Work from Home Computer Tips

Many of us have been forced to work from Home due to the Corona Virus – CoVid-19 Infection.  But WFH – Work From Home is nothing new to us in TargetWoman. Personally I have set up a team to work from home almost from the beginning of TargetWoman. 

Work from Home Tips

The following is an excerpt from our intranet explaining – How to Optimize your Work from Home time:

  1. Set aside a room or create a partition in your home for the work. In other words create a ‘professional’ atmosphere and reasonable privacy for your work.
  2. Rig your computer, router, modem and other peripherals in the table or nearby. Use cable ties to declutter cables. Trust me – you will be in deep trouble if someone trips over the cable. Leave alone the physical damage or the trauma, your computer set up will suffer partial or permanent damage.
  3. Your Laptop positioning, viewing distance, viewing angle and the chair – all have a major bearing on your comfort level and productivity. Wrong positioning of the laptop will make you end up with carpel tunnel syndrome, eye strain, neck pain and back ache. Support your back by providing lumbar support. You will be working for a long time in that position – almost 9 hours a day. Set up the laptop at your eye level or about 30 degree lower. If your laptop keyboard is not convenient for long hours, get a standard wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse.
  4. Inform your family members, partners or other live-in members about your working schedule. They need to respect your work timings and not bug while you are working. Train your pets not to disturb you while you are at work.
  5. Net connectivity is vital for WFH. Get a redundant ISP just in case your main provider has a break in service. Stock up on batteries for mouse, TV remotes and other battery operated devices before you start.
  6. Arrange a supply of coffee and other eatables at regular intervals.
  7. Take a break every couple of hours.

Just because there is no one to supervise you about the actual productive time you put in everyday ( a fallacy as I explain below), you don’t waste your time on unproductive tasks.

People think there is no way their superiors can monitor the actual time spent before the computer (if your job revolves working with computers). We have tools set up in your Laptop. We would have set up the VPN in your computer along with some scripts which will run in the background – to monitor the actual time spent on each application. We know which sites you are visiting.

WFH is a privilege for both you and your company. Remember you are not working for X company or Y company – but you are working for yourself.

Now that we have covered the basics of the best accepted practices for WFH, we will explore ways to optimize your computer so that you can extract the best performance from your computer as well as be more productive than ever before.

We explore the best accepted practices for fine tuning our computers in this page.

There are tons of useful tips for computers. It would take a book to explore all the tips.  For a blog, I will outline only the most important tips to enhance your productivity and ease of working.

Check the health of your Laptop Battery:

A dead laptop battery might prevent your laptop from booting in some cases. Your laptop has a Lithium Ion (Li-ion) Battery if you have purchased your laptop recently. Older laptops will have Nickel Hydride (NiMH) or Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) batteries which are heavier and have ‘memory effect’ . Li-ion batteries are lighter in weight and offer better service life than NiCd/NiMH types. But to extract the maximum life, you need to keep them between 50 – 90 % charge conditions.

All right. How do you check the battery condition?

You don’t need to download any special software for this. Your Windows 10 is quite capable of showing some very useful information about your battery.  Here is how:

Type ‘cmd’ in the search box and when the pop up shows Command Prompt ,right click on it and select  ‘Run as Administrator ‘ . Click Yes to proceed. And type cd  \ in the command line interface. You r current path would be your C: drive now.

Type ‘powercfg /batteryreport’

It will print out a html file containing information about your laptop battery.

Battery Report Windows 10

You can view the Battery report by selecting the file and right click to view with your favorite browser. You will find some interesting information including the battery capacity history and usage history.

Laptop Battery Status

All the tips shown below assume that you have sufficient computer resources – plenty of RAM memory. Windows claims 2 GB RAM is the minimum memory required for Windows 10. The recommended memory is 4 GB for 64 bit version. But 4 GB will make your life go slow. The first thing you do to improve the performance of your computer is to increase the RAM. 8 GB is the minimum at the time of writing. I have been using computers since the time they had 48 KB RAM.

Adding an application to the right click menu :

All right. You have been hammering away at the keyboard for long. You have created many text files. You want to check them periodically. You have a nice text editor that has a low memory foot print as well as use minimal system resources – like Notapad++ or Editplus. Opening heavy weight Word Processor for checking many text files is not very efficient or productive. So how do you quickly open a text editor. When you install such editors, usually, they will set up the  right click menu where you can invoke them. But many fail to do so. I will give you a quick fire technique below that will add additional application to the right click menu:

In the search box next to the Start button, type ‘regedit’ which will open the Registry Editor. If you are not sure about tinkering with your Registry which can stop the normal functioning of your computer if you make a mess, stop here.

Select Computer -> HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT ->  * -> shell

Right click and select New. Name this key as ‘Open With Editplus’ Or whatever your application name is. Select the key and right click. Call this sub key as ‘Command’. Select the key and on the right pane – click modify. Now copy the complete path and the application name and paste it there. In the chosen example, the editplus lives in the directory : C:\admin\editplus\Editplus3\

The application name is editplus.exe and so you fill the path and the application name along with “%1” which will invoke a new instance of the application every time you use.

Add application to right click menu

Create a Virtual Desktop for better organizing your work:

If you are like many of us who have multiple Browser windows open and many applications open at the same time, the next tip – creating virtual desktops will help you to better organize your work. Trust me – once you start using these tips, you will wonder how you have been working without these for all these years.

A desktop is where you see all the open apps. You can navigate to each one of them by the shortcut – ALT and TAB keys. You can cycle through them. Windows will show what each app has in small windows. But if the app has tabs, it will show only the current active tab. Not very useful if your browser has too many open tabs. Personally I use new Window instead of tabs – precisely for this reason.

If you have extra virtual desktop, you can group one set of application in one desktop while having the second desktop for other entirely different set of applications. You can switch between them and copy and paste content between them.

Here is how you create a new desktop:

Take a look at the screen shot here. See the Blue Arrow where it points ? It points to the Timeline View or Task View. Virtual desktop Windows 10 It shows the application you have been working on for the past few days in a linear fashion – hence the time line view. You can swap out the task from there and so it can also be called as Task view.

Click on that Taskview or hit Windows key and TAB key simultaneously. Click New Desktop. You will be presented with a new Desktop. Creating virtual Desktops won’t consume excessive resources. In our case it took up just about 60 MB (Desktop Windows Manager). Now you can start a new instance of your browser to any app.  I noticed that Firefox browser when run in this condition,  does not affect other instances of it.

You can switch between Desktops by the TaskView method or by this keyboard shortcut : Windows key and TAB key and select the appropriate desktop with the mouse. Or CTL + Windows + Right key or Left key to select the desktop you want.

Some of the options we used here can be changed here: Settings -> Sytem

I hope you use any one or all of these tips at this time of the devastating Corona pandemic.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Health Information

Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to be everywhere these days – from driving your autonomous car to detecting diseases in clinical conditions. Artificial Intelligence has permeated almost all fields and has evolved into a basic component of business growth. The term AI encompasses a wide spectrum of converging technologies – Deep Learning, Machine Learning, neural networks and Natural Language Processing (NLP).

Definition of Machine Learning:
Jason Brownlee sums up like this: ‘The valuable part of machine learning is predictive modeling where we use historical data to train a model and use the model to make predictions’

Tom Mitchell in his classic book on machine learning says:

‘The field of machine learning is concerned with the question of how to construct computer programs that automatically improve with experience’

Bereft of confusing buzzwords, AI is basically a technique to look for a pattern from training on a set of data. The key here is the data. Unless you start with the right data and pre process the data and massage that for learning, you will end up with poor results.

Moravec’s paradox: Hans Moravac discovered that high level reasoning requires very little computation, but low-level sensorimotor skills require enormous computational resources. In another instance some researchers found it odd that they were successful at writing programs that used logic, solved algebra and geometry problems and played games like checkers and chess. Logic and algebra are difficult for people and are considered a sign of intelligence. They assumed that, having solved the “hard” problems, the “easy” problems of vision and commonsense reasoning would soon fall into place. They were wrong and one reason is that these problems are not easy at all, but incredibly difficult. The fact that they had solved problems like logic and algebra was irrelevant, because these problems are extremely easy for machines to solve.

To quote from a personal experience, I was having difficulty finding the right corpus to train our AI for our Athena -Simplified Health Information project. I was cribbing about this Artificial intelligence problem when my partner blurted out – ” that is because it is artificial; it is not a natural intelligence”.

I usually throw a piece of meat taken from the refrigerator to move my 1 year old German Shepherd dog to the backyard every evening. On most days, he would sit there watch me fetch the piece. I decided to fool him once and touched the piece of meat but instead fetched a sliver of cabbage. He couldn’t have noticed the switch as I did it in a slight of hand and threw the piece out. He didn’t move from his position. He must have anticipated my switch somehow. I was clueless – about how a dog could predict his owner’s behavior without any extra sensory input.

May be there is an inherent limit to our creative prowess – something like St.Augustine’s conundrum. There was a time St.Augustine sat near the seashore contemplating the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a little child running back and forth from the sea to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a shell to carry water from the sea and fill a small pit that he had made in the sand or it so appeared to St.Augustine.

Augustine came up to him and asked him what he was doing.

‘I’m going to pour the entire sea into this hole’ the boy replied.

‘What’? said Augustine. That is impossible, my dear child, the sea is so vast and the shell and the hole are so little.

The boy replied It would be no more impossible than what you have been contemplating. It would be easier and quicker to draw all the water out of the sea and fit it into this hole than for you to fit the mystery of the Trinity and His Divinity into your little intellect; for the Mystery of the Trinity is greater and larger in comparison with your intelligence than is this vast sea in comparison with this little hole.

Natural Language Navigation
We, at TargetWoman have been working at the Natural Language Processing from the year 2004 onwards – around the time we started. Simply put Natural Language Processing is the process of using specialized computer algorithms to identify key elements in everyday language and extract usable meaning from unstructured input.

Microsoft says this about languages: “Understanding’ language means, amongst other things, knowing what concepts a word or phrase stands for and knowing how to link those concepts together in a meaningful way. ‘

For example, the word “cell” can mean different things to different people. It can mean a prison cell, compartment in a honeycomb, smallest organizational unit of a movement, a component of a battery, mobile phone or the smallest structural unit of an organism to name a few of the definitions. The surrounding words help to exact the true meaning of the word in relation to the context. In other words, you will have to decide the meaning of the phrase only after analyzing the entire sentence.

We started working on the concept of Natural Language Progression way back in the year 2004 – long before the term Artificial Intelligence became a buzz word. We worked on the premise that to convey an idea or a thought – words are only a transport layer. It is not the word per se that conveys the idea/thought but the collection of words, their proximity to each other and the context. With that said, we turn our attention to using computers to understand the logical progression of our language which some call as Natural Language Processing. We have created a working model which can understand the subtlety of the language we speak – at least limited in context to health and medical topics.
Sample this: Our Natural Language Processing Engine when triggered by the ubiquitous word ‘sex’ comes up with the following words – pregnant with meaning (Natural Language Association):

Natural Language Navigation:
In TargetWoman, we have thousands of pages dedicated to different topics of interest to women. It is always not so easy when it comes to navigation inside such large repository of content. A conventional way of navigation is to split the content into various clearly defined topics like: health, home improvement, careers and travel to name a few. But every topic may have dozens of pages or some even in hundreds of pages. Most large websites addressed this issue with a site wide search facility. We implemented this search engine at the outset itself. But it was not enough as it turned out from the server log. A better method needs to be found which would take into consideration how people navigated inside a site. This is how we turned our attention to Natural Language Navigation. We fed the key topics of every single page to our Logical Progression Engine – another term for Natural Language Navigation. This in turn sorted the content based on ‘keywords’ and their frequency of occurrence. The latter part provides a strong correlation to the keyword with the nature of content. This is how a typical search engine evaluates/indexes content. The data was updated everytime a new page was published.
Artificial Intelligence for Website navigation
A real world example here:

If you click on the ‘Browse by topic’ for an article: Example:

“Browse by Topics: Aerobic+Water+Exercise” would return the following content:

1. Home Exercise Equipment
2. Swiss Exercise Ball
3. Morning Exercise and Metabolism
4. Physical Fitness Exercise
5. Abdominal Exercise
6. Circuit Training
7. Xiser Workout

From the above abbreviated list, you can see that the NLN system picked out only content related to the physical exercise alone and did not pick content from Parenting with the keyword exercise (home exercise for students).

We would discuss how we collected the vast data and how we created the algo for this project in subsequent blogs.
Until that time, try our NLP here:

You can discuss in the comments section how our Natural Language Navigation helped you to find information on health topics.

Using Spare Hard Drives through USB

While rummaging through our office spares drawer, I found at least a dozen hard drives ranging from a measly 40 GB to 500 GB, all nicely wrapped in their anti-static sleeves. Most of them landed up there when the computers where they were fitted, were upgraded. This meant that these internal hard drives are still in perfect working condition. Only problem is other than the higher capacity 500 GB drives (which are of SATA type) all others belonged to the type with IDE interfaces.

Most of them contained Windows and other licensed software. Other drives were formatted with ext3 file system under Linux. These drives were mothballed for later deactivation and complete formatting. We didn’t find the time to allocate for this mundane activity. Now it was decided that somehow they can be put to good use after making sure that they are still serviceable. May be they could be used as redundant backup drives. Only issue is to find the appropriate interface which can be fitted to a spare computer. We chanced upon a USB to IDE/SATA adapter available from many Online stores for a ridiculously low price.

A few weeks earlier, a hard drive showed signs of failure in one of our computers and it was replaced without much ado. That drive was still within the warranty period and before it could be shipped to the dealer for the warranty claim, it had to be securely wiped clean. We didn’t want to tie up a computer for any of these activities and so this USB to IDE/SATA adapter was tempting.

USB to IDE/SATA Adapter

So this adapter was bought and as you can see from the image here, it came with its own power supply which is important as you can connect your hard drive as a stand-alone unit with only a USB cable to connect to the computer.

The same adapter can be used to connect a DVD drive to the Mac Mini and in a hurry can be used to provide additional hard drive for Time Machine for the Mac.

We rigged up the adapter to a Seagate 160 GB hard drive and expected to see a Windows message to the effect that it found a USB device and install suitable drivers. No such message was shown. On touching the drive, the whir of the drive motor could be felt. Out came the cable and we tested the power supply. The 12 V and 5 V rails were spot on even under dummy load conditions. According to the markings on the power supply, it was capable of supplying upto 2 A in 12 V line as well as 2 A in the 5 V line. It is a switch mode power supply and it looked quite up to its role.

So it has to be the driver.

Again in went the cables and still the drive was not officially recognized. But we found an entry of a device here: Control Panel -> Device Manager -> Disk Drives.

It identified the drive as ST316021 5A  USB Device. But it showed the drive as offline. It was time to whip out some command line utility to get the drive online. Windows 7 comes with such a utility called appropriately as ‘diskpart’.

Go to the Windows start and type cmd on the ‘Search programs and files’ area. You will be shown cmd.exe which you right-click and choose ‘Run as administrator’. From the command prompt, type Diskpart.

And then type list disk

It will show all the available disks. If your external disk is shown but marked as ‘Offline’
Issue this command: Select Disk 0
Assuming that the external drive was marked as disk 0

The system will say Disk 0 is the selected disk

Type detail disk

And it will print the details of the disk

To make the disk online:

Type:  Online disk

It will say ‘DiskPart successfully onlined the selected disk’.

USB device in Device Driver

Now we can see the disk listed in the Disk drives from the control panel. We formatted the drive in NTFS file format so that this drive can be used as a backup drive.

We formatted the drive in Windows 7 and began the process of copying some files. The speed was decent. It showed an average of about 20-25 MB/second.

Copying speed in the USB to IDE adapter

The drive can be ‘ejected’ like a normal USB drive.

We loaded up all the drives and observed that most drives were quiet and behaved normally while one drive made the dreaded ‘clicking’ sound indicating an impending failure.

Not bad for the cost of less than 10 dollars and a few minutes to come up with putting to use – about a dozen hard drives.

Even Mac Mini recognized the USB drive formatted in NTFS and showed the directories in ‘Finder’. It can read the files without any issue, but of course could not write to the drive.



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