Steve Bass's Home Office: Tips, Tricks, and Cool UtilitiesA tool for Word, a utility for long URLs, and new time-wasters.
The last three newsletters have been kind of grim, with spyware, malware, and other nefarious stuff. I promise that this week and next won't be so bleak.
What I have for you are a bunch of oddball tips--things that don't fit any specific theme, but will boost your home-office productivity and maybe catch your fancy.
Word Saves Word
If you're working from home, I can't imagine you have an IT department taking care of your backups. So when was the last time you saved Word's preferences and options, custom dictionaries and templates, and AutoCorrect lists? Aha, that's what I thought. Microsoft will store these files on its server, free of charge. Microsoft provides a cool little utility--the Save My Settings Wizard--that lets you save your critical Office settings and store them via the Internet. If you somehow lose the files, you can use the wizard to restore them. Better yet, use the process to download and use the files on another computer. (If you have Office XP, you don't need to download this--the wizard's built in.) To get the free Office 2000 Save My Settings Wizard, swing by Microsoft's site.
I suspect you've viewed many of the Shockwave animations I've offered you, the ones so perfect for wasting time and missing deadlines. One of the mysteries of computing life is what happens to Shockwave files after they've been viewed. They reside on the hard drive, in the Internet Cache folder--and when this folder gets too large, Windows empties it.
If you know how, you can decrease your productivity even further and preserve your Shockwave files for constant replaying. (Hey, being able to get away with these diversions is why you're working at home, right?) Scott Spanbauer, our crackerjack Internet Tips guy, tells you how in "Capture Shockwave Files."
One thing Scott didn't mention in his tip was that you can also save video files--.avi,.mpg,.mov, and others--using the same technique.
Use Scott's trick on an amazingly cool SWF animation: "Hoogerbrugge and Wiggle Present Flow." (FYI: SWF is a neat file format used by Macromedia Flash to deliver graphics, animation, and sound over the Internet without requiring a special plug-in.).
Dig this: Have a minute or two for a really kick-ass Web site? XDude (yeah, really) sure knows how to use Macromedia Flash. Start at XDude's Knowledge Emporium, where you can watch "The Dough," XDude's encounter with the Canadian Banking Industry. It's funny (and a tad long), and I hope you pay attention to XDude's creativity and programming skills. Then look at his phenomenal promo for the movie Any Given Sunday.
URL Clean-Up Tool
Some of the cooler utilities I run into are small, unobtrusive gems, things that become part of my personal arsenal for working smarter. Dozens of times a day I find myself cutting a lengthy URL and pasting it into my browser. I know, most times I can just click the link. But sometimes it's a real hassle--say, when a link is in e-mail and it's broken into four lines.
My secret weapon is URLRun, a tiny, free utility. URLRun needs no installation: Just download and unzip it, and stick it in the Windows folder. You can leave it on the desktop if you want; I right-clicked it and dragged it over to the Quick Launch portion of my task bar, dropped it, and created a shortcut. No matter what program you're using, just highlight a URL and copy it. Then click on URLRun and it takes the URL (it's in the clipboard, remember?), strips spaces and pesky > signs, and sticks the better-than-new URL into Internet Explorer's Address field. If IE's not running, URLRun opens the browser and brings you right to the page.
If you're using Outlook, you'll want to check out the free plug-in version.
Fair warning: Try this for a week before you shrug it off as useless. If you work like I do, you'll soon find it essential--I promise.
Where's My Money?
Have you ever bought something just because there's a rebate--even if you didn't need it? (No, don't try denying it; if I've done it, I know you have.) Instead of sitting and wondering when the rebate check will arrive, try checking the Rebate Center. You won't see every rebate here, but if it is listed, you can follow your check's progress.
Dig this: Despite stories about the release of WordStar 2003 for XP (they're not true, so stop furrowing your brow), I'm still stuck using Word. But WS was an extraordinary word processing program, and some of us still use it. Stephen Manes, the curmudgeon inside the back cover of PC World magazine, not only used WordStar, he also co-wrote the infamous UnderGround WordStar in 1983.
What, you didn't think Manes was that old? Read his "A Brief Personal History of PC Bugs."
The Ice Age Cometh
Before I close--and with my editor's indulgence--I just have to sneak in some dramatic images of the recent breakup of ice shelves around the Antarctic Peninsula, which produced Rhode Island-size icebergs (with thanks to Chuck K.). If you have time to lounge around, check out the Society to End the Holocene Myth Web site, then visit this National Snow and Ice Data Center page.
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