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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Chooka Parker [Video]

Simon Cowell; gotta love him. America's Got Talent, Britain's Got Talent and so on and so on. I have the same first name but I certainly don't have the bank account. Anyway as a limey by birth and a resident of the US by choice it pains me to say that perhaps Australia's Got (more) Talent and Simon Cowelll was never on that "Got Talent".

So Chooka Parker is from out in the middle of the back of beyond somewhere and has an incredible talent. Only 16 and yet already a wizard on keyboard he takes it a step further by playing music he makes up as he goes along. He wowed the judges in both his audition and his more recent semi-final appearance on Australia's Got talent. He wowed me as well. Check out the videos; the first is his original audition and the second his semi-final performance. Final still to come and I for one am looking forward to that.

So A Leopard Can Change It's Spots After All

Heck I'm on Facebook. I am not sure I really believe it but no; I check again and there I am. Must be so.

Of course I have decried Facebook, Twitter and all manner of "Social Media" on an almost daily basis since the time the only "Social Media" consisted of Fred Flintstone, a slab of rock and a chisel. So, if you know me at all, you may be of a mind to ask "Is this really happening?" You may be prompted to say "I told you so. Social Media is the place to be" Is it true - you have not arrived unless you are Facebooking and Tweeting [and yes I am actually seriously considering Twitter though given my propensity for verbal diarrhea a 140 character limit could cause me insurmountable problems?. Perhaps your "self satisfaction bone" is tingling with the glee of being proven right after all and above all you may be asking "What on earth prompted the leopard to change his spots?"

Find out after the jump.

Friday, June 17, 2011

It's A Big Bad Internet - Tips For Safer Browsing

Protecting Your Computer from Viruses, Phishing & The Million Other Threats Out There In Cyberspace

If you are anything like me you spend a significant amount of time on line. Some may be just for entertainment, some maybe more serious; maybe a little online banking. Many of you may use your computer for your business also. Offline it might be your "photo album"; no more prints and what a disaster if you lose the files. We are all depending more and more on our computers and on the marvelous resources and information stores available online. Unfortunately as the internet culture grows and evolves so to do the malicious and parasitic elements that generate viruses, spam and the like. So without being paranoid how can we make the online experience relatively safe without making it a pain in the proverbial behind at the same time?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

So Why Do I Pay Property Taxes Anyway?

On the drive to the office this morning I heard an ad from a company offering loans to people who had not yet paid last year’s property taxes. I figure most people have the taxes rolled up into the mortgage so they should be OK. If not it can be a big lump sum at the end of the year so I can see where people might get into a pickle; if that is you my sympathies – I hope you get it figured out. Me; I chose not to do the mortgage thing and I save for the property taxes monthly over the course of the year [what was that old saying about looking after the pennies – I earn a few dollars interest over the course of the year]. We all have gaps in our knowledge and experience. I don’t believe anyone out there has a perfect skill set. I know I have my failings, perhaps more than most. Managing my personal finance thankfully is not one of them. I have the experience and discipline to save, and always have the funds when needed, for my property taxes though I do feel obliged to confess that that knowledge and discipline was borne of the angst of major credit card debt and the hounding of debt collectors in a somewhat less disciplined time. None of that however is the purpose of this post.

So what is? Well hearing that ad put me in mind once again of the fact that I question why I pay property taxes [or at least the most significant part of them] in the first place. Not for the first time did this thought occurred to me and it will likely not be the last. The bulk of the money goes to the local school district. I don’t have kids. I chose not to do so. I could never find a good reason to take my life along that path. I know most would disagree and that is fine and dandy – and the subject of another discussion at another time. But why am I paying taxes to the school district?

Take your chance now. You can likely see where this is heading. There's more after the break. If you don’t want to go there just don’t click.

Gotta Hand It To The NBA Champ Dallas Mavericks

As you likely know I am an English transplant. As such my list of things that matter in life does not include Basketball. Nothing against sports and frankly cricket would be a different thing altogether; I just feel that I don't really get Basketball. Having said that I do live in Dallas and I think the local franchise winning the NBA title was really rather cool. I actually watched the series and perhaps a little surprisingly found it somewhat interesting. With this coming not too many months after the same thing happened to me with Baseball when the Rangers went to the Worlds Series I can only conclude that I must be that anathema to the true sports fan, the "Bandwagon Fan". Oh well, we are what we are.
Anyway, after the final game I figured that was pretty much it. The team had won. A remarkable achievement in many ways; they don't have multiple stars, they are not the most athletic team, they are an older team and so on. Yet they won. I was proud for them, proud for Cuban and proud for the city. Having said that – now it is time to move on.
Memory and age seem to have a very close inverse correlation and I am not getting younger so of course I had forgotten about the parade. We have to have a parade. No problem, they will surely schedule it in the evening or at the weekend. BUT NO. It has to be at 10:00 am on a weekday morning. So - what did we have this morning? An estimated 250,000 people converging on downtown Dallas in drive time and streets being closed at 8:00 am - at 8:00 am; are you kidding!
I am all for recognizing achievement; in sports and anywhere else something remarkable or noteworthy takes place. Classy Cuban even went so far as to pay for the parade so the taxpayers of DFW did not have to [and how many sports owners would have done that I wonder]. But really, did we have to show a total disregard for the average downtown worker. Traffic is bad enough; the commute is a trial and a pain in the backside already. Did we have to take a positive and uplifting event for the area and turn it into a massive inconvenience?
I guess we did.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tips & Tricks For The Excel Power User

Excel Dynamic Drop Downs & Dynamic Named Ranges

Excel is a very powerful piece of software but with that power can come complexity. Data validation for cell data entry, controls on user forms or controls placed directly on worksheets often use lists as a data source. If you have a large project with multiple references to those lists maintaining the project can become tedious as the lists change. That maintenance can be much reduced by the use of dynamic lists and dynamic named ranges. With the use of these techniques the controls and dropdowns that reference the lists do not need to be reconfigured when the lists change. This article explains how to set up a data validation using a dynamic list and goes on to look at setting the list up as a dynamic named range that can be referenced by any data validation or control. These principles can be used for controls on spreadsheets, controls on user forms and pretty much anywhere in a project that a list is referenced. I use Excel 2007 and the screenshots are based on that version of Excel but these principles can be applied to other versions with little tweaking.

Continue reading and find out how on InfoBarrel

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Remote Support Can Be Tricky

A few Tips for Those Who “Support” Family Members [Or Friends] With Computer Problems

Granny has a problem – the Bejeweled game she plays to while away those Texas summer afternoons when it is too hot to do much other than “veg” is not working and that is just not cricket [yes I am an English transplant]. There may be a Help forum or an FAQ on the website serving the game, there might even be chat support but you just know Granny isn’t going to use those; likely she would not know how and if she did she would still more likely turn to you. After all; you are family and she will be much more comfortable talking to you.

Now; before I generate a “granny revolt” and with stunning solidarity all the grannies out there rise up against me and tell me how wrong I am I KNOW there are some of you out there who are computer savvy and looking out for yourself when the cyber world does not want to play. However I also know equally well from experience that there are many of you out there who do fit my example – and I stress that is all it is anyway – just an example to illustrate a point and not my thinly disguised, malicious attack on grannies everywhere.

Anyway - every family has one – the “Helpdesk”. Maybe he or she is an IT professional but more often than not it’s just the individual in the family with a little more computer experience and savvy than the others or even just the one most prepared to try helping others out a little. In any case being the one friends and family turn to with computer problems is not always easy and sometimes just plain hard.

I work in IT for a living so I do have a head start; amongst others responsibilities I assist with remote support on technical issues within our company so I do speak with the voice of some experience. As a not entirely unexpected consequence of my choice of career I am also the family “Helpdesk”. Let me tell you – It is one thing to deal with an issue on a computer sitting in front of you and it is quite another to do it remotely over the telephone. As someone who works a “Helpdesk” from time to time I have come to realize that there are a few things that can help make providing remote support a much easier and less stressful proposition.

So; when the phone rings and it is a call for help from a family member or friend with a computer issue what can you do to make your life a little easier?