Daily Archives: April 21, 2009

Know What to Ask Before Hiring a Financial Planner [Personal Finance]

Money’s tight right now, but just because we’re in a recession doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the advice of a solid financial planner.

Photo by __Dori__.

At personal finance weblog Get Rich Slowly, financial planner Jeff Rose discusses eight questions you should ask before hiring a financial planner to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth. For example:

What will I find on your U4?

Remember when you were younger and you could always hide your grades from your parents? That was until the report card was sent home. The U4 is the “report card” of your financial planner’s background. That means if he’s done anything wrong and a complaint has been filed against him, it will be shown here.

As much as I hate to admit it, this editor has never had a serious sit-down with a financial planner, so if you've got experience hiring a pro, let's hear how you found your financial planner—and what questions you asked before diving in—in the comments.

SiteShoter Takes Web Site Screenshots Over Time [Downloads]

Windows only: Portable freeware application SiteShoter takes screenshots of web sites with a powerful array of features.

Using the utility, which (like all of the excelllent NirSoft applications) requires no installation, is easy—just add the URL to the web site you want to capture, choose a filename to save the image to, and click Start to save the screenshot. What makes this utility great is the wide range of powerful options, including a full-featured command line—you can place special formatting codes in the filename to specify a timestamp or add the URL to the filename, which becomes very useful if you wanted to save screenshots for multiple sites at once.

You can choose how often you want the screenshots to be taken—the default is every 5 minutes, but you could take a screenshot every few hours instead. Rounding out the great feature list is the ability to save your configurations for later re-use—you could use the GUI to save the options and create a command-line shortcut to run that configuration on demand.

SiteShoter is a free download for Windows only. For more great utilities, check out how to customize your right-click menu with ShellExView, or just look through our top 10 tiny & awesome Windows utilities.

SiteShoter [NirSoft via gHacks]

Six Ways You Should Be Using Twitter (that Don’t Involve Breakfast) [Twitter]

Twitter has become a nationwide phenomenon, and like any phenom, all the Twitter talk grows quickly tiresome. But despite what you may think, Twitter isn’t just for narcissists; it’s actually insanely useful.

So let's assume that you already know about the navel-gazing uses of Twitter—the aspects of Twitter that most people criticize when they complain about the site. Discounting Twitter altogether because you think it’s ridiculous that people tweet about what they had for breakfast is like claiming that email is useless because of forward chains. It’s a mistake, and you’d be missing out on a great tool if you let that put you off Twitter completely.

Twitter is as useful as you make it. In fact, Twitter does several very worthwhile things better than any other tool.

1. Instant, Real-Time Search Results

Search is hands down the most useful feature of Twitter—whether or not you actually participate by posting anything to the site. Consider, for example, a very trivial example: I live on the West coast, so when the American Idol results show ends every Wednesday on the East coast, it's only 7pm here. I could wait two hours, then suffer through another hour of the Wednesday night, up-with-people variety show, but I really just want to know who was voted off. News sites move too slowly, and at one point blogs had aimed to fill this instant-answers void, but guess what: When you want to find out who was voted off Idol as soon as the results are available, Twitter is the quickest and easiest way to get this answer. Try it sometime. Within seconds of the announcement on Idol, Twitter fills with hundreds of posts answering this question for me.

The real-time search applies to so much more. If the signal on my cell phone goes out, I check Twitter to see if there's some sort of AT&T outage in my area. If I want to know what people are saying about something important to me, I hit up Twitter. What you get is like a centralized, searchable, real-time comment-thread for everything. Yes, like all comment threads, you'll find a good amount of crap. But that doesn't render the entire thread worthless. Bookmark Twitter Search now and use it next time Google or your favorite blog search engine fails you.

2. Monitoring Something You Care About

Virtually every company has a Twitter account these days, which means if there’s a product you really care about, following them on Twitter is often the easiest way to stay up to date with the latest developments. But more often than not (in the context of Twitter, at least), the thing we care about most is ourselves. We’ve already shown you how to create an ego search to monitor what’s being said about you on the web, but now Twitter is another must-use tool for getting your ego fix.

Still, even if you’re not an ego-maniac, surely there’s something that you care about that you could monitor on Twitter. Do yourself a favor and download one of the free desktop Twitter clients to help you create persistent Twitter searches so you can keep track of whatever your want without always hitting up the main Twitter search page. We’d recommend checking out TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop.

3. News Updates

We've been using newsreaders to subscribe to RSS feeds for years now, but newsreaders still haven't completely caught on with the world at large. It seems less manageable to us, but many people are perfectly happy using Twitter as a tool to keep up with the latest news—which is partly why CNN has over 1 million followers. Likewise, re-tweeting (the process of copying and re-posting someone else's tweet) spreads news like wildfire—so breaking news can reach you on Twitter a million times faster than through any of the old methods. (For what it's worth, here at Lifehacker we have our own Twitter feed that pushes out all of our top stories.)

4. Instant Communication with Friends

This is closer to what people think about when they think Twitter. But, as I said above, Twitter communication doesn't have to be a cesspool of "what I ate this morning" and "just flushed the toilet." You can choose whose updates you want to be notified of and how you get those updates. Upshot: If you and your pals use Twitter well, it can be a fantastic communication tool. If not, of course it's useless—but that's not really Twitter's fault. Also, if privacy is a concern, you can always protect your updates.

5. Twitter as a Productivity Command Line

Whether you want to add a new event to Google Calendar, a new to-do to Remember the Milk, or a new note to Evernote, you can do it all via Twitter. It took us a while to warm up to Twitter from a productivity angle, but this kind of integration made us admit that Twitter may yet boost your productivity, too.

6. Ask Questions, Get Answers

Provided you have enough followers (with enough knowledge), Twitter is also a powerful place to ask questions and get answers. Before I started writing this post, for example, I asked my followers what they think Twitter’s best uses are—the answers to which helped inform this entire post.

We certainly haven’t exhausted all the options, but hopefully this gives you a more balanced look at how Twitter can be useful to you. Of all of these options, Twitter search is far and away the most powerful feature, and one we’d recommend you start using. If you’ve got something worthwhile you use Twitter for that we didn’t cover, let’s hear about it in the comments.

Recipe Puppy Chooses Meals Based on the Ingredients You Have [Recipes]

Recipe search engine Recipe Puppy finds meals by a list of ingredients or keywords, searching through more than 500,000 recipes across dozens of web sites.

Once you've searched using the list of ingredients you want to use, Recipe Puppy will suggest other similar ingredients that you might want to add to your search, a very nice feature to help pick an interesting meal. Since the search engine is powered by Google APIs, you can use some regular search operators to help—for instance, you can add a "-" in front of an ingredient you don't want to see. The popular web site AllRecipes provides a similar find-by-what-you-have feature, but Recipe Puppy’s ability to search many sites at once makes it worth a look for anybody trying to figure out what to make for dinner.

Recipe Puppy is a free website, works anywhere. For more, check out how to find recipes to satisfy your cravings, or make the most of what’s in your pantry with RecipeMatcher. Thanks, Kris!

Know How to Spot an ATM Skimmer [Security]

If you've seen warnings lately about ATM "skimmers"—data-reading devices added onto machines by thieves—you might be wondering how you could tell if one's been rigged up to where you're about to insert your card. The Consumerist blog hosts a PDF copy of a PowerPoint explainer from an Australian security firm (that still applies to U.S. machines). It might not cover what your specific bank's teller machines should look like, but it does point to warning signs to look out for—like the flashing lights on a card feeder being obscured. [Consumerist]

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