Roll My Own Ringtone

First of all, I really don’t go in for .mp3 ring tones. I’m actually okay with just having a beepy or ringy ringtone on my phone. However, custom ringtones do serve a useful purpose. Now that essentially everyone1 carries a cell phone with them, knowing that it is actually your phone ringing is handy. Of course, you don’t need to have “The Macarana” blaring every time your wife calls. That’s annoying (for several reasons). So, all this being said, it’s a good idea to know how to make your own ringtones. Ringtones are multi-billion dollar business, and it’s no wonder when you consider the numbers. I can purchase the latest hit at the iTunes for 99¢ but that same song, in a shorter, lower quality ringtone will cost me $1.99 at Cingular (plus whatever amount of bandwidth it costs me to download it). I pay twice as much for less? I don’t think so.

Here’s what I use to do this:

  1. A song. More to the point, one in .wav format. You can rip one off a CD you own or burn-and-re-rip a song you’ve bought off of iTunes (or whatever music service), which I do usually to remove the DRM. Just re-rip it into .wav this time instead of .mp3.
  2. Some sound editing software. I like Audacity because it’s open source and pretty easy to use. You’ll need to get the LAME .mp3 encoder for it, but that’s not too much trouble and also free.
  3. About five minutes. Open your tune into your wave editor software (Audacity) and trim it down to size. I use about 30 seconds, and not necessarily the first 30 seconds, either (I want the meat of the song, not the artsy intro). I also use a brief fade-in at the beginning to save my hearing as well as some fade-out at the end, although who ever hears the end of a 30 second ring-tone?
  4. Save the new version as a low-to-medium quality .mp3 file, probably 42kbps (where-as I’d usually use at least 192kbps for an .mp3 file on my PC). The key is, the file needs to be less than 600kb in final size, at least on my Cingular branded Sony-Ericsson W810i (I’ve yet to test Angela’s Motorola SLVR). However, 30 seconds at 42kpbs should come well under that size.
  5. Transfer the .mp3 to the phone, by USB if at all possible as anything else is excruciatingly slow (i.e. – Bluetooth). I found that I had to put mine in a specific folder called “Ringtones.” This may not be always the case, but it worked and I’m not sure that I’d want to mix this low quality, clipped songs with full-length .mp3 I’d listen to on my headphones, so it’s a good idea to separate them.
  6. Use the ringtone. Call yourself and test it out. You just saved a couple of bucks and exercised your fair-use rights. Heck, splurge: call yourself and talk for a while. You can afford the minutes.

Right now, I have “Love Me Do” by the Beatles for when Angela calls (yeah, cheesey). It works great, though, and I didn’t have to pay for the same song twice. I suppose technically if she calls while I’m listening to that song then I’ve gone beyond fair use and am guilty of copyright infringement. However, that’s pretty unlikey. Just in case, I’ll put my phone on silent when listening to my copy of One.

  1. now that my brother Dave has given up his landline in favor of a mobile-only, I feel confident that everyone is not just hyperbole.

On Getting Things Done

I was probably the single last person to get a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. I had ordered a copy simply because it did seem so popular. I usually steer clear of the self-help and business productivity sections of the bookstore. However, the people who were talking about Allen’s book seemed even keeled enough that I figured it wouldn’t be some sort of primer into buying a bunch of stuff ‘required’ to use this method. It turns out that is exactly the case and probably part of Allen’s success. That, combined with the fact that it’s really solid stuff. I’m not going to bore you with any details on the information in the book. All I will say is this: if you’re interested in getting on top of what seems like an impossible list of things to do in your life (work or personal), then GTD is really worth looking into. You can get a cheap copy of the paperback but I’d also recommend getting the audiobook version (CD or iTunes Store) just because I found it so easy to listen to while driving.

Three weeks ago I went into my office on a Saturday and about five hours later emerged with an empty e-mail inbox, a stack of about five tasks to do in my paper inbox, a very clean office, and an 18 inch tall stack of papers to be filed. This weekend, I’ve been working on doing pretty much the same thing at the our home office. I’ve successfully gotten my e-mail inbox to empty, along with my RSS feeds. Angela did a lot of grunt work on Friday before I could get to it (of her own accord, even though I had told her I was scheduling this weekend to go through a lot of stuff). That helped a lot, though, and allowed me to focus on getting down a lot of what I want to accomplish. Of course, it’s not a one time thing and I have to do my best to keep things reviewed and recorded from here on.

Now, to the point of this post (it’s really not just to celebrate my empty e-mail inbox, although that is a pretty cool thing to behold). There is a very good chance that some of you may have commented here, sent an e-mail, of left a voice message that never got a response. First of all, I am truly sorry if that happened and I made you feel that I didn’t really care about what you had to ask or tell me. I likely marked that to deal with later, but since I didn’t have any really sound method of every insuring I’d get back to it, it simply got buried in the pile. I cannot make any promises but I really do intend for that to never happen again. However, if there was something that you feel is left unresolved by me, then now would be a great time to prod me about it again.

It’s Not Too Hard Being Green

So perhaps you’ve seen An Inconvenient Truth or you plan to. Maybe you have no intention seeing it because you’re convinced this is just all a bunch of bunk. Either way, being green doesn’t have to mean giving up a comfortable life style and taking the kids to live in a cave somewhere. As a matter of fact, one of the single best advantages of making the green shift is that, with a little bit of extra work and know-how, you can actually save yourself some money. Even when our conscious isn’t poking us in the back or we just don’t think highly politicized science is convincing, our thinning wallets can convince us to take action.

What You Buy

You can reduce your current spending some and reduce some of your environmental impact at the same time, so let’s talk about that up front. First, you should know that rushing out to buy the new, shiny gizmo that promises to save the planet isn’t always the most responsible thing to do. Is it replacing something that already works okay and could just be made better? Performing some maintenance and some elbow grease can make some things run with less energy or have a whole new life. You can recycle your own things even easier than someone else can do it for you. What are you going to do with the old item? Sending it to the landfill is probably far more harmful than any benefits your new toy will offset.

Well, if you’ve convinced yourself that spending some money on something new might be the best course after all, can I interest you in something slightly used? eBay, Craigslist, yard sales, and so on may require some more hunting to find the deals, but you’ll be requiring less production energy (it was already made) and you’ll save big off of that new sticker price, and that’s always a great place to start. However, some things just need to be bought new (like underwear). This is where you should start with some planning. Spend some time thinking how you can get the most bang for your buck. For example, if you want to replace you old incandescent light bulbs with some new fancy compact fluorescent lights, consider starting with the bulbs that get use the most: bathroom, living room, kitchen. Take functioning old incandescent bulbs out, but don’t throw them away yet. Just hold on to them to put in less used sockets, such as a lamp in a side room or your backyard shed. That way, you’ll start seeing the reduced energy bill now but won’t have to fork over quite as much for so many new bulbs.

Also, consider looking for less packaging. Geeks have known that buying OEM saves big for a long time, and you can use the same principal elsewhere. Why pay for stuff your just going to throw away as soon as you get home? Ask about display models at stores (big discount there) and look for things like contractor packs at the hardware store (you don’t think contractors like to pay extra, do you?) or just larger containers at the grocery store with higher product to packaging ratios. You’re paying for the packaging each time, so unless you’ve got a good use for that box, don’t buy it. Another great way to avoid paying for useless packaging: buy digital. He, ones and zeros do very little harm to the environment and why buy a CD that you’re just going to take home, rip over to your iPod, and promptly lose? Upset about DRM, well there are plenty of places that won’t force it upon you.

Around The House

I’m not sure when we all, as a society, decided that we should never suffer anything but 72° F temperature around us, but is that really nunnecessary You own sweaters and you own shorts, so use them. Drop the thermostat in your home and office a couple of degrees in the winter and raise it the same in the summer. Chances are, you won’t even notice, and if you do, you’re probably just not dressed appropriately anyway. I mean, what happens if you go outside? Well, if you’re dashing off to your vehicle to avoid the discomfort of 75° F this month, here’s some good news: you should run your air conditioner when driving above 50 mph. Your car was designed to drive at speed as a closed box and rolling down those windows while singing along with your favorite InIndieand at the top of your lungs actually costs you some extra fuel, and at today’s prices, you can’t afford to show off your American Idol-worthy voice. Also, when you do get home, rest your throat and breath clean air by replacing your air filters more often. You don’t drink your coffee through the swswizeltick cause you’d bust a lung, but that’s the kind of load you’re putting on your air handler by using dirty filters. Clean ones help to pay for themselves and help keep you out of the clinic with a soar throat.

One thing a lot of my environmental friends say is to take shorter, cooler showers. Well, I don’t like cold showers but I also know that my clothes generally don’t mind them. Separate out anything that must be washed warm and you’ll see that most everything you own can save you some money buy taking the cold wash cycle. Of course, your dishes will need some of the warm water love, but don’t waste money buy using the heat dry option (there are products that will do a better and cheaper job of reducing spots, anyway). Also, unless you just love household chores, only wash full loads in both the clothes washer and the dishwasher. One last way to save some on they electric or gas bill, hang your clothes to dry on a clothesline when you can. You’ll get less wrinkles from the gravity action and any you do get, a quick tumble in the dryer will knock out.

So, you drive a big SUV or a four-dour sedan and you really don’t plan on giving that up anytime soon. Well, at least listen to your dad: keep your tires inflated and change the oil on schedule. You’ll get improved mileage and, well, I don’t have to say that again do I? Also, time is as good as money, so consolidate your trips. Pick up your lunch on the way to work instead of an extra trip at noon (unless your walking, which is good for the health benefits) or plan all your Saturday errands ahead so you can do them all in one excursion (although, hopefully not a Ford Excursion with gas at over $3/gallon). Also, consider making part of your big day out to your local hardware and garden store(s). Get some of that cheap foam that goes around the doors and windows. You’ll find it costs you less if you put that up to keep the house at your required 70° – 74°, you fragile thing, you. While at the garden center, get some trees for the yard. They’ll look great and you could use the sun since you apparently have some aversion to being exposed to the outdoors. Just be sure to buy local stuff, since there’s no good reason to pay extra for something that got trucked in from two states over.

When it comes time to eat, I can’t think of anything better than fresh food. Buy some local meats, fruits, and vegetables (like your grandparents did). You’ll feel better about what you feed your family and you won’t be paying for all that transportation, cooling, and storage (and usually packaging). Also, consider making more stuff at home. You’ll eat better knowing what goes into your food and you’ll save money. Oh, the environment? Well, it’ll get the benefit, too. Sorry, I hadn’t realized you getting so concerned as to remind me of the topic. I’ll keep that in mind next time.

Well, hopefully you can see just how you can make some impact on the environment by thinking of yourself and your bank account. Some simple planning and extra effort can save you some money, just like your parents told you. You can also do right by your children and help out the environment at the same time. Heck, they’ll probably appreciate the fact you took them outside and started letting them wear shorts again in the summer.

Cross-posted from my Newsvine Column.

Google Search Anomoly

Now here’s something really weird. I read about the fitness tracking site WeEndure a couple of weeks ago on Lifehacker and signed up for an account. I’ve been using it regularly. I just happened to do a google search for weendure to see if there were any other articles on the site (I am in constant need of reassurance) and low and behold, my user page comes up second, ahead of the Lifehacker article!

Excel Printing Hack

When using Microsoft Excel, you can print only the sheets you want by selecting their tabs at the bottom of the sheet (all at once) and hitting print. This way, if you just need the first three tabbed sheets of a 30 tab spreadsheet, you can do so without having to click each tab individually and then click print. Works on the Windows version of Excel. Anyone care to test it on the Mac version of Office and let me know?

Your DVD’s – To Go

I have a few friends that have recently purchased a fifth-gen. iPod. You know the ones that play video that looks awesome? Well, I suspect many of those very same people have DVD’s that they’ve purchased and would like to watch while on the go. That’s made very, very easy with CloneDVD Mobile by SlySoft and your Fair Use rights. You can try it for free for 21 days and then purchase for $39 if you like it (via BoingBoing).

A Scanner Brightly

I had written some time ago about getting a new scanner to replace my aging relic. However, the old one was working well enough, I just never had the heart to replace the thing. I mean, why spend money on a new scanner when the one I have does just fine?

Well, last month, when having a conversation with my father-in-law about older photos and distributing digital copies to family members, I decided that getting a newer, faster scanner was the thing to do. The old model would be just too slow to make that sort of thing practical. He seemed to agree that the next time Angela and I visited, we should digitally archive all the old photos we could get our hands on. So, I started looking for new scanner that would fit the bill.

Well, I did some research online and had made my mind up. Unfortunately, by the time we had went to CompUSA, they didn’t have the model I had decided on. However, Angela and I ended up stumbling upon the Canon CanoScan LiDE 500F. Sometimes, luck is all you need.

This thing really does it all and does it quite well. It isn’t the cheapest scanner we could have bought, but we paid extra for portability since taking it on trips was (oddly enough) going to be one of the things we’d knew we’d be doing with it. As a matter of fact, it even fits inside a Extra Large TimBuk2 Laptop sleeve. With only a USB cable for data and power, it’s very portable. It’s also much faster than our old scanner. However, it’s not just in the scanning speed. It’s also the improved scanning software. Lay on a couple of different 3″x5″ photos and the software will pick them out individual and scan them into two different files. The four auto-scan buttons (scan, copy, .pdf, and e-mail) are pretty customizable and make the scanner even more useful.

The scanner also has a cool lid that will is double hinged for thicker items and can dislocate (like an action movie character’s shoulder) to lay completely flat. This makes scanning in books much easier. The included OCR software, OmniPage, does a much better job than what I remember older version doing. Of course, it’s still only good for flat, clearly typed pages. You’re probably not going to be doing your own Google Print projects with this thing. Still, just one more feature that makes it a solid package.

I’ve used the film scanning attachment and was impressed with the results (some examples of photos taken with a disposable camera). However, it’s a pretty slow process and scanning from prints is much faster and seems to produce similar quality results, provided the prints are clean (let’s face it, negatives tend to be in better shape than prints).

I’m really pleased with this new scanner and I think that it will make my and my father-in-law’s project feasible, with the addition of Angela’s iBook (Canon has Mac software as well) and our external hard-drive.

Outlook Hack

So many things in Windows (and on a Mac/Linux machine for that matter) require you to confirm deletion, that it’s become a reflex to hit [Delete] & [Enter] in rapid succession. Sadly, the other day I deleted the very hand "Unread Mail" from Outlook. It’s a very handy way to immediately keep on top of incoming mail and I really have come to rely on it. So, it took me a while to find a method to get it back (on Google Groups, interestingly enough), although it’s extremely simple. All you have to do is create a new Search Folder (right click on the Search Folder in you folder tree, select New) and drag it back up to the Favorite Folders list. Tada.

Dude, Where’s My Car?

Parking Garage

When I fly where ever, I find it’s easiest just to leave my car parked at the long term garage (as opposed to a taxi or a friend). Before I go on my trip, I empty my camera’s memory card. The first photos I take on my trip are my parking spot number and the section of the garage I’m parked in. That way, when I return, there’s no worry in trying to find my car. Sure I could just write it down, but this is even faster. Now, I just turn the camera on and scroll back around to the first photo.