Little Things Amuse Little Minds

On the entrance to the library, there is a sign that says “Possession of dangerous weapons is prohibited on these premises.” I always have to laugh at that, wondering why a library would ban sharp minds, because truly, there is no weapon so dangerous as that. They let me in, so perhaps I’m not as sharp — or as humorous — as I once thought I was.

I’ve been seeing all sorts of “boycott Kellogs” notes online, and I have to laugh at that, too. Even if I wanted to find out why I should boycott (I am still on my news fast, eschewing all news), and even if I did find out and want to boycott, I couldn’t. I don’t buy any of their products. Not one. So who would know if I boycotted or not? I also find it ironic that Kellogs — the company that manufactures such delicacies as Pop Tarts, Pringles, and Froot Loops — started out as a health resort. Dr. Kellogs’ invention, cornflakes, was one of the early health foods. (Graham crackers and the first cereal called “granula” predated cornflakes.)

I am also amused by all the return address labels I get. What century do those people live in? Haven’t they ever heard of texting? Email? Not that I want them to spam me — I certainly don’t them sending me emails or texts. I’m merely pointing out that hardly anyone uses return labels any more. I use maybe one or two a month. It used to be I didn’t use any until the appearance of The Bob temporarily closed the office where I paid my utility bill, and I got into the habit of mailing it. (Silly, really, because it’s only three blocks away. Luckily, the local mail stays in town, so it gets there quickly. When I lived on the western slope, my local mail went first to Grand Junction, the next county over, then back to the town where I lived, which sometimes took a week.)

Because of all the begging mail I get, I would have to live ten lifetimes to use up those address labels. And perhaps by then, even texting will be passe. We might all have implants that let us transfer information to one another instantly without resorting to such unwieldy tools as phones and computers.

I hadn’t realized so many things have been amusing me lately, but apparently, I amuse easily.

This reminds me of my eight grade teacher who would stand in front of the class and reprimand us for playing around at our desks. As she was warning us that “Little things amuse little minds,” she’d be fiddling with a pen, which always made me want to laugh.

I started out talking about smart minds and end up with little minds. I better quit before I start talking about things I never mind.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Fair Game

Although I am trying to change passwords on sites and accounts that have personal information, for the most part, I tend to think that no matter what you do to protect yourself, if it’s on the internet, it’s fair game.

This was brought home to me last night when I tried to place an order from a company that had a couple of clever gifts I wanted to get for people who are hard to shop for. Generally, I don’t do a lot of gift-giving, but these people were especially kind to me this year, and I wanted to show my appreciation. Hence, the gifts.

I tried to put in the order online, but there was no place to enter the two different addresses, so I called their customer service line. They asked for my account number, which I didn’t think I had, but she said the account number was on the catalog even though I didn’t tell her I had a catalog. I found the number and gave it to her, and it turns out they already had all my information. Apparently, they set up an account when they sent the catalog.

I ended up having to pay the shipping costs on each item rather than only once if I’d done it online, but that was okay. The real issue is she told me that they would send me the tracking code when the orders were shipped, but she never asked for an email address. When I queried her about that, she rattled off my email address. Huh? Where did she get it? Now that I think about it, it was probably on the mailing list they bought for sending out their catalogs.

When I said she rattled off the address, that wasn’t exactly true. She very laboriously read it off to me. Considering her thick accent and her inability to understand me, there is a chance that these people will get the gifts I ordered, their names will be spelled right, and the brief message accurate. On the other hand, who knows what will happen. Your guess is as good as mine.

Normally when things are this difficult, especially if it’s something for me, I just forget it. It’s not worth it. But I did say these people were hard to shop for, right? So I stuck with the process and am keeping my fingers crossed that everything will be okay.

But yikes. Here I am trying to streamline my presence online, and it turns out there are all sorts of accounts in my name that I didn’t even know about. Yep, if it’s on the internet, the information truly is fair game whether we want it to be or not.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Spinning My Wheels

I spent a considerable amount of time today trying to update and streamline my online accounts. I’ve found that I can’t delete some accounts — even going through the entire site map, there’s no place to delete. In one case, it was a store I’d ordered from a couple of times, and I don’t remember ever signing up for the site. I never made a note of the account information (user name and email). Nor do I recognize the password. It makes me wonder if they set up the account? Even if I did it, which is possible, it still seems strange that there’s no way to delete the account. I suppose they find it unbelievable that any customer would want to leave their establishment.

In a couple of cases, I couldn’t update the password. I kept getting error messages. In another case, I had a hard time getting my phone to recognize the new password.

But other than that, I am moving right along.

Some sites I don’t care about, of course. Like Pinterest. I never understood the point of the site, never liked it, never saw that it gained me anything, but there’s no reason to delete it or to change the password. It’s rather innocuous, with no personal information and no links to personal information, so I don’t much care. I’m mostly concentrating on places that do have personal information — social security number, bank routing number, debit card information. And I’m concentrating on my paid accounts — this blog and my website. (Although WordPress is a free service, I’ve been paying for an upgrade so you don’t have to deal with a bunch of ads.)

The task isn’t something that can be done quickly. In fact, it could take me as long to undo or redo all the sites as it took to set them up in the first place. Although I was a latecomer to the internet, it’s been fourteen years since my first foray, and I tried many different sites in those years, so there is a lot to review. But I’ll keep chugging along.

Some sites, of course, are now long gone, like Gather, the best social networking site for authors ever. (In fact, that’s where I met most of my online friends.) Other sites I’ve forgotten about because I never use them. (I used to like Canva, but I find that it’s a lot easier for me to use Photoshop elements than an online site, and anyway, come to think of it, I no longer do the sort of promotional graphic that I did on Canva.)

Writing all this down makes it sounds like a lot of rigamarole, as if I’m spinning my wheels and going nowhere. And no wonder — that’s exactly how it feels. I doubt it’s important to get rid of defunct online accounts, and I’m not sure it’s necessary to update my passwords since who cares about a rather obscure author in a rather obscure corner of the internet.

But you never know. It doesn’t hurt to be more security conscious, and that’s reason enough to go through all this trouble.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

About Passwords

A couple of days ago, I got a security alert email from Google with a list of my duplicate passwords as well as those that were weak. This includes most of the sites I’d signed up for over the years. I suppose it really does behoove me to delete any site I have no more use for, and to update passwords. How kind of Google to send me a list of all those sites as well as the passwords!

I do have two concerns. If Google is privy to all our passwords, does it really matter what the passwords are? Even if they are unbreakable, they are obviously searchable if one has access to the Google cloud or wherever it is they store all their information.

The other thing is that once I have all those unbreakable passwords, they have to be stored somewhere because there is no way they can be stored in my memory — my brain memory, that is. That means they need to be stored on the computer so I can easily copy and paste as needed, which means that all those passwords are doubly vulnerable.

They’d eventually all be stored in my browser, which makes it simpler for me, but makes the sites more vulnerable. Even so, I’d still need a master copy of all the passwords because glitches do happen.

Despite my lack of concern, I did spend some time today with an online random password generator, which means that now there might be a fourth place where my passwords would be stored — on the generator site. Obviously, if they did store the passwords, it’s not that big of a deal since they wouldn’t know what site the password would open. And anyway, that part is easy enough to fix — just change a letter or a symbol. (This is an example of the passwords that were generated: eHLq-B9W. See what I mean about never being able to remember it? They did give a helpful memory hint, but I’d never be able to remember that either: egg HULU LAPTOP queen – BESTBUY 9 WALMART. Sheesh.)

I’m not sure what anyone would gain by breaking into any of my sites. Any online ordering I do is through an account that I keep empty until needed, so there is no way anyone can clear out what little money I have. Only two sites have my social security number (well, any number of sites would have it because the IRS and other government bodies have online sites, but those sites are not under my control, so I’m not going to worry about it). One of my sites already has a strong password, and the other will have one soon.

Other than that, despite my once active presence online, there really is not a lot of my personal information out there.

Apparently, though, stealing personal information is not the only reason sites get hacked. They use the hacked sites for phishing schemes, generating spam, installing malware, and a host of other not-so-nice activities. (At first, when Facebook blocked my blog for being spam, I thought it might have been infected, but if so, Google would have put a warning on the search result as they did once when a bit of code got mistakenly inserted into one of my posts.)

I’d started this article by thinking I’d ignore the password situation and stick with what I have (on the assumption that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it), but now that I’ve looked further into the matter, I see that it would be a good idea to better secure my sites.

I’ll do it first thing tomorrow.

Or the next day.

Or maybe the day after that . . .

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Facebook’s Vendetta

Facebook is continuing its vendetta against me. It still has my blog URL banned, still say my blog is a spam site, and there is no recourse since they don’t answer emails, snail mails, or online help messages. For a while, I just let it go, figuring if they didn’t want me, I didn’t want them, but a few people mentioned how much they missed seeing my blog on their feed, so I got in the habit of reblogging this blog onto another blog — Dragon My Feet — and then posting that URL to FB.

That worked for several months, but suddenly, all photos that had been part of that reblog — the photos I use to illustrate my posts — disappeared from Facebook going back to when I first started reblogging. I experimented with uploading the photo directly to Facebook, and also uploading a new photo to the reblog, and those photos are still on F. So now I know — they have extended their ban of my URL to any reblogged photo that originated here.

I thought of continuing to upload a duplicate of the photo from this blog to the reblog, but then I rethought that idea. It’s only a matter of time before their bots notice that my so-called spam URL is posted on the reblog, and then they will ban that blog, too. For now, I will continue posting the reblog URL on FB, but for those FB friends and acquaintances who want to read my blog, now would be a good time to sign up to get notifications directly to your email address. (Scroll down to the bottom of the left-hand column and click on “follow.”) As with FB, you can simply “like” a post if you want me to know you were here and don’t want to leave a comment, but of course, I am always appreciative of any comment.

If it weren’t for those friends and a group or two that I keep up with, I’d be done with FB. One of the groups I keep up with is my own Suspense/Thriller Writer’s Group, though I am considering disbanding it or at least denying members the ability to post. It used to be a fun group, but less and less as time goes on because of all the changes FB makes. In fact, FB has been messing with the groups again, so I had to change the group from “public” to “private” because if a group is public, now anyone can join without being okayed, and most of the people who want to join are spammers. Real spammers, not people like me who got caught in the FB fly trap. The problem with disbanding is that first I have to remove all 3,500 members one at a time. I did that for another group I had and it’s no fun.

It’s getting to the point where this blog is my only interaction online. Twitter is absurd, LinkedIn is worthless for my needs, and if there was ever any possibility of signing up with Instagram, it ended when FB bought site. I also lost interest in Goodreads when Amazon bought it.

I suppose I should go through and delete some of those old accounts (Google just emailed me and told me I had too many weak and duplicate passwords, and most of those are for accounts I haven’t visited in years.) Though chances are, I will do the same thing with those accounts that I do with FB — just keep on doing what I am doing . . . or not doing.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Peace and Lies

It turns out I am not the only innocent writer being blackened by lies of being a spammer. A friend, the woman who started the Blog4Peace movement, had her site removed by Blogspot for being spam. She’s fighting it, of course, and I hope she has more luck with Google than I did with Facebook. After almost two years of protesting and letter writing, FB still claims my blog is spam. Luckily, all they can do is prevent me from posting my blog link on their site, a ban I get around by copying the link to another blog, and then posting that blog link on FB. I wouldn’t even do that but several people like to see the link in their feeds, and besides, some friends I only “see” on FB.

My peace blogging friend, on the other hand, had to create a whole new site, then replace the defunct URL with the new URL on all fifteen years worth of postings. Ouch.

I had to do that when my original publisher changed websites. Took me months to replace all the URLs on my various sites as well as individual blog posts. (His IT person lied and said they couldn’t do a redirect, but she was just too lazy to do it.) When he did the same thing a few years later, I  gave up and did what every other author does — used the URL for my books on Amazon. At least that URL never changes.

As I have learned, the internet gives and the internet takes away. I did as my friend asked and edited my post about blogging for peace to reflect her new site. I am also posting the information here, so if you want to join us in blogging for peace on November 4, all you have to do is:

  1. Choose a graphic from the peace globe gallery http://peaceglobegallery.blogspot.com/p/get-your-own-peace-globe.htmlor from the photos on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/BlogBlastForPeace#!/BlogBlastForPeace/app_153284594738391 Right click and Save. Decorate it and sign it, or leave as is.
  2. Send the finished globe to blog4peace@yahoo.com
  3. Post it anywhere online November 4 and title your post Dona Nobis Pacem (Latin for Grant us Peace)

Sounds cool, doesn’t it? See you on November 4!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Happy Fourteenth Bloggiversary to Me!

I created this blog fourteen years ago today, back when I hadn’t yet become a published author, back when I had just acquired my first computer and didn’t even know what a blog was. I had read how important blogging was for authors, both as a way of getting known and as a way of connecting with readers, so I decided to “act as if” I were going to be published in the hopes of making it happen. I had nothing to say, no one to say it to, no reason to say anything, but I didn’t let that stop me. I started blogging on September 24, 2007, and haven’t stopped since.

Did acting as if I were going to get published work? Perhaps, though there is no direct connection that I know of. Still, one and a half years after starting this blog, my first two books were published. I now have nine books available: four suspense novels, one mystery, three books about grief (one fiction and two non-fiction), and my most recent book, Bob: The Right Hand of God. (My publisher said, “Bob: The Right Hand of God is playful, fun and well-written. It spans genres, so I’m not sure if there is an exploitable target audience. I don’t care. I like it.”

Two-and-half years after I started this blog, my life mate/soul mate died, and his death catapulted me into a world of such pain that it bled over into my posts. This blog became a place where I could try to make sense of what I was going through, to offer comfort and be comforted, to find my way to renewed life. And I struck a chord with people who were also dealing with grief. It’s no wonder my top posts are grief related: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? with 91,801 views and The Five Major Challenges We Face During the Second Year of Grief with 40,705 views.

This blog sustained me during the years I cared for my father after Jeff’s death, and it gave me a place to rest when my father died four years later, and I was thrown out into the world, alone and orphaned.

This blog offered me a place to call home when I set out alone on a five-month, 12,000 mile cross-country road trip, gave me a place where I could talk about all the wonders I was seeing. Often on that trip, when I was between visits with online friends, I thought of William Cowper’s words: How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude! But grant me still a friend in my retreat, whom I may whisper, solitude is sweet. And this blog became a place where I could whisper, “Solitude is sweet.”

And when I settled into a house of my own, this blog gave me a place of familiarity in an otherwise unfamiliar life.

Currently, as I am dealing with the infirmities of the encroaching years as well as the many facets of first-time homeownership, it’s nice to know that whatever life throws at me, whatever problems I encounter, whatever challenges and adventures — and joys — come my way, this blog will be here for me.

During the past fourteen years, I have written 3,207 blogs, received 21,115 comments, and garnered 960,164 views. It amazes me that anyone wants to read anything that I write here. This is so much a place for just letting my thoughts roam, for thinking through problems, and (I admit it) for pontificating a bit. It’s been a kick, writing this blog, and I want to thank all of you for indulging my whims and whimsies.

Thank you for reading. Thank you all for your comments, your likes, your support. They have meant more to me (especially this past eleven and a half years) than you can ever imagine.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Email Update

At the beginning of summer, the email program I got with my website was changed from a free program to a paid one. Even worse, the new email changed from a simple format to Outlook. I already have sold most of my online soul to Microsoft (I use Windows 10, and from what I understand, they practically own my computer). I really didn’t want to change emails because I like the idea of my own personal dot com address, but conversely, I didn’t want to get any more involved with Microsoft products, so I planned to phase out my @patbertram.com email address.

As it turned out, it was way too difficult to make all the changes to all the important sites I’ve signed up for using that email address and luckily, the cost for Outlook wasn’t as much as my domain provider threatened, so I caved in.

Perhaps in a year or two, the unimportant sites will fall by the wayside or I’ll have switched them to a different email, leaving only a handful of important sites that need to be changed.

The good thing about keeping my dot com email address is that I don’t have to contend with ads. The not-so-good thing is that it’s more expensive than ad-free Outlook would be and I have way less storage capacity. But I suppose it’s only fair to pay more for getting to keep my “vanity” address and to postpone having to search out all the sites I might have signed up for using that address.

One way or another, sometime or other, that address will become defunct anyway. My website is paid for way in advance (when I signed up, the domain “rent” was so cheap that I signed up for the maximum of ten years; now all I have to do each year is pay for one year’s renewal to keep that advance). I don’t intend to keep renewing, so I will be phasing out my website in ten years. (Unless, of course, I suddenly become such a big name that the price and aggravation of maintaining a website is worth it.) Which means that the email, assuming I keep it that long, will also become phased out.

But for now, I’m maintaining the status quo.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Technological Marvel

Like many people, I am conflicted about the ever-growing incursion of the electronic world into our daily lives. It seems that so much of it is about keeping track of us, one way or another.

For example, one feature that not everyone knows about in some modern cars, is the ability for the car manufacturers, insurance companies, and various legal authorities to track drivers’ movements, not just where the drivers go, but how they get there, how fast they go, how they maneuver through traffic, and whether the driver starts smoothly or indulges in jack-rabbit starts.

I don’t know if all cars come equipped with this technology — some people add it intentionally because it lowers their insurance bill. I do know that there is so much technology in cars — way more than I like — that I restored my old pre-tech car so I wouldn’t have to deal with any of it.

If eyes on our personal space inside our vehicles isn’t bad enough, there are cameras everywhere, including far up in space, that can keep track of our every movement.

The same is true with the internet. Although computer software purveyors pretend they aren’t using our data in any way, to a certain extent, they are more in control of our computers than most of us non-technical folk are.

And then there is the whole black web thing, where all sorts of unsavory things go on.

Like most everything I do, my online life is a cotton candy version of what is out there. I stick with this blog, play a game or two, make use of email, do a bit of research and do even less than a bit of shopping. It’s so ho-hum that I doubt anyone is watching me, though I am always cognizant of that possibility so I protect myself as best as I can. Still, even with a certain level of vigilance, and maybe even because of it, I tend to take technology for granted and forget what a marvel it all is.

Today I got a phone call from a local area code. Most people don’t answer unknown calls in their own area code because that recognition factor is how the scammers try to sucker people into answering the phone, but my area code is from a city I’ve never lived. I don’t even know anyone who lives there. So any call from that area code, I immediately block. But the area code from where I live? Those calls tend to answer because every once in a while, I do get local calls from people I know who aren’t in my contact list.

So I answered the phone, and oh! What a surprise. I am watching a house for a couple of friends who are out of the country, and the husband called me today. At first I thought he was back in town because of visa problems, but no, he’s still out of the country. He just wanted to talk, to tell me how they are doing, to let me say hi to her, and to thank me for taking care of their house.

So how did this marvel happen? Skype. I thought to use Skype, both people had to be signed up, but apparently not. He was able to get a Skype number from the closest city, so now he can call all the way from Bangkok, and it shows up (and is billed) as a local number.

Truly a marvel!

Note to local folks: B & L said to tell you hi. She is doing better, though she’s having trouble walking. They thank you for your prayers. And, of course, they miss all of you and hope you are doing well.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

New and Improved Email

A few weeks ago I got an email from my domain provider telling me they are switching to a new and improved email platform.

I liked having my own personal email address at my own personal domain (@ patbertram rather than @yahoo or whatever), so I used that email frequently. I also used that email address to sign up for various websites because if I got inundated with junk, it didn’t come to me via the phone. I had to wait until I went online to check my email.

Ever since that notification, I’ve been making a list of people and businesses I have to contact to change my email address, as well as sites where I have to change my email login address. Making all those changes in the two months allotted seems insurmountable. (After two months of a free trial, they will be charging me monthly, though how being charged for a service that used to be free can be considered new and improved, I don’t know.) Because of the monumental task (and because I am rebellious and don’t want to do the work), I’ve been considering going ahead and paying for a year or so until I either get everyone changed over or until attrition makes some of the changes unnecessary.

Today the changeover happened. And the new and improved is nothing more than Microsoft’s Outlook. I already have a Hotmail email using that same platform, but since it’s dedicated to family emails, I don’t have to use it very much, which is good, because I find it tedious cumbersome.

The only good thing about the changeover today is that it made the decision about keeping the account for me. Since it’s a platform I don’t like, and one, moreover, that I already have, I see no point in paying money for the service.

I bet you can guess what I’m going to be doing the next couple of months! And it won’t be me having fun, that’s for sure.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator