Posted by: Crowe | October 14, 2015

Simplifying Time Accounting with Toggl

Toggl

As an IT services consultant, my weeks are shared across several projects at a time. While I do try to account for my time at the end of each day, sometimes I get busy and just never get around to it. If I get a day or two behind, it can really get tough to recount a weeks’ worth of meetings/ conversations/ events on Friday, when I have to enter my billable hours. (I sometimes have to dig back through my calendar and emails to validate my billable time – not a great use of time!)
I’ve tried using Excel, online applications like Evernote or OneNote, Excel, pocket planners and plain old paper and pen. All of them have their strengths and weaknesses, but none of those have worked effectively for me. Some of my calls are handled while commuting or those quick, unexpected calls from clients that occur on the weekend when I’m away from my desk – these are typically the hardest to document.
After stepping back and making a short list of wants/ needs, I determined that what I was actually looking for is a cloud-based, cross-platform application that is user friendly and can provide a report for me to use on Friday when I enter my time. (Oh, and it has to be quick and easy to use and not cost a ton of money!) After a week of using it, I wanted to share my experiences with Toggl.
Toggl is free, cloud based, and totally cross-platform (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac…even Linux)! Because I have a Windows laptop, I opted to install the Toggl Desktop application as well. With just an email address and password, I was able to login and pre-populate the application with a list of projects and clients that I am working on. The application is very simple and built around a built-in timer. This allows me to open the app from anywhere and press the ‘Start’ button to begin capturing time. Once the timer starts, I can go in later and select the appropriate project/ client from a drop-down list. Time can be always be modified (or even entered) manually if needed.
Well…today is Friday and I have to enter my time against all of my projects again. I went into the Toggl app and selected ‘Reports’ and was able to view the details of time spent on each project on one page, broken down with the details of each interaction! Super smart reporting! THIS! THIS is what prompted me to write a quick note to encourage anyone struggling in the same way to give this a try!
Toggl offers a ton of features in the free version. The paid features are geared towards small teams/ businesses with features like shared reporting and time audits, and I would probably not have a need for those.

As I’m always looking for the best solutions, tell me what works best for you! I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions here! Thanks for reading! :) ~Ben

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Posted by: Crowe | December 24, 2008

My Christmas Miracle

autozone

Earlier this year, mostly due to my growing family, I traded my pickup truck for a minivan.
Yesterday, Indiana was hit with a nasty bout of freezing rain and most of the interstate roads were closed due to the ice. There were slide-offs by the dozens and many people were trapped in their cars. I had a co-worker that was travelling with his wife and 4-year old son and they had to sleep in the car in a Cracker Barrel parking lot because there were no available hotels. It was horrible.
Anyway, I live 13 miles from work and my commute is primarily on county roads (which rarely get plowed or salted out here!). My drive took 2 hours and 20 minutes! The drive was brutal and I slid several times, but I made it home safely to my family. My van did well and I stayed warm and cozy for the entire ride.
Today, the temperature was up in the 40s and the ice had melted but we had to deal with the rain. I left work a little early to get some last-minute stocking stuffers. On the way to the store, my van began to hesitate and then buck a bit. I began to have difficulty driving so I pulled into the next available parking lot to check it out. It was an Auto Zone.
I turned off the van and looked under the hood and everything looked fine. I tried restarting the van, to no avail. After unsuccessfully cranking the engine, the battery gave out.
I went inside and asked for a boost, but my battery would not budge. Auto Zone does free battery charging, so I removed the battery and took it inside. The battery charger displayed a “BAD BATTERY” message on the LCD display and I was on the hook for an $89 battery. Ugh!
The tech behind the counter identified the battery as being an Auto Zone brand battery and noticed that that particular model was fairly new and may still be under warranty. The battery came with the van so I had no receipt or proof of purchase or any idea how old it was so I seemed to be out of luck.
He asked me if I knew the previous owner and if I could contact him for a receipt. I do know the guy and had his home phone # on some of the old invoices that came with the van. The tech looked up the previous owner on their computer, verified that the battery was purchased at Auto Zone, with the 3 year warranty, and he gave me an exchange battery for FREE! Not only did he save me the money for the battery, but he cleaned the terminals, installed the new battery, and tested the alternator. All the while, we chatted and he smiled a friendly smile, even though we were standing in a parking lot, in the pouring rain.
I was able to get those stocking stuffers (and pay for them) thanks to the friendly man at my nearby Auto Zone.
On the drive home though, it occurred to me that this could have happened the night before and I could have been stranded on a secluded county road, in the dark and on the ice. Miraculously, I made it through that drive and broke down directly in front of this particular store the next day. I like to think that I was being watched over and experienced my very first Christmas Miracle.
Thank you Auto Zone for being more than a parts store and thank you to the tech that took the time to make my holiday special. You have earned my business and I will do my best to pass the word!

 

CodeWeavers is offering their products for free – today only! Their website has been hammered all morning and I have been unable to get in to download a copy of CrossOver Linux!

All of the free downloads today also include support as they are the full versions of the software.

Here’s a link to the story explaining the reason behind their genorousity.

Were’s a link to the Wikipedia page that better explains some of their offerings.

 

*Update* – Due to the server being down (and DUGG), here’s a link to the unlocked builds (Good today only)

Posted by: Crowe | October 9, 2008

SpecOps GPUpdate 2.0 & Remote Admin are Awesome!

I’ve been a huge fan of SpecOps’ GPUpdate Utility for a long time. I blogged about it here, but the new version is amazing

GPUpdate 2.0 alone is a nice upgrade to your AD Toolbox, but coupled with the optional Remote Admin portion, it is truly awesome. To give you an example, the GPUpdate and Remote Admin utilities add funtionality to your AD Users and Computers MMC through adding options to the right-click menu.

The additional features are all useful and freely available elsewhere, but having them all together is a fantastic feature. Another cool thing is that it uses PowerShell commands. Fot hose unfamiliar (me) it’s nice to be able to see the code behing the command and be able to modify it if you choose to do so. Below is a screenshot of the new menu interface:

Another great feature is that you can define commands that you need to execute frequently and add them to the ‘Pinned List’. This adds the newly defined to the main right-click menu for convenience. One that I created is a “Please Answer the Phone” message that uses net-send to get the job done. I can select a computer, right-click, and send a message to those people who scream for help and then refuse to answer my calls for assistance. 

Note: This requires .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 and PowerShell 1.0 be installed.

Download here:

Posted by: Crowe | September 3, 2008

Installing Vista on my Latitude D810…Finally.

 

 

My trusty Latitude D810 has served me well over the last 3 years. In my organization, we have yet to make the move to Vista and I really wanted to gain some experience in the OS, despite the negative opinions of many. I replaced my D810 with a D630 a couple of weeks ago and now that I’m sure that I don’t need anything else off of my old laptop, I reformatted it and installed Windows Vista Business 32-Bit SP1.

My primary home machine runs Ubuntu 8.10 and I have been really happy with it. I have been a fan since 5.10 and it just keeps getting better. As much as I like it though, I couldn’t help but feel that I was behind the curve a bit with my lack of Vista experience.

The initial install took about 30 minutes and only 4 devices were not functioning properly…my WiFi card (Intel 2915ABG), my video card (ATI X600), my sound card, and my display. I plugged the NIC from my laptop into my switch and ran Windows Updates and everything that was missing had a driver update available. I ran the updates and everything was working properly. I was fully functional in 40 minutes from the initial boot from DVD.  So far, so good!

Office 2007 has since been installed and I seem to have a fully functional Vista PC. What is all the complaining about again?

I am OS agnostic, like I mentioned, and run XP SP2, Ubuntu 8.10, OS X 10.4 and now Vista at my house and they all work great! So which do I prefer to use daily? So far, I still like being able to fire up Ubuntu and install whatever I need from the repos quick and painlessly (and FREE). It will be nice though to give Vista a fair shake and see how that goes…

Now to install Server 2008 in a VM and get busy!

Posted by: Crowe | July 16, 2008

Being a Tech in IT Today

It’s tough to be an “IT Guy” these days.

I got my first IT job in 1998, after 4 years as an F/A-18 mechanic in the Marine Corps (Ooh-Rah VMFA-134!). It was a field that interested me then, and has become a passion of mine since. I cut my teeth building white boxes, hundreds of them, as well as servers. I became proficient at troubleshooting hardware issues by the dozens and moved on to administer our Windows NT 4.0 network within a year. By early the next year, I was the Server Guy, the Network Guy, and the Webmaster for Continental Maritime of San Diego (later bought by Newport News Shipbuilding and currently owned by Northrup Grumman). In late 1999, I earned my MCSE+I certifications and thought I was set! What I learned though was that IT is an ever-evolving world and those without the passion for it fail to advance and spend eternity answering helpdesk calls.

Today’s IT world is fascinating to me because for the first time, I am seeing once separate technologies merging to form a whole new creature. I see mixes of Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and appliances of all kinds coming together to create heterogeneous environments that really challenges the IT Pros that have specialized in one area or product. MCSEs or “Active Directory” or “Exchange” guys are now challenged to learn OSX and command line Linux. Even Windows Server 2008’s major strength is the PowerShell, which is a whole new beast in itself.

Firewalls, SPAM filtering, Active Directory, content filtering, VPN, VLAN switch environments, a whole slew of specialized network appliances, server virtualization and consolidation, distributed TV, terminal services/ thin client computing, IP phone and paging systems, video conferencing setups…these are all assumed knowledge and responsibilities for the new  breed of IT Guy. Backup tapes have given way to SANs and entirely separate Disaster Recovery sites have become commonplace after events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. (I work for a mid-western non-profit agency and we employ all of these technologies. It’s not just for the Fortune 500 crowd!) Many of these technologies didn’t exist 6 or 7 years ago.

So who do I think has the advantage…the seasoned IT Professional or the new breed of admins fresh from school?

In my experience, a passion for technology and a strong background trumps a college degree (as long as you want to be a tech for life). There are a huge number of people in the industry chasing a paycheck. Those who do not understand that to be successful in IT means to to be an eternal student, will eventually become overwhelmed and burn out.

I have also learned though that a tech is no longer just expected to just fix issues, but to recommend alternative options and to continuously improve the infrastructure. “Thinking like a CIO” is probably the most accurate description of the latest skill set desired by employers.

I’m in it for the ride and have determined to continue developing myself both technically and scholastically as I will be returning to college this fall (@ 33 years old, I might add) to continue pursuing my degree. For those with the passion and perseverance, this is THE time to be in IT. For those without, I think you should do some serious thinking about an alternative path…

Just my $.02.

~Crowe

Posted by: Crowe | May 8, 2008

Mack Murphy, P.I. Season 1, Ep. 1 is out!

The Mack Murphy, P.I. Sci-Fi-Adventure-Mystery kicks off today! Check it out!

(Sorry I used the graphic guys…It’s CC licensed, right…)  ;)

Posted by: Crowe | May 7, 2008

Xobni Beta Now Open to the Public

I’ve been beta testing Xobni for a few months now and I love it. It has saved me a ton of time with it’s email indexing and finally adding a nice threaded conversation view for all emails to a particular user in Outlook. Xobni runs quickly and efficiently for me and is highly recommended for those usng Outlook with a high volume of emails!

Posted by: Crowe | May 7, 2008

Inserting Vimeo Videos into WordPress

I found this tutorial very handy for embedding the video in the previous post!

Posted by: Crowe | May 7, 2008

LinuxActionShow at LinuxFest NorthWest

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