Calendar mayhem!

April 17, 2011

I have trouble remembering appointments, family events, birthdays, etc. so I rely heavily on a calendar to keep my life in order. This is true for both my personal and business life, so like to keep two separate calendars to keep things compartmentalized. The issue I’ve been struggling with is finding the most efficient way of dealing with these two calendars and keeping them synced with my computers and mobile devices.

So here’s what I have available:

  1. Personal calendar for my personal appointments and events
  2. Business calendar for my work appointments, travel dates, etc.
  3. An iMac at home running Snow Leopard Mac X OS
  4. A Dell laptop running Windows 7 for work
  5. An Apple iPhone 4 as my smartphone
  6. Microsoft Exchange Server for my work email, calendar, and contacts
  7. Apple MobileMe for Calendar, Email, and Contacts
  8. Google Calendar and Contacts
My goal, is to be able to view and edit my calendar appointments (personal and business) on my iMac desktop computer, Dell laptop, and iPhone device. I know there’s all kinds of 3rd-party freeware and commercial software for syncing calendar data between applications and the cloud, but I wanted to minimize that as much as possible to eliminate any chances of “foul ups”.
I ended up using this solution: Create two calendars with my MobileMe account that allows me to create,view, and edit appointments. If you’re unfamiliar with MobileMe, it is Apple’s cloud-based system which allows for centralized email, calendar, contacts, and offline disk storage. Using this method, I can always access my calendars via a web browser with an Internet connection. Because the majority of my devices are Apple-based, it made sense using this method for syncing purposes. So, I now use the Apple iCal application to access both MobileMe calendars on my iMac desktop computer, and the built-in Calendar app on my iPhone for doing the same. For my Dell laptop (running Windows 7), I use the Microsoft Outlook application along with a MobileMe syncing utility (provided by Apple) to sync my two MobileMe calendars with Outlook for local access. This method seems to work well so far, but I need to always make sure I’m viewing the two MobileMe calendars in all my apps and not the default local calendars (which should be empty).
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Evernote : My new information manager

November 1, 2009

evernoteI love using the Google search engine (who doesn’t?). I can very easily and quickly search for anything on the Internet using any web browser, and find the information that I’m looking for in a snap. Often, I’ve wanted to have a Google-like search engine just for my personal information which can be accessed on my PC or on the web. It turns out I may have found my answer with a product called Evernote.

Evernote is a cool product that can store various bits of information in a central database system “in-the-cloud” (Internet), on your PC, or on your smartphone. You can create multiple “notebooks” and store “notes” in each of them. Notes can consist of plain or formatted text, web page content, pictures, and audio. The single most useful feature I’ve seen, is the ability to easily grab content from a web page and save it to Evernote. A perfect example is when I come across a web site and I want to look into it further at a later date, I can easily save the full web page (or a portion of it) to a note in Evernote. In fact, there’s a FireFox browser plugin that easily does this for you.

All data stored in Evernote can be searched using a text string, just like with the Google search engine. In fact, if you store images in a note that contains text (say, when you snap a picture with your phone of product description at the store), Evernote can recognize the words in the image for the search! Speaking of snapshots, the Evernote app that runs on your smartphone (iPhone,Blackberry,Windows Mobile, or Palm Pre) interfaces with the Evernote database very nicely, and you can use the camera on your phone to easily snap a picture and store it in Evernote as a note. The Evernote site suggests using your phone’s camera for taking snapshots of business cards, airline tickets, travel receipts, etc. which is a great idea if your phone has a good camera (unfortunately, the camera on my Moto-Q phone is crappy). Read the rest of this entry »

Ninite – A great automatic software installer

October 31, 2009

niniteIf you check out my Netbook Blog, you’ll see that I recently purchased a Dell 11z netbook system. The bad thing, is that it arrived with Windows Vista installed and not Windows 7 (which is what I expected). As such, I have to wait about 10 days to get the Dell OEM Windows 7 install DVDs in the mail (ugh).

So I’m in a dilemma– should I install all my standard apps under Vista and use my netbook for the next 10 days and then later wipe out Vista with a clean Windows 7 installation and RE-install all my apps again? I normally install about 10-12 standard applications that I use for my work (most of which take a considerable amount of time to install) and I don’t want to do these installations twice in such a close period of time. So, I decided to just install the FireFox web browser and use my new netbook at a very minimal level until the Windows 7 OS DVD arrives.

This morning, I stumbled upon a wonderful utility called Ninite which seems to be the answer to my prayers. The web site has a list of programs that you can select, afterwhich you download an installer program that runs on your system and automatically installs all the selected applications using the default settings. So I was able to use this free service to download and install the latest versions of 18 different applications completely automatically. I launched the installer and 15 minutes later it was done, with no user interaction on my part.


Since I normally select all the default settings when I install apps, this utility was perfect for my needs. It also answers “no” for apps that try to install junk (like Yahoo toolbar add-ons, etc). What’s really nice, is that nearly all of my standard apps are among the listed available applications for installation, especially some of the programming apps I use.

So now I can use all my favorite apps on my new Dell netbook under Vista, and later do the same fast installation under Windows 7 and be up and running. Great, great utility!

How to backup your Outlook 2007 database and settings

October 24, 2009

outlookIf you’re an Outlook 2007 user and are planning to upgrade your system to Windows 7, then you probably want to backup your Outlook database file. This is especially true if you are planning to do a “clean” installation, where all the data on your hard drive is completely wiped off when the new OS is installed.

What you want to do is copy your Outlook PST file which contains all your emails, calendar appointments, tasks, etc. that you typically use in Outlook. This is normally a very large file, and sometimes is hard to find on your system. The following link explains how you can find this PST file and back it up.

Next, you probably want to avoid having to enter all your various email settings again into Outlook to download and send messages. To do this, you can use the information available on that same link previously mentioned which explains how to backup and restore your email settings in Outlook 2007.

Finally, if you have “rules” defined in Outlook, you can export them following the instructions on this link. With these three bases covered, you should be ready for the Windows 7 clean install and can restore Outlook to its original condition after the upgrade.

No Choice… Going with Quicken

June 16, 2009

cashWith MS Money now defunct, I really have no choice but to go with Quicken 2008 Deluxe. I checked over all the online options and other software options, but I wanted something that was mainstream and could download and reconcile my checking account entries from online data. I really liked MS Money Essentials because of it’s clean interface, so it was a little tough getting use to Quicken.

I spent some time last night and got all my accounts setup and configured, so I think I’m now back in business. Now, I didn’t know this but with MS Money the online services (for downloading transaction data) is only valid for 2 years after software purchase. So this forces you to upgrade to a newer version every two years to continue to use the online services. I believe Quicken operates the same way, so it seems that every two years I’ll have to shell out $40 US for the program (even though functionally it works the same as the older version!).

Microsoft Money… RIP

June 15, 2009

For the last several weeks I’ve been evaluating a trial verison of Microsoft Money Essentials financial software on my PC. I liked this software package because it was cheap ($20 US) and had an easy-to-use, simple interface. The other day, I opened up the application and I saw a notice that said Microsoft was no longer distributing any of the Microsoft Money products. What? It sounds like Microsoft is throwing in the towel on this one, giving Intuit’s Quicken no real competition. As such, I’ll have to stop my evaluation of MS Money and go with evaluating Quicken.

Note, that there are some online alternatives (Quicken Online,, etc.) but I didn’t like the look and responsiveness of these applications. It would be nice to have my account data “in the cloud” just in case my computer is destroyed by fire, etc., however, I have this sense of safety knowing that my data is stored locally on my PC (I guess I’m an old dog).