Category Archives: Product Reviews

Elementary GTD using Microsoft Outlook “move to folder”

This is not the first time that I’ve found myself writing a blog entry about “managing e-mail”. However, it is the first time that I’ve written about managing e-mail and felt that I have a workable solution, for me at least. For the last 18 months or so, I have been trying to push Getting Things Done into my life – too many e-mails, an ever-growing to-do list and clutter have been putting a lot of weight on my shoulders. Something had to be done to alleviate that weight, GTD seemed like a popular/successful fit.

Whilst I have managed to enjoy the short-term benefits of Inbox Zero, reaching it a few times over the last 18 months, keeping on top of a fast filling inbox kept getting the better of me. As such, most of my “e-mail time” was spent processing immediate actions or fire-fighting. Working like this means somethings do slip under the radar and can come back to bite you where it hurts most. Something had to be done – it had to be simple, effective and something that I could run with for a long time.

I chose to stick with the GTD filing advice whereby tasks/items are organised into four pots: Action, Deferred, Someday and Waiting For, as explained in a little more detail over here (with thanks to Richard Peat over on Twitter). These folder names are working for me, your mileage may vary.

Dragging and dropping into these folders is fine, however it is a little cumbersome and mouse-intensive – it’s easy to make mistakes with drag’n’drop. I really wanted an more integrated solution that was better than drag’n’drop and better than the keyboard shortcut for Move To Folder (Control+Shift+V). After a little hunting around for GTD solutions, I settled on my own home-grown solution. I say home-grown, I actually took some inspiration from Chewy’s Blog – where you can find an Outlook macro that invokes a “move to folder” action in Outlook. With a little modification I found myself with a handful of Outlook macros that would let me select one or more e-mails, run one of the GTD macros and hey presto, the e-mails would then magically file themselves in the appropriate GTD folder.

However, I wanted more than “running macros”, I wanted toolbar icons that would run these macros and offer me keyboard shortcuts. Fortunately, Microsoft Outlook allows us to create macros that can be run from a toolbar icon and these icons can have keyboard shortcuts associated with them.

Creating a Microsoft Outlook macro is fairly painless: simply click on the Tools, Macro, Macros menu item (or press Alt+F8). Enter a macro name that reflects your action, e.g. MoveGTDAction and then click on the Create button. With a little care, you should be able to cut’n’paste the code from this example into the VBA code editor.

One of the modifications that I made to the Chewy’s original code was the introduction of a separate routine that is capable of moving e-mail items to a given folder. I needed to be able to call this routine such that it would operate on at least four different folders (the GTD folders), so a separate routine seemed logical. Here’s the code behind MoveToFolder:

Sub MoveToFolder(objFolder As Outlook.MAPIFolder)
    On Error Resume Next
    Dim objItem As Outlook.MailItem

    If objFolder Is Nothing Then
        MsgBox "This folder doesn't exist!", vbOKOnly + vbExclamation, "INVALID FOLDER"
    End If

    If Application.ActiveExplorer.Selection.Count = 0 Then
        Exit Sub
    End If

    For Each objItem In Application.ActiveExplorer.Selection
        If objFolder.DefaultItemType = olMailItem Then
            If objItem.Class = olMail Then
                objItem.Move objFolder
            End If
        End If

    Set objItem = Nothing
    Set objFolder = Nothing
End Sub

Making use of MoveToFolder for each of the GTD folders necessiates the creation of routines for each of the folders. Here’s the code for MoveGTDAction – be careful to get the folder hierarchy correct.

Sub MoveGTDAction()
    On Error Resume Next
    Dim objNS As Outlook.NameSpace
    Set objNS = Application.GetNamespace("MAPI")
    Call MoveToFolder(objNS.Folders.Item("Mailbox - Murphy, Craig").Folders.Item("@ GTD").Folders.Item("Action (respond or process)"))

    Set objNS = Nothing
End Sub

Another minor tweak that I use is the notion of an “Archive 2008” folder. I delete e-mail when it needs to be deleted, but there are a lot of e-mails that you may want to hold on to for any number of reasons. Of course you don’t want them hanging around your Inbox or your GTD folders…so I have a folder called Archive with sub-folders 2008, 2007, etc. Equally, I don’t want the archived e-mails hanging around in my corporate Exchange folders, so I use Microsoft Outlook’s Personal Folders instead (with an appropriate backup regime in place!) Here’s the code that I use to move such e-mails into my Personal Folders for year 2008:

Sub MoveArchive2008()
    On Error Resume Next
    Dim objNS As Outlook.NameSpace
    Set objNS = Application.GetNamespace("MAPI")

    Call MoveToFolder(objNS.Folders.Item("Personal Folders").Folders.Item("Archive").Folders.Item("2008"))

    Set objNS = Nothing
End Sub

Microsoft Outlook’s toolbars are very customisable. Simply right-click on any area of the toolbar and you’ll be presented with a list of the toolbars that are currently available and those that are visible (ticked). You’ll also see the Customise menu option (yes, yes, Customize if you’re elsewhere in the world). Clicking on the Customise menu option will give us the option to add a new toolbar, one with buttons that run the macros created earlier. I have two toolbars, GTD and Organise. The GTD toolbar handles the four GTD folders whereas the Organise toolbar handles Archive 2008, Outlook’s built-in Move To Folder icon and the frequently used Delete icon.

Using the Customise dialog, it’s easy to create a new toolbar, simply click on the New… button.

Once you have a toolbar, getting the GTD macros on to that toolbar is also a simple step. Click on the Commands tab and choose the Macros category, as shown below.

It’s possible to drag the macros (e.g. Project1.MoveGTDAction) onto your ‘GTD’ toolbar – a toolbar button will appear. If you were to right-click on the newly created button, you’ll be able to change its name such that it has a keyboard short-cut, simply by prefixing the letter that you would like to use with an ampersand (&). The screenshot below demonstrates how we might use Alt+A to invoke the “file to Action folder” button.

Repeating this process for all the GTD actions, you might end up with a toolbar that looks similar to this one:

For the sake of completeness, my GTD folder structure looks like this:

I’ve used these folders, macros, toolbars and keyboard shortcuts to clear down both my corporate inboxes and my personal inbox (which was by far the worst). I have a few more tricks that I’m using to keep my inbox “flowing”, I’ll share those in a follow-up blog post. In the meantime, if you have any tips and tricks that you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment!

With thanks to TechSmith for the SnagIt screen capture software. It is truly wonderful.

Other posts
GTD Action/Deferred/WaitingFor/Someday folders in Microsoft Outlook – Show Item Count
Making e-mail simpler and easier to handle: using Microsoft Outlook rules
Elementary GTD using Microsoft Outlook “move to folder”

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Megatrain – Edinburgh To Manchester (return)

This morning, Monday, at about 0100, I bought a train ticket on-line.  I say on-line because most of the on-line train tickets that I’ve bought to date have either been delivered via snail mail or I had to collect them in person.  This is unlike the airline industry which allows me to print tickets at home, check-in at home, print my boarding pass at home (or in the office of course).

Back in July, I sat beside a lady who used a service called Megatrain.  Now I had heard of Megabus before, but not Megatrain.  I had a ticket from Edinburgh to Manchester that cost about £80.  My traveling companion had a ticket from Manchester to Edinburgh that cost her…£10.  OK, so I had a reserved seat…

So this morning, I used Megatrain.  I paid £20.50 for a return ticket to Manchester, taking the same trains that I would have taken had I booked via other on-line services.  My ticket comprised of a single sheet of A4 containing two ticket references – out and return. 

This evening, I used the return portion, got myself a seat at a table, laptop out, blogging continues.  As a first experience with Megatrain, it was a good experience and one that I can strongly recommend.  I for one will be looking into booking a couple more trips for October.  At these prices, you can’t beat it.

Factor the £6.40 ticket from Inverkeithing to Edinburgh (return) and the whole trip has cost me £26.90.  Not a bad saving.  Now, if only there was some way of an employee reward plan – make travel savings like this for three or four trips, then travel First Class for the next one!

How long the Megatrain service will last, I don’t know – I’ve heard that it might be up for renewal or even terminated in November.  Certainly for these kind of savings, it’s worth taking advantage of it whilst it’s available.  I’d certainly like to see it continue.

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iRiver’s H320 multi-codec jukebox – reviewed

Whilst I was writing the “things I can’t live without” post, I was reminded of this mini-product review that I wrote way back in January 2006. It was written as a demonstration of style and was to be kept at a fixed length, hence there’s no real conclusion. Since it was never published, here it is now, just in case you’re interested!

Of course, if you would like me to review your product, please feel free to contact me via this blog or via this e-mail address:
e-mail address

iRiver’s H320 multi-codec jukebox

Measuring in at not much larger than a traditional compact cassette, the iRiver H320 sports a dark glossy finish, excellent connectivity and enough hard disc space to store a modest CD collection, with some space for your favourite family snaps too.

The H320 is promoted as a multi-codec jukebox. Well, that’s what it says on box and on the unit itself, but what does that really mean? We’re all becoming used to the phrase “MP3 player” or to use the brand name colloquialism “Apple iPOD”. The H320 is an iPOD-like device offering the ability to play tunes recorded as MP3, WMA, OGG or ASF. Such variety makes the H320 stand out from the crowd – it avoids the “codec wars” often seen in this market sector.

The sound quality is excellent, helped partially by the iRiver-branded Sennheiser headphones, but also helped by the built-in equaliser offering presets for rock, jazz, classical, ultra bass and your own custom setting. The headphones also act as an aerial for the H320’s FM tuner, a welcome addition to the music-lover’s arsenal.

However, what really sets the H320 apart from today’s competition is the provision of a 2” colour TFT screen. In addition to being able to carry your favourite tunes wherever you go, with the H320 you can carry your favourite images too. With 260,000 colours available, the screen is crisp and renders JPEGs and BMPs so much better than today’s mobile ‘phones.

iRiver promote the H320 as an “eBook” reader, you may be disappointed to learn that the device will only display text files. With no opportunity to reduce the font size, the 10-line display will make reading long documents a tiresome exercise. That said the ability to carry useful addresses and short notes that might not be suited to a mobile ‘phone is very welcome.

The H320 is let down by the less than intuitive use of the nine buttons on the front of the unit, most of which serve more than one purpose. For example, to turn the unit on, we have to press and hold the play/pause button and to change mode, press and hold the record button. It certainly is more complex than the aforementioned Apple device and certainly requires more time with the manual before ease of use can be achieved.

If you’ve found that lower capacity MP3 players have outgrown their usefulness, the H320 20GB of space should satisfy your hunger for space. However, your existing MP3 player probably started playing the moment you switched it on. “Instant on” is something the H320 doesn’t manage. Given that the H320 is actually a small hard drive, it has a start up time! From switch on to playing music takes roughly 12 seconds.

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Microsoft Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000

Last weekend, I took delivery of a Microsoft Wireless Notebook Presenter 8000 mouse. It’s what I call a compact mouse, it’s only 3.73cm high, 5.63cm wide and 9.35cm long, yet it sports no less than 12 buttons! The mouse itself is based upon earlier designs with a few minor refinements – last year, I gave my boss one of the earlier designs, he said “it’s the best mouse I’ve ever used”.

Of course, it’s a “presenter” mouse, so it uses six of the buttons to cover next slide, previous slide, volume up, volume down. Rather neatly, one of the six buttons activates the embedded laser pointer. If you’re using PowerPoint, one of the buttons can be used to engage/disengage digital ink, which is really quite a time-saver.

But the real gem is the fact this mouse uses Bluetooth for its connectivity. This means that is will work over a greater distance than its regular wireless counterpart. The gem gets brighter when I tell you that the button just below the mouse wheel is used to disable the mouse operation and engage the presenter buttons – this makes it a delight to just pick up and “cruise the room” with it in your hand. Being Bluetooth, you can use the Bluetooth dongle to connect to other devices, such as your mobile telephone.

This is a great mouse, it essentially removes the need for me to carry around a mouse and a wireless presenter device. It comes supplied with a solid transparent carry case (with strap) which is also designed to carry the Bluetooth dongle. Another great feature is the battery low indicator – it has an LED that starts to glow red when the is battery low.

The July 2007 issue of TechNet Magazine has a competition on page 10 – you could win this mouse! Visit for a chance to win!

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USB TV dongle – recommendation

We held our first corporate hospitality event yesterday…it was tied in with the Scotland vs Italy rugby match, but let’s not go there.

Anyway, we used a Freecom USB TV dongle, a laptop and a projector to display the rugby (England vs Ireland). There seemed to be a lot of interest in what I was using to actually receive the TV signal, so I figured it was worth making this post. An Internet connection was not required, nor was the need to be connected to a corporate network. You just need a regular laptop or PC.

This is the product in question, we paid £24.99 for it:

Subject to your region and a good signal, it’ll pick up the Digital Freeview channels, including the radio stations. It’s pretty cool in that it can project a TV picture via the laptop’s VGA port whilst leaving the laptop’s original screen free for you to use – great if you have a second monitor and just want the TV on in the background while you work.

We get some 82 channels using the out-of-the-box aerial unit – of course, your mileage may vary. Ignore the odd negative review over at Amazon, this unit works and it works well – if you live in poor signal area, you can’t expect wonders.

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Windows Vista – first impressions…

So that’s Windows Vista Ultimate installed, I’m dual-booting alongside my existing Windows XP SP2 installation. This install started at 2225 and ran on until 2248 when the second re-boot had taken place. A little bit of configuration and some automatic updates, and at 2255 I was ready to go – an end-to-end installation time of 30 minutes.

It seems that my 2.8GHz Dual Core Pentium with 2GB of RAM is enjoying a Windows Experience Index of 3.6. I reckon that a decent graphics card should improve that score – something for 2007 I think.


The first thing I needed to sort out was the boot order. Prior to this Vista install, I had Windows XP SP2 installed. Also prior to this install, I had stuck a 250GB IDE drive in the machine and installed Vista there – hence I already had the Windows Vista “new” boot manager interface already installed (on the same drive as Windows XP). So I found myself reading the BCDEdit FAQ. Incidentally, I’ve since removed the IDE drive in favour of a 250GB Western Digital SATA-2 drive.

BCDEdit is a command-line tool, so you’ll need to be a little more careful with it that you would with a Windows application. You’ll also need to run BCDEdit using the Command Prompt and you’ll need to do this whilst running as an Administrator. To do this, just right-click on the Command Prompt icon and choose Run as administrator as shown below.


Simply running BCDEdit from the Command Prompt window reveals the three operating systems in the boot order:


Windows Boot Manager
identifier {bootmgr}
device partition=D:
description Windows Boot Manager
locale en-US
inherit {globalsettings}
default {current}
displayorder {ntldr}
toolsdisplayorder {memdiag}
timeout 30

Windows Legacy OS Loader
identifier {ntldr}
device partition=D:
path \ntldr
description Earlier Version of Windows

Windows Boot Loader
identifier {current}
device partition=C:
path \Windows\system32\winload.exe
description Microsoft Windows Vista
locale en-US
inherit {bootloadersettings}
osdevice partition=C:
systemroot \Windows
resumeobject {de2efb5f-97d0-11db-bdf0-b386e7cc6f53}
nx OptIn

Windows Boot Loader
identifier {6c55cb61-8829-11db-bcb7-82d3be135651}
device unknown
path \Windows\system32\winload.exe
description Microsoft Windows Vista
locale en-US
inherit {bootloadersettings}
osdevice unknown
systemroot \Windows
resumeobject {6c55cb62-8829-11db-bcb7-82d3be135651}
nx OptIn

The entry for Windows Legacy OS Loader is for the existing Windows XP SP2 install, I need to keep that. The entry for Windows Boot Loader with the {current} identifier is the, perhaps obviously, the current Windows Vista install, i.e. the one I’m using – again, I need to keep that! I happen to know that the offending Windows Vista installation is the last one, so we’ll ask BCDEdit to remove it for us. Be sure to remember to include the trailing /f to force the deletion of the entry, as shown below:

C:\Windows\system32>BCDEDIT /delete {6c55cb62-8829-11db-bcb7-82d3be135651} /f
The operation completed successfully.

The next thing I sorted out was the SoundBlaster Live 24 driver. As luck would have it, Creative released new Vista drivers today of all days! So I downloaded those and all was well.

However, I was a little surprised to see this:


I been using a Microsoft Fingerprint Keyboard for the last 12 months, it’s great; it has a very fluid feel about it. It has been on the market for at least a year, I would have thought that Vista drivers would have been part of the install or automatic update that takes place after the installation. Anyway, a little bit of hunting around the said drivers were found here.

That’s all for this post, I’ll write more as I move my line of business applications over to Windows Vista and to Microsoft Office 2007. Fortunately, all my data lives on another SATA drive, so there’s nothing to move there.

I’m just about to publish this post and I notice that a certain [non-Microsoft] vendor’s toolbar isn’t present, so I can’t spell-check this post without a little bit of cut’n’paste. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if I could just right-click the mouse on this Internet Explorer text box and have the recently installed Microsoft Word 2007 spell-check kick in for this blog post? Time for some more updates!

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On Gnostice, PDF creation, Delphi, Borland’s Turbo products

On the 22nd September 2006, Gnostice released version 2.41 of the PDFToolkit and eDocEngine for the [Delphi] VCL. As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a great fan of Gnostice products – their PDF creation tools and components are a real boon to developers. Of course, this continued support for the Delphi VCL for Win32 and .net despite the divestment of the Borland IDEs, is confirmation that Gnostice passionately believe in the Delphi product name and the VCL.

Indeed, one need only look at the PDFToolkit VCL “road-map” here to realise that Gnostice are intent on producing an astonishingly feature complete PDF component set…writing for the VCL using the VCL – V3.0 looks to be awesome. Not surprisingly, there’s a similar roadmap for eDocEngine VCL – plans all the way up to V3.0 are well documented over here.

In an earlier post, I touched on the fact that Borland IDE divestment and the direction in which many component vendors seemed to be taking their products (towards .net and C#). Whilst this seems to still be the case, it’s worth noting that Gnostice are firmly focusing on three market spaces: the traditional Delphi VCL, .NET and Java. Their PDFOne .NET product provides support for PDF creation inside Borland Developer Studio 2005 and 2006 – with demonstrations being provided using the C# language, whereas their eDocEngine and PDFToolkit are fairly and squarely targeted at the VCL.

Of course now that the Turbo range of products are available, we see a renewed interest in the Delphi language and its direction. Knowing that Microsoft’s Express Editions are free, I can’t see the Turbo products being direct competition, therefore their existence presumably serves to further the Delphi language and provide heritage continuance (outside of the more expensive Borland Developer Studio-style all-encompassing product set). Given the career path of Delphi’s original architect, Anders Heilsberg (from Borland to Microsoft), this renewed interest might be what it takes to let Delphi and the Turbo products catch up with Microsoft. After all, here we are seeing much talk of .NET 3.0, yet Borland Developer Studio 2006 still only targets .NET 1.1. That said, Bob Swart makes mention of the next version of Delphi that will support .net 2.0, codenamed Highlander, over here.

I would like to see the Turbo products enjoy a shorter release cycle, providing them with an opportunity to target .net 2.0 and 3.0. With the next version of Visual Studio (Orcas) just around the corner, there’s not much time left to achieve this, but it should be a goal nonetheless.

Despite my earlier concerns about the future of Delphi and its language, it seems that there is a rekindled enthusiasm for the Delphi product set, fuelled more so by the reappearance of the Turbo mark that made Borland who they are today. Indeed it was the original Turbo range that provided the inspiration for the VCL and their [Borland] re-introduction of this famous branding will take the VCL to new heights – a point not missed by Gnostice who have plans in place for native VCL product releases/upgrades right into 2007.

eDocEngine VCL – comprehensive, generic, 100% VCL electronic document creation component suite for Borland® Delphi™ and Borland® C++Builder™.

PDFtoolkit VCL – powerful component set for Borland® Delphi™ and Borland® C++Builder™ to manage, manipulate, view, print, enhance PDF documents and process PDF eForms.

PDFOne .NET – 100% .NET component library to implement PDF based software solutions.

PDFOne Java – 100% Java library to implement PDF based software solutions.

Gnostice Plans for 2006
PDF Toolkit VCL – Road-map
eDocEngine VCL – Road-map
Turbo Downloads

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Compressing PowerPoint slide decks using NXPowerLite

I’m getting super results from NXPowerLite, a PowerPoint compression tool.

It works wonders on slide decks that are graphics-heavy or those that contain cut’n’paste pieces from Word documents or Excel spreadsheets.

I’ve noticed .ppt files that were 2500K drop down to 250k without tweaking NXPowerLite.

If you have a web-site full of .ppt files, this application could be a real boon – I plan to compress all the slide decks over at as soon as time permits.

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