Much like how doctor’s get bombarded with medical questions, being the alpha geek in any family or group of friends means you’ll get asked questions about computers. There’s only one way to stay sane: get everyone you know to run the same software.
Outlook vs Gmail
Case in point, I’ve had to support Microsoft Outlook for over a decade now even though the last time I used it was in 1997. Even though I switched from Outlook to Thunderbird, and then Gmail I’ve had this albatross of questions hanging around my neck. If I could convince everyone I know to switch to gmail I wouldn’t have to worry about problems like:
- Poor performance because emails are never deleted
- Poor junk mail filtering
- Confusion because anti-virus programs are picking up virii in the Deleted Mail folder
For me the main advantages to using gmail instead of a desktop based client are:
- Access email from any computer
- No “downloading email” wait time
- NO VIRUSES! Everything is virus scanned any nothing is downloaded on to your computer without your express interaction
- The best junk mail filtering available
- Incredibly fast search that works so much better than manually organizing emails
- You can keep your old email address and still use gmail as your mail program
- Offline support with Google Gears
- Automatically signs into other Google services like Blogger and Reader
There are many instructions on switching from Outlook to Gmail using special software like Gmail Loader (or gExodus), by temporarily setting up a mail server to importing into Gmail using IMAP, or using POP. With that last method, you can transparently use gmail while keeping your old email address.
Internet Explorer vs Mozilla Firefox
I love Firefox because of all the ways I can extend it with Greasemonkey and because of ad-block plus. Internet Explorer isn’t as bad as it used to be, but you’ll still run into strange headaches like how much more difficult it is to subscribe to an RSS feed using Google Reader in Internet Explorer than in Firefox.
I was a long time Azeurus bittorrent user, but I’ve found it hard to explaining to anyone else how to use the program, not to mention how poorly it performs. uTorrent is so much simplier to use, and it is so much easier to explain to other people how to use it. These are the uTorrent settings I use to work well with Rogers Canada.
uTorrent seems to work better than Azureus or the original Bit Torrent client, and I really like how it defaults to selecting individual files in a torrent to download. It also seems to have much less virii than the older quality P2P applications like Limewire and Soulseek.
There are quite a few legitimate uses of bittorrent. A lot of excellent free software is distributed using bittorrent, and as older movies, books and music comes into the public domain it is being hosted on bittorrent networks. People are sharing their public domain podcasts and video casts using bittorrent as well.
Norton Antivirus vs Anything Else
The other big problem I run into as the computer tech person is “my computer is slow”. The culprit is an easy find: Norton Antivirus. Norton Antivirus is a virus because it is more detrimental to your computer performance than actually having a virus. Nobody likes Norton Antivirus.
We’ve been trying out AVG Free as an alternative, but ran into issues with how user unfriendly it is (finding virii in the Recycling Bin, finding virii in the Outlook Deleted Trash and the difficulty in deleting the virii). Leave a comment if you have any suggestions of which antivirus to use for casual home users who aren’t tech saavy.
There are no great solutions for accessing the Internet while travelling. Bringing a laptop has the convience that it is much easier to find free wi-fi than it is to find a computer with Internet access, but then you have the pain of bringing a laptop with you.
One solution is to use a USB key (USB thumb drive) to store your commonly used applications. So long as you have access to a computer with Internet you’ll be able to access the net with the applications, passwords and settings you’re comfortable with even if it’s at a pay-by-the-minute café, the business center at your hotel, or dial-up at a relative’s house. You don’t have to worry about your login information getting stolen because you aren’t leaving anything behind — everything is stored on your USB key.
You may even want to do this for any personal computer in a corporate environment. Lay offs could be around the corner, and you’ll be secure in the knowledge that your work PC won’t have any personal traces left behind after you’ve left the company because there was nothing personal on it in the first place.
This guide will show you how to:
- Build an Encrypted PortableApps Drive
- Download Portable Apps on to Your Encrypted USB Drive
- Installing Firefox on your Encryped USB Drive
- Installing a Live USB Linux Distro
- Portable iTunes on Your iPod
- Portable Remote Desktop Using LogMeIn
Photo by endlessstudio
“How I Use” is a new series I’m starting about the software I use on a day-to-day basis. I want share tips and tricks and to learn tips and tricks from readers sharing with me in the comments.
Google Reader is a web-based RSS reader. Because it’s web-based I can access my Google Reader from multiple places (home PC, home laptop, work PC, visiting family, etc) and all of my information is stored and updated in one place. I use the Firefox web-browser with the Greasemonkey extension.
Google Reader is an RSS reader
RSS can be best described as a stream of news. Instead of visiting different websites at a time, you subscribe to them and you get all of the updates from the websites you follow in one place. For me that one place is Google Reader. This video will describe RSS and why you would want to subscribe to an RSS feed.
Subscribing to a Feed
I subscribe to feeds either by clicking on the feed link directly or by using the autodiscovery feed option in Firefox.
The first time you subscribe to a feed, Firefox will display the feed in a nice, human readable way, with a yellow box asking you what you want to use to subscribe to this feed. Choose the Google option and chose the option to always use Google to subscribe to feeds.
Unfortunately, Google isn’t smart enough to remember your preference between Google Reader and Google Homepage — so you have to always chose the red pill or the blue pill. There is a handy Greasemonkey script to fix that though: always subscribe to Google Reader.
Accessing Google Reader
I access Google Reader by typing reader.google.com into my address bar or by clicking on the Google Reader icon in the Google Toolbar.
Setting Up My View
Google Reader lets you save your view settings which ever way you like them. I like to view all items at a time instead of sorting them by tags (I’ll switch to tag view if I don’t have time to read all my feeds and I want to focus on a specific subject).
I click on the Expanded view tab in the top right hand so that I can see titles and the body of each item.
I turn off the left sidebar by clicking the left margin or pressing ‘u’ on the keyboard.
Then I click on the View Settings drop-down and choose sort by newest and set as start page.
Now Google Reader will remember these settings every time I log in.
I read feeds by
- using the middle mouse wheel to scroll down the page with my right hand
- my left hand hovers over the ‘j’ and ‘k’ keys on my keyboard
- ‘j’ jumps past a post that I don’t find interesting enough to read completely
- ‘k’ jumps back to the previous post if I decide that I do want to read it
I find quickly scanning through full posts like this lets me read many more feeds than if I have to click on the titles I find interesting.
I open links I want to read by
- clicking on the link with my middle mouse button to open it in a background tab
When I get around 10 links I take a break from reading feeds and go through all of those open tabs, closing them as I’m done with them.
Read a Post Later
If I come across a blog post that’s too dense to read at the moment I’ll use the Readeroo extension to save it to delicious with the toread tag. Readroo will let me fetch it later, and mark it as read.
Leaving a Blog Comment
When I find a blog post I want to comment on
- I hit the ‘v’ key to jump to the post on the blog
- hit the ‘end’ key on my keyboard to go the bottom of the post
- press ‘alt+c’ to fill in my name / email address / blog url thanks to the handy prefill comments Greasemonkey script
- write my comment and click send
- press ‘ctrl+w’ to close the tab and return to my Google Reader tab
Bookmarking a Blog Post
When I find a blog post I want to save for my ‘Best of Feeds’ series
- I hit the ‘v’ key to jump to the post on the blog
- click on the ‘TAG’ button in my toolbar to save it to delicious
Google Reader has it’s own mechanism for sharing and bookmarking posts but I don’t find it nearly as useful or as fast as delicious. That might change with time.
I’ve seen a Greasemonkey script that lets you bookmark the post from within Google Reader, but I prefer using the official delicious extension to bookmark posts because of other enhancements I’ve made to it.
How Do You Use Google Reader?
The reason for writing a post like this isn’t only because I want to share how I do something, but because I also want to learn tricks I might not know about. Got a trick I’m missing out on? Please leave it in the comments, or write your own blog post about it and send a trackback.