Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Things I Learned in 2009

1. Back up your hard drive. This is something I know I should have been doing but didn't. It finally got my attention and brought my life to a screeching halt for over a month.

Two weeks before my laptop's one-year warranty was up, my hard drive completely crashed. I happened to be working with several computer savvy people and was able to talk with someone and get their trusted advice. He was able to salvage most of my data on the corrupted hard drive while I waited for the new one to come in.

The new hard drive, along with the restoration and recovery CDs, arrived about a week later. My helper wouldn't be able to do the work for me, but he gave me good instructions and I was able to do the work myself.

Although much of my data was recovered, I still had to spend many, many hours reinstalling software, starting with the operating system! I had to find the CD for installing the printer software, MS Office, and several others. Plus, several of the businesses that I deal with online require a user name and password. I used to keep that on my laptop. Information gone. Even accessing email needs a password. Now that I was trying to access my accounts from a "different" computer, some of the more secure sites required an additional step from me to confirm that it really was me.

I was just getting settled in, when five weeks later, the replacement hard drive crashed. After spending a few days trying to get my computer to work again, I had to come to grips with the fact that I was about to repeat what I just went through. But alas, the replacement part had a 30-day warranty and I was at day 35. Good feelings gone.

I called to get the new hard drive and was told it could take two weeks for it to arrive. In the mean time, I brought my laptop to a local shop ("Mr. Notebook") so that they could recover the data on the bad hard drive. Although the process of getting the data would only take a few hours, it would be a week before they could even look at it. Plus, they would need an external hard drive on which to put the data. So up to Fry's I went and bought a nice Seagate and delivered it to Mr. Notebook.

Then, what to do for two weeks?? I used the computers at the library and at the local community college where I attend several classes.

Finally, the hard drive arrived in the mail and Mr. Notebook called to say they were done...both happened on the same day! Good feelings return.

I had never replaced a hard drive before, and now here I was duplicating the process I had learned only six weeks before. It was just as painful and time consuming the second time around: reinstalling software and confirming passwords.

The Seagate is really easy to use. All I have to do is plug the USB cable into my laptop and it does the backup automatically. It took some time to get it set up initially but now, it's a breeze. I back up about once a week; more often if I have spent alot of time on a project and don't want to lose it.

2. Store your user names and passwords in more than one media format. I thought I was so smart the way I was storing this information until the hard drive crashed and I couldn't get to the information. I can't tell you my new system in case you decide to break into my house to get to my passwords. I'm just saying, make a back up of your passwords.

3. Firefox is faster than Internet Explorer. Somehow, websites display faster with Firefox. I like to look at weather web cams so that's where I've noticed the most difference. The "favorites" are arranged differently and a little harder to access than on Internet Explorer (I.E.) so I use both, depending on what I'm doing. If I want to use a familiar favorite, I use IE. If I want to look at web cams, I use Firefox. Another benefit to Firefox is when I start typing a URL address, it starts to guess at what I want (based on my history) and gives me several options. I almost always find what I'm looking for this way.

I would not have even tried it had I not been in a web design class that required us to verify our designs in multiple browsers. I was absolutely astonished at how some of my designs displayed very differently in each browser. As I designed a web site, I was constantly checking to see how it displayed in Internet Explorer and then see how it displayed in Firefox.

I have since downloaded Apple's internet browser, Safari, but have not used it much. (See next item.)

4. Apple isn't all it's cracked up to be. Fifteen years ago, Apple had the market on making it easy for regular people to use a computer. The desktop, folders, trash can, and drag-n-drop were brand new and way better than trudging through DOS. I owned a Mac (proudly, I might add) but became frustrated because of the limited amount of software available. By the time I reached that point, Microsoft had developed "Windows" which looked alot like a Mac. That was nine years ago and I have never regretted changing from Mac to Microsoft.

I had a chance to see the latest Macs during a summer class at the local community college. I hated it. It's a bunch of fluff that I'm sure is doing nothing but hogging space. Who cares if the folders do something fancy when they close? So what if it looks like its being sucked into a vacuum cleaner hose? Ugh. I hated it.

So, when I downloaded Safari (to see how it displayed my web site designs) and saw that it does a bunch of unnecessary whirling and twirling, I had the same feeling. Yuck. Give me IE or Firefox.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dianne Again

For a brief time in my childhood, I was known as "Dianneagan."

I was in the third or fourth grade and loved spending time next door at my best friend's house. We were the same age, but she was the oldest of five, I the youngest of six. I liked her Dad. He was friendly and fun.

I don't know if this is what kids do these days, but back in my day, if you wanted to play with your friend, you walked over to their house, knocked on the door, and you would ask, "Can Mary (or whatever their name was) come out and play?" Sometimes the person came outside to play, sometimes we went in their house to play, and other times we were told that person wasn't there or was not allowed to have visitors at the moment.

On one of the times I went to visit Mary, her father answered the door and called out to Mary, "It's Dianneagan."

I looked at him, confused by what he had just called me. It sounded similar to "shenanigan" but instead of "shenana" it started with "Dianne."

I heard Mary pleading in the background, "Don't say that!"

"Why not? That's her new name, isn't it?" her father answered.

"What are you guys talking about?" I asked them, not sure what I had just walked into.

"Well, Mary said..." her father started.

Quickly interrupting him and trying to stop all further conversation, Mary said, "no, please, don't tell her."

Something secret was going on here and I had to find out what it was!

"Well," her father started again, "it's just that when Mary saw you walking towards our house, she said 'Oh no, here comes Dianne again. She's already been over here once today.' so I thought that was your new name."

Mary was trying her best to explain what she really meant, I was trying to figure out if she didn't want me coming around anymore, and her father was just laughing and laughing. After we settled down a bit, he assured me that Mary did want to see me and that I should keep coming over.

On my subsequent visits, I would announce myself as "Dianne Again" and we would all have a good laugh. It's also made for a good story even after all these years.

Sadly, Mary's father died of a heart attack two years after I was given my new name. He was only 36 years old. I really liked him and missed him desperately after his death. My new name was only sort-of funny after that and eventually I went back to my old name. But I think back fondly on the way he could turn a plain conversation into something humorous, personal, and long-lasting.

Tomorrow, I'll write about "Heel to toe."

Christmas Stocking Treats

Let's start with this: my husband loves chocolate covered peanuts. He even has a favorite brand that is only available at Walmart.

For his Christmas stocking, I thought it would nice to make the chocolate covered peanuts myself. This is all very tricky, since we both work from home (read: we're both home all the time) and I don't want him to know what I'm doing until I tell him Christmas morning. Furthermore, I don't do much cooking, so any activity I do in the kitchen is subject to suspicion.

I found out that it's really easy to make and doesn't require many ingredients. I waited until he went to bed last night and then went into the kitchen and started making the chocolate covered nuts.

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup milk-chocolate morsels
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup peanuts
1" candy cups (I used 1" paper muffin cups)

Separate out about 50 of the candy cups.
Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. I did it at 30-second intervals and stirred it each time.
Add the cashews to the melted chocolate and blend until all the cashews are covered.
Use two spoons to pull out groups of 3 cashews and place them in a candy cup.
After all the cashews are pulled out of the chocolate, add the peanuts and blend until all the peanuts are covered.
Use two spoons to pull out groups of 5 or 6 peanuts and place them in a candy cup.
Place the filled cups on a tray (I used a cookie sheet).
Transfer the filled cups to a container that will go in the refrigerator.
Seal it airtight and leave in the refrigerator overnight.

This is how far I've gone with the recipe. I intend to remove each clump from the cups, put them in groups of four, wrap them in plastic wrap, and place them in the Christmas stocking.

I hope I will be able to get them out of the paper cups without the paper sticking to the chocolate. If my husband takes a nap this afternoon, I'll find out then!

UPDATE: Husband did take an afternoon nap (yay). I took advantage of that time and brought the chocolates out of the refrigerator. The chocolates separate from the paper cups very easily and I think the paper cups can be reused. I think it helped that they were still cold. Ironically, at that time of the day (4pm on the first day of winter) the sun was streaming onto my work area and started melting the chocolate!

I wrapped them in clear plastic wrap (Saran wrap) and tied them with a bow. They look really pretty. It made about six packages of 7-8 clusters. I put those six packages in a brown paper bag (to conceal it from prying husband-eyes) and put the bag in the refrigerator. They are going to get crushed somewhat when I put them in the stocking, but I think that will be okay. If I were to give these away as gifts, I wouldn't use the plastic wrap because its kind of sticky and feels too homemade for me.

I have another item I want to make for the stocking: Cinnamon Sugar Crusted Pecans. That recipe requires the mixer (read: loud) so I'll have to do them Wednesday afternoon when husband is out of the house.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Twas the week before Christmas

Last week was fairly productive, even though I barely scratched the surface of my "things to do."

Some of the time was for Christmas-related tasks/events:

  • Decorated the Christmas tree. Fought with the lights...and won!
  • Sent out over twenty cards. Realized that I don't know people's mailing addresses anymore.
  • Assembled 35 Andes mints gift treats. Gave them to many of my former co-workers.
  • Enjoyed a Christmas dinner with some former co-workers. It was really good to see them again.
  • Purchased several gifts for my husband.

Some were business-related:
  • Analyzed a potential market base. Making a database of possible clients. It's looking hopeful so far.
  • Re-evaluating my web site. I constantly get ideas that will make it better. Now, I just need to implement them.

I had some trouble with my back this week, so I couldn't do the exercises that I had hoped to do. I'm hoping that this week, I'll at least be able to go for long walks.

This week, I plan to work on some of those end-of-the-year evaluations. I'll probably start with mileage calculations. I had a pretty good system going; now I just need to spend the time working on it.

Oh, I almost forgot! I tried a new recipe. I've always been curious about Bread Pudding. People seem to love it or hate it. I found a recipe that looked simple enough for me to try. The only extra thing I had to buy was cinnamon bread and eggs. I made it in a round glass pie plate. It came out fantastic! And it looks really pretty. Next time I make it, I'll use less sugar, because there already is sugar in the bread. I've been eating some everyday - it's hard to resist. This could easily become my signature dessert dish. Here is the recipe.

6 slices cinnamon-raisin bread
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Break or slice bread into bite-sized pieces (about 1/2" x 1/2" x 1") into an 8 inch square baking pan or pie pan. Drizzle melted butter or margarine over bread.
3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. Beat until well mixed. Pour over bread, and lightly push down with a fork until bread is covered and soaking up the egg mixture.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly tapped.