July 31, 2008

Computer Crash -5: Freebies and Deals I Found

Circuit City has an online outlet store that offers some very nice deals shipped directly to your home. I bought a printer/scanner/copier combo with shipping and handling for under $50. I bought my new desktop as a package (tower, monitor, printer) for under $500 at the store itself (Vista is hard on hardware budgets - you will need new peripherals - this package saved me $200+). I couldn't beat this deal online or on foot, anywhere.

AVG is an award-winning antivirus software package that is free, and highly respected among computer techs.

MozyPro offers a free remote computer backup service - store up to 2GB. (I bought a monthly service which is inexpensive - $13.95 for 20 GB.)

Yahoo.com offers free email with unlimited storage and automatic anti-virus scanning (you don't have to download any software for the antivirus scan).

QuickBooks offers a free small business accounting software package that allows customized invoices, checks, etc., and the ability to send invoices by email, saving them as .pdf files.

OpenOffice offers a free software suite that is truly competitive with Microsoft Office. Fascinating project, worth investigating even if you're not in the market for the software.

Microsoft Office 2007 offers free 60-day trials of all its packages (Word, Excel, etc.)

July 30, 2008

Computer Crash -4: Know Your EMail Address Information

When you get a new computer, you've got to gain access to your email accounts on that new machine. It's not difficult to do - but you do need your personal account information and this can be a real headache if you (like me) have several different email addresses, all feeding into (and out of) one Main Mailbox.

So, right now, take care of yourself by doing the following:
  1. go to your email (I now use Windows Mail, before it was Outlook Express) and open up your email accounts;
  2. for each account, open its properties, and write down the following: name, email address, incoming mail server, outgoing mail server, incoming mail server's user name and password, and whether the box for "secure password authentication" is checked; and the server port numbers for incoming and outgoing mail.

If you don't do this, you will have to call (and listen to music on hold) for each provider of your email -- if they have phone numbers and live support to provide. Some of these may not have your password for you, and you'll have to jump through hoops to get that re-set.

This project can be a big time-eater which you can easily avoid by having this info at the ready, just in case. I was glad I did.

July 29, 2008

Computer Crash -3: Have a Desktop Computer Over a Laptop

I've heard rumors that desktops are considered dinosaurs by some, and I'm afraid that they may be right. My latest walkthru at Circuit City and BestBuy found much less choice in the desktop products, and they were displayed sort of like stepchildren, in the back - out of the laptop limelight.

Personally, I like having a desktop and a laptop -- the laptop gives me freedom of movement, and the desktop is my sturdy, reliable workaday machine.

Laptops are vulnerable because of their free spirits ... leave them in the car, and risk the heat (or cold); drop them on the floor or just slam them on the table, they're hurt; and then, there's the danger of theft that's ever-present. They are also physically smaller machines, so you can't store as much on them; they've got less graphics capabilities; they're more difficult to upgrade; and they cost more.

My desktop - until it died this month - ran for me without a single problem for 5.5 years. Five and a half years. Of course, I added memory here and there, and I used it for work. No games, no movies.

I like, and want, that kind of continuity - transitioning of computers is a big headache.

Sure, you cull your files. Sure, you get a new, fun machine with lots of purdy extras. Sure, it only takes a couple of hours to physically install the monitor, and keyboard, and mouse, and printer, and speakers, and tower all together into your workspace.

Still, I hope and pray that it's another five years before I have to change my Main Work Machine again.

So, for me, if I have to choose just one computer, it's a desktop - hands down. However, having a desktop and a laptop saved my neck this month when the desktop stopped working. That laptop - which also crashed, due to a software glitch - kept me going until I could research and buy a replacement desktop.

Today, the little laptop is stable - but it runs on XP, and I'm wary of relying on it too much now that it's crashed on me. Paranoid? Maybe. But my plan is to replace the laptop with an new model, running on Vista - because for me, the optimal choice is to have both a desktop and a laptop, working in sync.

Budget-wise, my techs tell me this is smart: buy a sturdy, basic desktop and a nice but not tricked-out laptop, rather than put all your money into one machine. The sturdy desktop will work just fine for you, and you can add memory to the laptop (and other gizmos) over time, if you'd like. Works for me.

July 28, 2008

Computer Crash -2: ZoneAlarm and Norton and AVG Firewalls and AntiVirus

Zone Alarm Pro and Norton Security Suite gets lots of good reviews online - until you have a crash and you start reading the Forums and talking with techs. Some things I learned during my two computer crashes this month:

1. If you try to un-install either Zone Alarm or Norton, good luck. Both programs throw bits of themselves throughout your hard drive, and using their basic "uninstall" doesn't get rid of this stuff. While I was on the phone with ZoneAlarm, their "uninstall" caused my laptop to crash ... their tech was of no help here, he almost sounded more scared than I was.

2. Norton actually has a free download to get rid of the rest of its stuff, check it out at the Symantec site. Its name? The Norton Removal Tool.

3. ZoneAlarm does not provide a free download - removal tool. Instead, you have to manually go into the drive, and delete things from several different sources, stored under a variety of file names. True Vector doesn't get uninstalled when you do the basic Zone Alarm uninstall; its files are stored under prefixes that have nothing to do with ZA, Zone, etc. There are tech forums that give you the list of ZoneAlarm files to go delete, but they may not be complete for your version. I still have some Zone files in my laptop registry, for example, that my tech buddy has to remove.

3. Windows updates and firewalls can fight each other, and you're the loser. For example, ZoneAlarm denied access to the web for anyone who had the Windows update installed earlier this month - and ZoneAlarm issued an update to its own software to fix this problem (this upgrade also caused my laptop to crash; it was a very bad day). Same trouble for Norton firewalls, etc.

Solution? Techs I spoke with said they never allow automatic updates from Windows -- they have gone into ControlPanel and selected manual updating. This allows them to wait a few days, see if the Windows release is smooth, or if it causes problems. Like the one this month with all those firewalls ....

4. All the techs that I dealt with during my Computer Crash Experience (and there were a lot) were unanimous: they did not recommend using either ZoneAlarm or Norton. It was really a toss-up for which product was the most reviled - but I think Norton won on that score.

Two of the most knowledgeable techs had no antivirus system on their machines - or any of their families' machines. Never a problem, and they've been going without an antivirus software package for many years now (one guy, for five; another, for seven). As for firewalls, Windows has its own and most felt this was sufficient. Unless you're going to spooky sites, or keeping your "preview pane" open in your email, the techs didn't think there was a real problem. In their opinion, ZoneAlarm and Norton all too often produce the very virus result that they are sold to prevent.

5. If you just can't sleep without an antivirus program running, the techs all recommended AVG. AVG is free.

AVG gets glowing reviews, and offers a LinkScanner that works with Google, Yahoo, etc. so your search results automatically have okey-dokeys and warnings by the site names, before you click on them.

6. While the techs did hate Vista, they did report that Vista has lots of security stuff that XP, 2000, etc. do not have. Personally, I haven't had any problems with Vista, and it does have lots of security stuff here that I like.

Bottom line? On my third, brand-new computer, I'm running with Windows Vista and I did install the free AVG. I'm happy. I will never, ever use or recommend ZoneAlarm or Norton to anyone after my July Crash experience.

July 26, 2008

Computer Crash -1: MozyPro Remote Backup Review

Last December, I signed up for MozyPro's online backup service after checking out its five-star reviews and its low cost (I could backup 20GB for under $15/month). It appeared to be the best remote backup service on the web.

I was very happy with MozyPro - every night, it would automatically backup my files (including my email) and every morning, there was a nice little window letting me know I was safe. Sweet.

Then, my Workhorse Desktop started acting screwy. Freezing up, paralyzed mouse. It wasn't the skeery Blue Screen of Death, so I didn't panic ....

I need a computer to do my job, but no problem! I'd use Mozy Pro to backup my files to my Starbucks laptop, and my Workhorse would be free to spend a couple of weeks at the Repair Shop. (My Starbucks laptop is the one I take to the coffee house, or down to the Riverwalk, or whereever -- no financial info, just a few files ....)

Of course, all this happened on a holiday weekend (the Workhorse decided to buckle on the Saturday of the Fourth of July weekend). But this shouldn't be a problem: MozyPro should easily download what I needed, and didn't they have 24/7/365 live support?

Workhorse's window that Saturday morning comforted me that a backup had been done the night before, so I should have everything I needed over on MozyPro. Everything was looking soooo good.

It wasn't that pretty.

First, I learned not to trust the MozyPro notice window.

Luckily, MozyPro had completed a full backup on THURSDAY night - but this was the only backup that had really occurred in the past week to 10 days. Friday's work and Friday's emails were not picked up by MozyPro. Forget what the notice window tells you.

Second, that MozyPro live support sounded great - but just try to get through to the techies by phone.

I had a big, big problem finding a technical support phone number. I finally got one by calling the sales line (yes, they picked up just fine) and after initially being transfered by a sales rep, I got ahold of a tech support number. Here it is for you:


Then, you get to wait and wait and wait for a tech to answer the line. Here's a help: if they don't answer, call the Sales line and get transferred over (one of their reps told me they all office in the same space - techs and reps):


Third, calendar at least a full day to get a full restore.

After a full day of dealing with MozyPro, confirming that only one backup had occurred in the past week and getting live help on downloading that backup to my laptop, I then had another night and day (or two) in dealing with the actual restore.

Fourth, don't expect to retrieve all your backup in one restore file.

True, I had a lot of files - almost 2GB - to be restored. MozyPro didn't give me all those files in one restore file, though - although the techs told me this would be one quick, clean download. One big restore handled most everything. The next day, though, there was a little file - more to download. All the emails, as well as my favorites, address book, and some other stuff, came in this separate restore - which suddenly popped up about 12-24 hours after I first requested my files from MozyPro.

Fifth, expect lots of duplicate emails from MozyPro for around a week after you request your restore.

After I downloaded the restores, I got notices in my Yahoo mail for about a week - "restore complete," "need to restore," etc. - after I'd already restored everything. Apparently, there were duplicate restore files setting there, somewhere.

Bottom line:

1. MozyPro did save me - I did get all most of my files. I have my emails, I have my word processing documents, I have my publisher files. I may have lost my TurboTax and QuickBooks files (most of this was in hardcopy already, however) as well as some website designs made with a special webdesign software provided by GoDaddy.

2. MozyPro's tech support was helpful and human - when I finally tracked them down.

3. MozyPro doesn't always download even if that window tells you it does.

4. I will keep using MozyPro, but I won't be as trusting of the software. I'll double check the reality of those backups. And, I'll keep that tech support number handy.

5. In addition to MozyPro, I'll also keep hard copies of all my important, current workweek stuff - including emails, invoices, works in process - on a flash drive. I would have been in a mess if this had happened in the middle of the workweek, and I had to be down three days just to get myself up and running again. In a way, it was a blessing that this happened over a long holiday weekend (except for cancelling that picnic/BBQ ....).

Personal Post 22: Dealing With A Computer Crash

This month, I dealt with not one but two back-to-back computer crashes. I learned a lot, and I'm glad it's over. For the next several posts, I'll be sharing what I discovered - posting both here and on my Writer-Lawyer blog.

While it's true that all this computer info may not directly deal with the issue of simplicity, you're here -- reading this -- via a computer and this info might be useful to you, someday (unless you have a Mac, of course). Plus, I've included lots of freebie information I discovered in here, and other things that do dovetail into the Simplicity Lifestyle.

Personally, I went surfing around and telephoning and visiting techs for a lot of this information over a period of panic-striken, stressful days and I'm hoping that someone, somewhere will stumble upon this series of posts and get some benefit from the info I've accumulated.

If you're dealing with a crash as you read this - hang in there. It will get better! This too shall pass!!

July 10, 2008

Personal Post 21: Why All These Drug Company Commercials?

It's getting ridiculous. SNL already has skits about them, and you can't watch 30 minutes of TV these days (some simplifiers don't even watch TV, me? I still like things like Lonesome Dove and Casablanca ....) without seeing a drug being advertised.

I find it entertaining to watch how they try and creatively include all the side effects into the advertisement without scaring the YouKnowWhat out of you. My favorites are the ones with LOTS of side effects, like that fake-doctor one ....

Anyway, I went surfing for the answer to my question, WHY are we seeing these? And here's what I found:

1. Over at the FDA, there's a Truth in Advertising section where doctors reportedly LIKE the advertisments, saying things like (most popular response) they provide "better discussion with patient" (53%) and patient more aware of treatments (42%).

2. I learned over at Consumer Reports that these ads are called "DTC," Direct to Consumer, and they're only expected to increase. Great.... I also learned that Consumer Reports began its own campaign on these ads, and their video reports can be seen here.

3. Democracy in Action has started a campaign to outlaw these DTC drug advertisements. They, along with many other organizations, have endorsed the Public Health Protection Act - and if you want to tell your members of Congress that you support this Act, their site gives you a direct email capability. Meanwhile, Consumers Union has a petition to the FDA going over at their site, asking the FDA to ban DTC ads.

Me? I don't think they should be on television, and it's getting laughable at how prevalent they are becoming. Didn't the doctors and hospitals do a good enough job dispensing their products? Do they really need to tout their miracle cures directly to our families during the evening sitcom or weekend football game? Seems to insult the physician and the patient, IMHO.

One thing that I expect to rise right along with them: the personal injury attorneys' advertisement for all the drugs and devices that have been recalled, seeking victims of bad drugs in the marketplace. You know, like Avandia, Crestor, Prempro, Risperdal, Vioxx, Bextra, ....

July 9, 2008

Is Being Frugal Becoming Trendy?

According to MSNBC, the answer is "yes," ("Is Frugal The New Black?") but only because the economy is causing belts to tighten around the country.

I suppose this is good news for everyone involved in simplifying their lives, although it may mean more competition at estate sales and thrift stores for the good finds ... but I think it forgets a large segment of the Simplicity Population.

There are many of us who have chosen to simplify our lives because of the quality of life that results from this lifestyle change. It's not all about the money, and I think this may make a big difference in how happy you are with your new frugality.

For example, this morning I awoke to the sound of the 5:30 am cannon, which I'm told is the same cannon that Fort Sam soldiers used to start the day when Geronimo was still being held in their Quadrangle. A cool breeze was coming through the windows, and I could smell the honeysuckle.

It was a nice way to start a great day. Never once did I consider that I didn't have the air conditioner going, and I didn't jump up and rush to anywhere after slamming the alarm clock off.

It did, however, make me stop and thank God for how I'm living now, versus how I lived Back Then, and it's that feeling of joy, for lack of a better word, that I find is missing from the MSNBC report.

For more information:

What Is Simplifying? Should You Do It?

Declaration Of Independence From Overconsumption

Buying a Good Used Car

With rising gas prices, a different car might be a good idea for the family budget.

Would the monthly cost of the car payment, with lower gasoline costs, outweigh your current gas bill - even if the current vehicle is paid off? As prices rise, that answer may be "yes" a lot more often.

If you want to investigate a used car (why not new? simplicity folk don't pay for the depreciation cost of driving a new car off the lot), check out the following sites:

1. Consuler Reports.org

You can read the alphabetical list of best, and worst, used cars for 2008 without cost; for details (like rankings), Consumer Reports wants you to subscribe. (Check out the ratio between foreign and domestic here, it's just sad.)

2. Forbes' Best and Worst Certified Used Cars for 2008

Forbes ranks certified used cars - those that have been retooled by the manufacturers and get extended warranties - and the Honda Accord, Toyota 4Runner, Acura TL, Subaru Impreza, and Lexus GS come out on top. Oh, and here there not "used," they're "pre-owned." Right. To be really hip, call them "CPO" - certified pre-owned.

3. The Car Connection. These are car guys and they report regularly on all things automotive. Their picks for used cars (they don't go for CPO) are: Toyota Corolla, Toyota Solara, Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis, Infiniti I30, Lexus LS400, Mazda Miata, Lexus RX300 ... and because you're following a simplified lifestyle, you won't buy a Corvette or a Porsche, but you still might like to know they made the list.

July 8, 2008

Filial Responsibility Laws, Medicaid, and LongTermCare Insurance

For over forty years, a federal law (14 USC 1396(a)(17)(D)) has blocked any real enforcement of state filial responsibility laws because it outlaws states from considering the financial responsibility of anyone other than a spouse, or disabled minor child, when deciding Medicaid benefits (or other poverty-assistance program benefits). Here's what that federal law instructs the states, in part:

"do not take into account the financial responsibility of any individual for any applicant or recipient of assistance under the plan unless such applicant or recipient is such individual’s spouse or such individual’s child who is under age 21 or (with respect to States eligible to participate in the State program established under subchapter XVI of this chapter), is blind or permanently and totally disabled, or is blind or disabled as defined in section 1382c of this title (with respect to States which are not eligible to participate in such program); and provide for flexibility in the application of such standards with respect to income by taking into account, except to the extent prescribed by the Secretary, the costs (whether in the form of insurance premiums, payments made to the State under section 1396b (f)(2)(B) of this title, or otherwise and regardless of whether such costs are reimbursed under another public program of the State or political subdivision thereof) incurred for medical care or for any other type of remedial care recognized under State law"

What is Medicaid to a Senior Citizen?

Medicaid is both a federal and state program to help the poor. When the elderly exhaust their assets, and their Medicare benefits run out, then Medicaid steps in and covers their long-term care costs - as long as that care involves nursing homes or other, analogous skilled facilities. Medicaid doesn't cover home health care, or assisted living. (See 42 USC 1395(d), 1396(a), 42 CFR 409.33).

The Medicaid Estate Planning Strategy vs. Program Budget Projections

Savvy estate planners work with families regularly, and legally, moving assets out of the elderly person's estate so when incapacity comes, family inheritances are protected and Medicaid can cover the costs of care to the extent that long-term care insurance hasn't been purchased in advance. Federal law 42 USC 1396a (see above) protects the assets now held by the kids, and the parent(s) can feel secure that they will have long term care costs covered, nevertheless.

Knowing this strategy exists, federal law first allowed Medicaid to go back as far as three years to gather assets transfered from the elderly and placed into the hands of children, loved ones, or trusts. Past that 3 year mark, and the transfer was secure.

In 2005, the Deficit Reduction Act expanded that time frame to five (5) years. It also denied Medicaid nursing home coverage to anyone with home equity greater than $500,000 and allowed states to increase that amount to $750,000 within their program jurisdictions. The Act also took into account the long term insurance policy, allowing Medicaid to exempt dollar for dollar every dollar provided under the policy until it is exhausted.

Here Comes The Aging Boomer Generation

A. Reevaluation of the Filial Responsiblity Laws

As The Boomer generation ages, Medicaid will be inudated with long-term care responsibilities and program costs are expected to skyrocket. Accordingly, both federal and state officials are taking a second look at filial responsibility laws, some of which have been setting on the books for decades, as a way to deal with this impending program crisis.The National Center for Policy Analysis sees enforcement of filial responsibility laws as a good idea for the country.

B. Government-Industry Partnerships to Encourage Long-Term Care Policies

Already, insurance companies are explaining to parents and children the details of long term care costs, and the potential need to plan now for a policy. The premiums are tax-deductible as medical expenses, with the deduction amounts correlated to inflation and the elder's age.

Some states have established partnerships with long-term-care insurance companies to encourage the purchase of these premiums and avoid a future Medicaid burden. These partnerships offer those who buy long-term care policies the ability to keep a certain amount of assets and still get Medicaid nursing home coverage. There's also talk of a national partnership program.

What Does Your State Say?

The states in bold-faced type are those with civil and/or criminal filial responsibility laws on their books. Those with established insurance company partnership programs are:



New York

States investigating these partnerships, as of Spring 2008, included:


North Dakota

Rhode Island
South Dakota


For more information:

The Tax Adviser, April 2008, "What is Long Term Care and Who Is Responsible for Its Cost?" by Dianne Odem, CPA/PFS and editor, Michael David Schulman, CPA/PFS

List of States Having Filial Responsibility Laws (statutes given)

Filial Responsibility Law - Adult Kids Sued for Care of Parents

Wikipedia, Medicaid.

July 7, 2008

Personal Post 20: Trimming Food Costs

Food costs keep rising. Here are some tips I've found work:

1. Brew tea (for iced tea) in the coffee maker. Instead of waiting for the water to boil in the kettle, then to steep in the teapot, I've taken to putting one decaffienated, family size tea bag in the carafe and letting a full water level run thru the Mr.Coffee. Faster tea, dense and not bitter, results -- saves time and money. (I put this with stevia into a gallon pitcher, fill with water, and sometimes add fresh lime juice. It's no wonder that iced, sweet tea is called the "wine of the south.") Keep this in the fridge - it's so much better than soda.

2. Check the dates on salmon, steak, etc. If it's close to the expiration date, then ask the butcher if he'll lower the price. Yes, they'll work with you. My friend Susan reports that her pal Catherine got a month's work of salmon (cut into individual fillets at home, and frozen) for less than $2/lb this way.

3. Learn recipes for those strange veggies and meats that don't cost much. Things like cabbage, fish, and beans are very good for you, and there's lots of recipes out there for great dishes your family will love. You have to find the recipes, and be adventurous. Remember how cheap skirt steak was before fajitas became popular?

4. Freeze things. You can't keep things indefinitely in the freezer, but with proper storage, you can keep things for several months. I buy those huge bags of almonds at Sam's for under $10, then break them apart and freeze them. Everytime I walk down the Planter's/Emerald's aisle of the grocery store, I smile.

5. Avoid prepared foods. The more that is done to your food before you buy it, the more it costs. A whole chicken costs less than one that's been cut for you; both cost less than buying a box of fast food fried chicken. You'll be getting more vitamins and nutrients this way, as well. Yes, you'll have to cook more. That's not really a down side, once you get the hang of it.

For more information:

How to Cook - 4: Beans Are Easy, Cheap, and Good

How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken

How to Fillet a Whole Fish

Cabbage Without Gas Masks
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