Archive for the ‘HolloTech’ Category.

Blog… Blaaahg

Is just me, or is blogging beginning to be old school?  Passe?  So, like, five-minutes-ago?  Maybe, maybe not.  I’m reading that some forward thinking web gurus are blogging less and less, increasing their use of social networking tools like Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others to connect with the wider internet community, passing around news, tech tips, pictures, ideas, articles, current whereabouts, party plans, and just about anything else you can think of sharing, all online and nearly in real time.

I’ve noticed that my public online writing energy has veered ever further away from blogging and into the developing world of social networking tools.  Blogging for me has usually meant a fairly extended solitary exercise of crafting an article (since I’m kind of picky about what and how I write), perhaps working on an image to include, then posting the article and maybe getting a comment or two.  Or not.  Even if I make the effort to eyeball my site statistics, I don’t really have an intimate sense of who’s visiting.  Now that I think about it, it’s about as enticing as junior high school homework assignment.  Unless there is something I’m hankering to write about just to get it off my chest, blogging has lately become a rare choice.  Apparently, what I’m after is a more lively connection and engagement with the world via online resources.  Hey, it only makes sense, since I live in the middle of nowhere.

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%#?!*#^&#! Computers!!

Okay, okay, I know I said I would start blogging again and then once more went virtually silent. Le sigh. In my defense, on top of my technical difficulties with WordPress, my HP laptop gave up the ghost the day we got home from our travels. A venerable machine, scraped and cracked and dented, with screen flopping and speakers crackling, my old lappy was originally purchased in 2004 and has gone through a memory upgrade, a couple hard drives, and I lost count of how many batteries. The poor thing finally did the laptop equivalent of the Blues Brothers car meltdown. Godspeed, my old, familiar-if-not-trusty companion.

So now comes the big question for me: Another Windows machine? Pfft. I’d like to support an alternative to the Behemoth of Redmond.

At the moment, I’m working on an old Acer laptop of Conal’s, which became his Linux experimentation toy after upgrading to a new Windows laptop awhile ago. Although Ubuntu is being pretty friendly with me so far, I suspect I’m not nearly technical enough to be really comfy in a Linux environment for the long term, even sitting next to a computer scientist as I do. If I caved in and bought a Windows machine, I could use all my hard-won knowledge, decades in the accumulation, of how to get anything at all done on a PC. I’d still bug Conal plenty, of course, but Windows is the devil I know best.

But wait. Here’s a thought: how about if I consider a computer that claims to help me spend more time getting things done, being creative, and enjoying myself, rather than investing a significant portion of my life attempting to prevent or recover from breaking, freezing, crashing, becoming overrun by malicious software, and just generally being a pain in the ass? Yes, I am truly considering a Mac. ::GASP:: Steve’s got me all in a froth about his new forged-from-one-piece-of-aluminum notebooks. This in spite of the fact that there is at least one piece of software I’m not sure I’m ready to do without (MS Money), although I understand that Boot Camp can solve that problem by allowing Windows software to run on a Mac.

Ooo, baby, my kingdom for a durable, reliable, robust, fun-to-use lappy. I entertain visions of making art, music, and even movies with ease and pleasure. I would even consider paying the much ouchier Apple prices to gain entrance to this life of joyful productivity. My eyes are tearing up just imagining such a life…

I dunno really, though. I’m vacillating. I could stick with my comfort zone and grab a great deal on a Windows laptop. Or, I could set off into a new, more expensive venture into the world of Mac, which I find tantalizing and also a bit scary. Meantime, I’m getting to learn a little about Linux, so who knows.

Any PC-to-Mac converts out there? How was it? Are you glad? Any regrets? How ’bout proud Linux geeks? Any words of encouragement for a newbie?

Snail Mail Goes Digital

If you are like me, you don’t particularly enjoy dealing with all the snail mail — much of it crap you didn’t ask for and don’t want — that comes flying your way via the US Postal Service. Perhaps, also like me, you figured dealing with the stuff to be an inevitable and inescapable chore of modern life. Perhaps you, like me, would jump at the chance to significantly reduce the hassle of dealing with your mail.

I don’t mean just rerouting or reducing the amount of mail you get, although that’s great, too. I’ve taken advantage of every “opt-out” and “do not ever mail crap to me on pain of death” option I could lay my hands on, and still I am deluged with crap. There’s no sense getting mad at the USPS, though, they’re just the messenger. What are we, the poor tired masses, to do?

Well, who knew that radical alternatives were being cooked up by some mad geniuses in Seattle. I probably would not have found out about the company at all if it weren’t for our European Romance. Since we’ll be away for the entire summer, I had to find a way to deal with the darn snail mail. As per usual, I started with a Google search, and wonder of wonders, there was Earth Class Mail.

Earth Class Mail proposes to make dealing with snail mail as simple, portable, and easy as dealing with email, while aspiring to make a significant dent in the waste stream by recycling a huge percentage of the crap mail that tends to end up in landfills. From the company’s “about” page:

Earth Class Mail is changing how postal mail is delivered, for the betterment of individuals, businesses, national post offices, and most importantly – the planet. Instead of making physical postal deliveries which are so dependent on fuel for planes and trucks, we deliver postal mail online - where people can deal with it instantly, anywhere in the world.

No matter where our customers are, they simply log-in to view pictures of their mail and decide what they want to do with each piece. For example, they can choose which pieces to have opened and scanned so they can read them online, and which to recycle, archive, or have sent to them in “snail mail” form wherever they are located – all with the click of a mouse.

Wow, this sounded great to me! I love my computer and am happy handling my business tasks online as much as possible. I’ve even been noodling on going paperless entirely. In contrast to many activities in our ever more digitally-enhanced lives, standard mail has remained hooked on physical paper. Even worse, since we moved to a private road in the country, we must get in the car and drive to the post office to retrieve our mail, since the USPS does not deliver to our home. Talk about old tech!

Annoyance factor aside, I dislike the waste of my and everybody else’s time and other resources, both monetary (those advertisers’ dollars are going straight into the trash) and environmental (I have to drive my trash to the collection site in order to dump all that useless paper I never wanted in the first place).

I read as much as I could find online about the company, which was not a whole lot, and not all of it was flattering. I decided to sign up anyway, since if the service actually delivered on its promises it would be the perfect set up for Conal and me. I created an account for both of us, chose a mailing address in Seattle (for no other reason than because it’s my hometown), and went about obtaining and mailing notarized authorization forms to ECM, which are required by USPS in order for the company to receive mail on your behalf. I was all set to receive mail via ECM.

I asked my mom to mail me something as a test. Shortly thereafter, I received an email notification that I had received a piece of mail and voy-oh-lay, there it was in my online inbox, including a scanned image of the front and back of the envelope. Cool! I proceded then to instruct the USPS to forward all our mail to our ECM address.

Now, after about two months of using the service, I can wholeheartedly recommend it.  Automated email notices are sent to alert me of activity on the account.  I can log in to the system anytime and review JPG images of the front and back of new mail, decide what I’d like to have opened and scanned, recycled, shredded, forwarded to another address, or archived.  Conal reviews his mail on the same account, and we can transfer items back and forth, with notes as to what sort of action might be needed.  So far, I’ve not needed to have anything forwarded to me in Europe.  Items that I want to have frequent access to, I download onto my hard drive (the scanned files are in PDF format) for reference as needed.  Even that is usually overkill, as archived mail is always available in the system.

When we get home this fall, I’ll stop the USPS forwarding and our regular service will resume.  However, I will very likely be switching a good deal of our mail to our ECM permanently.

This is technology that reminds me of Skype, which changed how many people (including me) perceive and execute voice communication.  I’m enjoying a similarly seismic shift in how I relate to postal mail.

An appreciative tip of the hat to Earth Class Mail.

Cutest Cars Evar

I’m excited that the tipping point for electric cars may be finally approaching. The Tesla, the Volt, and the Aptera, to name a few, are all getting flurries of blog attention, as is alternative fuel technology in general.

TriacSan Jose-based Green Vehicles has been popping up in various tech and auto blogs lately, seemingly out of nowhere. Who are these guys, anyway? Reviewers are generally of the opinion that the company’s fully electric three-wheeler, called the Triac, is huggably cute.

I couldn’t agree more and I totally want one. Actually, I like the Microwat model, too, and may be hard pressed to choose between it and the Triac. One of each? Hmm, with reported prices approaching twenty G’s, I might have to restrain myself to just one. Well, that and my suspicion that my 6′5″ sweetheart wouldn’t be able to fit so much as a shoe inside any of these little cutsie-poos. Oh, well.

Be sure to have the sound turned on when visiting so you can enjoy the shiny happy noises that serenade your every click and mouse-over.

Mouse Love

A couple of months ago my beloved Microsoft Notebook Optical 3000 mouse finally bit the dust. It had provided several years of enjoyable use, probably the equivalent of over 150,000 miles in mouse terms. All trouble-free. Ah well, adieu and Godspeed, my dear worn-out surfing companion. Digging a clunky old tailed mouse out of the spare computer parts box (at least it was USB!), I went in search of a new mouse friend.

The Microsoft Notebook Laser Mouse 6000 would have been an easy choice of upgrade. However, the Logitech VX Nano Cordless Laser Mouse (pictured) quickly got my attention by virtue of its many useful-sounding features, including a cozy travel case, switchable smooth-scrolling wheel, on-off switch, and especially the itty-bitty stowable USB dongle.

I chose TigerDirect to purchase my Nano. I’ve found TigerDirect’s prices competitive, their selection comprehensive, their shipping rapid-quick, and although their website sometimes overwhelms me with its busy-ness, I’ve come to trust them.

Logitech VX Nano Cordless Laser Mouse

This article by gives a detailed and informative review that I liked and that matches my experience with the VX Nano. I won’t duplicate their excellent work here, just add my own impressions.

The mouse arrived lickety-split (delivered by our friendly UPS guy, Jonas) and I put it straight to work. Everything was in order and I found the software quick and intuitive, helping me to figure out the features and user options in no time. The USB dongle is so truly tiny it gets to live in the USB port on the right side of my HP Pavilion laptop. This port has been pretty much unusable up to now, since every other USB device or dongle plugged into it gets in the way of my mousing hand (hel-looo, HP?). The Nano dongle protrudes about a quarter of an inch. I’m serious. See it in the picture? That’s for reals. How did they do that? I don’t even realize it’s there. Yay!

One thing that I had not counted on enjoying so much is the free-wheeling scroll button. Wow, if you give that thing a good finger-flick and let go (while in smooth-scrolling mode), you’ll be zinging through pages incredibly fast with minimal effort. You know when you flip your bicycle upside down to work on a tire or brakes or something, and you give one of the wheels a whirl, and it spins and spins and spins until you stop it (or it slooooooowly comes to a stop)? That’s how this scroll wheel behaves. With my Microsoft mouse, I was continually cranking away on that wheel, a figurative and literal pain. With one good zing of the Nano’s wheel, you can sit back and watch pages whip past. Nice. And much gentler on my wrist.

I have fallen in mousie love.

At $59.99, there were certainly less expensive alternatives out there, but my new Nano fits my needs perfectly and has proved reliable and enjoyable thus far. The price was worth it to me, as the Nano did more than replace my old mouse (RIP), giving me useful and fun new features that improve my life at the computer every day.

Simplify Signatures in Gmail

I totally love Gmail, but after migrating to Gmail from Outlook use a few years ago, I had a painful realization that I would have to do without my handy Outlook signature feature. I had used it extensively for years, customizing signatures for personal and business uses.

Gmail’s own signature feature is either on or off, and only one signature can be saved. Argh.

Firefox add ons to the rescue! Clippings by Alex Eng solved the problem. With this add on, I can save multiple signatures and choose from them on the fly by simply right-clicking in the Gmail message. Sweet! Although there is less formatting flexibility than Outlook, I’m mostly over it. Phew.


Wow, this blogging stuff is rather absorbing. I’ve spent I don’t know how many hours today perusing and experimenting with WordPress themes, plugins, and widgets.

I enjoyed playing with some theme designs on this template generator page. Another source of interesting toys was’s WordPress God article, which lists 300+ tools for use with your blog, including categorized plugins and themes by style. Googling blog themes and plugins returns a dizzying array of information and toys to try. I’m far from becoming a WordPress God, but am enjoying learning about the possibilities.

Don’t be alarmed if whilst reviewing this blog it suddenly undergoes massive visual changes. You didn’t break the site! It’s just me messing around again with the look and feel of the pages. There are hundreds if not thousands of themes available, and I can’t resist trying a bunch of ‘em.

I’m impressed with how much energy and creativity goes into blogging. Some folks make an interesting career of it, I see.