Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Steve Bass's Weekly Newsletter


TechBite Technology

October 29, 2008

Steve BassSteve Bass's Weekly Newsletter

TechBite's columnist Steve Bass
writes weekly commentary on the technology products he loves, the strategies for getting the most out of them, and the gotchas that can cause computing misery.

The Bass Backstory

Hey, I'm Back!

Man, this feels good -- really really good. I've got my own newsletter now, and it's absolutely, 100 percent mine. I can say what I want, how I want, and I don't have to look over my shoulder. Well, almost. I still have an editor.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In case you were wondering, this isn't my technology newsletter. I'll send that later today. I wanted to start by giving you -- folks who have known me since the late 80s, readers following me in PC World, and those of you just discovering me -- a little background.

I also want to forewarn you about all the things that might not go well with the first few newsletters -- like looking weird in your inbox and how it might be blocked by your ISP, and what you can do about it. Because, despite it all, you know how things don't always go well in computing...

I'd better warn you, too, that this "Hello, I'm Steve Bass" newsletter is longer than long; I appreciate your reading it.

Hello! My Name Is Steve Bass

I started with computers in 1982 when I bought an IBM from the now-defunct Computerland. When I asked them for support; they said “Don't use it in the shower.” Great advice, so the following day I founded the Pasadena IBM Users Group. It started with 12 people, and over the years grew into a 2400-member organization; I ran it, czar-style, for over 24 years. I also cofounded the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), a nationwide organization serving user groups.

At the same time, I was a licensed psychotherapist, had a small clinic, and started PCG Seminars, a training company for mental health professionals. In 1988, I wrote a guest piece for PC World. I didn't think about it again until an editor called and asked if I'd write a monthly column. So for almost 20 years I wrote Hassle-Free PC (first it was Taking It Home, then Home Office), the Tips & Tweaks newsletter, and a blog, as well as loads of feature articles. Along the line I had two newspaper columns, plus stories in Forbes, Family Circle, Working Woman, and a handful of other pubs.

A few years ago I wrote PC Annoyances, a popular O'Reilly book that to date has solved over 900,678,411 computing problems. (No, really--I found that stat somewhere on the Internet.) The book is still in print. To save you asking, it doesn't cover Vista (ha!), or Vista for Macs (double ha!), and I'm not doing a new book.

What I'll Cover in the Newsletter

I write about technology, including computers, software and hardware; avoiding computing annoyances and preventing hassles; troubleshooting problems and talking about work-arounds.

My attitude is straightforward: I believe that most computing troubles you encounter aren't your fault. They're caused by dopey marketing people who promise too much and off-the-mark product managers who don't have the user in mind. My job is to kvetch and then tell you how to avoid their dopiness--or if it's too late, deal with it.

Don't be surprised, though, when you see a piece about consumer stuff -- like secrets that car salesmen don't want you know about, an insider's expose about buying a mattress, or why it's easier to change the transmission in your car than to stop receiving junk faxes.

What the Newsletter Will Look Like

As I created the newsletter, I realized there were dozens of small things that made a difference in what it would look like. For instance, I prefer narrow columns; I think they're easier to read. So we centered and narrowed the text in the HTML version. (We also have a preferences page if you want to switch to plan text.)

I struggled with how to handle hyperlinks. If a newsletter comes from someone I trust, I'm okay having the links embedded, like this: Watch this squirrel video or this one of a spinning squirrel getting nailed. On the other hand, some people prefer seeing the URLs only.

Showing the URLs, though, means exposing you to long links that break in odd places. My plan is to embed links and also embed YouTube videos. You can watch them right from the newsletter, saving you a trip to your browser. Like this:

Of course the length of the newsletter is a hairy problem. If it's too long, you may not finish it--or worse, you'll do what I do and stop reading the newsletter. (My friend Brian's newsletters have terrific information, but they're just too long for my taste; they stack up in my e-mail's newsletter folder and most never get opened.)

If the newsletter's too short, though, I won't be able to say everything I need to, including those essential time wasters, and you might feel like you're not getting your money's worth. (Wait, this is a freebie, right? Okay, never mind.)

You may find some newsletter topics to be way over your head. No sweat, just ignore it and wait for my next missive. (What, you don't find spending a day tweaking your Registry fun?) At the same time, advanced users may roll their eyes when I spend time describing what the "AnyKey" is. Hang in there and have fun with the time wasters until I get to issues that focus on your needs.

Critically important AnyKey

My plan is to keep each issue somewhere between 750 and 1000 words, depending on the topic. If after a while you're in your Goldilocks mode, drop me a note and tell me what feels just right. My inbox is always available to you.

Tech Edits And My Copy Editor

I have people standing alongside me as I do this newsletter, experts who've agreed to make sure I get everything right.

Carey Holzman, author of The Healthy PC and co-host of Computer America is making sure I'm technically correct. My friend Rod Ream, a trouble-shooting genius, also agreed to keep me on technical track.

My copy editor will make sure I don't say "pubic," when I mean "public." (It really happened; everyone, except me and the copyeditor caught it.) We don't see eye-to-eye on everything, and while most of her questions and editing requests are reasonable, some are so dizzying, I can only laugh out loud. No doubt you'll hear about some of them.

One other thing: As you can see, this entire newsletter is in your inbox. I was very unhappy when PC World decided to send an e-mail with an online link. It was a squirrelly bean-counter decision and was supposed to increase page views. It might have, but I lost an intimate connection to readers.

Bouncing Newsletters: The Bane of the Business

Your ISP -- the company you get your Internet and e-mail service from -- may think this newsletter's spam. (LOL -- maybe you do, too...)

It's no surprise that every ISP wants to guard its customers from spam. Sometimes ISPs are overly zealous, and that's probably a good thing. It happened to me: Every time someone subscribed to the newsletter and left a comment, I received an e-mail from TechBite's servers. After 400 of these e-mails, EarthLink got its knickers in a twist, decided TechBite was a spammer, and added it to a blacklist--sort of protecting me from myself.

I know, you're reading this newsletter, so you weren't blocked. This time, yes, but the next newsletter may face the dreaded black list.

The proactive solution: Take a second, find your ISP in our handy How To Whitelist TechBite in your Spam Filter ditty, and white list yourself.

Problems or questions? Don't hesitate -- drop me a line.

Okay, now for the juicy gossip you've all been waiting for...

PC World? It Was Nice Knowing Ya

Many of you learned about me from my PC World columns and the Tips & Tweaks newsletter. Just as many are curious and want to hear the inside skinny, and maybe something scandalous.

So I'll give you the short story -- and then I'll put it to rest. (If you've heard this before, hit your handy Page Down key.)

In mid-August, PC World laid off its three highest-paid writers, those of us with print columns. That meant me, Steve Manes, and the very funny Dan Tynan. There were other staff layoffs, too, and those weren't the first round of cuts.

As an independent guy, almost always self-employed, I can't complain. I knew what I was in for.

After some back and forth about PCW's proposal to take my blog and use it again in print -- in magazine parlance, repurposing -- without extra pay, I said enough. Of course, they said that they said enough first. I thought I was taken advantage of and they thought I was making too much of a fuss.

Either way, it was enough for both of us and at noon on September 12, my formal relationship with PC World ended.

I wasn't happy with the way they handled it; nor was I pleased not to be able to write a good-bye note in the print column. I mean, 20 years... really.

But wait, there's news: At press time (I love that phrase), I got a call from PC World's new editorial director, Steve Fox, a friend and vet of PC World's methodology (or should I say shenanigans). He said he received hundreds of angry e-mails [wink] and asked if I'd stay on the masthead as contributing editor and write an occasional feature. I agreed. As they say, sometimes you do what you have to do.

Spread the Word

You know what you can do? Forward this whole newsletter to your friends, neighbors, and a long-lost cousin or two. (Hey, I know you already sent them those squirrel links, so c'mon, quid pro quo.) Now for extra points, send this TechBite link so your buddies can sign up for their own newsletter.

Steve Bass is, surprisingly, still a contributing editor for PC World and now is publisher and the self-appointed Chief Content Officer at He's also the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available on Amazon.

In the meantime, Steve is busy experiencing the cool feeling having of his own newsletter. Send him your feedback at TechBite. To sign up for TechBite's free Steve Bass Technology newsletter, head for our signup page

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Worried that your ISP my black list this newsletter? Take a the proactive solution: Find your ISP in our handy How To Whitelist TechBite in your Spam Filter ditty, and white list yourself.

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