“Recommended”, “Maybe”, and “Time for Something New”

Anyjunk

Not so long ago, I blogged about the pile of redundant and knackered stuff that has been sitting in my flat for months. I stopped driving many years ago, so I couldn’t just take this to the nearest proper place myself, and I didn’t want to presume on friendships to get it done. So I had to find a commercial solution. Well, it’s done and I’m happy to recommend the company – Anyjunk – who took it all away. They charge by volume, with the minimum being 1 cubic yard (but, no, they don’t charge in groats or £sd). They gave an estimate over the phone and we agreed a final price when they arrived.

AnyJunk logoThe final pile was a bit smaller than the one featured in my blog a few weeks ago, but it’s still a reasonable guide as to their prices. The total cost was £120. The two guys who took it away were friendly, efficent, and didn’t huff and puff about climbing up and down 53 steep stairs several times. So, Anyjunk might work out too expensive for just a few items, but if you’ve got a load to get rid of, then have a look at their website.

AVG Mis-direction

The AVG logoI used to recommend AVG Free antivirus software, but became too embarrassed at the number of my clients who fell into the many traps set by AVG to “encourage” their users to trade up from the free version to the paid one. Well, I know they’ve got a lot better, but they’re still not completely squeaky clean. I have AVG Free on my netbook and the box displayed here in Figure 1 popped up today.

AVG Program Update - figure 1

Figure 1 – AVG tell me they need to update my free program

“Here we go again”, I thought, “I’m ready for you this time, watching your every step”. So, I clicked the “update now” button. Then up pops Figure 2. I won’t go banging on again about all the nice friendly green ticks in the column they want you to go for. Suffice to say that they have put a little dot against “Ultimate Protection” at the bottom of this column. If you just click the “Next” button then you will install a trial version of the paid product. In order to update your Free product to the latest version of the Free product, click on the dot inside the red elipse I’ve put on Figure 2 and then click the “Next” button.

AVG Program Update - figure 2

Figure 2 – you must click the button in my red elipse if you want to update your existing, free, program.

Then all will be well. In fairness to AVG, they have definitely made things simpler than before. There is now only this one trap you can fall into, and if you do accidentally install a trial copy of the paid version then uninstalling it (using the standard Windows method) will prompt AVG to offer to install the free product you wanted all the time. Sharp as knives, aren’t they? Let’s hope they stay as good at antivirus protection.

Microsoft OneNote vs Evernote

Why don’t Microsoft make much fuss about their note-taking/organising software, OneNote, that is part of all the Office versions? Perhaps they don’t think very much of it. I’ve finally given up on it altogether. It’s just too tedious and idiosyncratic in how it organises the blocks of text on a page. That may sound like a minor gripe. If you think so, I challenge you to try it. It’s infuriating.

The Evernote logoSo, I have had another look at Evernote. This seems to be the only other serious program around for organising all the disparate parts of your digital life. Everything from note-taking, to picture embedding, to voice-notes, web pages. I’m sure I haven’t yet found just how much it will do, but I’m delighted by what I keep finding and I’m writing this blog on my Windows 8 PC using it now. If I want to look really cool, I can take my iPad Mini (with its Logitech keyboard, of course) and do some more work on the blog somewhere more public than my own flat.

That’s because it’ll work on all devices and the data is in the cloud, so I can get at it anywhere that my iPad has either a 3G or WiFi connection. I was initially put off Evernote as I thought it was “cloud only”. Not true: I am confident that I have a backup on my PC in a place of my choosing. I am contemplating taking out a subscription so that I can also work on my iPad or iPhone when no internet connection is available. That will also remove the ads that are (not unreasonably) earning Evernote a few bob in the free version. I’d prefer a “one time purchase”, but the main offering is the ongoing use of their servers to store the data and make it available on all devices, so I can’t blame them for preferring the subscription option.

… and Evernote has a “word count” option that tells me I’ve written 872 words (before revisions), so now I can go out to play.

A lot of business users and home computer users automatically turn to Microsoft Word every time they want to create text that needs to be saved. Word is a great fully-featured “word processing package” but using it often seems like using a sledge-hammer to crack a walnut, and it doesn’t necessarily offer a good solution in terms of organising snippets of information and finding them again in a hurry. Indeed, a lot of people would argue that Word has now become too clever and complicated for its own good, confusing average users with a plethora of options while not answering the real-world needs of data storage and retrieval.

Think, for example, of wanting to record notes about household things such as car maintenance records, or recipes, or anything else where you want to record information that you might just need to find again in the future. It seems to me that the trick is to make it as easy as possible to do the recording while, at the same time, making it as easy as possible to find something in, say, a year’s time.

Let’s take this a bit further by adding the possibility of including images (including screen captures), links to web pages, and links to files on your own computer. What we are beginning to see now is not just a program for recording text but an entire “information management system”.

Microsoft does have its own program for this kind of need. It’s called OneNote and it’s included in Microsoft Office packages. However, in all the years that I’ve been providing computer support in London I have never heard a single client mention it. I’ve been testing it for myself for the last three months or so. If I decide it’s worth using I’ll write a blog post on it, but I have to say that so far I’m finding it a bit irritating and possibly resource-hungry. On the other hand, it does seem quite powerful and useful.

In the meantime, the program I use for this kind of thing is one called “Treepad”. Indeed, I write these blog posts using Treepad and then copy and paste them onto my website. The reasons for using Treepad in this context are:

  • I can concentrate on creating the text without worrying about formatting etc.
  • I can easily drop images into the text that I might want to include in the blog post.

I also use Treepad for all kinds of computer technical notes that I may never need again or that I might just need one day. I have found that the really important thing is that the effort of writing down and saving information like this is only repaid if it’s easy to find it again. That also means that it has to be easy to do the recording. Treepad is excellent in these respects.

Treepad - showing the tree and part of an article

Figure 1 - Treepad - showing the tree structure on the left and part of an article (the contents of a node) on the right

Treepad is basically a text manager that allows you to organise content in a “tree structure”. On the left of the screen is the structure, and on the right is the content of the particular “node” that is currently selected. Nodes can be “nested” inside nodes in much the same way that Windows organises folders within folders (see Figure 1). By the by, you can see from the top of Figure 1 that I keep my Treepad files in my Dropbox folder so that they are always available on all my computers – see my blog about Dropbox.

But it is not only text that can entered into a node. We can also paste images, hyperlinks to programs or data files on the same computer, hyperlinks to websites, and links to other nodes in the same Treepad data file. It’s very easy to use and it’s powerful.

The only major gripe that I have with Treepad is that there is no inbuilt “tagging”. By that, I mean the ability to define each node as belonging to one or several user-defined “definitions” or “groups”. For instance, I might want to tag the content of nodes with “computer support London” or “silver surfer pc training” or “one-to-one computer training” or “blog ideas” so that all nodes with one or more specific tags can be selected easily. This is not absolutely critical, though, as there is a search routine, so I try to remember to add the words that I would like to treat as tags to the top line of the content of nodes. If I then search for a specific word it will list all nodes that include that word.

Treepad search results

Figure 2 - Treepad Search Results

Figure 2 shows the results of searching my Treepad file for “AVG”:

I can then click on any selected node to see it in its entirety.

Treepad is available in several versions. There is a free version so it costs nothing except a bit of time to give it a try. If you are the sort of person who is forever mislaying bits of information that you think should be easily accessible on your computer then it could pay you to have a look at it. I’ve been using the “Business” version for several years.

I started looking at Microsoft’s OneNote because it appears to be a more sophisticated program (you can scan documents directly into OneNote for instance), but I find its text handling a bit, shall we say, idiosyncratic (ie annoying) so I don’t know yet whether I would recommend it. Treepad is beginning to look a bit long in the tooth but it’s easy to use and repays the minimal effort required to use it.

I’m going to have a look at how good Treepad might be as a password manager program as I know that most of my IT clients do not have a simple, effective, consistent way of storing these and could do with a bit of well-aimed computer advice on the subject. Watch this space….

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Computer Support in London
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