Outlook Rant

I think I have established that I use Outlook a lot, and I have been using it steadily for several years. I began using Outlook probably with Office 2000, though I may have been using it for email with the 97 version. I had always preferred the built-in email client that came with Netscape’s classic web browser up through version 4.0. I think Netscape finished with 4.9 before selling out to AOL which did nothing to really improve the browser. I was using 6.0 for a while, and I think I might have downloaded 7.0, but by then I had given up. I had a computer at work with Outlook on it, so I started using Outlook at home to keep standardized. Later on when I quit buying refills for my Franklin Planner, I went looking for ways to adapt the Franklin method to Outlook.

In all this time of using Outlook, I really can’t believe how little the functionality of the program has actually been improved. Outlook 2003 added some pretty colors and the ability to flag a message, but I still maintain that none of the developers use Outlook and they don’t realize how frustrating it is to have already bought it and then you need to spend even more money on add-ins to make it useful for anything more than an email client and a very basic task and calendar display.

I want to rant on some email features or lack thereof. First off is the lack of a real security mindset. Outlook either ignores security or takes it to extreme levels. This morning I was reminded of how stupid this is. I got an email newsletter with links in it. When I went to click on a link, Outlook told me that links had been disabled and I have to click the Information Bar to turn them on. When I click the information bar, I get three options, one of which says "Turn links on (not recommended)". Excuse me, BUT THIS SENDER IS ALREADY IN MY SAFE SENDERS LIST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t understand how it can make sense to Microsoft to add a sender to a safe sender’s list and still disable links until you manually enable them. What is the point to having a safe sender’s list? I may explain my method for dealing with spam in another post, I won’t take the time here.

Also, for some reason, some of my emails have the message that says "to protect your privacy, some images have been turned off" and you have to click the info bar to show the images. Perhaps I should google this one, because I don’t know what the point is when again, the sender has already been placed in my safe sender’s list.

This isn’t part of Office per se, but annoying nonetheless. When a program wants attention, the window will flash. We all know that. But why can’t programmers set up a routine so that if you acknowledge the program once, it will leave you alone for a few minutes? Norton is the worst. Anything Norton does constantly notifies me that Norton is doing something, so that anything else I try to do becomes painful. Any window I’m in keeps flashing to inactive and the Norton window flashes my taskbar. Since I keep my taskbar hidden, this always seems to happen when I need to do something at the bottom of the page and the taskbar keeps hiding it.

I guess we’ll have to live with it until either I learn to program or somebody else comes up with something better. Speaking of which, I remember back in 1998 or 1999 when I was on the Bash Microsoft bandwagon. Sun seemed to be leading the chorus, along with Oracle and everybody else. We all spoke of how shoddy Windows 95 and 98 were and how Microsoft is keeping down everybody else.

Suddenly, I woke up and realized that nobody has come close to doing what Microsoft has done. Nobody was producing a comparable product. I stopped complaining at that point.

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How To Make Outlook Today Useful

I recently found the blog of Melissa MacBeth, a developer on Outlook 12, the Outlook component of Microsoft’s upcoming office suite. This time around, the developers actually read some of the premier time management books such as Getting Things Done and others listed in the blog. I am happy with this development, because I have become convinced that no Outlook developer has actually USED Outlook for a calendar, task list, or contact management suite. You can read Melissa’s blog for the details. I am happy with the developments, and I will eagerly bug my wife for a copy when it comes out if I can’t somehow score a beta copy.

Until Outlook 12 comes out, we’re pretty much stuck with the older versions, be they ’97 (don’t tell me people still run Office ’95!), 2000, XP and 2003. I believe there was an Outlook ’98, but I didn’t use it. Outlook works fine for email, but when it comes to the calendar and task list, Outlook is a little deficient. Over the years I have worked hard to adapt Outlook to systems such as Franklin Covey and now Getting Things Done. One component of Outlook has always been more on the useless side than any other, especially Notes: Outlook Today. I never completely understood the point to Outlook Today, although I have tried in the past to use it as an overall view of what I needed to do. You can set it to show you a list of calendar entries for up to a week, and you have some very basic task display options. It isn’t very usable for GTD, which teaches that tasks should not be dated. Any activity that is date or time dependent belongs on the calendar, or the "Hard Landscape". Tasks should be, in GTD, sorted into lists of contexts, such as "@home", "@work", or whatever your particular contexts may be. Merlin Mann of 43 Folders raised the issue that GTD is designed for professionals who work in offices, have lots of appointments, and travel. It is much harder though not impossible to be adapted by computer geeks who often have only one context "@computer". I’ll let you read Merlin’s perspective on that, and I’m always looking for ways to do GTD more efficiently in my situation as well.

In any case, the task display on Outlook Today is useless. It is useless, that is, until now. Thanks to Flipping Heck, I now know that Outloook Today can be customized to be somewhat useful. The Outlook today page sources an html file. You can develop your own, or adapt someone else’s. Check out the file available for download on Flipping Heck’s website. I took that one and did some tweaking for my own use. Flipping Heck has the inbox and task list side by side in a 50/50 split. I tweaked it to my inbox and calendar in a 30/70 split. It sources the views that you normally use. I normally set my calendar to display my task list sorted by categories or "contexts", so now this is on my today screen. If I get a chance, I might run this file through Frontpage and see what else I can do with it. I am not sure if blogger allows for the uploading of files, but if you’re interested in my file email me at emuelle 1 at gmail dot com. (simply format email address correctly.

To implement, right click on Outlook Today, which is the uppermost folder in the Outlook folder list. Select "Properties for…(whatever your Outlook Today folder is named on your system)" and click the "Home Page" tab. Under the address bar is a Browse button. Click that and navigate to the location of your new file. Before you do that, I need to advise you that I do not know how to change it back, but I’m sure somebody on a discussion forum or a group at Yahoo or Google will know.

I’m not sure if I’ll use it, or if I’ll just use separate windows for my inbox and my calendar. At work I sometimes need two windows, at home one is good enough. Happy tweaking!


Why Everyone Should Know Military Time


A crusty old Marine Sergeant Major found himself at a gala event hosted by a local liberal arts college. There was no shortage of extremely young, idealistic ladies in attendance, one of whom approached the Sergeant Major for conversation.

"Excuse me, Sergeant Major, but you seem to be a very serious man. Is something bothering you?"

"Negative, ma’am. Just serious by nature."

"The young lady looked at his awards and decorations and said, "It looks like you have seen a lot of action."

"Yes, ma’am, a lot of action."

The young lady, tiring of trying to start up a conversation, said, "You know, you should lighten up a little. Relax and enjoy yourself."

The Sergeant Major just stared at her in his serious manner.

Finally the young lady said, "You know, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but when is the last time you had sex?"

"1955, ma’am."

"Well, there you are. You really need to chill out and quit taking everything so seriously! I mean, no sex since 1955! She took his hand and led him to a private room where she proceeded to "relax" him several times.

Afterwards, panting for breath, she leaned against his bare chest and said, "Wow, you sure didn’t forget much since 1955!"

The Sergeant Major, glancing at his watch, said in his matter-of-fact voice, "I hope not, it’s only 2130 now."

(Don’t ya love miitary time?!)



Blogs Rule, Web Sites Don’t

This will be my 57th post on this blog. That’s not a very high average for more than a year since I started the blog, but it’s still pretty good. I’ve been on the web since about 1996 when I was in the Navy and decided to split an apartment with a computer geek to whom I became a "paduwon" or however they spell it in Star Wars. I learned a lot from him.

In the time since I’ve been online, I’ve had quite a few ISPs. I had a cable modem when they were first rolled out in San Diego in 1997. I moved to New Jersey in 1999 before they were widely available. Just as I got a cable modem in my neighborhood, I moved into another neighborhood that did not have cable modems available.

Through all of the dial-up, cable, and DSL providers I’ve had, I’ve never really used the free web space. Every now and again I’d put up a page. When I first met my wife, I had her write me a short page in Notepad for my old Earthlink space. I once put up my own page written in raw html, and I’ve put together pages in Frontpage. I currently have a site up on my Comcast web space that I put together last year.

But it’s such a pain in the neck to maintain. I can only get Frontpage to publish to the web about half the time. I tried to work with my site on Comcast, and for some reason Frontpage just can’t use my username and password, even though I’m doing everything right according to Comcast’s instructions. Even if I put a page up, what do I do with it? Creating new pages means going back and adding links to other pages, which takes more time.

In contrast, blogs are easy. Most are provided free, at least at no monetary cost. Little by little, we’re giving up our lives and privacy to advertisers, but like the proverbial frog in the pot of gradually warming water, we probably won’t notice until it’s too late. The blog is very simple. I get an idea, draft a post, and post it. I can post in many ways, either through the online client, by email, by a third party offline client, by the blogger for Word add-in; the list is practically endless. I can compose an entry on my Pocket PC while I’m away and upload it later. It is truly amazing how easy blogging can be. The hardest part is deciding what to write about. Should your blog have a dedicated theme? Should it just be whatever you’re thinking of at the moment? Should you have several blogs for all of your different hobbies and interests?

In contrast to trying to maintain a web site, I find blogging a very simple way to maintain a presence on the web and to network with other like minded individuals. Take the GTD and productivity community, for instance. The same people are in most of the groups and discussion forums, their blogs all link to one another, and in a sense they all work together to find ways to make GTD work better.

I think I’ll stick to blogging.


A Headache Cure That Is Not For Sissies

I was recently reminded of a cure for headaches that is very effective, but not for everyone. Twice this week, I had a headache so bad that I felt nauseous. On Monday, my headache was so bad that I left work to run to Target for some sinus headache medicine, as acetaminophen was not doing anything for me. On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, a headache pretty much ruined my night, but I still had to get my kids to sleep. After it was too late to save Valentine’s Day, I remembered a cure that I found on the web about the time I started getting interested in nutrition and natural cures. Yes, I started a series on Kevin Trudeau’s book and I intend to one day finish it. The cure?


Cayenne Pepper

That’s right, plain old Cayenne Pepper. I can’t exactly say why, but it has worked for me every time, even though I often forget about it. I believe that it causes the constricted blood vessels in your head to open up. In any case, it works just fine.  I guess in light of my recent reading of "Natural Cures They Don’t Want You To Know About", I should state that I am not a doctor and my advice is not medical and to cover all bases I should add a disclaimer such as "For Entertainment Purposes Only".

Now that you’ve been disclaimed, how do you take Cayenne Pepper? There are several ways. You could buy the peppers and eat them. That’s fine, but it’s hard to keep them on hand for those times when you need them. What if you go months in between severe headaches? The peppers won’t last. I have come to us the pepper in ground form:

Ground Cayenne Pepper

I sprinkle some in my hand and lick it. Yes, it’s not easy to do, and I drink some water or anything else within reach immediately afterward. Like I said, this cure ain’t for sissies. Now, you could take an easier way out and sprinkle it on food. That would probably be better. I just don’t seem to be eating when I decide to use this on a headache.

I hope this is of help to someone.


Microsoft One Care Live Beta and Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2- 2 products I WON’T be using

I have been hearing a lot in Microsoft newsletters about Windows OneCare Live beta. I decided to break down and install it. The 90 day trial of Norton Internet security that shipped with my laptop is running out and feels the need to remind me every singe day of the impending expiration of my trial "subscription". I don’t intend to renew it. I will probably run the WinXp firewall and a freeware antivirus such as Avast Home Edition.

I decided, however, to give Windows OneCare a try to be fair. It’s free, so why not? I went through the installation, which was easy enough. As soon as got around to rebooting my system, I realized that I would not be using Windows OneCare in it’s current state. I wish I could report that I tried out the maintenance functions available and spyware scans, but I could tell right away that continued use of this program will aggravate me too far.When I booted up, I noticed that the "1" in my system tray was red. I clicked on it, after fighting with Norton Internet Security lock ups for a while dealing with granting OneCare access to the internet, and the very first thing that I saw is "You don’t have automatic updates turned on. Click here to turn on automatic updates." The very next thing I saw said "click here to purchase". I immediately went into Start-> Control Panel -> Add/Remove Programs and uninstalled Windows OneCare Live beta.

Why? For one thing, I can’t stand automatic updates. Because Microsoft has finally produced an operating system than can run overnight without crashing, I have gotten into the habit of being able to walk away from my computer in the middle of what I was doing and coming back later to pick up. It irritates me to get up in the morning, sit down at my computer to check email, and find my desktop and a stupid balloon sticking out of the system tray that says "Windows downloaded an important update". I have been working with Windows since 1996 and I think I know when to update my system. It’s not like the stupid balloon doesn’t pop up every 15 minutes when an update is available to remind you to download the update. I hardly think my computer is any less secure if the update is released at 3 AM and I don’t find out about it until 5:30AM. And so, realizing that Windows OneCare will not ever give me a green light without enabling this frustrating idiot function, I decided that I in turn will not give Windows OneCare a green light. You are the weakest link, You’re fired, good bye!

For the same reason, I realized that I will not be using  Internet Exporer 7 Beta 2, which I learned was available today. I have come to really appreciate Maxthon, which is the undisputed king of browsers. Maxthon is tabbed, built on the IE engine so that pages won’t have problems with certain sites like they will Firefox, and my favorite feature, tabs can be saved for later. I can reboot my computer and literally pick up on each page I left off on. I can find a site that sounds interesting, open it in a tab, and come back to it when I feel like it.

I downloaded IE7 Beta 2 this afternoon. As soon as I opened it, I got a notice that my security settings place my computer at risk. However, it would not tell me what setting exactly places my computer at risk. I could select from either "fix my settings for me", "open security settings", and "help with security settings". Opening my security settings did not show me any indication of what IE7 could possibly have a problem with, so I closed security settings and closed the little notification bar at the top of the tab. I opened another tab and the notification came back. I realized that once again, unless I was willing to turn the settings of my computer over to the wizard of Redmond, I could not use the product.

I suddenly find myself wanting to carve out time in my schedule to learn how to configure Linux for my needs. My enthusiasm for Windows Vista just died.

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