Entries Tagged as 'Lifehacking'

Identify Music Keys With This Simple Mnemonic

One aspect of music that has mystified novices is the identification of a song’s key when looking at the sheet music. We see a bunch of sharps or flats, but figuring out which key it all means is a code that isn’t broken intuitively. With a simple mnemonic, however, one can easily decipher this code.

Good Deeds Are Ever Bearing Fruit

When there are no sharps or flats, things are simple. It’s the key of C. However the introduction of sharps can throw people. Simply count the number of sharps, move that many words to the right, and take the first letter of the target word.

Consider this key, for example:
key_of_d_major

There are two sharps, so if we go to the second word in our mnemonic, we land on Deeds. Therefore this is the Key of D.

How about this one?

key_of_e_major

There are four sharps, so we go four words to the right to the word Ever, telling us this is the Key of E.

So, for sharps we proceed to the right through our mnemonic. For flats, we simply start on the right, and proceed to the left in the same manner as before.

For example:

key_of_b_flat_major

There are two flats, so when we move to the left two words from the end, we land on “Bearing”, so this is the Key of B Flat (It’s the “flat” when more than one flat is shown. One flat is the Key of F).

How about this example?

key_of_e_flat_major

There are three flats, which puts us on the word “Ever”, so it is the Key of E Flat.

Here is a fun one:

key_of_d_flat_major

With five flats, we land on “Deeds”, so this is the Key of D Flat.

So there it is. Now you can look at any piece of sheet music and identify the key by just remembering that Good Deeds Are Ever Bearing Fruit!

Track Gas Purchase with Price

gaspumpMy wife and I each have a car, and we both want to track how much we spend of gas each year, per car. We both put gas in each other’s cars, so tracking the per car expenses can be very difficult. I could make a mark on each receipt or I could put receipt in a special place for each car, or I could just track it simply at the pump; with the price.

We simply make sure that all gas purchases for my car end in a “1” (ie. $28.41) and all purchases for her car end in an “2”. Any time I buy gas for someone else or for yard equipment, I end it in a “3”. Then when we reconcile our credit card statements in Quicken, I know exactly how to categorize the purchase.

An added bonus with this system is that any gas purchase made with my credit card with a number other than 1, 2, or 3 signals a red flag and requires investigation.

Teach Your Expensive Shades to Swim

2011-07-23_18-43-51_138If you’ve ever lost a pair of $200 sunglasses in the ocean, then you know that sinking feeling I once did. Refusing to let it happen again, I looked around in the area surf shops for something that would keep my next pair of sunglasses afloat, but it appears the idea is “lost” in the beachwear world. With an hour and about $20, one can save that pair from the turbulent surf.

According to medical sources (#1, #2) sunglasses can protect the eyes from UV light and prevent cataract formations. Around water the eyes get bombarded from below as well as above, so polarized lenses can help to not only protect the eyes, but also enable one to monitor the water more closely.

This solution offers floating sunglasses, but beware; I would only wear them when dealing with light duty (playing with small children in shallow water, riding on boats, etc.). I would not rely on this setup for skiing, windsurfing, or surfing.

What you need:

  • 1 shoestring or lanyard-style sunglasses strap. (foamy ones like Croakies will not work) (#1, #2)
  • 6 yellow foam earplugs (available at Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc)
  • 1 1/8” drill bit
  • 1 1/4” drill bit
  • 1 pair of pliers
  • 1 drill

The object here is to thread the earplugs down the thin sunglasses strap. In order to create a hole, grab the earplug along it’s long, curved edges, and hold the plug on a workbench, vertically. With the smaller drill bit, create a hole through the long axis of the earplug. If that hole is not big enough to slide onto the strap, use a larger bit to open the hole a bit more. Sunglasses come in different weights, but usually 6 floats will do. Be sure to spread them evenly, and test in a sink, bathtub, or pool before hitting the surf!

Adding TinyURL to iOS

While there are some pros to iOS being an extremely locked down operating system, there are plenty of annoyances. One such annoyance is the inability to add URL-shortening widgets to Safari. The way around this is to create a bookmarklet.

There are several sites showing how to add these, but apparently tinyurl.com has changed their API since these sites published their directions. So, the current way to install a tinyURL shortcut on an iPhone or iPad is:

  1. Add this page to your bookmarks.
  2. Edit the bookmark.
  3. Tap the address portion to edit the bookmark’s address.
  4. Delete the entire url that is currently in the text field and enter the following: JavaScript:window.location.href=’http://tinyurl.com/create.php?url=http’+window.location.href
  5. Change the name of the bookmark to “Shorten with TinyURL”

While TinyURL is not in vogue, it is the one shortener with which I could get a bookmarklet to work. The current instructions for bit.ly out there only send the browser to a blank bit.ly page.

Picture This: Organize A Large Library of Digital Photos

pics_MC7Oh, the joy of the holidays, a special time of year where we take tons of photos and actually have some downtime afterward to get organized. With that in mind I thought it might help someone to offer my system for handling my digital photos. We have over 15,000 digital photos, which is great, but only as great as our ability to go back and access them easily.

There are dozens and dozens of tools out there designed to help people organize and display photos, so there are many organization schemes, some excellent. When I was inventing my wheel, I defined two high priorities: quick access and cheap price. I’ve been extremely happy with this system after over a year, and hopefully others can integrate it and enjoy it as much as I have.

ACCESS

Being able to find that specific photo is made easy by a great system. Was that photo I love of my daughter on the boat at the beach in 2008 or 2007? Was it the May trip or was it the June trip? We had a yard sale a couple of years ago. Did we have that in October or September, and do the photos of the unsold items include the old popcorn popper? Where is that early construction photo of the RBC Center? Where are those favorite 15 photos from Disneyworld? These types of questions can be answered quickly with a good system in place.

What about those times when there are guests in the house? The last thing you want to do is lug them into your liar and have them huddle around the computer screen while you search and search for a photo. That’s why we really enjoy accessing photos through Windows Media Center (pictured above). With our setup we have the den TV directly connected to the central Media Center PC, and all of the other TVs have Media Center Extenders. This allows us to access our entire photo collection from any TV in the house, which is a huge convenience, especially when guests are in the house. This isn’t a requirement, but makes the system far more powerful.

ORGANIZATION

Whether one is browsing through pictures of a lost pet or searching for a photo of a specific place, a collection of photos that is efficiently tagged will save loads of time and add a tremendous amount of value to a photo collection. The key is file tagging.

What is “tagging”?

In the old days we took a developed photograph and placed it into an album, usually arranged chronologically and/or by subject. With digital photos one can tag a photo with as many organizational tags as they wish, and the single photo will appear in any number or applicable search results. For instance, if I have a photo of my nephew, my daughter, and my cat taken on the dock at the family beach house during my sister’s birthday party, I can tag the photo as “Drew”, “Lindsay Anne”, “Maddie”, “BeachHouse”, and “Kim’s 35th”. When I use software that can quickly display all of the photos tagged “Maddie”, the party photo appears in the collection. When I look at the “Drew” photos, the photo will shows up as well. So not only is tagging great for finding a particular photo that has known qualities, but also it is excellent for putting together “virtual” photo albums.

There are many tools for photo tagging, but I’ve found that Windows Live Photo Gallery is the best. Not only is it a free download, but it also writes the tag information in the .JPG file itself. Most other photo programs, like Picasa, store this tag information in a separate database file, making the database only usable in that one particular piece of software. If the tags are stored in the photos themselves, however, one can transport a collection of photos to another computer without losing all of the tagging information.

pics_tagsWPGOnce one installs Live Photo Gallery and points the software to a folder structure containing photographs, the next step is to create a set of frequently used tags. The second big asset for Live Photo Gallery, is that it allows tag hierarchies to be formed. I created five top-level tags under which all photos fall: Events, Objects, People, Places, and Other. (literally entered as “ZOther” in order for force it to the bottom of the alphabetical list.) Under People, I have a hierarchy of tags: People:Family, People:Famous, People:Friends. Under People:Family, I have these tags: People:Family:Immediate, People:Family:McCall, People:Family… Under People:Family:Immediate, I have a tag for each of the 4 family members (including the cat).

pics_tagsWPG3A major problem with Picasa (and several other software programs), is that it does not allow hierarchical tags. Therefore once tagging is complete, one will find a list of tags that are not organized. Unrelated tags like “Beach”, “Ballpark”, “Ben”, and “Beerfest” will all appear together in a giant list of tags. While a hierarchical tag structure requires a viewer to drill downward through three or four layers, typically, it is still extremely manageable and efficient.

Going through thousands of photos, tagging each for the relevant people, places, and events shown is not a quick process, so I recommend only doing a couple hundred at a time, depending on the size of your collection. The good thing is that this is not a particularly intellectually challenging project that requires 100% focus, so it can be done during football games with great ease. Remember, too, that these because the tags are written to the JPGs themselves, this project can be done across a network, so it can be just as efficient to sit at a laptop in the den as it is sitting at a desk at the house’s main computer.

File Location

So, the virtues of tagging should be clearer by now, and that leaves one question: how to I physically organize the JPG’s themselves on the hard drive? I once tried organizing the photos by the event or main subject of the photo, and it was a disaster. Tagging serves this purpose much better. So if we are dealing with, essentially, a database and search system all the time, I ought to be able to just dump all of my photos into one giant folder, right? Not so.

There are two problems with a blind dump. One is that cameras create filenames usually based on a sequence by that particular camera. What if a family has more than one Canon camera, all using the same numbering scheme? What if a camera’s numbering sequence accidentally gets reset? In both cases there will be filename duplicates, creating an unacceptable situation in any operating system.

Another problem with a blind dump is every operating system’s inabilities to efficiently display a folder containing thousands of files. If you like watching hourglasses and throbbers, be my guest and create large folders.

The most efficient system I have found is to rename each file as it is being put into the file structure. First, move the files off of the camera’s data card into a designated temporary folder with Windows Explorer. The folder I created for this is:

C:\Users\Public\Pictures\UNPROCESSED_PHOTOS

To save time, I placed a shortcut to this photo in my “Send To” context menu (see post about editing the SendTo list). By selecting all photos on the card, and Shift-selecting Unprocessed_Photos using the Send To shortcut, I can move photos to a designated spot in one quick action.

The next step is where the magic lies. I use a small, free piece of software called DIM.jar to move the photos to their final destination. (DIM requires that Java is installed). I use DIM to read the date of the photo, rename it based on a YYYYMMDD-XXX.jpg format, and copy it to a folder hierarchy in Public Pictures that corresponds the year and month of the photo.

DIM_setup Go into the DIM settings and change the output filename code to “YYYYMMDD-%2c.jpg”. The result will create a file with the year, month, and date in the filename. Because one may do a quick series of photos that takes 2 photos in the same second, I don’t feel the timecodes of HHMMSS are worth the bulk they add to the filename. Instead, I prefer an arbitrary 3-digit number that is assigned for the photo in the batch. A photo called 20081225-134.jpg is the one from Christmas in ’08 with an arbitrary 134 attached. (That three-digit number gets reset each time DIM is launched)

Once you have verified that the photos copied correctly, then go to UNPROCESSED_PHOTOS and delete its contents. I do not recommend having DIM “move” the files, as sometimes there are glitches (ie. date setting was wrong on camera, some setting in DIM setup wasn’t quite right).

One important thing to remember is to NOT touch your files before sending them through DIM. This especially includes rotating the file in Windows Photo Viewer! Any time a change like rotation, cropping, contrast, etc is made, the JPG file is rewritten such that the metadata reflects the editing time as the time the photo was taken. This create inaccurate filenames and can result in photos being in the wrong folder on the hard drive.

This sounds like a big endeavor, but it really isn’t. I’ve trained myself to follow this sequence every Sunday:

  1. Insert photo card into computer’s card reader
  2. Open Windows Explorer, and move the photos to the Unprocessed folder (Shift-select Unprocessed folder in the SendTo menu)
  3. Open DIM from Start Menu shortcut
  4. Quickly double-check DIM’s settings
  5. Hit “Process”
  6. Verify that photos are in the correct month folders
  7. Erase contents of Unprecessed

Occasionally (and I mean once or twice a quarter), I’ll sit down with my laptop in the den while somewhat paying attention to a sporting event, and tag photos across the network.

The result is a system that is very easy to navigate from all over the house. If I want that photo of us from the tailgate party before the 2002 hockey playoff game, I can go to the “RBCCenter” tag and quickly peruse the couple of dozen photos from there. If I want to copy this photo to a website like Flickr, I’ll simply note the filename and easily find it using Windows Explorer. This is a snappy process given that any one month folder only has, maybe, a couple hundred files.

Having an organized, accessible photo collection is a giant luxury. I certainly realize this when I look through old family photo albums that only have a few dozen photos. They are hard to find, in small collections, not backed up, and organized using only one method. Ironically the amount of effort with the system described takes less time and effort than it did in the old days.

IKEA Hacker

Just ran across a fun site for IKEA fans. IKEAhacker.blogspot.com

Tablet PCs for Students

I’ve always been intrigued with tablet PCs, but could never really see how the tool could move me past paper and pens. The other day a patient told me about how he uses Microsoft’s OneNote on a tablet PC. He records the lecture through OneNote and an external USB microphone. Then he takes handwritten notes in OneNote. Throughout the lecture, OneNote matches his notes to audio points in the recorded lecture. Not sure what the teacher said when you were scribbling the diagram? Just have OneNote playback the lecture at the point when the drawing began! Here’s a video of the process.

Imagine the possibilities if a decent recording could be coupled with decent-quality snapshots of the teacher’s PowerPoint slides! Not only would your notes be searchable when it’s time to sit down and review them, but the lecturer’s comments can quickly be replayed.

Backing up your notes just got easier as Microsoft’s Live Mesh offers 5GB of backup storage space for free. Time that puppy to synch with Windows Live Foldershare, and the thought of tablet/notes theft is far less daunting.

Wanna be totally paperless? If any teachers are still giving out handouts, the ScanSnap510 sheet-feed scanner by Fujitsu is the answer. Go back to the dorm room and throw those handouts in the hopper. This scanner does both sides of the page at 3 seconds per page. The price is a little steep (~$400), but it may be worth it to some students who either want to be totally paperless or have all of their notes in one place. (For light loads, maybe something slower and cheaper will do the trick?)

Tablet PCs cost too much, right? Well, every student going to college has to get a laptop these days, so most people are spending $500-$800 (maybe more – a LOT more if they bought a Mac) or so for their darling’s laptop. This blog entry claims that the student will spend at least $100 each year in office supplies, expenses that could be nullified by tablet PC use. After a couple of years, that puts the total cost in the tablet range, so it may not be that much more to have a searchable, archivable, and sharable notetaking system after all.

Modify Firefox 3

You may recall my series on souping up Firefox 2. Lifehacker now has some tips on modding the new Firefox 3.