Software Useful

Keeping multiple PCs in sync

I have a work laptop, a work desktop and a personal computer at home.  Moving between each of these machines could be frustrating if it weren’t for a couple nifty tools.  The two big areas for me are my IE favorites and my OneNote folders.  While I have been happily using Favorites Sync for a while now I have only recently settled on a solution to keep my documents folders in sync. 

MS offers folder redirection to their employees that keeps your entire My Documents folder up on a server.  When you’re off the corporate network XP automatically makes the folder available in a cached mode.  It’s pretty slick.  But… the folder size is limited and, for employees in California, very slow.

Back in April Microsoft purchased Groove Networks.  The Groove product is very cool, creating what amounts to a peer to peer Share Point server.   Groove will sync folders and files across multiple computers and allows you to control access so you can easily work with multiple people on a projects covering a whole mess of files.  Groove is really cool, and since MS bought it, employees can use it for free.  But… it takes a while for a computer running Groove to boot up (not a ton of time, but I’m impatient).  Groove also has chat, project and people management functionality.  It’s a great product but overkill for simply sharing files.

That brings me to FolderShare.  FolderShare is much more light-weight than Groove, focusing only folder sharing.  Groove is great for a multi-person office environment and FolderShare is perfect for individuals.  FolderShare offers both free and for-pay versions of their service.  The free version of the service limits the number of files and sub-folders which can be shared as well as the speed of the file sync.  I’ve been able to stick to just using the free service by keeping a sub-folder in my documents folder where I put the items I want to share (typically my current work) and moving them out when I’m done.

This morning we announced that we purchased FolderShare…  I’m hoping I can get the upgraded service now for free.  Yep, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I’m cheap. 🙂

Idle Music Software Software Tech Useful

My computer is now a fat jukebox


I have finally reached the end of my CD collection… they are now all ripped.  870 (give or take) CDs are now stored on my PC.  17,501 files in 1,411 folders for a total of 270Gb.  There are 458 unique album artists covering just about every, imaginable genre.

Crap?  How do I find something now?

Windows Desktop Search to the rescue!  I use this free desktop search engine at work to quickly dig through megabytes of saved e-mails… and now I’ve also found a great use for it at home as well.

You can either type in your search (searching through e-mail, files and more) then narrow the results to just the music files by clicking the “Music” icon in the toolbar or you can use the keyword “music” when you perform the search (e.g. “Robert Plant Kind:music”).  You can even create some quick play lists by doing a search like “kind:music genre:classical”.  From the results you can select multiple files and either play them directly from search or create a play list.

Ripping all the music was done over the period of four months and took me hours to complete, I definitely don’t want to do it twice.  All the music is ripped to a RAID array, each hard disk has an exact duplicate.  For backup advice, see my earlier post: Are you crash-safe?

Reference Sites Useful Web

MSN Search as a dictionary

While at the 2nd annual MSN Butterfly Tour the topic came up of using search to look up the definition of words.  I mentioned to the testers that it can be done by using the “define” keyword. 

For example, say I want to look up the definition of the word “sibilance” to make sure I’m using it correctly.  Typing “define sibilance” into the MSN tool bar or the MSN search page will return your typical search results, but at the top of the page you’ll find a definition of the word from Encarta.

MSN search supports a variety of phrases to tell it you want specific information.  You can get the same results as “define” by using the phrases “what is [word]” or “what is the definition of [word]?” (but typing “define” is, of course, fastest).

Here are some other cool searches:

Why waste time going to the bookshelf for a dictionary or encyclopedia?

Software Useful

I kan’t spel

I rely on the red squigglies in word.  What happens when I author blog posts?  How about typing in gripes to web forms on web shopping sites?

The answer: I use IE Spell.  It’s a free add-in for Internet Explorer that will spell check any form entry on a web page… even the posts I write for my Space.

Now, I do have to remember to click the IE Spell button, but it beats copy-paste into Word, copy paste into notepad to remove all formatting, copy-paste into my Blog.

Get yourself a copy now (and don’t forget to donate if you use it… it keeps the author making new software).

Blog Sites Tech Useful

Hey, I can see my house from here!

On Sunday most people got their first glimpse of MSN Virtual Earth (well, the PR started Sunday at any rate) and frankly… it’s pretty damn cool.  Imagine the useful features of Google earth… but in a web page… no software installer needed (unless, of course, you’re not running a modern browser, but then you’re probably on a 200 baud modem as well). 

The site is cool for what it is, but it gets better, the Virtual Earth team thought ahead and built in some cool functionality to allow people to create custom maps… so one of our architects did.  To the see the fruits of his handiwork go to the start preview, click the down arrow next to the “start preview” logo and select “MSN Bloggers Map” from the Popular Feeds/Staff picks section.  Voila, a list of MSN bloggers showing their office locations on a satellite picture. 

Think about how fantastic this is; we’ve made stalking accessible to the insanely lazy and clinically agoraphobic.

Idle Life Sites Useful

Eye scream, you scream…

From high school biology I remember that blue eyes is recessive and brown eyes is dominant.  I have blue eyes… so I have two recessive blue eye genes… should I have children, that’s all I can pass on.  If my wife had brown eyes then I’d know that our children would likely have brown eyes but possibly blue.  My education was useful up to the point I married a green-eyed lady (who here is old enough to remember Sugarloaf? Raise your hand… but don’t pull anything, please).

The other day while discussing genetics and eugenics with Imran my curiosity got the better of my and I did a search for an eye color calculator.  My search turned up a very nice page which happens to be hosted by our local Tech Museum.  My question has finally been answered: 66% chance for green eyes, 33% chance for blue.  Want to know your chances?  Make sure you know your parents’ eye color, your mate’s parents’ eye color, your mate’s eye color and your eye color then go to the Tech’s eye color calculator.  Note, if you can’t remember your own eye color you’re in trouble… if you can’t remember your mate’s eye color you’re in really big trouble.

Now I now the odds for eye color… if I could just find out if they’ll inherit her good looks or my idiocy.


Music Software

Fix your Windows Media album info

Omar turned me onto this fantastic tool for quickly and easily fixing the album data in Windows Media.  Album Art Fixer may follow Microsoft’s not-so-sexy, name-it-what-it-is product title strategy but make no mistake, the product is way cool.  It is especially useful for people who are running Windows Media Center edition as MCE uses the “Album Artist” field where many tracks only get their “Aritist” field set when you RIP (esp. for those of you who insist on sticking to MP3s).  It also has a handy interface for getting cover art via a web search (Google by default). 

The process of fixing all your albums is very easy (Album Art Fixer is on version 1.5.2 at this point, the refinements continue).  I’ve ripped over 500 albums to disk so far and fixing them all was completed in one painless sitting last night (it took less than 20min).  I won’t re-hash the instructions on the Album Art Fixer page, their simplicity says it all.  I will add, however, that I’m picky when it comes to making sure my music is correctly labled and filed, so I was aprehensive about letting software do the changing.  Album Art Fixer does, however, allow you to adjust or reject any changes before it changes your media’s metadata.

The software is donate-ware, so you can download it and try it out absolutely free (it’s fully functional).  If you like it and use it you should, of course, show your appreciation by donating via PayPal.


You don’t have to take my word for it,

Album art fixer recommendation by Omar.

The album art fixer site:

A review here:

Media Metadata usage guidelines:


Software Useful

Share your web favorites with all your machines

A while back Omar turned me on to FavoriteSync as a great tool to keep your IE favorites in synch across multiple machines.  Omar has since moved on to Groove but I still much prefer this light, simple tool to the heavy-handed beast that is Groove (Groove is designed to be much more than a synchronization tool, it’s a Share Point-like platform with a large feature set and a start up time to match).

Setup is fairly simple, download the installer and run.  In order to store your favorites on the FavoriteSync server you will need to sign up for an account, but filling out the form and waiting for the confirmation e-mail is about as complex as it gets.  Using the default configuration FavoriteSync stores your favorites on their web site but if you want to be more geeky (or more secretive) you can publish your favorites to your own ftp site.  Other advanced options include the ability to ignore certain folders (e.g. to keep work-only stuff off your home computer… or more importantly, vice versa), publish an XSL style sheet (useful if you have your own ftp/web site and want web-based favorites) and the ability to create multiple backup copies of your favorites.

Once installed the synchronization is automatic.  Anytime you start IE or you change your favorites FavoriteSync will merge an updated copy with the copy of your favorites stored on the server (either yours or theirs).  Your other computers will automatically pick up the changes when you next use them.  Changes are merged if you change your favorites on multiple machines and the options allow you to tweak the sync behavior if you desire.

With a work laptop, work desktop and a home desktop it’s great to have my IE favorites finally roam to all my computers.  The software is simple and effective, I recommend it to Windows IE users with more than one PC. 

Software: FavoriteSync
Web Site:
Platform: Windows/IE (FireFox version in beta)
Cost: Free/Donate Ware
Ease of setup: 4 of 5
Ease of use: 5 of 5



Working in the computer industry and living in this strange computer utopia there are a lot of useful sites and software packages that one adopts simply by means of osmosis.  In an effort to document this things for both my family and myself I’ve created a new category: Useful.

If you have a suggestion of something you find very useful, please send it my way… I can always benefit from a little extra time in my day. 

Hardware Reference Sites Useful

S’bout time

I’ve been jealous of my coworkers in Redmond for a while because the Seattle-area has a very cool system for monitoring traffic status.  It now seems that the bay area may finally be catching up. now appears to have real-time traffic reporting for the south bay (read: Silicon Valley).  I honestly don’t know when they started reporting in real time as last time I looked for real-time traffic in the south bay was a year or so ago. offers traffic for a number of metro areas like New York, LA and San Francisco.  If your city is not explicitly listed, don’t despair, look for the closest metro area.  For example, San Jose is grouped in with San Francisco. 


Where’s the beef? gets some of its funding from ads but it is also a marketing tool for Mobility Technologies to help drive adoption of its telematics technologies (you can sign up for news from them on their products when you register for your free access).  Mobility’s travel data program gets federal funding (at $2M for specific metro areas) but they do end up sharing their profits with the government.  Mobility focuses on 3 markets: reselling data to broadcasters, selling real-time equipment to large agencies and finally telematics equipment to consumers.

Mobility‘s Traffic Pulse Networks® are automated systems for radio and tv broadcasters.  The material on their site reads like the brochures you might find on the desk of a tv or radio sales manager.  In short, buy our service and you’ll make money hand-over-fist.

The solutions Mobility sells to businesses and government (and potentially consumers with deep pockets) are focused on delivering the same type of information you get from the web page but in a customizable form.  I could see UPS buying into this type of service to get a leg up on FedEx.

The really cool bit for me is Mobility‘s telematics.  This is where we should have been ages ago, having real time traffic in our cars that link into the GPS navigation to intelligently route us around bad spots.  It’s not explicitly stated on their site but the 2005 Acura RL has technology from Mobility which links GPS with XM-transmitted traffic data.  Dare I say it?  That’s so boss.  Now, if I could only get the service in something a little more sporty.

Sources: Mobility’s web site, and the clever people who keep posting confidential Mobility business presentations in locations where Google can index them.