Aug 29

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across two really pretty useful Twitter tools, the first for scheduling your own tweets more effectively and the second to manage tweets from your followers which contain links, so you don’t miss them.

Buffer: Manage your tweet schedule

Buffer

I know the time that you tweet can be important for your followers – not much point in tweeting if everyone’s in bed! I’ve posted my thoughts on the best time to tweet a couple of years ago. I live in Scotland and I used to tweet mainly in the evening which obviously gets folk in Europe in the evening and North America during the day. I don’t bother to retweet the best links anymore as suggested in that earlier post. Twitter lists have come out since that post and if people really want to see your links they can get them by adding people to lists – or by trying the tool mentioned in the following section.

Anyway, Buffer allows you to schedule tweets by setting times to send them out rather than throwing them all out at once and perhaps annoying followers. You can also send the tweet straight away if you wish. As it’s a browser extension, it adds a button to your toolbar so it’s also handy for those sites which don’t have a retweet button. When you click the button, it automatically writes the tweet, shortens the URL and schedules it for publication based on the times you’ve set for tweeting. When you visit the Buffer website, you can view your pending tweets, change the times (and days) that tweets will be sent out, change the URL shortener used for links and view analytics for tweets you’ve sent through Buffer – including number of retweets, number of clicks, number of people reached. You can also browse through all the tweets you’ve sent through Buffer. The free plan allows you to have up to 10 tweets in your buffer.

KnowAbout It: Don’t miss great links in tweets

KnowAboutIt

KnowAbout.It tries to cut through the Twitter noise and bring you the links you want to see. It does take a little while to index your Twitter stream but once that’s done, you’ll get a stream of useful stuff in categories. Popular – the most popular links currently in your social streams and Hidden Gems – links from people who don’t share a lot of links. So if you feel a lot of good stuff is passing you by in Twitter and you can’t keep up, give this one a try. They’ve recently added subscribe buttons so you can also send the tweets straight to your RSS reader and browse through them there. I’ve deliberately kept this review short as there’s a great write-up on Web.AppStorm.


Aug 25

Unshorten URL

Yesterday I received email notification of a blog comment which I should check was spam and approve or trash. It looked like spam – a couple of words and a shortened URL. But was the link important or interesting? I was a little wary and knew that this could be a security risk, i.e. don’t click a link if you’re not sure where it’s leading or you don’t know the sender. If you come across a shortened URL on Twitter, you can hover your mouse over it and the full URL will often appear – but not always. So what can you do to check out a shortened URL before you click?

Unshorten the link

Paste the link into unfwd4.me or unshorten.com to see the full URL. You may then be able to decide if the link is reputable and worth following. Still unsure? Try the link scanners mentioned below.

Scan the link

Copy the shortened URL into LinkScanner Online or Online Link Scan. They’ll scan the site and alert you if there may be a problem following the link. Or if you have time and want to try multiple antivirus engines, try the scanner at URLVoid.

After you click the link

After you’ve decided to click, browser plugins like McAfee SiteAdvisor and WOT (Web of Trust) provide another tool you can use to alert you of known dubious or untrusted  sites. I use McAfee and have found it to be fine. There are free and paid versions. The download link to the free limited version (SiteAdvisor) is currently at the bottom of their Downloads page. Web of Trust is also highly regarded in this fight against ‘clickjacking’ and avoiding malicious sites.


Aug 23

I always try to post about sorting out anything unusual happening on my PC in the hope that it may help someone else with the same problem.

I had a strange thing happen with Google Chrome browser this morning. I have Chrome set to open five tabs when it launches but none would open and I just got one tab of a blank page. When I opened Options (under the spanner icon), in the Basics menu, under On Startup , everything seemed fine. Open the following pages was checked and the correct 5 URLs were listed there to open on start up. So I closed Chrome, reopened it and the same thing happened. Chrome seemed to be ignoring the instruction to open 5 tabs and for some reason was just opening a blank home page.

So I played around with a few things and got nowhere until I opened task manager (Ctrl-Shift-Esc) and saw that even when Chrome was closed, a bunch of Chrome processes were still running under the Processes tab! It seemed that, although I’d closed Chrome, it was still running.

So I opened Chrome again and went to the Options menu as before to see if a preference setting was causing this. Sure enough, when I looked at the Under the Hood menu, the option at the bottom of that page called Background Apps was checked allowing background apps to keep running when Google Chrome was closed. Once I unchecked this and restarted Chrome, everything was back to normal and my usual 5 tabs opened without a hitch.

Chrome background apps

So how did that box get checked? Well, it wasn’t me. However I had run CCEnhancer/CCleaner just before opening Chrome and this may have somehow reset the preferences. Anyway I know what to do if it happens again. Hope this helps in troubleshooting this Chrome problem.


Aug 16

Dual monitors

I’m probably a little late to the dual monitor scene. I have a pretty old ATI Radeon x1550 video card in my PC. It does have outputs for VGA and DVI but I’d always connected up with the VGA output even though I bought a Philips 220AW 22” flat panel almost 3 years ago. When I researched running dual monitors with this video card recently, I got mixed messages and wasn’t convinced that I could get dual monitors working under Windows 7.

I did have a spare old HP Pavilion f1703 17” flat panel monitor so I decided to give it a shot. First signs were discouraging though. I downloaded the latest ATI Catalyst driver (9.7) which was supposed to be compatible with this card under Windows 7 but it didn’t seem to install correctly into the ATI Technologies directory under Program Files. But there was no harm in trying to boot up with two monitors connected to the card anyway.

I powered off, connected my main Philips monitor to the video card with a DVI-I cable and the HP Pavilion monitor with the VGA cable, powered up and to my delight, both monitors instantly came to life and I could move my mouse over to the second screen straightaway! The screen resolution on my main Philips monitor had been changed in the process so I right-clicked the desktop and reset the display to the resolution I wanted and noted that ‘Extend these displays’ was already selected in the Multiple displays menu below it.

And that was all there was to it. Without problems, Windows 7 had recognized both monitors and I’m happily working with two screens now, dragging windows from one screen to the other and seeing the obvious benefits. But those of you who have tried dual monitors will know that there isn’t a taskbar on the second screen. Everything is controlled from the taskbar on the main screen. However, in my RSS reader, I had read of an open source program, Dual Monitor Taskbar which, when installed on your PC, inserts a taskbar on the second display and I thought that would be useful. I downloaded and installed it without a hitch and it works perfectly.

If you haven’t tried dual monitors, I can really recommend it as a worthwhile upgrade to your setup. In fact, it’s a bit like broadband versus dial-up – once you’ve experienced it, you won’t go back!

Image credit: XiXiDu


Aug 4

Logitech Z523

So you’ve recently bought an HD TV and you’re really pleased with its performance – but something is missing. Had you noticed? Great picture, great looks …but what about the sound? Not surprisingly, flat panel TVs just can’t give you rich sound quality to match the visual experience.  I recently bought a new Toshiba 32” HD TV and the sound from the built-in speakers is absolutely abysmal. We spend so much time in the store comparing the picture quality, the TV’s connectivity and price but we can forget to check out the sound – and it’s quite important.

No matter, I thought. I’ve got my Logitech X230 2:1 speaker system which I bought about 5 years ago to connect up to my mp3 player and the sound quality is brilliant from these budget priced speakers. Two satellite speakers and a subwoofer for around £25 ($40) I think. One of the best purchases I’ve made.

So I plugged in the Logitech system to the headphone socket on the TV and fired it up. Wow! Just couldn’t believe the difference when I plugged and unplugged these speakers. And the volume is controlled from the TV remote just as with the built-in speakers although the Logitechs do have an additional volume control on the satellite and a bass control on the subwoofer.

So if you have a new flat screen TV, you really should consider investing in external speakers. You won’t regret it. What’s the point in having a great picture and below-par sound. Unfortunately, the Logitech X230 speakers have been discontinued, but I’m sure the equivalent Logitech Z323 or slightly more expensive Z523 speakers will be fine. The subwoofer will happily sit on the floor behind your TV with the satellite speakers on either side. My Logitechs connect by the headphone socket but you may find yours will connect to the audio out jacks on your TV.

Don’t get me wrong. This upgrade isn’t about blasting out deafening, heavy sounds, just getting to the full range of sound which those internal TV speakers aren’t capable of reproducing. If you haven’t experienced a subwoofer in action, you really must. Okay it isn’t a home theater surround sound system, but you’ll be amazed at the sound quality for a budget priced outlay.

By the way, I’m not getting a cut from referrals here, just giving a shout-out to great products at a great price.


Aug 2

We’ve all been there. Arrive at a website and after a few seconds, a massive popup image appears dimming the background and asking you to subscribe to a newsletter or buy an ebook.

Pop-up1

You cannot continue until you close this popup – or of course subscribe to the newsletter or buy the ebook. If you regularly visit this website, there are a couple of ways which you might try to block the popups in future.

Adblock Plus extension (for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and IE)

With the Adblock Plus extension installed, when the popup appears, you click the Adblock button (ABP) at the end of your address bar, select Easy Create Filter, then highlight the individual elements of the popup, right click when selected, then click Add to block those elements in future. Keeping adding the elements until all of the popup image has gone. You also have to select the whole dimmed background as well and add this otherwise the annoying dimmed effect will appear next time you load the site. If you got your selection wrong, you can always delete the filter, or parts of it – right click the Adblock button, select Options, then the Add your own filters tab. Then just select all the elements to remove. Although a little fiddly to get right, the advantage of this method is that, once it’s added to Adblock, the filter will keep working until you delete it. The disadvantage I’ve found is that it seems to remove any embedded YouTube videos on the webpage as well as the popup image and so far I can’t find a way to leave the video and remove the pop-up.

Block overlay images in Chrome

I learned another way to try to block these popups in Chrome on the cnet How To website. The instructions there are very clear so head over there for instructions. It doesn’t always seem to work in blocking these overlays. Problem with this one is, when you go to do some PC maintenance with say CCleaner, the popups will reappear. I think that it’s the deletion of Google Chrome cookies which is causing the popup images to reappear after running CCleaner. To prevent deletion of cookies and leave the images blocked, in CCleaner, click the Applications tab, scroll down to Google Chrome and uncheck the box marked Cookies. But you may want all cookies removed anyway so perhaps the Adblock route is the best option overall.

Hope this helps. How do you remove these popups or are you bothered by them?


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