the way it should be\nsave hundreds if not thousands of bucks\nwhat works for me
all work and no play . . .\nafter work, before work, during work\nwhat works for me
computers\nhardware\nwhat works for me
software\nalternatives\nwhat works for me
what they're really supposed to be about, right?\nsaving time\ngetting to done\nwhat works for me
keeping your computer safe\nstaying safe on the web\navoiding viruses, adware, spyware, trojans, etc.\nwhat works for me
software solutions\nalternatives to monoculture\nreplacement programs\nwhat works for me
shortcuts\nautomation\nprograms you didn't know you needed\nwhat works for me
ComputingFree ComputingFun ComputingHardware ComputingOpenSource ComputingProductivity ComputingSecurity ComputingSoftware ComputingTimesavers
solutions that work for me. if you've got better ideas, start writing.
operator error
/***\n!Colors Used\n*@@bgcolor(#8cf): #8cf - Background blue@@\n*@@bgcolor(#18f): #18f - Top blue@@\n*@@bgcolor(#04b): #04b - Mid blue@@\n*@@bgcolor(#014):color(#fff): #014 - Bottom blue@@\n*@@bgcolor(#ffc): #ffc - Bright yellow@@\n*@@bgcolor(#fe8): #fe8 - Highlight yellow@@\n*@@bgcolor(#db4): #db4 - Background yellow@@\n*@@bgcolor(#841): #841 - Border yellow@@\n*@@bgcolor(#703):color(#fff): #703 - Title red@@\n*@@bgcolor(#866): #866 - Subtitle grey@@\n!Generic Rules /%==============================================%/\n***/\n/*{{{*/\nbody {\n background: #fff;\n color: #000;\n}\n\na{\n color: #04b;\n}\n\na:hover{\n background: #04b;\n color: #fff;\n}\n\na img{\n border: 0;\n}\n\nh1,h2,h3,h4,h5 {\n color: #703;\n background: #8cf;\n}\n\n.button {\n color: #014;\n border: 1px solid #fff;\n}\n\n.button:hover {\n color: #014;\n background: #fe8;\n border-color: #db4;\n}\n\n.button:active {\n color: #fff;\n background: #db4;\n border: 1px solid #841;\n}\n\n/*}}}*/\n/***\n!Header /%==================================================%/\n***/\n/*{{{*/\n.header {\n background: #014;\n}\n\n.headerShadow {\n color: #000;\n}\n\n.headerShadow a {\n font-weight: normal;\n color: #000;\n}\n\n.headerForeground {\n color: #fff;\n}\n\n.headerForeground a {\n font-weight: normal;\n color: #8CF;\n}\n\n/*}}}*/\n/***\n!General tabs /%=================================================%/\n***/\n/*{{{*/\n\n.tabSelected{\n color: #014;\n background: #eee;\n border-left: 1px solid #ccc;\n border-top: 1px solid #ccc;\n border-right: 1px solid #ccc;\n}\n\n.tabUnselected {\n color: #fff;\n background: #999;\n}\n\n.tabContents {\n color: #014;\n background: #eee;\n border: 1px solid #ccc;\n}\n\n.tabContents .button {\n border: 0;}\n\n/*}}}*/\n/***\n!Sidebar options /%=================================================%/\n~TiddlyLinks and buttons are treated identically in the sidebar and slider panel\n***/\n/*{{{*/\n#sidebar {\n}\n\n#sidebarOptions input {\n border: 1px solid #04b;\n}\n\n#sidebarOptions .sliderPanel {\n background: #8cf;\n}\n\n#sidebarOptions .sliderPanel a {\n border: none;\n color: #04b;\n}\n\n#sidebarOptions .sliderPanel a:hover {\n color: #fff;\n background: #04b;\n}\n\n#sidebarOptions .sliderPanel a:active {\n color: #04b;\n background: #fff;\n}\n/*}}}*/\n/***\n!Message Area /%=================================================%/\n***/\n/*{{{*/\n#messageArea {\n border: 1px solid #841;\n background: #db4;\n color: #014;\n}\n\n#messageArea .button {\n padding: 0.2em 0.2em 0.2em 0.2em;\n color: #014;\n background: #fff;\n}\n\n/*}}}*/\n/***\n!Popup /%=================================================%/\n***/\n/*{{{*/\n.popup {\n background: #18f;\n border: 1px solid #04b;\n}\n\n.popup hr {\n color: #014;\n background: #014;\n border-bottom: 1px;\n}\n\n.popup li.disabled {\n color: #04b;\n}\n\n.popup li a, .popup li a:visited {\n color: #eee;\n border: none;\n}\n\n.popup li a:hover {\n background: #014;\n color: #fff;\n border: none;\n}\n/*}}}*/\n/***\n!Tiddler Display /%=================================================%/\n***/\n/*{{{*/\n.tiddler .defaultCommand {\n font-weight: bold;\n}\n\n.shadow .title {\n color: #866;\n}\n\n.title {\n color: #703;\n}\n\n.subtitle {\n color: #866;\n}\n\n.toolbar {\n color: #04b;\n}\n\n.tagging, .tagged {\n border: 1px solid #eee;\n background-color: #eee;\n}\n\n.selected .tagging, .selected .tagged {\n background-color: #ddd;\n border: 1px solid #bbb;\n}\n\n.tagging .listTitle, .tagged .listTitle {\n color: #014;\n}\n\n.tagging .button, .tagged .button {\n border: none;\n}\n\n.footer {\n color: #ddd;\n}\n\n.selected .footer {\n color: #888;\n}\n\n.sparkline {\n background: #8cf;\n border: 0;\n}\n\n.sparktick {\n background: #014;\n}\n\n.errorButton {\n color: #ff0;\n background: #f00;\n}\n\n.cascade {\n background: #eef;\n color: #aac;\n border: 1px solid #aac;\n}\n\n.imageLink, #displayArea .imageLink {\n background: transparent;\n}\n\n/*}}}*/\n/***\n''The viewer is where the tiddler content is displayed'' /%------------------------------------------------%/\n***/\n/*{{{*/\n\n.viewer .listTitle {list-style-type: none; margin-left: -2em;}\n\n.viewer .button {\n border: 1px solid #db4;\n}\n\n.viewer blockquote {\n border-left: 3px solid #666;\n}\n\n.viewer table {\n border: 2px solid #333;\n}\n\n.viewer th, thead td {\n background: #db4;\n border: 1px solid #666;\n color: #fff;\n}\n\n.viewer td, .viewer tr {\n border: 1px solid #666;\n}\n\n.viewer pre {\n border: 1px solid #fe8;\n background: #ffc;\n}\n\n.viewer code {\n color: #703;\n}\n\n.viewer hr {\n border: 0;\n border-top: dashed 1px #666;\n color: #666;\n}\n\n.highlight, .marked {\n background: #fe8;\n}\n/*}}}*/\n/***\n''The editor replaces the viewer in the tiddler'' /%------------------------------------------------%/\n***/\n/*{{{*/\n.editor input {\n border: 1px solid #04b;\n}\n\n.editor textarea {\n border: 1px solid #04b;\n width: 100%;\n}\n\n.editorFooter {\n color: #aaa;\n}\n\n/*}}}*/
While there are many things that you can download that explicitly contain ads (earlier versions of the Opera browser are a prime example), there are also downloads that surreptitiously contain adware. These downloads can do everything from changing your browser settings to steering you to certain ads when they pop up on a particular site. The major danger is that all these hidden processes can really slow down your speed, as they eat up computing cycles that could be used for other functions.\n\nIn the big scheme of things, this is probably the least troublesome of the virus-spyware-adware trinity, but it is at times the most annoying of the three. I use [[Lavasoft's Ad-Aware|http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/]], yet another freebie that is essential.
Obviously, you need an anti-virus piece of software on your computer. I'm running something from our IT folks right now, but I'd just as soon switch to something else. It's not that the Microtrend is bad, but it's a bear to work with, and gets some false positives, especially on other pieces of anti-virus software (a nice way to beat down the competition, no?).\n\nOn a new machine, I'd install [[Grisoft's AVG|http://www.grisoft.com/doc/1]] anti-virus software. It's a freebie, but it's not crippled, not will it expire in a certain period of time. It plays nice with others, is very thorough, and is constantly updated. I've recommended it dozens of times, and I've never heard a complaint about it.
You've got to back up your work. I used to do it by burning cds, but now I do it with my external drive and a nice little free program called [[Syncback, by 2BrightSparks|http://www.2brightsparks.com/syncback/syncback-hub.html]].\n\nI do a weekly backup of all our data, including all my email. It usually takes about 5 minutes (the first time I did it, it took a lot longer, but now there's not much to overwrite).\n\nYou set up different profiles, tell them when to run, where to transfer the files, and how you want to treat files that haven't changed. That's it; the rest is done by the program.\n\nI don't think there's a thing out there that more significantly affects your productivity and security than backing up your files. I'm here to preach the difficulty of recreating work when you've lost it. Better to pull it off another drive than to type it all over.
If you're still using IE as your browser, get ready for a much better browsing experience. Go download the great freebie [[Firefox, from Mozilla|http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/central/]].\n\n(You can also check out [[Opera|http://www.opera.com/]], which has just gone from ad-based to completely free. It's got even more features than Firefox. It's also VERY speedy. I've got them both on my home machine. The four reasons below also apply to Opera.)\n\nThere are four reasons to make Firefox your default browser:\n\n1. It's more secure. It may schock you to know that Microsoft has been known to release buggy products. I realize that you're stunned by this revelation, but there's more. Some MS final releases are also insecure, coming out with known exploits available for their holes and bugs. Firefox doesn't have these to the same extent, because it's an open source product. The open source process, where code is vetted by thousands of writers, ensures a more secure program. Also, because of the Microsoft monoculture and the market penetration of MS products, people write viruses for MS products. More bang for your hacker buck, if you will. Firefox doesn't have as many viruses written for it, so it's more secure in that area.\n\n2. Integrated Popup Blocking. I use Firefox almost exclusively, and I can't remember the last time I had to deal with a popup ad. The default value for Firefox is to block all popups, and give you the option to enable them for specific sites, or just in a specific instance. For example, last night I had to do a chat with Charter support. All I had to do was enable the one instance of the java popup for the length of the chat. It was a two-click process. Very simple, and a great killer of annoyances.\n\n3. Tabbed Browsing. This is the best feature about Firefox. Let's say you're using IE, and you want to keep a couple sites open. You have to open up another instance of IE for every site, and you can really drain your system resources with just a couple of sites open. But with Firefox, no matter how many sites you have open (actually, I think 50 is the upper limit), you still only have one instance of the browser open, and therefore its memory footprint stays very small. You've got more system resources to use for other programs, and you've got one-click maneuvering between sites. It's the type of cool feature that you don't realize you need until you use it.\n\n4. Extensions. Because Firefox is open source, people are always writing improvements to it. Right now I've got an extension installed that allows me access to my gmail account as an online file repository. The Firefox extension looks like a file explorer, and transparently attaches files to blank mail messages, thereby treating my gmail account like a big disk. All I see is a file explorer, and can drag files to and from my gmail account. The extension does the dirty work, all in the browser.
[[Tom's Hardware|http://www.tomshardware.com/index.html]], one of the best sites out there, has the parts list and instructions for a [[do-it-yourself 4 ghz dual core gaming setup for $720|http://www.tomshardware.com/2006/06/12/your_diy_gaming_rig_for_720/]]. It's hot stuff. It's overclocked, water-cooled, and almost future-proof. Since I'm currently running a 1.7 ghz machine at home, I drool over this new one, and the cost is really amazing.\n\nJust look at that machine. The high end stuff out there now from Sony, Lenovo, and even Alienware is running at 3.2 ghz and goes for mucho bucks ($3,000 and up). You can get a much faster machine for less than a third of their prices.\n\nTheir arguments are solid. Many of the commodification vendors have been advertising incredibly low prices on their basic machines. How do they do that? Essentially, they cut down on the quaility of the parts they put into those machines. Anyone who have been through Dell's support hell can attest to the poor quality not only of their recent machines, but also of their tech support agents.\n\nWhen you build it yourself, you know exactly what you're getting. And it's not too difficult to get up a new rig; if I can do it, anyone with a modicum of brains and patience can do it.
If you're concerned about privacy, or just keeping your computer clean of temp files and the like, you'll probably be interested in a good general cleaner, one that gets rid of temp files, browser histories, and the like.\n\nIf you share your computer and have secrets to hide (buying things online for your wife, for example), you'll love [[Piriform's CCleaner|http://www.ccleaner.com/]], a speedy little freeware cleaner. It will delete your temporary files, URL history, cookies, autocomplete form history, index.dat. file, download history, recent documents, recently used files list, temp files, and log files.\n\nI also use it to keep my registry clean. It has advanced features to remove unused and old entries, including File Extensions, ActiveX Controls, ClassIDs, ProgIDs, Uninstallers, Shared DLLs, Fonts, Help Files, Application Paths, Icons, Invalid Shortcuts and more.\n\nIt comes with a comprehensive backup feature, but I've never used it.
If you've been doing this for a while, you've probably accumulated thousands of data files. Do you know, for instance, where all your files that mention Aquinas and medieval heresies are? That's where a good desktop search engine comes in handy. I use [[google desktop search|http://desktop.google.com/?promo=mp-gds-v1-1]]. It takes a bit to index your drive initially, but it's a TSR (terminate and stay resident) program, so it indexes on the fly when anything gets moved, added, or deleted. It's been a great help, especially when looking for work that I did in the 80s.\n\nHowever, that's not to say that you can absolve yourself from a good directory structure. Take the time to do it right and you'll never lose another file. I've got a very thorough directory structure along with the desktop search, so I can get to anything I've done for over 20 years on computers within a few seconds.
Here's a good way to set up your desktop so that you're not fumbling around looking for files or programs on it.\n\nFirst, move your recycle bin to the lower right corner of the desktop, almost off the screen. This will make sure that you don't inadvertantly drop something in there.\n\nOn the left hand side you should have links to all your frequently-used programs, in one or two columns. Rename each program with a one-word name, just to save space. Usability studies at Stanford say that most people don't really read the text on anything familiar on the desktop, they just look at the icon. Make sure that things like "my computer" and your printer's control panel are at the top of the columns.\n\nYou're also going to keep any active files that you're working on right now on the desktop on the left, to the right of the programs. These will always be changing, as you'll see in a second.\n\nOn the right, make shortcuts to all your primary data directories (see the directory structure entry). On this machine, I've got one called joe, one called amanda, one called photos, one called mp3s, and one called downloads. Of course, there are intricate nesting patterns under the covers here, but the point is that these are the directories I access the most, so they get shortcuts on the desktop.\n\nAcross the top of the desktop, in the center, put shortcuts to your drives. This will save you even more time, especially if you're dumping files to a flash drive or an external hard drive regularly.\n\nThose files that are on your left side, closest to the center of the monitor, should be moved into directories as soon as you're finished with them. I don't always take my own advice on this, especially if I've got something going that's hard to categorize. But the sooner you move these files off your desktop, the closer you are to done.\n\nSo now you've got a special place on your desktop for your programs, files, directories, drives, and trash. And the center is clear, so whatever you've got as your desktop picture will come through.\n\nThis is one of the first things I do to any computer that I'll be one for a while; I've grown accustomed to this setup, it really saves me time, and it looks pretty cool, too.
Here's a suggestion for your directory structure: don't give in to the path of least resistance and keep everything in a "my work" or "my music" or "my downloads" directory, even if that is what windows defaults to.\n\nMake yourself a directory with your name on it (this is especially helpful if you've got two or more people sharing the machine). Then make a shortcut to that directory and put it on your desktop. Make subfolders in that directory for every program you use, or for every type of file you save, or for every area that you work on. I've got folders for each class I teach, and folders for each period of literary study. I've also got other folders like letters and articles and copies of my web site. So fill this directory up with folders that you'll actually use.\n\nNext, open up every program that you use for work. Change the default setting for saving files to that big directory (now with plenty of subdirectories under it) . This way when you go to save files in that program, you'll be able to immediately choose where you want to save those data files.\n\nNot only will this organize your computing life, it will also enable you to make lightning-fast backups. You just need to back up the directory with your name on it (and your saved emails, which is a bit more complicated). Everything else on your machine is merely a reinstall, right? Of course, if you've got special macros or other add-ins that you have created for certain programs, they should all be in subdirectories under your name directory, too. You'll just need to change the preferences or options within the program that uses them, to tell them the program where to find them.\n\nIf I want to take all my work off this machine, it's just one click-and-drag of the Joe folder to a drive that can take a couple of gigs.
Occasionally my work with computers spills over into my non-electronic life. I spend a lot of time cruising do-it-yourself sites, because it makes me feel like I'm actually learning something while I engage in one of my favorite time-wasters, surfing the web. So I hit a few sites pretty regularly:\n\n[[Instructables|http://www.instructables.com/]] calls itself "step-by-step collaboration," where you "share what you can make and how others can make it." I just made a wallet out of a tyvek express mail envelope. I know, that's really geeky, but I like the idea of taking something I have lying around and repurposing it for something useful.\n\n[[Make|http://makezine.com/]] is a magazine that showcases diy projects, but their blog is available for free at their site. Their projects range from the really small, really cool (a wooden match rocket) to the significant (getting a decent weld using flux core wire -- I have no idea what anything in that phrase means). You have to sort through some stuff, and the navigation isn't always the best, but they've got lots of great ideas.\n\n[[Videojug|http://www.videojug.com/]] is pretty new to me, but it's very cool. On this site you'll find step-by-step videos about how to do things. Most of what's up now is recipes, drinks and the like, but there are some great vids from London tailors on how to tie different knots in your tie, or how to stop a nosebleed, or how to wet shave, or, well, the list goes on.\n\nOn the larger level, both [[DoItYourself.com|http://www.doityourself.com/]] and the [[DIYNetwork|http://www.diynetwork.com/]] offer significant help on significant projects. Most of the things here are nitty-gritty home improvement projects that are probably far beyond my ken, but I still like thinking that I could do something well, some day.
The same people who brought you Firefox also bring you [[Thunderbird|http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird/]]. If you're still using Outlook for your email, switch immediately. The main reason I switched a couple years ago is because I wanted a more secure email setup.\n\nThe two most vulnerable windows for exploitation on your computer are your browser and your email. Thunderbird is inherently more secure than Outlook, because of the open source design model. Also, people don't write as many attacks for Thunderbird, because it doesn't have the market penetration that Outlook does. With Thunderbird, I've got a secure email reader that can access several accounts at once, filter my messages, and allow me to write from any one account to any other account.\n\nI'm not an email guru by any means, but the little I can do I can do better in Thunderbird. I'm not feeding the beast, and I'm getting a better, more secure program to boot.
I check at least five email accounts every day, and you should, too. Different types of information go to different accounts, so I can keep a rough bead on what I'm doing through my email accounts.\n\nIf you don't have one yet, get yourself a free web-based email account. That's hotmail, yahoo, myspace, gmail, etc. I've got five or six of these. Ratchet up the spam filter when you set one up, and use one of these addresses whenever you need to fill out some form online. This way, even if it gets spam-hammered, what do you care? You're not using it for anything important, anyway. It also keeps your primary email account from getting clogged up, and keeps your emloyer's servers from filtering your spam.\n\nThe best of the web-based email systems is Google's [[gmail|http://mail.google.com]]. It has the most storage, 2.5 gigs, so you never have to throw anything away. It sorts messages according to threads or tags you choose, so you don't have to flush work to folders. It also looks a lot better to a recipient. If I see a hotmail address, I think teenager who doesn't know any better. If I see a yahoo address, I think middle of the road who will rise with the tide. If I see myspace or freemail or anything else, I think this person did some work to get this account and am a bit impressed. If I see a gmail address, I think the person knows his or her way around the web and has made a smart choice.\n\nWithin your primary account, especially if it's not web-based, but is accessed through a program like [[thunderbird|http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird/]], you should be setting up filters for your incoming mail. If that' s too much trouble for you, you should at least have folders set up to store mail concerning certain issues or people. For instance, I've got folders set up for some part-time contract jobs, and filters set up for listservs that I belong to. It works very well for me, and I get to everything quickly.
I don't really need an encryption program right now. But if I did, I would be all over [[Truecrypt|http://www.truecrypt.org/]]. This is a free, open source software system for establishing and maintaining an on-the-fly-encrypted drive. On-the-fly encryption means that data are automatically encrypted or decrypted right before they are loaded or saved, without any user intervention. No data stored on an encrypted volume can be read (decrypted) without using the correct password or correct encryption key. Until decrypted, a truecrypt volume appears to be nothing more than a series of random numbers. The entire file system is encrypted (i.e., file names, folder names, contents of every file, and free space).\n\nIf I were using a laptop as a desktop replacement, I would be running this on the drive.\n\nIf I only wanted to encrypt certain files, and not a whole drive, I would go with [[Axcrypt|http://axcrypt.axantum.com/]]. This freebie looks like it has the smoothest integration with windows, with right-click support for encrypting and decrypting a file. Additional features include creation of self-decrypting files, automatic re-encryption after editing, secure deletion (wiping) of files and temporaries, cryptographic data integrity validation, separate key and data encrypting keys, secure internal memory handler and more. Axcrypt uses a straightforward one-click way to process files. There is no extra interface to configure or open, other than selecting/entering your password.
This is probably the best 80 bucks I have spent in computing. Now I don't have any excuse not to back up at least weekly. Remember, there are only two kinds of people in computing: those who have lost data, and those who will lose data. I was a member of the former set, and am making it harder to be a member of the latter set.\n\nI bought a [[Seagate|http://www.seagate.com/]] external 80-gig drive. It patches through the USB port. It's big and not very sexy, but it gets the job done. I got it for a buck a gig, which was a great price at the time. Witht he cost of storage coming down so fast, Seagate doesn't even make this drive any more, but I know that they do good work (despite their quality fall-off of several years ago, I think they're poised for more accuracy and dependability).\n\nSo I run a little freeware backup program once a week, backing up just data files (well, and mp3s, too). I had great plans to take it to work and do the same thing there, but I'm working on another solution there, involving their network and the way I do work. Since my computer is still at USB 1.1, the transfer rate isn't exactly optimal, but I can live with it.\n\nThe way I look at it, I think I bought myself at least one more year with this machine. I was worried about the Sony hard drive dying or corrupting, and now I don't have to worry about such a thing. Oh, it still might do it, but I won't lose anything inportant, just a bunch of reinstalls.
When you delete a file in windows, you're not actually deleting it. What you're doing is deleting the first bit of the file, which makes the file invisible to the file system. That's why you can restore a file even after it's been deleted; all you have to do is restore the first bit of the file and voila, there it is.\n\nHave you ever thought, "I'll bet the FBI would be interested in this file."? Or, better yet, "I better not let my spouse see this file."? Now that you know deleting a file doesn't really delete it, and a forensic computer tech can get back almost anything you've deleted (as long as the whole file hasn't been overwritten), you need something stronger than deletion for those files that really have to go away for good. You need file wiping or shredding, along with overwriting.\n\nI have [[Eraser|http://www.heidi.ie/eraser/]] installed. It's a great free program, with serious overwriting. You can simply drag and drop files and/or folders onto the on-demand eraser, use the windows explorer right-click extension or use the built-in scheduler for automated wiping of unused disk space, browser cache files etc.\n\nIf I knew the FBI was on the way, I'd be sure to be running Eraser.
Call me paranoid, but I'm not satisfied with just a hardware firewall. Sure, it's a great thing, but why wouldn't I avail myself of a software firewall, too, especially if it's free?\n\nSo I use [[Zone Labs' Zone Alarm|http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/home.jsp]]. It's a free software firewall that does great work. In fact, it's not only a firewall; it'll vet your email, make sure that programs don't get unruly (like trojans that could go undetected), and even give you anti-virus monitoring (free for one year).\n\nI just checked the logs and saw that Zone Alarm blocked two intrusions that got through my hardware firewall. I regularly update programs, and Zone Alarm always tells me when the registry is changed, when a new version of the program is trying to access the trusted zone, or when a new program or version is trying to access the web. You can make choices that are permanent, or do things on a one-time-only basis.\n\nFor instance, my new version of Firefox accesses the internet, obviously. The first time it attempted to do so, Zone Alarm asked me for permission, and if I wished for Zone Alarm to remember that permission. I gave Firefox permission, and Zone Alarm remembered that my choice there was permanent. But when a freeware game or something like that which regularly goes out to the web to get ads asks for permission, Zone Alarm knows that I grant permissions one at a time.
I'm running a very simple [[SMC|http://www.smc.com/index.cfm]] Barricade 7004VBR firewall/router. Since I'm on cable, it just makes sense to keep all my ports protected. This little jobbie was about $25, and well worth twice the price. I've had some failure with it, as its four routing areas sometimes fail for no reason, but SMC's tech support is phenomenal. I've been on the phone to India several times, and every time they've resolved the issue. They don't treat you like an idiot, and when you tell them you've done something like cycled through a power-down, they don't make you do it again. A nice touch.\n\nI have this firewall set to email me every time it stops an intrusion attempt. I probably get an average of four or five emails a week. Most of them are syn floods to host, which is an old attack, one that this little machine handles nicely.\n\nI just read a report in one of the computer mags that hooked up a bare computer without firewall or router protection and turned it loose on the web. It was infected in 87 seconds. Don't be an idiot; keep protected. You need a hardware router or firewall, because relying on just software is dicey. When you rely on just software, you're actually allowing the malware or ice or whatever to enter your machine, even if it is automatically quarantined. I'd rather stop threats before they get to the machine, and find out later about them.
ftp stands for File Transfer Protocol, or, more basically, getting files from here to there using the internet. Let's say, for instance, that you've got a little web site somewhere. You probably need to ftp files to and from it. Oh, your ISP may not call it that, or it may have a fancy interface instead of a basic command line, but what you're doing is FTPing the files there.\n\nI use another freebie, [[FIleZilla|http://sourceforge.net/projects/filezilla]]. It does everything I need, with a great interface and most of the action happening under the covers, so I don't see much except the file transfer progress.\n\nIt has all the basic functionality that I need. I'm not a big FTPer, so I don't push a lot of files through it, but it seems clean and fast when I'm updating web sites, so it's good for me.
I'm a sucker for first-person shooters. I'm not very good at them, so I don't like multi-player modes. But I do like to have plenty of maps to play on, and I really like free games.\n\nI've been using [[cube and cube 2|http://www.cubeengine.com/]] for a long time now. It's an open-source free fps with plenty of maps added in. The developer community is very active, with contests and the like. Cube 2: Sauerbraten is a bit processing-intensive for me, but it's worth the freezing for great gameplay.
I don't have a palm or a blackberry. What I do have is a [[hipster pda|http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/03/introducing-the-hipster-pda/]]. It's awesome. I use it as a calendar, for notes, and for contact info. I printed out [[some templates|http://www.diyplanner.com/templates/official/hpda/]], put in some Covey crap and some Getting To Done crap, and I'm good to go. It's certainly not as big and bulky as one of those daytimers or whatever they're called, but it has all the functionality.\n\nThe hipster pda (Parietal Disgorgement Aid) is a fully extensible system for coordinating incoming and outgoing data for any aspect of your life and work. It scales brilliantly, degrades gracefully, supports optional categories and “beaming,” and is configurable to an unlimited number of options. Best of all, it fits into your hip pocket and costs practically nothing to purchase and maintain.\n\n[[John Norris has some templates|http://radio.weblogs.com/0114670/categories/hipsterPda/]] that include a star chart! Very cool.
You may not really need an html editor, if you're not into doing web pages. But more and more people are doing their own web sites. So if you don't want something that just comes out of a can, you can do your own tagging up. Even some slight tweaks on a common template will set your site apart visually (all of my blogs have tweaked templates).\n\nIf I'm doing straight code, for just a little addition or to fix a broken link, I use [[NoteTab Light]]. If I'm doing something more serious, and I want to do it for free, I use one of two products, both free:\n\n[[NVU|http://www.nvu.com/index.php]] is great for WYSIWYG editing of pages. It has integrated file management via FTP. Simply login to your web site and navigate through your files, editing web pages on the fly, directly from your site. it writes good, clean code that will work with all browsers. You can easily jump between WYSIWYG Editing Mode and HTML using tabs. The tabbed editing to make working on multiple pages very easy. It offers good support for forms, tables, and templates.\n\n[[Alleycode|http://www.alleycode.com/]] is a free, fast, sleek and highly productive award winning HTML editor with unique features. If you are new to HTML, Alleycode's great tutorial will walk you through your first coding steps. If you are an established coder you will find a refreshing, non-bloated infrastructure with fast and accurate delivery. Beyond HTML, Alleycode focuses on PHP and CSS interaction for professional and easy management of your projects. Its synchro view reminds me of Dreamweaver, which is a good thing. It supports smart XHTML (eXtensible markup), but what I really like is the CSS wizard and the optimizer wizard, which helps out with the meta content.
[[Irfanview|http://www.irfanview.com/]] is an essential download for you. it allows you to view about 50 different types of graphics, convert them to different formats, optimize them, scan and print, create slideshows, do batch processing, play movies and sounds, and much more.\n\nI have associated it with all image files on my computer, so that it's my default image viewer. It's much faster than anything else out there, much more powerful than any other viewer (blurring the line between viewer and manipulator), and its batch functions have saved me countless hours.
If you're still using a mouse with one of those plastic balls in it, ditch it. Switch to an infrared mouse, preferably one with at least 5 buttons, and you'll never look back.I use the Microsoft (I know, I know, but it's a great product) [[Intellimouse Optical|http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/mouseandkeyboard/productdetails.aspx?pid=004]], with 5 buttons. I can bind the buttons to do certain things in different programs. The best binding is built in to the driver: I can click buttons to move forward and backward in my page and site history on the web. It's a real timesaver.\n\nI also don't have to clean anything. The mouse has no external moving parts beyond the buttons. So there's no bottom ball to clean, no contacts to painstakingly defuzz, and no chance that I'll miss something important because my mouse ball has a dead spot.\n\nThe nine-button jobbies are a bit to big for my hand, so I'll stick with this for a while. It's the only MS product I've ever owned that I have never had a spot of trouble with (I hope I'm not jinxing myself just by saying that).
[[Nullsoft's Winamp|http://www.winamp.com/]] is a great program. It's a freebie, and can replace your windows media player, or your real player, or your quicktime player. I have it do all three. It plays my mp3s, my ras, my wavs, and all my video. All with a graceful, intuitive interface that is easily skinnable (there are some great ones out there at the site). There are a ton of plug-ins that can do everything from add a trippy visualizer to play games with you. The equalizer is a great thing, and there are plenty of presets that allow your to seriously modify your sound.\n\nIf you're still stuck with the Digital Rights Management problems that come from proprietary solutions like the windows media center, you owe it to yourself to get Winamp and change all your file associations so it becomes your default media player. It is truly the Howard Stern of the computer, the king of all media.\n\nUPDATE: Now I'm using [[XMPlay|http:www.support.xmplay.com]] for my mp3 files. It doesn
Obviously, the MS Office suite is the 500-pound gorilla in this category. it's like T.S. Eliot was for the second generation of Modernists: you didn't have to like him, but you did have to address him and what he did. Any other office suite out there has to deal with Microsoft's entry. Any other suite must be compatible with MS' work, and have great translation filters both to and from MS.\n\nThe problem is that the MS suite is now hovering around the $500 range (yes, there are cheaper versions). What if you could get 95% of the MS features, some features that MS doesn't have, and save about $500? \n\nIf you're interested, check out [[Open Office|http://www.openoffice.org/]]. It's a great open source and free alternative to the MS chokehold. I use it a lot, just to keep myself away from the MS monoculture.\n\nThe learning curve is very gentle; if you know MS Office, you already know 90% of Open Office.
Once you've evolved beyond Outlook and its calendar, look into [[google calendar|http://calendar.google.com]]. I check mine almost daily. You know what a calendar is for. You know why you need one. Now I've got one at any web-enabled machine. \n\nHere are its features:\n\nCalendar Sharing: Set up a calendar for your company softball team, and share it with the whole roster. (Your shortstop will never forget about practice again.) Or share with friends and family so you can view each other's schedules side by side.\n\nInvitations: Create event invitations, send them to friends, and keep track of people's responses and comments, all in one place. Your friends can receive your invitation and post responses even if they don't use Google Calendar themselves.\n\nQuick Add: Click anywhere on your calendar where an event belongs (or use the Quick Add link), and start typing. Google Calendar understands whole phrases like "Brunch with mom at Java Cafe 11am on Saturday," and will pop new events right into your agenda.\n\nGmail Integration: Add your friend's Super Bowl party to your calendar without ever leaving your Gmail inbox. Gmail now recognizes events mentioned in emails.\n\nSearch: Find the date of the Baxter family BBQ (you knew it was sometime this summer). Or, search public calendars to discover new events you're interested in and add them to your own calendar.\n\nMobile Access: Receive event reminders and notifications on your mobile phone.\n\nEvent Publishing: Share your organization's events with the world.\n\nNot bad for a freebie.
Online storage is a realtively new addition to the storage market. It's great for backing up your work, but unless you're going through a T1 pipe, it can be too slow to be practical. It's also very helpful in transferring files when you don't want to FTP, or FTP isn't reliably available (as at my institution).\n\nThis is going to sound weird, but what I use for online storage is gmail, yes, google mail. There's a great extension for the firefox browser called [[gspace|http://www.rjonna.com/ext/gspace.php]]. It acts like a file manager, but what it does under the covers is attach the files you want to move to a blank gmail post to yourself, then pass it to the 2 gigs of storage that you have through your gmail account.\n\nThis is stunningly efficient, looks very good, and provides me with a free way to pass files from work to home and vice versa.\n\nI created a gmail account just for this process. This is because if you pass more than 2 gigs per day, you can get an account blocked for 24 hours on gmail. However, if you're really backing up 2 gigs daily, you should be seeking some other, closer-to-home solution for your backups.
I'm running windows now, and will continue to do so, because Amanda is comfortable with it. But on a new machine, I would definately do a dual boot. That is, I could shoose on startup to boot itno windows or into something more stable, more feature-rich, with a smaller footprint, and free.\n\nThe operating system I would choose would be [[debian|http://www.debian.org/]]. Debian is a free operating system (OS) for your computer. An operating system is the set of basic programs and utilities that make your computer run. Debian uses the Linux kernel (the core of an operating system), but most of the basic OS tools come from the GNU project; hence the name GNU/Linux.\n\nDebian GNU/Linux provides more than a pure OS: it comes with over 15490 packages, precompiled software bundled up in a nice format for easy installation on your machine.\n\nYes, you read that right -- over 15,000 free programs come with the OS. I've seen them work, and they're great. You can download Debian for free from its site.\n\nIf you're interested in what an open source OS can do, and you want one that you can carry with you, check out [[knoppix|http://www.knoppix.org/]]. Knoppix is a bootable CD or DVD with a collection of GNU/Linux software, automatic hardware detection, and support for many graphics cards, sound cards, SCSI and USB devices and other peripherals. KNOPPIX can be used as a productive Linux desktop, educational CD, rescue system, or adapted and used as a platform for commercial software product demos. It is not necessary to install anything on a hard disk. Due to on-the-fly decompression, the CD can have up to 2 GB of executable software installed on it. (over 8 GB on the DVD "Maxi" edition).\n\nYep, you can carry the OS on a cd, and use it whever you want. I've used it for a while now, and it's accurate and fun.
Have you noticed how long it takes a portable document format (pdf) file to load in your browser? That's because you're probably using Adobe Acrobat as your plugin. Yes, Adobe invented the pdf, and then popularized it, but [[Foxit Reader|http://www.foxitsoftware.com/]] is a much faster program. I have replaced my copy of Acrobat with this.\n\nUnlike Adobe Reader, it opens PDF files very fast, without any delay. It supports all the standard features, browser integration, and also select/copy of text from the documents. I spend a lot of time downloading and reading pdfs, so this is a good thing to have.
I used to have a very nice looking web site. Now I've got a [[very functional web site|http://faculty.uscupstate.edu/jpellegrino]] that shaves time off my workday and still looks pretty good.\n\nInstead of a great graphic design, my home page is nothing but a list of links that I use frequently. The upper right portion of the page is a series of links to the rest of the site, and the lower left section is filled with three very small graphics, to balance with the upper right. But the bulk of the page is nothing but text links to good sites.\n\nInstead of scrolling through all my bookmarks, I have them all present at once. And seeing them like this may pique me to move from one to the other, ferreting out connections that I may otherwise miss.\n\nit's not Picasso, but [[it looks pretty good|http://faculty.uscupstate.edu/jpellegrino]].
It's not Adobe's Photoshop, but in many ways it's better. It's the GNU Image Manipulation Program, or [[GIMP|http://www.gimp.org/]]. Photoshop goes for $649 right now. GIMP is free. Can't beat that.\n\nIt can load and save a variety of image formats and can be used to convert between formats. GIMP can also be used as a paint program. It features a set of drawing and painting tools such as airbrush, clone, pencil, and paint brush. Painting and drawing tools can be applied to an image with a variety of paint modes. It also offers an extensive array of selection tools like rectangle, ellipse, fuzzy select, bezier select, intelligent scissors, and select by color. GIMP offers a variety of plugins that perform a variety of image manipulations. Examples include bumpmap, edge detect, gaussian blur, and many others. In addition, GIMP has several scripting extension which allow for advanced non-interactive processing and creation of images.\n\nThis free, open source project is really impressive for its interface and its capabilities. It's truly a high-end program. There are lots of docs, a great user community, and many people have tutorials available for newcomers to the software.
[[Picasa|http://picasa.google.com/]] is free software that helps you instantly find, edit and share all the pictures on your computer. Every time you open Picasa, it automatically locates all your pictures (even ones you forgot you had) and sorts them into visual albums organized by date with folder names you will recognize. You can drag and drop to arrange your albums and make labels to create new groups. Picasa makes sure your pictures are always organized.\n\nPicasa also makes advanced editing simple by putting one-click fixes and powerful effects at your fingertips. And Picasa makes it a snap to share your pictures – you can email, print photos at home, make gift CDs, instantly share, and even post pictures on your blog. \n\nI've just started using this thing, and it's really good. I've got several gigs of pix, so it's nice to have things organized. Their basic fixes are a bit more than basic. You get 12 advanced functions, as well as things like cropping, red-eye reduction, contrast and color fixes, and sharpening.\n\nit's yet another goodie from google.
I've found something even better than the hipster PDA. It's the [[PocketMod|http://www.pocketmod.com/]]. This little jobbie is a calendar and notepad for me. It's very small (1/8 a sheet of paper), and it has room for everything I would use a PDA for except contact info.\n\nWith the PocketMod, I can carry around the day's notes, keep them organized in any way I wish, then easily transfer the notes to whatever media I'd like. So far, all I do is use it as a calendar and keep pws on it, so there's no need to transfer. I'll use the one in my pocket for a month, until the calendar runs out, then just print out another one.\n\nThe PocketMod is a small book with guides on each page. These guides or templates, combined with a unique folding style, enable a normal piece of paper to become the ultimate note card. It is hard to describe just how incredibly useful the PocketMod is.
Let's start with something basic: the juice. Since I've burned through several motherboards due to dirty power, I'm now pretty paranoid about the quality of the electricity that runs my sole home machine.\n\nThe first thing in line from the outlet is an old [[APC|http://www.apc.com/index.cfm]] UPS (thanks Wendell Wilson). APC doesn't make this particular model any more, the 520ES, but it's been a godsend. I don't actually use it for its intended purpose, to give me five minutes of battery power in case of a blackout, but I use it because it's a great power buffer.\n\nThe only thing I connect to the UPS is an [[APC|http://www.apc.com/index.cfm]] surge protector. I use the PR08T2, which fits eight devices and seems to be as solid as a rock. I especially like the fact that APC's "Equipment Protection Policy" will reimburse me, should the product fail, for up to $10,000 in lost equipment. That's far more than what I've got hooked to it, so that's a good deal for me.\n\nThis may seem redundant, since you can get these devices joined together, and you can get them from other vendors (this isn't a commercial for APC, but a recognition that, for me, they do great work). But I've dealt with a wailing wife who lost months of work when a motherboard went belly-up due to power microfluctuations, and I've had to buy a new machine in a hurry and reconstruct a lot of data when earlier machines fried. So I'd rather be safe than sorry. Since I've been running this rig, I've had absolutely no problems.
I used to look at about 30 different web sites every morning. Then I found an aggregator that allowed me to look at just one site, while it went out and spidered the sites I set it up for. I cut my news reading time down by at least 60% by setting up [[Bloglines|http://www.bloglines.com/]]. It's so easy, I have my students sign up and feed each other's blogs. It makes my grading go much easier, too.\n\nYeah, well that was several months ago. Now I'm into [[Google Reader|http://www.google.com/reader/view/]] because it's laid out better than bloglines and has more functions and tweakability. All that you read below concerning bloglines is applicable to Google Reader, too.\n\n[[Bloglines|http://www.bloglines.com/]] is a free online service for searching, subscribing, creating and sharing news feeds, blogs and rich web content. With Bloglines, there is no software to download or install -- simply register as a new user and you can instantly begin accessing your account any time, from any computer or mobile device.\n\n[[Bloglines|http://www.bloglines.com/]] is a window to a whole new world of dynamic content that is being created and distributed over the new "live" web. You can make your own personalized news page tailored to your unique interests from our index of tens of millions of live internet content feeds, including articles, blogs, images and audio.\n\n[[Bloglines|http://www.bloglines.com/]] shields you from the confusion of news feed standards -- RSS, Atom, and others. Bloglines allows you to search for, read and share any updates from your favorite news feed or blog regardless of its authoring technology.\n
There are three different programs that you need to make sure your machine stays clean. Obviously, anti-virus software is crucial, because it can cripple your machine. But a spyware remover is, too, because spyware can do things like records your keystrokes and report back to the mothership. This means that your passwords, or even your identity, could possibly be stolen.\n\nI use [[Spybot Search and Destroy|http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html]] as my spyware remover. Again, it's freeware, so you can't beat the price. It takes a while to run, about 5 minutes on my machine, but it's worth the time. I try to run it weekly.
If you're still using Microsoft's Notepad to do your text editing, switch now. I'm using [[Fookes' Software's Notetab Light|http://www.notetab.com/]]. This is a full-featured, free piece of software that is not only faster than Notepad, but has many more features.\n\nNotetab Light is the ultimate free Notepad replacement and a handy HTML editor. It can handle a heap of files with a simple tabbed interface. You can search files, strip HTML tags and format text quickly. You can even build libraries of text macros to speed up your work.\n\nUnline Notepad, with Notetab Light you can open and edit many documents at once. It is capable of editing huge text files. It has text drag-and-drop editing, an autocorrect/auto-replace mode, a clip tool for quick and easy text insertion, and your captured text can be sent to it sown internal clipboard.\n\nSwitch now; you'll be very pleased with this one.\n
Check out [[filehippo|http://www.filehippo.com]] for the most recent versions of your favorite freeware. It's a one-stop shop for most of the packages that I have mentioned here. I use it not only to keep current, but to check out what else I might want to install. It may not have everything I need, and may have some stuff I'm not interested in, but it's a great service site.
[[TiddlyWiki|http://www.tiddlywiki.com/]] is a free microcontent wikiwikiweb. It's written in HTML, CSS and javascript to run on any modern browser without needing any server side logic. It allows anyone to create personal self-contained hypertext documents that can be posted to a web server, sent by email or kept on a USB thumb drive to make a wikionastick. It also makes a great guerillawiki.\n\nHere's what I like about it: less than 24 hours ago, I knew nothing about creating a wiki. All I knew was that I wanted a self-contained piece of software that would allow me to enter and tag individual entries. I wanted something like a blog, but not ordered chronologically. I needed something where I could set my own terms for ordering information. It needed to be small, free, and easy. Tada, tiddlywiki. It's what I'm doing this in now, with minimal fussing about.\n\nI looked in the online help once, to see how to make an external link. The rest of this implementation is just me messing aorund with it. I think I'm co-opting the notion of the tiddler, but it's doing what I need it to do right now. I have imposed my own structure on this data, and I think I can toy with that as I move along.\n\nI've got a directory with all this info in less than 6 megs. It seems like I might be able to just bump this dir to the web and have it run there. If so, this is exactly the self-contained wiki I've been looking for.