Category Archives: Technology

Find A Property Owner’s Address Or Find Out Who Owns a House

Washington Count Arkansas Public Assessor Link for Property
 AR County Data Site

This isn’t just a way to snoop. Your government thinks this is useful information to have available. The lawn service I used goes to public records for all clients to properly size the lots it services for mowing and leaf removal. Do you have a troublesome neighbor but don’t know how to contact the landlord? Do you want to know how your house compares to your immediate neighbors? Lost someone’s address? Do you want to know how your tax value compares? What school district a house is in? There are all sorts of legitimate uses for this type of site.

The above link if for Washington County, Arkansas, but most places have a similar and free method to look up anyone who owns property. In most states, you can also have visit just about any courthouse and look up someone’s information.  Using the above link, by putting in first and last name only, once you get search results, just click on the “more info” button. You get a diagram of the house, a map, all the tax information and much more. You can also look up any address, too, so if you want to know all the information about an address, who owns it, how much it cost, whether it has central heat and air, you can simply look it up.

Using the top menu and the “real property” tab, you can choose a different county, too.

If you aren’t sure if your place of residence provides this type of information for free, then call your local assessor’s office or tax collector and ask if real estate information is provided online. It almost always is.

I’m constantly startled by the number of people who aren’t aware that they have no privacy when it comes to the information about their houses. It’s almost ALL public. Unless you are using a business to conceal your ownership or some other intervening method, your information is out there. Whether you are a politician, a prison security guard or just enjoy your privacy, you really don’t have much in this regard. and are also great real estate sources.

Facebook Never Shows You Eating a Cold Hotdog Over the Sink

If you are going to write about the “fancy pants” places you visit, I expect to be as frequently notified when you are eating day-old macaroni and cheese over the sink. Or that fact that you sometimes find a plain bologna and cheese sandwich to be as good as any steak. Or that you sometimes just want the plain version of the fancy cuisine you are paying for.

Studies continue to demonstrate that FBers use the service to “edit” their lives. We all know that to be common sense. However, please don’t perpetuate the mostly untrue idea that you are out experiencing a better assortment of good eating than most of your friends.

I want to know how much time you spend eating the equivalent of cold hot dogs straight out of the package.  : )

Never Ask For Lost Phone Numbers Again

For whatever reason, I was around several people this week who lost their phones, had to reset them, or otherwise suffered from a lost of data with their phone.

While sometimes surprises happen, there is no great reason to ever be left without all your contact phone numbers, pictures, or videos from your phone. I can throw my phone into the lake without worrying about “losing” my important information. I might lose a very few recent pictures, but anytime I take a “keeper,” I back it up at the next opportunity.

If you use Gmail and input your contact info through gmail contacts, then link them on your phone, everything will always be updated, available from anywhere, and never lost. It will even load the picture you put into gmail into your phone. If you have a couple of hundred contacts, you shouldn’t use the excuse of “it takes too long” to input them into gmail, as you won’t notice you’ve lost all that time later when you must attempt to beg, scrounge and find your treasured contacts once you have lost your phone or data.

I didn’t include a long, complicated explanation of how to do it in this post, as I’ve found that the best way to learn is to google it yourself. Even better – take advantage of someone smart at your particular phone store and ask them to walk you through it.  Using gmail for your contacts is such a time-saving, effective way to ensure you have your contact information backed up and always at hand. If you so choose, you can also input ALL of each person’s information, including addresses, birthdays, notes, etc.

I try to keep an excel file updated, too, with at least the important names, addresses, and phone numbers of the people in my life. The file can be accessed from anywhere with internet access. It is surprising how often I am out and about and someone asks for a mutual friend of family member’s information. It is at hand no matter what the circumstances. An excel file is ‘old school’ without a doubt, but I can’t convince myself to stop doing the extra step yet.

As for pictures or videos on your phone, each of us should be connecting our phone manually to a computer at regular intervals and using the drag-and-drop method to copy what is one our phone. There are also great tools to automate this for you, too. But for them to work, you have to use them.

I’ve written several times in the past about the need to backup our stuff. I know my advice is mostly forgotten or ignored.


Backup Commentary (Technology)

(Update 22 Oct 2013)

Don’t like to backup your computer or phone?

The good news is that you don’t have to. No one will come to your house and point a pistol at your head for choosing to not do it. (Although such a business would be an interesting one to pitch to investors!)

On the other hand, please don’t cry in anguish when your computer or phone crashes and you suddenly have lost all the pictures of your favorite cat wearing a kimono.

You should assume that your computer will crash. It’s mechanical and uses moving parts. It is going to crash if you use it long enough. The longer you use it without it failing sadly means that it is MORE likely to crash and burn without notice.

Assuming you have internet…. If you don’t have internet, stop reading now. Everyone has access to free email and backup services. Did you write an important paper? Send it to yourself as an attachment, archiving it in a folder to maximize your organization and minimize distractions and terrible loss later. Synchronize your browser bookmarks or back them up to your computer. Don’t have time to do this? Where will those 10 seconds be when you’ve lost the only copy?

There are TONS of free services on the internet for backup. Sure, you can pay for them, too. OneDrive, Dropbox, etc. You can save all your pictures, even if you have 5,000 of them. All in the cloud. Since you will be also making a local backup on another hard drive, on DVD, or flash drive, too, you aren’t tied to worrying about all the servers at Microsoft melting, nor are you concerned about your house catching fire and eating your computer and DVD backups.You can also arrange with a friend to copy all your cherished stuff and send it to his/her house and he or she can send their cherished stuff home with you, if you don’t want your stuff on the cloud, too. 

Even if you promise yourself to connect your phone once YEARLY and copy your pictures and music, this is better than losing all of your content. You can surely promise to copy it once a year, if not more often.

If you don’t know how to make cd/dvd/flash drive backups of your pictures, music, documents, and bookmarks – you are ALREADY DOOMED! Seriously. You don’t have to know how to change a tire to own a car, but you need to know how to deal with it in an emergency. Making backup copies of your data is considered to be the most basic, absolutely essential computer task.
The technology we use on smartphones and computers is ALWAYS going to be changing. You will learn one thing today and will never be able to relax. The way you do things will constantly change. There’s only 1 rational choice: learn as it changes. If you can’t or won’t, be prepared to not only pay other people for the service of maintenance or repair, but also steel yourself against the inevitable total loss of everything you have stored on your electronic devices.

Want to be self-sufficient? Learn to Google. Learn and study which sites give the best advice. Compare site’s instructions. Experiment with it. It’s how I learned. Waiting until you know how to do something is a waste of time. Figure it out when there’s no pressure. I’m not smarter – just more persistent.

If you are too busy to learn computer basics, then you can and should expect to pay for other people to bail you out of your troubles. If your car breaks down, you call a tow truck and mechanic – and you pay them. If you want to save $, you either buy a reliable car, maintain it better or accept the need to be severely inconvenienced when your car breaks down. Your computer is the same.The difference is that a tire is just a tire, whereas a computer or phone might contain priceless or one-of-a-kind memories. I can easily think of a dozen people who have lost everything on their phones or computers. Several of them were quite literally ill thinking about what they had lost.

If you CHOOSE to NOT learn certain computer skills and how to backup data, please make arrangements for the time when your machine fails and/or you have lost the term paper that is due tomorrow. It is going to happen to everyone eventually. 

Best Buy taught me this harsh lesson, after I thought I already knew it. They “fixed” me out of a ton of music and pictures. I had to pay them for the privilege of breaking my computer. Even though the issue went all the way to the manager and then to corporate, I was put on the “hell list” of customers. Honestly, though, I cost Best buy way more business than they caused me in anguish. I got a valuable lesson out of it and I made it my mission to ensure that they lost a lot of business for a couple of years.

If I take pictures I wish to keep, I transfer them from the camera card to my computer. I then transfer the exact same copy to my wife’s computer. Then, I upload full-sized copies to my OneDrive account, automatically. (I don’t have to do anything – they copy without any other effort on my part.) At the end of each year, I make a new archive onto a usb stick. Even though I preach this constantly, even I have been known to delay uploading or backing up – and twice it has cost me considerable effort to attempt to reconstruct that which I’ve lost or misplaced.

Once weekly, I do an automatic 100% backup of my entire C drive to another drive. If the drive fails, I can have it restored in 20 minutes – entirely. I could do it daily, but I found it to be too redundant and beyond what I need.

I use dropbox as well, which is a nice redundant way to ensure I’m not peeling an empty banana. My important stuff is being saved somewhere, without my needing to manually find it, copy it, store it, etc. (The banana quote comes courtesy of Steve Martin.)

As for my music, I keep most of it archives on dual-layer DVDs. I’m not as concerned about it, as it is replaceable. My wife has an exact copy on her hard drive. If the house burns, I am screwed, as all my backups are local. I could keep a backup at someone else’s house, but I have weighed the cons and decided it’s not a priority. I can replace it all. It’s my personal selection of the ‘best’ music, but it’s not something that can’t be 100% replaced.

This is not the case with pictures, documents, and personalized stuff.

Regarding smartphones and regular dumbdialers (like I have): I get annoyed when I see or hear people say ‘my phone broke’ or ‘I lost my phone/sim card.’  Even if all you do is go to your favorite phone store and ask someone how to keep everything protected for the day when you either lose your phone or it breaks. It is going to happen to everyone.

Backup your data. It’s a learned habit.

In case I wasn’t specific enough: if you have data on a computer or smartphone, it will eventually get lost when the device fails, breaks, gets lost, stolen, drowned in water, etc.

Have a plan and least try to stick with it. 

Windows OneDrive Backup

Microsoft OneDrive

You can also google it and read the Wikipedia information.

Perhaps not as “hip” as Dropbox or other similar services, but it is the workhorse of deliberate online backup with massively more free storage.

Personally, I think it serves best as a picture archiver. With a current announced size of 7 gigabytes, you can backup an extraordinary amount of photos for free. Once uploaded, you can control whether anyone else sees them, allow zip downloads of entire sets, organize them into nested folders, tag them, etc.

(Since I was an original member of Skydrive, I kept my 25 gigabytes with OneDrive. Extra storage is dirt cheap through Microsoft. Also, Microsoft has a dropbox-like interface now, too.)

Mostly, though, I use it because it is easy to use, free, and has massive storage.  It can be used for documents and other files, too – I just don’t use it that way personally.

I gave up trying to tell friends and family about it. Frankly, most people are just too lazy or disinterested to take advantage. They don’t “have time” (whatever that means!) to backup their pictures. When an emergency strikes, they are suddenly without any of their data and the crying begins.

If you don’t have all your favorite pictures backed up, the day will come when you have none – and no means to get them back. Windows OneDrive solves this problem. You don’t have to backup ALL your pictures, just the ones that you identify as treasures.

Cell Phone Admonition

A cellphone is an incredible tool. Unlike most, I still can look at one and marvel a little at how much convenience and technology is packed into the device. While I am still insistent on using a text-and-call phone instead of the complex type, my simple phone still contains a massive amount of smart built into it.

Unfortunately for those of us using phones, we sometimes forget that we are missing the big picture. Granted, when everyone owned a landline home phone, it seems like even then that most people acted as if we were slaves to the devices. How could we hear it ring and not answer? How could we not have an answering machine, call waiting, call forwarding, etc? For whatever reason, I never felt the compulsion to answer the phone simply because it rang. I know that I was in the minority on that front. However, I also know that it made me more at peace than other people that I knew.

I couldn’t stand the thought of having a phone in the bedroom where I try to relax the most. If a phone had to be in the room where I slept, I always had the ringer turned off and any lights rendered invisible to me. Any true emergency would result in a loud banging on the front door, if necessary. All other calls would be better served by 911 responders. Having a cellphone hasn’t changed my outlook. In fact, I always make it a point to leave my phone in another room. Having it in the bedroom creates an artificial importance to my presence.

A few years ago, an actual emergency ensued and my wife and I didn’t know it. I can’t even remember if my wife’s phone was in the room or not, to be honest.  We didn’t even hear the loud bangs on the door due to the noise-suppression magic of a box fan to mask extraneous sounds in the night. When we got up the next morning, the emergency had been addressed and we had to respond accordingly – but we got a night’s rest, which turned out to be the biggest gift we could have received in order to survive the next few days.

Since then, all I have seen from having a phone present is an interruption to normal sleep, a continuation of the perceived necessity of being available, in “case we are needed.”

I correctly or incorrectly believe that having a cellphone in the bedroom creates a mental barrier to relaxation. The phone “could” ring at any moment, someone “might” need us, etc. As a minimalist and avoider of the “Just In Case” lifestyle, this really drives me crazy.

How did people manage to lead good, relaxing lives before telephones, before technology afforded an always-in-touch lifestyle? I am not idealizing the past, as there were a great many impediments that diminished a person’s quality of life compared to our modern time.

I am constantly catching myself disliking technology when in reality I am disliking the automatic response we seemed to have trained ourselves into. It will be a few more years until we have embedded cellphones that are always with us.

At some point, each of us has to ponder and decide if we are using technology and cellphones appropriately, or if we are misusing them at times to lend our lives that self-importance that being reachable by “someone” at all times brings with it.

Cell Phone Voicemail Etiquette

Although it’s just my opinion and I’m probably the last person who should be able to recommend normal behavior, especially with cellphones, I will nevertheless offer an obvious guideline. If you are going to take the time to call someone, especially in lieu of texting/email/messaging, please state the general nature of your call when you leave a voicemail. Please don’t say something inane such as “Call me back” and end the call. If we could call such a vote today, my vote is that we shall henceforth never returns calls to people who leave messages like that. Ever.

For example, if you are afraid that you might not have either enough time or energy to communicate your message, say ” 911 ” for an emergency and ” 411 ” for a request for an at-leisure call back. Either one is short, yet contains the essential 2 types of messages.

Better still, why not leave a message something like this: “I have very important or juicy news that I personally and desperately wish to tell you. Call me back.” By doing this, the person you are calling will immediately know without threat of stress that the call is not time-sensitive or urgent.

Under no circumstances is it fair or wise to sound desperate without leaving clues as to whether it’s a true emergency, something that it important to you but not necessarily to me, or any combination thereof.

While I’m moaning and complaining, if you are going to take the time to call, leave a message – any kind of message. Take a second and be creative. If you are going to make me go through the motions of checking voicemail, putting in my password and listening, please make it seem like there was some effort and genuine effort involved. Zombie calls should be made by legitimate zombies.

I think that we all need to focus when we call other people and be better communicators.

It’s unfair to leave the person getting your message without a clear understanding of WHY you called.

Again, just a few words from my frazzled brain for you to consider.