29 February, 2008

Display full menus in MS Office by default

Ever wonder how you get MS Office applications to display their entire full menu by default, instead of forcing you to click the arrow at the bottom or waiting? This can be accomplished through checking a setting called Always show full menus. Once set in one Office application, it makes the change for all Office applications.

You will find the option under Tools | Customize..., then the Options tab.

28 February, 2008

Open Windows folders in a 2-pane Explorer view

I recently replace a hard drive and wanted to reset my preferred behavior for how My Documents opens. The default behavior for double-clicking the My Documents Desktop icon on a new Windows XP install is a single-pane "My Computer" view, and I prefer the two-pane "Explorer" view. If you right-click on My Documents and select Properties, the Properties dialog box will open on the Shortcut tab. By updating the Target field, you can change the behavior of how the window opens.
Default value: "C:\Documents and Settings\ctodd\My Documents"
Two-pane value: %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /e, "C:\Documents and Settings\ctodd\My Documents"
NOTE: ctodd is my Windows username

You can use the same format for any folder path. Right-click on the Desktop and select New | Shortcut. A wizard will launch where you can select the folder path followed by a name for the shortcut. Once your new folder path shortcut is created, right-click as before, and use the same format for the two-pane view above. There are also some additional switches you can include
SystemRoot%\explorer.exe [switch],[path]
/n: forces single-pane "My Computer" view
/e: forces two-pane "Explorer" view
/root: sets the root to the specified path, instead of the default Desktop
/select: selects the specified path (folder is not open)

27 February, 2008

Improve Firefox performance

Seems like whatever application we use, it's never fast enough for us. And of course in today's computer world, all our applications are on the network, which is just one more bottleneck. Well if you're browsing the Internet, it can now happen faster. I have found 3 options for improving the performance of Firefox -- choose 1 based on your level of expertise.

Option 1. For the person who just wants their computer to work, there is FireTune from Totalidea Software. Totalidea Software has created a small application that will backup and modify your Firefox configuration to optimize the performance of the browser. You tell it if you have a fast or slow computer and a fast or slow Internet connection, and FireTune will do the rest. In addition, FireTune offers some additional optimizations (Other optimizations tab) that should improve the performance for all Firefox users.
What I like about FireTune is that you don't need to be a computer geek and get under-the-hood to improve the performance of Firefox... unless you go to the Other optimizations tab or the Other useful setting tab. Why couldn't Totalidea Software apply the "other optimizations" automatically when the tuning is being done and leave the rest of the options out of the tool?

So if you just want your computer to work...
  1. Get FireTune
  2. Make the appropriate selection for your computer and connection speeds
  3. Select "Enable some performance tweaks common to all configurations" from the Other optimizations tab
  4. Select Tune it!
  5. Don't worry about the rest
Option 2. If you like a bit more control over the tuning of your browser, but still do not relish the idea of hacking away at all the Firefox configuration options and you want to know more specifically what changes are being made to improve its performance, then get the Fasterfox Extension for Firefox. Fasterfox is an open project so in addition to making your own performance tunes, you can be a part of the community of Fasterfox.
With Fasterfox, it can actually be simpler than FireTune in that you can select one of the preset options on its main screen, or you can select Custom for complete control over the exposed configurations. The Fasterfox options include:
  • Ability to prefetch URLs on the page
  • Adjust browser cache and dns cache
  • Adjust the number of http connections
  • Enabling pipelining
  • Adjust Initial Paint Delay and Sub-menu Delay
  • Enable blocking of pop-ups from Flash
Option 3. If Firetune still doesn't offer you the amount of control that you want or if you just like to turn the knobs yourself, Computer World has a great article to get you started. Hacking Firefox: The secrets of about:config will guide you through speeding up page load times, reducing memory issues, and other tweaks for geeks. For example, you can learn how to adjust the width of tabs before the scroll is enabled (for additional tabs).

The Computer World article is divided in 6 sections:
  1. Before you begin (i.e. backup and log changes)
  2. Speed up page display
  3. Have tabbed browsing your way
  4. Make the user interface behave
  5. Hack network connections
  6. Stop memory hogging
Have you decided what route is best for you? If you're like me, use Fasterfox for the performance tweaking and then change about:config with Computer World's guidance to fine tune my browsing. I'll close by reminding you of an earlier post on about:config -- this was an overview of some of the many changes you can make to customize Firefox to work the way you want it to work.

26 February, 2008

FCC Hearing on Network Management; Comcast Fills the Seats

The FCC held a hearing on Network Management at Harvard on February 25, 2008. Under scrutiny is Comcast's practice of blocking BitTorrent P2P traffic. Comcast claimed to only delay P2P traffic during congested periods -- but they are accomplishing this "delay" through terminating the P2P traffic. This "delay" of the P2P traffic is counter to the service Comcast sells its customers -- Comcast sells a throughput rate ("...4 times faster than 1.5 Mbps DSL,...") for upload and download of Internet traffic, regardless of protocol being used. You can visit the FCC site to view the entire hearing.

Comcast must know its in trouble, as they hired folks to take up all the space at the hearing -- keeping the public from being heard. It's hard to say what will happen next; big business seems to win all too much. Each of us can do our part -- don't use Comcast, when you have a choice; tell your congressman to fight for net neutrality; and join the Save the Internet group.

24 February, 2008

Apple TV is a great addition

I hooked up my new Apple TV on Wednesday, and have had a great time exploring all the content that it has opened up. Actually all the content was already available, but now I am spending the time to view it, because I can view it from the comfort of my favorite chair. And it took more no more than 5 minutes to get going.

I like that I can easily view my favorite video podcasts (or listen to the audio ones) with just a few clicks on the remote. In addition, I can explore the iTunes store for new ones. Thinking about traveling to Europe? The checkout Rick Steves' video podcasts. Perhaps you want to see highlights from the Discovery channel, but don't have cable or satellite TV. No problem, there are video podcasts for that too.

If you don't mind the low quality video of YouTube, using the Apple TV, it has never been easier to explore YouTube. I've watched many great clips from "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" to comedians such as Jeff Dunham and Jim Gaffigan. And of course I can browse my own video collection on my PC -- anything that I can view through iTunes can be viewed using my Apple TV.

What really surprised me though was the picture viewer. I didn't expect that viewing my photos on my Toshiba 47" REGZA TV would make them look so much better than they are on my 19" LCD monitor. With Apple TV, I can select a particular picture collection or have it randomly display my photos. In addition, I can have it play from my music collection, including randomly playing songs from a Playlist. Would I have bought an Apple TV just for this feature? Unlikely, but now that I have it, I really like it. You can also view photos from your .Mac and Flickr accounts through the Apple TV.

The Apple TV also offers TV Show and movie purchase and rental directly from the iTunes store -- no need to go to the video store or choose your movie ahead of time. You can also use it to see movie Trailers. I can also access my music through the Apple TV, which allows me to play my entire mp3 collection in much higher quality than any speakers I've ever had on my computer.

Okay, it's not a perfect product; there are a few disappointments. My biggest disappointment is the long lists of my content that I have to scroll through to find a TV show or movie. From what I am able to figure out so far, all I can do is scroll through a long list of titles -- there is no classification or sub-folders for my own video content. A mechanism similar to how music is managed would be helpful. The fast-forward and rewind could work better too -- you cannot control it in less than 10 second increments. Perhaps with the simplified remote, it's a small price to pay, but a little more control would be nice. (But then with the small remote, how soon until I lose it in the couch?) Another minor note, my Apple TV received the free upgrade to version 2 just a day after installed it, and though I purchased it knowing I would have the additional features, I did like the version 1 interface better.

If this has peaked your interest, but you're not sure if the Apple TV is for you, checkout these three reviews: Gary Krakow (TheStreet.com), David Chartier (Arstechnica), and Christina Warren (tuaw.com). For me, I think it's time to cancel the limited cable TV package I have.

17 February, 2008

Use Skype with Creative's Cordless Handset

I first mentioned Skype in May of 2006, and wrote about it a year later when I switched to Skype as my primary home phone. Though Skype has been great, I've gotten a little frustrated by being stuck to my computer to use the service (thanks to no T-Mobile signal for my cell phone in my new apartment). Thanks to my new Creative Internet DECT Phone I can now use Skype anywhere in and around my apartment.

My new Skype phone was very easy to setup and start using. The first thing I liked was that the handset recharger (using the included rechargeable AAA batteries) is separate from the base station that connects to my PC (via USB). The handset is supposed to work for 10 hours of talk time or 120 total hours between charges, but I have yet to have a reason test that out.

The handset feels good when you hold it -- it doesn't feel cheap, and the buttons seem to respond well. The handset also includes a speaker and a headset jack. I have used both for meetings, and they each worked great. The handset also has Caller ID, my list of Skype contacts, plus lets me add numbers to the phone itself.

The PC requirements in today's standards is pretty lean too:
  • Microsoft® Windows® XP or Windows 2000
  • Intel® Pentium® II 400 MHz or equivalent
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 15 MB available hard disk space
  • CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drive (to load the software)
  • Available USB port
  • Skype version 1.3 or higher
  • Internet Broadband connection
In searching Google, I could only find 2 reviews, both at CNET -- one rating was very unfavorable. There is also a single review at Amazon (3 of 5 stars). The best price I found was $65. I got mine at Fry's for a mere $30 (now just $18 on Frys.com). If you are a Skype user running XP and can get this phone for $30, don't let it pass you by; for $50, I'd still be happy; at $75, I might want a little better interface, but it's still acceptable.

16 February, 2008

BitTorrent is not going to wait for the FCC

It was great to hear that the FCC is investigating Comcast for its disruption of BitTorrent traffic, but the developers of BitTorrent are not going to wait for Comcast to change its practices. The Developers of BitTorrent are building a new encryption layer that will work against Comcast and other ISPs techniques for killing the BitTorrent traffic on their networks.

David Downs wrote an excellent article in the San Francisco Weekly that describes BitTorrent and how Comcast was thwarting BitTorrent traffic. Downs describes a visit from Peter Eckersley, a computer science Ph.D. candidate at the University of Melbourne, who works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Using Whiteshark, network monitoring software, Eckersley was able to show how Comcast was spoofing both ends of the BitTorrent communication to discontinue the BitTorrent file transfer.

This is big in terms of Net Neutrality for all of us. This is more than an issue for users of BitTorrent! If Comcast can decide what we can share and not share, does that mean that the phone company can determine who we can call? Can the postal service decline to deliver some of our mail? Lucky for us, those who only have Comcast as an ISP option will be able to use this new version of BitTorrent that is being developed. For the rest of us who have a choice, we need to let Comcast know we do not approve of their "network management" techniques by switching to an alternate ISP.

12 February, 2008

Technology Is Great -- Workout While You're at Work

Ellen DeGeneres showed us just 2 weeks ago how far technology has come. Use the Hawaii Chair at work, and get in shape while you work. Don't believe it? Checkout Perfect USA where you can get the Hawaii Chair for under $300.

If you bought this chair, I have a bridge for sale that you would be interested in.

:-S What does that emoticon mean? O.o

Many of us are users of instant messaging (IM), whether through AIM (AOL), Yahoo! Messenger, ICQ (AOL), and even Sametime from IBM. We have also learned how to combine our IM clients into one interface using Trillian (Cerulean Studios) or Pidgin (open-source). But what we haven't learned is what do all the various emoticons (combination of symbols used to convey emotion in text) mean.

Now you have no need to search further, as I have listed a few of my favorites here, and some links to sites that list several.

   c^:3                 mouse
(:)-) scuba diver
((((your name here)))) hug
(::[]::) band aid
~,~ napping
@~)~~~~ rose or flower
Emoticons Lists:
  1. Sharpened Glossary
  2. Wikipedia
  3. SearchMobileComputing.com
A word of warning: Be cautious of programs that will give you graphical emoticons for your IM and email, as many load spyware when installing and monitor your Internet activities.

08 February, 2008

Firefox Extensions: Time and Weather

I found two new Firefox Extensions that are real practical, FoxClocks and Forecastfox Enhanced. During this time of year, the weather changes frequently, and what may be freezing on the west side of the city may be above freezing on the south side. With Forecastfox Enhanced, I can get a look at the forecast and weather radar for myself.

Forecastfox Enhanced gets its weather feed from AccuWeather.com. You can run Forecastfox Enhanced in several different ways including in the browser status bar or in a toolbar. When displayed, you can configure it to give you more detailed information by simply hovering over the top of the forecast. It also quickly shows you an updated weather report automatically each time it is updated (time between updates is adjustable).

If you're like me, I work with folks from all over the world. I had been using a Yahoo Widget to track the time in various locations, but it was not configurable to meet my needs. Using FoxClocks, I can configure the cities and/or countries that I want to know the current time for, and and can display it in several different ways within Firefox. FoxClocks can also be configured for each clock to be a different color or even have a clock change colors based on the time.

While I'm on the subject of Firefox Extensions, here's one that I didn't care for: Google Browser Sync. The idea was right -- keep the bookmarks of 2 or more browsers in sync. In practices, my two main PCs, work and home, do not need to share bookmarks -- if they do, I can save it in del.icio.us; there's even an Extension for that. Further, every time I was not connected to the Internet, it would prompt me to re-login. What a pain. Why couldn't it quietly wait in the background until next time?

iPod Nano + Brandon Roy = iRoy

Unless you follow the NBA or are a native to the Portland area, it's likely you did not hear about this creative promotion. The Portland Trailblazers went the extra mile, err extra $15,000, to promote their star guard Brandon Roy in hopes of getting him selected into the NBA All-Star Game.

The Blazers sent all Western Conference coaches, who vote for the All-Star reserves, an iPod Nano that was customized to be all Brandon Roy. Seeing how this was such a cool, new idea, they also sent out several to the national media (even though they didn't have a vote).

Here's what the "iRoy" consisted of:
  • 8 GB silver video iPod Nano
  • #7 Brandon Roy, Special All-Star Edition etched on the back
  • An "iRoy" cover that slides over the usual packaging
  • A picture of Brandon Roy over the iPod video screen that must be removed before the initial use
  • Complete iRoy instructions
  • Preloaded highlights and coaches testimonials of Brandon Roy

I know some of the media felt compelled to send it back due to the price -- it may be interpreted as compensation for favorable media -- but what a great promotional idea. If an All-Star voting coach was struggling over his picks (and there are many good choices in the Western Conference), this is a great way to remind them of how well this second-year player is doing. And with only 75 of these distributed, if Brandon Roy turns out to be the career All-Star that he's started with, these iRoys could be worth something to collectors.

By the way, Brandon Roy was selected by the coaches to be on the All-Star team. Go Blazers!