Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Smart Personal Finance For The College Grad

By Matt & Jon:

The ladies over at Life Before Noon were kind enough to offer the chance to write a guest post for their blog, and we were happy to oblige. As a blog geared toward graduating college students we thought we'd offer up some financial advice from the perspective of young professionals now a few years removed from college life...
If you guys are anything like us, you suffered through college scrimping and saving, squeezing every last ounce out of every dollar you earned. You’ve eaten more bags of Ramen than Tokugawa Mitsukuni and the promise of ‘free food’ has conditioned a response remiscent of Pavlov's Scotch terrier. After all these years of (forced) discipline you’re going to want to live it up a little once you land that first job....
Drop by Life Before Noon to read more, and thanks for the opportunity to contribute!

Smart Personal Finance for the College Grad

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Use Plaxo To Sync Your Life

By Jon:

Recently I became incredibly frustrated because I'm using multiple computers and a cell phone to stay in sync with my life. However, those devices weren't syncing with each other, leaving me forced to check in on multiple machines and lose productivity. I found a solution with Plaxo.

Signup for a free account and you'll be offered a plethora of feeds and apps to sync with. Plaxo will manage and merge your various and sundry contact lists into one manageable (and easily sync-able) list. Here's a quick list of some of the contact accounts Plaxo works with:

  • Google Apps (Calendar and Gmail)
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Apple's
  • Yahoo!
  • Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Windows Mail /Windows Live (Hotmail)
  • Windows Mobile
  • LinkedIn
For mail syncing, you'll need to download and launch the Plaxo app, which will live sync your contacts and calendar. This is amazing -- I can literally add a calendar item on my PC, and moments later my Mac alerts me (via Growl) that I've got a new calendar item from Plaxo. It is blazing fast.

When working with contacts, Plaxo is also amazing. I receive a weekly digest from Plaxo which shows me what my contacts have been up to. Often, I'll see a new Plaxo contact in the list, letting me know that one of my friends has joined Plaxo. How cool is that? Gone are the days of inviting a friend to a new app and then waiting to connect with them. Plaxo is smart enough to know that I already know an individual and connect us right away.

As it stands right now, Plaxo has found 160 people I could potentially connect with around various social networking sites. And that's just one more thing Plaxo is amazing at -- syncing with other sites. Here's a list of some of the sites Plaxo connects with:

  • Flickr
  • Twitter
  • Blogger
  • LiveJournal
  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Tumblr
  • Xanga
  • Digg
  • Google Reader
  • Last.FM
  • iLike
  • YouTube
  • Vimeo
  • Dozens more

Thanks to Plaxo, I no longer have to chase down what my friends are doing -- Plaxo brings it to me. I can access a friend's Plaxo page and get an overview of all the above networks and their interaction with them. Further than that, Plaxo can deliver that content to me via Growl or other notification apps, however I choose. Oh, and is pretty cool for mobile access, too.

Now I'm constantly connected and synced up wherever I go and whatever I'm doing. I'm able to remember my meeting times, people's birthdays, and more. How has Plaxo helped you?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Quick Tip: Create a Bacn Folder

By Jon:

How many emails do you get in a day? If you're like me, too many (but not as many as in the above photo -- sheesh!!). I've been trying to filter down my emails into something actionable, necessary and important, rather than a cacophony of noise. My most recent and most interesting filter has been to create a Bacn folder.

What is Bacn? Bacn is similar to Spam, except that you the user signed up to receive the messages. This can include social networking messages, blog/messageboard comments, and more. I find myself distracted throughout the day when these messages arrive, and rather than move to my next work-related email, I login to my Facebook to see what strange app I've been invited to partake in.

To remedy this distraction, simply make a new folder in your email app of choice and create a series of rules to route all social network site communication to this folder. It's as easy as that.

As it's been said, Bacn is "email you want but not right now." As is true with most things in life, with these messages out of sight, they're out of mind. I've set a GTD reminder to review my Bacn folder on a regular but infrequent basis; as such, these non-urgent messages can wait and don't stand in my way.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Overview Of Jott

By Matt:

I have referenced Jott before in posts, particularly as an input device in my GTD capture arsenal. It's a handy tool that quickly transcribes voice messages into text, and delivers them to your email or cell phone. Here are the basics:
  • Capture Messages: To capture a message simply call the Jott number from your registered cell phone and record a message just like you would a voicemail. Capturing messages this way is most ideal in specific situations, like when you're driving in the car and writing text messages is not a safe option.
  • Set Reminders: Once your message is captured you can set a reminder for yourself so that a text message reminder will be sent to your cell phone at a later time. You can remind yourself to pick up milk on the way home tomorrow, to return your library book in two weeks, or even to call your mother for her birthday a year from today!
  • Notify Friends: Not only can you send messages to yourself, you can also send the message to any of your contacts you have listed with the Jott service. You can even send messages to groups of contacts, enabling you to remind entire departments, teams, or organizations of important items.  Your contact list can be anyone and everyone (even other apps like Twitter!) so get creative with it.

Getting Started
As with most of our favorite web-apps Jott is a free service requiring only an email address and cell phone number for registration. Literally takes a couple minutes to sign-up and confirm your information. Jon and I are both Jott users and can vouch that Jott does a great job of protecting your information and you will not be the recipient of unwanted spam (email or phone).

Any current Jott users out there? The basics of Jott are pretty cut and dry, but if you're using the service in a creative or unusual way, it would be fun to hear about it in the comments below!

Monday, May 5, 2008

RSS Feeds: Embrace A Low Information Diet

By Matt:

I glanced at the Trends report in my Google Reader a few days ago: 130 feed subscriptions; 1,121 unread items.

I have no intention to read all of these items, and that does not stress me out.

Every few days I glance through outstanding posts in key categories and review a handful of them. I focus on my friend's blogs, blogs that will help me advance personally / professionally, and key blogs for networking purposes. Everything else... "Mark All As Read".

Just do it and be done with it. You can't try to consume everything. Make decisions on the front end about where your priority sources of consumption come from (your subscriptions), and then within those sources pick and choose what you're going to spend the time to read.

In a high information world it is impossible to consume all of the available knowledge. But if you define your priorities and act deliberately when choosing what to read, you take the stress out of information consumption. Sometimes it is best to admit defeat; embrace a low information diet and never again feel the compulsion to read all of your RSS feeds.

Friday, May 2, 2008

SMS Apps Roundup - Text Messaging 2.0

by Jon:

My cell phone is always on my person.  It's always in my hand, in my pocket, on my desk or in my bag, just a moment away from being in use.  This is a blessing and a curse, mostly because anyone and everyone has easy access to me 24/7.  However, the amazing apps of the internet have slowly been translating themselves to the mobile realm.  

While the "m." world is incredible, there's a number of amazing applications that don't require your phone to have WAP/Web access.  You can access a myriad of valuable tools by sending a simple SMS message.

Let me give you a quick overview of all the apps that reside in my Contacts folder:


While this seems basic, it's important to know that any email address can be easily accessed via text message: just find the @ sign on your phone and off you go!  This will be important for several of the tips listed below.


It's possible to craft a simple blog post using text or photo and upload it to your Blogger account in one text.  Simply visit Blogger's mobile site, to set yours up.  From then on out, just send your posts to and you'll be moblogging.


Visit your account settings on Flickr and access the email section.  You can setup a one-click upload option by creating a unique Flickr email address.  From there, simply add the email address to your Contacts list and any photo you create can be uploaded (and tagged) right from your phone.


Login to your PayPal account and access your Tools menu, then navigate to PayPal Mobile.  Click the "Activate Now" button and add any and all numbers you wish to access PayPal with.  PayPal will call and text you to confirm your number.  Next, add 729725 (PAYPAL) to your contacts list, you can text "BAL" to get your balance, and send payments like so:

  • send 10 to 4085552388
  • 10 4085552388
  • send 10 to

PayPal will call you to confirm and then email your recipient -- done and done.


Got a phone capable of sending MMS (video) messages?  Once you're done creating that pixellated concert shot, you can upload it to YouTube on the go.  Login to your YouTube account and create a mobile profile.  Next, add 98823 (YTUBE) to your contacts list and get ready to rock.


Looking for a house?  If you're out and about and see a "for sale" sign in a yard, simply text the address to 46873 (HOUSE) and wait.  In but a moment, the House database access public records and texts you back details about the house.  This includes square footage, bedrooms/bathrooms, the owner's name, and their buying price (if available).  Easy, convenient and public records -- what's more fun than that?


Qipit is a pretty new site but has some powerful potential.  Create a login and sign in, and after entering your mobile information you have a lot of powerful options.  Not only can you use the web interface to use digital camera photos and text documents, you can take a photo on your phone and upload to the service.  You can photo any kind of document, handwritten notes, or even a whiteboard, and Qipit will convert that text into a searchable PDF.  Just add to your contacts and start digitizing your scribbles.


Everyone's favorite internet powerhouse also has a formidable presence on your phone.  Not only is their whole suite of apps available through WAP access, nearly everything is text-able.  Add your mobile number to your Google account and hit the ground running.  My two favorite Google texts are:

  • Google Calendar - you can add detailed calendar events right from your phone -- just text them to 48368 (GVENT) and you'll get a confirmation back.  You can also setup your calendar to text you reminders before your events.
  • Google Search - you can text GOOGLE (466453) nearly anything and get results.  This includes local weather, sports, movie times, flights, data/facts, and local searches.  If you include a zip code Google will remember your location and include that in your next search.

There you have it -- a full phone and what's sure to be several hours of profile building on all your favorite sites.  Let us know your favorite SMS app and how you're using these!  Check back during the month of May for more tech posts and more posts on using your cell phone like a true geek.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Taking Steps Back to Backup Your Work

By Jon:

Backups.  The digital age has never been more redundant than on that particular subject.  Our computing lifestyles are so heavily reliant on our data, and as such I'm more than a little paranoid about it.

This walkthrough explains my home computing setup, which is altogether separate from my corporate life.  At work, everything we use is archived and saved on our network, meaning none of my data actually resides on my local hard drive.  With my personal life and side-work, I have to be more cautious.

With my new MacBook purchase, I'm more nervous than ever about leaving my data floating on one highly portable machine.  At the same time, all my backup devices and methods are fallible and I just plain don't trust them.  I have multiple copies of important items and lots of automation has helped me cut back on time spent getting everything synced.  Let me run down what I use and how I do it.

Backing Up

I have 2 Firewire hard drives, a stack of DVDs, an online archive, and two thumb drives, all of which are setup solely to house important and needed data -- just in case.

I have a work drive where my current projects reside.  Once finished with those projects, I burn a DVD (labeled and catalogued via Excel, of course) and move the project to a NAS network drive.  Once I know I don't need the data anymore, I wipe it from the NAS drive but always keep that DVD back up just in case.  This lets me shift responsibility off me and onto someone else involved in the project, but have the NAS and DVD just in case there's a problem in the near or distant future.

DVDs aren't perfect though, and can go bad over time -- that's why it's important to ensure someone else is dealing with the archival before wiping the NAS drive.


That's it for project data.  For personal data and my documents, I use thumb drives and a lovely little site called Mozy.  Mozy allows 2gb of free storage online, and even allows you to schedule backups nightly.  

Using Energy Saver in System Preferences, I'm able to wake my computer at 2:45am each night and run the Mozy backup.  This is great because my Mac also likes to run system processes and the like during the night, so it's awake for that as well.

I also keep two thumb drives on hand (one permanently installed in a USB hub and one portable) which I backup to every night.  I made my own app via Automator to select my Documents folder and copy onto each drive, ensuring the data exists in multiple locations.  

I found a neat little iCal trick to automate the Backup app I created.  An iCal event can fire an "alarm," intended to remind you about an upcoming calendar event.  This alarm can be a sound, dock bounce, or -- the key -- opening a file.  I set my iCal to run the Backup app at 3am every morning (during my Energy Saver window).  This works perfectly and ensures that my thumb drives always have up-to-date data on them.

Time Machine

With the MacBook's new Leopard OS, I'm able to use the Time Machine functionality.  As I mentioned, I have an NAS Networked external hard drive, which allows wireless connectivity to the drive anywhere in my home network.  I use this drive as my Time Machine drive, which gives me the freedom to never have to plug it in, but to always have it running in the background.

All in all, I'm totally obsessive about backing up my data, and given how stable my computer is, I should never need to use any of these backups - knock on wood.  Feel free to tear my system apart in the comments or add to it.  Also if you know a good shrink, let me know -- I've clearly got some control issues.