Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fixing the ******* Smart Defragmenter Virus

My system was hacked by the Smart Defragmenter virus sometime during the early evening of 10/29/10. I'm not sure how that happened, but here's how to save yourself a lot of hassle if a program called Smart Defragmenter suddenly shows up on your PC.

I started getting disk error and RAM messages from Smart Defragmenter. As I'd been doing a lot of graphic work, and file transfer that day, I thought all I needed to do was to reboot.

After rebooting, I got the same error messages again. I'd never seen Smart Defragmenter before, but thought maybe it was a Dell or Microsoft product that was added during an update.

So I stupidly ran Smart Defragmenter. It said it had fixed 5 problems, but to fix another 5 problems, which would, of course, cost me money,

This looked like a virus, so I ran my free version of AVG.

My laptop crashed.

Rebooted. Did some quick searches on "Smart Defragmenter," on late 10/29, but except for one comment by one guy, people made it sound like it was a real program.

My husband, who is more technical than I am, thought I was having a disk failure. Since I was away on Saturday, he said he'd get a better external backup drive and back-up my laptop before the disk failed completely.

When I got back Saturday night, he said he'd bought the new external drive, but my laptop kept failing during the backup.

This morning, I logged in again and still got disk failure and ram messages. I foolishly decided to pay for the "Smart Defragmenter" update. Huge mistake. I ran the program and still had the same error messages.

I called my credit card company to dispute the bill. While the invoice for "Smart Defragmenter" claims the name of its company is: SecurityLabSoftware, LLC (SLS, LLC), Professional Circle, Suite 110, CA 10345, clearly that's a bogus address. The phone number isn't findable associated with a company online (877-282-0139 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              877-282-0139      end_of_the_skype_highlighting). My credit card company says they'll note my dispute of the bill but I'll have to call again when it's posted in two days. The credit card company says the name they have for the company was "" which is a non-existent URL and their phone number is 888-490-4755 which appears to be a non-existent phone number.

To make a long story short, let me tell you what to look for to dump Smart Defragmenter from your system, without having to pay for some other program.

The problem executable is "winsp2up.exe."

On my system, Windows 7 Professional, this file was in [User]>AppData>Local>Temp
You have to do a Control-Alt-Delete and stop this process. Once you stop this process,
you can go to your temp directory and delete the file.

Another problem file in the same location is 48262185 (I think that had an exe too). This file was installed at the same time as winsp2up.exe, so I deleted that as well.

After rebooting, everything seems to be OK. I'd like to know how I got this virus, but now I know that AVG freeware is unreliable, I'll be installing a much more robust security system and I'll be changing all my passwords.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Weird Year, Great Trip to Australia and Going To Rally to Restore Sanity

I've been very quiet in the blog this year. I was hopelessly exhausted for over the first half of the year, but still managed to keep up with a part time job and an increasingly busy volunteer project.

The good thing that happened this year was Jim and I were able to go to Australia. We had a stupendous time. I survived jet lag, and took 1450 photos (nearly half of which I've edited).

This is my favorite photo from Australia:

September 11, 2010, the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbor Bridge, Laurie and Jim Mann, photo by John Maizels

We were in Melbourne for nearly two weeks, and Sydney for five nights. We went to Aussiecon 4 (World Science Fiction Convention), saw great sights, ate great meals and just had a terrific time. The only disappointment was we were going to New Zealand for a few days. To Christchurch. Sadly, our timing was off and the earthquake hit a few days before we were due to go. After dithering (I was eager to see Christchurch, and our B+B escaped unscathed) we decided to stay in Melbourne. Otherwise, we had a spectacular trip.

Also, being in Sydney the day that Oprah announced she was going to bring about 300 Americans to visit later this year was kind of a trip in itself - this was the top news story in Australia that day.

After a very busy two months of traveling, I decided at almost the last minute to go to Washington tomorrow for the "Rally to Restore Sanity."

Escape! Being Offended Own Judge

So I have to go and meet a friend early tomorrow morning.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Atomic Gingerbread

This is a modification of a recipe from The Joy of Cooking - Applesauce Gingerbread. I like more ginger in my gingerbread. Also, since it doesn't have any butter and has only a little oil, it's better for you than most baked goods.
Recipe to print
Preheat oven to 325.

1 cup of applesauce

Remove from heat and stir in:
1/2 cup molasses
1 tsp baking soda

The mixture will foam and bubble vigorously. Cool slightly.

Sift together:
1 1/2 cup flour
4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

In a large bowl, beat on high speed until
thick and pale yellow, 3-4 minutes:
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar

Gradually beat in
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbl ginger paste

Fold in flour mixture in three parts,
alternating with the applesauce/molasses
mixture in two parts.

Fold in
1/3 cup raisins

Scrape the batter into a 9" x 9" pan. Bake until
a toothpick inserted into the center comes
out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let cool in the
pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin
knife around the cake to detach it from the
pan. Invert the cake, let cool right side
up on the rack.

Decorate with some crystal ginger.

You can add any kind of ginger in any amount to this recipe, though sushi-style ginger doesn't work, due to the vinegar.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In Honor of a New Polio Documentary ("The Shot Felt 'Round the World") - Short Notes on Dr. Jessie Wright

Two years ago, I took a documentary course at the University of Pittsburgh. Back in 2005, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the release of the polio vaccine, some folks at Pitt led by Carl Kurlander started to collect a video record about the cure for polio.

When I took the course in early 2008, Carl suggested someone in the class might want to research Jessie Wright. I volunteered, and I'm glad I did. Jessie Wright was the unsung hero of polio treatment in the Pittsburgh area. I hope a little of my research made the cut, but I know they wound up with a shorter documentary than they were planning two years ago.

Here's a short look at Dr. Jessie Wright:

Born in England, Jessie Wright immigrated to the Pittsburgh area with her parents in 1906. Jessie was interested in medicine, partially due to having a friend handicapped by polio. Jessie learned about physiotherapy by observing the patients and helping with their therapy at the D. T. Watson home. She spent the next few years learning and practicing physiotherapy, while saving the money to attend college.

Even before attending college, Jessie studied skeletons and observed a dissection. She started taking premedical courses part time at the University of Pittsburgh in about 1921, and took several special courses in physiotherapy at the Harvard Medical School. Since Jessie was working, it took her many years to earn her Bachelor of Science (awarded in 1932) and her Doctor of Medicine (awarded in 1934).

Dr. Wright was later named the director of the D. T. Watson Home and taught orthopedics at the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to her medical, administrative and teaching duties, Dr. Wright developed several orthopedic devices and refined several others. While she worked on braces and splints, and she also adapted an existing device for especially for polio patients―the “fast-rocking” bed. This bed helped many polio patients to breathe on their own and freed them from the iron lung.

By 1947, she was the Chairman of the Joint Orthopedic Nursing Advisory Council and was active in the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. She worked with leaders in the polio field, including Jonas Salk and Basil O’Connor and built a reputation for herself and the D. T. Watson Home that went far beyond Pittsburgh. When he needed to test the vaccine on people who had already had polio, he tested patients at D. T. Watson.

But even while the vaccine was being tested and appeared to be working, Dr. Wright had to return her focus to rehabilitating polio patients. “The year 1952 was the worst polio year on record, with more than 57,000 cases nationwide.” Hundreds of children from across Pennsylvania arrived at the D. T. Watson Home for therapy. The therapy was surprisingly creative and patient-led. The important thing was to get the patient to the highest-level of self-sufficiency possible.

After forty-five years of near tireless work in the cause of improving the lives of people with orthopedic diseases, Dr. Wright suffered a coronary in 1966 that required her to retire from her professional activities, including running the D. T. Watson Home. She retired to seaside Maryland, where she enjoyed swimming, fishing and boating. Dr. Jessie Wright died September 6, 1970. A tree was planted in her honor at the D. T. Watson Home, and an annual award for Physical Therapy was named for her at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Both were extremely appropriate honors for a woman who worked so hard to professionalize physical therapy and loved the outdoors.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Rewriting History and Science, Texas Style

Texas has always had a strong, centralized system for buying textbooks. Unfortunately, the Texans are continuing to dumb down and rewrite history and science. Next, we'll probably learn that Pi=3, because the Bible says it does.

Roger Ebert wrote an excellent piece on how bad this siutation has gotten:
Texas School Book Repository.

So I guess the question many of us have is - how can we convince publishers to publish fact-based science and history books? If Texans want to rewrite science and history based on the ravings of the lunatic fringe, shouldn't these books be self-published rather most lunatic fringe books are?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Well, it's not Quite the Republican's Waterloo...But It's Close!

I was raised to be a Republican. Heck, I even voted, when I was 19, for Gerry Ford. I worked for Republican candidates in the '70s and '80s.

But while I've spent most of my adult life as a registered Independent, I became a registered Democrat in 2004.

I believe we need a multiple party system in this country. But any rational Republican let the far right co-opt their own party somewhat during the Reagan administration, but whole-heartedly during the Clinton administration.

I'm not fond of big government. But, more important than its size is, is it a progressive, forward-thinking government? Does it try to treat people fairly? Does the government respect the Constitution? We didn't have that from early 2001 until early 2009. And yet, health care reform is somehow more unconstitutional than holding prisoners for years without charging them? What's wrong with this picture?

While my husband and I make under $250,000 (well under), I expect we will be paying higher taxes in the future. And I will not bitch about it. Not only will we be helping to pay for more American's health care (which is fine by me), we will also be helping to pay off the debts incurred during the Bush wars and tax cuts (which never were fine by me). But we won't bitch about it.

Thanks, again, President Obama and the Democratic party, for helping to bring American into the late 20th century with your health care reform plan. We will always remember who voted for it, and who voted against it.

HCR 2010: Better care for people, not for insurance companies!

Congratulations to Obama and the Democrats for dragging our country, kicking and screaming in some cases, into the late 20th century healtcare reform wise. Maybe we can stop spending as much of our GDP on healthcare, and get the better care most of the rest of the civilized world gets. Better care for people, not for insurance companies!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pittsburgh's Blog for Equity Day

I'm busy today, so I'll get right to the point:

Consenting, taxpaying adults have the right to live with whomever they want without fear of state-sanctioned prejudice. There will always be bigots out there (that's life), but the law should not practice prejudice, like denying gay folks the right to marry should they so choose.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Annual Oscar Predictions - 2010

Stop on by; I'll be updating this during the Oscars.
2010 Oscars (comments on movies made in 2009).

Monday, February 08, 2010

William Tenn/Phil Klass and the Meaning of Chutzpah

I'm not sure when, exactly, was the first time I met Phil Klass (aka William Tenn). I think we met at one or two cons in the '70s or '80s. I was familiar with some of his writing, especially "Child's Play" and "On Venus, Have We got a Rabbi!" But, by 1993, I turned out to have a fairly close connection to Phil and Fruma -- my husband Jim and I bought a house about a half mile away from theirs in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon. And their daughter, Adina, was only about four years older than our daughter Leslie. Over the next few years, we'd run into each other at various science fiction club events and at Confluence, the local SF con.

I'd often run into people who'd had Phil as a teacher at Penn State. Many of these people were in fandom, but I've probably met a dozen people at various companies in the Pittsburgh area who weren't SF fans but still remembered Professor Klass very fondly.

By the late '90s, Jim had an idea -- NESFA Press should reprint all of Phil's fiction. Since most of his fiction hadn't been reprinted in years, this would help expose more of his writing to more readers. It took a few months to develop the contract to Phil's exacting specifications, but the results by the early '00s were two terrific volumes of all of William Tenn's fiction: Immodest Proposals and Here Comes Civilization.

So we started working with Phil and Fruma a little more closely. He'd greet me with "Hello, Laurie. And why do they say all those terrible things about you?" The first time he did that, I wasn't sure how to react. I'd just laugh nervously and we'd go on from there. But, gradually, I noticed he only said that to people he liked, so that was fine by me!

When the Nebula Awards Weekend was in sudden search of a new site, I suggested bringing it to Pittsburgh, and SFWA took me up on that. SFWA also made William Tenn the Author Emeritus for the 1999 Nebula Awards Weekend. So there was Phil, resplendent in a tux, speaking to all the assembled writers, signing autographs for many of them.

Late 2003 and early 2004 I was consumed by work, collecting of Phil's non-fiction writing in a GoH book for Noreascon IV. Phil's non-fiction was full of little gems, especially a wonderful piece about his parents "Constantinople," and a long and fascinating piece on electronic surveillance in the '60s, "The Bugmaster." While we agreed on almost everything, we had two disagreements over the production of this book.

There were two interview transcriptions -- one long and the other very long. I wanted to edit out about 10% of the short interview, and maybe 25% of the longer interview to cut down on the repetitions (there are at least three stories told three different ways in the course of his non-fiction collection). Phil was adamant that nothing be edited, except to correct egregious errors. I finally got him to agree to some minimal editing, mostly removing side comments between Phil and the videographer.

We couldn't agree on the title.

For years, instead of saying "Thank-you very much," Phil would say, "For that, I'll dance naked on a table for you." I loved that phrase from him, and, felt it would be a good title for his collection of non-fiction. Because his non-fiction is quite honest. Also, Deb Geisler, the chair of Noreascon IV, loved it too.

Perhaps Phil and Fruma felt the title was too undignified or something so they resisted it. I'm not sure they ever came up with an alternative suggestion. Finally, after about a year of back and forth, they agreed to the title. The artist Bob Eggleton did a wonderfully comic take on the title for the cover. Undignified or not, Dancing Naked brought Phil his first Hugo nomination.

Noreascon IV chose William Tenn as one of their GoHs for 2004. With a lot of help from their old State College friends Kathy and Jim Morrow, and their daughter Adina, Phil and Fruma were able to go everywhere and do everything at the Worldcon.

In the late '00s, they were not able to travel as much. They still came out to Confluence every year, and sometimes drove to eastern Pennsylvania to visit Adina. By the fall of '09, Phil was in and out of several hospitals. He really enjoyed getting cards from people. He was particularly pleased to have heard from a fan from Norway. By late November, Fruma was able to bring him home. While very weak, he appreciated people's visits, and he was fairly alert.

Phil (and William Tenn) died on February 7, 2010, at home of congestive heart failure.

My favorite Phil Klass story took place 12 years before I was even born, at the end of World War II. Phil could exaggerate, but I'm sure this story is close to 100% true.

Phil was a short man, maybe about 5'2" or so. But what he failed to have in height, he more than made up for in bravado and chutzpah.

Phil was in the Army for most of World War II. He scored a very high rating on language aptitude. He was sent to the Univesity of Pittsburgh with 24 other soldiers for intensive training in Serbo-Croation. The plan was, they'd be sent to help liberate Yugoslavia.

It turned out, Phil never got to Yugoslavia, despite having learned Serbo-Croation. And most of the rest of his classmates were sent to the Pacific, where no one spoke Serbo-Croation.

But Phil was sent back to Europe. Since he spoke several languages (in addition to English and Serbo-Cration), he was eventually assigned to be a translator. One of his jobs was to translate for the former concentration camp guards.

So, picture this -- a short, Jewish American army soldier from New York City translating for tall, Aryan Nazi guards who'd spent years facilitating the slaughter of Jewish prisoners.

One of the guards finally asked him, "You speak an unusual kind of German. What is it?"

Phil looked the guard in the eye and said, "It's Yiddish."

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Surviving the Snowpocalypse

A few weeks ago, Jim discovered we could attend five Pittsburgh Symphony concerts for the price of four. Since we didn't get to any PSO concerts last year, we'd never seen the new conductor, Manfred Honeck, at work. The concert I particularly wanted to see was Anne-Sophie Mutter playing a Brahams violin concerto.

So, Jim bought tickets for Friday, February 5.

Yes, the snowstorm was predicted, but we didn't expect more than five inches or so by Friday night.

I had a suggestion - why don't we use some of our Marriott points and just stay in town.

Jim tought this was a bad idea. However, in case we got seriously stuck somewhere, I packed the essentials - pajamas, change of clothes, toilet articles, my camera and my laptop.

4:30: We left very early, expecting road problems. But while we had 1"-2" of snow by then, the roads had been pretty well treated and there wasn't much traffic.

5:30: We had a very nice dinner, my belated birthday dinner, at the Braddock's American Brassiere (site of the former Opus at the Rennaisance). One of the chefs from the Inn at Little Washington is a chef there. Highly recommend it.

8:00: The concert was great, Mutter was wonderful playing Brahms' Violin Concerto. She sounded fabulous (of course!) and was wearing a striking gold gown. I'm very glad we went.

9:15: Odd bit at the concert for the Mahler Symphony #1. For a symphony orchestra, all the musicians are onstage when the concert starts, and stay all the way through, even the guy who clangs the cymbals one time. One trumpet player wandered onstage about five minutes after the Mahler started, and two more showed
up a bit later. Is this the orchestral version of a job action? [[Nope, it turns out it's a traditional part of this piece.]]

10:15: When we went to get our car, the roads weren't too bad. There was, maybe 4"-5" of snow.

We figured driving home would be slow but doable. By 10:30, we were out of the garage and headed for the Fort Pitt Bridge and tunnel.

The Fort Pitt Bridge is a double-decker, four lane bridge that goes over the Monongehela River, just before it joins with the Allegheny to form the Ohio. Two of the lanes go into the tunnel under Mt. Washington, and the other two go down to West Carson St. The Fort Pitt Tunnel is usually the most convenient way to travel if you're going south or west of Pittsburgh.

Mt. Washington is a fairly steep ridge south of downtown Pittsburgh. You really don't want to drive over it in the snow. And there are some other pretty big ridges south of that.

As we approached the bridge, the traffic stopped. At that point, we couldn't turn around and had to stay on the bridge.

And so, we crept across the bridge. It looked like the tunnel might be closed, but there was no way to tell for sure.

11:00: We were still on the bridge, and listened to the news. As with the flash flooding back in June, the "news station KDKA" was useless in providing local weather and traffic information during a potentially dangerous situation. KDKA reported that the tunnel and the Parkway West "had restrictions."

After a few more minutes, we found that the tunnel was completely closed, and all the traffic was routed down to West Carson St. It had been closed for over a half hour at that point.

If we thought the traffic was slow on the bridge, at least it moved a little. At one point on West Carson St., we moved 1/10th of a mile in a half hour.

As we were sitting on West Carson, I was dreading the trip through the West End. In retrospect, at the West End, I should have taken the back way to the Parkway West past the tunnel. But, there were fewer miles to home if I went along Stueben St., so that's the way I drove. And, unlike Carson Street, there wasn't much traffic. But there are some very steep hills on twisty streets. Luckily, there was no one in front of me by the time I got through to Stueben St.

But what I didn't expect since it wasn't at all windy - fallen branches and downed wires. The snow was heavy enough that it tore down branches all over the place, especially along Stueben St. There were intermittent power failures. The branches were mostly over in the other lane.

I burned rubber going up and over the hill, but I made it to Route 60, which would get me west of the city. I figured it should be slow but clear sailing from there.

12:15: There was a police roadblock after the bridge on the western side of Crafton. A few semis had jacknifed on Route 60 near Interstate 79. That part of the road was closed. The only alternate route was up and down hills so twisty I don't drive them in good weather. We pulled into a
closed gas station near the roadblock to consider our options.

I promised Jim I would limit saying "I told you so" to once an hour.

12:45: After about a half an hour and no progress (also, no snowplows on this fairly
major road), we consdered taking another back way we knew slightly. Jim had his GPS, so we
couldn't get that lost. The police thought that way had been plowed and would be pretty clear.

We got back onto Route 60 going back towards Pittsburgh, and turned to Ingram. We followed the most plowed road.

Turned out, the most plowed road for about two miles was the road to the massive Giant Eagle distribution center. *sigh*

We turned around and headed back to Ingram Rd. We turned onto West Prospect, which, while hilly, showed some signs of being plowed.

Big mistake. As we went over the top of a hill, we realized the plowing abruptly stopped. And a car was off the road. Yikes.

Very carefully, I was able to get us turned around. but it took what seemed like a very long time to get the car moving back up the hill again. Burning rubber and then some. But, I got back up to the top of the hill, got back to Route 60 and went back to the relative safety of the gas station.

While there was a motel about a quarter mile past the roadblock, it had no electricity (and the police didn't recommend it when there was electricity). Hard to tell how much snow. Maybe eight
inches. Oh, and did I mention the freezing rain? But, we still had plenty of gas.

The police said even after they got the trucks cleared off of Route 60, Route 22, which took us most of the rest of the way home, was a major mess.

Last report I heard said maybe up to 14" of snow our way... We were only supposed to get about 10" at the most.

2:15-2:45: Started writing this. I'm glad I had my laptop with a good battery!

2:45-5:00: Dozed on and off.

5:00: The snowplow for the gas station arrived. I moved a bit so I wouldn't get plowed in. Got out and cleaned off about 2 more inches of snow.

5:30: More stuck cars on Route 60, no snowplows for 60 yet. Road still closed west of here after nearly 6 hours. Now, people in 4x4s are waiting it out in the gas station lot.

6:10: Plows FINALLY plowed 60! The police left the gas station!

6:20: We got about a mile and a half further west...and see a newly jack-knifed truck
about three trucks in front of us. We're stopped on the hill near the 79 interchange. I hope
we can get moving again before the wet road turns to ice.

7:00: Still on the hill. There's been all kinds of equipment around the jacknifed truck, but
nothing is moving. Scarily, there's now a long line of traffic going westbound in the eastbound

7:10: Looks like the jacknifed truck is FINALLY out of the way! The Robinson township cops did amazing work all night long. I think the same guy we saw from midnight until 6 staffing the roadblock was the same guy stopping traffic around the jackknifed truck.

7:40: The plowing crew did a very thorough job around the jackknifed trailer. We actually got from Route 60 to Route 22 in Robinson without trouble - it was slow but not scarey and there were no unexpected stops. The 79-60 interchange was a nightmere - completely impassible from 79.

8:00: 22 was snowcovered and passable. However, the exits hadn't been plowed. Since our usual exit was very long, we got off in Imperial, so I could hit the bathroom (for the first time in 11 hours!) and get a drink. The roads were snowcovered but passible the whole rest of the way. To our surprise, our street had been plowed. But, that meant the first thing we had to do was to clear away enough snow so we could park our car in the driveway.

9:00: Finally IN THE HOUSE. I'm finishing up this epic tale of snowpocalypse survival. Jim is going to bed. We don't have to leave the house until Monday. Except for lots more shoveling (and, I hope, some snowblowing) we won't have to. Looks like we got nearly 14" in McDonald, but it's hard to tell because of the snowdrifts.