Monthly Archives: December 2010

Working From Home

I am fortunate to be able to work at home. It has a lot of perks, my favorite being  my 30-second commute to work. There is a sense of empowerment and freedom in being able to work in my own home office, primarily because I can control the environment in which I work. Note that what works for me may not work for you, we’re all different. Not everyone is cut out for this glamorous life of pajama parties. The kitchen, the television, the house that needs cleaned, the recipes you could be creating, the errands you could run, the friends that drop by, the lunch dates, all can be incredibly persuasive distractions if you have no boss breathing down your neck to get things done.  Personally, I thrive working from home — as a matter of fact, I put in more hours at home than most people do at their “real jobs”.  (Another thing that annoys me, as I frequently get referred to as “not having a ‘real’ job”) I am quite productive for some days, a 12 hour stretch, without even leaving my chair, and in fact, knowing when and how to “leave” work or “shut down” and relax is my biggest downfall. So here are some tips:

1: Love Your Office!

This sounds so elementary, but it’s crucial. As a designer, I couldn’t wait to design my new office when we built our new house. Light fixtures, paint for the walls, art work, you name it, I thought it all out. I even painted my own magnetic chalk board on the wall.  You can’t work effectively if your “office”  is the kitchen table or a desk in the corner of your bedroom.  You need a room designated just for you and your work. Approach your work-from-home office professionally. Make it a quiet workspace, with ergonomic seating, proper office tools good  software, computer equipment, and good lighting. Your office doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, but does need to be comfortable for long work hours.

2: Let Your Body Move To The Music!

NO TV! You’re in control here. My music is set to automatically mute when my phone rings, so clients can’t hear it.  Music personally makes me more productive. I listen to a lot of Spa and Feng Shui type music while I work, which keeps me in a peaceful state of mind. Figure out what works for you. You might work better to Metallica, but again, you’re in control of the tunes!

3: Keep Set Hours!

I am not productive in the mornings. I’m just not, never have been and don’t pretend to be. To most peoples standards, I sleep in late. I get up at the same time everyday, but it’s usually around 8:30 and I am in front of my computer by 9am. I am horrible about taking breaks and most of my breakfast and lunch meals are eaten at my desk, which is what NOT to do. I think this is incredibly important. Take breaks, and take a normal lunch like people with “real jobs” take. Also, I work well into late evening hours, which after the first of the year I am determined to try and break. Close of business is when I need to punch out and close my office door.

4: Talk To Real Humans!

Spending the whole day in front of a computer where you only talk to people via Facebook, Twitter, IM, Phone, and Email is not real social interaction. It’s good to get out and take a break, or actually shower, dress and go see a client from time to time or hit that networking event you keep meaning to get to. You do need to keep your social skills up since you’re not surrounded by co-workers to keep up on them. A serious hazard for home workers is isolating yourself, but that comes along with the territory. Ideas come from many different places, but they mainly come from interacting with real live people.

5: Dress To Impress For The 30 Second Commute?

Not me. Even showering is optional. Most “experts” say that you should dress professionally so your mindset is right, I disagree. Part of my perks on getting to work from home, is my comfort level. As I sit writing this article I’m still in my Victoria’s Secret flannel PJs. I’m super comfortable which makes me more productive in my mind. If I wanted to get all dressed up and do my hair and make up to look socially acceptable, I’d get a “real job”.  My computer screen doesn’t care what I look like, and video chatting with clients will never be an option in this office. 🙂

Let me know what works for you if you are among the lucky ones like me who get to work from home!


10 things you should know about Word 2010’s mail merge tools

1: Know your data

The best place to start for any mail merge process is with a clean data list. If you’re new to the data game, or you aren’t the one responsible for keeping track of your donor or customer list, that may be an unfamiliar task. The list of data you use — which could include names, addresses, products, donations, and more — may be stored in an Excel worksheet, an Access table, a text file, or even an Outlook contacts list. Word can use data from a wide variety of sources, so don’t worry — you’ll get to import the data in the next step. But before you begin the merge process, look at the data to see what the fields are (First Name, Last Name, Product, for example) and get an idea of the fields you’re likely to use in the merge process. This will help you later when you create your letter.

2: Start your merge document

When you’re ready to create the document you want to merge the data into, you have a couple of options. You can use one of Word’s merge templates (click the New tab in Backstage view and type merge in the Search Office.com Templates box; then press [Enter]) or create a new blank document where you can add the desired text and fields. If you start with a template, you can use the fields that are already in place when you merge your data. If you start from scratch, you’ll need to add your own fields to the document (which you will do in step 6).

Figure A

Some templates already have merge fields entered for you.

3: Think output

Word gives you a range of choices for the type of merge document you want to create. Click the Mailings tab and then click Start Mail Merge to see your choices. The first choice, Letters, is the most common, but you can also create labels, envelopes, email messages, and even a directory you can use for an employee roster, a product listing, a course catalog, or something else that fits your needs (Figure B).

Figure B

Begin the process by choosing the type of document you want to create.

A few versions of Word ago, the developers-that-be introduced the Mail Merge Wizard — to the relief of many users. The wizard walks you through the whole merge process step by step. If you’d like to use the wizard, click Start Mail Merge and click Step By Step Mail Merge Wizard. The wizard appears in the task pane on the right side of your document and leads you through choosing the document type, selecting recipients, customizing your list, adding fields, and producing the output. If you choose not to use the wizard, read on.

4: Import your list

Once you select the type of output you want to create, you’re ready to add your data. You can add the information you want to merge with your document by typing it directly into Word, importing a list of existing data, or adding data from your Outlook contacts. Click Select Recipients in the Mailings tab and then choose the option that fits what you want to do. If you choose Type New List, a dialog box appears so that you can add new addresses and contact info. If you select Use Existing List, the Select Data Source dialog box appears, so that you can select the file containing the information you want to add. If you choose Select From Outlook Contacts, a dialog box appears so that you can choose the address list you want to use.

If you’re adding data from an existing file, click the Data Sources arrow in the bottom-right corner of the Select Data Source dialog box and select the file type you want to use (Figure C). Click the file and then click Open to add the file to the Word merge process.

Figure C

Choose the type of data file you want to import by clicking the Data Sources arrow in the Select Data Source dialog box.

If the data file you add to Word includes more than one data table, Word will prompt you to choose the table containing the data you want to add. Click OK to import the data for Word to use in the merge.

5: Include only the info you want

Now you can choose the data you want to include in the document. That’s one of the great things about the Word merge process — you can import your data list as it is and then use only the elements you need. Choose the data you want to include by clicking the Mailings tab and clicking Edit Recipient List. In the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box, you can sort, filter, and select the data you want to be included in the merge (Figure D).

Figure D

Use the options in the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box to choose the data you want to include.

6: Use ready-made fields

Another way Word can help you customize your merge document is by adding ready-made fields to your document. You’ll find a collection of fields in the Write & Insert Fields group in the Mailings tab. Click Address Block to add a set of address fields to the document or click Greeting Line to add a salutation. Click Insert Merge Field to insert one of the fields from the data file you’ve imported in the document.

7: Match fields to get the right data in the right place

You can tell Word which fields to map to specific merge fields in your document by using the Match Fields tool in the Write & Insert Fields group in the Mailings tab. To match a field, click Match Fields. Then, in the Match Fields dialog box, click the arrow of the field you want to match and select the field in your data file that you want to match to the Word field name. You can do this as many times as you need to in order to match all the fields you want to include. If you plan to use this data file regularly in different merges, click the Remember This Matching For This Data Source On This Computer check box to save the settings. Click OK to save your changes.

8: Inserting data conditionally

If you have a conditional nature to the merge you’re performing — for example, if you want to include one phrase if a customer purchased Product A, but a different phrase if the customer purchased Product B, you can use the If…Then…Else rule to set that up. Click Rules in the Write & Insert Fields group on the Mailings tab and click If…Then…Else. Choose the field name and the comparison setting (for instance, Equal To or Not Equal To) and then choose the data you want the field value to be compared with. For this example, you might choose the Product field, select Equal To as the comparison setting, and enter Product A as the Compare To value. In the text boxes, enter the text you want to be displayed if the Product field does show Product A, as well as the text to be displayed if the value is not Product A.

9: Preview the merge

After you finalize the data settings and rules you want to use, you’re ready to take a look at the merge in real time. To preview the merge, simply click Preview Results in the Mailings tab. Click Next Record and Previous Record to page through the different documents. Look for a specific recipient by clicking Find Recipient and entering the recipient’s name in the Find box and click Find Next. Click Auto Check for Errors to ensure that nothing will hang you up in the real merge. You can simulate the merge and check for errors at the same time, merge the files but elect to be prompted at each error so you can fix the problem, or finish the merge and receive a report of all errors at the end so you can go back through and deal with any problems that occurred. The first time or two you do this, you may want to choose the simulation option so you know how to correct the errors in the merge before you need to do it live. This can save time and trouble — and headaches — when you’re working with a huge merge project.

10: Wrap it up

Finally, you’re ready to accomplish the goal you’ve been heading for all along: printing those documents, sending those email messages, or creating a set of documents you can save and file or edit and send. Use the Finish & Merge tool in the Finish group on the Mailings tab to accomplish this last step. When you choose Edit Individual Documents, the Merge Documents dialog box asks you to choose which records you want to merge. The merged documents are placed in a new Word file, ready for you to save. The Print Documents selection displays the Merge To Printer dialog box so that you can choose the records you want to print. Just enter your settings and click OK to send the files to the printer. The last option, Send E-mail Messages, displays the Merge To E-mail dialog box, which enables you to choose the recipients, select the format for the message, and then choose your records and click OK to send.

Author: Katherine Murray


5 best video games for 2010

So, here you have it, my top 5 list of video games for 2010.

1. God Of War

Best looking game ever (in my humble opinion). Tons of action a huge list of mythological creatures to destroy.

2. Red Dead Redemption

3. Call of Duty – Black Ops

4.  Super Mario Galaxy 2

5. Halo: Reach


10 reasons to dump your iPad for a Galaxy Tab

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is a 7-inch tablet that looks a lot like an overgrown Galaxy S phone, without the phone functionality. It debuted in the U.S. this month and will be available from all four major U.S. wireless carriers. (Note: Versions of the device sold outside the U.S. do have phone functionality; this is a limitation imposed by the U.S. carriers.) Reviews ranged from glowing (”It’s a Tablet. It’s Gorgeous. It’s Costly) to scathing (”A Pocketable Train Wreck“).

I bought an iPad for one simple reason: I wanted a light, thin tablet I could easily use out on the patio, while riding as a passenger in a car, while lying in bed, or while sitting on the sofa in front of the TV. All of these are situations where a regular laptop or notebook, or even the bigger and heavier convertible tablets, just didn’t work as well. The iPad was the only thing on the market at the time that fit those criteria at a cost of under $1,000.

But I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the iPad from the beginning. I love the form factor and the ease of connecting to a network and setting up my Exchange email account. But I hate the lack of storage expansion, its frustrating inability to display Flash-based Web sites, and the difficulty of entering text on its keyboard. And it’s still just a tad heavier and bulkier than I’d really prefer for the uses to which I put it. Most of all, I hate Apple’s ironclad control over what apps I can install.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting a viable alternative. I’m a Windows loyalist from way back, and I’ve used Windows Mobile smart phones since I got my first, a Samsung i730 back in 2005. I still have an Omnia II running WinMo 6.5, but recently I was won over to Android, first by testing a Droid X and then by testing a Samsung Fascinate. I fell in love with the Fascinate, which is a Galaxy S phone, so I had a feeling I was going to like its big brother, the Galaxy Tab. And I was right. In fact, despite the Tab’s somewhat high price, I’ve decided to dump the iPad for the Tab. Here are 10 reasons why.

1: Size

Yes, I loved the iPad’s 9.7-inch form factor when I got it. That’s because it was so much smaller and thinner than the tablets (Windows-based convertibles and slates) I’d used in the past. But it still wasn’t quite enough. It’s just a little too big to slip into my favorite small bag. Want to put it in your pocket? Forget about it. And unless you’re a big, burly guy (I’m not), holding it in one hand isn’t easy to do.

Steve Jobs pronounced 7-inch tablets “dead on arrival.” He might think bigger is better, but I disagree. The Tab’s 7.48- by 4.74-inch dimensions (compared to the iPad’s 9.56-by-7.47) make it roughly half the size of the iPad. And that means it’s easier to hold onto and manipulate, easier to “thumb type” on, and easier to fit into a small bag or even a large jacket pocket.

2: Weight

At 25.6 oz. (a little over a pound and a half), the iPad seems light — especially if you’re comparing it to older style tablets that weighed 3 to 4 pounds. However, if you hold it up for a moderate period of time, you find that it gets tiring. This is especially important if you use your tablet for reading ebooks. And carrying it around adds a noticeable, if not burdensome, weight to your bag.

The Galaxy Tab weighs in at a trim 13.4 oz., less than a pound. The difference might not seem like much, but it makes it far easier to use for longer times without tiring and makes it more likely that I’ll bring it along at times when I might not bother to bring the iPad because of its bulk and weight.

3: Expandable storage

One of my biggest complaints about the iPad was the lack of a flash memory slot to allow me to add more storage space. Of course, Apple didn’t want me to buy an SD/microSD card from one of many vendors — they wanted me to buy a higher capacity, more expensive iPad from them. That type of blatant gouging is one of the reasons I hate giving any of my money to Apple.

The Galaxy Tab has a microSD slot that will officially accept cards up to 32 GB in capacity. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we can tweak it to use 64 GB cards when they become readily available, just as we could use 8 GB cards in phones that officially only accepted cards up to 4 GB.

Another nice thing about the Tab is that the memory card slot is easily accessible — unlike on the Galaxy S phones, where you have to remove the back to change out the card (although I give Samsung credit for not making you remove the battery to change the card, as you have to do with many of today’s phones). On the Tab, the slot is on the side of the device and you just open the small cover to access it.

4: Choice of 3G carriers

The iPad has finally come to Verizon Wireless — well, sort of. The problem is that it’s the Wi-Fi only version, since Apple doesn’t make an iPad with built-in support for CDMA/EVDO (the technology used by Verizon and Sprint). To use it with Verizon’s 3G network, you have to buy their MiFi mobile hotspot device and then connect the iPad to that via Wi-Fi. The upside is that you can connect up to five devices to the MiFi — but it means carrying around yet another (albeit small) component.

The Galaxy Tab is going to be available through all the major wireless carriers and will have 3G capabilities built in, so there is no extra device to carry.

5: Better Bluetooth

The iPad comes with Bluetooth 2.1 support, whereas the Galaxy Tab has Bluetooth 3.0. The later version supports faster speeds, up to 24 megabits per second. (Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR supports a data rate of 3 Mbps.)

6: Two cameras

The iPad lacks a camera of any kind. I don’t really mind not having a rear-facing camera, since my phone has a camera and is much better suited for taking photos. Holding the big almost 10-inch iPad up to snap a picture would be awkward anyway. But I always thought the tablet form factor would have been perfect for video conferencing — if only the device had a front-facing camera.

The Galaxy Tab has two cameras, a 3.2 MP rear-facing and a 1.3 MP front-facing one. And the device itself is small enough so that the rear camera will be a lot less awkward to use.

7: Flash

Steve Jobs has made it clear that he hates Adobe Flash and doesn’t want it on the iPhone or iPad. I’m not a big fan of Adobe myself, but there are just too many Web sites out there that rely on Flash, and the lack of support for it can make browsing the Web with an iPad a frustrating experience.

The Galaxy Tab includes Flash Player 10.1, so you can access those Flash-enabled sites. This does slow things down a bit, but it’s far better than not being able to access them at all.

8: Swype

The iPad is too big for thumb typing, and although you can (sort of) touch type on it, that’s likely to result in a lot of errors, in my experience. That leaves me doing a modified version of touch typing, in which I have to look at the keyboard while I’m typing, and it slows me down. Worse, it’s uncomfortable to try to do it for any length of time. Thus, I use the iPad for consumption but try to avoid creating text content on it.

The Tab, like the Galaxy S phones (and other Android phones I’ve tried) comes with Swype. It’s a different way to enter text, by sliding your finger from key to key, and at first you can’t believe it would really work, but it does. I first became acquainted with Swype when I got my Omnia II Windows Mobile phone, and within a week was able to enter text at over 50 wpm — on a phone! I swore I’d never have another phone that didn’t use Swype. After you get used to the longer distance your finger has to travel, it works fine on the Tab, and it’s far less tiring than typing on the virtual keyboard.

We keep hearing rumors of Swype coming to the iPhone/iPad, but so far, it hasn’t happened.

Even if you prefer to tap the keys instead of Swyping, the Tab has a feature that makes text entry much better than on the iPad: You can tap and hold a key to get a secondary character. On the iPad, if you want to type a number, you have to switch to the alternate symbol keyboard. On the Tab, you can simply hold down the appropriate alphabetic key to type the number displayed above the letter. Switching back and forth between the alpha and numeric/symbol keyboards on the iPad drives me nuts, so I love this feature.

9: Comparable battery life

One thing I really did love about my iPad was the battery life. Compared to just about every other portable computing device (other than a simple MP3 player), its stamina was amazing. I easily got close to 10 hours of fairly heavy usage out of it, and since I don’t normally use it that heavily, I could go a week sometimes between charges.

This was the deal breaker on most of the alternative tablets I saw. Many of them sounded great — until you got to the part that said “Battery life: 4 hours.” I wanted something that was comparable to the iPad, that would at least let me use it heavily for a full workday without recharging. The Galaxy Tab doesn’t quite measure up to the iPad in this respect — but it’s good enough. It’s rated at seven hours for video playback, and longer for less intensive tasks. That stacks up well against the iPad, with which I got about eight hours when streaming video constantly.

Another plus is that you can charge the Tab from your computer’s USB port, although you have to use the cable that comes with the device to do it since Unfortunately, Samsung used a proprietary connector on the Tab’s side. This was a strange decision, given that the Galaxy S phones have a standard mini USB port.

10: Freedom

For those who chafe at being under Apple’s thumb when it comes to software, the Tab offers something that’s priceless — the freedom to install apps that don’t have to be “approved” by the phone’s maker. The Android Market is a convenient and easy way to download apps, but you aren’t limited to its offerings.

Of course, the carriers do lock down their devices to an extent, and depending on where you buy it, the Tab may have vendor-installed crapware on it that you can’t easily remove. However, rooting the Tab is easy; there is a one-click app for that called z4root. And it’s likely that custom ROMs for the Tab will emerge in the near future, as they have for Android-based phones .(Just remember that rooting — similar to jailbreaking an iPhone/iPad — voids your warranty.)

Summary

The iPad is slick and pretty and does some things well. I had fun with mine, even though at times I felt like throwing it into the lake. But it lacked a lot of the things I want and value most, such as the ability to expand storage, to “type” at a decent speed,and to carry and hold it comfortably for long periods of time without it becoming burdensome. I also need to be able to view Flash content and do video conferencing. The Tab offers all that, and more.

Sure, the next generation of the iPad will probably include some of these features. But there are some that the iPad is likely to never give us, such as expandable storage and freedom of choice when it comes to our apps. Those things might not be important to everyone, but they’re important to me. So important that I’m dumping my iPad in favor of the Tab.

Author: Debra Littlejohn Shinder