Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Quora: The Most Intriguing and Fun Site on the Web

20 February 2013 1 comment

In my opinion, it’s easy to get addicted to Facebook.  It’s like brain candy; it’s such a guilty pleasure to get constant updates of what people are doing and what they think.  Plus, how else would you keep track of everyone’s birthday!?  Unfortunately, there’s generally very little sustenance to what’s posted on there.


Breaking Bad (TV Series) topic page

On the other hand, there’s a great site that’s just as addicting and is loaded with an incredible amount of knowledge.  The site is called Quora and is essentially a question and answer site, but with a twist.  Anyone can ask questions and anyone can answer them; however, the twist is users vote on answers, which causes them to “bubble” to the top.  Plus, you can “follow” specific questions, users, and topics that interest you. When you follow a question, you get notified of any new answers that are written.  When you follow users and topics, they’re used to curate what you see when you log into Quora.

It may not seem all that clear from my description, but I think if you give it a try, you’ll get sucked in!

I really enjoy the site because the huge range of questions and topics that are addressed.  Plus, there is such a large (and growing) set of users that are answering questions, there ends up being an abundant amount of unique perspectives.  These particular questions come to mind when considering unique perspectives:

It’s really hard to list some of my favorites because there have been so many, but here’s a shot at it.

Favorite Questions:

A Question I Asked That Got Popular:

Favorite Answers:

My Best Answers:

Sample Topics:

Favorite People:

Or maybe I should have saved all this time and just shared this link:

I’ll look forward to you joining Quora (it’s free, of course) and following me, so I can follow you back.  Feel free to comment here with any questions!

IFTTT: Fun Way to get Olympic Updates and More

A while back I learned of a website which could link all kinds of other websites and services together in a clean, intuitive way.  I used it for a few things, but hadn’t found a really fun use of it until now.

The site is IFTTT and stands for “If This Then That”.

Some of the sites you can use are Facebook, E-mail, Text Message, Twitter, Dropbox, Instagram, etc.  Or you can use services like the weather forecast, Free Kindle books, new movie releases, and so on.  Then, you create a “recipe” that ties those “channels” together.  For instance, here are some popular recipes with channels in bold:

  • When my Facebook profile picture changes, update my Twitter profile picture.
  • If the weather forecast for tomorrow calls for rain, send me a text message.
  • Whenever I post a picture to Instagram, save it to Dropbox too.
  • When a new book is added to the Top 100 Free Kindle books, send me an e-mail.

These examples were all pulled from the most popular recipes.  You can use one of those recipes (and modify it if you want) or you can create your own from scratch.  There are thousands of possibilities with the 50 channels they have available.


So here’s the really cool new channel on IFTTT: ESPN’s coverage of the Olympics.  Here are the two recipes I’m using:

IFTTT: Olympics

Pretty fun, huh?  So I get notified of any gold medal the US wins or whenever anyone sets a World Record.

Setting these recipes up literally takes just a few minutes.  Simply sign up for free and try it out.  Let me know what you think!

Adding Dates and Times in Excel

I answered a question on Quora today regarding how to add a column with dates to a column with times using Excel.

Simple Answer: just add the two cells.

Detailed Answer: dates and times in Excel are stored “behind the scenes” as numbers

  • Dates are stored as the number of days since 1/1/1900
    • 1/1/1900 is stored as 0
    • 1/2/1900 is stored as 1
    • 7/24/2012 is stored as 41,114
  • Times are stored as a fractional number (out of 24 hours)
    • 12:00 midnight (aka 0:00) is stored as 0.00
    • 12:00 noon is stored as 0.50
    • 11:59:59pm is stored as 0.999988…
    • 9:25am is stored as 0.39
      • fractional number of minutes into the day is (9 * 60 + 25) / (24 * 60) = 0.39236
  • Thus, adding together a date cell and a time cell gives you a number with a decimal, which Excel converts to a Date/Time.
    • 7/24/2012 9:25am = 41,114.39

That’s a pretty technical answer, so here’s a screenshot:

Cell D3 is calculated by simply entering the equation =B3+C3.  From there, you can right-click on that cell and go to ‘Format Cells…’ to make the resulting cell look exactly how you want.

Categories: Excel Tags: ,

More Info on Cutting the (Cable) Cord

Over 300 channels on RokuI got a ton of great feedback on my last post regarding my family’s choice to get rid of cable tv.  Some people even said my post pushed them over the edge to finally pull the plug!  However, some others had great follow-up questions that I want to answer here:

What broadband service do you use?  How much is it?  Details!

Time Warner Cable.  We moved to Buffalo last year and got the introductory offer of $38/month for 20 Mbps download / 2 Mbps upload.  This is their Turbo package and is twice as fast as their Standard package.  After that offer expired, the bill jumped up to $54 but I was able to negotiate them down to $45.

What kind of router do you have?

Linksys E3200.  Knowing how much I’d be saving on cable and how much I’d be relying on the router, I invested in a new one with some serious horsepower.  It really wasn’t that expensive when compared to a month of cable.  It’s been great – very easy setup and nearly flawless performance.

What is your setup like?  Is your Roku wireless?

We have the Time Warner modem hooked up to our wireless router in our office so our computer can be hard-wired to it.  This makes both of our Roku’s wireless and we’ve had practically no issues with this setup.  Our main TV has our Roku 2 and it’s about 15 feet away from the router (through 3 interior walls).  The kids playroom has our original Roku and is about 20 feet from the router and goes through 2 walls.  Before upgrading to our current router, we’d have issues with the Roku freezing up, but since switching to the E3200 router 8 months ago, we’ve had zero issues.

I’m thinking about buying ‘brand x’ expensive antenna.

Don’t do it yet!  Try out the cheap option first.  Or at least research how good the over the air (OTA) signal is from your house: I had a lot of luck with this website because it accurately stated our rental house would have bad reception while our new house would have great reception.  Lucky for us!

Lastly, here’s a nice channel guide for OTA programming:

What about shows for kids?

It’s really surprised me how much content for the kids is out there. Netflix online ($8/month) has tv shows like Dora, Diego, Curious George, Sesame Street, Super Why, Wonder Pets, Barney, and more. Of course they’re always adding more.

Also, we made a one-time payment of $15 for a full season (26 episodes) of Olivia on Amazon Video. Between those two video services and Hulu Plus (my favorite, but practically no kids shows), there are tons of entertainment options.

Don’t forget the Roku 2 has a fancy remote that lets you play Angry Birds!  I would have thought my 2- and 4-year olds were too young for it, but both of them love it.  It comes free with the Roku and has hundreds of levels. Plus, it shows great future potential for the Roku and it’s fancy remote.

How can you live without cable sports?

As a lifelong sports fan, this was the toughest decision by far.  But, consider what sports are on CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox: multiple NFL games on Sunday, all day Saturday of NCAA football, over half of the NCAA basketball tournament games, all of the championships for NHL / MLB / soccer,  golf tournaments practically every weekend, Olympics, World Cup – I think you get the point.

Keep in mind, though, that for a small fee Roku offers packages for NBA, NHL, MLS, UFC, MLB and more. Yes, you’ll still miss SportsCenter and NFL Network and specialized channels like that.  But, it’s up to you what those are worth when considering money and free time with family / friends.  Personally, I’m happy with my choice!

Lastly, here’s a good article from Wired magazine that discusses this same topic.

Bye bye cable, Hello money!

9 April 2012 1 comment

Here’s an article I recently wrote on how my family cut the cord with Time Warner Cable last year and how great it’s been going!

How We Saved $100s in 2011

Do you find yourself wishing you had more money?  What about more free time?  If so, I’ve got an option for you to explore which can do a bit of both.  My option: DITCH CABLE TV.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” you say.  Or maybe it’s more like, “Noooooooo!”

I’m not telling you to throw out your tv.  Instead of cable, get your shows and entertainment through a device referred to as an “internet tv device” (aka “set top box” or “streaming player”).  The most popular of these devices are made by Roku, Apple, Google, Boxee, Sony, or Logitech.  They are small, electronic devices that connect to your tv and pick up shows from your home internet connection (many of them do so wirelessly).

“But where do you get your shows?”  Well, that depends on the set top box you choose.  The most common sources are websites like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, and so on.  Plus you can listen to streaming music (Pandora), check the weather, and play games.

“Okay, but how does that save me money?”  What does cable cost you per month?  $40?  $60?  More?  Here’s the breakdown of what my family currently has:

One-time Purchases

  • Roku 2 XS set top box = $99
  • Over-the-air antenna from Wal-Mart = $15
  • Amazon On-Demand = We bought 1 season (25 episodes) of a show for $15

Ongoing Monthly Expenses

  • Hulu Plus = $8/month – 100s of popular tv shows to watch whenever you want via Roku, PC, smartphone, or tablet.  Many shows have every past episode available too.
  • Netflix streaming = $8/month – 1000s of movies and tv shows (including kids shows) also available on any internet device.

Total for the first year = $321

Total for every year thereafter = $192

What do you pay for cable again??

We love the Roku too because it’s got a simple-to-use remote with motion control so you can play the Angry Birds game that’s included!

“What about sports!?”  Ah, the one negative: no SportsCenter.  However, so many big sporting events are on CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC.  The $15 antenna flawlessly picks up HD TV over-the-air.  Plus, there are services available on the internet tv devices like NHL Game Center,, NBA, and UFC.

“What did you say about free time?”  I used to LOVE cable, but since I ditched it, I don’t have the ability to sit and veg out and flip through channels like I used to.  Eliminating that time suck has allowed me to be more productive and spend more time with my family!

Left Padding Zeros in Excel

14 February 2012 9 comments

Here’s a quick equation to use in Excel if you’re trying to pad a number out to the left.  For instance, you have “427” and you really want it to be “0000427”:






The TEXT function has a few more tricks up it’s sleeve.  Here’s a link to more details on it:

Categories: Excel Tags: , ,

My Review of Roku 2 XS Streaming Player

1 February 2012 Leave a comment

Originally submitted at Roku

Adds an enhanced remote for playing games, plus extra connectivity options.

Helped me painlessly cut the cable cord!

By Hurls from Buffalo, NY on 2/1/2012
5out of 5

Pros: Great value, High quality picture, Easy to use, Compact, Reliability, Easy to set up, Built in Wi-Fi

Cons: Best to have great router, Need fast internet service

Best Uses: Secondary TV, Primary TV, Kids Play Room, Living room, Bedroom

Describe Yourself: Early adopter, Home entertainment enthusiast, Technophile, Power User, Family man

The viewing options on the Roku are fantastic! So many shows and movies, plus now they’re adding games so it’s becoming even more addicting! I know they’ll continue to add channels and content, so it’s going to continue to grow. Hopefully someday they get YouTube and some kind of NFL or NCAA football, then the device may be nearly perfect!

Computer Health Part 1: Backup!

In a multi-part series, I want to help my family and friends ensure they’re taking care of their computers!

Of all the things you need to do with your computer, backing up your data has to be the most important. As Alex Lindsay says regarding data on your computer, “if you don’t have two copies, it doesn’t exist”. The bottom line is, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when your computer’s hard drive will crash. The unfortunate truth is hard drives typically last 3, 4, or 5 years, but when they die, they typically die hard. Thus, the day they fizz out, you’ve lost everything on them!

So if you have any digital pictures or videos you cherish, you absolutely need backups! So, in order to have at least 2 copies of your important data, you need to have one (or more) of the following:

  • Another computer – I know I like to have copies of my pictures on both my laptop and desktop computers. Right away that gives me two copies.
  • External Hard Drive – these are so cheap now that it’s scary. I typically stick with Western Digital or Seagate as a brand. Size-wise, you can get upwards of a Terabyte for $100. (In case you don’t understand quite how big 1TB is, it’s roughly 300,000 mp3 songs!) Although you can find them at any computer shop, for the best price I suggest or online or MicroCenter if you live near one of their stores.
  • Online storage – this type of business is growing like crazy. Companies like mozy have become quite popular because you can use it to back up 2GB for free. But from what I’ve heard, the best may be Carbonite. Unlimited, automated backup for $50 a year is hard to beat!
    • Why do you need storage outside of your home, you may ask? Fire, flood, electrical surges, external drive failure, etc etc. Depending on how much you cherish your data, you want it backed up in numerous physical locations!
  • CDs/DVDs – although this option is becoming less popular because of the aforementioned ones, it’s still feasible. Back up files to disk and if you want to take it offsite, store them at a relatives house or at work.

So, the first step is where you will store your data. Just as important is the second step – routinely backing it up! You can manually go and save off files every week (more or less frequently depending on your level of paranoia) or you can have it automatically done. Many of the online services will do it automatically for you. Other than that, I like Microsoft SyncToy because it’s free and has a simple interface and it makes backing up files easy. There are many other synchronization tools out there, though.

Finally, my last piece of advice is to think long and hard about what files you need to backup:

  • pictures, music, movies, and files you use every day
    • a good place to start for Windows users is their “My Documents” folder
  • e-mail and contacts if you still use a desktop e-mail program (although, I recommend moving to “e-mail in the cloud” like gmail)
  • internet bookmarks (another recommendation – xmarks – free service which saves all your bookmarks online and can sync them with all of your computers)
  • financial data from programs like Quicken, MS Money, or TurboTax
  • run Belarc Advisor and save / e-mail the results (a list of all your installed programs and installation codes) to yourself for future reference

Look around in the programs you use with all the previously mentioned data – most have some type of backup functionality which will save off all of your data and settings.

I know this is a lot to consider, but I’ve heard from too many people who are heartbroken over losing irreplacable data! Don’t let this be you! Back up your data today!!

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Twitter me this, Twitter me that

13 April 2009 2 comments

Lately I’ve seen a lot of people wondering about Twitter on their Facebook profiles.  My first experience with Twitter last year didn’t impress me much, but the more I’ve used it lately, the more I like it.  Since bullet points are such a hit on blogs, I’ll try to keep your focus…

What is twitter?

  • Twitter is “microblogging” limited to 140 characters per post
  • People are “followed” just as they’re “friend”ed on facebook
  • “Follow”ing is one-way: I follow Shaq, but he doesn’t have to follow me
  • Message someone by preceding their name with “@
    • the message is understood to be intended for that person
    • still a public post that everyone can see
    • e.g. tweet: “@jimgaffigan you’re a riot!”
  • Directly message someone so no one else can read it (like an e-mail)
    • e.g. tweet: “d @RyanSeacrest out!”
  • Short URLs are common b/c most web site addresses > 140 chars
  • Any tweet can be starred and will be saved under your Favorites link
  • You like someones tweet, so you “retweet” it by preceding it with “RT”
    • your followers will see it
    • give credit to the original author
    • e.g. I tweeted: “RT @DaveHatter: “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails” – John Maxwell”
  • Include a “#” before a term to label it under that “topic” 
    • good for grouping tweets allowing for better searches
    • e.g. @espndev tweeted: “Nevertheless; The #Bengals Will Win The Super Bowl!”
  • Twitter Search – great way to find out what’s going on

Plus, I think it’s not just the “tweet”ing that’s fun, it’s the 3rd party applications that interact with it which are neat too.

Third Party Application examples:

  • WeFollow – organizes the most popular users into categories
  • Cursebird – real-time feed of people cursing on Twitter (hilarious!)
  • TweetDeck – most popular desktop app for Twitter (+Facebook)
  • Twitter Fan Wiki – a pretty thorough list of apps

My suggestions for getting your tweet on:

  • Just try it out!
  • This is very public, so don’t post anything you’ll regret!
  • Start slowly – following a ton of people may overwhelm or annoy you!
  • Try it mobile – I use and really enjoy the free iPhone app TwitterFon
  • Tweet cool places, foods, facts, etc and not your boring, daily activities
  • Follow me and let me know what you think!
Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 947 other followers