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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 2 Issue 1 January 2008
In This Issue
My computer can help in cold weather? How?
Contest Winner: Send me your most horrible/most wonderful backup story
I Recommend...
While you might think I'm going to suggest using your laptop as an emergency snow shovel after a big snowfall (not a great idea even if it has been overheating recently), I actually have a number of ideas that don't involve stepping outside at all.
My computer can help in cold weather? How?

You mean I can just look out my window?
There are so many ways your computer can get weather information using the internet, you may forget that you can just look out your window! Here are some that I've used:
Just enter your ZIP code or city and state and you'll get the current local weather report and 1- to 5-day forecasts. You can also use this technique before you travel, just enter your destination city and you'll learn what to expect when you get there.

Weather alerts
Every winter I'm concerned about preventing my water pipes from freezing, especially the ones that pass through the unheated part of my basement. Also, since I drive a lot for my business, big snowstorms can affect my workday. I can try to keep an eye on weather forecasts, but it would be much easier if I could simply be notified when the forecast turns bad. After doing a google search for "temperature email" I discovered that The Weather Channel's web site offers free weather alerts via email or cell phone text messages:
  • Go to http://www.weather.com
  • Near the top center of the page, click the blue underlined word "Alerts," then follow the prompts to sign up.
  • You'll create a "profile" using your email address and a new password you'll choose. (Don't forget to add this information to your Password Chart, see http://www.kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2007_10_19.html for my advice on this.)
  • Choose between email or text messages.
  • Then pick the types of alerts you want (Severe Weather, Extreme Cold, Icy Precipitation, Snow, Rain, Heat, Pollen, etc.), the time of day to be notified, other options (e.g., the temperature or severity that will trigger the alert), and save your settings before leaving.
You should also know that:
  • weather.com's Extreme Cold alerts include the effect of "wind chill" (how cold it feels), not just the temperature reading. So, if you've set this alert for 32 degrees Fahrenheit, you wouldn't expect to be alerted if it's 37 degrees outside, but if the wind will make it "feel like" 20 degrees, you will. This is good if you're concerned about how cold you'll feel that day, but it's confusing if you're concerned about your pipes freezing or frost accumulating on the plants in your garden.
  • While they send these "Weather Channel Alerts" for free, choosing to receive them as text messages on your cell phone may cost something, depending on your calling plan.
  • If you want "Voice alerts by phone" you can get their premium "Notify!" service (also called "Notify Plus") for a 7-day free trial, followed by a monthly or annual fee.
  • Each "profile" monitors the weather for one geographic location, so if you want alerts for another location, you have to register again with another email address.
  • If you have a specific future date whose forecast you're concerned about, use the "My Wedding Weather" page at http://www.weather.com/activities/events/weddings (or click on "Home & Family," then "Wedding Planner") to monitor that date's forecast and also see that date's typical weather. You can also use this even if your event isn't a wedding.
School closing alerts
Similarly, rather than monitoring television or radio reports listing school closings or calling your local School Department, you can get free school-closing alerts sent to you via email or cell phone text messages.

If you live in the Boston area, a good source of school-closing information is Channel 5's web site:
  • Go to http://www.thebostonchannel.com/closings/index.html
  • On the right under "School Closings E-mail and Cell Phone Sign-up" follow the prompts to sign up and pick the school(s) you're interested in.
  • Enter your email address, which they use as a kind of "account name," even if you only want cell phone alerts.
  • You can monitor as many schools as you want.
  • Again, don't choose to have text messages sent to your cell phone until you know what they might cost you to receive.
If you live outside the Boston area, check your local television station's web site, or do a google search for "school closings email TOWN"--substitute your town or region for "TOWN."

Finding individuals or services to help
If you're looking for someone to help with snow shoveling or removal, here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Go to craigslist (http://www.craigslist.org) and look under "services" for people offering help, or post your own "seeking help with..." notice; read the "help" section to learn more. Be careful, always check references.
  • Find a local Yahoo Group by going to http://groups.yahoo.com, searching for your city or town, joining a local group, then posting a "seeking a recommendation for..." message. You'll have to sign up first to get a free Yahoo ID. For example, on my local "Belmont_MA" Yahoo Group I learned that any senior citizen having trouble with snow removal can call the Belmont Council on Aging to find local high school students who will shovel elderly residents' walks, fulfilling the high school community service requirement.
Where to go from here
  • Before choosing to have alerts sent to your cell phone, make sure you know what receiving text messages will cost on your calling plan.
  • Remember that email delivery isn't totally reliable. For example, email alerts can end up getting incorrectly "caught" by spam filters, preventing you from seeing them until you "whitelist" the address they're sent from.
And if I find a free weather alert service whose temperature alerts don't always include wind chill, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I'll keep an eye on my basement water pipes.

If you know someone else who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it to them.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!
Contest Winner: Send me your most horrible/most wonderful backup story

We have a winner! My client Debora Bloom of Debora Bloom Associates (http://www.DBloomAssociates.com) writes: "Happy story: A few years ago I took a computer in for some kind of repair. I actually took the time to back up all the files onto a Zip drive just before I left the house. Somehow the repair place damaged the hard drive (which they then replaced) and I still had all my files."

Good job, Debora, I'm glad you prevented that mishap from becoming a complete disaster!

Debora wins a handsome pair of grey 1-gigabyte flash drives (a $23-30 retail value) along with a handwritten note encouraging their use for alternating backup or other productive purposes.
I Recommend...

In this section of my newsletter I will sometimes recommend trusted colleagues and other times I'll suggest useful products and software. Today's recommendation is:

Greg Antonioli
Out of the Woods Construction & Cabinetry, Inc.
15 Ryder St
Arlington, MA 02476
(781) 641-3332

When you think about doing a remodeling project, whether it's redoing your kitchen or bathroom or putting an addition on your house, does the idea fill you with dread? Then you should talk to Greg Antonioli at Out of the Woods! His motto is "Remodel...be happy." His company has developed a design/build process that focuses on realistic budgeting and scheduling to eliminate most of the unpleasant surprises that can occur in remodeling projects. Over 90% of his business comes from repeat customers and direct referrals.

Greg brings "predictability and peace of mind" to designing and building:
  • Room additions
  • 2nd floor additions
  • Basement and attic renovations
  • Kitchen and bathroom remodels
  • Historic or period detailing
And he's also experienced in "green" remodeling, so if you're concerned about the environmental impact or toxicity of the materials being used, he's got solutions that are workable and affordable.

If you know happy people who own their home and cannot afford to have their remodeling project go over budget or beyond schedule, Greg is a terrific person to call. He'll not only return your call, he'll give you recent clients to talk to. Feel free to visit the Out of the Woods website for more information.
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Did you miss a previous issue? You can find it in my newsletter archive: http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.

Copyright (C) 2008 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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