Sunday, December 6, 2009

Happy Holidays, 2009

Plugging in...

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the tutoring is so delightful,
And as long as you call her phone,
You’ll never face the PC all alone.

It doesn’t show signs of running
And the viruses can be cunning
The electricity's about to blow
Let it go, let it go, let it go!

When you finally give her a call,
How you’ll hate it if she’s at the mall.
But if you really want her there,
Wait awhile, then she’ll appear.

The computer thinks it’s dying,
And you’re on the verge of crying.
But as long as you make the call,
She’ll save you from climbing the wall!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fonting can be Haunting

Plugging in...

The tutor had the recent pleasure of working with a distinguished gentleman author in the midst of writing a book. Out of the twelve chapters already written, four of them had a visually disturbing problem. The customary font, Times New Roman, and the customary size, 12 pt, was SO small on the screen and when printed, that the author was forced to make the font size 18 pt. The publishing editor provided guidelines for the electronic submission of the draft, and size 18 was NOT in the guidelines. Try as the author might, he was unable to correct the problem. For the record, the editor, too, was incapable of solving the font mystery.

After the Tutor reviewed one document in depth (the chapters were typed in separate documents), the styles* used within, and the document formatting, the culprit made itself known. Somehow, somewhere, something (someone?) had superscripted the ENTIRE document and changed the spacing to add 10 points after each carriage return.

It wasn't a quick fix. There were many mixed styles in the document requiring editing. Once edited though, the corrected styles automatically changed the formatting in the document, as intended.

* In Microsoft Word, a style is a collection of formatting instructions. One uses Word styles to identify and format the structural elements in a document. So one could use the "Title" style for your title, "Body Text" style for body text, "Caption" style for the picture captions and "Heading 1" for the major headings.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the font super or subscripted, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

You Make a Me Sweat

Plugging in...

When you read the title, think Italian accent "you make a me sweat". It was uttered to the Tutor one fine day while teaching a classroom of twenty-five how to use Lotus. Oh. You don't remember Lotus 123, the pre-cursor to Excel, the darling of Cambridge Massachusetts? No matter.

The gentleman of Italian descent was having difficulty following the Tutor's instructions, mainly because English was his second language. Little did the Tutor know he was a brilliant engineer who worked on an oil rig. So why is that important to the story? The Tutor was informed by one of the man's colleagues not to "help" him catch up, that the colleague would assist him and the Tutor could continue teaching without interruption.

When lunch time rolled around, the colleauge approached the Tutor and explained why the Italian gentleman/engineer was so reticent when touching the keyboard. The Italian engineer held a position on the oil rig such that if he pushed the wrong button while on the oil rig, it could blow the rig to kingdom come. He was so accustomed to not touching anything until he was postively certain of the outcome, that he brought this focused attention to learning the spreadsheet program.

So. The Tutor stopped making the man sweat, his colleague helped him out, and the Lotus class was a success.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, do you know which key to press, and is it turned on?


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Best Use of a Digital Camera

Plugging in...

A couple years ago, October 2007 to be precise, the Tutor had the good fortune and good health to visit Nepal, trekking and mountain climbing. But that's not what this tale is about.

The Tutor had a request to bring back some japa mala beads. What are they, you ask? A Japa mala or mala (Sanskrit:माला; mālā, meaning garland) is a set of prayer beads commonly used by Hindus and Buddhists, usually made from 108 beads, though other numbers, usually divisible by 9, are also used. Malas are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a deity. This practice is known in Sanskrit as japa.

The tale is also not really about the beads, so much as the journey to purchase the beads. So there the Tutor sat in a small jewelry shop at the Yak and Yeti hotel in Katmandu about 7:00pm. The informative shopkeeper was educating the Tutor in all things japa mala and had several expensive japa mala strands of beads strewn across the counter when the power went out. It was pitch dark, black as tar, impossible to see anything.

The quick-thinking Tutor, whipped out her digital camera and used the light from the LCD screen to assist the shopkeeper in retrieving the beads and returning them to their secured case. The Tutor thanked the shopkeeper and with camera in hand, led herself out and up the stairwell to her hotel room, guided by the LCD light. The hotel room had candles and matches, so the handy digital Canon Powershot G was turned off.

The Tutor did purchase several strands of japa mala beads, as requested, and brought them back to the states where they are either in use and revered daily, or tucked away in a drawer, now forgotten.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is there power, and is it turned on?


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Can One Click an Ink?

Plugging in...

What is the difference between INK and LINK? Yes, smarty pants, the answer is the letter L. And doesn't that seem like such and easy answer? It wasn't to a user who wasn't carefully reading a message on their AOL email screen.

Good old AOL has a safety/security feature that turns OFF all clickable links in received emails so the reader won't get tricked into going to malicious websites (referred to as phishing). AOL does this on purpose, but doesn't broadcast it in letters larger than 8 points (tiny, tiny). So a recent Tutoree received an email with a clickable link to some mouth-watering recipes, except the link wouldn't go anywhere. BUT, the click resulted in a message in the middle of the screen...

After many frustrating attempts, a Tutor call was made but the Tutor had difficulty understanding the nature of the error: images and ink have been deactivated for your safety, blah, blah, blah. Since the Tutor couldn't make heads or tales of why an INK message would appear when clicking a link in an email, she made a visit.

As with many visits, the problem was apparent as soon as the Tutor witnessed the user in action. The message read LINK, not INK. And the fog lifted. The AOL message also stated: click above to activate clickable images and links. Clicking above meant hunting for the miniscule type in the right corner, admist other textual messages. If one clicked "above", the links would have been activated, which just means they would work, darn it all! The lesson? Slow down and read. Reading is fundamental. You've heard it, read it in this blog before, and now you're reading it again.

The Tutor got proactive and changed the AOL settings to always allow images and links to be active within emails. Phew. Those mouth-watering recipes sure worked up the Tutor's appetite.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it activated, and is it turned on?


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Plugging in...

There's a new acronym in town: WFE

The Tutor couldn't find it in a dictionary, online or othewise. This surprising new addition to the computer world famous for acronyms came from a client. A new laptop was ordered and received. The Tutor appointment made. The Tutor showed up for the appointment and the laptop was still sealed in the box.

When the Tutor expressed surprise over the new toy being still ensconced in cardboard and packing tape, the client said "it's WFE".

That cleared it right up - NOT! The client then explained WFE meant "waiting for elaine", who is also known as The Computor Tutor.

Who knew?

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it WFE, and is it turned on?


Friday, September 4, 2009

The UP side of grading or dating

Plugging in...

Security seems to be all the rage today, home, business AND computers. But in trying to keep current with an internet security program, a Tutor client ran into some trouble with what should have been easy-peasy.

Security suites usually have an annual renewal fee. And most security suite vendors hope you will buy their newest security product, not just renew the one you have. It all seems very easy and innocent when the pop up box asks one to renew.

In this particular case, the client opted to UPgrade which means to buy the latest security suite. The vendor website failed to provide a tiny piece of information that would have allowed the client to UPgrade without a Tutor intervention. Seems the client's existing suite was too OLD to UPgrade and it required an uninstall by the client before downloading and installing the UPgrade.

But it gets worse (doesn't it always get worse before it gets better?). The failed UPgrade not only caused the old security suite to no longer work BUT, get this, it prevented any internet access. Stumped, the Tutor was called and it took the Tutor some time to find the problem because the error messages were somewhat, ahem, irrelevant to the situation.

Can you say confusing? UPgrading is getting a new version of a software or hardware product designed to replace an older version of the same product. UPdating means keeping the existing software or hardware and receiving small changes to it on a regular basis.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, it is and upgrade or an update, and is it turned on?


Saturday, August 29, 2009


Plugging in...

So there the Tutor was, paddling her kayak up the Danvers river, not another boat on the ocean, this quiet weekday. The Tutor frequently paddles solo and always brings a cell phone tucked into a dry bag strapped to the deck of her kayak, SEA-battical, for safety purposes, certainly not to work!

There's always a first time for everything, and didn't the cell phone begin ringing as the Tutor paddled lazily by Sandy Beach, heading for the Danversport Yacht club. The Tutor's cell phone isn't prone to ringing, as many other cell phones are, because it is mainly used to call OUT, so hearing it ring was a surprise, and it was so entirely out of context on the ocean to hear a phone ringing, that the Tutor ignored it. Until it stopped, then started ringing again. Someone really wanted to reach the Tutor.

So, securing the paddle, unclipping the dry bag from the stainless steel caribiner and extracting the phone, the Tutor answered it. And it was a client, looking for assistance in getting their Comcast modem back on track. When I described where I was, the client quickly suggested we talk another time, preferably land-locked but the Tutor had already secured the paddle, could talk with one hand on the phone and used the other hand to gently paddle away from any obstructions. Did you know you that a kayak could be paddled only with hands - slow but true.

The client had been away for two weeks, had unplugged ALL electronics before leaving (a great idea to not only save electricity, but to prevent a summer thunderstorm and subsequent power outage from potentially damaging the modem and the attached computer). Only one problem... the client wasn't entirely familiar with how the modem, wireless router and computer all worked together in that jumbled mess of wires under the desk. The wireless router was inadvertently left unplugged, leaving the client puzzled as to what happened to the internet connection.

Hum the following to the tune of Dry Bones (the knee bone's connected to the thigh bone...):

The cable's connected to the modem
The modem's connected to the router
The router's connected to the computer
Oh hear the word of the TUTOR!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Can You Say Hermetically Sealed?

Plugging in...

We all love color, don't we? Or are you one of the growing contingent with the FOC problem? What the FOC, you ask? Fear. Of. Color. Well, color ink jet printers are currently the best selling printers on the planet. The manufacturers practically give the printers away, knowing they'll be making oodles of money on their one consumable: ink cartridges.

Ink. Comes in a box. In the box is a cartridge either shrink wrapped, or wrapped in foil. These packages are hermetically sealed. Big 50 cent word here. Means air tight. Air tight for a reason. The reason? Ink cartridges dry out. Poof, ink evaporates like water droplets in the sunshine.

Why is the Tutor talking about such a boring topic as hermetically sealed packaging? BECAUSE a recent client ran out of ink, installed a new ink cartridge and continued to receive an out of ink message. How is this possible, the client wanted to know in utter frustration?

The client had purchased the ink cartridge several months prior. Took the cartridge completely out of the packaging and left it on a shelf in their office so they would:

1) know where it was and
2) have it ready to install

since opening some packaging these days requires a bowie knife or a saw!

Guess what happened on the way to the printer? All the ink dried up in the opened cartridge. All of it. What a waste of $35.00 for the cartridge, and the Tutor's not saying any time is ever wasted when she's on-site with a client, but heck, the Tutor had to charge for the time spent sorting out the client's behavior. Rather, ahem, the ink problem. We all now know the ink had no problem what-so-ever, don't we?

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the ink still in the original packaging, and is it turned on?


Expensive Ink

Plugging in...

The ink jet printer won't print, but doesn't give any kind of error message? A bit like being ill without symptons. Older ink jet printers don't always have those little helpers called "monitors" that shout out long before the ink is gone, BUY MORE, BUY MORE.

The Tutor's client checked all cable connections and they were Okey-Dokey. Power was turned on. Paper inserted correctly and not jammed. Hmmmm. Try inserting a new ink cartridge. Sometimes black, sometimes color, sometimes both. Just do it. Try to print. Chances are the printer will click and clack to life.

Make another list and check it twice before calling the Tutor or that already pricey ink cartridge is going to be a whole lot more expensive! Since checking an ink cartridge is a lesson in futility (one can't usually tell by looking or shaking if it's empty, half full, or new), always have spares on hand for one never knows how much ink will an ink jet print before an ink jet decides to STOP?

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, did you try a new ink cartridge, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reading 101

Plugging in...

The Tutor always tells clients that reading is fundamental and 50% of what the Tutor teaches is reading. No joke. Case in point:

A recent client couldn't get the ink cartridge alignment notice to stop asking to align, nor could they get it to stop printing the alignment page. How strange, you ask? This was not a new printer, and the client had changed ink cartridges many times in the past. So what CHANGED?

After the printer shot out more than 35 pages of ALIGNMENT patterns, they called the Tutor. It sounded odd, perhaps a glitch in the printer driver, or worse. But alas, it was a case of reading, or in this case, not reading.

The client changed the ink cartridges correctly, the alignment page printed as usual, but the VERY LAST thing the notice said on the screen was "PUT THE ALIGNNMENT PAPER FACE DOWN ON THE PRINTER GLASS AND PRESS OK". Well instead of reading and following the instructions, the client recycled the paper (and the other 34 that printed after it). The printer needed the alignment page in order to check the patterns to ensure the cartridges were installed properly.

Not the printer's fault. When the Tutor put the page facedown on the printer glass, the message miraculously disappeared and no more alignment pages plagued the owner.

Reading. It's fundamental!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, did you READ everything, and is it turned on?


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What Does the TUTOR use?

Plugging in...

Hardware and software fans gather round. Here's the skinny on what you would find in the Tutor's office:

Dell Optiplex 745 Desktop PC, Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 2 GB RAM (12/2006)
Dell UltraSharp 1707FP flat screen monitor (12/2006)
Windows XP Professional, service pack 2
Microsoft Digital Media Pro Keyboard (8/2005)
Logitech Mouse
Linksys WRT54GS Wireless Router (9/2005)
HP Laserjet 4050 T printer w/ wireless jet card (9/1999)
Epson Stylus C62 inkjet printer (1/2006 gift)
HP Scanjet ADF (11/1999)
Sandisk Digital Media Card Reader (5/2004)
Maxtor One Touch backup unit (2/2008)
Canon Powershot G2 Digital Camera (10/2002
iPod Nano 8GB (2/2007, gift)
iPod Shuffle (12/2007, gift)
iPod iTouch 8GB (5/2009, gift)
iPod wall and car chargers (4/2008)
Multiple flash drives: 512MB - 6GB sizes
Verizon DSL Internet Service (12/2003)
Dell Latitude D600 laptop (6/2005 on loan from Salem State College)

AVG Antivirus 8.5 (free version)
ZoneAlarm Firewall 8.0.298 (free version)
Roboform form filling/password tracking software 6.9.94
Browsers: Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 3.0.11, Chrome
Microsoft Office 97, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007
Outlook 2003 and Thunderbird email programs

The Tutor won't bore you with the spare parts cabinet. Notice how OLD some of the hardware is... it's not broken so it hasn't been replaced.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, does it still work, and is it turned on?


Where Does the Money GO?

Plugging in...

Being savvy consumers, the Tutor's clientele should be aware of exactly where their money goes once they have called, seen and paid the Tutor for services rendered.

The breakdown follows for one hour of the Tutor's time:

Returning phone calls and responding to emails
Research and Education
Round Trip Transportation of Tutor to Client
Parking and tolls (if required)
Solutions to the client's current list of questions and/or concerns
Use of Tutor's tools (CD, DVD, flash drives, utility software, etc.)
Transportation maintenance
Maintaining the Tutor's home office
Monthly charitable donation through
If classroom training, handouts and lab materials
Profit (maybe!)

You knew the Tutor didn't just cash the check and pocket all the proceeds, right? It's not as easy as the Tutor makes it look!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lightning Strikes Twice

Plugging in...

Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Can, did, documented by an unfortunate Tutor client. Suffice it to say, surge protectors, lightning rods and wishful thinking just ain't enough to keep the lightning away and it can be very destructive, nevermind costly.

Originating Technology/ NASA Contribution

Contrary to popular misconception, lightning often strikes the same place twice. Certain conditions are just ripe for a bolt of electricity to come zapping down; and a lightning strike is powerful enough to do a lot of damage wherever it hits. NASA created the Accurate Location of Lightning Strikes technology to determine the ground strike point of lightning and prevent electrical damage in the immediate vicinity of the Space Shuttle launch pads at Kennedy Space Center.

UNPLUG, UNPLUG, UNPLUG. If you're going to be away for more than a day, OR if you know there are short-term forecasts for thunderstorms, UNPLUG, UNPLUG, UNPLUG. This applies to ANY electrical item you hold near and dear.

A surge guard is OK for minimal day-to-day power surges that most people are completely unaware of. If lightning strikes, a surge guard will be destroyed along with anything it was supposed to be protecting. Cheaper surge protectors wear out over time, with no way of testing their status. Surge guards (suppressors) are not guaranteed against lightning strikes (read the packaging or instructions).

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is there a storm in the forecast, and is it turned on?


Disappearing Problems

Plugging in...

Disappearing problems. Aren't they the kind we like to have? Yes, except that most people want to know why something happened, and how can they avoid it in the future. What about "curiosity killed the cat", or "don't ask, don't tell"? Inquiring minds want to know.

The disappearances aren't magic or a joke. It happens more times than the Tutor can count. (Maybe the Tutor should start counting). It happens in a class room, working one-on-one and over the telephone.

A client/student/person has a computer problem, doesn't matter what it is. The client/student/person flails around trying to find a solution. Sometimes they take days, some only hours, and some only minutes before they raise the "surrender" flag. If I walk over, or call the troubled client/student/person to discuss the issue, when they attempt to re-construct the problem with me, they can't.

[The twilight zone theme song should be hummed right about now.]

The problem has disappeared, won't reconstruct, is nowhere to be found. And the Tutor says each time "I believe you, but... it always behaves itself when I come over". The mere threat of the Tutor's presence seems to put the fear of something into the problem and it skeedaddles. How's that for the power of ONE, or maybe it should be the power of now (calling Eckhard Tolle)?

In reality, the problem is either intermittent and will return, or it's operator error and also will return until the Tutor can WATCH exactly what the client/student/person is doing to achieve their aggitated state.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it operator error, and is it turned on?


Rescue Me

Plugging in...

It seems the Tutor has a new nickname, "Rescue", as in "when are you calling Rescue?" which was recently coined by a client who was unable to completely uninstall an HP all-in-one printer. The trick with the HP is on the installation CD, not in the uninstall feature on the computer menu, nor in the Add/Remove programs folder either. Both stubbornly ignore many files that need to be deleted in order for a complete re-installation of the printer software.

Why does the printer software need to be re-installed (Tutor, anticipating the question)? An HP update changed the software and the client preferred the prior software and wanted to return to it, via a re-installation from the original CD. Logical. Easy? The Tutor is on the way to the rescue site.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it worth being "rescued", and is it turned on?


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Just Do It

Plugging in...

Where have we seen and heard THAT slogan? Nike. Nike has hooked up with Apple so you runners and walkers can just purchase the very tiny wireless Nike +iPod Sport Kit which will just track your foot movements and just sync them to your iPod, and also to a handy website called, of course,

So just do it: insert the sensor into the shoe. See client run. See client sweat.
See client take insert out of shoe. See client plug iPod into computer. See error message. See client read instructions. See client get aggravated.

iTunes produced an error without any instructions how to fix or proceed. Manual intervention by the Tutor got the syncing process to work to the Nike website and the Tutor wrote step-by-step instructions for the client to follow. So much for the manual that came with the Kit.

Let's just say that JUST DOING IT, didn't do it in this case.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it just plugged in, and is it just turned on?


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Unplug Me When You're Done, really

Plugging in...

Today's task went a little like a visit to the lab to have some blood drawn. Not MY blood, but the client's! Only no hand like a fist, no blood vials, no lab technician, no bandaid on the arm.

The Tutor thought the task was to connect a USB cable from a computer to a glucose monitor to transfer results from the small hand-held meter to a large [easy-to-read], handy, date-driven, comparative graphic chart. Sometimes it's dangerous to think.

Intead I learned how to use a lancet to draw blood from a quick finger prick; insert a testing strip into the opening on the One Touch Meter; watch the "patient/client" place their droplet of blood let loose by the lancet onto the testing strip; see the One Touch Meter display the almost instantaneous results in the Meter's window.

Ok then. I am not a diabetic, but if I were, this would be a must-have gadget. After completing the blood drawing and receiving the results, it was time for the Tutor to get busy so the computer could show a week's worth of glucose results on one large, colorful screen.

The only tricky part of the procedure was: the One Touch Meter had to be OFF and the USB cable could not already be connected to the PC. The USB cable, as it turned out, must be removed after the results are transferred. Each time. The client had left the cable in the USB port, connected to nothing for many months. Neither the computer nor the One Touch Meter were very happy about that. In other words, they couldn't find each other. So, out came the cable, off went the Meter, in when the cable and voila - they found each other like Romeo and Juliet.

For the record, one should NEVER leave a USB cable plugged into a computer if it isn't connected to anything on the other end. When it's plugged in, it's taking some power and resources AWAY from what you're trying to do on the computer. Lord knows, speed is king in computing, so give the speed back to the computer by removing ALL non-essential cables.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it plugged in too early, and is it turned on?


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hide and Seek

Plugging in...

Where DO things go when you put them in a computer? Can you always find them? Were they there a minute ago and disappeared the next? The disappearing act is a myth, just like a magic show. Sorry to burst your bubble but you didn't honestly believe the woman on stage was cut in half, did you?

Back on point. The Outlook program, a popular email program, has the ability to make manila folders just like the ones you file in a filing cabinet. There too, file folders can be accidentally tucked inside each other, right? Well, a recent client learned how to make a folder to save emails from the Outlook inbox into a more suitably named folder for future use and reference. The Tutor's demonstration went well. Created new folder, dragged desired emails into new folder. Smile on client's face, clean inbox, Tutor leaves the building.

Several hours later a panicky phone call from the client stated the new, aptly named manila folder was GONE. Gone, she told me, gone. But while leaving the voice message, the client was clicking around and hadn't noticed the tiny plus sign to the left of the inbox until that very second. If you're not familiar with the concept of a plus sign in a computer program, it means CLICK ON ME to expand what's below me. Plus sign means show more (expand), minus sign means show less (collapse). Anyway, the client "found" the missing folder when clicking once on the plus sign and marveled at the ingenuity of being able to play hide and seek with the folders.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it collapsed, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ch ch ch changes

Plugging in...

Change is inevitable. The computer industry thrives on it. Seasons, hairstyles, cars and tastes change. But changing Internet, phone and cable services, well, they can be problematic for some. Don't trust the snappy commercials and flashy brochures. There is always more to it than they say, write and sometimes know.

A recent client canceled high speed internet from Comcast due to financial contraints. The client's light usage of a computer for email led her to choose a dial up service instead, for less money each month. Sensible. But the dial up service wouldn't work, no way, no how. Turns out, if one chooses to use digital voice phone service, the cable modem used for the digital phone, doesn't allow for the use of a computer based modem to dial out and connect to a another internet service provider.

In English: it can't be done. The tones going through the modem don't translate properly so the dial tone technically doesn't exist for the modem to dial out. Comcast's tech support said the client could use THEIR dial up service, but not the one she had chosen and already signed up with.

This should have been easy. A simple switch to save money ended up costing the client for the Tutor's services to figure out what was wrong. The client resigned herself to going back to Comcast's internet service, at their lowest and slowest price point, still double what she would have paid for the other dial up service.

When the client called to cancel the account for the unusable dial up service, they tried to talk her into keeping their security software and they grilled her endlessly as to why she was canceling the account. The Tutor had to take over the conversation to make the cancellation happen while holding another phone on the other ear, getting Comcast to re-instate the canceled internet account. It was a frustrating experience. Did I mention the client just had her 90th birthday??

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, have any changes been recently made, and is it turned on?


Kinky Cables

Plugging in...

Do you remember your mother or father telling you not to twist, tangle, push, pull, bite, or bend any kind of power cord when you were a wee one? NO, you don't remember? Here's a twisted tale of a kink-causing power failure...

Problem: monitor turns on and shows the desktop for 5-10 seconds before going black. Monitor is plugged in, power light is on, cables and cords securely plugged in. Both computer and monitor have been powered fully off and on again. No change in the dreaded black screen. Several days go by. No change. Phone call made to the Tutor, appointment made. Client says he's undone all cords and cables and re-attached them to no avail.

Could have been burned out internal capacitors (don't ask), bad luck, faulty power supply, video card failing, motherboard starting to go, bad windows update or the universe not in retrograde.

Solution: the client looked one last time before the Tutor's subsequent arrival and what did he find? A GIGANTIC kink in the monitor cable. It was stuffed behind a desk (as many of our cables are) and twisted almost in half. A clear power blockage resolved simply by straightening out the cord. Wish they were ALL that simple!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it straight, and is it turned on?


Monday, May 18, 2009

Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring Needed

Plugging in...

Has anybody ever seen a printout like this:

meta http-equiv="Content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" meta name="description" content="Blogger is a free blog publishing tool from Google for easily sharing your thoughts with the world. Blogger makes it simple to post text, photos and video onto your personal or team blog." meta name="keywords" content="blogger, blogspot, blog,,, free blog, personal blog, weblog, create blog, new blog"

You would recognize this seemingly illogical gibberish if you were a web designer or web programmer. It is HTML, HyperText Markup Language, a language used to format YOUR paper-based scribbles into eye-catching, easy-to-navigate webpages for viewing on the internet. Would your head go into a point if every time you clicked print, this is what appeared on paper? And not just a paragraph or two, but 30-45 pages! Every time. Arrrrrrrrggggh - big head point visible on client.

If it looks like "code", acts like "code" and prints like "code", where the blazes does one find the de-coder to print just the contents of the single, email that was on the screen before the print button was clicked?

Hmmmm. Hello Google? Yep, yes, come on, really? Wow. Ok - uh thanks. This code-producing computer didn't have the Internet Explorer set as the default web browser. Who knew this one, little unchecked item under Internet Options could cause so much trouble.

No Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring to the rescue this time. Sorry Annie, you've been replaced by GOOGLE! You're being punished for your role in The Christmas Story, when you spelled out a "crummy commerical" while Ralphie locked himself in the bathroom to de-code his secret Ovaltine message.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the default browser set, and is it turned on?


It's NOT as Easy as I Make it Look!

Plugging in...

Paper can be tricky. Two-sided, and sometimes we forget that other beautiful, blank, welcoming side. When we're really thinking, we "green" the paper, and actually print on the other side. On occasion, people try to help us be "green", but forget to tell us. That's what happened today.

A client called in a lather of confusion. Why, dear Tutor, is my incoming fax printing OVER the google driving directions I printed yesterday? Because, because, because: because of the wonderful things she does. Whoops, wrong lyrics. It's not the Wizard of Oz, it's the Wizard of Uhs.

Uh, the paper in the printer was already used on one side, uh no one told you, and uh, it was placed in the printer THE WRONG SIDE FACING UP? Uh-huh. Instant answer, instant gratification, problem solved, no money exchanged hands. Great for the client, the country and the stimulus package. The grateful paper was turned over, and the blank side that was begging for a story to be printed on it, got its wish.

Apparently it IS as easy as I make it look. This time. Not usually. OK, hardly ever.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the paper right side up, and is it turned on?


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Covies of Quail

Plugging in...

What do covies of quail and computers have in common? The Tutor will give you a minute on this one. Think. Harder. Thinking?

The hard "C" sound comes to mind. Computer, covey, quail. An illiteration. Anything else?

Basically, you're right. Not much else; unless one decides to automate 34 years of quail hunting data currently hand-written in log books. That was the gist of a recent inquiry. "Can you help us automate the hand-written log books of our quail hunting" dating back to 1975? Umm [thoughtful pause], yes, OK, can do.

The Tutor hasn't seen the logs yet, and hopes the data is legible. There's not much in the way of affordable automation technologies capable of scanning bound, hand-written log books into digital form, capable of being further manipulated into statistical, meaningful data, along with colorful, relevant graphs. What a mouthful. It won't be a quick process (think lots of data entry here), but the possibilities are endless, once the information is in an electronic form.

Watch out quail, we're coming to track you in more ways than you could possibly imagine!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Puppy Chow

Plugging in...

Typical diet of a new puppy: anything in sight, usually left in the puppy's territory by accident. Or a stealth puppy could slink off, undetected, and chow on the first available item that his sniffer finds delectable.

Something tells the Tutor that Purina wouldn't be happy knowing one of it's own recently chewed through two monitor cables. The first cable, the original monitor cable, acted as a delicous, thick appe-teaser. The second cable, a monitor extension cable, was indeed the juicy, main course. It was extra long and delicious.

These two cables were not left inadvertently hanging around. The puppy was able to access them both by wiggling through a stairwell railing, plopping himself less than delicately on the rug, and chewing through them while they were still attached to a working computer and monitor.

All the animal fans out there will be pleased to note the puppy's dining experience did not harm him in any way. The puppy's owner however, was out some computer time, and had to employ the Tutor to replace the cables and relocate them out of puppy's reach.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it un-chewed, and is it turned on?


Monday, April 20, 2009

The TUTOR's Code of Conduct

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Being a “Good” Tutor

What does it take to earn that distinction? The Tutor attempts to uphold a certain code of professional conduct once a potential client has made contact. These are some of the things you can expect from the Tutor.

Return all phone calls, if humanly possible, the same day the call is received. There will be some circumstances that prevent the same-day service, but the return call will come.

Schedule an appointment for an exact time and be punctual. No window appointments like between 8:00am and 12:00pm – the Tutor respects your time and your busy schedule.

Speak in non-technical terms when conversing with a client. The Tutor will also speak to any technical support person on behalf of the client, then “translate” into understandable terms.

Answer or research and find an answer to all client questions. The Tutor doesn’t know everything, but can usually find an answer much quicker than a client can.

Display consistent patience and courteousness for all client questions and concerns. This is THE golden rule.

Be honest about the time/money involved in solving a problem. If it doesn’t make sense time-wise or economically, you’ll know right away.

Recommend appropriate hardware and software for purchase. The Tutor will either purchase for you or with you, ensuring the right fit for the job and the budget.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Being a “Good” Tutor Client

Plugging in...

What does it take to earn that distinction? (It’s an easy achievement, one the Tutor LOVES to hand out, too).

Be as descriptive as possible when you make a distress call/email and leave/write a message for the Tutor. If you’ve received an error message, write it down, in detail, and relay as much of it as you can in your message. The words and numbers in an error message ALL mean something, making the solution easier to find.

If you’ve made your SOS contact, and haven’t heard back from the TUTOR, AND you have resolved your problem, please call back and leave a message that you have resolved your problem.

ALWAYS, always leave a phone number or email address when you leave a message for the Tutor. The Tutor does not always have your myriad contact information handy when returning your call/email.

If you’ve scheduled an appointment with the Tutor and need to re-schedule or cancel, please try to give at least a 24-hour notice. That notice is much appreciated by other Tutor clients who may be able to take advantage of the opening.

When meeting with the Tutor, try to make a priority list of topics and concerns. This optimizes the time you spend with the Tutor.

Gather your hardware and software in one location before the Tutor arrives. This, too, optimizes the time you spend with the Tutor.

If you have new hardware to install, take it out of the boxes and packaging – you don’t really want to pay the Tutor to open boxes, do you? Oh. You do? OK, no problem.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, are you prepared with the details, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Top Ten Tutoring Questions

Plugging in...

Are you interested in knowing if your computing experiences are interesting, unique, or in the realm of the mundane? Read on as the Tutor lists the Top Ten questions asked about using technology:

Q 10. How is a person like me (layman) supposed to know THAT??
A 10. You aren't. It's not your field, otherwise you'd be a TUTOR too!

Q 9. What kind of computer (Phone, Printer, fill-in-the-blank) should I buy?
A 9. We'd be having a detailed discussion about wants, needs and budget.

Q 8. How will I remember all this?
A 8. You won't. Take notes, use the internet to research, call the TUTOR.

Q 7. What do YOU (the TUTOR) use?
A 7. Depends on the specific topic when the question was asked!

Q 6. Why do people create viruses?
A 6. For anonymous "jollies" because it's ILLEGAL if they're caught.

Q 5. How did you get started doing this?
A 5. NO grand plan or formal education. Visit for the details!

Q 4. There's a new laptop (fill-in-the-blank) out, should I buy it?
A 4. If it's not broken...

Q 3. HOW do you know so much and stay current regarding technology?
A 3. I read/research a lot; CLIENTS teach me the most with their questions.

Q 2. Where can I recycle my old computer (printer, camera, fill-in-the-blank)?
A 2. Your town or city; Staples, or check for more recycling options.

Q 1. How and why does this happen (question asked about ANY problem)?
A 1. More often than not, it is OPERATOR error. Sorry.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Monday, March 23, 2009

An Ounce of Prevention

Plugging in...

Two expensive stories, different people, same problem. Two computers, used by some generation Y-ers, fell pray to severe malware and bot attacks. Both were running anti-virus software, and a firewall, which were no match for the still as yet unnamed attacks. Both were not backed up [iTunes, photos, documents, email address books, scanned images].

Shall the Tutor define backup? Backup refers to making copies of data [your stuff] so that these copies may be used to restore the original after a data loss event [virus, malware, bot takeover].

Both problems were so serious [time consuming to resolve] that it was less expensive to buy new computers rather than to invest the time and dollars to re-build the existing computers. Sad but true.

To fix a problem of this nature requires:

1) restore a "clean" image of the computer, restore data from routine backup
2) restore to the day it was purchased, restore data from routine backup

The first option is quickest, but least likely because most people don't have an image, don't know what an image is, nor have they backed up their daily work either. The second option requires HOURS to bring the machine "back" to the present, updating software, transferring files provided they are accessible from the "infected" computer, installing software and testing everything. I really do mean hours.

As with anything, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Any backup is better than none. But an IMAGE of the computer along with a data backup every couple of days IS the ounce of prevention resulting in the pound of cure. Check out the line of MAXTOR One Touch backup units that include the Safety Drill imaging software. Cheap insurance for the cyber attacks we know are going to keep coming.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it backed up, and is it turned on?


Converting a Digtital Camera to 35MM

Plugging in...

What looks like a beautiful black leave on a white background? I'll give you a minute to think about this. I've seen two of them this month. Give up? That's what a broken digital camera LCD screen looks like after someone sits on it.

And I can't believe I've encountered TWO of them. The first one educated me. The second one looked very similar to the first one. I instantly knew what happened before the camera's owner could tell their tale of woe (I let them tell me - I didn't want to ruin a good story).

Both cameras were made by Kodak, owned by two different people, and sat on in two unique circumstances (one happened in Australia). One camera is still in use, the other can be used but only by approximating where to hold the camera and take the photo. The camera still in use is in use because it ALSO has a viewfinder. The sad fact is: both cameras can no longer display, delete, or show anything from the menus due to the now permanently resident black leaf on the LCD area. Essentially, both cameras have become 35mm cameras, but with a larger capacity to take photos than with film.

Both camera's pictures can be transferred using the camera's supplied cable, or the memory cards can be removed and put into a card reader, or brought to a digital developer. But the instant gratification of digital photography (and quick picture deletions) is gone. If the batteries fail, the date and time cannot be set. NONE of the camera's features are accessible so whatever settings were in place when they were the recipients of the sitdowns, are there to stay.

There is a lesson here, aside from knowing where your camera is before plunking said posterior down: a digital camera with a view finder is more versatile than one without. The camera without the view finder has been replaced with a camera with a view finder. I hear tell the other camera will continue its life until someone else sits on it and damages the view finder!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, do you know where the camera is BEFORE sitting down, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Digital DON'T

Plugging in...

Digital cameras are easy to use right out of the box. In fact, they are so easy to take pictures with, the user guide is usually left in the box. Big mistake? Can be. We all use cameras to capture those moments we hope to make into memories and share with others, for better or worse. Digital cameras, pocket size, or professional SLRs, have dials, buttons, wheels, knobs, levers, viewers, and lenses. Suffice it to say, most non-professional picture takers, don't pay much mind to the buttons, wheels, knobs, levers, viewers and lenses. But they should...

The story begins at a favorite restaurant in the I-heart-you state of NY. Good friends breaking bread at a table. New camera comes out of box. Several people around the table try it out. Point, shoot, clicking noises. Repeat. Twelve times, repeated. Should have twelve shots of good friends breaking bread at the table, right?

Weekend ends, friends return to separate lives in non I-heart-you states. Tutor gets a call to assist in the transferring of those unique photos taken with the new digital camera. Tutor has seen many cameras, they are similar in their transfer methods from camera to computer. No surprises until the Tutor attempts to preview the photos on the camera, demonstrating the ease of previewing before transferring. All twelve images are there in full, glorious, VIDEO! Not a still photo in the bunch.

Apparently someone inadvertently knocked one of the dials, buttons, wheels, or knobs into VIDEO mode before the first photo was taken. When I asked the client about the VIDEO selection, I received a blank stare. No, no one had chosen video. WHAT? I have video capability - that is so cool, was the response.

Looking at the twelve videos was comical because while the camera was on, it was being passed around, so much of each video contained ceiling, table and floor footage. Videos require a gigantic amount of storage space and although the camera's storage readily handled it, the videos were so large, the client's email program balked [read:wouldn't send] at sending such gigantic files as attachments. The intent was to email the digital pictures to the friends. Although there are websites that allow very large files to be transferred outside of email, the quality of these videos was less than optimal for spending any more time on.

The Tutor showed the client the knob on the camera that allows for AUTO shooting, video, landscapes and close up shots. These symbols, surprisingly, match the same symbols in the USER GUIDE - and the user guide also contained a brief yet informative description of each symbol on the knob. Who knew?

I doubt this story will cause a major rush to read ALL user guides and instruction manuals, but, hey, someone wrote them, got paid to write them, and really tried to assist in the avoidance of some common digital don'ts. After all, reading is elementary!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the dial in the correct position, and is it turned on?


Monday, February 9, 2009

A Day in The Life of a Tutor

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I know you are all just riddled with curiosity about what a typical day in the life of a Tutor entails, so hold on to your seats: here is what went down today, Monday, 9 February 2009.

Slept in until 6:20am (that is sleeping in for the Tutor).

Did the normal things one does upon waking (washed, got dressed, ate breakfast).

Read March, 2009 issue of PC World magazine (I subscribe to the PAPER edition, have for more than 15 years).

Did a load of laundry. Ho hum. Tide HE FREE, in case you're wondering.

Turned on the computer, read email, responded as required. Read Google Reader entries from TechSpot and Danvers Herald. Checked the local weather forecast. Now I know what to wear outside today. Sunny, breezy, 30s.

Researched the necessary video cards and cables required to use two monitors hooked up to one computer (for a client visit this afternoon). Looks easy enough (that's always the kiss of death).

Spoke for 30 minutes with an old friend/work colleague, recently laid off from IBM, answering questions about working as a self-employed Tutor. The slowing economy at work.

Drove 10 miles to meet with the first client of the day at 9:00am.
Work description: email and online bill paying; post office mail pickup.

Grocery shopping (Tutor's have to eat, too). Used FIVE cloth re-usable grocery bags, for the "green" of it.

Drove back to home office, unloaded groceries, dried/folded laundry. More ho hum.

Checked email, returned client phone calls; scheduled client visits for Tuesday, 2/10/09 to solve virus problem and overloaded email software (client claims to have never deleted any email in three years of constant use).

Drove 8 miles to second client of day. Appreciate the lower price of gas these days. Exported/imported Outlook contacts from one computer for transfer to another computer. Found analog splitter cable on to order for using two VGA analog monitors off a Dell desktop. Had client order. Demonstrated Garmin Nuvi features to client on client's Garmin GPS. Answered various Blackberry Curve phone "how to" questions from client. Set up Dell online backup software and performed backup. Set up Cobian local backup software to Travel Drive and performed backup. Wrote, printed backup instructions for weekly client use.

Left client's at 4:00pm.

Drove to Danvers library to return library books. The Danvers library is one of my favorite places to spend time.

Drove back to home/office, arriving at 4:45pm. Day is done... NOT.

Returned several more client phone calls. Scheduled more work for end of February.

Made soup (from scratch!) for dinner this evening. The Tutor is the chief cook and bottle washer.

Turned on TV to listen to news while cooking. A-Rod on steriods and the economic stimulus bill were headliners today. Stock market up +125. Go Dow Jones!

Ate dinner at 7:00pm. Worth the wait.

Began reading "Visual Basic 2008" book. Education is key to the Tutor's success.

Turned computer on at 8:00pm.

Checked emails and replied to several business and personal emails.

Researched "What do you know about GOOGLE" for a class the Tutor is teaching at Salem State College on Thursday, 12 February 09. (Most people know VERY little about it, but use it ALL THE TIME).

Created this blog entry.

Time to indulge in a lemon grass/ginger dark chocolate after this entry, before visiting the sandman for 6-8 hours of full-body/brain refreshment. And yes, teeth will be brushed after consuming the outrageously delicious treat.

And that's the day, whittled down to reduce potential boredom. (Maybe?)

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it turned on?


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Electricity 101

Plugging in...

If you plug it in, it will work. If it LOOKS plugged in, it might not be. That's Electricity 101. A short lesson, a painful and potentially expensive lesson.

A recent client suddenly couldn't print. (It's always suddenly). She tried everything she knew before making the call for HELP.

Electricity working? Check.
All cords and cables plugged in? Check.
Power strips plugged in and turned on? Check.
LED lights glowing on all plugged in items? Check.
Turned off and on the printer? Check.

So what the heck??

The USB cable that connected the printer to the computer was not fully plugged into the computer. A USB cable isn't POWER so it won't give an indication with an LED light that it's not plugged in all the way. A slight push "in" and the printer woke up screaming and streaming print jobs that were just waiting for the OK to come out.

The most frequent question the Tutor is asked, no matter the computer problem, is HOW DID THIS HAPPEN and WHY? Many times the Tutor can answer, sometimes not. Like when a child visited and moved something on the desk. Like when an animal jumped across the desk and knocked things out of place. Like when the cleaning help shut off a switch on the wall, not knowing it was connected to an outlet. Among others.

So add this item to the checklist of what to do before calling for HELP. It may save you some money. And you'll feel very smart and satisfied for knowing the problem and the solution. Wish they were ALL that simple!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged TIGHLY in, is it turned on?


Friday, January 9, 2009

Happy New "Computing" Year!

Plugging in...

When the error message looks like Greek,
When the mouse won’t move a hair,
When the document you’ve been typing,
Hits the road, and disappears:
You KNOW you’re on a computer.

When iTunes up and eats your song,
When your camera won’t behave,
When the DVD won’t play one track,
You feel like a computer slave:
You KNOW you’re on a computer.

When the internet says that page can’t be found,
When the ibox game won’t let you play,
When the wireless router blinks in vain,
It may be time to call it a day:
You KNOW you’re on a computer.

When Excel barks at you “THIS IS WRONG”,
When PowerPoint slides look grim,
When Access claims your entire day,
Your hopes of succeeding look dim:
You KNOW you’re on a computer.

When viruses and malware attack your work,
When your computer slows to a stop,
When nothing works but swearing out loud,
You want to hit the computer with a mop:
You KNOW you’re on a computer.

CALL The Tutor, it need NOT be so painful!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it turned on?