Thursday, February 28, 2013

Life without a laptop is hardly worth living: Tips for keeping yours running

Several weeks ago, odd things began to happen with my laptop. Freaky horizontal lines would take over the screen. Sometimes, half the screen would flash to black. USB ports failed. And if I was trying to watch a video of a news story or listen to a song on YouTube, the sound would fluctuate like a warped LP on a bad turntable, or slow to a menacing growl.

I started troubleshooting.

I updated drivers. Double-checked the BIOS and other settings. Made sure my antivirus was up to date. Defragged the hard disk. Changed out the RAM. Put in a new hard disk with a clean OS install. And so forth.

Everything I did had some positive effect and left me momentarily hopeful, but the problems still did not totally abate. Grrr…

Overheating blues

I finally opened it up and discovered a clump of lint in the fan. I generally blow the fan out with compressed air regularly, but it had been awhile. Doing this should have been at the top of my troubleshooting steps.

My best guess as to what happened is that my laptop overheated and it has had a bad impact on either the CPU or the motherboard or both. I’m debating doing further repairs.

In the meantime, I found a nearly identical model available, used and very cheap, on eBay and simply swapped out the hard drive. I’m up and running but, alas, the “new” used laptop has its own issues. So, I’m doing research toward buying a brand new one.

Keep the joy alive

When I do get a new machine, I’ll be taking steps to keep it running longer. Here are a few tips to help you do the same:

1. Laptops get hot; take steps to keep yours cool. There’s a lot of stuff packed tightly inside that little case. When the machine’s on, it gets hot. And even though they’re called “laptops” they’re not the most comfortable on your lap. People have been burned by them, and they’ve even started fires. To keep yours running cool:
a. Keep it on a hard surface when in use. I use an old slim book under mine. If you want to be fancier, get a lap desk or a cooling pad made for laptops. Whatever you do, don’t leave your laptop running while it’s on fabric (couch, chair, bed, clothing). Soft surfaces that allow the laptop to sink in will also block the ventilation slots on the bottom and sides of the machine; these need to be clear at all times.
b. Keep the air vents cleaned out. Use a can of compressed air and blow the dust out every couple of weeks, especially where the fan is located. You’d be surprised how dirty these can get in a short time!
c. Turn it off when not in use. I probably left mine on more than I should have. Once upon a time it was believed the best thing was to leave your PC on all the time. Basically, this was directed at desktops and really isn’t true. Shutting down doesn’t do damage, especially to your laptop. Heat buildup is a far greater concern. If you don’t like the idea of waiting for a full start up, consider putting it into hibernate mode.
d. Put it where the sun don't shine. Whether the laptop is on or off, you shouldn’t leave it sitting where the sun is going to shine on it for an extended period of time. If it’s on, sunlight will really ramp up the heat.
2. Laptops get dirty; keep them clean. Dust, skin, food, and more can impact the performance of your laptop. Adding and deleting files can fudge up the hard drive. A little care can go a long way:
a. Clean gently but thoroughly. The screen and surface of the laptop attract dust like a magnet. Wipe your laptop off regularly. Consult your owner’s manual for the proper way to clean the screen, but definitely don’t use harsh cleaners or rough cloths. Wipe your keyboard down and clean the screen when the laptop is turned off. If you’re careful, you can even use a vacuum cleaner to suck the lint and dust out of the keyboard, ventilation slots, and various ports.*
b. Keep the hard drive clean and neat. Do a defrag every couple of months and make sure you’re antivirus is up to date. Don’t know how to do this? Ask someone near you who does and then do it (don't call me). If your hard drive crashes due to a virus, Trojan, or clutter, you’ll lose all your data and digital photos. This makes it more than worth the time to learn how to do a defrag and manage your antivirus.
3. Backup! Oh, the things that can zap your files! Prepare for the worst:
a. Get an external drive and use it. Storage media is cheap. You can get a 1TB external drive for less than $100. Most come with software that will help you manage backups. Or, you can just plug the drive in and then drag and drop your files over from time to time. Backing everything up doesn’t prolong the life of your laptop, but it ensures that if and when your laptop dies, you’ll still have your critical files safe and sound.
An ounce of prevention is worth a motherboard of cure

A good laptop should give you many years of service. As long as any problems aren’t tied to the motherboard, it’s not all that hard to do simple repairs. Usually, all I’ve ever had to do was replace a hard drive – which was no big deal since I keep my files backed up.

But doing simple ongoing maintenance is a lot easier than dealing with repairs or replacement. Had I been more diligent in keeping my recent laptop’s vents cleaned out, it might still be humming along.

It’s no fun when the computer dies. It’s hard going through Facebook and Angry Birds withdrawal. Follow the tips above and hopefully you’ll never have to endure such a dreadful experience!

*Bonus Tip:

Put netting of some sort over the end of the vacuum cleaner attachment to avoid sucking parts into the vac.
Links to even more tips:

Do you have additional tips to offer? Your own laptop meltdown horror story? Feel free to share in the comments section!

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Soldier's Night Prayer (#PoetryMonday*)

When night is dark
and filled with fear,
Make Yourself known,
That You are near.

Calm the heart,
Steel the mind.
Whisper clear,
"You are mine!"

Make Yourself known,
That You are near.

Hold me fast.
Guard my dreams.
Quiet thoughts.
Mute the screams.

When night is dark
and filled with fear.

Let me wake
One more time.
Hear You say,
"You are mine!"

When night is dark
and filled with fear,
Make Yourself known,
That You are near.


It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo, click here and then scroll down.

This poem is included in this collection:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Are nefarious actors afoot affecting your writing?

I was reading a news item last week and the final paragraph, quoting Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, grabbed me by the throat and choked me a little:
“Had this protest been launched somewhere other than in the security-screening area, we would have a much different case. But Tobey’s antics diverted defendants from their passenger-screening duties for a period, a diversion that nefarious actors could have exploited to dangerous effect. Defendants responded as any passenger would hope they would, summoning local law enforcement to remove Tobey—and the distraction he was creating — from the scene.”

There were “nefarious actors” potentially afoot in the airport, and definitely in the judge’s writing.

It was a dark and stormy ruling

Sounds pretty ominous doesn’t it.

But what the heck is a "nefarious actor"?

One dictionary defines nefarious as “Infamous by way of being extremely wicked.” It offers as synonyms “abhorrent, abominable, contemptible, despicable, detestable, disgusting, filthy, foul, loathsome, mean, nasty, obnoxious, repugnant, rotten, shabby, vile, or wretched.”

Actor is generally thought of as someone appearing in movies, plays, or on TV, but can also mean “one who participates” in something.

While Brendan Fraser, Ashton Kutcher, Kristen Stewart, and the Olsen twins may be nefarious actors in the context of Hollywood, I don’t think they are what Judge Wilkinson was referring to.

The surrounding circumstances are climacteric

Context is critical here.

The event the Judge was referencing took place in an airport and involved the TSA. What he meant by nefarious actors is, simply, terrorists.

So why didn’t he just say that? It would have been much clearer.

Actually, several improvements could be made to this one paragraph. But then, we’re dealing with a judge which is the same thing as dealing with a lawyer.

Years ago, developing technical sales proposals at AT&T and then later at Rolls Royce Aerospace, every proposal included a section referred to as Ts & Cs, or Terms and Conditions.

It was in this section that we corralled all the legalese.

As it was my job to manage and edit all of the proposal sections, I got to work with several lawyers who provided us the Ts & Cs for each. These were love-hate relationships.

Can we strike that from the record?

The positives were that most of these lawyers were great people to work with and taught me a fair bit about contract law.

The negatives were that none of them were writers and developed their sections from boilerplate that was dry, convoluted, contained too many ALL CAPPED sections, incorporated weird punctuation, and was always littered with $100 long, obscure, polysyllabic words.

Getting them to agree to any changes was beyond daunting.

But, as much as to prove that I’d actually read their section as to improve it, I buttressed my courage and charged into the fray every time.

I won some battles and I lost some battles. But overall, I won the respect of the lawyers and I gained better insight into how I could actually edit their material in ways they would approve.

I learned that there were times when what appeared grammatically as a superfluous comma was absolutely essential to clarifying the precise legal meaning.

And they learned to never, ever try to slip a term like “nefarious actors” by me.

Objection! I demand a re-write!

A better rendering of the Judge’s graf might go something like this:
“Had Mr. Tobey’s protest been held elsewhere rather than an airport security-screening area, it likely would have caused no concern. Instead, he posed a potential security risk by creating a diversion. Had someone with ill-intent been present, such a diversion could have allowed them to evade detection. TSA agents responded appropriately by calling law enforcement personnel to remove Tobey from the scene.”
It’s clearer and with five fewer words to boot! Feel free to take a shot at your own rewrite and edit.

My point?

As Strunk & White adeptly states, “Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.”

In other words, eliminate the nefarious actors from your writing by canning the jargon and writing in plain, understandable English. Then edit for clarity and conciseness.

Oh, and keep your clothes on when going through airport security. Seriously, no one wants to see that.

RELATED: "When dictionaries are a matter of life or death…"

What affectations have you encountered in the writing of others? Please share them below!

Tip: Click on the link that says either "No comments" or "XX comment" to open the comments box if it isn't visible.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dealing with those wascally dustbunnies of the soul

I love knickknacks. I hate dusting. This is not a compatible combination!

I do dust but not with joy (or Pledge!). I’m stuck with the need to dust at least once in awhile because it needs to be done. I do it because I hate having dust-crusted knickknacks more than I dislike dusting. Well, almost more.

The rest of the time, in between dustings, what dust there is I can usually tolerate. Keeping the lights down low helps.

Isn’t it amazing how dust seems to disappear in the shadows? And useful when guests show up unexpected and the dusting’s not done! But just wait until morning when the bright sun skims into the house. Every dusty surface is fully exposed. Even the air is revealed to be alive with dust motes—the food of dustbunnies.

Hidden but not forgotten

Dustbunnies are those wascally wabbits of accumulated dust hiding under beds, behind couches, the back of the closet, and in other obscure corners of our homes. Much of the time we can deal lightly with the dust on visible surfaces. A quick once-over now and then with the feather-duster gets us by.

But when a breeze sweeps through the room those devilish dustbunnies will come hoppin’ out of their hiding places! The cats love when this happens—they think it’s play time.

Left uncleaned, accumulated dust can cause a variety of discomforts. Just knowing it’s there can be annoying.

So it is with our souls.

The dust of death

We collect the dust of living in this world daily. Sin is in the air just like dust specks. It sticks to us. This is why daily washing in the Word is needed (Ephesians 5:26).

And more than just a little feather-dusting the Holy Spirit wants to shine the Son under the furniture of our souls and into the closeted corners of our hearts where the dustbunnies of self-seeking pride, secret sin, harbored hostilities, petty pretense, giddy gossip, little white lies, willful ignorance, and more are hidden.

Spiritual dustbunnies left undisturbed are more like forgotten Easter eggs gone bad. They don’t stay forgotten forever. The smell as they rot eventually attracts attention.

Often, we try to keep our soul’s dustbunny zoo from being too noticeable by keeping the spiritual light down low. We do whatever we have to do to contain, cage, and cover our spiritual dustbunnies; anything but clean them out.

They become our pets; sins protected, coddled, kept. We know they need to go, but not just yet. We knock off some of the surface dust so we appear presentable, but the hidden dustbunnies of our soul grow bigger.

Not so warm and friendly fuzzy wuzzies

Sin can become such a part of us we may fail to see it as sin. If not careful, we’ll become like the Pigpen character in the Peanuts comic. He’s the one who kicks up a cloud of dust everywhere he goes. It’s become so much a part of him, Pigpen doesn’t think of his dirt as damning. He’s proud of himself, dirt and all. It’s just the way he is! So it is in our lives if we fail to do regular soul cleanings (Luke 6:42).

An accumulation of sin-dust ignored will make us sick. Just as dust in a mechanism can break down gears and gum up works, so sin can eventually bring our spiritual lives to a grinding halt and a very bad end (Romans 6:23).

In Matthew 23:25-26, Christ warns about this, saying, "Woe to you…You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean."

Nature abhors a vacuum, but our souls need one

Dustbunnies of the soul are deadly. Any thought of them being warm and fuzzy, cute and cuddly is an illusion.

Just as we let go of our childhood Teddy Bears, so as we mature in holiness we need to expose and relentlessly eliminate spiritual dustbunnies before they eliminate us from the prize of heaven.

We need to get out our spiritual  vacuum cleaner and get busy.

As Paul said, "let us [dust] off everything that hinders and [thoroughly Hoover away] the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t wait for Spring to start cleaning! Every day is the right time to clean up our act rather than just acting cleaned up.

After all, cleanliness is next to godliness, spiritually speaking that is. Besides, letting the dustbunnies accumulate is just a little loony. Don’t you agree?

What do you think?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Insomnia (#PoetryMonday*)

I'm tired and ready for bed
when an idea lands in my head.
It rattles around

without making a sound,
but is so loud there's no chance of sleep.


It's Poetry Monday, aka PoMo!

My writing "career" began with poetry. Given that boys aren't supposed to like poetry and most of what I was exposed to, outside of school, that passed for poetry was mostly mush, I guess this could be considered unusual.

While, as soon as I learned to read, books of all kinds were constant companions as I fell madly in love with words, it was poetry that first pushed words out of me onto paper that drew me into a love of writing.

One of the first attempts I can recall was in high school (I was a late starter) while sitting in a study hall in the choir room next to one of my cousins. It was the late 60s and rebellion was in the air. We were chatting about issues of the day and how they annoyed us when he challenged me to put our thoughts down on paper in poetry!

What? Seriously, dude? Where the heck did that come from? I'm guessing the Holy Spirit had a hand in his challenge; God uses the oddest times and people to prod us along His will.

I took up the challenge then and there and, together, we crafted a long "protest" poem, that, as best as I can recall, even rhymed without being sing-songy.

That original stab at the writing craft hooked me. So, thanks to my cousin for the initial push and thanks to all those who encouraged me and helped guide me to even better results. Mr. Dicken (R. Stephen "Steve" Dicken), my senior year English teacher was a key light at the time. And it's he who, during a holiday visit to my hometown, brought up the idea of taking up poetry again.

While I've doodled with it here and there over the years, it's been awhile since I've tried to pursue poetry with any diligence.

Years ago I did manage to get a volume published by a small press which went out of print and is now a self-published book: The Godtouch. A few of the poems appearing in the book were also first published in various periodicals.

If you click on the POETRY category on the left, you'll find more recent stabs at poetry posted within this blog.

Anyway, the point is, since chatting with Mr. Dicken (yes, he will always be Mr. Dicken to me) I've mulled his suggestion and have decided to give it a try. In fact, I suspect he was subliminally issuing a challenge for me to do exactly something like this; he's a sly one.

So, this is the beginning of PoMo (or, Poetry Mondays)!

On Mondays (not necessarily every Monday, maybe every other Monday or so) I will post either a freshly crafted poem or one from my journals that I've been fooling around with off and on for some time. Maybe I'll dig through my old files and see if that original poem is still around. Today's came from my journal.

There may or may not be commentary, such as this, but I will try to include a quote about poetry in the graphic just for fun. Bullwinkle will be a regular.

Some of the poems may actually be good. Who knows? But, as Wilde points out, the feeling behind them all will be genuine.

Enjoy! Welcome to PoMo and please feel free to comment.

This poem is included in this collection: