Thursday, March 20, 2014

Efficiently Using Multiple Browsers (with a single key press)

Maybe I’m weird, or maybe my job has more requirements than others, but I use Google Chrome, and Microsoft Internet Explorer interchangeably.  I know web developers have this problem, perhaps they’ve already worked out a work flow, but I wasn’t able to find one.  Ultimately for things that are work related, I want to open those in Internet Explorer, and personal browsing, I want to use Google Chrome.  While we all have our reasons for using one browser over another (I have mine), if you want to use both, there was no really good way…

So I had a friend teach me how to write my own browser

Ok, ok, I didn’t technically write my own browser, that would take a lot of work, but what I did do is build a Browser Proxy.  The Browser Proxy is the default Browser on my PC, and all it does, is validate if a key is pressed (“Left Shift” to be exact) and either launch IE or Chrome based on that key.  This means for me now, “Click” is to open in IE and “Shift+Click” is to open in Chrome!

Here’s how I did it
First, you need AutoHotKey, which I’ve written about before.  You can use it have an always-on scripting engine running to help you control Windows, or to create scripts and turn them in executable, which is what we’re going to do here.  So get that installed on your PC.
Second, Choose your actual “Default Browser” in Windows.  I made Internet Explorer default because people send me work related links in Lync, Email, and they are scattered all through documents and such, so it makes sense to make IE default for me.  This means that without the SHIFT key down, IE will be used.
Third, we need to create what I call “Browser Proxy” executable, This is going to be a bit more complicated, to get you started, My friend and I have created the browser .ahk file (AutoHotKey script) and installer .reg file (think of this as associations for your application so Windows can find it).  Download the package here, (virus scan it, because you should virus scan any weird .zip file you download from the Internet), and then unzip it.  You’ll find 3 files, one of which is a readme and you can figure that out.
Crack open the BrowserProxy.ahk in Notepad or your favorite editor, it looks like this:
GetKeyState,State,LShift
IfEqual,State,U
{
    ; Shift Key up -- launch IE
    Run,"C:\Program Files (x86)\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe" -nohome "%1%"
}
Else
{
    ; Shift Key down -- launch Chrome
    Run,"C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe" "%1%"
}
Validate the paths for both Internet Explorer and Chrome. Change the paths as appropriate.  You can also chose to use a different key, like if you wanted the Left CONTROL button to be the key you use, change the “LShift” in bold above to “LControl”.  In fact you can choose whatever key you want (here is the list).
Once you’ve got the script validated, save it and then since you now have AutoHotKey installed, you right click on the script and choose Compile Script.
Compile Script
This produces a BrowserProxy.exe in the same directory. I copied this to "C:\Program Files (x86)\BrowserProxy\BrowserProxy.exe" (and agreed to the UAC prompt). You can put this anywhere, but more updates will be required in the .reg file which we’re going to use next.
Now we need to import the BrowserProxy.reg file into your system registry.  Please do feel free to open it in Notepad before importing it (you should always be aware of what you’re putting into your registry), but it does 3 important things
  1. Define the BrowserProxy.exe application under the SOFTWARE section of the registry
  2. Registers that application
  3. Sets up the root classes that the application can handle
If you changed the path of where you put BrowserProxy.exe, you’ll need to update that as well, and mind that you keep double \\ when you put the path in.
Now that your own “Browser” is ready, you need to make it default.  This is how I did it on Windows 8.1
  1. Open the Desktop Control panel (Win+R, type “control”, and click OK)
  2. Click on Programs
  3. select under Default Programs click on Make a file type always open a specific program.
  4. In this dialog, we need to change the default to “Browser Proxy” for “.htm”, “.html”, “.shtml”, “.xht”, “.xhtml”, “FTP”, “HTTP” and “HTTPS”.  Select the item in the list and click on Change program… then select BrowserProxy.exeChange Associations
Once you have configured all 8 defaults, you should be able to immediately start using a CLICK to open in IE and SHIFT+CLICK to open in Chrome!!
Note: Some applications may cache the default browser, in which case they would need to be restarted (My offender: Outlook).  Now you can use two browsers easily without having to do the usual tricks of copying URLs between browser windows, or manually setting default browsers constantly.
Final note: If you are looking for a way to launch Firefox, try changing the launch EXE in the .ahk script to:
{
    ; Shift Key down -- launch FireFox
    Run,"C:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" -requestPending -osint -url "%1%"
}
For Reference here is the contents of the .reg file:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Clients\StartMenuInternet\BrowserProxy.EXE]
@="BrowserProxy"

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Clients\StartMenuInternet\BrowserProxy.EXE\Capabilities]
"ApplicationDescription"="Browser Proxy Application, enables you to switch between IE or Chrome simply by pressing SHIFT when you click"
"ApplicationName"="BrowserProxy"

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Clients\StartMenuInternet\BrowserProxy.EXE\Capabilities\FileAssociations]
".htm"="BrowserProxyHTML"
".html"="BrowserProxyHTML"
".shtml"="BrowserProxyHTML"
".xht"="BrowserProxyHTML"
".xhtml"="BrowserProxyHTML"

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Clients\StartMenuInternet\BrowserProxy.EXE\Capabilities\StartMenu]
"StartMenuInternet"="BrowserProxy.EXE"

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Clients\StartMenuInternet\BrowserProxy.EXE\Capabilities\URLAssociations]
"ftp"="BrowserProxyHTML"
"http"="BrowserProxyHTML"
"https"="BrowserProxyHTML"

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Clients\StartMenuInternet\BrowserProxy.EXE\DefaultIcon]
@="C:\\Program Files (x86)\\BrowserProxy\\BrowserProxy.exe,0"

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Clients\StartMenuInternet\BrowserProxy.EXE\shell]
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Clients\StartMenuInternet\BrowserProxy.EXE\shell\open]
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Clients\StartMenuInternet\BrowserProxy.EXE\shell\open\command]
@="\"C:\\Program Files (x86)\\BrowserProxy\\BrowserProxy.exe\""

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\RegisteredApplications]
"BrowserProxy"="Software\\Clients\\StartMenuInternet\\BrowserProxy.EXE\\Capabilities"

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\BrowserProxyHTML]
@="Browser Proxy"
"FriendlyTypeName"="Browser Proxy"

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\BrowserProxyHTML\DefaultIcon]
@="\"C:\\Program Files (x86)\\BrowserProxy\\BrowserProxy.exe\",0"

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\BrowserProxyHTML\shell]
[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\BrowserProxyHTML\shell\open]
[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\BrowserProxyHTML\shell\open\command]
@="\"C:\\Program Files (x86)\\BrowserProxy\\BrowserProxy.exe\" \"%1\""

Monday, February 24, 2014

How to map your FourSquare data

I use FourSquare, not for the mayor-ships, or the points (although they are fun) but as a bit of history in my travels.  It’s easier to check in somewhere, then write it down the location and map it later.  My goal has always been to get some form of map with push pins in it.  Sure FourSquare provides a bit of history, but the map is SUPER tiny, and very hard to use

FourSquare activity - actual size

I’ve tried a bunch of solutions, usually provided by LifeHacker (one of my favourite websites), and they’ve all been just ok.  I think I’ve finally found a solution, that based on my check-in frequency, works for me.  LifeHacker posted a link to Billy Burle’s blog (follow BillyBurle here).  Billy had a blog post on How to Create a Heat Map of your FourSquare check-ins using Google Fusion Tables.  It’s quite frankly, awesome, but needed some adjustments.  I can get push-pins, or heat maps with this approach!  For example, here is my push-pin history for 2013:

Pushpin history

Or a Heat map of my travels to Seattle

Heat Map

Are you a map geek and want to do this?  So here is how…

Step 1: Obtain your check-in history from FourSquare

First you need to get your FourSquare check in history.  For this I browsed to my FourSquare Feeds, and got the URL for my KML feed.  It has a unique character set in it, because that’s your private feed.

Clicking the link will give you the last 50 or so check-ins.  what I did was right click on the link and say “Copy” url, pasted it into the address bar, then at the end of the URL I added the text “?count=1000” to get the last 1000 items (1000 is a key number in a lower step).  This will download a .kml file with the file name patching that crazy string character set in the URL.  I renamed mine to “Foursquare Data 2013”, just to make it easier to find.  Since I stored the .kml files for use if a better solution comes up down the road.

Step 2: Prepare the KML file to have only the years data

It’s pretty unlikely that you checked in exactly 1000 times in a given year, but in Step 1 we downloaded exactly 1000 historical check-ins.  So let’s make that exactly the year.  What I did (and I’m trying to figure out how to automated some of this) is to open the .kml file I downloaded in Notepad (I also turned on “word wrap”, since the file is one line, that’s 1000s of characters long).  I searched for “31 Dec” (or “30 Dec” or the last day you checked in on the previous year).  Then I scanned backwards in the file from that last check-in from the previous year until I found the “</Placemark><Placemark>”.  This is the end of the first check in of the current year, and the start of the last check in of the previous year.  I put my cursor between “><” characters and scrolled to the bottom of the document.  I then held shift and clicked between the “><” of the “</Placemark></Folder>”.  I then hit delete.  The end of the file should still look like “</Placemark></Folder></kml>”, but now everthing from the beginning of the document to the end of the document is exactly the current year you wish to display. 

The reason you need to do this, is because the Fusion Tables (at least as far as I can tell) have a hard coded limit of 1000 objects in them. So by limiting it to the year, I noticed in 2013, I had 783 check-ins, which is well under the 1000 limit.  But if I included 2010-2014 (my entire life of FourSquare check ins (obtained by adding to the URL: ?Count=10000”), I had 1723 check ins, and I was missing a bunch of data, hence my decision to break it up by year.  You may have to break it up further if you’re a FourSquare fanatic.

Step 3: Prepare Google Drive if you haven’t already

This was my first time using Google Drive, and as such, this is a one-time step I did for each year I imported.  I have OneDrive, where most of my online data is stored and I have a Home Server where my local data is stored, so I haven’t needed it. So I logged into my Google Drive account, and needed to add Fusion tables.  I clicked the down arrow on the settings gear ( Gear) and chose Manage Apps, then clicked on Connect more apps in the pop-up window.  In the search box I typed “fusion table”, and it was the only one I could install.  I installed it.  At the time of writing it is an experimental app…. which I figure is just typical of Google.  Is anything ever really out of Beta with them? ;o)

Step 4: Importing the data into a Fusion Table

This is where Billy Burle’s blog post really shines (I had to figure out all the above), and even helped in the comment section of Billy’s post with the data.  So here is the fun part

  1. Click on the Create Button
  2. Choose to create a new Fusion Table (experimental) Create / Fusion Table
  3. Choose to upload a file from your computer by clicking Choose File and select the file that you created and edited in step 1 and 2, then click Next Choose File
  4. On the import new table row, I just click Next again and leave the columns as is Column Headers
  5. On the final page, I give it a good friendly Table Name, and click Finish Import Finish

That’s it, now you have a new Fusion table.  Ready to see your check-in history?  Check out the Map of Geometry page, and now you can play around with the map, and choose the Feature Map (default) which is the push-pin view, or the Heatmap view:

Map of Geometry

Last but not least, if you ever want to revisit your data, just hit up your Google Drive and select the fusion table and it’s all saved there for you for that year.  So you can quickly pull it up at a map-tastic party.  What’s also awesome, is if you have a Windows 8.1 tablet (Like a Surface 2) then you can also just get the Windows Google Drive Client, and show it there instantly.  Works like it does on the web!

Enjoy and have fun with your data!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Backing up your Contacts from the Cloud

I can’t stress how important backing up is, I even have a special tag just for tips and tricks with backup, across various technology. 

So you might think, well, my contacts are *in* the cloud, so they are safe right?  Wrong!  If you don’t take backups into your own hands, you can have issues down the road, even with all the resiliency built into these Cloud services, you can loose data, here are just a few ways:

  • The Delete key could get stuck on your wireless keyboard and end up deleting a majority of your contacts in an instant, which then syncs to your service and then instantly to all your devices (this happens in my inbox all the time when my keyboard battery is low). (don’t have this? learn how to set it up here)
  • You could get hacked, be that @Matt or @N style, or simply by a script kiddy (you’ve enabled 2-factor authentication for your account already right? (Outlook.com, GMail.com)
  • You could get a virus that deletes, corrupts or worse (encrypts) your data so you can’t access it
  • You could cause yourself to get locked out of your account, maybe because you broke the Terms of Use?
  • The cloud service can make a mistake and delete your files (although it’s likely they can get it back, this is hours of support calls)

So, it’s in your best interest to do your own backup, and manage your data on your own, even in a cloud service.  I keep my Contacts in the cloud and I backup periodically (manually, but all the same, it’s periodically).  What would be great if these services did this monthly and emailed it to you…. a request in progress!

This is how I do it with Outlook.com

  • Browse on over to https://people.live.com and log in
  • On the title bar at the top, choose Manage and click on Export for use with Outlook.com and other services. People Export
  • This will prompt you to download (or automatically download) a file called OutlookContacts.csv. which is a coma separated values file that contains pretty much every important field that is in your contacts.  This is what you have to save in a safe place.

If you loose your contacts for whatever reason, you can use this file to work on importing them into another app or the same service but different account, etc.

This is how I do it with GMail.com

  • Browse on over to https://www.google.com/contacts/ and log in
  • On the More drop down, select Export… to start the process Contacts Export
  • Choose the best format that you want to export in.  I think that Outlook CSV is the most widely used format, but you may wish to export in all formats, or specific formats to meet your needs. Export Contacts
  • This will prompt you to download a contacts.csv (or automatically download it), and this is the file you want to keep safe. 

There are multiple ways to import these files if your data is lost… more on that to come, but at least you doing this if only once a year, will save you a lot of hassle if you run into trouble.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Checking your sign-in history in Outlook.com

Well, I thought I knew everything about Hotmail..err.. Outlook.com there was to know, but instead I was talking to a friend today who said that a month or so ago, someone tried to access his account from Chili. Wait, what?! how does he know this?

Your Microsoft Account stores all the successful and unsuccessful log in attempts in your profile for you to view at any time.  Simply browse over to https://account.live.com and log in, then click on Recent Activity.  You can scroll through each one if you want, or just scroll until you find an Incorrect Password Entered or a weird Location.  Like this one in my account:

Recent Activity

Wow, someone attempted to log in to my Outlook.com account from Poland, good thing I have 2-factor auth enabled.  So if they did have my password for whatever reason, they’d still need my cell phone to actually get the second auth factor… which I have right here with me… aka, not in Poland.

Kind of nice there is an audit trail.  If one of the successful log ins wasn’t you, you can contest it right there and Outlook.com will help you take evasive action!

Have fun snooping on your snoopers!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

How to fix Outlook's Jump Lists

I'm a big fan of the Jump Lists in Windows 7/Windows 8.  I use them a lot to get to key documents and most importantly start a new mail message or new calendar request with Outlook 2013

It's super easy to just right-click, and then select New E-mail Message, and you're off to the races, no need to make Outlook the foreground or anything. 

However, twice now I've found this list corrupted, I right click and there is just the bottom three, and the "task" available is a "mailto:a_lot_of_garbage", and it does nothing.  Productivity drops instantly.  

I did however managed to find this support article on tasks missing once Outlook is pinned to the task bar.  It provides two work arounds, both times the first one worked.  Instead of the backup, I just renamed the "LastUILanguage" key and re-opened Outlook. 

Method 1: Delete the LastUILanguage registry value

To export and delete the LastUILanguage registry value, follow these steps:
  1. Unpin the Outlook 2013 icon.
  2. Exit Outlook 2013.
  3. Use Regedit to export the following registry key:

    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Outlook
  4. After you export the Outlook registry key, delete the LastUILanguage registry value.
  5. Start Outlook 2013, and then re-pin the icon.

Method 2: Export and delete the Setup registry key

If method 1 does not resolve the issue, export and delete the Setup registry key. To do this, follow these steps:
  1. Unpin the Outlook 2013 icon.
  2. Exit Outlook 2013.
  3. Use Regedit to export and then delete the following registry key:

    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Outlook\Setup
  4. Start Outlook 2013, and then re-pin the icon.
Hopefully this helps you....

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Adding Server Shares to Modern Photo App – Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 updated the photo app to remove Facebook, and Flickr, and make it only look like you can view pictures on your local device, and on your SkyDrive.  However, this isn’t entirely true.  If you’re like me and have a NAS or in my case, a Home Server on your network, you could quite possibly have GBs of pictures stored on your server that you want to show to friends and family on your tablet.  That can be cumbersome to get to if you don’t set it up first.  And nothing makes family or friends more bored of looking at your pictures, than watching you struggle to get to them.

Here is how to add those GBs of photos to your surface “view” without actually copying them to your surface.

First you need to make sure your surface has access to the server share.  I recently wrote a post on how to do that – Using the Windows Credential Manager to Store Server Credentials in Windows 8.1.

Next follow these steps:

  1. Open up the Desktop app if you haven’t already
  2. Open up Windows Explorer and navigate to the picture folder on your remote machine
  3. Right click on the folder containing the pictures, and go to Include in library, and select Pictures to include it into the pictures library. Include in Pictures library
  4. Now you’ll see in your libraries that you have two locations for PicturesPictures library
  5. Next go back into the Photos Modern app and choose the local computer, you’ll notice all the folders inside the pictures folder you chose in step #3, if you’re on the local network Pictures Library Modern App

Now when you’re on your local network, you just look like you have a HUGE photo collection.  The downside is if you take pictures at 21megapixel like I do and use very little compression, that you’ll end up having to wait for Wireless to download each picture as you go to view it.  I find a good 2-3 second story about each picture is enough for the next picture to download in the background. Smile

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Using the Windows Credential Manager to Store Server Credentials in Windows 8.1 (and on Surface!)

My wife got a new laptop, first one in 10 years.  I’m very proud of her.  She’s the opposite of me, and pretty much doesn’t like change on her computer.  This is most likely due to the fact she touches a computer for less than 1/2 an hour a day, and doesn’t want to spend 10 minutes of the 30 figuring out where the “File” menu went (yes, the IE7 upgrade just about killed my wife).  She went with the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. It’s an amazing laptop, but doesn’t have a TPM chip, so I can’t use it for work (otherwise I’d have one too!)  The screen is breathtaking, but I digress.

We have a Home Server 2011 in our house (obviously), but it doesn’t back up UEFI machines (not that I know of anyways) via the Client Backup.  So installing the Launch Pad seemed a bit of overkill so she could just go to \\server.  Her Windows Explorer has a link to the root of the Server share so she can get to the pictures, the videos, the TV shows, and so on.  I’m a big fan of security, and she has her own account on the server, but I couldn’t get her username and password to save for the server through a reboot.  And as you can probably guess, it has to be easy for her (a click to get access). 

I ended up simply saving this into her Windows Credential Storage (details below).  Worked like a charm.  It got me thinking, does this work on my Surface 2?  Sure enough it did!!  This means that I can simply access the server without providing credentials every time.  Now when I’m in my home, my Surface can just access an additional 4TB of data, right from inside the Metro Apps (more on this in my post "Adding Server Shares to Modern Photo App"). 
Let me tell you how to use the credential manager first. 
  1. Hit the Start key or swipe out the charm bar and press the Start button
  2. Type in Cred to search the start menu for the Credential Manager. Search for 'Cred'
  3. Launch the Credential Manager, and select the Windows Credentials button. 
  4. Under that button, simply click the Add a Windows credential.
  5. Fill out the wizard with the name of your server, in my case “SERVER”, my credentials Fill out the Add a Windows Credential Wizard
  6. Notice it’s in the list and then close the Credential Manager
Now you may try this instantly and it might not work.  This is most likely because you’ve already tried to connect to this server and stored the fact that you don’t need a username or password.  A reboot or sign-out/in will fix that as long as the item stays in the Credential Manager.  You can also open the command prompt and type in “net use * /d” to delete all active connections which will force Windows to re-open new ones, using the Credential Manager.

For reference, here is the official Windows Help topic on this.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Removing the Required PIN code on Windows Surface

My corporate E-Mail requires that any device I sync it to, enable a 4-digit PIN to unlock the device, at a minimum.  I can make this as complex as I like, but I must at least have a 4-digit PIN.  I'm fine with this, I think it's a good practice to have a PIN on your phone or tablet, so if it's lost, the thief or casual finder can't access all the data on it.  Even more so all those corporate secrets that I have! (har har! Like I'm trusted with corporate secrets!)

What I'm not fine with, is once you decide that you no longer want your work account on a device, you can't get rid of the requirement for the PIN, like how I'm re-purposing an old SurfaceRT (yes, I pre-ordered a Surface2!) to be a digital music player / weather station / morning news station / upstairs Skype phone, in the bedroom, I don't have *anything* on it that would need a PIN, and the likely hood of the tablet leaving the bedroom aside from when I move houses, is extremely small.

Searching around turned up nothing, asking around (especially @Microsoft) usually turns up something.  And this time it turned up this super handy How do I Turn Off the AutoLock in Windows 8 article.  And here I was searching around in gpedit.msc or regedit, and it's right there in the Control Panel UI!

Here's how to do it:
  • Open up the Control Panel (either Win+X or Win+R then type "Control", enter)
  • Click on the title User Accounts and Family Safety
  • Click on the title User Accounts
  • Click on the Reset Security Policy 
  • Click on the Reset Policies Button 
That's all there is to it. Now you can go into PC Settings and set the password policy to never required!  This also allows you to change the default screensaver time out as well.

There you have it.  It took me a lot of effort to find that, so I'm sharing it here (so I don't forget as well).  And now I don't have to factory reset my SurfaceRT! w00t!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

How to Change Your Email Address and Service Gracefully

So you got the Internet, and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) sold you on 5 free email addresses, and you thought: "Free is good!". Then you read my post from a few days ago about how to use email, calendar and contacts across multiple devices, and realized that Free is good, but you need to choose the right free.
So now you want to migrate your email address to an Outlook.com or G-Mail account. Allowing you keep not only your email, but your calendar and contacts as well in "the cloud".
This is not only an invasive change for you, but it's also for your friends, and this post is designed to logically tell you how to gracefully switch to a new e-mail.
  1. Create your account on your new provider.  I would recommend Outlook.com, because, well I'm biased and I really like it.  You'll want to spend some time to get a username you're happy with.  On Outlook.com you can create aliases later on if you don't like your log in, for specific purposes.  So you can create your account as mulletman@outlook.com, but then create an alias of firstname.lastname@outlook.com for your resume, and have both delivered to your inbox.
  2. Once you're happy with your new email address, you can log into it and you'll have no email.  What I did was export all of my contacts as a "CSV" file (Comma Seperated Values) from whatever email program I was using on my computer, then just went to the People tab, and chose Manage, then Add People  You can then choose to Import from file, and import that same CSV file.  (you can also import from Google, Linked In, Sina Weibo, Facebook).  Basically I get my contacts all squared away first (while still checking my old email).
  3. Ideally you want to set up e-mail forwarding from your old account to this new one you set up so when email arrives, it gets forwarded directly.  I can't explain how to do that on this post as each ISV is different.  You can call their helpdesk and ask how to do this.  The other option is to have your new account "check" your old email for new messages and download.  Outlook.com can do this by going to Settings (the gear in the title bar), then More mail settings, then under Manage your Account, click Your email accounts, which allows you to add a POP account for Add a send-and-receive account, and provide your old email address server, username and password.  Then validate that it works by sending email to your old account, and making sure that you eventually see it in your new account (eventually if you chose Outlook.com to check your email, it could take some time for it to hit your new account)
  4. Once you're happy that your old mail is flowing to your new email.  It's time to make the switch to your new account.  You'll want to send an email to ALL of your contacts to tell them of your updated email address.  You'll also want to check any subscriptions you signed up for and unsubscribe from those and resubscribe with your new email address
  5. If you still have friends emailing you at your old address, simply reply from your new address and remind them of your email address update.  After a period of time (on the order of Months) when you feel comfortable that people are using your new email address, you can turn off the old POP account you set up in step 3.
  6. And you're done!
Lots of people ask me why not stay with their ISP.  Here are my reasons:
  1. ISP mail servers typically don't offer calendar and contact service, and are old archaic mail-servers that don't have any features that work with newer devices
  2. The use of POP or IMAP uses your data plan on a schedule to check your email.  That's a bunch of data eaten out of your data plan (on a phone for example) that will probably result in no new messages for you.  Newer protocols only use data when you have email
  3. The use of POP and IMAP run on a schedule and use data, and as a result, they drain your battery faster than newer protocols
  4. ISPs are typically networking experts, they run mail servers because it's common practice for them to offer an email account with your networking.  But it's not their expertise, why not switch to someone who focuses on making these services great?
  5. If you move homes to a house outside of a service area for your ISP, Or if you simply want to switch to get a better "deal", you'll loose your email address as a result, which causes your friends to go through the pain as it is.
  6. If you travel around the world, access to your email account is slow outside of your ISP network and native country.  World-wide enabled companies like Microsoft, Google, or Yahoo, optimize their service to be access world wide and your service will be far better outside of the country.
And if you aren't sure if you want to use Outlook or GMail, why not make it super easy and use your own domain.  I've moved my email account 5 times since I've had my own domain, and none of my friends are the wiser as the email address never changes, just the back-end service.  If you want to do that, I have instructions here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cloud Sharing your Email, Contacts, Calendar Between Different Devices

I’ve come across a lot of people who still struggle with different devices and having to physically plug them into their computer when they want to sync their calendar or contacts.  Sure, Email is a solved problem for them, but not that pesky Calendar or the list of Contacts.  This post is intended to help those people.  But those people have to embrace “the cloud”…

The cloud sounds scary, but it’s not, you’ve been using it for years, it’s just a server on the Internet that’s always accessible. Sure this can be a single mail server that’s been holding your email until you connect it, or it can be a scale-out solution that offers compute, storage, and database needs, but let’s start small.  Your email server, is in the cloud.  Yes, that same one offered to your by your Internet Service Provider (ISV).  That’s “cloud”.  See, you have email, you’re already using “the cloud”.  Your problem is you either (a), have an e-mail only server that uses POP3, or (b), you’re not taking advantage of the features of your server to leverage contacts and calendar.

If you have an e-mail server that only does email (i.e. only offers you IMAP or POP3 access), then you are living in the stone ages.  IMAP and POP3 are to email what rotary dialing is to the telephone.  The first is to switch to something that offers the email, calendar, contact suite of products.  I find it best to switch to the product that your spouse or significant other is using, primarily because it makes it easier to share things like the calendar.  My preference is Outlook.com, but you can also use GMail or Yahoo! Or if you wanted something more powerful, you could choose Office365.  The bottom line is you need to ditch that ISV email server.  Some ISVs leverage the above services for their email solution.  That’s better than POP3, but I still don’t like being tied to an ISV, because if you move or that ISV gets bought by another, things change, but this is your call.  This may or may not require you to get a different email address.  This is by far the most painful part of the process, so you’ll want to do this part once.  If you want to use your own domain name, so your email address never needs to change.  I have instructions on how to do this with Hotmail / Outlook.com.

Let’s overview the set up that you’re aiming for:

Cloud to Device

 

This means that each phone, tablet or computer connects directly to the Internet (or cloud) to get your Email (which it does today) and your calendar and your contacts.  This means that the primary location for your E-mail, Calendar and Contacts is in the cloud.  Your devices and computers are just a “view” into that.  While you probably won’t need this with today’s devices. All of my computers are configured to use Exchange Active Sync (EAS).  Apparently Google is the only service that doesn’t use this anymore.

This works for me, and allows me to share my calendar with my wife, so we can always be in sync (provided she enters her events into her calendar!). 

I have the following devices, that are always up to date and never need to be plugged into a computer for “syncing”.

  • Windows Phone 8
  • Surface RT
  • Windows 8 PC (both built in e-mail client, and Outlook 2013)
  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Blackberry Playbook

This is the set up you “don’t” want, as you are now dependent on your computer, and if you’re computer crashes, or dies, you loose your calendar and contacts.

Bad Setup

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Installing Pebble Watch Faces when you’re not a Developer

 

I have a developer background.  I went to the University of Waterloo and have a degree in Pebble Time: Beer O'Clock Computer Science.  The problem is I don’t have time to do any development.  Between my “day” job and my kids, when I get an hour to myself, I have to do some house maintenance so this place doesn’t fall down around me!

However, I got myself a Pebble watch, as part of the Kickstarter wave.  Yes I was a backer, and followed it from almost the beginning.  I got in pretty early as I took off my watch mid-university not believing I could wear something that only did one task, and one that was on my phone, and almost anywhere I looked.  If I was going to wear a watch, it was to do more than tell time!  I told a ton of my friends this and almost as soon as Pebble came out on Kick Starter, a bunch of my friends were sending me links.  I jumped in immediately and then had to patiently wait… and wait… and wait, but the wait was totally worth it.  I’m loving Pebble.

The Pebble team has done a ton of work on their SDK, it’s one of their most prized parts of the Pebble.  This is fantastic if you want to make your own watch face, but, while I’m a tech enthusiast, and the @Pebble guys even added me to their ├╝ber Pebblers list, I just don’t have time to develop watch faces.  BUT, I did want to take advantage of the hard work that other backers were doing and get some fancy watch faces. 

To get new watchfaces, you simply point your phone’s browser over to www.mypebblefaces.com, click on the one you want to download, then follow the steps on the phone to install it:

Open in "Pebble"

Click Open in “Pebble”

Choose "Continue"

Ensure you are installing from a trusted source, and choose Continue

The watchface installs on your Pebble and you’re good to go. Since these are only 24KB max, you can download them on the fly.  For example, when I hit the party, I just download the Beer O’Clock watch face, and I’m good to go!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I’m Super Happy with Windows 8

So ya, I’m a Microsoft employee, so I’m assimilated right?  Yes and no.  I believe in Microsoft, I understand where we’re going and I have insight into the future (of Microsoft) that the average person would not.
imageBut with Windows 8, I held off installing it as my production machine until 2 months after RTM.  That’s unheard of.  With Windows 7 I was running it in production far before it even reached Alpha stage (which makes Windows 7 the operating system I’ve run the longest, ever).  I loved Windows 7 so much.  Finally it was fast, and I was super efficient, I knew where everything was.  It was the XP Bliss days all over again, but on a faster, more secure, more compatible, more more more system.  My home network was running flawlessly, and I didn’t have the time to deal with “problems” given I was ramping up on my job change.  I had seen videos of people struggling with where to find things and fellow employees even told me that they were having trouble with this or that. 
So, I got into my head that I didn’t want the change, and while I agreed with the focus Windows 8 had on touch, and tablets, I strongly disagreed with the use of the same operating system for stand-up desktops or laptops, that don’t have touch.  Why would you force users to go to the corners of the screen? What’s wrong with the mouse? It seems like Microsoft is trying to kill it (don’t we all try to kill mice?)
I have now been running Windows 8 for over a month, and I have to say, I absolutely love it, and cringe when I see people running on Windows 7, it seems so old to me.  And I have a Lenovo T410 without touch, and two 24” monitors attached to a docking station (also without touch). 
First the gripes I’ve heard, and why it’s not a problem:
The Start Screen
The way I think about Windows 8 is it’s an operating system, that opens up a set of tiles (which are larger icons, because the icons provide value without touching them.  They call these live tiles).  One of these tiles is called the Desktop.  This is a legal application that serves up the old Windows 7 desktop, so you can continue to run the bazillion of old apps you used to run, apps that need a mouse, apps that are designed for the “chained to your desk” way of life.  If you were paying attention in the Windows 7 days, you’ll notice you can “pin” all your frequently used applications to the task bar, and you can continue to do this in Windows 8, with almost no change (aside from the very initial launch or pin).  Yes the start button is gone, but it’s superfluous if you think about it.  I’m a pretty big power user, and I have 19 applications pinned to my task bar, and I probably only ever use another 2-3 that aren’t pinned, and there is plenty of room in the taskbar for them.  When I do need the task bar, I can either drag my mouse to where it use to be, and in a 1/2 second the start menu box comes up, or simply press the windows key that’s on pretty much every keyboard you can get these days in a designed for windows PC.  So Ultimately once I’m in my legacy desktop application (which yes there are new applications for, like Office 2013!), I *rarely* get out to the start menu
The Corners of the Screen
I’ve heard a lot of talk about “why use the corners of the screen?”.  I honestly was curious as to what people were talking about for 2 weeks, as I didn’t even need the corners of the screen.  With a keyboard you can do almost everything you could do with a mouse only and the corner of the screen.  I can see how they would be useful for your fingers, because they are quick task switching and allow you to search or get access into settings etc.  Useful with your finger, but not needed when using a mouse and keyboard
Focus on Touch
I think this is a great move by Microsoft.  Apple has really been the forerunner here with the iPad, moving the world to touch based computing.  I’ve heard that the mouse is just efficient.  This is because you’ve trained yourself to use a mouse.  My toddler can pick up the iPad and just use it.  She can’t do this with a mouse.  The focus on touch brings Windows 8 into today’s world where people are interacting with smaller devices in more intimate ways, and touch is essential.  Whens the last time you’ve sat on the couch and tried to use an external mouse and laptop?  With the desktop legacy app, you get the best of both worlds.  Additionally, for those of you who worry about this, a mouse with a scroll wheel, it’s super easy to navigate the start menu, and modern apps for that matter as well.
Now into what I like without the gripes
It’s Ridiculously Fast
It boots fast, it shuts down fast, it loads stuff fast, it’s always waiting on me, for once!  I thought Windows 7 was fast.  Windows 8 is as fast as they say it is.  In the words of Darth Helmet from Space Balls, it’s ludicrous speed!  I had some spare time to install Adobe Lightroom, Photomatix and ColorFX Pro, my photo editing suite (yes into the legacy desktop app), and noticed a huge difference in photo processing speed.  The same photo editing software and the same hardware with a new OS and I was amazed at how fast it was.
Roaming Profile Settings
Maybe I’m biased here because I have a few PCs, and in the past I’ve had a LOT of computers running (at one time I had up to 6 computers I was actively using), I sort of got used to not customizing Windows, because it just took too long to customize 6 PCs knowing they were going to be re-installed at a moments notice.  With Windows 8 all that comes down from the “Cloud”
Security
Windows 8 is the most secure version of windows ever, yadda yadda yadda.  Every new version of Windows is the most secure version of Windows ever.  What I actually like here is the added security features, like Direct Access now leverages virtual smart cards, you can clearly log into your machine with different types of credentials, and integrated Microsoft Accounts! (formerly LiveID), I think this is the best part.  now I have one identity across all my stuff, which makes access so much easier, without the hassle.
The Windows Store
Sure, every tablet needs it’s marketplace, and Windows is no different.  It already has some awesome apps in it, and this means that I don’t need to store all the installers for all the apps that have purchased on a server somewhere in my house, they are all in the store, and when I go to install them, it’s always the latest version. 
It Just Works
I’ve installed it on 2 machines, one Lenovo and one HP, and all the drivers were there, and they just work, no hassle.  Plus the install on a non SSD computer was about 25 minutes
Touch & Keyboard Focus
I covered above why touch focus is great, but I didn’t mention that as a computer power user (if I may call myself that for a second).  I find that reaching for the mouse and using the mouse time consuming.  I’d rather just do stuff on the keyboard, as it’s faster (see the mouse is inefficient!).  Windows 8 facilitates this with the ability to type on any screen to start a search.  Plus they created a HUGE list of fast keys for you to learn and become more efficient with.  I suggest you start with WIN+I and WIN+X.
So there you have it.  I’m on Windows 8, and I’m loving it more than Windows 7, and I didn’t think I would.  If you’re looking for a new computer to go with Windows 8, (i.e. if you’re not going to do your own install from Microsoft media), I strongly suggest you look for the Microsoft Signature collection of PCs. They come with hardware optimized and approved by Microsoft, they come without bloatware that slows your PC down, and they come with pre-installed security, and support… but if you found this blog post, we all know you don’t need that.
I hope you enjoy Windows 8 as much as I do.  I can’t even wait to try it with touch!
[This is not intended as a marketing post.  This post is intended for all those people who ask me what I think about Windows 8, and what about X or Y or Z.  I can now send you a single link instead of having a super long conversation on what I like about Windows 8]