Dec 31
Top posts of 2009 on Tech and Life
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Blogging | icon4 December 31, 2009| icon3No Comments »

Most visited posts

Here’s a list of the most visited posts on this site throughout 2009. Site analytics are from Woopra. I’ve only included those posts with over 500 hits. As you can see I had a phenomenal response to my slow Firefox post. If you’re new to this site you should find some interesting older posts listed below. If these aren’t of interest, have a look around – there are about 90 posts to choose from at the moment.

Is Firefox slow for you? Here’s some tips to try which might speed it up – 11736 visits

Installing Easy Peasy Linux on my Acer Aspire One netbook – 2880 visits

Finding lost bookmarks in your info archive – 2037 visits

Send free SMS reminders to your mobile phone -1128 visits

Some Ubuntu resources for beginners – 776 visits

Uploading files to your website with Notepad++ – 649 visits

What is the best time to tweet? – 599 visits

Useful links: A to Z of search – 543 visits

Most retweeted posts

What is the best time to tweet? – 29 tweets

Is Firefox slow for you? Here’s some tips to try which might speed it up – 19 tweets

My top 15 useful bookmarklets – 13 tweets

Installing Easy Peasy Linux on my Acer Aspire One netbook – 9 tweets

Some Ubuntu resources for beginners – 5 tweets

Quick tip: Disable or remap the Caps Lock key in Windows and Linux – 5 tweets

Can I take this opportunity to thank everyone who has visited this blog throughout the year – hope you found your visit was worthwhile and thanks too to all who’ve taken the time to comment on the posts. Please subscribe to the RSS feed if you can – I blog in my spare time and it’s blog comments and rising subscriber numbers which are a great encouragement to keep blogging. Link back to any of the posts if you can and retweet any if you like them. And if there’s anything you’d like me to cover, or like to see more of, drop a comment below.

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous 2010!


Dec 30

evernote

Evernote is a searchable digital notebook for storing and indexing all your digital info – documents, notes, recipes, music, web pages, pictures, videos, Delicious bookmarks, business cards, scanned pages, data backups – really you’re only limited by your imagination. Called ‘your second brain’ by the developers themselves, Evernote remembers stuff so you don’t have to. Here’s another good description:

As far as I’m concerned, it’s good for anything (or more importantly, everything) you can think of. And that’s sorta how I use it – a big ass digital junk drawer that syncs to the web, indexes the text within my images and works great on my iPhone – Cranking Widgets Blog

I’ve been storing and searching data on my PC for 5 or 6 years now – using an app called InfoMagic Extra which I’ve blogged about before. Although it’s pretty old it worked well – and still works well. Data are stored as RTF files so nothing is locked away that I can’t easily get out. Problem is that technology had overtaken it and modern digital notebooks offer so much more. Evernote is one of these and seems to be gaining a lot of very satisfied followers. There are many blog posts about Evernote out there so I’ll pick out just a few points.

Sync with your laptop, and mobile devices

Perhaps Evernote’s most notable feature is that your data, as well as being stored on your PC or Mac, can be synced to the Evernote servers and on to your other supported devices like laptops, iPhone, Android, etc. So you can have access to your notes everywhere and update them from each of these devices. An Evernote app hasn’t been released for Linux yet but I have heard it works under Wine.

You can also share notebooks with everyone or with select individuals. Among other uses, this will allow collaborating with business partners and clients, and also allow employers to implement a central store for notes and ideas accessible to all project members regardless of their location.

Easy to get data into Evernote

If you have a scanner you can probably scan stuff directly into Evernote. I’ve set up my Epson Perfection scanner and blogged about it. Here’s another link to a post on scanning to Evernote. You can put your digital photos into Evernote and it will try to decipher any text in them and make that searchable. Just make sure to resize your photos first otherwise you could exceed your 40MB monthly limit fairly quickly. And you can add selected text or clip entire webpages into Evernote using their Web Clipper. You can also email info to Evernote and archive your Twitter tweets.

It’s free – if you want it that way

Evernote operate a ‘freemium’ model – the app is free if you upload less than 40MB of data per month to their servers and if you want to sync limited file types – images, audio, ink, PDF. The Premium version has a 500 MB monthly upload allowance, allows syncing of all file types but one single note cannot exceed 25MB. It’s also ad-free and has SSL encryption when uploading data to the servers.

Having said that, if you don’t want to sync your info to different devices but just run Evernote on one device like your PC, or if you’re unhappy about putting your personal data in the ‘cloud’, you can actually operate Evernote completely free – by making all the notebooks Local Notebooks. This way your data will only be stored on your device and not synced anywhere else. You may also want to add your data to a Local Notebook if you’re operating a free account and you’re approaching but don’t want to exceed your monthly data limit. In this case, when you’re creating a notebook, just make it a local notebook until you get into a new month with a full data allowance, then transfer the data to your synced notebooks.

evernote1

Some useful Evernote resources

There are downloadable pdf format guides for Windows and Mac Evernote versions available here. The Evernote team produce a podcast about once a month, detailing new features, Evernote use cases and answering questions. Worth downloading and listening to for the very latest on Evernote. Here’s the feed or subscribe through iTunes. Here’s a few more useful sites:

Ron’s Evernote Tips

100 different Evernote Uses – Andrew Maxwell

How to Search Evernote – ten mov.es

Evernote Blog

I’ll add more of the best resources as I come across them.


Dec 27

If you haven’t used bookmarklets before, they’re just useful pieces of JavaScript code which you can bookmark and which let you be more productive by simplifying tasks. Installing a bookmarklet is as simple as just dragging the bookmarklet link to your bookmark region or right clicking on the link and bookmarking it. I’ve made a folder for bookmarklets on my browser bar to keep them all together. Here are 15 of the most useful bookmarklets I’ve come across. If you think they may be useful to you, just drag the link at the start of each section across to your bookmark region and try them out.

BigTweet: Lets you share links on Twitter with your followers without leaving the webpage. It automatically shortens the link in the process and captures the title and any highlighted text. Of course you do have to log into your Twitter account through BigTweet to allow it to tweet your link but I’ve had no problem here in the year I’ve been using it. This is possibly the bookmarklet I use the most.

TwitterKeys: A pop-up box gives you symbols which you can copy and paste into your tweets.

TwitterKeys

Pagezipper: If you’ve ever come across articles split across multiple webpages, this bookmarklet combines them into one long scrollable page. Saves a lot of time clicking and waiting for the next page to load.

Clippable: Reduces all the clutter from a webpage and makes it easier to read. Adverts, sidebars, etc are all removed and you are left with the text and images. There are other bookmarklets which are very similar like Readability.

Printliminator: Lets you select what you want to keep on a webpage before printing the page – you could of course print to a pdf using say doPDF which I’ve blogged about before.

Clip to Evernote: Use this bookmarklet to save a webpage to Evernote, the popular notebook app. I know Evernote has a Webclipper to clip text from webpages or entire webpages, but I find this bookmarklet useful in combination with Clippable mentioned above to just clip the text and images to Evernote and leave the rest of the clutter behind.

Read Later: Save a webpage to your Instapaper account to read later. You have to register with Instapaper to use this.

Save webpage as pdf: Sends a webpage to pdfdownload which converts it to a PDF. You can then download the PDF.

Subscribe with GReader: Quickly subscribe to a blog in Google Reader with this bookmarklet.

Show RSS Feed: Try this bookmarklet if your web browser has trouble detecting the RSS feed associated with a site. It will show you the full contents of that feed and also give you options to subscribe in your favourite newsreader.

Show RSS feeds

Delicious Talk: See how many people have saved a particular page on Delicious and what tags they have used to describe the page.

Map that address: Highlight an address on a webpage and get a map showing its location.

List all Links: Lists all links on a page in a pop-up window.

Translate: Uses Google Translate to display the content of the page in English.

Youtubian: Go to a video on YouTube and click this bookmarklet. The page will reload with the video, a search box on the right, related videos below, and download links for Flash, MPEG, and mobile versions of the video also on the right. Click on the Expand link at the top of the page to revert back to the original YouTube page.

If you want to search for more bookmarklets, there’s a directory at marklets.com and here’s a site with over 100 useful bookmarklets for better productivity.

Hope you find some of these useful. Drop a comment on any I’ve missed that you like.


Dec 16

Many people treat an operating system upgrade with great trepidation. Is my data safe? What if I have problems, can I go back? I’m just going through an upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 but I’ve chosen a no-risk route which completely preserves my old OS and all my data so I can transition to Windows 7 at my own pace, getting it set up just the way I want and getting used to it before completely moving over from XP.

I’ve already blogged about installing a new 1TB SATA drive in my PC and I’m going to do a clean install of Windows 7 Home Premium (Full Version) on this new drive. I’m going to be replacing my 4-year-old 80GB Maxtor drive running Windows XP (which still works fine). I should say that I also have an identical 80GB removable Maxtor hard drive to which I cloned my primary drive soon after its installation and where I back up new data on a regular basis with a simple batch file. I blogged about it soon after I started this blog. So I effectively have an XP install with a mirror in case the first drive dies. But I felt that both these drives were too small (and probably too old) to move forward with Windows 7 so I chose to buy a new 1TB drive and keep the old drives for backups of music, photos, etc.

Anyway, on to the Windows 7 install on the new drive. I must say that, as someone who doesn’t regularly reinstall my OS, I found the Windows 7 custom install a breeze and no-one should be worried about a clean install on a new hard drive. I booted up with the Windows 7 disk in the DVD drive and followed the prompts, picking Windows Setup on the first screen and then Custom Install (not Upgrade). A custom install is a clean install.

windows-7-custom-install

The install took about 20 minutes on my system, followed by a reboot to bring up the Windows 7 desktop. But the new OS couldn’t detect my ZOOM ADSL X6 wireless router and get online. A little strange considering that installs of Ubuntu 8.10 and later Ubuntu 9.04 on another desktop PC and Easy Peasy Linux on my Acer Aspire netbook had no problems at all seeing the wireless router and just needed the WPA password. So I tried installing the ZOOM router driver. Still no luck. Then I tried installing the driver for my Edimax Wireless LAN PCI card, selected the ZOOM profile and activated it and finally entered my WPA password and that got me online. That was really the only hitch in the install.

First stop online was Ninite, an excellent site where you can pick multiple applications from an ever-growing list and install them together. The screenshot below shows only part of the list of applications currently available

ninite

I picked Firefox, Skype, VLC, Audacity, Irfanview, Foxit Reader, Microsoft Security Essentials, Flash (for browsers other than IE), Java, .NET, Evernote, ImgBurn, CCleaner, Revo, CDBurnerXP, Recuva, 7-Zip and Notepad++. The complete install of all these applications took only about 10 minutes – obviously a lot quicker than visiting each site and downloading the applications individually. Then Evernote just had to sync with the web client.

I’ve already listed my essential software and web applications on the About page, so I went through that and installed what I would initially need. I’ve always used AVG Free in the past for antivirus but I’m going to give Microsoft Security Essentials a try this time round – you’d figure that Microsoft should be the best candidate to keep their own system clean and it’s had pretty good reviews so far.

So that’s where I’m at right now. Installing my data won’t be a problem later – just a case of booting up with my removable backup hard drive in place and copying across everything I need. At this point, if you’ve followed this route, you may very well be plugging in your external hard drive to copy across your data.

But before I copy the data over, what I propose to do next is, when I have all the applications installed that I want and everything set up as I like it, I’m going to image the ‘untainted’ system so in future I can restore a clean system with my essential applications if I have to. So I loaded my copy of Acronis True Image 8 to make an image but found it wasn’t compatible with Windows 7. No problem, I’ve found an excellent tutorial from Gina Trapani on using the free DriveImage XML to make the image instead.

I’ll blog later about finishing this install, and any new applications I’ve come across to replace utilities I’ve used with XP.


Dec 13

Xmas card

I’ve just finished our annual mailing of Christmas cards – after tracking down our old address lists and address books to find all those addresses I need. In the past, I have used a card list stored on the PC and printed out but always had to go back to address books for the details and any address changes. I’ve decided to make things easier next year. All the contact details from this year’s list will go into a note in Evernote (tagged Xmas) so that they’ll all be easily found in one place next year. I’ll update any address changes there too, and add new friends and also email details where I have them so I can respond with eCards to some.

Yet another great use for Evernote.

Image credit: Kibondo


Dec 9

It’s possible to scan notes and documents directly to Evernote, the popular note-taking application, using Epson scanners. Here’s a quick walk-through for an Epson Perfection 4180 scanner and using Epson Scan v3.04E software.

First launch Epson Smart Panel and choose Scan to Application under Photo Project

scan to evernote1

Then scan your document/s or note/s in the usual way. I’m going to scan in a business card for this example. I found these settings were fine:

scan to evernote1A

Preview, locate the image and scan it. Carry on scanning further documents and notes if you have them then close the above window. The View Images window will then appear showing all the images you have just scanned

scan to evernote2

You can actually go back and scan more notes at this stage by clicking the button in the bottom left corner. I’ve renamed my scanned image with a more useful name which will help searching in Evernote – but Evernote will pick up the text in the scanned image anyway and make that searchable. Once you click Next, you will see the applications which the scanner can already scan to. Evernote is probably not on this yet.

scan to evernote4

So we have to add Evernote to these applications. Click on the settings button (with the tool symbols) at the bottom left and then click Register at the bottom left of the Settings menu

scan to evernote5

Now you have to enter details so the scanner software can find Evernote on your PC

scan to evernote6

I’m using Evernote 3.5 beta but you may still be using the older version. In the Location panel, just click Browse and navigate until you find the Evernote.exe program (it’ll have the familiar elephant icon on green background) and click on it. Select the icon you want to use to display Evernote as in the Applications panel below. I scanned the business card as a jpg file so I have still to change the Format in the bottom panel. When you click OK you should now see Evernote registered as an application as in the screen below and you won’t have to do this registration part again – unless any subsequent Evernote upgrade changes the name of the Evernote folder! Then you would have to redefine the location of Evernote in the Location panel above.

scan to evernote7

Almost there now. Highlight Evernote and click the Settings (Tools) button at the bottom left again to check the settings you will use to save the file to Evernote:

scan to evernote8

Finally when you are happy with the settings click OK, then click Launch on the next screen and you will see the following prompt:

scan to evernote9

Click No to have the image files go directly to Evernote. Launch Evernote from your taskbar or system tray and the new note should be there. Tag it with suitable tags and drag it to the correct notebook.

Hope that’s helped in setting up your Epson scanner for Evernote. If you’re using a different version of the Epson Scan software and the procedure is different, let us know in the comments.


Dec 5

evernote

If you’ve had a PC for any length of time, you’ll have probably experienced the trial and error approach to getting things done. Whether it’s achieving a particular effect in Photoshop, converting files to different formats, exporting or importing data into different applications, setting up preferences for applications or plugins the way you want them, reinstalling applications, or setting up hardware, often you have to methodically change different parameters until you get things to work or get the right result. You may have had to search the web to track down the answer. You may even have to resort to a workaround which achieves the right result – but it’s quite rewarding when you finally crack it and master a procedure.

Problem is, when you go back a few months later to do the same thing, you’ve probably forgotten how you did it first time round so you have to reinvent the wheel. Enter Evernote your ‘second brain’. Start a new notebook in Evernote called say ‘How-to’ and immediately you crack a difficult procedure, save the steps you used to achieve your result as a new note. Tag it with the app name or whatever best describes the action you’ve mastered. So when you need to recall that same procedure later, it’s safely tucked away in Evernote ready to be recalled when you search that tag in the How-to notebook. And if you think it’s a really good how-to, you could even share the notebook with everyone or with individuals.

If you haven’t tried Evernote, make a point of checking it out.


Dec 2

By now most of us are familiar with RSS readers where you subscribe to blogs and have all the posts pushed to one place to read. Well that’s fine but blogs can fire a scattergun of information, some of which just isn’t of interest to us. Yes, it’s possible to filter the feeds to make the information more tailored to your needs or use Google Alerts to target particular topics, but I’ve found that a great answer to getting the latest on your favourite topics and discovering new content is a web app called Lazyfeed. It’s basically a blog search client. Once you’ve signed up to this free service, the initial screen shows current hot topics which you may want to look at.

Lazyfeed

You can get the latest on your favourite topic by entering the tag in the What interests you? box at the top. If you like the results you can save that search in the left side bar. The tags Lazyfeed searches seem to be mainly blog tags. If you want to search for a tag phrase, the words have to be separated by hyphens or closed up completely. When you revisit Lazyfeed later and view a saved search, it shows new content discovered since your last visit, which is very useful. At the top of the screen is also shown related topics if you want to branch out and view other stuff. You can choose to block sources (and unblock them later if needed) in a search feed if the content isn’t what you want in future in this stream. You can save content (posts) in the left column if you like and also visit the site directly to view the full post. The site opens in a new window so you can go back to where you left off in Lazyfeed later. You can also share discovered content on Twitter, Facebook and by email from within Lazyfeed.

As you can see, I’m following topics like Evernote, to help discover new uses for this great notebook app, and also bookmarklets, to discover new useful bookmarklets. I find new content is brought in pretty quickly to Lazyfeed. My previous post which had an Evernote tag was brought in to the Evernote stream within minutes. I’m pretty impressed with the new content Lazyfeed is discovering for me – and I’m discovering interesting new blogs in the process.

Have a look at Lazyfeed and see what you think.


Dec 1
Annotating your PDFs
icon1 techandlife | icon2 How to, Software | icon4 December 1, 2009| icon35 Comments »

Have you ever needed to annotate pdfs with your own notes, highlights, comments or corrections? Perhaps you’ve been asked by your boss for your comments on a document or to collaborate on corrections before releasing a final version. Perhaps you’re a student wanting a way to highlight important sections of your pdf or make notes in the margin. Or you’re at home, have read a great pdf and want to highlight important points or insert sticky notes before archiving it away in a notebook organizer such as Evernote. Well I’ve found just the app.

I have to collaborate on marking up and correcting pdfs at the moment. I was initially asked to compile a list of pdf corrections in a separate Word document detailing page number, column number, paragraph number and the correction. There had to be an easier and more productive way and I found it – PDF-XChange Viewer. There are paid versions for creation of pdfs but I found the free version is fine for my needs. Installation was simple – just watch the prompts during installation; you may not want it to be your default pdf viewer until you’re happy with it, so uncheck that box.

Annotating the pages just couldn’t be simpler. The Comment and Markup Tools menu is shown below to illustrate the tools available

annotate pdfs2

You can highlight text in the colour of your choice, strikethrough or underline it, insert sticky notes, text callouts and text boxes, draw arrows and other symbols, draw with a pencil tool and erase the pencil annotation. The app is intuitive and quite easily set up the way you want it. For example, to change default annotation styles, just use the fly-out menus in the Tools menu shown above. If you want to change any style, just click on Show Comments Styles Pallet. Click the default style and modify it, or clone the style and modify it if you want to go back to the default style at some point. So, for example, you can set up a number of highlight colours for different purposes. You may want to change the default text size in text callouts and sticky notes. If you want to change the default text size, type the text in the font size you want , then right click on the text and choose Text Formatting and then Set Current Text Formatting as Default – or right click in the box and choose Set Current Appearance as Default.

Here’s an example of a pdf where I’ve insert a variety of sample annotations. No annotation has been added subsequently in the screenshot program.

annotate pdfs

You can show a comments list in the left margin and move through the comments and mark up that way. You can also export comments as an fdf file. Double clicking on this loads the comments and the original pdf in your default pdf reader. I haven’t tried it but presume that if you have to return corrections  or comments to someone, if they already have the pdf, all you have to do is email the (much smaller) fdf with the comments rather than a saved pdf. If they open the fdf they will be able to see your comments and corrections, make further changes and save the file.

You can rotate pages, or insert a number of different stamps over the document. You can search for text in the pdf using the standard Ctrl-F keyboard shortcut to put the cursor in the search box at the top. You can search for phrases and you can make the search case-sensitive. A nice feature is that if you have a number of pdfs open in tabs, when you hover over each tab you get a thumbnail view of each document. Another nice touch is that there’s a button to attach the active pdf directly to an email message. There’s also a function at the bottom right corner of the screen to open your default pdf viewer with the current pdf loaded.

All in all, a nice utility if you have to annotate your pdfs and well worth checking out. It would actually make a pretty good default free pdf reader.

Disclaimer – I haven’t been asked to write a review of this app and have not been paid for this post. I do not do paid reviews, but just like to find and blog about great apps, preferably free!


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