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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Following The Trail Of (Mostly) Free Breadcrumbs [From my "Techsploration" blog]

[Mood: Not too shabby; Listening to: No Such Thing (John Mayer)]

As promised in my last post, sort of, here are some of the applications that I find indispensable. But first I get to wax eloquently a bit about what is one of the best features that most of these apps share.

I've become frugal in my old age or, more likely, in my unemployed state (see my profile about that). This has heightened my awareness of the word "free", and it is not unheard of for me to be overheard commenting about something being "BOGO" (Buy One, Get One). So imagine how pleased I was that a good deal of impressive software or web services were available at no cost whatsoever! Zero dinero! Zip, zilch, nada.

Now I'm aware that "impressive" is in the eye of the beholder, and my ex-roomie Jeff would be the first to tell me that I'm easily impressed, but some of this stuff is good (and I mean good enough to pay for, but of course I'm glad I didn't have to).

FWIW, Jeff would also be the first to point out that every sentient being in the multiverse knows I exaggerate, so please take what follows with a grain of NaCl.

So, I'll start with my most recent acquisitions and work back (because, to be truthful, my memory sucks).

What I got: account
What it is: Social bookmarking service
What I think: I recently set up an account with to begin bookmarking these posts. What an eye opener! I'm still so new to it, and to the power and the ramifications of it, that I don't think I can truly say if I can find what I want when I want it, but I can find tons of stuff I wasn't looking for when I set off alooking.

What I got: Blogger account
What it is: You really have to ask?
What I think: I'm totally new to blogging. I'm even new to blog-reading to some degree. I'm kinda surprised I'm here, doing this, as I initially thought (and perhaps one-hundred percent correctly) that blogs were self-indulgent, but I'm finding neat stuff out on the web and don't really have the audience at home to appreciate the significance, and so (to quote Frank Zappa) "here I'm is".

What I got: account
What it is: Free ASP.Net hosting
What I think: What in the world does one need with free ASP.Net hosting I hear you ask? Well, read the next item and see.

What I got: Visual Studio Express and SQL Server Express
What it is: An IDE (Integrated Development Enviroment)
What I think: I recently downloaded this stuff, and now I want to build ASP.Net applications so that's why I got the account (and I can get my own domain name to boot). Did I mention that Visual Studio Express is a free download from Micro$oft until November of this year, and that downloading SQL Server Express will remain free beyond that? (Dang, I'm going to have to remove the "$" and start calling them Microsoft! Pity.) It should be noted that these Express editions are scaled down some, but at this price, I'll take them.

What I got: On Time 2006
What it is: Defect tracking system
What I think: Actually, I initially downloaded SQL Server Express to support another application I downloaded recently, On Time 2006. On Time 2006 is sold as defect tracking software, but the download of the 30 day trial is free and, better yet, a single user license is available for free, so my copy never expires. I downloaded this software because I'm dabbling in David Allen's GTD, and learned of an offer Axosoft was running from GTD Wannabe.

What I got: ToDoList
What it is: Tree-based task manager
What I think: Another time-management download I obtained recently is ToDoList, but given the sparesness of documentation, I haven't really haven't given myself the time to get familiar with it yet (quick reaction: a free MS Project knockoff, though that might be too harsh of an assessment).

What I got: Yahoo! Widget Engine
What it is: Platform for running mini desktop applications
What I think: Another free thing I've grabbed recently is actually quite cool: the Yahoo! Widget Engine (or YWE, as I call it). YWE allows you to clutter your desktop with little applications called widgets that can vary extremely in usefulness, from indispensible to trite. My faves are: Digital Clock (a clock that stays up on the screen all the time; my other clock, the one on my Windows XP system tray gets hidden when the tray "auto-hides" so that I can have as much screen real-estate as possible), Calendar (a monthly calendar), Yahoo! Stock Ticker (I get to keep tabs on the stocks I purchased while working for various companies, track the Dow and S&P, and generally get a feel for where I stand), and Showtime (which tells me what movies are playing locally, and what the show times are). I used to have the Yahoo! Mail Checker (it told me how many new messages I have in my Yahoo! email account without my going to see if I have any), but now I have a Firefox extension that does the same thing.

What I got: Stickies
What it is: Skinable desktop notes to remind one of important things to do
What I think: I really thought that leaving notes to myself on-screen would work better than it does, but I find I ignore them too much. The best use I've found for this so far: there is one forum I hang out at where the user's login names are not their first names, nor is mine for that matter, but they will sometimes sign or otherwise reveal their first name online and I have a stickie that tells me what crane's first name is, for example ("Why?" you ask. Names are powerful. There is a feeling of importance you get when someone calls you by your first name, so if I know it, I try to use it.)

What I got: Firefox, Thunderbird
What it is: Web Browser, Email client (respectively)
What I think: I've found it necessary to move away from IE for web browsing and that led me first to Firefox (FF), which in turn led to replacing Netscape for a mail client with Thunderbird. TB introduced me to RSS, and this is probably one of the biggest changes in my world in years, possibly since my son was born, or when I got married. Maybe even further back than that, perhaps to when I got my driver's license. The impact is far-reaching and hard to grasp. In a nutshell: RSS is not only the best thing to come down the pike since sliced bread, it is better than so many things before sliced bread. If you have TB or any other RSS aggregator and don't find your eyes drawn to those little RSS or XML chiclets that are pervading the web these days, you are missing out!

What I got: FF/TB extensions
What it is: Addons to FF/TB to extend their functionality
What I think: The next step after acquiring FF & TB (and getting comfortable with them) is to customize them with extensions. I've found the following to be "must-haves" since I started using them: Scrapbook (helps you to save Web pages and easily manage collections), Greasemonkey (allows you to customize the way a webpage displays by using small bits of JavaScript), EverNote Web Clipper (provides a toolbar button and context menus to easily add a selection or an entire page to the EverNote Application as a new note), Download Statusbar (view and manage downloads from a tidy statusbar), Yahoo! Mail Notifier (notifies you when new messages arrive in your Yahoo mailbox).

What I got: EverNote
What it is: Easily store and quickly access typed and handwritten memos, webpage excerpts, emails, phone messages, addresses, passwords, brainstorms, sketches, documents and more
What I think: I really love this software, but being the never-satisfied soul that I am, I have a wishlist a mile long for this app (probably because I use it so much; put another way: I wouldn't want so much more if I didn't already care a great deal!)

What I got: HandyShopper for Pocket PC (there's a Palm version too)
What it is: A tool for managing your shopping lists.
What I think: This thing is so much more than "a tool for managing your shopping lists" (though I do use it for that too). You can customize the databases a bit and there are some useful permutations out there with absolutely no direct "shopping list" connection (chores/errands, GTD, collectibles, medical information, etc).

What I got: TenGO
What it is: On-screen keyboard replacement for Pocket PC
What I think: Okay, this one isn't free, but I bought it anyway because within three hours of using it I knew I'd never go back to the keyboard that comes with my Pocket PC.

What I got: Spybot-S&D & Ad-Aware SE.
What it is: Spyware removal tools
What I think: The two other essential (i.e., everyone should have these) pieces of software that I've gotten for free are these spyware removal tools.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What Shall I Be When I Grow Up [From my "Techsploration" blog]

It occurs to me that any visitors that stray in from the web might have more than a passing interest in who I am, something more than what is in my profile.

I've spent the last few years trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, started writing a mystery novel that I'll finish someday, started more than a few short stories (and finished one that ain't half bad, ain't all bad, but still needs work) and then wandered away from that for a bit.

Next up, I thought perhaps I'd go finish up my schoolin' (I'm pretty much finished the equivalent of a sophomore year of college) and be a librarian when I grow up (short answer: "ACK!" Librarians have, by and large, an MLS, that's a Masters in Library Science to you and me!) Then I discovered that MCTC offers an "Associate of Science in Library Information Technology Degree", and that is probably what I'll do with myself once my son, Riley, starts kindergarten in the fall.

For now, in the spare time I manage to eke out for myself, I try to keep current on my way too many areas of interest.

Next up: I dunno; perhaps some discussion of my indispensable apps?

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Baby Steps [From my "Techsploration" blog]

I don't know what I'm doing here at this point in time.

I mean, specifically, right now.

Why I'm not waiting until a better time to start this.

I've tons of other things I need to be doing right now, but I finally had the idea for the name of this blog (the big thing that has been holding me back actually in starting a blog of my own) and, after a quick web search and discovering that the idea wasn't completely original, I decided to go ahead anyway because once you become enamored of something, just go with it!

Undoubtedly this will take a while to be worth following religiously. OTOH, it could also take me a while for me to get into the zone, with habit of coming up with any content of interest.

I invite you to hang in there for a bit.

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