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    Email – Finder or Filer?

    October 20th, 2008

    I just read a great blog post here that speaks to a transition I recently made myself.

    I have been an Exchange/Outlook user since 1996, before Outlook was even a product.  During those years I developed systems of email folder heirarchies that I used to “file” my email.  These heirarchies changed year-to-year as I changed projects or jobs.  This filing helped me find relevant email on any number of topics when required.

    I also have a no-delete policy for email.  I don’t delete anything.  My theory is that storage will continue to get cheaper, and search functionality will continue to improve.  Once my mailbox size became large, I started creating an annual “PST” archive file so that my primary mailbox would stay manageable.  Over the past twelve years I’ve amassed many gigabytes of email.

    Last year I began using Google Mail’s web interface as my primary personal email client.  Around the same time I saw an “Inbox Zero” presentation by Merlin Mann which was very thought provoking.  After a short time my habits changed dramatically from being an email filer, to an email finder.  I highly recommend it to anyone who spends time moving emails from your inbox to other folders in an attempt to organize your email.

    When using Google Mail, I immediately archive any message that doesn’t require me to perform a follow-up action.  Those that require follow up stay in my inbox until I’ve completed the task.

    When using Outlook I flag messages requiring follow-up.  Messages from high-volume email distribution lists are automatically moved to Inbox subfolders via the Rules feature.  Others emails simply stay in my Inbox or their distribution list folder until Outlook AutoArchive moves them to a PST file.

    The advantage to “finding” is that you don’t spend time filing on a daily basis.  I don’t even label much as I can almost always think of keywords, senders, or recipients that narrow my search sufficiently.  The only filing and labeling I do is automated with filters.  Email from active distribution lists gets automatically tagged and/or filed appropriately.

    Are you a finder or a filer?


    High Speed Personal Scanner

    October 5th, 2008

    I prefer to store documents digitally, rather than with paper in drawers.  I have long sought a way to quickly convert paper documents into digital form for archival and search/retrieval purposes.  I recently found a great product which sits on my desk, and does exactly that.

    Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 Instant PDF Sheet-Fed Scanner

    Increase productivity in a snap with the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 Sheet-Fed Scanner. The S510 digitizes both sides of a document in a single pass at up to 18 pages per minute in color, making it ideal for a small office or home office environment.

    Changing how documents are managed

    • One button scanning to searchable PDF
    • Scan directly to Microsoft® applications
    • New multifunction Quick Menu feature
    • Easily protect, preserve, & share documents
    • Business card scanning
    • Color Duplex 18 pages per minute
    • Adobe® Acrobat® 8.0 Standard

    The Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 is around the size of a toaster.  I can put a document in its feeder tray (up to 50 pages at a time) and just hit go to start.  Both sides of each page are scanned simulateously.  When its done, a PDF is created and OCR processes begin.  It sits just to the right of my monitor in prime desktop realestate.  I use the ScanSnap regularly to scan bills, paper correspondence, and even drawings created by my kids.

    My only complaint is that the scanner driver is not TWAIN compliant, so applications like PhotoShop, and NeatReceipts don’t recognize it.  The “workaround” is to use the ScanSnap to scan first to PDF for import to other applications.

    Update: I should point out that this product is not cheap.  The average price is around $400.  At the moment, a $50 mail-in-rebate is available though October 2008 at Newegg.com.



    October 1st, 2008

    Once upon a time I frequently reused passwords. So if you knew my dogs name, or what kind of car I drove, you could easily have pretended to be me with just a little extra work. This is obviously a very bad idea, but I’m sure many people struggle with managing passwords for web sites and computer systems you access on a regular basis.

    Passwords are keys to your identity.  If a malicious person were to figure out your email password, what harm could they cause?  Could they quickly gather the names and contact information for your friends and family?  Could they figure out where you bank?  Could they reset your bank password by telling your bank that your password was forgotten?

    A researcher who examined 10,000 Hotmail, MSN and Live.com passwords that were recently exposed online has published an analysis of the list and found that “123456″ was the most commonly used password, appearing 64 times.
    Wired Magazine

    Here are my tips for choosing the best passwords:

    • Use different passwords for every site/application.  Do not reuse them.
    • Change passwords frequently.  The more you use a password, the more you should change it.
    • Keep your passwords secret.  Guard them as if they were keys to your identity — they usually are.
    • Consider using a random password generator.
    • Consider using passphrases (e.g. Myhouseismadeofwoodandhasyellowsiding!)
    • Consider using acronyms (e.g. Mhimowahys!)
    • Do not use words, birthdays, family and pet names, addresses, or any other personal information in your passwords.
    • Do not use repeat characters such as 111 or sequences like abc, qwerty, or 123 in any part of your password.

    I strongly recommend using a password managment tool for three important reasons.

    1. Tools remember many passwords so you don’t have to.
    2. Tools can type passwords for you.  This makes strong passwords easy to use.
    3. Tools can create strong passwords which are complex, unique, and random.

    A while back I wrote a post about PasswordSafe, which I used to manage my usernames and passwords.  I later switched to a different tool named KeePassKeePass is also free and open source, but I think it is also easier to use.  I now also use LastPass which is a different on-line based password manager.

    KeePass is a free open source password manager, which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key file. So you only have to remember one single master password or select the key file to unlock the whole database. The databases are encrypted using the best and most secure encryption algorithms currently known (AES and Twofish). For more information, see the features page.

    The ability to auto-type usernames and passwords is infinately flexible with KeePass.  Auto-type is a very important feature, although I can understand why you may not initially think so.  Think about the strongest types of passwords.  They are long, complex, unique, and full of many different character types.  Do you want to type those in manually each time?  Once I switched to KeePass, my normal password length increased to 20 or more randomized characters wherever possible.  Since I don’t have to remember or type them, I prefer the really long/complex ones.

    To manage my password database across several computers, I use FolderShare to synchronize it between systems.  This keeps my database of (as of writing 317) passwords the same across all my systems.  Occasionally I also copy the password database file to a USB flash drive so I can access accounts when I’m not using one of my own computers.

    KeePass has many other great features.  The listing of features below links to their website.

  • Strong Security
  • Multiple User Keys
  • Portable and No Installation Required
  • Export To TXT, HTML, XML and CSV Files
  • Import From Many File Formats
  • Easy Database Transfer
  • Support of Password Groups
  • Time Fields and Entry Attachments
  • Auto-Type, Global Auto-Type Hot Key and Drag&Drop
  • Intuitive and Secure Windows Clipboard Handling
  • Searching and Sorting
  • Multi-Language Support
  • Strong Random Password Generator
  • Plugin Architecture
  • Open Source!
  • Some websites with more complicated authentication schemes will require customization of the auto-type string.  The software “help” references provides details on how to do this.


    Using LinkedIn

    September 7th, 2007

    LinkedIn is a powerful tool for enhancing and maintaining your professional people network. An article about the service was recently published in USA Today.

    I was first introduced to LinkedIn several years ago when I received an “invite” from someone I worked with on a project. My initial reaction was to ignore the invitation. I am suspicious of unexpected e-mail, and giving out any personal information unless I have a good understanding of how it will be used. LinkedIn’s web site identifies the following three primary benefits of the service:

    1. Find past and present colleagues and classmates quickly. LinkedIn makes staying in touch simple.
    2. Discover inside connections when you’re looking for a job or new business opportunity.
    3. Your network is full of industry experts willing to share advice. Have a question? Just ask.

    After some cursory steps to verify what LinkedIn was, I created an account and simply ignored it for over almost two years. During that time I never received any spam or unexpected communications as a result of having a LinkedIn account. Some time later, in 2006, I was reintroduced to LinkedIn during a meeting with colleagues. I saw how my coworker had developed an extensive LinkedIn network of peers and colleagues, and I decided I should do the same.

    Since that time I have used LinkedIn frequently. As a rule-of-thumb, I only send invites to people who are already a member of LinkedIn. I do seek out trusted colleagues, and new professional acquaintances who are already LinkedIn members to establish connections. There are over 14 million members, and it is growing every day.I avoid establishing connections to people I have not met or worked with.

    I set my public profile to read similar to a resume. It identifies all of my employers and a quick summary of my jobs. Since I have done lots of project work, I also list some specific customers — but not details of those engagements. This sometimes results in unwanted contacts from recruiters, but I have found those to be rare. This detailed public profile serves two important purposes for me.

    1. People who have heard of me, but do not know me, can quickly discover a little about my experiences and expertise.
    2. Those who have business opportunities that fit my background can find me.

    In practice I have found LinkedIn to be helpful in learning more about my colleagues and keeping track of those who move around. It is also worth noting that my current job the result of a contact made through LinkedIn. LinkedIn has worked for me, and it can work for you with a little effort. There are over 14 million members, you must know some of them!

    Frequently asked questions about LinkedIn are answered here.

    View Brendan Moon's profile on LinkedIn

    Microsoft OneNote

    August 8th, 2007

    I like to avoid paper whenever I can. Why? Because it is heavy to carry around, it is time consuming to make backups, and most importantly I am always misplacing it. Certainly paper has its place (bills, financial records, mileage logs, etc) but Microsoft OneNote lets me put notes into electronic form.

    Microsoft OneNote is a very simple and straightforward application. It will remind you of a WordProcessor, except it doesn’t have all of the formatting features a WordProcessor provides. The function of OneNote is to capture and organize information — not to make it look its best.

    Typing is how I get most of my notes into OneNote. I type faster than I write so this works best for me. OneNote has easy to use outlining features and allows you to annotate basic shapes easily. You can also easily cut/paste from other applications. The only significant missing feature is the lack of a “Paste Unformatted Text” command. If you want to remove formatting from text, you have to paste first into something like notepad.exe and then cut/paste into OneNote.

    Other than organizing your notes, the most powerful feature is search. When you type text into the search box, OneNote instantly searches an index of all of your notes and highlights the pages and result instances. This is great for typing in little nuggets of information like names to recall their context.

    Perhaps one of the fanciest features is OneNote’s compatibility with Tablet PCs. I used HP’s TC4400 for about a year with OneNote. OneNote can recognize and convert handwritten notes into text, or simply do the text conversion in the background for search purposes. Frankly I didn’t use the handwriting features much since I write so slowly, but it was very useful to use the Tablet stylus to draw shapes and diagrams.

    During in-person meetings, paper is king for notes. Using a laptop/tablet for note taking tends to be distracting to other participants. I have discovered that taking notes on a legal pad, and then scanning them into OneNote works for me. The OCR features don’t work on scanned notes, but at least they stay in your virtual “notebook.”

    One other handy feature of OneNote is its built in screen clipping capability. A hotkey will activate the clipping feature where you can then draw a square on any portion of your screen. The image is then either added to a new “note” or simply put into your Windows clipboard for later pasting into an application.

    Microsoft OneNote is a part of the MS Office suite. It is also available seperately.