Learn to use e-mail (and other technology) far more sparingly and with far less dependency. Don’t and you risk losing control of your life, emotional and physical burnout, workplace meltdowns, and unhappiness.
That’s the argument John Freeman makes in his new book, The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox (to be published in October by Scribner). Here are some his thoughts as expressed in a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Not So Fast”.
Social networking posts and photos can come back to haunt you in a job search. Litigation or criminal investigations can result in a subpoena that gives others full access to your computer – letting the world see incriminating or embarrassing details from your past. Once information shows up on the internet it is almost impossible to get rid of it.
Can you make information ‘self-destruct’ on schedule? That’s the promise of Vanish, a free web-based system created by a research team at the University of Washington.
Google Voice will shake up how you use phones. You get a free virtual phone number and calls to that number ring on up to 6 phones at the same time. Free long distance calls in the continental U.S. and lot of other free goodies.
It is only available by invitation. Sign up to get on the list. I got an invitation about a week after signing up.
Unless you live on another planet, you’ve had to sit through a meeting that was a complete waste of time. Everyone hates them. Nobody likes them. You sit there thinking of the things you could be doing – or programming your cell phone to call you to an even more important meeting…
So, is there anything you can do to avoid that experience in the future? Actually, there are. Even if you’re not in charge of the meeting, here are 10 things you can do to turn a miserable experience into one that is, at least, tolerable – and perhaps even worthwhile.
Email is a great tool. It’s fast. It’s easier than snail mail (typing a letter, printing it, finding an envelope, finding a stamp, and so on). You can send someone documents without killing a bunch of trees. But email is useless if you don’t have an email address. There is no single place called ‘directory assistance’ for email. But there are ways to find an email address. Some may be harder than others. But it’s not impossible.
Google may indeed have a crystal ball that lets you peak into the future. It may help you predict things like whether there’s a growing (or dying) market for a product or service. Or who is going to win a political race. And who knows what else. It may be able to do that faster and cheaper than other tools you might be using.
If you use Office 2007, you’ve undoubtedly encountered “command obscuration.”
If you used Word, Excel or PowerPoint before the 2007 versions, you became familiar with toolbars and menus that led you to the commands you used to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
Suddenly, Microsoft decided to replace your old familiar toolbars and menus with some newfangled thing they call a ‘ribbon’. If I were a conspiracy buff, I’d even say Microsoft went to great efforts to intentionally hide the menu commands you used day in and day out for years and years.
Is it really an invention that will change the internet forever as one British news site proclaims? Or is it, as others have described it, the newest and most important golf blog research tool in the history of humankind or the magical search engine that will channel all kinds of data to give you coherent answers.
What exactly is this new website that appeared just this past weekend but is already getting over 700,000 hits a day?
The WolframAlpha folks call it a “computational knowledge engine” (sure, whatever you say). Their goal is to “make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone.” Sounds geeky, huh? And while there are lots of ‘geeky’ parts to it, there are also lots of things that people like you and me can use it for.
Wolfram Alpha will not only give a straight answer to questions such as “how high is Mount Everest?”, but it will also produce a neat page of related information – all properly sourced – such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts.
The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out “on the fly”, according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in “10 flips for four heads” and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or […]
Copernic Tracker ($49.95) monitors web pages you’re interested in and, when it finds a change, shows a message on your computer, sends you an email with the changes highlighted or even sends a message to your cell phone. It can watch for specific keywords to show up on a page or look for new images or links. You can set Tracker to look for changes as often as you want – even every few minutes if needed. And it can keep copies of pages so you can compare changes over time.
I’ve been using the program for at least 8 years – which includes changes through several versions of Windows, including Vista, and have yet to have problems with it.
Let’s say I want to know when new papers are added to the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) abstract database. In particular, I’m interested in any new research dealing with retirement planning. I could go to that particular page on the SSRN website and check it every once in a while. Of course, that means I must remember to do it, must remember which page it is that I wanted to check and, after I get there, remember what was on the page earlier so I can figure out if anything changed. That would require the use of too many brain cells.
Copernic Tracker does it automatically. Let me share an example of how I use it.
After installing the software, you’ll find a small icon on your Internet Explorer toolbar. (Tracker only supports IE – probably because the program itself hasn’t been updated since 2004. If you don’t use IE – and I usually don’t – you have to work around this. I’ll tell you in a moment how I do it.)
When you find a webpage […]
There is certain software that goes on any new computer of mine right at the start. ActiveWords is one of those.
Some say I’m really efficient at using the computer – I can get lots done in short order. I like the ring of that. It sounds so much better than how I describe it – I’m lazy and if there is a way to do something that is faster or easier, I’ll choose the faster and easier way every time. If I can do something with three keystrokes, I don’t want to do it another way that takes 20. If I don’t have to remember where the bookmark to a website I use often is or where in that great hierarchy of folders the one with my tax information is, I won’t.
ActiveWords is a big part of my being able to more in less time and with less effort – my ‘productivity.’
This handy little program lets you assign an “ActiveWord” (or phrase) that will do things that might otherwise require a lot more work. It’s sort of like macros on steroids that doesn’t require programming or a lot of work to set things up. Here are some of the things you can do with ActiveWords.
Substitute text in any program on your computer. Type ‘me’ in any program followed by the ‘ActiveWords key’ (I use F12 but you can choose any of the Function keys) and ‘me’ is replaced with your name, address, phone number, email address, etc. You can enter paragraphs of boilerplate with a single word. Open programs, files and folders. Type ‘taxes’ and the folder with your tax information is opened. When I type ‘ep’ in the ActiveWords ‘ActionPad’ – more about that in a minute – and hit the Enter key, […]