Sync Files and Folders Outside Your My Dropbox Folder

The popular cross-platform file-syncing application Dropbox is a hit among Lifehacker readers, but it has one major drawback: It only syncs files placed inside the My Dropbox folder. Here’s how to get around that limitation.

In order to sync files and folders that live outside the My Dropbox folder, you need to create a symbolic link between the My Dropbox folder and the folder on your drive that you want to sync. Symbolic links are sort of like shortcuts, so if you had a folder called SyncMe that lived on your desktop, you’d create a symbolic link that made it appear as though SyncMe also lived inside the My Dropbox folder. This process varies depending on your operating system. On Windows:

Use either the JUNCTION utility from Sysinternals, or the MKLINK command built in to Windows Vista and Server 2008, for example:

 junction "C:\Documents and Settings\User\My Documents\My Dropbox\DesiredFolder" "C:\Path\To\DesiredFolder"
 mklink /D "C:\Users\Steve\Documents\Dropbox\DesiredFolder" "C:\Path\To\DesiredFolder"

Or, if you prefer a GUI, install Link Shell Extension.

[You could also] use SyncToy to echo changes from another folder to your Dropbox folder. This keeps 2 copies on disk though.

On OS X or Linux, try the following:

Use the ln command, for example:

 ln -s /path/to/desired-folder ~/Dropbox/desired-folder 

This works with files too:

 ln -s /path/to/desired-file ~/Dropbox/desired-file 

Another easy way to do this with Terminal is type the ln -s part, then from Finder drag the folder/file that you want into the Terminal window then drag the Dropbox folder and hit return.

Note that an Alias file or folder does not work.

The wiki also offers an Automator workflow to streamline the process if you’re using OS X. If this syncing obstacle has held you back from using Dropbox, give these symbolic links a try. If this seems like too much of a hassle, previously mentioned Syncplicity and a few other popular file-syncing apps have user-defined sync folders baked in.

Build Your Own Plant-Boosting LED Light Spikes

For indoor plants, winter is a harsh time. Buying specialty grow lights can give your air-boosting indoor plants the right light and temperature, or you can build your own long-lasting, nifty-looking LED light spikes.

Popular science details the parts and simple wiring steps needed to create the light spikes, which can be made from any clear container and hooked up and controlled as single units or chained into a system. No soldering or other intense electrical work appears to be needed, and with an LED controller, you’ll get a great deal more control over how long, how bright, and what times your plants are getting their fake sunlight. It’s a good idea to team up the LED lights with actual sunlight, using your spikes (or other light shapes) to cover the night hours. Check out the parts list, arrange your plants for circuit lighting, and remember that your natural air cleaners will need some water, too. Thanks, Slater!

Properly Erase Your Physical Media

A whopping 40% of the used hard drives on eBay contain easily recoverable personal data. Use the following guide to ensure your personal data never makes it out into the wild. Photo by AMagill.

Kessler International, a computer forensics company from New York, conducted a study of used hard drives available on eBay. Almost half of the hundred drives they sampled, purchased in random bulk lots, contained data that was easily recovered. A shocking amount of them required no more recovery effort than plugging them in and powering up. They found personal photos, financial records, emails, personal and corporate correspondence, corporate secrets, and more:

“The average person who knows anything about computers could plug in these disks and just go surfing,” Kessler said. “I know they found a guy’s foot fetish on one disk. He’d been downloading loads and loads of stuff on feet. With what we got on that disk — his name, address and all of his contacts — it would have been extremely embarrassing if we were somebody who wanted to blackmail him.”

While you may not be particularly worried about the world finding out about your curious interest in Manolo Blahniks, nobody should run the risk of their personal and financial data leaking into the wild when it is so easily prevented. Photo by makani5.

Understanding File Deletion

The first step in securing your data is bolstering your understanding of how data is stored and what happens when you delete it. Many people operate under the impression that when they delete a file it’s gone, as though they had torn a page from a book. But the way most operating systems handle such events is by simply removing the little marker that points to the file. That’s more like having information written on a chalk board in columns, each column labeled with a header, and then simply erasing that header to signify that column is “deleted” and available for future writing over. Anyone who looks at the board can read everything written in the column, until someone starts writing over it.

What does this mean for your data privacy? It means a computer-savvy middle school student could recover a filed deleted in Windows, with little effort and widely available freeware tools. You need tools that will actually wipe the chalk board clean.

Secure Deletion and File Overwrite

Overwriting the data on a disk with other data is a strong defense against the original data being recovered. There is an enormous amount of misinformation about the process of secure file deletion and overwriting, however.

There’s no sense in wasting your time and electricity performing elaborate file deletion rituals that won’t yield you any additional benefit. An excellent example of the high effort/low yield relationship that can sometimes occur in secure deletion is the Gutmann Method. The Gutmann Method was deisgned by Peter Gutmann and Colin Plumb in the 1990s, and is held up by many as a gold standard for disk wiping. It’s also intensely time consuming and could easily take weeks to wipe a single modern drive of moderately high capacity. The image, above right, shows a screen capture of the 35-pass Gutmann Method taking fourteen days. Turns out the majority of that time would be a complete waste, as pointed out by Gutmann:

In the time since this paper was published, some people have treated the 35-pass overwrite technique described in it more as a kind of voodoo incantation to banish evil spirits than the result of a technical analysis of drive encoding techniques. As a result, they advocate applying the voodoo to PRML and EPRML drives even though it will have no more effect than a simple scrubbing with random data. In fact performing the full 35-pass overwrite is pointless for any drive since it targets a blend of scenarios involving all types of (normally-used) encoding technology, which covers everything back to 30+-year-old MFM methods

In other words, a user who wastes a week of clock cycles and electricity furiously scrubbing a disk would have been just as well served to perform a simple overnight scrub with a series of random binary code. Photo by joebeone.

There are several methods for securely deleting files from your disks. Institutions like the Department of Defense, universities, and law enforcement agencies have created standards for what they would consider adequate scrambling of sensitive disk data. We’ve recommended some tools over the years that cut the same profile, or close to, their methods. Below is a list of tools, arranged by severity and operating system:

Total Disk Wipe – All Platforms

  • Darik’s Boot and Nuke – an open-source boot disk utility (read: works on nearly any computer) that supports a wide variety of disk wiping methods and operates from inside the computer’s RAM, allowing it to scrub the disk thoroughly at a remove.

Selective File Wipe – Windows

  • Wipe File – Portable application that overwrites the specific disk space occupied by the file you’d like erased and leaves the rest of the disk untouched.
  • DeleteOnClick – Integrates with the Windows shell, adding a “Securely Delete” option to the right click menu which engages a Department of Defense 5220.22-M overwrite on the files.
  • Eraser – In addition to securely deleting individual files, Eraser can be scheduled to perform regular overwrites of empty disc space ensuring you catch those orphan files hanging outside the reach of Windows.

Selective File Wipe – Mac OS X

  • Permanent Eraser – Although Mac users have had the “secure empty trash” option, based on a multiple pass DoD method, since OS 10.3, Permanent Eraser offers peace of mind for those needing more assurance.

Selective File Wipe – Linux (Ubuntu)

Symphony of destruction: The physical method

While using the above utilities will render your data unreadable to an almost guaranteed level of certainty—especially if you’re pretty sure there’s no black helicopters nearby—there is no surer way to dispose of your data than physical destruction. When a disk has run out its life cycle, it’s time to bring out the tools.

While it’s easy to throw a CD or DVD into shredder and be done with it, outside of commercial disk-disposal centers, there aren’t many hard drive shredders. This is where—safety glasses donned—the fun begins.

There are a multitude of ways to physically damage a hard drive for data securing, ranging from careful dissection to shotgun jamboree. The ultimate goal is to render the disk inoperable and the platters—at minimum—severely fragmented. Serious forensic efforts can throw a lot of resources toward piecing your drive together, but in most situations, you’ll be covered with a concentrated destruction effort. At this point in the data-protection game, the only limit to how inoperable your disk will become is the amount of time you want to invest in destroying it. A power drill sent through the platter takes but a few minutes, a 10-minute session with a hammer and some scissors can work wonders, and every effort you take above and beyond adds a bit more security. Photos by scragz.

You can never be too vigilant with your data. The amount of effort it takes to securely wipe a disk or decommission an old disc by physically destroying it pales in comparison to the time and headaches you’ll burn through undoing the damage of identity theft—or worse. If you have a technique or handy piece of software not mentioned here, please share in the comments below to help your fellow readers keep their data secure.

Jason Fitzpatrick is the Weekend Editor for Lifehacker and all around paranoid about data security. On his watch, many a hard drive has been retired with a rifle crack.

Five Best Movie Cataloging Tools

It’s easy to lose track of DVDs and downloaded videos in a big collection. To keep better tabs on your visual stuff, check out our top five finalists for best movie cataloging tools.

Photo by Andres Rueda.

Earlier this week we asked you to share your favorite tool for managing your movie collections. After tallying your favorite cataloging tools, we’re back to share the top five contenders. Unlike many of the Hive Fives where all the tools are freeware, several of the reader favorites in this list were paid commercial releases. The price and supported operating system are noted beside each entry.

Delicious Library / Mac OS X / $40

Delicious Library was a popular candidate for organizing movies, but this app can cover a lot more of your organizing needs. Users can gather and catalog anything they can assign tags and attributes to—books, movies, music, glass gnome figurines, exotic ale collections, you get the picture. On the movie side of things, it excels in the ease of use and visual appeal category. Movies are pleasingly arranged, face-out style, on a virtual bookshelf. The virtual shelf isn’t just eye candy however. Using the Smart Shelves system you can create a nearly infinite variety of displays based on search expression. Want a swank wall of cover art that displays all your Western movies from the 1960s and 1970s, or a tribute shelf to Neil Flynn? A simple boolean this and that in the Smart Shelves search will whip it up. Delicious Library supports manual importing or—as the screenshot here demonstrates—you can simply hold the barcode of your item right up to your web cam to import it. Your library can be exported and published on the web, or even shared with friends through your own website or Bonjour, if they are on the same network. In addition to a robust cataloging feature set, Delicious Library even has a super quick process for listing your items for sale on if you want to convert some of your unused media into cash. Photo by J_O_I_D.

DVD Profiler / Windows / $30

DVD Profiler is a commercial application, but with a generous trial. All the features of the program, save for high resolution cover art, are available for the the first 50 movies you enter into the program. Beyond 50, you need a $30 license. What features are packed into DVD Profiler? You can add movies by UPC or title, the app provides results as you type in titles, and usually offers multiple versions to fit the exact edition you have. You can search your movie collection by all manner of filters, like cast and crew or release date. Data geeks can generate serious charts highlighting the miscellanea of prices paid, genre type break-downs, years of release, and other data sets and combinations. DVD Profiler also lets you track movies you wish to own, have on order, or have lent out to friends. If you’re at a loss for what to watch, the interactive Movie Pick feature uses variables like your personal ratings, critical reviews, and time since you’ve watched a movie last to suggest a movie from your collection.

Collectorz Movie Collector / Windows & Mac OS X / $30

Movie Collector sports many of the features available among other cataloging applications here, such as support for bar code scanning, the ability to export the collection, and advanced searches for drilling down through your media. Movie Collector also has support for television series and boxed sets, including specifics on which episode is on which disc and in which part of the box. Like DVD Profiler, Movie Collector supports tagging you movies as owned, on order, and on your wish list. Unfortunately, several of the features that are included in the other applications on this list are only available in the Pro version of Movie Collector, which will run you an additional $20.

Libra / Windows / Free

If you’re a Windows user, and seeing apps like Delicious Library leave you muttering words like “Apple-only,” “pretty,” and “stupid,” calm your nerves and peek at Libra. The Windows app shares more than a few similarities with Delicious Library, and can manage more than just your movie collection. You can import your collection from other cataloging apps, enter items by scanning the bar codes on a web cam or actual scanner, or enter your titles manually. Libra has built in loan tracking, list creating tools for web posting, and an old-fashioned paper catalog print-out of your titles. Oh, and Libra also has the distinction of being among the free-as-in-beer applications in this list.

Eric’s Movie Database / Windows / Free

Eric’s Movie Database is the smallest in scale, by far, of the applications in this week’s Hive Five. Weighing in at just under 1MB, Eric’s Movie Database is surrisingly effective for its spartan stature. If you’re not looking for a flashy movie catalog, but want something a bit easier and more graphical than manually hacking together a spreadsheet, Eric’s Movie Database is a great choice. You can search by cast, crew, director, or your own search terms. Cover art is grabbed from the International Movie Database, or you can supply your own if you want better quality. You can import and export your database as a text or HTML file, and for good reason—although you have to install and extract Eric’s Movie Database, changes are written to its local directory, making the application semi-portable. Like Libra, Eric’s Movie Database is free.

Now that you’ve seen the top contenders for this week’s Hive Five, it’s time to log your vote to determine who the king of the movie heap will be:

If you have tips and tricks, software or otherwise, for corralling movies or other media, sound off in the comments below and help your fellow readers whip their media collections into shape.

Top 10 Outlook Boosters

Outlook is such a fixture of office and computer life, its potential as a central life-organizing inbox is easily taken for granted. Empower your Outlook with these add-ons, link-ups, and data management techniques.

10. Never forget attachments

It’s not that it’s so difficult to re-send an email with the attachment you forgot last time—it’s just a bit embarassing to do it, in front of all those recipients. Skip the forehead-smacking with Lifehacker reader Troy’s Outlook Attachment Reminder, a VBScript that checks messages for the word “attach” and its variations and then looks for a certain number of attachments. No attachments present? A little pop-up asks if you’re sure you didn’t forget something. Small, helpful, and great at keeping your e-name in good standing.

9. Pin a transparent calendar to the desktop

Outlook on the Desktop is one of those little software utilities that are tough for headline-writing Lifehacker editors—the name explains exactly what it does!—but great for anyone who uses it. The utility embeds a transparent calendar with all your appointments onto your Windows desktop, giving you the same kind of at-a-glance awareness as those giant paper calendars made for the physical desktop you put your computer on. The app requires .NET 2.0, but installs it if you don’t have it already.

7. Use Quick Parts for automatic text/image entry

You’ve explained how to grab files from the office intranet more than a dozen times already. Save yourself another pic-and-text time-waster with Quick Parts, an Outlook 2007 feature that our own How-To Geek has thoroughly walked through as a serious time saver. Whether it’s a simple note about your new contact information or an illustrated guide to office refrigerator policies, you’ll never feel a sense of email deja vu again.

Tweak it to be quickly, regularly emptied

Out of the box, Outlook is designed to make sure you see all your mail, not help you act on and get rid of it. Our founding editor is not one to leave things set to default, though, so she compiled a list of tweaks to empty an Outlook inbox faster. Folders, toolbars, item counts, add-ons—everything in Outlook can use a little fine-tuning for a no-worry, on-time data flow.

Kill your duplicate contacts

People move, addresses change, typos are made, and the end results is your contacts list looking like a database engineer’s nightmare. has a straight-forward and quick system for killing the dupes, and our Outlook-savvy users dug it. They also, however, recommend Anti-Dupe, a freeware app that does much of the same kind of smart contact cleaning.

Marry Gmail and Outlook the proper way

They were certainly weren’t born under the same sign, but your web-centered Gmail and desktop-focused Outlook can live in astral harmony. The How-To Geek’s Gmail IMAP in Outlook 2007 guide explains the settings needed for both Gmail and Outlook, and explains how you can use each platform’s features—flagging an email in Outlook, for example, can star the same in Gmail, and the Large Mail folder makes for a handy clean-up tool.

Defer your email sending (for many good reasons)

Maybe you’ve finally finished your magnum opus message, but you don’t want to send it out at 2:13 a.m. and have your recipients wonder about your sanity. Perhaps you want to be out of the office when your message about the new coffee pricing hits inboxes. In those and many other situations, delaying your email sending can be a great idea. You can change the options on each individual message to delay a sending, as we’ve explained, but the How-To Geek (this guy really knows his Outlook, eh?) offers a compelling argument for delaying all Outlook messages by something like five minutes. That way, you’ve always got at least a few deep breaths’ time to go back and fix Exactly What You Think About Steve and similar messages.

Team up with OneNote for universal capture greatness

OneNote doesn’t get a lot of love around these parts—we’re pretty partial to Evernote and other go-anywhere solutions. But Microsoft’s integrated capture system can fill in everywhere that Outlook doesn’t quite fit. As explained in a 7Breaths post, OneNote can serve as the container for all the stuff that gets thought up, sent to you, and collected, to eventually end up on the “hard” Outlook calendar and reminder setup. Or it can serve as the go-between for your personal and career schedules. Either way, OneNote features lots of other cross-Office-product magic. For a good primer on getting going with OneNote, check out Jason’s guide to using OneNote as a note-taking power tool.

Add all kinds of greatness with Xobni

In the realm of Can’t Believe They Haven’t Been Bought Yet, free Outlook helper app Xobni rates pretty high (they’ve even got a Bill Gates statement on their home page!). One download gives you a look at all your email in/out data, fuller contact cards, speedy indexed search that also remembers corporate hierarchy (so you can find, for instance your contact’s secretary), Gmail-like conversation threads, and a lot more, as demonstrated in this video:

Sync Outlook to Nearly Any App/Device/Calendar

No matter where you go or what you have to type on, Outlook’s calendar can be available for your appointment-checking acccess. The best ways to get your Outlook data into the cloud is one of two steps (or both):

  • Google Calendar (and then out from there): Google Calendar Sync – The background desktop app quietly syncs your Outlook happenings to Google Calendar, though only your primary calendar at the moment. In turn, having a Google Calendar copy of everything gives you all kinds of access, since GCal uses the iCal standard to share calendars, and offers lots of other connectivity options—Collaboration for iCal, gCalSync for tons of supported phones, Google Sync specifically for Blackberry phones, and many more apps. We’ve also featured CalGoo and KiGoo as workable Outlook-to-GCal-and-back solutions.
  • Phones, Macs, Highrise, etc.: Soocial – This free (at least while in public beta) app suite promises to keep lots of your data buckets in sync across multiple lines. Outlook, Gmail, Blackberries, Mac Contacts, regular phones—they’re all covered, although some of them will require a download or plug-in. Basically, wherever an Outlook-to-Google solution doesn’t work, Soocial might fit the bill.

We’ve covered a lot of Outlook jujitsu techniques over the years, and we’re sure our readers have adapted their own higher-level workflows with the corporate staple. How do you get things done inside Outlook? What tools are indispensible for managing the Office tool? Tell us everything in the comments.

Mozilla Bespin Is a Killer Web-Based Text Editor

The folks behind Firefox have unveiled a new project today called Bespin, an extensible, web-based text editor that lives in the cloud.

At first blush, Bespin may not seem all that special—after all, web-based word processors are a dime a dozen these days. But Bespin isn’t just another word processor. Primarily, Bespin is a text editor—the kind you’d use for editing code or managing text-based todos. Using Bespin, developers could collaborate on projects through a unified interface (that still supports plugins!) no matter where they are—so long as they’ve got a browser.

That’s not to say that Bespin won’t also make for a killer word processor someday, too. Like I said, it’s built to be extensible much like Firefox is, so a user could conceivably install a plugin that would turn Bespin into a straight-up word processing app, too. The point, though, is that Bespin is full of potential.

There are tons of really cool things happening with Bespin, so be sure to watch the video for a detailed look or sign up at the Bespin homepage and try out the demo. Developers and plain text lovers, let’s hear if you think Bespin could someday replace your favorite text editors in the comments.

Build a Custom-Made BoxeeBox

DeviceGuru blogger Rick Lehrbaum, inspired by the cheaper set-top boxes, made his own higher-powered “BoxeeBox” for the free, open-source media center. He posted all the parts, the how-to details, and lots of pictures.

It’s not a truly cheap project—Rick’s total cost was about $610, without tax—but it does result in a serious computer that doesn’t look bad in an entertainment center, has outputs for any A/V equipment you’ve got, and has enough muscle not to choke or stutter on really high-def stuff.

The full details, specs, and hardware list are at the DeviceGuru blog. If you’re keen on following Rick’s lead but lack the hardware know-how, our founding editor just posted a first-timer’s guide to building a computer from scratch that can help you along. We’ve also shown you the cheaper, slim-and-sleek way to cut the cable for good with Boxee and Apple TV, but the “BoxeeBox Cookbook” will set you up for potential cable bill savings as well. It’s worth noting, though, that since this Boxee runs on Linux, a few compatability issues, like streaming, could pop up here and there.

To-Dos, Weather, and Twitter on a Linux Desktop

Reader Dave, inspired by our posts on the Linux desktop tool Conky, keeps tasks, weather, and even Twitter replies on hand, along with a stylish clock. Here’s how you can re-create and modify his setup.

The picture up top was patched together from a full-size screenshot of Dave’s desktop; unfortunately, his 1920-pixel-wide setup is a bit too big to host in readable full view. But here’s a scaled-down idea of how Dave’s setup looks on his desk:

Dave modified a wood-panel shot from Flickr to his own tastes; alas, neither he nor we could track down the original source (or license terms) to give credit. His conky setup, however, works and looks pretty great on any background, with most any theme used. Anyways, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of getting this gear on your desktop.

First up, you’ll need to install a few things. If you’re not already using Conky, install it; it’s a standard in almost every major Linux distribution, so check your package manager. Secondly, install curl, a command-line URL tool that facilitates Dave’s scripts. Again, it’s a pretty standard app, so most distributions should have it available in their app installers.

Download the two .conkyrc configuration files (you’ll see why there are two later) and scripts for grabbing Remember the Milk tasks, Twitter replies, and BBC weather. Right click and save this link:


Extract the files into a folder. Make sure you can see hidden files (Control+H or View->Show Hidden Files for Ubuntu users), then grab the .conkyrc and .conkyrc2 files and drop them in your home directory. You’ll be asked to overwrite at least your default .conkyrc file; back up your default file or customized file if you’d like to, but copy both of Dave’s files in. Next, create or find a folder to hold the three script files–bbcweather, rtm, and twittersearch—and put them there.

Fire up your favorite text editor and point it at that .conkyrc file in your home directory (Ubuntu users, that would mean something like typing gedit ~/.conkyrc into a terminal or Alt+F2 prompt). Scroll all the way to the bottom and edit the three folder paths that point to Dave’s own script folders to match where you put those three script files. My last line, for example, would read:

${font Sans:size=10}${execi 600 /home/purdman/scripts/rtm}

Before you jump out of there, make sure to also change the @davmac bit to your own Twitter name (or kill out that entire section if you’re skipping the micro-blog updates).

Now head over to the three scripts you stashed away, and open up the rtm and bbcweather files. Dave explains in each file how to tweak them; the one thing I’d add is to remember to pull off the “<” and “>” brackets off the username and password sections of the rtm script.

Finally, if you dig the font Dave used for his lower-right clock, you’ll have to install it. It’s FFF Tusj, and you can download it at Following the instructions at the Ubuntu wiki, you can drop that font file in one of four locations, then enter sudo fc-cache -f -v into a terminal to re-compile your font database. You can, of course, use any font you want for the clock, and the default used without FFF Tusj installed is pretty practical as well.

Whew! Now that your done configuring, it’s relatively simple to launch this setup. Dave uses two launch commands to get two different Conky windows going:conky for the left-hand data streams, and conky -c .conkyrc2 to manually launch and point Conky to his other, right-hand display.

As Dave points out, all three of the scripts are highly configurable, since they’re grabbing data that’s publicly available. You could, for example, re-point the Remember The Milk streamer to grab your incomplete tasks from a certain list, your high-priority items tagged @car, and so on. And one could fairly easily combine these data streams with the kind seen on other Conky setups, like the Gmail and Yahoo weather icons from this beautifully minimalist setup, or the Google Calendar and current song data from our guide to customizing Conky.

Got a killer Conky setup of your own? Digging how Dave’s scripts work on your system? Post your how-tos and screenshots in the comments below.

Reduce Your Rent with This Simple Letter

Property values are down, times are tough, and the Wall Street Journal details how to use the current economic situation to significantly reduce your rent with this simple fill-in-the-blank letter to your landlord. Photo by Editor B.

WSJ’s Mary Pilon and her roommates were none too pleased to discover that their new neighbors had secured a lease for $300 less than their lease, while they received a $100/month hike in their rent. After sending the letter below to her landlord, Pilon shaved $300 off her rent.

To Whom It May Concern:

We’re writing in regards to the renewal of our lease at [insert your address here].

On [date you moved in], we [names of tenants] moved into a unit in the aforementioned property. Since then, property values in Manhattan [replace with your city or neighborhood] have declined by 5.6% for two-bedrooms units, much more steeply than the nationwide drop of 0.4%. Further, apartment vacancies overall rose to 6.6% in the quarter from 5.7% a year earlier. [I used footnotes here to cite the WSJ story. I suggest also putting in data about your local market from local papers, etc..] Economists and real estate experts predict the decline to continue through 2009-2010.

In our building, that has meant facing an empty unit for several months. Units similar to ours have been rented in recent months to tenants with credit scores and incomes lower than ours at even cheaper rates than what we’ve paid. A rent hike seems inconsistent with recent market conditions and unfair to paying tenants like us with flawless records.

We’ve confirmed that a unit nearly identical to ours is renting at $2,350 a month for a one-year lease. We ask that our lease, at the least, should match that. This would satisfy your interest in keeping our unit occupied and our interest in staying in our apartment at a reasonable rate. Ideally, a discount would be lowering our rent to $2,100 a month for a one-year lease. [At first, I thought this was too bold, but I’m glad I started low.]

As one property manager recently told The Wall Street Journal: “If they’re good payers, we will give them a discount.” Here we are, good payers, asking for a reasonable discount. The $50 off our current rate [original manager] and Ms. Pilon spoke about is inconsistent with other rates in our building and current market activity and projections.

We look forward to continuing the conversation and hearing from you shortly.

[Names and contact information of tenants here]

Seems simple enough, right? Give the WSJ article a read to for a few more tips and details on how the author handled her landlord, and if you’ve done your own rent negotiations, let’s hear how you approached your landlord and how it turned out in the comments.

Windows 7 Upgrade Details for XP and Vista Users

If you’re planning to upgrade your current PC to Windows 7 when Microsoft releases their new OS, there’s good and bad news for XP and Vista users. Here’s a closer look at your upgrade options.

Upgrading from XP to Windows 7

Pros: According to tech site Ars Technica, XP users can purchase a cheaper “upgrade” version of Windows 7, despite XP’s version gap. (Normally only users who purchased the latest OS get the cheaper upgrade option.)

Cons: Windows XP users will have no direct upgrade path. That means that in order to upgrade to Windows 7, you’ll have to do a fresh installation of Windows 7 and manually migrate your files and apps to Win7—so you’ll want to make sure to back up XP before upgrading or just dual boot XP and Windows 7.

Upgrading from Vista to Windows 7

Pros: Unlike XP, Vista users do get a direct upgrade path to Windows 7, so your files and apps should migrate to Win7 without any problems. (You should always backup before upgrading to be safe, and just to hedge your bets, you may also still want to dual boot Vista and Windows 7 rather than installing Windows 7 over Vista.) Vista users will also get the cheaper upgrade price.

Cons: It probably won’t affect most users, but the Vista-to-Windows-7 upgrade paths are actually limited by version in the following ways:

  • Windows Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Windows Vista Business to Windows 7 Professional
  • Windows Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 Ultimate

If you don’t follow one of those three upgrade paths, you’ll have to perform a fresh install.

Be sure to check the Ars post for a more detailed rundown of the differences, including a discussion of the fate of your Windows Vista Ultimate Extras.