Advice for the mature or befuddled...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thanks for the email, but…

It was really sweet of you to write, Really, really sweet. However, you’ve made a series of gaffes in your message, and I feel it’s my duty to call them to your attention. Listening? Take notes.

1. If you are sending an email to a quantity of people, please do not put all of the addresses in the TO: field. Besides compromising my security by posting my address to people I don’t know (I’m sure they’re lovely, but still..), it’s a bloody mess.

Another problem is this: some email programs automatically add to their address books any incoming email addresses. Worse yet, if one of their computers on your mass mail list is infected with a virus that silently sends out spam emails, you’ll have just caused the entire list to get spammed.

To avoid those horrors, do the following: in the TO: field, enter your own email address. Then, plop your posse in the Bcc field, otherwise known as Blind Carbon Copy. If the Bcc option isn’t apparent, you should find the option for adding it when you compose a new email message.

2. Never, ever, send me a chain email advising me of the wonderful/bad things that will happen to me if I fail to forward it to my nearest and dearest.

3. While you’re a funny guy, and I agree you missed your calling as a stand-up, do not forward me dumb jokes.

4. Please add something to the subject line. It makes no sense to send me a message that reads “no subject.” Come on! A clue.

5. On the same topic, don’t just use “Hi” or “Hello.” I’ll think its spam and delete it before reading.

6. Consider changing the subject line to match where we are in our conversation. For example, we may have started out deciding on a lunch date, and then segued into your upcoming trip. If we’ve done a few back and forths, remove “Lunch Wednesday” from the subject line and replace it with “Seville in September.”

7. As your friend or relative, I’ll forgive misspelling, grammar boo-boos, and similar errors. But get in the habit of re-reading your email before hitting the send button. Another recipient might not be so forgiving.

8. I have a short attention span. That’s why I’m becoming enamored with text messaging. Just give me the facts. Email allows more words than texting, but it is meant to be brief. Please keep your message short. A few paragraphs and a few sentences per paragraph will do nicely.

9. If I send you an email that is obviously meant for your eyes only, and although my writing might be so stunning it demands more readers, please do not forward it without my permission.

10. Take the time to add a permanent signature to your mail message. Look in Preferences, or Mail Options, and you’ll find a way to add a signature to all outgoing mail. It should include contact information such as your home or mobile phone, or some way I can reach you other than the email. (If you’re loathe to add those numbers, you shouldn’t be writing to me in the first place.)

11. Watch out for the email’s auto-fill feature. Often, after a few letters, it guesses who the recipient is. If you’re distracted, you might select the wrong person. Say, Tim Burton for Tim Curry. (Okay, you come up with a better example.) Double check before you hit "send."

12. If you claim you’re sending me an attachment, be certain the photo or document is actually attached. Otherwise, you’ll have to send a second email apologizing for the omission and then resend the missing piece. Save both of us the trouble by, oh you know by now, Re-read. Double-check. Pay attention. Now, compose and send. I look forward to hearing from you. That is, if we’re still friends.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Spice Up Your Text With Dingbats!

If you're a non-techie, and hear the word "dingbat" you might think of someone who's stupid or eccentric.

But if you’re a geek like me, you know dingbat is also “a typographical device other than a letter or numeral used to signal divisions in text or to replace letters in a euphemistically presented vulgar word.” For example: s@#t.

Another typographical device is an "emoticon," a combination of keyboard symbols used to convey feelings, such as :-) for "smile."

In my mind, dingbats are a bit more interesting than emoticons because they include many more characters than only those that appear above the numbers on a keyboard. For instance, ♠   ✄ ❀ ❁■❄

If you want to spice up your text, here's how you can incorporate dingbats into your next email message, Word document, Facebook or Twitter status update, and iPhone e-mail or text message.

For E-Mail
1. Open your mail program and choose New Message.
2. Place the insertion point where you want the dingbat to appear.
3. From the Mail toolbar, select Edit.
4. From the drop-down menu, choose Special Characters.
5. You’ll see a variety of symbol options; i.e. Math, Arrows, Currency, Parentheses, Punctuation, and Miscellaneous. Dingbats are in the last category.
6. Choose Miscellaneous.
7. Double-click the character or symbol you want to insert into your document, or select the character, then click Insert. The dingbat will appear in your text.

For a Word Document in a Mac or PC.
1. Open your Word document
2. Set your pointer to the spot desired for the dingbat.
3. Click on the Insert menu at the top of the screen.
4. Select Symbol.
5. On the Symbols tab, you have a choice of Symbols, Webdings, or Wingdings or Zapf Dingbats.
6. Pick a symbol or dingbat.
7. Double-click on your selection or click Insert.
8. Your selection will appear on the page.

For Facebook or Twitter
1. Place your insertion point in the status update bar, "What's on your mind?"
2. Select Edit from the browser (Firefox, Safari) toolbar.
3. Choose Special Characters from the drop-down menu.
4. A Characters box will appear with the same symbol options as #5 in Mail.
5. Select, double-click or Insert.
6. Your pick will appear in your status update.

For the iPhone
1. Select an application, such as Notes, Mail, or Text Message where you'd like your dingbat to appear.
2. Open Safari.
3. Go to
4. Tap the + button.
5. Choose Add to Home Screen.
6. On the phone, open the Glyphboard icon.
7. Tap and hold on a symbol.
8. Select Copy.
9. Go back to your application, tap and hold on the text area.
10. Choose Paste to insert the dingbat.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Does this dictionary make me look fat?

“She’s not like my other daughters,” he said. “She’s zaftig.”

This was a stranger speaking; a table companion at a social event. He was describing his third child who was about to enter the room.

My eyebrows rose. “Don’t let her hear you say that,” I said. “She won’t be happy with that description.”

“Why? What’s wrong with zaftig?” he asked. “Doesn’t it mean curvy? Maybe I don’t know my Yiddish.”

“No, you’re right,” my own daughter, Jill, interjected. “Zaftig means curvy.”

I don’t know about you. But if someone called me “zaftig” my brain would immediately go to “fat.”

To clear up the matter, and to have a tech topic for today's post, I turned to dictionaries available on websites and iPhone apps. Let's see what they have to say on the subject.

1. My Mac OS X (Operating System 10) Version 10.5.8 makes it easy to find a definition. Click on Spotlight -- it's the blue magnifying glass at the far right side of your computer screen -- and type in the word, “zaftig.” Choose the option of going straight to the New Oxford American Dictionary and Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus. This is what that prestigious reference book says, “zaftig |ˈzäftig; -tik| (also zoftig). Adjective informal, (of a woman) having a full, rounded figure; plump. ORIGIN 1930s: Yiddish, from German saftig ‘juicy.’”

2. On the Firefox browser, use your Google search box. Type: zaftig=def. We found: “buxom: (of a female body) healthily plump and vigorous.”

3. Safari's browser has a neat trick, called The Floating Dictionary. To find the definition of our word, or any word you’re curious about, simply press on your keyboard, Command+Control+D while hovering your mouse over the word. A little window pops up with the definition. Here’s what the floater has to say: “zaf·tig   [zahf-tik, -tig] adjective, Slang. (of a woman) having a pleasantly plump figure. full-bodied; well-proportioned.” Evidently, Floater uses the Oxford Dictionary, too.

4. My favorite iPhone App is, which includes a thesaurus, is free, has 500,000 new words and definitions, and an English and Spanish word-of-the day. It's definition for "zaftig" is the same as above.

5. Ultralingua is an app I purchased earlier for my iPhone. It cost $9.99, has 300,000 words, none of which was “zaftig.” Thumbs down.

6. I was excited to see a Yiddish dictionary as an app. I paid the $1.99, and only after downloading, did I learn it had no definition for “zaftig.” And you call yourself, Yiddish! But, I did find, “a broch tzu dir” which means, “a curse on you.” Perfect for wasting my $1.99.

7. Finally, there’s, a website, which along with a dictionary, sells mugs, magnets, mousepads, and t-shirts imprinted with any word of choice. (The photo that tops this post is from a t-shirt purchased at Zaftigs Delicatessen in Brookline, MA.)

Here’s Urbandictionary’s view of our word, “A word of Yiddish origin used to describe a chubby girl, but in a very good way. However, a word of caution: even though it's a kindhearted word, and a euphemism for fat, your wife/girlfriend probably won't feel the same way. She might, but if you call her zaftig, you're more than likely to get a black eye or have to stand outside the bathroom with tissues, depending on the kind of girl she is.” See? That's what I said!

Now that you have my seven tech options for dictionaries, you can check them out to find your favorite. You're velcome.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Really, Really Long Distance Mother's Day Phone Call

“Mom, where are you?” I said. My query was directed to the computer’s screen. We were using iChat, and I was anxious to see my mother’s face.

“A minute, a minute,” I could hear her say.

I turned up the volume on my Mac and heard clicks -- a lipstick top being circled downward, a pocket mirror snapped shut.

“You don’t have to put on a face for me,” I said. I raised my voice, not only because we were using technology to manage our two-way conversation, but also, because my mother and I were so far away. Me, here on earth. Her, up in heaven.

I had managed a similar conversation with my father using an iPhone app and because of that success; I decided to try a visual iChat with Mom. So far; so good.

“What kind of example would I set coming to see my daughter with a plain face?” she asked. Slowly, the colored pixels on my screen swirled and combined into my mother’s beautiful face. Blue eyes the color of Lake Michigan, Max Factor’s bold red lipstick, and pinkish rouge that highlighted her cheeks as she smiled.

“You look gorgeous as always,” I said. I was telling the truth. In all the 67-years of her life, I doubt if she had a homely minute. Even when she lay in the hospital, on the last day of her life, she remained the prettiest woman I had ever seen.

“So, you’re still wearing your hair grey,” she said. The corners of her mouth turned down, as did her voice. “And so short? Why not a little color? I liked it when you were a redhead,” she continued. “Some length wouldn’t be so bad either.”

I laughed. When she was on earth, judgments like that would sting. But with her gone more than 20 years, I relished any of her comments. And, I was a big girl now, a mother and grandmother, four years older than she ever got to be. With age and wisdom, I realized her enormous love for me pushed her improvement efforts.

“Listen, Mom,” I said. “I have to apologize. I think I was too hard on you in my memoir.”

“You think?” she repeated. The tone was sarcastic, but she was smiling. Her eyes confirmed she was kidding.

“Writers embellish,” she said. She tossed a manicured hand upward, as if to fling my apology away. “That’s what I told the crowd here. She had to have conflict, drama. What kind of an author would my daughter be, I told them, if it was blah. No fights.”

“Whew, I’m glad to hear that,” I said. “I’ve been worried about your reaction.”

“I liked the part when you said I was a good businesswoman,” she said. “That gave me the nerve to start my own company.”

“You’re in business?” I said. “That’s so great! What is it?”

“I have a clothing line,” she said. “My own designs. MinWear. One word. I have a website.”

"A website?" I asked. "I didn't know you had them up there."

"You never heard of cloud computing?" she asked. "I'm surprised; you're supposed to be such a techie."

Again, I ignored the jab. "Clothing," I repeated. Then, I recalled the awful outfits she bought for me in my childhood: the plain, scratchy green woolen skirt, the outlandish brown storm coat, the shoes with wedge heels to make me taller. And, I could see the cheap, gaudy clothing she considered beautiful for herself.

I bit my tongue. “So how’s it going?” I asked. “How are sales?”

“Well, you know the economy,” she said. She did sound businesslike. “It’s affected us up here, too.”

“I’m sure it’ll pick up,” I said. “So, listen, I got in touch to find out what you’d like for Mother’s Day. Give me a hint.”

“I love all the pictures you’ve sent of my granddaughters and great grandchildren,” she said. “I show them off to my family whenever you send new ones. But, it’s hard with the iPhone you sent last year.”

I had a feeling I knew where this was going. Now that Mother was a businesswoman and needed gadgets to increase productivity, I was certain I could predict her suggestion.

“Have you seen the iPad?” she asked. Her face on the computer screen was alive with excitement. “If you can handle the shipping charges, I’d really love one of those.”

“No problem, Mom," I said. “No problem. It’s on its way.”

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sleight of hand for your Mac, iPhone and iPad

I can't do card tricks, make balls disappear, or pull coins from the air. Those sleights of hand that enthralled childhood pals never lured me. But, out of politeness or drawn by a crush, I'd pliantly sit cross-legged on the floor with the rest of my chums, and watch the newest Mandrake the Magician solemnly insist, "There's nothing up my sleeve."

Despite that early ennui, I'm hypnotized by any prestidigitation that involves an Apple product. Because I write this blog with "tech" in the title, and because I'm a nice person (translation, noodge), I'll happily share with you my favorite quick finger tricks.

For the Mac:
1. Let's say you want to take a photo of something that appears on your computer screen. You might want to print it, paste it into a document, or include it in a e-mail message. To take a screenshot with a Mac, press the Command-Shift-3 keys at the same time. The image icon (Picture 1) will then appear on your desktop to use as you wish.

2. If you want to capture only a bit of the screen, click Command-Shift-4 and small cross-pointers will pop up. Drag theses pointers over the piece of screen you desire. Your image will then contain only that part.

3. In your browser (Firefox or Safari) bar, you can Cut, Copy, and Paste by clicking on Edit and selecting from the drop-down menu, Or, you can save a trip up there and use these keyboard shortcuts: for Cut, Command X. For Copy, Command C. And for Paste, Command V.

4. Accents can be tricky. For example, to create the name, José. Hold down the Option key, and while holding it down, type the letter e; then release both keys and type the letter: e; an é should result. Using the same formula, you can produce á, í, ó, and ú. It's always, Option+e, release, then the desired accented letter.

5. For more Mac keyboard shortcuts, click on the Apple logo to the far left of your computer screen or browser. Select System Preferences, Keyboard and Mouse. Choose Keyboard Shortcuts. Ta-da!

For the iPhone and iPad
6. Accents are easy on the iPhone and iPad. Imagine you're typing an e-mail and want to add an accent to a letter, hold down that letter for two seconds. Por ejemplo, hold down the E key for a few seconds and you'll see "e" with several options. Move your finger to the right to select, an é.

7. If you're at the end of a sentence and want to add a period, you don't have to switch to the symbol keyboard, just tap the space bar twice. To enable this shortcut, go to Settings, General, Keyboard. Select On for the "." To add a comma, and avoid switching to the symbol keyboard, just press and hold the 123 button. Without lifting your finger, slide it over to the comma and then release. You'll remain in the alphabet screen. The trick of holding down 123 and sliding can also be used for the question mark, parenthesis, or any other symbol.

8. While you're at Settings, General, Keyboard, select On to Enable Caps Lock. Then, when writing an e-mail, tap twice on the shift key, (up arrow) and it will turn blue. It will stay locked until you tap it once to release.

9. To quickly add .com, .org, .net, .edu to an e-mail address in the TO field of an outgoing e-mail, hold down the period for two seconds. A pop up menu appears that lets you add either of those endings. Move your finger to the left, and choose.

10. When typing on the iPhone or iPad, Apple guesses the word you're starting to spell. To accept its suggestion, tap the space bar; to reject it, tap the x next to the suggested word and proceed to your intended word.

For my final trick, I'll disappear. (Suspend disbelief. Witness a puff of smoke, empty stage. No sign of this writer.) Cue applause.