SugarSync isn’t such a sweet alternative to Dropbox

SugarSync

SugarSync

Dropbox is one the most useful tools that I use. Being able to easily access files from any computer is a must for anyone who works remotely, but it’s good to have alternatives to Dropbox sometimes. One of those alternatives is SugarSync. At first glance, it looks like it can do a better job than Dropbox. However, there are a few issues that may have you think twice.

The bad news

After installing the SugarSync Manager, I chose which folders I wanted to sync. They also let me choose subfolders to sync or exclude. Within minutes I had an online backup service, and those files were accessible by any computer I synced my SugarSync account with.

For those of you who prefer the idea of a special folder for sharing files, SugarSync installs the Magic Briefcase on your computer to make that happen. Use this to quickly store files accessible by all your computers or colleagues, or at least that’s the theory.

It doesn’t work so well on Android. First, adding a file isn’t easy. I have to find the file by navigating the SugarSync app through the phone’s directory structure. Although, I almost am willing to call that a cool feature. Using SugarSync, I can find any mobile file, but sharing files should be easier than that. For example, I use the vRecorder app to record audio on my phone. From within that app I can easily send audio files to my Dropbox or Google Drive accounts, but there’s no SugarSync option.

Second, I can’t get anything in my Magic Briefcase to travel between my phone and computer. I was able to move an audio file into the Magic Briefcase on my phone, but I can’t access it on my computer, and vice versa. A text file I loaded from my laptop to the Magic Briefcase won’t appear on my phone.

Not all bad news, though

Despite some annoyances with Magic Briefcase, I am able to access its files via the website, and the Android app is able to access the laptop folders that are synced with SugarSync. This is a handy way to access all kinds of files, and I can even sync Dropbox files that are stored on my laptop — what Dropbox saves on my computer is saved on SugarSync. It’s not real-time, but it’s a legitimate backup.

Other features include:

  • Mobile apps for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Symbian.
  • 5GB free with 30GB, 60GB, 100GB and 250GB upgrades available.
  • WebSync app, which lets you edit files in the cloud.
  • Automatic photo uploads, which (for what it’s worth), Dropbox can also do using the regular camera app.

Conclusion

Not being able to quickly and easily sync a file generated by my phone is a major shortcoming of SugarSync. Even if it’s due to user error, I’m not happy with the Magic Briefcase. Dropbox makes it very easy to do and sets the bar extremely high in this case.

However, depending on any one service is a bit risky, especially if it’s free. It’s good to have other options readily available when a web service goes down, and SugarSync can fill that void — just don’t expect it to be anything fantastic compared to your go-to cloud service.

How to find out if your Mac is infected with malware

One of the favorite Mac vs. PC myths is “PCs are slow, they always crash, and get viruses!” The corollary to that would be “Macs never get viruses.” That’s getting harder to say with a straight face.

In April, research firm Sophos released a study that found one in five Macs was infected with malware. The study comes from a survey of 100,000 Macs that downloaded Sophos’s free Mac antivirus software, so it was a decent sample size.

(It’s important to note that these malware programs are Windows programs, so they aren’t able to do anything unless the Mac runs Windows software. They are mostly harmless.)

No matter what software is affected though, this increasing trend demonstrates that hackers are able to sneak unwanted software payload onto Apple  computers. Currently, 2.7 percent of infected Macs are infected with Mac OS-compatible malware.

Malware such as the Flashfake Mac OS X botnet have been reported to have infected 500,000 Macs. It disguises itself as an Adobe Flash installer and hijacks the search engine results that appear in a browser.

How to find out if your Mac is infected

There are several free applications to help you find out if your Mac is infected:

The word “trusted” on the last item is important because the list is part of a post on a new malware which specifically targets Macs. Fake security applications like “Mac Defender,” “Mac Security,” and “Mac Protector” have tricked unsuspecting users into installing malware instead of antivirus software. Luckily this one is fairly obvious to find (read the post for very good instructions.)

To avoid future malicious downloads, the post recommends turning off any option that automatically opens or installs downloaded files, as well as restricting downloads to specific folders.

The only guaranteed way to avoid malware is to not connect your Mac to the Internet. Being careful while using the Internet helps, but even the most computer-savvy users can get infected with malware without knowing it. In lieu of completely disconnecting your computer from the Internet, the most effective deterrent seems to be keeping up with the latest Apple security updates.

Privacy: Ghostery helps you elude online trackers in all browsers

Ghostery browser add-on
Ghostery browser add-on
Ghostery shows you who is tracking you and let's you stop them.

Browser cookies are the black helicopters of the Internet age. Everyone seems to believe they’re only used for a secret, evil purpose.

I guess it depends on your definition of evil. Companies use cookies  to store information about Internet users. That information is coupled with other data collected via “tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons that are included on web pages in order to get an idea of your online behavior.” That idea helps them deliver ads and marketing messages to you online. Probably the biggest problem is that this is done without you knowing that you’re building a customer profile simply by reading blogs and watching videos.

Ghostery is a free browser add-on that exposes who is tracking your behavior and allows you to block them. It is available for Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer and Apple iOS. That’s right – you can use it on your iPhone.

When setting up the add-0n, it’s easiest to go with a broad brush by blocking all third-party extensions and cookies. It doesn’t seem to do any harm (depending on your definition of harm).

For example, it blocks almost all the social media sharing buttons you see on web content. So if you use them a lot to “Like” pages, tweet stories and add to social bookmarking services, you’re going to miss them. But it’s easy enough to allow the functions you want by clicking on the ghost icon at the bottom of your browser. That will bring up an info box that tells you what is blocked and lets you unblock it. You can also click through to get information on the service that is tracking your behavior.

That window also lets you temporarily turn off the blocking. Once you do that, Ghostery still identifies the trackers and gives you the same information.

One of the benefits seems to be increased browser speed. Sometimes the blocking takes time but overall pages load faster without the third-party extensions.

Another casualty is advertising. Some ads are blocked. Sometimes the space is there but no ad can be seen. Annoying pop-over ads still appear but don’t show any advertisement. I still have to close out the ad space to continue reading.

Other than that, I don’t seem to be missing any functionality, except my online banking site seems to be glitchy while Ghostery is blocking trackers. Pausing the blocks lets me do what I need to do though.

I see two problems for publishers though:

First, Ghostery can block your analytics – Google Analytics and Omniture for example. That means your stats could take a hit even if you’re only tracking traffic to pages not who is reading them.

Second, if you run a metered paywall – a limit to the number of pages that can be viewed for free – Ghostery can let readers bypass those limits since they rely on information in cookies. But it doesn’t break down paywalls that protect certain pages.

What I like about Ghostery

I don’t need a tin foil hat anymore. The add-on makes me feel invisible to all kinds of tracking. Since not all of it is evil, I have the ability to accept the services that I want to use. It’s easy to use and worth the time to install.

Ghostery
Ghostery blocks some ads from being displayed

[Download Ghostery]

Simplify list making and note taking with WorkFlowy

WorkFlowy
WorkFlowy
I used WorkFlowy to outline this blog post

There’s another free productivity tool that harnesses the power of simplicity. WorkFlowy is probably the simplest, most powerful web app you will find. Basically it’s a list maker that can be used as a task organizer and project management tool.

To use it, just start typing. Automatically you’re creating a bullet point. Press “return” and you have a new bullet point under it. Press “tab” and that line becomes a bullet point and your original line becomes a heading. Keep pressing “return” to add more bullet points.

And that is the tutorial. Like I said. Simple. Of course there a few more features (not many) that make this incredibly useful for organizing thoughts, writing outlines and managing tasks. But there aren’t enough to complicate and ruin its elegance. Here’s what you can work with:

  • Notes: Add some subtext to each line
  • Expands/collapses easily: Each user only gets one page so the ability to collapse all the sublists and expand by clicking on a bullet makes the mass of text easier to read.
  • Complete: One click strikes through the line to indicate it’s completed. You also can choose to hide all the completed tasks.
  • Search: The search of your list(s) is incredibly fast. This is key to finding the notes you saved.
  • #hashtags: Using the # symbol turns the word into a linked tag that leads to a page with just the bullet points that have your #hashtag.
  • Daily email: You can get an email with all the changes you made the previous day. If you use it to plan your day, this becomes a nice reminder of what you need to do.
  • Export: This is a bit of a disappointment. It simply lets you copy the bullet points selected for export. Then paste the list into another document.
  • Share: You can share your lists with other WorkFlowy users if you’re looking for a simple project management tool
  • Mobile: This is just a page on your mobile browser. But the tool is so minimal it’s hard to imagine needing more on your phone.

Why I like using WorkFlowy

WorkFlowy is an incredibly easy tool that makes lists. As a writer, I use it  mainly to create outlines and organize notes. The collapsibility and search make it easy to navigate so I can find everything easily. It’s my first step whenever I brainstorm projects or writing assignments.

That said, there are a few things I would like to see added to its features. For example, I would love to add links and clip web pages from a bookmarklet. Think of it as a minimalist Evernote. I also would like to add bullet points or lists via email or text messaging. And not just text – photo and video clips would be handy.

Maybe those are features that will ruin the simplicity, which would be a shame. That simplicity is probably WorkFlowy’s best feature.

iTriage helps people find medical care on their mobile phones

iTriage appp

iTriage apppThere are mobile apps that will help you improve your  health, but what about when you’re sick or injured?  You need to know what is wrong with you and where to get it treated (probably more important).

The iTriage app for Android, iOS, and Palm will help you diagnosis what ails you. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can still access the information on the web. It starts out with a diagram of the body and offers a list of diagnoses. Each comes with:

  • Descriptions
  • Causes
  • Treatments
  • Images (which may cause some queasiness)
  • Links to YouTube videos
  • Directions to find medical help
  • Sources of more information

I’m not a doctor (but I wish I played one on TV) so I cannot offer guidance on whether the medical information is accurate or not. But iTriage is tremendous help finding medical care. It has databases for:

  • Physicians
  • Hospitals
  • Clinics that treat minor illnesses
  • Emergency and urgent care centers
  • Community health centers (Offering subsidized care for low-income patients)
  • Pharmacies

Each listing has contact information and a map. This is a valuable tool for anyone in a new area who needs anything from a new primary care physician to an emergency room. You also can request an appointment with healthcare providers you find with the app.

All listings, medicine and disease information can be saved on your phone. There also is the ability to save your insurance information. The app may be able to use the information to customize the advice hotlines you can call to get more information on your condition or finding medical care.

Conclusion

iTriage is a handy app when researching medical information, but I wouldn’t use it to turn my phone into a medical tricorder and play doctor. The physician and hospital finding functions are extremely useful, but it wasn’t very useful for finding a primary care physician in my area.

Warning: Excessive use can lead to cyberchondria.

“Focus on the User” inserts competing social network links into Google search results

what Google should be

what Google should beWhen Google launched “Search Plus Your World”  (SPYW) it took a big step toward becoming the company that everyone loves to hate. By integrating search results from the Google+ network into your regular search, plenty of people cried foul. And not just the ones working for Twitter and Facebook.

By excluding results from other social networks, critics claim that Google is tampering with search results to promote its Facebook/Twitter competitor. One of those critics is Focus on the User (fotu), and it is doing something about it. They explain the problem with SPYW and their solution in this video:

The idea is that Google+ profiles and posts may not be as useful as what those users post to other social networks, so fotu gives you the option of finding what’s in those social networks that are complaining about SPYW. They have a bookmarklet that will take any Google search result that is enhanced with SPYW and add links to timely, relevant information in other social networks such as Twitter, Facebook or Quora.

As for me, I’m not convinced that this is the problem that fotu makes it out to be. Google has options such as “Verbatim” mode and “Hide personal results” that minimize SPYW, and the offending Google+ profiles don’t appear on every search. If you search for the word “politics,” you get three results linking to Google+ profiles. Search for “mitt romney,” there are none.

Unfortunately, the fotu bookmarklet doesn’t seem to do much to correct the problem. When you click on the bookmarklet (which is titled “don’t be evil”), you still get the same Google+ links but with other social network links. It still relies on Google to choose profiles from its Google+ social network. You will not get the chance to see the profile of someone without a Google+ profile.

Conclusion

This will not be the SPYW killer that Google haters want.  It’s a clever, simple tool that will help you find celebrities’ Twitter and Facebook accounts and demonstrate how Google results can be tweaked for other purposes. Otherwise, it doesn’t do that much.

How to create, format and self-publish your own eBook

iBooks

iBooksWhen Apple rolled out iBooks 2, it also released a tool to create interactive ebooks called iBook Author. It’s free and supposed to be easy to use. The catch is that you can only use it to sell books via Apple’s iBooks store, although you can use it to create ebooks that you can distribute for free.

iBooks Author is an important tool because creating an ebook is a bit more complicated that exporting a Word document as a PDF. Self publishing services such as Lulu, Smashwords and Amazon’s CreateSpace, and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! have free templates that you can use to create your ebook. Cover art is usually uploaded as a separate file. Your files are converted into the ePub format that will be readable by ebook readers such as Nook and Kindle.

All this is free – that is, until you actually sell your ebooks. These services can take anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent in commissions. While that’s more lucrative than royalties paid by traditional publishers, you may want to truly self-publish your books. There are tools that will export ePub and PDF formats, allowing you to sell your own ebooks and/or distribute through one of the services.

Here are some free options that you can use to create ebooks on your own:

  • PressBooks: This service is a WordPress blog that lets authors export books in ePub, Kindle, print-on-demand-ready PDF, HTML and inDesign-ready XML.
  • eCub: This free app works on Windows, Linux, Mac, FreeBSD and Solaris systems. It’s a very basic tool without WYSIWYG.
  • Sigil: Free WYSIWYG ebook editor works in Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

Jutoh costs $39 and is a WYSIWYG ebook editor imports text files or lets you create the ebook from scratch. It works in Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. Some word processing and design apps such as Atlantis, Adobe InDesign, Pages and Scrivener will export documents in ePub format.

Conclusion

It may be worth your while to create your ebook with one of these apps before uploading it to an ebook selling service. They may be easier to use than the templates provided, and having your own ePub-formatted manuscripts give you more flexibility for selling your books.

Create better online videos with the YouTube Creator Playbook

There are two ways you can use YouTube to gain fame and fortune:

  1. Create a viral video that gets viewed by millions of people.
  2. Create a YouTube channel that drives traffic to your brand over time.

Viral videos rely a lot on quirkiness and luck. Despite that randomness, there are some best practices that will help your video. The more methodical approach to building a popular YouTube channel requires a mastery of a wide range of online video best practices. The YouTube Creator Playbook is a guide to those best practices broken into Programming and Producing, Publishing and Optimization, and Community and Social Media.

For example, these are some of the best practices:

  • Tent Pole Programming: Schedule online videos in connection with cultural events to create more interest in your channel.
  • The First 15 Seconds:How to hook your viewers by making the beginnings more compelling.
  • Thumbnail Optimization:Create thumbnail images that act as mini-movie posters for your online video.
  • Social Media: Using social media to find audiences for your YouTube channel.

This is a very practical guide. Each best practice is introduced by a summary page that gives an estimate of how much time is required, description of what metrics are affected, estimate of how much the task will impact metrics and at what stage of production it will be used. The information helps content creators decide what is important for them to do.

The how-to part is rich in detail and ideas on how to implement each best practice.

The Playbook is a must read for anyone – beginner or pro – who wants to create and sustain an audience for online video. It can be browsed quickly for ideas and is strong on detail that explains how to implement practices. YouTube promises to keep updating the Playbook for more tips as they learn what works. There isn’t a subscribe option but keep an eye on the YouTube Creators blog.

Again, the Playbook is a must read. The advice is collected and presented in a very useful way.

Clearly: Chrome browser extension cuts distractions from web pages

Clearly Less Distracting

Evernote has created a tool for people who are easily distracted. Clearly is a Google Chrome extension that strips out navigation, links and advertisement from any Web page and presents you with a cleaner, less distracting online reading experience.

Clearly Less Distracting
Clearly is a Chrome browser extension that strips navigation, links and ads from a page

The Clearly reading experience is customizable: you can choose between three styles of background and typography – which are clean but perfectly boring, but that is the point. Sometimes, a plain vanilla reading experience without the option of clicking on links helps readers concentrate on the reading.

To be honest, I don’t care so much about that. The links and navigation do little to interrupt my reading. But online advertising is becoming more obtrusive. The worst are the ads are the type  that pop up in the amount of time it takes me to read a paragraph or two. That’s more of an interruption than distraction but still stymied by Clearly.

I appreciate that Clearly attempts to stitch together multi-page articles into one page. While that worked for me when reading the New York Times, it failed in Sports Illustrated. Clearly seems to be easier to trigger and faster than clicking on the “Single Page” link on the page. And not every multi-page post has that “Single Page” option.

Of course Clearly has a button to clip the page to your Evernote notebooks. Which is nice if you have something against bookmarklets. But the winning feature for me is that it creates a print-friendly version of the meanest of web pages.

Note that Clearly only works in Chrome although the developers are promising that support for other browsers is coming.

This is a limited extension that strips distractions from a web page and leaves just a clean presentation of text. Even if that is not important to you, Clearly is worth having so you can have fast access to single-page and printer-friendly versions.

Download Clearly [Google Chrome Web Store]

Create a WiFi signal strength map with NetSpot for Mac

NetSport Wireless Survey App

Finding the best spot for wifi access in your home or in a public place is pretty much trial and error. Turn on your laptop, and see what happens. NetSpot is a free wireless survey tool that makes it more of a treasure hunt. Once you install it on your Mac (OSX only), your laptop becomes a wifi sniffer.

Before you start up the app, you’re going to need a floor plan with measurements. NetSpot includes some decent drawing tools so you can map out your area in a way that won’t gain you admittance to architecture schools. But you’re going to need to draw the floor plan to scale, which means taking measurements (or making the best educated guesses of your life).

I’m lucky; my stepson is a CAD enthusiast who already created a map of the first floor of our house which I loaded into NetSpot. I then walked around the house with my laptop – stopping at strategic locations on the floor plan and clicking on them. Then waited a few seconds while the app scanned my wifi networks. In my mind, a strategic location was at a corner or doorway (which was detailed precisely on my floor plan). It required no guesswork or estimation on my part.

Each click colored the area on the floor plan green. When I covered the entire floor, I stopped the scan to see what I got.

NetSport Wireless Survey App
The NetSpot app creates a heat map showing the signal strength of my wireless network at home.

The dim yellow shading in the “Second Living Room” shows the strongest signal on the first floor, which is right below the wireless router upstairs. The worst spots are on the kitchen counter and in the bathroom (although these are still decent strength levels).

The app also will create heat maps showing interference and signal noise.

It’s a fun app that can be useful if you’re trying to figure out where to place your routers and work stations, but if I didn’t have a floor plan already, I would haven’t even tried the app. The work involved wouldn’t have been worth it. Your mileage may vary.

One last note: I wish this was a mobile app. Sure, creating a floor plan could be ugly on a small screen. But walking around the house holding a laptop still is not easy on the arms.