Tag Archives: tips

Thinking about getting a standing desk? Here are some tips

You may have heard of a new trend called standing desks. They’re certainly not new by any means – Winston Churchhill used a standing desk, and so did Leonardo da Vinci and Ernest Hemmingway – but they’ve been gaining in popularity recently. It’s becoming more well known that sitting down all day is bad for your health. So bad, in fact, that exercise can’t even negate the effects of sitting all day.

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With that said, I probably scared you enough that you’re wanting to give standing desks a try, but where do you start? First off, it’s critical to point out that a proper, professionally-built standing desk can cost well over $1,000, with the cheapest models costing at least $500, so if you’re wanting to get one without spending a lot of money, prepare for the DIY method. Plus, you don’t want to go out right away and spend $1,000 on a standing desk when you’re just wanting to give it a try.

Before you begin

The most important things to remember when trying out standing desks is to ease into it and don’t spend a lot of money. In fact, find a countertop or other standing desk-height surface that you can essentially “practice” on to get a feel for what standing while working feels like. You won’t be spending any money at all, but you’ll still get to see what it’s like — sort of like test-driving a car that you might want to buy.

Once you’ve officially decided that you’re all-in with a standing desk, it’s time to find one to build (that is, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money). Personally, I swear by the sawhorses and door desk, which essentially is just two sawhorses with a door laid across them to make a desk. From there, you can sand down the door, stain, and seal it to make it look nice.

However, there are literally tons of other ways to make a standing desk, and you’ll no doubt find a DIY project that fits your budget and your style. You can make a desk out of various Ikea parts, use metal piping with a piece of butcher block, or just put some paper reams under the legs of a regular desk to make it standing height.

Ergonomics are key

drafting-stoolBefore you measure and cut, though, it’s important to build your standing desk so that it’s ergonomic to your body. Most importantly, the height of your standing desk should be elbow height, so that when you type on your keyboard, your arms bend at a 90-degree angle. Your monitor should also be propped up on a second shelf so that it’s at eye level.

However, before you go standing all day long, it’s important to note that standing all day is just as bad as sitting all day (just with different effects). Standing all day can cause things like varicose veins, so it’s all about moderation; stand for a while and then sit for a little bit. I usually like to stand for a couple of hours and then sit for a half hour or so, and then repeat that until the work day is over. This is where something like a drafting stool can come in handy, but if you get one of those fancy electric standing desks, you can adjust the height easily whenever you want.

It’s all about movement

What if you work in an office that doesn’t allow standing desks? That sounds like a silly question, but many companies like their office buildings to be uniform and everything consistent, including the desks; a standing desk would pop out like a sore thumb in an office building. So, if you can’t get a standing desk, don’t sweat it. One of the main reasons for a standing desk is movement, so if you don’t have a standing desk, just make sure you get up out of your chair every half hour or so and walk around for a few minutes. Standing desks simply get you moving, and you’re a lot more likely to start walking around if you’re already standing up.

Buy and rent videos on Apple TV? Use this tip to save a little cash

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The Apple TV is great; I am a big fan and a happy owner, but until recently, I used to just buy a show or movie on my computer and then watch it on my Apple TV. However, when you buy or rent content on the second or third generation Apple TV, the device automatically assumes you want your video in HD. Not only does it assume you want HD, it doesn’t give you the option to purchase the SD version, which is considerably cheaper.

When you purchase content on your computer, you get the choice of buying/renting either the HD or SD option. Personally, I could care less about HD and would rather buy the SD version to save some money. It might only be a few dollars difference, but it all adds up in the end.

I always thought the only way to get the SD version of a TV show or movie was to go through iTunes on my computer, but I recently discovered a setting on the Apple TV that allows you to purchase SD versions, and it’s quite a simple trick.

First, go into “Settings” on your Apple TV, and then go down to the “iTunes Store”:

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Within that menu is a setting for “Video Resolution”, with three options. If you choose the “Standard Definition” option, every video you purchase through the Apple TV will now be in SD and at SD pricing. If ever want something in HD, though, you can always go back and change the setting to “High Definition”, or buy the HD version through iTunes on your computer first.

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This not only saves you some extra cash, but it also saves you inconvenient trips to your computer everytime you want to purchase a TV show or movie from iTunes. Happy watching!

Buy a smartphone with a “bad ESN” for cheap entertainment

When scouring Craigslist or eBay for a good deal on a used smartphone, a lot of people avoid listings that say “bad ESN.” In the simplest of terms, this means that the phone is banned from being activated with a carrier, so it wouldn’t be able to make calls or send and receive text messages. It also wouldn’t be able to get any kind of 3G or 4G data access.

However, for those looking for a mobile device just to play games, listen to music or surf the web over Wi-Fi, buying a smartphone with a bad ESN actually isn’t a bad way to go.

Every smartphone has its own unique ESN (Electronic Serial Number) and it works just like any other serial number for any product, except that an ESN is embedded into a chip inside the phone and can be deactivated at any time – sort of like a kill switch. When a phone is either reported stolen or the owner doesn’t pay his phone bill, the carrier can ban that phone’s ESN so that it’s unusable on the network.

A device with a bad ESN is pretty much considered useless in some ways. That’s why you can usually find great deals on smartphones with bad ESNs on eBay or Craigslist.

However, for those just wanting an iPod Touch-like device for super cheap, buying a used smartphone that has a bad ESN is the perfect way to go. Just like an iPod Touch, you can still download and install different apps and games, listen to music, surf the web over Wi-Fi, get turn-by-turn navigation using an offline maps app, and even take photos and video. I actually recently snatched an HTC EVO 4G in great condition with a bad ESN for $50. That’s a not a bad price for all the things it can still do. Plus, I can just grab a 32GB microSD card and load it up with all sorts of music, movies, and games.

Image Credit: Miki Yoshihito

Tips and Tools for Better, Faster Writing

I’ve been writing here at Techerator for over a year, but only recently have I decided to take steps to improve my writing and time efficiency. You probably know the drill: sit down at your desk, check out Twitter, open your word editor, Tweet something, check out Facebook, decide on a title, Facebook about how hard it is to write, go reward yourself with a cup of coffee, I wonder what’s on CNN…

We can do better than this. Without the massive amount of distractions inherent to the Internet our writing has more substance and fewer errors. Writing can be such a joy, but it’s so easy to get off track — how can we sweep away the distractions and get the best version of our content on the page quickly? Here are a few tips and tools that have cut my typical write time in half, and I like to think these tricks have made my writing better as well.

1. Do your research before you start writing

This seems like a no-brainer, but I think a lot of people (myself included) ignore this very basic concept. Until recently, I had a tab in my browser dedicated to my WordPress post editor and I would rapidly switch back and forth typing a sentence or two at a time as I figured out what I planned to say.

Grab a notebook (you know, that old paper version of the internet) and jot down your ideas as you’re reading. Collect all of the images you plan to use, and formulate an outline on paper. After 15-20 minutes of dedicated reading and establishing your position on a topic, you’ll be amazed how prepared you feel to write. When we have a solid stance on something, our natural instinct is to share that feeling.

2. Use BreakTaker

You need to take breaks while you’re working. It’s easy to get sucked into your project and forget to stretch, sit up straight, or even breath properly — this costs you productivity, and more of it than you’d expect. Techerator’s own Evan Wondrasek created a useful tool called BreakTaker that will remind you to take a break at user-defined intervals and offer suggestions for your 60-second breather. Set it up and use it. Evan is working on a feature that will kick you in the groin if you ignore your BreakTaker.

3. Eliminate the distractions and write… JUST WRITE

This is the meat of my argument, and trust me, eliminating your distractions will make writing so fast that you’ll be back to your Xbox in surprising time.

Here’s what you do: Gather your materials; you should have everything you need to complete your article. Disable your wi-fi and close your browser. Now, open your text editor… but screw your old text editor. If you’re running on a Mac, WriteRoom is the tool for you, and if you’re on Windows, Dark Room is almost the exact same thing.

WriteRoom and Dark Room are minimalistic editors that occupy your entire screen and allow you to fully engage your material. You can change the colors to fit your preferences, but seriously, green on black is so awesome I don’t know why you’d want to change it. Try these editors with the lights off — writing in a dark room is a technique some of the most successful bloggers use (like @arrington). Combine with headphones; now you’re big-time. With nothing else to draw your attention, you will absolutely blaze through your article.

4. Proof read with a partner

I know, this seems over the top —  but believe me, it is completely possible and makes a world of difference. If you’re a writer, you probably have writer friends, or at least writers that contribute to the same blog or newspaper. Coordinate with a writing partner to exchange articles at a specific time to quickly proof, edit, and offer notes for each other. It takes 10-15 minutes at most, and the perspective offered by a reader will improve your word choices, your story flow, and on rare occasion they’ll recommend that you scrap it… because sometimes we convince ourselves that total garbage is worth publishing. Get a buddy and your writing will be better and your editing much quicker. Your managing editor will thank you.

These tricks have helped me reduce my write time and improve the quality of my content, and if you’re diligent, they’ll work for you, too. Good luck out there, and if you have tips that work for you, please share them in the comments.

5 Easy Ways To Geek Out Your Vehicle

A vehicle is one of the most important assets we have. It gets us to all the vital places that we need to go, like to work and to the grocery store. The time spent in our cars can really add up, so why not make those commutes more enjoyable by adding a few bells and whistles that would make any fellow geek jealous?

Add USB Ports

It’s a shame that the auto industry hasn’t caught up to modern times yet as far as power sources go. I mean, we’re still using cigarette lighters as a power source. How ridiculous is that?

By spending as little as a few bucks, you can be charging your devices the modern way by equipping USB ports inside your vehicle. USB car adapters are available pretty much anywhere. I bought this one on Amazon and while it costs about $20, knowing that it’s made by a quality manufacturer ensures that I won’t get that annoying whining noise that comes with cheaper, lesser-quality car adapters. It also pumps out 2 amps to charge larger devices like an iPad (a feature that many USB car chargers lack).

Add Bluetooth

Image Credit: Crutchfield

Not only is equipping your car with Bluetooth a pretty geeky thing to do, but it can also be a literal life-saver when you’re on the road. Having your hands free while chatting with someone on the phone is both a convenience and a safety precaution.

A lot of newer vehicles have Bluetooth built right into the factory stereo system by default, but if you own an older vehicle that doesn’t have Bluetooth, you can still take advantage of the feature by installing either a universal kit or a stereo-specific adapter. Universal kits are merely just Bluetooth speaker boxes that you can place anywhere in your car, like these.

Stereo-specific Bluetooth kits are generally more expensive, but it allows you to use your factory stereo and speakers to talk on your phone without the need for an extra speaker box. Of course, there’s always the option of going the headset route if you don’t mind things sticking to your ear during the car ride.

Make Your Stereo MP3 Player-Compatible

Image Credit: Truck Trend

Newer vehicles nowadays have an auxiliary (AUX) input built right into the factory stereo, allowing you to easily connect an MP3 player and start rocking out. However, older vehicles don’t have this. If you’re one of those with an older vehicle, you might try looking to see if the back of your factory head unit has red and white RCA female ports and if so, you can easily plug in a RCA-to-3.5mm cable and route it through the glove box and into the interior.

If you have a cassette tape deck, you can use a cassette-to-3.5mm adapter. If both of these options are not available, you’re only choice (without using the awful FM transmitter) is to buy an aftermarket head unit with a built-in AUX input that sell for as little as $60.

Hook Up A Dedicated MP3 Player

Using your smartphone as an MP3 player can be really nice at times, but it can also be a pain in the rear end to bust it out and plug it into your stereo every time you want to listen to music in the car. Not to mention whenever you get a call, you have to reach over and unplug it. That’s why I just ended up getting a cheap, dedicated MP3 player to leave in my car that’s always plugged in and ready to go. That way all I have to do is turn it on and press play. I currently have an old iPod Mini that only cost me $25, so if it happens to get stolen, it won’t be too much of a biggie.

Install A Laptop Stand

Image Credit: Instructables

This modification is more aimed at passengers rather than the driver. Putting a laptop stand in your vehicle is an easy way for you to take your laptop on the go and provides passengers great hospitality. You can plug it into your stereo system and blast your music library or watch movies in surround sound on the go!

You can buy a pre-made laptop stand or make your own for cheaper. Since laptops only last a few hours on a charge, it would also be a good idea to get a power inverter that you can plug into your cigarette lighter, like this one.

If you have any other ways to geek out your car, leave them in the comments!

Stay connected & save: 6 tips for padding your bank account in the New Year

With the New Year just around the corner, saving money seems to be on the minds of many people. Being a graduate student, I am not among these people, because Academia pays huge sums of money for almost zero work.

Let’s be serious, I’m broke, and I need to save some dough.  New Years is just the time to start padding my savings account and cutting my costs.

I had an interesting conversation recently with my friend Brianna that went something like this…

Brian: “Bri, buy me pizza.”
Brianna: “Buy it yourself.”
Brian:  “I can’t. I don’t have any money.”

I think this exchange goes a long way in describing my need to slash some expenses. I spent the rest of my evening making a plan for January 1st that will dig me out of my financial sinkhole. The only rule is that I don’t want to live like a monk—I need some entertainment and, of course, Internet access.

So where do I plan to make the cuts? *Straps on helmet* Come with me.

1.  Choose your connection—Mobile Device vs. Cable Internet

At the moment I have a cell phone with Internet access as well as high-speed cable Internet access in my apartment. I’ve got to face the facts…I can’t afford both. Your situation may differ, but I personally don’t use my mobile device for much other than convenient email and the occasional Tweet, so my choice is obvious, sack the data plan on my phone.

However, if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t need super bandwidth at home, you may opt for a data plan that allows you to tether your computer and phone. There’s a swanky deal that will save you $40 or better. In my case, by shedding the data plan on my mobile device (and downgrading my anytime minutes), I’ll be saving $45. Cha-ching.

Worried about losing your ability to text? Fear not. Gmail and Google Voice allow you to SMS your contacts from your PC.

Pro-tip:  If you require mobile device Internet and Email access for work, ask your employer if they would be receptive to a co-pay plan. Some of my friends have had success with this.

2.  Choose your entertainment

Entertainment overload can be surprisingly stressful.  I have an Xbox Live subscription, Netflix, an enhanced Cable package, and I’ve been toying with the notion of Hulu Plus. Seriously, there aren’t enough hours in the day to enjoy each of these in the way the creators intended, so why cut yourself short?

I have a pile of Xbox 360 games still in the cellophane (including Dragon Age, ARGH!) so there is no question that I’ll be ditching my Live subscription. With all the free TV and movies available on Hulu and Netflix, is there really any reason for me to have enhanced Cable that I don’t watch?

By dropping Xbox Live and ditching my cable package (aside from internet), I’ll be saving $41 per month. Huzzah!

3.  Join a food co-op

After looking over my monthly expenses, I was shocked to see how much I spent on food. Between going out to eat and spending a small fortune at my local coffee house, my monthly food bill was approaching $450 each month.

I wept. I swore. I found an alternative.

Local food co-ops will help you pinch your pennies by providing you with a place to buy bulk commodities, such as grains, rice, soup mix, and basically any other dry food you can imagine. Bring your own container and taste the savings. Better yet, many co-ops offer year-round selections of local produce, such as tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, and so on. You know what that means? You’ll be forced to be healthier and more attractive as you save money. The nerve of these people.

Most co-op purchased fruits and vegetables are organic. Organic?! Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!

The co-op in my city costs $100 to join, but it is a fee that will be refunded when you leave the co-op. Plus, it gives you part ownership of the co-op. Pretty good deal. Aside from the initial cost, my new carefully planned food budget has slashed my culinary deviance by $150. Yeah, that’s right. You don’t like that–do ya, gut?

4.  Park the car. Leave it parked.

I drive too much. You drive too much. We as Americans (and some Europeans) drive too much.

We pay tax dollars to support a public transit system that we almost never use. At the moment I spend $75 on gas each month (3 tanks). As a student, I get free access to all city buses. Also, during the summer I’ll be riding my bike and hopefully getting some sun on this dreadfully pasty skin of mine.

My goal is to cut out one tank of gas each month, and I think that’s very conservative–a savings of at least $25 each month. Bazinga!

Pro-tip: Driving less will save on regular car maintenance, like oil changes. On a related note, don’t be tempted to skimp on car maintenance, as you already know deep down that it will bite you in the ass eventually.

5.  Save power AND quarters—a laundry tip

Some people may think this is silly, but take a second and think about your laundry. How many loads do you do in a month? How much electricity does it eat up to dry them? Or worse—how many quarters?

My parents recently purchased a drying rack to accompany their washer, and between the two of them, they save $6 each month on electricity. Pretty cool! I did some thinking and realized that I probably spend more than that each month in quarters drying my clothes at the laundromat. For shame!

A friend was quick to inform me that letting your clothes hang dry is a good way to increase their lifespan. That’s $6 per month in savings, and probably more. Let it rain!

6.  Ice those credit cards and make a friggin’ budget

We’ve been hearing this forever, but few of us actually do it. The average American has over $8,000 in credit card debt with an average APR of 14.4%. No need to bust out those calculators, that’s over $1100 that we hand over each year…

Studies have shown that people who stick to a monthly budget and limit their credit card usage usually pay off their credit card debt within 18 months. Are you up for the challenge? I am, because I’m tired of paying for Citi-branded Corvettes.

Head over to Google Docs and grab some of their pre-made Budget templates and tailor it to your own expenses. Then, set up an account at Mint to closely monitor your spending and upcoming bills. We can’t fail, amigo.

As an average American, a clean credit card balance means a savings of $96 per month. Bonzai!

Conclusion

If I follow my plan closely, I’ll be saving $363 each month. That’s $4356 in a year! My friends, that’s a lot of cheddar. What could you do with that kind of cash? A mattress of dollar bills, perhaps?

With a little discipline, the savings from these small lifestyle adjustments will alter the course of my ‘pizza’ conversation by this same time next year.

Brian: “Bri, buy me pizza. Psych! I’ll buy it myself…With real money. And guess what—you don’t get any. Ok, you can have ONE PIECE…but I get to choose the toppings. And I’m taking the toppings off your piece.”

Sorry, Bri, the wealthier Brian is insufferable.

Happy savings, and happy holidays, everybody.

3 Easy Ways to Improve Search in Windows 7

One of my favorite features of Windows 7 is the improved search.  Windows Search is quickly available in the Start menu or in any open Explorer window.

To improve search performance, Windows 7 uses a background indexing feature.  Indexing pre-searches specified locations on your computer and compiles the results into the search index.  When you search, you’re computer is not having to search the entire hard drive, but just the indexing file.

Below are a couple of tips I’ve found to be useful for tweaking the Windows 7 search.

Adding and Removing Indexed Locations

As mentioned above, indexing in Windows 7 allows you to quickly search common locations of your hard drive.  By default, Windows 7 indexes only a couple of key locations on your computer.  Adding your custom file locations can greatly improve your search capabilities in Windows 7.

I have recently added a couple of external hard drives to my computer and would like Windows 7 to always index them.  Here’s how to do this:

Step 1: Navigate to Control Panel > All Control Panel Items > Indexing Options.

Step 2: Click on Modify.

Step 3: Select the new locations to index.  You can either select an entire drive or individual sub-folders of the drive.  Click OK when finished.

The Windows 7 Search will now include my recently added indexed drives.

Searching File Contents of Non-Indexed Locations

Scenario: You need to find a document located on a shared network drive.  You don’t know the name of the file is but you know some of the content of the file.  Since the shared network drive is a non-indexed location, searching in the network drive only produces results as file names without any contents.

Adding the network drive to your indexed locations would allow you to search through file contents, but considering the size of the shared drive and the large number of files located in it, having Windows constantly indexed the network drive would not be a good idea.

Windows 7 allows you to enable searching through file contents of non-indexed locations.

Step 1: In an open Explorer window, select Organize > Folder and search options.

Step 2: Click the Search tab of the new window.

Step 3: Under What to search, click the Always search file names and contents radio button and click OK.

Searching the shared network drive will now present results from file names and file contents.

Specify File Types To Index

Specifying the file types to index can be useful if the locations you are indexing contain many different file types.  Adding or removing specific file types from the search index can improve the search performance.

Follow these steps to add or remove file types from the search index.

Step 1: Navigate to Control Panel > All Control Panel Items > Indexing Options.

Step 2: Click on the Advanced tab of the new window.

Step 3: Select the File Types tab at the top of the next window.

Step 4: Check and un-check the boxes for the file types you wish to index or not to index, respectively.  Click OK when finished.

Step 5: You’ll receive a pop-up stating that Windows needs to rebuild the index and it may take some time.  Click OK to acknowledge the warning and close any remaining open windows.

The changes to the indexed file types won’t be noticed until the index rebuilds.

Make sure to check out our other great guides about Windows 7.

Window 7 Tip: Enable the Preview Pane for Quick File Viewing

Navigating through your personal files can sometimes be a nightmare, and it can often times be easier to open individual documents to find exactly what you’re looking for.  After awhile, you can find yourself with multiple open documents, but none of them were the one you were looking for.

By default, you documents will appear in a list or as icons in the Windows file explorer.  The Preview Pane in Windows 7 makes quickly viewing your documents a breeze.

Enabling The Preview Pane

Enable the Preview Pane by clicking the Preview Pane button in your open explorer window.

You can also navigate to Organize > Layout and click on Preview Pane to enable it.

Clicking on a file will now show a preview.  Note that not all files may not be viewable in the Preview Pane.

Below are a couple of examples of what documents look like in the Preview Pane.

Excel file in Preview Pane
Word document in Preview Pane

You cannot edit files through the Preview Pane, but you can copy the contents of the file.

You can re-size the Preview Pane to increase the preview size by clicking and dragging the vertical line separating the Preview Pane from the file list.

Thanks to Erica Johnson for this tip.  If you have any article ideas or other tips, be sure to send them to tips@techerator.com.

Google Tip: How to Search Within a Specific Website, Domain, or News Source

google search I was recently asked if it was possible to do a search on Google but only look at results from a specific site.  This is indeed possible, and is a great way to track down specific information when you know the general area it should be located.  I frequently use this to search for information in the labyrinthine depths of my university’s website.

To search a specific website or domain, simply use the following command in your search:

site:[domain]

Where [domain] is the root URL of the site you want to search (don’t include a space between site: and the domain).

Searching Wikipedia

For example, let’s say you wanted to see information on French sabots but only from Wikipedia.  Just use the following search:

site:en.wikipedia.org French Sabot

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I specified en.wikipedia.org so I would receive results only from the English version of the site.

Searching for a Specific News Source

Have you ever wanted to share an article with a friend, but can’t find it in the regular search results?  If you remember the source it came from, Google News can restrict your search to a specific author.

To do this type of search, just head to Google News and use the following syntax in your search:

source:

Where is the author you are looking for.

Let’s say you saw an article about Facebook in the New York Times earlier, but just couldn’t remember what it was called.  To look at all articles about Facebook from the New York Times, simply type:

Facebook source:New York Times

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(Note that the source: search will only work in Google News).

Have any tips for searching better on Google?  Share them with us in the comments!

How to Fix Unwanted Amazon Recommendations Caused by Gifts or One-Time Purchases

I suffer from bad Amazon.com recommendations, and I’m not afraid to tell you about it.  Sure, Amazon’s recommendations are one of the most useful features of the site, but because I once bought some engineering textbooks and a Jackie Moon Halloween costume, my recommendations couldn’t have been more inaccurate.

It turns out there’s a pretty easy fix for this common problem.  Here’s how to do it:

Step one: Visit Amazon.com and log in with your account.  Click the recommendations link.

Step two: Identify a bad recommendation and click the Fix Recommendation link beneath the listing.

Step three: In the new window, you can select whether the item you purchased was a gift or if it should simply be removed from the recommendations generator.

That’s it!  From now on, you won’t get any more of those irrelevant recommendations about wigs or dog booties.