Monday, December 31, 2007


How's that for a catchy tech blog entry? I have a new client who is a self-appointed "technie-dunderhead" and I love her sense of humor about herself.

Take note, though -- at least she's trying! Today is the last day of 2007, and people are still learning about computers, still making the effort to get up to speed with email, web browsing and the new tech age.

  • 1981 was the birth of the IBM-PC, precursor to all we know today. It's now a quarter-century old
  • 1989 was the year the internet and web were made ordinary, by Tim Berners-Lee.
  • 1994 brought us Windows 3.0, the first graphical interface for computers.
  • 2001 was the first release of Windows XP, quickly adopted by 400 million people by 2006, and still the mainstay for computer users. Fully-functioning and almost quirk-free, Windows XP made the internet and computers a household word and multi-billion dollar industry.

We've reached major milestones in a relatively short time, and there is so much more we can do, as a society, as individuals, and as the first generation on earth to have all this technology available to us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Radio interview available

If you're curious about internet radio programs, and have a few minutes, check out my recent appearance on Mountain Mama Radio here.

Scroll to the right and choose Program #2 and then continue to the second segment if you wish.

Hosted by the very lively Miki Davis, this show is heard Monday's at 10 p.m. Central time. Hope you enjoy it!
(Note:) there is a 5 minute commercial break mid-way through the interview. While listening to that, clean out your email...


Monday, December 17, 2007

Spam: It's worse than ever

Spam is always bad around the holidays, preying on desperate online shoppers, but this report from InfoPackets newsletter shows the problem is worse than ever, and growing.

Continue to use a good internet protection suite, and don't open anything you're not expecting, or from a trusted source.
The best measures:

1. View your mail without using the Preview feature that opens the message.
2. Delete all the spam based on subject line or sender name.
3. Use File / Print Preview if you're viewing email in an email program like Netscape or SeaMonkey.
4. Press Shift+Delete to bypass the Trash and delete spam without opening.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

So what is Kindle?

Kindle is Amazon's attempt to compete with the Sony ebook reader, and is priced in the same category.

Kindle offers wireless access to more than 90,000 downloadable titles at a uniform price of $9.99. The Kindle weighs in at 10.3 ounces with a black & white electronic ink screen that can be read in bright sunlight. It's thin as a pencil and will hold about 200 books, which are also stored in online user accounts and can be redownloaded at any time. Unlike most digital reading devices, Kindle does not require a personal computer. Through an agreement with the Sprint, Amazon has built its own network on the back of Sprint's EVDO wireless cellphone network. There is no separate fee or monthly billing for use of Kindle's wireless access and all titles and services for Kindle can be purchased through the wireless access provided through the device. (Thanks to Maggie at Compulsive Reader).

The ebook market has yet to reach even a mini-peak, in part because there is no standard for ebook files or for the reading device to view them. Most are now available as text files or .PDF and can be viewed right on your computer. They're formatted for very comfortable reading on a laptop.

But a book needs to be portable, so we now have Amazon, world's largest book purveyor offering books readable on their Kindle device. Now, Sony announced they will issue a lower priced reader, and with that sparking the competition, can Microsoft be far behind? Will Google be next? Chances are, now that there's competition, there will be more consumer choices. Until then, Kindle lights my fire, with it's wi-fi access to download books without hassle.

Both of my books, Computer Ease and Release Your Writing are available for download as ebooks if you want to expand your library at half the cost of the softcover books. And, of course, there's no shipping charge.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Leopard's spotty upgrade

Okay, I'll admit it. Reading Eric Zorn's column in the Chicago Tribune is time well spent but it doesn't always make me giddy. Yesterday, 11/20/07, his column "Father knows high-tech hype when he sees it," pleased me. Not because Eric had computer trouble - I take no joy in that for anyone, but because for once, we read something honest, and negative, about the Mac "experience" and the new Leopard operating system.

I consult only on PC's and 2007 is the first year I've heard of so many PC users bailing out and moving to a Mac. Then, they often call and have the same problems with the Mac they had with the PC.... can't print, can't open an email attachment, can't find their files. My premise all along, is that you can have the same problems with a new computer as an old one. Switching doesn't always make it better.

You can read Eric Zorn's article for free on the Chicago Tribune web site. Sign up if you're not already a reader there. Basically, he purchased the new Leopard operating system, only to find the upgrade would wipe out his hard drive -- all data would have to be backed up. So he took it to the Apple store, and paid them to do the upgrade. They also found some faulty memory and restored some of his files but not all. Not a completely happy experience for someone enticed by the promise of an upgrade that costs much more than expected.

There is no panacea with computer, nor with anything else that requires effort. I see the same experience with people who upgrade to Vista on a PC, thinking it will be better. Sadly, it's better for Microsoft, but doesn't do much to enhance a user's productivity. And isn't that why we use technology?

Let me know what you think,
Helen Gallagher

Friday, November 16, 2007

Over 100 Million Blogs!

A recent Chicago Tribune article states there are now 109.2 million blogs. That's one for every 151 people, or one for every 23 people with internet access. Gosh - yes, you do need internet access to view blogs.

No one has time for that much reading, and apparently a lot of blog owners don't have time to write them either. Statistics show over 99 percent of blogs are static that means no updates and no visitors. "a state of total or near-total obscurity," the article states.

If you're a blogger, remember why you are writing: to give readers something of value. So your commitment and obligation are to keep your content fresh and informative. Otherwise, blogging may fade away - and that's trouble for the good ones as well as the bad.

And yes, internet is now spelled with a lower case i. After all, it's the internet, not God. This is the editorial point of view from Wired magazine when they stopped capitalizing internet a few years ago:


It's Just the 'internet' Now

Tony Long Email 08.16.04 | 8:14 AM

"Effective with this sentence, Wired News will no longer capitalize the "I" in internet.

At the same time, Web becomes web and Net becomes net.

Why? The simple answer is because there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words. Actually, there never was.

True believers are fond of capitalizing words, whether they be marketers or political junkies or, in this case, techies. If It's Capitalized, It Must Be Important. In German, where all nouns are capitalized, it makes sense. It makes no sense in English. So until we become Die Wired Nachrichten, we'll just follow customary English-language usage. (Web will continue to be capitalized when part of the more official entity, World Wide Web.)

Still, the decision wasn't made lightly. Style changes are rarely capricious, since change plays havoc with the editor's sacred cow, consistency.

But in the case of internet, web and net, a change in our house style was necessary to put into perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television.

This should not be interpreted as some kind of symbolic demotion. Think of it more as a stylistic reality check."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

QuickBooks software - free

Intuit, Inc., maker of Quicken and QuickBooks is launching a new version of QuickBooks called Simple Start. The retail price is $99.95 but it is now available as a free download from their site at Just Start.

Their goal with the Just Start program is to create a vehicle for entrepreneurs and start-ups, with a site full of advice and services, as well as contests and grants.

If you are a small business or solo operator, and want the full power of QuickBooks, download the free software. It takes about an hour, even at high connection speeds, and can NOT import existing QuickBooks data. It's intended only for someone starting out for the first time.

If you need to issue invoices, track payments and monitor your spending, you have nothing to lose.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I am not sure i can take credit for coining this word, but it popped into my head today: "netrosexual."

In preparing for a panel discussion, I realized how much of the internet is free of gender stereotypes. The web and software in general are very unisex, neither too male or too female. It's a wonderful common ground when intellectual pursuits and knowledge are so gender free. Maybe the web is indeed the great equalizer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Email: Out with the old

We lived without email for generations, but now that it has been in common usage over ten years old, we see signs of wear and tear: that's "tear" as in crying, not ripping up.

We try to get rid of messages once read and file those we need to keep, but they keep pouring in and, as we all know, it's hard to find what you're looking for in a mailbox full of bits and bytes.

My manual solution is to:

Yesterday, a friend told me about a unique strategy you can start doing today. Ready for this?

For each email you receive and read, get rid of two.
So, as she said: "If I get 18 messages, I have to get rid of 36."
What a great way to start slowly conquering the overflowing mailboxes. Thanks JB!

Another wonderful thing about technology is that people are always working on new ideas, and there will be smarter email tools in a couple years. What's in the works? It's a concept called Categorization Technology. Think of it as "tags" or the tagging process that shows instantly how many web pages (or in this case, emails) contain certain words.

Tools like SenseClusters, Digitality, and my favorite name: Pigmail, are underway. We'll soon see which rises to the top and helps conquer email overload. One of the companies working on this has obtained the 3000 Enron emails released by the courts and are using them to create the classification models. If you want access to that file, email me!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Putting computers where they're needed most

We all know people with multiple computers: desktop(s), laptop(s), handheld(s), and none of them are fast enough, new enough, good enough for all their needs. New tech pops out in this industry so fast, we can't keep up.

Yet, I'm constantly aware that the Digital Divide is not closing the gap. A nation with so much tech power doesn't do a very good job of bringing it to the people who could become empowered with a computer and with some training. The past ten years have shown few advances, but now there is good news.

A Chicago Tribune article by Barbara Rose 10/04/07 speaks of a Chicago-area pilot program to "provide low-income working parents with laptops, printers, career assessments, online courses and 12 months of internet access."

Isn't that wonderful? There are only ten participants in the pilot program, but let's hope it thrives. The pilot was launched by National Able Network Inc. and receives funding from the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust and a private family foundation.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Recycling at the rate of 700 cars in 2 hours

Yesterday was the SWANCC electronics recycling event at Motorola in Schaumburg. We filled Jerry's car to the brim with computers, printers, TV's and those old heavy monitors.

Two hours after the event opened, as we waited in line to move forward to the handlers who unload the car, we were stopped for a photo op -- because we were the 700th car - in just two hours !! And, we won a prize: A Bluetooth wireless headset.

Thanks to everyone who helped this recycling event. Below you'll see the full scope of the process.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A 1945 technology prediction

An excerpt from "As We May Think" in the July 1945 Atlantic Monthly.
The author is Dr. Vannevar Bush, a man with imagination...

"Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk."

I'd say his idea indeed came to pass, even better than predicted 67 years ago.
Curious? Read the full 1945 article online here:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Are you an Utne reader?

I'm one a number of lucky people who get to vote on Utne magazine's covers. Last month, my first choice was the winner, for an article on censorship. It was titled: "History, What we're taught, and what's ignored."

If I get my vote, here's the cover you'll see on their next issue. I just couldn't resist!!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Lazy Library offers short books

We have so many days with no time to slow down and read, so was intriqued by this site's slogan: "read less, get more."

Turns out, Lazy Library specializes in offering books under 200 pages, for concise and effective books.
And, it was especially fun to find my own book featured there, at a nice, trim 120 pages.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dell's Vostro so-so review

If you like reading Walt Mossberg's reviews in The Wall Street Journal, here's a video clip of his review of Dell's new Vostro computer line. Intended for small, small businesses, the system gets only a mediocre rating by Walt. Put your money into the home office line of Dell's if that's still your brand.

Dell Vostro audio-video review

Is your computer down for the count?

Even with better security suites, combining anti-virus, spyware and firewall, we still see the summer meltdown - about the fifth year in a row that Computer Clarity has been called to fix or diagnose a computer problem due to a slow computer that just won't do anything. My book, Computer Ease, has an entire chapter covering spyware. The Chicago Computer Soceity reviewer said that chapter alone is worth the $14.95 price of the book.

It happens most in families where children of all ages use the Internet, and inadvertently get themselves into trouble. Often it is not worth fixing the computer because of the high labor cost involved, and because if they did it once they will likely do it again, without a proper protection suite.

Consumer Reports recently cites the facts:
  • Lack of protection on the Internet has cost consumers $7 billion over two years.
  • Computer viruses have prompted 1.8 million households to junk their PCs over the past two years, while spyware has claimed another 850,000 machines in the past six months.
  • And, one-third of U.S. households don't protect their computers from spyware.

Best anti-virus, spyware and firewall suites include:
Computer Associates Internet Security Suite
Panda Software

Better to spend $50/year on protection than send your computer to the next electronics recycling event... which is Sept. 29th at Motorola in Schaumburg. Do not throw computers, printers, or monitors in the trash.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fix your Norton Anti-Virus program today

If you use Norton Anti-Virus, you should run Live Update as soon as you can. The company patched a serious flaw on August 12th.

Through an error in its product, programming language flaws could allow another computer to take control of your software. Norton was not properly checking the data it received to make certain malicious commands did not pass through.

Thanks to Network World for announcing the problem - there's no record of it on Norton's Symantec site.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Is it a phone bill or a novel?

Now that iPhone customers got over the shock of paying $500 or $600 for a phone, their first month phone bills are landing with a big THWAK in the mailbox or on their doorstoop. A 50 or 100 page bill??

Seems the sleek-minded Apple folks and the AT&T Service provider screwed up big time.

Here's an example, from the hilarious David Pogue of the New York Times.

..."It’s a staggeringly, hatefully complex document, designed by some Monty Pythoneseque committee in charge of consumer confusion.

For starters, although I signed up for what iTunes told me was a $60 plan (450 minutes, unlimited Internet), the bill says I have a $40 voice plan and a $20 Internet plan, and lists them on separate pages.

The first bill, believe it or not, comes to $150. It’s filled with unexplained services and features that were never mentioned during the signup process, like MEDIA MAX, EXPD M2M, VOICE PRIVACY, and AT&T DIRECT BILL.

... It’s an unadulterated waste of paper, ink, and fuel to deliver it. It helps no one; dudes, we’re all on unlimited data plans! Who the heck needs a breakdown like this? If AT&T thinks anyone cares, they should stick it on the Web, for crying out loud."

If you have time, read more at David's blog at

Of course, the only reason I find this so funny is because I didn't buy one !

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The virtual reality of Web 2.0

I've written before about Web 2.0 - the convergence of social networking that puts the MeMe generation in a homogeneous sandbox with all their playmates. Web 2.0 sites like Digg and FaceBook draw crowds who post their favorite things online - lists of web sites, books, photos, music, and surround themselves with others who share their interest.

Many of these social networking site owners don't do much except pay the electric bill, yet they make a zillion dollars on advertising.

What are we wasting in the earth's resources by dreaming up ways to waste time through these social networking venues? Are you ready for the answer? ....

One site,, allows you to create an "avatar," a fake you, in a land of make-believe where you can create essentially a cartoon version of yourself, your town, clothing, etc. Or a fantasy life for yourself as a billionaire, movie star, who knows what else...

Second Life describes itself as "a 3D online digital world imagined, created & owned by its residents." It lets people live in a fantasy world, acting out behaviors they can't get away with in real life, and buying and selling goods with an imaginary currency called "Linden dollars."

Once the site became popular, large companies even created avatars for their brands and create an entire imaginary society online.

Fascinating in itself, sociologists are surely working on an analysis of "people with too much time." But more interesting at the moment, author Nick Carr, author of Does IT Matter? has calculated that an avatar on Second Life essentially uses as much electricity as a real live resident of Brazil.

The avatar world on Second Life has an average of 12,500 people online at any time. Carr calculates the computers of the real people who create these imaginary lives would use 12,500 computers, and the servers that host the site might require 4,000 computers. Based on typical watts of electricity consumed by computers, a day on Second Life therefore consumes about 60,000 kilowatt-hours.

So check the world electricity usage stats and that's a close measure to the daily electricity used by an average person in Brazil.

Now should we measure the lost productivity in the world economy by people creating and dressing these fake personas?

An executive at Sun MicroSystem's Dave Douglas took this moral dilemma a step further and calculated the CO2 emissions (greenhouse gasses) from the production of all this electricity. Douglas writes the avatar uses "1,752 kWH/year per avatar -- about 1.17 tons of CO2. That's the equivalent of driving an SUV around 2,300 miles (or a Prius around 4,000)."

You can read more at Nick Carr's blog:

or post a comment here to share your thoughts.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Information grab by Google?

As an update to the post of July 8, about Google:

The Google program that ran on PBS in Chicago on July 12th, a film called "The World According to Google" was surprising.

Instead of celebrating the behemoth, it dug into assessing the scope of the enterprise, questioning the right of one company to collect all the world's information. I've long suspected Google and other big internet firms were on that path.

I listened with interest as Brewster Kahle, the man who made a fortune with the Alexa search engine, and founded the Internet Archive in 1996 discussed the issue. Unlike Google, the Internet Archive purpose is: "
offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format."

There's an interesting interview with Brewster Kahle on

The business model for Google is sound: give information away for free, get money from advertisers. But who owns that information? We do. And, while it is clear that large internet companies collect user data, they are also giving that information away, either through strategic alliances, or if the government demands it.

Do you want all your private photos, email , address, web search history and files on your computer archived forever by them? And given or sold to others?

The Internet archive has received a grant to challenge Google Library's right to own digital book rights. See CNET

Are you still with me? Contrary to Google's efforts to capture and digitize books from the world's libraries, the Open Content Alliance, is a joint effort by the Internet Archive, Yahoo and Microsoft to digitize library collections, including those of the University of California system and The University of Toronto. Unlike a similar project from Google, which allows users to read the digitized content only through Google's Web site, the OCA material will be searchable through any service and everyone will be encouraged to download books.

Who's to say
Google will always live by its 'do no evil' motto, once they compile more information than any other source?
Who's to say what is free on the web today won't suddenly require prices once needed information is locked up by a corporation?

I'm only asking the questions, here. I don't have the answers, but hope you'll spend a few minutes noodling the ethical dilemma posed by the problem.
Helen Gallagher
Computer Clarity
Tech news at

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Have mouse, will travel ~ and travail

I burned my finger with a too-hot touchpad. Here's my solution:

I love using my notebook computer, all day, every day, from cafe, to client, to summer on the balcony.
My Averatec notebook has a speedy built-in touchpad but lately it has become so HOT I'm hurting my fingers. While waiting for tech support to determine if there is a recall notice, I switched to my wireless mouse.

The Logitech Optical Wi-FI mouse connects wirelessly via a USB sensor that plugs into your computer's USB port. The connector looks just like a thumb drive. When you roam, you pull the USB out, snap it onto the bottom of the mouse and you're ready to go. Without a rolling ball on the bottom, the mouse works on any surface, knee, dashboard, even on your laptop wrist rest.

I have been using it lately as a portable mouse wherever I go and it is fantastic. Office Max has a big selection, and I'm sure other retailers do too.
Logitech Mouse

PS - it's a perfect present for all those Leo's with an August birthday!!

Read more Good Mousekeeping tips in "Computer Ease."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

On PBS this Thursday, July 12, 2007

Google truly is an amazing empire. Be sure to watch this PBS show Thursday night.

The World According to Google

Thursday, July 12, 8:00pm


A look at Google, the Internet company whose motto is "don't be evil." Included: the company's "chief Internet evangelist" Vint Cerf; Google's hiring process; and the ethical and philosophical questions it faces.

And while Google has grown from good to great, and bred more than a few multi-millionaires, remember, it's not always the best search tool for your needs.

Read about "Search Engines: Order out of chaos," in Computer Ease.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Is more RAM the answer?

If your computer is slowing down, it is not likely due to the number of files you've saved. No need to feel guilty and start emptying the trash. It's more likely the amount of random access memory (RAM).

I know what you're thinking: The computer has the same amount of memory it did when it was new. Why wouldn't it be enough now. Well, more programs, like web browsers and Microsoft Office use much more memory. They are now graphic-intensive resource hogs.

The less memory you have, the slower the computer is to switch between programs, open and close files, and save your data. The more time you're online, the slower it works, perhaps needing a reboot to refresh the memory. When memory is unavailable, the computer starts using disk space for temporary, virtual storage.

Memory is an expensive component of computers so PC manufacturers skimp on memory. If you can, next time, buy a computer with double the original memory.

For now, if your computer acts downright lazy, the easy solution is to double the memory.
You can also use a utility like MemTurbo or SpeedUpMyPC.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Act completes turn-around

The many fans of Act in Computer Clarity's database will be thrilled to know the newest versions are stellar.
We mourned the loss of speed and clarity after version 2000, when Act was sold to Best Software, who made it second-best with version 2005. Very slow ... I mean v e r y s l o o o w. It was maddening.

Act is now owned by Sage Software and version 2007 is terrific. Performance is up to speed if your computer has at least 1 GB memory, and the appearance is improved. The beta of their next version shows Sage is on the right track, and is rewarding our patience after a rocky change in ownership.

You can still purchase older versions of Act on the secondary market (amazon,, etc.) but spring for the newest if your business needs a fresh start on managing contacts.

Friday, June 22, 2007

AT&T = Ameritech = SBC = AT&T

Now that "the phone company" has come full circle, most clients who signed up for SBC Global DSL service are being phased into the AT&T DSL service. If you did not receive an email from AT&T instructing you on how to change your POP and SMTP mail servers, and are having trouble with email, here are the correct settings.

Instead of: use

Instead of: use

Change the POP server port to 995 instead of 110 and
change the SMTP server port to 465 instead of 25.

Got it? If not, let me know if you need a housecall.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Most-asked tech questions

Having just returned from a brief vacation, the voicemail and email show a trend. Here's what's on the minds of my clients:

1. Should I buy another Windows XP computer while they are still available?
Answer: Yes. Don't get Vista unless you have lots of spare time to play around with it.

2. What's the easiest backup method.
Answer: USB thumb drives or online backup service like Genie Backup Manager.

3. Email is becoming a terrible, messy burden.
Answer: I know, I know. The best strategy is to reply, file or delete. Don't let the Inbox, Sent or Trash build up to hundreds of messages. It's anxiety-producing and inefficient. Read, Act, or Dump, that's all we can do.

4. Isn't there an easier way to find my files?
Answer: Windows Explorer with it's nested folder system, and quick search ability is the best we've got for now. It does take time to manage, but it takes less time than paper files. Make folders, drag your stuff into them, and do a backup. Then, grab a book and go to the swimming pool to relax.

There is an entire chapter in Computer Ease on handling these mundane tasks. But if they make our life easier and let us work faster, they're worth learning.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Jim Coates retires from tech writing

Chicago Tribune columnist, Jim Coates, a nationwide favorite, is retiring today. He provided more laughs, compassion and clarity than any other tech columnist in the country. No one could sort out the facts, labor hours over re-creating errors, testing software, interviewing company execs, and sniffing out the truth about the way things work.

Here at Computer Clarity I always thought the battles I fought to make things right for clients were in unison with Jim and his thinking about the way technology should work, so I'll miss his columns. His retirement may be the start of a book career, so we haven't heard the last of him.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Life - stored in computers

Computers are fantastic for data storage, but there's so much more than can do. I've long followed the work of Gordon Bell, a 72-year-old Microsoft engineer who is gathering all the elements of his life into a digital storage system. His project, My Life Bits, is sponsored by Microsoft. Bell's biggest challenge is to come up with a meaningful use for such a powerful collection of life's flotsam.

You can read a fresh account of this project by Alec Wilkinson in the 5/28/07 New Yorker. More to the point, it might get you thinking about what you'd like to log as the memorable events of your own life. From the compulsive diaries of Samuel Pepys, the attention and introspection of such records is surely a noble effort, but I fear, one that I'd be incapable of stopping once started.

Another Microsoft researcher, Eric Horvitz, has intriguing ideas about creating a computer that could think like us. His Lifebrowser project uses a computer to do so much more than we've ever thought of. When computers are still, he feels they could be put to use to understand our minds, catalog and organize our memories, and " help you be a better you."

My personal commitment is on a much smaller scale. Using a Palm LifeDrive I'm able to capture more than 4 GB of data - all contacts, calendars, photos, books, business files in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, accounting, wi-fi, email, web pages and more more more. I'm listening to MP3 recordings of a conference I attended last month, simultaneously taking notes and researching web sites of the speakers.

It's a fantastic adventure to stretch technology and my mind til they converge in a smarter place. We live in a marvelous age.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Release Your Writing"

Good news for writers interested in publishing a book. I am completing my manuscript for Release Your Writing: Options in Self-Publishing and will have the book available for the Cultural Center Book Fair in October. Learn more at

Another nice award

After winning a non-fiction award for Computer Ease in 2006 at the Illinois Women's Press Association, I'm doubly pleased to have won 3rd place for Best Essay this year. It is for my contribution to The World Is a Kitchen, published by Lonely Planet's Travelers' Tales.

Friday, May 18, 2007

What is Web 2.0?

A client just asked for help understanding Web 2.0 on the Q & A forum at
Since space is limited there, here's the concept:

Web 2.0 is a new wave beyond static web pages delivering info on your screen. The 2.0 implies a new generation, just as software that moves from version 1 to 2.

What's different is that information can be readily shared, accessed from anywhere, and massive storage space is free. It includes simple, and even free, tools and applications, like Picasa for photo management. The broader concept is: "web-based software services" that encourage users to become more involved with information.

Web 2.0 start-ups received $844 million in venture capital during 2006, double the prior year, according to VentureOne.

Web 2.0 is moving into "mashups," merging ideas such as adding Google Maps to Craig's List. If someone searches for an apartment on Nob Hill, they can click the map to view the actual neighborhood and street.

Web 2.0 uses new technology that goes far beyond HTML, like AJAX, RSS and XML.

It remains to be seen if this is a new way for the me-me-me generation to waste time, or whether companies can make it work for communication and interactive meetings, giving people a base station to launch their life online.

TIP: When you see a word you're unfamiliar with, look it up at
When you're mystified by acronyms, use

Could Google become the "New Coke?"

Google got to the top of the ephemeral search heap by focusing on gathering more information than anyone else, using search algorithms to produce query results and creating a design that gave users more white space than jut about any other web site. Not revolutionary, but effective and efficient.

Now, Google is beginning to stray. Like New Coke, they're tampering with a core product and losing the fizz. Or McDonald's, with a winning formula for burgers, now saying: "You want salad? We've got salad." "Steak, chicken, ice cream? Come on in." So it loses its uniqueness, differentiation and becomes a confusing choice, whether we're talking media or meat.

I'm sure you've noticed the web, or now Web 2.0 (see next article), is merging media, like TV, radio, newspapers, with video, music, and info-bits from random sources. Google is now testing its famous search function doctored up to add all that plus timelines, photo galleries,

Saying the old model of searching is, well, old, Google is launching the first major change ever for the multi-billion dollar search company. The new "Universal Search" model looks like the mega-storm of junk you can find elsewhere: Images, video clips, news from elsewhere, book content, maps and, of course, web sites, which is what people are looking for when they search Google.

So deep is the promised change, users will have to learn to navigate a new Google homepage and wander past ads for other Google products. Or maybe not - Maybe Google will no longer be a web user's first stop when they're hungry for information and short on time. Hmmm, isn't that the same problem McDonald's has?

If used well for serious research, Google is like magic. But, they're "fiddling with the magic," says ZDNet's digital blogger, Donna Bogatin.

While waiting for New Google, remember offers clustered results down the left rail of the screen, sub-dividing search results into categories. No need to waste time elsewhere, sorting through the fast-food menu that used to be Google.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Business 2.0 mag flunks Backup 101

Business 2.0 is a glossy business & technology magazine owned by Time, Inc. While putting together their next issue, for June, the magazine’s editorial system crashed, wiping out all the work and the backup server failed to back up.

In the New York Times, Business 2.0 editor Josh Quittner is quoted as saying: "The night of the crash, our tech guy was here until 4 o’clock in the morning, but the patient died.” Until then, the magazine had never had to rely on its backup server, he said, so no one had noticed that its programming was either obsolete or dysfunctional, or both.

The June issue will still be published. What saved the day? They had emailed all article content to their attoryneys, and had the email attachments, because the mail server didn't crash. Maybe next time they'll also back up their email.

Monday, April 23, 2007

My New York marathon

I'm not a runner, and definitely not athletic, so my version of a New York marathon is this:

"Thirty hours in New York without crossing a street"

As those who know me can attest, I'm always thinking about the perils of multi-tasking and how to be efficient, focus and get things done.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors ( had their annual writing conference this past weekend and I wanted to attend scads of sessions and workshops. Limited time didn't stop me. Although I have pressing deadlines and commitments, I though about how I could make it work - take the time to escape to New York and focus on writing.

So I took American Airlines first flight Saturday morning, and took a taxi from LaGuardia upon landing. Twenty minutes later, I was immediately immersed in the conference at the Grand Hyatt. I attended lectures, targeted my goals to match the time available, and did some networking. Walked 50 feet from the hotel into Grand Central Station to give credence to the metaphor of life being "like Grand Central Station." Sure, it's a busy place, but the architecture, eclectic mix of people, and the exotic food court won me over.

Sunday as the conference wrapped up, it was back to the airport and home. It was 30 hours round trip, mission accomplished, a weekend getaway, a productive conference, and an opportunity to focus.

The very successful "Getting Things Done" by David Allen has lots of good advice on productivity and focus, if you have time to read it... while you're jogging. Allen actually admits its okay to have nothing on your mind now and then.

Helen Gallagher
author: Computer Ease

Friday, April 20, 2007

Today Dell reverts back to Windows XP. Users win!

This post comes from

Dell Offers Windows XP to Home Users
by Bill Lindner

Dell has announced that it will begin offering Windows XP on some of their consumer systems due to significant customer demand. The company said many customers have been asking for XP as part of the Dell IdeaStorm project, which asks customers to help the company come up with product ideas.

"We heard you loud and clear on bringing the Windows XP option back to our Dell consumer PC offerings," Dell said on its Ideas in Action page. Users vote on various suggestions. Bringing Windows XP back received over 10,000 votes. Interestingly, adding Linux received over 123,000 votes.

Starting immediately, Dell will be adding Windows XP Home and Windows Professional as options on four Inspiron laptop models and two Dimension desktop models. Last month Dell added Windows XP as an option for small business customers but not for home users.

Analysts say Dell's move is not a good sign for Windows Vista. "[The fact] that there is remaining demand from some segment of [the] consumer market points to the inability of Vista to resonate with consumers," IDC analyst Richard Shim said.

Shim said there was an initial bump in Vista sales right after its launch, but that some of that may have been from consumers who waited to purchase a PC until it was available. Sales in the later part of the first quarter were less strong and that the overall response to Vista will become clearer throughout the year.

Visit Bill's Links and More for more great tips, just like this one!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Windows vs. Vista announcement

I've just learned that Microsoft will stop selling Windows XP by January 1, 2008.
So store inventories of Windows XP computers will be phased out over the next six months, even sooner for Dell.

The dilemma:

If you want or need to replace your computer - you can:

1. buy it before year end as a defensive strategy to be sure get Windows XP and live with a new computer running an obsolete operating system, or
2. do nothing until you have no choice and get a new computer running Vista.

Microsoft will not support Windows XP, even on a machine still under warranty after April 14, 2009.

As of April 4, 2007, Dell announced they are only offering Windows XP on Dimension and Inspiron computers until this summer.

"Dell recognizes the needs of small business customers and understands that more time is needed to transition to a new operating system.The plan is to continue offering Windows XP on select Dimension and Inspiron systems until later this summer.

Dell does not have plans to launch Windows XP for home users as the preference and demand is for the “latest and greatest” technology which includes Windows Vista."


Many think this Microsoft strategy is an alarmist effort to sell more of its Vista operating system. Why are sales low? Expensive hardware requirements, incompatibility surprises, and user contentment with Windows XP.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

French art exhibit in New Orleans

I just returned from a fabulous trip to New Orleans. Despite what we hear about the city in the news, tourism is vibrant, loads of events are planned all through the year. Here's a link to a very special exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Femme, Femme, Femme, published in San Antonio Express-News

Monday, March 26, 2007

Taking Multitasking to Task

Another report in the news urges us to focus, focus, focus. While I couldn't read the article in one sitting, and my mind wandered to three other ideas, I did read it. The Chicago Tribune story, by Steve Lohr quotes David Meyer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan: "Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes. Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information."

Sorry - got interrupted.

As I was saying, I have noticed that multi-tasking and the constant effort to recover from interruption is fatiguing and results in getting less done.

Add up all the starting and stopping and you'll see why you're worn out and not sure what you should do next. If you ask yourself "What was I working on?" you suffer from task overload too.

My office phone line has been broken almost all week. It has nasty interference noises, sometimes rings like a fire alarm, sometimes like a dying bird. So until it is repaired, I have turned the ringer off and just check for voicemail every hour.

When you have a lot to get done, try turning off the phone and closing your email program for a few hours. I predict your productivity will soar.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Will Social Networking please peak soon?

With the wealth of powerful knowledge and information available worldwide on the web, doesn't this seem a bit pathetic? Source:

Hitwise US - Top 20 Websites - February, 2007

Rank Website Market Share
1. 5.93%
2. 4.47%
3. 4.16%
4. 4.1%
5. 3.86%
6. 1.98%
7. 1.81%
8. 1.55%
9. 1.42%
10. 0.81%
11. 0.76%
12. 0.61%
13. 0.53%
14. 0.44%
15. 0.39%
16. 0.38%
17. 0.33%
18. 0.33%
19. 0.31%
20. 0.29%

Source - Hitwise - February, 2007 - based on market share of visits.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Are your programs compatible with Vista?

Microsoft has issued a list of programs certified or approved to run on Vista.

You can read the full list here.
Clients: Note that only Act Premium is listed, not all versions of Act.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Skip to the Loo is one of my favorite tech sites. They scope out the most ingenious, creative, web tools, gadgets, and productivity tools. Here's a clever one.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

SeaMonkey: Part 2 - It's a winner

As a follow-up to my post on January 26, 2007, SeaMonkey, from Mozilla, makers of Firefox, is a worthy contender for your web browsing and email management.

I mentioned my search for a replacement for the Netscape browser. It's a good product, but v. 7.2 has been crashing in many multi-media and ad-filled web sites, such as CNN. And v. 8.3 is dandy but Netscape abandoned the integrated email feature after v. 7.2.

Netscape, invented at the University of Illinois, used to be the dominant browser in the PC marketplace, until Microsoft embedded IE on every computer sold. Even the US Justice Dept. couldn't manage to unravel that theft of market share. Netscape remained relatively safe from hackers, offered tabbed browsing, robust email with an excellent junk filter, labels to sort mail by priority and sub-folder support.

I started looking for a replacement because I also need Netscape's Composer feature to edit web pages and publish them on the fly. The HTML editor was unique to Netscape. Copy-cats IE and Firefox didn't add that to their browser, and never figured out a way to include integrated email.

So I downloaded SeaMonkey and recommend you do the same. While Firefox is a dandy browser, SeaMonkey's integration of browsing and a terrific email program is a real asset. The download is quick. You can get it here:

It completely configured itself - importing bookmarks, address book, email settings and took about ten minutes. If you're not sure you love it, don't make it your "default" browser, and you can always go back to old habits. But SeaMonkey, which is a Firefox product, is finally one program for all web needs. I recommend it. To prove how closely these products are based on Netscape, SeaMonkey looks EXACTLY like Netscape 7.2, except for the logo.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What's in your "Office?"

If you are upgrading to Office 2007, be sure to take a good look at what programs are in your current Office suite.
Every new version seems to flip around a few key products, beyond the basic Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Here's a run-down on what's in each version: (unique components in Bold)

Home & student version:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote

Standard version:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook

Small Business version:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook for Business, Publisher, Accounting Express

Professional version:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook for Business, Publisher, Access, Accounting Express

Ultimate version:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook for Business, Publisher, Access, InfoPath, Groove, Accounting Express

If you have a prior version, such as 2000 or 2003 with other tools you want, that aren't included in your version of Office 2007, be sure to load the new version in a separate folder and do not remove the prior version.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

In the shadow of Vista: Office 2007

Now that the Microsoft Vista's over-hyped launch has appropriately fizzled, looked at the companion Office 2007 and has the following report, admired for its brevity:

"The good: Previously hard-to-find features now easier to explore; Word embraces basic desktop publishing tools; Excel formulas are easier to reference; PowerPoint presentations are more attractive; Outlook improves task and time management; improved integration throughout the applications; smaller application and file sizes; new file formats are easier to salvage if corrupted; document security is more straightforward.

The bad: Drastic design changes demand a steep learning curve if you're upgrading; new interface isn't always intuitive; contextual tabs and style galleries can be distracting; users of Office 2000 through 2003 must install converters to open Office 2007 files; no easy way to save work to the Web."

If you are using Office 2000 or 2003, and happy with it, there's no need to chase after this new version. But if you're in the market for an update from Office 97, or want to purchase individual components, focus on the 'good' as shown above, and conquer the bad by learning about the new features. Absent a way to save work to the web, you might also want a good web editing program. Let me know if you need help along the way.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

When a blogger types in China...

Last week, I made a presentation to a writer's group about blogs: their immediacy, their impact, and the pleasures of a space on the web where writers like me can post brief essays about any topics of interest at any time.

I doubt there were any skeptics in the audience after my presentation, based on all the positive feedback I've received. If there were, today's Chicago Tribune rather proves my point about the efficacy of blogs.

On Page One in the Sunday Tribune there's an article by Evan Osnos, a Tribune foreign correspondent :

"Chinese blogger's crusade has Starbucks feeling heat"

The blogger, Rui Chenggang, a television anchorman, believes Starbucks should withdraw it's shop from the 600-year-old majestic palace complex in the Forbidden City as a sign of cultural respect.

As a result of the blogger's campaign, palace authorities are weighing the issue, and thousands of Internet users are visitings Rui's blog. China has 20 million bloggers and 137 million web users, according to the article, which states: "With few other ways to protest within China, consumers see the web as a raucous town square."

News of this blogger's efforts have spread to CNN, MSNBC, News, Technorati - the blog search engine, and probably Starbucks headquarters too.

I'm unable to link to Chenggang''s blog for you, because it's written in Chinese. Our insular American web browsers generally can't display Chinese characters, but you can find out more by looking up his name at or

Vista Lust?

Okay, Microsoft's new operating system, Vista, launches at midnight tomorrow. Isn't that a lot of hoopla for an operating system? Sit tight if you can fight the desire for Vista. Your computer would need more memory, a bigger hard drive, a faster processer, new graphics card, and a DVD drive just to load it. Plus, many peripherals such as printers, backup systems and digital cameras won't work on Vista without udpated software.

If you don't believe me, here's the viewpoint from The Chicago Tribune's Jim Coates today. He's everyone's favorite print columnist and he says:

"... and many experts are telling their clients (correctly, I think) to stick with Windows XP until their next machine. This is because much of Vista focuses on ease of use and beautiful displays one can get by without for a while."

Friday, January 26, 2007


Our loyalty to Netscape as the most secure browser, with best features, is likely coming to an end.

I'm currently evaluating SeaMonkey from Mozilla as an alternative.

Many clients report Netscape crashes when opening web pages that are created with advanced graphics, flash screens end embedded video.

Netscape v. 8.3 is stable, but many of us are holding on to v. 7.2 because it is the last version to include email. Newer versions are browser only, exactly like IE and Firefox.

But Netscape was always fantastic. It was relatively safe from hackers, offered tabbed browsing, robust email with an excellent junk filter, labels to sort mail by priority and sub-folder support.

Then there was the outstanding ability to edit web pages and publish them on the fly. I used this feature every week. The HTML editor was unique to Netscape. Copy-cats IE and Firefox didn't add that to their browser, and couldn't seem to figure out a way to include email.

SeaMonkey, from the original makers of Netscape looks like a good replacement. You can download the product here:
or wait til I have a chance to conclude a 30-day test of the program. Write to me at if you have questions or opinions about SeaMonkey.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tips for Creating Strong Passwords

  1. Use more than the minimum number of six characters, since longer passwords are generally more secure than shorter ones.
  2. Use punctuation symbols in your password, such as a period ( . ) or an exclamation point ( ! ), and a mix of upper and lowercase letters.
  3. Replace a letter or two with a number or symbol that looks similar, such as @ for a or 1 for i.
  4. Avoid common words or well known information about yourself (such as birth date and family members' names) as part of your password. Instead, use a word or phrase that is easy for you to remember but difficult for others to figure out.
  5. Use a memory aid. One common method for creating strong passwords is to create a phrase that only you would understand to use as an aid for remembering your password (mnemonic).

For example, a common mnemonic used to help school children remember the notes for the lines of the G clef musical scale (EGBDF, from bottom to top) is "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge." An associated password for that mnemonic could be gClef_3gbdf.

Why Create a Strong Password?

Online criminals are, unfortunately, very sophisticated at figuring out passwords. The strong password requirements that BizLand enforces are far more effective at keeping your account secure than simple everyday words.

Here's a test you'll likely fail:
Go to
and see how quickly your password fails to pass their basic security check.

Any questions? Contact

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Coincidence? I don't think so

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Here is my book cover, for Computer Ease, launched in November, 2005.

And here is the Nov. 6, 2006 New Yorker.

I'm getting a kick out of the similarity to my book.

Vista update

Microsoft Vista, the operating system to replace Windows XP will begin shipping at the end of this month, and will be on most new computers by next month. Before it's even on the market, Microsoft has launched the "Vista Ultimate Extras" package. As I've said before, Vista is indeed a refreshing and exciting interface, but none of the glitz matters if we still just want to do our work the same way. There are long-term, significant improvements in security, but don't get caught in the hype. For example, the two biggest features of the Ultimate Extras package are: Texas Hold'M Poker and DreamScene to animate your screen wallpaper. As I said, the hype won't improve productivity, so either buy it for fun, or wait til you get a new computer and spend time learning some of the more worthwhile features.