Posts belonging to Category Helpful Hints

News and Notes – 6/14/2010

Vote Early and Often. The city of Port Chester, New York, is trying out a new system of cumulative voting, in which each voter gets six votes to cast any way he likes (for example, one vote each for six candidates or six votes for only one candidate). The system is designed to give Port Chester’s large Latino population a better chance of electing one of its own to the village’s Board of Trustees.

Ouch. A hen in Eastwood, UK lay this record-breaking egg with a diameter of 9.1 inches. The hen is only six months old and only just started laying eggs.

Big Egg

Volume Conversions. Have trouble remembering how to convert gallons, quarts, pints and cups? Print out this neat conversion graphic and put it on your refrigerator. (Click here to download a Word document with the graphic.)

5 Tips for Halloween

John Mark Reynolds offers the following 5 Halloween Hints. I’ll leave my own comments after each one.

  1. Read Descent into Hell by Charles Williams. Great suggestion! Charles Williams’ novels are the best theologically-poetically-historically informed supernatural thrillers you will ever read. Question for John: Why did you pick Descent into Hell over All Hallows’ Eve?
  2. Watch one of the following: Charlie Brown Halloween special; original Frankenstein; or The Village. I like all three, but I vote for Charlie Brown.
  3. Recall for your family the righteous dead of your own line. If you don’t have a godly heritage, borrow the heroes of the faith. Interesting suggestion. I never thought of doing this.
  4. Do give out candy and not tracts. I know a lot of Christians would disagree with me here, but I’m with John on this one. Maybe a tract with the candy, but definitely not instead of.
  5. Scare a friend or family member. Hmmm. Watch out family and friends!

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions for Halloween?

Beware of Phone Bill Scam (JumPage Solutions)

Note: JumPage Solutions also goes by the names: INC21 Communications, Metro YP,, INC21.COM,, Netopus and

Our eagle-eyed church treasurer noticed an additional charge of $39.95 (plus $2.00 state tax) tacked on to the end of our most recent phone bill. The new monthly web charge was billed on behalf of a company called JumPage Solutions. I did some quick research and found that this is a company that has been reported to the Better Business Bureau for the practice of “cramming.”

The FCC defines cramming as:

the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges on your telephone bill. Crammers rely on confusing telephone bills in an attempt to trick consumers into paying for services they did not authorize or receive, or that cost more than the consumer was led to believe.

The company first calls your church or business to verify your contact information. They may offer you a free service — which later converts to a paid service without your knowledge or consent. The charge then shows up as an additional item on your regular phone bill. If you do not notice it, you will end up paying for a service that you never authorized or requested.

I called our phone company (Verizon) and asked the customer service representative how Verizon could bill me for another company’s services without even checking with me first. She said all accounts are set up that way unless you tell them otherwise. I told her, “Then I am telling you otherwise.” She agreed to reverse the charges and change our church account to protect from future cramming. I then called JumPage and reported my complaint to them. I also filed a complaint with the San Francisco Better Business Bureau.

Action Points for Churches and Small Businesses:

  1. Check your phone bills for additional charges that should not be there. If there are unfamiliar charges, call your phone company immediately to have them removed.
  2. Tell your phone company you do not want outside providers using your phone bill for third-party billing.
  3. Beware of Yellow Pages representatives calling to verify your information or offering you free services, especially when they ask if you are the authorized person to make changes on the account.
  4. You can report any violations to the Better Business Bureau or the FCC.

You can learn more about JumPage and “cramming” at these two links:

Have you had problems with “cramming” on your phone bill? Share about it in the comments.


Dr. James Stobaugh has put together a helpful series of posts answering frequently asked questions about the SAT 1 (Scholastic Aptitude Test), PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test), and the NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test).

Stobaugh also offers his personal recommendations for the day of the SAT:

Here is one example of a typical test-day schedule. Times will vary depending on the actual time of the test, how far away the test site is, etc.

I Survived the Digg Effect (And So Can You!)

(Learn how you can survive the Digg effect below.)

A number of you trying to access my blog last weekend may have encountered a big, fat “ACCOUNT SUSPENDED” notice instead. No, I was not delinquent on my bills. I was dealing with the Digg effect.

What is the Digg effect, you ask? Digg is a social media site where users share and promote content from all around the internet. The most popular articles get “pushed” to the front page. This results in the Digg effect, where thousands of visitors suddenly surge onto your site in a relatively short period of time. If you have a dedicated server with plenty of bandwidth and memory resources, it is not a problem. But if you are on a shared server, like I am, your server host can shut you down for consuming too many resources.


How to Prime an Oil Burner Pump (DIY)

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We ran out of oil for our furnace last week, which I have since discovered is not a good thing. I knew we were getting low, but with oil at $3.85 a gallon, I was trying to nurse it along to the end of the heating season. Obviously we didn’t make it. When we first ran out, I thought we could get by without heat and fill up the tank later when prices are lower. But after a couple nights with the house temperature dropping into the fifties, I quickly changed my mind.

I called some local oil companies to get a delivery of 20-25 gallons just to get us to the end of the season. No go. Every company had a 100-gallon minimum for delivery, and no one was budging. However, a couple of the companies told me that diesel is actually the same fuel as home heating oil. So I filled up two five gallon containers of diesel at the local gas station and poured them into the tank through the outside fill line. The furnace still wouldn’t start.

I did some poking around online and found out why it is not good to let your tank run dry. First of all, you suck all the sludge from the bottom of your oil tank into your oil lines, filters, strainer and nozzle. And secondly, you usually lose your prime. Well, I didn’t know what to do about the first problem, and I am not much of a fix-it-man, but I did some more searching online for how to prime the oil burner pump. Here are the basic DIY (Do It Yourself) instructions:

First, make sure that your thermostat is turned on. Then, 1) turn off your furnace, 2) open the bleeder valve on the fuel pump, 3) turn the furnace back on, 4) allow air, oil and sludge to escape from the bleeder valve until you get a solid flow of oil (be sure to catch the escaping oil in some kind of container), 5) close the bleeder valve, 6) repeat the whole procedure if the furnace still does not start.

I found a couple articles explaining this procedure in detail, but the best one by far was this one at WikiHow: How to Restart a Furnace After Running out of Oil. The other articles instructed me to hold a container under the valve when you opened it to catch the oil that would come spurting out. But this WikiHow article gave me the best tip of all — run a short section of 1/4″ nylon tubing from the bleeder valve to the container. I picked up a two-foot section of nylon tubing at the hardware store for 80 cents and went home to bleed the fuel line and prime the pump. The tubing worked perfectly and prevented a huge mess of oil everywhere.

The instructions online told me this was about a five minute procedure. I multiply estimated times for projects by a factor of six, so I guessed it would take me about half an hour to get this done. And it did! But the furnace is running again, and we now have heat to warm up the house in the morning. I would refer you to the WikHow article referenced above for complete instructions, but here are some helpful hints I learned along the way:

  1. Don’t let your tank run dry.
  2. You can substitute diesel for home heating oil in a pinch. (Five gallons of fuel will give you about five hours of running use.)
  3. The bleeder valve is located on the side of the fuel pump, pointing down diagonally, usually at the 4 or 8 o’clock position. It most likely takes a 3/8 inch wrench.
  4. Run 1/4″ clear nylon tubing (1/4″ inside measurement; 3/8″ outside measurement) from the bleeder valve to the catch container to prevent a mess. Clear tubing will allow you to see when you get a good flow of oil going from the pump.
  5. You may have to repeat the procedure several times to get the prime going. I didn’t get any oil flowing until the sixth try.
  6. If your reset button is in lockout mode (mine was), you will have to press and hold it for about 40 seconds in order to reset it.
  7. You can take the oil you capture in the container and pour it back into your tank.

If you came to this article looking for information, I hope that helps. I am not very good at this stuff, so I am guessing if I could get my oil pump primed and running again, so can you!

Click here for more Helpful Hints.

How to Find Anything

Professor Solomon is offering a free download of his book, How to Find Lost Objects. In the book the Professor explains twelve principles that will help you find just about any missing object.

I first read his twelve principles several years ago and have found them extremely helpful in finding things. But the most helpful principle for me was #10, what the Professor calls “The Eureka Zone.” Most missing objects are within eighteen inches of where you think they are. You just have to look more carefully. I have applied this principle again and again, and it seems to hold true. In fact I used it to find some missing electrical tape in the garage just last week.

Here is the Professor’s explanation of the Eureka Zone:

The majority of lost objects are right where you figure — once you take a moment to stop and figure. Others, however, are in the immediate vicinity of that place. They have undergone a displacement — a shift in location that, although minor, has served to render them invisible.

Some examples:

  • A pencil has rolled beneath a typewriter.
  • A tool has been shoved to the rear of a drawer.
  • A book on a shelf has gotten lodged behind other books.
  • A folder has been misfiled, several folders away from where it belongs.

Objects are apt to wander. I have found, though, that they tend to travel no more than eighteen inches from their original location. To the circle described by this eighteen inch radius I have given a name. I call it the Eureka Zone.

Check out the Professor’s other twelve principles, too. They just may help you find that something you’ve been looking for.

Click here for more Helpful Hints.

HT: Lifehacker

Feedburner Hack: How to Use Feedburner and Still Maintain Control of Your Feed and Subscribers

Here is a great little hack that will allow you to gain all the benefits of Feedburner without ever losing control of your original feed and subscribers. (I don’t usually blog about blogging, but I have not seen this hack covered elsewhere, so I thought I would make it available here.)


Customized Sports Scores with RSS

This is a pretty neat feature if you like to keep track of your favorite teams’ sports scores.

Totally Scored makes it easy to track your favorite sports or teams using any RSS reader by subscribing to the feed. You can customize the display so that you only see the results you are interested in. Whenever a game ends, the final score will be automatically downloaded to your computer, cellphone, or other RSS reader.

The site gives you scores for both college and pro teams. You can use the RSS feature or bookmark the site with your browser and check back for scores later. I just signed up for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Florida Marlins; the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat; and the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins.

By the way, if you enjoy the posts here at, you can subscribe to this blog by RSS or email, too. It’s easy, and it’s free! Click here to subscribe.

Click here for more Helpful Hints.

HT: Lifehacker

10 Tips for College Students

Here are 10 Tips for College Students Getting Ready for Fall from college professor John Mark Reynolds. These are great tips for both entering and returning students.

  1. Ignore advice to “remake” yourself the first day you get to college … Your family history and heritage matter … be wary of making big changes quickly.
  2. Do something each week that puts you in contact with people older and younger than your peer group.
  3. If you have a decent relationship with your parents keep it up. Remember that they are going through a tough transition too.
  4. If you are going to college, then go. You are in college to learn … School is your full time job, put fifty hours a week into it or go home.
  5. Find a faculty mentor during your first year. If you cannot, then your college is charging you for an education it cannot deliver.
  6. Take classes that are hard from full-time professors that love to teach.
  7. Secretaries and support staff are overworked, underpaid, and very powerful. You should be good to them out of virtue, but you must do it to thrive.
  8. Books are not yet antiques. Go to the library. Talk to librarians … Spend hours a day reading.
  9. Don’t be too quick to pick a major, but try to do so by the end of the first year.
  10. Live like an adult in college which includes moderating your passions.

Those are just the main points. Be sure to read the whole article for more of John’s thoughts relating to each of the points presented above.

The Answer is NOT Always “C”

I found this story about a college student who got a zero on a 100 question True/False Communications Final amusing. His professor sent him the following email the next day:

Dear Michael,

Every year I attempt to boost my students’ final grades by giving them this relatively simple exam consisting of 100 True/False questions from only 3 chapters of material. For the past 20 years that I have taught Intro Communications 101 at this institution I have never once seen someone score below a 65 on this exam. Consequently, your score of a zero is the first in history and ultimately brought the entire class average down a whole 8 points.

There were two possible answer choices: A (True) and B (False). You chose C for all 100 questions in an obvious attempt to get lucky with a least a quarter of the answers. It’s as if you didn’t look at a single question. Unfortunately, this brings your final grade in this class to failing. See you next year!

May God have mercy on your soul.

Professor William Turner

P.S. If all else fails, go with B from now on.   B is the new C.

So, have you ever just filled in the answers at random on a multiple choice test?

Update: Here is a picture of the student’s actual test. Notice the T and F printed prominently over the A and B columns.

True False Test

HT: Wandering Ink.