Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Simple Work-Around for old iPhone and 2-Step Authentication

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to cell phones. I’d rather not be that connected all the time, so it took me awhile to even get a smart phone. I inherited my old iPhone 4 from my wife when she upgraded (to a 4S — we’re still behind the times, but we can get a much cheaper pay-as-you go plan with PagePlus Cellular if we’re not 4G).

The problem comes when I have to change my AppleID password, which happens now and then with a software update. The first time I tried to use my old iPhone 4 with iCloud, I realized its iOS won’t work with Apple’s 2-step authentication. I would try to enter a password, but couldn’t enter the code Apple sent me. Eventually, I figured out a work-around.

What I do is turn off 2-step Authentication temporarily on my account. Then I can enter the password into the iPhone and connect to iCloud. Then I can turn 2-step back on and enable it on my other devices. The iPhone stays logged in.

Did I mention that I pay $10 every 120 days for my phone service? I’m on wifi most of the time, so I don’t need a lot of data. There are things I can’t do on this not-so-smart-anymore phone, but it more than meets my needs. A few hassles like this one are worth it for the savings.

RIP Vintage Macbook

This is a follow-up to a series of posts about my 2011 MacBook Pro 15″ that went through the video card replacement program back in June 2015. At the time, I was very happy with Apple for (finally) stepping up to the plate and fixing the issue for free. They replaced my logic board when my computer died due to a known issue.

So yesterday, when the same computer (that my wife is now using when she wants to be away from her desktop) started to have the same issues, I didn’t want to believe it had the same problem. The issue — the computer goes through the full startup routine, then ends with a blank (gray or white) screen. So I went through a few rounds of trouble-shooting, repaired the hard drive, and tried to start in every mode I could think of: Safe Mode (no good),  Repair Mode (same), starting from external drives (same issue after startup). I even tried resetting NVRAM and the SMC. Nothing worked, though in Target Disk mode, I was able to get some recent files off the drive and run Disk First Aid. I had also been able to do this in Single user Mode. And I could start in Verbose mode, but it still wouldn’t ever get to my desktop.

So after exhausting all other possibilities that I could find (so far), I determined it was not the hard drive and was probably the video card on the logic board — especially since sometimes it would start up, get to the blank screen, and then cycle through a few restarts before ending with the blank screen. This was all the behavior associated with the video card issue, which I confirmed when those old posts and comments appeared in my searches about the issue we’re having.

That led to this morning’s chat with Apple Support. The agent read my description and looked up the repair/replacement options. Regina told me that my computer was not eligible for any replacement programs, and that it is now considered a vintage model, since it’s been over 5 years since any parts were made for it.

Frankly, I wasn’t too surprised. The computer is over 6 years old, and though I’d like it to last longer (I have older Apple laptops that still start up on the rare occasion I decide to use one for a task). But since it had been repaired for free once already, it was a long shot to expect Apple to do that again. There are a couple more options I might try before giving up on this laptop. Fortunately, it’s not my main computer anymore, so I have the luxury of doing that.

So what’s the upshot of this experience? Well, if you’re running an old 2011 MacBook Pro that was repaired under the video card program, you might be running on borrowed time. And if you get a free repair, I guess it means you might have gotten a repaired part that has the same issue as your previous part. In my case, I got another 2.5 years out of the computer, which was long enough for me to grow out of it and replace it as my main computer. But nothing lasts for ever. Now my “vintage” computer is a vintage piece of metal that won’t do much. I’ll keep it around long enough to make sure I have everything I need off the hard drive, then either trade it in for parts or salvage a few parts off it and then recycle it (after wiping the hard drive, which I may remove before recycling).

Rediscovering Lists on Twitter

Recently, I’ve gotten back into Twitter lists: making them and finding them.

Lists is one of those features on Twitter that often goes overlooked. They hide on a user’s profile. At least when using the app, you have to click on the gear icon on their profile page to View Lists.

I was reminded of them when searching for authors to follow. I knew the authors, but couldn’t always guess their handle. One of my searches on names and book titles sent me to the Mississippi Library Commission’s list of Mississippi Authors: Missssippi Writes @MSlibrarycomm. This list has 114 members (MS writers on Twitter) and only 5 subscribers, including me with 2 of my accounts. I’d like to see this triple n the next week!

@MSlibrarycomm also has lists for: Mississippi Indie Books, News, Schools, Libraries, as well as Library Associations, Author Geeks, etc.

Following a list is a great way to organize your Twitter feed because you only see tweets from those accounts when you view the list, so you’ll focus on the list subject rather than seeing those posts mixed in your usual feed. It is also a good way to see tweets by people you don’t follow and to discover new people to follow.

You can create your own lists, too. I have lists of literary magazines, writers, literary magazine resources, and bookstores. These help me find the people on Twitter that I want to follow. You can even add someone to a list without following them, if you only want to see their tweets when you view your list.

Lists help me tame the wild Twitterverse (a little) and get more out of its content. So I’m glad I was reminded of this somewhat hidden feature.

The Life of a Blog Post

Today, I want to take a little trip down my own geek highway. Every now and then (maybe more often than I’m willing to admit), I check the stats on my blog. It’s one of the features I like about WordPress, by the way. I can see who’s reading what and sometimes that affects what categories I write about. But the thing I’ve noticed about my blog, and the thing I want to write about here, is what I’ve learned by digging down a bit deeper into my stats.

From the basic daily graph, I can tell that my most popular content has consistently remained the same, and I’ve even written about it in posts like” How to Drive Traffic to Your Blog: Be Useful.” Diving deeper into WordPress’s stats by clicking on the title of the post, I can also see how individual posts have performed over time.

By organizing the daily graph by weeks, months, or years, I can get a longer-term view of what posts have performed best. My most popular post ever by far is “How I fixed my DSL modem connection, no thanks to ATT support.” I wrote it in May 2013 and it garnered a modest 33 visits that month. Not bad for a tiny little blog lost somewhere in the outer reaches of the blogosphere. But by the end of the year, after steady growth in December it achieved 1,802 views and I was amazed. Clearly something had happened to get this post noticed: maybe a repost or link somewhere had led to higher search engine rankings or the fact that I gave detailed replies to people’s comments may have helped. Even more astounding, over 4 years later, the same post still garners around 4,000 views a month and averages 137 views per day.

This defies the conventional logic of how blogging works. According to Ted Murphy in an undated Convince and Convert article “New Study Reveals the Lifetime Value of a Blog Post,” the conventional wisdom had been that the life of a blog post peaked after only a few days. He cites studies that show the life of a post may be highest in the first days, but that there is significant traffic for the next 700 days, and the height of the peak and the thickness of the tail varies, depending on the content. Still, they predict that 99% of a post’s traffic will be spent within two years.

“How I fixed my DSL modem” clearly challenges this. The post’s best month so far was in October 2016, over 3 years after the post was written, and if annual trends continue, I am set to break this record sometime in 2017, since my monthly and daily averages continue to rise. I certainly never expected a post that I wrote, essentially as a rant against ATT and as a reminder to myself of the things I’d done to get my DSL modem to work, would ever gain this level of popularity. I didn’t plan it, but it has made me curious.

Okay, you might say, that’s one post. An outlier. And certainly, it is, as none of my other posts, even ones on related topics, have performed that well. But overall, I do see a similar trend. My second-most popular post, about how I fixed my Macbook’s trackpad, has seen similar growth. I wrote it in June 2015. It received 15 hits that month, 19 the next, and then it started a gradual growth. As of now, the best month has been May 2017, practically two years after the post was written, and it is still garnering over 800 hits a month. It’s hard to tell whether that will last, whether there will be another spike, or whether the hits will start to taper off.

Other posts on non-technology topics have done the same. In 2013, I wrote a series of posts on Life with Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia. The initial post peaked two years later in July of 2015, though it continues to get 20-30 hits a month. A related post on feeding your dog buttermilk, written in 2014, reached its current peak in March of 2017 with 523 views. Apparently, a lot of people are interested in buttermilk and whether it’s okay to give to dogs. Who knew…

Many of my posts on creative writing programs or poetry have had similar, steady growth, often going along with a modest amount of initial interest for awhile and then taking off a year or more into their life-cycles. The more people read and perhaps mention these sleepy little posts, the more attention they begin to garner, until it snowballs into respectable numbers. (I won’t claim any post as viral, but some do all right.)

This pattern is borne out by a study written in ConfluentForms, Content Strategy, Life Cycles, & types of Evergreen Content by David Kutcher in 2013.  Kutcher describes how the lifespan of longer content (longer than a Facebook post, Tweet, or Tumblr) can tend to grow over time and build an audience. He describes strategies to foster this, such as revisiting old content and updating older posts — I wonder if responding to comments may have a similar effect. I haven’t tried to get my posts to be “evergreen,” but I have tried to notice what makes them perform well.

What I’ve learned is that life of a blog post may much longer than you think. I’ve watched as posts I’ve written, that I thought would never take off, eventually became my most popular posts, outperforming my highest expectations and lasting much longer than I would have ever dreamed when I wrote them. You can’t always predict what those posts will be, but if you treat your topics with care, write cogently and communicate well, then there’s always a chance that your writing will reach its audience. And if that does happen to that rant or that nerdy little foray into a subject you thought no one else in the world could care about, you’ll be glad your post is well written if you’ve taken the care to do that initially, once thousands of people have visited your site.

Fun with ATT Support

Since I know a few people follow my ongoing saga with ATT on this blog, I thought I’d chronicle the latest. Yesterday our U-verse phone service went out, though we still had internet service (the other day my wife was having poor internet service, so we rebooted the U-verse router and after awhile got both internet and phone back up and running, but maybe it’s connected). At first, we had a dial tone, but when I tried to dial a number, I only got static, no ring. So I went into the Status page for the U-verse modem and restarted the phone service. It said it restarted successfully, but it also said that it was “registering.” And it said that for over 24 hours (even after I’d contacted support). But at this point when I tried to dial out, I got a busy signal.

Since we still had internet, I went to and tried to get support. Their support portal took me to the Troubleshoot and Resolve tool, which made me go through all the steps, like making sure my phone was plugged in. I answered appropriately and eventually got to a point where it seemed to be testing my phone connection, then it told me I needed a new modem and asked if I wanted them to ship me one for free (with U-verse, you rent your modem/gateway for about $7 a month—a good thing, since we went through several “crappy modems” (that’s what the tech guy called them) before getting one that worked for a couple of years. Now it apparently bit the dust.

I said “yes,” answered a couple more questions, and when it came time to get the shipment details, the support program crashed and I lost any info I had on it. So, I thought I’d ordered a new gateway/modem and had no idea how long it would take to arrive. I didn’t want to restart the modem because I didn’t want to risk losing DSL, so we were without a phone line for over 24 hours.

That brings us to this afternoon. As I was beginning this post, the modem arrived. Actually, before that, I was able to log in to ATT and this time saw there was a message telling me the modem had shipped and I could install my new equipment. That was great, but there was still no tracking number, so I had no idea when it would arrive until FedEx came knocking at my door.

In the box was a new gateway, about twice the size of our old one (a bit of an issue for the space we have it in, but I’ll deal), and a very basic setup guide. Basically, it said to remove our old cables and put them in the same ports on the new gateway. I did that, and it didn’t take too long — would have taken less time, but I decided to replace one cable that looked suspicious, which meant rerouting at the back of my cabinet.

I powered up the new gateway and waited while it got booted up and made its connection, which can take up to 15 minutes initially. Eventually the phone light turned green, so I tried to make a call, and it worked. Then, once broadband was up, I logged into the new wifi and tried to restore my login information, following the instructions.

Unfortunately, ATT didn’t have a backup of our old login credentials, but I decided to try chatting with an agent to see if they could restore them from my records. I gave her our old router’s network name and the old password, and she sent it to the new one. That worked. Now all of our devices can still login to the wifi network without changing every login and password.

So was the new user experience better or worse than before? On the one hand, it was a little frustrating to never have contact with a human being until I chatted with the customer service about restoring our wifi info. On the other hand, I avoided long wait times on hold with ATT, and I got my problem resolved in a little over 24 hours. Besides waiting for shipment, installing the new equipment only took about an hour, maybe a little more, but since part of that time was messing with the wiring, it really wasn’t too bad.

Now all that I have left to do is take the old router to the UPS store and let them ship it back to ATT at no charge. If that goes okay, I’ll be happy enough. And if ATT would rather ship out a new modem/gateway overtime something is broken, rather than sending out a technician, which may be cheaper for them, then I can live with that. The only problem would be if the new equipment didn’t really fix the problem. Then it would feel like a waste of time. And if I had lost internet connectivity instead of our phone service, then I would have still been calling a support number, if I could find it! So my feelings are mixed, but ultimately, if it works, I won’t complain. So far, so good. The new gateway even has more capabilities, like U-verse TV, which we don’t want and isn’t available in our area, but if that changes and we change our minds, it might be nice to have that functionality.

Making My Own Template and Theme in Powerpoint

TemplateOne of my tasks this summer has been to get a number of Powerpoint presentations ready to go on the companion website for my new book, A Writer’s Craft. Since I was planning to edit them for general consumption and since I wanted to give them a more consistent look, I decided to come up with my own design based on the book cover. This proved easier than I thought, once I delved into Help a little bit, but Microsoft’s explanations were a little murky, so I thought I’d explain what I did in case it can help others.

Note: These instructions are for Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac. On Windows or other versions, you can probably do the same things, but they may work a little differently.

To create a template was fairly easy. I started with a blank Powerpoint presentation and then added images and formatted text on the Master pages. To get there, you choose Master and then Slide Master from the View menu, or as I discovered after the fact, click the View tab on the menubar and then click Slide Master.

I made separate designs for the title page and subsequent pages, but you could place your design on the main master page at the very top. I did format my text there, so it would all match no matter which master page I chose to work with. I picked my text colors, font, and sizes on the main master, then added images to the title master and other page masters. Since I could copy and paste the images, I went ahead and put them on all the different page masters, even though I don’t use them all. Now I have a complete template set up with my design in case I decide to use those layouts in the future.

To create the images above, I opened the book cover image in Photoshop and selected part of the cover, cropping out the rest. I saved that image as a TIF file (though jpeg ought to work well, too), and then I took a slice of the image and copied and pasted into a new window to create the line. I was fortunate that my cover image is hand-sketched, so copying and pasting the pen strokes looked fine — you couldn’t see lines where I had pasted the image on top or beside of other images, which I needed to do to make the line longer than the original image. I took the line image and made it higher with copy and paste, then used the elliptical selection tool to create the sloped shape. Going back into Powerpoint, I placed and resized these images to create my design.

That couldn’t be much easier, as long as you have an image you can work with, but the next step was a little harder to figure out. I saved my file as a template, which was great if I wanted to create new presentations, but to work with existing presentations meant figuring out how to get this design into them. That took a little more digging in Help, but eventually, I realized I needed to work with a theme instead of a template.

The next step was to save my template’s theme, and that’s where Help was a little murky, but eventually did yield the answer. You have to leave the Slide Master view, then on the Design tab, you can save your theme. But how to get there isn’t immediately apparent. Help mentions a down arrow to click, but you have to hover the mouse over your themes to see this arrow.


If you click on it, you will see a bunch of themes, and at the bottom, you find the options to “Browse for Themes” or “Save Current Theme.” I clicked on that, and then I was able to go into my existing Powerpoint, go to the Design tab, and click on the theme I wanted. My presentation now had the images and text as I had created them in the template/theme, and I could adjust it and edit to work well with the new layout.

As you can see from the image above, I created a few themes. A couple are just alternates I was playing with, but two are for different sized presentations. Back on the Design tab, you can choose your presentation size. My originals were 4×3 for traditional monitors and projectors, but Powerpoint wanted me to use 16×9 for widescreen, which is its default. So I created a template for each size, saved both themes, and then made two versions of each presentation. First I got everything the way I wanted it in the original 4×3 size, then after saving it, I changed the presentation size to 16×9 and then chose the right sized theme: otherwise my images got distorted with the change of size, so I needed to recreate them for the wider format on a new template and then save that theme.

Creating the new size template was just a matter of deleting the images that were distorted, then replacing them with the same image from the file, so they retained their original dimensions. Then I resized, if necessary, to make them fit in the new layout. I didn’t have to create new images, in other words, just place them into the new design from the original files.

This made changing the look of my presentations relatively simple. Once I had my template and theme, I could apply it, and for the most part, everything worked. I could fix the things that didn’t look right in the new design, and edit anything else I needed to change before sending these off to my publisher.

Now I have all new presentations to go along with my textbook. They are edited to be for a general audience — I removed some specific instructions I use in my classes and kept the more general description of content. And they are available in two sizes for standard and widescreen monitors and projectors. It all took less than a day, and the hardest part was the editing.

How to Buy a Car: the Latest Saga

A few year’s back, I wrote a post about How to Sell One Car and Buy Another in One Day. Even then, I knew that had been a charmed experience and hardly typical, so I thought I would add a post about our latest car buying experience, which ended well but wasn’t quite as easy as the last time.

As before, we had a pretty good idea of what we were looking for to replace our beloved 2009 Mazda 5, which is beginning to show its age. We had done our research and narrowed our options to 3 main possibilities: buy a more recent Mazda 5, a Honda CR-V, or a Mazda CX-5. We liked both the Honda and the Mazda for their gas mileage and cargo space that is nearly as big as what we are used to. Now that we’re out of carpool, we don’t need a 3rd row of seats, but the cargo room with that row down has been a great feature.

After researching online, we discovered that there wasn’t anything available in our town, so we drove about half an hour to test drive a Honda CR-V with low mileage at a pretty good price. It didn’t take us too long to realize it was more of an SUV than we were really looking for. It’s a nice car, but we suspected we’d be happier in another Mazda, so we hit the road and drove another half hour or so to the next town, where there were two Mazda CX-5’s at the same dealer for us to consider.

One was a Sport and the other was a Touring. To be honest, we probably would have been fine with the Sport, though we did like the upholstery on the Touring better, and it had some features we liked, such as all-weather mats  and a 40/20/40 rear seat with a console. Both were 2016 models, and both were red. The biggest difference, though was the mileage: 1,500 miles on the Touring and 12,000 on the Sport. Both were priced well, and there was only $2,000 difference. But the Touring only had one key, so we talked to the salesperson about getting a new one and a luggage cover for the back.

Then came the sticker shock. What with the cost of the accessories, tax, and the dealer’s doc fee, it all added up to be more than we had planned on spending. We could afford it, but did we really want to? And then there was the fact that both cars were red, which was brighter than we were used to. Was this really the right deal for us? We asked the dealer for their best price, but they wouldn’t budge.

We have always heard you should be prepared to leave if you’re not satisfied, so we said we would. The salesperson went back to see if she could get us a better deal from the manager — still no dice. So we left and said we would sleep it over, knowing it would be another hour drive if we decided to get it. Better to do that than to have buyer’s remorse later, though we were sorely tempted, esp. by the Touring with such low mileage (and a Carfax report to back it up).

The next day, we researched some more, found a couple more cars in a bigger city 2 hours away, and wrote the salesperson to say we would be ready to buy the CX-5 Touring if they could come down $1000 to cover the cost of the replaced key and fees. I didn’t really expect them to do that, but I hoped they would meet me halfway, which really would cover the cost of the key and the luggage cover. But we didn’t hear from them. As it turned out, they were very busy that day and didn’t reply until the next day.

Before we heard from the first Mazda dealer on the third day, we left for the bigger city 2 hours away. By that point, one of the three vehicles we were looking at had been sold. That lit a fire under us.

The most tempting car was a 2015 Mazda 5 with about 20,000 miles on it. It was half the price of the Touring, and the deal seemed almost too good to be true. That and the distance to the dealer had kept us from checking it out sooner, but now we felt we had to. It was still on the lot, and when we saw it, we thought it really could be our car. The body was in good shapes as we’d seen in the online photos. The color was a dark blue we liked a lot. We asked about the history, but didn’t get a lot of information from the auto wholesaler where it was for sale.

But when we took it out for a short test drive, it became immediately apparent why it was priced so low. The car had a very distinctive pet odor. At first we thought it was from a very large dog, but eventually concluded a cat must have sprayed in the car. We alerted the salesperson, who claimed they had an ozone device that could get even the worst odors out. We wished him luck with that and headed on our way.

(We have pets. We understand pet odors. This one stayed with us for hours after we got out of the vehicle. It was not going away.)

The next car was a 2015 Mazda CX-5 Sport with 18,000 miles on it. It was also blue, and would have been a good deal. We noticed a few more blemishes than we wanted, but nothing that would be a deal breaker. But while we were talking about the car at the dealership, I got a text from the other dealer that they would throw in the key and the luggage cover for the Touring at no charge. It was practically a new car, but the price was hard to beat, so we left the blue Mazda CX-5 and went to a nearby parking lot to call about the red Touring. It was still available, so we took their offer.

At that point we might have been able to talk them down a little further, but we decided not to risk it. We had compared every vehicle within 200 miles (maybe further) that we could find online, and didn’t find anything close. The price was fair, and we were satisfied to get the second key and the luggage cover as part of the deal. Our trip to test drive two other Mazdas had been worth it because we were now certain of our decision. Neither car was a better option for us — and the one that seemed like it could have been the best deal turned out to be too good to be true.

Now we are the proud owners of the 2016 red Mazda CX-5 Touring. We’re happy with that choice, and even like the red color better than when we first saw it.

It’s great to be able to buy the first car you test drive, and sometimes when you do your research, you’re able to. Then there are times when it takes a little more persistence, and you have to check out all the options to know that you really are making the right choice. You can research a lot online, but you can’t tell everything from what you see. Learning that was worth the effort or we might have second-guessed our decision for years to come. And in the process, we negotiated a little better deal on the car that was already a very good deal to begin with.

Now we can work on selling the car we’re replacing!