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Mac Tips | Savvy Tech Tips

November 11th 2008

Google Announces Video and Voice Chat for Gmail.

Google today announced that they have added video and voice chat to Gmail, their popular email program. The free service will work through a simple plug-in.

Computers running Windows XP and Vista, as well as Intel-based Macs running operating system OS X 10.4 or later can take advantage of the feature. Gmail’s Video chat and voice chat do not currently work with PowerPC Macs, however.

Download the plug-in here.

February 7th 2007

Reduce Spam Email: Spam Gourmet

spamgourmet.jpgComputer: All • Level: Novice

A couple of weeks ago I posted about two outstanding anti-spam temporary email services that can help get you through obligatory email fields with little hassle and keep the spam from piling up in your mailbox. Spam Gourmet is another free anti-spam email solution, but one that requires no software and takes a different and very useful twist on temporary email.

Simply put, Spam Gourmet is an email forwarding service that allows you to create an unlimited number of email addresses that will automatically forward to your real email address. Furthermore, each forwarding address has a customizable limit on the number of emails that will be forwarded. Even cooler, you may never have to return to the Spam Gourmet’s website once you set your account up.

It works like this. You register at the site using your real email address, and create a user name for the account. Once you’ve done that and confirm your email address, you’re Spam Gourmet account is set to go. The format for creating forwarding emails is like this:


This may look a bit intimidating, but it’s actually quite straightforward. “Anyword” is any random word you decide to use. “Number” is the number of emails (up to 20) to this address you wish Spam Gourmet to forward to your real address. “Username” is your Spam Gourmet account user name. So say I go to a website that asks for me email to register for interesting software bargains. I’m not sure if I trust this company yet, so I decide to make up a Spam Gourmet forwarding email address. I type the following into the email field:


“Softwaretest” is a random word I created on the spot. “Johndoe” is my account user name. The way I’ve set this up, the first five emails sent to this address will pass through Spam Gourmet and will automatically get forwarded to my real email address. Any subsequent email sent to this address will get blocked by Spam Gourmet’s anti-spam filter.

But now you’re thinking, “What if I decide I like the email I’m getting from a particular address, and I don’t want it to stop?” Aha! For this you actually do need to return to Spam Gourmet’s website, log in to your account, and click on advanced mode. Once there, you can make all kinds of modifications to any one of your Spam Gourmet email addresses, whether to simply increase the limit (max is 20 though), or set a sender’s address or website to “always trust”. What an excellent feature!

One neat side feature here is that Spam Gourmet’s website keeps track of the number of emails eaten by a particular address. If you are willing, organized, and a little bit obsessive, you could probably keep track of which websites and companies would be turning your trusty email address over to spammers, had you not been fighting it with Spam Gourmet.

I’ve tested the service, and everything works perfectly. Emails are forwarded quickly to my real account, and each comes with information in the title telling me the number of the emails sent to that particular Spam Gourmet address and the currently set limit. Once past the limit, the anti-spam protection kicks in and blocks subsequent emails. Very slick.

For more details, check out Spam Gourmet’s FAQ, which goes into greater depth on almost everything in this article.


February 1st 2007

File Acronyms Explained

Here’s a link to a simple site that lists almost all the different type of computer file acronyms and file endings:

Almost Every File Format in the World

From what I can tell, everything looks accurate and on target. Handy page to bookmark.

January 30th 2007

Google Categories

Computer: All • Level: Novice

categories1.gifThree short years ago, when I was doing introductory training seminars on using the Internet, I would often have to explain to people what Google was. I would say that it was a site dedicated specifically to helping people search the Internet, much like Yahoo. Once I would mention Yahoo search, people would get it, and we would be on our way. How times are changed. Now when I run training sessions on using the Internet efficiently, everyone knows what Google is, and everyone knows how to search for information.

However, Google has evolved tremendously over the past three years. They update and change stuff so quickly that I have to revise my documents every time I teach a seminar on the Internet, even if they are two weeks apart. And one area that Google has expanded incredibly in the past two years is how they categorize the information they gather. In short, Google realized that they could make searching the Internet much more efficient if they cluster the information they gather into various categories, and then allow people to perform searches within those various categories.

By default, Google’s classic page defaults to a “web” search. You can see the more common alternative categories listed across the top of the search bar. However, there are many more. To get to them, click the “more” link at the right end of the alternative categories line. This will open up an entire new world of alternative categories.

Not all of the categories may be useful to you, but here are some of the details on a few of the more helpful Google categories:

By far the most popular alternative search, Google Images allows you to search image files on the Internet. Looking for a picture of a duck? This may be a great way to get it, but as always, please consider copyright laws when handling other people’s intellectual property.

YouTube may be the most popular, but Google Video has a great collection of videos as well. Search, watch, and enjoy!

The News category is often overlooked, but it can be a great help in many situations. When working with educators, I often get the question, “How can I help my students find reliable websites?” The issue here, of course, is that students will do web searches on sensitive topics, but not have developed their crap detector skills well enough to know which sites are reliable. The News category can be a huge help with this, in that it culls the web of anything that isn’t a media source, and lets people search the only thesecategoriesmaps2.jpg major media sources. This is not to say, of course, that CNN or the Star Tribune always has reliable information, but at least your screening out Joe Extremist in his basement. The News category can also be helpful, as you would expect, in finding the latest information on a current event.

Maps is a great source of getting printed directions. Personally, I like it much better than Yahoo Maps, whose now infamous inaccuracy has been the source in our family of two Car Trips from Hell.

Google has folded over the “Local” category into the Map category, which means that you can also type in things you are looking for into the Google Map search bar, and it will put up a neat set of clickable markers—complete with contact information—right on the map for you. This is great for looking for pizza, parlors, golf courses, movie theaters, restaurants, etc., as you can go right from the location information to getting directions. The specifics of this feature are beyond the scope of this post, but at some point I’ll try to write a full article on Google Maps.

categories2.jpgOne other neat feature with Google Maps is the ability to look at your map in satellite photo view. For actually getting somewhere, this satellite view is generally useless, unless you plan to travel to your destination in a helicopter. However, it has one awesome use: impressing the hell out of your less computer savvy co-workers. The key is to have a window with Google Maps open on your computer at all times, then when the “target” walks in, click on the little “Satellite” button, look at a spot on the map, nod a few times, and write something important such as “We’ve found Neo now!”

One other use: If you’ve got a particularly gullible co-worker that you dislike, zoom in on your current address so you can see the building you’re working in. Then tell your co-worker that if he runs outside, looks up, and waves, you’ll take a screen shot of him and save it for his desktop. When he comes back, tell him that there was a problem categories3.gifwith the screen shot function, and ask him to do it again. Be sure to spread the word around the office as to what you’re doing. Lather, rinse, repeat until you get bored. Or fired. But don’t blame me.

Other secondary categories that may be of use to you:

Search academic journals.

A shopping search engine that returns price information.

Patent Search
Search US Patents

Blog Search
Search blogs only for your search terms.

Book Search
Search the contents of books for your search terms.

There are quite a few more, so it can be worthwhile to take some time to explore the “more” link on your Google Categories page.


January 23rd 2007

Temporary Email

guerillamail1.jpgEver find yourself wanting to sign up for an interesting offer on the Internet, but balking at giving away your precious email address to what might be a spammer? Looking for some alternatives to anti-spam software?

Well, Guerrilla Mail and 10-Minute Email are just the answer. These are two handy little websites that generate a valid email address that will expire after just a few minutes. This is great for those Internet signups that insist you enter an email address.

To use the sites, just click on the link for getting an email address. Viola! The site refreshes, and you’ve got a temporary email address right on your screen that you can paste into the email field at any site. To check your email, with Guerrilla Mail, just refresh your page by clicking on the circular green arrows. For 10-Minute Email, you refresh your browser window (click on the circular icon at the top of your browser window).

As for which one of the two services is better, I’ve used both Guerrilla Mail and 10-Minute Email a few times now. Both are easy to use, but Guerrilla Mail is the easiest of the two. Also, one time 10-Minute Email simply never delivered me my test emails, but Guerrilla Email has always worked. Take your pick, though, as both seem reliable and functional, and are great tools in fighting spam.

Edit on 2/7/07: For a different type of anti-spam temporary email service, take a look at this post on Spam Gourment.

December 30th 2006

Online File Storage

Computer: All • Level: Novice

There are a lot of options out there for putting files online, many of them free. Claire’s Random Thoughts, a new tech-related blog, has a nice article about some of the better free options, and goes into detail on the differences and features of each of the programs. Quite helpful information!

There are oodles of reasons why you might want to save files at a remote location. Backing up files online reduces the risk of data loss if something nasty were to happen to your home or office, for example. You might simply want to access some files from a few different locations, and like me, perhaps you can never keep track of those tiny flash drives. Whatever the reason, it’s a handy thing to have a place online to put files, and Claire’s article makes finding a good place to put them a lot easier.

December 28th 2006

Using the “Find” Command

Computer: All • Level: Novice

When I do training seminars, I’ll occasionally ask students to find something on a webpage or in a document. The majority of participants will start to look around with their eyes, then start scrolling if they don’t find it right away. This, of course, is a natural and intuitive reaction: If someone tells you to look for something, you use your eyes to find it. Furthermore, this is often the best way to find something on computers. If you’ve got a small, organized webpage or moderately sized document, scanning quickly with your eyes for information is highly efficient.

The problem arises when we use our eyes to find precise bits of information on larger webpages and in longer documents. In these cases, using our eyes is not the most efficient way. People scroll all over the place, hunt up and down pages for the information they seek, and accomplishFound little except to get frustrated.

There is a better way: Get in the habit of going to the “find” command quickly. Most programs have this underutilized feature, and a lot of computer users know about it. But most computer users go to it far too slowly. By using this command instinctively, you can find things on pages and in documents much faster.

The key to using the “Find” function well is to remember the generic keystroke command to pull it up, so you don’t have to go to the pull-down menus to get to it. For most Windows programs (Explorer, Firefox, Word, etc.), you pull up the find command by holding down the Control key and pressing F. On Macs, you hold down the Command key (the one with the Apple on it) and press F. Your cursor will move to a field provided by the program where you can type in a word relating to the thing you are looking for in the document or on the page. You type in a word—or part of a word you are looking for—and the program will scan the document for the particular piece of information you seek.

Once you get in the habit of doing this, you’ll find that you can find information much faster than if you rely on your intuitive reaction of looking for things with your eyes. My general rule is that if I can’t find something on a page or in a document in about three seconds, I pull up the find command and type something in. It takes a while to get used to this, but once you get in the habit of doing so, you’ll find that you’ll locate information much faster.

Here are just a few common examples when this can especially help:

  • Looking for shipping or contact information on websites (type “ship” or “contact”).
  • Looking for a news story link on a particular site (type something particular, like “earthquake” or “Obama”).
  • Looking in any large text document for a particular piece of information (type something very specific).

Good luck, and happy finding!

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