Emma’s Tech Tip: Alexa

The popularity of television shows are historically tracked through the Nielson Ratings. This is accomplished by sampling the viewing habits of a segment of the population. People meters are used to collect this information and the select viewing audience agrees to have a log of the shows they watch logged and aggregated with data from other households. This data is then extrapolated and compared against other shows in similar time spots to determine what show is viewed more at any given time.

Ever wonder how web pages are ranked? There are several methods and to my knowledge no standard exists, however, Elexa is a company that is positioning itself as the Nielsen ratings for the internet. To make this technology work, users must download and install “Sparky” the “people meter” equivalent that allows them to track the web pages you visit and aggregate this data with that collected from millions of other users. By collecting this information they can extrapolate what pages are number 1 and which are number 20 million. Although this approach makes a reasonable attempt at accuracy the data is skewed as typically tech-savvy internet users are the main audience that have the tool installed and they traditionally view tech sites.  As a result, tech sites are typically higher ranked than those of the non-tech variety.

So why download the tool? As a contributor you help Alexa improve its accuracy. In return, Alexa will let you know the rank of each site you visit by displaying it in the bottom corner of your browser. For example, Emma’s web page is currently ranked 901,556. To help me improve that ranking my viewers (that means you) need to be running the Alexa tool. This way each time you visit, it is counted and thus improves our Rank. So what are you waiting for? Install Sparky now!

Emma Swim Class #2 Videos

Emma doing the back stroke

Emma holding her breath

Emma’s Tech Tip – Twitter

This week’s tech tip will focus on twitter. What is twitter? I’m glad you asked. Twitter is one of those applications whose value proposition is hard to describe. In fact, once I tell you what it does you will probably scratch your head and say, “Why would anyone want to do that?” or “That sounds pretty useless”. Both reactions are normal and expected. In fact, that was my opinion in the beginning, and to some degree it still is. But being the early adopter that I am, I am giving it the old college try, and at the moment, it doesn’t suck.

Twitter is a social networking service that allows you to post personal messages about yourself. Think of it as a place to deposit the random thoughts you have during the course of a day while you are sitting in traffic, waiting for the bus, nailing that job interview, listening to the cell phone conversation of the jackass sitting next to you at the airport, etc. The idea is to keep you connected (in a disconnected world) with friends and family by sharing information that lets them know what you have been up to, even if you have not talked in a week, or a month, or a year. Of course this works best if you have someone to share your “tweets” with.

One caveat of this service is that the messages you post are limited to 140 characters. So your thoughts must be succinct. This limitation means that you can “tweet” (that’s what it is called when you post a message) via text message from your cell phone. That is where the service really shines because all my inspired thoughts come when I am away from my computer.

You can also integrate your tweets into your website or blog as I have done (see “Twitter Updates” on the left side of this page). Now you can all see what the gerbils in my brain are up to.

Emma’s Tech Tip – 1-Click Answers

Answers.com is a pretty neat site. It is an information aggregator that allows you to obtain information about words, phrases, abbreviations, etc. It is part dictionary, part encyclopedia, part translator. Results of a search are pulled from thousands of sources and presented to you in a single page. Not the links, but the content (which is important to note).

As much as I like the site, I don’t think I have visited it in years. The killer app that I want to introduce you too here is their “1-Click Answers” tool. This light-weight application runs in the background and allows you to Alt-Click on any word in any program on your screen. Doing so brings up a pop-up window with a concise AnswerTip.

So say you are running Microsoft Word and you want to know how to spell something, or find alternate definitions. Alt-Click on the word in question and the answer appears. Or say you are reading a web-page and you come across an unfamiliar phrase, select it, then Alt-Click and the definition appears before you without you having to switch windows or load a separate application. When you are done, close the pop-up to dismiss it. It’s simple, intuitive, and an application that I love having installed because it works across all programs on my computer.

If you want to give this little gem a whirl, you can get the 1-Click Answers tool here.

Emma’s Tech Tip – Google Alerts

Previously I told you how Google was poised to take over the world. Today I am going to introduce you to one of their many “killer” applications, Google Alerts.

Google Alerts is a free tool that allows you to schedule searches. Why would you want to schedule a search? Say you wanted to know whenever your name was mentioned anywhere on the internet. A scheduled search allows you to automatically have a search performed weekly, daily, or as-it-happens. Results are emailed to you at those scheduled intervals. Google allows you to configure scores of these alerts so you can automate the process of searching for things you are interested in. So say you love a particular show, sports figure, actor, product, company, etc. You can get “timely” (and that is the operative key word here) updates relative to your search.

You might think that this is a tool for tech geeks but I assure you that it is not. I see professionals from all walks of life using this tool, and it is easy to figure out who they are. Take for example Jose Pino. A guy who I have never met but whom I appropriately gave props to in the “Paper Plate Speaker Project“. Within a few days he chimed in with a comment on Emma’s Web Page. Clearly a Google Alert user who has a rule configured to search the Internet and report back to him anytime his name appears somewhere. I do the same thing which is extremely convenient.

The Internet is full of cool and useful applications. It is my and Emma’s goal to introduce some of these tools that you may not otherwise learn about, so that you may leverage the full potential (or at least 5%) of the Internet.

So if you are feeling like a hero, go over to Google Alerts now and set up your first filter. If you found this information helpful feel free to leave a comment here to let us know. Feedback (especially positive) is always welcome.


Emma’s Tech Tip – Gmail

You may have heard about a little company named Google. If you’re thinking, oh yeah I know them. They’re the guys that make that search engine, right? Then you get a C- for your answer. It turns out, that Google does a whole lot more than just search. Sure, their lightning fast search engine got them on the map and created enviable brand recognition, but to say all Google does is “search” is profoundly inadequate. Google creates a host of freely available software and web-based applications. Why should you care? Because sooner or later you will be using them anyway. That’s right! You heard it here first. Google is taking over. Just like you use Microsoft Windows, Word, Excel, Outlook etc. and don’t know why you chose those applications in the first place, Google is creeping-up on you unsuspectingly in a similar fashion. While today you use their search tool, Google is working diligently to build applications that will make you forget you ever relied on Microsoft for anything other than their OS. Why? Because the applications they are developing are MS Office compatible, web-based, and free. That’s the holy-trinity right there. As the capabilities of the internet expand, and the literacy of its users mature, the needs of computer users have changed. Working and storing your information online is an important feature for many moblie web users and Google has positioned itself to be the company many rely on to deliver such services.

Here is a short list of some of the benefits to using Gmail:

1) Setting up an account is free
2) You can receive emails from multiple sites all in your GMail account.
3) You can access your email remotely from any web connected computer with a browser.
4) You are given 4.5 gigs of space for your account and can ask for more if needed.
5) You can “Google search” your email which means you don’t have to delete or organize anything (in fact they discourage it). Use the power of search to locate emails instantly.
6) Emails in your inbox are presented in what they refer to as “conversations”. That is, all the messages that are in a particular thread are automatically grouped together. So if you send a message, get a response, reply to that response, and get another response, a single line item appears in your inbox with a count of “4”. You can expand and review the whole history of that thread instantly. No more sending copies of email to yourself and then struggling to find them later.
7) Because Google has so many users and has such tremendous search capabilities, SPAM is squelched big time. I use to get at least 4 spam emails a day. After switching to this solution my inbox has been quite lonely because Google can detect spam quite efficiently.
8) GMail can be configured to send email as though it is coming from a different email address. This is called spoofing. A term that has earned a negative reputation over the years. Of course their is good spoofing and bad spoofing. You will be employing the former. Spoofing in this case allows you to sent email from an existing account so that you don’t have to disseminate your new email address information. So say all your friends, family, and business contacts have your Comcast email address and you would rather not tell everyone to update their address books with your new Gmail address (especially not while you are trying this thing out). Gmail can be easily configured to send email from your Comcast address so that from the recipients perspective, your email address has not changed. Spoofing can be done with any email program but I would suspect that most computer users don’t know that.

Anyway, there are a ton of other things that GMail can do for you, I’ve only scratched the surface. But that list should be enough to get you salivating. Do yourself a favor and check out: http://mail.google.com.

Emma’s Tech Tip – irfanView

So you write your own blog and the most tedious part of you workflow is scaling your pictures down to a size that is more appropriate for web consumption. Photoshop is out of your budget and has more features than you care to look at. You just want to convert your pictures and go. Enter IrfanView. This little tool slices, it dices, it resizes, it converts. How much would you be willing to pay for something like this? $49.99? $59.99? Oh but there’s more! We will throw in batch file conversion so you can resize and resample all your pictures in one fell swoop!

You get the slicer, the dicer, the resizer, the enhancer, and the batch file converter. For the low low price of $29.99. More! More you say! If you act now we will even throw in the “red-eye” reducer, all for the low low price of Free! That’s right boys and girls, this simple to use application is available for free and is the tool I use to quickly convert pictures for my posts. Do you have a better free tool? I want to hear about it.

If you don’t and you are looking for a good tool to help improve your picture conversion workflow head over to IrFanView’s website and download your fully functional free copy today.


Emma’s Tech Tip – Bloglines

So Emma and I were talking and she wanted to know what RSS aggregator viewers of her site are using. What is an RSS aggregator you ask? RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a term that describes a somewhat new Internet technology that allows supporting web sites to post RSS feeds. What does that mean? Well, typically when you view a website you type the URL (http://www.SomethingAtSomething.com) and then you examine the page for what has changed since your last visit. If you are like me, you probably check out several different sites a day to see if there is an update. Determining what has changed requires you to examine the page in detail and make a decision based on memory. Not a very efficient or optimized approach to web surfing.

Bloglines is a web-based service that allows you to subscribe to sites that support RSS feeds (pretty much any site of any worth these days). Subscribing to a site in this manner allows you to browse the web in a more efficient manner. Instead of “pulling” content as you do when you browse to a site now, an RSS feed “pushes” content to you. That means that you receive updates to a subscribed website with only the stories, articles, and content that has changed since the last time you looked. Trust me, it’s a real time saver and Emma swears by it. In fact, you can even subscribe to Emma’s Webpage (Links at Bottom Right) which will allow you to receive updates when I update it, relieving you of the task of checking back daily. Now that’s value.

There are plenty of RSS readers out there, but what makes Bloglines the aggregator of choice is its web-based service implementation. Essentially it is a website that you can access from anywhere. So say you check out some sites at work on your work computer, and then when you come home you want to see what has changed on those same sites from your home computer, a client based solution would force you to manage two independent lists. Being web-based, your RSS feeds are managed in one place eliminating the need for you to acknowledge what you have read twice.

Emma’s Tech Tip – Pando


Do you have a really big file you need to email someone (say 42 Mega Bytes of pictures) but your email program won’t let you send any more than 4 Megabytes worth of attachments? Enter Pando to the rescue. Pando is a free file sharing application that allows you to send up to 1 Gigabyte worth of attachments in a single email. The tool integrates nicely with programs such as Microsoft’s Outlook and is simple to use. Pando accomplishes this apparent miraculous feat by sending your files to a server and automatically attaching a link to their location in your email. The recipient simply clicks on the link to retrieve the content. It’s fast, it’s simple, and solves the problem of email size limitations once and for all.

Note: Because your files are sent to Pando’s server you should use caution when using this service. They do claim that your files will be encrypted and privacy is maintained, but as with anything in life, you never know. If security is an issue for the file in question, then don’t take chances with any Internet service.

Emma’s Tech Tip – Quickly Launch Windows Apps


If you are running Windows XP and hate searching your Start menu for that elusive link that will open the application you are looking for, fear no more. Launchy is a sweet little app that will free you from ever having to search for a program link again. Once installed, this free application will index your Start menu and allow you to access your programs via a nice command line interface. Say, for example, you want to launch Microsoft Word, press the Launchy key sequence <ALT>-<SPACE> and then type “word”. Hit <ENTER> and you are off and running. It’s that simple.