Jan 27

NotePad

I’ve use NotePad++ as a Windows NotePad replacement for some time now. It’s great for editing css and php files on my local computer. But did you know you can upload your files to your website directly from NotePad++? Saves having to launch your ftp client to upload them. In NotePad++, there’s a plugin called FTP Synchronize under the Plugins menu which is installed by default during installation of NotePad++. Go to FTP Synchronize and click Show FTP folders. New windows should open to the right and below the main NotePad window. The window to the right looks like this:

NotePad2

Click on the Settings icon, which will bring up the following window:

NotePad1

Click on New at the bottom left to start a new profile. In the box named Profile at the top right, give your profile a memorable name, e.g. the name of your blog and click Rename. Add the details down the right side and click OK. If you’re not sure of these they’ll be in your current ftp client. You can set the Initial directory to the sub-folder where your files are stored online.

Once this is saved, you can click the Connect button as shown in the top graphic. You’ll get a drop-down box with your saved profile and just click on it. Obviously, you could save a number of profiles here to connect to different folders online (e.g. different blogs). Once connected, just click the Upload button shown in the top graphic and the saved edited file currently showing in NotePad++ will be uploaded to your chosen folder.

That’s it.

Edit (6th December 2010) Since I wrote this post, the NotePad++ plugin has been updated and renamed. If you’re using the latest version of NotePad++ (currently 5.8.5), the plugin is now called NppFTP but works in much the same way as the old plugin.


Jan 23
Give us this day our daily fruit and veg
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 January 23, 2009| icon32 Comments »

Kiwi

Away from ‘Tech’ and back on a ‘Life’ topic today and I’m sure it’s a familiar one. No not exercise this time but our diet. We really don’t eat enough fruit and veg. We’re constantly being told to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day – or more correctly at least 5 portions. But you know, it’s actually easier said than done. Have you ever tried keeping a tally?

Here in Scotland, we have one of the worst records on coronary heart disease in the world and our diet is generally very poor, but improving. But it’s not from a lack of fresh produce on the high street. I think part of the problem is that fruit and veg are somehow not satisfying, especially as a snack. We’d somehow much rather be stuffing some mixture of fat and carbohydrates into our faces.

I’ve tried to make an effort to improve my daily fruit and veg quota to get to 5 or beyond and here’s what I’ve done:

1. Breakfast: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It must be, I’ve just Googled the phrase and got 140,000 hits! But I know that many people just can’t face breakfast or don’t have time which is a pity because it really sets you up for the day. I used to find fruit a turn-off at breakfast – too sharp on the palette first thing in the morning. However, I’ve found that a portion of tinned prunes in fruit juice is just right to start the day. Not too sharp or bitter and good for the constitution. If you don’t like prunes, try fruit juice instead. If you’ve got room for cereal, or porridge, put some sultanas or cranberries in it. Make time for breakfast and you may just be able to drop that mid-morning snack.

2. Lunch: Try and put some lettuce and tomato in the sandwich or on your snack. You’ve probably made it to 2 portions of your daily quota already.

3. Mid-afternoon: I used to have a cup of tea but I’ve replaced that with a kiwi and tangerine. That keeps me going till dinner.

4. Dinner: If it’s winter, try and get some good soup down you for starters. Hopefully there’s a portion in there. Then a portion of say corn or peas (or both) with your main course. In summer, you really shouldn’t have a problem.

5. Mid-evening: I usually have an apple.

I make that a conservative 6 portions and it’s not too hard. How do you fare on getting your daily quota? Any suggestions? I’d love to hear them. Drop a comment below.

Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

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Jan 21

What’s the best time to reach your followers on Twitter? When they’re awake of course. But that’s easier said than done. Don’t assume that all your followers are in your time zone. Twitter is global. Most of my followers are in the USA and Canada, although I do have a significant number in Europe, the Far East, Australia and some in the Middle East. So one tweet is going to catch some awake and some asleep. Of those awake, some will be at work and some at home. If I just tweet in the evening, I will only reach a particular subset of my global followers, mostly in the USA. Here’s a map showing world time when it’s 7pm in the UK. As you can see, the USA is wide awake while Australia is asleep or just waking.

Timezones700

Map credit: www.worldtimezone.com

Now here’s a couple of tweets from problogger last Friday afternoon (in Australia) on a very important subject:

best tweet time

As you can see, while it was 3.40pm in eastern Australia, the time in the UK was 4.40am – definitely not beer o’clock for me! In fact, when it was my beer o’clock, Darren I’m sure was safely tucked up in bed.

Of course there are different types of tweet. ‘What I am doing just now’ is just that and it’s tweeted once. But if you have some important content to get out to your followers, for example a really good link you’ve found or a new blog post, you’ll probably have to retweet the message. Having said that, I am currently following about 130 people and I still make a point of reading every tweet. That’s the beauty of Twitter. You can quickly scan each tweet and see if it’s of interest and worth responding to. However, as I follow more and more people, there will come a time soon when I’ll have to follow groups of people more closely with TweetDeck and just dip into the rest when I have time.

So to maximize my chance of a tweet being read by someone who doesn’t have me in a group on TweetDeck, and who is following lots of people, and also to deal with the global nature of Twitter, I find it’s worth repeating important tweets up to 4 times in about 18 hours. Typically, that would be evening, late evening, next morning and then the afternoon. Hopefully, that will catch the different audiences. But that’s enough, I don’t want to turn anyone off.

This from Guy Kawasaki

Tip 9: Repeat your tweets. Try this experiment: take your most interesting tweets (as measured by how many people retweet them, perhaps) and post them again three times, eight to twelve hours apart. I used to think that people would complain about repeating tweets, but I’ve never had a complaint. My theory is that the volume of tweets is so high and most people check in at about the same time every day, so people don’t notice repeat tweets.

Many people are restricted from using Twitter and other social networking applications at work so it might be worth retweeting so as to catch your followers in the evening,  or even at the weekend for those that have more time to relax and catch up with the twittosphere then.

I also find it’s worth repeating any important weekend tweets on a Monday evening in case they weren’t picked up at the weekend.


Jan 19

Hope - Obama

I’ve seen this kind of optimism before. When Tony Blair stepped into Downing Street in 1997 as UK Prime Minister, there was a tremendous feeling of excitement, hope and expectation. I remember watching him greet the crowds on Downing Street and thinking, hmm will he ever be this popular again?

As it turned out he wasn’t, and I hope the same thing doesn’t eventually happen with Barack Obama as the hope and expectation turn to reality. More than ever, America needs a strong leader who makes good decisions over the next 4 years and I really hope they’ve picked one. For me, it would break the mould.

I can remember four decades of UK prime ministers, and I can’t really stand back and say, ‘Wow he (or she) did a really great job and has left the country in better shape’. All have made some poor decisions in office. Yes, sometimes they stumble on problems of their own making, and sometimes as with 911, an unexpected global situation arises which has to be dealt with.

From a UK perspective, I really hope Obama’s different and that after 4 years, we can all look back and say, ‘Wow, he did a really good job’. Time will tell. I wish him well.

Any thoughts?

Picture credit: Steve Rhodes


Jan 14
How long should a good blog post be?
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Blogging | icon4 January 14, 2009| icon33 Comments »

Blogging1

I was commenting on a blog last night which got me thinking about blog content and length. There’s no doubt that great content is paramount for a good blog post. But there can be a problem here. Great content can require a lot of thought and research, especially if it’s a how-to, tutorial or review. Also to do justice to a topic may require presenting well argued points for and against a particular view. Both of these factors can lead to a longish post and incidentally can take a long time to prepare.

Blogging2

A lengthy post is all very well if the reader is interested in the topic and has the time to work through the post, and possibly comment on it, but I suspect that many readers may be turned off by a long post, and just skim it and move on, especially if they are new to your site and not familiar with your previous posts. The situation is compounded if you are a relatively new blogger and haven’t built up an established fan-base who are familiar with your work. After all, there’s so much to read out there and we have to cover all the latest posts in our RSS feeds and get on to Twitter where ‘micro-content’ is king.

So it’s a question of striking the right balance in your post – being concise and not long-winded. Not repeating yourself like I’ve just done in the last sentence. Have an interesting title and introduction to set the scene and hold the reader. Try breaking longer posts up into sections with clear sub-headings, bullet points or numbered points. This may help the reader to skim sections they are familiar with. If required, try and sum up the post in your last paragraph.

If you’re in doubt whether your posts are the right length, look at your own last blog post and consider whether, if you had stumbled across it, would you have read it through to the end. I must confess that looking at some of my earlier posts, they were probably too long and that’s reflected in the rapid click-throughs I see in Woopra Analytics up to December. That seems to have improved recently as more people are taking more time to explore my blog.

I’ll leave it at that – and well done if you’ve read this far. I hope I’ve got the length just right this time.

Any comments?

Further reading: How to Write an Article in 20 Minutes – Copyblogger

Photo credit: Will Lion


Jan 13

LastPass2

So how do you save your passwords? On a sheet of paper? In your head? In your browser? Or in a password safe? Given the risks of losing the sheet of paper, or forgetting memorized passwords, or someone else accessing your browser, the password safe is probably the best choice. We all know how important it is to have long passwords which are a combination of upper case and lower case letters, numbers and symbols so I won’t go into that here. But we must have a secure way of storing them.

When Lee Mathews of Download Squad wrote a post on LastPass back in August last year, I decided to give it a try. I’ve always found him to give excellent software recommendations on Download Squad. I was using KeePass at the time, another password manager which was being warmly recommended on tech blogs and tech podcasts. It’s a great password safe, but the problem is that to get passwords from KeePass to your browser, you have to launch the program, enter your password then copy and paste the stored password to wherever you need it – which all takes time. There is a plugin for KeePass called KeeForm which is designed to open and scan a website for input fields and fill them accordingly with a user name and password but it only works with Internet Explorer. I use Firefox so I decided to try LastPass. I found it really easy to install and liked the way everything was explained during installation.

LastPass keeps all your web logins securely synchronized across multiple computers. It stores your passwords in encrypted form on your PC, and there is a Firefox browser extension and Internet Explorer add-on for LastPass which recognises and fills password boxes from your encrypted password data. Not only this, but it will also fill online forms much like RoboForm.

Another feature I like is that it will store multiple usernames and passwords for a site. For example, I have personal and business usernames and passwords for Delicious. When I go to log in to Delicious, the Firefox LastPass extension gives a drop-down set of buttons one of which is AutoLogin. Clicking on this allows me to choose which of my two Delicious accounts I log in to. The buttons appear below the Firefox tabs near the top right corner of the browser window.

LastPass1

LastPass also syncs passwords over the net, so all your saved passwords on your work computer, for example, will always be synced to your home computer. It’s also cross-platform, so you can sync your password data to Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs. There’s also a portable version of LastPass called LastPass Pocket so you can keep your encrypted passwords and usernames on a thumbdrive. Pocket is designed to provide you with access to your passwords on any computer.

There’s actually a lot more to LastPass than I can go into here so please check out their website for all the details. Or have a look at their FAQ. The big question with all these password managers is: Are my passwords safe or can anyone else access them? Many of the security questions have actually been addressed by LastPass in the comments below a LifeHacker feature on the program in August last year and also on their website here. They assure us that the passwords are only stored on your PC. They’re encrypted locally on your PC and the result of that encryption is uploaded to LastPass. LastPass never has a way to decrypt your data so it’s important to remember just one password – your LastPass password!

So if you’re storing passwords on paper, in your browser or in your head, give LastPass a try. I’ve been using it since last September without problems. In fact, I’ve just checked though my list of essential software on my About page and LastPass would rate as my best find of 2008. Oh, and it’s free.

Added on 15th January:

Further reading: Securely Synchronize all your Browser Passwords with LastPass

Added on 20th January:

Further reading: LastPass now handles logins and form filling in any browser


Jan 4
Flawed firmware
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Software, Tech | icon4 January 4, 2009| icon3No Comments »

Zune

Anyone following the twittosphere on New Year’s Eve would have noticed a number of tweets reporting that their 30GB Zunes had suddenly ceased to function. The reason subsequently became apparent. There had been a programming glitch. A bug in the internal clock driver. Apparently, the Zune’s firmware could not deal with leap years, like 2008. The problem only lasted a day. By January 1, all was well again. If you let the battery drain and re-start it, your Zune would return to life again. The firmware will be updated to remove the flaw before the next leap year (2012).

So what is firmware? According to Wikipedia, firmware has evolved to mean almost any programmable content of a hardware device, not only machine code for a microprocessor, but also configurations and data for application-specific integrated circuits, programmable logic devices, etc. In other words, your DVD players, mp3 players, TVs, etc. all need firmware to make them work.

What worries me is how we are increasingly losing control of our tech. In days gone by, you pressed a button and a device would work. You were in control. Nowadays, we are the mercy of the firmware in our devices which, if badly programmed, can lead to it becoming a brick through no fault of our own. Anyone who has done a firmware update knows that you wait with some trepidation to see if the update has been successful, or if you’ve bricked your device.

Guess there isn’t an answer here. Just have to hope that programmers learn from their mistakes like this one and give us better, more reliable firmware, and also an easier firmware update route.

Photo credit: ace10414

Related reading: Zune Insider: 30GB Zune issues – official update


Jan 3

Thought I’d rerun the stats on the top tech blogs I followed in December to compare with my top blogs in November. I’m mostly interested in sites blogging about applications and services, PC freeware, PC troubleshooting, Windows tips and tricks, learning Linux, learning WordPress, blogging and social networking.

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 effectively my top tech blog. Here’s a screenshot showing the top 20 blogs with the most starred posts in Google Reader in December.

Top 20 tech blogs - Dec 08

I have separate RSS feeds for Makeuseof and their Web Services Directory, that’s why they appear twice in the list. But when you take them together, they are still out in front as my top tech blog, followed by gHacks and Download Squad. I’ve taken a greater interest in Twitter and blogging in December so have started following a number of new blogs. Of these, Twitip and HowToMakeMyBlog have made it as new entries in my top 20.

If you’re looking to start following the RSS feeds of tech blogs, I can recommend all of these.


Jan 2
My 15 Twitter tips
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Social Networking | icon4 January 2, 2009| icon314 Comments »

Twitterific icon

‘Twitter is a great tool to get your target audience discover you, your blog and the value your blog creates. It helps establish a link between you and your audience in a non-threatening way and can be a great part of your online blog branding and marketing strategy.’ Marko

I thought that was very well put. Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up in the last couple of months working with Twitter. If you haven’t already tried them, I hope you’ll find them useful.

1. Add your name to Twitter directories. Two good directories are Twellow and Just Tweet It. Find the categories that best suit what you tweet about and add yourself there. You can also look in those categories for people to follow.

2. Find people to follow. I use Twubble and Twannabe for this. Twubble checks who your followers are following and picks out people who you may want to follow yourself. Twannabe checks who your nominated Twitter ‘hero’ is following and you are not so you can add them as followers.

3. Follow some of the big names. Follow people like Darren Rowse, Jim Connolly and Chris Brogan. You will probably pick up followers on the back of following these big guns and you may also find they have interesting tweets.

4. Find local people to follow. Use TwitterLocal to find people in your area worth following.

5. Follow these people for tech news. If you’re interested in tech updates, cool websites and applications, follow these: @makeuseof, @guardiantech, @Net_Feed, @Neo_Win. Also @techwatching but this one has frequent updates.

6. Longer tweets. The killer feature of Twitter for me is the 140 character limit. This means your tweet has to be concise. It also means that you can scan tweets from your followers and quickly get the drift. However, if you occasionally need to tweet more that 140 characters, use TwitBlogs or TwitterMail.

7. Post pictures. Use Twitpic to share pictures linked to your tweets.

8. Use TweetDeck or Tweetree as your Twitter client. Both these have advantages over the Twitter website for viewing your tweets, direct messages, etc. The big plus of TweetDeck is that you can define groups of people who are most important to you so you don’t miss any tweets amidst the twitter noise. Be careful not to close the group column though as you will then have to redefine that group when you next reopen TweetDeck. You’ll also have to install Adobe Air to use it. Tweetree is probably my favourite client at the moment. Its key advantages are first you can see photos on Twitpic or Flickr or videos on YouTube directly in the client. Second, shortened links in tweets are shown in full form so you can decide whether to follow that link or not. It doesn’t do groups yet like TweetDeck but I believe that’s in the pipeline from looking at the feedback tab on the Tweetree site.

9. Use BigTweet to tweet direct from a website. If you want to tweet about a good website you’ve found, you can do it directly from BigTweet. You can tweet up to 240 characters with this. It even shortens the website URL.

10. Subscribe to TwiTip. TwiTip is one of the best websites for learning how to use Twitter more effectively. Well worth subscribing to in your RSS reader.

11. Easily change your twitter background. You can improve the background on your Twitter profile and show links to your other social networks using Twitbacks or MyTweetSpace.

12. Check your twitter grade at TwitterGrader. I’ve just made the top 50 in Scotland! You can check anyone’s grade here.

13. Put a twitter counter on your blog sidebar. Go to TwitterCounter and get a Twitter counter badge to add to your sidebar.

14. Put your latest tweets on your blog sidebar. Use TwitStamp to generate a cool image showing your Twitter details and latest tweet in your blog sidebar. Or use the Twitter for WordPress plugin to display your latest tweets on your blog.

15. Build your community. If you follow these tips, they should help you build a good community on Twitter. You don’t have to follow back everyone that follows you. If someone follows you, take a close look at their profile and see if their content is of interest to you. If it’s too far from what interests you, you don’t have to follow them. If they unfollow you because you haven’t followed them, indeed if anyone unfollows you, don’t worry about it. This is all about building communities of friends who want to read your tweets, who you can ask questions of, and who you want to hear from. It’s not really about numbers in my opinion.

I hope you find these tips useful. If there’s any tip or tool you’ve discovered and find essential that I haven’t mentioned, please drop a comment below. Also if you like this post, please share it on Delicious, Digg it, Stumble it or even tweet about it. You can use the ShareThis link just below this post. If you find this post useful, you could also help by linking to it in on your own blog. You can follow me on twitter at @techandlife. Finally, why not subscribe to our RSS feed to have all our posts sent directly to your news reader.

Photo credit: swanksalot


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