Need advice? Try ChoicePunch

choicepunchEver since the world was introduced to PostSecret, the idea of going to strangers with news became a thing. Dark, embarrassing, or just needing to confess the fact that Progressive’s Flo is was too perky for her own good, the site allowed online users to get things off of their chests. Without the threat of a consequence.

Now, however, the theory of online sharing is growing – but it’s not just secrets that others are sending to the world. Now there’s an entire site dedicated to giving others advice. Found on ChoicePunch.com, users can give advice, share personal stories, or just learn what others have to say. There’s even a private section to keep personal matters from being shared with loved ones (or the rest of the online population).

How it Works

Users can sign up for a free account, and as soon as they’ve confirmed, can start posting. Helping others can be found under the Speakout section, while asking others is known as a Reachout. Simply click your corresponding section, and begin communicating.

When reaching out, users ask a question, give a little background information, and then offer up relatable choices – usually two to four. They can then explain their situation so others have a better idea as to what they’re answering. When speaking out, users head to a main page where questions are displayed with images (ChoicePunch provides them), then they click on a post and give their opinion. This is done by choosing on a specific answer, or write a few sentences about why you agree or disagree.

Profiles also keep track of how many lives each person has touched, like an ongoing reminder of the good that can be done online. And while a majority of the questions are superficial, for instance diet advice, or when to tell a new significant other you’re a parent, there’s also a number of hard-hitting topics that are explored.

No matter the subject matter, though, ChoicePunch offers users an outlet that never before has existed. Instead of going to friends and family members, who may be swayed by background information, unbiased advice can be found almost instantaneously. And without footing the bill for an expensive or multiple-session shrink. By posting questions and answers online, strangers can give and get real-time advice that directly relates to their life.

To start getting real-time advice today, head to ChoicePunch.com.

Google Search: More advertising leaves less room for organic results

Google’s corporate motto is “don’t be evil.” When this was unveiled in 1999 / 2000 (attribution claims vary), it was seen as something of a dig at various large companies and the way they operate. Zooming forward to the present day, I find myself wondering if Google are beginning to lose sight of this ethos and become a little drunk on their own power.

I run a number of blogs. One of them has, over the past few years, become rather successful. Now, I don’t mean “earn a fortune, quit my job” successful, but successful enough to attract advertisers, gain loyal readers running into the thousands, win a couple of small awards, and earn me enough money to make the time I spend on it worthwhile.

So, why am I moaning about Google? Well, it started a few months ago, when I began to notice my unique visitors dropping like a stone. I had a chat with an “industry” friend, and he pointed me in the direction of a very interesting article about how Google is slowly “killing off” organic search.

Google Search
Google Search

More advertising, less search results

According to the article, there’s now less and less space on a typical Google search page dedicated to organic results, and more and more dedicated to revenue-generating Google products. The examples in the article include a search for “auto mechanic” where only 13% of screen real estate on a 13” Macbook Air ended up displaying natural search results. A search for “Italian Food” on an iPhone showed NO natural results whatsoever on the first screen (barring one from Google-owned Zagat) and required a scroll through four pages of information before any truly natural results appeared at all.

So how does this affect independent bloggers? In my case, my blog has been at the top of Google’s results for a number of relevant search terms for several years. Now it has dropped down, typically to fourth or fifth place. So why has this happened?

Well, it’s clearly due to one of the recent algorithm updates, but looking at the sites that are now on top reveals little. While one or two may arguably have more “authority,” some are small commercial companies appearing seemingly at random, which tells me that despite Google’s punishing algorithm updates, some sites are still manipulating their rankings with SEO techniques and are slipping through the net.

After spending years creating good content and building readers, Google moves the goalposts, resulting in far fewer people finding my site.

While I know this sounds like “sour grapes,” I’d be less bitter if I truly believed that all the results that have pushed me from the top deserved to be there. I’d find it easier to accept the situation if some didn’t contain vastly out of date content that (personal bias aside) simply doesn’t deserve to be there.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that increasingly, the only way to ensure people consistently find you on Google is to pay Google. Even if you’re doing well in the organic results right now, the next algorithm change may plunge you into obscurity, especially when Google’s page layouts now mean that even being on the first page of the natural results doesn’t mean anyone will see you without lots of scrolling.

Google built its popularity on being fast, clear and fair. It would be a terrible shame if that “don’t be evil” slogan came back to bite it.

Why are unlocked smartphones so expensive?

locked iphoneWhen signing a new contract plan, users can walk away with a brand new phone for only a couple hundred dollars. With the right options, rebates, and carrier, users may end up with a free, or nearly free version of their favorite smartphone. But it’s the stipulations that provide a good deal. Factor in contract fees and a lack of flexibility, and there’s very little room for wiggling.

Enter the super expensive “unlocked” phone. Phone service providers saw that their customers needed the option to come and go as they pleased, and they decided to let them. By charging them exorbitant amount. Purchasing a new, unlocked iPhone 5 will cost a hefty $649.99 – $600 if buying from a private party. And that doesn’t even include any service to go with it, phone or Internet. In contrast, signing a two-year contract will bring the same phone to $199.99.

What Gives?

A computer can easily be purchased for the price of an unlocked smartphone. It may not be the best or biggest, but it’s still a computer with all its working functions, software, available updates, and whatever else that makes electronics so expensive. Tablets – the fancy ones – even cost less than an unlocked smartphone. Therefore extra fees can’t be chalked up to hardware, parts, or even display.

So why are such large price tags being slapped on our phones? Many argue that users actually pay more over time with their contract deals, as there is a monthly fee built into service agreements. But unless that charge is named “sales tax” or “4G service,” most users would argue against said claim. Others state that the cell phone companies are subsidizing phone company expenses. True or not, this doesn’t account for why phones cost so much more than tablets and computers. If simple cell phones are given away, it can’t be the calling feature racking up the fees, right?

Is it really just about convenience? Even after one’s contract has been fulfilled, the phone belongs to Verizon, or AT&T, or whatever other service provider has stolen the device’s soul. Users aren’t locked into that phone indefinitely, per say, but without some possibly illegal adjustments, the devices are.

While the public may not understand these serious price hikes, it doesn’t look as though they’re going to reduce anytime soon. Fans of the iPhone simply have to decide whether it’s worth paying a few extra dollars, or sitting heavily under someone’s thumb.

Review: Disk Drill Pro for Mac

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If you have a computer, you should also have a backup plan in place. Some people have a local backup, others have an offsite backup service, and others might have both or more.

If you are on a Mac you might be using Time Machine as part of your backup plan. However, most backup plans, including Time Machine, can only go back so far to recover a file. Some only backup the most recent versions of a file. Plus, these backup plans are for your hard drive only. What if you accidentally erase a file of a USB flash drive or wipe out an SD card full of pictures you haven’t downloaded yet? That is where Disk Drill Pro by CleverFiles comes in.

Disk Drill

Disk Drill is a data recovery application that can help with the situations described above. It’s fast and works great. When you run Disk Drill, you are presented with a window that shows all of the volumes connected to your computer, including hard drives, memory cards, and USB drives.  You pick the device you want to scan and scan it. Disk Drill then scans for deleted files. The results are then presented in a list format showing the original folder and even file name. The great part is you can use Quick Look to see the file in Disk Drill before you even recover it. Scanning small drives like SD cards is really fast. Even scanning my 500GB internal hard drive was fast.

diskdrill1

I was really impressed with the amount of files DiskDrill was able to recover. Even if you have erased a memory card for your camera and taken new pictures, Disk Drill will find your old pictures. Of course, the more that disk or drive has been used since the file was deleted the less likely the file will be recovered. Not only does it find the files fast, it recovers them just as fast.

Recovery Vault and Guaranteed Recovery

Another feature in the application is called Recovery Vault. Recovery Vault stores metadata of files on your computer to make locating and recovering them a lot easier and puts the odds of recovery a lot higher. The company website states that this vault takes up about 60mb of space, so it will not eat up your hard drive at all.

There is also something called Guaranteed Recovery protection through the Recovery Vault. This takes up some additional space as the program keeps an invisible copy of deleted files. You can choose which drives and folders to monitor for this feature and you can also set a space limit. I really don’t see the need for this if you have a backup plan in place, but you might want to use it for those crucial folders as an additional layer of backup.

Pricing and a Coupon

At $89.00, Disk Drill Pro might sound a bit pricey, however most great Mac utility programs are in that range and just recovering on set of files will make that money well spent. Plus, for a limited time CleverFiles is offering 20% off the price to Techerator readers with coupon code : TERETR-DD.

I highly recommend making Disk Drill Pro a part of your utility apps for your Mac. At the very least, download the free “Basic” edition. It will scan and protect your computer but not allow recovery. If you find yourself needing the recovery feature you can always upgrade.

Music discovery app Shazam raises $40 million in preparation for IPO

Shazam

Shazam, in an effort to prepare itself before going public, recently hired a new CEO.  The company, which is well known for its music discovery app, has more good news to share before finally going public. The company has raised $40 million from America Movil, and enters into a business partnership with the company, which is seen as a move to bring its media products to the carrier’s subscribers, and in turn, boost its user base.

Shazam’s growth has been astounding, currently standing at 350 million users, which is twice the number of users it had just two years ago. Active monthly users have also increase, up from 22 million two years ago, to 70 million.

According to the executive chairman of Shazam, Andrew Fisher, the company is growing incredibly quickly prompting the need to purchase more capacity to support this growth as people spend more time using the service. He also said that the company is looking to innovate much faster as a result of this growth and the funding should give it the needed boost to move in this direction. Some of these innovations include the introduction of notable updates in its television product which should enable users discover ads and programs playing on screen. Other notable improvements include the application of emerging technologies such as audio and image recognition, which should make it much easier for people to engage with media and brands that they are interested in.

According to Fisher, the new funding will not change the company’s IPO timetable. While not disclosing more details as to when it will go public, he gives the assurance that the company will be ready once it goes through another phase of growth.

Shazam was founded in 2000. In 2011, it launched its Shazam for TV service which shows specific mobile-optimized content including social features. Shazam is currently in use in more than 200 countries.

The unfortunate downsides of streaming music services

playIf you haven’t heard, Google recently announced a streaming music service. For $9.99/month you can stream all the music you want to your compatible device.

This is not the first streaming music service, and it probably won’t be the last. In principle, an all you get stream music service sounds good, but in reality it has a few problems which keep me from signing up for one and sticking with purchasing music.

Problem 1: Mobile data limits

The biggest problem with streaming music services is data limits enforced by wireless carriers. Unless you are on a WiFi network all of the time, you are going to need to use a data plan, which for most people is limited to 2GB or less.

You might argue the 2GB is plenty of data, and it is if you are just surfing the Internet and checking emails and maybe downloading apps every now and then. However, that data goes faster than you think, and streaming only makes it go faster. Yes, audio uses a lot less data than video, but it is still using that data and I would venture to say you will use up that data before your month is up.

I can see many people who unknowingly sign up for a streaming service without even knowing they are eating up their data plan until they get a nice present tacked onto their next bill for data overage. Of course, the data providers would love it if you purchased an upgrade for your mobile data plan. Now you get to pay for more data and the monthly streaming fee.

Problem 2: WiFi isn’t perfect

Let’s say you are one of those people I mentioned above who have constant access to WiFi. You have WiFi at home, WiFi at work, and you frequent enough places that have WiFi access that you don’t really care about streaming in your car or other places.

Just because you have WiFi access doesn’t mean you can stream your music. Your employer might limit streaming or even block it. If you are on public WiFi at a cafe it could also be limited by the establishment or just extremely slow from a large amount of people using it. WiFi is great, but only if it is completely usable.

Problem 3: Owning the music and making an audio CD

Contrary to what some might think, the physical CD is not dead yet. I, for one, still make audio CDs of my music. If you have a streaming service you can’t import music into iTunes and burn a CD. You have to buy those tracks. Yes, you can do both but this can get costly if you are always doing it. Plus, call it old school, but many people prefer to own their music. I like being able to load my iPhone with what I want and be able to listen to it whenever and where ever I am without having to worry about using data or being on WiFi.

Conclusion

For many people a streaming music service is great. They have a limited data plan, have WiFi access, and or don’t care about owning music. For others, like myself, it is the wrong way to go.

An introduction to developing software for Google Glass

glass development

Now that Google Glass is quickly becoming a mainstream product, have you wondered how you can develop for Glass? Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore because Google has made available the Google Mirror API to help developers build web-based services that interact with Google Glass.

The developer guide gives a detailed explanation of how to develop timeline items, menu items, create subscriptions, enable location data, access to contacts and enable authorization. However, despite the ease of development for Glass, Google has also published developer guidelines to ensure that developers create applications that offer the desired user experience.

Timeline Items

Timeline items or cards, display content on Glass and can either be swiped forwards or backwards to reveal more cards in the past or future. The guideline shows how to insert, attach update, read, and delete timeline cards.

Menu Items

In order to make your services interesting, you need to allow users to interact with timeline cards. This can be done through menu items where users can tell glass to read a card aloud, navigate to a location, share the card contents, or reply to a message. Menu items can populated from a list of built-in items or custom created.

Subscriptions

When a user takes specific timeline actions or changes location, you can subscribe to such notifications. There are different notification types for different events. Some of these notification payloads include Shared timeline item, a reply,  a delete notification, a custom menu item selected, or a location update.

Location

User’s location be requested using the Google Mirror API including their last known location and periodic location updates. The API can also render maps and overlay makers and lines to signify important places and paths.

Contacts

The Glass API can allow users to share your timeline items with other contacts by allow them to tap a share menu item which displays a list of possible contacts to share with. It can also allow users to share timeline items with Glassware where you create a contact that represents Glassware and allow users to share with this contact. This can be declared to limit sharing for only specific cards.

Authorization

All requests to the Google Mirror API must be authorized using OAuth 2.0 credentials. When users load applications for the first time, they are presented with a dialog to grant permission to access their Google Glass account.  This one-time authorization is all that is needed even when your app is being used offline.

Developer Tools

Google has made available developer tools to help you get started with Glass Apps. The Google Mirror API Playground lets you experiment with content display while the Subscription Proxy can be used to subscribe to notifications in a production environment.

Looking for an iTunes store replacement? Check out Amazon MP3

If you use a Mac, iPod, or iPad did you know that the iTunes Store is not the only place you can buy digital music for your device? In fact, Amazon.com has a great MP3 store which will work with those devices in a couple of ways. Basically, if you can get a DRM free music file compatible with iTunes, you can buy your music almost anywhere. This article, however, will be focusing on Amazon.com.

The old way: Download music to iTunes

Until recently, Amazon only had one way to get music onto your devices, which required you to download the music on your computer, then transfer it to your device. To use this method, you can download songs or albums from Amazon.com and using the Amazon MP3 Downloader, which you install on your computer. After the music has been downloaded, it will be instantly sent to iTunes with the names, artwork, etc.

amazoncloudapp

The new way: Use the Cloud Player App

As I said, this used to be the only way to get these tracks onto your devices. “Used to be” is the key there. Amazon recently released their Cloud Player and a Cloud Player app. The app allows you to have access to all of your purchases for streaming and/or downloading on your device when you log into your Amazon account. The only problem with this is that you can not mix and match tracks from iTunes. If you want to do that you will have to download the tracks to your computer and into iTunes using the downloader tool mentioned above.

Bottom Line: Price

You might be wondering what is the benefit of using Amazon if you have to go through all of this trouble? For me, the benefit is price. There are many time when Amazon will have a cheaper price on an MP3 album than iTunes. In some cases it is a lot cheaper. For me, it is worth the money to buy from Amazon and download the music to iTunes. Once it is in iTunes I don’t notice the difference, or care.

iTunes is great, and I buy most of my music in iTunes. However, it is nice to know there is another option out there for users.

Can you “train” your batteries?

dead batteryAs a lover of technology, it’s likely you’re constantly carrying around one or more chargers. A charger for your phone, one for your tablet, your computer, and any other tech-y items that may require an extra dose of juice. Extend any trip for more than a day, and the necessary charging items and accessories grow tremendously.

But what if there were a way to extend the battery life? Sure there’s phone cases that double as an extra battery, or even solar panels that work to add power, but what about the batteries themselves?

The Fix

For whatever reason, over time, rechargeable batteries lose their holding power. By implementing a charging routine, however, you can work to “retrain” those batteries. No more once-a-day charging, sudden loss of juice, or running in the red. By fully charging a device and then allowing it to deplete itself naturally (use it until it dies), the battery can “reset” itself. While this isn’t necessary every time a charge takes place, waiting until it’s on its last legs can increase power later on.

Why Batteries Die

While it may sound dramatic – electronics power off, batteries die – the loss of electronic fuel can actually be a learned habit. The more batteries become accustomed to receiving more power, the more they will rely on it. Think of your eating habits – if you’re used to having a snack mid-afternoon, your stomach may growl or begin churning in preparation. If you don’t have a snack, however, the stomach remains patient.

Much like digestive systems, batteries follow a pattern. The best way to get the most out of each pattern is to starve them until they can no longer function. (Though you certainly shouldn’t eat this way.) During this power-extending pattern, the battery doesn’t expect added help and electronics can hold power in a more efficient manner.

Fool Proof?

In some cases, batteries may just need replacing. While this “training” method is a great cure for many instances, it’s no substitution for damaged or aged models. When in question, check out chat rooms with those who’ve dealt with the same models, or contact the manufacturer for more details.

To lengthen any electronics’ battery life, try this training method to reintroduce a pattern of full vs. empty. It’s a great (free) way to make your smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, or any other mobile device more efficient. No cords or tag-along chargers needed.

New Super Luigi U is Nintendo’s first true DLC

Nintendo has always been slightly behind the pack in terms of online offerings. While downloadable content (DLC) for existing games is something very familiar to users of Xboxes, PS3s and even iPhones, Nintendo’s forays into DLC have been cautious and, at times, rather shambolic.

Yes, there were new “coin rush” packs for New Super Mario Bros 2 on the 3DS last year, but these added very little to the game. Then came the Wii U implementation of Zen Pinball 2. This was endlessly delayed, and when it finally arrived the process for buying and downloading tables was unbelievably convoluted, resulting in justifiably critical review scores.

Now, in what Nintendo has coined “the year of Luigi,” arrives New Super Luigi U, Nintendo’s first substantial DLC offering. Essentially a “bolt on” for the New Super Mario Bros U launch title, the DLC consists of 80+ new levels, which are played as Luigi and “remixed” from the original game elements. The game, however, takes place on an identical world map.

New Super Luigi U
New Super Luigi U

Initial skepticism is justifiable here. If you’re playing on the same world map, then just how new is New Super Luigi U? Well, the good news is that all the levels are brand new. Yes, they reuse the music and graphical elements from the original game, but there’s no doubt you’re playing on completely new levels – but more of that later.

The Installation

Unfortunately, Nintendo still haven’t quite got the hang of making the installation of online content feel like anything other than a chore. Up until the Wii U, one of the benefits of choosing a Nintendo gaming platform was speed. Nintendo was always a case of cartridge / disk in – switch on – start playing.

Now, with HD graphics, correspondingly large data files and system updates, the Nintendo experience is all much more PS3-esque, and that’s not a good thing.

To get going with the New Super Luigi U DLC, the process was something like this:

Switched on, visited eShop, failed to find DLC, found a notification telling me to update New Super Mario Bros U, started the game, waited for the update to download, waited for download to install, restarted the game, tapped the icon to download the DLC, got sent back to the eStore, paid for the DLC, waited for the DLC to download, restarted game again, waited for DLC to install, finally found ourselves able to play.

Why, Nintendo, could I not have just visited the eStore, purchased the DLC, and been sent away to wait for half an hour while the console dealt with all the other stuff?

The Game

After a frustrating download experience, it was pleasing to find the game exceeded expectations. New Super Luigi U is a hardcore platforming experience; something akin to a long lost cousin of the fiendishly difficult “Lost Levels” from 1986.

Every level is short, and comes with a time limit. In addition, Luigi’s slower, floaty motion makes him harder to control. Note that this isn’t a criticism of the controls at all, it’s just that Luigi controls very differently to the Mario we are all so used to. As such, it’s essential to adapt one’s playing style to a character that can float and jump higher, but also seems badly in need of some brakes!

The end result is frantic and frustrating; you probably won’t expect to fall to your death within seconds of starting the first level, but you probably will! Yet, in that classic Nintendo way, you’ll never feel it’s unfair. This is exactly the kind of punishing platforming that veteran Nintendo fans have been looking for, but it’s fair to say that the level of challenge may be a little high for those relatively new to the 2D Mushroom Kingdom.

Conclusion

As Nintendo’s first foray into full-blown DLC, New Super Luigi U is a great effort. The level designs have clearly been crafted lovingly to create a serious challenge that frustrates but makes you smile at the same time. If you need something to tide you over until Nintendo catch up with their frustratingly slow Wii U release schedule, this is just what you need.

Just be aware of the need for patience while you download and install. While Nintendo still lead the way in level design and inimitable quirkiness, they still have serious catching up to do with their online ease-of-use. If you think it will annoy you too much, you may be best to wait until the green-packaged retail release of the game arrives later this year.

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