Tag Archives: theWriteTechnology

Don’t Sign That Contract!

Writers live on a budget. There are times when money is tight and you’re looking for a contract to sign. However, there is one contract you should never sign. That’s right by not signing a contract, you’ll be saving money — on your cell phone.

Over the years I’ve heard author after author claim this one particular piece of technology helps them manage the social networking aspect of being a writer. It’s used for Facebook updates, a blog reader, Twitter, Google+, email, texting, and believe it or not, a phone. But you don’t have to pay $80-$200 a month to get the service you need. And you don’t have to be locked into a restrictive contract. Yes, I’m talking about prepaid cellular service.

Before your imagination runs off with images of the worst customers Wal-Mart has to offer and a constant lack of bars, keep reading. You can purchase prepaid cellular service just about anywhere, including online and signal coverage can be as good as one of the big four cell providers.

A year ago I upgrade to an Android phone and switched to Virgin mobile. Their plan of 300 voice minutes and unlimited data/text fit my usage perfectly. Now I did have to buy the phone, but I waited until it went on sale for $180. The price for this plan, at the time I purchased the phone was $25. That’s right. I pay $25 a month for unlimited data and text. I’ve never gone over the 300 minute voice limit. So let’s compare.

(At the time unlimited voice and data averaged about $80/mo before taxes.)

Prepaid                                                              Standard Contract

Phone:    $180                                                     Free with contract

Service:  $325 (13 months at $25)                  $1,040 (13 months at $80)

Total:     $ 505                                                      $1,040

Savings: $535

I can go out and purchase another $200 phone and still be saving money compared to a standard contract plan. But you’re thinking, That was thirteen months ago, the economy has changed things. No one can get a deal that good these days.

You’re right, things have change. Virgin Mobile has raised this plan from $25 to $35. That means in 13 months you’ll pay $455 instead of $325. I don’t know about you, but that is still significant savings and could easily pay for lodging at the next writers convention. Keep in mind that voice/text/data contract plans are much more expensive these days.

You also may be thinking that the coverage sucks. Virgin rides on the Sprint network and I haven’t had any more coverage problems than my wife has had her ATT contract phone. If we’re out in the sticks, usually one of us will have service.

The Virgin Mobile plans may not be right for you, the company is geared toward the young crowd. Some of the other services out there are T-Mobile, ATT, TracFone, Net10, Straight TalkBoost, and the list goes on. Heck just Google “prepaid cell providers” and your eyes will glaze over before you can compare all the pricing plans. You can also check out Clark Howard, he always has the latest scoop on the cheap cell phones.

Most of the prepaid companies have agreements with Sprint, ATT, T-Mobile, and Verizon to use their networks, so you’ll want to pay attention to the coverage maps for your areas. Be brutally honest on how you use for phone. Some prepaid services will charge you a daily usage fee if you make a call. If you’re on your phone hours a day, this may not be an issue, but if you’re like me you may make one or two short calls a day, if any. The extra fee adds up quickly. Also, do not overestimate your data usage. Cell phones are fairly efficient on data usage. But if you must have unlimited everything, Straight Talk has a plan for $45 a month and Virgin has one for $55.

I’m not saying this is the best way to go and there are some draw backs. You have to buy the phone outright. You lose it, break it, or don’t like it after six months…tough. You’re stuck with it. Also the prepaid service doesn’t get the same data priority as the contract customers. For the most part this has not been an issue for me. However, if you are moving a lot of data, being throttled may cause problems. A huge draw back for some people is the fact you are limited on the phones you can purchase. You cannot go out and buy the latest iPhone off Craigslist and active it the next day. If you want an iPhone, you’re stuck with a contract. If you can use an Android or Blackberry you’ll have a few of options. And don’t just look at the specifications of the phone you’re thinking about. Read customer reviews. These can be found by searching for the phone model and the word reviews.

Smartphones are very much required tech for the modern writer. Are you paying over $1,000 a year when you don’t need to? Look over your last few statements. Pay attention to the voice, data, and text totals. Maybe you could save hundreds, over the course of a year, by dumping the contract and going to prepaid.

Now stop reading blogs and playing Angry Birds on your phone and get back to writing.

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Every Writer Needs a Little Focus Once in a While

You’ve waited all day. You’ve thought of every way to kill off your protagonist’s love interest. Car wreck—too convenient. Serial killer—too cliché. Freak can-opener accident—no one will see that one coming. It’s all worked out in your mind, waiting to be downloaded to your manuscript.

Now the kids are in bed, the spouse is off reading somewhere; it’s just you, the keyboard, and a word processing window partially filling an icon dotted screen. Time to get to work.

But wait—there’s the Quicken icon and you still haven’t balanced last month’s statement.

Done. Time to write.

But wait—there’s the IE icon and you’ve only checked Facebook 18 times today and still haven’t seen anything about your Aunt’s cupcake baking retreat.

Done. Time to Write.

But wait—it’s now 1:30AM and you have a presentation at 8:30AM. Writing will have to wait.

A quick game of solitaire to clear your mind and then it’s off to bed.

Sound familiar? It shouldn’t.

How would you like to sit down to a screen full of this:

All black screen with white text.

Or if you need some inspiration:

Theme with custom image.

This is what FocusWriter can provide. It’s basic. It fills your screen. It blocks out distractions. Best of all, it’s free, the gnu license is a wonderful thing. (But if you like it, you may want to contribute to the tip jar).

It’s a basic word processor that has all the features you would expect, foreground, background, text colors; font formatting; text indenting and offsetting; smart quote formatting; dictionary; you get the idea. It can save files in Rich Text Format (.rtf) or OpenDocument Text (.odt). Both are common file types almost any word processor can use. Most publishers accepting electronic submissions will take rft too.

A couple of nice features. FocusWriter fills your entire screen with nothing but document space. The menu bar disappears unless you navigate your mouse to the top of your screen. This frees you to type, type, and type some more. The other cool feature is a built-in timer. This permits you to schedule your breaks.

There is a bit of assumed knowledge when it comes to installation. There are multiple Linux packages, chances are one will work on your flavor of the OS. There is a Universal MAC install or one just for Intel platforms. I do not have access to a MAC. Maybe a MAC User can leave a comment on how easy or difficult it was to install.

Windows XP, Vista and 7 are supported. The download file is a standard ZIP file. There is no install routine, you simple expand/uncompress/unzip your download file to a directory of your choice. Once unzipped, open Explorer, navigate to that directory and double-click on FocusWriter.exe.

Now your screen is filled with a word processor and you’re ready to write. If not, then you need to take the ruler out of the desk drawer with your right hand and slap it down hard on the backside of your left hand. Repeat until you are focused on your writing. After all you have a work in progress to complete. Now get to it.

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Attack of The 4K Polymorphic Virus

We left off with some basic rules you can follow to protect your computer. But what happens when you do everything right and computer bug sneaks past your prudent precautions? The answer, of course, is more programs. The military has several defensive weapons to ward off sea, land, air, and yes–space borne attacks, just as you need to have multiple programs to help defend against attacks coming from the Internet, email, and wireless connections.

You need protection against email attachments, phishing links, bots, hidden Visual Basic scripts, malware, viruses, worms, macro viruses, boot sector viruses, master boot record viruses, Trojan Horses, polymorphic viruses…It’s enough to make you want  to toss out the tech and go back to mailing in your manuscripts.

So just what should you buy? Fortunately there are software suites you can purchase that will protect your computer from the onslaught. Most likely you’ve heard of Norton and McAfee. How about Trend Micro and AVG?

All four of these software vendors offer a variety of protection products and each has an all-inclusive package. But do you really need everything? If you don’t use your computer to shop online or do banking and are not storing any account information, then you may not need identity protection. If you don’t have children, how important is the parental control and Internet monitoring features to you?

Most authors I know are budget conscious and only spend what the need to. Don’t let the plethora of program choices overwhelm you.  Before you purchase any software, write down exactly what your computer is used for. I suggest putting a legal pad or composition notebook next to your keyboard and log your computer usage for a week to ten days. This amount of time should allow you to capture all of your tasks. Once you have this information then you can research product offerings and buy only the protection suited to your needs.

If you only use your computer for writing and submitting drafts, social networking, and occasional web surfing, then you may only need to purchase basic virus protection and a firewall. If you live on your computer and your entire financial, social, and professional life is stored on your hard drive, then you may need to buy the all-inclusive suite. If you have a laptop that you connect to various networks while you’re moving around town, you’ll need to have a good software firewall. (Soapbox Alert) Never, under any circumstances, connect your laptop to a publicly accessible network–this includes hotels, coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, and even the wireless at your friend’s house–without having an active firewall running. It only takes seconds to infect your computer and it is far more inconvenient to have to reload everything than it is to not connect. (End Soapbox Alert)

A couple of cool things. Trend Micro offers a web-based scanner called HouseCall. It downloads a little app and then scans your PC. This can be very handy if you think you have a virus, but your antivirus software doesn’t find anything. If two complete computer scans, by two different software companies, don’t find anything, chances are you’re not infected. This handy tool gives you a sanity check. AVG offers a free version for basic file protection. Be sure to read the license agreement for any free software. Most free software is for home and nonprofit use only. So if you use your computer as a tool to write for profit, then you may not qualify for the free license and will have to pay. For software developers the software license is akin to a copyright. They expect to get paid for what the write, just like we do.

Another source of antivirus software is your Internet provider. It’s in their best interest to keep infected computers off their networks. Infected computers can generate a great deal of network traffic and impact overall performance. To keep from having cranky customers they have taken a preventative approach. You can check your provider’s Internet Services page or call their customer service and ask.

A note about pricing. This is not the type of software you buy once and never pay for again. Unfortunately new threats are being cranked out every day and you’ll need to have an updated antivirus database to defend against them. When you buy the software, you typically get updates for one year. Meaning in twelve months you’ll have to buy a renewal agreement (usually less than the cost of the software) in order to continue receiving updates. Updates to these databases come out daily and the local copy on your computer needs to be updated at least once every 24 hours.

And warning about performance. You will notice a performance hit when you install antivirus software. Any program is going to require CPU cycles and memory. This is another reason to only purchase and install what you need. Be sure to read the system requirements very carefully. The performance hit should not be that great and after a while you’ll no longer notice it. If you install antivirus software and have to wait three seconds after every mouse click then something is wrong. Check your settings and contact your computer guru if necessary.

A properly protected computer will allow for uninterrupted writing day after day. Now stop reading blogs and get back to that work in progress.

 

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Just a Friendly Update

Did you know theWriteTechnology is on Facebook and Twitter?
While the accounts are linked in some fashion, they will not be blasted with the same content. Only the blog posts will go on both.
Facebook will highlight (insert shameless plug adjective here) theWriteTechnology postings, websites that may be of interest to writers, and occasionally I’ll highlight other writers websites/blogs/Facebook pages. Hopefully there will be some lively discussions as well. Right now I’m using a page I created off of my Facebook account. I may move this to a separate account in the future. We’ll see how the Facebook integration goes. For those of you who have done either, please leave comments as to the pros and cons of each.
As for Twitter, I promise not to tweet every little thing I’m doing every hour of the day. Updates will be limited to one or two a day. Unless (and there’s always an exception) there is an event or conference underway. Then I reserve the right to tweet my thumbs off with writing related material. Otherwise look for inspiration quotes, writing related websites, conference reminders…pretty much anything writing related –technical or not– goes here.
Of course you can always opt to just read the blog. But if you choose not too…
…you can find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theWriteTechnology
And as much as I would love for you to hang out on my blog, leaving comments; or following theWriteTech on Twitter and retweeting all my twit-wit; or checking out my Facebook page, remember you need to put the mouse down, step away from the Internet, put your butt on a chair and write, edit, and submit.

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Cold & Flu Season

Did you get your flu shot yet? It’s that time of year when nasty little microscopic critters try to invade your body and assault you with aches, pains, and mucus. It’s not fun writing when your sick but somehow writers push through to meet deadlines. But what about your computer?

For your computer the cold and flu season is 24/7/365. That’s right, every second that ticks by could be the last healthy one your computer experiences. Even seasoned computer professionals can fall victim to an unwanted infection. I know of two technical professionals who experienced a virus in the last month. Even with corporate firewalls, restrictive Window policies, and some of the most expensive antivirus software money can buy, they were still infected.

For the purposes of brevity I am not going to get into the definitions of worms, Trojan horses, virus, root kits, bots…and the list goes one. If you are interested in the differences, please visit www.us-cert.gov/reading_room/virus.html or read this white paper at the www.sans.org website.

Now do not think since you own a MAC product or use Linux, or have an Android device, or a Blackberry, or Windows Mobile, or a phone using Symbian OS, you are safe. Oh no. Some individuals are so bored they will hack into anything they can access. For you mobile users, this means never leave Bluetooth or WiFi connection running when you are not using it. Nasty things can happen. Just this year I was at a tradeshow and my Android phone started spontaneously dialing numbers. After I turned off WiFi and Bluetooth, it stopped.

You must remember that your technology is always under assault. Always. People earn a living by finding illegal ways to infiltrate your devices. However, there is a lot you can do to prevent and limit a breach.

Let’s cover the no-tech required rules first. Here are some guidelines:

If you receive an email or IM out of the blue stating you have won money or a valuable prize, delete it immediately. At best it’s a scam to steal your identity. At worst clicking on the link will install a virus, bot, or some other nasty program you don’t want.

  • If the email is from someone you’ve never heard of and has the phrase “Check this out” or some other wording to get you to click on a link. Delete it immediately. Do not click on any links.
  • Official looking emails from your bank or credit card company asking you to verify your information are bogus. No exceptions to this rule. Never, never, and I say never click on a link to update our account information. Financial institutions will send you a postal letter. These sites may look identical to what you are used to seeing by they are not legit.
  • You receive an email from a person you know with an odd-looking link embedded. Such as http://10.97.203.58/AdfiEfU5.zz7.php. Delete it immediately and contact your friend. Chances are they have been infected. On the odd chance that it was a legitimate email, they can send it again. Remember, virus can infect a computer and then email itself to everyone included in the local contact list.
  • Do not insert a CD, DVD, or USB drive of unknown origin into your computer. Older versions of Windows and even Windows 7 can be set to automatically run programs stored on media. There was a case where a product sold in retail stores, that had software preloaded on it, installed a virus on customer’ computers. The PC used to create the software image was infected, thereby infecting the software stored on the product. Always scan the contents of these media types before running applications.
  • If you get a pop up on your screen, read it. What did I say? That’s right, read it. All of it. Do not just automatically click OK. These pop ups can install bad mojo. They can also install Adware, advertising software that doesn’t do any harm, but can slow down your PC. These pop ups can also install a custom toolbar for your web browsers. Again, no harm, but it impacts your performance. Always read the text. If you don’t understand what it’s saying write it down and click the little ‘X’ in the upper right corner or cancel. If something goes wrong you have a record to give to your computer guru. Believe me when I say, a record of the exact text displayed can be a huge help in diagnosing a problem.

To illustrate the points above, here is a copy of an email that was sent to a group distribution list at my day job. This is a type of email is called phishing. The instigators of this type of attack are betting on your ignorance. The embedded link could be used to install software on your computer or display a form that asks for personal information.

Here is the email in its original form. However I replaced the To: address with a fictitious group name.

From: William Rowe [mailto:violenta37@zilkha.com]
Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2011 9:05 AM
To: One Gullible Group
Subject: Bank of America: Bill payment issue

To: Dear Bank of America customer
Account: CHECKING
Date: 12/14/2011

The most recent ALERTS for your account are now available to
download online.

Please follow the link to read URGENT ALERT message here:
http://iranconsulate.net/irsgov/reports/complaint/Q27K4XFO2MTM

Set up Alerts to be notified 5 days before your payment is due
to help avoid late payments. Sign in to Online Banking and select
the Alerts tab to activate the Credit Card Payment Due Alert.

Want to confirm this email is from Bank of America? Sign in to
Online Banking and go to Alerts. The Alerts History lists the
Alerts sent to you in the past 60 days.

William Rowe

—————————————————————————
—————————————————————————

Email preferences
This is a service email from Bank of America. Please note that
you may receive service email in accordance with your Bank of
America service agreements, whether or not you elect to receive
promotional email.

Contact us about this email
Please do not reply to this email with sensitive information,
such as an account number, PIN, password, or Online ID. The security
and confidentiality of your personal information is important
to us. If you have any questions, please either call the toll-free
customer service phone number on your account statement or visit
the Bank of America website to access the Contact Us page, so
we can properly verify your identity.

Privacy and security
Keeping your financial information secure is one of our most
important responsibilities. For an explanation of how we manage
customer information, please visit the Bank of America website
to read our Privacy Policy. You can also learn how Bank of America
keeps your personal information secure and how you can help protect
yourself.

Bank of America Email, 8th Floor-NC1-002-08-25, 101 South Tryon
St., Charlotte, NC 28255-0001

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender
A¿ 2011 Bank of America Corporation. All rights reserved.

Now lets dissect it.

At first glance it looks very official, even has a company disclaimer at the end. However I know it’s fake because:

  • I do not have a Bank of America account. Surprisingly, some people will click on the link anyway.
  • The link displayed is not the BoA’s website, www.bankofamerica.com. Even if it did show the correct address that does not mean it will take you there. The real link can be hidden, much like you do when embedding a link in a blog post. Just click on the BoA link and see where it takes you.
  • The email was sent to a group distribution. What if it was sent to a single email address? Remember the guidelines above? Banks do not and out these types of emails. If you still have doubt then call the customer service number listed on your monthly statement.
  • The From: address is not from BoA’s registered web domain. In other words does not end with @bankofamerica.com.
  • At the end of the disclaimer, on the last line, there is a funky upside down question mark. This means they scrapped the disclaimer off a website or this was drafted in a foreign language and translated to English using translation software.

In the next post we’ll look at various types of software you can use to protect your computer.

Do you have a favorite anti-virus software suite? Please leave a comment listing the name and why you like it.

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