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Something Fowl

It all started with a giant chicken. I am not making this up. If I hadn't seen the 12 foot tall fiberglass chicken, things would be much different today.

On the way to do some shopping I saw the giant chicken, in a giant coop, next to a little antique store.

As we whizzed by, I said to my wife, "Did you see that giant chicken?" Looking back it's amazing that she just said, "No, where?" as if giant chickens were perfectly natural. I told her that it was at an antique shop we'd passed hundreds of times and she said, "I've always wanted to go there, but they're always closed. You want to turn around and go back?"

Well, see, right there I should have sensed trouble. My wife does not believe in turning around. I have never understood why, but whenever I say, "I can turn around" she says, "Never go back." It's one of those things that, from the tone of her voice, I've never even questioned.

If I'd stopped and thought, then I'd have realized I was making a u-turn into the Twilight Zone. I turned around in the driveway of a store called "Artsy Fartsy," (I swear I am not making this up, which makes it all the scarier).

We parked right next to this shop, which is never open, and oddly, it was open. Another clue that something was wrong that I stupidly didn't see. And I should have known better, too, because this whole little area has weird vibes. A few years ago, just across the street from where we parked, there was an old store that one day went from being a shack to a palace, with bright Christmas lights all over, thousands of them, blinking all the time. We'd drive by at 2 am and it would be lit up, flashing, and open. It was very enticing, glowing as it did. We jokingly referred to it as, "The Gates of Hell, Always Open!" And we wisely never stopped.

But in the bright daylight, nothing seemed odd about a 12 foot chicken by the side of the road. It was like one of those horror movies where the people in the movie think everything's perfectly normal, and everyone in the audience is screaming, "Don't go in! Don't go in!"

And like the idiots in scary movies, we went right in. I asked the price of the giant chicken and was told it wasn't for sale. Of course not, this evil chicken was placed there solely to lure poor unsuspecting eccentrics who, for some unknown reason, thought it might be fun to have a giant chicken on their driveway.

I added my name to a long waiting list of people who have probably all suffered something unspeakable by now. I even supplied my phone number—who knows what horrors await me from that. Heavy breathing. Calls from telemarketers during meals. I don't even want to think about it.

We started to walk back across the gravel parking lot, and no sooner did I have the key in the car door when I heard my wife screaming, "Oh no! Oh, oh, oh!" I ran over to find her lying on the ground, writhing in pain, a cloud of dust swirling around her.

I looked for a giant chicken footprint next to her. But no, these giant fowl are too clever for that. I saw a truck backing up and wondered if she'd been hit (she's always walking behind cars that are backing up and I'm always telling her not to)--but maybe the chicken had just made it look that way!

I wanted to threaten the evil fowl with a box of Shake 'N Bake, but I had to get my wife in the car before it returned. I helped her up, but she couldn't walk and was in so much pain she couldn't talk, either—so I didn't know what really happened. I put her in the back seat with her feet up, and she told me to go get ice.

Even with ice, it wasn't long before her ankle looked like she was wearing a bagel anklet. Two x-rays later I was informed that would be months until she could walk normally again. As the doctor said, torn ligaments can take longer to heal than a clean break. What a cheerful little earful he was.

So the moral of this? Loose gravel and holiday shopping can be hazardous to your health. Shop online (and when you do, learn from what the sites you visit do right—and wrong).

And enjoy everything you can—even simple things like being able to walk. And finally, think about having a really, really big chicken at your next holiday meal. That'll show them who's boss.

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Turn Your Web Page Into An E-Mail Holiday Card

Want to send a fully formatted email holiday card? These instructions will work for Outlook, Outlook Express, Calypso. The gist of these should work for Eudora. It probably won't work for AOL mail. Here's how:

  • Create a page in NetObjects Fusion. Preview it in a browser or publish it to your hard disk. If you create it in another program, make sure the page and all the files are saved to your hard disk.
  • With the page displayed in your browser, select Edit/Select All, then Edit/Copy.
  • Go to your e-mail program. Create a new message. Make sure it's in HTML or Rich Text format. In Outlook Express, you choose Format/Rich Text (HTML).
  • Click inside the message area and choose Edit/Paste.
  • The page will appear with all formatting and pictures intact—except for the page background.
  • To put the page background back, choose Format/Background/Picture and browse until you find the file on your computer.

When the page looks right, it's ready to send.

Remember, the more graphics you have on the page, the larger the e-mail will be. You don't want to send people huge e-mails without asking them first, because that can waste their time and make them sorry they know you. So keep your graphics light (the whole page should be under 50K ) and you should be fine.

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Make NetObjects Fusion Faster

Want to make NetObjects Fusion faster? There's a simple way to make it much faster—as long as you're willing to save the file yourself. Normally, NetObjects Fusion saves your work automatically every time you go from page to page, or from view to view. This is the default, and is the right setting for most people, because it protects your work during a power failure or other computer crisis. It's also good if you just don't want to think about having to save your file.

But every time NetObjects Fusion saves your site file, it takes time, and the bigger your sites become, the more time it takes. To turn off auto-save, choose Edit/Preference. Then UN-check the box next to "Auto Save." That's it.

Now, here's the warning: If you turn AutoSave off, you need to save the file manually—and regularly. That's easy, just press Control-S or choose File/Save. The trick is to get in the habit of doing it regularly. Of course, that's something you should do in all your programs. I personally can't stand to ever lose more than five or ten minutes of work, so that's how often I save. If you go for hours without saving and then your computer crashes, you're not going to be happy. So if you can't remember to save regularly, keep AutoSave on. If you can, you can turn it off.

One more thing—ALWAYS allow NetObjects Fusion to compress your file when you quit the program. It will ask, "Save changes to file before closing," and you will press Y or click on "Yes." This makes your .nod files smaller more reliable.

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Computers for world peace

A good friend of mine, Dr. Fred Mednick, is the head of a group called Teachers Without Borders (http://www.teacherswithoutborders.org - I designed the site) that's dedicated to improving education around the world. He sent me this email:

At this time of the year when there's so much focus on the Middle East—and its fading hope for peace, here's something you can do to help. The Mar Elias College in Galilee (headed by a Palestinian peace-maker and priest) has found a way to gather Christians, Jews, and Moslems in peaceful coexistence. What is the key?  Education, of course. And the passport?  Teachers.

Dr. Elias Chacour, the President of Mar Elias College and the author of "Blood Brothers" (which was assigned as required reading for King Hussein's administration), has asked Teachers Without Borders to use its network to work with his teachers, provide them with resources, and connect them to teachers around the world.

**Here's how to make a difference:

His teacher education program is in desperate need of 50 - 100 Pentium PCs that can be connected to the Internet. Customs fees will be waived.

If you know of anyone who has a computer that can be donated, or a bulk of them through a corporate recycling program, please contact TWB. If you would like them to purchase one on your behalf, please contact them at www.teacherswithoutborders.org or mednick@home.com . You can donate securely online at https://www.applyweb.com/public/register?twb or send a check to: Teachers Without Borders, 2880 74th Ave. SE, Mercer Island, WA  98040-2635.

Teachers Without Borders is a federally tax-exempt organization (501c3) and will supply you with a receipt, on its letterhead, along with proof of delivery. Perhaps interfaith computing can help a desperate situation.

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Graphics gift?

What do you give the person who needs to make the best looking web graphics? I recommend Xara http://www.xara.com/products/xarax/ , a vector graphics program—like Adobe Illustrator (only I think it's better). It has real time anti-aliasing so what you see on-screen is exactly what you get in your GIFs and JPGs, live transparency that lets you see through any objects, great bitmap handling, and now it even has web-specific features like image slicing, rollover buttons. Other new features are a tool that gives things a realistic 3D look and realistic shadows, as well as the ability to export to Flash .SWF format.

I recommend Xara to anyone who will listen because it's the best graphics program I've found (for the web and print). It's fast, reliable, powerful, artistic, and easy to use. You can download a trial version for free, and buy it for $149. http://www.xara.com/products/xarax/

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Make bread (for those giant chicken sandwiches)

If you have a bread machine, you might not know that they really can create truly excellent bread. It's not the machines that are a problem, it's the bad recipes that come with them. I use my bread machine as a dough-kneading machine, and the results are incredible.

Here's my favorite recipe for holiday rolls. Just put all the ingredients into your bread machine and set it to "dough." When the dough's done, take it out, keep dividing it in half until you have roll size pieces, then shape them into rolls (I use half the dough for rolls, the other half for a small loaf). Bake in the regular oven. The results taste hand-made (but to ensure they don't taste like your hands, wash your hands first!). Trust me on this!

King Arthur Flour's site http://www.kingarthurflour.com/ 's site has excellent recipes like this that make you remember the joy of home baking (without all the bother).

Unfortunately, the site's dynamically generated pages make it difficult to e-mail links (they're too long, and then they sometimes don't work later). This is the link of the page I viewed—but it won't work today:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/cgibin/htmlos/02207.1 4.7338539675811407082

So, to get the recipe, go to http://www.kingarthurflour.com and choose "Our Favorite Recipes," "Yeast Bread and Rolls" then click on the "Browse all these recipes." Then scroll down to "White Bread 101."

WEB BUILDING LESSON: While the King Arthur site is a wealth of baking information, you should learn from their mistakes.

First, the recipe search area is confusingly laid out (I kept click on the same thing and getting nothing). It feels like it was designed by a programmer, and was wonderful as programmers are (we wouldn't be using computers or the web without them), they tend to think differently from us non-programmers.

So in this case you click on a category, and nothing appears to change, except in the drop down box on the right (which I didn't notice at first). Then because of the way pages are served from a database, they create very long URLs that usually don't work in e-mail, and then for some unknown reason they expire so you can't reach the page later.

They may have done this to keep you from "deep linking" (meaning you go directly to an inside page, rather than wading through the home page and section pages). While more sites are objecting to deep-linking because of a misconceived notion that it causes people to miss too much of their site—the truth is anytime you can get someone to a page in your site, if they like what you've shown them, they are more likely to visit the rest of your site.

So being overprotective about your pages and links can work against you by cutting down on traffic and recommendations from friends (or mentions in the press).

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Do Good For Free With Just A Click

NOW is the time to visit these sites, and click to donate for free.

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ONE FINAL WORD

I'm sure my vegetarian friend Karen would want to recommend that rather than eating a poor unsuspecting giant bird you should try something like Tofurkey. That would probably taste as good as my giant fiberglass chicken. But whatever you eat, be happy you have something to eat, and enjoy the season.

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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.