Category Archives: Guides

Free or paid online services: which should you choose?

flickr logoThere are a bunch of free services on the internet. There are services like Google Drive (formerly Docs) which is basically a free online word processor, spreadsheet app, and presentation app. There is Flickr which is a free photo sharing service. There’s Tumblr which is used for many types of sharing, but is most similar to a free blogging service.

All of these services (and many more) are great, and who doesn’t want free? Well, free isn’t always the best option.

Free support = no support

First, free usually means you are on your own if you need help. There is no 1-800 number to call for tech support. There might be an email address, but you may not get a response. If you are lucky there is a forum where other users go online to help other users who need it.

If you are paying for a service, you should be getting customer service also. There is usually an email address and/or a phone number to help when you need it. Now some place might have tiered service and give quicker responses based on your membership, but you should be getting some type of support if you are paying. For example, I use SmugMug for sharing photos and videos. This is a paid service. Not only do I love the site, but the customer service is fantastic. I usually get a response to my emails within an hour.

Lack of features

In addition to not having support free services usually come at a price of features. Many free services will offer the basics for free and when you want more you have to start paying. Some services might be thought of as a free demo or “lite” version and the full version comes with a fee. For example, you might be using a free online word processor that lets you type and save all of your documents. However, when you want to share or print a document or save in another format you have to pay. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, but make sure you are aware of limitation before you start using a service and get hooked into it.

Free is still good

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use free services on the internet. There are a bunch of great ones out there, and I use several. For example, I use Dropbox and iCloud. Both are fantastic services and both are free. However, if I want more storage out of both services I have to start paying an annual fee (yes, there are ways to get more storage in Dropbox for free, but at some point that runs out too). If I needed to I would be happy to pay, but I know the limitations and make sure I don’t get to that point.

In the end, it is a good rule of thumb to do some research before jumping into a free service. Make sure it meets your needs. What are the limitations? Are you willing to pay a membership fee if you have to? Just remember, you get what you pay for and don’t start complaining when that free service isn’t enough.

10 Facts You Need to Know About Netflix

netflix logoIn its short lifespan, the entertainment mogul, Netflix, has been able to accomplish a great deal. They’ve twice drug themselves out from the doldrums, created their very own type of entertainment viewing platform, and now the company even accounts for a large portion of online traffic.

In the process of creating this well-loved monster, they’ve reunited (or introduced) customers with thousands of films and TV shows. Without it we wouldn’t have terms like “Netflix bomb,” we might never know what it’s like to finish an entire season in two days, and there may never have been a House of Cards.

So, what makes this rental company stand out from the competition?

10. Netflix has nearly 30 million customers.

As of mid-2013, stats sat at 29.2 million subscribers and/or renters. That’s more people who live in the entire state of Texas.

9. Half of users stream via a game console.

While the other half is used by smartphones (6%), tablets, computers (42%), computers hooked to TVs (14%), smart TVs, and Internet-capable DVD players.

8. As much as 30% of Internet traffic in the U.S. can be attributed to Netflix.

7. Netflix turned 16 last year.

Though it wasn’t on consumer radars until early 2000s, the company was founded back in 1997.

6. Customers can sign up for streaming internationally.

Including North and South America, the Caribbean, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Northern Europe, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. However, DVD rental is only available in the U.S. (likely due to storage center fees and compliance of pre-marked postage envelopes.)

5. There are 58 Netflix distribution centers for DVDs, the locations of which are top-secret.

Employees are even sworn to secrecy (and probably the U.S. Postal Service).

4. Netflix’s DVD rental side accounts for 35% of all disc-rental expenditures.

3. The Average customers spends two hours streaming each day.

2. Only 36% of users view both TV shows and movies via their streaming/rental account.

1. Netflix made $1 billion in the first quarter of 2013, $3 million of which was profit.

Not bad for a company that almost split services just two years ago.

From subscribers to titles on hand, it’s safe to say that Netflix has some impressive stats. Whether you’ve jumped on the bandwagon or are standing safely on the sidelines, they’re continuing to take on the way we watch TV single-handedly.

Holiday Gift Guide 2013: The Digital Artist Edition

Every year companies push the limits of digital art and in some cases it gets harder and harder to distinguish digital art from hand made. Here are some of this year’s best products that you might consider getting for the digital artist in your family.

Wacom Intuos

intuosEarlier this year Wacom rebranded its product line and made the consumer line the new Intuos line. With the new name comes a new design and one of the best drawing tablets I have ever used. It comes in two sizes and any digital artist would love one of these.

Corel Painter X3

logopainterFor years Corel Painter has been the best natural media paint program on the market and this year Corel has updated it to version X3. With X3 comes new features like perspective drawing, easier photo painting, and a ton of new brushes. It is also faster than previous versions. It isn’t cheap, but if you can afford it this is a great gift. In my opinion it is the best version of Painter yet.

Adonit Jot Touch

jotThere are several Bluetooth styluses for the iPad on the market today that claim pressure sensitivity. I have tried several and the Jot Touch by Adonit is the only way that does what it says. It has pressure sensitivity that works through several iPad apps that have built-in compatibility. For any artist working on the iPad this is a fantastic gift.

Sketchbook Pro for iOS

sketchbookIf you are going to get the aforementioned Jot Touch for a gift, the recipient is going to need an app to use it with. Sketchbook Pro is one of them. The Jot Touch works great with it and the app is great even without the stylus. It is one mod my favorite drawing apps on my iPad.

Griffin’s Crayola Line


For the young digital artist in your family there is a collection of fantastic digital tools/pens available by Crayola through the company Griffin Technology. There are many different Crayola tools from drawing to airbrush to painting. They come in the form of pens/styluses and work with Crayola apps that are available for the iPad. Many of these apps are free and work without the pens, but the pens are needed to unlock extra features. This is a great way to support the young digital artist.

With this guide, whether you are shopping for a pro artist, hobbyist, or a young artist in your family, there are plenty of options at different price points to choose from this holiday season.

Holiday Gift Guide 2013: iPad Mini for Kids Edition

This holiday season, a lot of children will be getting iPads or iPad minis for presents. I suspect iPad minis will be the more popular of the two. For those that do get an iPad mini here are a few accessories you might want to get with the mini.

Black Blue V2 Double Layer Kickstand Hard Hybrid Gel Case Cover for iPad Mini

mini case

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of cases. I think they bulk up a phone or tablet, so I don’t have one on my iPhone or iPad. However, in the case of a young child, I highly recommend a case. You want one that can handle a good drop or bump.

My recommendation is to purchase a “hybrid” case. It isn’t fancy or expensive, but it has a plastic shell on the inside and a rubber outer case. There is ample space between the screen and case from to protect of from a screen first fall. Plus all of the buttons are protected, but easily accessible.

Screen Protectors

Screen protectors are another protection gift you want on a child’s iPad. There are plenty of them out there. Like the case, this does not need anything fancy. If you want to spend $25 on a screen protector go ahead. However, there are plenty of protects for under ten dollars and you can usually get them in a three pack.

iTunes Gift Card


Every child is going to want to dive right into the App Store. An iTunes gift card would be good for this. You can either apply it to your account or make an account for the child and let him or her know the password. Set the account to a minimum limit using parental controls and only allow the child to make purchases with money in the account. If they burn the card on Smurfberries it is their loss, but no charges are made to your credit card.

IPEVO Pad Pillow Stand for the iPad Mini


Another great accessory is the IPEVO Pad Pillow Stand for the iPad Mini. I recommended the larger model last year and this one is just as good. It is made for the iPad Mini, but it even holds a full iPad. It is basically a pillow that holds your iPad. It works great on a lap or the floor or almost any surface. It has multiple configurations and I love it.

Griffin CinemaSeat headrest mount for the iPad Mini


Finally, and following in the footsteps of my previous suggestion, is the CinemaSeat for the iPad Mini, which is a case that straps to almost any headrest in a car. (Last year, I suggested the full sized version of the CinemaSeat). The child sitting behind that headrest now has a screen in front of them to watch shows on as if it was a built-in DVD player, for a lot less money (not counting the iPad). By using the CinemaSeat they aren’t falling asleep while watching the iPad Mini on a long trip and dropping it to the floor as the do so. This works great and couldn’t be easier to use.

Overall, an iPad mini is a great gift. It can be educational and fun at the same time. These gift can help that fun and help make the fun last a little longer by protecting your investment.

Holiday Gift Guide 2013: Apple iOS Edition

Every year there are more and more products for the iOS market, and this year is no different. Here are some of the best products I tried this year that would make great gifts for any iOS user in your family.

Sandisk Connect Wireless Media Drive

mediaFor the person that is constantly running out of storage space on their iOS device the Sandisk Connect Wireless Media Drive is great. It wirelessly adds 32 or 64GB to your device for storing anything from videos to photos to documents. You can play music and video right through the device through its free app available in iTunes. It even will store and play iTunes DRM protected content. The Sandisc Connect drive even creates a wireless network of its own to transfer data to your device.

My favorite feature is the SD card reader, which lets you download and transfer photos to your device through the Sandisk without storing all of them on your iOS device. It’s a great product.

Sandisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive

flashFor those needing a little less storage than the Sandisk Connect Wireless Media Drive mentioned above, check out the Wireless Flash Drive by Sandisk. This device comes in 16 and 32GB models and does the same thing as the Media Drive without the card reader feature. Either of these would be great gifts.

Adonit Jot Pro

jotproAdonit makes some of the best styluses on the market. I love the Jot Touch, but for those who just want a nice stylus without extra features, like pressure sensitivity, the Jot Pro is a great choice. It looks like great and magnetically attaches to your iPad or iPad mini for easy transport.

iPhone 5C


The iPhone 5C seems to get a bad rap, but I think it is a great phone. It is slightly better than the iPhone 5 and it not only looks great, but it feels great in the hand too. If anyone in your family is looking for a new phone as an upgrade or is switching from a standard to smart phone this is a great choice at a great price. If you look hard enough you can even find these for about $40 in the 16gb version.

iTunes card

If you have an iOS device, you most likely use iTunes and the App Store in some fashion. An iTunes card is a great gift that comes n a variety of amounts for your budget. These days you can get them almost anywhere. You can even send one straight through iTunes.

There you have it: a variety of options for the iOS user in your family. From the iPhone to iPod to iPad, you can be covered with something on this list.

Holiday Gift Guide 2013: 5 Stocking Stuffers for the Tech Lover

folding keyboardsThis time of year, companies of all specialties and sizes are coming out with new products. From those that make gadgets run more smoothly, to those that keep them protected, shoppers are sure to find something for every tech lover on their list. Check out this list of top-rated products to not only make the electronically inclined happy, but to keep their stockings filled with something other than new socks this holiday season.

5. Portable Phone Chargers

Though battery lives are lasting longer and longer, it seems as though we always find ourselves low on juice – in the worst possible times. With a portable charger, however, phone users can re-boot on the go. From those that offer an entire second battery to those that use solar power to work, look to portable chargers to give the gift of extra phone power.

4. Gift Cards

It may not be the most personable of items, but gift cards are a great add-on to any present. Choose from music or app stores in virtual form, or opt for actual brick and mortar companies, like Best Buy or Radio Shack. No matter the location, a gift card allows for an extra bit of self shopping, even after the holidays have passed.

3. A Roll-Up or Projector Keyboard

When on the go, these small, yet fully functional, keyboards pack a big punch. Not only do they offer full-size capabilities, they roll, shrink, or turn off to easily fit into a backpack. Great for the avid typer or email-er on the go, these versions are a practical addition to any tablet or smartphone.

2. Pedometers

Exercise buff or not, pedometers allow users to keep track of more movements than ever. Whether in app or electronic form, techies can keep track of movement, average steps, weekly goals, and more. Fancier models, such as the FitBit, even come with software to analyze progress. Consider one of these electronic pedometers for daily movement motivation.

1. Extra Digital Storage

It may not sound like the most exciting of gifts, but external storage can open an entire string of possibilities. Techies are constantly gaining new programs and software, and external storage means an easier transfer between computers. They can also restore or check for bugs by removing a platform without deleting it. And if you’re still not convinced, look for a quirky or stylish model for an added layer of techie nerd-dom.

4 Apps to Make Traveling Easier

maps 2 goWhen on the road, even the most routine and everyday events can be made difficult. Internet connections can be hard to find, technology may not work correctly (or at all), and you’re forever searching for a free outlet. With all of these hang ups, it can be hard to check email or even locate your flight information in a timely fashion. But thankfully, there’s an app for everything, even for traveling.

Use these helpful apps to make the traveling process go as smoothly as possible, no matter how far you’re headed.

Apple’s Passbook

Coming standard on iOS devices, Passbook allows users to store all their important flight info in one, easy-to-tap location. This also goes for movie tickets, coupons, rewards cards, etc. Handy while on the go, Passbook is also great for everyday events. Simply load boarding passes, rental car info, or whatever other travel documents you need, and continue about your events paper-free.

Google Flights

Tired of searching around for the best deal? Download Google’s free compare app for a second opinion any day of the week. Use it to compare flight prices, or see which airlines are offering the best deals and when. The platform even offers suggestions and lets you know when to buy for the best deal possible.

City Maps 2Go

Out of your data network area? Try these pre-loaded city maps instead. The app offers easy-to-follow maps without the overage fees or slow data time. (Think of them as paper maps, but in a smaller package.) It even locates restaurants, shopping areas, or other specific types of businesses so you can find your way even when your phone has other ideas.

Packing Pro

Take the stress out of packing with this user-friendly app. Make a list of necessary items, and then check them off as you go. Adjust each list based on location, or email family members reminders of what to bring. For a small fee, packing becomes easier with this organized packing app.

Whether needing directions or expatiating your next flight, these apps are meant to take the hassle out of the traveling process. And considering users are on their electronic devices more often while traveling than any other time, pulling up these helpful screens shouldn’t be a problem. Just remember to charge up and log in for a stress-free traveling experience each time you leave the house.

How to reduce, remove, and block profanity online

word filterAs the Internet grows, the ability in which it’s used is constantly expanding. Teens, adults, and even kids of all ages are logging in and seeing what posts the net has to offer. Likewise, they’re sharing, sending, and commenting along for the world to see … whether or not their content is appropriate. Whether containing curse words, questionable photos, or suggestive text, in many areas of the net, there’s virtually no filter to weed out offensive messages. Users are free to post what they want, when they want, leaving the content for anyone to see.

So as a parent, teacher, or someone who just doesn’t appreciate reading the X-rated, what do you do? How do you filer out this inappropriate content?

Report It

On social media, content can easily be reported for being less than kosher. All users need to do is click the “report” button for the content to be sent into Twitter, Facebook, or alternative social media platform. Each post will then be reviewed and determined whether or not it should be taken down. Punishments are even given out to repeat offenders, such as limiting their log-on time or suspending them from a site.

Block It

For those with young Internet surfers, it may be a good idea to invest in blocking software, which doesn’t allow the use of certain websites without parent permission. Settings can be adjusted, based on desired freedom level and age, but the general idea is to keep kids from seeing anything too “advanced” for their years. Parents can purchase a program or subscribe to a monthly service.

This software is often found in schools or public libraries as well.

Scan It

web purifyA new way to look out for cursing or adult content comes by way of scanning. Companies like WebPurify work to check content directly from one’s web browser. By enabling the monthly service filer, users can avoid profanity from any corner of the web, thanks to an algorithm that constantly updates itself. With the service, users can block four-letter words, or a custom list of phrases, in multiple languages. Much similar to page-blocking software, WebPurify charges a monthly fee in order to keep one’s online searches curse-word free. However, the two differ in that scanning services place responsibility on the website owners to stop inappropriate content from reaching kids, not the parents or searchers.

No matter your approach to keeping the Internet clean, there are plenty of options to consider. Through the help of specialized software and workers who are dedicated to keeping sites safe, users of all backgrounds and ages can enjoy a more appropriate virtual space.

How to send your Android device’s photos to Apple iPhoto with Dropbox

android-logoA friend of mine recently got his first smartphone, and it happens to be an Android phone. He asked me how he could get his photos and video off of the phone and into iPhoto on his Mac. I had no idea, so I told him to try to connect the phone to the Mac via USB and see if it shows up in iPhoto like a camera. Unfortunately, that would be too easy and did not work.

The Dropbox solution

After researching the problem on the Internet I determined that the easiest method would be to use Dropbox and its automatic photo upload feature.

Step 1: Install Dropbox on your Mac

Before getting started you need to have a Dropbox account, if you don’t have one already. An account is free and comes with 2GB of storage (with ways to get more free storage through referrals and more). You then need to download and install Dropbox onto your Mac. The application will download automatically when you set up an account. You will need you login information when you install Dropbox on the computer.

Step 2: Install Dropbox on your Android phone and enable automatic photo uploads

Once the account is set up and Dropbox is installed on your Mac, you will want to install the Dropbox app from Google Play on your phone. Once installed on your phone, open the app and follow the steps to set it up using your account information. At one point in the setup you will be given the option to turn on the ability to automatically upload photos from your phone to Dropbox. You want to do this. There will also be an option to only enable this feature over WiFi. If you are on a limited data plan you will want to use the WiFi only option. Uploading photos uses data and you do not want to burn up your plan sending photos to Dropbox. Let the phone do this when you are connected to WiFi instead. If your plan is unlimited the choice is up to you, since you don’t have to worry about a data limit.

Once you complete this step, the phone will begin uploading the images already on your phone to your Dropbox account to a folder called Camera Uploads. It will also automatically upload any photo and video you take to Dropbox from this point forward.

Now you want to go back to your Mac and open your Dropbox folder . The easiest way to do this is to go to the Dropbox icon in your menu bar and click “Dropbox Folder.” The folder will open and you should notice a folder called Camera Uploads. This is the same folder that the phone is not loading your photos and videos into. If you open it you should see all of you content appearing.


Step 3: Add your photos to iPhoto

Now you have to get those photos into iPhoto. To do this make sure you are in the Dropbox folder. Drag and drop the Camera Uploads folder to iPhoto in your dock. All of the content in the folder will be placed into an event in iPhoto and you are free to edit and share from iPhoto.

Step 4: Manage your limited Dropbox space

There is one final and important step. Your Dropbox account is not unlimited storage. You want to empty the Camera Uploads folder each time you import into iPhoto and free up that space. To do this open your Camera Uploads folder and choose “Select All” from the Edit menu. Next choose “Move to Trash” from the File menu. At some point you will want to empty the trash, but that is not required right now. This will empty the folder and free up that space. Keep in mind that this only deletes the photos from your Dropbox account. It does not delete them off the phone.

If you followed these steps correctly you are set and able to take photos and video off your Android phone and import them into iPhoto thanks to some help from Dropbox.

How to make a DIY smartphone stand for under $1

7816754688_487dd75457_hSmartphone stands are a great way to watch content on your phone without having to hold the phone upright, and there are a ton of different DIY methods for making them. A lot of them are made so that they’ll hold your phone horizontally, but some users want stands that prop up their phones vertically, similar to an iPhone dock from Apple.

If you want to make something similar, I’ve discovered an insanely-cheap method for building a smartphone stand that will prop up your phone vertically. It’s cheap, but it does take a little bit of assembly. Here’s how to do it.

Supplies You’ll Need

  • MiniDV tape case or a regular cassette tape case
  • A handful of pennies
  • Hot glue gun w/ glue sticks
  • Rubber tape
  • Dremel power tool

How to Make It

Technically, just the tape case will do the trick if you want a barebones solution; just open up the case all way and stick your phone in the slot. A MiniDV tape case is the perfect size for most phones, but a regular cassette tape case will do the trick.

However, if you want to take the stand to the next level, you can add a few things to make it perfect:

1. Take your pennies and hot glue gun and glue the pennies inside the case. This adds weight to the stand so that it doesn’t slide around. Pennies aren’t the best option, since they’re currency and all, so if you have any other tiny objects that weigh a lot, you can use those instead.


2. Next, use the rubber tape to line the stand so that the phone won’t slip around when it’s in the stand. Since my iPhone doesn’t fit perfectly in the slot, I cut out small strips of the rubber tape and glued them into the slot to add a little padding so that my phone would fit perfectly.


3. Lastly, take your Dremel power tool and use a small drill bit to carve out a small hole on the bottom of the tape case slot so that the phone’s sound can exit through the speaker without it being blocked by the stand.



It’s a pretty janky-looking smartphone stand, but it’s dirt cheap and it does its job. Plus, it still folds up just like cassette tape does so that you can toss it in your bag and take it with you on the go.

Of course, buying a pre-made smartphone stand may be a good investment if you plan on using it all the time. Good smartphone stands can cost as much as $30, but that’s a small price to pay for something that you’ll use every day into the future.