Tools and Resources

Posted in Uncategorized on May 5, 2011 by alphageek1


Program launcher

Text expanders



PDF Creation

Password sharing/keeping

Mind Mapping software

Social Media




TO-DO List:

System: GTD

Timer for speed-dating my tasks


Keeping Reference Memos

Top 10 Things to Do with a New Windows 7 System

Posted in best practices, OS with tags , , on September 11, 2010 by alphageek1

Top 10 Things to Do with a New Windows 7 System.

Apple iTunes 10

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on September 3, 2010 by alphageek1

It’s gotten to the point where iTunes is simply something that we, as Windows users, have learned to live with. It’s a bloated, poorly-written, poor performing pig of a program. But it’s also an absolute necessity for the hundreds of millions of us who use iPhones, iPods, and iPads every day. That’s because Apple’s digital media solutions, while ubiquitous, are also curiously unsophisticated. There’s no wireless sync, no way to simply manage your Apple device from the cloud. No, if you want to use any i-Device, you need to use iTunes.

And that’s a shame. If Microsoft’s excellent but underappreciated Zune PC software has taught us anything, it’s that multi-purpose digital media jukeboxes can be wonderful when they’re done right. Apple’s iTunes, by contrast, is exactly the opposite, proving only how horrible it is to be locked into such an application.

What we get in iTunes 10 is more of the same. Instead of rewriting iTunes from scratch as is oh-so necessary, Apple has instead piled more junk on the teetering foundation that is iTunes for Windows and covered it up all up with a small spit-shine to the UI. It’s what the Microsoft Office team used to call "putting lipstick on a pig," just some cursory and unnecessary UI changes so you can tell at a glance which version it is.

Fortunately or not, the changes to iTunes 10 are few, in contrast to last year’s iTunes 9 release, which was accompanied by various platform updates like iTunes LP, iTunes Extras, home sharing, and so on. That will make for a shorter review, thankfully, and then I can wash my hands and move on to software that’s not so despicable.

UI changes

Last year, Apple stole the Zune design aesthetic for its iTunes Store design, and this year the changes continue, albeit mostly to the application itself this time. The company has futzed around with the toolbar area, again, adding a new view style and unnecessarily changing the look of only the volume slider. These changes are not profound in any way but, again, they do serve to help you realize which version of the software you’re looking at. I have to think that was the only point.

Apple iTunes 10
Old and new: iTunes 9.x and iTunes 10 compared.

That new view style, by the way, is called Album list, and it accompanies the previous view styles, Song list, Grid, and Cover Flow. It’s the new default view for content, and in keeping with iTunes’ past, it’s got that same awful, old-fashioned, dBase III+ look to it. Why Apple can’t go with something more attractive and graphical by default is unclear.

Apple iTunes 10
The Album list view style.

The navigation bar has been changed, also without any rhyme or reason. The Mac OS X-like collapsible sections are gone, replaced by a weird new Hide/Show design, and the icons for each node–Music, Movies, TV Shows, and so have been changed from attractive, colorful designs to boring, bland, look-alike gray icons. Why? Because iTunes was too pretty before? Who knows?

Apple has also cleaned up the UI at the bottom of the iTunes window. The Create Playlist, Shuffle, Repeat, and Artwork/Video Viewer buttons no longer look like buttons (though the view style buttons still do, naturally) and the Speakers, Start Genius, and Genius Sidebar buttons take up less space but are, in turn, now incomprehensible.

Apple iTunes 10
The cleaned up buttons on the bottom of the application.

I haven’t done a screen-by-screen comparison with the previous version–and won’t–but it appears that the other iTunes UIs–like the Preferences window–haven’t changed at all.

Put simply, for a company that gets a lot of unwarranted credit for good UI design, iTunes is a mess. And what’s odd about most of the changes is that they don’t really make the thing any better. In some cases, the changes are for the worst. This is what change for change’s sake looks like. It’s not pretty.

Oh, and they finally changed the iTunes icon. In Apple-land, this is considered big news. (The audience at Apple’s music even this week, comprised largely of the tech press, actually erupted into cheers when it was first displayed, in case you doubted their objectivity.)

Apple iTunes 10
And the crowd goes wild.


The big change in iTunes 10, such as it is, is a new social networking service called Ping. This is Apple’s copy of the Zune Social, which Microsoft launched back in 2007 and has been improving steadily ever since. Maybe in three years, Ping will be something interesting, too. It certainly isn’t anything special right now.

Ping tries to address one of the many shortcomings in iTunes, in this case music discoverability. Whereas Zune offers tremendous music and artist discovery features, Apple’s been pretty slow figuring out that this is an issue. Previously, the company added a feature called Genius, which in typical Apple fashion is just a front-end to its store, so you can buy more content. And now they have Ping.

Since it’s an online service, Ping is presented as part of Apple’s iTunes Store, which makes sense. It’s stark and plain looking, like the iTunes Store, and completely devoid of content. What’s it’s supposed to do is let you "follow" the artists you like, share your purchases, concert attendances, and other music-related activities with friends, and then discover what your friends are doing in the same vein. Picture Facebook, but only for music.

Apple iTunes 10
If I hadn’t friended Leo, this screen would be empty.

Sadly, Ping fails in both of these jobs. Every single artist I tried to follow came up with an error message ("Your search had no results"). And I’m not talking fly-by-night groups you’ve never heard of. I’m talking Collective Soul. Def Leppard. Van Halen. Boston. The Corrs. Yes. The Goo Goo Dolls. The Offspring.

Hello?? Is anyone home? [Cricket Chirps]

As for "friends," it’s an equally lonely experience. You can’t automatically invite people from the social networks you’ve already joined–Facebook, MySpace, whatever–so you’re left with the same search experience as with artists, where you type in a name and hope for the best. (Expect the worst.) Or, you can manually invite people to join, one at a time. Have fun with that.

When you do finally find an artist to follow–OK, I guess U2 is OK–you get … a Facebook clone. Inside of iTunes. That application you want to run as little as possible.

Apple iTunes 10
OMG! U2 has updated their Ping … account. Or whatever it is.

Honestly, Apple would have been way better off just partnering with Facebook and making Ping the ultimate music-lovers add-on for that far more fleshed out service. Yes, Facebook has unbelievable problems of its own. And yes, I’m sure Ping will grow purely because of the success of the i-ecosystem. But right now it’s just terrible.

Final thoughts

In all the well-deserved negativity here, I should mention one important side-note: iTunes wouldn’t even be worth discussing if it weren’t for two other factors. First is the aforementioned family of i-Devices–iPods, iPhones, and iPad–most of which are quite excellent, good enough to make many of us put up with iTunes. Second of course is the iTunes Store. Sure it may look horrible, but the iTunes Store is, by far, the biggest and best stocked of any digital content market on earth, and that isn’t going to change any time soon. My comments above are directed purely at the latest version of Apple’s terrible PC software. (Which Steve Jobs refers to as "pretty remarkable." The software, not my comments.) There is a dark, conspiratorial part of my soul that believes Apple screws over PC users on purpose, but regardless of the reason, the software is terrible. We put up with it because of the other stuff. It’s that simple.

I hope that Apple eventually fixes iTunes, providing its biggest customer base–Windows users–with the software they’ve long deserved. But iTunes 10 isn’t it, not by a long shot.

Set Up a Foolproof and Fireproof Automatic Backup Plan

Posted in best practices, on June 17, 2010 by alphageek1

Set Up a Foolproof and Fireproof Automatic Backup Plan.

10 tips for using Gmail at work

Posted in best practices, Google with tags , on May 28, 2010 by alphageek1

1. Get a Gmail account at your own domain (e.g. with Google Apps. Google Apps is a suite of communication and collaboration tools, including Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs, which run on your own domain, so instead of using your email address, you (and other employees) can have email addresses Using a customized email address can help build an identity around your business and make you look more professional along the way.
2. Add a custom signature to the bottom of your email messages. Email signatures are automatically inserted at the bottom of every message you send, and can be a great place to add your title, contact information, and even the latest news from your company. Just go to Settings at the top of your inbox and enter your signature text in the box at the bottom.

3. Manage multiple email accounts from a single interface. If you’re like a lot of business owners, you probably regularly receive email in several different accounts. By centralizing your correspondence in Gmail, you’ll be able to keep track of it all more easily. To do this, either forward your other email addresses to your main Gmail account or route them there using Gmail’s Mail Fetcher, which downloads messages via POP from up to five other accounts. To set it up, visit the Account and Import tab under Settings.
4. Set up custom “From” addresses. This feature allows you to send messages from Gmail with one of your other email addresses listed as the sender. Once you set it up, you can choose the address you want to reply from while composing messages in the "From:" address drop down. This too is under Settings on the
Account and Import tab.
5. Embrace labels. Folders are familiar, especially when it comes to work email. If you want to organize your emails in a similar way, make sure you’re using Gmail
labels. Combined with filters, they can be a powerful tool to manage your mail. Create labels for projects, vendors, customers, weekly reports, launches, to-do’s — the list goes on. You can also add custom colors to your labels, order them based on priority, and search the contents of specific labels. And don’t forget that you can drag messages into labels, just like you can with folders.
6. Use chat and video chat to communicate with colleagues, or provide real-time customer support.
No matter where everyone is located, you can communicate in real-time as though you were in the same room with video chat or just chat via voice or text. Try using “Reply by chat” at the bottom of each message if you want to reach the sender quickly. To add video chat capabilities to Gmail, all you need is this small plugin and a webcam.
7. Keep track of your to-do’s with Tasks.
You spend a lot of time in your inbox, so why not keep track of what you have to do there too? Tasks allows you to create multiple lists, add notes to each task, assign due dates, and get the satisfaction of checking off completed items.
8. Use offline Gmail anytime you’re not online. Despite having Internet access almost everywhere, work may take you to places where you just can’t get online. Turn on offline Gmail from the
Offline tab under Settings, and Gmail will download a local cache of your mail which synchronizes with Gmail’s servers while you’re connected. When you lose connectivity, Gmail automatically switches to offline mode, so you can continue to work, and your replies are automatically sent the next time Gmail detects a connection.
9. Create canned responses and quickly reply to common questions. When it comes to emailing at work, you’re probably used to sending out weekly reports, or answering the same questions from customers or colleagues multiple times. That’s where
canned responses can save precious time: turn on this feature in Gmail Labs, compose your response once, save it, then use it over and over again.

10. Make sure you have the right Bob before hitting send. If you’ve ever accidentally sent a personal email to the wrong co-worker, or emailed your internal meeting notes to an external contact, then you’ll want to turn on “Got the wrong Bob?” from the Labs tab under Settings. Based on the groups of people you email most often, Gmail will try to flag when you’ve accidentally included the wrong person.
For more tips, check out To keep up with the latest news on using Gmail and other Google products at work, follow us on the Google Enterprise Blog.

Foxit Reader and Vista’s User Account Control –

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 22, 2010 by alphageek1

Foxit Reader and Vista’s User Account Control –

ReclaimPrivacy Bookmarklet Rates Your Facebook Exposure Levels

Posted in best practices, free, with tags , on May 17, 2010 by alphageek1


ReclaimPrivacy Bookmarklet Rates Your 
Facebook Exposure LevelsFacebook’s privacy settings are notoriously complex, and the results of changes hard to see instantly. has a handy bookmarklet that shows which potentially insecure and privacy-invading settings are enabled on your Facebook account when you click it.

ReclaimPrivacy’s bookmarklet focuses on just a few key areas where Facebook can share information with the public—having your contacts, connections, and tagged photos exposed to the public, as well as allowing your friends to accidentally expose that information themselves. It also looks at your relationship with Facebook’s personalization, applications, and other aspects to see what Facebook and independent developers can find out about you, then rates your exposure level in simple Good, Caution, or Insecure levels, along with offering links to change those settings.

We’ve previously shown you how to see what Facebook publicly publishes about you, as well as fine-tune your settings manually to "quit" Facebook without actually quitting. For a quicker, explanatory glance at what’s going on with your account, though, this bookmarklet is a great tool. Thanks for the link, Rufo!

Facebook Privacy Scanner [via Hacker News]