Dropbox awesomeness

I’ve been using Dropbox (this is a referral link, as I get extra space, and so do you!) for a few months, and it is just pure awesome! The basic idea of it is, it’s 2GB of free disk space on a web server. Why would I need free web space since I run a web hosting company? I don’t, but Dropbox is much more than just free web space.

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Zapproved Outlook Add-In Turns Emails into Smart Proposals

Windows only: Previously reviewed approval/consensus-helper Zapproved is out with an Outlook 2007 plug-in that turns your standard email drafts into approval requests through the Zapproved system.

As noted before, Zapproved offers a free account that lets you send up to five proposals per month to multiple recipients for approval. They can be as simple as asking your boss for the go-ahead to expense a chair, or team-wide approval of a logo, and the status of each proposal can be tracked at the Zapproved site.

Once you’ve got your account, grab the Outlook add-in and install it. If you don’t have the .NET 3.5 SP 1 Framework installed, it might be a good chunk of minutes (and one restart) until you’re good to go. The add-on also works only for Outlook 2007 at the moment, but the Zapproved team is working on a 2003-compatible edition.

Once you’re up and running, your new email composing windows get a Zapproved button in the upper-left (which can be moved or shrunk). Click the icon to turn a standard email into a Zapproved approval request instead, and you might just save yourself a lot of cross-message confusion. Zapproved takes the text of the email you’re writing and translates it to its system—see the cross-over chart at right for details. Two tiny buttons let you set due dates or project tags on a Zapproved message, and you can save a proposal as a draft for later review.

Zapproved’s Outlook Add-in is free, and requires a Zapproved account. If you’re interested in a premium Zapproved account without restrictions—and soon to host a dedicated iPhone app—enter the coupon code LIFEHACKER while signing up, and you’ll get a decent discount; a $12/month Premium account, for instance, goes down to $6/month.

Jump to a New Career with a Killer Resume and Plan

Whether you’re suddenly unemployed or just looking to change up, starting out in a new career is daunting. Take our advice on how to write—and plan—your way into a new field.

Photo by Yo Spiff.

Why switch careers?

Blogger, career writer, and Brazen Careerist founder Penelope Trunk knows from jumping ship. From her own ups and downs at work, both office-based and freelance, she’s compiled a (relatively) low-stress approach to making the switch. More important: She lists reasons why you should and shouldn’t move on:

Here are some bad reasons to switch careers:
1. You hate your boss. (Switch jobs, not careers.)
2. You want more prestige. (Get a therapist – you’re having a confidence crisis, not a career crisis.)
3. You want to meet new people. (Try going to a bar, or Club Med. What you really want is to get a life. Pick up a hobby.)

Here are some good reasons to switch careers:
1. You want a role that is more creative, more analytic or more management-oriented.
2. You want to live in a location that does not accommodate your current career.
3. You want more flexibility or fewer hours.

Drafting the resume

Now that you’ve set your mind to making the big move, let’s talk text.

Alexandra Levit, career specialist and author of How’d You Score That Gig?, graciously offered to provide some guidance on writing a resume for a new career path:

  • Getting past the minimum requirements: Use a functional format that lists achievements by general skill area. Most fields want your transferable skills, like project management and client relations.

    For example, if you spent a few years working at a toy store, but you want to get into architecture, you might highlight a project management skill and say that you managed a semi-annual special parents night, which included activities geared toward 150 regular customers. You should also focus on results you’ve achieved rather than job responsibilities—so instead of just saying that you sold infant-related toys and merchandise, you could say that you were named as the top infant toy salesperson, generating revenues of approx. $20K. By doing these things, you show that you have the right combination of talent and skills to get the job done, even if you don’t have specific experience in that industry.

  • Avoid looking like a job-hopper: Hold each job for at least a year before you consider a change. Individuals who switch more often become known as chronic job jumpers, and employers either consciously or subconsciously avoid these candidates. Especially in this competitive climate, when a hiring manager sees a resume listing four jobs in three years, he won’t wait to hear your explanation. He’ll think that you can’t hold down a job, and he will move on to the next person.

    If you do have a history of moving around a lot, I suggest removing the months from your chronology line. For example, saying that you worked at a place from 2007-2008 sounds a lot more palatable than November 2007-March 2008. Also, if you have JUST quit a job or have been laid off, say that you have been at your last position from 2006 to present.

As for the rest of your text, we’ll recommend one of the five tactics we’ve suggested to rebuild your resume: Start with a list of reasons why you’re great, then distill it into your resume. All the other stuff—fonts, vertical bars, exact wording of “coffee-grabbing intern”—is just finesse. Start with a blank text editor or sheet of paper, and start throwing down whatever skills you have that the others don’t. By doing so, you form the basis for a punchy, concise resume, and (bonus!) you hone your talking points for your interview. Photo by emdot.

Now onto the cover letter, often as important in getitng a hiring manager’s attention:

Don’t bore your next employer with your layoff story

Cynthia Shapiro, career strategist and author of What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here?, points out to the Wall Street Journal that taking the time to explain your layoff not only wastes cover letter space, but won’t win you many sympathy points these days, as there are a lot of layoff stories to be told.

When applying, avoid expressing bitterness or self-pity. Many layoff victims send cover letters that blame the economy for their job loss, says Ms. Shapiro. There’s no need to even point out the fact that you’ve been laid off. “If your last work day was in October, your résumé will say that,” she explains.

Photo by sunshinecity.

In the same article, an IBM hiring manager notes that in a crowded, competitive group of candidates for a consulting job, what helped her pick the winner was a “can-do attitude.” More importantly, that applicant didn’t make a lot of requests, requirements, or pitch themselves for an exact job doing a precise thing. Get the job first, then work your way into the working environment you dream of.

What to expect (and plan for)

Not to keep hitting on the suck-it-up nail, but crossing into an entirely new realm of experience and work probably requires a bit of sacrifice. To jump-start a stalled job search, you might have to start humble and work your way into career confidence.

Career specialist Levit explains that process in detail for us:

  • Ease into a new career one foot at a time: Perhaps this means earning a paycheck at a more attainable job while doing a part-time internship in your new field, or taking an adult education class or workshop on the weekend. The only way to find out if you’re passionate about something is to try it – ideally with as little risk as you can manage.
  • Remember that any progress is good progress: In the quest to uncover a source of meaningful work, your worst enemy is inertia. Make an effort to do one thing, like e-mailing a networking contact or attending an event, every morning, every day, or before you do something else—that moves you a bit closer to your big-picture goal.
  • Have realistic expectations: Even if you’re lucky enough to finally get and hold a job in your dream career, there’s no such thing as the perfect work situation; dream job doesn’t mean “cushy” job. As your mom always told you, anything worth having in this world requires some effort. There will be some days you feel like shutting the alarm off and going back to sleep, especially if you’re being made to do grunt work at first, but many more ahead where you feel more energized by the prospect of work than you ever thought possible!

Your advice

If you’ve successfully gone from apples to oranges in your career, or even just from apples to different-colored, slightly sweeter apples, by all means—tell us how you got there in the comments.

Queued Is a Fantastic Front End to Netflix

Windows/Mac/Linux: Free application Queued is a desktop application that manages your Netflix queue, whether you’re online or not.

Why would you need a desktop browser for Netflix, you ask? Well, you don’t need one, really. Netflix has a pretty good web site, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better. Queued has an attractive, snappy interface. It’s fast, it’s well laid out, and it even works when you’re not connected to the internet—so you can reorder, add new movies, or browse your queue whether or not you’re online. It achieves this little piece of functionality by downloading and saving every piece of data it can while you’re browsing online—so it saves movie posters, descriptions, search results, and more.

The argument against apps like Queued is always the same: Why do I need a desktop application when I’ve already got the web site? If you’re in that boat, Queued is probably not for you. But if you like the idea of desktop and offline access, notifications, and more, Queued is a nice little idea. (It’d be even better if it could pull off better Watch Instantly integration.) Queued is a free, open-source app, requires Adobe Air.

PropertyShark Dishes the Dirt on Your Future Home

PropertyShark is an astoundingly detailed real estate search engine. By aggregating public records, it provides an in-depth look at individual homes, and the real deal on your potential new neighborhood.

Enter an address into one of the markets currently covered by PropertyShark—it’s unfortunately a little coast-centric at the moment, without much middle-of-the-country coverage. If PropertyShark can access the direct records of the property it will do so; if not, you get a summary of the surrounding area using a nearest-neighbor system. You can review a dizzying amount of information, like the current owners, most recent sale, sales history, assessments, and taxes. There are multiple maps that show how the building you searched for stacks up against the surrounding area, how tall surrounding buildings are, how frequently buildings have been sold, and much more. You can also review charts of the neighborhood with all kinds of breakdowns, such as percentage of households with families and age distributions.

PropertyShark is a handy tool for getting a feel for the neighborhood before investing the time and footwork into actually visiting it. It’s a free service, based on public records.

Todo.txt CLI Manages Your Tasks from the Command Line

Dozens of fancy point-and-click task managers promise to organize your to-do list, but so often power users find that nothing outdoes that trusty old classic: the todo.txt file.

If you’re a command line lover who skips checkboxes and drop-downs to dash off notes and tasks in a regular old text file, or you’re intrigued by the idea and wish your todo.txt chops were stronger, read on.

I’ve been a heavy todo.txt user for years. Back in 2006, I started developing a command line interface (CLI) to my todo.txt which lets me add to and check off items without launching a full-on text editor. Three years of daily (or at least weekly) use later, version 2.0 of the script is now available. It offers basic to advanced commands for managing your todo.txt and other text files you might use to capture information, like ideas.txt or maybelater.txt. Let’s take a look.

Who This Is Meant For: If you’re comfortable working in the terminal, changing permissions on a file, and working with Unix-style text commands, then the todo.txt CLI is for you. If you don’t spend a good amount of time at the command line—either in the Terminal on your Mac, or using a Unix command line or emulator on Windows—you’re going to think this whole thing is arcane and confusing. (In that case, we highly recommend getting organized with Remember the Milk. If you want to boost your command line chops on Windows, check out our introduction to Cygwin.)

You’ve already got CLI religion? Good. Let’s get started on some hot todo.txt command line action.

Quick Start Guide:

  1. Download the Todo.txt CLI 2.0 zip file and extract it. You’ll get two files. Place both todo.cfg (the configuration file) and todo.sh in your home directory.
  2. Open the todo.cfg file with your text editor of choice. Set the TODO_DIR variable to the right path for your setup. For example, on my Windows PC, this line reads:
    TODO_DIR="C:/Documents and Settings/gina/My Documents"
    On my Mac, this line reads:
  3. Make the todo.sh file executable by using the command: chmod +x todo.sh
  4. (OPTIONAL) Alias the letter t to todo.sh to save keystrokes while you use it. In your ~/.bash_profile file, add the line:
    alias t='~/todo.sh'

Now you’re ready to put this script to work!

Basic Usage

Before we start, keep in mind that this CLI isn’t trying to reinvent the text editor. If you want to do big bulk edits to a lot of items in your todo.txt, just open it up in your favorite text editor to do so. But for quick, one-hit access to add items, mark items as complete, or slice and dice your list by project or priority, todo.sh is for you.

For example, to add a line to your todo.txt file, at the command line, type:

$ t add "Pick up milk"

Add a few more items for good measure:

$ t add "Pick up the dry cleaning"
$ t add "Clean out the inbox"

Now, to see all the items on your list, use:

$ t ls

The output will look like this:

$ t ls
03 Clean out the inbox
01 Pick up milk
02 Pick up the dry cleaning
TODO: 3 tasks in C:/Documents and Settings/gina/My Documents/todo.txt.

Now, you can reference each item by its ID—which is actually the line number it lives at in the todo.txt file. For instance, to prioritize task 1 to the highest level—priority A—use this command:

$ t pri 1 A

To mark task 2 as complete, use todo.sh‘s do action:

$ t do 2

Since a video is worth a million words, see this in action in this screencast demonstration of a to-do list you might find for a crew member on Battlestar Galactica. (Go full-screen to see what’s being typed more clearly.)

If this video clip isn’t clear enough for you, try this alternate high-res location.

Advanced Usage

Once you’ve got the basics of working with your todo.txt down, it’s time to dive into more advanced tricks. Here are a few more things this CLI can do.

  • Replace or delete a task; append or prepend text to a line. When you want to re-word a task or add a context, project, or additional info to it, use the replace, append, and prepend actions to do so. For example, add “ready at 3PM” to your “Pick up the dry cleaning task” with this command:

    $ t append 2 "ready at 3PM"

  • See all the contexts and projects in your list. If you’re using the + and @ sign format to signify projects and contexts, use the listcon and listproj (or lsc and lsprj for short) commands to see a short list of all your contexts or projects in your todo.txt.
  • Move items from your todo.txt to another text file. Say you’ve decided that the “Learn how to speak French” task is actually something you’re not quite committed to doing—yet. Use todo.sh‘s mv command to zip that task from todo.txt to another text file in your todo directory. For example, this command will move it into a maybelater.txt file:

    $ t move 10 maybelater.txt

  • List the contents of another text file. Since I got so used to working with todo.txt this way, there’s now support for working with other text files. For example, you can list the contents of your maybelater.txt file using the command:

    $ t listfile maybelater.txt

    Likewise, you can add a line to another file using:

    $ t addto ideas.txt "My bright idea"

    You can also search the contents of another text file by adding a keyword after the list command, ala:

    $ t lf ideas.txt apple

See all the options available to you using the todo.sh -h command. The full usage manual is available here.

Further Info and Related Projects

The todo.txt CLI has lived over at its official homepage, Todotxt.com, for years now, and although I haven’t posted an update there since 2006, an active mailing list of over 500 members is still going strong. Since this project is open source, happily several other todo.txt projects have sprung up over the years, including Task, which offers even more features than my little script does.

If you’re a programmer who wants to add to this script or a user with questions or ideas about the todo.txt CLI, either post them here or consider joining the mailing list for support. For a full history of this script’s development—including its three-year hiatus—see its full changelog.

Think using a command line interface to a text file is insane or fantastic (or both)? Tried out todo.txt? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Gina Trapani, Lifehacker’s founding editor, is still married to her todo.txt file even after a sordid affair with Remember the Milk. Her weekly feature, Smarterware, appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Smarterware tag feed to get new installments in your newsreader.

Mint.com Tracks Your Assets and Total Net Worth

Money management site Mint now lets you track all your physical assets—your house, your car, Aunt Gerdie’s brooch in the safe—along with your finances, giving you a rough look at your total net worth.

The biggest change to Mint.com, the money management webapp we’ve toured and polled as a reader favorite, is that you can now add any asset you’ve got, in addition to your cash and investment accounts, to the site, helping you determine your overall net worth. That might not be such an appealing statistic to have on hand of late, but it does make Mint a more robust manager of your monetary life.

The one apparent drawback to Mint’s asset handling, at least from what I see, is that there’s no depreciation built into it. Especially for cars, that could lead to a misleading sense of what you have on hand. Perhaps Mint will ask you after a year or so if you have a new value for your assets, but it’d be nice to see that kind of assurance up-front.

Check out Mint’s new features, including the opening of the (advertising-partner-driven) Ways to Save area to non-account-holders, in the gallery below:

 The new "My Accounts" section gets a visual overhaul and all-in-one view.  Mint.com can estimate your home's worth using street address look-up, or you enter it manually.  You can add pretty much any valuable item you own to Mint, including cars, electronics, and collectibles.
 The bottom-left column on the main Mint.com screen gives you a final number for your net worth.  Mint's "Ways to Save" section has been opened up to non-account users.

What do you think of Mint’s entry into the all-your-assets arena? What other tools do you prefer for keeping tabs on your valuables and possessions? Trade the links and feedback in the comments.

TrapCall Reveals Who’s Behind Blocked Calls

Free service TrapCall reveals caller ID information from blocked calls, unmasking numbers of blocked calls from telemarketers and prank callers with virtually no extra effort on your part.

TrapCall works like this: When you reject or miss a call, your phone forwards those calls to TrapCall’s toll free number (you have to follow TrapCall’s setup guide to do this). Once sent to TrapCall, the service works its magic on the missed call and then re-routes the call back to you, this time with the caller ID unblocked. If you reject the call a second time, it’ll go straight to your normal voicemail. On the caller’s end, all they hear during this whole process is ringing.

TrapCall offers three tiers of service. The free version does caller ID unmasking and lets you set up unwanted caller blacklists. The other two pay versions offer more features, including voicemail transcription, caller ID names, support, incoming call recording, and more. You’ll need to check with your carrier to see that it supports TrapCall (and also to verify whether or not the service will cost you anything from their end—as call forwarding sometimes does).

The unmasking of blocked calls is great for people frustrated with telemarketers and prank callers, but there is a troublesome side to this service. Namely, as Wired discusses, victims of domestic violence count on caller ID blocking as a form of protection. It’s a serious outside case, to be sure, but for general use, TrapCall does what it says, and it does it well.

Elisa is a Simple, Streamlined Media Center

Windows/Linux: Elisa Media Center doesn’t go in for swooshing sound effects or social networking. This open-source media center puts your music, pictures, and videos on your screen, period. See it live in screenshots below.

We’ve given Elisa a shout-out before, in our guide to operating your computer with Wii controllers, because it works surprisingly well. And it’s gotten a shout-out or two before. But we’re overdue for a look at how Elisa simply puts your non-protected videos, music, and pictures onto your computer or TV screen.

Click on the thumbnails below to get a larger look at how Elisa looks on your screen, along with captioned details on Elisa’s features:

 Elisa's main menu, which spins in smooth fashion between music, movies, pictures, settings, and plug-in management.  From the "Settings" menu, head to "Add Folders" and browse to any folder on your system, or USB devices, that contains stuff you want to watch. Click the "+Add" button next to the folder, and Elisa asks which categories it should go into.  All three of the media menus look something like this, with options to open your local stuff, grab material off your Samba/Windows network shares, or use Internet-enabled plugins (more on those later).
 Elisa's actual media player is fairly minimalist, but does a good job opening nearly any kind of media file. Here it's taking on a DVD I ripped and didn't bother converting.  When you first start Elisa, it spends a lot of time digging through files and searching out related cover art. The results are usually worth it, as seen here.  Flickr, Picasa, Shoutcast, Yes.fm, and other plugins are available right out of the box, and plenty more are available from inside the app and at Elisa's <a href="http://elisa.fluendo.com/plugins">website</a>.
 Here's how Elisa handles a Flickr gallery.  Like its much-revered counterpart <a href="http://boxee.tv">Boxee</a>, Elisa can automatically sort out TV shows and Movies, and stream videos from network locations too.

Elisa is a free download for Windows and Linux systems. I couldn’t get it working on my Windows 7 beta, or (seemingly) activate the plugins in Ubuntu 8.10, but Windows XP worked just fine out of the box. Drop any tips, favorite plugins, or other Elisa advice in the comments.

NBC Direct Offers Free HD Downloads

Windows only: Sure, almost all the offerings on NBC Direct can be watched at streaming site Hulu. But if you’re an HD fiend and want offline access, NBC Direct’s player might be worth checking out.

NBC Direct is definitely powered by DRM and ad-powered software, so if you’re not cool with that, well, you probably know a few other places to look (like, er, Hulu). But if you dig the idea of subscribing to, and downloading higher-quality videos of your favorite NBC shows, it’s not a bad way of getting them guilt-free.

About NBC’s definition of HD:

Standard Quality videos are available for download at 360p resolution while registered myNBC users will have the option to download High Quality video at 720p resolution.

Thanks to wqwert for the clarification!

Installing NBC Direct means downloading a little applet, which then puts an add-on into your Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox browser, and runs a system tray applet to download and watch shows offline. When you’re connected, it seems, you’re also a peer source for other NBC Direct users:

Once the installation starts rolling, you’ll be asked to close down your browser. NBC Direct downloads and plays its shows through your browser, and it plugs in a rights-restricted media handler to do so (pictured at right).

When you launch NBC Direct from a shortcut or by heading to nbc.com/video, you’ll get a pretty easy-to-follow menu of offerings. The full episodes and clips offered tend to follow the Hulu model—usually a few episodes back from the most recently aired episode of current marquee series, and fuller archives of kitsch/nostalgia shows, like Miami Vice. From any video, you can click to download, subscribe to the series (which starts downloads automatically, assuming you haven’t killed the NBC auto-starting tray applet), and switch to bigger views:

Even when you’re “offline” to watch a show, though, you’re getting some ads. The one complaint I’d make about NBC’s video site, versus Hulu, is that they take “fullscreen” to mean something less than literal. Here’s an episode of The Office, in HD, set to “Fullscreen.” There’s actually a bunch more space at the bottom and right-hand side, but I clipped it for Lifehacker page constraints:

If you’re planning to be away from a net connection for a while and want to catch up, NBC Direct’s not a bad option, and it does offer good quality shows for free. It’s free to use, sign-up required.