Nigerian hackers, don’t make me call your mothers.

27 Aug

spamMost embarrassing moment of recent memory: Getting my e-mail hacked last week.

I used to laugh at those people who clearly clicked on some ridiculous link, or left their e-mail open at the library, or still visit websites that end in “geocities.” But last week, somehow, I became one of those people.

Many of you may have received an e-mail that looked like it came from me on Thursday. As soon as I discovered the spamming, I changed my password, but the spamming continued. Based on the advice from some of you, I set up Gmail’s two-step authentication process, where I need a password and a code texted to my cell phone in order to access my e-mail. I haven’t heard from anyone about any suspicious e-mails lately, so hopefully it’s over.

The whole thing made me wonder: What would a Nigerian hacker gain from spamming my e-mail account? Other than simply spreading the virus — as my mom said, “Are these people just terrible people who want to cause you harm?” — here are my thoughts as to why someone might want to take control of my e-mail.

  • Sabotage the renewal of my library books. What if this hacker saw the notification from my local library that my audio book was due tomorrow and then deleted the e-mail, never to be seen by me? I’d never know my book was due, and I’d carry on, listening to it at my leisure, never knowing I was secretly being fined $0.10 a day. I can’t afford this, hackers!
  • Read interesting articles that my friends and family send me. Hackers, the Internet has tons of content that is free and open to the public — why deprive me of the specific articles that my friends and family e-mail to me? You think getting into my e-mails will make you smarter? Maybe until I know this ordeal is sorted out, I’ll ask friends to online e-mail me articles from The Onion so you’ll only learn satirical yet hilarious lies.
  • RSVP “yes” to Facebook events put on by people I barely know. I’m not really sure how I got those invites in the first place — we’re Facebook friends because we went to the same high school but didn’t even really talk to each other then, so of course I get invited to their work fundraisers? — but you’d go into my e-mail, somehow gain access to my Facebook, and RSVP “yes” on my behalf to those weird events. The poor souls whom I barely know will get their hopes up for nothing.
  • Forget to tell me about relevant Groupon and LivingSocial deals. WHAT??? My hair salon is having a Groupon deal and you didn’t tell me? Or the restaurant that I’m visiting tomorrow is having a half off deal and I will never know? What is the purpose of living now?
  • Organize gatherings without me. A hacker could easily e-mail my closest friends, decide that we’re meeting for dinner at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Maggiano’s in Old Orchard … and I would NEVER know. Not only are you hacking into my account, but you’re getting my friends together without me? You truly are heartless.

So, friends, I do apologize for the spammy e-mails, and I hope none of you clicked on the suspicious links. And hackers, if you’re reading this: If you mess with my weekly Pinterest Picks e-mails, filled with the magical pins that Pinterest somehow knows I will enjoy — I will find you.

Please, Lord of Fashion, spare the maxi dress!

20 Aug

maxi dressAlmighty benevolent God in heaven, if there is such a god, and if there is such a place, I have one small request. One simple favor for which I pray. On behalf of all humanity, to you I reach out today.

Please, God, let maxi dresses stay in style for at least one more year.

I’m not normally one who is current on the latest fashion trends. I remember distinctly in middle school thinking that capri pants were ugly and I’d never wear them — but sure enough, a few years later, there I was, sporting the three-quarter-length pants. I was all about the glitter on my eyes and the butterfly clips in my hair, but not until the popular girls did it first. And I wore my jean jacket long enough past middle school that it almost stretched to its comeback last year.

The fads come and go — which is unfortunate for my wallet — but usually I quickly get over their loss and move on to the next fashion trend. But if maxi dresses are out of style next year — one short year after I purchased five long, beautiful, flowy maxi dresses and skirts — then I’m not sure why it’s worth even attempting to believe in You.

maxi dressThese dresses look great on everyone — they make the tall look taller and the short look slightly less short. Maxi dress wearers need not worry about shaving their legs, or, in my case, showing the world their ghostly white legs. They pair well with the aforementioned jean jacket, a sweater, or even just a beaded necklace. They are casual and comfortable, both for walking and for sitting cross-legged on the floor.

My beloved maxi dresses have this uncanny way of filling a social ambiguity, when you’re wondering if you should dress up, dress down, wear nice pants, wear jeans and heels, or just skip the event altogether because you’re completely clueless on what to wear. What do you wear? You wear a maxi dress.

Ruler of the Universe, I just started appreciating these maxi dresses recently. If this becomes one of those fashions — the fad that just fades — I won’t know what to do with myself. Now that I’ve lived in a world where I can go from a street festival to an engagement party to a religious service without changing clothes, I just don’t think I could bear to go back to how it was before.

I need more time. It doesn’t have to be forever. Of course, that would be great, but I don’t want to be a greedy devotee. All I ask is for at least one more year of maxi trendiness, and then maybe two to three subsequent years of everyone understanding that the trend is on its way out but is still tolerated.

Because right now I have a yellow maxi skirt and a blue one, two teal dresses, and a gray one — and I think that I might want to buy a black one. And possibly a purple one.

Thank you for hearing my prayer, O Lord of Fashion. And let us say: Amen.

You’ve got mail!

13 Aug

mailboxInbox (1)

There is nothing that makes me more anxious than this. Well, maybe there are a few other things. But when I see the Inbox (1), because of a slight internal craziness I have, I absolutely must check my e-mail. What is it? Is it from a friend? Is it a note from a relative? Did someone tag a picture of me on Facebook? Does Groupon have a special deal for an ivory king-size comforter??

If I was truly crazy, I could set my cell phone to beep when I got an e-mail; or, as I have with my Outlook e-mails at work, a notification pops up on my screen.

But in the world of snail mail, you have no real way of knowing if you’ve got mail.

It’s a bit hard to believe that in this day and age, you actually have to put on shoes and maybe a bathrobe, stop what you’re doing, get off the couch, put one foot in front of the other, and move a great distance in order to check and see if there’s mail in your mailbox. And more often than not, there isn’t.

This is usually not a problem, as all I ever get in my mailbox are ads, wedding invitations, thank you notes, and bills for which I keep forgetting to set up online payments.

But at least I check it every day.

I have recently learned that some of my friends rarely, if ever, check their mailboxes. This can be problematic with the wedding invitations, but where it truly becomes catastrophic in my life is with birthday cards.

I find Facebook birthday wall posts fairly impersonal, so when I have a very close friend, I do my darnedest to send him or her a physical card in the mail — with a stamp and everything. It’s fun and makes everyone involved feel happy and excited. But, friends, I need you to check your mailbox every day — or at the very least, every day in the week prior to your birthday. Otherwise, I have to play the “So, do you often check your mailbox in your building?” game.

One day, maybe we’ll develop a system to get a ding on our phone when something other than a Money Mailer ad or a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon appears in our mailbox; but until then, let’s all do our best to get our daily exercise and look in our physical mailboxes — before the postal service completely disappears.

Happy 10th anniversary, blog!

6 Aug

Happy 10th anniversary, "Bril-lia-nce" (lialehrer.com)This week, I celebrate a very special milestone: The 10th anniversary of this blog.

For 10 years, I’ve used this space to share my thoughts — sometimes funny, sometimes silly, always heartfelt.

I wrote my first post on Aug. 9, 2004, where I hesitantly wrote that I’d be starting a “Livejournal” (one of the 2004 versions of WordPress) and shared a few disjointed thoughts from the day. Over the next six years, I wrote occasionally in the blog, whenever an idea struck me.

Many times, I would go weeks or months without a post, and then I’d be hesitant to write a new post. “It’s been two months; my ‘comeback’ really needs to be a good one!” I’d tell myself.

So in October 2010, I made what has become a fairly major life decision: I made a commitment to publish a blog post every Wednesday.

To this day, I have kept that promise to myself. Even on weeks when I was flooded with grad school assignments; on nights when I spent the whole evening at a restaurant, laughing with friends; on nights when gravity pulled my eyes and my body downward; I wrote. When all I wanted to do in the whole world was to skip a week of blogging, I wrote. When I wracked my brain for a topic worthy of sharing with all of my friends and came up empty, I wrote — sometimes those posts were not the best, but sometimes they surprised me and became some of my favorites.

On the stressful Tuesday nights — or “my funny Tuesdays,” as I call them —  I’ve had many moments when I wonder why I even bother with this blog. Some of you have even asked why I continue to do this. So in honor of my blog’s tin/aluminum anniversary, I present you with these shiny 10 reasons why I do this.

 

Top 10 Reasons Why I Maintain LiaLehrer.com:

1) Practice writing. If you’re a tennis player, you develop your skill by playing tennis. If you’re a singer, you take singing lessons and perform in shows. What do you do when your skill, hobby, and interest is writing? For me, I’ve used this blog to practice my writing on a weekly basis, allowing me to develop my writing voice.

2) Use a team to improve my writing. I bet most of you didn’t know this — but before I post anything on this blog, I send it to at least two people (my parents) and occasionally one or two others to edit. My dad is the person who first inspired and continues to inspire me to write, and his edits constantly tighten and improve my writing. He challenges me to choose better, more colorful words, and to always include a picture. My mom‘s role is to make sure I don’t write something embarrassing. My brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Rachel, listen to the stories I tell out loud (or, really, the things I complain about in life) and say, “Save it for a blog post!” And my boyfriend, Adam, serves as my external hard drive, helping me remember details about places we’ve visited or people we’ve met who star in my blogs.

3) Maintain my status as a journalist. I worked hard for my B.S. in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. While much of my current job involves writing, interviewing, photography, and graphic design, it’s helpful to maintain my ability to attend an event or visit a city and review it. Maybe in another life, I’ll follow in my father’s footsteps and be a professional travel writer — but for now, in this life, I only do that on Wednesdays.

4) Provide some discipline in my life. As mentioned, there have been many a night when writing was the last thing I’ve wanted to do. But this promise that I made to myself — to post every Wednesday — has whipped me into shape. I constantly maintain a list of potential blog ideas, and when I’m out and about in the world, I look at everything as a potential blog topic. Sometimes even the blog entries I write at 11 p.m. on Tuesday nights — or, let’s be real, the ones I write at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays — become some of my favorites. At work, in my volunteer positions, and with my friends and family, most people have figured out that I work really well with deadlines (a residual side effect of my journalism training). My self-imposed weekly blog deadline is akin to my piano teacher as a child, whose visit forced me to practice at least the day before her arrival; or the cleaning lady, whose visits force me to go through my piles of papers at least occasionally.

5) Observe the world in a different way. When most people travel — whether it’s abroad or a few blocks away from their homes — they may take in the sights and sounds of the place and maybe take a photo or two. If I know that I’m going to blog about a place, my eyes open wider, my ears listen harder, and my nose smells like there’s no tomorrow. As an amateur travel writer, I use my love of writing as a way to share my experiences with you. And if you can’t go there yourself right now, well, I’ll do my best to take you there vicariously through this website.

6) Preserve memories. Whether I’m traveling, or experiencing something new in my neighborhood, or noticing a funny or awkward situation, I want to remember everything. I’ve noticed that some of my happiest experiences in my life — summers at camp, on USY on Wheels, or in Israel; family vacations; making new friends in college; or just being a kid in elementary school — are documented in journals. This blog has become a public journal where I can share and preserve some of my best, funniest, or strangest memories.

7) Work on my stand-up career. I’m no Jon Stewart or Sarah Silverman, but I very much appreciate the art of comedy. I study “Seinfeld” like a textbook, and often my posts emulate a Jerry Seinfeld-esque “What’s with the people who put carpeting on the lid of their toilet seat?” I come from a family of joke-tellers, and attempts at humor are in my blood. If I can make you chuckle or even a half a chuckle, like when you read something and do that guttural “heh” because what you read was mediumly funny, then I’ve done my job. And if my career as a Jewish professional doesn’t work out, there’s always a stand-up career to fall back on.

8) Maybe I’ll write a book someday. I absolutely loved Mindy Kaling’s book “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns.)” Though much of her book was autobiographical and described her road to fame — and I have no desire to be famous — many of her chapters were short non-sequiturs that reminded me of the type of posts I aspire to write. So who knows; maybe someday you’ll see excerpts from this blog in between two hard covers. Though really, seeing a book with my byline on Amazon is more like a science fiction story. By the time such a thing happens in real life, I’m pretty sure there will be no paper left in the world and you’ll have to beam the contents of the book into your brain. In which case, I’d be happy to sign my famous signature onto your forehead.

9) Inspire others. I’m not saying that my blog has changed the world, but maybe I’ve at least made you rethink things a little. Maybe you’ve considered listening to audio books. Maybe you’ve considered helping me bring back the fanny pack. Perhaps you’ve adopted my “caller calls back” method for dropped cell phone calls. You may have learned not to put duct tape in the dishwasher. Maybe you’ve tried dabbling in different types of car honks. Maybe you’ve been inspired to buy more gift cards as presents. Perhaps you’ve learned the proper angle to use when taking a photo of people. Perhaps you’ve joined me and stopped eating donuts because they make you feel yucky, too. Maybe you’ll join me on my fitness obsession and get a Fitbit and/or a standing desk. And maybe you’ll give flotation tanks a try, or visit my new favorite destination, Quebec City. And at the very least, it gives us something to chat about.

10) Connect with friends around the world. Karen, if you’re reading this, I’m going to give you a little shoutout. I have a friend and former roommate from Northwestern, Karen, who lives in Boston. We don’t chat as often as I would like — especially not as often as when we shared an apartment in Evanston — but Karen Gchats me about once a month on a Wednesday after I post my blog for the week. She usually has a comment she shares with me about my blog, whether it’s that she agrees, or she has a suggestion, or maybe even a minor correction. I truly look forward to these conversations — it has become our way of keeping in touch. Similarly, when I post my blog entries to Facebook, I receive comments from friends near and far, some of whom I haven’t seen in many years. I very much enjoy these interactions. I love how the written word — my favorite hobby — can bring people together, spark conversations, and re-ignite friendships. So thank you, dear friends, for helping me use this blog as a platform for discussion.

 

Here’s hoping for at least another 10 years of writing, collaborating, sharing, preserving, and storytelling with all of you. Thank you for reading.

Cheating at the eye doctor

30 Jul

eyechart_full_pageIs it possible that yesterday, I cheated at the eye doctor’s office?

I didn’t mean to … but boy, the eye doctor made it so easy.

I went to my ophthalmologist for my annual-ish check-up — basically solely for the purpose of ordering new contact lenses — and I sat on the chair, staring at the letters on the wall. With my contacts still in, the doctor’s assistant covered up one eye and asked me to read the letters. The first line was easy, as were the second and third; but by the fourth line, the tiny letters were getting harder to read.

“E … V … O … T,” I said.

On the next line — “S … I think it looks like a 7 … F … O.”

She covered up the other eye. Same story. I got to that tiny line of letters, and sure enough, it was E.V.O.T.

She flipped a few switches and played my favorite game, the “Is it better or smaller? Is it better 1 or 2? 3 or 4?” game. Each time, there it was: My good friend, E.V.O.T.

And then we played it again with my glasses. By this time, I almost didn’t need to even open my eyes. E.V.O.T.

I don’t want to cheat. I’d like my contacts and glasses to have the most accurate prescription possible. But my brain was no longer operating in “seeing” mode — it was operating in “memorizing” mode.

Dear eye doctors of the world: Can you help fix this? How hard would it be to show a line of text that is 15 letters long, and each time, you show me four new letters from the row?

I miss the days of kindergarten eye tests. We’d stare into a box, and the nurse would ask us, “Is the bunny inside the box or outside of the box?” Obviously I loved bunnies so I was excited to play this game accurately. “Is the dot red or green?” I also loved colors, so eye-testing day was pretty much my favorite.

Can’t they say, “Read these letters and make up a sentence with words that begin with those letters”? That would be really fun for me. “Sure!” I’d say. “Every volcano obeys turtles. Or, better yet, even velvet often tears.”

But, alas, I memorized the letters. I’m hoping it doesn’t cause too much long-term damage to my vision. I seem to be typing this and looking at my screen with no problem. Oh well. Everyone’s vision’s only temporary.

Are you sitting down?

23 Jul

I’ve got some news. Are you sitting down?

Well, the news is that I’m not sitting down. I’m standing up!

IMG_1904

My new standing desk. By the way, do you like my re-designed bulletin board?

 

For months now, I’ve been reading about the negative effects of what they call “sitting disease.” According to the experts, “sitting is the new smoking,” and the hours we spend each day are cutting our lives short. According to the Mayo Clinic, ‘If Americans would cut their sitting time in half, their life expectancy would increase by roughly two years, by reducing sitting to less than 3 hours a day.”

So a few weeks ago, I decided to buy myself a standing desk to use at work. After researching several options, including some pricey treadmill desks, I bought a Varidesk Pro. It’s an adjustable desk that sits on top of my current desk and raises and lowers my entire computer setup — both of my monitors, my keyboard, my mouse, and even my business cards, Post-It Notes, and Chapstick. When I want to stand, I pull the desk up. When it’s time to sit, I push it down. Each movement takes about two seconds.

I also bought myself an anti-fatigue mat to keep my footsies from aching too much.

The Varidesk comes with an app that pops up on my screen to tell me when to sit and when to stand. (Though, now that I think about it, it would be cool if it came with a Jewish version of the app that said “Please rise” or “You may be seated” in the voice of my childhood rabbi.) The experts say that sitting all day is not good for you, but standing all day isn’t either, so the combination of the two is the ideal. I set my app to tell me to stand for 30 minutes and sit for 30 minutes.

My standing desk in the standing position. Pretty meta to see the picture of me composing this blog entry, right?

My standing desk in the standing position. Pretty meta to see the picture of me composing this blog entry, right? (Excuse my mess of wires; I’m working on it.)

 

The adjustable desk in the sitting position.

The adjustable desk in the sitting position.

How’s it working out? I love it. Here are some of my favorite things about it:

  1. Stepping. While I’m standing, if I’m on the phone or responding to e-mails, I might even get a few extra steps on my Fitbit. I can talk and walk; why not type and walk? It works great.
  2. Better posture. I’m not including a picture of the way I sit at my desk in this post because, honestly, it’s embarrassing. I’m a bit of a sloucher, especially when I’m sitting; so when I’m standing, my back feels much more natural and comfortable. Sorry, Notre Dame, you won’t be gaining any hunchbacks from this girl.
  3. More alert. You know the post-lunch “Why-can’t-we-be-like-Europe-and-have-afternoon-siestas” feeling? I won’t say that I’ve completely lost that feeling, but it has certainly improved. If I’m feeling tired, I’ll stand up, walk a little, and get back into my groove.
  4. Burning calories. My Varidesk app, in addition to telling me when to stand and sit, keeps an estimate of how many calories I’ve burned on a daily basis due to standing. I’m not sure how accurate this actually is, but the app tells me I burn around 500 calories per day from standing. I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like an extra couple of French macarons.
  5. Helping others. My job often requires other people to come and look at my computer to edit a flyer or see something on our website. When I show them the computer in the standing position, I feel like I’m doing a small good deed by giving my coworkers a brief respite from their sitting. And hey, it’s fun!
  6. It’s a conversation starter. I love icebreakers, and this is certainly a big one.

Alright, you’ve made it to the end of this post — I think it’s time to reward yourself by standing up.

Global Entry office, right next to McDonald’s

16 Jul

You’re now looking at the newest member of the Global Entry program, offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After a thorough investigation of my background and determining that I’m a relatively nice person, I now have access to quickly cut through security lines and customs lines when coming into the U.S. from abroad. So, here I come, world! Or, more accurately, after exploring other countries, I’ll get to enter back into Sweet Home Chicago a little faster.

But this isn’t the funny part.

The funny part is that when I received my letter in the mail with my new Global Entry card, here was the return address:

2014-07-15 21.11.36

Was it absolutely necessary for the return address to indicate that the Global Entry office is next to McDonald’s?

First, are letter carriers not as smart as they used to be? Suppose the Global Entry office sent me a letter, the address turned out to be incorrect, and the postman had to return the letter to its sender. Would he really get so lost that he’d need a physical landmark to direct him?

Second, when I think of the people who protect our country from the bad guys from abroad, I like to think of neat, clean offices with people wearing badges sitting at organized desks with white walls. I don’t like to think of greasy cheeseburgers and M&M McFlurries. Though, then again, McDonald’s might be the most American thing in our country, so maybe it is appropriate to pay homage to the symbol of our country’s obesity on my Global Entry letter.

Third, if you’re going to mention McDonald’s, please note the proper spelling of your beloved neighbor: M-c-D-O-N-A-L-D-apostrophe-S.

Maybe I should start addressing my own letters with landmarks.

You can write to me at:

Lia Lehrer
One of the highrises on Lake Shore Drive, across from the dog beach
Slightly south of the Clock Tower
Near the intersection that becomes a swimming pool in rainstorms
Two apartments to the right of the apartment that always smells like Indian food

You’d have no trouble finding me, right?

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