Newsletter Archives FAQ: Newsletter

Here’s many of the earlier newsletters.

December 2003 Newsletter at

A few weeks ago, I went to Long Beach (a city at the south end of Los Angeles.) The Queen Mary is parked there as a floating hotel. In the afternoon, we went to the Long Beach Aquarium ( There were lots of kids, and they used their cellphone cameras to take pixs of Nemo, Dory, and Bruce.

The aquarium features, of all things, a Shark Petting Pool. Yes, you can pet the sharks. It’s an outdoor pool, perhaps two feet deep, with more than 150 sharks. Just reach in and pet the sharks. Now, you’re wondering, really? There are some 300 species of sharks, and only a few are bad boys. The rest are docile as hamsters. There were mostly Zebra sharks, which are very pretty, with white spots on gray, and they cuddle in groups, like a bunch of cats.

The Shark Petting Pool was completely crowded by kids, as they sat on the ledge and petted the sharks. I started chatting with the woman who was supervising the pool. We watched the kids pushing and shoving so they could reach in and pet the sharks. After a while, I asked her “so how often does a kid fall in?” She said, “oh, about once every three months”. So what happens then? She rolled her eyes and said “all hell breaks loose”.

Yet More Cheap Phone Rates

A number of people emailed me about which offers long distance at 2.5 cents/minute within the USA. International rates are also very low. It’s a pre-paid calling card. You buy blocks of minutes via a credit card. Stephanie was the first to email me about this, so if you type her code (scota3) into the promotion box, she gets extra minutes.

November 2003 Newsletter at

The other day, I was cleaning my hot tub. I had taken off the insulator top. The phone rang, so I went in and forgot all about the hot tub. The next night, I went out to use the hot tub and hopped in. Ever seen the porpoises at Sea World, how they leap out of the water? Anyway, now I know why there aren’t any cold tubs.

What’s Your Page Ranking?

You know how Amazon will show a book’s ranking (“This book is ranked #203,604!”)? Amazon uses Google to create a new search engine. You search for something, and it shows you “People who looked at this website also bought these books…” Amazon’s search engine also shows the ranking of the website. You can find out that your site is the 436,100th (or whatever) most popular site on the web. Try it at

Getting Rid of Spam

A few days ago, a new spam-blocking tool was released. Spamfighter (for Microsoft Outlook Express and Outlook Office on Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP) catches spam and throws it into a folder. If you’re tired of spam, this gets rid of it for you.

If a piece of spam gets through, you select it and then click Block. This moves the spam into the spam folder and adds your vote to the spam blacklist. You can add your addressbook’s list of email addresses to a whitelist, so your friends won’t be blocked.

Spamfighter works in the same way as peer-to-peer tools (such as Napster and other music-swapping services). Some 300,000 people in 114 countries are using Spamfighter. Every time a bit of spam gets through, people block it, that information is added to the blacklist, and the spam is blocked for the other users.

I installed it a few days ago. The success rate is 98%. It’s still in beta mode and some parts haven’t been installed yet (for example, the ability to import your address book into the white list). A new version will be available in a few weeks.

Spamfighter is written by a Danish team and it has the Danish sense of humor. It’s currently free. Visit their website at and download it (4 MB) at (Only for Windows.)

Cheap Internet Access is only $100/year (about $9/month.)

Cheap Long Distance Calls

The hunt continues for cheap long distance phone service. A subscriber told me about 1010297. 39 cents to connect and 3 cents per minute to North America, W. Europe, and Scandinavia.

Better Cell Phone Service

To compare cellphone plans and rates, use

Self-install Phone Jacks

The telephone company charges $120 to install new phonejacks. But there’s a new product that lets you install extra jacks in any room without doing any wiring. These cost $70 and you just plug them in. Lisa tried these and it works. Just plug and talk!

October 2003 Newsletter at

Free Conference Calling

There are services that offer free conference calling. Each caller pays her own long distance to connect, but all the callers can speak with each other. You can add up to 250 people on one call. You can use this for business. You can also use this for friends or family calls and get the whole clan together. If everyone is within the same city, or you’re using cellphones with free long distance, you can use this for all sorts of telephone meetings.

Free Fax to email

If you have a business and you want allow your customers to send orders to you by fax, there are several services that allow free fax-to-email. The customer sends a fax and the service converts the fax into an email. You get the fax as an email. It shows up in your email and you click on it to view it. You can also print it out. These services are free. People can send a fax to these numbers from anywhere in the world. You don’t need a fax machine. Just ordinary email. Here are two: (this uses a Seattle telephone number) (a Nevada telephone number.) I use CallWave and it works.

The best digital cameras (and the best in most other computer stuff):

After 15 years of a Nikon 35mm camera, I switched to a digital camera. These are much better than film cameras: you can take thousands of photos and not pay a penny more in developing the film. A friend prints her digital pixs onto film paper and the results are identical to film development. If you’re looking at digital cameras, here’s rankings.

For all sorts of other computer devices, see PC World Top Ratings PC World Reviews

DSL or Cable?

It’s like the post office vs. FedEx: you get slow and cheap or fast and expensive. Wired DSL or Cable?

Why Are Cellphones So Lousy?

The California PUC (Public Utilities Commission) recommended a fine of $12 million against Cingular Wireless, a California cellphone company. If you use Cingular, the conversation drops every five or ten minutes. That’s because Cingular’s marketing dept signed up too many customers. They doubled the traffic without spending any money on the network.

  • Scotty! I need warp factor six!
  • But Captain, I kinna do that! The engines are gonna blow!

Angry customers cancelled their cellphone service and Cingular charged them a $500 courtesy fee for cancellation! The PUC ordered Cingular to refund those fees.

Here’s one of the engineer’s emails, just before the di-lithium crystals exploded. “In some areas weekend traffic is already a problem. This promotion will cause a need of additional equipment. We are so far behind now in funding, that trying to estimate the amount and cost of this is not a good use of time.”

More About Face Creams

A few months ago, I wrote about a face cream that removes wrinkles and rejuvenates the skin. It really works. The cream is TNS Recovery Complex and a reader sent in a link to a $20 coupon.

Lower Your Long Distance Bill To Zero

I was looking through my telephone bills and noticed that I was paying only 16 cents for a single long distance call last month but there were $5.72 for long distance service. That’s right: nearly $6 in service fees for one phone call.

I use my cellphone for all calls these days (it includes free nationwide long distance calling. It even includes free conference calling). So I called Qwest and they switched me to another plan: no monthly service fee, and if there are no calls, they won’t even bill. I asked her if I could just cancel long distance altogether. She said yes, but the local telephone company will charge a substantial “courtesy fee” for shutting off long distance. She said that many people were getting rid of their home phones altogether and just using cellphones.

Anyway, if you use your cellphone for long distance, you can probably shut off the monthly long distance service fees. If your long distance carrier won’t allow this, switch to Qwest and get the no-monthly-fee plan.

The Columbia Space Shuttle

Back in early February, the space shuttle Columbia came in for a landing. It passed over California, so at 7 am, I was outside to see it go overhead. But Palo Alto was cloudy that day.

I came in and a few minutes, the radio news reported that the space shuttle had been lost during re-entry. All the seven astronauts died.

An accident review board was created and they released their report a few weeks ago. Yesterday, I read the CAIB report. Here are a few notes and a summary of the report.

The day after takeoff, NASA engineers were reviewing the various videos of the takeoff. They noticed that a piece of foam hit the shuttle’s wing. This started a discussion among the engineers as to whether the foam had caused damage. They calculated that the foam was traveling at about 500 miles per hour when it struck the wing.

However, NASA management had a tight schedule for a number of missions. There was no time for delays. In previous takeoffs, pieces of foam had hit the shuttles and nothing had happened, so management, who weren’t engineers, concluded there was no need to look into this.

NASA engineers, using personal contacts, asked the US military to use their spy satellites to look at the shuttle’s wing. There were three separate attempts to ask for spy photos and each time, NASA management found out about these requests and ordered the military NOT to look at the shuttle. Managers warned the engineers to follow procedures.

If the NASA engineers had gotten the images, they would have seen the hole, the astronauts could have stayed in the space station, another shuttle could be sent up, and they could return on the second shuttle.

At page 140 in the report, there is a description of these actions and decisions, with a list of three requests for images at p. 166 and a list of eight missed opportunities at p. 167, with a summary at p. 170. At p. 177, the CAIB looks into NASA’s organizational decision-making process.

The piece of foam stuck the wing, creating a hole in the wing’s leading edge. During re-entry, superheated air entered through the hole, melted the wing’s aluminum internal structure, and the wing collapsed and fell off the shuttle as it was moving at 12,000 miles per hour.

NASA managers, with their demand to stick to the schedule, their refusal to listen to the engineers, and using threats of reprimands against engineers who spoke up, caused the loss of the shuttle and the deaths of the astronauts.

In the early 80s, the shuttle Challenger took off in cold weather. The Challenger accident review showed that engineers warned NASA before launch that the O-rings might fail and they asked for a launch delay. NASA overrode the engineers and went ahead with the launch. Challenger exploded and all seven astronauts were killed (summary at p. 199-200.)

Here is the CAIB’s official summary: “├ľNASA’s management system is unsafe to manage the shuttle system├ľ” Wow.

In contrast, the US Navy has a safety structure that actively seeks minority or dissenting opinions from engineers. If officers start on a process and there are no dissenting opinions, the officers are obligated to find one. At NASA, the opposite is done: management suppresses dissent and does not seek it out.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB at 248-page report is at CAIB Report (PDF, 10 MB file)

September 2003

How to make PDF files for free

There’s a tool you can download for free that lets you make PDFs. See faq-pdf-free.html I tested it, it works.

More FAQ Stuff

Stephanie also sends out a newsletter with FAQs, tips, and so on. Visit her at and sign up for her newsletter.

The Insert Key

The Insert key on your Windows keyboard is useless. Because it was next to the Delete key, I often pressed it accidentally. Finally, I fixed that. Use a butter knife and you can pry it off. I put a bit of tape over the slot and attached the Insert key again. Now, it’s basically frozen.

If I should ever decide again that I want to use it, I can pry it off again and remove the tape.

Another key to freeze is the NumLock key (upper left of the numeric keypad.) If you accidentally press it, you can’t type numbers. You can do the same tape trick to the NumLock key.

Yet Another Microsoft Patch

In the last few days, Microsoft has sent out more security advisories. They’ve discovered security issues and they’ve released patches.

But in a way, this makes the problem worse. I read a few weeks ago that, ironically, the security advisories lead to more virus. When Microsoft publishes a security advisory, millions of users download the patches and they are protected. But the virus makers study these advisories anyway and then create virus to take advantage of the error, because millions of other Microsoft users don’t download the patches.

Anyway, go to Microsoft and update your patches. In your browser, select Tools | Windows Update and follow the steps.

August 2003

The Blog FAQ

Blogs are going to be big. In the next few months, AOL, Microsoft, and others will unleash blog tools to tens of millions of users, and you’ll hear no end of articles about blogs. So… if you want to be the first to know what is a blog, how to set one up, and (better yet), how to make money with blogs, then read at the blog FAQ.

Stop Spam…

Spammers use Google to search for email addresses. If you have a website and your email address is on your website, the spammers will find it. Here’s a free tool to encode your email address to avoid spam: For example, turns into: an(long string of numbers)s. Just copy the code from that tool into your website. To visitors, it will appear as a regular email address.

Baby Names…

Ever noticed there seems to be lots of 20-somethings who are named Stephanie, Ashley, and Tiffany? Those names were very popular in the 80s. A fellow at the Social Security office created a website where you can see the ranking of names for any year:

Tips for XP…

All sorts of tips for dealing with Win XP at

Student Discounts on Software…

Student discounts are also available at certain online software stores, such as Creation Engine at, which also has a store in Mountain View (SV.)

June 2003

Getting Rid of Poison Oak

On Earth Day, I went out to help clean the creeks in Palo Alto. Around here, we have lots of poison oak, and I got a bit of it on me. (For non-Americans: poison oak and poison ivy are plants that give you severe rash if you touch them.) But it’s fairly easy to deal with poison oak now: just use Technu. It’s a cream. Rub it on, let it sit for a few minutes, and it destroys the chemical in poison oak. You can get Technu at any drugstore.

Add SSI to Your Website

SSI is a great tool for websites. Here’s a clear guide to adding SSI to your website. FAQ SSI

The Art of Hokusai

I added more pixs and text to my Hokusai page. Read about Japan’s most fascinating artist: Hokusai

Six Degrees of Connection

There’s been an explosion of research in network theory. Until recently, it was impossible to quantify networks because realworld networks were huge. If it only takes six steps to connect to anyone on the world, that’s a network of five billion people… But with computers, the web, and Google, suddenly one can map out the links in massive networks, leading to a number of major discoveries. 20% of the workers do all the work. Who is more likely to give you a tip for a job?, your best friend or someone at a cocktail party? Why is it so hard to stop al Qaeda? See FAQ-Barabasi

Want to be an andreas?

If you want to be an Andreas… is for sale. If you are interested, contact Andreas Berg in Sweden at

She Looks 20 years Younger…

I was having lunch with a friend a few months ago and at one point, I asked her what she had done to her face. She looked literally decades younger. It’s a new type of face cream that rejuvenates skin cells. Wrinkles, age spots, and so on disappear and your face looks younger. The cream is “Skin Medica TNS Recovery Complex” by Skin Medica. It’s $140 for a small tube at your dermatologist, but use Google and you can find it for $95 or so.

Food in the City…

This spring, I built a website for Patricia Unterman, who runs the Hayes Street Grill in San Francisco. She also runs Vicolo, the best pizza in SF. But that’s not enough for her, she also just published a great guide to restaurants in SF. I keep a copy in my car so I can always find a place for dinner. Sign up for her free newsletter. See Hayes Street Grill

Mere Coincidence…

Ever notice how all CDs in all stores magically have the same price? The music industry recently settled a class action lawsuit for price fixing. If you bought a CD between 1995 and 2000, you can get up to $20 from the settlement. Just answer three simple questions (no reciepts are needed) and enter your address.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs…

Looking for work? I rebuilt Patti Wilson’s website. It has over 1,000 links to job and career resources, plus free newsletters and an online list with job leads. See

The Next Big Thing…

Look around, no, look down! There’s a new fad coming. Clogs are totally in. I was in NYC last week and saw that clogs are a craze in NYC. They’ve evolved from the wooden soles into all sorts of sandals and so on. My brother’s online clog store in Palm Springs is number one at Google in every brand of clogs and he’s getting major newspaper and magazine articles about his store. See

Coupons for Airport Parking

For those of you who still have permission from Ashcroft to travel, there’s

April 2003

No more telemarketers!

You can block your telephone from telemarketing. State of California’s State Attorney General has set up a website where you can register for the national do-not-call list, to be managed by the FTC. Register at Do-Not-Call-List

Hold that pill! Pill expiration dates:

You probably have a bunch of pharmaceuticals left over in your medicine cabinet. Some of these probably expired years ago. Don’t throw them out. They’re probably still good.

Pills are usually effective long after the expiration date. Several years ago, the US Army conducted research into pharmaceutical expiration dates and concluded this was mostly a sales trick by medical pharmaceutical companies to sell more pills.

If stored in cool, dry, dark locations (such as a hallway closet,) pills are generally good for five-ten years after expiration. (Medicine cabinets are usually too humid, due to the shower.)

For more, see:

Health Insurance

For a list on links to finding affordable health insurance, see Health Insurance

Refill Your Inkjet or Bubblejet Printers

Learn how to refill your inkjet printer and save money. See Refilling BubbleJets

Vase of Fish

A few months ago, I figured out how to make an outdoor vase filled with live fish. The fish live outdoors all winter long. See Fish Vase

Labor Markets in Silicon Valley

A review of Chris Benner’s book about the nature and structure of the labor market in SV. If you work (or you’re looking for work) in Silicon Valley, see Benner’s Book

February 2003


Google has a new shopping service. Find products and use the price filter to find the lowest offer. For example, visit and search for “Sony ICD-BP150 Digital Recorder” and then set the filter “1-$120” and you’ll get three stores under that price. If you manage a site that offers products for sale, you can add your product to froogle. Use the following links to learn how to add your site to Froogle (it’s free.) Add store , Merchants, and More merchants.

Job Training

OICW in Menlo Park, California offers low-cost (and free) training in digital publishing software such as Illustrator, Quark, PhotoShop, Flash, and Dreamweaver. If you meet the low-income or unemployed qualifications, the training may be free and will include job development services and a job search workshop. Instruction is on a one-to-one basis in a self-paced curriculum.

More Jobs

You can search for jobs by type, city, industry, or company.


Hundreds of Free Tutorials, incl. PhotoShop, PaintShop, Web Dev, and CSS .

Make a list of files

Gretchen writes: Here’s a creative and visual way to make a list of files in a folder. This is for the folks who never learned DOS, or people who appreciate a clever workaround.

  1. Click on the Winzip icon to open
  2. Click NEW to create a New ARCHIVE
  3. In the CREATE window, navigate to the drive and location where you want the archive. TIP: If you are doing this ONLY for the purpose of making a list, put the ARCHIVE in the same FOLDER on your hard drive that contains the files you want to list.
  4. Name the ARCHIVE in the file name window.
  5. In the ADD window, navigate to the folder containing the files you want to list
  6. Highlight the files you want to include using SHIFT CLICK or CTRL CLICK
  7. Click ADD
  8. After the ARCHIVE is created, the files will show in the next WinZip window
  9. Click FILE | PRINT
  10. If you created the ARCHIVE only to make a list, close WinZip and navigate to the folder where you created the ARCHIVE and delete it. If you put it in the same folder, it’s easy to find.

Configuring Explorer file browser.

Lynn asks: How can I configure the MS Explorer file browser to always open in a particular drive?

  1. Start Explorer (Start – Programs – Windows NT Explorer, or Win key + E)
  2. Move to %SystemRoot%/profiles/(your username)/Start Menu/Programs, e.g. d:/winnt/profiles/savillj/Start Menu/Programs
  3. Right click on Windows Explorer and select Properties.
  4. The target will be %SystemRoot%explorer.exe.
  5. Change to %SystemRoot%explorer.exe /e, (drive letter):
  6. For example, to start in E drive: %SystemRoot%explorer.exe /e, e:
  7. You can also specify a directory: %SystemRoot%explorer.exe /e, e:winntsystem32
  8. Click OK and exit Explorer

XP Outlook Express Email

Amy asks: Where are the files for Outlook Express XP? I want to make a backup of my email.
This is buried in C:Documents and Settings(yourname)Local SettingsApplication DataIdentities(long string of numbers)MicrosoftOutlook Express. This is a very long path. Open your MS Explorer file browser, start at the C: drive, and follow the path of folders. At the folder named (yourname), use your name (for example, Amy.)

What’s that font?

Upload a scanned image of any font to What the font? and it will tell you the name of the font.

What’s that airplane?

San Jose Airport lets you watch the airplanes on their radar. Watch them take off, land, and fly around. You can zoom out to see the whole Bay Area. Click on any airplane and see details about it: airline, elevation, origin, destination, etc. When an airplane goes over your house, you can see which airline it is. If you’re going to pick up someone at the airport, you can track their arrival. Zoom out to 90 miles and see when it lands. See San Jose and Los Angeles. Visit to find other cities.

The Next Newsletter…

Every month or so, or when I get around to it, I send out a newsletter with FAQs, tips, info, stories, poems, and whatever to some 3,000 subscribers. If you want to join, add your email below. You’re welcomed to write, ask questions, and send poems. — yrs, andreas