Archive for October, 2008

Interesting sites in Google.

There are so many web based programs in Google now that help make life easier. I list below, just eight of the ones I use on a regular basis, together with two of their software applications I use daily. I hope they will be as useful to you as they have been to me!

Google Reader. I use Google Reader to read the morning newspapers, I also have the latest additions to a lot of sites about Linux and a lot of political information. Every morning when I look in, I see a one liner for every addition that these sites have added. I can, for instance, run my eye down the newspapers and in two minutes or less I know everything that is happening in the world. This is usually all I need to know. If I wanted to know more about a particular item, I click on it, and it ipens a paragraph about it. If I want to know more I click on the link and go directly to the full article – I rarely do that as I don’t really need to know such detail unless it affects my family or my business.

Google Trends. I use Google Trends to look to see which item is generating the most news on the Internet. I just type the names, separated by a comma and it shows me. Type in “Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera” and in the first graph it will show you that users of Google are more interested in Firefox, followed by Opera and finally by Internet Explorer. The second graph shows the amount of news from media websites on each item.

Google Finance: I use Google Finance to keep track of my shares. I have just looked up my shares and 60% of them are worth more than when I purchased them a year ago, and I am only losing on 40% of them which is better than many people I know! Google Finance show some stock-markets in real time instead of the 20 minute penalty most have to accept without payment. They intend to cover all shares instantly, eventually.

Google Analytics. I use Google Analytics on my websites to track visitors to my websites. I used to pay for this but now Google offer the service free and give me far more information.

Google Docs. I use Google Docs when I am producing a report with others so we can all work on the report together, and spreadsheets. I can also use the presentation manager to build up a presentation and if I am in someone’s office, just go into the application on my client’s browser and pull it up and run it for them.

Google Mail. I have been using Gmail for years now and when abroad I find it so very useful to have every email I have ever written immediately available anywhere in the world. The alternative if I needed an address I know was sent to me three years ago, would be to keep my PC on burning electricity whilst away, so I could log on from abroad – and if a Windows user, hoping it hadn’t crashed.

Google Calendar. I use Google Calendar because of its versatility. Although when working, my wife and I sit in the same room, we allow each other access to our Google Calendars. If I click on her tag, her appointments are immediately superimposed on my calendar in a different colour (of my choice) I also have a weather calendar superimposed which shows me today’s weather and the next four days. I write for different magazines and one of them has a production calendar available so I can immediately see last dates for articles. My wife uses Outlook and Windows, and I use Evolution and Linux but we can both incorporate our Google Calendars in these program’s calendar pages.

Google Talk. I use Google Talk and it is much better behaved than Skype. However, I still have to use Skype as so many more of my contacts are on that.

Google Maps. I am certainly an avid user of Google Maps and I have an add-in with my Firefox browser which allows me to highlight an address on the web, right click on “show in Google Maps” and see an instant map of where it is.

There are more Google applications but the above are the ones that I, personally, use.

In addition to these web based programs, there are some other superb free programs from Google. I use Picasa v3.0 for my digital photographs. This program allows me to organise all my photographs on my computer and to edit them. Crop them and use special effects with them.

And I spend hours on YouTube watching all sorts of short videos. Political, musical, amusing, wild life, and so many more types.


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More savings in these difficult times.

I am bearing in mind that you may not want to lower your actual standard of living too much with these tips.

Reduced visits: Do you like to eat out? If, for instance, you eat out once a week, either get to know lower priced bistros or, if you are friendly with some of the restaurant owners and you want to continue to support them, why not just cut down to once a fortnight.

Home cuisine: Another idea what we have adopted at home is, on the last Saturday of each month, we have a superb three course meal at home with wine. We have a minute vase and always have a single flower in it. If we can’t locate a “live”flower, we have an imitation rose we put in. We also have candle lighting. It’s lovely and romantic, and costs us a fraction of the cost of going out.

Charity Shops. Don’t be proud. The good days are over. Years ago, in a previous depression, I bought a Jaeger suit, in brand new condition for £15, a Barracuda raincoat for £12 and a Simpsons hacking jacket and Daks trousers for around £20 the pair. I did see an almost new Saville Row suit for £25 but alas this was so much out of my size range I had to let it go. Nowadays the good stuff never reaches the shops! However,you can buy beautiful silk ties for around a fiver, and new shirts for not much more.

Food waste: If you are throwing away more than a small bag of waste for each member of your family, each week, you are doing something wrong. Wash your vegetables thoroughly before peeling and use the peels to make soup, or put them into stews. If you see a sign in the supermarket saying £1 each, two for £1.50, in most cases, the £1 for one is the cheaper price. Will you use the second one? Will it stay fresh and edible?

Food buying: There is a very good program called “Now you’re cooking” which allows you to store menus, gives all the health information for each item of food, allows you to enter details of what food is on which aisle in your supermarket and, when you have sorted out the weeks’ menus, it will print a shopping list in aisle order. These are just some of the options of the program. In addition, there are lists of recipes on the website totalling 158,000 and they are all free. You can use the program free but to speed it up, you can get it for US$25.00 and if you pay an extra US$5 you can have free upgrades for life. The following page has a huge amount of awards and write-ups. Not sure exactly how many as I got tired after counting 150 links!

Additionally, when you visit a supermarket, look at the bargains at the end of the aisles, but beware of the BOGOF (Buy one, get one free) principle. Be especially careful if it is on an item of dated food. This brings me to the shelf marked “End of life”. This may give you an idea for that evening’s meal, thus saving you considerable money. In addition, do note that a lot of end-of-life dates have to take into consideration that you may not have a fridge or freezer. Don’t automatically throw out food just because it has reached it’s sell-by date. Prawns and fish, perhaps, but many items can be eaten safely after this date. You have to use your head here and, if you are not an experienced cook/housewife, then perhaps you should rely on this date.

Using the car. Do you need to make that journey? Can’t you walk to the shop for that single item? Have a note list in the kitchen for chores you need the car for, and do them all together once a week. A walk to the station and back each day may put years on your life, keep you fit over the years to pursue the things you love to do, and keep you healthy. And think of the cost of petrol.

Work Lunches. Nothing wrong with taking sandwiches. If you like to join other workers going out to lunch, take just one sandwich so you buy less food out. I have done this and when people have made a remark at my skimping of lunch, I just said I was trying to lose a little weight as I couldn’t fit into my favourite old suit. (Men would understand this.)

Drinking. The first thing to cut out a few of those pub visits, and is the short at the end of the evening really necessary? If you have to go to the pub, go a little later. If you drink with half a dozen lads why not invite them home one evening a month. This means you are only host twice in a year and once a month you will all have an evening costing a lot less. This reduced business might encourage breweries to look at my idea in Sunday’s blog and start lobbying the government to encourage the sale of drinks with lower alcohol by reducing the taxes on them.

Entertainment: If you like the cinema, theatre, going to concerts, make a note of how many you go in a given period and for every six you visit, cut them down to five. Look for free or inexpensive entertainment such as playing bridge or poker with friends, How about getting a small group together of friends with similar tastes, and have an evening discussing a play which has been on TV during the previous week? Put an evening aside once a month if you have free evening calls, and call all your friends. A lovely way to keep in touch, and you can share some of the tips from this list with them.

Friends: If you are like me, you have friends all over the place. I live in London, with friends all around the UK. I have overseas friends in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the US, Mexico and a few European countries. This is all very nice but if times get worse, you need more local friends. I now wish I had more friends within walking distance as it is these local friends who will look out for each other if things really get bad.

The bottom line here is not to put these ideas into practice if times get bad. These ideas will be useless then anyway. The real idea is to save enough money to cut down on credit card bills, make mortgage payments, and put aside savings for the times that may get bad.

My ideas have been centred around a premise that you can cut down your expenditure without drastically curtailing your standard of living.


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Going out for a drink.

I have read about breweries being asked to sell their beers in third pint and two third pint quantities. Although this is not a bad idea, I think there is a better way we can do this.

If the Government is really serious in cutting down drinking they could also change the tax structure. Let me explain.

All beers over 4% alcohol.

The only way these beers could be legally be sold is in one third of a pint glasses, or 250ml whichever is preferred. In addition, 20% could be added in duty for beers over 4% alcohol and 20% taken off the duty for all beers of 4% alcohol or less. This is a 40% difference in the duty price.

This would encourage beer producers to make more lower strength beers for the British market. The lower priced 4% or less beers would encourage people back into the pubs for their pints. In other words, if you want a pint you have to buy a beer of 4% alcohol or less.

This would encourage drinkers to go back to drinking for the sheer pleasure of the taste and not for the effect of the alcohol.

All wines over 10% alcohol.

Once again, we could restrict the size of all glasses of wines over 10% by making it illegal to sell these in anything larger than 125ml (six glasses to the bottle). And once again, we could increase duty by 20% for all stronger wines, and reduce by 20% for the weaker wines.

This would encourage wine producers to make more lower strength wines for the British market. The lower priced 10% or less wines would encourage people to drink more sensibly. And, if the pub wanted to serve larger glasses of wine, it would have to be for wines of 10% or less).

Again, this would encourage drinkers to go back to drinking for the sheer pleasure of the taste and not for the effect, or quantity, of the alcohol.

I have arrived at this solution on the understanding that we cannot rely on the good offices of the breweries and wineries as they care more about the health of their profits, than the health of their customers. This way, customers will demand the lower priced beers and wines and the manufacturers will ignore these demands at their peril.

Those that know me will know that, as a libertarian, it is alien for me to consider any method of control by governments in any way whatsoever. However, I live in the present world and know that there is no way that politicians are going to talk their way out of their fat salaries, huge expense accounts and inflation proof pensions to introduce a libertarian society where they would be redundant.


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Tony Meléndez

Tony Meléndez (born 1962) is a Nicaraguan American guitar player, composer and singer and songwriter who was born without arms. His mother took Thalidomide while pregnant, which caused his disability. Meléndez has learned to play the guitar with his feet.

When I first heard his story and watched him play, I could hardly see for the tears as I wept. Here is proof that we can do anything in the world if we set our mind to it. God damn it, this man even drives a car!

Never, ever, let me hear you say “I can’t!” You can – if you believe in yourself.


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Prepare for the downturn

An old saying by Naguib Mahfouz: “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

As I have said many times before, the quality of the decisions you take will be the result of the answers you get to the questions you ask. Presupposing you have asked quality questions and have received quality answers.

So, what are you doing about the economy?

If the Government and big business are estimating that the downturn will only last until 2010, the wise question to ask yourself is “Do you believe them?” Previous experience of dealing with people in these types of organisations should provide you with the correct answer.

There are two stages in the preparations you need to contemplate. First to start reducing costs which do not make too much of an impact on your standard of living. Intelliplugs that turn off everything in order from your computer installation and television and home movie setup so you save on stand-by electricity. For a one off payment of £77 for three of these special plugs we are saving £121.76 a year at present prices. (We have two computer installations and a TV installation.)

We have purchased a Remoska and a slow cooker so we can still enjoy meat but (a) we can buy less expensive cuts and (b) we save on oven electricity. They will both have paid for themselves in about ten months.

We have reduced our wine purchases by around £24 a case (£2 off a bottle) and could reduce this further as we discover special offers. We have reduced drinking to the weekends other than special occasions which will reduce costs further, make us healthier, and make us feel superior 🙂

We will not restrict our “healthy eating regime” but do look for the special price reductions at our local supermarket, and at the “nearly out of date” shelves.

“Now you’re cooking” is a good computer software program and we have over 300,000 free Internet recipes to choose from. The program can be used free although the price is only around £12 for the full program.

What I am trying to say here is, we are looking at general ways of saving wasteful expenditure without actually denying ourselves too much. We don’t need to now but that is no reason not to ensure we improve the amount we save every month in case things take a turn for the worse.

We have programmed our computer calendar to remind us every six months to investigate gas and electricity prices, and on the alternate quarterly six month period to check broadband costs and telephone costs. This means that every quarter we will be looking at a further way to reduce expenditure.

Phase two will only be brought in if things really become bad. I don’t think they will – but if they do, then phase two will mean real austerity to the Taylor household. But the important think is, we will survive. Will you?

There’s an old saying in Japan, “Success is always due to spending 80% of your efforts on preparation.”

Do you have the following telephone numbers in your cellphone?

  • Local police station – for those events that aren’t 999 worthy but still important.
  • Bank(s) – for questions on your account and stopping payment on cheques.
  • Customer service for your credit cards – in case your credit cards are stolen.
  • Family doctor and dentist – for those medical emergencies that require your doctor’s assistance. Having Your dentist’s emergency number is a must, having a dental disaster on the weekend is horrific!
  • Car insurance broker – for car related disasters.
  • Home insurance broker – for home related disasters.
  • Private health Insurance customer service – if you have private insurance – for pre-qualification calls and insurance questions. Helpful when you’re at the hospital and run into problems.
  • Children’s school – somehow, some way, you’ll call them sooner or later.
  • Pharmacist – useful for any questions you have about your medications and for phoning in refills.
  • Utility emergency numbers – for when you are out and about and a neighbour rings up with a problem. Do you have your water, gas and electricity numbers to hand?

Have I left anything off? E-mail me and I will extend the list.


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Government snoopers reading our emails?

If you would all like to snarl up the system if the government actually gets its way with this law, you should remember that they don’t actually read every email. That would be impossible. They would look up suspected enemies of the state (terrorists, people who put the wrong rubbish in their bins, murderers, people who don’t pay their parking fines on time) after the event.

However they would also look for keywords. And they would read the emails where the keywords turn up.

May I suggest that you put the following at the bottom of all your emails? Perhaps in your signature block?

The verb of Assassination is Assassinate – Gordon Brown is the British Prime Minister

That will ensure that every email will have to be read by GCHQ and I am sure they will soon get tired of that. I would suggest only doing this if they actually pass this accursed law.

In case you are worried about being accused of wasting time, remember the verb has two meanings… Unabridged
–verb (used with object), -nat·ed, -nat·ing.

  1. to kill suddenly or secretively, esp. a politically prominent person; murder premeditatedly and treacherously.

  2. to destroy or harm treacherously and viciously: to assassinate a person’s character.

Almost the entire press are guilty of the second meaning, practically every day.

Our American readers can substitute “George W Bush is the American President” of course.

There will be some who read this who will say that GCHQ will just program their computers to ignore the phrase “Assassinate Gordon Brown” if the entire sentence: “The verb of Assassination is Assassinate Gordon Brown is the British Prime Minister“ is included.

But they can’t do that, can they? Supposing they did, then real villains may use the phrase thinking that it will be so ignored. So GCHQ will have no option but to read every email with that phrase in.

Make the snoopers work for their blood money.


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An apology

Sorry for the lack of material over the last week but I have been ill. Not quite better yet, but here’s a thought…

Lord Webber (Andrew Lloyd Webber) has been asked to write the next song for the EuroVision Song Contest. My question is, will it make a difference?

Some people are saying that it is all political now and whatever we come up with will still come last. Others say all our songs are crap and that is why we are always at the bottom.

I think both theories are correct. Our songs have certainly been crap, and nobody loves us enough to give us their points.

Personally I find the point scoring more interesting than the songs and now only tend to watch the second half. Last year nearly every score was given in English and that was enough to cheer me up immensely. And, when I heard that the French contribution was actually sung in English, my joy knew no bounds. And given the choice of having the world loving us or hating us, there is no contest.

I love it when they all hate us.


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