Mar 29

If you’re a freelancer like me and bill out your services based on time spent on projects, there’s a couple of free small desktop utilities you can try for time tracking.

Light Tasks

For years, I’ve been noting down time spent on projects on a sheet of paper by my keyboard. Start time, stop time, working out the interval in minutes then totalling them up to give the overall time spent. Yes, not very productive, so when I read a post about Light Tasks on MakeUseOf, I thought I’d give it a try for a week or so. Light Tasks is open source, small and doesn’t need installing. There are versions for Windows and Linux. For Windows, you just extract the exe file and run it. I found it useful to pin it to the taskbar so it’s always available while working. Running the utility couldn’t be simpler. Just click the Add New Task button and give your project a name.

LightTasks

It’ll show in pink meaning it’s not recording. When you want it to start recording time, click it and it turns green.. and that’s all there is to it. Click again to pause when you take a break, or work on another project or finish work for the day. Each time you click it on, you have a cumulative total of the time spent on that project. I’ve found you can even have several project times running at once if you need that. Right clicking on a task allows you to move that button up or down, rename it, adjust the time, reset the time or delete the task.

The downsides? Well just one that I can see. It’s easy to walk away from your PC and forget to pause the timer, but then that used to happen with my old paper based system too. If that happens, you can always adjust the timer time as I’ve just mentioned. Would also be nice if the program icon in the taskbar changed colour when recording so you could see at a glance if it was recording.

timeEdition

timeEdition

timeEdition runs on Windows, Mac and Linux OS. It’s similar to Light Tasks but gives you more control. For example, it allows you to pause the timer after a certain period of inactivity that you can define, getting round the problem I just mentioned with Light Tasks. You can also classify your task according to customer name, project name and task name. When you choose a customer name, you can also choose the colour for that customer which is a nice touch. It also gives you a breakdown of time spent on the project by day, the current interval and the overall time spent. Clicking the Extras menu, then either Records or Overview gives you all the information you need on time spent on that project on a daily basis and overall.

Downsides? Well seeing quickly if it’s recording or not isn’t quite as obvious as the red-green of Light Tasks. You just get a red dot beside the timing clock as shown above. And again, it would be nice if the icon in the taskbar changed colour when recording. Also it minimizes to the system tray rather than the taskbar which I would prefer.

So if you’re looking for a free utility to track the time you spend on projects, I’m sure one of these apps will be worth trying. I think I’ll stick with Light Tasks for its simplicity. What do you use to track time on tasks? Drop a comment below.


Mar 20

We probably all know about the keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste (Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V) but there’s another really useful shortcut you can use to find stuff on pages – Ctrl-F. And surprisingly, about 90% of US internet users don’t know about it. I asked my kids and my daughter knew about it but my son didn’t.

Okay, so you already knew it works in your word processor but did you know Ctrl-F also works on webpages too and in Gmail, Google Reader, pdfs, email clients like Thunderbird, Windows Explorer and in most situations where you want to search the contents for a word or phrase. Ctrl-F opens a search window at the top left corner of the application but if the application already has a search box, pressing Crtl-F will put the cursor in the search box ready for you to type your query.

So don’t try and fight your way through reams of text looking for the phrase you want, try Ctrl-F.

And here’s a couple of bonus tips. If you want to search an entire website, not just a page, and you have Chrome browser, there’s an extension to do that called SlashSearch. And if you want to go quickly to your search term after a Google search, try the Chrome extension Google Quick Scroll. Quick Scroll lets you jump directly to the relevant bits of a Google search result.


Mar 14

Pandora1

It’s not possible to access Pandora, the music streaming service, outside the US unless you use a proxy server to connect anonymously. At least, that was what I thought until I read a post last week saying that it was possible to access Pandora outside the US after installing and enabling a browser extension called HTTPS Enforcer. Sure enough, it works and I can now access Pandora in the UK. Great… but is it worth it? Would it have the songs I want to listen to. Well, in short, no. Here’s what I found.

Up to the present time, I’ve been using Grooveshark as it has good coverage of the genres I’m interested in: folk, Celtic fusion, and electronic among others. I hadn’t tried Spotify so I decided to sign up for the free version so I could compare Pandora, Grooveshark and Spotify. Didn’t like how new users need a Facebook account to register for Spotify.  Anyway, I picked out four artists I really like and compared the availability of music across the three of them. Skerryvore and Peatbog Faeries, Scottish bands that play Scottish music with a modern slant,  Planet Boelex, electronic music and Transatlantic Sessions, produced by BBC/RTE, an annual gathering in Scotland of some of the top folk musicians from both sides of the Atlantic.

At the time of writing this, Pandora drew a complete blank on all of these artists, while Grooveshark offered 4 tracks from Skerryvore, 49 tracks from Peatbog Faeries, 56 tracks from Planet Boelex and 13 tracks from Transatlantic Sessions. Spotify had 39 tracks from Skerryvore, 79 tracks from Peatbog Faeries, 34 tracks from Planet Boelex but no tracks from the BBC/RTE produced Transatlantic Sessions.

So, it looks like, perhaps not surprisingly, Pandora catering for an exclusively US audience doesn’t have much to offer me in the way of ‘non-mainstream’ music. No matter, both Grooveshark and Spotify are great alternatives. I should also mention Freemake Music Box, a free download for Windows, which does have a good selection for me – 60 tracks from Skerryvore, 119 tracks from Peatbog Faeries, 113 tracks from Planet Boelex and 9 tracks from Transatlantic Sessions. However, I did find that most of their music was pulled from YouTube with a lot of live stuff rather than studio recorded music.

I have read good reports about Songza, but like Pandora, it’s only available in the US and the HTTPS Enforcer plugin didn’t help to get around that. Rdio also isn’t available in the UK yet.

Finally, if you’re interested in checking out some of my favourites, have a listen to some of these:

Skerryvore: Wit’s End and Angry Fiddler

Peatbog Faeries: The Folk Police

Planet Boelex: Sisumies

Transatlantic Sessions: Waiting for the Federals

Let me know what you think. And what’s your music streaming service of choice?


Mar 6

Back in December, I blogged about how a website was copying and publishing all my posts without my consent. I concluded then that I had four options to deal with it. One option was that the bad publicity from that post might provoke a reaction and the webmaster would take down all the illegally copied posts, not just mine. Well that didn’t happen. In fact, incredibly, they actually copied and published that post as well! So I ended up with a post naming and shaming a plagiariser, being copied and published by that same plagiariser. Clearly, they weren’t even reading the posts before they published them! I’m guessing they had an automated system which was scraping posts from Feedburner.

Anyway, another option I had then was just to sit and wait. The domain would expire in January this year, so let’s see if they renew then I’ll take action, and that’s what I did. In fact, they didn’t renew and the domain expired and has now been suspended.

Plagiarism3

So in the end, I didn’t have to file a DMCA notice with the host to have that stolen content removed. In a way I’m happy – I didn’t have to spend time going through that process which would also have meant revealing my real identity in that legal action. This blog and the techandlife persona has partly been an exercise in seeing if it’s possible to operate under a pseudonym and withholding my real identity. Apart from telling a few friends and family (and, of course Google knows), it seems to have worked but that’s another blog post.

But in a way I’m annoyed that I chose the easy route. I should really have filed a DMCA notice. Plagiarisers should be stopped. This guy has doubtless moved on to a new domain and is probably back stealing someone else’s content. And there’s plenty of help out there in filing a DMCA. Jonathan Bailey, an expert in this field and who has taken the time to answer some of my questions on blog plagiarism in the past, outlines 4 simple online tools to help send DMCA notices. So perhaps next time I’ll make the effort. Watch out for Part 3 in this series!


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