27 May 2007

#22. It’s About Time

At Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill, we value time over all things. In previous entries, I reviewed a variety of helpful time-saving and time management utilities. This week I tell you about two great, but very different, ways to keep track of time.

Keep Track of Your Time

As a freelance writer and consultant, I must keep careful track of every hour I spend working for clients (every tenth of an hour, actually). I have been doing this with TraxTime shareware for many years. TraxTime is a software punch clock. You create a project – essentially, just a name for what you’re working on and optionally, a billing code – and then punch in and out when you work on it. You can also attach a memo to each in/out entry. Here is a sample punch clock screen, with a memo alongside it:

TraxTime keeps a running total of your time on each project and in total. The ultimate purpose, of course, is to bill for your time. So you can set up customized screen, file, or printed reports for any time period and any selection of projects, totaling the time in various ways. TraxTime also can create a comma-delimited text file of your time data. Here are some of the report layout options:

TraxTime is highly configurable. And you can freely modify earlier data. However, it is not perfect yet, not even the new version 5 that was recently released (with Vista support). My main beef is the inability to search through memo text.

TraxTime’s standard version costs $39. The manager’s version enables you to combine individual users’ time sheets into merged reports, and costs $59. Download a 30-day trial copy from http://www.spudcity.com.

If you’re looking for a no-cost alternative, one that has caught my attention is Timesheet Xpress Free, for individual users, from http://www.timesheetxpress.com. Another is an old, unsupported version of TimeSheets Lite from http://www.timesheetsmts.com. This program can track several workers’ time in a server database, and relies on Microsoft Excel for data manipulation and reports. I have not tried either of these, and they don’t work under Vista.

When Is Passover Anyway?

The Hebrew calendar is based on lunar cycles, so Jews frequently need to look up Sabbath and holiday times. For a wonderful Hebrew calendar with lots of extras for your PC or Pocket PC, try Kaluach at http://www.kaluach.org. Here’s an example of the detailed Jewish calendar information that Kaluach can provide:

Kaluach is free, but donations are encouraged, and the author certainly deserves them.

I hope you’ll revisit my Tool Bar & Grill next Sunday and every week for more reviews of helpful software and Web sites. And I welcome your feedback in “comments” below or by email to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.

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20 May 2007

#21. Good Things Come Faster To Those Who Don’t Wait

Welcome back to Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill, where patience is not our strong point. This week we hurry to recommend some utilities that shave precious seconds or minutes from your everyday activities.

Safe and Fast Add or Remove Programs Replacement

Life is short. So when you need to remove a program from your hard disk, who’s got time to open the Windows Control Panel and then wait for its Add or Remove Programs applet to populate the program list? You could do it faster with a pencil and paper.

Enter Safarp (see the heading just above if you can’t figure out the name on the first try). This clever utility removes installed programs the same way Windows does, but populates the program list almost instantly. What’s missing? Safarp only removes programs, and lacks options for adding new programs, changing Windows components, and specifying program access and defaults. Safarp also provides less information about each program, and does not display program-specific icons in its no-nonsense interface – but does supply a search function. So when you know what you want to get rid of, why waste time loading useless information about every program on your disk?

Safarp is free, and is available http://sourceforge.net, as well as from major download sites such as download.com.

YouTube On Steroids

Ever drum your fingers on the desk, waiting impatiently for a Hee Haw clip to load from YouTube and similar sites? And then when it starts to play, it stutters worse than Mel Tillis?

Speedbit Video Accelerator might help you stop grinding your teeth. Brought to you by the publishers of Download Accelerator Plus, the brand-new Video Accelerator claims to speed up your video streamloads up to five-fold, by establishing multiple connections to the server.

In my informal experiments, I noticed a definite improvement in video streaming times (though certainly not by the factor of five that the publisher claims can be achieved) and smoother playback with fewer hiccups.

Video Accelerator also bookmarks your recently viewed videos, and offers a video search function as well.

Presently, Video Accelerator works with YouTube, MetaCafe, DailyMotion, Grouper, and iTunes Premium. It works on all browsers and Windows 2000, XP, and 2003. Support for Vista and for more video servers is promised in upcoming versions.

Video Accelerator is free from http://www.speedbit.com.

Can’t Shut Down Fast Enough?

It’s bad enough that Windows starts up so slowly; must it take an eternity to shut down, too? Not if you use Slawdog Smart Shutdown. This free little gem closes Windows and turns off your computer with one click of its system tray icon.

Smart Shutdown offers many other clever functions and is highly configurable. But while it’s nice for your getaway car to have a disk changer, seat warmers, and electric mirrors, you mostly want it to get you out of there fast. Smart Shutdown delivers both. There are many other free shutdown utilities out there, but I like Slawdog’s the best. Get it at http://www.slawdog.com.

Come back to the Tool Bar & Grill each Sunday for another quick roundup of useful utility recommendations. If you see it here, you know it’s good. And tell me what you think by clicking “comments” below or emailing jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.

12 May 2007

#20. Fly By the Seat of Your Pants

Your Tool Bar & Grill chef is grumpier than usual this week. Dour at the best of times, I was subjected to long-distance travel, which I dislike even more than pop musicians pretending to go country. So hello from Down Undah, home of Keith Urban, who somehow does sound sort of like the real thang.

Pardon Me, Stewardess, But I Can’t Feel My Legs

My trip was made bearable in large part thanks to SeatGuru , a life-saving Web site that every flier should know about. SeatGuru tells you almost everything you need to know about your plane and your seat: from the seat width and pitch (distance between rows), to the entertainment system, to whether there’s a power outlet for your computer.

At http://www.seatguru.com, pick your airline, then pick the type of plane used for your flight (the airline can tell you). A map of the plane’s interior is displayed. Mouse over a seat and a pop-up window gives you more detail (see the extreme example below). You can even click Video and Food icons to get an idea of what you’ll watch and eat.

The only thing SeatGuru can’t tell you is whether the person next to you will be next year’s Miss Universe or last year’s Ukrainian women’s sumo champion. And because airlines frequently change their offerings, SeatGuru’s information might not be perfectly up to date. Finally, not all airlines are represented in SeatGuru’s list.

The advantages are many and the shortcomings few, and it’s free, so visit SeatGuru before you visit anywhere else.

Hey, Who Took My Computer?

Any sensible traveler’s worst fear is not the wing ripping off, but the computer getting ripped off. I know from heart-stopping experience how the gut churns when the laptop is stolen. Make backups; set up password-protected accounts; use mechanical locks; encrypt sensitive data (watch this blog for a future review of encryption software) – and now, use The Laptop Lock too.

Download TheLaptopLock utility from http://www.thelaptoplock.com, install and configure it, and register your computer on the Web site. Then, every time you connect to the Internet, the utility calls out to its home site on the Internet.

If your computer is stolen, notify thelaptoplock.com immediately. The next time your computer phones home, TheLaptopLock will discover the theft and take the action you specified when you set it up, such as delete or encrypt files. TheLaptopLock also will try to record the IP address the computer is calling from, which might help locate it. You can even set it up to verify your identity from time to time, thus protecting the hard disk from thieves who don’t use the Internet.

TheLaptopLock is compatible with all versions of Windows, including Vista. This program and service are “free for now,” according to the Web site, but donations are welcomed. As always, I encourage you to contribute to freeware authors whose products you use regularly.

Be sure to drop into Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill every Sunday for valuable recommendations of great free and cheap software and Web sites. If you have any opinions to share, click “comments” below or email jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. See you next week!

05 May 2007

#19. See Food Diet on the Web

This week the Tool Bar & Grill jumps on the wholesome lifestyle bandwagon with its special Diet & Health Menu. If you know me, you know this won’t last long, so get on board while you can. I am usually devoted to the “see food” diet – I see food, I eat it. (Hmmm, that one doesn’t work so well in writing.) I have discovered some great Web sites that help you lose weight and get strong by keeping track of your meals and exercise.

If you need to diet, you might be amazed at the importance of tracking your food intake. Keeping a log of your meals and snacks, as well as your exercise, is the first step toward a healthier lifestyle. The Web sites described here are designed to do just that. It takes time and discipline to faithfully log your eating and exercise, but that’s the only way to stick to a healthy program.


I surveyed nutrition tracking sites several years ago and picked NutriDiary as the best, and have been benefiting ever since. Enter your weight goal and your current weight, age, and other vitals into NutriDiary’s somber interface, and it recommends a daily calorie quota.

NutriDiary includes the US government’s massive food database, and if you pay for a premium membership plan, you get access to thousands more foods, including many brand name groceries and restaurants. Pick the foods you’ve eaten to log them, or assemble foods into meals and log those. You can add foods to your own personal database, too. NutriDiary keeps constant track of your calories and important nutrient levels. You can also log your exercise (also picked from a database), weight, cups of water drunk, and more. The site also include forums and the advice of a professional dietician (for a fee).

Here’s the upper part of my log screen:

NutriDiary has been a great help to me. NutriDiary is not perfect, however. For instance, you cannot export your personal database to share it with other members. This is a major drawback, because it takes a good deal of time and effort to build up a personal database of foods and meals. You can generate reports of your weight, calories, nutrition, etc., but only for 10-week periods. And I also have found customer support to be inadequate and sometimes completely absent.

Despite the drawbacks, I am a faithful NutriDiary adherent. Basic membership is free at http://www.nutridiary.com.


A more recent and very promising entry into this field is SparkPeople. This all-free site offers everything NutriDiary does – food logging from the same US government database, personal meal assembly, goal setting, exercise tracking, forums – and more. Its strengths are its relentlessly cheery interface and bubbly advice on nutrition and fitness. SparkPeople offers lessons, recipes and meal plans, instructional videos, email newsletters, and breathlessly indefatigable enthusiasm.

Here is an example of SparkPeople’s colorful but cluttered opening page (note the advertiser sponsorship):

I found it a bit harder to log foods, enter new foods, and assemble meals in SparkPeople than in NutriDiary. Nevertheless, SparkPeople can be an excellent choice if you are just starting out on a fitness or weight loss plan. Try it for free at http://www.sparkpeople.com.


If you just want to quickly check the caloric and nutritional content of a food, try Calorie-Count from about.com. Enter a food name, then pick the specific food from a list of matches from the US government database and various brand-name grocery products and restaurants. Calorie-Count presents you the US government-mandated Nutrition Facts panel.

The Calorie-Count interface is a bit busy, but the site offers a wealth of good information, including diet and nutrition advice, food logging, exercise information, and a handy browser tool bar that enable you to quickly look up foods. Set up a free account at http://www.calorie-count.com.

I hope today’s Tool Bar & Grill has satisfied your appetite for healthy eating. If you have any opinions to share, click “comments” below or email jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. Y’all hurry back and see us here next week!