Jul 22

RSS leaves

It’s common knowledge in SEO circles that not posting frequently and regularly will decrease your blog page rank and probably lead to a drop in RSS feed subscribers. What I don’t accept is the advice I’ve occasionally read on some blogs that if you’re suffering from feed overload and looking to prune back your RSS subscriptions, you should unsubscribe from blogs which don’t update frequently and regularly.

As I see it, the most important consideration in unsubscribing should be content. If a blog is offering interesting fresh content, even if on an irregular basis, I would keep my subscription. Having said that, if the blog is clearly stagnating with no posts for the previous 3 or 4 months, I might just drop it, unless the blogger has posted good reasons for taking a break.

Lighten the load

When you think about it, cutting back on blogs which update only occasionally isn’t going to have much effect on your blog overload. What you should be aiming to do is cut the blogs whose content isn’t interesting to you anymore, or the blogs which are pushing out poor content just to achieve a daily post target. In addition, in the tech space there are quite a few blogs which just reblog tech news and press releases. You don’t need this duplication so cut out a few of these. All these are the culprits in overloading your blog feed.

Spare a thought for the blogger

If you’re blogging in your spare time and aren’t a full-time blogger, it certainly isn’t easy to push out good fresh content on a daily basis. I blog in my spare time and put out posts when I can. And good unique blog ideas don’t come daily. In addition, the research which goes into make a good post may take a couple of days in your spare time. I only manage to post at most 3 times a week, but it can be as little as once a fortnight. So far I haven’t put adverts on my blog so I get no monetary reward for blogging. I do it for the enjoyment. So don’t penalize the part-time or occasional blogger who hasn’t taken the step to full-time blogging or perhaps just doesn’t want to.

And if you are a full-time blogger, take a few days off now and again to recharge. You’ll almost certainly return with fresher content and have developed a few ideas in the meantime.

Content is king

This should be the main focus on whether to unsubscribe from a blog feed. If a blogger is pushing out good fresh content which is of interest to you, keep subscribing even if they do post on an irregular basis. And if you do like a post, try and thank them in the blog comments or share their post in your social network. It may be the only reward they get for their efforts.

Update (11th September 2010): Here’s an interesting blog post backing up the premise that less is more and that it’s quality that counts: Why posting less can improve your blog

The case for continuing to subscribe to blogs which don’t update frequently and regularly is a post from Tech and Life. If you’re reading it in full elsewhere, it’s been copied without consent. Please go to Tech and Life to read the original post and many others in the archive.


Jul 21

TouchPad

It’s really hard to predict how PCs and laptops will evolve over the coming years but with the success of the iPad and the forthcoming launch of a number of tablets including a possible PalmPad from HP, it seems certain that tablets and touchscreen enabled devices are going to play an increasingly important role in our digital lives.

For years now, we’ve had touchpads on laptops and netbooks and most of us have become quite adept at using them. I personally still prefer to plug in a mouse as I find it easier to use. One of the problems with the touchpad is that it’s possible to lightly brush over it when typing and inadvertently move the insertion point in your document. There’s a good recent article on Digital Inspiration about disabling the touchpad when you don’t need it.

But when you think about it, touching a metal pad to move a cursor on a screen is perhaps slightly removed from what we really want to do. How much better to be able to touch a screen and say drag files and folders round. Touchscreens have obviously been around for quite some time now, but the impetus from touchscreen smartphones like the iPhone and now the iPad tablet seems to be pushing us increasingly towards touchscreen devices. I still think the mouse will be with us for some time to come on the desktop PC. Ergonomically, it’s not quite so comfortable to touch a monitor screen on a desk at eye level directly in front of you over long periods but certainly for laptops and netbooks where the screen is much lower, a touchscreen plus keyboard or a full tablet device seem to be the obvious evolution of the interface.

So over the coming years, I think we’re going to see more tablet PCs, touchscreen laptops and touchscreen netbooks. Or perhaps I’m just stating the obvious here. How do you think the user interface will evolve? Would you want a touchscreen on your netbook? Or are you going to move completely to a tablet?

Update (9th Sept 2010): Here’s an interesting video on the future of touch screen technology.

From touchpad to touchscreen: evolution of the interface is a post from Tech and Life. If you’re reading it in full elsewhere, it’s been copied without consent. Please go to Tech and Life to read the original post and many others in the archive.

Image credit: Anonymous Collective


Jul 19

Roy's Funeral

A recent family bereavement got me thinking. What would happen to this blog and all my online accounts if I died tomorrow? I hadn’t really given it much thought before and I’m sure many of you are in the same boat. It’s hard enough to cope with a family bereavement let alone sit down and try and sort out someone’s online accounts so we really should give our loved ones as much help as we can to cover this unfortunate possibility. As it stands, I’m sure my wife would be completely at a loss to know where to start with my online life. Not surprising really as she doesn’t know which online accounts I have! So let’s have a look and see if there’s anything we can do to help deal with our virtual life in the event of our actual death.

What about your blog?

If you have a blog, have you thought what would happen to it if you died tomorrow? It’s actually an asset you own and I guess the first question is would any of your family want to take it on? Better find out now and if there is someone, you’ll need to be able to get your blog admin details to them somehow after your death. Don’t forget to include domain renewal dates and blog host renewal dates. More about that later. If you’ve monetized your blog through advertising for example, the income from that may be a nice little bonus for your loved ones and that may be another reason for keeping the blog alive. So remember to pass on your PayPal details. They’ll need that to be able to remit the advertising revenue back to the family. On the other hand, if no-one is really interested in carrying on your blog, they may consider selling it to another blogger. After all, a ready-made blog may well suit someone who wants to move into blogging and bypass all the hassle of setting it up and building up traffic. What will happen to your blog when you die is summed up very nicely in this post on Daily Blogging Tips.

What about Facebook?

Your loved ones will have the choice of terminating your account or keeping it in a ‘memorial state’ which removes features like status updates and contact details and lets only confirmed friends view the profile and post comments on it. Discuss this with them. Again, they’ll obviously need your admin details whichever they choose. You may also want to arrange a farewell message to be posted in the event of your death. You could keep that with your log in details as discussed next, but make sure your digital heir knows where to find the details.

Passing on the important details after death

Bear in mind that the terms of service of most online accounts don’t permit passing them on to a ‘new owner’. Each site tends to have its own rules about who can do what should someone pass on, and executors may need to make special requests to close down accounts or access your information. For info on the policies of Yahoo, MySpace, Google and Microsoft when it comes to dealing with the accounts of deceased users, read this Educo blog post or this MakeUseOf post.

If you can pass the accounts on, first you’ll have to identify someone who would be willing to tidy up all the loose ends, probably your spouse or partner. But don’t forget to cover the possibility that you and your partner may die at the same time. If you’ve already made a Will, this may all sound familiar. Of course keeping your online admin details with your Will may be a good solution. But I can hear you say, I change my passwords regularly and add new online accounts all the time, I can’t keep changing these details in my Will. Well, if you use a username/password manager like LastPass, you only have to add your email address and one master password to your Will documents. All you account usernames and passwords are held securely in LastPass. Once your digital heir accesses your LastPass Vault, they can see all your usernames and your passwords. Another possibility I read about recently on MakeUseOf is LogAway which allows you to create a single click log in for hundreds of websites. You will have to change the master password occasionally but this is all that will have to be updated with your Will documents. Of course, you don’t have to keep your details with your Will. Any secure place will do where your spouse, partner or executor can get hold of the details when required. You could also use a service like Death Switch to email your loved one with all the details after you’ve passed away.

There are also online services like Legacy Locker and Entrustet that allow the creation of a will for digital assets. Legacy Locker’s free ‘trial account’ limits you to listing three digital assets and two beneficiaries. Lifehacker have a post on Legacy Locker here and Entrustet here. Entrustet lets you assign an heir to access your accounts when you pass away. It lets you set up unlimited password-protected accounts to be transferred over to a trusted person upon your passing and lets you decide what will happen to each account.

So don’t leave it until it’s too late. You have a great opportunity to make these decisions now. Do yourself and your family a favour and make some backup arrangements to help deal with your online world in the event of your untimely death. Drop a comment below if you have already made these arrangements and you have some advice for us.

What would happen to your online accounts if you died tomorrow is a post from Tech and Life. If you’re reading it in full elsewhere, it’s been copied without consent. Please go to Tech and Life to read the original post and many others in the archive.

Further reading: Handling computer accounts after death – Rocket Moms

Image credit: Roy’s funeral


Jul 12

Anyone who has used Microsoft Word down the years will be familiar with the keyboard combination Ctrl-F to bring up a search box. Well, all that’s changed in Word 2010. Hitting Ctrl-F now brings up the Navigation pane on the left which is a little different, but I think an improvement – at least once you’ve tried it for a day or two.

So how is it an improvement? Well for me, one annoyance of search and replace in earlier versions of Word was the way the search box would jump around over the document when you clicked the Find Next button often obscuring the search results. Now in Word 2010, the search box is in the Navigation pane in the left panel. Search results are highlighted in the main window as you type your search word. If there are few enough occurrences, a snippet of text containing the words is displayed in the Navigation pane. Clicking on a particular snippet will take you to its location in the document and the words remain highlighted. The Navigation pane can be docked and undocked if you wish by clicking the down arrow to the right of the word Navigation. The pane can also be closed by clicking the cross next to the down arrow.

I was sceptical at first. Is this really an improvement? Well it’s not obscuring the search results any more but it doesn’t seem to be case-sensitive – searching for Table brings up Table and table and words like adjustable which end in table.

Word2010_1

No problem. There’s a drop-down box which you can access by clicking the down arrow at the right end of the search box. Select Options here.

Word2010_2

Now if you like, you can select Match case and Find whole words only to improve your search results – and if you like you can make this your default search option by clicking the Set As Default button. Incidentally, you can also select Advanced Find (the old style search box) from this drop-down menu.

Okay, so you’ve tried it and you still don’t like the new Navigation pane. Well, you can try remapping the Ctrl-F key combination to the old style search box, now called Advanced Find. I’m indebted to Jay Freedman for instructions on how to do this:

– Right-click the ribbon or Quick Access Toolbar and choose Customize the Ribbon.

– Click the Keyboard shortcut Customize button in the dialog.

– Select the Home Tab category.

– Select the EditFind command.

– Click in the “Press new shortcut key” box and press Ctrl+F (note that the “Currently assigned to” label shows that you’re taking the shortcut away from the NavPaneSearch command, which is what you’d change to if you ever want to restore the default.)

– Click the Assign button and then click Close.

I’ve also discovered another quick way to access this Advanced Find box by adding its icon to the Quick Access Toolbar at the top of your screen. Follow my instructions in an earlier post on the Quick Access Toolbar, but this time you want to go to All Commands and scroll down to Advanced Find (with the binoculars icon), highlight it, then click Add to add this to your Quick Access Toolbar. Now when you click the binoculars icon on the Quick Access Toolbar, as shown in the top screen shot above, the familiar old style search box should appear.

Finally, I should point out that clicking Ctrl-H to bring up the good old Find and Replace box hasn’t changed in Word 2010 – and you can also access Advanced Find by clicking the Find tab at the top of that box. Of course Replace still has that old annoyance of obscuring results just like the old style Find did.

So give searching with the new Word 2010 Navigation pane a good try out first before you revert to old habits… if you must – I think you’ll like it.

The new search feature (Ctrl-F) in Word 2010 is a post from Tech and Life. If you’re reading it in full elsewhere, it’s been copied without consent. Please go to Tech and Life to read the original post and many others in the archive.


Jul 9
Myeloma: striking close to home
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 July 9, 2010| icon32 Comments »

wreath2

Away from Tech today. I’m sure some of you, your family or friends have been touched by the devastating effects of cancer. If not, you probably will be at some point in your life. Cancer struck very close to me recently and took my brother at the age of 52. He had been diagnosed with myeloma (cancer of blood plasma cells) a little over a year ago. It’s been quite a blow to my elderly parents, both in their mid-80s as they struggle to come to terms with the fact that their son has been taken before them – upsetting for any parent. We’ll all miss him.

My brother led a pretty healthy lifestyle. He wasn’t overweight, he exercised well, ate a reasonably healthy diet, and lived in a stress-free rural area. He was pretty much the last person I would have expected to be diagnosed with cancer, but that’s not the way it works I’m afraid. The causes of myeloma are pretty much unknown at present. Initial signs of the disease were easily misinterpreted: tiredness which he had put down to aging, and a very sore lower back, initially thought to be a prolapsed disk but later diagnosed as fracturing due to weakening by the myeloma cells. Renal failure followed.

He responded to chemotherapy initially but never sufficiently to undergo stem cell treatment. His kidneys started functioning again, but after a few months, his body rejected the first chemotherapy regime and later a second regime. He had an aggressive form of the disease.  The hospital staff were magnificent throughout and he had wonderful support through his final days. He never complained and bore the illness with great courage.

I’m not really sure what the message is here, other than don’t take life too much for granted – you just never know if or when a terminal condition will strike. Don’t put off doing the things that are important to you or that you’ve been meaning to do. And if you are 50 or over, and are experiencing tiredness and increasing lower back pains, see your GP, and insist on blood tests just in case.


Jul 1

Software and services collage

It’s possible to run a small office/home office (SOHO) set-up with a completely free operating system, software and internet services… but do you? Are there any commercial packages or paid online services you consider ‘must-haves’? I thought I’d quickly run through my paid/free stance and I’d love to hear your thoughts although I don’t think we need to get into a discussion on ‘acquiring’ commercial software for free.

Free operating system

If you run a Linux system, you’ll be familiar with free operating systems and open source software. I run Ubuntu Netbook Edition on my Acer Aspire netbook and I’m just about to try out Linux Mint on my second desktop. What holds me back from completely moving to Linux is my day job where I have to be able to work on Microsoft Word files. More on that later. I’m running Windows 7 on one desktop. Of course in the Windows world, once you’ve bought the OS, you can run a completely free set-up too.

Free software

I run a small office/home office (SOHO) set-up and work from home. Pretty much all the software I use is free or open source. However, I do some work in the publishing sector and they still rely very much on Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat. Many authors submit work in Word doc format (rarely docx I find) and authors and publishers usually expect work to be returned in doc format with Track Changes turned on. It’s a real shame that open source software hasn’t really caught on in the publishing field yet. So I have to use Microsoft Office to cope with clients who use commercial software. Yes, you could convert Word doc format to Open Office Writer odt format, turn on track changes in Open Office Writer then convert back to doc format but there’s always a worry that some formatting/changes will be lost in conversion. So for work, I have to use MS Word on my desktop running Windows 7. There’s a good recent discussion on office software, free and commercial, at How-To Geek.

The only other paid software I use on my Windows system is an old copy of Serif PagePlus for DTP and Serif PhotoPlus for photo editing. I haven’t upgraded these in years – the old copies I have are just fine. But a quick look on the AlternativeTo website shows that I could move to Scribus as a free alternative for DTP and there are lots of free alternatives (software and online services) for photo editing.

But for many working from home on a Windows system, I’m sure it’s possible to find all you need if you look at free software alternatives and online services. By the way, I don’t believe it’s necessary to pay for security software either. If you’re running a Window system, Microsoft Security Essentials is free for you and is probably all you need for real-time protection. If you’re running a Linux system, you probably don’t need any antimalware software.

Free services

Every online service I use is free…so far, although I don’t expect it to remain that way in the future. We’ve had it good so far. Like many of you I’m sure, I use a good spread of Google apps. Yes, they’re free but the downside is targeted ads, which I don’t mind, and the knowledge that they’re building up a fair old archive of information on you. So I try to use good alternatives to Google services when I can.

So over to you. Do you use a free OS? Is there any commercial software you must have on your Windows system? What about online services – anything you’re paying for? Drop a comment below.

Do you pay for software and online services is a post from Tech and Life. If you’re reading it in full elsewhere, it’s been copied without consent. Please go to Tech and Life to read the original post and many others in the archive.


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