Category Archives: Computer literacy

Everything has a Price

– Or – Nothing is Ever as Easy as it Looks

I recently discovered – re-discovered, really – that a glass of wine has a pleasantly relaxing effect on painful muscles and joints. But…more than one glass relaxes those muscles a little too much, making it more likely that I’ll fall down and undo all the good of the first glass. A fine line, indeed. And then there are the calories. Why is it, I wonder, that you have to burn 3500 calories to lose one pound, but only have to eat 20 or so calories to gain ten pounds? Seems largely unfair. Hugely unfair. Bloated with unfairness. Oh, well.

I’ve been walking regularly – 2.25 to 2.5 miles 4 or 5 times a week – to get back in shape, help manage my back pain, and just co-incidentally, take some of the edge off Junior’s boundless energy. Somehow, this is also making me not lose weight. Oh, I know, I’m gaining muscle, but that doesn’t actually show on the scale. It just looks like my weight has not budged in three months. Ugh. Why give up Klondike Bars when there’s no return on it?

I had thought it would be relatively easy and painless to take of some extra pounds once I started walking regularly. After all, it happened once before. I had a part-time job in a lab at the local Vet School. The lab was located on the second floor off a building about three quarters of a mile from the parking lot I was allowed to park in. I walked to the building and up a flight of stairs to get to work, and then back down the stairs to the parking lot when I got off. Ten pounds just flew away. Of course, I was carrying a small back pack at the time with about 3 or 4 extra pounds in it, and was on the ragged edge of menopause at the time. I have no idea if the menopause part had an effect, but I’m about to decide I need to start carrying that back pack again. That’ll be fun when it’s 90 degrees at 7 a.m.

But then, of course, the job ended and my dad died and I ate all those Oreos. And the ten pounds came back. That part was certainly easy enough.

Then there’s this whole computer thing. I seem to be naturally attracted to the hard way to do things. I could just save up and get a new laptop, but I decided instead to get a new memory card to try and speed up this old one. In theory this is supposed to work. In theory, it’s even supposed to be a simple operation.

In theory, this old laptop has enough memory, processing power, and everything else to run a lot more stuff than what I’ve got on here. Only it had been slowing down so much that I found myself duplicating what I had been doing when I first got it – when it had the hated Windows OS installed. I would open my Thunderbird mail program, check my emails, and then close Thunderbird. Then I would open Firefox – or I would launch Firefox and go pour my coffee while I waited for it to open. If I had my music program running when I wanted to look up something on the Internet, I had to remember to pause the song or just quit the program, because surfing the ‘net was not compatible with listening to tunes. Therefore the decision to upgrade the memory.

My laptop had 526 MB of RAM installed, but could be expanded to 2 GB. I figured one new memory card with 1 GB extra RAM would probably be plenty. When it arrived in the mail, my brother offered to install it for me while I was at work, if I could find a set of instructions for him. That part was not a problem. There’s a whole community of Thinkpad users on-line, with links to PDFs of the user’s manuals. So I came home from work to a laptop with over a gig and a half of RAM – that wouldn’t boot up. It would hang up in black screen, or it would hang up at the IBM screen, or it would get all the way to the Ubuntu opening screen before it would hang up. Aahhhrrrrggggg!

I went on-line and signed up for the Thinkpad users forums and posted my question. A moderator came back with a suggestion that I take out the new card, take out the original memory card, and install that one in the “auxiliary” slot. If it still didn’t boot, that would mean the memory slot was bad, and if it did, then the new card was probably defective. I (of course) got the instructions mixed up, because (of course) I had to turn off the computer to work on it. I put the new memory card in the “standard” slot, left out the old card, and started the computer. It worked like a charm. Then I decided to experiment and put the other card in the auxiliary slot. That worked, too. I reported all this on the forum, and the moderator suggested that I should run a memory test on that new card, all the same. Wha?? I guess it seemed kind of fishy to him that it worked that way. So more fumbling around on my part trying to figure out exactly what these people are even talking about, so I could make this test thingy work. Changing parts is not a problem for me. After all, I was a jet aircraft mechanic for four years. But there was a reason I was taking off panels and changing tires and fuel tanks, and not working on the avionics equipment.

Anyway, long story short. I’ve got both those memory cards installed. My laptop works a treat. It’s way faster than it was, and it can multi-task. I can listen to music while I surf the web and I can keep my e-mail open all at the same time. Woo-hoo! I’m such a geek. Sometimes the end result is worth the pain-in-the-ass price.

After procrastinating…

…for a few weeks, I got all the technical issues finished to make the blog move permanent. is here to stay, and you don’t have to use the .wordpress part any more. I’ve been dragging my feet largely because I’m not as confident about all this tech stuff as I sometimes act. And I tend to decide to do something before I’m even sure I’m capable of following any directions that are supposed to help me. It usually surprises me to find that enough of it translates into something I can follow, that it makes me look like I know what I’m doing. If I keep stumbling around long enough, maybe someday I will.

As if Social Media wasn't confusing enough…

…have you seen all the social media management tools out there? Sheesh. If you have more than one social media account, you can use one of these “buckets” to keep them all on the same page — or screen, if you prefer that term. These are just the ones I’ve used.

  1. TweetDeck — I used this one before I ditched my Windows and went Linux. You have to download and install it on your computer. It also requires Flash, which you also have to download and install, and I haven’t figured out how to do that on my version of Linux yet, or if I even want to. So, for me, TweetDeck is out. But it was handy, while I had it, to be able to see my Twitter and FaceBook pages side by side and send one update to both at the same time.
  2. HootSuite — This one is all online. You just sign in to your dashboard like you do with your FB page, or your blog, or Twitter. Supposedly you can have a bunch of “streams” going at once. I have yet to figure out how to get FB and Twitter open in the same tab. At present I can see one or the other, and I can do that in Firefox. HootSuite lets me post one update to FB and Twitter at the same time, like TweetDeck did, and it has its own URL shortener, and you can also schedule an update to be posted at another time. I tried it yesterday and the update didn’t show up, so I don’t know what I did wrong. That’s what I get for not reading the “how-to” before I try something new. My standard operating procedure doesn’t always work, but hey, sometimes it saves me a lot of time reading instructions when it’s just as easy to figure out how something works by actually using it.
  3. Gwibber — This is my Linux-specific version of TweetDeck. I think it’s kind of new. It seems to have “issues.” Some days it works, other days it won’t even open. No rhyme or reason, it just won’t awaken. When I can get it to open and work properly, it shows my Twitter and FB streams merged into one timeline, which I kind of like. It’s kind of like mixing your peas into your gravy and mashed potatoes. You can still clearly see the peas, but the other stuff makes them stick on the fork better. But some people object to that much proximity among things on their dinner plates, and so may not like what Gwibber does. But you can choose to just see one stream at a time on Gwibber. It’s the “home” feature that blends them.

There are others. I don’t even know what their names are. And there are apps for various smart phones, iPad, netbooks, and who knows what all else. Of course, I only use Twitter and FaceBook, but with these things you can add your WordPress blog, Flikr, MySpace, Tumblr, Linkedin, and a whole slew of other social sharing networks. Whatever floats your boat.

I often feel like I’m being left in the techno dust by the younger generations. I know that using all this stuff to its maximum potential is the way of the future way-of-the-future wayofthefuture (obscure movie reference), and I really wish I could get a better grasp on it. It appeals to my creative nature. Even though I always maintain that I really still see my computer as a typewriter on steroids, it’s way more than just a writing tool. It’s a whole Alexandrian library, a Post Office, and a news desk (and at times a massive time waster). I would much rather have all these options and be able to use only a fraction of them at some minimal level, than not have them at all, and miss out on some of the things I’ve discovered in the past several years.

WordCamp and Archaeopteryx

WordCamp was yesterday. As I mentioned elsewhere, I planned to be there, and I was. I drove down in the early morning (had to be there a little before eight to start serving kolaches and coffee) and didn’t get unduly hot on the way, in my un-air-conditioned car. I was able to listen to the keynote address by Matt Mullenweg, one of the founders of WordPress and native son of Houston (although he lives someplace else now), and it was quite entertaining. I got to talk face to face with Houston blogger Shawn Quinn. He and a few other Houstonians started following me on Twitter after I posted the first bit about WordCamp, and I started following them, too. So it was cool to meet Shawn.

The first session I went to was about WordPress 3.0. And why did I think I’d understand any of that? It was in the “Developer Track,” which is that whole other country I mentioned in the earlier post. But the speaker, Stephanie Leary, wrote a book, and if the sample chapter I downloaded as a PDF is any indication, I think I could learn a lot about that country from the book. After that I wanted to sit in on one of the “Blogger Track” sessions, but the room was overflowing with people, so I thought if I was going to have to spend an hour on my feet, I would go see the Archaeopteryx fossil that was on exhibit only for another month (and was the other reason for me to be there in the first place). So I went upstairs to get my ticket. And let me just say how nice it is to have a membership in the museum and be able to go over to the ticket window just for members, where there was no line, and then get the discount on the ticket itself. Sweet.

For those who aren’t fossil fanatics, paleontology buffs, or evolutionary biology groupies, Archaeopteryx (“r-kee-OP-ter-iks”) is one of those precious “missing links” between one major ancient form — in this case dinosaurs — and a more modern one — birds. The first one of these fossils was found in a quarry in Germany famous for its limestone — and its fossils. In fact, fossils often occur in limestone because limestone is formed in marine environments (or formerly marine environments) and objects can become entombed in marine sediments and remain there as the sediment turns to stone. Anyway, the German quarry is at Solnhofen, and in 1861, just a few years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, a single fossilized feather was discovered. Later, a complete fossil of an animal resembling a lizard but covered with feathers was found in stone of the same age — approximately 150 million years. Eventually nine more fossils were unearthed, and debates carried on for decades over whether they were true birds, true dinosaurs, or a true transitional form from one to the other. There’s not much argument that they are some of the most famous fossils around, though. The one visiting the Houston Museum of Natural Science normally lives in Wyoming, and it was sharing the exhibit with an assortment of other fossils from the same limestone quarry at Solnhofen, Germany.

A lot of the fossils were of fish, which makes sense if the limestone started out as ocean bottom sediment. There were even fossil Coelacanth (SEE-la-canth), a type of ancient fish belonging to a group called the “lobe-finned fish,” which were thought to be the transitional form between fish and amphibians. A few living Coelacanths (the scientific name of the surviving form is genus Latemeria , with two distinct species) were found in deep ocean environments off the coast of South Africa in the late 1930’s, and Indonesia as late as 1998. Hanging on since the Cretaceous Period, when they disappeared from the fossil record.

After I worked my way through the fossil fish, turtles and lizards, a few plants, and some surprising insect fossils, and some truly gorgeous brittle stars, I arrived “in the presence.” The “Arky” fossil was grouped with some other fossils I wasn’t expecting, and the planners of the exhibit had truly saved the best for last. Pterosaurs! I went to see Archaeopteryx because it’s a beautiful fossil with a unique place in the fossil record, but I was always nuts over pterosaurs — the flying dinosaurs. I have a book about them. I have a… well, let me illustrate.


"Swoop," with a Cretaceous friend

Yes, it’s a Beanie Baby. Yes, there were Beanie Baby dinosaurs. Yes, I had to have the pterosaur. Funny thing, too. The first  pterosaur fossils, of Pterodactylus, were not a whole lot bigger than my beanie baby. They were about the size of sand pipers, according to the labels next to the fossils. As a kid I had imagined them as monstrous huge, which maybe said more about my imagination. But I kind of like the idea of little flying dinousaurs that I could hold in my hands. Okay, more wild imaginings.

Maybe I’ve picked up a bit of computer geek gloss, but I’m still a science nerd at my core. This is still the stuff that rocks my world. I only wish I’d had my camera with me, because they were allowing people to take pictures — something I couldn’t do last fall when I went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Oh, well. I went. I saw. I marveled. Then I went back to Camp.

Alien Planet

It didn’t look that different from my previous home. I could breathe the air. The sky was blue, the grass green (except where it was starting to turn a dry, crispy brown), the temperature hot. I could find my way around okay. Places I visited looked much the same. And like it or not, I was here to stay. Might as well start moving in the furniture.

I thought I would start with my music. It was no trouble to download all the albums into the shiny new audio player. None of the titles looked mangled — “Let It Be” downloaded as “Let It Be,” etc. Excellent. I wasn’t sure whether I got the volume controls set up correctly, but figured all I had to do was press “Play” and find out if any sound came out. Woops. Got a pop-up. “You do not have a decoder installed to handle this file. You might need to install the necessary plugins.” Gah. Like suddenly finding myself on the wrong street where I don’t understand much of the language. How the hell do I find out where to get the decoder and the necessary plugins???? (And could it be a decoder ring? Because that would be very cool.)

Okay, this is not the opening of a science fiction story. But it could be. Here’s what happened. I’ve been a non-fan of Windows since Windows was invented. I’ve used it plenty, always on computers “at work” that were hooked to great big servers and had a lot of RAM and everything else necessary to hurl that top-heavy operating system around with a fair amount of speed. At home I had Commodore computers, then Amiga, then Mac. They all had their own issues, but they didn’t need to have frakking Windows installed for me to do what I wanted to do on a computer. Then I got this laptop. I got it used, and it had Windows XP Pro installed on it already. I was planning to take an online course that required use of a Windows computer. Ugh. My frustration reached new heights. Opening a program required the patience of a saint — of which I am not one. It got to the point where I would click to launch Firefox, and then go fix my coffee, or start a load of laundry — and then maybe my browser would be open when I came back.

After about a year and a half of this nonsense, I was about to crack under the strain. I ended up not taking the course, and just kept using this laptop because it was a little newer and a bit faster than my old iBook laptop, but not that much. It seemed like I spent half my time at my computer waiting for it to decide to do something. Going back to using the iBook wouldn’t solve anything, because it is too old to update to the newer Mac OS. Then I remembered Linux.

My second ex-husband was a virtual bigamist the whole time I was with him. His primary relationship was with his computer. But I probably learned more about computers just living in the same air-space as him than I would have taking classes from anyone else. Of course I didn’t learn it in any sort of logical sequence. But Linux. He talked about Linux. An operating system (was my understanding, at any rate) that didn’t belong to Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and would never put money in the pocket of either. I could live with that.

I did some reading on line about Linux, and found out that a lot of applications can be hung on the Linux “kernel” that make it easier to use for the less technically inclined. Great, I thought. Sign me up. I asked a local web design guru, Cody Marx Bailey, for some recommendations, and he said, “first, back up all your files.” And he meant somewhere off my computer. I already have a lot of stuff backed up on flash drives, but I got a two GB storage locker “in the cloud” at a site called Dropbox. Two GB is free, so I figured that should be enough for most of my stuff, especially if I zipped some of the folders. My music folder was another matter. All the music files were piled together with iTunes files and iPod files and whatnot, and rather than try to separate them, I just loaded the whole mess onto another flash drive. It was over seven gigabytes. It would have overloaded my Dropbox like Mr. Creosote.

Long story short, Cody also recommended I look at the Ubuntu distribution of Linux, and after a bit of mucking about, I downloaded a “low over-head” version called Xubuntu and burned it onto a CD. To make sure it was going to work properly, I ran it from the CD the first time and had a look at the desktop and some of the apps that came with it. I had just recently started using Thunderbird to handle all my email accounts, so I was happy to see that Thunderbird was part of the package. And it’s fast. Think Porsche 911 vs. ’64 Volkswagen bus.

However. Apparently the Exaile music player doesn’t line up with iTunes without some kind of additional gadget, which I don’t have or know where to find at the moment. But. I can put one of my music CDs in the drive and it will play just fine.

I am not worried. I like my new home. I may forget in what box I packed my favorite knick-knacks, but soon I’ll have them all around me once again. And Windows can bite me.

Site updates

Nothing stays the same. Especially in the cyberverse. Not only does WordPress update the blogging platform, but authors of the various themes make improvements changes that they publish to the WP site, which sends out little nags to those bloggers using those themes. So I got a couple of updates to this theme. Now all the navigation is in one place, on the sidebar. Click on a tab and a dropdown menu opens, where you can click on the page title, tag, or category or whatever, to take you where you want to go. Text links now show up as orange, making them easier to see (unless you’re colorblind — then I don’t know what to tell you).

There is a new tab on the top navigation bar to link back to the home page. I had to add this because whatever functionality used to tie my logo to the home page went away. You can’t just click on the picture of the dog to go back to the home page. Maybe that will be fixed in the next update. I know it’s possible to add some code to a file to make it work in spite of the update, but these things are a lot more complex than the files I learned to work with way back at the turn of the century when I was learning HTML. I’m such a dinosaur.

Word Camp, and the whole blogging adventure

I signed up to go to this thing as soon as I heard about it. It’s going to be in Houston (not that far to drive even in an un-air-conditioned car), at the Houston Museum of Natural History (one of my favorite places on the planet), I could afford the registration fee (a considerable consideration), and I figured I could learn something from it (if I record absolutely everything and listen to it over and over and over and over…). Well, you get the picture. Because I feel like a lot of what I’ll be listening to is going to be way over my head, in a language I don’t savvy, spoken by people less than half my age. WHAT WAS I THINKING??

WordCamp, in case you’re wondering what it is but aren’t curious enough to go to their site and check it out (the picture is a link, by the way), is a one-day workshop on August 7th, devoted to all things WordPress, which is the software supporting this blog. It is big time computer geekery. It’s like a whole other country. Or species. And I’m going into the middle of it. I have volunteered to help set up the breakfast and lunch so that I’ll be forced to interact with people. Light-years out of my comfort zone.

Well, okay, here’s the deal. I’m serious about my blog. I post a lot of nutty, fluffy, frivolous stuff on here, but I’m still learning and evolving as a writer, and as an artist, and planet maker, jewelry designer, basenji wrangler, and even maybe as a web designer. So I’m thinking that whatever it takes for me to up my game in any of these endeavors is worth a little effort. Even a huge effort in some cases, as may prove to be the case here. Time will tell.


More housekeeping around here

So. I found some more themes I thought might work for my blog, and this one looks like the best candidate, so far. I was able to use my title banner, and, so far, I’m not finding odd gaps in the text wrapped around photos. I realized after I started using my “back-up” theme again, that I had some serious issues with how it handled my photos. Very frustrating.

Aside from not really liking the blue text, which I might be able to change, I think this theme will work out well. I was able to put little button links to my Twitter and Facebook pages up in the right corner without much trouble, and I think I’ll be able to add some pages where I can sell my planets and art work some day.

Watch while I blow up my blog

So. The other day I decided to test drive some new themes. But I didn’t like them, so I switched back to “Tweaker” because even if nobody else sees him, I would still rather see the large image of my dog as the background. Call me sentimental.
But this morning when I decided to post a quick update, I discovered that when I reinstalled the old theme, something got left behind. More like some things. Like the entire right hand side bar. All the categories, tags, etc. Not to mention the little button that lets me log in to the maintenance area. OOOPS. Where the frak did it all go?
I haven’t the foggiest. I imagine that while I was tweaking away, I tweaked a critical bit of code into oblivion — but it didn’t take effect until I re-installed the theme. Don’t ask me how that works.
Anyway, I was able to dust off this old theme that I used for a while in the early days of the blog, added my banner (which may look a bit stretched — I had to re-size it to fit) which will need some work if I decide to continue using this theme.
But I may try using the “Tweaker” theme again — delete all the old files and install a fresh copy and start modifying again. Maybe this time I’ll ask for some professional help. Or not. I may see what other kinds of unintended results I can manufacture with my tinkering. Should be fun.

Spring Cleaning, or not

Since I’ve discovered how drab this blog looks for people who view it using Internet Explorer (a.k.a. I-frakking-E), which is the browser most people use, I think the time has come to start shopping around for a new theme. When I first launched my blog, I changed themes about once a week, because I had a specific look in mind that I wanted to achieve, and needed to find something both ready-made and free, and still customizable by someone without a whole lot of practice writing code. When I found “Tweaker,” and learned how to adapt it to include the big background picture of my “CrazyEddie” basenji, I thought I’d found the perfect vehicle. But I failed to perform a crucial check. I use Firefox almost exclusively. I also have Safari on this laptop, because I used to use it on my old iBook, and I installed it when I installed iTunes. But I almost never bother using I-frakking-E because everybody needs something to protest, and I like to protest certain industry giants. But I never figured that stupid browser would not support the part of my blog’s appearance that is almost the most important part. It sucks. It really does. So be looking for some changes, and it would help if I could get some feedback on what looks better. And be sure I’ll be looking at the site on every browser I can fit on my computer to make sure none of them leave out any important bits.