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8 Simple Ways to Make Your Refrigerator More Efficient

September 5th, 2011 David No comments

Published 4 days ago By Lou Carlozo, Green Dad columnist for dealnews

2626829710 a12547e78c z 8 Simple Ways to Make Your Refrigerator More Efficient<=”" a=”" align=”right” border=”0″ height=”250″ hspace=”8″ vspace=”5″>My friend Fabulous Frank is always coming up with neat ideas and inventions; one of his best designs boasts a refrigerator with a glass door on it. And while that may mean some extra-tough cleanups, just think of the one glorious advantage it offers: “Every time you’d go to check the fridge,” he says, “you wouldn’t have to open the door to see what’s inside.” Which of course means less energy wasted.

Until Fab Frank’s fridge becomes a regular consumer option, we have our work cut out for us. Even if you have an EnergyStar refrigerator, you know these big appliances still eat electricity — about 500 kilowatt-hours per year even for the stingier models. The question is: Can we improve on that? You betcha. Below are some tips for making fridges (both standard and EnergyStar models) run more efficiently. And we’ll start with a tip that comes courtesy of Frank himself.

1) Open The Door Less

Particularly if you have kids, you know fridge doors get opened dozens and dozens of times a day. Whenever that happens, warm air rushes in, making it harder for your appliance to keep cool. Leave the doors open longer than two minutes, and you’re putting strain on the fridge. So until they invent glass doors, do what you can to limit how often and how long your doors get yanked open. With shopping trips, I lump all the refrigerated items into one big pile and then load up as fast as possible. Try determining how much time you need to shave off your loading time with this Presto Electronic Clock & Timer ($10.68 with free shipping via Prime).

2) Pack It Up, Baby

After each shopping trip, I love to stuff the fridge — and there’s a reason besides the fact that many Italian Americans like myself do this. A full fridge means that there’s less hot air that needs cooling. Of course, a stuffed fridge means poor air circulation, and any well-stocked cooler begs to be opened many times. But so long as you police your clan from peeking out of boredom (or swinging on the handles) you should come out ahead on the energy-savings side.

3) A Freezer on Top is Tops

For those of you considering a new fridge, keep in mind that not all EnergyStar models are created equal. The government’s EnergyStar website reports, “Models with top-mounted freezers use 10% to 25% less energy than bottom-mount or side-by-side models.” Besides, a bottom-mounted freezer means stooping over to get the Haagen-Dazs, which isn’t exactly my idea of how to launch an indulgent dessert experience. The GE Top Freezer Refrigerator in White or Black ($448 via “APP50B2″ with free shipping) is an inexpensive option that fits the bill.

4) Chill Out on the Ice-Cube Maker

Maybe we could stand to learn something from the Europeans, who don’t take ice in their drinks. Icemakers and through-the-door dispensers not only increase a refrigerator’s price by up to $250, they also increase energy use by 14% to 20%, EnergyStar figures show. So if you have an icemaker, why not give it a rest? And if you really need crushed ice, consider the merits of these Tovolo Perfect-Cube Ice Trays (two for $14.99 with $3.99 s&h) and a hammer.

5) Location, Location, Location

This one comes courtesy of our friends at, who point out that a fridge shouldn’t rest close to obvious hotspots. “Place your fridge away from your oven, stove top, radiator, or other heat sources, and make sure there are a few inches of space around it. The unit can nestle, but it shouldn’t abut walls, counters, or other appliances.” I suppose that means no cold storage for my Twinkie flambé, either.

6) Check the Seals and the Frost

Just as leaky window and door seals yield a drafty house, a fridge with bad seals around the doors can’t do its job well. If your seals have suffered from wear or damage, check out RepairClinic, which stocks just about every type of replacement part for large appliances. As for the frost side, it’s a good idea to periodically defrost your freezer, as that will help it work better. If you see more than a quarter-inch of frost all the way around, it’s time.

7) Clean Those Coils

Dust is the enemy of many large appliances, from air conditioners to stereo systems. In the latter, dust blocking the vents can cause overheating, and dust on the coils of your fridge forces it to work harder. Getting in back of that monster may conjure visions of an emergency room visit, but tidying up isn’t hard if you consult a reliable resource, like your appliance manual. A vacuum with a crevice attachment is crucial, as is a small brush (like a paint brush) to reach more troublesome areas. Your efforts will not only keep the fridge working better, but also preserve its longevity.

icon cool 8 Simple Ways to Make Your Refrigerator More Efficient Pick the Right Temperature

Going colder than the preferred temperature wastes electricity, and for refrigerators, that ranges between 35 and 38 degrees, according to There are other benefits as well to sticking in this range: “Anything higher and foods will spoil too quickly (it also presents food poisoning problems). Anything lower and freezing becomes a problem.”

Common to all these tips is one overarching principle: habit. Once you get in the habit of checking on the appliances you take for granted, they’ll reward you in kind with extended years of service and extra savings in the bank — all while making a dent in your carbon footprint.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Five Best Journaling Tools

July 6th, 2011 David 1 comment

1421 32 Five Best Journaling Tools Jason Fitzpatrick2009 05 09 214112 Five Best Journaling ToolsPublic declarations and diatribes have their place, but sometimes you need a private space for your thoughts, dreams, and ramblings. Whether you crave a digital or analog tool, you’ll find it in this Hive Five.

Photo by Barnaby.

Earlier this week we asked you to share your favorite journaling tool. We’ve tallied the nominations and now we’re back to share the top five journaling tools. This week’s Hive Five is a mix of online and off, digital and analog, and a rather interesting sample of how Lifehacker readers like to record their thoughts for future reflection and posterity.

Microsoft Word (Windows/Mac, $99)

2009 05 09 222832 Five Best Journaling ToolsMany a person has started journaling by simply opening up the default word processor on their computer and setting to work. Microsoft Word is a fixture on hundreds of thousands of personal computers, and many Lifehacker readers found it more than adequate for their journaling endeavors. On top of creating documents in a commonly used format, most of us use Word at work and at home and are already quite familiar with the interface, formatting, and shortcuts. Being comfortable with your journaling tool of choice goes a long way towards encouraging you keep at it.

Pen and Paper (Analog, Variable Cost)

2009 05 09 224759 Five Best Journaling ToolsLong before people were pecking out their missives on typewriters, let alone keyboards, they were quietly scribbling them onto paper. In an age of instant sharing and easy digitization, many of you showed a strong affinity for recording your most private moments with the solidly analog and difficult to share medium: pen and paper. For many Lifehacker readers there is no substitute for the privacy and ease of use that comes with keeping an old fashioned paper-based journal. Among the variations of the pen and paper motif you submitted, readers showed a distinct passion for high-quality pens and Moleskine notebooks. Rich paper and smooth flowing ink is apparently the icing on the cake of analog journaling. Photo by MShades.

Microsoft OneNote (Windows, $99)

2009 05 09 230731 01 Five Best Journaling ToolsDesigned as a sophisticated note taking tool, Microsoft OneNote can easily do double duty as a journaling tool. If you like to drop photos, music, and other media into your journal entries, the file integration of OneNote makes such journal keeping tricks a cinch. The app can also easily link together your journal entries by text links and tags. OneNote’s Windows Mobile client and hand-writing recognition make it easy to record your thoughts during the day and dump them into your journal when you return home. If you’re unfamiliar with OneNote, our review of OneNote 2007 is worth a peek.

Evernote (Windows/Mac, Free-to-$5/month)

2009 05 09 231833 Five Best Journaling ToolsEvernote is a wildly popular application for capturing and organizing all manner of information thanks to its trifecta of desktop application, web-based interface, and mobile client. For many readers, it makes sense to simply work their daily reflections into the tool they already have at their fingertips. If you’re using Evernote as your personal journal, you can leverage the text recognition and tagging to make your journal entries available and easily search friendly. If you’ve avoided journaling because you consider it antiquated and hardly something a busy modern person takes the time for, Evernote makes it easy to write when you have the time, since it’s almost always with you thanks to a web and mobile phone presence. The free account can easily handle basic journaling, but if you find yourself needing more storage or use of the multimedia functions, there is a $5 a month premium account.


WordPress (Web Based, Free)

2009 05 09 235616 Five Best Journaling ToolsWhile blogging is usually intended for a larger audience, many of you used blogging software to maintain a personal journal. Among the blogging tools used, WordPress was a clear favorite thanks to its ease of use, ability to keep entires completely private, and a free-as-in-beer price tag. Using blog software as your journal tool has several benefits: You can log into your journal from anywhere, tag your entries, use text and calendar-based search, and take advantage of WordPress’s vast extensibility to customize and tweak your journal to include all the tools and information you desire. WordPress will run on your own web server (including your personal home web server), or you can sign up at for a basic account.

Now that you’ve had a chance to check out how your fellow readers journal, it’s time to cast your vote to determine who will be quill-wielding king of the self reflection castle.

If you’re aghast that your favorite method of journaling—cuneiform tablets anyone?—didn’t make the Hive Five, or you’ve just got a great journaling tip burning a hole in your pocket, share your thoughts in the comments below.

Categories: Apple, Apps, ipad, iPhone, Tech, windows Tags:


June 13th, 2011 David No comments

mirag2 Mirage

We don’t imagine your Mirage ($45) would ever be in the fully collapsed state, but it’s nice to know it’s a function of the set. The expandable wine rack holds just the right amount of wine for your drinking or storing needs. It holds up to eight bottles, and features four, two-tiered storage sections. Oh, we are modular girls and this is a modular world. [Thanks]

Categories: Drinks, Gear, Home Tags:

Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your Workspace

May 30th, 2011 David No comments

500x ergotastic Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceIt’s easy to forget about your body’s needs when you’re deep into your work or the net—until your body offers a painful reminder. Save your physical shell some strain with these cheap, customizable ergonomic workspace upgrades.

Photo by IMG_3771 on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

10. Elevate your laptop to eye level

laptop stand Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceYour neck can’t text you to explain how annoying it is to have to keep looking down at your laptop. Over time it will let you know, though, in a nagging, painful way. If your laptop is your day-to-day work machine, elevate it to eye level using any one of a number of clever solutions. Perhaps one among our Top 10 laptop stands will do the trick, or a built-to-fit DIY pipe stand. Any of them are better than imagining yourself as a hunched old man or woman, constantly warning the neighborhood kids to sit up straight and look ahead.

9. Mix up your positions with a standing desk

standing desk Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceIt’s hard to slouch when you’re not in a seat. To help your body benefit from your upright instinct, and give your lower body a break from sitting, work a standing desk into your workspace. You can go for it in a big way, like with this handcrafted setup, stick with something as simple as a $20 model or a surface on a storage rack. If you want to go really fancy, you could try a treadputer or something like this adjustable desk. It doesn’t have to be your only desk, either—just a break room for your butt.

8. Get better sleep support

sleepy Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceHow your back, neck, and joints fare over eight hours of work can be influenced by how they spent eight hours in bed. Give your body a better night’s sleep by catching up on’s pain and posture basics. According to the post, the standard, no-pain position to shoot for is “on your side, knees bent, pillow between the knees, and your head resting on a single pillow,” or on your back with one pillow under your knees and one under your head. You might need to leave out an element or two from that ideal if you’ve got a hard-set sleeping habit, but it’s worth considering a switch-up. Photo by james.thompson. (Original post).

7. Invest in a real mouse and keyboard

best mouse Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceIf you’ve stuck with your mouse and keyboard just because your desktop came with them, we feel for you. If you’ve been using a laptop at a desk without an external mouse or keyboard, we’re in tears. Invest in the tools your hands spend thousands of hours on every year by perusing the best mouse recommendations from Lifehacker readers and their ultimate keyboard picks. All of them are designed with a good hand feel and better functionality in mind. Consider your hand comfort worth five cents an hour? You’ll amortize these puppies in no time.

6. Align yourself properly with your computer

usable workspace Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceAdam’s had his problems with hand, wrist, and back pain from repetitive stress and other conditions at his workspace, and a few years ago, he decided to set up a healthy, usable workspace to get back in shape. His post is a front-to-back assessment of what healthy working spaces should include, but his basic sitting setup involves keeping your elbows bent near 90 degrees, keeping a mouse comfortably within reach of a keyboard, avoiding slouching, and keeping a monitor at eye level, between 18-28 inches from your face.

5. Build your own ergonomic desk from scratch

custom desk Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceYou don’t have to have Bob-Vila-level woodworking skills to craft your own workspace—after all, college students have been laying doors on cinder blocks for years. To make an actually ergonomic desk from medium-density fibreboard, you need two power tools (your neighbor has them if you don’t), time enough to sketch and plan your cuts, and measurements to know how high you should set up the legs, so your monitor is at eye level and you’ve got just enough room for everything you’re working with. When you’re done, you can paint or stain it whatever color you’d like, and when your friends ask where you got that desk, well, you know the answer. (Original post)

4. Use exercises to ward off RSI

huymnyrohjq Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceYou can do a lot to prevent stress and pain in your hands working at a computer all day, but you’ll almost inevitably have bad days full of overly long hours, and, over the long haul, risk sidling yourself with repetitive strain injury (RSI). Percussionist David Kuckhermann knows a thing or two about repetitive wrist and forearm strain, as does RSI expert Sherry Smith, and they both recommend and demonstrate a few simple exercises that can ward off and heal the effects of working your hands into knots. (Original post)

3. Fine-tune your desk spacing

ergonomic setup Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceAre you the type that busts out the tape measure whenever you’re putting anything up on the wall? For setting up your workspace with proper distances and heights between yourself and your computer tools, ergonomic goods firm Ergotron offers an ergonomic workspace planner that, once you enter your height, gives up the details on suggested seat heights, monitor heights and distances, and keyboard shelves. If you’re thinking about working in a standing desk, they’ve got measurements for that, too. (Original post)

2. Use software enforcers

antirsi Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceIt’s great that you’re dedicated to pushing out this project on time, but unless your deadline’s right this hour and you need every second, you should be stepping back occasionally to give your wrists, eyes, and arms a rest—and maybe even read something off-screen, while you’re at it. If mental reminders aren’t enough, apps like AntiRSI and Timeout for Macs, and Workrave for Windows and Linux, force you, in differing levels of subtlety, to take a break and physically remove your hands from the keyboard every so often. (Original posts: AntiRSI, WorkRave, Time Out)

1. Go easy on your eyes

thumb160x eye Top 10 Ergonomic Upgrades for Your WorkspaceEye strain is particularly bad news for those who write (code, copy, or anything else) or assemble things on a computer all day—it hits you right in what feels like your brain, and makes concentration terribly hard. Two simple solutions are to turn on ClearType and increase your monitor refresh rate in Windows systems, or install a serious protection scheme like EyeDefender. Reader’s Digest suggests other easy eye fixes, like keeping your monitor slightly below eye level to bring less glare into your retinas. And simply using a darker desktop theme is often a nice first step toward reducing the amount of time you feel like you’re staring into a flashlight with words written on it.

What improvements, big or small, have made the greatest difference in your workspace health? Pass on the knowledge in the comments.
Categories: Gadgets, Gear, Health, Home, office, Other, Podcast & Blogs Tags:

20 essential windows apps

April 4th, 2011 David 2 comments

by Lee Mathews

present 20 essential windows apps

Our regular readers can probably rattle off a list of their 20 favorite apps without breaking a sweat — as the comments on this post will no doubt prove. But for our less in-the-know friends, family, and co-workers, it can be challenging to figure out where to download high quality programs that actually do what they need them to do.

We’ve put together an assortment that will help you hit the ground running with your new Windows PC. If you’ve got your own suggestions to add, feel free to post them in the comments.

Now let’s take the jump and check out the apps!

Antivirus and antimalware

mse 1293117859 20 essential windows apps

It’s always best to get your protection in place before you do anything else. Microsoft’s Security Essentials is an exceptionally good program and provides excellent, always-on defense against all kinds of malicious software. Version 2.0 is even better than the original, and it’s ready for download onto your shiny new system.

For added protection, we also like to keep Malwarebytes on hand. It’s a dependable program for times when we want to perform a more intensive checkup on our system and has proven itself to be a malware-removing powerhouse.

Download Microsoft Security Essentials
Download Malwarebytes (from Filehippo)

Backup and sync

sugarsync 20 essential windows apps

With security out of the way, it’s time to look at protecting your future data. By setting up a good quality backup or sync app (or both), you can ensure that you’re never going to lose those precious photos or important scholarly articles you saved in your Documents folder. SugarSync gets the nod for sync services, thanks to its 5GB of free space (more than double what most providers give for free) — and mobile apps for Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry.

For straight-up backup duties, Mozy is tough to beat. A free account gets you 2GB of backup space, and a paid account will only run you $4.95 per month for unlimited storage. Mozy can also simultaneously backup to an external hard drive, giving you a second layer of disaster preparedness.

Download Sugarsync
Download Mozy

Web browsing

multibrowse 20 essential windows apps

We certainly recommend installing an alternative Web browser, but because Google Chrome, Firefox, and Opera all have unique features, it’s very hard to pick a ‘best’ browser. All three browsers are fast, secure, customizable, and offer synchronization — which is very useful if you browse on more than one computer. Spend some time seeing what makes each one special, or download ‘em all and go for a few test drives. You can always uninstall them later!

If you’re the adventurous type and you like Internet Explorer just fine, you may even want to download the Internet Explorer 9 beta version. It’s not fully complete, but it’s a big improvement over its predecessors.

Download Firefox
Download Google Chrome
Download Opera

Watching, converting, and burning videos

freemake 20 essential windows apps

For viewing just about any kind of video file, VLC is ready to rock. From MP4 to AVI to VOB, it plays them all — and without making you hunt for codecs (which is especially handy if you’re not sure what a codec is in the first place). When it comes time to burn those videos to a disc or make them play nice with your new smartphone, Freemake Video Converter is up to the task. It’ll even burn your videos to a DVD or Blu-ray disc.

Download VLC
Download Freemake Video Converter

Listening to, transferring, and buying music

doubletwist 20 essential windows apps

Just about everyone who’s touched a keyboard knows about iTunes. It’s a good enough program, but you have other options available. DoubleTwist is a very good alternative, and it can even synchronize songs to your iPhone, iPod, or iPad — something most other apps can’t do. It’s also got built-in access to the Amazon MP3 Store, which offers very good pricing on music downloads — as long as you’re in the U.S. and U.K.

If you don’t own an Apple device, Songbird is another nice choice. One big reason to consider Songbird is that it integrates 7digital for music purchases — and 7digital is available darn near everywhere.

Download Doubletwist
Download Songbird

Communication and instant messaging/chat

skype 1293120226 20 essential windows apps

Skype now handles a mind-boggling number of voice and video calls every single day, and it’s one of the best programs around at adapting to your Internet connection’s speed. That’s important when you’re trying to make sure the person on the other end isn’t seeing a pixelated version of you which stutters and freezes constantly.

As for instant messaging, we’ve got two picks. Windows Live Messenger is a good way to go if you’re primarily going to chat with Windows Live contacts (obviously) and Facebook friends. For those of you who really need to chat with friends on ICQ, Yahoo, Google, Live, and ICQ all at once, do yourself a favor and check out Pidgin. It’s a much better idea than installing three or four different chat apps.

Download Skype
Download Windows Live Messenger 2011
Download Pidgin

Photo management, editing, and sharing

picasa 1293125654 20 essential windows apps

Both Microsoft and Google make terrific photo apps for home users. Picasa and Live Photo Gallery offer plenty of quick-fix tools for adjusting colors, removing redeye, cropping, and otherwise tweaking your pics. Both programs make it easy to generate slideshows for sharing online or on disc. Photo Gallery also works well with Facebook and Flickr — so it’s a better choice if you plan on posting a lot of photos to either site. It also comes bundled with Movie Maker, which is a nice way to bundle your pictures and videos.

Download Picasa
Download Windows Live Photo Gallery / Movie Maker 2011


steam 20 essential windows apps

At this stage in the game, Steam is a must-have application (or at least very, very nearly one). There are so many good games available in their extensive catalog that everyone can find something enjoyable to purchase and play. From first person shooters to racing sims to addictive (and typically cheap!) casual games, Steam has become a bit like the iTunes for games.

Download Steam

Office and student work

ltous 20 essential windows apps

If you plan on getting productive with your new computer — and you probably will at some point in the new year — you may as well install the apps you’ll need now. For general note-taking and research, Evernote is a champion and it’s made even better by the availability of mobile apps for virtually all smartphones.

For straight-up word processing and spreadsheet chores, both OpenOffice and Lotus Symphony offer Microsoft Office-like functionality for free. They’re not 100% Office compatible, though, so if you’re worried about documents formatting properly you may want to check into Microsoft’s free Office Web Apps. They run in your browser, so you won’t even need to install anything extra — all you need is a Facebook account!

Download Evernote
Download Lotus Symphony (from Softpedia)
Download OpenOffice
Visit Microsoft Office Web Apps

Password management

keepass 20 essential windows apps

The more Web sites you sign up for, the more important a good password manager becomes. KeePass is easy to learn, can store everything you throw at it, and it will even generate hard-to-crack passwords which you can use to replace your current ones. All you’ve got to do is remember the master password to open your KeePass vault, and you’re good to go!

Download KeePass

Unzipping, extracting and managing file archives

7zip 20 essential windows apps

7-Zip is the name to know. Unlike the more well-known WinZip and WinRAR, 7-Zip is completely free and will never nag you about how many files you’ve opened with it or why you should buy a copy. Using 7-Zip is dead simple: just click any compressed file you download and choose the 7-Zip menu from the pop-up, and then extract your files.

Download 7-Zip for 64-bit or 32-bit Windows

Tune-ups and Maintenance

ccleaner 20 essential windows apps

Windows 7 doesn’t really need to be defragmented, and any new system you buy at this point will be running the OS. A ‘tidy up’ tool like CCleaner is a better choice. It provides an easy way to remove temporary files that are eating up valuable drive space, and cleans your registry. Run it regularly to keep your system spic-and-span, and don’t forget to add CCleaner Enhancer to clean out files from more than 200 additional programs.

Download CCleaner

Present photo by flickr user paulidin

Sake Bomb Set

March 3rd, 2011 David No comments

sake bomb xl Sake Bomb Set

No, not that sake bomb. The Sake Bomb Set ($100) is a funky pouring vessel that keeps your hot sake hot or your cold sake cold inside something that looks like the cross between a mine and a blowfish. The cups sit on the outside of the spine for easy storage, and to draw that many more “what the hell is that?” questions at your next sushi party.

Categories: Cool, Drinks Tags:

Fresh Pie….

February 6th, 2011 David No comments

moz screenshot 14 Fresh Pie....

Create up to four individual-sized pies full of your favorite fillings with this simple-to-operate pie maker. Whether its savory meat pies, vegetable pies, quiches or sweet fruit pies or tarts, most pies take just 8 minutes to cook.

  • Cook up to four individually sized pies simultaneously.
  • Locking latch and crimper seal ensures pie edges are completely sealed.
  • Included pastry cutter ensures perfectly round pie bases and tops.
  • Ready light indicates when the unit has reached optimal temperature and is ready to use.
  • Cool-touch handles stays cool throughout cooking process.
  • Nonstick cooking plates can be easily wiped clean.
  • Non-skid, non-marking feet on base provide a stable platform.
  • Power cord wraps into unit for easy storage.
Categories: food, Gadgets Tags:

250,000-Liter Home: 7-Story Water Tower-to-House Refab

January 30th, 2011 David No comments
Adaptive reuse often has to make the best of a bad situation, taking ill-shaped structures into workable residences … but in this case, the form of this 100-foot-tall Belgian water tower turned out to be the perfect basis for a brilliant seven-story house. Going … up?

water tower home plan 250,000 Liter Home: 7 Story Water Tower to House Refab

Moving vertically through the home involves shifting from entry and functional spaces to living and dining areas and terminating in bedroom, shower and private relaxation zones that culminate in an extra-wide, 360-degree zone for enjoying lofted views of the sky and surrounding landscapes.

water tower interior renovation 250,000 Liter Home: 7 Story Water Tower to House Refab

The first story contains a main entrance and two-car garage, below a second-story equipment, storage and HVAC zone. The third and fourth levels house guest, meeting and work spaces – the fifth features a master bedroom, with a spiral staircase that leads up  kitchen, living and dining room areas. Finally, on the very top floor, there is a wrap-around terrace cantilevered out beyond the main structure (in the water-storage core).

water tower refab architecture 250,000 Liter Home: 7 Story Water Tower to House Refab

Anyone else reminded of the infamous Panopticon here? Bham Design Studio had to work with local preservation efforts, building codes and the needs of clients to maintain the integrity of the building while making it a useful dwelling. Somehow it still manages to look a good fit for the farmland-filled countryside around it.

water tower brick concrete 250,000 Liter Home: 7 Story Water Tower to House Refab

Built to last, the original water tower was constructed nearly seven decades ago. The exterior was preserved as best it could be, with the limited introduction of well-scaled windows and respect for the existing concrete and brick on all sides. The interior, for better or worse, was made more modern in style – black and white dominate, but perhaps that works well after all since it provides such compelling contrast with the colorful window-framed environments outside.

Categories: Architecture, Design, Home Tags:


January 14th, 2011 David 8 comments

I cannot think of a single application or website that has improved my daily work processes more quickly and effectively than Dropbox. Dropbox combines elements of many different applications: SVN, WebDAV, online storage, network storage, music and file sharing, FTP, Flickr, and Google Docs, just to name a few. And it manages to do so with style and simplicity. It is non-technical and seamlessly integrates into my normal working environment.

Initially, Dropbox quickly addressed the hassle of trying to work on the same files among multiple computers. I have long been tired of e-mailing files to myself, manually uploading files to a server, or transferring files using a flash drive. Dropbox allows me to bypass these now archaic file transferring options.

Dropbox is currently in a beta stage, which means that for you to use it, an existing user must send you an invite or you must sign up on the wait list, then receive an invite from Dropbox itself.

Just a warning: this post is pretty long. There’s so much to say about Dropbox…

So what is Dropbox?

At its core, Dropbox is a file sharing application / service. At the time of this writing, there is a Dropbox client program for Mac OS X and Windows, and there is a Dropbox web interface. “Client program” might not be the best name, since what it does is designate a specific folder on your computer to be the Dropbox folder. You don’t have to interact with a program – you can simply put all of the files you want to work with in this folder and the program does its magic in the background. There is a Linux client in the works, but I have no idea when that will be released. Since I work with both OS X and Windows, this cross operating system availability is a huge plus.

Once you receive an invite to Dropbox, you create an account on the Dropbox website. Through this account, you can manage your Dropbox service. You can upload files, create shared folders, generate links to files in your public folder, and “share the love” by inviting your friends to Dropbox. If Dropbox was only web-based, it wouldn’t be so impressive. Luckily for us, it isn’t.

From your account, you can download and install Dropbox onto your computer, and link your account to it. Once that’s done, the magic begins. You can simply put any files into the “My Dropbox” folder. It works the same as managing your files within your “My Documents” folder. In fact, the Dropbox folder is installed into the “My Documents” folder (or the equivalent Mac folder) by default.

dropbox folder xp Dropbox


Mac OS X integration:

dropbox folder Dropbox

Any file that you drop into your Dropbox folder automatically uploads to the remote Dropbox servers and you can access it from your account using a web browser. You can download and install Dropbox to as many computers as you like and link it to your account. Once that’s done, any changes to the Dropbox folder are automatically reflected on all the computers on which you have Dropbox installed and linked to. Complete synchronization.

From this description, Dropbox might not sound that great, but to fully illustrate the awesomeness of Dropbox, I must describe each of the ways I use it.

Music access / sharing

With Dropbox, you simply drop a music folder into the “My Dropbox” folder and you can access your music files easily from any computer you have Dropbox installed on or through a web browser. To share your music with other Dropbox users, you can simply drop the music folder into your shared folder (more on that later). To share your music with the rest of the world, you can drop your music into the “Public” folder and send the world a link (not recommended if you want to avoid a lawsuit).

sharing music Dropbox

There are other music services, such as Muxtape, that allow for a more public form of music sharing. However, if your objective is to listen to your files privately among different computers or share music with a select group of friends without any uploading / listening / file format limitations, Dropbox is the clear winner.

Photo gallery

Dropbox has a slick photo gallery. There is a “Photos” folder under the main Dropbox folder. Any picture files put in the “Photos” folder are automatically available via a photo gallery. If you create sub-folders, each sub-folder is a separate photo gallery.

If you do not need to share your pictures with everybody, they can remain in your Dropbox and nobody can access them. However, in the context / right-click menu on your computer, you can get the public URL for each sub-folder’s gallery to share with everybody:

photo gallery public link Dropbox

The public gallery is similar to Lightbox or Facebook galleries, with automatically-generated thumbnails:

photo gallery Dropbox

When you click a thumbnail to view the larger-size picture, you can view the previous and next photos like a slideshow:

photo gallery image Dropbox

File sharing (via a link)

There are probably thousands of file sharing websites. The usual process on one of those sites is that you use an upload form to manually put the file on the public server. Dropbox has a “Public” folder under the main Dropbox folder. There is a public URL available for any of the files placed in this folder. Simply place the file(s) you want to share in the “Public” folder, wait for the files to sync with the server, then copy the public link from the context / right menu.

revisions public link Dropbox

You can then share that link with your friends, family, and colleagues without having to deal with attachments or file sharing sites.

Multiple work computers

The main reason why I was drawn to Dropbox was to have an easy way to share files between my home and work computers. With the Dropbox client installed on both computers, I put all of my portable files in the Dropbox folder:

dropbox mydocs Dropbox

Suppose I do work in the morning on my home computer. I save my files, and head to the office for the afternoon. Once I boot up my work computer, the files that I had added or updated from my home computer are automatically updated on my work computer’s Dropbox folder. I can pick up where I left off, never having to worry about having multiple, out-of-sync repositories.

Public computers (using the web interface)

While the Dropbox client is easy to install on multiple computers, sometimes you will encounter a point where you have to use a public computer or someone else’s computer. In other words, you cannot install the client or it’s not practical to install it.

You can still access your files by logging into Dropbox’s web interface.

web interface files Dropbox

From there, download the files you need, update them, then upload them again:

upload files Dropbox

The next time you access one of your computers with the Dropbox client installed, the files will be added or updated.

Revisions and restoring deleted files

Whenever you update a file in your Dropbox, the revision is noted. You can view the history of your revisions and, if desired, restore the file back to its previous revision.

revision history Dropbox

Similarly, if you delete a file and decide that you want it back, you can restore it. When browsing through your Dropbox in the web interface, you can choose to show deleted files.

show deleted Dropbox

You can restore any of the deleted files (like restoring files from the “Trash” or “Recycle Bin” on your computer) or remove them completely.

File sharing using shared folders

Here’s a brief transcript of the chat that took place after Thom dropped a file into a shared folder. True story:

dropbox chat Dropbox

If you couldn’t follow the chat transcript, seconds after Thom dropped a jpg into the Shared Folder, Peter was notified of the new file, and then thanked Thom for it. Though it was a small file, the transaction speed was hella fast. On your computer, a shared folder can be identified by the 2 blank-faced dudes on the folder icon:

shared icon Dropbox

There are two different ways to create a new shared folder. First, you can create a new shared folder from your “My Dropbox” folder’s context / right-click menu:

new shared folder Dropbox

Once you click on “Share”, your browser will open the web interface for your Dropbox account. From there, you can invite other Dropbox users to partake in your shared folder fun!

new shared folder invite Dropbox

The other way to create a shared folder is directly in the web interface:

new shared folder invite2 Dropbox

While creating a new shared folder directly from the web interface is better if you’re creating a brand new folder, the first method allows you to make any existing folder into a shared one.

From the invitees’ end, they will receive a notification in their inbox about the invite, which they can choose to accept or decline. Whoever creates the shared folder has administrative control over it, and can invite or kick out users as he / she pleases. Invitees, or “collaborators” as they are called in Dropbox, are able to invite friends or leave the folder.

shared folder invite kick Dropbox

Once your shared folder is set up and the appropriate people are invited, sharing files is a joy.

Collaborative work

This article was written by two people sitting at opposite ends of the country with the help of Dropbox. In a shared folder described above, we outlined this article, drafted it (in a word processor), saved screenshots, and even sent a few messages back and forth about the article (by using text files to contain messages).

Whenever one of us uploaded or updated a file, the other party was almost instantly notified.

dropbox notification xp Dropbox

While we couldn’t work on the same file at the same time (a bit impractical unless you are working on a standard format such as in Google Docs), we had one Word file in the Shared Folder and took turns adding and editing the text in it on our own time. Dropbox took care of the automatic updating and notifications on each end, no cumbersome IM file sending required.

Communicating through Dropbox — not-so instant messaging

By no means is Dropbox intended to be a messaging solution, but there is a built-in messaging function that allows you to leave messages to your collaborators in the Shared Folder. This keeps all messages about updates, feedback, or general thoughts available within the folder that you’re collaborating on. Once you add a comment, it sends an email out to all the collaborators informing them a comment was added.

You can also employ a makeshift messaging system by creating a text file in a shared folder. The text file is ideal as opposed to another file format because it is quick and simple, and can be viewed directly in a web browser if needed.

text im Dropbox

After adding a new message in the text file and saving it, your collaborators will get a notification that the file has been updated, which essentially means that there is a new message.

im notification Dropbox

There are obviously more efficient ways to sending instant messages, but the methods described above allow for messages to be sent when you cannot reach a collaborator through an IM program, such as MSN, or if you want the messages saved in some form of repository. It’s also faster than sending an email or replying to one.

Future uses

As a Linux client is upcoming, it would be handy to install the client on a server in order to sync and work on website files, eliminating the need to use FTP, SSH, or SVN clients. This can also be done on a Mac OS X or Windows server (I’ve successfully tested this) by using one of the sub-folders under your Dropbox folder as the “pub_html”, “httpdocs”, “www” or similar folder.

Storage space and conclusion

Currently, new Dropbox beta users receive two gigabytes of storage space to hold all files, revisions, and deleted files. This is plenty of space for your document, music, and picture needs. It is not enough if you are sharing large videos, but to make good use of Dropbox’s speed and efficiency, use something else for such needs.

Even though you run the risk of a remote server crapping out and losing your hosted files, there’s little worry since everything is always backed up on your local machine, or machines (assuming, in a worst-case scenario, that you can disconnect your computer before it syncs with an empty dropbox account by deleting every file). And if you have shared folders, there will back-ups of the files on each of your collaborators’ machines. However, if you wanted to access files through the web interface if the servers go down, you’re SOL. But that’s a risk I’m more than willing to take.

Dropbox is currently free for everybody, but it will probably also offer premium, paid accounts with more storage and features when it is officially open to the public. I have been so impressed by it so far that I think an account is worth a few dollars per month even for its current offering.

Categories: Apps, OS, web, windows Tags:

iPad 2

January 4th, 2011 David No comments

 iPad 2

Since we’re at that point in the year when we’re offering offering predictions and hopes regarding what’s to come, here’s a list of must-have features in iPad 2.

Some things we can be fairly certain of. Storage capacities will increase while prices (particularly for the entry-level model) will decrease. Battery life will probably improve, and the iPad chassis may well get even thinner (more on that later). A new talking-heads video will also be streamed from Apple’s website, featuring an ever-increasingly-earnest Jonny Ive declaring the iPad 2 is even more elegant and magical than its elegant, magical predecessor.

Magic is nice, but all users really care about are the feature and usability upgrades, and these are the ones that would most benefit the iPad 2.

Improved Display

I don’t mean a retina display, either. The resolution on the current iPad is just fine, thank you. Brighter, higher contrast, more colors and a wider viewing angle would be just swell.

Integrated SD Card Reader

MacBooks now have them, and the iPad seems a natural next candidate for a built-in SD card reader. The SD card reader Apple sells as part of its camera connection kit always seemed like an inelegant solution. (Its boxy white plastic lines look cheap next to the iPad’s aluminum shell.) Personally, I’d prefer to be able to beam photos from my DSLR to the iPad wirelessly, but a feature like that is even less likely to appear than an integrated reader.

A USB Port

I’m putting this here not because I genuinely want it, you understand, but because, apparently, everyone else does. Seriously, I’ve never wanted to connect anything to the iPad via USB. Nothing. Ever. I can see maybe wanting to plug a camera in directly instead of using its SD card, since it saves steps, but that’s about it. Feel free to illuminate me further on why a USB port on the iPad is a good idea in the comments.

Cameras and FaceTime

I’m not a fan of shaky-cam video calling, but I am a fan of devices that offer a complete audio/visual experience. FaceTime on iPhone 4 is stunning but a little gimmicky – on iPad it would be usable enough to make me want every chat to be a Facetime chat. More importantly, it would be like living in Star Trek, which would be cool.

iLife for iOS

Making iWork touch-friendly was an incredible achievement, and the quality and functionality of Pages, Numbers and Keynote on iPad just gets better and better with each update. Imagine, then, how toe-curlingly-awesome iLife could be on the iPad! Editing and sharing photos with a few swipes and finger-taps would be child’s play, while iMovie and Garage Band feel like they’ve been designed for touch since day one.

Thinner, Lighter, Stronger

I did promise I’d get to this one, and, if I’m really honest, I think this one is the most crucial upgrade Apple can make to iPad. Don’t get me wrong; the iPad is gorgeous. The iPad is practical. But the iPad is also heavy. If you don’t have a stand or empty lap available, cradling the thing in one arm soon starts to feel like hard work. I don’t doubt that Apple explored plastic versions of iPad (and perhaps, in keeping with the evolution of the iPhone, a plastic-bodied iPad is on the way) and I don’t deny that the current aluminum chassis provides for exceptional strength and rigidity. But so, too, could carbon fibre composite, without the arm-strain.

Side-Mounted Dock Connector

Speaks for itself, this one. A side-mounted dock connector won’t just make it possible to dock, sync and charge iPad in landscape orientation, but will also increase the range of design possibilities for third-party products. The problem, of course, is that it would mean yet another cavity in the otherwise unbroken lines of the device. I’m not sure Mr Jobs would tolerate that.

3G Radio As Standard

Since the second-generation iPhone, every iPhone has featured a 3G radio. That makes sense for a phone, but it also makes sense for a portable computer that relies heavily on cloud-based data to get things done. We don’t live in a Wi-Fi everywhere world (yet), so including a 3G chip as a standard feature of every model of iPad seems perfectly reasonable. Oh, and, I’d very much like it to be free 3G, too. Surely AT&T won’t have a problem with that, will they?

User Profiles

This is something that would never make sense on a device as small and personal as a cell phone. But despite what some people might say, the iPad is far more than an overgrown cell phone. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to buy an iPad for every member of my family. Until I can, password protected user profiles would make iPad sharing far less stressful; I wouldn’t have to worry about my five-year old godson accidentally mucking-up my calendar entries, or deleting emails… while my partner could play games without wiping out my top-scores. I’m sure Apple would prefer we all just buy an iPad each, but that’s not likely to happen any day soon, unless prices come way, way down.

So there you have a few humble suggestions for iPad 2. I honestly struggled to find areas needing improvement, and consider that an indicator of the attention to detail Apple paid the first time around. I’d love to know what you think needs to improve, but as you leave your suggestions in the comments, here’s a challenge to bear in mind; avoid suggesting changes to the iOS software unless they’re game-changers for the iPad alone.

Categories: Apple, ipad Tags:
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