Archive for the ‘Solving Problems’ Category

Proper Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs

October 6, 2010

Saving Your Bacon”

Over the years I’ve had some ‘almost’ tragic experiences losing information and digital images. Fortunately I had multiple backups on different kinds of media and devices that saved my bacon.

I’m writing today to help save your bacon and protect you from yourself. I’m guessing you are like many people I speak with via the phone or at family history conventions. Unfortunately you may have acquired some bad habits over the years. Worst of all, you thought you were doing the right thing by protecting the reflective side of your CDs. Oops!

First of all, let’s shed some light on a few myths.

  1. There’s no perfect medium for preserving information and photos unless you can afford to write and record on gold, stainless steel or stone.

  2. All the archival media of today have trade offs. CDs, DVDs, Blu ray, hard drives, flash drives (have the lowest life time expectancy and are meant for temporary storage), tape drives etc. Each has a vulnerability for future destruction, failure or data loss. Not to mention having no access in the future to a device that can read or “play” the media. Here’s an example. Do you have any old 8-track tapes? Do you have an 8-track player? Ah haw! I got you there. So without the player you can’t play any of the tapes making your old tapes worthless and inaccessible no mater how well preserved. Do you know a friend with an 8-track player? That would be me. However, as time marches on, access to old technology will become impossible and the old device may not work anymore.

What’s the Best Archival / Storage Method?

Let’s be very clear and realistic – there is no single, best method for archiving and preservation. My recommendation is somewhat simple.

  • Use different kinds of media.
  • Create multiple copies that are stored in different locations outside your home.

Why? A flood, fire, earthquake, theft or other natural disaster could wipe out ALL your family history in seconds. Sharing your photos and information is the BEST survival strategy.

Please refer to my newsletter for an interesting perspective on preserving and archiving. Following the simple recommendations in this newsletter will assure your photos and family history will be backed up and preserved using the latest and most sophisticated technology. Best of all, it won’t cost you a dime to utilize this preservation strategy.

You should also consider learning how to embed photo information directly into the photo file (IPTC) so information will survive with the file into the future. It’s doesn’t do much good to go to all this work to preserve photos without any identifying and associated information. See this newsletter.

CD/DVD Do’s and Don’ts

Protect the correct side of the CD. It’s NOT the reflective side. Trust me and read on. Protect the label side of the CD from scratches and abuse. Any damage to the label side may destroy the information on the CD. If you must lay the CD next to your computer, lay it down with the reflective side up!!

Don’t Write on a CD. The acid in the ink will eat through the thin layer of protective coating. The pressure applied while writing with a ballpoint pen may damage or pierce the surface coating. Always use pens that are made specifically for writing on CDs. You can find these at any office supply or stationary section of a department store.

Never Put Post-It Notes or labels on a CD. Once a I put a post-it note on a CD. A week later when I removed the post-it note and part of the reflective coating came off with the note. However, all was not lost since the CD made a nice drink coaster.

Labeling CDs? I admit it – I’m paranoid. I never put any kind of a label on a CD. One fear is it may cause the CD to wobble in the drive which makes it impossible for the drive to read the CD. This is kind of like the wheel on your car vibrating at high speed because the tire is out of balance as it spins.

Never Put a Partial Label on a CD. If you must use a paper label select from a high quality brand. I’d never put any paper labels on a CD to use for archival purposes. I prefer to create colorful jewel case insert for a CD/DVD I’m sharing.

Protect the Reflective Surface of a DVD. Just when you thought you had a one size fits all strategy for protecting CDs I throw this next curve at you.

Protecting a DVD is the opposite of CD. Unlike a CD, a DVD has two layers of plastic so you don’t need to worry about protecting the label side of a DVD. You need to protect the reflective side. Why? Because a DVD uses smaller dots to record the information which is why they hold more data than a CD. However, scratches on the reflective side of a DVD are much more serious than a CD. In other words, a few small scratches on the reflective side of a DVD may be the kiss of death when trying to access anything stored on the DVD.

Protect BOTH Sides of a CD/DVD. This is obvious. I added this so I would not be embarrassed by some sending feedback Titled – “Well Duh, you should protect both sides dummy!”

Proper Storage of CD/DVDs. Just like the old vinyl music records of past years, store your CD/DVDs in a protective plastic jewel case standing on its edge in a dark, cool dry place. The plastic and coating used may age when DVDs and CDs are left out in the sun. Even ambient room light can deteriorate the surface of CD/DVDs.

Use Archival Quality CD/DVDs. Consider purchasing “gold” archival DVDs. Why use an expensive CD? A CD holds less information. The cost of archival DVDs will be less than the cost of using archive CDs. Just because it looks like it’s gold doesn’t make it a gold archival quality CD/DVD. Read the CD/DVD specification to be sure it is an archival quality CD/DVD.

You can find more information about preservation in my book, The Digital Family History Guidebook.

Is Your Computer a Health Hazard?

October 2, 2010

As we get older many things start to change. The pages on the calendar whiz by. We seem to have less time even though our kids think we should be on call 24/7. We discover our body is no longer maintenance free. Our eyes teach us a new vocabulary word – bifocals. Watching all pharmaceutical commercials on TV is like taking a crash course called “The Side Effects of Healthy Pessimism.” This constant diet of TV commercials may lead to early onset hypochondria. Maybe we should insist on warning labels for commercials indicating they may constitute a hazard to our mental health. Besides, ignorance is bliss.

A New Computer Virus?

I recently discovered a new malady that comes with age and is similar to acid reflux. The main symptom is seeing your computer monitor when you eyes are closed. Some of the side effects are mental confusion and speaking to your computer more than a few times each day. It’s called pernicious visual indigestion.

A few days ago I started to worry about the numbness I was feeling in my little finger on my left hand. Each day it seemed to get a little more noticeable and was starting to affect the next finger and a slightly larger area of my palm.

The pessimistic, gloom and doom part of my brain started whispering “Numbness in the left arm is a symptom of an impending heat attack.” I’m an older guy so that means I don’t ask for driving directions when I get lost and seeing a doctor only occurs at the emergency room. Besides I now have a GPS device so I don’t NEED driving directions unless I the exit the freeway too soon. My GPS makes me feel more normal when it gets lost.

After three days, no heart attack but my hand was still getting more numb and I noticed it more during the day.

A few years ago I was having pain in my right hand and wrist. The cause turned out to be using my mouse with an unsupported wrist and arm. Getting a wrist rest for the mouse and extending my desk to support my whole arm solved the problem without the need for surgery to treat carpal tunnel syndrome.

I also remembered having some pain in my feet last year and wondered what else was past my bumper to bumper body warranty. It took about a week to determine my computer was becoming a hazard to my health. I get so preoccupied while using my computer I become oblivious to the physical contortions and stress I’m putting on the rest of my body.

Here’s what I discovered about my computer related foot discomfort. I like to work with my shoes off. I even have the holes in my socks to prove it. As I’m working at my computer my legs become like spaghetti wrapped around the bottom of the chair. I stress my feet by putting pressure on them while placing them on the roller part of the chair. It’s amazing the amount of foot pain a week of foot abuse can cause. I solved the problem by using proper posture while at my computer. One day I actually tested this hypothesis by wearing my shoes all day. The shoes helped but I accomplish the same thing if I keep my feet off the rollers and in front of the chair.

So the remembrance of my foot discomfort provided a clue to the cause of my numb fingers. I decided to monitor my computer posture again. I’ve been spending some very long days in front of my personal confuser (PC). I get tired of proof reading so I rest my head in the palm of my hand and put my elbow on the edge of the desk. What a personal epiphany! As I looked down, I noticed the edge of the desk was putting pressure right on the area of my elbow where the nerves pass to my little finger. Could it be that simple? Yes. Why? Because I’ve been resting my elbow there for long periods and for many days.

As I write this blog I’m happy to report my fingers are slowly returning to normal and I don’t have to spend the big bucks on an EKG or trip to the circular sleep center (Cat Scan) where my claustrophobia would be worse than a nightmare in a dark and noisy cave.

Had my memory been better I should have recalled a phone conversation with my married daughter a few months ago about the numbness in her hand. We talked about spinal tumors and other delightful diseases. I gave her the same advice about watching her computer posture. A few days later she laughed about the revelation of her bad computer posture. Her hand has returned to normal.

So What Do We Learn?

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Please give your aging body a break when you make it sit in front of a computer for countless hours. Get a good chair with lumbar support and a high back for those little impromptu cat naps we need to keep us sharp. The chair should be adjustable (up and down). Don’t eat in front of your computer like I do or you might ingest a computer virus from your keyboard. Take a break and go for a short walk each day or visit your back yard.

Remember, pain is the way your jealous body is getting even with you for spending some much time contorting yourself as you flirt and chat with your computer.

Just Love Those Passwords!

October 1, 2010

Password or Painword?

Selecting a password is about like choosing a name for a baby. When you finally have conjured up a password you can remember you’re informed someone else already has that password. So you try again and are rewarded by a red message indicating your password is “too weak.” So you try again, and again, and again. At some point I usually give up and decide the web site isn’t worth any more of my time or frustration trying to create a password like “yellowsparrow21.” I wonder, could there be a password like, “Ihate2UsePasswords.” You didn’t see that since I’m going to start using that password.

Password Paranoia

I’m paranoid about privacy so I don’t have the page “Remember Me.” That means I have to remember all my passwords. Since I now have a zillion passwords it can be a real test for me to associate which passwords goes with the web site I want to enter.

Forgot Password?

I’m an expert on the sign in option “forgot password?” I use this option all the time since it’s easier to do this than to keep a password list or use one of those password management programs. I also don’t want a list of passwords on my computer for a hacker to find.

Password Not Recognized – Please Try Again.

This morning I shot myself in the foot real good! I wanted to log into one of my e-mail management accounts to check some statistics. It was one of e-mails I allowed to remember my password. However, for some weird reason it wanted me to enter my password to get to the management section.

You guessed it. I couldn’t remember the password. So I tried about 20 of my recent passwords. Zing what a feeling – all the passwords were incorrect. So what’s a guy to do? A little dim light turned on in the foggy part of my with a newsflash. Use the “Forgot Password?” option.

I felt a little smug thinking I didn’t really need to keep a well organized password list, I’d just get a new password and then write it down where I could find it. So I smiled as I requested a new password for the e-mail account.

I became a little impatient as I checked my e-mail several times for the new password. So I closed the e-mail and restarted it so it would check for new mail more quickly. BIG MISTAKE!!! It wanted my new password. Earth to e-mail program – I DON’T HAVE A NEW PASSWORD YET!

I made several attempts to remember and enter the pesky little password. After about ten minutes I gave up and started going through my “organized” stack of papers. You probably have one just like it. It’s standard equipment to have a big stack of papers sitting right next to your computer chronologically organized for quick and easy access.

Take a Deep Breath But Don’t PASS(word) Out!

So I took a deep breath and decided it was time to organize and file each sheet of paper in the list. Each time I came across a post it note with a password, I tried it and it failed. I then realized the password would probably be toward the bottom of the list since it had been a while since I created this e-mail account.

Twenty minutes into my search, I finally found the paper with the right password. I got back in and checked my e-mail. Still no new password. By then I didn’t need another new password.

Later I checked my e-mail on my other computer and guess what? It had sent the new password stuff to that computer. Da! If I had used my brain I would have realized I’d been smart enough to set up the e-mail to send information to another e-mail account.

I opened the new password e-mail and luckily it had an option to cancel changing the password. Interesting. They must have put that option in for all those other dummies that can’t manage their passwords.

So What’s My Punishment?

I now have to file all those little stacks of paper I created sorting the big stack of papers.

What Did I Learn?

To be more organized and keep a printed and updated list of passwords in my “Password” notebook.


Oops! I used a password instead of my name! I guess I’ll have to change that password!

Click “Start” to “Stop” – – – Huh?

April 13, 2010

Turn off your computer with ONE click.

As a former speech pathologist and a human communication expert I’ve always been interested in word derivations and our inability to communicate simple things. The more we attempt to explain, the more complicated the answer. It’s no different trying to understand the logic and derivation behind computer processes, and the slang of the computer world – geek speak. For guys like me, ‘eek” speak would be more appropriate.

Here’s a fun technology flashback. Remember when the computer keyboard had a “Return” key? That was a throwback to the teletype machine and electric typewriter keyboard. “Return” was short for “Carriage Return.” It’s amusing that the first computer keyboards had a “Return” key. After several years the key was renamed “Enter.” However the key still has an icon that looks like the old “Return” icon.

 Another baffling computer mystery is why we have to click the “Start” button to “Stop” or turn off a computer. This sounds like contradiction of terms or the perfect example on an oxymoron. The term oxymoron comes from a man named Oxy who we all thought was a moron for making us click “Start” to “Stop” – a real Oxymoron. (just kidding).

 I hoped that Windows 7 would give me a “Stop” button and eliminate this oxymoron. They managed to come half way by removing the “Start” text from the button at the lower left of our displays. However, someone at Microsoft still can’t let “Start” die in dignity. If you put your mouse on the button “Start” still appears! So we could make a new word called Quazimoron for a process that has hidden contradictory terms by a man named Quasi that still works at Microsoft.

 How many the extra mouse clicks have I made in the fifteen year of shutting down Windows? Eventually some petty things really get under my skin! Today I decided I’ve had enough with the “Start” to “Stop” scenario.

 Please Note: If all this is a little over your head, trying pressing and releasing the power button on the first of your computer. Some computers are setup to automatically start the shutdown process if you click and release the button. Do not try this with the power button on the back your computer.

 I did a Google search for “Create shutdown shortcut.” I knew I was on the right track after typing “Create Shut” because Google filled in the rest – “Create shutdown Shortcut.”

 I did not test the following process on XP or Vista. This process is for Windows 7. However, I’m assuming the process will be very similar for Vista and XP.

 Here’s what I learned to do and it was easy. 

  1. Right Click on your desktop anywhere there are no icons.
  2. Click New > Shortcut
  3. Type in shutdown -S -t 0
  4. Click Next.
  5. Type in Shutdown or another word you like better such as Don’t Bug Me – Turn off!
  6. Click Finish.

 Congratulations! You now have a one button click Shutdown icon.

 The shortcut doesn’t look like something you’d click to shutdown. Here’s how to change the icon image:

  1.  Right on the Shutdown shortcut.
  2. Click Change Icon – I received an error message from Windows 7 telling me it contains no icons – do I really care? What else can I do but click OK. Duh – so click OK.
  3. Click on one of the icons you like.
  4. I selected the orange square with a white “I” ’cause it looks important (see image at the top of this blog)
  5. Click OK.
  6. Click Apply.
  7. Click OK.

 Caution: You should save your work and close down all your programs before using this shutdown process. Your computer will close down in about 1 minute and will not ask you to close programs that are still up and running. Translation – all the work and stuff you are doing in other programs will be lost unless you save your work and close the programs before clicking your new Shutdown Icon.

 I have not had any problems using this shutdown process. I cannot guarantee what will happen if you create and run the process outlined above. I’m sure that makes us both feel much better!

 Close your other programs and then test your new “One button click shutdown.”

 You can also drag and “Pin” the new icon to your taskbar in Windows 7.

 Start to Stop – not on my computer!!

Free Family History Tips and Suggestions


Are Your Photos Overwhelming You?

April 12, 2010

Photo Management Suggestions

During the past fifteen years I’ve struggled with many strategies to preserve, organize and manage photos. I have many different types and sizes of photos including slides and newspaper clippings.

The photo at the left is one of many photos in my Olsen family photo collection. This photo represents an avoidable tragedy. The photo was taken about 1900 in Norway. These two beautiful young ladies are probably relatives. Unfortunately we may never know their names, where they lived and how they were related, No one took the time to write any information on the back of the photo. Hopefully I may find a relative who has the same photo with information.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about working with photos:

  1. Scan and save only the best quality photos. No one will be interested in looking at poor quality photos unless a photo is ‘one of kind.’ Refer to my blog about scanning recommendations so you don’t waste time creating poor quality scans. More scanning information can be accessed by clicking this link.
  2. Eliminate duplicate photos. Pick and save the best photo when you have several similar photos.
  3. Photos without descriptive information are worthless. Sorry to be so blunt. Few people enjoy looking at meaningless photos. Click this link for more information.
  4. DO NOT copy photos into your computer without a plan. You will discover it’s easier to find photos in boxes than disorganized folders on your computer. See the next suggestion.
  5. Avoid organizing photos by names and dates. Maintain the context in which photos were taken when copying photos into folders. Use topical names for folder or collection names such as the occasion when photos were taken. For example, you take photos on a picnic or hike. Put all the photos taken during the picnic or hike into a folder named “Dry Canyon Hike” because that is the location where the hike occurred. For a graduation you might name the photo folder “Nathan Graduation 2009.” Photos of my great grandfather’s rock home are in a collection called, “Carl Steen’s Rock Home.” More information may be found by clicking this link.
  6. Do not break up photo albums. Scan photos into categories (folders) similar to the pages in the album. This will maintain the organization that was used to create the album. For example, you may discover the photos on an album page were all cousins. Studying the photo grouping of album pages and sections may reveal other hidden information.
  7. Add oral narrative and stories to photos. Next time you visit your grandparents ask to see their photo album. Be prepared to hear fascinating stories of their history that you’ve never heard. Don’t forget to ask about how they met, courted, and married. Old photos were expensive and usually taken for a reason, Your challenge is to discover the story hidden in each photo. Record the stories and information with a tape recorder or digital voice recorder. Associating oral narrative with a photo is priceless, enhances meaning and really brings a photo back to life. 
  8. Keep Information within the photo file. Use a computer software program to embed (store) descriptive text information and dates in the computer photo file. Learn more about “Photo & Information Survivability by clicking this newsletter link.
  9. Improve your digital camera skills. Learn to take better quality photos. For more information, click this newsletter link. Digital Photography in Family History.
  10. Avoid scanning promotions. If someone comes to your door and offers to scan and preserve all your photos – Smile and then RUN! All you will end up with is several DVDs and a big bill. Your photos will be preserved but without any of the descriptive information that makes the photo meaningful and valuable. There is still hope if you copy the images from the DVDs and use another program such as Heritage Collector to add photo captions and identify the people in the photos. Make new DVD archives of the photos and information. Note: Having someone scan and enhance your photos maybe helpful and save time if you do not want to scan your photos. Sort photos into groups so you will have some general photo organization when you receive the DVD photo collections.

More information links about photos

Old Shoebox Newsletter 

Photo Identification Suggestions

Scanning Tutorial

Photo Management Software

Missing A Program Icon?

December 23, 2009

Adding a Program Icon to Your Desktop

Occasionally a program icon disappears from my desktop. I have not changed any settings or let my system hide unused icons. It’s like some little troll sneaks into my computer and removes the icon when I’m not looking. There’s a simple way to add or replace a program icon on the desktop.  Here’s how:

  1. Click the Start button (lower left of your display).
  2. Select “Display All Programs.”
  3. Locate the program.
  4. Select (left click) on the program and hold down the left mouse button.
  5. Drag the program onto your desktop and release the mouse button.

Caution: Resist the temptation to drag several icons onto your desktop. In a short time you will have a cluttered desktop making it difficult to find a program. Only place program icons on the desktop you frequently use. It also takes computer memory to display many icons and will slow your system.

Solving Computer Problems !!

December 7, 2009

Do You Have a Personal Confuser?

I once heard a personal computer (PC) referred to as a “Personal Confuser.” I’d have to agree with this definition since I feel confused most of the time. I often tell people I solve computer problems by accident and perseverance and not by skill. “Plug & Play” is supposed to mean plug in the new device and the computer automatically sets it up for you. Usually that doesn’t happen for me.  “Plug & Play” really means “Plug & Play Around” for a long time until you get lucky and it works!

The internet has taught me two very important lessons:

  1. There are thousands of people in the world who have the same computer problems I have.
  2. Most computer users are sympathetic and willing to help each other solve problems.

Use This Google Trick

There’s a relatively easy way to solve a computer problem and it’s free. Do the following:

  1. Copy the error message for reference later.
  2. Don’t worry about understanding what the error message means. It would take a brainiac to understand the message.
  3. Go to the internet and load up Google.
  4. Type the error message into the Google search box and press enter.
  5. Viola! You just magically discovered a million people who are saying, “I feel your pain,” let me help, or I have the same problem!”
  6. If you get too many responses, put “quote marks” around the error message and search it again.

You’ll be surprised how many people have the same problem and posted the same question or error message on the internet. Go to a web page and see the answer and discussion of the success or failure of the person applying the solution. If the solution is too complicated, hit the back button and go to the next site. You may have to surf through many sites before you find the correct or easiest answer. I have used this trick and it saved me from disaster many times.

Use Google For Other Solutions

Sometimes I have a hard time trying to formulate my question for a Google search. Keep trying. Remember you are searching the whole world and chances are good someone else out there in cyberspace may be searching for the same dumb thing.

I’m a terrible speller. I used to say I had two vocabularies – one for speaking and a dumbed down vocab for writing. You will probably get some laughs (free of charge) reading my blogs.  Just remember I’m human and trying to help you even with my spelling disability! (Is there a pill I could take to cure my spelling disease and make me feel wonderful at the same time? Something that rhymes with Valium – like Spellium).

Tip:  Google is also my spelling tutor and it doesn’t laugh at me. I make my best spelling attempt by typing it into the Google search box. I love it when Google comes back and says, “Did you mean . . .?” Sometimes after a long search for a word like “Viola” I talk  back to my computer and say YES! This is so much better than using a dictionary. In grade school my teachers used to scold me for such bad spelling and say, “Don’t you know what the dictionary is for?” I wanted to reply with, “Yes, it’s for reading the whole dictionary until I get lucky and happen onto the word I can’t spell. Dictionaries are for people who can spell!” Computer spellcheckers and Google are for people like me who still can’t spell. I use several spellcheckers. Beware – sometimes a spellchecker can really embrace (embarrass) you! Read the suggested spellings carefully.