Tools

Adam over at Printmode recently wrote about the tools he uses, and invited me to do the same.

I have quite a few I guess, as a lot of the work I do is research oriented. I’m not sure I could name them all, but I can name the ones that I find especially useful:

First, I use Windows (I have to, as it’s what we use at work), Mac (bittersweet), and Ubuntu Linux (also bittersweet). I use Linux mostly because I feel I’ll end up there eventually, so I might as well start getting my feet wet. I also find a bit of delight in using very high quality software on a high quality OS, when neither has cost me anything. I do find that Open Office just doesn’t measure up to Excel, however, so I stick to MS Office for most documents.

Firefox. Without this browser I wouldn’t have had tabbed browsing for all the time it’s taken Microsoft’s geniuses to figure it out. During that time I’ve become quite hooked. I haven’t yet upgraded to 2.0, I’m still using 1.5.x on a U3 usb key. This way I have my environment on any computer I sit at, at home or at work, including the full Open Office suite, Thunderbird (if I desire), and lots of other apps.

Performancing
& Adsense Notifier are two Firefox plugins I use regularly, to write blog posts and see what my adsense ads are doing. No, adsense doesn’t do much more than defray hosting expenses, but I can dream, can’t I? I’ve used Blogjet and Ecto on Windows and Mac respectively, but most of my posts don’t have pictures so Performancing works just as well and is in the browser where it’s handy.

As for website platforms, I use WordPress for blogs (the non-hosted kind), phpBB for SpeakStrategy, soon to be upgraded to something that handles spam users better, Drupal for a work site, and SugarCRM & pmwiki for managing some personal stuff. It’s truly a pleasure to work with such high-quality, open source software and I’d recommend these packages (ok, phpBB with many caveats) to anyone.

For email, it’s gmail and fastmail.fm. Really, gmail does what I need these days. I have two accounts, one that is hooked to my email domain, which forwards to another because only non-domain accounts have real-time push to blackberry (I don’t rate a corporate blackberry, so I use my own). For encryption I use both the built-in digital-id based encryption using keys from Thawte, and PGP, although frankly neither sees a lot of use.

At work it’s the ubiquitous Outlook, with draconian quotas and attachment policies. I use Nelson Email Organizer to help maintain my sanity.

Google Calendar takes care of my non-work related events, and it’s easy enough to copy events from outlook to google calendar just by inviting myself at the appropriate email address.

Joe’s Goals lets me track a few things I’d like to control better. It allows me to put a graph here on Lornitropia to let everyone else see when I’m letting myself down ;-). Speaking of graphs, I use a neato graphing package on my run blog to track mileage, weight loss and other stuff.

Stat Counter
and Google Analytics allow me to see how my various sites are doing.

Google Reader is now my preferred RSS reader.

Linkedin, xing, Plaxo, and several other sites provide both good networking tools and good research tools, along with Zoominfo & Jigsaw. Anagram makes it easy to suck contact info out of anything and into Outlook’s contacts. The Linkedin and Plaxo toolbars for Outlook are both really handy, but are both pretty buggy.

Search engines used are Google, of course, but also Ask. Frankly, I keep hearing that one needs to use more than google, but I find it’s pretty rare that I find something that Google didn’t have. I also use Copernic, desktop for finding stuff on my machine, web for doing very thorough searches outside Google and Tracker for keeping tabs on websites I monitor.

Highbeam
is pretty useful, although they don’t have many printing industry publications. LexusNexus and Hoovers also provide some value, albeit at a very high price.

iTunes
and iPod mean the difference between listening to podcasts and not for me. Both are awesome products that just work like crazy.

As a main CI database I use Strategy Software, which is pretty darned cool.

Photos – Adobe Photoshop or The Gimp. For storing them, iPhoto is what I use now, but Picasa was very capable when I was using it.

Who’s Next?

Hmmm…

Dr. Joe Webb
Mike Rohde
Des Walsh

Getting rid of duplicate contacts in Outlook

If you accumulate very many contacts in outlook, and particularly if you sync Outlook with a Palm or services like Plaxo, you are bound to get duplicates.

While Plaxo has a service that will help you remove duplicates, and there are other programs you can get, Outlook does have a way of doing this for free:

  1. Create a subfolder underneath your contacts folder, and move all of your contacts into it. You have to move, not copy them. You want your original contacts folder to be empty.
  2. Go to the new folder and change the view to a simple list. Then use the field chooser (right click on the column headings to get the menu) to add the “Created” field. then sort so that the oldest items are at the top of the list.
  3. Start moving items back into the original contacts folder a few dozen at a time. You really just need to make sure you don’t have any dupes in the group you are moving.
  4. When a contact is moved which already exists, Outlook will prompt you to either create a new contact or merge the info with the existing one. Choose the latter.
  5. When you’re done, you will have no duplicate contacts, and because you moved the newest ones last, they should have all the latest info.

On Contact Management

I’m writing this on the train back from Chicago, where I attended Print ’05 for the past week. Print is a large graphics trade show, and I spent several days doing competitive research. It’s somehow a lot of fun, kind of boring, and very tiring all at the same time.

Anyway, I also ended up learning a lot more about contact management, Outlook, my iPAQ and Activesync, Plaxo and LinkedIn than I expected or wanted to. All of these things are wonderful inventions and each provides a lot of value. However, when you connect them together across two computers and a PocketPC, life gets interesting. Here’s the story:

As always at a trade show, the main benefit is meeting new people and the resultant networking. I believe networking is one of the most powerful things a person can do in life, and trade shows are the ultimate opportunity. Aside from that, having quick and ready access to a great contacts database is a key tool for getting the most out of a show. So I’m busy meeting folks, collecting cards, and in the evening working to get them entered and a thank-you email sent out. I fire up my laptop and enter a bunch of contacts, or I add few to my iPAQ while riding a shuttle or waiting for colleagues at happy hour. I then started to run into problems.

First, trying to sync my iPAQ to my laptop results in a lot of confusion on the part of the iPAQ, which wants to sync to my desktop back at work, and keeps going out on the net to find it. I had been desperately trying to get my iPAQ to do this via a wireless connection, and never could get it to create the proper VPN link on it’s own, but somehow got something set that has it trying very hard to do the same thing when connected to my laptop.

Second, trying to sync my iPAQ to my laptop proved to be a problem because I normally sync with my desktop at work. Activestink wants to duplicate all my contacts, which is not a good thing.

Third, I finally get the contacts entered into my laptop and then try to email the contacts – they won’t show up in the address book! I look in the contacts list, but when I try to enter then in the To: line of an email, it doesn’t work…

Finally I decide to skip the emails and get the contacts uploaded to LinkedIn so I can invite folks to connect. I go through the upload process, but the contacts won’t upload. LinkedIn tells me there are no new contacts.

Grrrr!

After a bit of searching, I finally find that the problem is that each contacts folder has a checkbox in it’s properties that specifies that that contacts folder should be a visible outlook address book. This is the magic button, so to speak, and as soon as I check it I have contacts visible and ready to email to. I also find that LinkedIn now finds them just fine.

As for the syncing, I went ahead and allowed the duplicates to be created. I realized that Plaxo has an awesome feature that removes & resolves duplicates and near duplicates – a feature that frankly ought to be built-in to any contact manager. After the sync, which dutifully duplicated everything, I ran Plaxo which then fixed everything. Plaxo rocks.

In the end I got everything entered, and all the email sent, and the LinkedIn invitations will go out soon enough. But I beseech Microsoft to consider the 3-computer syncing problem. It seems that anything designed to synchronize data sources seems to choke with 3 computers – the extra path just gets things confused. I’ve got to believe the industry can figure this out, and it really needs to. The days of working on just one computer are over, and we need our stuff to sync between whatever computers & PDAs we have.

LinkedIn and Plaxo, chocolate and peanut butter

If there were ever two applications that needed to be mushed together, like chocolate and peanut butter, they are LinkedIn and Plaxo.

LinkedIn is networking, and one of the side benefits is that it also stores contact information. Unfortunately, the tools to get contact info out and sync’d to a computer or PDA are primitive at best.

Plaxo does a great job syncing calendar, notes, tasks and of course contacts, but doesn’t have any networking capability. It does have a feature where other Plaxo users who happen to be in your contacts list are kept up to date automatically. Otherwise you have to do it the old fashioned way, or use their near-spam update email function.

The two need to get together. It just makes sense that the folks you tend to contact are people you’re close to, or at least familiar with, and those people are likely in your network. But not always, so there needs to be a little leeway.

The only thing that’s missing from both of them is a good PDA interface/application. Here’s the vision: You’re sitting in a bar/restaurant/trade show booth, and you learn of a need. Out comes the PDA, tap, tap, search, search, and off goes a request to someone you know, followed shortly by beaming the contact to the person you were talking to, followed (perhaps) by their being linked in to your network.

More and more people need their data to be portable – the Lifedrive is evidence of that. I think, though, the solution will lie in synchronized web apps like Plaxo, Backpackit, and the like. I don’t think it will be too much longer before people are going to see networking as an integral part of the contact/email/PIM experience. I know it’s new right now, and people are getting used to how the systems work and how best to use them, but soon it will be something folks just expect to have.

When you tie all of this together, you have LinkedIn, plus Plaxo, plus Outlook all on the web with a small client on the desktop/laptop/PDA to facilitate use when you’re not connected.

Who will offer it first?