Saturday, September 7, 2013

Techie awesomeness - Part 4 - Find a Resource

Hi all,

To end this series, I'd like to tell you, that when in doubt, ask questions.

I know there are a lot of people who will tell you that they don't want you to ask questions, they just want you to move over so they can do it themselves.

This is something I'd like to change. If you ask someone a question, and they ask you to move over, pay close attention to what they're doing.  Most of the time, they're not doing anything different than what you're doing aside potentially from going quickly.  They're trying stuff, they're playing, they're searching to find out what is wrong. Playing (see part 2), which you can do too.

If technical stuff is at all interesting for you, or you think knowing it might make it better for you, or people around you, you can follow communities which continually update this information.  My personal favourite is lifehacker - they do a lot of articles on how to use technology better, but there are also some great things that they offer that have nothing to do with technology, just plain awesome.

Also, if you're reading this, you probably know me, but did you know I'm offering my services as a technology consultant? I haven't done very much with it, since I'm kept pretty busy at my job and enjoying time with my family and stuff, but this is a true passion of mine. I'm absolutely not the best at technology consulting, but I pride myself on being different at it.  My main focus is to help people learn, and not do it for them.  I constantly check myself to see if I'm asking people to move over and do it myself, and if my impatience gets me there, I'll often walk the person through what I'm doing while I'm there.

So - selling my services aside, ask questions.  Do a search on google to see if people have already asked the questions you have, and if they haven't find someone near you to ask.  If you'd like, feel free to ask me questions, too, and I'll be glad to see if I know, or can find out the answer.

Thank you!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Techie awesomeness - Part 3 - Cool apps

Hi all,

This entry is all about using apps to make technology work better for you.

All of these apps are free, but some have premium versions. They are all cross-platform apps that will work on Mac and PC, and some on Linux, I think...


Although primarily used for note taking - Evernote can do so much more. It's amazing as a note-taking application, syncing notes you write on your PC, Mac, Tablet, Phone, or anything with a browser, and allowing access to all of the above just as easily.  The only downside is that it requires a connection to the internet to work on mobile devices, but otherwise this is golden.  Have a grocery list you'd like to write out on your PC while home, then have access to it while you're shopping?  Evernote.  See something you'd like to read about later? Take a picture on your phone and save it to Evernote, and you can see it on your PC within seconds. Brilliant.


An amazing way to synchronize files between devices. Starts off at 2GB for free, which is great for transferring around pictures or a movie and stuff. You can access files placed in your dropbox on the web, or through an application installable on PC and Mac to automatically synchronize the files when connected to the web.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that all of these apps are free, and this is totally true.  However, the beauty of Dropbox's "marketing" is that if you refer friends who use the service, you get more space to use yourself.  They often also run promotions to show off their new features (photo and video importing from SD cards), and will give you more space to use those as well. The link above is a referral link, so if you're not using the service yet, I'll get credit :)

Google Drive

On the surface, very similar to Dropbox, a cloud interface that lets you synchronize files between devices, and it even has an app interface and a web interface. BUT Google Drive has Google Docs built into it, so collaboration on documents is way better. Sharing of anything is possible, so you might not need to get Dropbox, but if you want more than what the basic 15GB gives you, I haven't seen the opportunity.  I love having both.


Anything else for media playing is too much work. VLC gets it all done, without any additional codecs, or whatever.  It just works.


Stands for X-Box Media Center, but this software now works on lots of stuff (PC, Mac, Linux, etc). If you're thinking of connecting your computer to your TV, this software makes it easy.


Control your computers from away - it's as easy as that.  I use it to keep track of stuff that's downloading on my home PC, or to help someone out who's away, but there are many other uses as well.  Awesome.

Part 4 is coming soon - finding a resource to help about other stuff.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Techie awesomeness - Part 2 - Just Giv'er

Hi all,

I think that if you consider yourself to be technically inclined, you love to play. I think the elements of play and discovery are paramount to getting to know your world, and your technology.  Getting the most out of your technology takes playing.

So, play.

That's it. Play. And don't be afraid to break it. If you really broke it well, someone might pay you to find out how you did it. Following a method may be boring, but it works. Make one change, and if it's better, keep it.  If it's not better, revert to how you were doing stuff before.  Beats the heck outta making 10 changes, and finding the combination didn't work. How do you know which change sucked, and which change was awesome?


When did you find something about technology just by chance?

Part 3 tomorrow on apps that make technology work better for you instead of wasting time. The wasting time ones can be fun too, but that's another thing...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Techie awesomeness - Part 1 - Shortcuts

Hi all,

My sister recently posted this blog article.  For those who aren't inclined to read it, that's really too bad, you're missing out, but here's the major takeaway for me:

People don't understand technology because it's easy to not know.

The author, both a teacher and network admin (amazing job, in my opinion), discusses a few awesome things, one is that he often encounters people with technical problems, and instead of them attempting to learn how to fix it, they give up. Also, kids who are supposed to know how to use computers, in his opinion, don't.  I think both of these points are absolutely correct, and until reading the article, I kinda thought the opposite of them.  After reading, I am now a changed man.

Since you're reading this post on a computer, or phone, or whatever, you're using technology already.  There are a few things everyone should know about this technology to make their lives better.  The author of the article gave his, and now I give mine:

1 - Shortcuts

If you're using a mobile device (BlackBerry, iOS, Android, etc) as your primary means of tech interaction, these vary depending on what your device is, but shortcuts that are built into your technology will make your life better.

If you're using a computer with Windows, here are my two absolute favourites:

ALT-TAB - pressing these two keys together unleashes some amazing wizardry that allows you to switch between applications very quickly.  By default, you'll end up switching to the application you used last, which is awesome, but what's even more awesome is...
Bonus points - if you hold down ALT, a screen will appear showing you which applications are open, and if you tap on the TAB key, you can switch between all of these displayed.
Bonus BONUS points - if you hold down ALT, then hold SHIFT and then tap on the TAB key, you will reverse the direction you're switching in.

And my second favourite, which is hard to describe:

"WINDOWS-D" - Some people call the "WINDOWS" key, the START key, and they're probably right.

Here's a picture of what I mean:

Yours might not look like that - the Windows logo might not have a circle around it, if you've got a new keyboard it might show the incredibly awesome new Windows logo with all squares instead of wavy whatsits. Either way, it's on the bottom of your keyboard, to the left of the space bar.
Anyway - if you hit the WINDOWS key and D at the same time, you are invoking a shortcut to display the desktop of the computer, just like if you were to hit the icon called Show Desktop.
Bonus Points - hitting this combination again once you're done on the Desktop, brings back everything you were working on before.

The amount of Windows shortcuts is incredible - if you'd like more, check it out from Microsoft themselves.

What are your favourite shortcuts? Mac and mobile users, you've got some right?

Next thing I'll talk about - PLAYING!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Lust for Life

Hi all,

I had this poster on the wall of my bedroom for a long time, and it traveled with me from bedroom to bedroom. I thought it was cool looking, and it was from a movie I liked.

15+ years later (YIKES) I still don't know anything about substance abuse, but I like this poster even more.

Live your life. Seriously.

Running on a treadmill is awesome (kind of)

Hi all,

This week, I began running on a treadmill since my last failed stint at the gym.

I realized after the run that one of the reasons why I didn't keep going to the gym is because after running my heart out, I didn't want to do anything at all, never mind being responsible for driving myself home.

After a half hour of running, I thought I sweat enough to fill a bathtub, but I hope it won't be like that for long.

Ever wanted a habit to stick?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fool me infinity (or how I learned to stop worrying and just pay) - Part 4 - Where I am now

Hi all,

The end of the series is here, and thank you so much for bearing with me while I get this off my chest.  I don't feel as strongly about it as I did on Monday, so this has achieved wonders, in my eyes.

My old wireless provider billed in advance for services, so when I got a bill stating that I owed for services in February, I thought, "HA! that didn't happen!" and vowed to wait for the next bill, knowing as I do that computers are hard to interrupt. Silly me.

The next bill came adding $11 to the original, and that was followed up by some phone calls advising that I would be sent to collections if I didn't pay.

What I didn't read, and should have acted on, was when you port away from this wireless carrier (I don't believe one is any different than the other in this way), there is a 30 day penalty. My wireless plan was $100 a month ($115 after taxes), so my penalty was high.  If I had read this, I would have reduced my services the day before the port, and paid less of a penalty.

I railed at my carrier about this discrepancy for a long time, getting mis-information, and frustration abound, and eventually came to the conclusion that it's not worth it, I'm just going to pay and be done with it.

Question time:

1 - Are there any positive experiences that you've had with a wireless carrier?  I don't count "it just works" as positive, just neutral.

2  -Do you have any tricks that come in handy to get what you'd like out of wireless carriers?  I can supplement my non-existant bag of tricks with your tricks.

Thank you again for bearing with me!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fool me infinity (or how I learned to stop worrying and just pay) - Part 3

Hi all,

In June of 2012, when I decided to part ways with my loving company, I found myself in the market for a mobile phone line again. Luckily, I had this "emergency phone" stashed in my glove box, complete with a SIM card that would save me a whopping $10, and some credited air time.

At least, that's what I thought.

I'm totally guilty of not reading stuff, and when I got my last bill from the wireless company showing me what was cool about pay-as-you-go, I tossed it. I wasn't planning on using my emergency phone, so why should I care what it was about, right?

Turns out that the airtime you buy expires. No biggie, I started back into the world of wireless with a clean fresh slate - no contract, and high hopes to live in a world without data.

I got to work with my contract (read all about that here - it's been non-sarcastically great), I started to shake with the amount of no data access I had. No WiFi to power my fancy PlayBook, no computer to sit at outside the lunchroom (this would be rectified quickly), I felt cut off.

I hastily called my provider, and asked them how much it would be to add the lowest amount of data possible to my plan.  Like a junkie, I raised it twice more, and I was happy.

In early 2013, a firm date was announced for the new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone, and my lust went into overdrive. I wanted one, but to get one at a reasonable price meant signing a contract with a provider. My wife has an iPhone, and her indentured servitude with her alternative wireless provider (not the same as mine - importantly) was nearing a close. I asked her if I could do her the dis-service of giving her my contract if I were to get picked up full-time, and got a work phone again. She agreed because she's the best. I clarified that it could mean her contract not ending for a long time, but she was still cool with it. I signed the pre-order papers, and was a happy dude.

February 5th came, and I walked into buy my new Smartphone, and port my number away from wireless carrier 1. I honestly didn't think that much about the switch - I knew that it was possible to do the port, and that there may be repercussions, but I was invincible. I steamrolled ahead, and when the nice sales associate called my current wireless provider to do the port for me, and it went through, my happiness was maintained.

I admit, that I should have read the fine print, but I didn't.

Leading us to part 4, and the present...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fool me infinity (or how I learned to stop worrying and just pay) - Part 2

Hi all,

In October of 2011, I was brought back into the warm and wonderful folds of my previous employer, and with that lavishness came a company phone again.

Not needing a personal line anymore, I was very glad that I hadn't signed up for a contract that I'd have to pay out. I thought I'd be able to walk away financially unscathed.

I called my carrier to cancel my service, did the whole "It's not you, it's me" thing (which was very true), and then I was presented with an excellent option, or so I thought.  Instead of cancelling the account outright, I could convert it into a Pay-as-you-go plan, and with the credit I was due, buy some airtime, and keep the phone for emergencies.  I loved the sound of it, and it looked like no one would be hurt.

The next month, I was surprised to get a mobile phone bill, and even more surprised that it had an amount owing on it, similar to what I had seen in previous months. Hmmmm.

I called the nice folks back to see what happened - turned out they hadn't made the change at all, but there were luckily notes saying that this was what I wanted to do.  I was told they would make the switch, but there would be another bad bill coming in the meantime.  I was cool with that, although confused, so I let it slide.  Computers are hard to interrupt.

2 months passed, and I got not only a bad bill (as promised), but another bill with the charge now doubled. Hmmmm.  Another call found that the change hadn't gone through again, but this time, they were able to take care of the whole thing, and backdate my account for 3 months, give me my credit, apply it to pay-as-you-go, and away I went. Awesome.  I was free.

Just like Michael Corleone (at least in my mind), just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.

Read part 3 to find out how!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fool me infinity (or how I learned to stop worrying and just pay) - Part 1

Hi all!

I did a bad thing when I chose my wireless service provider.  That has changed, but I can't quite get the monkey off my back.  The choices I made were bad, but the main thing I want to emphasize is that I knew what I was doing, and still had trouble.  I feel terrible for those who don't know, and are being fleeced constantly.

My story is one of millions, and we're all very excited to tell it.  From my experience, there are no good service providers, just lucky people who get a neutral experience.

Here's the beginning of my story:

When I was downsized in July of 2011, my first concern was "Where do I get phone service?"

The answer to this really REALLY important question was the quick and easy path. I should have known that this would lead to the dark side, but I wasn't ready for star wars imagery.

I technically could have gone with any carrier. I had leftover phones that would work with any of them, but I made a quick reaction, and went into the store to get my SIM card.

That process was easy, and the sales staff were awesome.  It was also the last good experience I had with them.

My first obstacle was getting daytime minutes.  I needed to make calls, do interviews, and not worry about minutes.  I remembered WiFi calling, and even though people hadn't talked about it in a while, that it fit my situation quite nicely. The general gist is that while you're connected to WiFi, you can make calls over WiFi, and those calls don't affect your cellular minutes. Helps for people who live in the boonies, and want to make and receive calls, but don't have cell service everywhere.

I called the good folks at wireless carrier R to get hooked up with some WiFi action, and although it still existed, they hadn't been talking about it in a while either.  Thankfully, calls to them were not included in my minutes, otherwise I wouldn't have a dime left to my name. I patiently waited on hold while they scrambled to find information on it, and when they got that information, it was incomplete.  Here's a short re-creation of these events:

Me - I'd like to sign up for WiFi calling, how does that work?

R - Hold please.

R - Yes, we have WiFi calling.

Me - Great!  How does it work?

R - Hold please.

R - We have three plans, one costs $5 a month, the other costs $10, and the other costs $15.  Which would you like?

Me - What's the difference?

R - Hold please.

R - We don't know.

Me - I'll take the $5 plan.

I didn't hold it against them for not knowing about this arcane thingy that can really help people out - it wasn't on everyone's mind at the time. I understood.

However, after a while, I got a bill, charging me for calls I'd made while at home, on WiFi.

I called them advising that this happened. I told them that I understood that it was hard to tell that I was on WiFi at the time, but for one of the examples (a 65 minute interview), I was sure I had been home the whole time, and that it shouldn't have affected my cell minutes.

I got chucked back and forth from billing, to tech support, and back again, until VOILA, it was revealed that they could see that the call was made using WiFi, and not through the cellular network. Booya, right? Wrong.

Although at the time I was asking about WiFi calling, the rep didn't know the difference between the $5, $10 and $15 plan, this rep did, and explained that while the $5 plan gave me access to use WiFi calling, the minutes still counted against me.  To get the full benefit of not having the minutes count, I could pay $10 a month.

I did that, and took the hit on the calls I made, chalking it up to me doing a bad thing, and that I should have done more of my homework, or sat lazily by while someone else did their homework.

More questionable decision making by me in Part 2!