself freely. Thanks for coming by.