How to Do Everything Faster

Keep Tabs on the News

Google Reader presents a never-ending river of RSS news items.
It's an election year; do you know where your favorite candidate is? Following are just a few simple ways to take control of the information onslaught.

You probably already know that RSS news feeds offer a convenient way to get all the news you want delivered straight to your PC. You can make RSS feeds even more efficient. If you prefer reading in a browser, I recommend Google Reader, which lets you surf through the headlines.

A number of free services can send you RSS feeds over e-mail. My favorite is SendMeRSS.com, which is so easy that you don't even have to register with the site, although doing so will make adding feeds simpler. Just enter the URL for the RSS feed you want, type in your e-mail address, and click Feed. From then on, new items will automatically appear in your inbox.

RSS feeds are great for tracking what the New York Times is writing about, but Google Alerts keeps tabs on a particular subject across a huge range of publications. Go to Google News, enter a search item, and bring up the current stories. Then scroll to the bottom of the page and click the link within the sentence 'Get the latest news on your search criteria with Google Alerts.' Just one piece of advice: Use Google Alerts for specific subjects, not broad (or extremely popular) ones. Set up a search for "Paris Hilton," and the resulting deluge will overwhelm you.

Correct a Photo's Exposure

The photo editing site Picnik.com has sophisticated but easy-to-use tools.
Let's say that you have a photo with severe brightness and contrast problems. If you're in a hurry and you haven't been trained in the art of photo manipulation, you need a program with separate sliders for adjusting the highlights and shadows. The concept is easy to grasp, and it gets the job done.

Where can you find such tools? If you use Photoshop Elements, you already have them, on the Quick tab (Quick Fix in version 5), under Lighting.

Alternatively, you have two free options. Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery app improves on Vista's Photo Gallery program. Select Fix, Adjust Exposure In Windows Live Photo Gallery (which runs in both Vista and XP), and you'll get both Highlights and Shadows sliders and a histogram, as well as the familiar old Brightness and Contrast options.

If you'd rather not install any software, try the free photo-editing site Picnik. Click the Upload Photo button. Then click Exposure, Advanced to access the Highlights and Shadows sliders, plus a histogram. When you're done making adjustments, you can save the image back to your PC.

Change Your Monitor's Resolution

After installing the MultiRes utility, you can quickly change your monitor's resolution.
As a general rule, you should keep your monitor adjusted to its highest resolution. There are exceptions, however. Some programs, especially games, run better with fewer pixels displayed. And if your laptop becomes confused (as mine does) when you plug it into an external monitor, you may find yourself having to revisit the Settings tab of Windows' Display Properties box annoyingly often.

That's why I recommend MultiRes. This simple, free utility creates a system tray icon from which you can select any available resolution, screen depth, and refresh rate for your display.

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