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Make your idle computer work for you

Make your idle computer work for you

    Since you’re not sitting at your home computer all day, (you have a job right?) your computer is probably available to become your personal productivity/fun slave. The following are five ways to make use of your idle computer when you are away.

    Legally download (good) music for free
    If the whole copyright issue surrounding free music irks you, and if P2P clients aren’t your bag (Limewire, BearShare, etc.), don’t worry because there is still a way to download mainstream MP3s, legally, for free. A lot of bands have jumped on the free music band wagon recently, but these tend to be smaller, “underground” bands. I’ve reached the point in my life where this no longer excites me. I don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to listen to a bunch of crappy bands just to hear one or two good songs. I just want the mainstream stuff that I know I will like.

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    That’s where StationRipper comes into play. StationRipper is a free Windows program that allows you to set your computer to download streaming radio over the Internet. Remember the good old days when your favorite song came on the radio and you quickly put a tape in your boom box to record the song? This is the exact same concept except StationRipper grabs every single song, and rather than creating one long MP3 file, it parses the file according to the meta data. StationRipper comes fully loaded with tons of Internet radio stations. The total setup time is less than 5 minutes. After an hour or so, you will have around 15-25 MP3s perfectly named, tagged, and ready to be enjoyed by you. Let StationRipper go all day and you’re talking about 200 – 500 songs.

    Linux users can grab the sister program Streamripper which is widely available in the repositories.

    Setup your own personal DVR

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    If you’ve got a TV card for your PC, you are just one step away from having your own personal “Freevo” (Free TiVO). In the matter of minutes you can have your PC setup to record all of your favorite shows. Many people are familiar with the extremely robust Linux DVR software known as MythTV. Unfortunately for some, MythTV can be a bear to set up. Windows has a fantastic alternative called SageTV (it has a one-time cost of about $80). SageTV is perfect if you are not extremely technically inclined. What I like most about SageTV is that their API is available and many addons are available. One addon that you will not want to miss is the SageTV web server. You can use SageTV and the SageTV web server to setup your recordings and stream live TV over the Internet. The setup is extremely easy even for the non-technically inclined.

    SageTV has versions for Mac, Windows, and Linux — pick your poison!

    Hate paying for software? There are several free DVR software packages that may catch your fancy. Give MediaPortal and Yahoo! Go a try.

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    Automate your downloads
    I am a digital media and graphic art pack rat. I often scour the web downloading interesting media and graphic art. A great tool known as Wget does this for me. Lifehacker has an excellent introduction to Wget. If you want the short story, you can setup Wget to grab updated content from around anywhere around the web. For example, if you have an MP3 website that gives you a free download everyday, but you can’t remember to go to the site, you can setup a simple Wget script and download the daily song without ever thinking twice about it. Or if you wanted to backup your website everyday, you could do it with Wget. If you’re wondering how I like to use Wget, I download the daily Dilbert comic over night and I have a script setup to turn the image into my desktop background. Every morning when I wake up I get my dose of Dilbert. You can setup Wget for your favorite comics, also.

    Donate to charity
    You can use your computer’s processor to contribute to medical and scientific advancement through distributed computing. Distributed computing allows millions of people to install a program that runs when your computer is idle that will solve many small problems. This program communicates with a supercomputer and uses the small problems your computer solved to solve very large problems. Standford University has an impressive and important project known as Folding@Home that is working to cure cancer and Alzheimer’s. I have been happily running it for several months. This is a great way to donate to charity without your wallet taking a hit.

    Folding@Home is a distributed computing project — people from through out the world download and run software to band together to make one of the largest supercomputers in the world. Every computer makes the project closer to our goals.

    Folding@Home uses novel computational methods coupled to distributed computing, to simulate problems thousands to millions of times more challenging than previously achieved.

    Turn it off!
    No surprises here, but if you want to save a few bucks when it comes to the electric bill, just turn the thing off! I’ve heard people say in the past that it is bad to turn your computer on and off all day, so you might want to avoid this if you’ve got a really nice computer (due to the wear and tear on the hardware). But if you’ve got an el-junko, go ahead and pull the plug and save a buck or two per month.

    How do you put your idle computer to use? Do you have the ultimate automated setup? We want to hear about it in the comments!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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