Create a Maze

Our next challenge will have you using your creativity and patience. I want you to create a maze in the Paint program that comes with Microsoft Windows. If you’ve never used your Paint program, it should be listed under Accessories.

Start with a short, simple maze and work your way up to a more intricate design. While you’re at it, experiment with some of the tools in the Paint program. For instance, draw a little house at the end of the maze. Maybe a car or a person at the beginning. When you finish, print your creation and challenge someone else to solve it.

Mazes are great fun for young people and sometimes it makes us feel young to play along. Have fun and let me know how you enjoyed the challenge.

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Today In History

Your first challenge is to search the web and find out what happened today in history. (Depending on which day you take the challenge, your answers may be different.) Then let all of us know how your search went. Was it difficult?  Did you find any unusual facts?  Anything else that you discovered?

Using google as your starting point, see what you can dig up from the pages of the past.

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Creative Computer Crafts

If you enjoy computer crafting, the people at Crafty PC have a book called “Creative Computer Crafts” that has a number of interesting crafts you can try. The book is going out of print, so it’s available right now at a very good price. If you are outside of the U.S., beware of shipping charges though. It would have cost me four times the price of the book to have it shipped. So I’ll have to get it sent to my daughter’s place in the states.

It doesn’t benefit me in any way if you purchase the book, but I do have a special reason for recommending it. You see, the Creative Home Computing site is listed as one of the useful resources. This post is my way of saying thank you.

[tags]Creative Computer Crafts, Crafty PC, computer crafting[/tags]

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Using the “Yet Another Related Post” Plugin

Since I’ve got a fair bit of content on this blog now, I wanted to be able to show related posts that I’ve done in the past. There are a few different WordPress plugins for that. The first I tried was the Related Post plugin, but I wasn’t sure how to make it work. Non-techy that I am, I need easy, easy, easy.

So I deleted that one (two similar plugins would have caused problems) and I tried the “Yet Another Related Post” plugin. Much easier to set up, but I couldn’t for the life of me see any related posts. Then it dawned on me, maybe I had to click on a specific post to read it. And yahoo, there was a listing of other posts. Most of them seemed to be related and I’m very pleased. If you want to try it, the plugin link is listed as well.

Two other pluses I found. When my blog updates are sent by email to my subscribers, the related post links are mentioned as well. And when my site shows as an RSS feed on another one of my blogs, those related links are also shown. Don’t ask me what RSS feeds are. I can explain them about as well as I can tell you how electricity comes into my house. I just know to switch on the light!

[tags]Yet Another Related Post plugin, RSS feeds, showing related posts[/tags]

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PDF to Text

Okay, I’ve had enough talk about spam and computer safety. Let’s talk about something more interesting.

Did you know you can change PDF documents to text? Why would you want to? I’ve found a few reasons so far.

For one thing, you can create PDF’s of your blog posts, then convert them to text. That way you can delete all the extra stuff, like links and summary information. Then you have just your blog posts, (although the most recent are at the top, but you can’t have everything) and you can paste them into a program to create a real book. This can then be printed or put on a cd and handed out to people. You could even sell it online as a complete information product – especially if you have a lot of content added to your blog over the years. No, I haven’t done this yet, but it’s on my “to do” list.

My next reason, and one I’ve been enjoying: Once the pdf has been converted to text, you can send it to your Palm or ebook reader and catch up on all your reading whenever you have to wait somewhere. I like to do this when I’m a passenger on a long trip.

Okay, your turn. Any more ways I could use my PDF to Text converter?

Edit: Why didn’t I just save my blog posts as text instead of as pdf? I did have a reason for that, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. Guess I’ll have to try it again and refresh my memory.

[tags]pdf to text, blog posts into text, using a text reader[/tags]

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Fighting Spam

Since we’re in a cautious frame of mind here this week, how about some tips on fighting spam? While usually not dangerous to your computer (unless a virus is attached), excessive spam can be hazardous to your mental health.  From the phishing emails that give you a heart attack when they say your accounts have been tampered with; to the ones that offer to reward you physically or financially if you listen to them – Spam is NOT nice. And it wastes a lot of time, sifting through the junk. So here are some ideas to help fight spam.

Do what you can to avoid having your email address out on the net. There are products called “spam spiders” that search the Internet for email addresses to send email to. (If you are interested, do a search on “spam spider” and you will be amazed at what you get back).  You can keep your email address from being harvested by:

A) Use form emails, which can hide addresses. 

B) Use a generic address like instead of your full address so all the junk will go to that address (The only problem with this tip is that the legitimate emails from potential clients also go there).

C) There are programs that encode your email address on web pages so that spam spiders find it difficult or impossible to read your email address.

D) The low tech way that I use: replace the @ sign with AT and the dot with the words DOT when posting your email address. Or add a couple of spaces after your @ symbol so that it doesn’t paste as a proper email address.

     2.  Get spam blocking software. There are many programs out there for this. The software is not foolproof, but it does help. You usually have to do some manual setup to block certain types of email.

      3.  Use the multiple email address approach. There are a lot of free email addresses to be had (my favourite is gmail). If you must subscribe to newsletters, then use this “back-up” email address. Give your proper email address only to friends and business associates.

      4.  Attachments from people you don’t know (and sometimes those you do) are BAD, BAD, BAD. A common problem with spam is that it may have an attachment, and attachments can have viruses. Corporations often have filters that don’t let such things pass to you. Personal email is far more “open country” for spammers. General rule of thumb: if you don’t know who is sending you something, DO NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENT. Secondly, do what I do and scan attachments from people you know with your anti-virus software before opening.

     5.  Email services now have “junk-mail” folders. The concept is simple. If you know someone (and they are on your list of allowed senders), they can send you email. If you don’t know them, they automatically go into your junk email pile. You can quickly go through this junk folder and then “choose” to allow some into your circle of friends.  You can also set filtering rules for your inbox, so that email with certain words or from certain people (like that annoying co-worker who won’t stop sending you jokes) will go right into the junk folder.

Okay, there are my five spam fighting tips. How many can you add?

[tags]fighting spam, filtering email, junk mail, spam spiders[/tags]

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Computer Security Tips

Yesterday, the computer literacy group I volunteer with received a number of handouts about computer security when on the Internet. I know sometimes I laugh these off, and I’m not about to stop putting myself out there in cyberspace, but I do need to be careful. So as a reminder to myself and a checklist for others, here are some security precautions we should follow. There are probably a lot more, so please comment and let us know your tips for keeping safe online.

  • Always make backups of important information and store in a safe place separate from your computer (with the power of those little memory sticks, this is easy).
  • Turn off your computer and disconnect from the network when not using the computer. A hacker cannot attack your computer when you are disconnected from the network or the computer is off. Since my husband says I don’t have a technical bone in my body, I also turn the power to my computer off. Reason tries to tell me that if the computer isn’t on, no one can access it, but you never know!
  • Update and patch your operating system, web browser and software frequently. (This one I need to work on).
  • Install a firewall. Without a good firewall, viruses, worms, Trojans, malware and adware can all easily access your computer from the Internet. Just typing this list makes me feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Instead of repeating “lions and tigers and bears”, it’s “viruses and worms and Trojans, oh my!”
  • Review your browser and email settings for optimum security. At a minimum set your security setting for the “Internet zone” to High, and your “trusted sites zone” to Medium Low (another area I need to think about more).
  • Install anti-virus software and set for automatic updates so that you receive the most current versions. My favourite anti-virus software is still AVG. And even though I use the free version, it works better than Norton ever did for me.
  • Do not open unknown email attachments. It is simply not enough that you may recognize the address from which it originates because many viruses can spread from a familiar address. I can vouch for this one, since I got a Trojan once from an attachment that had been sent by a friend. The virus was in his address book and automatically sent itself out to everyone he had listed there. By the time my friend realized it, the infection had spread to a lot of people. Now I rarely open attachments, and if I do, I scan them first. (See, I’m learning to be careful).

Okay, more tips please. I know you’re just itching to tell me.

[tags]computer security, viruses, firewall, Internet safety[/tags]

Posted in Computer Tips | 2 Comments

Why Write an Information Product?

Think back to less than 40 years ago. The computers at the company where I worked were held in their own large room and each of them was over six feet tall. How much life has changed in that short time. Technology has changed, ideas have changed, and the mindsets of entire nations have changed.

All of these changes make it the perfect time to write an information product. What readers need are people who understand the world as it is today – people who can figure out how to solve old problems in a new way. Or people who have met specific challenges in their daily lives and can share their experiences with others.

Ebooks are a powerful tool to share the knowledge you’ve gained with the millions of people who are struggling to figure out how to do different things.

Let’s say you already have a brilliant idea, and the knowledge to back it up that will enable you to write an exceptional ebook. You may be sitting at your computer staring at a blank screen wondering, “Why? Why should I go through all the trouble of writing my information product when it’s so impossible to get anything published these days?

Well, let me assure you that publishing an ebook is entirely different than publishing a book in print. Let’s look at the specifics of how the print and cyber publishing industry differ, and the many reasons why you should take the plunge and get your fingers moving across that keyboard!

Submitting a print book to conventional publishing houses or to agents can be a long, complicated process. No matter how good your book actually is, or how often you’ve been told that “you’ve got what it takes,” your submitted manuscript is liable to keep coming back to you. Sometimes you might wonder if anyone ever even looked at it!

Perhaps you’ve checked out self-publishing and found that it can be an expensive venture. Although the process is becoming more affordable, there are still many vanity presses that require minimal print runs that could cost you thousands of dollars. And that’s just for the printing and binding. Usually you have to do your own marketing, and promotional costs add more expense. Even if you wanted to, you may not have that kind of money to risk.

If your heart is set on a bound book, I recommend you check into the services of Lulu, Blurb, or Create What’s On Your Mind at CafePress. These services all print books on demand, so you can get started without much up-front cost. They also feature an area to sell your product.

Let’s say you already have an Internet business with a quality website (or you’re ready to start one). An ebook is one of the most powerful ways to promote your business while educating people with the knowledge you already possess regarding a specific product or service.

For example, let’s say that you’ve spent the last twenty-five years growing prize winning flowers, and now you’re ready to share your knowledge and experience. An ebook is the perfect way to reach the largest audience of gardening enthusiasts.

Ebooks will not only promote your business – they will help you make a name for yourself and your company, and establish you as an expert in your field. You may even find that you have enough to say to warrant a series of ebooks.

Perhaps your goal is to build a whole business around writing and publishing ebooks. Essentially, you want to start an e-business. You are thinking of setting up a website to promote and market your ebooks. Maybe you’re even thinking of producing an ezine (an online magazine).

One of the most common reasons people read ebooks is to find information about how to turn their knowledge and skills into profit. And these people are looking to the writers of ebooks to provide them with new ideas and strategies. You could be just the person they need to hear.

You may want to create affiliate programs that will also market your ebook. Affiliates can be people or businesses worldwide that will all be working to sell your ebooks. In exchange for a percentage of your profits, or some other benefit to them, these affiliates will recommend your ebook to the people they know. Do you see a formula for success here?

Figure out what your subject matter is, and then narrow it down. Your goal is to be as specific as possible. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Research what’s out there already, and try to find a void that your ebook might fill.

What about an ebook about a wedding planning business? Or an ebook about caring for elderly parents? How about the fine points of collecting depression glass? Include photos or screenshots for a guide that people will love to read.

You don’t have to have a masters degrees to write about your subject. People need advice that is easy to read and easily understood. Parents need advice for dealing with their teenagers. College students need to learn good study skills – quickly. The possibilities are endless.

After you’ve writtten your Information Product

Getting your ebook out is going to be your focus once you’ve finished writing it, just as it is with print books. People will hesitate to buy any book from an author they’ve never heard of. Wouldn’t you?

The answer is simple: give it away! Or give away a chapter or two as a teaser. You will see profits in the form of promoting your own business and getting your name out. You will find affiliates who will ask you to place their links within your ebook, and these affiliates will in turn go out and make your name known. Almost every successful ebook author has started out this way.

Recently, a local musician used this give away strategy. He would freely give some of his songs away and guess what happened? The songs were passed around, and before he knew it, he had a large following of fans. Then whenever he performs a local concert, guess who pays to be there to see him play?

Another powerful tool to attract people to your information product is to make it interactive. Create something for them to do within the book rather than just producing pages that contain static text. Let your readers fill out questionnaires, forms, even crossword puzzles geared to testing their knowledge on a particular subject (I created a game to play with the seniors’ computer club I run, and it really helps them remember and have fun doing it). The great thing about digital information products is that you can make them interactive with the click of a button.

Have your readers click a link that will allow them to recommend your book to their friends and associates. Or include an actual order form at the bottom of your sample, so at the end of their reading journey, they can eagerly buy your product.

When people interact with books, they become a part of the world of that book. The fact is just as true for books in print as it is for ebooks. Make the world of your information product one that they enjoy and find valuable.

Now you can see why ebooks are so essential. Not only do they provide a forum for people to learn, but they also serve to promote your business at the same time.

To add perceived value to your ebook, call it a guide or a report. Since ebooks are so readily found on the Internet these days, you want yours to stand out. Changing the name is an easy way to do that.

You can also burn your ebook onto a cd and sell it as a physical product. Still in interactive form, yet gives it a higher value. Or record yourself reading the guide as well, and sell both the text and the audio as a complete package.

If you are eager to start your info product journey, there are all kinds of free tutorials available on the Internet. Through the years I’ve managed to collect many good bits of information. But if you want to fast track your success, you may have to pay for step-by-step guidance.

A word of caution here, not all paid tutorials are created equal. I’ve purchased a number of them that I found very helpful, but there were steps missing. Or I couldn’t envision the steps.

Then I found a marketer named Kevin Riley who teaches information product creation, from researching a topic, through creating your masterpiece, and then how to sell it online. Depending on the product, some of these may teach you more or less. He also has tutorials on other topics if you’re interested. More info is here.

I’ve purchased a number of Kevin Riley’s products and have found them more than helpful. He not only tells you what to do, step by step, but shows you exactly how with diagrams of everything. Kevin’s products range from very inexpensive to the cost of a comparative college course (IF you could find one), so there’s something for every budget.

My latest purchase from Kevin was his Product Creation Lab Workshop. As a result of that course, my first real guide is almost ready to sell (it’s called Creating Newsletters Your Grandkids Will Treasure, and I’m quite proud of it). The Product Lab is more expensive because it’s shipped to your door as a package of cd’s (full of video tutorials) and accompanying workbooks. No more worrying about losing your investment because your computer crashes or you can’t find where you put it (or maybe I’m the only one with that particular problem).

Anyway, like I said, you can find a lot of information online without spending any money. So if you have more time than cash, start researching yourself.

The possibilities with creating your own information product are endless. Whether you are young or older, your wisdom and experiences are needed by others. Have fun and keep me posted on your progress.

[tags]information product, Kevin Riley, ebooks, creating information products[/tags]

Posted in Computers and Home Business | Leave a comment

Public Domain Classical Music

One of the ladies in my computer club was looking for some public domain music to add to the slideshow she had created in Windows MovieMaker. We found some good classical music at

Let me know what you think of it and which songs were your favorites, will you? Do you still call them songs when it’s all instrumental? Or is it a composition?

[tags]music, public domain, instrumental[/tags]

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Are You Overly Afraid of Identity Theft?

This week I started volunteering one afternoon a week with a local literacy group. They are teaching fundamental computer skills to adults and I’m helping out when needed. We spent our first two hours talking about the parts of a computer and learning to turn it on and off properly. A little boring to my mind, but the five people attending were all excited and can hardly wait until next week.

One thing I was more than a little surprised at was the instructors’ advice about identity theft. She’s an older lady, and told the participants that they should never use online banking or make any online purchases. Since I do both all the time, I don’t really understand her logic.

That’s like saying don’t drive a car because you could get into an accident. Yes, you could, but not taking any risks for fear of harm doesn’t allow for a very fulfilling life. Instead, you need to be careful when doing anything – from driving to banking.

So tell me, what do you think? Is there such a thing as being too careful?

[tags]identity theft, online banking, online purchases[/tags]

Posted in Internet and Email | 3 Comments