Advice for the mature or befuddled...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Your eyes are bigger than your stomach

Along with Comb Your Hair and Stand Up Straight, Your Eyes Are Bigger Than Your Stomach was one of Mother's favorite slogans in my childhood.

Turns out, Min was right. I typically took more food than my body could handle. Instead of leaving some on the plate (forbidden because Children Are Starving In Europe), I would eat all laid out before me. Thus, I grew up chubby and food-obsessed.

Currently, I'm at my ideal weight, but remain fascinated by dieting schemes. Since I'm such a tech fan (a new obsession), I've decided to share three sensible plans the Internet and mobile phones offer to reshape users. Two have added credibility because of personal experience. One is being touted by a Chicago celebrity.

Weight Watchers
When Jean Nidetch brought Weight Watchers to Chicago in the late 1960s, I was first in line. In my early 30s, with two small children, I wanted to slough off padding that had accumulated over the years. Despite the embarrassing weekly weigh-ins (Remember stripping to a bathing suit before stepping on the scale?), I did manage to lose 10 pounds and keep it off. WW's basic lessons of portion control, diaries, accountability and camaraderie, fit into my compulsive, social, responsible personality. I remained a Lifetime member because I made many friends and the weekly gatherings became therapy.

Today, WW meetings still abound. Its website requests a zip code to direct you to meetings in your area. A map and leader's identity also pop up. Currently, you can join for free. Monthly fees average $17.95 and you're encouraged to stick around for at least three months. If meetings are not your thing, you can do the program on-line.

Despite being 10 pounds thinner, in 2003, I decided I was still too chunky for my height. I didn't return to Weight Watchers, because I dislike their Points system. I thought it more useful to use actual calorie counts.

So when I found the CalorieKing Calorie, Fat and Carbohydrate Counter and Food and Exercise Journal in a bookstore, I plunged in. At first, I was on my own. The hard copy counter and journal fulfilled my compulsive needs. Within the year, an additional 10 pounds slithered away. When I tired of penciling in all the data by hand, I went to the CK website and entered all via computer. There, I found that community forums could substitute for WW meetings. I engaged in pep talks, success tips, and other discussions that made me feel part of, well, a community.

Like WW, CK charges a fee for membership, $12 per month, or a bargain $72 for 12 months. It also offers a $45 software program for mobile phones.

Lose it!
Despite my success at chipping away 20 pounds over the years, I remain vigilant. True, I endure mocking from others when I weigh and measure foods. But this trick, gleaned from Weight Watchers and CalorieKing, allows me to eat whatever I want, just not a lot of it.

If I were in the market for a weight loss program, though, Lose it! would be my plan of choice because it's a free app available for the iPhone (talk about obsessions). I learned about Lose it! in an April 21 Chicago Tribune column written by radio personality Steve Dahl. He praises the app for helping him drop 20 pounds. The program encourages use of a daily calorie tracker, progress chart, and e-mail remainders if the user fails to enter meals or snacks.

Like the other programs, Lose it! has a huge food database, and includes information on portion size, calories, fats, carbohydrates, recipes, and exercise.

Armed with this information, if you can grab an extra handful at your waist, or if strangers ask when the baby is due, perhaps you'd like to check into these programs. But remember, you might actually appear thinner if you'd only Comb Your Hair and Stand Up straight.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

And I turn where?

I can get lost backing out of my driveway. My dashboard compass, attached with spit and suction, only points north. The 100-fold Rand McNally Streets & Highways of Chicagoland map is crisscrossed with scotch tape.

My 1990 Honda Civic hatchback lacks a GPS. Because I rarely venture out of the city (the 20-year-old vehicle shows a bitty 48,000 on its odometer), I won't purchase an external one.

No surprise that this geography-challenged driver loves Internet maps. As a favor to others who share my deficit, or are reading because they appreciate my turn-of-phrase (is that left or right?), I will review the three most popular cyberspace maps.

In case your attention span bars you from cruising beyond four paragraphs, I'll start with my favorite, Google Maps. I gave the three maps the following challenge: Find directions from my address in Chicago to 26 Lathrop Ave. in Forest Park, IL. I'm meeting my friend Vaso for coffee there this morning.

Google wisely avoided the Eisenhower Expressway because it's aware of the 27-mile resurfacing project underway. So, they directed me on surface streets using primarily Harlem Ave. (I've done this route many times and Oak Park Ave. is much prettier. But why quibble?)

They figure the 8.1 mile drive will take me 19 minutes. More like 30 minutes, but again w.q.? The most fun part about Google Maps is Street View. I can see my house, my street, where I turn, and photos of well, unattractive Irving Park Rd. as I travel west.

Google Maps is the app on my iPhone. Although my elderly version (the phone, not this writer) doesn't have GPS, it does give me turn-by-turn directions. I'm embarrassed to admit I recently learned I could Bookmark my map queries (it's that teeny open book in the right hand corner of the search box) and reserve them on a page. After learning this trick, I renewed by acquaintance with dozens of lists that had been patiently waiting for a repeat viewing.

My next favorite is Yahoo Maps. These guys evidently didn't get the Eisenhower memo, or perhaps they did, because the time here is 25 minutes and nearly twice the distance at 16.81 miles. Why in the world would I want to drive farther, longer, and on the Ike! But Yahoo beat Google in one feature: it recognized my destination as the Blue Max Coffeehouse and kindly included the store's phone number, 708-366-9224.

Mapquest is owned by AOL. I could stop here, but in fairness, I'll provide its stats: 16.85 miles, 25 minutes, for the Eisenhower once again. Mapquest has colorful icons to show highway signs and directions and a star marks the end of the route. But those cuties can't make up for its parentage.

All three online maps give you the option of taking a route other than the one suggested. I suppose if I wished to do more delving and told Yahoo and Mapquest to think outside of the boxed-in expressway, they would've come up with the Harlem route, too. But you only get so much research on this site. I have a life.

Also, all in the trio will save your maps, allow you to enter notes, and let you include the colorful map going from point A to B, or just a list of directions.

Because of the handicaps I listed at the start of our journey, prior to a trip, I print my Google directions on a hard copy, do the search on my iPhone, and in the passenger seat carry the repaired Rand McNally.

And yes, you guessed it. I can still get lost.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nerd grandma nixes 4-x-6s

It began innocently enough. I was seated on the patio of Nordstrom's Cafe in Old Orchard, when my friend Ruth suggested I show her daughter-in-law Mimi a photo of my newest grandchild. The weather was perfect, warm for this time of year, bright with sunshine.

"Sure," I said. Nerd that I am, I didn't reach for my wallet to find photos. Instead, I withdrew my iPhone from my jeans and clicked on the Photos application. I gasped when I saw that the 217 pictures normally stored there were gone. Gone. Despite the garden setting, the dear companionship, the cloudless sky, my mood dropped as swiftly as if Sarah Palin had entered the garden.

"My pictures seem to be gone," I stammered. I was embarrassed because I frequently gushed about the device's wonders. "Gone?" Ruth asked. "What happened?" I detected a smirk. Ruth is a holdout, she's managed to ignore my entreaties and remains wedded to her traditional cell.

"It's okay," I said. I was trying to appear nonchalant. "I've got them on the computer. I'll just hook my phone up when I get home and the pictures will be back where they belong." I prayed this was true.

It was. Somehow, on my last iPhone-to-iTunes maneuver, the check marks for the desired photo albums had come undone. iTunes failed to sync them into the phone. It took a second to re-check the boxes, move the albums back where they belonged, and restore my allegiance to Apple.

This episode got me thinking. While I was grateful all of the pictures were indeed safely stored on my computer, I realized they could be gone in a flash if anything happened to the appliance. Yes, I've got CDs with photos, but as I've noted before on this blog, a meteor landing on my house, or something equally ghastly, could destroy those external storage sites, too.

Enter Picasa, a free online photo storage site hosted by Google. I already have a Picasa page with 11 separate albums tucked away there, but after the patio incident, I decided I'd best be more vigilant and upload recent photos I had neglected to move to safety.

There are several free online storage sites you could use to protect your photos. Along with Google's Picasa, another popular site is Flickr, which is Yahoo's baby. My friend, and talented photographer, Marshall Rosenthal uses Flickr and you can check out his photo page to see his beautiful work. I'm omitting Photobucket because it's allied with the Fox Broadcasting Company, and well, you know.

Here's what I like about Picasa:
-Uploading is easy. There's an application that attaches to iPhoto, so I can zoom photos directly from that program to my Picasa site. No export to desktop needed. And, I can email photos to Picasa from my iPhone.

-Photos from my three blogs, which are published on Google's blogspot, go directly to Picasa. A directive from me is unnecessary.

-I can organize photos into albums and decide which are private and which can be viewed by the public.

-There's oodles of free storage space. According to the measurement on my site, I've used up only 8.36% of the 1GB capacity. (Please don't ask about gigabytes. This is Tech 101.)

-New features appear frequently; i.e. Picasa recognizes faces and sorts photos for me.

-I suppose if I were a more traditional grandma and preferred 4-x-6 snapshots, I could designate photos to be sent to one of the seven print providers allied with Picasa. But along with my nerd image, I've already got wicker baskets stuffed with photos waiting to be stuck onto the black pages of old fashioned albums.

Oh, if you're curious about the photo I was trying to show off at lunch, here 'tis. Worth the wait, right?

Friday, April 16, 2010

The iPad is like a pampered pooch

I own a Mac desktop and laptop, a Shuffle and iPod, and an iPhone. With that lineage, it's no surprise my heart somersaulted at the announcement of the iPad. Full-page ads in newspapers and magazines, tech writers' glowing reviews, and bloggers' gushings only increased my lust.

But, I learned a lesson from my early iPhone purchase when I saw my $500 price tag sickeningly decline in a blink of Steve Jobs' eye. This time, I decided to wait until the iPad's inevitable price drop.

That didn't stop me from trying one out.
Megan, a Specialist at the Old Orchard Apple Store, patiently took me step-by-step through the new device. She added an enticement by showing how this blog site appears on the iPad's screen.

After testing various applications, I've concluded the iPad is like a pampered pooch; prefers the couch to outdoors, pricey to purchase and maintain, doesn't play well with others; and yet, is irresistible, delightful, and charming.

Let's start with the iPad's appealing parts. It's slim, featherweight, and gorgeous. The touch screen makes it easy to open applications, slide through photos, flip pages in a book, and maneuver as effortlessly as on an iTouch or iPhone. Music and video are stellar, too. And, it's the perfect partner for a couch-potato like myself. Raised knees provide the rack, and it's handy for reading, finding crossword puzzle clues, checking e-mails, perusing favorite Web sites, or other activities when TV bores.

But here are some nuisances: the iPad is not a stand-alone device; it requires a computer as mate for software updates and syncing of various content. So, if you're considering the iPad as a substitute for a laptop, think again.

As of now, the iPad is absent a clock (including alarm, which would've made it ideal as a bedside companion) and calculator, two apps I use frequently on my iPhone and would miss on a new gadget.

Also, there's not a built-in text method. I consider this a drag because the iPad would be ideal for older people (nix the finger pointing) who'd like the large screen and fat typewriter keys. Sure, many seniors don't text, but their kids would appreciate being able to exchange quick updates to forestall, You never call...

You could overcome this deficit by installing a free Text app from the dozen already available for the iPad. Free for the app, but a modest charge of $5.99 a year for unlimited texting. Skype could provide Apple's absent phone call option, but once again, extra steps Apple should have eliminated from the get-go.

To import photos onto the iPad from your iPhone (my only camera because its handy and adequate for my needs), you e-mail them to yourself, then download to the iPad's photo albums. Or, for an additional $29, purchase an iPad Camera Connection Kit which includes a USB cable. Like my pampered pooch, accessories get pricey.

The installed iBook app is gorgeous; no debate there. But unlike the Kindle, books purchased from the Apple store remain solely on the iPad. The Kindle, on the other hand, allows your library to appear on all of your devices -- computer and phone. Some readers get around this by installing the Kindle app on their iPads and purchasing books through Amazon.

For me, a serious flaw is iPad's current difficulty playing nice with Google Docs. Evidently, you can't edit these on the iPad. Gossips blame this on the rivalry between Steve and Sergey. But I'll give Apple the benefit of the doubt and assume it's due to some technical gobbledygook.

Reviewers are giving a "what were they thinking" to the iPad's current single user status. That means there's no way to set up separate sign-ins for your spouse or kids. Thus, all of your e-mails and files could be open to curious eyes.

Naturally, since my name is atop this blog, the opinions expressed herein are solely mine. And while I'm caveat-ing (as opposed to kvetching), let me add that some of the iPad's bratty issues can likely be tweaked with various apps, or be corrected in time.

Most importantly, I still swoon when the device catches my eye. So, if Steve wants to mollify me, I can easily be bribed with a gift of his gizmo.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

This Doc brings buried pages back to life

While I have great admiration for docs in the medical field, the Doc in this title refers to a favored site in technology. Specifically, Google Docs, which I've found to have awesome talents in resuscitating expired pages.
I've told you earlier I already use Google Docs to save (note the medical continuity) all the writing I don't want to lose to a natural or klutzy disaster. I also appreciate the fact that my words are resting comfortably in a cloud, so when I'm away from home, I can still access everything I've got stored on my personal Google Docs page.

And, if I wanted you to have a look-see at any of my documents or to edit something I've written (not bloody likely), I can tell Google my intentions and you would get an e-mail and a password to unlock my page.

But that's not our lesson for today. In 2000, I wrote an essay about my tattoo. Since the mark still elicits curiosity, I'd like to give you a chance to read it today. I could send it as a Word attachment, but because I'd like it viewed by the wider world (a clue!), I need a different solution.

Enter Google Docs. I open my stored Word document, copy (not upload because then I wouldn't be able to edit it) and past it into a new Google document. I click on Share, select Publish as a web page, and violĂ ! So, here's My Tattoo, alive and well, which you can read at your leisure.

The trick also works for blogger writers who want to revive an archived post that no longer is isolated on its own page and thus can't be captured with a Web address. For further reading, travel back to April 10, 2006 when Tom McNamee of the Chicago Sun-Times gave my memoir, "The Division Street Princess" its biggest boost. See? A little CPR; heartbeats.

My beloved Apple uses its MobileMe program to perform similar miracles. But as reported in a earlier post, it costs $99 annually. In my judgment, Google Docs does it better, and for free. But don't settle for my view, if you want a second opinion, just be sure it's covered by your insurance.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why owning an iPhone is like giving birth

I fear I have not been completely honest with those I've urged to purchase an iPhone. Naturally, as is my wont, I regale all with the marvelous features I've come to love: the myriad applications, the ability to text to two daughters at one time, my album of hundreds of photographs of myself and loved ones, the ease of telling the time of day in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Hawaii, and on and on.

By the time, I finish my litany, I am drenched in sweat and the object of my persuasion is rushing out the door to get to the nearest Apple store. (I have already demonstrated how to find it via Maps.)

But, my daughter Faith, who made me the happiest mother in the world when she purchased an iPhone, recently admonished me for omitting difficulties with the wondrous device. "Oh, I had problems at first, too," I told her when she called to ask a tech question. "In fact, I took the phone back the next day because I found it so frustrating." "Mom," she said testily. "Why didn't you tell me?"

That's when I realized that owning an iPhone is like giving birth. You tend to forget the bad stuff. So, to make it up to Faith and to any other newbies who are about to toss their cell out the window, I'm listing a few problems that, um, may arise with your iPhone, and my solutions. (You could go directly to Apple's Discussion Forum, but isn't this more fun?)

1. Nothing happens when I touch it! It's dead!
No dear ones, your iPhone is not dead, merely frozen. You've likely confused its little computer head by touching too many applications, or doing something to make it quit. But it's easily thawed out. Here's how:

Press and hold the button that's located on the right side on the top of your iPhone. Apple calls it Sleep/Wake, but I call it On/Off. Hold it down until the red slider appears on your screen. Then, slide your finger across the slider. To turn it back on, press and hold that top button until the Apple logo appears. Leave it alone for a few minutes (you may see the little gear revolving) while the phone decides if it wants to work again.

If nothing happens after 5 minutes, press the On button again. But don't hold it down as it will power off again. All should return to normal. Other users say you can unfreeze by holding down the Off/On button at the same time as you hold down the Home/Menu button -- that's the one at the center of the bottom of the phone. If none of these fixes work, call Apple's Service and Support line at 1-800-275-2273.

2. Texting on this thing is impossible!
Let's say you've written an e-mail or text message and you've made an error somewhere in the middle of the copy. After you've erupted in a few @#$%s, calm down. You do not have to go back and erase all of the copy that comes after the error. Simply place your finger on the error until a magnifying glass appears. Do your correction. Return to the last word of your text, put your finger there (consider your finger a mouse that moves a cursor), and babble on.

3. I can't upload a photo to Facebook!
Take a photo with the camera application on your iPhone. It will land in Photos. Download the Facebook app for iPhones from the iTunes App store. Open the Facebook app and when it shows your page, look for a teeny, tiny picture of a camera to the left of the space for a status update. Click on that and select the option Choose From Library. Return to the Photos app, touch the photo you want to upload to Facebook. Add a caption, click upload and before you can say Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, your photo will appear on your Facebook page.

Now that you've learned all this, isn't your iPhone adorable? Doesn't she look just like her mother?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Snip, snip

One would think I would wince at the command: Shorten, given my childhood history with the word. But in tech talk, shortening is something users need to learn if you wish to to comment on certain sites where long Web addresses are cumbersome.

Take this site for example, Never Too Old To Talk Tech is quite a mouthful. Add the rest of the address for a particular post and you'll soon be gagging at its size. But when shortened, my blog becomes quite a tasty tidbit.

While I have no idea how these tailoring sites perform their snipping, or why their tightened titles turn out the way they do, my ignorance is unimportant. All we amateur techies need to know is that they work.

When I first learned the need to shorten, I used a Web site called But now, I've switched my allegiance to because it has a more appealing page and it retains all of the shortening requests I have recently given them. Thus, if I'm doing a repeat, I don't have to go through the entire process over again.

This is how you hem: first you must copy the Web address (also called URL, which stands for Uniform Resource Locator. Yuk.) of the site you're interested in. Do that by clicking at the front of the address, before its http beginning, and sweeping the cursor to the right until the address turns blue. Then, click on the Edit column at the very top of your computer screen and from the drop-down menu, select Copy. You won't see where your reserved copy is located, just be assured it's being safely held until you need it.

Now, exit the site, enter in the browser address bar. When that page appears, go back to the Edit column, select Paste and plop the long address into the empty space that has reserved for you. Click Shorten.

Copy the shortened address in the same manner as you did the long one that was in the browser: start at the beginning and sweep to the right. Once it's blue, do the Copy maneuver again.

Now you're almost ready to use your more desirable shortened address in Websites that prefer that length. When you get to the place where you want want to attach the link that bit.y just altered for you (it could be for Facebook, Twitter, or in an e-mail), select Paste from Edit's drop-down menu, and deposit your cute new petite link.

Once you get the hang of it, it's quite easy. And much less painless than enduring the straight pins, and endless sessions standing atop the Formica kitchen table of my childhood waiting for Mother to finish hemming my ugly skirt.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Play nice and share

It seems I have a reputation as a noodge. While I won't debate the truth of that characterization, I have been known to, um, persuade people to read, or watch, or listen to something I've found enjoyable on the Web. You call it "noodging," I call it sharing.

Many online newspapers and Websites make it easy to share content with friends by including an option somewhere adjacent to the desired column or story. But if the option is absent, there's another way to suggest that your discovery is something that must be heeded.

On my Mac computer (sorry, I only speak Mac, but perhaps it's similar for PCs), the very first row on the top of the browser screen begins with the adorable Apple logo, then the word Firefox, which is the name of my preferred browser. Other browsers are Safari, which I frequently use, or Internet Explorer, which I avoid.

To the right of Firefox is the word File. Click, and a drop-down menu appears. You'll see the option: Send Link. Select that and your E-mail program should pop up. Insert the recipient's name and off will go your brilliant and welcome link to the desired Website. On Safari, the option from the File column is, Mail Link to This Page.

Facebook has made sharing even simpler with its Share on Facebook bookmarklet (their name for it) that can be dragged and added to your Bookmark Toolbar, which is the second row on the browser screen. Share on Facebook sticks neatly onto your Bookmark Toolbar and makes it easy to alert your Facebook friends to Websites, videos, or music you deem noteworthy.

If it works right, a click on Share on Facebook brings up a dialogue box with your Facebook photo, a bit of the Website you've elected to share, and an opportunity to add something in your own words; i.e. This is great! Don't miss it!

If you want to test this out, click on the link in the above paragraph, leave this site (I'll wait, but hurry back) and proceed to drag and insert. Once the Share on Facebook bookmarklet is tucked securely into your Bookmark Bar, return to mama.

Now, since I've given you this lesson gratis, and waited patiently for you to return, be a sweetie and share this page.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cheating on Steve with Sergey

You know I'm a big (understatement) fan of Steve Jobs, but there's one of his products I recently dumped: MobileMe.

MobileMe, which Apple charges $99 per year to maintain, allows users to sync Mail, Contacts, and Calendars between computers and iPhones. But, I was never successful performing this trick. I did use the iDisk part of MobileMe for on-line storage; but even that was a bit of a hassle. So, sadly, I declined to renew my subscription (although Apple -- in the forum of dire notices -- continues to remind and plead with me to re-up).

I've chosen Google's Gmail to do my syncing between computers and iPhone; and Google Docs (Sergey Brin is Google's Co-Founder and President of Technology)- which is free - to plop all of my documents, notes, e-mail attachments, and other stuff I want to save. Because it's in a "cloud," somewhere in cyberspace, I can access it from either of my two Mac computers, my iPhone, or on computers away from home.

The beauty of cloud computing (iDisk is also a cloud) is that if a fire or other disaster (earthquakes have been popular lately) should befall your computer, your external hard drive, your thumb drive, your CDs, or whatever device you use to back-up your important things (you do backup, don't you?), your output is still safe in the cloud.

As a Jewish mother, worrying about disasters is a birthright; so no use giving me the odds of anything so bleak happening. I'll count on my Russian Sergey (maybe it's our Eastern European roots that are the lure) to protect me.

I only hope Steve forgives me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Advice for the mature or befuddled

It has come to my attention that friends and family run the other way when they see me approach. Certainly, it's not my appearance (I'm short, true, but not gnome-sized), or my odor (freshly-showered, I swear), but the fear I will drag them by the elbow to tout the latest Apple product or reveal my latest technology finding.

So, instead of watching my loved ones cower at my coming, I've decided to do my haranguing on my new blog. This way, you (you know who you are) can take or leave my rantings, while others who may value my wisdom will be grateful.

Although I'm using the dreaded "old" in this blog's title, the info will really be for anyone who feels nervous around smart phones, computers, Facebook and Twitter, and other up-to-the-minute stuff. And, perhaps this niche will attract advertisers, a book deal, Oprah, or at the very least, make me less feared and more loved by those I adore.

FYI: I'll soon be adding favorite blogs and Web sites, and doing other alterations to this site. Suggestions welcome.