Thursday, March 30, 2006

NewsGator Oneline overhaul

Yesterday I wrote that NewsGator is one of my "must have" applications. NewsGator uses RSS, or "Really Simple Syndication," to bring you up to the minute news, blogs, sports, images, audio and more. If you don't really understand RSS, check out Newsgator's explanation here.
Why bother? Here's one example. The president of my organization has a blog and it has...well, just two entries. The vice-president of my division also has a blog; he also has two entries. My immediate boss blogs...he has lots of entries. How do I know when they've posted something new? Do I check their blogs every day? Not likely; they don't post often enough. So what if I could leave the checking of these sites to my computer. That's what an RSS "aggregator" does. It pulls in content from the places you chose, when you chose and deposits it where you chose.
The Newsgator suite of applications does this very well. NG is actually a series of applications: an Outlook add-in, a stand alone reader, a Mac client and a web-based reader. You can use as many or few of the products as you want, but they all synchronize with each other. That is, if I read a blog entry or a new article in my Outlook add-in, it automatically marks the article as "read" on the web-based reader as well.

Marc Orchant and Ed Bott both have great write ups of the new deal.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Set up a home wireless network

Many of us use wireless networks at home or office. Setting one up might be easier than you’d think. Lifehacker has a great primer here.

Office 2007 interface preview video

I am becoming completely taken with the new Office interface.  You only see what you really need to see at any given point.  It’s a tremendous boon to Tablet users; no more navigating down infinitely nested drop-down menus…yuck.  If you want a better understanding of what’s coming, check out this streaming preview video from Microsoft.  Some people are worried about relearning a whole new interfact, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much.  If you look for stuff where it ought to be you probably find it.  If you look for it where Microsoft used to hide it, you’re in trouble.  The designers have done a great job putting all the various controls where they intuitively belong.

Bery bery nejse masheen

I finally got my TabletPC back!  The service guys finished with it last week, but it took serveral days to get down to Skopje.  In fact, my colleague Carolyn, who happens to live in Skopje, picked it up from the service guys.  She said that they were a little reluctant to part with it.  In fact, when she came they were patting in gently saying, “It’s a bery bery nejse masheen.”  I agree!  In the end they put in a new battery, new motherboard and gave me a new power supply.  They told me that the power up here is terrible (ya, thanks) and that a more powerful power supply would help safeguard the thing.  Who knows.

Using synctoy I synced back all my data from my wife’s laptop, including all my Outlook information.  In just a few minutes I was up and ready to go.  Of course, I immediately made things interesting by installing the “technical refresh” of Office 2007 beta and Onelook 2007 beta.   I can’t tell you how much I missed Outlook 2007.  Going back to OL2003, which is what my wife uses, really cramped my organizational style.  As good as 2003 is, and it’s great, it just doesn’t compare to what 2007 has going for it. 

All that aside, here’s what I missed most about my own computer:

Newsgator – Newsgator is a wonderful thing that tracks all the stuff I want to track, blogs, websites, etc.  Newsgator gathers all that information for me and allows me to read it either on their website, or in Outlook.   While I was able to track my news and blogs on the Newsgator website, there’s no beating having it all delivered straight to Outlook.  This week Newsgator released several upgrades and new products.  If you’re interested in reading blogs at all you have to try Newsgator.

ActiveWords – I’ve written about this program before, but it’s like a macro progam on steroids.  Nuf said.

Outlook 2007 – The features in OL2007 just rock.  I’ll have to write more later on this.

Onenote 2007 – Another must have program.  Onenote is my one-stop place for all my notes, doodles, projects and place to save neat website clippings.  It now syncronizes with Outlook.

GetRight – GetRight is my ubiqitous download manager.  When your internet connect is spotty you need a reliable program that can seamlessly resume and schedule downloads.  I have 24/7 Internet, but I don’t have much speed.  GetRight is also great for downloading podcasts for the same reason.  It has a built in podcast downloader that checks my feeds automatically.  I can then download or schedule the download when it suits me.

Okay.  That’s it.   Forunately I got it back in time for our organizational meetings in Slovenia next week. 



Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sounds like a great jump start

I drank the cool-aid two years ago next month...and it's been great. Seriously, "Getting Things Done" is the only "time management" system I've ever used that provides me with the information I need when, and where I need it. Last month when first my Palm PDA died, followed by my laptop I was able to transition pretty seamlessly to a Moleskine notebook and a pencil. That's right, one of the powerful things about GTD is that it's technology independent. That can be key in the life of a missionary when you don't know when the electricity spirits may or may not smile.
I hope that I can actually attend one of these seminars while home in the US next year that one of the GTD Roadmap seminars while home in the US this next year.

GTD jump start by ZDNet's Marc Orchant -- I attended David Allen's Roadmap seminar in Santa Monica on Friday. This one-day seminar is a reformatting of the two-day Getting Things Done seminar I attended a few years ago and it has refreshed my enthusiasm for Getting Things Done in a couple of ways.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My next PDA?

    I’ve been a long-time user of the Palm PDA.  My first one was the almost original Palm Pilot Professional…and I loved it.  My most recent PDA has been the Sony CLIE TH55.  I’ve loved my CLIE too. It has all the features I’ve ever wanted in a PDA, including wi-fi, MP3 player and voice recorder.  With it I can work on Word docs, PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets.  I’ve taken notes for many meetings with this baby, and the battery life is measured in days, not hours. 
Unfortunately, I recently dropped it and broke the screen.  Since then I’ve been thinking about my next “external brain.”  I’ve thought about some of the new Palm devices which are rumored to be coming out, including the Treo 700p, which is the next generation Treo running the Palm OS.

    But then a couple of weeks ago Microsoft’s “Origami” viral marketing campagin finally reached fruition with the awkwardly named UMPC device.  The Ultra-Mobile-Personal –Computer is a full featured Tablet PC in a very, very small package.  That means a full-featured Windows XP device in something the size of a half a sheet of paper.    For a pretty decent overview of Origami/UMPC check out this ComputerWorld article (thanks Dennis).

    A number of companies are preparing to roll out UMPC’s in the near future, including new-comer, Founder.  James Kendrick pointing to a Layne Heiny post, gives some more details.  Those include:

  • Memory 256MB/512MB DDRII memory
  • Display monitor 7 "W
  • Hard disk 30G
  • I/O port 1 power source connection
  • 1 microphone jack
  • 1 telephone jack
  • 2 USB 2.0 connections
  • Port duplication connection
  • Wireless
    accesses the net In sets at the blue tooth module and the 802.11b/g
    non- wire card, may through clear the GPRS function the blue tooth
    handset or the wireless local area network realizes the Internet visit
  • Keyboard Folds
is just an example of what's coming.  The first generation will
certainly be missing some things, but I believe that in the long run,
this is the future of handheld computing.  For some more Origami
resources, check out this link
As I said in the beginning, I've been a long time Palm user.  But with
an UMPC I get all the power of a "real" computer running Windows
XP/Vista in an almost Palm-sized package.  These are going to be
devices to watch.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Want to be a Office 2007 Beta tester?

I’ve been involved in the Office 2007 Beta test of for the last several months.  For the most part, I’ve LOVED it.  Even though we were warned over and over to avoid using the beta in a “production environment,” that is, where it really counts, I’ve been doing just that.  Later this year Microsoft will be opening up Beta 2 to the public and has is still signing people up to participate in that. 


If you’re interested, it's not too late to sign up to receive Beta 2 of Office 2007.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Mastering Your Domain

Gotten tired of AOL or Juno or some other provider?  Did you change your internet provider only to lose your email address?  Ever wonder how difficult it is to have your own website and “domain.”  Ed Bott has a great post on establishing your own online presence.  Get your own domain, like “” or “”  It’s actually not very expensive or difficult and the tranportability of your identity is hard to put a value on.  These days, for about $5 a month, you can have your own “.com” address; your for as long as you pay your bill.   Check out his post Mastering your own domain


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ministry and the Knowledge Worker

When I felt God direct me to pursue full-time service I never would have believed I my day-to-day life would have much in common with today’s knowledge worker.  I imagined I’d be off in the jungle or city, visiting with people, or preaching and teaching all day.  So go youthful fantasies.  In fact, I’ve found the reality of my life quite different.  In any given day I might be coordinating the schedule of a visiting “short-term team,” working on a grant proposal worth tens of thousands of dollars, preparing lessons and sermons, thinking through up-coming team meetings and having coffee with villagers so poor they can’t afford aspirin.

            Keeping the first things first in my life is a constant challenge, and one I frequently feel I fail at.  I’ve also learned that, in addition to the lessons learned in seminary on “classic ministry,” I have a lot to learn from today’s knowledge workers as well. posted an article by Ellen McGirt outlining the realities of the "modern era of work."  The article is pretty long, but worth the read.  At the end Ellen suggests these “five paths to sanity.”

1. Keep your meetings rare. Surveys show that most people find meetings a major time waster. Use them sparingly, keep to an agenda, start and end on time. And unless someone is expecting a baby, or using technology is a key part of the meeting, turn off all cellphones and BlackBerries. No passing digital notes.

2. Show your technology who's boss. Most of today's devices and software actually can be set to be less intrusive. You just need to learn how: Switch off the ping that heralds the arrival of an e-mail, create folders into which incoming messages are automatically shunted. When busy, let outgoing messages alert others to when they might reasonably expect to hear back from you.

3. Give yourself a time-out. Devote an hour to uninterrupted thinking and planning every day. First thing in the morning is safest, but anytime is good. No calls, no e-mail, no chitchat. "If there's an emergency, someone will come get you," says organization expert Julie Morgenstern. "Use this time to think strategically about your work."

4. Say no. "Sorry" isn't the hardest word--"no" is. But not saying it to desperate colleagues or harried bosses is the quickest way to overload your schedule and muck up more important goals. Focus first on meeting your stated objectives. Also, consider family and personal time when filling your calendar: Work-centric employees are more likely to report feeling overloaded than those who plan for their personal lives.

5. Delete. Surveys show we waste 20% of our day on nonproductive activities. Cut out or dele- gate anything on your to-do list that doesn't have long-term consequences for your work. Be ruthless. And while you're at it, don't let a stuffed e-mail in-box sap your will to live. When reviewing each e-mail, make an on-the-spot call to delete, file, or reply to each one--even if the response is, "I'll get back to you on this later."


Via Jason Womack


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Tales of repair woe...and hope

Yesterday I was returning from a conference in Bitola, Macedonia through Skopje, its capital.  My national colleagues and I had spent four days out of the range of my cell phone which only works in Kosovo.  The cell phone system is the subject of another post, but I had been wondering if any progress had been made on the repair of my Tablet PC.  We were stopping in Skopje for lunch anyway, and the repair center is almost right across the street from one of the McDonalds there.  While we waited for our food ( in Macedonia you order at the counter and then sit and wait until they bring your food) I walked across the street.  When I entered the service center I was a greeted by a very helpful man.  The actual technician who had been working on my tablet was out, so I was asked to sit in a conference room while the call was made.


Good news!  While I was in Bitola my tablet had been repaired!  I was told that the battery had been defective and been replaced.  A flash of doubt passed through my mind, but was quickly eclipsed by my happiness at the relatively speedy repair.  The man suggested that I test it to make sure, but I passed, anxious to get to my Big Mac “Big and Tasty” and my colleagues.  When I got back to my waiting burger, however, I flipped my tablet open and pressed the power button.  Nothing.  Not a light, not a chirp … nothing.  I flipped it over and detached the battery, hoping that it wasn’t seated properly or something.  Sure enough, the battery was brand new, manufactured in January of 2006 in fact!  I reseated the battery and tried again.  Nothing.  Then I went to look for an outlet.  The countries in the Balkans tend to not put outlets anywhere convenient, but at last I found one and plugged it in.  Again, nothing.


I had been vaguely suspicious about the “battery problem” because I’m pretty sure every laptop I’ve owned, every Thinkpad at least, would run fine on AC without the battery installed.  At any rate, I dejectedly headed back across the street to the service center and revisited my new friend.  Again we called the tech in the field and gave him the bad news.  He said that unit had been powered on and charging fine the day before.  He said he had hoped the battery was the culprit, but had ordered a new motherboard the same day he ordered the battery, it just hadn’t arrived yet.


As with many of my experiences in the Balkans, I have mixed feelings.  I’m very grateful there is an authorized IBM service center in Macedonia.  I’m very grateful that they can do warranty work and that this repair won’t cost me a dime…or a euro.  At the same time, the guys very nearly sent me back to another country with a unit that had been properly repaired.  I didn’t think it was rocket science to diagnose that more than the battery was faulty.  Anyway, hopefully the new mobo will be here next week.  Then I can try to figure out when I can spare the better part of a day to travel down to Macedonia and back.  Skopje is a two-hour drive away during the best of times, and there is rarely a “best time” to go there.


As we say here in Kosovo, “shka me ba”  in other words, “what can you do.”


Friday, March 03, 2006

What I miss about my tablet

It’s been interesting to be forced to work on a non-tablet PC again as my primary computer.  My Lenovo X41 tablet is still in the shop where, the techs tell me, the parts are on order and perhaps will arrive next week.  I didn’t realize something until I read Eric Mack’s post on Toshiba service this morning.  When I called down to Skopje yesterday, I actually talked to the actual guy who was working on my tablet.  He could tell me in detail what the problem was and assured me it would be taken care of shortly.  Of course, he’s not responsible for the vagaries of the Macedonia postal system and customs service, so we’ll see what happens.  I haven’t seen many Toshiba customers able to claim this.  Of course, I don’t know what the customer service experience in the US is like for IBM/Lenovo customers either.

Anyway, over the last few days I’ve been mentally comparing my recent tablet/non-tablet experiences.  I’ve tried to mentally factor out a lot of issues.  First, my wife’s laptop is a nearly five-year-old Pentium III Thinkpad.  So I’ve tried for factor out performance issues in my comparison.  Second, I’ve tried to factor out all the little personalizations my Tablet got.  My can’t-live-without applications like ActiveWords, various firefox extensions, tweaked Office applications give me tremendous increases in productivity that I’m lacking on this older laptop.  But yesterday I had two different experiences where my “lack of tablet” functionality was painfully obvious. 

One: At 8:30 yesterday morning I had a meeting with some German, Albanian and American colleagues.  Together we are helping to put together a series of seven evangelistic events in June in cooperation with Luis Palau Evangelistic Association.  We met at the café in our community center around a small table. 

(A) First, I felt really dumb trying to prop this big cludgy laptop onto of a small café table. A typical laptop creates a huge visual/interpersonal barrier when put on top of a table.  So instead of putting it on the table, I set it on a couch next to me.  That created the awkward experience of not being able to listen and watch people because I was always looking sideways at my laptop screen.  With my tablet in my lap it is much easier to remain engaged in the conversation with no non-verbal barriers.

(B) We had been sent some dummy schedules, which I had printed into OneNote.  This normally allows me to write with my pen on top of that “printout.”  Part of the meeting agenda was to refine the focus for each of the seven events, how many we expected to come, times, dates, etc.  OneNote is the perfect application for this kind of brainstorming and tweaking.  We even had to go on the web to consult the World Cup soccer schedule and plan around it, something I never would have thought about except for my German friends.  So we began to tweak; first we decided to slot our Police event into this place and move our professor’s event over here.  Then we decided to dial back the number of civic leaders we would invite to their event and so forth.  All I can say is that was a very awkward process to do with a keyboard.  It just wasn’t natural.

Two:  Yesterday afternoon we had our weekly team meeting in my home.  Each week we get together for prayer requests, updates on various projects, etc.  At one point in the discussion we were talking about ways to transfer more ownership of the church plant we are working on over to our national co-workers.  We had a number of options at play in the discussion.  Again, I was taking notes in OneNote which is my habit.  During that discussion I immediately felt the need to start drawing circles, arrows, and process doodles to help me map the conversation.  OneNote is perfect for that!  Normally I would expand the “paper” a little bit to the right of that agenda item and doodle away with my pen.  Then later I can refer back to those doodles in my notes, which is a great aid in helping remember why I was thinking what I was thinking.  But it was the oddest sensation to look down at my hands and realize I was trapped by the keyboard.  I could only type.  This probably sounds odd, but a pen in your hand triggers all kinds of mental processes that a keyboard does not.  In fact, I believe a keyboard actually keeps you from being as creative as you might otherwise be.

            So that’s my tablet-less update for today.  I’ve got some more things to write on the upside of having restricted computer usage, but that’ll have to wait for another day.



Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My Tablet PC....dead...and in Kosovo

My posting has been pretty sparse lately and that’s because my fairly new IBM/Lenovo X41 Tablet PC….croaked.  It all started a couple of weeks ago when suddenly the battery wouldn’t charge above 48%.  Then that number began to gradually decrease.  While we were having important leadership meetings last weekend, a 3-day marathon session where my tablet was driving the data projector and taking minutes, the battery died to 0%  Then mysteriously, in the middle of the meeting, it just powered off for no particular reason…and it wasn’t because the municipal power went out, which happens here daily.

After a minute it powered back on and our meeting continued but oh, the embarrassment.  Can’t you feel my pain as for months I’ve been trying to sell everyone on this Tablet only to have it fail during mission critical meetings?  Anyway, we continued with our meetings, but a couple of days later it wouldn’t’ power-on at all.  No AC indicator light, no battery light, nothing.

So what does a IBM/Lenovo owner do with a 6-month old tablet when he lives in Kosovo?  Fortunately, we have an authorized IBM service center in the next country over, in Skopje, Macedonia.  The only problem is it is two hours away.  Except this winter the main road that connects Kosovo with Macedonia was closed due to landslides and it’s still closed.  People now have to travel to the other side of the country to another smaller border crossing.  Anyway, my colleagues were heading to Skopje that very morning for medical reasons and so I had about an hour to get the Tablet ready.

I quickly pulled the hard drive out and put it into an external enclosure.  That let me copy my entire data partition onto my wife’s Thinkpad, ensuring that I had all my stuff while my tablet headed to the doctor.  Since I already had an existing profile on my wife’s computer, all of my current Outlook contacts, calendar and email opened right up.  I was a little surprised at this frankly, and was thankful that I’d been unintentionally clever.  A short time later my tablet was on it’s way to Skopje with my colleagues and I was checking my email.

 So I’m writing this on my wife’s old but reliable T23 Thinkpad.  It’s Pentium III and is without all my critical little tools like ActiveWords, Onenote, MindManager, BibleWorks, etc.  It’s also missing all my Firefox extensions and everything else that puts the “personal” back into the Table PC.  Yesterday I talked to the service guys in Skopje.  The actual tech working on my unit wasn’t in at the moment, but he did know that they’d been able to get it power up again.  Hopefully it will be fixed by the time I head out to a conference in Macedonia next week.

So what’s the moral of the story?  1) Buy quality hardware from a trusted manufacturer.  Know where you can get your unit serviced and have the information available.  2) Have a backup strategy and use it.  I actually hadn’t backed up my data in a month or so…ya, I know, dumb.  3) Know how to pull the drive out of your computer and copy its contents somewhere else.  This is what saved my bacon this time.  Fortunately I had an external drive enclosure laying around that made this pretty easy.  4) Have good friends who are willing to drive many kilometers out of their way to drop your sick PC off at the doctors.