Archive for the ‘Practical Ideas’ Category

I don’t often repost other people’s blogs, but this blogger has some excellent insight into thought processes… Definitely worth sharing.

Four Mental Stages of Learning Any New Skill – Drew Iaconis.

Hurricanes. Wild fires. Earthquakes. Floods. An exploding gas pipeline in the neighborhood. For years, emergency preparedness has been advocated and advised by emergency responders, government agencies, and insurance companies. So are you ready? I’m not.

Excuses for not being prepared for an emergency:

  • The supply list seems so long and funds seem so short. Why spend money on something you don’t intend to use?
  • Where to store it all. As someone who moved from 1400 sq ft to 900 sq ft, this issue is very real.
  • Isn’t that what the Red Cross is for?
  • Lifestyle. Why should a single apartment dweller be worried about such a thing? Why not just get in your car and leave the stricken area?

 

While this seems like a strange topic for a personal blog, it has long been on my mind. And since September is National Preparedness Month, I just had to jump in to the fray.

As someone who has prepared emergency response plans for businesses, I have often thought that employers should get involved in helping workers prepare for emergencies. Why? Because when it comes to a business resuming operations after a disaster, their most valuable asset is their employees. Moreover, they can buy supplies in bulk and reduce the cost to each household.

Solution to acquiring the items on the supply list:

Break the big list down into smaller shopping lists. Get storage containers first, then stow items in them as they are purchased (Big Lots has big, clear plastic containers for about $9 each). Make a 12-week plan. Why 12 weeks? Because 3 months is a good length of time. Most of us break our income into monthly periods, so it’s easier to budget these purchases this way. Take 6 months if you absolutely need to do so, but 6 months makes it a long-term project, more likely to be abandoned before completion.

Depending on where you live, some of the things you need may be big-ticket items. Safe rooms in tornado alley, impact-resistant roofing in areas assaulted by hail and wind, and so on. Those may, in fact, require some longer-term projects and planning. But check with your insurer and your accountant. You may be eligible for tax and premium credits/discounts or even grants for purchasing these important building improvements.

Where to store it all:

Despite my own lack of space, I know I can find room in a closet or in the single-car garage for two or three large plastic containers. So can you. It’s important. Make room.

What the Red Cross can and cannot do:

The Red Cross does an excellent job of responding to disasters. They offer food and temporary shelter when possible. But don’t expect them to be knocking on your door within two hours after the earthquake or the river overflows its banks. In fact, the Red Cross says that it may be two to three days before assistance is near enough to help you. You need to be prepared to be self-sustaining in the interim.

Driving away from a disaster may not be possible:

Having survived many earthquakes in California (Sylmar, 1971; Whittier Narrows, 1986; Northridge, 1994 – my favorite – I had surgery scheduled that morning), I can tell you that gas stations may be shut down, ATMs may not be operating (do you keep emergency cash on hand?), or roads may be impassable. Your car may be in 4 feet of water, crushed under a garage roof, or sitting on top of a roof across town. If you live in an area where evacuation in advance is possible and probable, this may not be as much of an issue. But keep in mind that the worst non-subduction zone earthquakes in U.S. history occurred in New Madrid, Missouri (1811-1812).

If the most likely event is one that will require evacuation, begin disaster season in your region with a bag packed for each person in the household. You need to be able to fly out the door. Wouldn’t it be a good thing to have a clean change of clothes or two?

So let’s get started. Get your home ready. Get your business ready. Talk to your employer about getting the entire staff prepared, especially if your company is one that people will need after the disaster. Break the tasks into manageable pieces, but keep moving forward.

Here are some resources to help us get started:

A good list of tax credits, insurance discounts, grant programs available for specific states: http://www.insurance.com/home-and-renters-insurance/natural-disasters/4-ways-to-save-money-on-disaster-preparedness.html

This is a one-stop site for households and businesses. Hosted by FEMA, you’ll find a lot of good information here, including the supply kit shopping list and ways to prepare children and people with special needs for emergencies. http://www.ready.gov/

If you’d rather buy than build your disaster survival kit: http://www.1800prepare.com/pages/Preparedness-Checklist.html

Of course, the American Red Cross provides information about disaster preparedness. And after you think you’re ready, you can sign up for a first-aid class or to volunteer to help others: http://www.redcross.org/

ADD this site to your phone’s browser favorites. You’ll get information after a disaster, including their twitter feed and phone numbers you’ll need if you require disaster assistance. They also have your kit shopping list so you have no excuse for not having it with you. http://m.fema.gov/

Now make a commitment to yourself. Buy stuff you hope you’ll never need, but need to have anyway. Let’s get this done!

“He tried to hit me with a forklift!” (for today’s Daily Post)

Submitted to Daily Post: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/daily-prompt-nonsequitur/

 

 

I don’t know how I get to some of the places I’ve been. I mean online, of course. Although it’s probably happened a time or two when I’m in the car.

Yesterday afternoon, I ran a search for writing. Bazillion sites in the results. So I narrowed it to blog writing. I’m still new at this form of writing and I know it can be better. Much better. I’m smiling as I write this because yesterday a blogger I follow posted a how-to article on that very subject. Check out Kana’s Chronicles. Good stuff.

mastermind-matrix-800Following one of the hits, I signed up for Writing.com and saved a few articles as pdf files to be read later. I followed links to six more websites, created shortcuts to some and dashed off an e-mail to a webmaster with a badly broken style sheet.

Some years ago, I signed up for elance.com, a website that connects freelancers with clients, but never did anything with it. After my foray into blog writing, I decided to search for freelance work, hoping to find similar websites that don’t require paid membership to use it well. I visited several but they weren’t very forthcoming about fees. Some had lots of contracts posted, others not so much, and one where most of the jobs were of the envelope-stuffing variety for which they are willing to pay enormous sums. I used to work as a writer for an insurance broker, preparing proposals and marketing materials so I wasn’t completely out of my element.

Time to eliminate some of the chaff. Narrowed search to freelance writing and followed a link to yet another bid/contract site. On this one, I looked at some of the listings and came across one that was very explicit about their search engine optimization (SEO) requirements. Which led to a search for pagerank checkers/software. Which led to a search for search engines (beyond Google and Bing, Yahoo and Zippy). There are actually quite a few. More than 250.

My mind wandered to things I need to do before I start any serious self-promotion for freelance work. Like get up to speed on MS Office 2010. I used to teach MS Office but that was when Office XP was the latest and greatest. They’ve rearranged everything and taken away some features I loved. Oh well. Thus the search for free tutorials for Microsoft Office. Which reminded me that they are discontinuing a favorite freebie, Microsoft Reader. Created when ePublishing was in its infancy, it was orphaned years ago. Born prematurely, I knew the end would come. Sigh.

Of course, that led me to a search for ebook publishing software because soon my OpenWorks Publisher will be obsolete (okay, it already is obsolete). I followed a link that hasn’t been updated in two years but the list of articles was interesting. In the writing category…”7 Ways to Unblock Your Creativity.” Click. Perusing the article, suggestion #4 said “Do a mind map.” Oh yeah. I’d seen software for that a couple of years ago. Ooooh. A link to a website about mind mapping. Click.

From there to the software page where they list several companies that make mind mapping software, including an open source freebie which I downloaded, of course. These software packages run about $250.00. Little bit too pricey for a test driver.

I don’t know how I got where I went next. I’m actually going to include the link to this one: litemind.com because this site has a lot of really informative articles including What is Mind Mapping- (and How to Get Started Immediately). I signed up for the author’s free eBook and then followed a link from his Study Matrix Mind Map to another website, IQMatrix.com. Amazing. Go. Don’t worry. New window. I’ll be here when you’re done.

Confession: I always thought mind mapping was just for brainstorming and organizing random but somehow related ideas. More. So, so much more. Check it out.

Last note: I wrote the other day about Google’s covert recording of our lives. I’ve decided I don’t mind being molested if a) I know it’s happening, and b) I benefit directly from it. I could not have recalled all the places I’ve been today if not for Bing.com. I log in with my Windows Live ID so I can collect the reward points. In return, Bing not only rewards me, they maintain a history of my searches and the links I followed from the results. I can delete it or stop the recording, but I like it. I’ll get rewards points if you click on my link to their site and you decide to sign up.

By the by, Bing also restricts ads to the righthand column instead of being comingled with the search results, suggests similar or related searches that might narrow the results for you, and if you search for something that has images, thumbnails appear in the results list and a larger image pops up when you mouse over it. Dang. They’re just doing it way better than Google.

scarecrowHow many directions can I go simultaneously? A wise scarecrow once said, “People do go both ways.” That’s what I want to do… I want to create things using fabric and yarn and paint and beads and paper. I want to take pictures. Good pictures. I want to participate in the 365MakeSomthingEveryDay challenge. I want to cook and bake every day. I want to develop my ideas for inventions. I want to write. Fiction. Nonfiction. About Project Red. A series of books detailing DIY projects paced over several weeks (for those of us who are easily overwhelmed by the size of the task). I think I have a lot of experience with BIG projects. Everything can be a BIG project.

I want to learn more so I can do more with website and graphic design. I want to read that growing stack of books. I want to walk 3 miles every day and use those Butt Bible videos. I’m a craft wonk. A creative wonk. A cooking wonk. A word wonk. I used to be a techno wonk but I blinked while staying home with Nerdy Girl for the past few years.

Focus. I need to focus. I have an idea that I think would sell very well on craft sales sites. I’m about to start prototyping it, but I’m still noodling design options in my head. Meanwhile, I was thinking I need to develop an online presence on sites where potential buyers will view my shameless self-promotion. I’m also debating continuing to use the WordPress domain and server or pop over to GoDaddy.com and snag a couple of domain names and some space where I have complete flexibility and the WordPress blogging app. I was even thinking about sharing server space and offering my services to other artisans who don’t want to be geeky at all. Do I want to be an inventor and artisan or do I want to be the webmaster and marketing department?

I’m laughing at myself because even as I read this, I can feel that Puppy Dog Syndrome come over me and I’m over-engineering the project, aren’t I?

I’d love to know I’m not alone in my diverse interests. I’d love to hear how you find time and the ability to focus on the really important stuff.

Doing some ‘puter/’net housekeeping chores, I attempted to log on to my Google account. Something I haven’t done in a very long time. I couldn’t complete the task because I have cookies blocked on my ‘puter. Well, not completely. I have to give permission for 3rd-party cookies to be stored on my computer. You should do that too and I’ll show you why.

Go to Google’s Privacy Policies. You don’t have read the techno-babble or legalese. Just read the section under the “Information we collect” heading. Got the heebie-jeebies yet? If you said no, did you read far enough to see where they say they may collect info about your mobile phone, including phone calls, people you call, GPS coordinates of where you are, etc.? Is your phone or your next phone an Android?

If not, try this one… Google’s info blurb about the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI). You can OPT OUT of advertisers placing cookies that track your online behavior and “tailor” advertising to your interests and habits.

I’m really rethinking that Google account. It seems I need it for Youtube, but there aren’t any other services they provide that isn’t available somewhere else with less intrusive practices. I don’t even use their search engine… Check out yippy.com. It’s a great search engine that groups results into clouds. They are adamant about not tracking your behavior or collecting information about you. They’ve also got parental controls/filtering if you need that. Open-mouthed smile

Even Microsoft’s Bing.com is better about respecting your privacy. Check out Microsoft’s Privacy Policies. And their map tool is much nicer than Google Maps.

P.S. I seemed to recall and have now verified that the Android operating system software development is open source but Google is leading it. To quote from the Android website FAQ: “…Google has committed the professional engineering resources necessary to ensure that Android is a fully competitive software platform. Google treats the Android project as a full-scale product development operation, and strikes the business deals necessary to make sure that great devices running Android actually make it to market.”

That new cell phone may just be an iPhone or a Windows phone instead.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has a reputation for three things: long lines, long waits, seeming inefficiency. I probably could have paid my registration fees online and waited for the tag to arrive in the mail, but I had waited until the last possible minute to pay the fees and didn’t want to get pulled over by one of California’s finest.

I was prepared. I had a bottle of water and a book to read. I expected a long afternoon of it. Entering the large facility in Costa Mesa, I took my place at the end of the line where you get your number before waiting and waiting and waiting to be called to a “window” (really just a cleared spot on the counter that snaked around the middle of the warehouse-sized room).

Then I noticed a big blue and yellow kiosk and a sign that promoted self-serve vehicle registration. There were only 3 or 4 people in that line… I didn’t know if my paperwork would process without my being referred to a human helper, but I figured it was worth a shot. I moved to the shorter line at the kiosk.

Following the prompts on the touch screen, I placed my renewal notice under the red light beam so the barcode could be scanned. YAY! Appearing before my very eyes was all my information and a prompt asking me to indicate how I wanted to pay my fees: cash, e-check, or credit/debit card. Debit card. Insert. Swipe. Done! Out popped my registration card with the tag attached at one end. From another slot, a printed receipt. Wow! I was in and out of the DMV in under ten minutes with registration and tag in hand!

It seems all too rare that we have opportunity and cause to praise a government agency for being efficient and easy to do business with. Today, I was truly impressed by the small innovation of a registration-printing, tag-spewing kiosk.

Change Resistant

Posted: October 5, 2011 by Nerdy Woman in Practical Ideas
Tags: , , , , , ,

Recently, Facebook made a lot of changes to their user interface and they’ve promised more changes to come. The changes have met with some very harsh, well-deserved criticism. Oh, I’m sure they had focus groups who voiced their opinions of what needed to be changed, and beta testers who love taking apart Chinese puzzle boxes in their spare time.

Are Facebook critics screaming because we all are resistant to change, forever preferring that which is familiar to us? I’m sure the Facebook developers and decision makers believe that’s the problem and that given time, we’ll like the new interface. Are they going to undo the changes? Roll it back to how it was before? Probably not. They’ve invested a lot of time and money in what they believe is a better interface.

Was the old interface a little bit kludgy? a little bit unwieldy if you have hundreds, thousands of “friends”? Yep. No doubt about it. But it was fairly easy to figure out. Back in the day, software developers strived to make their software “intuitive to use.” This concept seems to have been forgotten by the Facebook developers.

Hearing the words “that’s the way it’s always been done here” makes me want to scream. I know that, at some point in the past, someone came up with a “brilliant” method for completing a task or organizing a project. I am always the first to encourage a rethink as new technologies or other changes affect that beloved and familiar procedure.

But the internet is a tool. And while it’s true that you can’t visit too many websites these days without an Adobe Flash Player add-in, it’s time for a little “old skool” thinking.

1. Is it intuitive to use? Could Grandma get on this website, find her way around, and look forward to coming back because the site didn’t make her feel incompetent?

2. Is navigation easy to understand? No mystery-meat icons instead of words, no need to click more than 3 or 4 times to get where you want to go? I have no doubt that Facebook would have met with less resistance if they’d left the title bar alone. FB users all knew home, profile, account sequence in the upper right corner.

3. Is it easy to customize the user interface? Not all sites need this, but a site like Facebook definitely does. It seems that the newsfeed/home page has become much more “one size fits all” Even my web-based e-mail screen allows me to group, categorize, sort, and filter information.

I have no doubt the Facebook world is in mourning the loss of the friendlier site FB once was. Take heart, my friends, a year from now, we’ll be used to it. We won’t think it’s any better than we do now, but we’ll have learned to live with it.

Last word: I hope website designers everywhere are taking notes and learning something from Facebook’s introduction of “new coke.”