Archive for August, 2009

Online planning and to do list management

Friday, August 21st, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Toodledo

So many things to do, so little time. If you recognize this scenario—and who doesn't—then you probably know all about "to do" list management. Solutions run anywhere from Post-its and index cards to complex proprietary applications like Outlook. If these don't work for you, or you'd like to try something new, we introduce Toodledo.

You'll be up to speed quickly with this tool—the website promises that it "only takes 31 seconds to signup." Since it's a web app, once you're up and running, you'll have your information available no matter where you go. And you can get at it a bunch of different ways: on your desktop or laptop computer via your web browser, on your smart phone, via email, RSS, IM, and more. And it's easy to collaborate as well, sharing lists as read-only or as fully-editable.

You can import tasks and projects you're already managing through other tools, so you're not going to lose a lot of time moving over. Organize tasks into folders; apply due dates, set goals, assign priorities, track time you've spent on various tasks. You can even print your to do list out in a special foldable format and stick it in your pocket.

Toodledo is a free online service. If you can browse the web, then you can probably use it. Cool.

Download Toodledo

Defragment your Windows hard drive

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of MyDefrag

When your computer is new, your hard drive is a pretty sight to behold. All the data—system files, programs, documents—they're all lined up in nice straight rows on your hard drive. (Okay, they're really in arcs on the circular platters of your storage device, but work with me here.) After a while, though, things aren't so pristine. New files are added. Old files are deleted. Pretty soon, the data on your hard disk takes on the appearance of a piece of Swiss cheese, with holes here and there, and stuff all kind of jumbled about. Get enough of this, and your system will start to slow down—it literally takes your machine longer to read- and write to and from the disk because of all the files smooshed around here and there. The solution is to defragment your disk.

MyDefrag is a likely candidate for this chore. It's fast, and will defragment anything that looks like a hard disk to it, including fixed- and removable hard drives, floppies (you remember them, right?), and USB drives. Along with the GUI version for you to use when you want to defrag your device, there's also a command line version, great for scripting to run at oh-dark-thirty when you're not trying to get work done.

MyDefrag is a free Windows application. It requires Windows 2000 or later.

Download MyDefrag

Display running processes

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of ProcX

Curious to see what's going on under the hood of your Windows box? Too bad you aren't running *NIX, where tools like "top" and "ps" can give you the lowdown on the processing currently inhabiting your CPU. Well, this may be your lucky day: you just found ProcX.

ProcX is a GUI tool that lets you see what processes are currently running on your machine. If things are responding slowly, you can see who's being the resource hog. Can't delete that file? Maybe you can figure out who has it locked. You can selectively kill a process, or choose to simply suspend it. Not sure what a particular process is trying to do? Search for that process name in Google and see whether it's some obscure Windows DLL, or that nastiest virus to come along in quite some time (kill it now!).

ProcX is a Windows app. You'll need to be running Win2k or later to use it.

Download ProcX

Help avoid repetitive strain injury with AntiRSI

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of AntiRSI

Do you sit at your desk for hours on end, typing (or mousing) away at your Mac? You know that's not good for you, right? Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a real problem, and if you make your living blogging, coding, or otherwise pounding away, you don't need to find yourself out-of-action because you didn't take enough breaks while you were working. I suppose if you were disciplined enough—or un-focused enough—you could avoid this, but sometimes it's helpful to have a little assistance.

AntiRSI is an app that can help you remember to take breaks when you should. You can set intervals for pauses—short rests of a few seconds—and for real breaks—less frequent, but several minutes in length. It's also smart enough to recognize when you've taken a bit of a break on your own, and won't force you to stop too many times.

A free download, AntiRSI is distributed as a Universal Binary, meaning it's equally at home on your PowerPC or x86-flavored Mac. It requires OS X version 10.4 or later.

Download AntiRSI

Help others work more productively with a monkey on their back

Monday, August 17th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Monkey On Your Back

There are plenty of tools out there that can help you stay on task and on target. Project planners, lists of tasks, reminders of stuff you need to do, that sort of thing. What about reminders of stuff that other people are supposed to do?

Monkey On Your Back is a service that lets you send reminders to other people that they've got things they need to do. Once you've signed up for a free account, all you need to do to put a monkey on somebody else's back is to enter their email address, a description of the task they need to attend to, and a due date. Your recipient will now receive regular reminder emails, and once you hit the the deadline, you'll get an email reminding you to check on the project's status. You can manage your "monkeys"—both those you've sent, and those that have been sent to you—through a simple web interface.

Monkey On Your Back is a free online service.

Download Monkey On Your Back

Customer support via free chat system

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of LiveZilla

Documentation is an interesting thing. You can spend a lot of time and effort making your website or desktop app just as intuitive and user friendly as possible. For the more complicated stuff, you document it all, clearly and concisely, Maybe for your shrink-wrapped applications, you even send a User Manual to your customers. But when all is said and done, there's going to be somebody who needs some extra hand holding. Whether it's the wise guy who doesn't bother to read the manual, or the newbie who has no idea what you're talking about, they need help. If you've got a big call center, or have farmed it out to somebody else, fine; but it you're a smaller shop, you may not be able to handle all the phone calls in real time. This might be a good situation for live chat help system.

LiveZilla is one such system, but it comes with a special feature: it's free! It runs on your own web server, so you don't have to worry about your proprietary information falling into somebody else's hands. Now when your visitors have questions or concerns, you can handle them right away. Your support team can communicate with each other as well, so all your bases are covered. And to keep administration as simple as possible, LiveZilla is file-based: no database is needed for full functionality. You just have to make sure that your webserver supports PHP (5, 4.1.0 or greater), that's it.

LiveZilla runs under Windows. You'll need to be running Win2k or later, with PHP 4.1 or better on your server. You visitors can access the web client through any browser, so there are no special requirements for them.

Download LiveZilla

Karaoke for all

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of KaraFun

Some folks just can't get enough karaoke. Whether it's the challenge of trying to match the original performance, the camaraderie of hangin' with the other performers, or your sincere desire to win at American Idol, you've just got to have more. It's not always convenient to head down to the local watering hole to get your groove on, but you've just gotta' have it. What to do?

KaraFun takes your computer and turns it into a high-powered karaoke machine, and more. Not only will it play most standard-format karaoke files, but you can create your own as well. Your mileage may vary in removing the vocals from your track, but you can always go get real backing tracks. Enhance playback by slowing-down (while learning a piece) or speeding-up (blow everybody's mind) the tempo. Change the key to match your range without sounding like you're singing with The Chipmunks.

KaraFun free is for home use only. It's a Windows application.

Download KaraFun

Printable Contracts

Friday, August 14th, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Printable Contracts

Life is complicated. With so many people trying to do so many things, it's a wonder we don't step all over each other in the process. One way to avoid problems is to spell out specifically what we want to accomplish, and what we need from others. One of the best ways to do this in a clear, concise manner is to use a contract. If you do "x", I'll give you "y". It's pretty straightforward. Or so it seems. Mix in some attorneys and a bit of legal gobbledygook and pretty soon you've only added to the complication.

Practitioners of the law do have their place, and the advice from Shakespeare that "the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" [Henry VI (Part 2)] may be reaching a bit. The fact is that many agreements can be made without the attention and cost of an attorney. Printable Contracts features a number of contract agreements that you can download and use for some of your more simple transactions. They feature templates for contracts for personal and professional services, real estate and rental contracts, and more. While they feature a prominent disclaimer that they are not themselves attorneys and their site does not dispense legal advice, these templates may serve as a good jumping-off point drafting an agreement for your own purposes.

Printable Contracts are free to download. They're all available in Word DOC format, so you can open them up, customize them for your needs, and print them out.

Download Printable Contracts

lightweight and user-friendly e-mail client

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Sylpheed

Everybody's got an email client they swear by. Of course, there are other times where they've got a client they swear at. If you fall into that latter category, maybe you're in the market for a new mail program. This might be the time to check out Sylpheed.

Sylpheed uses a standard three-pane design, with a folder hierarchy on the left, and messages and individual message preview on the right. A small footprint means that system resources aren't taxed by this app. With powerful search and filter capabilities, you'll always be able to find just the message you're looking for. You can even save your results into a search folder, so you won't have to execute your query a second time. Smart junk mail control means that the more junk you receive, the less you'll actually see, as its filters improve with use.

Sylpheed is a free application. It runs on Windows (Win2k and later), Linux and other *NIX platforms, and Mac OS X (sorry, Intel processors only).

Download Sylpheed

Listen to reports and email

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Text To MP3 Speaker

When you need to communicate an idea quickly, often the easiest way to do so is to make a phone call. Unfortunately, sometimes speed takes a priority over precision and detail in that phone call. If you really want to make sure that everybody's on the same page, there's nothing that can substitute for communicating in writing. Unfortunately with our hectic lives, it's not always easy to sit down and focus on the written word. If there were some way to combine the precision of text with the ease of voice, then you'd have something.

Text To MP3 Speaker is an app that takes text and turns it into the spoken word. Through the magic of speech to text technology, this tool takes your document—report, web page, email—and creates an MP3 audio file of it. That means that you can listen to that report instead of reading it. Or you can take your email along on your iPod and listen to it instead of having to plow through it all on-screen.

Text To MP3 Speaker is a free download. It's a Windows app, and requires the .NET Framework version 2.0 or above.

Download Text To MP3 Speaker