Archive for the 'Lifehacks' Category

01
Jul
08

I Dream of Kindle

Kindle I remember being a bit cynical last winter when Amazon announced their “revolutionary device” that would change the game.  As a tech enthusiast, I’m probably one of the folks that they should hope gets excited about this.  Then again, I’m not a big reader, so perhaps I’m not quite in the center of their bulls-eye.  When I first laid eyes on the Kindle, my exact thought was, “you’ve got to be kidding me”.  It really doesn’t say “2008”.  I’d argue that the Sony eBook Reader is a bit more sexy than a device where about a quarter of the precious real estate on the front of the device is dedicated to a physical keyboard.  (I know, I know – version 1.0).

Being the resident techie in most of my circles, it wasn’t long before the questions started… “what do you think about that new Amazon book thingy?”  “So when are you getting a Kindle?”  My answers were always pretty smug.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understood what Amazon was trying to do.  However, I thought they could have spent a little bit more time designing something that was lust-worthy instead of a device that looks like it was designed in 2000.

Time passed… and I had forgotten about the Kindle.  Regardless of how many times I’d go to Amazon.com and see the thing staring me in the face, my eyes would move somewhere else. 

But then a funny thing happened.  I stopped thinking about the design, and started thinking about the usability.

The time that I spent not paying attention to the Kindle caused me to miss out on the key selling points.  I would pick up random features listing to Leo Laporte’s TwiT podcasts.  And the more that I’d hear, the less cynical I got about the device…

Recently, (and I can’t quite explain how I’ve arrived at this…longing) I’ve been thinking a lot about the Kindle.  I don’t know if an Amazon guy spiked my iced tea or if they flashed a subliminal message while I was reading reviews on iPhone cases.  How it happened doesn’t really matter.  The fact is that I’m starting to see the advantages.  And I want in.

So what’s the big deal?

  • I carry around two copies of the Holy Bible.  (Please don’t judge – sometimes I’ll need to reference the King James version and other times I just want to get closer to the intent via my Student Edition of the New International Version).  By no means is it a heavy burden.  But there might be a more elegant solution.  Perhaps there’s a way to keep that and several other versions of the scripture by my side.  Not to mention the hymn book that I’d like to carry, but because it’s rather big I always leave at home.  Yes, this could be the answer…and for several reasons…
  • The Kindle is searchable.  Rather than wonder where in the book a character was introduced or when a certain thought was uttered, you can simply search through the text.  (How nicely that works is another matter altogether.)
  • The Kindle is online.  Via EVDO (i.e. fast 3G speed Internet Access).  And it’s free.  (Well, you pay for the device, but they’ve committed to free online access.  Never before have I seen that kind of commitment to just giving away 3G access.  This is the stuff Verizon makes you pay $59 bucks a month for.  And yes, it’s only useful on the Kindle, but that’s not a tremendous limitation because…
  • The Kindle has a built-in web browser.  OK, so I’ve heard that it’s so poor in displaying data and rendering pages that they might as well not have included it.  But this might be enough for me.  Many times when I’m traveling home on the bus or to work, I’d like to just pull down a full page of Engadget.com and just peruse the stories.  Nothing sexy.  Just stored.  Not sure if this is going to allow me to do that, but it might be better than the iPhone experience that I have now.  Most of the time, Safari will crash as I’m scrolling through a page like Engadget.  Also, until I get a 3G phone, it’s just a bit slow.  I don’t need a great web experience.  I just want to stay up to date while I’m driving.

Continue reading ‘I Dream of Kindle’

24
Feb
08

…And Why Exactly Do You Still Need that DVD/CD Drive Again?

I’m not exactly the biggest fan of the MacBook Air, but one thing I do appreciate — they left out the optical drive. The Air is way too expensive and the form factor is still too big for me (I need it smaller in dimensions and I’d be willing to sacrifice some of the “thinness” they felt was so important.) But the fact remains that leaving out the CD/DVD drive is a trend I certainly hope continues.

I often chuckle inside when working with older PC users who insist upon having a 3 1/2 inch floppy drive in the machine. When I show them a USB drive that fits on a keychain and mention the fact that one keydrive can hold over a thousand floppies of info, they seem completely disinterested. They want their old tech. Like their bank books and their china closets, they want what’s familiar to them. But upon hearing the response that the tech community had to the absence of the CD/DVD drive in the MacBook Air and the simultaneous praise of the Lenovo X300 because of it’s inclusion of one, I had to shake my head in discouragement.

Why are we still attached to these old, familiar ways of doing things??

It’s completely not lost on me that it’s convenient (particularly in business) to have the ability to drop a CD or a DVD into the machine. I’m sure there are tons of situations where an optical drive saved the day. Perhaps they’re handing you a contract and they only have it on a CD. Maybe you need to install drivers. But when you really think about the possible reasons and then consider the fact that we have the web, I just don’t understand the attachment.

The primary need for a CD/DVD drive is to install applications. But how often are we installing applications?? And particularly in this day and age of application releases being done through the web, do we really need these drives on the road? Even the iPod shuffle doesn’t come with a CD, and with that device you need iTunes to get the benefit! (Not sure — perhaps they put iTunes on the iPod?) Regardless, I just don’t see this immense need to install applications all the time. What are all these apps? I need to meet these people who are doing so many installations. Continue reading ‘…And Why Exactly Do You Still Need that DVD/CD Drive Again?’

03
Oct
06

Pzizz.com – Your New Digital Sleeping Aid??

pzizz.jpgOK – straight off, I’m not recommending this. I just came across it and found it to be interesting. Pzizz.com has basically one focus — to try and help you sleep. It’s a well established fact that a midday siesta can help to make you more effective throughout the balance of the day. Well, these folks are offering a product to help you along with this.

Pzizz is basically a concept, but it comes in the form of both a software and hardware solution. The software solution seems like a simple mp3/media player (except for the fact that it only plays “pzizz” files.) The hardware solution is slightly bigger than an iPod and appears to play the same files that the software solution plays.

There’s a “trial nap” offered in the form of an mp3 on the website. Skeptically, I downloaded it. However, I didn’t “lay down and get in a comfortable position for sleep” as the website advised. I’m way too much of a conspiracy theorist to just let myself be lulled into listening to anything. (The power of suggestion is way too strong.) So I basically listened to the mp3. Seems like a bit of a gimmick to me. A gentleman with a really relaxing voice begins talking to you and offers gentle “hints” about the advantages of sleep. As he talks, bells play in the background, occasionally alternating with nature sounds, birds chirping and oceans crashing. The “trial nap” is 30 minutes. To the best that I could tell, it seems pretty safe. (Didn’t hear any ‘subliminal’ voices when I kicked the volume up….but then again, would I hear them at all?) Perhaps I’ll give this a try if I need a nap someday. However….

…I’m not so sure that I’ll actually be buying Pzizz. The software comes in two versions — the “Energizer” module and the “Sleep” module. The Energizer module contains “power naps” that allow you to sleep for between 10 and 40 minutes. The Sleep module is targeted towards those who are looking for help sleeping through the night. The Energizer module is $39 and the Sleep module is $59. (Yeah, I know.) The hardware version is $147. (For about the same price you can get a 2GB iPod Nano and be able to play Lawrence Welk if you need to sleep).

Seems a bit expensive for me (at least for something like this) but if you’re tossing and turning or find yourself dragging through the rest of the afternoon, perhaps you should consider it. At the very least you can go over to Pzizz.com and give their “trial nap” a try — over here. (I’d be curious to hear your experiences.)

One disclaimer — if you “pzizz” yourself to sleep and for some reason you don’t wake up on time for work…..or, perhaps don’t wake up at all, please don’t come tracking me down. I’ll just tell you to go pzizz yourself.

29
Sep
06

A Few Good Apps For the Security Minded

As much as I listen to security-oriented podcasts (by the way, Steve Gibson’s Security Now is great!) and read various websites about protecting yourself while on the Internet, there’s always the lingering fear in the back of my mind that there’s software hidden somewhere on my machine and that someone’s checking out “my stuff”. I read a great article talking about some free and tested applications in the November 2006 edition of Maximum PC and I think everyone should consider using these. (That is, if you don’t have a solution already.)

Just for the record, I haven’t been paid or asked to do this. I just find it unfortunate that spyware and malware are taking over people’s machines and I hope that this might help to counter that trend a bit. But a few preliminary words of caution….

BEFORE ANY OF THESE RECCOMENDATIONS CAN BE OF ANY USE, PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT:

1. YOU HAVE WINDOWS XP SET TO DOWNLOAD UPDATES AUTOMATICALLY!! New security breaches are being discovered all the time. (If you are not sure whether or not you’ve been running Windows Update, here’s how you can run it: (Click Start Button — Go to “Programs” — Then click on “Windows Update”). You can also set it to run automatically from within the Control Panel under the “Security Center” applet. (My options are set to automatically download new updates, at which point I can select the option to install them.)

2. YOU ARE RUNNING WINDOWS XP SERVICE PACK 2. Service Pack 2 contains many significant updates to the Windows security structure (including a software firewall.)

3. YOU HAVE A NAT (Network Address Translation) ROUTER ATTACHED BETWEEN YOUR CONNECTION AND THE CABLE OR DSL ROUTER!! They’re cheap (about $30 – $60) and they allow you to split your Internet connection — usually among four other computers. But most importantly, they act as a built in firewall out of the box to provide you a degree of protection against machines that are sniffing for open computers. You can buy practically any brand of router — Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, Belkin — just make sure you have one. (I have the Linksys WRT54G — very popular and can be found for around $50 now.)

The above recommendations are the basics. Installing the software below without having done each of those three suggestions above is like putting air in your tires when your gas tank is empty.

Once you’ve done the above, here are some great additional protection solutions:

A-Squared Anti-Malwarescanning.jpg

Practically everyone is familiar with Spybot Search and Destroy and Ad-Aware. And those apps have been my old standbys for quite awhile now and I still trust them. At the same time, A-Squared has been recommended by quite a few people and is said to have detected spyware that Ad Aware and Spybot may have missed.

The interface is certainly much more polished. It’s a free solution and in addition to spyware, it also looks for dialers, trojan horses and worms. And unlike some of the other solutions that I’ve tried with some of my customers, this is one that will actually clean the infection. (Another package that I won’t mention found all of this spyware…. but then they wanted us to pay to get rid of it. Pretty sneaky. I’m running A-Squared myself and it appears to run fine. A-Squared is from EMSI Software and can be found here.

NOTE: On the link, there are several versions. My recommendation is that you download the free version called “a-squared Free 2.0”. The difference between this and the “a-squared Anti-Malware 2.0” paid version is that the free version lacks the “ongoing support” types of features. So, for instance, you won’t have the “Background Guard” (that runs all the time and detects any spyware from sites that you might visit), “Automatic Updates” and “Scheduled Scans”. However, if you find that you really like A-Squared and want the ongoing protection, you can support them and pay for the full version. It’s $39.95 for a one year subscription. (Kinda pricey if you ask me.)

Continue reading ‘A Few Good Apps For the Security Minded’

15
Sep
06

Cheap Thrill of the Day: Blufr

I often find myself waiting for one of my PCs to finish some operation or task. Usually I’ll fire up Free Cell for a quick game while I wait. But sometimes that gets tiring. Blufr.com a great time waster that might even give you some Jeopardy-like useless trivia to share with someone you’re trying to get rid of at a dinner party. Something like, “Did you know that Shaggy from the Scooby Doo cartoons is actually named ‘Norville’?” Or, “Did you know that Hawaii’s Mount Wai’ale’ale receives more rain per year than anywhere else in the world?” OK, those might be kinda so-so. But there are some really good ones.

blufr1.jpg

You don’t even need to sign up. Just go to Blufr.com, read the question and click either “No Way!” or “Way!”. Your progress will be recorded as you move on. After about 20 questions I did see some repetition, but it’s a fun way to waste a few minutes and clutter your brain with useless trivia at the same time. Check it out.

(By the way, freckles aren’t tumors. According to Blufr, freckles are actually cluster of melanin and darken in the sun much in the same way as tanning occurs.)

(Site discovery courtesy of Lifehacker.com)

23
Aug
06

Biiible – A Great Resource for the Word

Biiible - Bible search for the Google freakWho says that Christian web sites aren’t hip? (Well, actually, I used to say that.) But not any more. I’ve seen some great uses of technology to spread the word of God. There are a few online Bibles that have been great resources for studying or researching, but probably the greatest example is Biiible.com. (That’s ‘Bible’ with three (3) “i”s.)

Biiible‘s tagline is, “Bible Search for the Google Freak”. (I hope Google lawyers don’t come after these folks). Just like Google, it has a very simple, uncluttered homepage. But don’t let the simple interface fool you. You can use the search window to find a verse of scripture in one of sixteen different translations, including the King James Spanish translation. This is an excellent resource for those times when you know the verse, but can’t recall where it’s found. For instance, I was looking for the scripture in an earlier post where Paul advises that we should “pray without ceasing”. And so I entered that text in the search window and came up with not only the verse, but links to other verses with similar sentiments. The search results will tell you the number of instances that a word appears. For instance, I typed in the word “love” and it came up with 546 hits. However, keep in mind that it finds all words with that root. So, words like “beloved” are included. (I’m sure there’s a way to search for a word alone.)

Searching is not limited to a word or a verse. If you enter “Acts 10”, the site will bring up the 10th chapter of the Book of Acts. And even better, you can click on the “Compare Two Versions” link and see a side-by-side comparison of two translations.

The site also has a dictionary/lexicon for most generic terms as they apply to the scripture.

Best of all, under the “Downloads” section of the page are PDF and even Microsoft Word copies of all sixteen of their translations! I downloaded the MS Word copy of the King James version — it looks great. Beautifully formatted (although the files are understandably large in size. The King James versions in MS Word and PDF formatting are 6.6 and 7 megabytes, respectively. That’s a pretty big size for a document, so be patient if it takes a few seconds to open.) If you have a laptop but no Internet connection, these folks even have a JavaScript version of the website that you can search without being connected.

For all of the great information that’s available on Biiible.com, understand that there is no substitute for cuddling up with a well-thumbed, leather-bound copy of the scripture. However, for those times when we are doing research or studying in front of our computers, this is an excellent alternative.

God bless the good folks at Biiible.com. They’ve done a great job in making the Word of God available and accessible to everyone on the web. Check out the site — it’s a great resource.

23
Aug
06

Assignment: Prepare for Disaster

Over the past two days, like many others I’ve been watching parts of the Spike Lee documentary, When the Levees Broke, on HBO detailing the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Initially I didn’t have a strong desire to see it — not because I was disinterested. Rather, it was because I had a strong indication about what I might see….and I knew it wouldn’t be good.

Well, I was wrong. It was much worse than I could have imagined. Often we see so many of the same images that we’re desensitized to the actual event. The film brought new images to my eyes. And even worse, the film began to put more detailed images of people’s last Earthly moments in my mind. Families trapped in attics thinking that the water wouldn’t reach that high…. as they gasp for their final breath. Bed-ridden and wheelchair bound people who couldn’t have created a mock-raft even if their life depended on it (and sadly, in this case, it did.) Children floating face down with backpacks. It was a depressing look at a dark period in American history. (This is the one time when I wish I didn’t have a high-definition television.)

Rather than focus on the emotions that the film stirred up (and I could easily go on), I think we should use the Katrina example as an opportunity to prepare for disaster near our own homes. This week in church one of my friends gave a great presentation on things that we should be doing to prepare for disaster. It’s true, we don’t plan to fail — but often we fail to plan. And everything she said was key. Designate a meeting place where you and your family agree to meet, if separated. Identify a family member out of state who everyone should contact and who would serve as the central point of information. Keep water and canned foods in the house…. just in case. All great precautions.
Since this is a tech-focused, site, I thought it might be a good opportunity to share another strategy. In the event that tragedy strikes my home (either via fire, flood, hurricane…. or worse) I can live without all of the “stuff” that’s in the house. Everything is replaceable. Every DVD, gadget, computer, mobile phone….heck, even my MacBook Pro is replaceable. However, there are some things that you can’t just go to EBay or Amazon and buy new versions of. The pictures of a deceased loved one. The photos of your son’s first birthday party. Death certificates. Identity cards. Tax returns. Banking information. Property deeds. In the time of disaster, I can’t take my file cabinet along with me. But there is an alternative. Continue reading ‘Assignment: Prepare for Disaster’

23
Aug
06

Great Firefox Add-Ons (Including Saving YouTube Video Locally!)

title-firefox.gif It seems as if overnight everyone jumped on the Mozilla Firefox bandwagon. (It still amazes me — I would have bet the farm that the Internet Explorer reign was firmly in place. Guess I was wrong.)

One of the things that makes Firefox so great are all of the customizations that the development community have created. And for me to recognize “customizations” in a product is saying a lot. I’m a rather creative bloke, but I’ve never been one to do a lot of “wild customizations”. No iPod interface hacks for me. No weird XP setups where the toolbar is on the side of the screen (or God forbid, at the top!) I’ll pass on tricking out a BMW with big shiny rims. (To me, it’s sacrilegious and just about the most tacky thing you can do to a classy car.) But for some reason these Firefox extensions are just what the doctor ordered.

There are some really silly extensions that add clocks and images that, to me, clutter up your browsing experience. However, there are some really cool ones. There are several “themes” that simply change the look and feel of the toolbar and icons. (A refreshing way to update the interface.) However, I’m going to focus on the “add-ons” — the life savers that do things like recover all closed windows after a system or browser crash.

Here are five of my favorites. (Feel free to share others in the comments section.)

——————————————-

VideoDownloader 1.0, by Javi Moya – When I first read the description of this add-on claiming that you could “save most videos that you see while browsing”, I kinda chuckled. Yeah, right. This programmer-dude thinks he can do with an add-on what folks have been trying to do in other stand-alone efforts for years. Well, I was wrong again. (I seem to be admitting my poor foresight often in this post.) VideoDownloader sits on the toolbar and is almost unnoticeable. However, it works like a charm. I saved a few videos that I have been regularly visiting YouTube to see. Some of them, like…..every day. I’m sure YouTube doesn’t like this, but I figure I’m saving them a few bucks on their bandwidth bill.

NOTE: You’ll be saving files in an “flv” format. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with VLC Media Player already, please, run….don’t walk…. to http://www.videolan.org and download a copy. This thing will play just about any video you can throw at it. Continue reading ‘Great Firefox Add-Ons (Including Saving YouTube Video Locally!)’

15
Aug
06

Review: Windows Live Writer

Being a Mac supporter, I’ve been accused a few times of not showing any “love” to Windows. And from where I stood, hey, when they “innovate”, I’ll “celebrate.” These days it seems as if something major is going on inside the House that Redmond built. With Bill Gates moving on to do incredibly noble philanthropic work, there have been a few management changes. Steve Ballmer is still CEO, but now that Ray Ozzie (creator of Lotus Notes) has taken over Gates’ former Chief Software Architect role as he transitions out, I’m starting to see signs of positive change. For one, they’re doing away with the MSN-labeled services and moving over to the “Windows Live” branding. And in what I consider to be completely unlike previous Microsoft releases, a lot of great, thought-driven products are starting to emerge.

Last month Microsoft released Private Folder — a tiny app that places an encrypted folder on your desktop and allows you to password protect items dragged inside. (This functionality was standard in XP, but my guess is that most didn’t make use of it.) Private Folder was small, unobtrusive and it just worked. (NOTE: I had some problems, but I think it might have been my fault. I installed Private Folder and it was working, but after I attempted to change the password, the system locked up and now every time I try to open it, or even reinstall it locks up. But I think it was something I did. Nobody else seems to be having problems.) Sadly, the IT community was outraged that Microsoft was allowing users to encrypt data on machines that they needed to support and Microsoft pulled the beta after only about two weeks in release. (If you’re crafty, you can still find it.) But then again, after the problems that I had, you may elect to use a different app that Leo Laporte recommends called TrueCrypt (although I can’t vouch for it yet — I haven’t had a chance to put it through it’s paces.) From the website alone, TrueCrypt looks significantly more complex. And that was the beauty of Private Folder — it was really simple.

Also, Windows Live Messenger looks great. I actually wish more folks would use it instead of AOL Instant Messenger. In some parts of the world, like the European Market, the former MSN Messenger actually is the more popular messaging app — not AOL IM. Windows Live Spaces looks significantly cleaner and more attractive than MySpace (but I think that’s a losing battle — the kids seem to like MySpace and now they’re doing tie ins with YouTube and SideKick phones.) To check out these and other Windows Live apps, head over to the Windows Live product page. Continue reading ‘Review: Windows Live Writer’

14
Aug
06

Metaphilm – My New Film Professor

metaphilm-logo-v3.pngFilm has always been an integral part of my life. That two hour escape is sometimes all of the inspiration I’ll need to get through a rough period in life. Yeah, I enjoy the mindless action, adventure, and horror movies just like everyone else. (That is, when well executed.) But as you grow older, you begin to look for films that contain a bit more substance. You want a bit more from your cinema experience than an expanded version of the trailer. (At least I do.) Documentaries often bring me to points of clarity where the was confusion. Independent filmmakers often inspire me when they create masterpieces with few resources that often serve as a more compelling experience than many big budget films. And while some may turn to the New York Times crossword puzzle or spend time with a Sudoku book to “sharpen their minds”, I’d much rather take in a challenging film to give my brain a workout.

Prior to my last year of college, films were an enjoyable, care-free and mindless medium. I could just kick back, grab a pack of Sour Patch Kids and “rest my conscious mind on the mantle” for a few hours. That was until I took a film class in college. Probably the best (and worst) thing I could have ever done. Scott MacDonald forever changed the way that I watch film.

My introduction to Scott consisted of him showing our class of about twenty students a film called “Fog Line”. “Fog Line” was about a ten minute movie of — you guessed it — fog. Yes — 10 minutes of dense, thick, occasionally shape-shifting (but nothing notable not enough to hold my attention), white and gray — fog.

After the lights went up, I recall feeling a sense of disappointment. After all, I’d heard a lot of good things about this guy. If I signed up for a semester of fog, perhaps I’d better get out the course book and make a change while there was still time. As Scott began to survey the class of twentysomethings, he tried his best to contain a smile and offered his innocent plea in the form of the question, “Well, what did ya see?” Most were like me.

“Nothing.”

“I saw fog moving.” Continue reading ‘Metaphilm – My New Film Professor’