Office 365 Home Premium

I’ve been going back and forth for a while now as to whether or not I wanted to sign up for an Office 365 Home subscription. I’ve been using a retail box version of Office 2010 on my desktop PC, and a HUP version of Office 2013 on my ThinkPad, so I’ve got both of those machines adequately covered. And I’ve never bothered with Office on my Mac. But the only office suite I had on the Mac was iWork ’08, which is obviously out of date. I’ve occasionally thought about updating to the new Mac App Store versions of Pages and Numbers, but I couldn’t talk myself into spending $20 each for them.

So instead I bought a key card for Office 365 Home for $60 from a sketchy third-party seller on Amazon. It worked, so now I have Office for Mac for a year, plus I can upgrade my desktop PC from Office 2010 to Office 2013 if I want. (And a bunch of extra space in OneDrive, and some Skype minutes.) I don’t know if I’ll want to renew it next year or not, but it should keep me out of trouble through 2015.

I’ve never actually used Office on the Mac. I’ve always relied on iWork, and before that, AppleWorks. I don’t do much word processing or spreadsheet work on the Mac, so that was always good enough. But it’ll be nice to have a “real” install of MS Office on my Mac, for those occasions when I really do need to work with an Excel file or (less likely) a Word or PowerPoint file.

I’m not really tempted to move away from Apple Mail to Outlook for my personal e-mail on the Mac. But I do have my company e-mail set up in Apple Mail too, and that’s an Exchange account, so maybe I should delete that from Apple Mail and use Outlook for that. It would make some sense, and certain things would probably be easier, but then I’d have to check two different mail programs. So I’m probably going to ignore Outlook for now.

I need to think about whether or not I have any use for the copious OneDrive space or the Skype minutes. Right now, I have DropBox and Google Drive installed on all my computers. I’m not sure I want to add the OneDrive client in there too; I don’t think it gives me much that I’m not already getting from Google Drive, except just more space. And I never come anywhere close to using up all the minutes on my Verizon plan, and I don’t need to make any international calls, so I’m not sure what I can do with those Skype minutes.

Take Control ebooks

I just finished reading Yosemite: A Take Control Crash Course. And, prior to that, I read Take Control of Upgrading to Yosemite, both of which I bought just before I upgraded to Yosemite. I thought they might come in handy. I’ve generally found that the Take Control books are well-written and edited, but in this case, I didn’t find much content in either of these that was all that useful for me. (Your mileage may vary, of course.) Which isn’t to say they weren’t worth buying and reading. They were both quick reads, since I skimmed through the stuff I wasn’t interested in, and they didn’t cost much.

I also recently bought Take Control of LaunchBar and Take Control of TextExpander. Both LaunchBar and TextExpander are programs I use all the time, but I don’t think I use them as well as I could. I know both of them have functionality that I’m not using at all, and that would probably be helpful. So I’m hoping these two ebooks help me figure out how I could be using these programs better.

two-factor authentication and other worries

After reading this article earlier today, I panicked a little, since I couldn’t remember ever having seen a “recovery key” associated with my Apple account, nor could I find one in KeePass, 1Password, or Evernote. But, when I got home from work, I checked, and it turns out I’ve never enabled two-factor auth on my Apple account. And I do still know the answer to my security questions, though I’d never copied them over from KeePass to 1Password for some reason. (I’ve done that now.)

I was going to go ahead and enable two-factor authentication on my Apple account tonight, but I couldn’t quite make up my mind as to whether it would be a help or a hindrance. I need to think about it some more.

This also made me think about my Google account, and one particular thing I’d been meaning to do for a long time: make a local backup of my GMail data. About a year ago, I read about a tool called Gmvault, and made a note to install it on my desktop PC and start using it. But I never got around to it. Well, now that I’m on a bit of a GTD kick, I went ahead and made a new note about that and put it in my Evernote ‘inbox’. So now I’ve got gmvault installed on my PC, and I’m letting it run. It was easy enough to set up; it’s a pretty simple command-line tool. It looks like it’ll take a couple of hours to run. After the initial sync, it can apparently do incremental syncs, so if I can manage to remember to run it occasionally, I should be in good shape.

Occasionally, you read horror stories about someone losing access to their Apple account or their Google account for one reason or another, and getting caught up in the bureaucracy at those companies and not being able to get their account back. It’s kind of scary, how much of our data we trust to these guys. I try to keep track of everything I’d ever need to restore my access, if I ever get locked out, and I try to keep important stuff backed up locally, whenever I can. But there’s only so much you can do.

adding a printer under Mac OS X

I just spent some time trying to get my Canon printer set up to work on my MacBook. This was one of the last things on my to-do list for the new clean Yosemite install. Here’s a quick note for anyone else setting up a network printer under Mac OS X: the following bit from this page is key:

A dialog appears listing printers on your local network. It may take a minute or two for your printer to appear.

Yes, if you do like I did and stare at the dialog that’s supposed to list network printers for only 15 or 30 seconds, then give up and close it, you’re going to be going in circles. It would really help if that dialog actually did something to make it obvious that it was still searching the network. Well, hey, I’ve got it working now. I think I wound up installing some unnecessary software along the way, but no big deal.

And it’s nice to see that Canon still supports a five year old printer with drivers that work on the newest version of Mac OS. The printer is a PIXMA MX870, a fairly low-end network multi-function inkjet, but it’s held up really well and works fine under Windows 7, Windows 8, and Mac OS X.

MacBook SSD replacement, part three

The MacBook is up and running, with (pretty much) all my software installed and (probably) all the files I need copied over to the new drive. It’s definitely much faster than before. And it’s a much cleaner install, with a lot less crap in my ~/Library folder and elsewhere.

I left behind a few fairly big items, like VMWare Fusion, and my Windows XP VM, since I wasn’t really using it for anything, and I hadn’t paid to upgrade Fusion to a version that works on Yosemite. I don’t think I’ll bother buying the upgrade, since I really don’t have any need for Windows on the MacBook anymore.

And my MAMP stack is gone. I’ll probably want to get that set up again, but I don’t mind starting from scratch, since parts of my old MAMP stack were fairly out of date. I’ll need to do some research on the easiest way to set that up nowadays. I can probably use a guide like this one to get things going again.

As for the old drive, I just bought a $20 enclosure for it from Newegg. None of the enclosures I have now is USB 3.0, so I figured I should get a new one. I’ll hold on to the drive, as-is, for a while, then, after I’m sure I don’t need anything else off it, I’ll wipe it and start using it as a backup drive. Oh, and if the enclosure I just bought from Newegg is any good, I should probably buy a second one for the old drive from the ThinkPad.

I’m getting to the point now where I should really think about retiring some of the old drives that I have lying around the apartment. I’ve got maybe a half-dozen old drives, all under 200 GB, gathering dust. I guess they’re not doing any harm, but I should really get them together, wipe the oldest/smallest ones, and send them off to a recycler. Well, that’s a project for another day.

MacBook SSD replacement, part two

Yosemite is now installed, and I’m in the process of copying over data from the old drive to the new. That’s going to take some time, probably another couple of hours. Meanwhile, I went out to Home Depot and bought a precision screwdriver set that has the Torx bit that I need.

So now it’s back to the waiting game. Once the copying is done, I have a whole list of applications to install and configure. Then, I also need to decide if I want to use Trim Enabler. I’m pretty sure I do, even with the necessity of jumping through some hoops to use it on Yosemite. I also want to see if there’s an easy way to see if I need to run the performance restoration fix on my SSD. Since I’m pretty sure I have the most recent firmware, I don’t think I need it.


MacBook SSD replacement, part one

I decided to take the plunge today and replace my MacBook hard drive with one of the SSDs I bought last week. I had been going back and forth on whether to just copy the old drive to the new one and swap them, or to do a fresh install on the new drive, and then copy data and reinstall apps. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to do the fresh install. I’m not sure if I’ve ever even done a fresh install of OS X. I got my first OS X iBook in 2002, and I may actually still be using the same install from that, just upgraded and/or migrated over and over. So it’s time.

But so far it’s been a comedy of errors. First, I wanted to hook up the SSD to my ThinkPad so I could run the Samsung utility program on it, and make sure the firmware was up to date. I went ahead and hooked it up, using my BlacX dock, but the Samsung utility didn’t see it. I guess it only works on drives that are mounted internally. So I decided to just trust that it was in good shape and running the current firmware. (The other one was, and it’s reasonable to assume they came from the same batch.)

Next, I needed to make a bootable USB key with the OS X Yosemite installer. I didn’t save the installer after my upgrade, so I had to download it again. Then, I used DiskMaker X to create the USB installer. I got an error on that the first time I tried it, but I tried a second time, and it worked fine.

Once that was done, and I’d cleaned things up on the old drive and shut it down, I went through the work of unscrewing everything and replacing the drive. That was easy enough to do, with a little help from iFixit.

Then, I screwed everything together, booted from the USB key, and started the install. That went great, no issues. Until it was all done, and I saw that it was a 10.9 Mavericks install instead of a 10.10 Yosemite install. D’oh. Apparently, I spaced out and downloaded the Mavericks installer from the app store instead of the Yosemite installer, and didn’t notice it until after the install was done. So now I need to upgrade the Mavericks install to Yosemite. So I’m doing that now. It’s going to take a while to download, so this is really going to slow down the process. But it’s not the end of the world.

One other issue I’m having is that I don’t have the right kind of Torx screwdriver to remove the retaining posts from the old hard drive. That’s not a big deal, since the Samsung SSD seems to fit in there snugly without them. But I can’t fit the old drive in my BlacX dock with the screws still in it. So I’m putting it in a different enclosure instead, with the cover off, since I can’t slide it in with those screws sticking out. So that should be good enough to get the data over from the old drive to the new one, but I’m going to want to get those Torx screws out at some point, so I can fit the drive into an enclosure and use it as a backup drive.

Oh, and I guess the other error I made is that I’m not sure I got the right screws in the right holes when screwing the case back together, as apparently there are two slightly different kinds of 3.5mm screws, and I didn’t notice that, so not all the screws are quite flush, the way they should be. So I think I need to unscrew them, look at them more closely, then screw them back in correctly, so everything is nice and neat again.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some time to kill while Yosemite downloads. Sigh. Well, it’s time for lunch anyway.

SSD #1 installed

My two new Samsung SSDs arrived in the mail yesterday, and I set up the first one today. I used it to replace the drive in my old ThinkPad. It was pretty easy to clone the old drive to the new one, using Samsung’s software, and a BlacX dock that I had sitting around gathering dust. It took about 20 minutes to copy everything over. Replacing the drive itself wasn’t too hard; the ThinkPad is pretty easy to open up. (I expect a little more trouble with the Mac.)

The machine is definitely faster and quieter with the SSD than it was before. But it’s not an amazing difference, really. At least not that I’ve noticed so far. I’ll need to mess around with it some more and see how much snappier it feels with normal use.

I’m not sure if I’ll get around to replacing the MacBook drive before the weekend. I really want to, but I know it’s going to take some time to get it done. Definitely looking forward to it though, as I think the SSD will make a big difference with the MacBook.

Inbox (almost) zero, x4

I always like to post something when I get my inbox to zero. (It only happens once every couple of years.) Right now, I’ve got my work inbox down to almost zero, and my three personal accounts also down to almost zero. So this may be the first time that *all* my accounts have been completely processed.

I’ve been doing fairly well at keeping my work email inbox down to a manageable size. We have a pretty typical Exchange/Outlook setup, and most of my work falls neatly into project folders, so I just file stuff away in those, and use Outlook follow-up flags to keep track of next actions. And I keep project notes in OneNote, with next actions generally marked in there if they’re not already marked in Outlook. (I use OneNote rather than Evernote at work, since our setup is fairly Microsoft-centric.)

On the personal side, I’m trying to use GMail for all my important mail now. I have a couple of other accounts that were still getting a fair bit of important mail, but I finally cleared that up so that nearly everything is coming into GMail now. Also, I was being fairly inconsistent on the ways in which I was flagging stuff in GMail, sometimes “starring” stuff that I needed to follow-up on, and sometimes applying “Action” and “Waiting For” labels. And then, I wasn’t really following up on either the stars or the labels consistently. Well, I’ve now un-starred everything, and either assigned an appropriate label or processed the starred message. And I’ve gone through the labeled messages and cleaned up all the old ones, so there are now only a few tagged messages, and they’re all recent.

Now, I’m trying to think of ways to *keep* my GMail account clean. First, I’m going to avoid using the “star” feature. It’s easy to fall into the habit of using the “flag” button in the iOS mail app, which translates to a star in GMail. But I’ve been flagging too much stuff that way, and never really going back and reviewing it, to figure out if it’s actionable or not. So I’m going to try to consistently use my “Action” label for stuff that requires an action on my part, and “Waiting For” for stuff that I need to wait on someone else for. And I really need to start reviewing those labels on a weekly basis and clearing them out.

I think it’s actually going to be much easier to keep my GMail inbox clean, given some of the changes I’ve made, and some of the stuff I’ve cleared up. I’ve unsubscribed from several mailing lists, so there will be less cruft to sort through initially. And I’ve set up a few new filters to sort out some stuff into a “Read/Review” label. (I’ve had that label in place for years, but hadn’t been keeping up with my filters, so a bunch of stuff wasn’t getting tagged automatically.)

My big challenge, which I’m still thinking about, is how to manage the various notices I get relating to statements that I need to download. I still get my important bills on paper (credit cards, bank statements, cable & utility bills). But I get only email notification on several other accounts (401(k), EZPass, etc.), which I then need to download, in PDF form usually, from a web site. This has proved to be a challenge for me; I tend to put it off for months. It’s not really a big deal, since there’s rarely anything earth-shattering on my 401(k) statement, or my EZPass statement. But I’d really like to get in the habit of downloading and reviewing these more often. And I’d like to switch some other statements over from paper to PDF, if I can get things to where I can trust myself to download them on a timely basis.

FileThis is an interesting service that will download statements for you, and deposit them into your Dropbox account (or Evernote, or several other places). But, it does this by using your web credentials to log into your accounts, so you have to hand over your user names and passwords to them, and that’s pretty scary. And they don’t say much about this on their site, but I’d guess that I’d have to turn off two-factor authentication on any accounts I use them for, since I don’t see how they could possibly deal with that on their end.

I haven’t found any other good ways to automate this stuff. So, sadly, I think I need to continue to download statements manually. I just need to figure out how to do it more frequently and more consistently. My plan, for now, is to consistently mark the emails relating to this stuff with an “Action” label, and follow up on those emails at least once a month. I’m going to reinforce that with a recurring reminder in either Evernote or the iPhone Reminders app. If I can get in the habit of doing that, maybe I can switch some more stuff over from paper to PDF.

wrapping up the weekend

Well, I got a lot done this weekend, Friday and Saturday. But I’ve spent most of the day today moping around the apartment and napping, since I now have a cold. Darn. I was really on a roll for a while there.

I have, though, finally gotten all of my old notes out of Backpack and into Evernote, and closed down the Backpack account. I’m still ruminating on whether or not I want to try managing all my tasks in Evernote, or if I want to try using a second app to help with that. I downloaded a trial version of Things, and messed around with it a bit, but I don’t think it’s what I need. For now, I’m just going to keep using the Reminders app on my iPhone for simple reminders, and I’ll keep project lists in Evernote.