Category Archives: Tools

Mobile apps for business are on the rise

businessmanIn today’s app stores, there are thousands, if not millions of downloading choices. There are games, reward programs, platforms to help keep us up on sports, and other options most have yet to discover.

With all this success, the professional field has begun to take notice. No more are apps only for-fun, now users can file their taxes, sync multiple email accounts, and IM clients with these ever-growing business-friendly models.

Growing Technology

While, in theory, these options have been available to users since the induction of the first app, it’s taken updated versions and more user-savvy designs to put them in the spotlight. Advances in technology have also allowed more apps to be invented, such as those that use cloud storage or scan documents (GeniusScan, for instance). With clearer, more sophisticated cameras, smartphones are able to capture small text and reformat them into readable data.

These advancements can also be credited for geolocation, which, through network Internet, allows users to pinpoint colleagues or meet up with professionals in new locations. Apps like Brosix allow users to exchange coordinates through their business platform, which is also transferable to one’s computer.

Encryption-enabled platforms and voice recognition – such as Dragon Dictation – have also brought on a new layer of professional smartphone apps.

What it Means

With the growth of these for-business apps, more and more workers can perform tasks while on the go. Mobile offices can become much more efficient, cutting traveling costs or office expenses. In many cases, people are able to work from home, eliminating the need for an extra set of bills or commuting time and fees. Office equipment also becomes less expensive, as more and more electronics become unnecessary. With a smartphone alone – before apps are loaded – users can take out the need for an office phone, camera, calculator, phone book, and more.

These lowered costs allow companies to run more efficiently, and will even further advance the need for business app technology. Thankfully, the field doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, providing for more and more software inventions to come into play.

Whether using a smartphone for document scanning, geolocation, or email synchronization, the number of helpful app programs is on a steep rise. To get the most out of your mobile device, head to the app store to see what platforms are available for your needs – personal or professional.

3 apps to make grocery shopping easier

grocery appFor most of us, heading to the grocery store can be a huge production. Even if it’s just to pick up that box of baking soda a new recipe just can’t do without. There are the canvas bags we always forget to bring in, carts that take up the best parking stalls, and hoards of people all trying to do the same: shop as quickly as possible. I usually come in with a list, but there’s no rhyme or reason to the layout. I’ll pick up frozen veggies, backtrack to the peanut butter, and become forever overwhelmed with the hundreds of cereal options that await.

That is, until I stumbled into the world of grocery apps. Free and easier than I would have ever imagined, now I can easily list, navigate, and save my way through the aisles with the help of a single app. Of course many options are available, but here’s an outline of some of the most popular (AKA best working) grocery shopping apps.

Grocery IQ

More than just a list, Grocery IQ allows users to put in their needed items, arrange them for maximum store efficiency, and even hear suggestions for sales in the area. A cohort of Coupons.com, print or email coupons straight from the site. As for the “IQ” bit, this app remembers most purchased items, allowing you to add them to future lists with ease.

OurGroceries

Perfect for families with multiple smartphones, OurGroceries lets users create and sync lists from multiple locations. Update, change quantities, or create different lists to suit each store; one for groceries, one for cleaning supplies, one for the hardware store, and so on. Homes with multiple smartphones often opt for this more versatile version.

Shopping List

Powered by recipe.com, this free app is great for regular site users; simply add ingredients straight from a recipe page and into Shopping List. Read items into your phone for voice recognition to pick up, scan, or type lists to receive area sales.

Conclusion

While it’s true that many of these grocery list-based apps hold similar traits, it’s also true that they help make life much easier. Find one that works best for you (free ones; many are paid but offer few upgrades from their no-fee counterparts), or choose the one that comes with a familiar face. All options will allow you to save time, cut back on funds, and save some stress along the way.

Thanks to these and other grocery-themed smartphone apps, shopping for food never looked easier.

How to stay secure on public Wi-Fi

CoffeeShopWifi

Credit card numbers? Check. Website logins? Check. “Private” chats between cheating spouses? Double check.

Spend ten minutes in a coffee shop snooping on the “Free Public Wi-Fi!” and you’ll see all these things and more. Airports, libraries, parks? Same situation. Hotels are a little different, though. All the bandwidth is being taken up by people streaming porn, so there’s not much else going on.

Granted, this is the same type of traffic you’d see on a private, secure network, but in that setting you’re probably going to have a little better idea of who you’re sharing the network with and there are controls to keep potential criminals out.

Public Wi-Fi is exactly that, public. You are sharing it with everyone else in the local area, just like Jenny, that nice girl you went to highschool with who just wanted to feel pretty. For someone who’s interested in stealing financial information or identities, it’s an appealing target, mostly because it’s so easy to exploit. I wouldn’t even call it hacking, it’s more “collecting” – monitoring the network for unencrypted information and capturing the info that looks interesting.

Protect your neck

That being said, public Wi-Fi can be relatively safe to use if you take the appropriate steps to secure yourself and use a little common sense.

    • Starbucks is not a good place to balance your checkbook. Context is everything and there are certain places for doing certain things. Doing your online banking on public Wi-Fi is just a bad idea. Even if you’re taking steps to protect your laptop, there are too many factors that are out of your control to justify the risk. Restrict financial and other “sensitive” activities to networks you trust (like the one at your house).
    • Use a VPN service. A VPN (virtual private network) service will protect your internet traffic inside a secure tunnel out to the internet so that someone snooping locally won’t be able to see anything other than you connecting to the VPN service. Good VPNs aren’t free, but if you’re a heavy public Wi-Fi user, the cost is definitely worth the security you gain. I personally use a service called Cloak that works on Mac and iOS devices. If you’re not a super-awesome-Apple-user like me, I’ve also heard good things about StrongVPN.
    • Know what you’re connecting to. Although they can easily be spoofed to match the name of a real Wi-Fi network, it’s important to pay attention to the names of the wireless networks you use. Much in the same way that an e-mail titled “Free Money Waiting For YOU!” is probably spam, a wireless network named “Free Public Wi-Fi” is likely a scam.
    • Look at the physical signage wherever you are visiting. Starbucks uses AT&T to provide their Wi-Fi (It says so on the front door.), so the network there is called “attwifi”, not “starbuks” (The laziness that’s paired to Wi-Fi snooping is often paired with stupid.). Just being on the right public Wi-Fi for the location will keep you more secure. If you’re reading this thinking “Well, Mr. Smartypants, what if someone has exactly mimicked the name and setup of a real network and is performing a man-in-the-middle attack?” – see points 1 & 2.

When in doubt, bail out

Ultimately, if you doubt the safety or validity of a Wi-Fi network, don’t use it. It may come as a surprise to some people, but there are other things to do in public than surf the internet. If you’re presented with obviously unsafe options for wireless, maybe it’s a good time to strike up a conversation with one of the people around you. Read a book. Or maybe you should just sit quietly and contemplate your existence and how to become a better person.

Image Credit: Ed Yourdon

Getting stuff done with Remember the Milk

I have many titles. Chiefly, I am the King of Procrastination. As I get older, I’m also becoming the Duke of “Sorry, I Forgot All About That”. It’s not necessarily because my memory is getting worse, although that’s likely. It seems more to do with just having a lot more to keep track of than when I was in college and thought I was busy.

To deal with both problems, I became Lord of Lists. Everything I need to do gets documented in some way. For a long time, these were mainly pen and paper lists. Some still are. There are times when pen and paper are just faster.

I went through a lot of to-do list apps trying to find one that I liked, and the truth is, I hated most of them. Many feel bloated and in some cases it took longer to enter a task than it did to actually complete a task (Omnifocus). Others were close to what I wanted but were just a feature or two off (Wunderlist).

Ultimately, I settled on Remember the Milk as the best compromise of features and low friction.

No Corinthian leather

Remember the Milk (RTM)’s appeal is largely in its simplicity. The interface is clean, if a bit dated at this point. According to RTM’s about page, the interface was inspired by early versions of GMail.

Remember the Milk
Some dummy tasks. Sometimes I do forget to eat though.

Inputing a task is very similar to what you would do if you were writing on paper. Instead of typing in a description and clicking a bunch of checkboxes or drop-downs to set details (Although you have the option to do this.), RTM supports natural language input. So, you can you in something like:

Take out trash every Monday @Home #chores

Taking that input, RTM creates a task called “Take out the trash” that recurs every Monday with your home as the location and “chores” as a tag. You can add as much or as little info to a task as you want. There are no required fields other than the description, which as basic as it sounds, is a big feature. Most task apps require input in several fields and that really slow things down when you’re trying to quickly jot something down.

Overall, that’s the theme of RTM – Lot’s of features and functionality like shared tasks, tagging, advanced filter searches, and prioritization, but they’re only there when you want them.

Any client you want, for a cost

I do most of my input using RTM’s web interface and mainly use the iPhone client for it’s geo-fencing feature (Which is very similar to iOS’s Reminders functionality.). If I’m near Walgreens and I have a task that’s tagged with Walgreens as a location, the mobile app pings me with a reminder. Other than that, I don’t really use the iPhone app and prefer either the web interface or the iPad app (which is basically the iPhone app, but less “squashed”).

If you think that you would be a heavy mobile user, you should probably spring for RTM’s $25-a-year Pro plan which allows you to sync your lists between devices and the web app. In addition to the official apps, having the Pro plan also opens up syncing to the dearth of third-party clients that have been written for RTM, including plugins for Outlook and GMail. There are even several CLI-based clients for people who might be looking for something similar to Gina Trapani’s Todo.txt app.

The hidden method for deleting apps on your iOS device

Have you ever been on your iOS device (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, or iPad mini) and gotten a message that you do not have enough storage left for the app you want to download? What do you do? Well, that message is your indicator to start deleting apps, and preferably the big ones that take up a lot of space on the device. (I also suggest purging any apps you have not used in the past thirty days. You can always reinstall them, but you will find you won’t miss 99% of them.)

There are two ways to go about deleting your apps. You can use the “regular” way of long-pressing an app icon until they all start to jiggle with the “x” on the corner. Touch the x to delete the app. The problem with this method is that you have no idea how much space these apps are taking up and how much space you are freeing on your device. You could delete ten apps but only free up 5 MB. That won’t be much help.

The better, hidden way

The second method is the hidden method for deleting apps. If you open the Settings app and choose “General” followed by “Usage” you will be presented with a screen that has a section called “Storage” at the top. In that section you will see a list of apps on your device and how much space they are using. This list is only a partial list of your apps. Scroll down and tap “Show all Apps” to see the complete list.

Once you are on this list, tapping an app will give you a screen where you can delete the app. As you delete apps you can track your free space at the top of the list.

IMG_0385

You might also notice apps in the list that you have already deleted. This is data left behind from those apps and I have found it to be several hundred megabytes in some cases. You definitely want to get that space back.

Another benefit of deleting apps this way (besides seeing how much storage they are using) is that it is a lot easier and faster to find apps you want to delete. There is no hunting through pages and folders for apps. They are all right there in one clean list.

Of course if deleting apps doesn’t give you the free space you need it is time to delete videos and music. However, that is another article.

Dropbox Links: A New Way to Share Dropbox Files

As the realm of cloud-based file storage grows in popularity, so too does the needs of its users.  The people of Dropbox understand this, and are always adding new features to improve the experience.  (Never heard of Dropbox?  Don’t worry, we here at Techerator have you covered.)  This time around, Dropbox has added a simple, yet worthwhile option to enhance the user file sharing experience, and it’s called sharing links.

Yes you heard right; Dropbox is allowing users to share links now.  Here’s why: Originally, files and folders on Dropbox were shared with others via an internal “share” button.  This means that they were shared and synced only between Dropbox users.  But now with this new share link function, a file or entire folder can be sent out and accessed by anyone who has the proper link.

The Link Sharing Process

The link sharing process begins by logging into one’s Dropbox account through the browser, the file explorer program, or the mobile app.  Select a file or folder for distribution and click the “Share Link” option.

dropbox share link

A pop up box asks for intended recipients and a message to send to them.  Note that this sharing function is not limited to email; Facebook and Twitter sharing are also supported.  Once complete with composing a message, click “Send” to…well, send the link out into the world.

dropbox sharing

dropbox email

Once the recipient clicks the Dropbox link in the sent message, the file or folder that was shared should appear and provide full viewing access regardless if they have a Dropbox account or not.

dropbox view link copy

Features of the Shared Link

A few options exist to the user for viewing/using the shared Dropbox files and folders.  The standard method for file viewing is through the web browser interface.  Photos, videos, and even Microsoft Office documents can be clicked and previewed with little effort.

download files from link
Share the file again (the chain icon thing) or save it to your computer (the cog icon thing)

If the recipient decides they need a shared file beyond browser viewing, Dropbox allows them to either pass the link along (note that each file in a shared folder has its own personal link as well) or to download the file to their local machine.

Conclusion

File sharing no longer has to be difficult.  Thanks to Dropbox links, there’s no more messy file compression, no more large attachments for emails, and most important of all: no more USB thumb drives.  Just link and send it out.

Astrid is a near perfect to-do list for both iOS and Android

Logo_Astrid-320Calendars for 2013 are still fresh off the printing presses, and even though we are only a few weeks into January, I suspect that most people’s New Year’s resolutions are being broken by the minute. I started with six, but unfortunately they are being picked off faster than zombies on the Walking Dead. So, in order to keep the three resolutions I have left, I needed to do something drastic.

Get. A. To. Do. List.

Yes, an actual to-do-list. I’ve avoided them for years – but in order to stay productive during the year it was my only option.

In my despair I download Astrid, a to-do-list app available for iPhone, iPad and Android. And to my surprise, the app was fantastic and the best thing to ever happen to my productivity.

Astrid has a smooth and efficient design, and is easy to use as well. The app is a free download, but also offers a premium service for $4.99 a month or $39.99 a year, which offers file storage, voice recording, and document backups.

But don’t worry; it’s not essential that you fork over your hard-earned cash for the premium service, because Astrid is still a fantastic app even if you only use the basics.

iPhone-personal-list

The app has a simple and sleek design that lets you compile a standard to-do-list with the traditional boxes to check mark a completed task. You can also input tasks with specific dates and times, in order to remind you what needs to be done. One great feature about the app is that Astrid will categorize your tasks into four separate lists: tasks that are late, due today, due this week, and tasks that have no due date. You can also categorize your tasks under home, personal, shopping and work, or even customize the categories to fit your needs.

iPhone-shared-list

Another fantastic feature offered by Astrid is the ability to connect with friends or family on Facebook and share or assign tasks via the app. My wife and I use a shared to-do list, which makes running our busy household so much easier, and, to be honest, fun. I went from despising to-do lists to actually enjoying using them, and now consider Astrid to be an indispensable app on my iOS devices.

One area where Astrid has come in handy is during my workouts (which, by the way, were one of my New Years resolutions). The app sends push notification reminders when it’s time for me to workout – but where it really comes in handy is by sitting in my ‘late’ box if I do not complete it on time. It irks me to no end to see a workout that I have skipped sitting in the ‘late’ box.

iPhone-speech-to-text

There are so many features on the app that I might have missed a few, so here’s a quick list of all the features that Astrid offers.

  • Cloud sync with push notifications
  • Voice recognition
  • Share tasks and list over e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter
  • See friends’ public tasks and give them encouragement
  • One-time or repeating reminders
  • Add notes and set priorities
  • Calendar integration
  • available for both iOS and Android devices

Overall I love Astrid, and have become completely addicted to using to-do lists. It may also be the best productivity app I have used in a while. If I had to rate the app I would give it a 10/10, and call it a must have for anyone looking to increase their productivity and get their lives more organized. It’s also a great way to keep your New Years resolutions on track. Astrid is a great app and I highly recommend it.

5 ways to fight spam in your iCloud email account

Apple iCloudI have been an iCloud email user for a while, even before “iCloud” existed (iCloud is Apple’s online email service and other online tools). I was originally a MobileMe and .mac user. Until recently, my iCloud email addresses were relatively free from spam. However, for the past few weeks I have been getting five to ten spam emails a day and I didn’t even sign up for anything.

A search of internet discussion boards shows that I am not the only one with a recent onslaught of junk in my iCloud account. So is there anything that can be done about it? Well, there are a few steps you can take to help reduce the junk in your iCloud inbox.

Don’t click ‘Unsubscribe’ links

First, and most importantly, do not click any unsubscribe links in any of these spam emails. This will, most likely, just open the door to more junk. These links basically tell the senders that your email address is real and is read by a human.

Help report spam to Apple

The second thing you can do is help Apple improve its server-side filters by emailing the emails to them. You do this by forwarding the email from your desktop app as an attachment to spam@me.com. This is Apple’s spam address. To do this from Mail on your Mac select the email and choose “Forward as attachment” from the Messages menu. Address the email and send it off.

Add spam filter rules to iCloud

A third part of the plan includes setting rules through the iCloud webmail settings. If you log into your email through iCloud.com, locate the gear icon in the top right of the screen. Clicking that will present you with a menu of options. “Rules” will be one of these options. Choose that and you will see a window where you can set up rules.

If your junk emails have similar words in the subject, you can set up a rule to send emails with that subject to the “Junk” folder or the “Trash” folder. If the emails seem to be coming from the same email address, as many of mine have been, you can set the parameter based on that email address. It is very easy to do and setting the rules online instead of your mail program will prevent many of these emails from even making it into your inbox of the program you use.

rules

Flag spam as ‘Junk’

For those spam emails that still manage to sneak through your filters, you can mark them as “Junk” in the Apple Mail program or the webmail interface . iCloud is supposed to learn what is junk and what is not based on how you mark emails. I don’t know how well it works, but it is better than doing nothing.

Buy spam filtering software

Finally, there is the pay option. There are several spam filter apps for the Mac and several online spam filtering services. SpamSieve is an app I have used in the past.

Conclusion

There have been small flurries of spam through Apple’s email services in the past and it eventually works itself out. Hopefully it will do so again. If not, you now have some weapons to help fight spam in your iCloud account.

Have any tips for fighting iCloud spam? Share them in the comments below!

Image courtesy: Bas Boerman

Review: Steed, an attractive file transfer client for Windows

Utilities like text editors and FTP clients may not scream “sexy!”, but for us geeks who perform actual work with our computers, they’re critical tools. Unfortunately, these tools get so entrenched and build such strongly opinionated followings (people still use vi, for Pete’s sake!) that few developers try to build new, better tools.

A brave (or maybe they just didn’t know any better) trio of Frenchmen, calling themselves FrenchFry, decided that it was time to introduce something new into the stale world of Windows-based tools and just released a new file transfer utility named Steed. Inspired by their bravery, I decided to take Steed for a spin.

Overview

You may be asking “Why does this idiot keep saying ‘file transfer client’ instead of FTP?” Good question, jerk. I’m calling Steed a file transfer client because it does more than just FTP. It manages transfers for Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure as well.

Yes, I named my server Don Johnson. Don't judge me.
Yes, I named my server Don Johnson. Don’t judge me.

Another key differentiator from apps like Filezilla or WinSCP is that Steed’s interface isn’t a collection of seemingly random text fields and buttons. The interface looks to have been heavily inspired by Panic’s Transmit (my file transfer client of choice on Mac). Although not as polished as Transmit, Steed’s interface is clean and coherent.

I liked that Steed supports the sync of server settings via Dropbox and SkyDrive, which sounds like a small thing, but solves a big pain for folks who access lots of different servers. In that same vein, Steed’s bookmark management puts Filezilla’s Server Manager to shame by being much more user-friendly and a lot less Windows 3.1.

The less buttons, the better.
The less buttons, the better.

Most of my quibbles with Steed are due to its newness. FrenchFry tout Steed as being “beautiful” and it is much better looking than their Windows competition, but I don’t think it’s quite there yet. Some of the generic “templatey-ness” that plagues many .NET apps shines through around the edges.

The app never crashed on me, but I did manage to get it to throw some errors while trying to delete folders via FTP. Oddly enough, as soon as I restarted the application, it prompted me to download a patch that wound up resolving the errors I was seeing. So it appears the dev team is actively working on getting things cleaned up.

Final thoughts

I think the comparison to Transmit is an important one. For years, Transmit has been the de-facto file transfer client of Mac web and app developers, and Mac devs who’ve migrated to Windows have been clamoring for a Transmit-comparable file transfer client. Steed isn’t there yet, but it appears to be well on the way. I could see it being very popular in that crowd.

Outside those former-Mac devs, I’m less optimistic. For many developers, the free alternatives will remain “good enough”. If FrenchFry continues building modern features and adding polish though, they might stand a chance of cutting out a bigger niche.

Pricing and availability

Steed is available for a launch-price of $24.99 on FrenchFry’s website. A ten-day trial is also available.

How to rip DVDs to your iPad

Watching movies or TV episodes is probably one of the top things most people do with the iPad. You can rent or purchase movies through iTunes, but what if you want to watch a DVD on your iPad that you already own? You can convert your existing movies into a file format that is iPad friendly.There are plenty of sites offering free DVD converter software, a good number of which attempt to up sell you into a paid product.

The program I chose for importing DVDs is Handbrake. This software works the same way on both the Mac and the PC, however, for this how-to, I used a Mac.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to rip movies from DVD.

Step 1: Download and install required software

First you’ll want to download Handbrake. This software is free for both Mac and PC. You’ll also need to install the equally free VLC media player.

Step 2: Insert the DVD

You will need to insert your DVD into the computer that you are using.  This may cause your computer’s DVD player to launch and begin to play your DVD.  If that occurs, press stop on the DVD player and be sure to completely exit the program.

Step 3: Open Handbrake

Upon opening Handbrake, it will bring up a window that looks like the one below.  Handbrake is asking you what source that you would like it to scan for files that it can convert.  In this case, you will direct Handbrake to the DVD that you have inserted into your computer.  In the example above, the DVD is entitled, “PS_I_LOVE_YOU”. Select the contents and click Open.

Image 1

Step 4: Allow Handbrake to scan the DVD

Handbrake will scan the DVD for the movie file to convert. It will automatically select the file with the longest time duration to convert, which is almost always the movie that you want on your iPad. As you can see in the picture below, while there are many other files on the DVD, the longest file is selected is the movie.

Image 2

Step 5: Choose a location on your computer to save the movie

Click on the “Browse” button in the Destination section of the window.  This will allow you to choose the destination where Handbrake will save the file. You may want to save the file to your desktop so that it will be easy to find later.

Image 3

Step 6: Rip the movie to your computer

Click on the “Start” button at the top of the window and allow Handbrake to do its magic!  Your movie is now being saved to the location you selected in a file format that the iPad can use.  This process can take a while, depending on the speed of your computer.

Tip: Do not let your computer go into sleep mode during this process, the movie will stop ripping and you will not get a complete file.

Step 7: Move the converted movie into iTunes

Image 4

Now it is time to move the movie file (that you decided where to save in Step 5) into iTunes.  In order for this to happen, simply select the movie file and drag it into the movie section of the library on the left-hand side of the iTunes window and drop it there.  iTunes will begin to import the movie into its files at this point.  The movie will show up in the “Movies” section of your library with the original title of the file.

Image 5

Step 8: Sync the movie to your iPad

Select your iPad from the menu on the left-hand column of iTunes and select “Movies” at the top of the iTunes window.  Be sure that the box next to “Sync Movies” is checked and the box next to “Automatically sync all” (in the drop-down menu) movies is NOT checked.  Browse to the movie that you just imported into iTunes and check the box next to it.  Select the “Apply” button in the lower right-hand corner of the iTunes window and your movie is happily being synced to your iPad.

Step 9: Open the movie on your iPad

Open up the Videos app on your iPad and verify your movie is there.  Select it and you can now watch your movie without needing Wi-Fi.

This may take you longer the first few times you do it, but before you know it you will be a pro.