Tag Archives: apps

Online bookmarking app Pocket

Do you ever find yourself scanning quickly through email or Twitter and seeing links to articles that interest you, but you don’t have time to read right now? In an effort to keep your mailbox under control you delete the email, maybe you favorite the tweet. There is a much better way to stay on top of all of this though – using an online bookmarking app like Pocket.

Whats so great about Pocket? You can bookmark any web page or tweet, tag it and then read it on another device when you have the time. I spend a lot of time saving interesting articles during the day and then use the Pocket app on my iPad in the evening to go through those articles. After you have read it you can mark it as read and it goes away or keep it or make it available offline by making it a favorite.

The desktop app installs as a bookmarklet button on your browser toolbar – this is Chrome:

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If you are using your phone to browse Twitter and see a tweet you want to read later – just side swipe the tweet, select the ‘…’ and select Read Later.

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Depending on which Twitter client you are using you will need to adjust its settings so that it knows what app to associate with the Read Later button. For instance in Hootsuite click on the Settings gear icon, select Read Later and then set up your account for Pocket:

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To save a Hootsuite tweet to pocket, click on the tweet and then the ‘…’ button (next to Favorite). If you have added Pocket through your settings you should now see a button that says Send to Pocket:

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As you add articles you have an opportunity to add a tag to it – this gives you another way to keep your clips sorted – other than by just date. You can add multiple tags to an article – side swipe an article to get the tag button and then select or create a new tag for the article:

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To quickly find articles with the same tag you can filter them using the tag button next to the search bar – pull down on screen slightly to see the search bar:

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I have used Pocket while researching vacation spots and saved maps as favorites so that I could refer to them even when there was no signal around. It is also great for homework projects where you can save all the reference pages with the same tag for easy use later. If you save a tweet to Pocket you will not just see the article from the tweet, but also have an opportunity to retweet or favorite the original tweet.

Pocket just recently announced some new features including quick sharing with people – email sharing is still the most popular share method. People you share with frequently are now 1 button click away. All in all, a very useful app for anyone who uses the web for research and needs easy access to that information from any platform.

Apps are available for iPad, iPhone, Android and Kindle for free.

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Fitness gadget – the Jawbone Up

Recently there has been a flurry of activity in the tech world with get fit gadgets. I say anything that can help me get healthy is in my toy box for a test! Being a gadget geek has some advantages – I feel no guilt buying my toys. How else am I going to give my considered opinion to you, my dear audience?

I did a bunch of research online about the leading products Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone Up and Fitbit tracker. They each had pros and cons – I like the Fuel Band because it tells the time and uses Bluetooth to sync to app, but it didn’t track your sleep which I was interested in. The Fitbit tracks sleep and activity and had Bluetooth sync, but it is a clip on device instead of a band and there were plenty of reports of people putting them through the laundry. The Jawbone Up doesn’t have Bluetooth sync or tell the time, but it does track sleep and activity and is a bangle form. All are in the $100 – $150 range – the Jawbone UP is $129.99.

Here is the official website where you can check out the different colors of bands: https://jawbone.com/up

FitBit looks to be releasing a bangle style version later this year which may be worth taking a look at. Of course, if Apple does release the long rumoured iWatch then all bets will be off the table!!

So off I went to the Apple store to buy one and saw this other device I had never heard of – Lark Life. In the store I was googling it and talking to the Apple guy who was very helpful. In the end though, the Lark was just too big on my wrist – and a really bright blue! I ended up getting a nice mint green Jawbone instead.

This is what my band looks like and this is how I wear it:

band wrist

You can see why it would be nice if it told the time so I could actually lose the watch – no I don’t get the whole ‘pull you phone out your pocket to tell the time’ business!

You wear the band day and night – it is water resistant so you can wear it in the shower, but I see no reason to do this! It automatically tracks the steps you take – you can manually calibrate your stride if you are very serious – and why not, it was easy to do. The band can stay charged for 10 days although I find it is closer to 8 days – it takes about 45 mins to charge up. One end of the band has a cap that you pull off to reveal a headphone plug – stick it into you iPhone and the band syncs to the app. You initially set up goals for daily steps and nightly sleep time. You can manually track food through the app. You can also track your mood during the day by clicking on the smiley face on the app.

Here is the daily summary screen showing how much of the sleep, and step goals have been achieved and what your food diary is looking like:

summary

If you tap on the purple sleep bar it opens up to show the details of how well you slept:

sleep
There are alarms that can be set that will make the bracelet vibrate to wake you up – they can be set to wake you during a light sleep cycle a half hour around the time you set, or wake you at the exact time set. You set the alarms via the app and then sync the UP via the headphone jack. An update has just come out that lets you set multiple alarms for different times on different days.

Clicking on the orange steps bar takes you to a screen that shows your activity during the day:

steps

The deeper red a bar is the more quickly or intense your steps were.

A cool feature that I have found really helps me is setting the idle alarm. If I sit for more than an hour the UP will buzz me to remind me to get up and go for a walk. You can decide what interval you want to be buzzed on and between what hours – so you sleep peacefully!

You can track your mood throughout the day as well by clicking on the smiley face and sliding your finger up or down the face to show you are feeling happy or sad, energetic or dragging! You can also add a comment or change the description words to detail how or why you are feeling a certain way:

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Add food by tapping the food icon on the other side from the smiley face. UP has a very extensive food dictionary or you can scan the barcode of an item to put it in.

food
Not sure of the nutritional information accuracy – it says it is based on USDA guidelines. I generally just use it as a vague guide to how I am doing during the day.

Another feature that prompted me to quit eating chocolate (yes me, really!) was the food word cloud – so the more you eat something the bigger the word shows – my biggest word was consistently CHOCOLATE!!! The only issue with it is that it maps the word, not by item. So you could eat raisin oatmeal and maple sugar oatmeal and both maple, sugar, raisin and oatmeal will be added:

food cloud
Note that this is a word cloud for the last 7 days.

You can switch to the lifeline screen and view your daily activity, meals and sleep in real time:

lifeline

There are also trend screens that you can check and change the options you use to track – like calories consumed, steps, deep sleep, saturated fat, etc.  You can also trend by days, weeks or months:

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There is a teams option where you can check each others stats and cheer one another on, but I don’t know anyone else who has an UP so I have no team 😦

When I initially started researching these devices, I have to admit I was some what sceptical that it would do more that inspire me for a few days and then I would get bored and go back to normal. However, the opposite has happened. I was inspired to quit the junk and hit my 10,000 steps a day goal (5 miles) and in the last week I have lost 5lbs!!! I don’t think I have actually lost weight in a few years – even going to the gym. I love the goal tracking – it has inspired me to keep at it and even try harder.

My app suggestions

‘Tis the time of year when everyone is making lists – top good things to happen in 2011, top bad things, top resolutions for 2012, top predictions for technology/social media/the world in 2012. I have decided to humbly provide a list of iPad apps I have been using and find useful, fun or ideally both.

Scrabble iTunes Link
This one just popped up on my radar a few days ago when I read it was on sale from $4.99 to 99c. I like when apps go on sale AND already have good reviews. I am already addicted to the darn game now – how often can you play a single word and get 99 points!

It has some sharing features like friends on Facebook and local network, but I haven’t really had time to figure out if they work well. I did play with a friend using the play and pass feature and that was fine. Play against the computer and lose chunks of your life!!!

Zite iTunes link
This is your online magazine that is customizable to your interests. You can hook in your Twitter news-feed, Google Reader, Delicious or Read It Later accounts and then choose subject areas from a list that will interest you. The great thing about this app is each time you open an article to read you can rate whether you liked it and it will use this to give you more stories like it in the future. Bit like Netflix recommendation engine, but in the background.

Stories are sharable on social media, email the article or even save it to your favorite offline reading service like Evernote, Instapaper or one of the accounts you already linked. As the iPad is an ideal content consuming gadget, these kind of apps are going to become more popular as everyone tries to find more ways to deal with social media overload.

Pulse iTunes link
I like to stay up to date on what the current happenings are in tech, social media, politics, news in general and some entertainment fun. Pulse is the app that helps me with this. Create pages with different feeds from the content areas you like best. You can choose feeds individually or pick a generic bundle for a general category – like sport.

You can arrange the feeds how you want and have as many or as few on a page as you want. Slide along a feed to see picture and headline, tap on the story that interests you and you get the details. Depending on the origin of the feed you will get the entire story or a link to the original article.

Stories can be favorited and saved in your account. Again you can link in your social media accounts so you can share stories with 1 click or email them. Great source for content curation for your own Twitter feed too.

Solar Walk iTunes link
This was one of those apps that was featured in an Apple commercial – how often can you say you actually pay enough attention to a commercial these days to remember to look for something online featured in it? I am no Apple fangirl, but credit due to them for really clear, informative and useful commercials!

Anyway, Solar Walk is just a fun app that shows the solar system and the planets (and moon’s and asteroids and space junk) and you can timeline where everything was or will be. The graphics really show of the iPad display and it gets kinda mesmerizing! The really cool things are the included movies that educate on how the tides are influenced by the sun and moon, or how the seasons work depending on your location to the equator. All things you probably vaguely remember from school, but this app makes it much more visually fun!

Planetary iTunes link
If Solar Walk has you hooked then how about an app that visualizes your music collection as a solar system? Sounds a bit strange, but the visuals and uniqueness make it worth playing with.

BikeBrain – iPhone app – iTunes link
So with it being New Year and all, that means the resolutions come out and get dusted of once again. Yes, exercise more. My long time mantra since moving to America over 10 years ago! I need some motivation for this kind of thing and if there is app for that then all the better.

BikeBrain, naturally enough, is marketed to the cyclist, but I have found it is equally suitable for the dog walker or jogger. Start the app at the beginning of your outing and it will keep track of your route, speed, distance and calories. When done you hit the finish button and it lets you name your outing and save details so you can see how well-intentioned everything started out!

The downside is you suddenly realize the walk you have been taking the dog on was not a mile long, more like a 1/3 of that – oops! No wonder the little brat is still so full of beanz all evening.

Heart Rate – iPhone app – iTunes link
Now that you are busy walking the dog, or heaven forbid jogging, wouldn’t it be nice to know if you are giving your heart a workout too? Heart Rate is an app that uses your iPhone camera to sense your heart beat. No idea if it is really accurate, but it is kinda fun to show your friends how light through your finger can be used to detect a pulse!

Those are a run down of the apps I have been playing with lately. I haven’t covered any of the ones I talked about in earlier blogs – like Evernote, Flipboard and Dropbox because, well, I already talked about them.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year

Fiona

Backing up contacts to the cloud

I just bought a new Ipod Touch and ran into an issue with contacts. I have a lot on my old Touch and my Ipad, but how to get them onto my new Touch? I was impatient to get going with my new one and my Itunes was at work – I was at home. I suppose I could have backed up the old Touch to Itunes and restored to the new one. Too late for that!

I found a great free tool that let’s me backup the Ipad contacts and restore them to my new Touch. Now I have my contacts on all devices AND backed up to the cloud in case of emergencies! IDriveLite is the free app that does all this. IDrive also gives you free storage for files and photos, but I don’t really need that.

I like easy and free solutions! Now if only there was an app for my Google bookmarks we would all be set!
www.idrivelite.com

Technology Tool – Music Streaming

This week I thought I would take a look at some music services I like to use. There are 2 categories of service – those that stream music you own and services you subscribe to that stream music.

Streaming Music You Own
There are some rumors that Apple is planning an iTunes streaming service after they bought the streaming service LaLa, this might be interesting as a future option too.

In the meantime I have been playing with a couple of services, mSpot and mp3tunes. At first I liked the idea of being able to access my iTunes library anywhere, but now I find that most of the time I am not so interested in listening to that music. If you have a very large library of music the initial sync of either service is going to take a long, long time!

mSpot: www.mspot.com This service requires a sync tool to install on the PC with iTunes and syncs this up to your online mSpot account. First sync will be long if you have many songs. Free account gives you 2gig storage, about 1800 songs. Then you can purchase more storage with monthly plans: 10gig more for $2.99 a month, etc.

MP3tunes: www.mp3tunes.com On the computer where you have iTunes installed, you install a sync program. This goes to the different folders and iTunes storage areas to hunt out music you own. Create an account online and the sync program will upload all your music to your locker. The sync program also monitors your drive for more music that you add and will prompt an new sync to be run. The other nice option offered by this service is a channel on your Roku box that let’s you play all your tunes through your TV and home theatre system.

There are desktop, android, Apple and webpage options (and Roku) for accessing the service. You get 2 gig storage with a free account or 50 gig for $5 a month. I am not going premium on this service though, there are some negative comments on the Apple app because this was the same company that had another service that ran into legal issues and was shut down. People seem to be of the opinion this might happen again.

Subscription Streaming Music Services
This is now my preferred option for obtaining music. I don’t own the song, but I have access to a massive library. And both services also have then option to find similar music you might enjoy. This music discovery is becoming the feature people want so that you can discover and appreciate new artists or just new to you artists.

Pandora: www.pandora.com This free service is a must have for anyone these days who likes on the go music. You create stations like a radio using artists or songs and Pandora streams music of a similar nature. They do this via a special project they undertook called the Music Genome Project. A group of music-analysts listened to thousands of songs picking out all the different components that they have – harmony, lyrics, tempo, etc and applied these characteristics to all the songs. So when you create a Pandora station based on a song, they are accessing this library of characteristics to stream more songs like it.

So you are listening to a station you created and a song comes on you don’t like – what do you do? Well, you can give the sing a thumbs down or skips it. However, free Pandora accounts only get 6 skips a day. Free accounts also have a limit of 40hrs of music a month, but if you exceed this you have 2 options: pay 99c to have unlimited hours until the end of the calendar month, or sign up for a premium account. A yearly subscription, which includes unlimited hours ad free music and unlimited skips, costs a whopping $36!

Pandora is available on your desktop, smartphone, Apple iTunes stores and on it’s webpage. I am quite happy with the free version and usually stream it to my car stereo, via Bluetooth, from my Android phone to keep me entertained on the hourly ride home at night!

GrooveShark: www.grooveshark.com This is by far my favorite streaming service – so much so, that I just went premium on it! Never heard of GrooveShark? It is similar to Pandora except it let’s you search it’s massive user uploaded library for any song or artist to play. As you find those lost 80’s hits you can create playlists and save these for future sad parties!

GrooveShark even has widgets that you can use to embed your playlist in a website so that anyone can listen to your cool DJing experiment! Up until recently, Apple had denied the app from iTunes and you had to have a jail broken iPad/iPhone/Touch to use the app. Hah, the gods shone a light down and the app is now in the app store!!! Android has an app too, so you can keep your tunes with you all the time.

The GrooveShark website gives you free listening anytime, but the apps only give you a free trial and then you need to spring for the premium (VIP) account. At $3 a month or $30 a year I figured this was well worth it – cheaper than buying the occasional iTunes song. I have been very impressed with the sheer number of songs and artists in the library – rarely not finding what I am looking for. From Shirley Basset to Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga and Michael Buble, oh and throw in some Pavarotti for good measure! The content is user uploaded so there is a vast array of disparate taste available.

There is now an option called ‘radio’ which plays on the Pandora idea of finding similar songs/artists to the last track played – for when the searching for those songs has just overwhelmed you!  The service seems to always be improving and adding new features – now if they would just get a Roku station I would be almost too happy!

As you might have gathered GrooveShark is my preferred option now.

  • Have you come across other services you like?
  • Do you prefer to purchase and stream or subscribe and stream?

Technology Tool – Evernote

Continuing on my series of posts on technology tools to help you work and live, this next tool is great:  www.Evernote.com

What does it do?
Kind of like a notebook that lives in the cloud, but also has web, desktop, Android and iPhone apps. Take notes, clip webpages, upload photos from the apps and it will sync contents to the web so that no matter where you next access Evernote, all your notes are up to date.

The great part is that you can save notes in to different folders (notebooks) so that you can keep everything relevant together. Planning a bathroom makeover? Keep everything related to that in one notebook. You can have a note with the room dimensions, keep notes on design ideas, clip screenshots or photos of things you see and like. Everything altogether and accessible were ever you are.

In a meeting where the team has been brainstorming ideas on a whiteboard? Take a photo of the whiteboard, upload it and Evernote makes the text searchable – right from the photo! Recorded the meeting too? Upload the recording to Evernote and you have the entire meeting saved. At a conference and getting business card? Take photos of them or scan them later, upload it to a notebook and all that text is searchable.

Another great feature is the ability to tag all your notes. Sometimes a note could be relevant to more than one notebook, so give it more than one tag. You can sort notes by notebook, date, tags or search through them all.

So how much does this cost?
How does FREE suit you? There is the premium version too for a whopping $5 a month, or $45 for a year. The free account gives you unlimited notes, but max of 40mb of uploads a month, premium ups that limit to 500mb a month. Free allows certain file extensions like images and PDF, premium enables them all. Going premium also gives you some nice features like secure encryption, ability to share notes with others for editing and PDF searching.

I haven’t gone premium just yet, but probably will soon. Right now I am writing this blog in Evernote so that I can add to it whenever the mood strikes. Now that I have a smartphone I am playing with the photo taking of receipts, whiteboards, etc and uploading them and testing out how good the text recognition is. Happy to report that it is damn fine for free!

A new feature I just noticed they have available form premium accounts is the ability to add Microsoft Office documents. Then you could access and edit(?) them from anywhere too. That in itself is almost worth the $5!

Not always got wifi when you need to access a note? On the Touch app you can favorite a note and that makes it available offline. The iPad caches all notes visited so they are always available. This was great for me when I was traveling – could keep my itinery, boarding passes, luggage tags and maps of visiting areas all as a favorite in my Touch. Even took scans of my passport and credit cards in case they got stolen. Even if my Touch was to have got stolen, I could access these documents from any Internet cafe by logging into the Evernote website.

Last month I cleared the clutter out of my filing drawer and scanned all those car service invoices. Now they are all in a notebook, tagged by the year of the service.

I installed the firefox clip tool which let’s you automatically add a note of either the whole webpage you are on or just the text you have highlighted. It can connect to your Facebook and Twitter accounts so that you can save information from your streams. Like RSS feeds? There is a connection for that too so that you can save the feed and edit to keep just the important links.

When you signup for an account you will get an Evernote email address to use so that you can automatically add notes via email. Looking in the user forums there also looks liken there is a way the automatically sync a local folder to upload new files automatically to Evernote. However, it does seem to involve a little scripting, so may not be ideal for a new user.

How stable is the company?
Seem to be doing well and they are always developing new extensions or adding to the apps that will work with them. Don’t really see a downside to it, even at $5 a month.

Technology Tool – TeamViewer

So I thought I would start a little blog series on some cool tools I have found to help you at work and at home. I am thinking a blog a week on each tool – keep me motivated to blog more regularly too!

This week I thought I would talk about a tool called TeamViewer (www.teamviewer.com).

What is it?
TeamViewer is a tool that let’s you conduct web presentations to an audience or it can also be used to screenshare/remote control another computer. At my company we have had great success using this in our support department to do screenshares with customers who call into us. To conduct an online presentation, just select that option on the interface and direct viewers to the TeamViewer presentation website where the session credentials can be entered. You can also have automatically generated emails sent to an email list with all the details. I also use this to remote control all my PCs from any web connection. Works more quickly and reliably than VPN when I am connecting to my work PC and it makes fast file transfers.

Is it secure?
TeamViewer’s website has documents that describe all the encryption they use and other security protocols to ensure you are getting a secure connection when connecting to another computer. Our security guys checked it over and agreed it is secure enough for us to use.

What about firewalls?
Using it to connect to customers all around the world and have rarely run into any firewall issues.

How does it work?
To do a screenshare with someone just send them an email with a small executable which they just need to run, not install. This gives them a number and password that we can then put into our TeamViewer and connect to the other PC. The other person can decide how much access they want to give you – read only through to full access.

TeamViewer can also be installed on each computer you want to access and these accounts saved to a partner list. This means each time you login you can connect to any partner machine that is also online. The partner list also let’s you name each computer so you can call one your work PC and another your home PC, etc. By having this setup you can connect remotely to each of the partner machines.

There is also a free iPad/iPhone app that you can use to connect to your partner list too. No need to worry about Flash issues when you can connect to your desktop and surf from there!

I have also installed this on my Mother’s PC so that when she has any problems I can remote connect and see exactly what is happening. Much easier than trying to walk through an issue from memory.

So this must be costly?
Actually, no – it is FREE for personal use!
For an enterprise license it is very reasonably priced based on how many concurrent remote sessions you need. We use this for our customer support department and bought into the 5 concurrent session limit and have not had any blocks from this (8 – 10 staff at any timezone). Interestingly, the pricing model they use is based on a one-time lifetime fee and you only need to spend more money if you want an upgrade. Business licenses start at $749, although we spent a few thousand on our licenses, it was still considerably cheaper than the alternatives we had been using. We had used Webex which was good, but pricey and we had tried GoToAssist which was also good, but about $20k more a year than TeamViewer!

All in all, I think this is a great tool that is equally of use at home and at work.