Mar 11
Dementia: A Carer’s Perspective
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This blog isn’t just about solving tech problems and giving tech tips, sometimes I cover ‘life’ topics.

Well it’s dementia today, from my perspective. Mum is 92 very soon and has had dementia for several years now. A growing number of people are having to care for relatives with this awful condition. If you haven’t come across dementia yet, let me tell you it can be a really trying task for a carer. Nothing really prepares you for the frustrations of the short-term memory loss and change in personality you will encounter. This isn’t the Mum I grew up with. Believe me, you will need deep resources of patience when you have to answer the same questions over and over again…. in just half an hour. And despite taking them for a lovely car outing, don’t expect them to remember much the following day. For Mum, every day is pretty much a clean slate, she lives in the present and in her memories from 40 or 50 years ago.

It’s very easy to get angry, confrontational and frustrated when you come up against dementia – I know, I’ve been there many times. But it all came to a head last week when Mum said something, it doesn’t really matter what. Like a rag to a bull, I waded in with my rant. I don’t know why I bothered because I knew she wouldn’t remember anything the next day anyway. I got home after dropping her off at her sheltered house and I could feel a tightness in my chest. It was at that point I realised things had to change for me. I was getting stressed out for no real reason.

And that’s my point. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t yet experienced caring for someone with dementia or if you’re in the same boat as me, please take one thing from this piece. Try your utmost not to get worked up, angry or stressed out. Think of your own health and remember, your relative really wouldn’t want you to be suffering on their account. Whenever you feel yourself fit to burst, just stop, turn around, don’t get into an argument, just think of yourself and your health. Put on a smile and calmly deal with the problem. You may be glad you did later.

A final note. I’ve held off pushing the Publish button on this post for a few days now. I’m finding it hard to take my own advice, but I’ll keep trying. I know my health is at stake.

Do you have any thoughts on caring for a relative with dementia? Drop a comment below.


Feb 25

I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with a browser not launching before,  but at some point last year I think I must have installed a dodgy browser extension then uninstalled it. From then on, Firefox just wouldn’t launch for me and I kept getting the Crash Reporter:

Firefox crashed

I tried all kinds of ways to resolve the issue. Having said that, I didn’t know about launching Firefox in Safe Mode (hold down the Shift key while launching Firefox) until just recently and that may have helped. If that doesn’t help,  it does give you an option to restore Firefox to its factory default state while saving essential information. So this may be your best first option if Firefox doesn’t start for you.

Anyway, here’s my troubleshooting routine. I first ran malware scans with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and SUPERAntiSpyware to see if that might be the problem but my system came up clean. I then tried uninstalling Firefox and reinstalling it. I tried uninstalling it using Revo Uninstaller and reinstalling. I tried launching Firefox from a portable version on a USB drive. I tried older versions of Firefox. None of these options worked and I just got the same old Crash Reporter error. I also tried restoring a Firefox profile I had backed up as discussed in my backup routine. That also didn’t work suggesting that both the profile and the backup profile may be corrupt and the cause of the problem.

So it seemed that as well as uninstalling Firefox I should also delete the browser profile. I tried that knowing that I would have to reinstall my Firefox extensions from scratch. This wasn’t a big deal as I’ve been using Chrome for 3 or 4 years now and I’m quite happy with it. But it’s nice to have a working backup browser just in case I ever experience any problems with Chrome. In Windows 7, the Firefox profile is at C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox. So I uninstalled Firefox and deleted everything in this folder. I downloaded the latest Firefox installer and installed Firefox. During the installation, you do get the option to import your bookmarks, history, etc from Chrome, which is nice.

Firefox Import Settings

 

However, you have to reinstall your Firefox extensions again. Not really a problem in my case, just an opportunity to start again and install just what I actually need. And that was it, Firefox was working again. So the problem was a corrupt profile.

I hope that’s helped in troubleshooting Firefox when it won’t start. Lessons learned? Well I know about Firefox Safe Mode now, and I won’t backup a corrupt Firefox profile over a good one again.

Have you experienced any problems with Firefox not launching? How did you get it working again?


Feb 11
Finding Great Movies to Watch
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Cinema_Movie_Film_Vector_Stock

I don’t think I’ve mentioned movies in the 300 or so posts up here so far. I don’t torrent movies and streaming isn’t always an option as my internet connection is often too slow at peak times so I’ve found some ways to get great movies for little or no cost without a monthly subscription.

First, if streaming is an option for you, there are a number of sites where you can find full length movies for free. Try Free FilmsViooz, or even try typing  your movie name full length (fill in your movie name) into YouTube. If you use Reddit, there are good subreddits listing full length movies you can stream on Viooz and YouTube.

If streaming movies is a problem for you,  and if you’ve still got an old DVD player hiding away under your TV, there’s another option to pick up DVDs cheaply and give to charity at the same time, at least there is here in the UK.  Charity shops are everywhere here selling donated clothes, books, old CDs and DVDs. If you’ve got the time to go round them, you’ll probably find some great movies on their shelves. Perhaps they’ve been donated because their owners have moved on to streaming or torrenting and don’t need their old DVDs any more. And of course, the money you pay to purchase the DVDs goes to charity. Once you watch the DVD and if it’s not a ‘keeper’, you can always donate it back to your charity shop of choice, so they benefit again.

Not sure if a movie is worth buying? Well, to get round this, I’ve saved a list of Oscar winning movies and IMDb’s top 250 movies as notes in an offline notebook in Evernote on my smartphone so I can spot these movies if I come across them. You can also make up your own list of great movies by searching Google for list of year movies (fill in your year of choice). At the top of the search results, you’ll see a scrolling bar of the movies most frequently mentioned on the web for that year:

movies 2013

You can change the year or select a particular genre at the top right.

Hope that’s given you some ideas for picking up great movies at little or no cost.


Feb 4
Doctor, I Have a Terrible Pain!
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I’m sure GPs must have patients coming in all the time complaining of a terrible pain. Of course a terrible pain to one person might be just a mild discomfort to someone else. I guess the GP should respond, “Okay, on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is no pain and 10 is the equivalent of having your leg amputated without anaesthetic, where would your pain be on the scale?”

Well I had what I would class as an 8 on this scale recently. It started as a slight discomfort between my upper jaw and right ear for a couple of weeks. Then one afternoon, I bit into a tangerine on the right side on my mouth. Immediately I experienced an unbelievably intense searing pain behind my right ear. Like someone hammering at a sharp pin behind my ear but it’s hard to explain the intensity of the pain without feeling it for yourself. I dropped to my knees, coughing, clutching the chair leg and groaning with pain. It probably lasted for half a minute before it passed. I got up and eventually recovered. Probably the worst pain I had experienced in my life.

But what was it? I had bitten into something but the pain was behind my ear. Doctor or dentist? I saw them both. The dentist was pretty sure it was trigeminal neuralgia but the doctors I saw weren’t sure. I was treated first for an infection of the salivary gland, then a blood test to rule out polymyalgia rheumatica. I then saw an ENT specialist who said it might not be trigeminal neuralgia and referred me for an MRI scan. The dentist referred me to an oral dentist in the local hospital who diagnosed a temporomandibular joint dysfunction. I had already googled my symptoms and I’m pretty sure it was indeed trigeminal neuralgia. In the meantime, unfortunately I found that biting into meringue also caused the same intense pain.

So by avoiding acidic or sweet foods, I could avoid the busts of pain. Problem is the intense pain then started to occur in short bursts when I was talking, chewing food, turning my head, or even just going to lie down. And finally I got short sharp jolts of pain just when walking around because the nerve is so sensitive to movement. I asked the GP for painkillers for neuralgia and I was initially prescribed 20 mg of amitriptyline daily. That had no effect so the dose was increased to 75 mg daily together with co-codamol and in 2 weeks the pain was almost gone. But it was a worrying time wondering if anything was going to work or if I’d just have to learn to live with it. I have to keep taking the medication for some time to come and I haven’t received the results of the MRI scan yet.

So why the blog post about it? Well, if you ever bite into an orange or meringue and get a searing pain below or behind your ear which brings you to your knees, you might now have some idea what it might be. Just don’t expect your GP to reach a diagnosis straight away. I guess they don’t come across it very often. It affects about 27 people in 100,000. Perhaps when you say you have a terrible pain it’s hard for them to imagine just how severe it is. Thankfully, the right medication and dose may relieve the pain in a few days. There’s a really nice cartoon explaining trigeminal neuralgia here.

Then this thought occurred to me. Just what did they do in years gone by before the advent of the range of medications we have today? It really is a debilitating condition. You can’t talk, chew food, turn your head or walk around without jabs of pain. And I’ve no idea how long the condition would last for. I wonder if they had herbal remedies for this in days gone by? I bet they didn’t. We’re so lucky these days!

Or perhaps you’re reading this and medication hasn’t worked for you in which case I’m really sorry, I know what you’re going through.

Have you ever experienced trigeminal neuralgia? Did you have trouble getting a diagnosis? How were you treated and how long did it last for? Did it recur? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


Jan 22

In this series of posts, I’m considering and planning my future computing needs. If you’re a Windows user, you may find some of my thoughts relevant to your own situation, or perhaps not.

So far I’ve decided to stick with Windows 7 as my main desktop operating system rather than move to Windows 8. Windows 7 will continue to be supported until 2020 so at this stage there’s still plenty of time to decide and time for new players to enter the scene.

I never really felt the need to upgrade to Windows 8 as I just don’t need a touchscreen interface on my desktop PC. Besides, I’m very happy with Windows 7. Interestingly, I read just recently that HP is starting a marketing push offering Windows 7 rather than Windows 8 on new PCs. In addition, I was interested to read an article by Paul Thurrott at the end of December where he comprehensively laid out Windows problems for 2014 and beyond. What caught my eye in Thurrott’s piece was this statement:

We know that the firm (Microsoft) in embracing a “devices and services” strategy is doing so agnostically, and we’ve already seen many high-profile Microsoft apps and services show up on competing devices this past year. I’d be surprised if 2014 passed without major, full-featured versions of Office on both iOS and Android.

MS Office on Android would be a game changer for me. I need to be able to edit Word documents with tracked changes, etc and without compatibility issues, and Word on my Nexus 10 tablet would be a really nice option when I’m away from my desktop and even as a backup work option. Android is based on the Linux kernel and a relative newcomer on the block, but it really must be considered as another contender in my future computing needs. Who knows where Android will be in 2020. At CES recently, HP and Lenovo announced Android powered desktop PCs and laptops.

Aside from that, I really believe that Linux (probably Mint) could be my best option on the desktop, once I check out running MS Office in Wine on Linux. Mint has made great strides forward and is a great alternative for those wishing to move away from Windows.

What are your thoughts on your future computing platform at home and at work? Will you move to Linux at some point or are you content to stick with Windows? Are you tied to Windows at work or because you need to run proprietary software? Drop a comment below.

Here are links to the earlier posts in this series:

Approaching the Fork: Part 3. LibreOffice or OpenOffice instead of MS Word?

Approaching the Fork: Part 2. Upgrade to Windows 8 or Stay with Windows 7?

Approaching the Fork: Part 1. Windows or Linux?


Jan 9

Unless you have Adobe Acrobat you can’t really edit PDFs. Yes, you can open, modify and export PDFs in newer versions of Word, Open Office and LibreOffice for example, but special fonts, complex vector graphics and longer documents may cause problems. However, if you only want to show changes to be made to the PDF and then pass the modified file on to, for example, a typesetter, then this can quite easily be done in the free Adobe Reader.

Some of you may be pretty familiar with annotating PFDs using Adobe Reader and wondering why I’m posting this. Well, as a proofreader, I’ve come across situations recently where authors have been unaware how to annotate their changes on a PDF. Some have ended up converting the PDF to MS Word doc format and making tracked changes there instead of just annotating the PDFs in Adobe Reader.

Here’s how to annotate your PDFs with Adobe Reader:

Adobe Reader Annotation

 

Open your PDF in Adobe Reader and click the Comment button at the top right corner of the screen. Alternatively, you can click View > Comment > Annotations. Hover over each icon in the Annotations pane to see what each tool will do. Then simply add a Sticky Note in the margin, or highlight text with your cursor and select the tool for example to Add Note to Replace Text. Each comment will be added to the Comment List below the Drawing Markup tools. You can also quickly navigate through all your annotations by clicking on items in the Comments List. Finally, when you’ve completed your annotations, save the PFD with a new name.

If you’re sharing PDFs with others who may be using different PDF viewers, I’ve found that the Sticky Note annotation tool is compatible across a range of PDF viewers. Any sticky note/note created in one reader can be dragged, minimised, viewed on mouse-over or edited in a variety of other viewers. If you don’t fancy Adobe Reader because it’s slow, blotted and is known to suffer from malware vulnerabilities, then PDF-XChange Viewer is another nice free alternative I blogged about some time ago.


Dec 23

As a freelance worker, all my work and instructions come in by email. If you’ve ever had to act upon instructions in email you’ve probably noticed it can be difficult to extract just what you have to do from a long email thread. Typically in my case as an editor and proofreader, authors will communicate back and forth with the book editor who then emails these instructions to the publisher. I then eventually receive a copy of the email thread and have to take on board the authors’, editor’s and publisher’s decisions for editing. There may also be lengthy disclaimers at the end of individual emails in the thread. And someone along the line may just start a new thread rather than reply using the old one.

The point I’m trying to make here is that just copying the email threads into Evernote is all very well for archiving the conversations, but what I actually have to act upon can easily get lost in the threads. I’m sure you’ve been there too. You know you’ve read some work instruction somewhere but can’t remember exactly what or where! So here’s how I get round that in Evernote with some tips along the way. I’ll assume a basic understanding of Evernote.

I use Evernote to store Personal and Work notes. I have a stack of notebooks under a stack called 1. Work and I open a new notebook in this stack for a new freelance work project.

Tip: If you’ve named your stack of work notebooks Work, it’s obviously going to be near the bottom of your alphabetical list of notebooks/stacks in the left pane. I find myself in the Work stack quite a lot so I found it useful to call the work stack 1. Work. This brings it up directly under !Inbox so I have my two frequently used locations right at the top of the notebooks/stacks list on the left.

In the project notebook, I open a new note called Project name To Do. It’s useful to keep this note at the top of your list of project notes.

Tip: You can keep the To-Do note at the top of your list of notes by setting a reminder (you don’t have to actually set a date or time if there’s no strict deadline). To do this, click Reminder on the bar above your note. This pins a reminder to the top of your notes in the left pane. Alternatively, you can edit the note creation date to some time in the future and this will have the same effect of bringing it to the top of the list of notes for that project. To change the note creation date, click on Info on the bar at the top, then click on the created date and change the year to something like 2020 for example.

Now when a new email comes in, I read through it and copy and paste only the important decisions I have have to act upon into the project To-Do note in Evernote. Additionally, you could put the email sender name and date information at the top of that particular to-do item should you ever wish to trace the instructions back to the source email.  I put a check box next to each instruction and check each when complete. It’s a little clunky as noted in the Evernote subreddit but works okay.

Tip: To insert a check box at the end of your to-do item, just click the ticked box on the bar above the note. Or click Ctrl-Shift-C. You can also group check or uncheck items on the project to-do list. In the Windows Evernote client, just right click on your note and mouse over To-do. Then click Check All or Uncheck All.

Now you should have a quick itemised reference to all your project instructions with check boxes in this one project to-do note  – far better than ploughing through individual email threads trying to remember just what you read where.

Do you have any tips for working with emailed work instructions? Drop a comment below.


Nov 7

I need to make more use of Evernote now that I have a free year of Evernote Premium. This includes scanning more documents into Evernote but I really can’t justify spending at least £100 on a Doxie or a ScanSnap duplex scanner at the moment so I had a look again at my trusty Canon multifunction printer. I’ve already written a post on scanning JPEGs directly to Evernote from my Canon MP280 multifunction printer so I had a look at the Canon MP Navigator scanner software again and managed to set it up for one-click scanning of multi-page PFDs directly to Evernote.

But first to improve on my earlier post, if you’re going to be scanning documents on a daily basis, track down your scanner software program (in my case C:\Program Files\Canon\MP Navigator EX 4.0\mpnex40.exe) and right click on the file to pin a shortcut to your task bar. Switch on your Canon multifunction printer and open the scanner software.

Canon MP Navigator1

The interface is not particularly intuitive so here’s a walk-through of how I set up one-click scanning of PDFs to Evernote. If the box at the bottom left is checked, uncheck it. This will temporarily prevent one-click scanning and allow you to set up the action ‘Save as PDF file’. We can’t use ‘Custom’ scan as we did before as this only allows saving in JPEG, TIFF or BMP image formats. But that’s not a problem. Just leave the Custom set up for scanning images as discussed in the earlier post. Now click on ‘Save as PDF file’ and set it up as follows:

Canon MP Navigator2

 

I discussed how to find the Evernote executable file in the earlier post. It may be in C:\Program Files\Evernote\Evernote. Now click the box at the bottom left to enable one-click scanning and Apply the changes. Now when you click ‘Save as PDF file’ as in the first screenshot, this will scan the document to Evernote and leave a copy in an archive on your PC. It’s not exactly one-click as you’ll have to click when prompted to either scan additional pages or exit scanning when all pages have been scanned. One other tip. Before scanning, open Evernote Desktop in the notebook you want the scans to appear. If you don’t and you are currently in another notebook, the scans will all be sent there. Not ideal. If you like, you could create a notebook called .Inbox or !Inbox (the punctuation before the notebook name puts it at the top of your list of notebooks) and have Evernote viewing that notebook before you start scanning. Everything then goes into this folder for later organizing to other folders.

This method should work in a similar fashion for all Canon multifunction printers and you may also find that even if you don’t have a Canon multifunction printer, you can set up your own scanner or multifunction printer to do this while you decide if you want to invest in a dedicated duplex scanner or a portable unit.


Oct 29

Function keys

One of the functions of a computer is to help us work more productively, so we can get work finished more quickly and get on to other things. Using keystroke shortcuts can save us time rather than clicking around menus with our mouse. If you haven’t tried these, here’s a few that I’ve memorized and which use the function keys along the top of the keyboard. The list isn’t comprehensive, just the ones I’ve found useful to try to memorize.

Microsoft Word

Shift-F3: Probably the keystroke combination I find most useful of them all when editing documents. With your cursor on a word or highlighted words, this combination will cycle through initial capital, all capitals or all lower case. No need to delete anything and retype as upper/lower case.

Shift-F5: Starting a new session on a document the next day? Well, this combination will take you straight to where you left off yesterday.

F2: Moves text once; just highlight the text you want to move, press F2, move the cursor to the new location for text and press Enter. Slightly quicker than cut and paste (Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V) but works just once.

Ctrl-F3: Cut to the Spike. I’ve blogged about the Spike before.

Ctrl-Shift-F3: Paste Spike contents into document.

Mozilla Thunderbird

Shift-F5: Download email messages for all accounts.

F8: Show/hide message pane.

Evernote

F9: Sync notes to Evernote Web.

F10: Show/hide left panel.

F11: Show/hide note list.

Ctrl-F11: Show/hide note panel.

Google Chrome

Ctrl-F4: Close current tab.

F5: Refreshes webpage.

F6: Selects your current page’s URL (and puts the cursor in the address bar).

F11: Toggle full screen/windowed mode.

Most applications

F1: Help.

Alt-F4: Close the application.

Shutdown

Alt-F4: This one’s pretty useful if you want to bypass installing Windows updates before your PC shuts down. You can tell if there are updates to install as the Shutdown button has a yellow exclamation mark. Just press Alt-F4 instead and from the Shut Down menu you can choose Shut down rather than Install updates and shut down.

Well, those are the function key shortcuts I find most useful for the applications I use most. Do you have any great function key shortcuts for another application? Drop a comment below.


Oct 25

evernote3

I just got word today in my RSS feed that anyone with the O2 mobile provider in the UK, either contract or Pay & Go, can apply for, or upgrade to, Evernote Premium for 1 year. I’ve been using Evernote for a number of years now and blogged about it back in 2009. They have a ‘freemium’ model and I’ve been using the free version until now. However, this has some limitations and I was actually just about to move to Evernote Premium when this great 1 year offer came up.

So what has Premium got that the free version hasn’t? Well the advantages of Evernote Premium are listed on the Evernote site, but the main benefits are a higher monthly upload limit (1GB as opposed to 60MB with the free version), increased note size up to 100MB, offline notebooks on your mobile phone, PDF annotation, and searching inside PDFs, attached documents and text in images. I could use all of these.

Of course, this is an astute marketing move from Evernote to try to move us up to Premium. Try it for a year and get used to all the features and upload capacity, then try going back to the free version. I probably won’t go back.

Here’s the link for anyone in the UK on O2. You can sign up from your mobile phone or on your PC. If you use your PC, O2 will text a code to your phone which you will need to complete the process. This is the route I took and I had no problems upgrading to Premium for 1 year.

So if you’re in the UK and are using Evernote Free or are thinking of trying Evernote, give this offer a try. It lasts until 24 October 2014. If you decide to move back to the free version after your free year, all your uploaded data remains in place.

Evernote Premium offer [UK only]


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