How to Use Email, Part 4: How to Reply to an Email Message (part A)

If you reply to an email, only include the portion of the message to which you are replying. If someone sends you a message that is a page long, and you are only replying to things said in the first paragraph, delete the rest of the message. This is not difficult! Just spend 10 to 20 seconds and clear out stuff that is not necessary. For example, if I reply to you, there’s no need for me to include your signature file in my reply because I’m pretty sure you already know how to contact yourself. Continue reading “How to Use Email, Part 4: How to Reply to an Email Message (part A)”

My Mac Mini's Oddities

I purchased a Mac Mini a few months ago to act as my “media hub” (read “DVD player”) a while ago.? Unfortunately, I still have an old Sony Wega (with a tube) and I’d forgotten how low the resolution is on old style televisions.? It was so bad that I couldn’t even use my Mini with it because I couldn’t read the menus.? So I quickly gave up on that idea and put the Mini on my desktop, nestled under my flat panel displays, where I occasionally would switch over to it via a KVM switch.? Unfortunately, since the mini only supports one display, and my Dell has four, it’s really hard to make the switch in any serious fashion.? As a result, the Mini has gotten very little use.
Plus, despite the fact that I upgraded it from 512MB to 2GB of RAM (using the putty knife technique that you can read about), it is still occasionally very painfully slow.? With no other apps running, Thunderbird was taking something to the tune of 16 bounces on the dock to load, whereas it would load in just three on my 800MHz PowerBook.? Not having a lot of time to troubleshoot things, I pretty much just let it sit and would fire it up to record the occasional podcast or whatnot.
Last night I decided to try to install Ubuntu Linux on it.? After all, I’d put it on all of my other machines, so why not, right?? Unfortunately, I didn’t bother reading any howtos or suggested procedures first – I just slapped the CD in, booted from it, nuked my Boot Camp partition, and dedicated it to Ubuntu. Unfortunately the installer crashed and that was the end of that.
When I attempted a reboot, the Mac wouldn’t load into OS X.? Furthermore, it would not boot from my installation CD! Now I was starting to get concerned.? I called Apple tech support, and they advised me to press and hold the C key to boot from CD (tried, failed).? I also tried the Alt (Option) key (failed).? One time I was able to hold down the mouse to get it to eject the CD, but subsequent attempts failed.
Finally, I figured there may be a problem with my KVM and the PC keyboard I was using.? Remembering that you can use the remote control to select? your boot drive, I held down the Menu button while booting.? Presto!? I was given the option to boot from the CD again.? Not having any data on the drive which wasn’t already backed up, I simply repartitioned the drive and continued on my merry way reinstalling.
I’m going to give Ubuntu on the mini another shot, but I may use an external drive this time instead.

How to Use Email, Part 2: Better Subject lines

Use a descriptive subject line. What may be even worse than a blank subject is a wrong subject. A subject line of “hi,” “question,” “problem,” or “help” is practically useless. Be descriptive. If you write someone about next week’s board meeting time being changed, then an apporpriate subject line would be “Next week’s board meeting time has changed.” See how quickly that helps convey your message? Sure, you could have said “board meeting,” but what does that really say? Not much. Continue reading “How to Use Email, Part 2: Better Subject lines”

How to Use Email, Part 1: Subject lines

I’ve decided to publish some notes that I’ve been accumulating for a long time on the do’s and don’ts of email. Since it may get a bit long, I’ve decided that I’ll put them out here one at a time, and it will consist of at least five parts. (That way I can be lazy and not have to think up new topics for a while!)
So here’s the first thing that you can do to make yourself a more effective emailer: Always use the subject line. Continue reading “How to Use Email, Part 1: Subject lines”

Norton Internet Security is Garbage

I highly recommend that anyone who purchased Norton Internet Security or a computer that came with it preinstalled, uninstall it immediately and get something else. The firewall that comes with NIS is completely brain-dead, and to date EVERY computer that we have worked on which has NIS installed has had issues where the firewall keeps the user from doing anything network-related.
The idea behind a software firewall is that it keeps the bad guys out of your computer. The problem is that Norton Internet Security seems to take this a step further by keeping you from getting on the Internet or even your local area network! I suppose that the truly draconian network administrator could argue that this is more secure, but the far cheaper and simpler method would be to simply disconnect your Ethernet card from the network.
If you need a firewall, Windows XP comes with one built in, for free, and it works well. There are also plenty of other firewall, anti-virus, and spyware prevention products out there. I’ll list a few for your reference:
Windows XP’s Built In Firewall – Microsoft – Free
Kerio – Sunbelt Software – $20
ZoneAlarm – Zone Labs – $50
Anti Virus:
Norton Antivirus – Symantec – $40 (yes, this product is okay)
AVG – Grisoft – $39
AVGFree – Grisoft – Free to NON-business users for ONE computer only.
Anti Spyware:
Windows Defender – Microsoft – Free
Spybot Search and Destroy – Free
AdAware Personal – Lavasoft – Free for personal use
SpySweeper – Webroot – $30/year
Alternately, just buy a Mac.

New Toy: The Kona Jake

Since I’ve been doing more biking on the road lately, I decided it was time for a road bike.? So I went to my pals at Green Mountain Bikes today and tested out a few, finally settling on a new Kona Jake. It has a nice balance of mountain bike features and road bike features. I can’t wait to try it!

Bikers and Moose and Bears, Oh $#|+!!

I went mountain biking down one of my favorite trails with my friend Peter? Merrill yesterday. Before we started out, I told him that we had seen a bear a couple of weeks ago near the bottom of Camp Brook Road.? The trail that we picked up starts at the top of Charlie Wilson Road, and empties out on Gilead Brook Road.
The trail was very wet, or as my friend put it, “the river was a bit dry.” As we navigated our way down from the top of the trail, I saw a (very) large hoof print in the middle of the trail.? Knowing that moose live in that area, this was not a surprise, but I was a little extra vigilant because running into a startled moose is not what I would consider the high point of my bike ride.? Fortunately, we did not see any actual moose, just moose prints.
About an hour later, as we were nearing the end of the trail, I kept thinking what it would be like to come up around a bend and see a bear.? As we reached a straight part of the trail and I could see more clearly ahead, about 50′ in front of my friend was a young black bear.
I could hardly believe it.? At first I thought my mind was playing tricks on me.? I tried to yell out “It’s a bear!”? But I couldn’t find the words and all I managed was “Peter stop!!” He did, and the bear took one look at us and bolted into the woods.? For a big, heavy thing, it could move pretty quickly!? We took a picture of its claw prints once we were sure it was gone, and then decided not to stick around any longer.

Owning Property Sucks Even More

Okay, so I got my quotes on pre-buy oil prices for the coming year. The lowest we found in the area was $2.55 a gallon. I’d say it was $2.549 a gallon, like the delivery company did, but I really don’t like that game, so I’m doing what they do on the bill and rounding up.
The problem is that this particular company also happens to be incompetent, as is evidenced by the fact that they repeatedly screwed up my deliveries, causing me to run out of propane in the dead of winter, and also by charging me for my neighbor’s propane and vice versa, and don’t even get me started on the fact that they, after forcing me to shell out money to have them inspect my heating system to be sure it was “up to code,” completely missed the fact that the furnace was venting into my basement for years. Brilliant. Finally, they wanted something to the tune of $2,000 to put in a new above-ground oil tank at my new building, when the next bid I got came in at $1,250.
Needless to say, I am not dealing with them any longer. So that brings me to the runner up, CV Oil, whose pre-buy rate for #2 Fuel Oil is a whopping $2.69 per gallon. Note that these folks are decent enough to price it at $2.69, and not play the $2.689 per gallon game. So I had my assistant figure out how much we used last night (by calling these folks, who kept accurate records), and the total came to approximately 2,000 gallons. Here’s where I do math: 2,000 gal * $2.69/gal = $5,380. Ouch.
I’ll say it again: “Ouch!” Let me rephrase that. “HOLY $#!+!!” So, after picking myself back up off the floor, I called the friendly folks at Efficiency Vermont to see if there was anything they could do for me. Here’s where it gets fun. The first thing they told me was that, for a building this size (approximately 6,000′ sq.), I’m doing pretty well. Ouch. Okay, now it really hurts.
So, I’ve spoken with a couple of people and have gotten various recommendations which have included:

  • Adding a second furnace to the one I have because it is too small. Adding a second furnace would make it more efficient (to a maximum of 20%, says Efficiency Vermont).
  • Make sure that the walls are insulated. Right now I do not know what’s between the sheetrock and the exterior brick of the building. If open air, they suggest stuffing it full of cellulose.
  • Have an energy audit and follow their recommendations. This would probably run me something to the tune of $1,000 or more. Awesome.
  • Get storm windows. I’m sure that the main source of heat loss here is the ancient, single-pane glass on the upper two floors of this place, but since this is an historic building, allegedly I’m eligible for tax credits if we preserve the facade and don’t make exterior changes. Given the number and size of the windows in this place, I’m sure that would not pay off for at least ten years.
  • Get rid of the boiler and put in an on-demand water heating system instead.
  • Replace the controller on the furnace, or have it reprogrammed (if possible) so that it runs in shorter increments because right now it appears that it runs for a minimum of 30 minutes any time it calls for heat, causing some “hot pockets” in the building and certainly sucking down a lot of extra oil.

That’s the end of today’s rant. What are your thoughts on heating options in the northeast? Are we doomed to pay high prices and just suck it up? Or should we all start packing up and moving south to warmer climates?

MacNu – My Initial Foray Into Podcasting!

I started listening to podcasts in February of 2006, and quickly became addicted. One that I listened to was known as Duel Boot Radio (yes, we know it’s the wrong “duel”). The hosts were funny and, while I didn’t always learn much from it, I found them entertaining.
A few weeks ago, Duel Boot Radio came to an end when one of the co-hosts backed out of doing the show. I wrote to one of the hosts, suggesting that he keep doing the show, but with guest hosts.
He didn’t want to do that, but invited me to be a guest/co-host of his new podcast, called MacNu. I agreed, and now we’re recording at least one episode a week. Look for it at or in iTunes.