Thursday, December 20, 2012

Google Calendar for Firefighters (and others)

As a firefighter, I've tried many different ways to get organized.  I've had the nice printed shift calendars that all my co-workers seem to use.  They have a lot of nice features: they're color coded, they tell me all the holidays, the let me write things down on dates that I need to.  They also have little pages with information that I never use, and it just does NOT fit in my pocket.  So I've evolved to using Google's calendar (free with my gmail account).  It allows me to have multiple calendars (Mine, one for my wife, one for my kids' schedules, one for my work shifts, etc).  Now the really cool thing is that my wife and I share each other's calendars, so when I add that doctors appointment or extra shift day to my calendar, it shows up on her phone immediately. 

The real trick to using this calendar system for a firefighter is the scheduling.  I'm one of those 24 on 48 off creatures of the Midwest, so I was able to set my shift up and set it as a repeating event every 3 days.  I also set up the other 2 shifts on two separate other calendars in the same fashion.  (I only used 3 separate calendars because when I started you could only color code calendars, not appointments)  So a few clicks and my 24/48 schedule was instantly plotted out to eternity.  Done right?  Not so fast I had to figure out how to work my kelly days (work reduction days) into the system.  Google only allows you to repeat a daily event every 1-30 days.  I kelly every 17th shift which is actually every 51 days.  This was not an option in google for a repeating event.  So I started entering them in manually..... until I found the tool.  I downloaded Mozilla's Thunderbird email client (free) and then searched the extension / add-ons and found there are several plug-ins to directly edit a google calendar.  I simply followed the instructions to access my calendar, and then I was able to edit my first kelly day event and set repeating to 51 days.  It communicated directly with Google and my kelly days were plotted out to eternity too.  If I edit the event in Google it actually shows a repeat every 51 days, but it could not be set that way from Google's interface.

Hope this helps some of you fellow firefighters.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Favorite Droid Apps 2012

I wanted to share my 7 favorite Android Apps.  As an IT technician as well as the 24 hour helpdesk for my friends and family, it's very convenient to have your tools at your fingertips.  It's even better when your tools are free.  I'll give a brief account of each tool and the uses I've found for it.

  1. Wifi Analyzer - Wifi Analyzer by farproc is an excellent tool to visually see where the best channels for your wifi network are.  The application not only has excellent visual depictions including channel graph, time graph, and signal meter, but it also has a channel rating view which essentially recommends better channels for your network.  I've used this application countless times and it impressed me most when I was able to see my own personal wifi network stacked on the same channel with 4 of my neighbors.  After relocating to a less crowded channel, my wifi is certainly much more reliable and much faster.
  2. Teamviewer - Teamviewer's remote control application works very nicely for their free (for personal use) product.  Even though this is not my remote package of choice for business customers, I use this product to its extreme with my friends and family.  I used to have to pre-load a remote access client to family and friend's computers so that I could assist them when the time came.  Usually they would remove it, or it would go out of date and be a lost cause.  With the teamviewer app however just sending them a link to the quick launch download on Teamviewer's website and they can run a portable remote server without any pesky software installations.  They just tell me the ID and password that the Teamviwer software provides and I'm immediately ready to remote assist them through my trusty droid or PC if I'm near one.
  3. Ping and DNS - Ping & DNS by Ulf Dittmer You wouldn't normally think that it would be necessary to be running ping and dns queries from a phone or tablet, however when your technical skills mandate using these commands, it's really nice to have this free little app which works very well.  The most unfortunate thing about this app is that there isn't a lot to say.  It does a very specific task which IT professionals use regularly, and it does it well!
  4. 2X Client - 2X's free android client not only connects to remote sessions of 2X servers, but also connects to RDP sessions.  This is my app of choice when I remote desktop to a server or workstation.  A well equipped machine with RDP access can give you a tiny remote control with mega power.  When being near a PC just isn't an option, this awesome app gives you commanding control of that desktop.  My favorite feature of this particular app (and I've tried several) is the built in mouse control which gives you a large and easy to maneuver mouse pointer with easy to click left and right mouse buttons.  
  5. Gtasks - Gtasks is small to do list with an easy to use setup.  I'm one of the more forgetful people of the world and I have tried everything from writing on my hand to carrying a spiral notebook with me.  But the Gtasks app on my Droid Razr Maxx keeps me on task.  It features multiple task lists, the ability to setup recurring events, and is able to use the droids native speech to text so you can create your tasks with your voice.  Add to these features that it syncs to your Google tasks and can display your calendar along with your tasks and you've got an IT guy that remembers to pick up the wife's prescription, return his library books, and change the fish bowl water every Sunday without missing it.  I really like the widget for my home screen too.  Gtasks, the only person who loves you more than me is my wife!!
  6. Google Drive - Google's Drive app is the perfect companion to my Gtasks from above.  Drive has the ability to create, view, and edit documents stored in the cloud on your Google account.  Some examples of this are: 
    • my never ending shopping list - I tried this in Gtasks and realized that making a shopping list as a task just wasn't working well for me.  Now I create a document in Drive either from my PC or my phone, and when I get to the store I've got it right at my finger tips.
    • copy important reference documents:  I've put the document file with my pay periods, my kids school supply list and that 40 page reference document I found on the DOS command prompt.  Then I can make sure we got all the school supplies, see if there is money to buy them, and read about creating batch files all in the longest checkout line ever.
  7. Android vnc viewer - This little app coupled with a free vnc client fills the gap between the Teamviewer which costs money to use for business, and the RDP client that locks the user out of the machine you're remote controlling.  We run a free VNC server on all our unattended machines because when we terminate our control, we need the machines logged in and un-locked.  This is definitely the way to go.  This little app doesn't quite have the refined mouse movements of the 2X client, but when you're trying to do more with less, it is still an excellent tool.