Sunday, 22 March 2015

So what's normal?

Do the default settings on your computer work for you?

If you find that every time you start a new document in (say) Microsoft Word that you're driven nuts by the need to change the font, its size, the margin settings or whatever, you need to change what your computer sees as 'normal'. Often the manufacturer's settings won't be to your taste, or practical needs.

If what you get for each new document is Times Roman - or in more recent versions, Calibri - and you don't like that choice - change it. Change your computer's view of the world with a few simple clicks!

Check out this very straightforward set of guidelines - a set for each of several versions of the software - and reduce your time-wastage and frustration.

Oh, and if you would prefer help with learning about this stuff from a real, live person... just give me a shout.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Preloved : the value of imagination

This is rather a long post. However, if you enjoy hearing of recycling at its best, wonderful creativity and the gifts of love, please take the time to read the story of Fairfax and Olaf, the wooden cats.

We moved house a few weeks ago (my husband, an Anglican parish priest, took up a post in a new benefice). Our new house is smaller than the previous one - which isn't to say it's small, just that the previous one was very large! As a result, a great deal of the inevitable decluttering took place, both before and after the move. Yes, professional organisers do need to take a dose of their own medicine sometimes.

Many items went to charity shops, of course, and made far more money for the charities than I would have made, which pleased me very much. However, a few items were rather special, and I wanted them to have the chance to go to some known 'good home'; so I posted a few photographs on Facebook, offering my friends to chance to claim anything that took their fancy.

One of these was a pair of wooden cats. I have no recollection of where they came from, but I was always rather fond of them; they sat on a high shelf in our living room for many years. The new house simply had nowhere appropriate for them to live, and it was time for them to move on.

I was delighted when they were claimed by a friend as a special gift for her young stepsons - one of whom had coveted her existing wooden cats for some time. When she emailed me to let me know they'd arrived, she intrigued me by telling me the following:

I don't believe in presents for kids that don't inspire the imagination - none of your main stream stuff here.  My poor children have been brought up on a diet of home made stories and toys and are hopefully better (if weirder) people for it. My two young stepsons now receive the same treatment and your two lovely cats inspired a story (I will send it to you when it is complete) which I will package with the cats at Christmas. Obviously the cats needed names for this purpose and Fairfax and Olaf seemed to fit the bill.

I was entranced by this wonderfully imaginative and personal approach, delighted that my preloved wooden cats would become the subjects of a story, and excited to know more. So when today I received a copy of 'the story so far' (my friend plans to continue writing about them) I was so pleased when she agreed that I could share it - in the form of a letter from Santa to the two boys. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I wanted to tell you how successful your cats were on Christmas day, so much so we have not heard of anything else.  And as promised here is the letter from Santa telling the story of how they came to be in their possession. 

Hello Dylan and Tommy

I have heard quite a few stories about you both over the past year. Dylan, I know you have been working hard at school and you have been trying to remember not to shout. It is hard when you want to tell someone something though isn't it? Tommy, I know you have started big school now and you are learning very quickly. I also know that you try to get ready on time but it is hard when it's cold outside and your bed is warm. Mrs Claus likes to stay in bed too. Did you know that Santa and Mrs Claus have a big bed shaped just like the sleigh I bring all your toys on, on Christmas eve? Maybe one year I will harness the reindeer up to it and give Mrs Claus a ride through the skies whilst she is asleep...

Anyway, because you have both been such good boys this year, the magic at the North Pole has whispered to me you should have this special present. It is not new from a shop but something precious that has been around for a long time. It has lived in other people's houses and taken care of them in a quiet and magical way.

And here am I saying it when really there are two things in this box. It isn't one each but for you both to share. Maybe you could be really sensible and work out a way to look after them together?
You also need to decide a quiet place to keep them somewhere near to you. They need to be quiet for their magic not to disappear and also for them to help you. Perhaps your secret shelves would be a good place to keep them, what do you think?

As they get used to being in your house and around you, you will notice the effect their magic has in your lives. You will feel happier and have more fun . Anything you find difficult will become easier and you will learn more quickly.

But. You need to help them keep their magic. I have already told you they need to be quiet but also you need to carry on being good boys and continue to work hard. Try your best always, tell the truth and be kind to others. Be especially kind to animals - you will find out why when you see what is inside the box...

[The next instalment was inside the box with the cats]

Now you know what is in the box, there are a few more things I need to tell you about Fairfax and Olaf. Obviously they don't need feeding or watering but they do need polishing. You can ask Daddy or Amanda to help you (I don't suggest you ask Tom and Ryan as they can't keep their room tidy). You will also notice Olaf has a little splinter of wood missing from his ear. All magic cat pairs have a little something like this and it is a sign to other magical creatures that you two are to be kept safe.

Remember that being chosen to take care of Fairfax and Olaf means you are now their Guardians. It is a big responsibility so take it seriously and you will be rewarded.  If ever you need any advice then please ask Daddy or Amanda. They too have a pair of magical cats entrusted to them so they will be able to help you. 

Lots of love from Santa xx

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Think before you share

I tend to leave politics out of my social media activities. However, some extremist groups get me seriously worried, and especially when they are using emotional manipulation and innocence to further their own aims.

I've been relieved in the last couple of days to see a gradual increase in links to articles highlighting what is really behind the group Britain First, and especially to their huge surge of 'likes' on Facebook. I won't bother to explain the situation here: at least three other sites have already saved me the trouble. Please take a few minutes to read them and understand.

Liverpool Echo

Costa Connected

Another Angry Voice

Now, while I strongly disagree with what Britain First stands for, I am (unlike them) not saying that you do not have the right to your own opinions. If their ethics and policies align with your own, liking and sharing their posts is entirely your right. (If you're on my Facebook friends lists, you'd soon be deleted, but that's another story.) As the writer of the Costa Connected article sensibly puts it:

Please do not misunderstand me, everyone’s political views are their own, and I enjoy friendship and dialogue with many people whose opinions on many matters I am fundamentally opposed to, or have little interest in. Unlike Britain First I embrace and celebrate diversity and difference, and intelligent discussion of different points of view – heaven knows the world is in a mess right now and I have no grand opinions on the best way to fix it, talking about ideas with people whose ideas challenge and push at your own is a good way of developing solutions.

I am writing this while being fortunate enough to be spending a break in a beautiful part of Spain (at a wonderful health resort called Obsidian). I have so far met a huge variety of people, all colours, several nationalities (Polish, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, Australian to name but a few) and, I would imagine, many faiths, backgrounds and belief systems. The diversity of this place is one of things that makes it joyful for me. We all learn from each other.


Some of the posts that Britain First have been using for manipulative purposes ("if you don't like this post it means you don't appreciate what our war heroes did for us") are, in themselves, perfectly reasonable and laudable sentiments. Take, for instance, yesterday's news about the splendid war veteran who basically did a bunk from his care home and travelled to France alone, and safely, at attend the D-day celebrations in France. Britain First has published a photograph of Bernard Jordan, urging you to 'like' and show your respect.

Now, I'd fully agree that this excellent old boy deserves appreciation and publicity for all sorts of reasons. However, gleaning 'likes' for a political group that advocates the kind of Nazi-style cleansing and fascist beliefs that Bernard Jordan and millions of others went to war to defeat somehow doesn't make a lot of sense.

Having read the articles above, you may well decide that you want nothing to do with Britain First (or any similar organisations). If so, here are the geeky, practical suggestions.

Want to share these photos anyway?  Just download them from Facebook. Right-click on the image you want to save, choose Save Image As, and drop it into somewhere on your own computer that you'll find it again. Then add it to a post of your own in the normal way. Whether it's a picture of a wandering war veteran, a poppy for Remembrance, one of the Royals, our beautiful countryside or whatever: you can share these images to your heart's content without promoting the policies of the original poster. Like this.

Want to block all postings from Britain First? When you next see a posting, click on the drop-down arrow top right (of the posting, that is, not of the whole screen); there's an option to 'block Britain First'. (You can do this with any page, group or individual who really annoys you for whatever reason!)


As I said earlier, this is not about removing freedom of choice - quite the reverse. It's about being aware of what underlies this use of social media. Again quoting the Costa Connected article:

On these pages we frequently take the time out to celebrate the genuinely positive things which come from social media, such as the force for good that was Stephen Sutton and the unanticipated impact of the no-make-up-selfie movement. Every now and then, however, we have to comment on the darker side, the way that the democratisation of publishing and communication is exploited in the service of what can only be described as evil.

Facebook (together with other social media) is powerful. It's fun, it's informative, it's useful, it's entertaining, it makes communication easy between friends, and it can be a great force for good. But any powerful force can operate for good or ill, and in the world of the easy click-and-share, the darker side can spread through innocence and ignorance far faster than through activism.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Don't wanna play

Stop sending me game requests! I don't play!

OK, so here's the latest one doing the rounds on Facebook. The above photo is being shared in a desperate attempt, it seems, to persuade people NOT to send 'game requests'.

No, it's not a hoax, or spam; but sharing this is highly unlikely to make the difference you desire. You can do a couple of simple things that will be much more effective.

First, don't assume that your friends are inviting you individually to share these games and will therefore be horribly offended if you don't. For the most part, they will be going out as a block invite to all friends - and as such, a refusal will not (in this case) offend, as the inviter is unlikely to even notice.

Secondly, like most other things on Facebook, you can 'block' them. At first this may seem tiresome. However, take it from me: I block almost every invitation I receive, with the result that I now receive virtually no invitations at all. Farmville, Bejewelled Blitz, Candy Crush Saga... in fact, when I look at the list, I can see that I've been a boring old fart about quite a lot of them (about 80, at the last count). Most of them come up time and time again, so once you've blocked it - you don't see it again. Easy.

So how to block? Two ways.

First, when you receive an invitation, don't simply dismiss it.

  • Click on the Games link under Apps (left hand toolbar)
  • Click on Requests (ditto)
  • Click on the drop-down arrow top right of the offending request
  • You're given a choice to block all invites from that person, or to block the app itself
  • Choose and click


Secondly: take the initiative.

  • Click on the small 'cog' icon at the top right of the page
  • Click on Settings
  • Click on Blocking (on the left)
  • Scroll down to Block Apps
  • Type the name of the app you want to block
  • Press the Enter key
  • Your chosen blocked app will appear in (guess what) your list of blocked apps

Job done.

So what's wrong with the image above? Well, nothing really; except that in many cases your friends won't even be particularly aware that you're being included in their mass mailings, and as such it's unlikely to affect their decision-making processes (!).

Oh, and one more thing. Click on the photo itself when you see it shared on Facebook, and you'll see it's been 'shared' over 100,000 times. Maybe I'm being cynical, but that's an awful lot of high-ranking activity for the page that first published it. And we know about like-whores, don't we? Don't we?!!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Enough already

OK, so I'm a boring old... person. But I'm getting a mite tired of seeing "I got... [insert Muppet character, place to live, musicals]" on my timeline.

I laughed at the first few. Joined in with one or two. Giggled at a few friends' results (my husband getting Oklahoma - which he hates - as his musical was worth a smile).

But this morning, I lost patience. Of the first ten postings on my timeline, FIVE were the results of one or other of these quizzes. Yup, half my news for the day. And they all came from a site called Buzzfeed.

It's not a virus ("going viral" being, of course, something totally different). Yes, it's making great use of other people's material, and yes, what it posts is often pretty trite, but that's not a crime. It is a highly successful corporate initiative, making, it would appear, serious amounts of money for the folks behind it (as does Facebook), and good on them for that. It's no more (or less) offensive in the 'information' it provides than a lightweight magazine or freebie newspaper. This article gives a bit more detail.

However, my main problem is that it's drowning my timeline.

I like Facebook. But I like it for knowing what my friends (and yes, they are real friends) are genuinely doing and thinking. I like it to keep me informed about local events and about what old colleagues are doing now and about triumphs and challenges. I like it for learning and inspiring and understanding and introducing. And I'd prefer my newsfeed not to be flooded with results of quizzes that are, broadly speaking, entirely pointless. I'd sooner know about your new family member, whether feline, canine or human, than which animal your personality type (might) identify you with.

So: I've hidden the Buzzfeed postings. You can do this very easily with any application (or person): click on the down arrow top right of any posting, and you'll get a set of options. They vary depending on whether it's posted by a page, an application or a person, but the gist is the same: you can block. In this particular case, I was able to choose "Hide all posts from Buzzfeed".

NB: If I ever feel that I'm seriously missing out on vital 'buzz' and want to welcome the posts back, it's easy. Hover over the pencil icon next to the Newsfeed link on the left of the page, choose Edit, and find the item you've 'banned', and click on the x to remove it from the list.

Finally: you can do this with any page, person or app. Let's say that you happen to be one of my friends on Facebook and you get tired of seeing what I post ("not another 'photo of the day', please..."), but you don't want to actually unfriend me: the same procedures apply. Just hide my posts from your timeline, but you can always drop by my profile if you are curious about whether I'm still being annoying at a later date.

Oh, and if you're interested: my musical was A Chorus Line. You know, the one with a bolshy character called Cassie who muscles in where she's not wanted? That one.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Skype voicemail scam

Boring, boring, boring. No, not Skype. Skype is good, and useful, and free, and fabulous when you want to talk to your sister in Spain for an hour without worrying about the cost. What's boring is the latest scam going around.

Have you received an email recently telling you that you've got a Skype voicemail - and to 'open the attached file' to listen to it?

This is an automated email, please don’t reply.

Voice Message Notification

You received a new message from Skype voicemail service.

Message Details: Time of Call: Wed, 27 Nov 2013 16:59:10 +0200

Length of Call: 37sec

Listen to the message in the attached file.

Take a closer look. The email address it's coming from, for a start. Mine was sent by Looks like an authentic Skype Customer services address, doesn't it? Not.

Don't even go there. Firstly, it's a zip file (clue: anything can be hidden in a zip file, which includes malware, so always view these with extreme caution to start with).

Secondly, Skype voicemail messages are only ever delivered through Skype itself; if you get a notification that you've a voicemail, it will be in the form of an alert to log on to your Skype account and listen to it there. If you want to check, do just that: log on to your Skype account in the usual way. If there's a legit voicemail for you, it will be waiting for you there. But there won't be: Skype wouldn't be sending it as an attachment.

Actually, almost any message that tells you to 'open the attached file' for further information has the potential to be dodgy. The bank? Ebay? PayPal? Facebook? All these will direct you to log on to your own private account, and any genuine requests or messages will be found there.

Oh, and what's that you say? You don't even have a voicemail facility set up on your Skype account? Well, there's a surprise.

Delete, delete, delete.

And tell your friends to do the same.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Fake 'burglary' accusation

I was rather startled this morning to receive the following email in my capacity as President of apdo-uk - the Association that supports, promotes and develops our industry of professional organising and decluttering.

Name: Kathie
Email address:
Organisation: Kathie

Hello, I am writing in an unusual case ... Some time ago, I used your services, and one of your employees face was familiar to me. At dinner with my wife, it turned out that he was a burglar, who 5 years ago broke into our home!!! This is ridiculous!!! How you can hire criminals? I found at least 3 bad entries for him at website for background check!! I am sure there are more!!! Please do something about it, things like that are ridiculous!!!

I didn't have serious concerns about it, for several reasons. Firstly, apdo-uk is not an employer at all, but an Association, and we have clear disclaimers all over our site: it's the clients' responsibility to check the appropriateness and credentials of any of our members they wish to work with. Secondly, the email refers to a man, and out of 105 current members just five of them are men. They picked an organisation with entirely the wrong demographic for this message.

And then, of course, there's the overall style of the email. Poor grammar, excessive exclamation marks... the hallmark of a spammer.

I replied briefly in any case, pointing out the above, and also that I'd need explicit details before investigating any of our members further. However, a quick trawl on Google afterwards proved my suspicions. The (probably fictitious) Kathie Kearns has sent many such emails, especially to folks in the hospitality industry, as I found on this online noticeboard. [This particular gmail address appears also on several lists of noted spammers.]

The question was: why? The email I received contained no links nor attachments. If it was spam in the real sense, one of those would surely have been present. However, looking at the reports on the above forum from other folks that have been spammed, this idiot proves to be exceptionally bad at their job: in my email, they've missed out the link (to a site called Everifies, ostensibly providing online checks on businesses). I don't suggest clicking on it - although according to the forum, the website has now been taken down in any case.

I'm posting this to flag up the situation in the hope that my article will also appear in Google searches for key phrases or for this email address, if anybody else, like me, is suspicious. However, as one poster on the forum put it, "with 40 branches around the country it had me going for a minute". It would be very easy for a member of a large corporation to take the accusation seriously, and to follow a link to a site that may well have had malware.

Honestly. Even the quality of spammers is deteriorating!