Apr 28
Lessons Learned from a Short Diet
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 April 28, 2012| icon31 Comment »

healthy chicken meal

A ‘Life’ post today for a change. A couple of weeks ago, I had to go on a 3-day strict diet prior to undergoing a medical procedure. The procedure isn’t important I just had to have an empty bowel. Some of you may have gone through this yourselves but I thought I set out my experiences during the diet and what I learned from that.

On days 1 and 2  of the diet, I was only allowed to eat from the following: clear soup, eggs (poached or boiled), chicken, white fish, cheese, margarine, jelly marmalade or jelly jam, jelly, tea, coffee, Bovril, skimmed milk, boiled white rice, white bread (or toast).  Day 3 was fluids only – fruit juice, clear soup, Bovril, tea, coffee or water.

That’s not too bad I hear you say – and really it wasn’t. As you can see, the main meal on days 1 and 2 was basically plain chicken and white rice or white fish and white rice with a snack of a cheese sandwich or poached egg. Basic plain food, no sauces, no desserts, no junk. I managed to get through it all right, but it was quite difficult sitting down with the rest of the family and watching them eat regular meals as I ate my plain dish. To make things harder and give me a real challenge, we all went out to a restaurant on the evening of day 2. Watching the food being served up on our table and adjacent tables was a real temptation as I sat with just a glass of juice. My daughter gave me two strips of chargrilled chicken from her dish and it tasted just heavenly. Which takes me to my first point. I think if I hadn’t been on a diet and had chosen that chicken dish in the restaurant, I really wouldn’t have appreciated it as much as I should. I would have chomped through it without really stopping to savour the flavour, and I would probably have eaten too quickly and too much.

The third day of the diet actually wasn’t too bad. Even though it was only fluids, I went to bed that night not actually feeling hungry but feeling surprisingly good.

Lessons learned

During the diet, I actually bought a cookbook in a charity shop – Happy Days with the Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver. I couldn’t resist it. Yes, it helped me get through it all! On the night after my medical procedure, I decided I would try and cook more flavoursome meals in future, and eat smaller portions. The book actually makes the good point to slow down when you’re eating. ‘If you eat your food too quickly, your brain won’t pick up on the fact that you’re actually full up as quickly as it should, so you will carry on stuffing yourself until you’ve eaten too much. Eating slowly will ensure that your brain tells you when you’re full.’ I’m also going to try and cut down on biscuits and the junk which I didn’t really miss during the short diet.

Have you had to go on a diet? How did you manage? Did you feel better after it or learn anything in the process? Drop a comment below.

Image credit: Chicken pineapple salad and bread by Steve A Johnson


Apr 27

I signed up for Microsoft Live ID some time ago but hadn’t accessed it for probably a couple of years. When I tried to sign in again this morning I got the message: ‘That Windows Live ID doesn’t exist’. I double checked I had entered the email and password correctly and sure enough, my account didn’t exist anymore. So I googled windows live ID dormant account and came across this on the webpage Microsoft Passport Network Privacy Statement:

Inactivation and Deletion of Account
Microsoft will delete your account on the Passport Network if it remains inactive for an extended period of time. Inactivity is defined as a failure to sign in to any site or service on the Passport Network using your credentials.
If your credentials on the Passport Network are associated with a free MSN or Hotmail e-mail inbox, your account will be made inaccessible if it remains inactive for 120 days, and any account information you have provided will be deleted. If you have credentials on the Passport Network that are not associated with a free MSN or Hotmail e-mail inbox, your account will be made inaccessible if it remains inactive for 365 days, and any information you have provided will be deleted. Accounts associated with paid subscriptions for MSN or Hotmail are not made inaccessible due to inactivity.

These are the current terms as of April 2012, but will probably change in the coming months so if you are reading this post some time after April 2012, check the current terms.

Deletion of my account is probably a good thing and my own fault – I wasn’t using it. So I’ve signed up again  – and was able to use the same email address – and will make sure to access it regularly. This is just a warning to you that if you have a Windows Live ID, and a free MSN or Hotmail email, Messenger and SkyDrive accounts, make sure you access it regularly or it will all disappear!


Apr 24

MakeUseOf

I took a keen interest in all things tech back around 2007 when I wanted more than just music on my mp3 player. Initially, I tried news podcasts then searched around for something different. As a PC user, I looked for a PC related podcast and hit on the Mike Tech Show first off. A great show with great tips, links and recommendations and it was from a listener email there that I found out about MakeUseOf. Yes, it’s not obviously apparent what this blog is about from the name, but in effect, it’s really about making use of tech software and web services. From their website

The aim of MakeUseOf is to guide you through the web and tell you about hot websites that you have never heard of, best software programs, and all kinds of “how to” tips for Windows, Mac and Linux computer users.

From very early on, this has been one of my top tech blogs for tips and recommendations on great software, apps and web services. And not just me; they have around 450,000 active subscribers.

As I browse through the latest tech posts in my couple of hundred feeds in Google Reader, I’m constantly finding that, for me, MakeUseOf is number one for posts which catch my attention and which I have to read through, bookmark and ‘make use of’ as they say. I’ve learned so much from these posts over the years. Not only do they have great tech posts, but they’ve also published a number of tremendous free pdf format guides available for download. These cover everything from Linux to Reddit to WordPress. Or ask a tech question and get it answered at MakeUseOf Answers and find the best websites, software and apps at MakeUseOf The Best Of.

Let me say I’m not sponsored by MakeUseOf or affiliated to them in any way, just as always trying to pass on great recommendations. So subscribe to MakeUseOf in your RSS reader or follow them on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You’ll find all the links at the bottom of their home page. And coming back to the subject of tech podcasts, three members of the MakeUseOf team put out a regular informative tech podcast called Technophilia which I now subscribe to. Check it out as well.


Apr 19

archify

I came across Archify a couple of months ago after a post on the Next Web and decided to try it. So far I’m pretty impressed with this beta web service. Archify stores pages you visit online. It indexes the contents of the pages and takes a snapshot. You can archive social media updates, or just the pages you browse to. A bit like bookmarking but without assigning tags – at least at the moment. They may add this feature later. In the process, you build up an archive of the pages you visit which you can search through later.

Controlling which pages are archived

Secure HTTPS pages aren’t archived and you can also control which pages are archived from the amount of time you spend on them. Right click the Archify browser icon and select Options. Here you can set Archify to ignore pages viewed shorter than a user defined time. I’ve chosen 8 seconds. Any longer than this and I’m interested in the page and it’s probably worth archiving. In addition, you can set up a list of sites you don’t want archived. Archify call this a blacklist. I found that it’s pretty important to build up a good comprehensive blacklist early on otherwise you will swamp your archive with stuff you just don’t need there. Remember that Archify is working away all the time archiving all those pages you visit. To quickly blacklist a site just click the Archify button and you will get the following options:

archify2

Searching your archive

To perform a search of your archive at any time, right click the Archify browser button, and select Archify. Text in the search box is very large, I don’t know why. No doubt that’ll be fixed later. One other thing I’d like to see implemented is phrase search as with other search engines. At the moment, enclosing two search words in quotes doesn’t affect the search results. If you’re performing a search on say Twitter or Google, you can choose to have your archived pages searched as well. Just  right click the Archify browser icon and select Options. Then check the boxes against the services where you also want to have your archive search displayed.

Strange that it doesn’t seem to have attracted much attention so far. A search for Archify on Twitter doesn’t turn up much. Some concerns were expressed in the comments to the post I linked to earlier about privacy, but as they say themselves, you control what you archive, and it’s all free while in beta. Eventually basic Archify accounts will be free and additional features available only to premium accounts. So sign up and give Archify a try.


Apr 12
My Current PC Backup Routine
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Backup | icon4 April 12, 2012| icon32 Comments »

Backing up your PCs digital data is obviously important, but I suspect some people are not sure how best to go about this to make sure they have everything covered. Well I’ll go through my current backup routine here. It’s a little long but if you want to follow it, just skip to the parts that concern your own backup requirements.  You’ll also find there is a bit of duplication in this routine. I don’t think there’s any harm in having more that one backup route for your data so that you have a choice of restore options if one is unsuccessful.

As you’ll see, I backup my registry, browser profiles etc. to a folder called My Backups which I created under My Documents. The beauty of this is that whenever My Documents is backed up, the My Backups folder is automatically included. Then I backup all the data and settings to an external 1TB hard drive. I also backup the documents I am working on to the cloud daily. Hopefully I’ve covered all the bases here so that if disaster strikes and my hard drive fails suddenly and the data can’t be recovered, I’ll be able to get all my data and settings back reasonably quickly.

Preparation

First off, I delete temporary files, history, cookies, etc. using CCleaner to prevent backing up unnecessary files. If you’re going to follow my routine, create a folder called My Backups under My Documents. You may also need an online backup service although this isn’t essential. I use CX (Cloud Experience) which gives 10GB of free online space, perfect for daily backups of documents I’ve been working on.

Backup the Windows Registry

I’ve given two choices here.

1. Export the registry backup using regedit:
Click Start, Run, and type regedit
File, Export
Save as: Registry backup date.reg
Save in: C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups

2. [Updated, 29th August 2012] Or use the free program Tweaking.com – Registry Backup. Read more about it on Technibble.
Once installed, click the Settings tab and change the backup location to say C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups\Tweaking Registry Backup. Set Auto Delete Old Backups, and then create a schedule to run it say daily at a certain time, and to delete any backups older than a certain age. That way, registry backups are automatically scheduled so you don’t have to worry about it. You can restore backups from within the program.

Backup drivers

You don’t need to do this backup regularly, just when you add new hardware. I use a free program called DriverMax (version 5.5). I’ve tried a newer version and for some reason it doesn’t backup as many drivers. I prefer the GUI on version 5.5 too. You can get DriverMax 5.5 on cnet here at the moment, or Google ‘DriverMax 5.5’ if that link is no longer valid when you read this article.
Once installed, go to Start, All Programs, DriverMax and Run DriverMax (version 5.5)
Go To Driver Backup and Restore, Backup drivers, Next, Select all drivers
Exports drivers to C:\Users\XXX\Documents\My Drivers\ (doesn’t seem to matter that this is not empty)

Backup Thunderbird

If you use the Thunderbird email client, you need to backup your emails and settings. Download the free program MozBackup

MozBackup

Run MozBackup
Select Backup a profile
Select Thunderbird (as shown above)
Select profile: for me it’s default
Save in: C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups
Password protect: No
Select all details to backup
Took 3 minutes to backup my 640MB of email data
Because of the backup size I just retain the last 2 Thunderbird backups

Backup Firefox

Run MozBackup again (FavBackup will also backup Firefox as mentioned later)
Select Backup a profile
Select Firefox
Select profile: for me it’s default
Save in: C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups
Password protect: No
Select all details to backup
Took 20 s
I just retain the last 2 backups

Backup Google Chrome

Download the free program Google Chrome Backup (FavBackup will also backup Firefox as mentioned later)
Close Google Chrome Chrome
Go to C:\Program Files\Google Chrome Backup
Run gcb
Select Run Wizard
Select Backup
Backup default profile
Select Backup path C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups
Empty cache before backup

Backup Internet Explorer

FavBackup

Download the free program FavBackup. Works with IE6, 7 and 8. I should mention that FavBackup will backup other browser profiles as well – Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome and Flock, so you could use FavBackup instead of the backup solutions just mentioned for Firefox and Chrome. See which you prefer or use both for good measure.

It saves the profiles as just default.dat so I found it best to save these to subfolders in the My Backups folder

Select the Browser profiles you want to backup.

Select everything you want to backup and choose the backup location:

Save profiles in:
C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups\FavBackup\Chrome
C:\Users\XXX\My Documents\My Backups\FavBackup\Firefox

Backup PC profile and software licences

Download and run free Belarc Advisor for a complete profile of your PC hardware, installed programs and software licences. The audit will be displayed as a web page in your browser. To save it, just right click on the page and then click Save as.. and save it as a web page in your My Backups folder.

Backup data and settings to external hard drive

Now down to the main part of the backup – backing up all the data and settings to an external hard drive. There’s a myriad of free applications which will do this – SyncBack and EaseUS Todo Backup are two examples. There’s a nice example of using SyncBack here, but I’ve chosen to use Fabs AutoBackup 3 and if you follow that link, it shows all the files, folders and settings it will backup. I’ve listened to enough podcasts by PC repair techs to know this is a great solution for backing up data and settings. The greatest recommendation they come up with is that after recovering a PC for a client using FABs AutoBackup, all the settings have been restored and the client gets his PC back just as he used to have it set up. That’s good enough for me. It’s not free though, but for home use, FABs AutoBackup 3 is just 4.90 euro so that’s great value and covers 1 year of updates. It’s very simple to use:

Run FABs Autobackup 3
Tick: Backup in subfolder date-user and check through everything you want to backup.
Backup to E:\FABS Backup\ (my external hard drive is the E: drive, yours may be different).

Backup daily to the cloud

I don’t do a full backup to the cloud. Any important documents I’ve been working on during that day I backup to CX. Once installed, you just drag your files to the CX Cloud folder on your PC and they get synced to your free 10GB online account.

Backup a list of installed applications

Okay, so your hard drive has failed and you managed to restore your data and settings from your backup drive to your new hard drive, what about all your apps? Do you remember what you had installed? Well, I’ve included some ways to back up a list of your installed software and the Start menu which will help you remember what you had installed. Thanks to PC Mech for this:

Click Start, Run and type cmd
At the command prompt, type wmic
Then copy the following line (except the text in brackets) and paste it at the command prompt (right click in command prompt box and click Paste):
/output:C:\InstallListdate.txt product get name,version (insert the current date in the file name but don’t use hyphens in the date, e.g. InstallList040412.txt)
The routine has finished when the prompt wmic:root\cli> reappears
Type Exit twice to leave the command prompt and then move the file to the My Backups folder.

Backup Start-menu

Again thanks to PC Mech for this:

Click Start, Run and type cmd
Then copy the following line (except the text in brackets) and paste it at the command prompt (right click in command prompt box and click Paste):
DIR /S “%PROGRAMDATA%\MICROSOFT\WINDOWS\START MENU” > C:\Startmenudate.txt (insert the current date in the file name but don’t use hyphens in the date, e.g. Startmenu040412.txt)
Type Exit to leave the command prompt and then move the file to the My Backups folder.

Create a screenshot of installed programs

I use the free program PicPick to create screenshots – it’s useful because you will need to be able to capture a scrolling window of the list of programs. Download PicPick here.

Click Start, Control Panel, Programs and Features
This will list all your installed programs
Use the Screen Capture utility of PicPick and select Scrolling Window
Move the mouse over the window you want to capture. It will have a red outline border; click the left mouse button then let go and wait patiently as it scrolls down to the bottom of the list of applications. Then it opens the list in PicPick editor.
Save the screenshot as Installed programs.jpg in the usual backup folder.

Where to store your backups

My daily document backups are in the cloud and my full data and settings backups are on my external hard drive beside my PC. If you can afford it, it’s a really good idea to purchase a second external hard drive and swap them out on a weekly basis. Always keep one off-site, say at your parents, in case of fire or theft at your own home.

How often to backup

This is really up to you but obviously the more often the better. Here’s my schedule:

New files (documents, photos, etc)
To CX (cloud): daily
To external drive: daily if possible

Registry: Scheduled to backup daily

Drivers: Not so important: backup when you install new hardware

Thunderbird: Weekly

Firefox and Chrome settings: Weekly

Full FABs backup: Weekly

PC profile and software licences: Backup when you install new software or hardware

Well I hope that gives you some ideas for a backup routine.  Thankfully, I haven’t had to restore anything yet but that will be the ultimate test of any backup routine. Can you suggest any improvements from your experience? Drop a comment below.


Apr 10

Right Inbox

Would you like to know if your Gmail message has been opened by the person you’ve sent it to? For work, I often send out quotes worldwide and when I don’t get a response, I sometimes wonder if my email has been received and opened or if it’s perhaps been diverted to a spam folder by the recipient’s email client. Well I’ve discovered that there is a Chrome and Firefox extension to track your Gmail and send you an email response once it’s been opened by the recipient. It’s called Right Inbox for Gmail and I’m just surprised that Google hadn’t implemented this feature themselves. The great thing is that the recipient doesn’t have to do anything only open your email, and he doesn’t even know the message is being tracked. The plugin also lets you schedule your Gmail for future sending.

I’ve installed it and got it working fine after some initial problems. After clicking to allow Right Inbox access to my Gmail account, I would be taken into a loop to install, authenticate, install, etc. Eventually, after running CCleaner then SuperAntiSpyware to remove additional cookies as part of my PC maintenance routine, I found that Right Inbox had finally installed correctly and the track box shown above was available and working. I sent a tracked test email to another of my own email addresses and once I had opened that, I received a message back in my Gmail inbox straightaway saying that the email had been opened and giving the IP address and location of the recipient (me).

So if you want notification that your Gmail messages have been opened by the recipient, try this useful Chrome and Firefox extension.


Apr 9

Digg Digg

Many blogs I visit these days seem to be using the Digg Digg social sharing plugin. Having read a good recommendation for Digg Digg on WPMU.org, one of my favourite WordPress sites, I decided to give it a try on my site. Which brings me to my first point. WPMU blogged about it and actually use the plugin. There’s been many occasions where I’ve read a blog post recommending a WordPress plugin, but they don’t actually use that plugin on their site! I can’t take those recommendations seriously.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know it’s not really about jumping on tech news and reblogging it but more about passing on tips and tricks using your PC, useful websites I’ve come across, and browser extensions and WordPress plugins I can recommend because I use them. I always try and use software, apps, browser extensions and WordPress plugins before I blog about them and I try and pass on tips that I’ve learned when using them.  I’ve also received really useful feedback in some blog comments about certain features I’ve missed or misunderstood so that’s a bonus.

Anyway, back to Digg Digg. As you can see on the left, I’ve set it up as a floating bar rather than the normal display at the top or bottom of the post. In the settings for the Floating Display, you can rearrange the buttons on the bar by changing the weight – higher numbers bring buttons to the top, lower numbers to the bottom. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the Facebook Like and Facebook Share buttons to work so I’ve dropped them. Maybe I’ll get them working with time. But there is a working Facebook Share button in the Socialize bar at the bottom of the post if you want to use that.

So please use the plugin to share this post or others, and tell me what you think in the comments. Is it distracting when you’re reading the post? Are there too many sharing choices? Is there any option you’d like to see which I hadn’t set up initially?

And if you’re reading this post in the future and I’ve moved on to another sharing plugin, my apologies. I promise, Digg Digg was here but is either no longer available or I’m using a better option! I’ll try and update this post if that happens.


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