Dec 31
My 2009 tech targets
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Tech | icon4 December 31, 2008| icon31 Comment »

2009 Happy New Year

First, a Happy New Year to one and all! I hope you’ll eventually be able to look back on 2009 as a great year where you achieved all you set out to.

Here’s my short list of tech targets for 2009:

1. Move to Ubuntu. I currently use Windows XP and although the signs are that Windows 7 is going to be an excellent OS, I believe that Linux, particularly Ubuntu, is finally becoming a real alternative for us all. I’ve already installed Ubuntu 8.10 without problems and now have to find the best Linux alternatives to my essential Windows applications. If anyone is interested, I’ve listed these Windows apps on my About page. If you haven’t tried Linux but want to give it a go, I hope you’ll follow me through 2009 as I overcome all the hurdles in making Ubuntu my main OS. I hope we’ll all learn along the way.

2. Improve this website. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed starting out with WordPress and I want to become more proficient with it in 2009. I have a few ideas including trying new themes and plugins and I’ve recently installed a Contact page on this site. If anyone has any thoughts on how I could improve this site, please drop a comment below. I can take any criticism!

3. Build my @techandlife Twitter community. I’ve really enjoyed my 3 months with Twitter and it has undoubtedly helped drive traffic to my blog. I’m looking forward to building my community on Twitter. My next blog post will be about what I’ve learned so far with Twitter.

4. Build my business Twitter community. Spurred on by the success of @techandlife on Twitter, I want to use what I’ve learned so far to integrate Twitter with my small business. I believe Twitter is going to be really important in 2009 in driving traffic, so I must start to build my business presence with it.

Well that’s my main targets. What do you hope to achieve in 2009? Drop a comment below.


Dec 26

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and MyblogLog

‘Once it’s online, it stays in the public eye forever’, or so the saying goes. Not sure if this generalization is strictly accurate but in any case, for some that’s absolutely no problem: ‘I’ve got nothing to hide; I’ll just hang everything out there and it’ll be fine’. What’s all the fuss about?’ They’re quite happy to share all this and more on social networks like Facebook, even right down to the software they use through sites like Wakoopa.

Others are slightly more cautious online going under an alias and trying to keep their personal identity private to the best of their ability. Which is the right approach? I guess both really…it just depends what you are happy with.

Favicon1 I agonized over revealing my identity before I registered this domain and started blogging. I knew I wanted a consistent and unique brand identity recognizable across blogs, comments, forums and social networks, but should I use my real name? And on social networks many, many people use a photo of themselves along with their real name. Can this be okay? Yes giving your real name and photo gives an air of honesty – some people are quite happy to have their online content associated closely with their personal identity. On the other hand, there’s a suspicion that if a person hides behind an alias and an avatar which isn’t their real photo, these people will be more likely to be a nuisance on forums and in blog comments as their true identity is hidden. This may very well be the case. And I know from reading blog posts that some people won’t follow a person on Twitter if they don’t show their photo as their avatar. Fair enough. But really, all you have to do is check their profile to see what sort of fingerprint they are leaving and decide on that basis.

My real name is pretty unique and this had a bearing on my decision. A search on Google using my real name has me in third place on the first page with quite a few further occurrences on that page mostly related to my self-employed business. At the end of the day, I just wasn’t happy adding to all the info already out by using my real full identity and photograph on my blog. When you think about it, blogging and social networking are really still very much in their infancy. We’re just starting out and who knows for certain what consequences putting all this info up for everyone to see will have over the long term. Hopefully it will all be okay…but will we all live to regret it and will it all come home to haunt us?

Already it’s possible to search your name or alias using a site like keyboardr and at lightning speed, gather up masses of information from your online footprint.

So, for the time being at least, let’s just say I’m Colin from Scotland, but my handle is techandlife online. I’m happy with that and I hope that’s okay with everyone. But I’d love to hear your comments, both for and against.

Photo credit: luc legay

Further reading: Web Worker Daily: Maintaining Privacy as an Online Freelancer

Added 28th January 2009: What the web knows about you

Added 29th January 2009: The Privacy Dilemma

Added 4th August 2009: Internet Privacy – You’re Kidding, Right?


Dec 19
Times have changed for spare time
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 December 19, 2008| icon32 Comments »

Stars and Stripes

Not counting quality time with your family, what do you do in your spare time? I’m sure for many reading this especially in the long winter evenings, spare time and the internet have become synonymous.

I will not spend all my time on Flickr Over the last four or five years, with the pervasive uptake of home computers and web access, I’ve found myself spending more and more of my leisure time online – checking out forums, commenting on blogs, googling this and that, and more recently getting into RSS feeds and social networking, particularly with twitter. All this as well as trying to write the occasional blog post. That’s not even to mention gaming, stumbling, Flickr, YouTube, IM, email, Skype, streaming TV, internet radio and online shopping. In fact, I’m sure it would be possible to spend all my spare time and more online.

Okay, so any younger readers will be saying, so what, it’s always been this way. They’ve grown up in a world with computers at home, gaming and the internet. But it wasn’t always like this. Some of us can remember back to the 1960s to 1980s when the computer wasn’t the ever-present it is today. Yes I know I’ve generalized a bit here. Some of the geeks among us were using computers in the 1980s but it’s really only been since the dawn of the new millennium that computers have reached into virtually every home in the land.

We’ve witnessed a spare time revolution. For me, out the window have gone watching TV, reading newspapers and magazines, and writing letters in the evening. Of course watching videos has been replaced for many by DVDs, but we’re now well into this revolution where virtually all of our spare time needs can be fulfilled online. In fact with programs like BBC iPlayer, we can catch up on what we’ve missed on TV anyway.

I’ll be the first to admit that the change is for the better. Personally, in the winter evenings, I’d much rather be online than reading a paper or watching TV. But with all this gazing at flat panels, we must remember to ring-fence some of our spare time for other really important activities: getting out and getting exercise, cooking good food and perhaps most importantly, talking to our nearest and dearest.

Updated Oct 2nd 2009: Further reading: How much time do you spend in front of the screen?

Photo credits: Locator and askthepixel


Dec 16

In the past, I’ve tried a number of photo editors and organizers, but for the last couple of years I’ve settled on FastStone Image Viewer for basic editing and organizing/viewing thumbnails. I won’t give a walk-through here as it’s really quite intuitive and fun to explore. Suffice to say, if you aren’t happy with your photo editor/organizer, give it a try. It’s freeware, and is only a small download. Photo thumbnails are viewed in folders just as in Windows Explore. In full screen mode, you can move your mouse to the edges of the screen to bring up menus.  The program is well capable of brightness corrections, cropping, and red eye removal – basically the editing we want to be doing most of the time. For more complex editing, I use Serif PhotoPlus, but more about that in another post.

Faststone Image Viewer

FastStone also complements this program with two others which I find really useful. FastStone Photo Resizer and FastStone Capture. Photo Resizer, also freeware, will batch shrink your images for uploading online while FastStone Capture is an excellent little utility for screen captures.

I’ll just highlight a point from each to illustrate how I use them. In Photo Resizer, I usually just shrink images by 50% to get them to a manageable size, but this is completely configurable. Just click the Advanced Options button and select 50% there. The program can also batch rename your files.

Faststone Photo Resizer

In FastStone Capture, I usually just need a rectangular capture – the third button from the left on the image below. It’s very easily done and you save the screen grab to the folder of your choice.

Faststone Capture

The current version of FastStone Capture is 6.3 and this is shareware with a 30-day trial period. The cost of the licence is $19.95.  However, excellent, older freeware versions of FastStone Capture are available here.

Check out the FastStone stable of software. I know there are umpteen image editing products out there but I find that these three utilities are really intuitive and well worth exploring. They all work with Windows XP and Vista.


Dec 11
How I use twitter
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Social Networking | icon4 December 11, 2008| icon31 Comment »

I started with twitter back in September but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it then. I knew I didn’t want to provide an endless stream of tweets on what I was doing. That’s fine for some but I wanted to post some useful content.

So for the past 2 or 3 weeks, I’ve been gradually getting more and more into twitter, as I find my niche and start to attract followers. I’m at 30 followers now but hope to hit my next target of 50 followers soon.

I was really heartened by a blog post by Darren Rowse at Twitip a couple of days ago where he asked the questions that were important for me:

  1. What value are you creating for your followers on twitter? What’s in it for them?
  2. What need are you fulfilling for your followers?
  3. What problem are you solving for your followers?

And this blog post emphasizes how the correct attitude will help build followers. For me, twitter is not about tweeting what I am doing but hopefully providing something useful for any followers I might have, either information, advice or support. I enjoy passing on information and tips. Twitter will be a kind of extension of this blog where I will try and post useful tech and life stuff in a microblog format. I’ll try and tweet on useful online applications and services, PC troubleshooting, PC security, WordPress blogging, and learning Linux among other things. I’ll be asking questions too.

If you’re interested in tech tweets, please follow me on twitter. I’m techandlife there. If you look there you can see my 70 tweets so far and decide if I’m worth following. If you haven’t tried twitter, I recommend you give it a go. It’s free, very easy to use, and it’s fun! You’ll get some great advice on using twitter at Twitip.

I’m always looking to follow people too, so if you think there are people I should follow, please drop a comment below.

Useful links (added 21 February 2009):

Being a Useful Twitter User


Dec 9
Getting started with Ubuntu
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Linux | icon4 December 9, 2008| icon3No Comments »

I’ve blogged earlier about how I tried Ubuntu 7.04 last year. It installed fine but I couldn’t get online as it was only configured for WEP protocol and my wireless router is set to WPA. Yes I know I could have probably solved it given time by searching and asking online but I figured that just shouldn’t be necessary. If Linux is to be a viable alternative to Windows, it should install without a hitch – indeed, it should be easier than a Windows install.

So with that in mind, a few days after Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex was released, I downloaded it to try again with some trepidation and not a little excitement. Was this to be the release where for me, Linux becomes a real alternative? Again I was determined that the install should be intuitive and I shouldn’t have to resort to online forums to sort out any problems.

Downloading from a UK mirror was fine on my slow (1MB) broadband connection. Took 1h 50 min. But that was okay. I let it work away during my lunch break and then into the afternoon. I burned the iso file to a CD using CDBurnerXP – that took 4 minutes.

I have a couple of removable hard drives on my old (back-up) PC. Windows XP on one drive and Ubuntu 7.04 on another. So I’ll just wipe away my old Ubuntu 7.04 install. No problem, I’ll just boot off the Linux CD and then reformat. Booted up fine to the GNOME desktop. I wondered if I could get online from the Live CD. Gave it a try. I clicked the Connect icon at the top right. As before, Ubuntu recognized my wireless Zoom router but this time gave me the option to enter my WPA passphrase. Yes I thought. We’re away this time. Sure enough after entering the passphrase I was connected. I fired up Firefox and confirmed that I was indeed online.

So far so good. Now to install Ubuntu on the hard disk. I booted up again from the Live CD and picked the option to ‘Install Ubuntu‘. When I got to the repartition menu, the choice for me was either keep the 7.04 install and add 8.10 in two partitions or to create a new single partition with 8.10. I couldn’t see an option to wipe 7.04 and install 8.10 in two partitions. So I went for the single partition. Anyway it’s only a test install. If I’ve messed up I’ll just reinstall again.

So I went ahead with the option Guided – Use entire disk, and Ubuntu installed flawlessly in 50 minutes. Again, I entered my WPA passphrase and I was online without a hitch. I grabbed the latest Ubuntu updates and that’s where I am at the moment. Quite painless really and having been through it, I know I can easily reinstall in less than an hour if I’ve messed up. In fact, all in all, it was easier than a Windows install so I urge anyone out there interested in switching to Linux to give Intrepid Ibex a try.

I hope to blog about Ubuntu now and again and let you know how I’m getting on. The burning question really is do I move eventually to Windows 7 from XP or can I take the fork in the road which says Linux?

Feel free to comment if you think I could have done things differently with this install.

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Dec 2
Top tech blogs – November
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Tech blogs | icon4 December 2, 2008| icon3No Comments »

Thought I’d rerun the stats on my top tech blogs. I’ve posted on this before but thought it would be interesting to see what’s changed since September as I’ve discovered some new blogs. I’m mostly interested in blogs giving info on new online applications and services, PC freeware, PC troubleshooting, Windows tips and tricks, learning Linux, learning WordPress, and social networking, and hopefully you are too. I love discovering new stuff!

Google Reader can show you trends for the blogs you follow over the last 30 days. In Google Reader, I star posts I find really useful and that I may want to go back to at some point. So, for me, the blog with the most stars is my top tech blog. Here’s a screenshot showing the top 20 blogs with the most starred posts in Google Reader in November.

I have separate RSS feeds for Makeuseof and their Web Services Directory, that’s why they appear twice on the list. But when you take them together, they are way out in front as my top tech blog, followed by gHacks and Download Squad. I discovered Madhur Kapoor’s blog back in October and it’s a new entry into my top 20 list. Digital Inspiration, PC Mech, Online Tech Tips and Windows Tips and Tricks (The PC Informant) follow on behind these.

If you’re looking to start following the RSS feeds of tech blogs, I can recommend all of these. I’ll be following them all thoughout December and into 2009.


Dec 1

Ever had to get a list of filenames into Excel? You can’t just drag the files into Excel as this will import the complete files. I had to do this recently, and rather than key in the file names one by one, I asked on a forum and got a number of good replies. Here’s the best route I’ve found from that.

The first thing you need to do is create a text file in the file directory listing those file names. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds. To make this text file:

1. Open a command prompt: Click Start, then Run, and type cmd

2. Navigate to the directory with your list of file names using the command cd, e.g. type cd c:\photos\2008 and press Enter.

3. Create the text file: Still at the command prompt, type dir /b > tempfile.txt then press Enter

command prompt for file directory

This will create a text file called tempfile.txt with a list of all the files in that directory. Now we have to import the list from that file into Excel:

4. Close the command box by typing exit and click Enter.

5. Open Explore (right click on Start and click on Explore) and navigate to the directory with your list of filenames. The file tempfile.txt should now be there as well.

6. Right click on tempfile.txt and Select Open with then navigate down the list to Microsoft Excel and click on it.

This will import the file listing into a new Excel workbook, but you’ll probably want to get them into another workbook:

7. Select the file listing in Excel by left clicking and dragging to highlight the list (or on the keyboard, hold down the Shift key and click the Down arrow key) and copy the highlighted block with Ctrl-c

8. Open the workbook you want and paste in the listing where you want it using Ctrl-v

You can clean up the listing now:

9. Among the file names you will have imported the file name tempfile.txt. Delete this row in Excel: Highlight that row then click on Edit and then Delete.

10. You’ll also have file extensions which you may not want (e.g. doc): Click Ctrl-H and just search for .doc and replace with blank throughout the spreadsheet.

And that’s it!

Update (10 September 2009): Thanks to a post at How-to Geek, I found a free utility called Dir Print to create the text file of the directory listing. This saves having to go to the command prompt. You can also filter the directory listing to just a particular file type by modifying the box in the top right corner of Dir Print, eg for only Word files, enter *.doc.


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