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How I do… stuff

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Sorting it outWe are, I’m not shy of saying, in the golden age of the geek. The world is getting more and more integrated every day, the internet is getting more useful, the information we see gets greater and greater – and the amount of work I have to plough through getting ever larger.

The other day, while I was doing my day job, then going home and designing 3 websites, catching up on the day’s news and working out some final wedding plans, a friend asked how I manage to keep up with all the things I do. My answer? I use free, online services that integrate with each other, and do everything automatically. That way, a lot of the work is done for you, and as long as you’re near a computer they’ll be instantly available. Sure, you can do things with pen and paper too – but I’m a geek. Where’s the fun in ink and dead trees? (Actually, there is some hope at the end of this piece…)

So, here’s what I do. Maybe it will help you to get through the mountains of *stuff* too…

*General Philosophy*
David Allen
once quit his job to sell a new way of working to the world. His system, Getting Things Done (GTD), has been adopted the world over, and while a lot of it is a bit deep, I use quite a few of the ideas to get stuff done. Three main points – never put things off if you can do them now; divide tasks into sections and smaller tasks; and if you can, have one hub for all the information. Read up on GTD here.

*Catch-all hub of awesomeness*
Netvibes is a personal start page, can do everything I need it to. Use it for your most-used bookmarks, have separate tabs per section and integrate it with almost everything below. Seriously, it’ll save a heap of time.

*Day-to-day tasks*
Got single or recurring things that you need to be reminded of? Todoist will allow you to set up your tasks and projects in a simple, great way (you can add reminders to it for $3 a month). Alternatively, Google Calendar will do the same in a calendar interface, with free SMS reminders too. And view it through Netvibes, and you’re back to one hub of information.

*Internet Browsing*
People still use Internet Explorer 7 either because they have to or they never knew there was a choice. Firefox is my choice, and the plugins it has make it indispensible. If you want to save links for later, try Delicious. Simple, and the best.

*Catch-all Email*
Gmail is everything you could need for your email, and more. Once you try it, with all it’s wizardy filters, you won’t go back. If you use Firefox, sprinkle Gmail with the GTDInbox plugin and it becomes your personal task manager.


Again, Google comes up trumps. Google Calendar allows you to easily record everything, divide your events into different categories, and automatically send out emails and SMS texts as reminders.

Meebo Icon*Instant Messenging*
allows you to connect to any of the major Instant Messenging services, including Facebook and Jabber. And, because t’s just on a website, you can access it from anywhere. It’ll even keep your chat logs.

*Connect your Work and Personal Calendars*
If you have a calendar for work (usually Outlook) and one for home  (Google Calendar for me), you can synchronise them with SyncMyCal or Google Calendar Sync.

*Keep track of your favourite sites*
Are they blogs or sites that have an RSS feed (what is an RSS feed)? Track them with Google Reader and catch up with them whenever you have time. If you’d prefer email updates of the blogs instead, try FeedMyInbox, which will send you an email every day with the updates. Alternatively, you can have any RSS feed shown and synced in Netvibes, that diggy mofo I mentioned earlier.

If they’re not blogs or not constantly updated, you can still track any changes with ChangeDetection.

Get all this sorted, and you’ll never have to visit a site “just to check” again.

*Keep track of your friends*
Facebook is the obvious contender here, and for the more geeky amongst you, Twitter is the place to be. Integrate your Facebook status with twitter using Twitterfeed to save you having to update twice. If you contribute to a blog you can automatically announce your blog posts using Twitterfeed too.

*Keep track of your favourite things*
I want to keep updated on any mentions of my home town, the company, my unique surname, the list goes on. Google Alerts will send you updates on relevant things that pop up on Google searches and Google News. SocialMentions will search a whole lot of social sites and email you mentions. Tweetbeep or TweetLater will do this in greater detail just for Twitter.

Coffee Shop Study*And finally*
I tend to wake up every morning at 6am and immediately think of things to do, or ideas to investigate. Sometimes an idea strikes when I’m not at a computer (I’m not tied to it, promise). So, a good old pen and pad does the trick when I’m out and about.

Let me know if you have any other websites or ideas that will help – I’m all ears…

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Linkblog – January 31st to February 1st

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Linkblog between January 31st and February 1st:

Just so you know, this is an automated recent overview of the Linkblog, a collection of interesting links I find on my travels. The archives are here:

Linkblog – January 28th to January 30th

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Linkblog between January 28th and January 30th:

Just so you know, this is an automated recent overview of the Linkblog, a collection of interesting links I find on my travels. The archives are here:

Done Up Like A Musical Kipper

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I’d like to think of myself as internet-savvy. I do almost everything on it nowadays – from the monthly food shopping to paying bills, buying DVDs and CDs, it’s all done on my computer screen. In the six or so years since I started playing with the internet, I’d like to think I’m aware of every internet scam out there.
I mention this because last night I happened upon The website sounds utterly preposterous – getting an MP3 player worth ¬£250 for nothing sounds like fool’s gold. Apparently they get commission from the number of people who sign up for their sponsors. Sounds odd, but it’s been on Newsnight and the BBC News, and I know of one person who has actually received one, so I thought I’d sign up, What can I lose, I thought?
So, the sign up was straightforward. I chose a username and password and burst into the members page, eager to find riches. I was faced with several options for sponsors I needed to sign up with – DVD clubs, casinos and the like. However, one caught my attention – an MP3 site offering cheap access to thousands of high-quality MP3s for a low one-off charge. Compared to Tesco or Napster downloads, it was a bargain – $19 for lifetime membership. $19 for an Ipod, I thought, and away I went to sign up.
Not, obviously, without checking its authenticity first, of course. A quick search on Google didn’t throw up too many warning signs, and the little padlock on my browser indicated that it was a secure site for my payment. I was all set to go. Plugged in my payment details, got confirmation…. And then nothing. No web page with MP3s, just a page telling me how to use other programs to get them. Click, nothing. Click, nothing. A warm, gooey, unpleasant feeling seeped through my body. I’d laughed at countless internet newbies signing up for scams, putting them down as unbelievably naive. I’d had been taken for a mug, and now some nefarious criminally-minded bastard had my debit card details. I was INCENSED I tell you, more at my complete failure to notice the scam than anything else. If it can still be a scam when it has a secure trading site, what’s the point in having the secure padlock icon?
And that is why, at ten to eleven last night, I was on the phone to a wary woman from Alliance and Leicester, explaining that I’d signed up for a dodgy website and there was a distinct possibility that they may use my card details for a new Boeing 737 they’d had their eye on. After I explained that it was a music website and not some sordid den of carnal knowledge, she was much more helpful and stopped my card immediately. So, for the next seven days, I am debitcardless, which frankly is a relief for my bank manager.
And I don’t think I’ll hang around for that iPod, either.

Underground blasts

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(Looking for 21st July blasts? Click here)

London Underground closed after multiple blasts. More at The Guardian. Reason #567 why I… oh never mind.
Update 10:15am :
Most controversial comment so far: “It’s probably the French.”
Update 11:00am:
Flickr has some pictures coming in, and Google News will keep you updated. Also, The Guardian’s blog is keeping track of the updates.
Update 12:05pm:
Fellow blogger has updates at the ready.
Update 12:12pm:
Jihad group in Europe admits responsibility in 200 word statement on website.
Those wikipedia guys are quick: Wikipedia: 2005 London Underground explosions. Also, Londonist has an eye on events as they happen.
Clique update: Friends will be pleased to know that Mel N, Jac, Elli C, Jon B and David B are all ok. Mel was in Aldgate station an hour before the explosions…
Update 1:18pm – Statement from terrorist group, from Europhobia:

Jamaat al-Tandheem Al-Sierri (secret organization group)
Organization of Qaeda’t al-Jihad in Europe

In the name of God the most merciful…

Rejoice the nation of Islam, rejoice nation of Arabs, the time of revenge has come for the crusaders’ Zionist British government.

As retaliation for the massacres which the British commit in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mujahideen have successfully done it this time in London.

And this is Britain now burning from fear and panic from the north to the south, from the east to the west.

We have warned the brutish governments and British nation many times.

And here we are, we have done what we have promised. We have done a military operation after heavy work and planning, which the mujahideen have done, and it has taken a long time to ensure the success of this operation.

And we still warn the government of Denmark and Italy, all the crusader governments, that they will have the same punishment if they do not pull their forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So beware.

Thursday 7/7/2005
Jamaat al-Tandheem Al-Sierri (secret organization group)
Organization of al Qaeda’t al-Jihad in Europe.

Update 5:58pm :
Reader Nadem Khan raises an interesting question – can anyone vouch for the veracity of this article?
Update 6.18pm : Guardian tells readers that “Bloggers react quickly to London blasts.” Damn right…!
Update 7.10pm : The BBC now has a dedicated subsite.

020 7360 1007 – the dirty swines…

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It’s not often I get called by a mystery number. So when I managed to miss calls from a London number this afternoon – 020 7360 1007 – while I was busy teleconferencing at work, it set me thinking. Who could it be? Those Channel 5 interviewers, telling me I’d made the cutting room floor? Boris Johnson, phoning for a quick chat of David Blunkett’s demise? Fond hope, I thought, and tried to call it back. It cut off before ringing. Odd, I thought. 3 further attempts also failed.
So, Google came to my rescue. It seems that the number is used by fraudsters to illicit money out of you, and faking their number so that you can’t call them back. Many others have been caught out, according to this blog. I’m unsure how it spins its money – maybe I’ve been charged for making those unsuccessful callbacks. Maybe if I’d picked up, I’d have been landed an astonishingly heavy phone bill next month. Another dodgy number is the less respectable 0870 011 04 15.
So, how to get rid of the little blighters? Well, the only way I’ve found is to ask dodgy sales callers to stop (they’re legally obliged to do so), and sign up free for the Telephone Preference Service. Or, as one poster said, tell the mystery caller, “Yes, that sounds interesting but first I’d like to talk to you about Jesus.”

Some Lawyerly Advice

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I’ve been indebted to in many ways since its conception in the womb of my university’s academic syllabus. It’s allowed me to hone the prose, create a diary of amusements to look back on in a dull moment, and to reduce those always badly-timed but very welcome “So, how you doing?” calls from friends. It’s attracted attention from two magazines, spawned subsites that have been more popular than this one, and found its way onto Sky News and BBC News. It’s even got me designing sites for MPs, clothing companies and local firms. It’s frankly been a ball.
But a more negative turn came about this week, when my year-old post about Michel Harper, megabusinessman of Guildford, hit home with several visitors. In fact, a simple Google search for “michel harper” brings the post to the top of the rankings, a fact that please my inner geek, and the content of the comments was brought to the attention of Mr Harper. Cue an email a few days ago, and several calls since, from his lawyers and private investigators, asking me to cease and desist, and give up information on the commenters. In fairness, they noted my cunning lack of accusation in the original post but the visitors comments had to be censored. Not to be outdone, someone’s comments then appeared on the woefully underused Forum. Which is now equally cleansed.
So, the first sign that this blog actually affects the outside world. What next? Do you think I’ll be able to reverse the American election maybe?

Belle De Speeling

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Such is the clamour for news of Belle de Jour’s identity, I’m sure the spelling of the word “seperate” (sic) in her latest post will cause all sorts of new and profoundly wrong claims about who (s)he is. If I was to analyse this little nugget, I would surmise that this fairly elementary mistake shows that she may not be an established writer, but also conversely that she doesn’t use the Blogger spellcheck (indicating that she’s usually an immaculate speller). But hey, I’m pretending not to be intrigued.
On second thoughts, shall I start the ball rolling? A quick search of Google throws up the names of Richard Spelling and, worryingly, Lisa Hilton again. Ah well, perhaps we’ll never know. It’s just as likely to be an autistic farmer from Wiltshire.