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Posts Tagged ‘organise’

Family organisation with FamilyFridge

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Like most homes, our fridge is littered with magnets, paper, and reminders in some vain attempt to prevent people forgetting their appointments and important dates. This mish-mash exasperates me, and I yearn for a clear refrigerator. Therefore, when I stumbled across FamilyFridge, which aims to replace the overloaded fridge, I was more than happy to try it out to see how well it fulfils its purpose.

The FamilyFridge homepage provides an overview of recent events, allowing for easy access.

The FamilyFridge homepage provides an overview of recent events, allowing for easy access.

After signing up you’ll be able to access your family’s  new organiser. One of the first actions you’ll likely want to undertake is inviting other members of your family to join the website, else it’s not really serving its purpose of helping to keep your whole family organised and running smoothly. Those who you send it to will receive an email which invites them to join you. It appears that the only way to ensure that the person you’re inviting gets added to your family work area rather than creating their own is to have them click the link that the email generates, so make sure that they follow it rather than just going to the website’s homepage.

The features themselves are useful, but I didn’t find anything that made me jump for joy. The layout and interface of the website is simple and sleek whilst being approachable and friendly. Features are split into their own pages, which are accessible via the navigation buttons at the top of the family’s homepage. This homepage also provides a general overview of recent and upcoming events to help you keep an eye on what’s going on.

The first feature is the calendar, which aims allow the whole family to add events to it, allowing everyone to see what’s going on, and when. Events can be added either publicly – the entire family can see it; or privately – only you can see it. Whilst it’s useful to be able to add things like doctors’ appointments privately, it would be nice to be able to specify particular people who can see new events. For example, if you’re planning a party for your brother, you won’t want him to see if on the calendar, but you’ll need other family members to be able to view it.

FamilyFridge also includes the ability to send messages to other family members, though the usefulness of this when compared to email may be questioned since it doesn’t yet include any formatting features or allow you to attach files or images. However, it is useful to be able to send messages to all of your family members who use FamilyFridge. Unfortunately the ability to choose more than one person, but not the whole family, is not implemented.

There’s also an ability to upload photos and place them into albums. These can then be viewed by the other family members who’ve got accounts on FamilyFridge. However, it’s questionable as to why this service would be used instead of such other services as Facebook or Picasa, both which have very well-established and well-featured photo sharing tools. Despite this, FamilyFridge’s photo offering may be useful if you have some particularly private photos that you’re happy for the family to see, but not your friends.

Next is the notebook feature. This allows users to add a text-based note which other family members can read and respond to if necessary. This might be used for such things as sharing recipes, or asking the family to think about where they want to go on an upcoming family outing. Other users can then post a response to the note, which allows for a simple small-scale forum-like discussion. If you’re planning on doing anything more than simple, quick discussions, it might be worth considering setting up your own free family forum elsewhere.

The giftlist feature was the most innovative of the lot, and could really help to speed up buying gifts for family members

The giftlist feature was the most innovative of the lot, and could really help to speed up buying gifts for family members

We now come to my favourite feature – giftlists. In the run-up to my birthday, I was commanded to produce a wishlist which outlined items that it would be rather smashing to receive as presents. Normally, I type this in a Word document and print it out so those who demanded it of me can read it. However, this time I decided to create my list using the provided feature on FamilyFridge. This includes a nifty feature called the ‘Wantometer’, which allows me to drag a bar to indicate how much I want the item. Family members can then purchase the items in order of how highly they’re ranked on the ‘wantometer’; they can also leave comments about the items, perhaps to air their feelings that your chosen items are too expensive. In addition, you can add a link to the location of each item to save your family searching for it, so it’s a win-win situation.

We now come to the freezer – this smashingly named area houses files that you upload, and has functionality to let either just you view your files, or to let other family members open and edit them. This is a nice simple form of file sharing, but  it doesn’t match network shared folders or websites designed specifically for the purpose of sharing files.

Whilst I wasn’t bowled over by the service, it’s certainly got some useful features. Plus, it’s still in development, so should hopefully improve over time. It’s worth signing up to use only the gift list feature, which in my opinion is the most useful. Waddle over to www.familyfreezer.co.uk to get started with bossing your family about.

Student organisation with Notely

It’s fast approaching time to get back to school or college for most pupils and teachers. That generally means rushing everything in the last few days that has been put off under the false illusion that there’s “Plenty of time.” Thankfully, I’ve managed to get everything done. However, I’m always hunting for ways to improve my organisation to ensure that tasks get finished on time, and everything is neat and accessible. Notely aims to make everything easier for students by providing numerous useful tools.

The interface of the scheduling tool was impressive

The interface of the scheduling tool was impressive

Notely packs so many smashing features into one web-application that it’s difficult to know where to begin. After registering and logging in, you’ll be presented with your dashboard. This’ll be useful in future to see quickly what tasks need doing and what events are coming up.  Rather than just work my way through the entire sidebar in this article, I’ll pick out the main features in an order which makes some sense and couple them with comments and the usual babble.

Right-ho, let’s start with the ‘Courses’ section. This is one of the must fundamental features – each lesson taken can be added here; doing so allows future task and other such items to be placed in their right category. It’s a simple process to creating new courses, and each has extra information assigned to it, such as teacher and classroom. For some reason it’s compulsory to add those, which makes it a bit awkward for me since it’s not yet confirmed what teachers I’ll have, let alone the room numbers. It also doesn’t account for the fact that it’s likely that some students will be in different rooms at different times – especially if they have more than one teacher for a subject. However, simply placing a dash or other symbol in the teacher name and room number box is enough to fool the form into thinking that you’ve entered the information. A more minor feature is the ability to add a colour to represent your course. Unfortunately, the choices were very limited, which meant that I couldn’t have the same colours as the folders for each subject. A minor issue, but I’m sad enough to want the colours to be standardised.

Once you’ve added the names of your lessons, you’ll be able to categorise other information into them. One of the most important of these is likely to be the ‘Notes’ feature, and judging by the name of the website, it’s designed to be the key feature. The tools for creating a new note are more than sufficient – you’re given a text area featuring a number of different tools to allow you to format the text, add links, insert images, and other such jazz. I did wonder why Notely’s notes feature would be used in place of a document, since other software is more suited to taking more strenuous notes. They would lack the integration with Notely’s other features, but I’d still rather create notes in software that features more advanced features and will store it on my hard-drive. PDFs and RTF documents can be imported to Notely, but the ability to import other formats such as .DOC would be a welcome addition.

I’ve been trying to work out the difference between ‘Tasks’ and ‘To-dos’, but I haven’t quite been able to fathom it out. They both appear to serve the same purpose, but ‘Tasks’ appear to be more focused upon outlining specific projects which need to be completed, whilst ‘To-dos’ appear to be designed for more minor task – things like ‘Buy book’  or ‘Find pen’. As with any organisational application, the plan behind these is to enable you to keep track of tasks which need to be done, and to ensure that you’re handing them in or completing them in time. Notely’s offering is good, but I don’t think the interface and ease-of-use compares to Soshiku’s. However, the tight integration with Notely’s other features may be the factor which wins you over. Like Soshiku, each to-do note can have a due-date applied, but Notely also allows a time to be added, which allows for a little bit of extra prioritisation.

Complementing the to-do feature is the ‘Calendar’ item. This shows when each task is due, and therefore allows you to see more clearly when work needs to be completed by. Additional items can also be added directly to the calendar. Therefore it can serve the dual purpose of keeping track of your work, as well as scheduling more enjoyable plans. Something which I thought was especially smashing was the ability to view the calendar in weekly or daily mode; this meant that each day had hourly intervals underneath, allowing the events to be seen clearly. Whilst it doesn’t quite compete with applications specifically focused upon the calendar, it is a very useful addition to the suite of features. A minor qualm was that the calendar didn’t show the name of the day when in weekly or daily mode – opting instead to show only the date.

The ‘Links’ section is fairly self-explanatory. Links to useful websites can be added. Each contains a title, URL, and an optional description. This is a simple feature, but may prove to be useful for quickly accessing useful but obscure webpages or online applications. However, it would be nice to be able to categorise the links into the aforementioned courses which were created. A similar feature is the ability to upload files. Unlike the links, these can be organised, which means you’re able to create folders which contain sub-folders and files, allowing you to keep track of anything you choose to place there.

Notely's calendar is useful for seeing when tasks are due or events are occurring

Notely's calendar is useful for seeing when tasks are due or events are occurring

Another duty which I usually do over the summer holidays is typing out my timetable in a more friendly format. This includes colour coding and a cleaner design than the plain black-and-white which the dull photocopier provides. Undertaking this arduous quest usually involves poring over a meticulously perfected table in Word, this time I could use Notely’s ‘Schedule’ tool to create the coming year’s timetable. The rows span from the ungodly hour of 7am right up to 8.30pm. Whilst this is a benefit in that even those with very strange schooling hours will be able to use the feature, it means that I end up with a large number of wasted spaces. I’d therefore like to be able to specify which days and timespans to include on the timetable. Despite this, the interface is really rather smashing. The subjects which were created on the ‘Courses’ page are ready to be dragged to their correct places on the timetable, and they’re also accompanied by the more inviting ‘Free time’ and ‘Lunch/dinner’.

With regard to learning rather than just organising, Notely also provides features which allow for the creating of quizzes and mind-maps. Both of them seem to work fine, but lack the shine and polish of other alternative web applications which are designed specifically for those purposes. Bubbl.us is a good alternative for creating mind-maps, but once again you’ll lose the compatibility with the rest of Notely’s smashing features by using an alternative website.

There are also a number other features which are well worth a look, but I’ve now babbled for quite long enough and will therefore wrap this article up. Notely has proven itself to be very useful and full of features which promise to help students organise their busy schedules. You can sign up at www.notely.net.

Manage films with DVD management software

August 20, 2009 3 comments

Okay, when I saw Bradley’s review of the Library sorter it made me think of my own growing library, not of books but of DVDs. I think at the last count I was up to around 450 DVDs and Blu-Ray disks and for the most part I can remember what I have but that will not always be the case. I looked on the internet and found two hopefuls, which are reviewed below.

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DVD Profiler can create graphs to show the number of DVDs in each film genre

AllMyMovies (http://www.bolidesoft.com/allmymovies.html) looked great. It offered the ease of either entering or scanning barcodes and then automatically entering the details of my DVD. They offer a 30 day free trial so I downloaded, installed and eagerly got my first disk. I entered the bar code and it told me it didn’t recognise this. Since this is an American offering I had to type the title by hand. While this wasn’t initially a major problem, they didn’t always recognise the title or offered me the wrong synopsis for my film. The other problem was it couldn’t find the picture of the disk so leaving big while blank spaces instead of pretty pictures on my virtual shelves. If you are based in the US or Canada then I recommend this as I feel with the barcode it may be improved, but for international users, it’s not as useful.

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DVD Profiler's ability to gather information and images was impressive

DVD Profiler (http://www.invelos.com/) was my next choice. I was disappointed it was also a US product but thought I’d still try it. It lived up to my expectations and more. It let me enter the barcode and then found the disk – only failing on the Ultimate Carry on Collection as a whole. It was able to find it with title recognition – even adding each title under one umbrella title. It realises the difference between DVD and Blu-Ray without being told, in addition to finding the image of the front and back of the box which would help with finding it on my shelves. While I haven’t entered my entire collection yet I am going to continue with this product as I love the features. At just the click of a button it will let you add DVDs, sort them, randomly pick a DVD if you can’t decide what to watch. It will also let you be the ultimate geek with a variety of graphs and charts. Usage, release dates, genres, RRP, purchase price, actors etc. It has a lending feature so if you do loan your DVD’s to friends you can keep track with this software too. It is not just your current collection either, it can also be for DVD’s you’ve ordered your wishlist too. If you don’t have a barcode you can just enter the name and it does find them very easily. Overall I love this software. If you are just starting your collection or like me have a more meaty selection to sort out then I’d recommend this. It comes with a 30 day free trial and is only £19 to buy as a one off fee with unlimited upgrades.

Manage books with LibraryThing

As much as I love neatness, I just can’t gather the motivation needed to tidy and clear out the plethora of books which live in the cupboard. I pay for this lack of action most times I want to find a particular book or simply view my collection to see if anything tickles my fancy. A website which goes some way to solving this problem is LibraryThing, which also adds extra features and additional jazzy things.

LibraryThing allows users to create an interactive library which lists their books

LibraryThing allows users to create an interactive library which lists their books

The first feature you’re like to come across is the ability to start your online book library. Viewing your library will give the option to add books. Once found, the book’s title can simply be clicked to add it to your listings. Once it’s safely in your virtual library, additional information can be added. This includes a rating for the book and the ability to change the title and other such information if the fancy takes you. Alternatively, you can search through the plethora of books catalogued by the site and its sources using the ‘Search’ tab, top right. This allows for books to be searched by title, author, date and more. Tags can also be searched, which allows you to find new books which are related to, for example ‘cars’.

However LibraryThing comes into its own with its community. There’s a large number of users, many whom contribute reviews and details about books which aid you in deciding whether to purchase the book or not. Each user receives their own profile upon which information can be added and their library can be viewed. You can contribute your own rating and review for any book you’ve read, and this will be displayed to other users to help them make decisions about purchasing.

LibraryThing includes a feature which estimates how likely you are to enjoy reading a book.

LibraryThing includes a feature which estimates how likely you are to enjoy reading a book.

In addition to this, LibraryThing also offers a list of suggested books for each item. For example, a viewing of Orwell’s 1984’s page yields a number of similar books: ‘Animal Farm’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, etc. Whilst this is useful for seeing alternative books or reads that you might enjoy, LibraryThing goes a step further with its testing feature. Clicking the ‘Will I like this book’ button will send Librarything off on an epic quest to battle dragons and the like, before returning to tell you how likely you are to enjoy reading the book you’re looking at. It works this out by seeing what other books you have in your library and how highly you’ve rated them, so it pays to keep active with the LibraryThing community.

There’s no question that it beats a handwritten list, so pop over to www.librarything.com to begin making your collection and finding new books that you’ll adore.

Organisation with Toodledo

August 5, 2009 1 comment

Thingymagigs to help us organise our busy lives are always welcome. I’ve recently looked at the likes of Chandler, which aims to help us organise ourselves, and a while ago Soshiku, which sets its sights upon organising school work for students and teachers. Toodledo is yet another organisational web application which aims to help you plan your day in the form of an advanced to-do list. My current reckoning is that it’s better than Chandler for overall organisation; in fact, it makes Chandler look positively naff. Besides, it’s worth using just for the fact that its name is a delicious pun.

Viewing and editing tasks from the Toodledo homepage is simple and quick

Viewing and editing tasks from the Toodledo homepage is simple and quick

I must admit that I became quite exasperated with Toodledo to start with. After signing up I began to feel rather dopey since I couldn’t find a button to allow me to add new tasks. Turns out that buttons like that are always located at the top right of the application. It’s a little green ‘+’ sign with text next to it which allows you to add new task, create new events, et cetera. Whilst that made me feel silly, I did think that the ‘New’ buttons should be placed more prominently to prevent numpties like me from getting fed up with looking for a way to add a task and poddling back off to our stone-age pen and paper methods of organising ourselves.

Folders can be created for each area that your to-do notes will be relating to. For me this consists of one for each subject I study, and a couple of others which are related to the home or spare time. After creating folders for each are you can begin creating new tasks. This is fairly self-explanatory – give it a title, a priority (ranges from low to high), due date, description, and some other such jazz if you like. You can then submit the task and it’ll be added to both the folder you placed it in and the front page. The front page is rather smashing in that it arranges the tasks by the priority you’ve set. Therefore, if you add a task which needs to be completed tomorrow you can set it as high priority and it will appear more prominently on the front page. Another smashing feature is that it’s very easy to edit the tasks directly on the front page simply by clicking in the relevant area; the text will magically become editable so you can change it quickly and easily.

There’s also a calendar which keeps track of when things are due and when they were completed. It’s easier see how long you’ve got left to complete a task by seeing it visually on a calendar than by reading the date in its info. If you don’t like the calendar included with Toodledo (it does seem a little bit simplistic and dated), you can also have the items imported onto an online Google calendar, allowing you to view and edit them there instead, as well as use them in conjunction with other events on your calendar.

To keep you motivated there’s also a ‘Goals’ section. It’s like an online replacement for the patronising careers adviser you may have encountered when you were at school. You can set long-term goals for yourself, for example you might list a career plan or a monetary goal. After creating your goals you than then choose which goals your tasks help you to work towards. When you’ve got tonnes of things you need to be doing, at least you can remember that finishing reading that long, dully book will help you work towards your goal of “Becoming a more educated person” or “Getting good exam results”.

An online notepad is also included. Like the calendar, this is pretty simplistic, but it might prove useful if you need to quickly jot (more accurately, type) something which you need to be able to access from another computer. Simply signing into your Toodledo account from another PC will allow you to see and edit the note.

You can sign up for Toodledo at www.toodledo.com. If you don’t like always visiting the website, there’s even a Firefox addon which will allow you to add tasks from your browser.

Add tabs to your desktop with WindowTabs

I have obsessive-complusive organisational needs. If things are related to the same topic, surely they should be together? Window Tabs comes to the rescue by adding a tab to the top of every application. These tabs can then be dragged around to group them with other applications or documents which are of a similar content. This allows you to have a group for each different thing you’re working on or looking at.

Three grouped windows and the WindowTabs option box showing some excluded applications

Three grouped windows and the WindowTabs option box showing some excluded applications

The software is a very quick install, and as soon as it’s finished the tabs pop up on top of your currently running programs and files. They look quite like Chrome tabs, and they work in a similar way too. You can click and drag one to move it about, and let go when it’s sitting next to a similar tab. The provided screenshot provides an example of three grouped items which share the same subject. In addition, I’ve shown the options window.

There are probably some applications which you don’t want to have tabs appearing at the top. Such as your web browser, because it already includes them, or other applications which you’ll probably never want to group with other files or programs. I’ve chosen to exclude Spotify as well, since I don’t see it fitting into a grouped category as its purpose is different.

Three is the magic number. This is the basic, free version, so it doesn’t let you have anything more than three items in each group. That means if you’re working on lots of documents, spreadsheets and other such jazz all related to the same thing, you won’t be able to group them all together. Unfortunate, but at least it’s free.

The application will work under XP and Vista, and it should be okay under the Windows 7 RC, too. Try it out and see what you think. I personally haven’t kept it, since I use multiple desktops for different areas (see the previous article about Virtuawin). In addition, I think the tabs look out-of-place when compared to the way Windows looks. I think they ought to blend in with the Windows’ themes, rather than looking like Google Chrome’s tabs. If you come to the same conclusion as me, it’s a very easy and quick uninstall, so no worries there. Grab it from www.windowtabs.com if you want to give it a go.

Organise your desktop with Stardock Fences

June 29, 2009 2 comments

Whilst I do my utmost to keep the desktop on my laptop in pristine condition, the desktop on my other PC can sometimes get a build-up of shortcuts and quickly saved files. I have found a rather nice solution which can organise desktop icons into translucent mini-windows which can be easily moved, altered, and hidden at will. This solution takes the form of Stardock Fences.

Example fences and creating a new fence. Click to enlarge.

Example fences and creating a new fence. Click to enlarge.

The software serves two functions. The first and foremost of these is the ability to add sections to your desktop where you can group similar shortcuts. For instance, you may have shortcuts to your projects or work folders. You could make a fence for ‘Projects’, and within that you can collect all the shortcuts related to your work. The same can be repeated for all other categories that you wish to create.

The process of creating a ‘fence’ is easy – just hold the right mouse button, and drag a square. A label will then pop up which asks you if you’d like to create a new fence. Clicking it will cause a fence to fill the space you selected. You’ll then be prompted to name the fence. Finally, you can then drag shortcuts from your desktop, Start Menu, or folders into the new fence. You can remove them from the fence just as easily – simply by dragging them elsewhere. Alternatively, if you decide you want them scattered around disparately again, you can drag them back out and then delete the fence.

The other nifty feature of Fences is the ability to hide your desktop icons quickly and easily. Double-clicking on your desktop causes your icons to quickly fade out to nothing. This allows you to keep your desktop clean and simple, which helps you to look professional and avoid getting confuzzled. As soon as the boss is gone, you can double-click once more to have them appear again. You can nab this application from www.stardock.com/products/fences.