Dec 23

Coffee and clock

I’m as guilty as anyone. It’s real easy to get into a routine in our daily lives. I work from home and in my case, every work morning is much the same for the first couple of hours. Shaving and washing, pretty much the same breakfast every day, check and answer emails, check RSS feeds…Not much variation in lunch routine. And so on through a routine kind of work day, shopping at the same store, etc. Routines can be detrimental. I guess you know you’re in a routine when you look back on the week and each day melds into the next with no real distinction or memorable events. So how can we get out of this dreadful routine thing and keep things interesting and fresh? I guess with the New Year coming up, this is a great time to start afresh and spice things up a bit, the objective being to make each day, week and year a bit more memorable.

Work

If you’re in a 9 to 5 set up working for someone else, then there may be little you can do in the work day to freshen it up. If work is reduced to a routine, innovative breakthroughs become rare. If your job is real drudgery, consider changing. Think about earning a living online. We really are lucky these days having the option to run our own businesses online. Pluck up the courage and give it a go. Selling, blogging, web design, whatever you feel you’d enjoy doing. You’ll have more flexibility to change your daily routine if you do.

I’m self employed and work from home. I do try and get out for a walk each day to give myself some time away from the PC to think or listen to podcasts. But I’ve been working in publishing for quite a while now and I’m looking to try some new challenge. When I look back on 2010, I can’t see much memorable to distinguish it from the year before (work and leisure time) and that’s a tell-tale sign that I’m stuck in a major rut. For me I’m considering trying something new – or at least expanding into something that I’ve already dabbled it – web design. I’m looking forward to this new challenge although I’m new to this and it may be a challenge too far pretty much from a standing start. Certainly judging by this excellent post on Nettuts+ recently. Still, in your 50s, you do tend to focus on the fact that you may only have say 15 years left to learn and master something new at work.

Leisure

There’s a bunch of things you can do here to cut the routine and make spare time memorable. It may also make us a little fitter and help the creative juices.

1. Try a new hobby. What about photography, blogging or cookery? If you have a young family, get some photos of them. Have a go at photo editing and see if you enjoy that.

2. Try evening classes to pick up a new skill, e.g. first aid, photography.

3. Get out more. Climb a hill, see a sunset and photograph it. Get out to the movies, the gym, meet up with your friends at the coffee shop or go out for a meal. If you’re out walking, you can listen to podcasts at the same time. You probably won’t create awesome memories sitting at your PC updating your Twitter or Facebook status. Do you neglect your friends in favour of a monitor? Aim to get to the end of 2011 and have some great memories to look back on.

4. If you are staying in in front of the TV in the evening, think how you could change that routine. Streaming the internet to your TV is a great new possibility to make some changes. Swap your radio listening for podcasts. I hate the old fashioned notion of radio forcing listening choices on you. Make your own choices with podcasts. Listen to what you want to hear when you want.

5. Try and get away on a memorable holiday. I know it’s difficult in these times but a holiday really will give you great memories.

6. Here’s another 50 ideas to break a routine life. The old adages ‘you’ll never get today back again’ and ‘you only get one shot at life’ ring true, certainly as you get older. Much better to think in terms of ‘so much to do, so little time’.

What can you do differently tomorrow, next week, or next year to break away from your normal routines and make life more memorable, interesting and fresh? Drop a comment below.


Dec 20

Delicious Xmarks

If you use either of these services and you follow the latest tech news, chances are you’ll know that both have been in the news recently. Xmarks was to close down but found a buyer in LastPass. More recently, Delicious has been the subject of feverish rumours that its owners Yahoo! were to shut it down. In the event, it looks like Yahoo! will try to find a buyer for it.

The blogosphere will pounce on rumours and ‘bad news’

Unfortunately, much as the old print media used to do, many tech news bloggers pounce on early rumours or perceived ‘bad news’ and blog about it despite the fact that it’s just a rumour and everyone else is doing the same thing. I follow quite a few tech blogs and the amount of posts on both stories was quite staggering, all trying to present the early rumours, how to export your data from the ‘sinking ship’ and any viable alternatives to the services.

The future is bright

There’s no question that the internet is still in its infancy. Services will come, go or be bought up in the inevitable shake-down that will see the cream rise to the top. Despite the initial ‘bad news’ of a possible shut down, any really great service with a poor or non-existent business plan, like Xmarks, will surely be snapped up and continue in some form. Other services like Delicious which haven’t progressed much in years in terms of new functionality and innovation, face the very real prospect of being overtaken by newish kids on the block like Diigo which notably allows you to cache bookmarked pages making them searchable in your bookmark archive. So don’t panic. If it’s a good service, it will probably be bought up or be replaced by a better one. The site AlternativeTo lists software and applications you might want to replace and gives great alternatives, based on user recommendations. It lists a number of excellent alternatives to Delicious including Diigo.

What can we learn

1. If you do keep up with the latest tech news with a blog RSS reader, don’t let the blogosphere ‘freak you out’ when shut-downs are rumoured. If you use Google Reader, try using Google Reader Filter to filter out the flurry of activity when these rumours or ‘bad news’ stories arise. Do this by adding terms like Xmarks or Delicious to your Excludes list. Then switch the filter off after a week or two to see what’s actually going to happen after all the rumours have died down. If you don’t follow tech news closely, you may just miss all this and wonder what all the fuss has been about. Indeed, tech news does seem to have a very short shelf life.

2. If it’s a great service used widely, chances are it will be bought up and continue in some form, possibly freemium,  so don’t panic.

3. The internet is still in the great shake-down. Many services are starting up to rival more established services and offering more bells and whistles. There are alternatives out there, or one will quickly emerge to fill the gap. For example, there are plenty of tech posts out now listing Delicious alternatives and how to export your bookmarks.

4. Make sure you can export your data from any service you rely heavily on and would miss if it were to fold so that if the inevitable does happen, you can quickly move over to a new service.

Any thoughts on this? Drop a comment below.


Dec 17

This is a guest post by Liz Cornwell. She is @Aussie_Sheila on Twitter.

Everybody hates slow computers, but only a relatively small part of computer users try to do something about it and make their sluggish systems faster. Most people just assume that computer slow-downs mean it’s time to get a new one. They don’t even think about doing some maintenance and tweaking some settings with the help of various utilities. And that can make a lot of difference.

These days there are a lot of computer speed-up programs to choose from. Some of them have a limited number of tools, whereas others offer extensive functionality.

Auslogics BoostSpeed

Auslogics BoostSpeed is one of the programs that have all the tools needed to speed up, optimize, and protect a computer. This program has more than 18 tools and a no-nonsense approach. Rather than providing dubious speed-up tweaks, this application focuses on genuine optimization techniques, such as disk cleanup, hard drive and registry defragmentation along with tweaking and optimizing Windows settings.

Auslogics BoostSpeed has an intuitive tabbed interface, which makes it very easy to navigate the program. You can choose to either perform quick auto-optimization or use the program’s advanced tools for extensive tweaking. When you first open the program, you will be prompted to run a system scan and repair errors. There is also a Quick Tasks bar on the right-hand side where you can erase browser and Windows history, cleanup temporary files, and optimize memory. These features are great for those who are looking for hassle-free one-stop maintenance software.

On the second tab you will find a very useful tool called System Advisor. This tool scans your computer and tells you what exactly is slowing you down, which errors need fixing, which security settings need to be changed, and which services are not in use and can be disabled. System Advisor is very quick and exceptionally easy to use even for complete computer novices.

The third tab displays a system information summary. There are four graphs that show CPU, RAM, disk, and network usage. This tab is really useful if you need to monitor your resource usage and computer activity.

The fourth tab allows the user to access all BoostSpeed’s tools. The tools are grouped together into nine categories – Disk Maintenance, Registry Maintenance, Free Up Space, System Status, Software Control, Privacy, System Tweaks, Speed Up Internet, and Disaster Recovery.

The Disk Maintenance section has all the necessary utilities to cleanup, defragment, and repair hard drives. The Disk Cleanup tool identifies and deletes junk files that take up valuable space. Disk Defrag defragments and optimizes files and free space on your hard drive, which speeds up access to files and folders. Disk Doctor is very similar to Chkdsk, but it has more options and its interface is a lot nicer. Cleaning up the drives once a week and defragmenting them once a month can make a lot of difference and make your computer run a lot faster.

The Registry Maintenance category provides access to Registry Cleaner and Registry Defrag. Both tools are very fast and efficient and it’s nice that Registry Defrag doesn’t lock up the computer when running (some registry defragmenters do that). Defragmenting the registry is probably even more important than registry cleanup, because it helps to free up RAM and makes your computer run more efficiently.

The Free Up Space category has a duplicate file finder and a tool called Disk Explorer. Disk Explorer is very useful if you are short on hard drive space and need to identify the largest files and folders on your disk, so that you can move them to a removable drive.

If you want to get to know your computer better, then have a look at the System Status section. There you will be able to get a lot of information about your computer, such as hardware and software configuration, running applications, processes, and locked files, as well as Windows services. One of the tools, Auslogics Task Manager, is a real gem and a great standard task manager alternative, as it provides a lot more information about everything running on your computer. This little application is part of BoostSpeed, but it can also be downloaded separately and is absolutely free to use.

When you have all the system information you need, you can move to Software Control. There you can disable unnecessary startup entries and uninstall unused programs.

Unlike a lot of similar programs, Auslogics BoostSpeed pays a lot of attention to protecting your privacy. There are tools to securely shred files, clean-wipe free disk space, and remove history traces, so that no data can be recovered.

If you want to fix faulty Windows settings and optimize them for your hardware configuration and Internet connection, use Tweak Manager, Service Manager, and Internet Optimizer. These tools will speed up your computer by simply fine-tuning Windows and disabling everything you don’t use.

And last but not least, BoostSpeed is absolutely safe to use because it backs up all changes that are made to your computer. But there’s more – it can also recover files that you’ve either lost or deleted by accident.

Auslogics BoostSpeed comes with a 15-day trial and costs 49.95USD (1 year license for up to 3 PCs). If you don’t feel like spending money on the software just yet, Auslogics has some freeware applications that can be used to perform basic computer maintenance: Auslogics Disk Defrag, Auslogics Registry Cleaner, Auslogics Duplicate File Finder, and Auslogics Task Manager.

About the Author: Liz Cornwell is a freelance writer who specializes in computer optimization, Windows tips and tricks, and software reviews. In addition to that, Liz is a regular contributor at the Element Moscow magazine – a top entertainment publication for expats living in Moscow, Russia.


Dec 13

When you settle on your blog theme and modify it to your liking, it becomes just that – something that you think looks good. But what about everyone else? Do they appreciate all those hours of toil you’ve put in picking fonts, colours, header graphic and heading sizes? Yes, I know you can do website testing and look at heat maps. And, of course, from your own surfing, you pick up an idea of what looks good to you, and conversely, the sites where you click the back button as quickly as possible! Good site design should help to make your experience on a site memorable.

There are some fundamentals of good blog practice, layout and design which are pretty much common sense. Let’s have a quick look at them.
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Dec 6

After my last post on Composing an effective blog post title, you’re probably scratching your head wondering what on earth this post is going to be about. Well, it’s just a trip into fantasyland. I’ve wanted to get this one off my chest for a while so here goes. If it’s not quite your cup of tea, please have a look at the recent posts listed in the right column instead.
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Dec 1

Headline2

It doesn’t matter whether your article title is being seen on an RSS reader, on Twitter, Facebook or Delicious,  those few words in your headline are vitally important. They’re the difference between attracting a potential reader to click and find out more or pass over to another article. So you have to get it right first time.

I work in list view in Google Reader so when I’m browsing new posts, all I see is the article title and perhaps part of the first sentence so I know how important the first impression of the title is. Here’s some points to consider when composing your title.
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