Jan 26
Changing the Date Format in Gmail
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If you use the US date format (MM/DD/YYYY), this tip will not concern you as Gmail seems to use the US date format by default. However if you live in UK and are used to dates being in the format DD/MM/YYYY and use Gmail then this tip is for you. Why is it important? Well it’s important to be aware of the date format to avoid any possible confusion which might arise in a date like say 10/11/2014. Is this 10 November 2014 (UK interpretation) or October 11th 2014 (US interpretation)? And I wonder how often this has led to confusion in say international meeting planning. Once you go back to your Gmail archive, it’s nice to have dates in the format you expect.

Anyway, the solution in Gmail is simple enough. If you live in UK or want the UK date format in Gmail, go to Settings, General, Language and change Gmail display language to English (UK):

Gmail date format

Then scroll to the bottom of the page and Save changes. That’s it. Dates should now be in UK format.

If you’d like to know more about date formats, Rich Menga discussed it here.


Jan 21
Remembering Robin Williams
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Fry and Williams on Parkinson 2002

I guess if I were to be asked the question, ‘If you had the choice, which two celebrities would you like to have dinner with?,’ Stephen Fry and the late Robin Williams would have been right up there.

I remember watching a Friday night TV episode of Parkinson (a UK TV chat show) years ago where the guests were Robin Williams and Stephen Fry. Over the intervening years, my recollections were that this was an absolutely hilarious encounter with Williams’ improvised comedy at its very best. At the time, I felt a little sorry for Stephen that he wasn’t able to discuss his newly released book in earnest thanks to the brilliance of William’s interjections.

Anyway those were my recollections. The year was 2002, before the internet had become the pervasive force it is today. I didn’t video tape the programme at the time but I hoped that someone had and that it would eventually appear on YouTube so I could enjoy it once again. Down the years, I’ve scoured YouTube and search the net but no trace was to be found. In fact I’d given up finding it. But, by chance, I tried YouTube again last weekend with the search Parkinson Stephen Fry Robin Williams and low and behold, it was there at the top of the search with almost a million views. It’s been up for about a year, perhaps as a reaction to Williams’ untimely death. And below it in the search results Parky’s interview with Robin Williams before Stephen Fry joined them in front of the cameras. Over a million views on that one. My sincere thanks to palimpsest2011 and pixelfandango for putting these on YouTube.

I rewatched the Stephen Fry – Robin Williams interview first and the first thing that struck me was that it wasn’t quite as I remembered it from (only) 13 years ago. Robin wasn’t quite as overpowering (in a good way) as I had remembered, but actually let Stephen say his pieces and it was only when Stephen occasionally turned to Robin that the brilliant comedic outbursts were unleashed with Fry playing his part. Funny how the brain plays tricks on you, but that’s probably the subject of a post for another day. Both clips are well worth a watch and further fitting tributes to a great, great comedian.


Jan 16
Finding Free Kindle Books on Amazon
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It’s possible to pick up great Kindle ebooks for free on Amazon. I’ll show you a couple of ways to go about it. These methods work for the Amazon UK site but may be a little different on your own Amazon store if you’re outside the UK.

Method 1: Go to your Amazon website, select Kindle Store in the drop down menu to the left of the search window, then enter your keyword. I’m showing ‘Evernote’ as an example.

Amazon free ebooks1

This will bring up a list of Kindle ebooks about Evernote but the trick now is to change the ‘Sort by’ drop-down menu on the right side from ‘Relevance’ to ‘Price: Low to High’. And there are your free Evernote books at the top of the list.

Method 2: Again go to Amazon, mouse over ‘Kindle E-readers & Books’ from the ‘Shop by Department’ menu on the left side, then navigate to and select ‘Kindle Books’ from the fly-out menu:

Amazon free ebooks4

This will bring up a screen of Kindle Books. Then select Kindle Best Sellers in the menu on the left side.

Amazon free ebooks2

This will bring up a new window where you can select ‘Top 100 Free’ rather than ‘Top 100 Paid’. Then select the Genre you want on the left side. I’ve chosen ‘Computing’ as I know that’s where the Evernote books will be. Then just browse through the top 100 best selling free Kindle books on computing.

Amazon free ebooks3

So there’s two ways to search free Kindle ebooks on Amazon. It’s worth going back regularly as paid books are often promoted to free for short spells. Good hunting!


Jan 14

paperless lifestyle

As I look to the left of my monitor, I see a pile of mail on a shelf waiting to be ‘processed’ and another smaller pile of more urgent paper on my desk by my left hand. When I open the mail I quickly scan through the contents to see if anything needs urgent attention – usually not these days as most communication comes by email (yea, less paper!). The more important mail (e.g. credit card payments) goes on the pile on my desk and the less important stuff either goes straight to recycling or lands on that other larger pile of less important paper waiting on the shelf. And the two piles steadily grow and grow until I get round to dealing with them.

Well not any more. My big resolution for 2015 is to try to go paperless as much as I can and I’m looking forward to it. Why? Because I know I’m motivated enough to succeed on this one, and I know I have the tools to deal with it. What tools? Well Evernote and a scanner.

Evernote

Although I’ve had a free account with Evernote since early 2008, it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve really ratcheted up what I store there. I’m confident they’ll be around in the long term so I’ve made a decision to go with them as my repository for paper and documents (among many other things) which I need to keep. I’ve had a Premium account for over a year now which means I don’t have to worry about monthly upload limits. By the way, the Premium monthly upload limit to Evernote is now a massive 4GB. My one big regret with Evernote is that there isn’t a native Linux version. I’ll go into my Evernote set up in a later post in this series.

Scanner

Until now, I’ve usually scanned documents to Evernote from a multifunction printer. I have a Canon MP280 MFP at the moment and I’ve blogged before about how its flatbed scanner can be used to add scanned documents to Evernote. In fact I could use virtually any scanner with Evernote as Evernote has a great feature to monitor and import from a folder or multiple folders on your PC or laptop. Anything that is scanned to a nominated folder or folders is automatically imported into a linked nominated folder in Evernote. To set this up in Evernote, just go to Tools, Import Folders and this dialogue box appears:

Evernote Import Folders

Once you’ve added a monitored folder on your PC or laptop, a copy of the scanned document is then sent to the nominated Evernote folder, in my case .Inbox.

Well that’s all fine but I’m serious about going paperless so I need something a little better than a flatbed scanner, which just takes one sheet at a time, and only scans one side of paper at a time (a simplex scanner). Even though it is possible to create multipage PDFs with this set up, to speed things up, I really need a duplex scanner (one which will simultaneously scan both sides of a sheet of paper) and a sheet feeder, although not a large one as I hope to keep on top of paper this time. Other questions I have to consider are does my scanner need to be portable and should I buy a scanner from Evernote.

Well I’ve made that decision and ordered a scanner and I’ll discuss my choice in the next post.

Do you have a pile of mail lying waiting to be dealt with? Have you gone paperless? How did you go about it? Let us know in the comments.


Dec 31

If you’re a Windows user, you’ll have noticed that there are usually only three buttons at the top right corner of the window – Close, Maximize and Minimize – with lots of free space to the left of those. Well, I’ve discovered a utility that will add some useful extra functions to the left of these buttons – it’s called eXtra Buttons.

After downloading and installing it, you can add as many of the functions as you think you’ll need. You can also access these options by clicking the eXtra Buttons icon in the system tray.

eXtraButtons

Here’s an outline of the Parameters options:

Buttons set — to add or remove buttons from window. As you can see in the image above, you also get a preview of how the buttons look on the bar, so you can rearrange them and add separators if required.
Common options — make the eXtra Buttons program launch at Windows startup.
Window menu — set the eXtra Button parameters which show in the right-click menu when you click the top bar of the window.
Exclude applications — exclude any applications where you don’t want the buttons to show.

Now here’s a quick outline of what each button does:

Always on top — places window on top of the other windows, so that it will always be visible whether or not it has the focus.
Send to back — places window under others, so it will not bother you.
Copy window — starts a copy of the application in the new window.
Roll-up/Unroll — minimizes the window to its caption, so you see only the caption line with the title of the window. You can roll-up a number of windows to separate caption lines.
Minimize to Box — minimizes window to a small box and places its icon on the desktop at the top right of the screen. Double click box to maximize.
Transparency — makes the window transparent according to the adjusted level. You may adjust any default transparency level.
Percentage transparency — makes the window transparent according to percentage from pop-up Transparency Menu.
Minimize to Tray — minimizes window and places its icon in the System Tray.
Minimize to Tray Menu — minimizes window and places its icon in the System Tray Menu.
Move to Another Monitor — moves the window to another monitor.
Click through — Makes the window transparent according to the adjusted level and also transparent to mouse activity so you can click the window below it.
Full Screen — Opens the window so it covers the whole screen.
Bookmarks — Adds the application to the adjustable Bookmarks list and provides quick access to the most frequently used applications and folders.

Some time ago, I wrote a post on useful free utilities for a dual monitor set-up. At the time, I recommended Dual Swap as a free utility to move windows between monitors, but I now find the ‘Move to Another Monitor’ button in eXtra Buttons is better integrated with the window bar so I use it now. However, I have also noticed that the buttons don’t show up in some applications, for example, Adobe Reader, but that’s the only downside so far.


Nov 20
Remove Duplicate Notes in Evernote
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First let me say there’s no magic button to press to get Evernote to remove all duplicate notes, but I’ve found this manual process doesn’t take too long to carry out. I have around 2000 notes in Evernote in around 48 notebooks but with most notes in two large notebooks (called Evernote and Tech). I didn’t time it but I guess it took around 20 minutes to check and delete duplicate notes in my 48 notebooks. I found about 20.

Here’s how to do it. It’s not very high tech:

1. Go to your first notebook and click the View tab on the Menu bar at the top and select List View if it’s not already selected. This will bring up a list of notes in that notebook ordered with the newest notes at the top.

2. Click the Title column in the List pane and this should order your posts by the first character in the title, numbers first, then alphabetically.

Find duplicate notes in Evernote

3. Just read down through the title column deleting Notes with duplicate titles as shown above. I found that virtually all of my duplicate notes occurred were when I reclipped a webpage using Evernote Web Clipper. This can easily happen. Perhaps days, weeks or  months after clipping a webpage, you come across it again, possibly through someone else’s recommendation and you clip it again to Evernote. And chances are the note titles of duplicate notes will be the same as Evernote Web Clipper fills this from the post title. You might also quickly check the note size of the duplicate is the same. You’ll note the size of my younger duplicate note is larger than the older note as there were more comments in this post so this is the one I needed to keep. If you create a lot of notes by other means, then be careful deleting duplicates, but in any case don’t panic if you’ve deleted an important note which wasn’t a duplicate. You can recover it from your Trash notebook… until you empty it.

4. Finally, after you’ve finished deleting duplicates in that notebook, go back to the List pane and click on Created to get your notes back in date order. Then move on to your next notebook and so on.

Okay, if you think you’ve been short-changed reading through this basic Evernote housekeeping tip, I’ll try and redeem myself. If you haven’t spotted the duplicate note I removed in the image above, it’s a very good post on Lifehacker listing some very useful readers’ tips on notes you should consider saving in Evernote. Have a read through the comments there for lots of great ideas.


Oct 30
The Future of Handwriting
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Quick brown fox

I hardly use handwriting any more. Just the occasional signature or scribbled note is all I usually ever have to do now. I used to keep a spiral notebook by my PC for the odd scrap note, but I’ve recently started a Scrap notebook in Evernote for this and I’ve been using that instead. Just as an aside and a quick Evernote tip, I called the notebook .Scrap so it appears near the top of my list of notebooks in Evernote.

But just where are we heading with handwriting? I’m guessing that kids in school these days are spending increasingly more time at keyboards including touchscreen keyboards and less time developing handwriting skills. Surely handwriting quality and speed is bound to suffer.

I remember I was a reasonably neat but also reasonably fast writer in school. Of course, as a student going through college, that quality was sacrificed through having to write seemingly endless lecture notes at great speed. I guess it’s changed days now as students increasingly take notes on laptops.

So that got me thinking. For me, which is faster: handwriting or keyboard? Of course, if you’ve learned touch typing properly, that would win hands down over handwriting – but not in my case. I still use two digits to type. Fairly quickly, but all the same, two digits. If only I could have seen the future back in the 1970s and started touch typing back then. I did try. Mum has this old Remington typewriter that was unbelievably heavy. I tried it now and again but kept making mistakes and back then there was no Delete key. Anyway, back then, typing was for secretaries – little did we know!

Okay, so is typing faster for me than handwriting? I thought it might be a close run thing so I tried a comparison test. For the test, I wrote this sentence: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog (if you didn’t know, it’s a sentence which contains all the letters of the alphabet). I wrote it 10 times on a sheet of lined paper as quickly as I could but trying to retain legibility (as shown in the image at the top of this post), and I timed that using the stopwatch on my Android phone. I then typed the same sentence 10 times in MS Word and timed that as well. I repeated this exercise two more times and here’s what I found. Times are given in minutes:seconds.

Trial 1

Trial 2

Trial 3

Handwriting

2:44

2:45

2:41

Typing

2:29

2:17

2:12

Typing with corrections

2:47

2:21

2:26

I actually made fewer mistakes when writing, but even at my modest typing speed, typing is still quicker than handwriting, even allowing for corrections in typing. And of course, typing has all the advantages of being digital so storage and searching is better.

Incidentally, I opened Evernote on my Android phone and took a photo of one set of 10 handwritten test sentences just to see what Evernote would make of my handwriting. As you may know, Evernote can recognise handwritten text. In the 10 handwritten sentences, it recognised brown two times, fox three times, jumps once, and over three times, but failed to recognise any other word. I guess if I had written more slowly it might have had better success.

So it looks like handwriting is going to take more and more of a back seat as we all get typing and go increasingly ‘paperless’.

What do you think about the future of handwriting? How’s your typing speed? How’s your handwriting? And what about your kids’ handwriting? Are you concerned or is it just inevitable that handwriting will be affected by tech progress?


Oct 21

My hard drive died recently so I bought and installed a new 128 GB Crucial solid state drive (SSD) in my PC and I found it wasn’t too difficult to do. I had fitted the old SATA hard drive about 5 years ago and that wasn’t too hard, so don’t be put off by this job, have a go!

I decided on a 128 GB SSD so I could put the Windows 7 OS on it as well as the programs that I use most (MS Word, Google Chrome, Evernote, Adobe Reader). They’re the programs where I’ll see the biggest improvement in disk access. I’ll be fitting a new 1TB hard drive later to take the rest of my programs and all my data and where fast access isn’t so important. Doubtless, in time SSD’s will become cheap enough to handle all my programs and data.

When you buy a SSD, because of its small form factor, it’s important to get a bracket to mount it in your PC. They know this on Amazon so when you are looking at SSDs, you will see something like ‘When buying this, people also bought…’ and offer a 2.5″ to 3.5″ SSD Mounting Adapter Bracket.

IMG_0173

So this is what you get: the Crucial SSD, the mounting bracket, 4 small screws to fix the SSD to the bracket and four slightly larger screws to mount the bracket in your PC. You may also need a SATA data cable and possibly an IDE to SATA power adapter cable.

IMG_0175

and here’s the SSD fitted to the mounting bracket.

To mount your new SSD in the PC, you’re probably going to have to first take off both side panels of the PC to get access to the mounting screws on each side of the bracket holding the old hard drive. Take the cables off the old hard drive, and remove the screws holding the hard drive in place. Insert the bracket with the new SSD into a spare slot. Attach the SATA data and power cables to the new SSD and the other end of the SATA data cable to a SATA port on the motherboard. If your PC has old IDE power cables, you will need IDE to SATA power adapter cables as discussed in my earlier post on fitting a SATA HDD.

Mounting new SSD

Then just slide the SSD into place and secure it with the four mounting screws. Put the sides back on the PC and that’s it. Reconnect all your cables and keyboard and boot up the PC. As you’ve removed your old hard drive and the SSD is new, the first screen should ask you to insert your bootup media and press any key. So load your Windows installation disk into your CD or DVD and go ahead and reinstall Windows on the SSD.

I haven’t fitted the new 1TB hard drive yet. I’ll tell you how that goes in a later post. As I’ll have the Windows OS on the SSD and some programs on the HDD, I’ll have to tell Windows where to find those programs. More on that later.


Sep 23

I started listening to podcasts back in 2007. It’s actually a great way to learn and be entertained while doing something else such as taking exercise for example. Soon after starting this blog in 2008, I posted the podcasts I listened to back then.

My listening habits have changed over the 7 years till now and some very good podcasts have just faded away. I’ve cut out a number of tech podcasts and replaced them with some thought provoking material. I thought it might be worth updating my current picks again now so here we go.

Knightwise.com

I’ve stayed with this podcast pretty much right from the start. I’ve always wanted to move away from Windows at some point and this podcast has helped me on my journey. If you’re interested in cross-platform computing then this one is definitely worth a listen. Knightwise has posted some great podcasts recently including his essential Android apps (KW708), and cross-platform security (KW801).

WNYCs Radiolab

Again one of the earliest podcasts on my player. Science and philosophy. Always thought provoking.

FrequencyCast UK

Keep up-to-date with the latest UK tech news.

mintCast

A little rambling, but useful info on recent Linux Mint releases. But some of the stuff just goes over my head as with many things Linux.

NPR Intelligence Squared

Top thinkers debate today’s issues, but perhaps understandably, a little too US-centric. However, there are occasional interesting topics such as Does Science Refute God? and Is Death Final?

Point of Inquiry

A podcast from the Center for Inquiry, a think tank promoting science, reason, and secular values in public policy and at the grass roots. Point of Inquiry has apparently consistently been ranked among the best science podcasts available in iTunes.

Tech-Vets

Two tech vets, Mike Smith and Carey Holzman, discuss tech issues, the tech repair business and listeners’ questions.

The Ihnatko Almanac

Andy’s views on tech, movies, music, and photography among other things. Here’s a man who can produce an off the cuff, yet incisive and well formed verbal masterpiece on just about any topic. That’s about the closest I can come to describing this great podcast and uncanny talent.

You Are Not So Smart

A book, blog and podcast exploring self-delusion, irrational thinking and scientific skepticism.

Well that’s my current list. If any of these topics don’t cut it for you, have a look through a Lifehacker post from a few months back where the readers recommended a great list of podcasts. There should be something there for everyone.

What are you listening to now?


Sep 10

As they say, there are two certainties in life… death and taxes. Well I can add another – hard drive failure. The hard drive in my desktop PC died last week. It was a 1TB Seagate drive which I had bought in November 2009 so it was almost 5 years old. I blogged about installing it back then.

What were the signs it was about to die?

Well, very little really. The day before, I noticed that programs were taking an age to launch and it blue screened once. I hadn’t experienced either of those before with this setup. I shut down the PC thinking perhaps I had installed or changed some setting and that was the fault. Next day, it booted up fine. I loaded Windows Resource Monitor to see if it was running low on memory but that wasn’t the problem. Anyway I had installed 4 GB of RAM a couple of weeks ago, up from 2 GB so that shouldn’t have been the problem. I uninstalled a couple of recently installed programs. Everything was still fine, I went for lunch, came back and there was another blue screen. This time, when I rebooted, I could hear an ominous faint clicking sound from the PC and I knew the game was up.

What next?

There’s nothing like a hard drive failure to concentrate the mind. Luckily I had data backups from a couple of days earlier so thankfully, I hadn’t lost much. I tried booting up from a couple of rescue disks and Linux live disks. It booted up no problem but nothing would see the dying hard drive. I have a Lenovo laptop which I bought to dual boot Windows and Linux Mint so I moved over to that and gave my old PC to a repair tech friend who managed to get back pretty much all the data.

Any lessons learned?

You can never back up often enough. Make sure you back up you data every night. If you need your PC for work, make sure you have a backup plan like a laptop so you can move over to it seemlessly. I had but not everything I needed to keep on working was installed. It is now. If your hard drive is about 5 years old, it’s not a bad policy to have a replacement sitting in reserve (or an SSD) ready to fit. Or don’t wait for failure after 5 years are up – just replace it for peace of mind. I was planning to fit an SSD/hard drive combo anyway but this failure has brought that plan forward. I plan to get a 128GB SSD and install Windows 7 64 bit on it and some programs that I need to launch quickly. The 1 TB hard drive will be for other programs and data.

Have you suffered a hard drive failure? Any tips on getting up and running again?


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