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.