20 Tech Habits to Improve Your Life

20 Tech Habits to Improve Your Life (Continued)

10. Create Your Own Price-Protection System
Deal search engines such as RetailMeNot.com or SearchAllDeals.com and social sites like BeatThat are great at finding the best prices before you buy, but PriceProtectr.com and similar services will save you money afterward by monitoring over 130 stores that have price-protection policies. If the price goes down after your purchase, that store might owe you money, but knowing whether the price went down is the trick. You can take advantage of Amazon's 30-day price guarantee by going to RefundPlease.com, or by using the free Amazon Price Watch software. Travel sites like Farecast and Orbitz also have price-protection systems and e-mail alerts for when prices reach a certain low point.

11. Consolidate Multiple E-Mail Addresses With Gmail
You have more e-mail addresses than you do pairs of socks--so it makes sense to keep them all in one drawer. If you have mail coming to your ISP's account, your work address, your school address, and your throwaway Yahoo account from 1998, and you're having difficulty juggling everything, it's time to consolidate all those messages into one inbox. Google's free Web-based Gmail service is both an e-mail host and an e-mail client. Use Gmail's built-in Mail Fetcher to retrieve messages from up to five external e-mail accounts using the POP3 standard. In Gmail's Settings area, visit the Accounts tab to set up your external e-mail addresses, and you'll then receive all your mail in one roomy inbox. You can even send mail from your non-Gmail addresses via Gmail's Compose screen, too.

12. Never Forget a Birthday, Teeth Cleaning, or Oil Change Again
When you're tired of scrambling to send Mom flowers at the last minute every year, set up a scheduled e-mail reminder for her birthday--and for any other long-term recurring tasks. Google Calendar can send upcoming-event alerts via SMS ("Pick up the dry cleaning at 3 p.m. today") or e-mail ("Schedule a hair appointment; it's been six weeks!"). Most Web-based calendars (like Google Calendar) and task managers (like Remember the Milk), as well as Web sites such as HassleMe and Sandy, support e-mail alerts.

13. Never Forget a Password Again
Your Web browser can save your user name and password for sites you log in to often, but you still have lots of other passwords to remember--Wi-Fi network names and passwords, computer log-ins, PINs and passphrases, even security questions and answers. Instead of writing everything down on a sticky note tacked onto your computer monitor, lock up your store of sensitive passwords in a secure, encrypted password database. The free KeePass works in Windows, Mac, and Linux, and assigns one master password to your database. Park your passwords, PINs, and software serial numbers in your personal secure database, and save yourself the hassle of having to call the IT department the umpteenth time to reset your password.

14. Encrypt Your Private Files
Everyone has a folder or two of private files that thieves, children, competitors, coworkers, or casual passersby should never see. Whether you want to secure your stealth startup's business plan or some personal photos, the free, cross-platform TrueCrypt encryption software (review; download) is ideal for storing sensitive files in a password-protected virtual container. Only someone with the master password can open that container and read or write the files within; to everyone else, it's a nondescript single file full of jumbled-up junk. TrueCrypt can secure a single folder on your hard drive, or an entire disk--it's great for a thumb drive carrying precious data that could be exposed if the drive is lost or stolen.

15. Stream Content From Your PC to Your Tivo, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, or Wii
You don't need yet another box under your TV in the living room to enjoy your digital music and videos. If you own a game console or TiVo box, you're ready to start streaming media from your PC today--no Apple TV or set-top media box needed. Find out how to get started.

Microsoft also recently announced that, by this holiday season, Xbox 360 owners who are also Netflix subscribers will be able to stream "thousands of movies" using just their game console. In the meantime, you can stream Netflix movies from your PC to your Xbox 360 with the vmcNetFlix plug-in.

16. Get Your TV and Music Fix Online
Forget basic cable--there's plenty of free TV available to watch online. If you don't want to catch your favorite shows at the networks' own Web sites, hit up sites such as Hulu, Joost, and Comcast's Fancast to get your full-episode TV fix. Also: Stream music for free to your computer from Last.fm, Pandora (both available on the iPhone), Deezer, or Slacker.

If you're on the road and missing your TiVo, use a place-shifting device such as the Sling Media Slingbox or Sony LocationFree to watch your own DVR content online.

17. Reach Favorite Sites and Searches Faster With Firefox Keywords
You probably hit the same Web sites and search engines several times a day. Why not get to those pages as quickly as possible? Instead of typing out long URLs by hand or hunting down the right search box, use Firefox keyword bookmarks to navigate to your favorite Web haunts instantly (here's how to set them up).

To search Wikipedia for George Washington, for example, you could key up to Firefox's address bar (Ctrl-L), type w George Washington, and press Enter to go directly to that topic page. You can use the same technique for Web pages that don't involve searches, too--for example, try setting the compose keyword to open a new Gmail message. To associate a keyword to a bookmark, enter a short, easy-to-remember keyword in the bookmark's Properties dialog box. Once you've set up a few keywords, you can use your Firefox address bar as a powerful, customized command line.

Bonus tip: Sync your Firefox bookmarks from home to the office to the laptop using the Foxmarks extension; it will keep your keyword vocabulary up-to-date wherever you're working.

18. Tweak, Monitor, and Extend Your Wi-Fi Network With a Firmware Upgrade (or Aluminum Foil)
Extend your router's signal, throttle your bandwidth, review usage charts, and more with an open-source router-firmware upgrade. The free DD-WRT and Tomato firmware each offer advanced features for managing your wireless network, including bandwidth monitors, quality-of-service graphs, and even router overclocking to extend your signal.

Want to make your Wi-Fi router's signal reach the attic and the basement the low-tech way? Some sites say they've achieved gains by fashioning a foil "windsurfer" parabola and attaching it to the router antenna.

19. Master Search Techniques to Pinpoint Files or Web Sites
Drill down through millions of search results for popular Google search terms by mastering advanced search operators. Enclose phrases and proper names in quotes (as in "Don't tase me bro" or "Michael Phelps") to get exact-phrase matches. Use the + and - signs to specify meaning, especially for words that have more than one definition (for example, salsa -dance), and use the filetype: operator to find certain kinds of documents (as in budget filetype:xls).

You can even search for all the ingredients in your fridge with the word recipe to figure out what to have for dinner tonight.

Then, take your search chops to your desktop, where organizing files in an elaborate folder scheme is no longer necessary. Use Windows Vista's Saved Search folders to build a dynamic store of all the files that contain the term "NYC," for instance, or all the digital photos taken on your birthday.

Gmail's built-in e-mail search capabilities are also killer. Use the from:, to:, and subject: operators to find specific messages, as in from:"Bill Gates" subject:"dinner date".

20. Print Smart to Reduce Costs
You've already paid an arm and a leg to refill your home printer, so get into some smart printing habits to save money on ink and paper. Wherever possible, preview your document before you print, and shrink the selection down to fewer pages, or print only the pages you need in the document. Set your printer to the lowest quality (draft mode) when possible, and opt for double-sided printing or print several pages per physical page (when you're printing out PowerPoint slides, for example). When you're printing Web pages, use the Aardvark Firefox add-on to delete big colorful advertisements and other unwanted elements before you print. When you don't really need a hard copy, opt to print to a PDF document instead. Mac users can do this by default; Windows users can download the free CutePDF to print any document to PDF.

Gina Trapani is the lead editor of Lifehacker.com and the author of Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better (Wiley, 2008).

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