Tag Archives: outlook

Software Pick: SyncMyCal

With the acquisition of a Blackberry I wanted to be able to sync both my work and home Outlook setups to the Blackberry (and to each other). I tried a number of free tools (though they aren’t that easy to find) and quickly concluded I would need a better solution.

Enter SyncMyCal. It’s easy, it’s cheap (only $25), and you can try for free. I rarely have duplicated events, and I don’t have to think about it ever–it just WORKS.

How it works: SyncMyCal synchronizes an Outlook calendar with a Google calendar. First I created a Google calendar, then I set up SyncMyCal on both work and home computers. I set the home computer to take priority in conflicts, but at work I set the Google calendar to take priority over Outlook–this way there’s a hierarchy of priority that helps to prevent unresolvable conflicts and duplicates.

I bought it days before Google released their Outlook sync tool, but SyncMyCal can do a lot more and I don’t regret the purchase one bit.

The latest version also syncs contacts, but I haven’t used that yet.


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20 Things to do when the Internet goes down

Even if the Internet connection goes out, your computer does not become a dumb brick. There were days these last few days where I didn’t bother turning it on. Then I realized all the things I could still do.

(My home Internet connection finally came back this morning. I’m bit upset that they didn’t figure it out earlier. It turned out that the first technician grossly misdiagnosed the problem. He put in an order for a new drop to be put in. Turned out it was just a broken modem. Why didn’t they try that earlier? Worse, why didn’t I think of it earlier. To be honest, I did think of it, but didn’t push it. Now I just need to get my money back from Comcast.)

Without further ado, here’s my suggestions for what to do when the Internet goes out:

On the computer:

  1. Organize photos in Picasa – I have nearly 6,000 photos on my computer. Many of them need to be deleted, organized, tagged, labeled, e-mailed, etc. (Yes, e-mailed–I can queue them in Outlook until the connection comes back).
  2. Organize My Documents – I’ve let My Documents folder get very messy. Lots of files that don’t need to be there anymore. Others need to be filed, or re-filed.
  3. Organize e-mail – I’ve got hundreds of folders in Outlook. I’ve tried to keep my Inbox empty and put things into @Action, @Someday, or @WaitingFor folders before they find a permanent home, but sometimes it still gets out of hand.
  4. Organize and fill in information in Windows Media Player. I still have music tagged with the wrong genre…
  5. Program. I’ve got two major programming projects I’m working on. They don’t depend on the Internet. The Internet is NICE if you need to learn something, but there’s always plenty of stuff to do that doesn’t require it. Write unit tests, run code coverage, design graphics, do all the other stuff if you must.
  6. Write e-mails to family. Long ones. Your mom will thank you.
  7. Catch up on podcasts. I got through ten episodes of Ask a Ninja, and nearly all backlogged podcasts. Now I’ll have a flood when I sync tonight.
  8. Write blog entries. I use Windows Live Writer. I should have done more of this.
  9. Play a game.
  10. Better, write a game.
  11. Setup appointments and events in Outlook for the next year.
  12. Read some classic programming texts.
  13. General computer maintenance. Defrag your disk, delete temp files, delete old installation files you haven’t used in 5 years (yes, I have some of those…). Use DiskSlicer to find where your space is going.
  14. Do long-avoided projects. I have approximately 20 hours of audio I need to edit and split into tracks. I’ve been putting it off for a very long time.

Off the Computer:

  1. Practice the piano.
  2. Read books. I’ve just started Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Very good, so far. Go buy it. If you’re a geek, you’ll like it. How can you not love a 2 page diversion into the mathematics of when a bike chain will interfere with a broken spoke and fall off? Other than the geekiness, it’s a good story.
  3. Learn to cook a new dish.
  4. Do crosswords.
  5. Exercise.
  6. Relax.

Or just go to the library and use the Internet. I only did this a few times, despite it being within walking distance from where I live.

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Neo Must Die – Give us the Matrix

We don’t want to be free. Neo is our enemy, not our savior.

Most of us have seen The Matrix, or are at least familiar with the story. Neo is our hero in the movie, a virtual god in training, selflessly seeking to destroy the Matrix and free the enslaved humans therein.

Yet, curiously, one of the freed humans desires to get back into the Matrix. “Ignorance is bliss,” proclaims Cypher. Tired of the grit of the real world, he wants to enjoy his virtual steak in a comfortable booth in a nice restaurant in oblivion. Obviously the bad guy, he makes a deal with the Agents and betrays Neo and the crew.

Pointless to ask which character do you identify with more?

The ironic truth is that we humans are willingly inserting ourselves into the Matrix. We don’t need to wait for the Machines to come get us. We’re building them and strapping them on, plugging them in, and embedding ourselves within them.

Think of these trends:

  1. iPods – It seems like there are nearly as many pairs of white ear buds as humans. It is easier than ever to block out the deafening silence with music, podcasts, and tiny videos for the attention-challenged masses. Do I have an iPod that I listen to while cooking, cleaning, building Legos, driving, falling asleep? You betcha.
  2. World of Warcraft, Second Life, other MMORPGS – I think the resemblance of these to the Matrix is actually more superficial than anything else. They are obvious fantasy playgrounds. And yet…we read about WoW weddings, offline guilds, and more. Companies have virtual presences in Second Life. Real estate is bought and sold. Compare the experience of Mildred in Fahrenheit 451 and her 3-walled interactive-TV enclosure. Is that some way between virtual realities and alternate, livable realities? Does your Second Life avatar look just like you? Why not?
  3. 24-hour news – It’s cliché to rail against the 24-hour media, and I don’t want to do that specifically. But it is another aspect of being “plugged in” to the world. We always have to know what’s going on everywhere (ignoring for the moment that most TV news is now tabloid and worthless).
  4. Facebook, mySpace, etc. – These online communities have replaced many of the traditional face-to-face interactions we partake in. We count our friends, visit their pages, listen to their music, understand and comment on their thoughts, sometimes without ever actually meeting.
  5. Twitter – is there anything more Borg-like than being continually updated with the status of hundreds of other individuals? Once we harness this power we, in effect, become individual cogs in a great machine.
  6. Rise of Video over Literature – Books are still incredibly popular and probably will be forever, but the potential exists for books to be superceded by video-on-demand. We’ve always had a “Matrix” in our minds–a place to escape to, interpreting the words on the page however we like. With video, however, the vision is placed upon us and we become part of it, rather than it becoming part of us.
  7. Simplifying life by placing organization burdens on computers – PDAs, Getting Things Done, Outlook. Unburdening our crowded minds, allowing the computer to track our lives for us, freeing us for more important pursuits. Rather than mindless tasks that we all must do, we can focus our energy on our creativity.

What happens to the human race as our reality is supplemented so heavily by virtual realities, by computers, by constant flows of information, and yet coincidentally we have so many automated processes to filter and store that information for when we need it. Do we become hyper-productive and fantastically creative? Do we enjoy the fruits of nearly infinite resources like learning and exploration for its own sake? Or do we become lazy and unproductive, mere taskmasters over the computers which run our lives, stuck in fantasy worlds more exciting than our own?

It’s not that any of these things are bad. What is evident now is that the Matrix itself isn’t bad. Neo is the Luddite trying to hold us back, pull us out of the hyper-connected, multiplexed virtual realities of the 21st century into the grim shadows of “real” life. Real life–that which deals pain equally with joy, sadness with happiness, tough breaks with outstanding successes, where you’re paid to work, not play, not be a hero.

Of course, the Matrix portrays a world equivalent to our own, with the real world being brutally harsh for human existence. But the difference is only in degree. Either way, we’re happier being in a virtual world that is somehow more attractive than the one we physically exist in.

Neo must die. Leave us alone to enjoy our fantasies, our electronically-fueled dalliances in worlds unknown.

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Getting the most out of Outlook 2007

I’ve been trying to organize my life lately, and this weekend, I decided to get my Outlook under control–respond, file, or delete the hundreds of e-mails in my inbox, create necessary tasks, delete obsolete ones, reorganize the folder hierarchy, etc. Also, I’ve recently been introduced to the Getting Things Done methodology and was interested in that. Some of these sites use GTD as their basis, but all the tips are useful even if you’re not specifically using Getting Things Done. In any case, all of these are focused on personal productivity.

In addition, I decided to figure out how to use some features more effectively than I do. Like categories. Outlook has always had categories, but they work so much better in the 2007 version. The To-Do bar has also been visible the whole time I’ve had Outlook 2007, but I haven’t used it effectively. Until now.

What follows are some links to articles and blogs that can help rein in Outlook and make it work for you.

Organization Basics

Advanced Organization

Getting Things Done

I’ve recently become interested in this methodology, after reading the recent article in Wired magazine.

General

Macros

Blogs

Got some other really good tips or sites? Did I leave out an area of Outlook? Post them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.

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Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order: