Random (but not really)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blogger: You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me

To my friends who are using Blogger: That’s it. I’ll help you move to WordPress. For FREE. No matter how long it takes.

This is bullshit.


Written by Michelle at 10:24 am      Comments (5)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Computer Problems: Common Sense Recommendations

For the most part, geeks are willing to help you fix your computer–we WANT you to like technology as much as we do, and we want you to understand how to use your computer and (hopefully) learn how to fix it yourself.


Please keep in mind several things:

1. We are doing you a favor. Be polite. If the problem takes a long time to fix, at the VERY LEAST offer to buy us dinner or the legal beverage of our choice.

2. Not all problems can be fixed. This is not our fault. Additionally, we all have different areas of expertise. So even if a problem is fixable, it might not be within our area of expertise. If we contact a friend for additional assistance, you now owe that person dinner as well.

3. If you don’t take steps to keep your computer safe, such as running an anti-virus program, problems will happen again and again.

The following are helpful things to tell us when you’re asking for help:

1) What operating system are you using?

a) If you are using a Windows system, to find your specific system, look at the start button in the lower left corner of the screen. If the button is a circle, you
re probably running Windows 7. If the button is a rectangle and says “Start” you’re probably running Windows XP.

b) If you are using a Macintosh, click the apple icon in the top left corner. From the menu select “About This Mac”.

c) Word and Internet Explorer are NOT operating systems. They are programs that run ON your operating system.

2) What web browser are you using? (if you’re having web problems)

3) How comfortable are you with computers?
a) Dude, I know more than you, except for this specific thing
b) Everyone I know asks me questions, but I’m not an expert per se
c) I can generally figure things out on my own
d) More often than not, my computer gets the best of me
e) My computer regularly senses fear and attacks

It is TOTALLY OKAY to be 3e. We just need to know that up front, because how comfortable you are changes how much information we give you, what information we give you, and how we explain things to you. (Can I just tell you to go to the control panel, or do I need to take you step by step though how to get to the control panel?)

4. If we can see what your screen looks like, that makes it a WHOLE lot easier to help you. The steps below will let you take a picture of your problem to send to us.

Mac: Command + Shift + 4 (The space bar toggles between capturing a window and the snipping tool)
Windows 7: Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Snipping Tool
Office 2010: Insert tab -> Screen shot -> select an open window or choose Screen Clipping

5. DO NOT RANDOMLY CLICK WHILE WE’RE WALKING YOU THROUGH SOMETHING. Chances are you already guessed incorrectly. You won’t get it right this time, either. Which means we now have to backtrack. If you do this often enough, we’ll stop answering the phone when you call.

If you’d like a primer on what NOT to do, see the following (both contain strong language and scatological humor, both of which are deployed by anyone doing computer support, on a regular basis): Cracked: 6 Reasons The Guy Who’s Fixing Your Computer Hates You and The Oatmeal: Why It’s Better to Pretend You Don’t Know Anything about Computers

If you’ve done any of the things mentioned in those articles, immediately send an apology to your friend / relative who helps you with your computer, along with a gift certificate for dinner for two at their favorite (expensive) restaurant.

Written by Michelle at 5:42 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology  

WWA: Birthday Girl Edition

Yeah, I really have nothing, so today’s word is: red

Written by Michelle at 6:40 am      Comments (9)  Permalink
Categories: Fun & Games  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

There are no living veterans of WWI.

Every day, hundreds of WWII veterans die.

Many of those who served in WWII, also served in the Korean War.

The relationship between Americans and its veterans changed, during the Vietnam War. Many of those who served have now reached the age of retirement.

For many Americans today, the Gulf War is the first war they remember. Many mistakenly believed this heralded a sea change in the way wars would be fought in the future.

Twelve years in, we are still fighting in Afghanistan, and our soldiers continue to die there.

The War in Iraq officially ended, but men and women are still serving there.

Casualties of the combined Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Doris Miller, hero of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The radio program Snap Judgement has a program on soldiers this year. I highly recommend listening to it.

But above all, my love and thanks to all those who have served, and to those who continue to serve in the military. Your sacrifices will not be forgotten.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.

Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.

Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Shineth bright,
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.

Taps, by Gen. Daniel Butterfield

Written by Michelle at 8:52 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: History  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Computer Security: Passwords

Now for the biggie: PASSWORDS.

Yes, I know. You HATE passwords. They’re hard to remember, and people always keep asking you to CHANGE them.

Well, there’s a reason you’re supposed to use complex passwords–and use unique passwords on every site–passwords exist to keep people from stealing your information. If you use a stupid password anyone can get your information. And if you use the same password on every site–even if it’s a strong password–if someone hacks that site, they can then use that password for any other site you access.

There is one relatively simple solution: use a password safe. I use KeePass to store my passwords. The nice thing about KeePass is that you can copy it to a USB keychain drive and always have all your passwords with you. If you do that, you only need to create ONE strong password you have to remember.

Aside from the xkcd comic I linked to up there, there are other things you can do to make memorable passwords.

Let’s say your favorite movie is Gone with the Wind. You can use that movie as the basis for your password by combining things you can easily remember. If your favorite character is Scarlett and you vividly remember first watching it in 1982, you could make your password Scarlett 1982. Or even better, $carlett 1982, or $c@rl3tt_O’Hara_1982. (No, I’ve never read the book or watched the movie, so if I got the names wrong, too bad.) That’s a password that’s relatively easy for you to remember, but would be hard for someone to guess.

Even more random, pick two items that are sitting on your computer desk, and use THOSE items for your password. If you always have red pens sitting on your desk in a Brooklyn Dodgers coffee mug, your password could be red pen dodger, or D0dger R3d P3n, etc. Because you’ll see the item every time you sit down at your desk, it will remind you what your password is, but it’s unlikely someone could guess that.

Yes, there are sites for which a throw-away password is perfectly fine. That would be a password that’s easy for you to remember that you use all the time. Registration sites frequently get my throw-away password.

But I strongly recommend using KeePass or some other password manager. It’ll keep you from forgetting all those complex passwords you created, but still make it hard for people to break into your account.

Written by Michelle at 6:41 pm      Comments (2)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology  

Computer Security: Common Sense, Part 1

The basics of what you need to do to keep your computer are covered in anti-virus software, keeping your web browser up to date, and using caution with email.

But you can also use common sense to keep yourself safe and secure.

First, bookmark Snopes. This website exists solely to debunk the stupid emails people send to you that sound ridiculous and most likely are. (If only Snopes had been around when the Pop Rocks urban legend started…)

bccSecond, let’s talk about the Bcc field. BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy. Using BCC simply means that no one user can see anyone else’s email address. If you are sending an email to multiple users who do not know each other, it’s polite to place their names in the bcc field. The only thing you need to remember is to place someone’s email address in the “To” field, or your message might get caught in the spam filters. (I usually use Michael’s email address for this, since he generally knows everyone I do.)

Third, password protect your computer. Yes, it’s a pain to type in a password every time you want to use your computer, but you’ve got important stuff in there, and if someone steals your laptop, you’re not just don’t several hundred dollars, the thief now has access to everything from all your email accounts to your bank information to the addresses and phone numbers of all your friends.

You can also use programs such as prey or locate my laptop for extra protection.

Written by Michelle at 6:40 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology  

Computer Security: Email

If you’re going to do something stupid with your computer, chances are, it’s going to involve email.

First and foremost, don’t click on email links or open attachments unless you are 100% POSITIVE they’re safe. Just don’t.

Second, don’t reply to email messages from strangers. No one is going to send you money for “helping” them. I promise you, you’re not missing out. (You will, however, be missing out if you don’t click on that link and read Eric’s “replies” to spammers.)

But there’s a little bit more to it, and there are ways to tell if a link is likely to be safe or not.

First, let’s talk about hyperlinks.

If you are reading your email through a web browser, when you hold your cursor over a hyperlink (WITHOUT CLICKING) a little box typically appears in the lower left corner of your window giving you the URL (uniform resource locator) for that link. Nine times out of ten, looking at that URL will tell you if a hyperlink is what it’s supposed to be. If the text of your hyperlink says “SHOP BOB’S MARKET!” and the text that appears when you hold your cursor over that link is something like http://bobsmarket.com/sale.php you can see that those two things match up pretty closely.

Where it becomes tricky is when a hyperlink says one thing, but the hover URL says something else entirely. I can write text that says http://bobsmarket.com/sale.php but make the link go somewhere else entirely. If you see that, you can be almost certain the link is to a spam site.

Here’s something else to keep in mind–if you have not given a company your email address, chances are it’s a spammer trying to hoax you. If you have signed up to receive sale notices from Lowes or King Arthur Flour or some other company you like, then you can use the above method to check that the links are correct. But if you’ve never asked a company to send you emails? Go ahead and delete without reading–and certainly so NOT click on any of those hyperlinks or open any of those attachments.

But what if you’re afraid your account HAS been compromised? In that case, go to the site by typing the URL for that site into your web browser (paypal.com or amazon.com) and then log in and check and see if you have any alerts or messages.

Got that? Good. Now don’t forget it.

Next, let’s talk a bit about how you use your email.

Usually, when you register for products or buy things online, you’re required to give an email address. Which is perfectly fair.

The problem is that EVERYTHING then comes to this email address: emails from your aunt/niece, recall notices from your product registration, sale notices from your favorite shoe store, etc.

Here’s the thing: You don’t have to have only one email address. You can–and should–create an email address that you use just for registering for products and shopping. Then use your “main” email address for communicating with friends and family.

I have a yahoo account that I use for shopping and registrations etc, and a gmail account that I use for email with friends and family etc. I keep both open in my web browser, but check the yahoo mail tab far less frequently.

The best part of this is that when I get email in my gmail account, it’s almost always email I WANT to receive, as opposed to junk.

Additionally, Gmail (and many other email providers) allow you to download your email to your own computer, using a program such as Outlook or Thunderbird. I’m a HUGE fan of Gmail and having all my email accessible from any computer and my phone. But I also like the security of having everything downloaded to my computer. Just In Case.

But for the most part, if you keep in mind those first two rules: don’t click on links/attachments and don’t reply to strangers, you’ll be fine.

Written by Michelle at 5:49 pm      Comments (2)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology  

Computer Security: Web Browsers

If your computer is running any version of the Windows operating system, then by default you have Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) installed on your computer. How do you know which browser you’re using? Look at your taskbar (probably at the bottom of your window). Each program has it’s own, unique icon, and that icon will tell you which browser you’re using.

One thing that is important regardless of which browser you use, is to KEEP UPDATED. Any program that is not updated on a regular basis will become vulnerable. So whatever browser you use, make sure that browser automatically updates to the newest version.

Something else to keep in mind–as long as you are using the updated version of your browser of choice–there is no wrong choice. Find a browser you are comfortable with, and if anyone tries to tell you you’re stupid for that choice, tell ’em to piss off. It’s your computer and you’re allowed to use whatever browser you want.

Internet Explorer

Some people will probably be shocked to hear me say this, but I don’t hate IE. I can’t say I much like it, but I don’t think the current versions are horrible the way IE6 was. And if you’re a Windows user, chances are there are some things you’ll need IE to do. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.

But make sure you’re automatically updating IE (and Windows). Because Microsoft has the lion’s share of the market right now, and because they’re large and plodding, they’re the low-hanging fruit. Malicious code is written specifically for Windows and IE and other Microsoft programs. So remain updated and you’ll be fine.


Firefox is created and updated by Mozilla, and is an open source browser that allows anyone to create add-ons, themes, etc.

Firefox is my browser of choice, but that’s my personal preference. Why? Because it has tons of add-ons that make it work the way I want it to work. And many of those add-ons don’t exist for other browsers. There are disadvantages to add-ons of course. They’ll sometimes slow down your browsing or even break certain websites. But that’s easy enough to solve–if your browser stops working properly, disable your add-ons and chances are that’ll solve the problem.

What add-ons do I use? Adblock Plus, Amazon Wishlist, Autohide bookmarks, FireFTP, Ghostery, IE Tab 2, Leet Key, Priv 3, Read it Later, Springpad, and TabMix Plus. What could I not live without? Tab Mix Plus, Leet Key, and Autohide bookmarks.

The other thing I adore about Firefox, is it has a Sync that allows you to synchronize not just your bookmarks, but all your add-ons and settings across every computer you use. This is CRAZY convenient, since I have two personal computers and an even larger number of work computers–no matter what computer I use, everything I need is already there.


Chrome is slowly becoming the world’s most popular browser. It is created and maintained by Google, which means it integrates with a variety of Google programs, from Gmail to Google Docs. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s incredibly convenient to have a single sign-in for your email and other resources.

On the other hand, it’s somewhat disconcerting to be giving a single company ALL your information about EVERYTHING.

I use Chrome to keep Facebook isolate from the rest of my browsing activity, but otherwise, I much prefer my customized version of Firefox to Chrome. Chrome also has a synchronize option, but I do not use it, so I can’t tell you through personal experience if it is awesome or now.

The add-ons I use for Chrome are: Adblock Plus, Do Not Track Plus, Facebook Disconnect, and Ghostery.


Safari is Apple’s web browser, and the default browser for the Mac. I don’t hate Safari, but like many things Mac, I personally find it frustrating to use–Apple programs tend to be backwards from what I am expecting, which drives me batty.

One thing I absolutely despise about Safari (and all other Apple programs (and Adobe programs)) is that whenever they update, they stick their default icons on your Desktop. Every. Single. Time. I have four icons and three widgets on my Desktop and THAT IS ALL. Every time I update an Apple program, I curse the entire time I’m deleting icons off my desktop.

There are other browsers out there, but aside from Opera (which I HATE) I’ve never used them and thus having nothing to say about them.

Written by Michelle at 4:44 pm      Comments (2)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology  

Computer Security: Anti-Virus

Probably the most important thing you can do as soon as you get your computer is to download and install an anti-virus program–it’s generally the first thing I do when I get a new personal computer (well, after downloading Firefox).

There are a ton of anti-virus programs out there, and as long as you keep your virus definitions up to date, it really doesn’t matter what program you use. That said, different programs have different strengths and weaknesses.

The program we use–and we put on our parents’ computers, is Avast. I’ve been using it for a decade probably, and have never had a virus program on one of my computers. I keep saying I’ll upgrade to the paid version, but since the free version works so well, I never remember to do so.

How it works: every year you have to re-register by giving them your email and other information. For those of you who are loathe to do that: You’re getting something for FREE–why are you bitching? Once you install Avast, it runs in the background, automatically checking for updates. By default it will tell you when it updates, probably so you’ll know it’s doing it’s job. I trust it, so I turned off all those pronouncements (ie turned on silent/gaming mode), because I find them annoying.

It’s available free to the home user.

Another popular free program is Microsoft Security Essentials. This is, of course, a Microsoft product, which means it has it’s good and bad points. You know it’s always going to work with windows, and will update with windows. On the other hand, it’s a Microsoft product.

How it works: you go to the website and download the program. It runs in the background and automatically updates itself. It’s available free to the home user.

Are there other anti virus programs? Yes, tons of them. AVG, Norton/Symantec, McAfee. They’re all going to work AS LONG AS YOU KEEP THEM UPDATED.

Let me say that one more time: any anti-virus program should work for you, AS LONG AS YOU KEEP IT RUNNING AND UPDATED.

The second thing to remember is that if your anti-virus program is warning you about a program: DO NOT INSTALL THAT PROGRAM. Unless you’ve written the program yourself or are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN the program is safe, assume the anti-virus program is correct and don’t install.

The third thing to remember is: BE SMART. An anti-virus program can only protect you from threats it knows about, so viruses can get past it. Help yourself by not being an idiot. More on that in another topic.

Written by Michelle at 3:59 pm      Comments (2)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology  

Computer Questions: Answered!

I get asked a fair number of computer questions, so I decided it might be a good idea to put things down into one place. Thus, I’m going to do a series of posts on computers and technology, to which I can refer people if necessary. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. It’s quite likely that if I don’t know the answer, Michael does.

Subjects I think I’ll cover:
Computer security: anti-virus programs
Computer security: web browsers
Computer security: email
Computer security: common sense, part 1
Computer security: passwords

Computer Problems: Common Sense Recommendations

Should I buy a tablet or a laptop?
What kind of phone should I buy?
PC or Mac?

Using Facebook
Online shopping

Any suggestions?

Written by Michelle at 3:36 pm      Comments (1)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology  
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