Welcome

Do you already use your laptop as your main productivity tool?
Are you thinking of making a laptop your main productivity tool?
This blog could provide indispensible laptop tips n'trick for you if you answered yes to either of the above questions.
Many of these tips n'tricks could apply equally to PC workstations.
If you would like to start a discussion on any of the items posted, or associated subjects, please use the "Comments" at the end of each blog post.

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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Tip - How to coil your ear/headphone cables so they don't tangle when you use them.



As a laptop user who takes his laptop everywhere, I had got to the point where I avoided using headphones because I figured that I didn't need to waste the time it always took to untangle my headphone cables every blasted time I used them.
After watching this video, I shall be using my earphones a lot more often:


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Thursday, 17 November 2011

Tip - workaround for Windows 7 disappearing Systray Icons bug

A while back, I started using a new HP ENVY 14 laptop running Windows 7 (64-bit).
A frequently recurring  annoyance has been that when I start up my laptop from boot or from "sleep", some of the Systray icons (which should appear) are not appearing - even though the process to which they belong is active/running.

After double-checking that these icons were set to display at all times in the system, I googled "Windows Systray icons do not display", and came up with a list of results, one of which was to a Microsoft discussion forum. It's evidently a fairly common problem. One of the discussions in that forum had a link to a post made by Colin Cochrane in 2007 about this same problem, but it was with Windows Vista - Windows Vista Disappearing System Tray Icons Fix

The problem seems to be a bug in the Windows OS (Operating System) - common to Windows Vista and Windows 7.
I tried out part of his suggested workaround (it's not a fix) for the problem, and it worked a treat, so below is that part copied as a series of steps.
Note that this workaround may need to be repeated as and when necessary to restore all your Systray icons.
  1. Open up the Task Manager (Ctrl + Shift + Esc), then:
  2. click on the "Processes" tab,
  3. select "explorer.exe" and click "End Process".



  4. Now click on the "Applications" tab, and
  5. click "New Task..." at the bottom-right of the window.



  6. In the message box that pops up type in "explorer.exe" (without the quotes)
  7. click "OK".



  8. Explorer.exe will reload, and that's it! The missing icons should now be back in the system-tray where they belong.
Hope this works for you as well as it works for me.
I have subscribed to Colin Cochrane's blog at http://www.colincochrane.com/
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Thursday, 15 April 2010

OffiSync + Google "Cloud" (e.g., Docs, Sites) + Google SaaS (Apps) + MS Word

OffiSync - the short story: Just go to the links below:



The background:
Over the years I have done a lot of work in documentation, and two things stood out as being very useful in that work:
  • Microsoft Word (MSW)
  • Microsoft SharePoint (MSS)

  • MSW (for "Microsoft Word"):Since 1998 my dependence on MSW has grown. Then, I had to embark on a journey to become a "power user" of MSW, when faced with some major documentation tasks on a large and complex documentation project. I initially read "Taking Word for Windows to the Edge" from cover to cover, to begin that journey. Over the years, MSW has been continually refined and improved by Microsoft. It is an amazingly powerful document creation/editing tool - though sometimes I still miss the power of the Macintosh's Adobe Pagemaker (I think that was it's name) from the '80s.
  • MSS (for "Microsoft SharePoint"): I originally became involved in MSS through managing the installation of a SharePoint site for a client, and later in using SharePoint sites as document repositories and collaboration/workflow tools. MSS is a powerful document management and collaboration tool, and integrates beautifully with Microsoft products IE and Office, but it is still very much a proprietary tool.
OffiSync: In 2009 I installed a Microsoft Office Add-In called "OffiSync", which enabled me to link to documents in Google Docs. By that stage, Google was clearly setting up to provide cloud-based document management and collaboration that looked set to eventually eclipse SharePoint.
When I installed OffiSync, I was very impressed at how it aimed to tie Microsoft Office into the Google Apps/Cloud. Up until now, however, I have used it only a little, as it seemed a bit slow/kludgy. I was in "Wait and see mode".

Looks like my waiting is over. Whilst Google's increasing range of cloud-based apps/services was itself disruptive and made for some very useful services, it seemed to me that OffiSync built on that range in such a way that it could potentially be a tremendously productive step forwards.
With Google's updates to Google Docs and more updates to OffiSync, I have to say that this potential now looks like it could be realised.

See for yourself anyway:
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Sunday, 17 January 2010

Tip - Defining your Information Management requirements

I was having a discussion in email some time ago, with someone about what their requirements were for information management and I suggested an approach for them to define their requirements. I developed the suggestion further in order to make this post.


To a large extent, the typical approach is for users to take an ad hoc, features-based approach to stating their requirements. That is, looking at the features of an information management system (e.g., Evernote or InfoSelect or Gmail, amongst others) and saying "Look how useful that is" or "I don't like this" (e.g., a "ribbon" menu) or "I do like this" (e.g., the ribbon). This actually is not the most helpful way (to a developer) to go about providing or gathering requirements, since a like or a dislike does not necessarily define a requirement nor does it necessarily even identify a requirement. This is why attempting to build a requirements list by, for example, a straw pole (likes and dislikes) is usually doomed to failure. It is, in fact, irrational.

As WE Deming said, "Action that is not based on sound theory or best practice is irrational by definition".

The requirements-based approach, on the other hand, basically says "This is how and why I want an information management system to work for me", and it does not concern itself with features or how the system is to work (the latter is the developer's domain).

What I would therefore recommend is that, if you have not already done so, then take a leaf out of the Kepner-Tregoe approach (an approach to rational management) and use a 3-column table:

  • in column 1, write down a list of these things that you want to be able to do (requirements);
  • in column 2, write down against each item in the list why you want to be able to do that thing (i.e., what is the purpose of that requirement?).
  • in column 3, write down the appropriate priority - A or B or C - for each requirement, where:
    * A = Mandatory ("must have").
    * B = Highly desirable.
    * C = Nice-to-have.

This approach is the one I usually take for myself and (in the role of an IT and management consultant) one that I often recommend for my clients.

The act of drawing up your requirements like this can be quite useful, because usually it means that:

  1. you will be able to more clearly understand your own information management requirements as a whole (there they all are, in front of you, in the 3-column table).
  2. you will be able to more clearly articulate those requirements (they will have been defined).
  3. you will be able to more easily communicate those requirements (because they will be clearly articulated).
  4. the rationale will be clear: the requirements will have been identified in a consistent and rational manner (as opposed to being thrown out in an ad hoc manner with little or no substantiation).

As a spin-off, you also might discover something about your requirements and their purposes that you might not have previously appreciated (i.e., not been fully aware of or understood).

Once you have such a requirements list, then you could - for example - give it to the developers of (say) Gmail or InfoSelect or Evernote, or people who might be able to suggest ways of meeting the requirements using the available desktop + cloud technologies.

If your requirements grow or change - as invariably happens - then you update the table to reflect the changes. That way you maintain a current and consistent picture of your requirements and will not have to dream it up (and inadvertently forget some) each time someone asks you.

There are some further - and interesting - points about the requirements list which is probably worth mentioning here:

(a) By taking the steps (as above) to build the list, the user is effectively taking responsibility for defining what it is that they want do (the requirements), and why (purpose), and how important (priority) those requirements are. If the user furthermore maintains an updated list of those requirements, then they are continuing with that responsibility.

(b) It can be seen therefore, from this, that it is not the developer's responsibility to somehow "know" your requirements by some process of magic, or osmosis, or telepathy. Therefore, berating the developer for not building in some feature that would meet your requirements - where you have not communicated them to him/her in the first place - could be regarded as being irrational.

(c) This is not to absolve the developer of the business responsibility for systematically soliciting and gathering user requirements in a similar manner to that above, and for taking note and acting on those requirements. Nor does it absolve the developer of the responsibility for researching and applying the art of what is possible using new technologies (e.g., "cloud" computing) that could be incorporated into the system to better meet the users' evolving (and defined) requirements. Failure to do these things will probably run the very real risk of product obsolescence.
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Monday, 23 November 2009

Tip - Save time by disabling the "Confirm File Delete" message box

This tip is a potentially very useful time-saving tip for Windows (that is, Microsoft Windows XPWindows Vista and Windows 7) users who find that they need to delete lots of files when re-arranging or tidying-up their folders/directories on disk.
If you are such a user, then this tip could save you many hours over a year of computer use.
Every time a user presses the delete button for a file in Windows Explorer, the "Confirm File Delete" message box pops up asking:
Are you sure you want to send 'Filename' to the Recycle Bin?

If you delete more than one file - say 3 files - then the message reads:
“Are you sure you want to send these 3 items to the Recycle Bin?”
There are two buttons in the box - a "Yes" and a "No" button. The default is the "Yes" one, so that if you press the enter key, then that has the same effect as pressing the "Yes" button. You can select the buttons either with the mouse or by pressing the "Y" or "N" keys.

You have to press one of the buttons, or dismiss the pop-up box with the Escape key. There is no way of responding to that message box with a "Yes, and I don't want this message repeated next time I delete a file".

Whilst this is a good safeguard from accidental file deletion, if you know what you are doing, then it can quickly become very tiresome to have to keep selecting "Yes" every time you delete a file/files. Also, if you know what you are doing and you accidentally delete a file/files, then you would probably know that you can always go to the Recycle Bin, select the files and restore them. (This is good "belts and braces" design built into Windows.)

So, how do you disable the pop-up box and just allow the file to be deleted?
If you become tired of the "Confirm File Delete" message box forcing you to take an extra step every time you try to delete something, then you can disable it quickly and easily:
   1. Right-click the Recycle Bin.
   2. Select Properties in the context menu.
   3. Uncheck the "Display delete confirmation dialog" checkbox.
   4. Click "Apply".
   5. Click "OK".
That's it!
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    Wednesday, 28 October 2009

    Tip - writing for maximum reader comprehension


    Today I read a post entitled "Serif vs. sans-serif legibility" on a blog which claims to be a "Blog about web design & development". (I have removed the link to the blog as a favour to the blog author after his comment below, since this post is critical of the material posted).

    The post had been referred to in Hacker News - one of the feed combinators that I subscribe to in my Google Reader.
    The post caught my eye because it was on a topic that interested me and on which there is quite a large and solid body of scientific research and knowledge, and I wondered if the post added anything to that body of knowledge. Disappointingly, it did not, because it was a superficial, elementary and unscientific look at the subject by someone who clearly seemed to be ignorant of that body of knowledge and of either human psychology or especially of human visual perception - the latter two factors being what I would have hoped might have been burned-in to the skull of anyone involved in "web design & development". Maybe modern educational standards just don't cut the mustard.

    The post (and subsequent comments) was rather a mass of opinion and half-baked ideas from like-minded people. The author described himself as being located in Italy and a "... web designer, developer, teacher, web addicted, SEO specialist ...".
    Though he was seemingly relatively ignorant on the subject matter, I suspect he is an intelligent author whose first language - judging from the sentence structure - is probably not English.

    The post opened with:
    "Probably one of everlasting discussion is legibility issue of serif and sans-serif fonts."
    - which would seem to be (see below) an incorrect statement.

    It finished with:
    "What do you think?"
    Well, if you were to go and read that post [sorry, link removed, per above], you would probably see why I would suggest that it doesn't really matter what we may "think", because it's been a matter of fact rather than a matter of opinion for many years now - but we might not all know that.

    The fact is that there is - as I put it above - a large and solid body of scientific research and knowledge on this entire subject, starting with Operations Research in the UK during WW2 and then post-war research, (e.g., by the UK Automobile Association) much of which was repeated subsequently, and all of which has conclusively shown that serifed fonts improved reading comprehension by a significant percentage over non-serifed fonts. By "significant", I mean (from memory) typically a 30% to 40% (or greater) improvement in reading comprehension.

    That body of research/knowledge covers the domains of communication and human visual perception. It's not so much that "Our eye will try to close the missing part of the letter..." (as the blog author had put it) as that our brains seem to be wired up in such a way as to:
       (a) try to make sense of whatever information the eyes give them, and
       (b) extrapolate using that information.

    It was shown conclusively that serifs provide a lot more useful information for such extrapolation than non-serifs, which means that the brain gets more information in total from printed characters using serifed fonts. There are several reports summarising this research and its findings, in the public domain. You are welcome to download these two (click on the link to start a download):
    It was just a lucky coincidence for us that the early printers standardised on the use of Roman serifs (e.g., Times Roman today), and an unlucky coincidence that they also standardised on black print on white paper - which has subsequently been found to be one of the most contrasting combinations they could have used and which can cause visual perceptual disorganisation and even eye-strain. If we invented writing today, we would probably standardise on something which did not cause visual perceptual disorganisation or eye-strain such as - for example - black on grey (I'm writing this in my editor, using that colour scheme), or black on pale green. People who have seen those old computer monitor screens with glowing green writing on a black background might now perhaps understand why they seemed so easy to read - your brain "liked" them. For a really useful take on this, refer Turn Google Docs into a Distraction Free Writing Tool , where the author provides a simple and nifty note-taking template for use in Google docs.

    Sadly, on many (most?) web sites, the ubiquitous and de facto standard use of non-serifed fonts (e.g., the artistically lovely Helvetica and other "pretty" fonts) and meaningless clashing clours, graphic objects or "eye-candy" has become all the rage. These serve merely to minimise reading comprehension and even detract and distract from comprehension. Thus comprehension takes a nosedive and visual perceptual disorganisation is on the increase. It's all just bad ergonomics really.

    When we are responsible for laying out a web page or a blog, and before we publish it, we need to consider the above factors. For example, do we want to help the viewer to achieve maximum reading comprehension of some important information that we desire to or are obliged to communicate, or do we not really care just so long as the viewer gets a vague warm and fuzzy feeling about our web page, regardless of the eyestrain?

    Recent research on web-browsing habits shows that the user can be quite ruthless if they don't get something that they find useful/interesting from a web page in the first 3 or 4 seconds. If they get something useful, then they will stay and read on for a while - (say) maybe 20 seconds or more - because their attention has been captured and they are willing to give their cognitive surplus to the page. If not, then they will immediately skip that page and go to another page, and likely as not will never return to the page skipped. This could represent a lost opportunity for the web page publisher. You can see this principle - the power of the attention-grabbing effect - in operation, if you use a feed aggregator or subscription reader. For example, I use Google Reader. One of the subscriptions I have is to a blog called "Hot Air". That blog usually has very readable articles in it, but for some reason the publishers do not present punchy and infomative header lines for my Google Reader to display. For example, sometimes all they have is a "Read it all...", which I find an immediate turn-off.

    I scan those header lines - they are each maybe about 20 words long, at most. If I do not see anything that grabs my interest in that header line, then I skip it. If you need to scan or get across thousands of items in a day, and do not have the time or patience to follow up bad attention-grabbers, you will never know how good or bad the skipped post was and Hot Air will never know how much they could potentially increase their readership by the simple expedient of writing informative, punchy and attention-grabbing header lines.

    Now, assuming that what I have written above is largely valid, then why on earth does Google blogger.com have sans serif default fonts, and why does Google Reader present all of its text to the reader in a sans serifed font? Like I said above:
    "Maybe modern educational standards just don't cut the mustard."
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    Wednesday, 16 September 2009

    Tip - the paperless office: take a rational pilot approach to workgroup systems

    "Ignorance is bliss"
    - as the saying goes, and it can be expensive when you are talking to snake-oil salesmen of computer systems. The rule is, caveat emptor ("let the buyer beware").

    Whenever you plug your laptop or thumb drive into a client's knowledge systems, you may need to be able to share knowledge, which is often in the form of documentation. You need to have common, up-to-date and preferably "open" standards for this. Some organisations have really good knowledge-sharing or workgroup systems. Others do not and just use email to spray copies of documents around. This is a small case-study of one of the latter.
    Last year I was working on an assignment for a client whose IT operation was running a moribund, unsupported version of Novell GroupWise (v6.5.6, from 2006), on an IT infrastructure that was based on an archaic operating system (Windows 2000). I was pretty surprised by this as, though the business processes in the organisation were pretty high up the CMM (Capability Maturity Model) - being at Level 3 or higher in some cases - they were using archaic systems to support these processes that I had thought no-one used any more.
    I was further surprised when I subsequently learned that there were some areas of the organisation that were running a trial/POC (Proof-of-concept) of a couple of different modern-day workgroup systems that were unrelated to Novell's GroupWise.

    The thing is, there's nothing wrong with the latest version of GroupWise. It's very good. GroupWise was a trailblazer in workgroup systems development, and it is still a leader. My surprise arose from my perspective:
    (a) I had started managing projects to implement or develop workgroup systems for clients as early as 1985 (e.g., Wang Office and IBM Profs).
    (b) My latest such projects were in 2003/4 and in 2006 (SharePoint).
    (c) Over the years since 1997, I have become used to using clients' different workgroup systems as a tool for automating and accelerating the administration and communication of knowledge-sharing and for managing projects and business processes across disparate workgroups.
    (d) Organisations generally use such tools for solid business reasons. For example, it is presumably not for nothing - i.e., there would be a deliberate business rationale - that HP phased out its three proprietary (own-developed) and very good knowledge-sharing systems, migrating the three knowledge repositories to Microsoft SharePoint by 2006. HP now depends on SharePoint worldwide as the standard, single de facto workgroup environment and knowledge base. Many other organisations have taken a similar approach, using a similarly deliberate rationale.
    (This is not a plug for Microsoft's SharePoint - which happens to often be a no-brainer for many organisations which tend to use Microsoft products as standard. Not only is SharePoint a very good, robust system, but also it integrates beautifully with existing Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office products.)

    I could be wrong, of course, but it seems amazing that any organisation would only be trialling such alternative systems - especially when they already actually had an old version of one that would be perfectly OK for most purposes - if only they had bothered to install the latest GroupWise version update and find out. 
    Some people might say - not me you understand - that the vendors of the alternative workgroup systems who encouraged such a trial without actually pointing this out were acting primarily out of self-interest, on the principle that "There's a sucker born every minute", but I couldn't possibly comment. Nor would I comment as to the susceptibility of IT operations managers who permit/encourage such a time and money-wasting carry-on.

    In such cases, you have to ask: "What's to trial or discover that the world has not already been doing for some years now?"
    - the point being that you might as well trial the use of the telephone.
    Now I know that there is such a thing as being a conservative and risk-averse "late adopter", but this would seem to be ridiculously laggard.

    For what it's worth: In my experience of having managed or having being involved in several such trials, they are usually potentially fatally flawed as they do not offer an effective "suck it and see" (an engineering term) pilot approach. That is, they do not enable a real workgroup to actually perform real productive work using the tool, and so discover some of the potential value and constraints of the system - such discovery is usually only forced out by using the system for real pieces of real work and over a long period of time. A pilot is the best way I have yet to come across, to overcome this potential limitation.

    For an effective workgroup pilot, the basic and usually common needs are for:

    • the development and definition of some kind of strategy for knowledge management and which will be used to guide and evaluate the pilot as it proceeds;
    • commitment to a long-term pilot, broken into discrete phases and ending in final, planned implementation;
    • the availability of an existing modern-day workgroup system, for use by knowledge workers;
    • that system to be stable, maintained in current version, and available for use long-term.
    Must stop now as I have been asked by a client to manage a project to trial the use of the telephone...
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    Tip - use Gmail and other Google services to avoid "lock-in"

    The post [G] Welcome to the Data Liberation Front discusses Google's approach to Gmail data portability and zero "lock-in". Brilliant. This is one of the main reasons I like using Gmail and Google's other free services. They don't try to lock you in. It's YOUR data - e.g., they even make it easy for you to pack up and migrate your Google blogs to some other system.
    It reminded me of my recent experience with migrating my NZ mobile phone number from Vodafone to the much cheaper - by up to 50% - 2degrees mobile network service.
    The number was migrated *unchanged* in less than 24 hrs. That is, it included the Vodafone "021" network prefix. (I had thought I would at least be obliged to have that changed to 2degrees' "022" network prefix, but no.)
    I never thought I'd see this - NZ government operating in the consumer interests despite the might of the telco industry lobbyists. (Money talks.) Yes, the NZ government (Commerce Commission) have - albeit belatedly - forced telcos to provide number portability. Thus, one's phone number has become one's property. Previously, it wasn't.
    "Lock-in" was a term taught to me in ICL sales training in the '70s as being customer "lock in" - a powerful tool of the IT and telecomms industry. It makes the customer dependent on the service/product supplier. It was thus with Vodafone. Leave the supplier - lose your number!
    However, it is still the same with default email addresses provided by ISPs which is why I never use/publish my email addresses with those organisations. (One of these is the NZ Telecom "Xtra" ISP, which a while back conspired with Yahoo! to force its locked-in email accounts to migrate to Yahoo! - but they are still locked-in. No email address portability there - that's the last thing they want. Nice try, but I was not buying into it.)
    My email is Gmail, and I am not locked into it. I shall stick with it because Google provides a compellingly attractive set of associated services that makes any other service pale into insignificance by comparison. Google would already know that and presumably aim to keep it that way.
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    Friday, 19 June 2009

    Tip - start using OpenDNS

    OpenDNS stands for "Open Domain Name Server".
    An ordinary DNS server is used by your web browser and other internet applications, and is usually provided by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). If you start using OpenDNS, then you will start to realise what it does, and will be unlikely to stop using it - thus it will become your "preferred" DNS.

    A DNS server looks up the numerical IP (Internet Protocol) address of any domain to which you are effectively requesting access when you enter a domain link into the address bar (e.g., gmail.com) or when you click on a link on a web page.

    The DNS server settings are TCP/IP addresses that are usually automatically created when you install your modem and subsequently boot it up, whether that is an ADSL or a cable modem (ignoring dial-up modems). However, these addresses can sometimes only be set by opening your computer's TCP/IP properties and manually adding the DNS server IP addresses provided by your ISP.

    The interesting thing is that those settings are not necessarily the most effective or efficient settings for your Internet connection, and it is likely that they will lack many features that would be available if you used a different service, such as OpenDNS.

    About OpenDNS:
    1. It is a free service that helps you navigate the Internet in a safer, often faster, and sometimes "smarter" and more reliable way.
    2. OpenDNS requires no software or other downloads.
    3. * To use it, you will need to change the DNS server entries, either in your network settings, or preferably in your modem, to the IP addresses necessary to use the OpenDNS system.
    4. Some really good features of OpenDNS:
    • It makes for "safer" surfing by intercepting phishing attacks, and warning you to avoid dubious web sites that have been recorded as spreading malware.The warnings come as soon as you try to open a phishing/malware site, regardless of your email client or web browser and whether or not they have antiphishing plugins installed.
    • It is very reliable - it runs a high-performance network with geographically distributed nodes, serviced by several redundant connections.
    • It is faster (usually) than the normal methods, because it responds to your query (serves you) from the nearest OpenDNS server location to you.
    • It is faster because it runs a very large, "smart" cache, which is checked for the IP address requested for a web server, before going to the IP address and the web server itself. If it already has the latest contents of the web server that is at that IP address in its cache, then it serves you from the cache, thus avoiding traversing the Internet for the same data. In this way, each OpenDNS user benefits from the cached activities of the other users in the OpenDNS user base.
    • It corrects for some of your mistakes by fixing any typos in the URLs that you enter into your browser's address bar - e.g., if you enter "gmail.om" by mstake, it will be translated (correctly) by the OpenDNS server as "gmail.com", and you will be routed to that address. This is the URL being "resolved" by the OpenDNS server. If it cannot be resolved, then you will be presented with a list of suggestions for other similar URLs, with neatly ordered notes and ads. You can then either ignore those suggestions and ads, or click on them. If you do the latter, then it helps to support OpenDNS as a free service, because thiose clicks are "monetized".

    To start using OpenDNS: (this is only for personal use, not for users of corporate networks)
    • Add or change your DNS settings to the OpenDNS servers: 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220. You do this either via the TCP/IP settings on your computer - in Network Settings - or else you update the DNS server settings in your router/modem.
    • Reboot your computer.
    You can get more help if you need it, from the OpenDNS website.
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    Wednesday, 15 April 2009

    Tip - TidyRead will save you time and cut the noise

    I just started using TidyRead. A real time-saver and an aid to reading enjoyment and comprehension. I found out about it at MakeUseOf.com - here.
    I use Google Reader to filter all the blogs and news sites that I like to keep in touch with, scanning the headers for items that look like they will interest me. This has automated things to the extent that it saves me considerable time/effort in visiting these sites individually from RSS feeds/bookmarks - I now have it all “delivered” via Google Reader - which presents me with a neat and uncluttered list of the feed items, with headers.

    However, when I go to read the items presented in Google Reader that interest me, I am faced with something I detest: all the distracting colour splashes, logos, and general advertising noise/garbage and bad ergonomics in web design that the authors/promoters of the destination sites have decided they will force-feed to me as part of my “user experience” (a euphemism for “you will see what I dictate” used by editorial/media fascists). It’s got as bad as - if not worse than - commercial TV advertising, which is something else I detest. The media are in control of the viewer.

    I used to be in control. For some years, I used JunkBuster to filter most of this garbage out. JunkBuster was very effective: its features included the ability to tell the web server NOT to serve specific classes of data (thus conserving bandwidth), and the user could define those classes, right down to domains, sub-domains, filenames and data types, but the product ceased development and would not work properly through SSL technology, and nothing was able to replace it. I use AdBlockPlus and NoScript now, and they are very good - but they do not include the above JunkBuster feature, so most of the litter is still there and it still sucks up bandwidth.
    But today, after starting to use the TidyRead bookmarklet, at least the litter can be eliminated from presentation in the browser (though it still sucks up bandwidth).

    I loaded the TidyRead bookmarklet for Firefox, and straightaway used it on a BBC news site. Whammo! Reader’s nirvana.
    I just now googled the reference on TidyRead to “Arc90 Readability experiment” and found Arc90 have a similar bookmarklet called Readability.

    The Arc90 page says a lot that is similar to what I have written above.
    TidyRead/Readability are so good that they could be threatening to the muscle advertising corporations, whom I predict will probably consider trying to pull things like that out of operation and kill them, or they will devise some new technology to block that type of functionality.

    By the way, the TidyRead site has a “See what people are TidyReading now” links. These are interesting. I could see what I had been reading as listed amongst those links. I’m a TidyReading link “voyeur” now!
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    Sunday, 15 March 2009

    Tip - Getting more out of tables (Word 2007)

    (This is borrowed with thanks thanks from 2 separate articles in Worldstart newsletters.) 
    The features of MS Word 2007 make for easy creation of nice-looking tables from scratch. To do this, you have to insert a table of appropriate dimensions, format any coloring, header rows, row height, and so forth. This can become tedious, especially if you need to do it repeatedly. An alternative would be to insert one of the standard formatted tables already provided in the Quick Tables, and either use that as is, or develop it into the table you want. If you take the latter path, and if you are likely to use that final table frequently in other documents, then you could also save it as a Quick Table item. This could be very handy.

    Using Quick Tables to insert a ready-made, pre-formatted table:

    Place the cursor at the location where you want to insert a table, and go to the Insert tab of the Ribbon. On the Insert tab, select the Table button:
    Go to the bottom of the menu and choose Quick Tables., which opens a display of built-in tables for you to choose from:
    Once you choose a pre-formatted table, it will be inserted into the document where you had previously placed the cursor. You will then need to make changes to it to reflect your needs and actual table data, but you would probably finish the job somewhat faster than if you had created the table from scratch.
    Having arrived at the final table, if you think you will need that format on a regular basis, then save it into Quick Tables:

    Using Quick Tables to save a new ready-made, pre-formatted table for future use:

    In the above exercise, you might have noticed that below the built-in table choices there is a grayed-out choice to Save Selection to Quick Tables Gallery.

    To save a table to a gallery, you will first need to select - in your document - the table you want to save.
    To select the table, click either:
    (a) the Move handle:
    or,

    (b) the Resize handle:
    (These handles appear when you move the mouse pointer over the table.)
    With the entire table selected, go to the Insert tab of the Ribbon, Table button, Quick Tables, Save Selection to Quick Tables Gallery choice. (The choice will be accessible now that you have a table selected.)
    The Create New Building Block dialog window will then open, already set to save as a table:
    All that is needed here is to name it and click OK.
    You will then find that your customized table is included below the built-in portion of the Quick Table list, under the heading of General:
    (Condensed from Worldstart ms office post here, and here.)
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    Tuesday, 24 February 2009

    Tip - email etiquette/netiquette, and using computer resources wisely

    This material has been consolidated from sound policy advice provided by major computer companies.

    A general rule of life is that, if left undisturbed, people will tend to follow the path of least resistance and fall into bad habits.

    This rule can also be applied to the way people use email. In the early days of email, in the late 1970s or early 1980s when companies first installed email systems, email was mainly for the use of company employees and relatively few people received mailboxes - it was almost a mark of respect to have an email address. Email was rather in the private domain. Few companies supported external access to mailboxes, and fewer still allowed employees to connect from home. Today, email is in the public domain, is ubiquitous, and each of us is able to access free email on many different systems and can connect to email using a variety of devices and different network links, ranging from notebook PCs across VPNs to RIM Blackberries across public wireless networks.

    In the early days, there was a form of email etiquette - necessitated as much by the need to conserve what were previously scare storage and network bandwidth resources as to be courteous of peoples' time. However, people newly starting to use email may be ignorant of that past, and though some of that etiquette could now be regarded as archaic, much of it could still apply in today's hectic world. We could still reduce demands on and conserve finite storage and network resources, and maybe make all of our lives a little simpler, if we followed some basic rules in email conversations. Listed below are some basic rules of email etiquette that may help to make email easier for us all to deal with. Apart from reducing stress levels, email etiquette can generate lower loads on servers and networks and reduce the size of email stores, in turn reducing workload for administrators who have to backup and maintain the data.

    The world is not perfect and we cannot expect email systems to function perfectly either. Email users are human beings, and human beings make mistakes, do things inefficiently, and take short cuts whenever possible. By following the major points of email etiquette outlined below, email users can minimise network traffic and reduce the amount of duplicate data held on email servers. There are bad and good habits, but perhaps there is a pressing question as to why people fall into bad habits. The answer could be:
    (a) because of a lack of training or a failure of organisations to train users and communicate expectations regarding the proper use of email, or
    (b) because people are relatively ignorant as to how email systems work, and have never had to think about how to use email more efficiently and effectively, and have succumbed to the trap of relying on user-friendly software.

    Major Bad Habits
    Any email user could fall easily into five major bad email habits. These are:
    1. Copying too many people – the "reply all" syndrome;
    2. Not compressing large attachments;
    3. Including graphics in auto signatures;
    4. Including unnecessary text from previous replies in current conversations; and
    5. Unwittingly spamming addressees with unwanted email.
    Minor Bad Habits
    Some of the major bad habits may have only arisen in the last decade, or they may have existed since the commissioning of the very first email system. There are many other smaller points of email etiquette that cause people grief. These include:
    • BCC replies to ALL: Replying with a message to ALL, for an email that you received as a BCC recipient, when the author really would have preferred you not to disclose the BCC by replying that way.
    • Unauthorised forwarding: Forwarding a message to a new set of recipients without permission of the original author - this is especially grievous if you (say) send a company-confidential the message to external recipients, thus risking disclosing corporate information that should stay inside the company.
    • Corporate policy breach: Along the same lines, it is not good etiquette and it may even be against a company’s policies or rules of business conduct to add an external recipient to an email discussion. The golden rule here is never to include an external recipient on any correspondence that might contain company confidential information.
    • Inadequate auto reply messages: Using an auto reply (e.g., "Out of office") message where you do not give useful information to the recipient. It may be nice to know that you are enjoying yourself on holiday, but even better to know where to go to (preferably with a telephone number and email address) in your absence.
    • Other minor/thoughtless breaches of etiquette: These can usually cause frustration only and do not absorb additional resources. However, the frustration level can be intense especially if you inadvertently tell someone about something that they should learn in another manner. For example, telling someone that you have heard that they are about to be promoted when you are not their boss is possibly acceptable; telling them that they are going to move to another job is not.

    Good Habits
    There are some good habits that you can get into. For example:
    • Summarise key points up front: Because many people use SmartPhones, PDAs such as the Blackberry, and Pocket PCs to read their email, it is best to write short messages or at least place the key points up front so that readers can understand right up front what it is that you want to say, without their having to go through multiple screens to find out. It is also a good idea not to have important points or questions at the bottom of messages because readers may never see them.
    • Minimise the number of messages: Do not respond immediately to a request if you do not have all the necessary information. Instead, wait until you have the information and then send a complete answer. In this case, it is always appropriate to send a short acknowledgement to indicate that you are working on the issue.
    • Be clear about your subject (topic) and change it if necessary: The volume of email continues to rise, so it is helpful to use clear subjects so that recipients can pick the most important messages out of their inboxes. Spammers pay a lot of attention to creating compelling message subjects and maybe this is something we can learn from them. If the topic being discussed changes during a message thread, then alter the message subject to reflect the new discussion.
    • Keep your email in native form: Never use a word processor(e.g., Microsoft Word) to compose a message and then send it as an attached document. Instead, use the advanced features of the email editor to format your text. Sending unnecessary attachments occupies valuable network bandwidth, ties up disk space, and makes the message hard for SmartPhone and Blackberry users to view.
    • Sleep on it: This last good habit may save your job, or save you from a libel case, or at least stop you from angering someone. It may feel enormously gratifying to compose a most cutting and sarcastic response to someone's inept ideas expressed in a message that you receive, but it might be more prudent to save your response as a draft and come back to it a few hours later (or next day) when some matured reflection may convince you that maybe it is a bad idea to send the text as written. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to send a message written in haste or when drunk, and then consider the consequences at leisure.
    • Avoid mistaken/premature sending: Some email packages include a message recall function, but these are limited in effectiveness - the speed and efficiency with which email systems can deliver messages, plus the vast array of devices (SmartPhones, Blackberries, etc.) that someone can use to receive messages on, means that the recall function may have little chance of being able to retrieve the message before it is read. It may be prudent to at least pause and save the message, leave it for an hour or so, and then review it before sending. Do not leave the message open, waiting to be sent, because it is easy to make a mistake and send the message inadvertently. If you do leave the message open, include an undeliverable address (such as “XXX”) in the TO: or CC: line so that the email service displays an “invalid or non-existant email address” warning when you try to send it.
    The "Reply all" syndrome
    When you receive a message, you have two basic reply options: either send a response back to the author, or, share your opinion with everyone who received the original message. Sadly, many users rush to reply to everyone without thinking things through. The worst examples are where someone sends a note to a large distribution list to announce that a new product or service is available, initiating a flood of "Please send me details" messages results, where each is faithfully copied to everyone on the address list. This sort of thing could result in some few members of the list deciding that they want to leave, so they send a reply back to the list to say "Please remove me," which provokes some more responses, and so on. It is depressing when people in these situations cannot correctly make a simple decision about the appropriate option to take, thus potentially wasting many peoples' time.

    The best practice is to generate a selective response to any message by minimizing the recipients. If you only need to communicate with one person, then do not include everyone else. In addition, if you really must reply to everyone, consider moving all the addressees in the TO: line of an original message to the CC: line when you reply. This is because etiquette dictates that the presence of someone on the TO: line means that they may be expected to take action on the information in the message, whilst those copied on the CC: line are there solely for information. Many users now employ email filtering rules to prioritise incoming messages where their name is in the TO: line, as opposed to the CC: line.

    The issue of sending and handling large attachments
    Statistically, he average size (in bytes) of messages seems to have grown steadily over the last decade. Ten years ago, most corporate email accounts were on "green screen email" systems and the average message contained less than a page of text. Thus, fetching a message from the server generated no more than 4-6KB traffic and we were able to happily use 9.6kbps modems.

    If you track statistics from email servers over a period, you will invariably find an increase in the average message size, to well over 100KB in many companies. Whilst messages with large multi-megabyte attachments are the chief culprit in raising the average, amongst the reasons why today's email systems handle much larger messages are:
    • The drag-and-drop paradigm implemented in software - such as Windows Explorer and Outlook, for example - which makes it so easy to add an attachment to a message that people add attachments almost without thinking;
    • People use graphics more extensively to convey ideas, so documents, presentations, and spreadsheets are full of diagrams, charts, and pictures (which have relatively larger data volumes than just text);
    • A wider range of software is used and few packages compress data;
    • In some countries (and especially in the US), network bandwidth has become so plentiful and cheap that people take it much for granted (like water out of a tap) and do not need to consider minimising bandwidth (resource) absorption;
    • Users increasingly have more sophisticated message editors (e.g., Microsoft Word), so they can more easily cause graphics to be embedded/included in their message content;
    • Storage costs are far cheaper, so the ever-growing size of files does not have such a huge cost impact as it may have once done, and users can have larger mailbox quotas so they do not see the need to change the way they handle attachments.

    Nevertheless, storage and bandwidth are finite resources. We could all endeavour to become more efficient in the use of these resources, by, for example, using and educating other users to use compression utilities like WinZIP, to compress large attachments before adding them to messages. Some files - e.g., text and Microsoft Word files - compress well, sometimes to a small fraction of their uncompressed size. However, compression utilities are less successful in significantly reducing the size of other file types (e.g., image files, PowerPoint files). Where compression utilities are available, users often do not know how to, or forget to compress attachments, or the additional step makes the email system feel less friendly to the user, so they may avoid it. Where compression utilities are not available, then system administrators need to distribute copies of the chosen utility to all desktops.

    For some years now, ZIP compression has been built into the Windows XP operating system, but not every user is necessarily aware of this. However current major email systems or email clients do not automatically compresses and decompresses large messages as they transit the email system, So, if you want to trade CPU cycles (to process the messages) against bandwidth and storage, you have to install additional products. For example, C2C’s MaX Compression product automatically compresses and decompresses attachments as users send and receive them through Outlook. Modules of the same product are available for Outlook Web Access working within both Exchange 5.5 and later Exchange 2000/2003 and later servers.

    This combination of current versions of Outlook and Exchange helps with the compression issue, because Exchange automatically compresses and decompresses message bodies and attachments if you connect to it with Outlook clients. The need for separate compression utilities almost goes away, but only if you upgrade your complete environment to current Windows, Exchange and Outlook versions, and you may still need to deal with other clients such as OWA, Outlook Express, and so on. (e.g., refer Microsoft KB0487 for information about how Exchange 2003 and Outlook 2003 compress message content.)

    The issue of auto signatures
    People who work across low-bandwidth network links will often find that bloated auto signature files are the bane of their messaging life. The difference in connect times across 28.8kbps connections that result because people send messages that contain 2KB of useful data but end up at 50KB to accommodate a spinning, 3D, or other form of graphic intense logo is annoying when you have just one message. The degree of annoyance could becomes infuriating when 20% or more of your inbox items are similarly bloated. Apart from absorbing valuable bandwidth and slowing user ability to process email, graphics soak up storage and create pressure on mailbox quotas. It would be interesting to survey many Exchange mailbox stores to discover just how much work administrators have to do on a daily basis, to take backups of graphics and other useless data, not to mention the expense required to provide and manage the storage that they occupy.

    For example, if you include (say) a 50KB graphic in your signature, then, after you have sent 100 messages, your own mailbox contains 5MB of redundant, duplicated graphics. Would you or any other user accept a voluntary reduction of 5MB in their mailbox quota? Yet many users cheerfully accept this overhead by default, without thinking. Moreover, if you scale this up for 1,000 users on a server, you end up with 5GB of useless data.

    Auto signature files originated in the UNIX world as a convenient way to transmit some personal contact information along with your messages so that recipients could follow up with you by phone, fax, or whatever medium was appropriate. The original auto signature files are text only and consist of a couple of lines. For example:
        Regards,
                  Joe Bloggs
                  Telephone: +1 606 5439 21870

    Signatures can create litter. You can clearly see the intention behind auto signature files in RFC1855, which covers netiquette:
    "If you include a signature keep it short. The rule of thumb is no longer than 4 lines. Remember that many people pay for connectivity by the minute, and the longer your message is, the more they pay. "
    RFC1855 appeared in 1995 and focused on a world where dial-up connects were the de facto standard and people worried about paying telephone companies by the minute, a feature of life outside of the United States. The authors would have been unable to foresee a time when users could cheerfully include a spinning multi-coloured 3D logo in their email signature.

    Apart from logos, trademarks, and other public information like a URL to the company's web site, it is unwise to include corporate information in an auto signature file. Titles and the name of your group are acceptable, as long as they make sense to the recipient, but if you send this information outside the company, you always have to be aware that recruiters or other people who want to learn about the company's organisation for their own purposes may wish to use the information in ways you had not imagined.

    If you really must include a logo in your auto signature file, then use a low-resolution GIF file to keep the data size to a minimum. This is much better for all concerned than the other variations of corporate logos that are usually designed to be used in advertising or other graphically rich situations. If you wish to include a corporate logo in your auto signature, then take care to follow any prevailing corporate guidelines on the use of such logos in auto signatures. You could also consider pointing to an ecard in your autosignature instead.

    It is possible that some corporate email gateways would negate the desired effect of a logo, on external correspondents' email systems, if they strip out graphics in message bodies (not attachments) as messages pass through the gateways. Companies are always concerned about viruses, and it is possible to hide a virus behind a graphic or embed instructions to launch a virus inside the data for a graphic, so it is also possible that anti-virus scanners will remove the logos too. Therefore, the result could be that the only people you can share the logos with are internal recipients - who would already know what your company's logo looks like in any event.

    Another consideration is the impact on, and courtesy to recipients. Whilst it may be acceptable for you to let everyone else inside the company know about what the current corporate logo looks like, it may be a different matter when you send excessive data to other companies - because you are now consuming
    • their network bandwidth,
    • their  time, and
    • their  storage to hold whatever you care to transmit.
    People already complain about SPAM, because these messages absorb IT resources and human time, which all have a cost. Might they consider your superb graphically intense messages in the same light?

    Redundant data, and repetition/duplication in email
    Email can be notoriously inefficient. If you analyse a typical mailbox store, then you will likely find that along with the graphics, uncompressed files, and "me too" messages, many database pages are occupied with redundant data generated by users automatically including the text ("thread") of previous email messages into their reply. Sometimes they do not make a conscious decision to include this text thread, because it is the email package's default behaviour as set by the user or system administrator.

    Maintaining the context of a discussion is the major advantage of including the text in a reply to a message. This is certainly a valuable feature, but only if people use it wisely and not when it becomes the way that they generate every reply.

    As an example, let us consider what happens in a typical email exchange.

    1. User A sends a message to seek opinions from 10 colleagues. The original message is 5KB.
    2. User B uses "Reply All" and includes User A's original text. This message is 10KB.
    3. User C now responds with "Reply All" and includes the text from User B's message along with his comments. The message has grown to 20KB.
    4. The cycle continues until everyone has contributed and the final message that holds the complete thread might now be 100KB. At this point, everyone involved probably has 10 messages occupying 200KB or more in their mailbox. While tidy users will clean up and only keep the last message in a thread, many user do not do this, and the result could be a lot of redundant information that is stored until someone - the user or a tool like a "mailbox manager" - comes along to clean the litter up.
    Best practice is only to include the text from previous messages when needed, not as default behaviour.

    Knowledge Management versus generating internal SPAM
    Within any large company, it can often be difficult to discover where you should look to find a piece of information or some knowledge on a particular point. The goal of Knowledge Management is to create an environment where people know how to collaborate and how to use repositories that hold useful information. If a company deploys good Knowledge Management systems and if people understand how to use and exploit those systems, then you should not see frantic appeals in email sent to ALL (or large distribution lists), asking for help about various problems. Yet these appeals happen even in companies that have invested heavily in Knowledge Management. The question is why.

    One reason is that people simply do not know about all of the tools at their disposal. They may be new entrants, whom  no-one has yet told about where to look or how to find things. Another reason is that the immediacy of email lures people into seeking knowledge by sending messages to distribution lists of people who they think might be able to help. This can be "hit-and-miss" - sometimes the technique is successful, and a member of the list is able to send back a fast response, sometimes not. However, in all cases, even when the originator receives a helpful answer, everyone on the list has had to deal with the original message and any replies.

    Another example of internal spam occurs when someone decides that it is time for them to leave the list and they send a message to the complete list to request that their name be removed from the list. This is simply laziness on the part of the sender, as they have not attempted to discover who the list maintainer is to ask them the question. In most cases, if the list is an Exchange distribution group, then you can view the properties of the list through the GAL to discover who takes care of the list and then send them a request to be removed - instead of needlessly filling hundreds of mailboxes with spam.

    Large international companies usually maintain several internal group mail distribution lists (also listservers), some of which could have hundreds or thousands of members. Thus, any message sent to these lists would potentially generate thousands of messages that have to be transported across a worldwide network and delivered to hundreds of mailboxes on hundreds of servers. Whilst email routing systems may be very efficient and only generate additional copies of messages when necessary, the sheer number of members of these lists could mean that a huge message volume is created, representing a large processing burden to the routing systems. Even though such systems may support single-instance storage in their databases, the delivery of these messages to many different servers will result in a lot of duplicated data. Lists are an invaluable business tool because they allow people to share important information that they need, to do their work.
    Best practice is to use email sparingly, and take the time to look for existing knowledge more carefully before resorting to internal SPAM.
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    Sunday, 24 August 2008

    Tip - dispatching the CapsLock gremlin with Microsoft's remapkey.exe

    This single tip has probably saved me from hundreds of hours of recovery work and annoyance, over the years - avoidable work and annoyance that I still see a lot of people labouring under today. The tip is about changing the function of the CapsLock key. I used to do that with a Zif-Davis program called KEYMAP ZD v1.0 (which worked in Windows 98 but not in Windows post that). For Windows XP I use Microsoft remapkey.exe.
    I mention it now because, today, I was perusing one of my favourite sites - Donation Coder.com - and reviewing the subsite:
    1-hour software by Skrommel - (IMHO well worth a read).
    Of the mountain of free and useful software there, there were these two:
    • CAPshift v1.7 - "Ever hit caps lock by accident and not found out until half a page later? CAPshift extends the Caps Lock key by slowing it down, and shows a menu to change the selected text to lowercase, UPPERCASE, TitleCase, iNVERTEDcASE, RaNDoMCaSE or to Replace user defined characters." 
    • ShiftOff v1.2 - "Turns off CapsLock when Shift is pressed together with A-Z or other user defined keys."
    Whilst these could both be really useful software, they (and lots of other ways of remapping keys) are made largely redundant, because of remapkey.exe - arguably the best and simplest way to remap the CapsLock key (or almost any other key). It is a free utility from Microsoft, available as a tool within the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools. That is a file of dozens of useful uber-geek tools, and they work with Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Vista.
    If you are not a geek, and/or just want the remapping tool rather than the whole toolset, then you can get it here: remapkey.exe (click on link to download). When you have downloaded this file, double click it, and you will be presented with two keyboard maps (see image of my keyboard map below) of the  101-key keyboard.
    Use these to change CapsLock to Shift. Drag and drop the Shift key from the upper keyboard, onto the CapsLock key on the lower keyboard - notice that it now shows as a red Shift key. You can can remap other keys too, if they are configured on the 101-key keyboard. Once you have remapped the keys, save it and forget it - it makes a registry fix. There is no need to run remapkey.exe again, unless you want to remap some other keys.
    If you need a more detailed step-by-step guide for using this utility, then you can find a good one at TechRepublic, here.
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    Thursday, 3 July 2008

    Tip - use a decent web browser - Firefox

    Firefox 3 has landed. On its release date of June 18, 2008, 8,002,530 happy surfers downloaded this latest version of Firefox. These folk are now able to enjoy an even safer, smarter and better Web. This download statistic set a new Guinness World Record for the highest recorded number of software downloads in 24 hours.
    If your web browser is not Firefox, then you will be using a proprietary browser which will be relatively limited, by comparison.
    The more you surf the Web, the more you need a browser that makes your surfing as secure, efficient and effective as possible. Experience indicates that the public domain browser Firefox, and the add-ons that you can install to it, already made it arguably the best browser on the planet (for "best", read "secure, non-proprietary, highly functional and customisable, and not fat, bloated software"), and it just got even better. However, don't take my word for it - install it yourself and try it out today. To find out more, or to try it out now, press this button:
    Firefox 3

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    Monday, 30 June 2008

    Tip - "Social networking" sites and online chat media

    I had been trying to track down one of my best friends from grammar school in Llanrwst, North Wales, and had made contact in Facebook with a school alumnus who recalled him. This alumnus asked me if I had tried FriendsReunited.
    This was my reply (I thought it could be generally useful):
    No, I have not joined FriendReunited - and I shall try to avoid doing so. Being relatively computer-literate (I have depended on and developed my IT skills and knowledge to make a living for years), I am acutely conscious of the risks of so-called "social networking" sites. The risks include:
    • Risk of loss of ID (from "identity theft") - so I am thus wary of most of the these sites.
    • Risk of unwittingly contributing to spamming sites, or sites that sell your email address to spammers.
    • Risk of invasion of privacy.
    • Risk of the sites starting to make one feel compelled to provide increasinly large slices of one's cognitive surplus and time.
    • Risk of being bombarded with unsolicited advertising.
    Notwithstanding, I have for several years been a member of RealContacts and later LinkedIn, for professional association. Against my better judgement - after avoiding them like the plague - more recently I joined the social networking site Facebook and very recently Plaxo- because several of my friends encouraged me to join.
    There have since been some gaffs, issues and concerns relating to the potential for loss of ID/privacy on Facebook - these seem to have been mostly addressed for the moment - but I feel that Plaxo is still pretty dubious (based on the dodgy-looking manner in which it was originally started up), so I have put very few details into my profile on that. I am becoming somewhat desensitised to these social networking sites clamouring for my profile details. Why do they want those details so badly? It's all about advertising revenue, and there is often no clear benefit to me as a user.

    It is similar to the evolution of "chat" media - e.g., ICQ, AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, irc, etc. Initially, users were obliged to have a separate proprietary application running for each chat medium being used. I was an early (about 1997) adopter of ICQ, and started to use the other media because my friends used them. However, I then started to use Trillian instead, which caters for all five media, and I was thus not able to be held captive by the chat media providers and thus could not be subjected to their otherwise compulsory manipulation and advertising.

    When Trillian was establishing itself, it was a case study in the exercise of corporate control and fascism - amazing to see how the big four of these media providers (ICQ, AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!) kept changing their proprietary program code or data formats on an almost daily basis to frustrate Trillian from interoperating with them. This, of course, seriously pissed off the Trillian users who (like me) wanted to use Trillian instead of the separate proprietary chat media applications. The Trillian user forum made interesting reading on these points, at the time. Eventually, perhaps after seeing how pissed off their users were getting and what asses they must have been making of themselves by trying to overtly manipulate and control their users, the big four seemed to get a grip on themselves and arrive at some form of agreement whereby Trillian has now become an accepted (or at least tolerated) fact of life.
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