Jun 25

Zoho

Like me, you may have been with your internet service provider (ISP) for quite some time. You may also have taken up their offer of a free set of email addresses when you started, for example, for your family members. Well, the time may come when you may want to change ISPs but the problem is you will probably forfeit that email address you’ve by now handed around to friends and families and also to online newsletter subscriptions, forums, logins and as your contact address.

I was with Virgin Broadband in the UK ever since I took up a broadband internet connection in 2006, according to their first email to me. They recently decided to move us all over to TalkTalk which I wasn’t happy about for a number of reasons. I decided to move to BT Broadband and when I contacted Virgin for a MAC code to complete the move, they informed me I would have my Virgin emails for up to 3 months and then it would disappear.

That was fine; it would give me enough time to find a new email provider and inform all my contacts. And that’s my first point. If you do use an email address provided by your ISP, it’s worthwhile finding out just how long they will support it after you move away from them.

Right, now to find an independent web-based email service preferably with a free option. I won’t be using the free email offer from BT Broadband having learned my lesson with Virgin, so I dug through my bookmarks on free email providers in Diigo and came across this 2011 post on MakeUseOf. One of the suggestions there is Zoho Mail. I remembered Zoho from mentions on various tech podcasts and I always had a hankering to give them a try as a Google alternative but never got round to it. Well here was my chance to try them out.

So I signed up for a free Zoho Mail account (@zoho.com). This gives me 5GB free mailbox storage which should be more than enough for my personal use. The interface is nice and it’s ad-free. But the major benefit for me is that the email account is independent of my ISP and I won’t lose it if I move broadband provider again.

ZohoMail1

If you have your own domain (e.g. yourname.com) you can set up a free email account on Zoho Mail with up to 10 users each with 5GB mailbox storage.

If you do fancy trying a free Zoho Mail account, sign-up is a little confusing. You have to click the button on the Pricing & Sign Up page which looks like this:

ZohoMail2

After that, sign up is very straightforward and you’ll have a free web-based email account in no time. I decided to set up IMAP, which isn’t the default setting in Zoho Mail. There’s a great explanation of IMAP versus POP here. Basically, IMAP allows you to retain email on the remote server for online access while also allowing you to set up access on a desktop email client such as Thunderbird with the option to retain local copies there permanently. To set up IMAP in Zoho Mail, click Settings at the top right of the screen, then go to Email forwarding and POP/IMAP. Here you can set up email forwarding and POP or IMAP access. Disable POP access and enable IMAP access. You can also see the settings there that you need to set up IMAP access in Thunderbird so you can set up and store local copies of your Zoho Mail there as well if you wish.

You can also install Zoho Mail apps on your Android or iOS phones and tablets so you can access your emails there too.

I’ve been with Zoho Mail for just a week now and I’m pretty pleased so far (by the way, they aren’t sponsoring this post). All in all, it took me about a day’s work to change over all my Virgin email addresses to Zoho Mail, and I’m still seeing a number of Virgin emails coming in that I’d forgotten I had and I’ll have to change over. Hopefully after the 3 month period, I’ll have caught just about everything so I think it pays to start transitioning to your new email provider just as soon as you can after you’ve made the decision to switch ISPs.

Better still, don’t start using ISP email in the first place and save yourself this headache if you move providers later.


Jul 26

Feed readers are great for getting all your news delivered to one place. Now that Google Reader has gone, we’ve all had to find an alternative reader. I’ve been using Feedly for some time now. I can set it up pretty much like Google Reader used to be, but the one thing I find most annoying is that keyword filtering is not built into feed readers. Filtering out stuff I don’t want is the feature I want most and I could do it in Google Reader with the Google Reader Filter extension. However, thanks to a recent post on Addictive Tips and Lifehacker,  I’ve discovered that I can use Reader Filter for keyword filtering in Feedly and The Old Reader using Chrome browser. I’ve found it also works fine if you’re using Feedly Cloud.

Once installed in Chrome, go into the settings and add your keywords and phrases in the ‘What to hide’ section.

Reader Filter

You can set up Reader Filter to filter out keywords or phrases occurring in the post title only or in the title and body text which is very useful. You can also choose if the keyword is to be case-sensitive or not. You can also add a list of feeds never to filter. You can change your Feedly layout too but that doesn’t really bother me. I don’t think there’s a Feedly filter userscript for Firefox yet but from what I read here, that may come soon.

So if you want to hide blog posts you just don’t want to read in Feedly, try Reader Filter.


Jul 16

Some bloggers choose to add utm_source tracking codes to their page URLs to track where their blog traffic is coming from. That’s fine but if I follow a link from Feedly, my RSS reader, and want to bookmark the link for future reference, I now have a bunch of additional junk at the end of the URL which I’d rather remove before bookmarking. Usually, the junk part starts something like ?utm_source=feedburner. I found a way to remove this in Google Reader using the Unburner plugin in Chrome and most people that commented there seemed to find it useful.

Turns out that even though Google Reader has now gone, this plugin still seems to work fine for me with Feedly. I’m using the cloud version of Feedly (cloud.feedly.com) which currently uses Feedly version 16.0.558. The Unburner plugin is currently at version 0.4.

Seems to work for hover-over links in Feedly where the link seems to point to feeds.feedproxy.com and feeds.feedblitz.com but not for say feeds.mashable.com which leads to a ?utm_campaign=Feed… tracking code. Still, at least it seems to get rid of all of the annoying FeedBurner tracking codes.

So if these FeedBurner codes are bugging you too in Feedly, try installing the Unburner extension in your Chrome browser.


Jan 16

Free for 30 days

A couple of years ago, I blogged about paying for software and online services. I made the point then that it was possible to run a completely free set-up, particularly with online services. At the time, many sites were setting up and encouraging users in with free offers. Some are still offering a limited service or limited functionality for free, for example, many online storage sites offer 2 to 5 GB free storage and you pay if you need more. That seems fair. But coincidentally, recently two online services I use dropped their free offerings, presumably because their business plan wasn’t quite working out. You’re left trying to decide is it worth sticking with them and paying or moving to another free service. I chose the latter option in both cases as there are still good free offerings to be found online.

Wapple

The Wapple Architect Mobile Plugin mobilizes your WordPress blog, site and admin pages. I installed it 3 years ago and blogged then about getting this blog mobile ready. A recent email from Wapple said that, beyond 10th January 2013, sites will no longer optimise for mobile devices if you have chosen not to upgrade and that they could no longer offer the plugin for free. To continue using Wapple, prices start from  £5/$8. Not much really, but I received a Google Nexus 10 tablet recently and when I view my blog, it appears as if it’s optimised for a smaller mobile phone screen and not for the tablet. I may have missed a plugin setting somewhere to rectify this but anyway, I decided to uninstall the Wapple plugin and install the WPtouch plugin instead – they still offer a free version. I’m not altogether satisfied with it but I’ll stick with it until I get a responsive theme up and running here that will automatically adapt my site for phones and tablets and will mean one less plugin to install and run.

CX

I’ve been using CX for cloud syncing and file storage and mentioned them when I blogged about scheduling automatic daily backups of changed files to cloud storage. They offer 10GB of free storage but in December, they decided that accounts inactive for 15 days would be frozen. Upgrading to a paid account would unfreeze it. In addition, the Desktop Sync tool would no longer be offered on free accounts. I needed the sync tool to automatically backup my files to the cloud, so I’ve had to close my account with CX. Fortunately, there are still many cloud storage services offering free storage without restrictions. I decided to move to Microsoft SkyDrive instead with 7GB of free storage and so far I’m very pleased with it.

So whether you pay for online services is a matter of choice. If you look around, you can still find lots of good free offerings online but I suspect that as sites come to grips with their business plans and try to increase revenues, some will fold or cut back/drop their free offerings. Make use of them while you can – but don’t assume they’ll be there forever… or free forever.


Nov 9

Last week, the eastern seaboard of the US was hit by Hurricane Sandy and I was interested to see what effect that would have, if any, on cloud services. We rely so much on the cloud these days for online storage, hosting and services.

For me, the disruption was minimal. I lost access to Trello, my project management app, for a short while one evening but it was back next morning having moved to Amazon AWZ and has remained online ever since.

Trello outage

Trello is part of Fog Creek Software and they are based in Manhattan. I was taken aback when I read the story of volunteers climbing flights of stairs with buckets of diesel to fuel the generators to keep the server going. Gawker and BuzzFeed also took a hit during the storm.

But does it have to be this way?  I was surprised that businesses on the eastern seaboard hadn’t taken the precautions that us home PC users are continually urged to do – back up their computers and websites  –  and have a database redundancy plan, or site replication with co-located servers so that services continue uninterrupted from servers in areas not hit by natural disasters. Fog Creek have now done this with Trello.

The US is probably at the heart of the online world, yet in a country in the firing line from earthquakes, storms and flooding, you’d think that cloud-based precautions would have been in place on the eastern seaboard to cover server outages. Doubtless, as with all natural disasters, lessons will have been learned.


Oct 23

JD Auto Speed Tester is a free utility to monitor your internet connection speed. Last week, I posted about some problems I was having with the program being flagged as a trojan by MalwareBytes AntiMalware. Well it turned out that was a false positive and this is being rectified by MalwareBytes in an update. I have since reinstalled the program as it gives some really useful data on your internet connection speed. It is set up by default to measure upload and download speeds every 60 minutes but you can change that on the main screen under Cycle Time.

I won’t go into the workings of the program which have been well covered in Martin’s post on JD Auto Speed Tester. Just one point to note though – the program automatically displays the data as a neat graph and listing. Once you have been viewing the graph, click Send to Tray not Close, otherwise the program will not reload to memory and will stop monitoring your connection.

Broadband speed4

I’ve shown the graph of a typical weekday between the red lines and the actual data are highlighted in pale green to the left of the graph. There are data right through from around 9am to about 11pm. During the day, I’m getting typical download speeds of around 6.5 Mb/s until around 7.30pm on weekdays. The speed then drops to around 1.5 Mb/s until about 10-11pm and then starts to pick up again. I’ve also found that speeds are generally slower throughout the weekend. I guess all this isn’t very surprising and I think most people would see a similar daily pattern with lower download speeds in the evening as everyone tries to get on the net and stream/download. At the same time, the servers are seeing higher demand to access the files for streaming and this adds to the slowdown. From reading around, the general rule of thumb seems to be that at least 2Mb/s download speed is required for smooth streaming of video. My connection falls below this in the evening period which explains why my Boxee Box doesn’t always stream well then.

Looks like the best plan of action for me, or indeed anyone freelancing from home is perhaps to watch movies, etc on weekday mornings when download speeds are better and then work on into the evening instead!


Oct 16

From a recommendation in a blog I trust, I installed JD Auto Speed Tester recently, to perform regular checks on my internet connection speed. I’ll blog about the results from that program in another post but before I do, while running my weekly maintenance routine, I ran into a problem as Malwarebytes Anti-Malware labelled some files in the Auto Speed Tester folder as a Trojans.

JDAST warning

So I quarantined the files, then uninstalled JD Auto Speed Tester immediately. I then reran Malwarebytes and my system came up clean. But what if this program was just giving a false positive and wasn’t really malware? Well, I set about trying to find out.

Is it malware?

I first scanned the downloaded installer file JDast_installer.exe from where I had installed the program. Right click on the program and in the context menu, you should see some entries starting ‘Scan with…’ depending on what antimalware you have installed. I have Microsoft Security Essentials, SUPERAntiSpyware and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware installed and when I scanned the installer file, all three didn’t report any problems.

I then tried a Google search to see if anyone else had a problem with the program – I tried the search jdautospeedtester trojan and quickly found that my question was answered on the program’s website. Here’s what they said:

Some antivirus software may detect this software as a Trojan/Virus/Malware, this is just a false positive. Rest assured with the fact there are no viruses/trojans/malware etc or anything else of this nature. False positives happen because I programmed most of JDast with AutoIt which often does cause this problem. For this reason, I’ve added an alternative ZIP download which can cure the false positive problem when downloading the installation file, this does not help if you are getting a virus warning whilst installing or running JDast.

They go on to say:

As soon as I release a new version of JDast I initiate a white-listing procedure with AVG, McAfee, Symantec, Eset and a few others. It does take quite a while for them to complete their testing and to white-list JDast.
I would do the white-listing before I upload the new versions but unfortunately these companies need to be able to see and download JDast from the web site that it will be available to the public on, so I have to upload it before I can get it white-listed.

So that’s reassuring. I’ve reinstalled the program again as it’s pretty useful. I’ve rechecked the JDAST folder where the program is installed and Malwarebytes still reports the trojans, but SUPERAntiSpyware and Microsoft Security Essentials do not. I also tried some suggestions in Techsupport Alert’s post How to Tell if a File is Malicious. I uploaded jdautospeedtester.exe to Comodo Valkyrie and Virus Total. Comodo reported the file was normal while only 1 in 41 antivirus scanners in Virus Total reported a trojan.

I contacted Malwarebytes to let them know it’s probably a false positive.  They quickly agreed and will fix this in their next update. I hope my experience has given you some ideas how to go about checking out if a program is malware or not. If you have any more suggestions, please drop a comment below.


Sep 12

As you may know, there have been more concerns over Java plug-in vulnerabilities recently. A patch to bring Java to Version 7 Update 7 has been released, but do we really need Java anymore? I’ve had Java installed for years now and blithely keep updating it without even thinking if it’s really necessary.

Disable Java Plug-ins

Most websites use Flash these days but you may need to have the Java browser plug-in enabled for some sites, for example, some web-based games and online calculators. I tried disabling the Java plug-in a few weeks ago and haven’t had any problems on the websites I tend to visit. You can actually check whether your browser is running Java at this Java test page. If it’s running and you want to disable it, it’s very simple in Chrome. Just enter chrome://plugins in the browser’s address bar, scroll down to Java and click to disable it. There are instructions for disabling Java in IE and Firefox here. Then just make sure it’s disabled by visiting the Java test page mentioned earlier.

What Programs Need Java?

Many programs do need to have Java installed to run but some bloggers advocate removing Java completely as many home users just don’t need it. OpenOffice and LibreOffice may need it for some functionality but I understand that the features that most people usually require don’t need Java. Secunia Online Scanner was suggested as needing Java to run its scans but as far as I can see, the latest desktop version (Secunia PSI 3.0) doesn’t need Java to be installed. Some other programs that need Java are the Woopra Desktop Client, MatLab, Vuze, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, and the program that forced me to reinstall Java, JStock, a neat free program for monitoring the latest prices of your stocks and shares. If you need to have Java installed, make sure it’s always up to date and remove old versions. But if you’d like to try disabling Java to see just what programs you run actually need it, in Windows, go to Start, Settings, Control Panel, Java Control Panel and go to the Advanced tab to disable Java.

So, really the best advice is to disable the Java plug-in in your browser and, if possible, disable or uninstall Java as well.  If you use a program or visit a site that requires Java, your system or the site should prompt you that you need to install or re-enable it.  And if you come across any errors uninstalling Java or old versions, try Microsoft FixIt. I blogged about using FixIt to successfully remove a stubborn old version of Java recently.


Sep 5

reddit

Tired of Facebook? Want a break from those status updates? Then have a look at Reddit, the social news website. I’ve been registered with it for a couple of years now and posted my slow Firefox blog post there. I got a great response and many new followers to this blog but I haven’t spent much time there since – most of my spare time goes into Google Reader looking through tech tips posts. I took a look at Reddit again in earnest recently and was really impressed. Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up that may improve your Reddit experience.

Change the viewing interface

I was never very keen on the user interface in Reddit but I’ve found there’s an easy way to improve this using Stylish to modify how the site is displayed in your browser. If you’re using Chrome, download Stylish if you don’t already have it installed. For Firefox, Stylish is here. Then head over to Userstyles and browse through all the scripts there and download the Reddit interface of your choice.

Find new subreddits

Reddit is divided into a vast number of what are called subreddits, each with its own band of followers and some very specialised, or for individual cities, etc. I’ve discovered that in Scotland, Aberdeen and Inverness both have there own subreddits. I haven’t found a complete updated directory of subreddits anywhere, but you could look at RedditList for some suggestions, or search MetaReddit.  Or try random in the left panel to bring up a random subreddit. Or here’s a useful tip. Once you’ve found a subreddit to your liking, have a look in the right-hand panel of Reddit for a list of similar subreddits and check them out. Again, when you like one, check the right-hand side for similar ones and build up a list of subreddits that way. Of course, there’s only so many you can actively follow – I’m subscribed to 30 and that’s too many. And if you spot a niche for a new subreddit that’s not been started yet, you can create your own.

Here’s some subreddits I like

If you’re into computer repair and troubleshooting, there are a number of good subreddits. I like techsupport  and 24hoursupport. If you’ve got any PC/Linux/Mac problems, try submitting your question there. At the moment, there are over 22000 subscribers to the techsupport subreddit and typically, over 100 are online at any particular time so you should get your question answered. Or if you can offer help or suggestions, fire away. And if you’re into stimulating religious debate, try DebateReligion!

Compile your subreddits

Once you’re logged in to Reddit, you can view all your subreddits at once by choosing All and listing them in different ways using Hot, New, Controversial or Top or by viewing a MultiReddit of all your subreddits. To do this, click my reddits in the left column then scroll down to edit subscriptions. On the right panel that opens, you’ll see a list of your front page reddits and above that you can click MultiReddit of your subscriptions.

reddit2

Comments on Reddit

Once you’ve subscribed to Reddit, you can upvote or downvote posts and comments. Don’t forget too that you can arrange comments in different ways: Oldest comments at the top, Newest comments at the top,  Best, Hot, Top and Controversial.

Finally, if you want more background on Reddit, download the Reddit Manual from MakeUseOf. You can also check out the Reddit tag in MakeUseOf for more posts on Reddit.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve grown to really appreciate Reddit and what I can learn there.  Have you any Reddit tips? What are your favourite subreddits? Let us all know in the comments.


Jul 17

Trello1

I’ve never tried project management apps before. I thought they were really aimed at businesses with a number of employees and for tracking activities assigned to staff, but I read a post on project management tools on Mashable recently, watched the video on Trello, and thought, hang on, this might just work for me.

In my day job, I’m a freelance editor/proofreader, I don’t have any employees and I don’t collaborate with anyone, but I do usually have a number of projects (papers to be edited) for clients on the go at the same time, all at various stages – from initially sending out a quote for editing right through to finally sending them an email thanking them for payment of my invoice. I used to go to my to-do app Wunderlist to remind me which client was at each stage of the process, to send them a quote, edit their file, send out an invoice, etc, but having to delete and retype client names as they moved from task to task was a bit of a nuisance. Much better if you could drag the client name from task to task as each was completed.

So I tried Trello and wasn’t disappointed as it could do just what I wanted. After you register and open Trello, you’ll find it’s divided into Boards, Lists and Cards. Each screen is a Board (or Project) and you can create new Boards. Boards can be public or private – a private board called Editing was enough for me initially. On each Board, you have Lists and you can add as many Lists as you like across the Board. I found Lists to be oddly named. Perhaps Activity might be more appropriate. For me, these were the various stages of the Project. On each List, you can have a number of Cards, for me these were clients, but everyone will have different cards in their projects depending on their line of work, for example Cards could be company employees, to-do items, or anything you’d like to track in a project. I won’t go into setting up Boards, Lists and Cards – it’s really quite intuitive. Here’s a typical example loosely based on my project:

Trello2

You can show/hide Lists on the left side by clicking the grey Trello logo to the left of Example (shown in the above screenshot), then click Layout, then click Show/Hide List Guide to toggle between the two. The List Guide is a collection of your list titles that appears on the left side of the board when the total number of Lists is greater than the board size. It helps with navigation by visualizing all available Lists when some Lists on the board are hidden.

When you click on each Card, you can add comments, checklists, due dates, and other features, but these three are the most useful to me.

And that’s about it. Just drag your Cards from List to List across the board as each activity is completed. The beauty of Trello is it’s great for visualizing tasks – I have an instant graphic of what stage each of my clients is at, from quote to be sent out through to invoice paid.

Drawbacks? Well there are a couple of minor niggles. It would be nice to view Comments on a card by just mousing over the comment box rather than having to click the Card.  And you can delete Cards, or close Boards, but you can’t delete Lists as yet, just archive them. Hopefully List deletion will come in a later version. There’s a Trello app for iOS but not Android as yet although the Trello web app will work on Android.

So, whether you are a manager assigning projects to staff, a scientist with different experiments at various stages, a PC repair tech working on PCs and laptops for customers, or indeed anyone trying to manage a project with a number of activities at different stages, give Trello a try and see what you think.

Do you use a project management app? Which one? How do you use it? Drop us a comment below.


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