Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Time tracking

Now that I've got another programming project, I need to keep track of the time I'm working on it. I've been keeping track by using stickies and transferring the info manually to an Excel spreadsheet which I then mark as paid when that has happened. This way I can see how much time I have spent, been paid for, and still have available to me.

I had high hopes for Quicklogger. After all, to quote the website:

QuickLogger is the ultimate time tracking software.

And it looks easy to use - click on a task from the list and the 'log it' button, and you're done. Cool. disappears from the screen as soon as you click that button. Hmmm. I remember reading something about a keyboard shortcut, but following the instructions on how to set that up, doesn't get it working for me. Microsoft's search was down - probably too much traffic with the Halo 3 release today. ;-)

Also, I don't like the way it sets up the spreadsheet (Excel spreadsheet is the default option, though I can change to txt, html or csv). I would prefer it to have the date as part of the time, so I can sort things if I want. Turns out that if I change to .csv option, it does exactly that. Nice. (And bonus: it's a lot quicker because it's not loading Excel in the background).

Clicking on Help brings up Internet Explorer. How I do hate that! Looking at the help tells me I should feel free to fiddle with the program's code (hta file) to get it to do what I want. Nice option to have, I guess.

Now, if I can only get it to launch on its keyboard shortcut, or, even better, be in the system tray or 'always on top' in some sort of mini-mode...Though after hours of research I have found this AutoHotKey (linked to by Quicklogger, originally, but the home site for AutoHotKey is flagged by McAfee Site Adviser as breaching browser security)...

And then, what if I forget to log in or out? Can't see any easy way to fix this, apart from editing the log file...Time to uninstall.

So let's see what else (free) stuff is out there: There's Clockbeat, an online service which looks like it's fairly dead, and doesn't allow me to put in start and stop times anyway:

Then there's Journex, which is very similar to the above.

(Screengrab from their features. I didn't bother signing up.)

CoP sounds interesting too, but way more than I need with its project planning capabilities....I'm thinking, I will give it all a miss, and continue with my Excel spreadsheet and stickies system.

Though I will take AutoHotKey for a test-drive.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Learning another language?

There's been two new free (for the time being, at least!) language learning sites opened (to beta) in the last week. I've signed up with both of them, to learn Chinese.

The first I tried was mango. I got as far as slide 28 of lesson 1 before giving up. I learnt how to say "hello" - theoretically. From a Chinese friend I went out with on Friday night, I learnt that mandarin has 4 tones - the lesson didn't explain this. I had no idea if I was saying it right or not. The lessons were very repetitive - the same sentence from a male and female speaker...over and over. But at least it was things like "Hello" and "My name is". When it got to "May I ask your name please?" I gave up. Too damn hard.

Also, if you intend to learn some non-Latin language, you need to install the appropriate language pack. It doesn't tell you this anywhere, but I worked out why I was getting little squares instead of Chinese characters...eventually. (You can find the language packs at Microsoft).

So today I tried out Live Mocha. It sounds good - they have tutors on hand and you can practice with 'friends' you find at the site - people who speak the language you're wanting to learn and are themselves learning a language (that you might be able to assist them with). They have a points scoring system for working your way through a language and you can choose where to start - absolute beginners to intermediate. The scoring system is supposed to be a motivator: the highest points in a language get published to a 'points board'.

They quite candidly say that they will be charging for the use of some parts of the site at some stage, though some things will remain free (probably you tutoring others?).

So, how did I go with this one? I gave up after the 3rd or 4th slide. I don't want to learn how to say "man" or "girl" or "I'm fat" (I'm not joking! And OK, the lady was chubby, but I wouldn't say fat!) before I learn how to say "hello".

The good thing with this course is the ability to switch between 'learning', 'reading', 'listening' and 'magnet'. And the pictures to give a hint. The learning one is as pictured. the 'Reading' one give you the pinyin (the way Chinese is written with Latin characters) that you have to match with the pictures. The "Listening" version speaks the text and you have to choose the picture, whereas "Magnet" makes you choose the pinyin words to match against the picture and the meaning spoken in English. This certainly beats the Mango site's list of slide numbers from 1 to over 100 for a lesson.

Another annoyance with both of these online courses is that you can't copy and paste from the slide to another program, to take notes...

Ah well, I guess a teacher led course is best in the language learning area - at least with tonal languages that are so completely foreign to me. Even if I have to pay for it: further motivation to complete the course, I suppose :-)

ETA: Had to take out the photos, download to my PC and then re-upload them in the blogger website's interface because Windows Live Writer insists on making .png of them and putting my user ID in the photos' URL paths. Not a good thing!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Posting to my blog

There has to be an easy way to post to my blog....I mean, without going to the web page - that's just so old-fashioned, after all. Sure, it's fine and all, especially since I can have the posting entry open in a tab all by itself...but, I want more!

So I download some software and extensions (naturally!).

The first extension (really just a bookmarklet) is the 'BlogThis!' bookmarklet you can get from the blogger site. It just pops up a little Firefox window in which I can write my post. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the 'Labels for this post:' field, which is no good - I need my tags! And also, I don't always want to post about the page I'm currently looking at. BlogThis! will insert the current tab title and a link to the current tab in its window, and you have to turn on html editing so you can remove the link...

I then downloaded and installed ScribeFire - yes, a Firefox extension. The nice thing with it is that it runs on Firefox and is therefore available to those who don't use Windows. And yay! It has the blogger tags available for me to use.'s so hard to use! How do I add a post? I finally figured out that a right-click on the little icon it puts in the status bar will let me launch the little application in a new tab or window or browser...and the tabs on the right will allow me to add or delete blogs, tags, notes...but not posts. Clicking on a post will allow me to see my previous entries and edit them etc...but how do I add a new one. Puzzling. Perhaps I'm supposed to type over the top? So, I'm giving up on it and uninstalling.

I had already downloaded Windows Live Writer (WLW), back when I was looking into blogs for a different purpose altogether. Very nice application, and there's a Firefox extension for it (of course!) which works similarly to the BlogThis! bookmarklet, in that it opens a window for that application with title and link already included. Alas and alack! No labels! I mean, yeah, it has the Technorati tags and a few others that you can include, but I want the blogger labels feature so I can search my blog by labels later.

Another good thing about WLW is that you can retrieve all your blog entries that you have published, and store them on your PC. This is a very nice feature. Of course it works the other way too: whatever you post using WLW is stored on your PC in the first place. Hmmm. Even this entry which is still in draft form, is retrieved by WLW (albeit incomplete, since I'm still writing it!).

WLW also lets you install plug-ins. I installed the Picasa link (because that's where blogger stores any pictures I upload to the blog), and am looking at the tag/label situation...because I do like this application. Though the MS help is as useful as ever: i.e. not at all.

Ah! Looky-here! WLW has a new version. YAY! With Blogger Labels (tag) support! Download, install - hah! It wants to make Windows Live Search the default! Not. And it wants to install Mail and Photo Gallery. No, I'm quite happy with Picasa, thanks. Though I don't get a chance to refuse Messenger, the Toolbar and the Sign-in Assistant (whatever that may be). It takes a while, but whether this is because of the download speed or because it's so big, I don't know.

So after much investigation i.e. googling, it turns out the labels were there all along. I just didn't know that the categories at the bottom of the screen were my blogger labels. And the way the application was positioned on my screen, I couldn't see it anyway. Luckily someone spelt it out on their blog:

So now I have a pretty new version of Messenger (which I will need to get a hack for ASAP to kill the advertising) and the new version of WLW. Doesn't hurt, I guess.

Now to uninstall all that other rubbish...
ETA: WLW will also work happily with Live spaces blog, Livejournal and others.

Reading, reading, reading

Where do I find all these goodies, you may very well ask. That depends on whether I'm looking for something specific, or just happen to come across it.

The 'unsearched' for ones, I find by reading my RSS feeds in Google Reader....which I found at some stage looking for something in particular, no doubt.

So what's Google Reader all about? If you have a google account, you can subscribe to RSS feeds from anywhere and read them all at Google Reader. It's free. And being online, it doesn't matter which computer you log in at, you will see which entries you haven't read yet. Lovely.

I use Firefox, so the first thing I did after starting to use Google Reader was find a shiny extension to use in conjunction with it. The one I use is Google Reader Notifier. It puts a little icon in the Firefox status bar, telling you how many unread items you have, by label even. It checks every few minutes (configurable) to see how many articles are awaiting your reading pleasure. Clicking on its icon will open Google Reader in a new unfocused tab (though you can change this setting).

Google Reader in all its glory:

Google Reader has recently gotten a search function, which is the ant's pants. In addition to the tech-y blogs, I subscribe to several food blogs here in Singapore (which I have given the same label to), and now I can search just those blogs for a location or a restaurant name before I go out to feed my face. So, so good.

And since subscribing to the local newspaper's RSS feed, I'm never without something to read....well, skim over ;-).

Oh yeah: don't do what I did and tell it to default to Google Reader, when you get asked how you want to subscribe to the feed. You get weird things happen if you do a search and try to click on a page containing a feed. Not good.

(If you want to read this at LiveJournal)

Why blogger?

So, I decided to post about some of these software applications I install or, more often than not, uninstall. Or those applications that I can use on the 'net for whatever purpose I have....

The first thing was to decide which blog to use. I now have accounts at Live Journal, Windows Live and here at blogger. As you can see, I decided to go with blogger. Why? I can assign multiple tags to one blog entry. It's a thing.

Of course I can also do this with Live Journal. So why am I not using Live Journal? I didn't want to have yet another place to log in to. With blogger, I log in to my gmail account and I'm logged in to blogger (and my calendar and documents and various other goodies).