Where's My Internet?

Last Friday I arrived in my office about 8:30 AM, ready to tackle several small projects, and get them sent off to clients. Full of motivation and caffeine, nothing could stop me. Nothing, that is, except a dead Internet connection. The first clue was MailWasher, lying on its back with its paws in the air. No email was coming in or going out.
Excellent! I couldn’t get to YouSendIt and upload or download client files. A client asked me to check some files on their network, but Citrix doesn’t work either, if you can’t connect to it.
So, the first hour of the workday was spent muttering, assuming the connection would be back up shortly. That didn’t happen, so I spent 1/2 hour on the phone with the ISP’s tech support, diagnosing and fixing the problem.
Apparently my static IP had become a little too static, and that was fixed by unplugging the modem for five minutes. I’ve made a note in my ISP manual, beside the tech support phone number, so I’ll remember to try that next time, before wasting my time on the phone.
Finally back in action, I managed to complete most of my to-do list. I’ll be travelling with my laptop this week, and hope it all goes smoothly. (What could possibly go wrong?)

Browser Tip

And speaking of the Internet, how have I been using the it for all these years, without knowing this trick?

  • In a web browser, press the space bar on your keyboard, to scroll down a page.
  • Shift and the space bar will scroll up a page.

Purging the Bookshelves

Do you have the inner strength to throw out old books?
I love computer books, and bring home way too many of them. Things were bad enough in the old days, when I had to leave my office and drive to a bookstore, in order to buy books. Then the miracle of online shopping occurred, and now I can browse through the Amazon catalogue any time of night or day. A few mouse clicks, and there’s a pile of books headed to my front door.
The shelves in my office are crammed to capacity, and it’s time to purge some of the books, or buy new shelves. Since I’ve run out of wall space, additional shelving isn’t really an option, so purge it is.

The Toss Pile

Here are some of the books I’m releasing into the wild today. The internet has changed a bit since I started using it, and I don’t use Office 97, Lotus Notes, FrontPage or PageMill these days. Judging by the publication dates, you can see that I don’t clear the shelves too often. It’s painful!

  • Teach Yourself Web Publishing with Microsoft Office 97; 1997 edition.
  • The Internet Unleashed; 1994 edition.
  • Lotus Notes 4.5 and the Internet; 1997 edition.
  • Adobe PageMill 3 f/x and design; 1998 edition
  • Special Edition Using Microsoft Front Page 2000; 1999 edition

There were several others, as you can see in the photo below. It cleared 18″ of shelf space, and reduced the load by about 30 pounds (my non-scientific estimate). Still lots that could be tossed, but this is a start.

The Keep Pile

I’m keeping this one though, because it’s an essential office reference guide:

  • The PreHistory of the Far Side; 1989 edition.

What’s in Your Toss Pile?

So, I’ve come clean. What’s on your bookshelf that’s ready for the toss pile?

Find New Sites With All My Faves

I use Google to do web searches, and am pretty efficient at finding things, in my humble opinion. Last week my son sent me a link to All My Faves, which lets you find things, but in a completely different way than Google.
The Home page has rows of web site logos, grouped in categories such as Travel, Sports, Finance and Tech. The top row has weekly favourites.

There’s a Weekly Faves tab, that has archived links from earlier weeks, and there’s a best of 2007 row at the bottom of that page. Also, there are specialized tabs for Travel, Entertainment, Kids and Shopping.
This could be a great starting point if you’re trying to generate ideas, or find new sources of information (or entertainment!) Instead of starting from a narrow search term, and digging in to different sites, All My Faves lets you start from the forest, and pick a few trees to examine.

Back Up Your RSS Feed

Every day, I skim through a long list of blog posts, in Google Reader. I’ve accumulated the items in my list over a few years, and would hate to lose it.
Now I’m sure that the fine people at Google take very good care of my feed, and I don’t have to worry about it. However, just to be on the safe side, I make a backup copy of the feed every couple of weeks or so. Then, it’s on my computer, and gets backed up onto the external drive too. Belts and suspenders might not be fashionable, but they can prevent embarrassing situations.
Here are the steps for exporting a backup file from Google Reader. Other RSS readers should have something similar. This technique is also useful if you decide to change to a different RSS reader. You can export from the old one, and import in the new one. If Google ever disappears in the middle of the night, and I have to go back to Bloglines, I’ll be ready.

Export an RSS Feed

  1. Log in to Google Reader, and click the Settings link.
  2. Click on the Import/Export link
  3. Click the Export button
  4. Select a folder, and save the file. That’s it!

Find WiFi While Travelling

When you’re travelling, you probably bring your laptop, so you can do some work and keep up with your email. Some of the ritziest hotels that I’ve stayed in charge for daily access to their wireless network, or you can trudge down to the lobby for free access. At other, mid-priced hotels, the access is sometimes free. If you’re paying an exorbitant rate for the room, can’t they throw in a couple of dollars worth of wifi?
If you’re planning a trip, the following chart, from Book of Joe, shows which hotel chains have free access, and which chains charge for it, or make you balance your laptop on your knees in the lobby.

If you have trouble finding a nearby wireless network, the Wi-Fire might help you find something a bit further away. I haven’t tried it, but there have been many times that it would have been very useful.

Are You Ready for Metered Internet?

If you had asked me a few days ago, how much I download and upload each day, I’d have had no idea. Apparently some cable companies in the USA are testing metered internet service. I haven’t seen this mentioned for Canadian companies, but if it works in Texas, it will probably arrive here soon enough. If you know your current usage, you’ll be able to select the best plan for your needs.
To measure your daily transfer rates, you can download the free utility, NetMeter. I installed it last week, which went very smoothly. The icon sits in the system tray, and you can click on it to see a graph of your current usage.

Right-click on the system tray icon, to change the options, or to view your totals and projected totals.

You can also view Daily, Weekly and Monthly reports, and export them as csv files. Open the exported files in Excel, and you can create your own chart, reports and pivot tables from the data.

Send Google Search Results to Your Newsreader

If you’re trying to stay on top of the news in Excel or another area of interest, you can create Google Alerts to update you automatically. After you create an Alert, you can add it to your newsreader, and read it with the rest of your feeds every day. I prefer this, instead of getting Alerts by email.

Create a Google Alert

  1. Log in to your Google account, and click on Google Alerts
  2. Enter your search topic, and set the other options for the alert.
  3. Click Create Alert, to open the list of Alerts

Add the Alert to a Newsreader

These steps will vary, depending on your browser and newsreader. In this example, I used Firefox and Google Reader.

  1. In the list, click on the search term link

  2. In the toolbar of your browser, click the RSS Feed icon.

  3. On the Feed page, select a newsreader from the drop down list
  4. Click the Subscribe Now button
  5. Click the Add to Google Reader button, or complete the steps in your newsreader.

Delete the Google Alert

  1. Go back to the list of Google Alerts
  2. Add a check mark to your Alert, then click the Delete button.

Analyze Networks with Excel Add-In NetMap

It’s interesting that Microsoft is using an Excel Add-In, NetMap, to analyze newsgroup structures. The researchers found at least three types of participants: Answer People, Reply Magnets and Discussion People. Hey, I know a few of those “Answer People.” No mention of trolls though — maybe they’re in the Discussion People group.

Somewhat related, but more fun, I won’t admit how much time I’ve spent on the Walk2Web site this week, exploring the connections between web sites. I’m marking it in my time log as “Research” so it’s time invested, rather than time wasted. šŸ˜‰
It’s a great way to discover new sites in your area of interest, and who knows what other gems (or garbage) you’ll find? It’s fascinating to see a picture of how sites are linked, and it does look like a web after you’ve walked to a few sites. A very messy web, granted.
In the screen shot below I’ve followed a couple of the links from my Excel Tips Index page.

  • In the overview you can click on a linked site, to see its connections, or point to a link and see a snapshot of the page.
  • Point to the top, bottom, left or right of the page, to scroll in that direction.
  • Green links are incoming and blue links are outgoing. A maximum of three of each are shown, and you can click the orange More links to expand the view.
  • You can mark sites as favorites, Digg them or StumbleUpon them.

So, if you’re looking for inspiration, or new ideas, or a way to kill an hour, visit Walk2Web. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Share Excel Data With Swivel

NOTE: The Swivel site shut down in 2010. You can read an interview with the two founders on the Eager Eyes blog.
The Swivel web site lets users upload Excel data, create charts, and share the results. They’ve recently opened up their Business Swivel, where you can uploadĀ data and keep it private, for a monthly subscription fee.
It’s interesting to see what people are charting, such as the occurrences of gunshots, firecrackers and other noises in York, PA.

Block the Distractions with White Noise

If you’re trying to work in a noisy environment, some white noise might help block out the distracting sounds. I work from home, with an office that faces the street. It’s usually quiet, but when the kids are out of school for the summer, things get a bit noisy sometimes.
If I’m trying to concentrate, I put on my headset and go to http://www.simplynoise.com/Ā for some white noise. There’s a slider that let’s me adjust the volume, and that’s it. Nothing to fiddle with, no choice of sounds, just simple noise, as promised.
After a couple of minutes I forget that I have the headset on, the outside sounds fade away, and I can focus on my work again.