Working on the Office

Hornby TrainsAll the books on working at home will tell you that it is a bad idea to have your office in your bedroom. Well, of course, that is where I have had mine for the past two years. But now I am seriously working on remedying that situation. I am taking over, or taking back, the room in the garage that is separate from the rest of the house and has a real door that would close the world out. In reality what this will let me do is get on with my work no matter what else is going on in the house.

Kensington ClockSo I have been cleaning and making trip after trip to GoodWill. It is seriously amazing how much junk I can accumulate. And by junk I mean bodies of dead computers, old monitors, old printers, tons of keyboards, mice, etc. Well they are now all GoodWill’s treasures, not mine. And this means I can start to move into the office and decorate.

Decorate in the man, or overgrown boy, sense. Here you will see two of the decorations going up. I have been saving these for years just waiting for the right place to put them. My wife had lots of suggestions before now, but none of those suggestions seemed appropriate. At least not to me! But now they are going up in my office.

And hopefully the dead bodies will cease to accumulate.

Handy Utilities

Presented here for your approval are a few handy free web-based utilities that will help with some bothersome tasks. None of these utilities is complicated or difficult to use. They are also probably not something you are going to use every day. But, when you need the service they have to offer, you usually need it badly and quickly!

Web UtiltitiesThe first is CometDocs which will convert documents from one format to another. The most powerful conversion in my book is the conversion of PDF files to Word or text documents. Not only does this make all those frustrating read-only files editable, but it maintains the formatting and is far less prone to error than OCR. I have tried this conversion on multiple documents and have had consistent success. Beyond converting PDFs, CometDocs can transfer between all sorts of Office and Graphics files. The utility is quite easy to use in that after the free sign up, all you do is upload the file to the service and it is email back to you.

Another on-line utility that I use all the time is WordOff. When you generate html files for a website with Microsoft Word, Word puts tons of extra code in the document that not only bloats the file, but can also mess up the formatting. WordOff just strips all that extra Microsoft Formatting out. Just the kind of utility I like – a one trick pony that does that trick to perfection.

Finally, a service called DialMyCalls is excellent if you need to keep groups of people updated by phone on news, events, or statuses. After signing up, you can record short phone messages of up to 30 seconds and the service will then broadcast that message out to the list of phone numbers you establish. DialMyCalls is free for one message per day to up to 25 people. That would roughly cover a small office or youth soccer team. If you need more people or messages, you can sign up for the pay service at rates of 7 cents per call or less. A great time saver if you have lots of calls to make and also don’t want to get caught talking to lots of people because you have work to do!

So there you have some useful tools that can help solve that one particular problem you might be having. Bookmark them and store them away under “Web Tools” and just pull them out of the toolbox when needed. And don’t forget about DropBox for online file storage and sychronization and Mozy for backups. All free, and all great.

Software and Hardware for Non-Profits

If you are involved with a not-for-profit or charity organization of any sort, from school or church to community outreach or civic charity, you know how tight funding can be and how hard it can be to get the computer equipment and software that you need. What you probably didn’t know is that companies like Microsoft, Adobe, Symantec, and Intuit donate millions of dollars in software to organizations just like yours. The problem is just getting your hands on it. That is where TechSoup comes in.

TechSoupTechSoup is an organization dedicated to getting software and hardware to the not-for-profit organizations who need it. They process the requests, do most of the legwork, and get you what you need to get your mission accomplished. Think of this, Microsoft Office for the Mac is normally between $150 and $250. For the processing and licensing fee of $16, your non-profit can get a copy that was donated by Microsoft. Adobe Illustrator, the vector based graphics program, normally would cost you about $300 to $400. The administration fee for Adobe Illustrator is just $55.

And TechSoup can also help you get hardware and training. If you look on their site you will find everything from training material teaching you how to use the technology to discussion boards where other nonprofit organizations help each other. Recent posting have covered topics as diverse as electing the right accounting program for a church to how to reduce paper use to control costs and how to write a grant proposal to get new camera equipment for schools.

The resources are out there. If you are a non-profit, you can’t afford not to check them out. And while you are on the site, subscribe to their newsletter! It is stocked full of great tips, recent offerings, and the latest news.

Saving Money in the Office

Want to put some extra money in your pocket? As Benjamin Franklin said, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” In these tough economic times it behooves us all to look at what we are spending money on and cut back where appropriate. Not only will that help the bottom line, but it will free up some of the cash you may need for areas that need bolstering such as web marketing, employee benefits, or computer service.

To that end here are nine simple things that will cost you little or nothing that can net you some significant returns in the long run.

  1. Cleaning – What does cleaning have to do with saving money? Other than age and power surges, the biggest killer of computers and printers that I have seen is heat. That heat is caused by the ventilation being blocked by dust, pet hair, or other debris. Once every few months take the time to make sure the fans and vents on your computer, monitor, and printer are unobstructed. If you keep your equipment clean it will run cooler and therefor last longer. And the longer it lasts the less often you have to pay to replace it – or pay for someone like me to come fix it.
  2. Faxing – Not sure if you want to buy a fax machine or replace that old one? Well don’t! Most companies are using email not fax these days, and those that aren’t should be. Not only are emails easier to keep track of but they save time and paper. But what if you need to send a fax? Go down to your local office supply store and they will charge you a small sum to send it, or you could just do it from your computer. Online services like will let you send small faxes for free and longer faxes for a minimal fee. So there is absolutely no reason to have that expensive fax machine sitting around gobbling up power.
  3. Electricity – And while we are talking about power, let’s talk about all those cell phone chargers, sleeping printers, and other dormant equipment you have around. Each of those devices is drawing current even when you are not using it. How can you tell? Is the little light on? Are they warm? Is that power brick humming? Then it is drawing power. If you aren’t going to be using the device for a while, then unplug it entirely. Or just plug them into a power strip and turn that single power strip switch off. Not only will you be saving electricity, but you will be adding extra insurance against power surges and voltage shocks.
  4. Upgrading Software – About to upgrade to the newest version of Microsoft Office? Ask yourself, “Why?” If the current version is serving you fine now, what feature is it that you are paying for? If it is just to get compatibility with the new file formats, consider downloading the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats. With it you can open, edit and save documents, workbooks and presentations in the file formats new to Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007. With other software, ask the same questions – “why am I upgrading this” and “is there a free update or patch that will let me do most of those same things?”
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