Microsoft Office Web Apps

It looks like Microsoft Office is kind of, sort of, at least in a small way, going to the cloud.

Now you can save your Microsoft Office files to the cloud and share it with others by sending them a link. Multiple people can even edit the same document at the same time although I don’t know what would happen if two users entered two different numbers in the same Excel cell at the same time.

Check out a presentation here; http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/web-apps/

I won’t be using Web Apps, at least not for now, because DropBox is quicker, simpler, and does everything I need when it comes to sharing documents with colleagues.

Using a Password Manager

For a long time I refused to use a password manager because I was too paranoid. My paranoia stemmed from the idea that no program is secure and one like a password manager is all the more likely to be a target.

I use a lot of passwords and none of them are memorable. In fact, most of my passwords are random gibberish I’m that paranoid. Because they aren’t memorable and since a sticky note on my desk is not an option either, I used a little book of passwords which I kept stored in my little waterproof and fireproof safe.

But then I looked at the crime rate in my city and discovered that there’s an almost 2% chance that my house gets robbed in any one year. Worse yet, my safe could be broken into with a frozen chicken. This is the point where I got really paranoid and considered eschewing the way of the internet.

Instead I realized that a good password manager is probably a lot safer than the method I had been using. I started researching password managers.

For a while I was torn between the different options. There was the physical password manager such as MyLok which comes in the form of a thumb drive. This option seemed quite secure but I knew that I would most likely lose it. Furthermore, my smartphone’s USB port has inexplicably disappeared.

Another option was the password manager that exists on a person’s computer. An example of this is KeePass. On the one hand, this method keeps my password file securely on my computer but on the other hand, if I suddenly materialized in Argentina and could remember only my KeePass password, how the heck would I check my email?

The last option is a password manager that stores my passwords in the “cloud”. The most popular in this category seems to be LastPass. The nice thing with cloud storage is that if I do materialize in Argentina I’ll still be able to reply to all those emails from people who wonder where I’ve disappeared to. On the other hand, what if their servers get hacked? What if they go bankrupt?

After careful consideration of the options and the pros and cons of each one, I finally decided on my new password management system. I signed up with LastPass and then I put my little password book in a safe deposit box at a bank. Now I keep an eye on the news. If I hear anything about LastPass getting hacked (again) or going bankrupt I’m running to the bank and then changing all of my passwords.

IDrive: Online Backup you can Set and Forget

As our lives become increasingly digitalized with everything from our photos to our correspondence being stored on computers it is becoming more and more important to have redundant copies.

For several years I would backup my digital life on data DVDs and store these in a fireproof and waterproof safe. This is an okay backup method except that you have to spend time doing it and you’ll probably do it sporadically at best.

The next evolution of backup I took advantage of was the external hard drive with backup software. This hard drive I could connect to my computer with USB or Firewire and the software thereon would automatically backup my computer’s files. Usually, I would keep this hard drive stored in my safe and then every few days I would connect it to my PC and it would automatically sync its contents with the updated ones on my PC.

That was also an okay backup solution but it  took time and I’m doubtful that the data would have survived a house fire even in my fireproof safe.

Enter my current backup solution; online backup.

I took several weeks of periodic research on backup solutions before I finally picked one. I was looking for something that would fulfill all of the following:

  • Online storage that can be accessed from anywhere and allows download to other computers
  • Can be set to backup specific directories while ignoring others (no need to back up my huge catalog of music)
  • Completely secure transfer of files
  • Something I can set and forget
  • Plenty of storage with options to upgrade to more
  • Can backup multiple computers at once
  • Not too expensive

I finally settled on IDrive which fulfills all of the above. For about $150 a year I get 500GB of storage space. It was more expensive than what I was wanting to pay but I decided the peace of mind and the time it would save me was more than worth it.

IDrive saved me once when I accidentally deleted an entire folder of emails. I simply logged into my IDrive account, browsed to the specific folder, clicked download, and a couple minutes later I had my emails back. I would definitely recommend this backup solution.

Note; IDrive has a number of different pricing plans with different storage limits. I’m actually using the Family Plan since I have such a huge amount of data to keep backed up. If you have less than 5GB to back up you can use their Basic Plan which is free.

On-demand Television and Movies Online

Why should you have to pay $60 a month for cable services and still have to put up with commercials interrupting your show or movie? Why should you have to pay $60 a month for cable service and have to pay another $5 to watch an On-demand movie?

The truth is, you shouldn’t have to.

There are two major on-demand sites that supply users with streaming movies and TV shows; Netflix and Hulu.

Netflix is great because it has a lot of movies and television shows. Netflix sucks because the user experience of browsing through movies is just awful. It sucks for other reasons as well.

Hulu is great because it adds new television episodes the day after they first show on television (unlike Netflix which doesn’t upload new television episodes until the entire season has shown on television). Hulu sucks because it has advertisements. It sucks for other reasons as well.

Overall, Netflix is the place to go for the variety and number of content that is available while Hulu is the choice for die-hard TV fans that want their episodes right away. Both of these services are fairly inexpensive – less than $10 month for unlimited streaming. Both of them kind of suck and I predict that neither will be around for long once a good competitor pops up (Google should check into this).

There are other options for keeping up with your favorite television shows or even watching entire series.

Some major broadcasters will show episodes on their websites. For example, you can go to cbs.com to watch the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Looking for an older episode? Just google “watch [television show’s name] online” and you’ll be presented with hundreds of links. TvDuck.com usually pops up near the top and I’ve used them quite a bit. There’s no sign up required – everything is free once you navigate the myriad of popup advertisements and other trickery to find a link that works. Once in a while your experience will be rudely interrupted as they tell you that you’ve watched enough content for one day and need to pay to watch more. When that happens, simply close the page, return to the page with links, and choose another link.

Self-publishing Your Book Online

Nowadays more and more authors are using online self-publishing websites to publish their creative works. If you have written a book you may be considering this route.

There are several reasons to self-publish your work but the most common reason is that you can be published quickly and without having to woo big publishing companies.

There are several self-publishing websites but the most common are lulu.com and createspace.com. I use CreateSpace and am very happy with it. I was able to quickly publish my book and have it appear on Amazon as well as having it syndicated to the websites of other booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Borders.

One of the chief drawbacks to self-publishing is that anyone can do it and thus the average quality of the self-published book is relatively low. Having your book self-published gives you greater control over the whole process and is a lot quicker but your book may be considered less respectable for it. If you can publish traditionally, I would recommend doing it the old-fashioned way for now.

I do predict that in the future, the self-publishing websites will become more advanced and more and more authors will choose to go this route simply because it’s a lot faster and easier. As more and more respectable authors take this route, hopefully self-publishing will lose the stigma of low-quality that is associated with it.

Exporting Thunderbird Emails as EML and HTML Files

Over the years I have used a number of different email accounts and as a result, my Thunderbird profiles are disorganized and messy. Because Thunderbird doesn’t include export capability, the only way I knew to backup my Thunderbird emails was to browse to Users/me/AppData/Roaming/Thunderbird on my computer’s ‘C’ drive and copy the ‘Profiles’ folder.

Well, I decided I needed to look for a way to export individual emails so that I could finally archive those years old emails that I rarely look at but still want to keep. If I merely backup the mbox files before deleting those folders from my profile I would run into a problem. This problem was that I wouldn’t be able to view any emails in the mbox file without first reattaching the file to my Thunderbird profile. I needed something else.

What I found was a neat little Thunderbird extension called ImportExportTools. This free extension allows you to export Thunderbird emails in a variety of formats including EML, HTML, PDF, plain text, and spreadsheet.

importexporttools

Using this Thunderbird add-on I exported all my emails as EML files. This format allows me to import them en masse back into Thunderbird should I ever need to. Saving in this format will also save the attachments.

I also exported all my emails as HTML files. I could also have saved them as PDF files but I believe HTML files are generally smaller than PDF files. Saving them as HTML will not save the attachments so be sure you either don’t need them, don’t have any, or have saved your emails as EML files as well. There are two reasons I like saving my emails as HTML files. First of all, they’re quick and easy to open – any internet browser can do it. Secondly, and most importantly, the text within the HTML files is searchable which is a big help when I’m searching my entire life for a specific text string.

I love this add-on and think it should be standard for any Thunderbird user. It is very easy to use. It is also very quick because it allows you to export all the emails within entire folders at once.

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