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Computing With Bifocals
by Nancy Carroll Gravley

A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....




Pitfalls, Pratfalls, and Dumb Luck, Part I
January 27th, 1999

I'm not proud - at least not too proud to admit all the things I didn't know when I started using the internet, and how I learned them all the hard way. Today's column concerns avoiding pitfalls while enjoying the good things. Since I seem to have learned a great many things the hard way, this topic will continue next week with Part II.

Have you come across the neat and nifty, sometimes automated, absolutely free, greeting cards that you send to one and all? It doesn't cost anything to send them because once you have registered your e-mail address and the e-mail address of all the folks to whom you are sending the cards those addresses are sold for advertising purposes. Both you and your friends will start getting unsolicited promotions. The response I got from my friends was probably similar to how people responded when someone gave out their name and number to the MCI Friends and Family promotion. This was not a proud moment in my life.

Have you heard about SPAM mail? Think of junk e-mail. It is known as CyberPromotions. An advertiser will send out an ad, for anything from get rich quick schemes to legitimate sales advertisements, to addresses for accessing porn. They do this in hopes that some people who receive the ads will respond. The cost per recipient is low, there are no printing expenses and they don't have to buy stamps. All of this started with a man named Sanford Wallace who made millions sending out this kind of mail. Now he makes money telling people how to avoid getting it. Most good internet service providers will try and block as much SPAM as they can. My local ISP, KDI.com, of Austin, Texas does a really great job with blocking out SPAM just as they do with everything else (Thanks John and Pete!) There have been lawsuits filed and legislation passed to stop SPAMing, but it keeps on coming. The law now requires anyone sending out unsolicited e-mail to include a statement telling the recipient that if they respond to the sending address their name will be removed from their mailing list. But guess what, every time I have done that I get a message back saying it is not a real address. At this point all who want to take Mr. Wallace's name in vain are encouraged to do so. Unfortunately he appears to love it - believing that the only bad publicity is no publicity. The staff at KDI.com recommended a site where Mac users can download free software to stop or limit SPAM on your individual machine: http://indirect.tucows.com/mac/spammac.html. This site offers two anti-spam programs and you can download either automatically. They will not, however, stop promotional mail that you receive because you have given out your individual address, or registered with a service that sends you promotional mail as part of their service. Your only recourse in these situations is to remove your registration from those services. An additional warning if you have children using the net. They can get very inappropriate SPAM even if you have limitations set to restrict their access to the internet and keep them in areas appropriate to children. My young grandson has received dozens of porn advertisements in spite of his parents taking such precautions.

On to really good things - have you heard about the Web Address Book? This is a totally cool and useful site that Ron of the Los Angeles Macintosh Group told me about. Think of it as an on-line personal information management tool. I have checked it out myself and there are two particular features that I just love because they will make my life easier. Let me give you a little background first. This free-to-users site was created by Sean Jorden of Calgary, Alberta. Sean works as a computer consultant and he first created the site for his own personal use so that he could access needed information no matter what computer he was using. After using it himself for about 3 months he decided to share it with others, spent a month developing it, and then put up his site.

The site has four kinds of data options. These include:

  • An address book for contacts that gives you access to addresses, phones, etc. (This is particularly helpful when you have a “senior moment” and can't remember a phone number.)
  • An address book for companies with which you deal;
  • A place for internet bookmarks that lets you enter the bookmark address and an identifying phrase to remind you why you wanted to have it in the first place. Bookmarks are entered in folders to help organize them;
  • A virtual notepad
  • A calendar. (Very helpful for that Monday morning dentist appointment that you have on your calendar at work, but can't remember the time of it at home on Sunday night - been there, done that!)

I asked Sean about security and he indicated that the site currently has login security only. For those of us not involved in espionage or stock trading that is all we need. For the rest of the world (those who ARE involved in espionage or stock trading, or just like being paranoid) there will soon be a subscription plan that will offer a secure session and no advertising for a small fee.

This is the part that I am most excited about. No matter what computer you are using you can access all the information you have saved at this site. Therefore whether you are at home and need information you previously would have saved only on your computer at work; whether you are forced to use a substitute computer because you are temporarily somewhere else within your business location; or any number of other reasons, you can still can get what you want. As an example, a few months ago I was visiting my daughter (the one who doesn't know more than me) and helping her traverse the internet. There were things that I wanted to show her, but I could not remember the internet addresses. They were all carefully bookmarked at home (a couple of hundred miles away) which did us no good at all. Had I had this site available then I could have quickly pulled it up and gone forward with what I wanted to share. On another occasion when I was visiting the same daughter I received an urgent phone call from my boss who needed contact information that only I had. I couldn't get to it because it was stored on my computer at work. I had to call my secretary, have him check out a key to my office, give him my login name and password, and walk him through the process of finding the information my boss needed. The whole thing took almost an hour. With this service I could have had it for him in a couple of minutes assuming I had entered it in the first place.

Last but not least, it is very easy to register, very user friendly, and even has search capabilities. I am really very impressed with the work Sean has done creating this site and I am extremely grateful that I have found it. Like I said, it will make my life much easier. And, as an extra bonus, this may be something that you can tell your kids about because they don't know about it. I recommend you smile mysteriously and let them wonder about your skills.

If you have any tips, hints, or thoughts on these topics, make sure you write me so that I can share your thoughts with other readers.


Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.


Post your comments below.
Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.


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