24 October, 2013

Editing messages in Skype?

If you're using pretty much any IM (instant messaging) application and/or app, chances are that you sometimes mitsype something. :-)
Skype allows you to edit your sent messages in a very easy manner.

Your last message (the one that you just sent) can be edited, by simply pressing the UP arrow key. When you do that the affected message will get highlighted and text to modify will appear at the input box. Then you can simply modify that message, like you would if you haven't sent it yet. Person on the other side will, however, be able to notice that you did the editing, since there will be a small icon of pencil at the end of the edited line.

Messages before the last one can also be edited. But in that case, you'll actually have to right-click with mouse on the message that you wish to edit and then select "edit message" from the selection.

You can go even further. You can actually delete the embarrassing message.

Of course this only helps if person on the other side wasn't there, when you typed it... :-)

If you have any suggestions for something that you would like to see here, let me know in the comments. Maybe there's an easy solution available for that too.


18 October, 2013

Doing presentations? Replicating your desktop or extending it?

In the previous post I've stated that I'm a big fan of keyboard shortcuts. I'm also a big fan of working on multiple monitors. I find that it does wonders in almost any work type to have windows open on different displays.

Since pretty much everyone I know is replacing their old desktop PCs (if they even have them anymore) with laptops, the whole thing becomes even simpler. Pretty much every laptop has some sort of video-out port. It will either be VGA, or some version of HDMI or Display Port. And practically every laptop that I've seen allows for a separate output on this video-out connector.
This means that if you own a laptop and have a workspace that you use all the time, it makes a lot of sense to put a monitor there. Especially since you can get a 24" full HD monitor for less tan 160€ these days.
And turning this functionality on is usually as simple as using another keyboard shortcut (Windows+P).

In any case, what is also interesting is that if you attach a projector to your laptop, it's like having an external monitor. I don't know why, but apart from some of my colleagues, who do presentations for a living, almost no one ever uses ability to have separate desktops on laptop monitor and on the projector.

There are a lot of reasons why it makes very good sense NOT to show your desktop during presentations:

  1. Primary desktops are often messy and un-professional. What I mean with this is that there are often a lot of icons there. Shortcuts, documents,... In some cases it's nothing special in other cases there may be a document or two with sensitive names and you may be showing them to the whole auditorium.
  2. IM and email pop-ups. Unless you're extremely conscientious you likely don't close your IM programs (Skype and the like) before you start a presentation. If you are showing your primary desktop, then you can at least expect to see people who just signed-in to pop up there. Or, there may be an embarrassing beginning of a message or email that shows up briefly. Not really how you leave a good impression on your audience.
  3. Reference look up. Obviously, when you're presenting about a certain subject, you know EVERYTHING about it, right? But what the audience may not know is that some of your knowledge is due to the notes and reference documentation that you have on your own screen, while they're looking at your presentation.
  4. Power Point Presenter view. If you're using Power Point as your presentation software of choice, then Presenter view is something that you absolutely have to use. While slides are being shown normally on the projector, you can see your current slide, notes as well as previous and a few next slides on your laptop screen. Perfect in order to keep your flow going through the presentation.

So, is there any reason NOT to extend your desktop? As it turns out, there is at least one that is valid and another that sucks, but is realistic:
  1. You're doing a demo of a product. Such presentation can be problematic, if you're sitting in front of an empty primary screen and the product that you're demoing is projected behind you. Then you either have to crane your head back or even turn your back on your audience. And both of these things do nothing to enhance your presentation. So in this case seeing the same thing on the projector and on your laptop can be useful.
  2. If you have a crappy presentation tool that doesn't behave well in two-screen mode. So far I've only seen one such tool, but my hatred towards it is not diminished by that fact. I'm talking about a product that looks slightly like Acrobat Viewer but is in fact not. It's called Lock Lizard and is a tool that allows for presentation of copy-protected content. The tool is crap in more than one sense, but it really excels in how it doesn't work if you want to use it in extended desktop deployment, while presenting. So unless you really go out of your way to trick it, you simply have to revert to single desktop mode.

My conclusion here is that multi monitor environments rule! It doesn't matter if we're talking about a standard monitor or a projector, most of the time it makes excellent sense to extend your desktop. And it Just Works™.


16 October, 2013

Moving windows in Windows

First let me say that I love keyboard shortcuts. While I like GUI point-and-click interfaces, I also believe that a lot of tasks can be accomplished more efficiently and quicker just with a keyboard. Mouse is useful in lots of occasions, but if I can accomplish something with my fingers on the keyboard I'll do it that way.

Windows 7 brought a few interesting keyboard shortcuts with it. The ones that I'll mention here have to do with how you can manipulate application windows within a single or across multiple screens. You may be familiar with these, but I'm sure some people will find them new. And maybe even useful.

1. Maximize window: 
In the past, if you wanted to use keyboard, you had to press alt+space and then "X" to achieve this. Now a single sequence does the same.

2. Restore and minimize window:
Depending on the state of your window, this combination will either restore maximized window to its "un maximized" size. Or if window is already "un maximized" it will minimize it. In the past combinations of alt+space and "R" or alt+space and "N" did the same. Now it's a single sequence for either of the two actions.

So far, so good. We've only covered enhancements to already existing functionalities. But with Windows 7, some new actions were also introduced. For instance, if you grab window by the title bar, with the mouse, and drag it to the left or right edge of the screen it will "stick" to that edge. On top of that it will change its shape so that it takes up exactly one half of your screen. With that you can have two documents open, side by side, if you need to reference things, while you write about them, for instance.
But if you use multi-monitor setup, this becomes slightly trickier. The reason for that is that Windows may have trouble determining if you want to drag one document to the right edge of your screen to "stick" it there or if you want to drag it to the screen on the right side of the one you're currently using.
So now the keyboard shortcuts come to the rescue :-)

3. Stick window to the left: 
If your window is maximized or "un maximized" this combination will move it to the left side and stick it there. If your window is currently in the right "stuck" position, then it will first be "un maximized" and after a second use of the same combination it will come to rest on the left side.
If your window is currently residing on the right of your two screens, the first combination press will stick it to the left edge of your right screen, next combination press will stick it to the right edge of your left screen. One combination press more will put it in the middle of your left screen and final repeat will put it all the way on the left...
Whew... That sounds complicated. In reality it's actually extremely intuitive. Just try it out on your web browser now.

4. Stick window to the right: 
By now, I think it's pretty obvious that this does the reverse of what previous combination did.

When you use multi-monitor setups and you disconnect the secondary monitor weird things may happen. Most of applications will automatically "jump" back to remaining monitor. But there can be an application or two that misbehave in such situations. They may stay on the location where they were, when the secondary monitor was still connected. And in some cases even shutting them down through the Task Manager and then opening them again will put them back on that non-existent monitor.
Added bonus to knowing above combinations is that now, you can move the application to your screen with no effort at all.


14 October, 2013


8.6.2015 [Edit]
Hola was revealed to be a problematic tool. Please check my warning post here on details.

I don't live in the US. However either myself or my colleagues travel there on a fairly regular basis. For us the US is a source of good deals and sites like Amazon are especially handy, especially with their predictable delivery times and willingness to deliver to hotels.
The thing is, I could order most of things directly home, but then postage and customs costs would completely negate the original bargain.
So I invested in a service called Amazon Prime which allows for free expedited shipping. Fast shipping for me is important if I want to be sure that package will get to the hotel while I'm still there.
However, all of this is not too relevant here. What is important is that, besides free shipping, Amazon Prime also gives you access to a huge library of streaming video (both TV shows and movies) that you can watch for free, as long as you're a member.
If you're located in the US, that is... 

So now I was in a situation where I paid for something but couldn't access it, due to not being in the right place.
There has to be something that can be done about it. 

So I started to look on the Web. Like with pretty much everything else, there were a lot of people that had similar problems like I did. Most of the suggestions revolved around VPN or proxy solutions. I looked at some but couldn't find anything that would just work in the way I wanted it too.
There were a few things that I expected from the solution with which I would be happy :
- it has to be free. I already paid money for my Prime subscription. I don't want to pay more to get my original purchase "activated".
- it should Just Works™, with as little impact as possible to the other things that I have to do on my PC.
- it should work all the time.
- you have to be able to set your "exit" location. In other words: where the website, that you're visiting, thinks you're from.
None of these parameters is a deal-breaker for me, but the more I could find in a single solution, better I would feel about it.

VPN solutions looked good on paper, but had a few problems. You have to pay for them (understandable) in general all your traffic will go through the VPN. And while I only need to be seen as someone from the US, I may want to use some other location also. So that's not perfect.
Proxy alternatives didn't pan out much better. While they are often free, they seem to be much less stable in terms of longevity. In other words, one may work today, but not tomorrow. Also performance can be questionable. And, again, it's not too simple to direct traffic from different sites as if it comes from different countries. So proxies didn't seem to work out too well for me either.
I then focused for a bit on TOR

I may write a bit more about this product/project at a later time as online privacy is something that I'm a bit concerned with, but I usually give in to the comfort of convenience. In any case TOR, in theory, offers ability to present yourself as if you're from a country of your choice, but in practice it's something that again proved slightly complicated for me and also performance left something to be desired due to all the hops that the traffic needs to make inside of the network.
I wasn't happy.

I then looked around a bit more. And I found something called Hola

I'm not sure why I haven't run across this service earlier, but it provides everything I was looking for! It's available primarily as a browser plugin, but if you need to move non-browser traffic then there is an application for Windows and Android available.
So, what does it do?
It does exactly what I wanted. It convinces the website which you open, that you're from a country of your choice. In my case, the US. Most web sites work by default, for some you may need to find a plugin, which can be found on Hola's Facebook page (simple Google search will do the trick).
If you're using the web plugin, then you can actually have different tabs open to different sites and a choice of a separate country in every tab.
It's free.
It's (at least it seems) reliable.
And it Just Works™.

So, if you want to access something that may be blocked from from external access and you either travel a lot or simply don't live in a country where the content is presented, then I would say that this is a service for you. So far it worked for me on pretty much any site that has blocked content. Obviously there may be exceptions, but I haven't found one yet.


12 October, 2013

1st post! :-)

Hi all,

A bit of introduction about what will be happening here:

Over the years I've been and still am an avid user of all that is technological. I like computers, mobile devices, gadgets,... At the same time I'm lucky enough to work in a computer-related job.
Nevertheless I'm often frustrated to find that a lot of things are just a bit too complicated. Just a bit counter-intuitive.
I'm also very, very happy when I find some small nugget, some small thing that Just Works™. Once every so often I let my friends know about it and more likely than not, they are similarly excited about something that makes things simpler and works as it is supposed to.

So, what I'll be doing here will be to share some those discoveries with you, who will stumble upon this blog. Due to the nature of how I come across my discoveries, updates will likely be sporadic, at best, but I'll see if I can keep them going.

Since I like a lot of different things, you may find things here that will be "WOW, this is insane! I cannot believe I never knew about this!" or you may have a "Meh, who cares..." reaction. Hopefully it will be more of the former than the latter.

To kick things off, I'm linking to an article that I've written more than five years ago, when I was working for a company called NIL. At the time Windows 7 was just released and I was trying to combine 64-bit version of Win7 (which is what pretty much everyone is using today (unless you moved on to Windows 8 of which I'm not the greatest fan) and Cisco VPN client. Problem was that at the time Cisco wasn't making a 64-bit version of the client. So I stumbled across a solution that worked for me.
The article is today likely irrelevant, but we have to start somewhere. On NIL's page it's broken down into five parts and I'm linking to it here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5