Easel.ly lets you create HTML5 infographics for free

Infographics have become an incredibly popular way to convey statistics and information nowadays — almost too popular it seems, but there’s really no better way to display such statistics in a visually appealing way. If you’ve always wanted to create your own, but never wanted to bother to make one entirely from scratch, Easel.ly is a web-based tool that allows you put an infographic together quickly and easily.

To start off, you can choose an overall theme that your infographic will follow. From there you can change around objects and add some text. Within a matter of a few minutes or so, you’ll have a workable infographic to use for all sorts of purposes.

Easel.ly is still in beta form, so there’s a lot of things missing from it that would make it an awesome creation tool, such as more options for themes and objects, as well as being able to change the color palette (that’s coming eventually, though). Placing in charts is also kind of a crapshoot. There’s not a way to make custom charts inside the tool; there’s only static chart images that you can drop in. Then again, once the development team works out all of the kinks and adds some more features, Easel.ly might possibly turn into one of the best infographic creation tools.

However, Easel.ly isn’t the first tool that can create infographics quickly and easily. Visual.ly has been around for a little while longer, but it requires you to sign up first using your Twitter or Facebook account before creating infographics. This is where Easel.ly might get the edge; no sign up required.

However, even though users are now able to create infographics in mere minutes, should they? There is, in fact, a huge difference between a true infographic and just arranging facts and words into a semi-pleasing image. True infographics contain worthwhile information that is put into context. So, yes, anyone can create infographics in a way, but it still takes a smart and creative mind to truly create something that is both informative and appealing to the eyes.

Getting an Epic custom clothing experience with Epic Shirtmakers tailored shirts

I have a problem. On the one hand, I love looking good in a well-fitting shirt, and on the other, someone up there decided it would be fun to proportion my body in a way that makes it impossible for any normal shirt to fit me.

You see, I’m not overly tall, but my arms are super long. Also, I’m a pretty thin guy but my back is more broad than most. If I get a shirt that fits my arms and back, it looks like I’m wearing a tent with a hula hoop for a collar. Getting something that fits my neck and torso means my wrists are naked and any sudden move comes with the danger of ripping the back of my shirt.

I’ve read of, and have been told about, the advantages of tailored shirts, but could not justify spending the time and especially the money to ever dream of using that option. That is, until I stumbled upon Epicshirtmakers.com.

The guys at Epic Shirtmakers set out with one goal in mind, to integrate their deep understanding and sourcing of quality textiles with their longstanding relationships with master tailors through an online platform.  They aim to provide all the customizations and beneficial aspects of custom dress shirts, but with a convenience level that has never been part of the industry.

Epic Shirtmakers found that there were essentially two kinds of websites for tailored shirts: The first type was simple and easy to navigate, but the problem was the product was cheaply made and generally something of the quality you could pick up at most department stores. The other type offered great customization and quality but you needed to have a major in computer science, a protractor, and calculator to figure it out, not to mention deep pockets to cover the price.

Epic proceeded to create a site with the best of both worlds. Using a combination of over 120 quality materials and the Epic Wizard (more on that later), Epic was able to not only create a fantastic product with the highest quality materials, but also utilize an intuitive and easy-to-use interface to offer great customization.

The secret is the Epic Wizard. This system breaks down the design and sizing of the tailored shirt into three effortless stages.

Stage One: The Fabric

Epic Shirtmakers boasts a large selection of quality fabrics to choose from, and it is constantly being updated and added to. At the time of the writing of this article the count was at 123 fabrics including an assortment of different colors in solid, striped, checkered, and herringbone patterns, among others.

Stage Two: Styling

After you have selected your desired fabric from Epic’s impressive assortment, the next step is deciding how you want your shirt to look. This step includes choosing long or short sleeve, the style of cuff, type of collar, the front buttons, back pleats, how you want the bottom to look, the style of pocket (if any), any contrasting on the cuff and/or collar, and monogram options if you choose to have it monogrammed. One of the great features of the Epic Wizard is that while you are going through clicking on your desired options, a rendered model of your shirt updates along with your selected features showing you what the finished product will look like.

Stage Three: Sizing

The last stage in the process is sizing your shirt. Epic gives you two easy methods of sizing your shirt. The Epic Custom Fit will ask you your height, weight, and trouser size. After inputting this information, the guide will ask a series of questions pertaining to your individual preference of how you like your shirts to fit and any possible fitting problems you typically have when getting a good fitting shirt.

The second method, The Epic Favorite Fit, asks you some of the same fitting questions, but then asks you to take a few measurements from your favorite fitting shirt for them to use. The step by step process includes pictures showing exactly how and where to take the measurements.

The first time you order a shirt, the process may take you a bit to get through. After your first purchase, all of your measurements are saved. From then on, you can simply pick your fabric and style then make a couple of notes in a comment box about any tweaks you would like made to the fit and you’re done. The simplicity, yet highly customizable nature of the system is what really hooked me about this site.

I’m a young guy in law school, and while I do enjoy a nice fitting shirt, I barely have time to eat and sleep. Finding a tailor, setting up and appointment, and driving downtown to get fitted are all things I just don’t have time for, and I’m sure I’m not the only one with that problem. Logging on to Epic Shirtmakers and building a shirt from scratch barely takes fifteen minutes. The turnaround time isn’t bad either.

The normal turnaround time from order to delivery is two to three weeks. The first shirt may be on the longer side because they have to set up a custom model from your sizing preferences. This time frame is pretty much on par from what I have seen with other tailors. Something not at all like a typical tailor, however, is the price.

Prices at Epic vary depending on what fabric and styling options you choose (contrast cuffs/collar and monograms will cost you a little extra). As of now the least expensive fabrics are in the $70 -$80 area while the most expensive are around $125. If you look around on sites like Gilt Group and Rue La La you can occasionally find a deal making them even more affordable. Free shipping comes with the purchase of two shirts, and buying four will get you free shipping plus one free shirt.

Conclusion

The guys at Epic Shirtmakers set out with the aspiration to replicate the personal experience of getting a shirt tailored to your body without the time and costs associated with going to a tailor. The easy to use format of the Epic Wizard makes it simple to create a shirt to your exact specifications, and the visual rendering of your shirt helps you see what it is going to look like when it arrives at your door few weeks later.

Epic’s innovative adoption of an easy-to-use online solution to a process that is largely dominated by specialty shops has been a big hit and inadvertently opened up an entire new audience of young people previously unconsidered to Epic. The intended demographic of people purchasing tailored shirts is typically in the age range of 35-65. The creation of the website and advertizing on sites such as Rue La La and Gilt Group has opened the availability of quality shirts to a younger generation.

I, myself, would never have known where to begin to buy a tailored shirt. Possibly the Yellowpages? I think I have a book holding a door open somewhere. But one day while surfing around Gilt Group, I happened upon a deal from Epic and jumped at the chance to get an incredibly affordable, quality shirt. After, getting the product a couple of weeks later, I will never go anywhere else.

[Epic Shirtmakers]

How to navigate the web with your keyboard and gleeBox

I love keyboard shortcuts. I find using a mouse, menus and clicking to be an incredibly inefficient way of doing things. I spent a lot of time in college working with Adobe programs and using three and four character keyboard shortcuts to get things done faster. So when I found gleeBox and the amount of time-saving shorthand it had to offer. I was pretty excited.

GleeBox is a browser add-on available for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. Once installed, pushing the G key will bring up the dialogue box. From here you can input a variety of commands as simple as opening a search page in a new window, to sharing whatever page you happen to be viewing with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail with the input of a simple command.

Pushing the period key will show a list of open tabs.

Pushing the Period (.) key will bring up a list of the current tabs you have open in your browsers. From there you can use your arrow keys to select the tab you want.

!share fb automatically shares your current page on your Facebook profile

There are also functions such as :wp and :tube that will allow you to search for a term on Wikipedia and YouTube respectively.

The amount of options available are endless due the ability to customize actions. This allows you to tailor gleeBox to do things that you typically do while browsing. I like to share websites with my friends on Facebook and the ability to share a link without having open up a different page and copy and paste the URL is really pretty cool for me. I am not much of a Twitter person, but the command that will automatically share whatever page you are on with a shortened URL would also seem to be pretty handy.

All in all gleeBox is a pretty cool and useful app. The amount of default commands available, and the ability to customize, means the sky is the limit.

Finally, here’s a link to a list of default commands: http://thegleebox.com/manual.html

What Twitter’s Acquisition of Posterous means for Bloggers

The internet industry is abuzz with Twitter’s latest acquisition and hiring of Posterous and its employees. The details of the deal are shrouded in mystery; neither Twitter nor the Posterous team is willing to share how things will move on from this point onward.

As a professional blogger, it is good to know that the acquisition does not mean deactivating the present Posterous services for its million users. Both the brands promise retaining the services, but for how long – no one can predict that either!

What people are not discussing is the question: how will this acquisition change the way we, the bloggers, look at blogging and content sharing?

Posterous Platform

In the last four years, Posterous built a formidable brand based on easy content development and sharing. Undoubtedly, Twitter is going to utilize this product with its own tweeting services to enhance its user services.

What about Bloggers and Marketers?

As a professional blogger and an online marketer, I am inclined to think the following outcomes are likely from this acquisition:

1) With the combined services of Twitter and Posterous, blogging acquires tremendous power. Not only will bloggers be able to create, post and share their content, they will utilize the Twitter platform to enhance social media popularity.

2) Perhaps Twitter acquired Posterous to build a unique news sharing platform with the help of its new #Discover tab. Won’t it be wonderful if Twitter users can use the #Discover tab to “discover” informative and unique blog content from their Twitter follower list?

3) It is also a possibility that Twitter is planning to revamp its current brand image and might shift from the 140 characters criteria to include longer tweets. In many ways, tweeting content is restrictive. Posterous can change that.

4) Even though both Twitter and Posterous representatives announced that they have no plans to discontinue its present services, it will be good for Posterous Spaces bloggers to think about shifting their domain hosting to something else.

The Posterous acquisition announcement clearly states that users will be notified way in advance if any major changes are to take place, which means something is up the anvil. Beware Posterous bloggers! Make sure to back up your blog daily.

People and Technology

Industry experts have criticized Twitter for this acquisition. Its motto of “people and technology”, says the CEO of Tamar.com, Tanya Goodin, seems more like a “people” buyout than cutting edge technology. She further comments that with this acquisition, Twitter has laid its hand on some top Apple talent – a strategy to tightly compete and overcome competition from Apple.

Others like Adrian Goodsell of Steak Digital see no point in acquiring Posterous when WordPress and Tumblr are way ahead in the blogging race; Jonny Rosemont of DBD Media believe this to be an acquisition of both “talent and technology” which can counteract the rise of Tumblr.

The next few months are crucial. We can merely expect to draw the best out of this deal as users.

Would you trade in your social media passwords for a job?

The practice of employers looking up social media profiles of prospective employees is nothing new. It’s a great way to learn a lot about a person from the things that they choose to broadcast to the public. However, there comes a point where this all may go a little too far — specifically when a potential employee’s profile is set to private.

Associated Press reports that some job seekers have been asked during the interview to hand over their Facebook passwords. Justin Bassett, a New York statistician, was asked to disclose his Facebook login credentials to the interviewer. Bassett withdrew his application.

Others weren’t directly asked for their passwords, but they were asked to log in to their Facebook account so that the interviewer could have a peek.

While most job candidates would decline to give out their passwords, there are some job seekers who are so desperate for a job, they have no choice but to hand over such information to the company.

In 2010 a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was asked for his login information so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. The security guard handed it over saying, “I needed my job to feed my family.”

Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor says that this practice is “an egregious privacy violation” and “it’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys.”

Surprisingly, this is all completely legal, but legislation is being proposed in Illinois and Maryland, with more states possibly joining in later.

Personally, I have nothing to hide when it comes to my social media profiles. If an employer wants to look at my Facebook profile, they can do so, but I will never give my password away to anyone. However, I probably wouldn’t mind logging into my Facebook and letting them surf around for a bit while I at least watch (as long as they were just looking at my profile and not digging into my settings), although that does sound extremely juvenile and definitely says something about the maturity of the company.

What about you? Would you let a potential employer have your password or at least log in for them so they can look around?

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]

How Evernote Changed My Life

Evernote has been around a while now, and is a seemingly permanent fixture on the ubiquitous “must have apps” lists that fill technical websites and computer magazines.

Evernote is, however, far from being something just for the nerds. Heavy exposure everywhere from Time magazine to the New York Times has led to it being one of the most consistently popular apps for iOS and Android. There’s therefore a chance you’re using it already. If not, I’m going to tell you why you should.

Despite the hype, I was uninspired by the idea of Evernote to start with. I’m a cynical kind of techie. I have to spend my life not only using tech, but also helping those less technical use it. My interest in anything new and / or popular is less about what it can DO, and more about whether my clients or I will actually consistently use it.

I thought about all the ways I already had to take notes – Mac Mail, Microsoft Outlook, my iPhone’s native notes app, Microsoft OneNote, Wunderlist, my expensive Moleskine notebook. All of these are things I have used at some point with good intentions. All of them also now linger somewhere in my life with a few long-forgotten lists or notes living within. When I want to write a shopping list, I pull a sheet of paper out of my printer. The prospects for my long-term use of Evernote were not great.

OneNote - Forgotten in My Life
OneNote - Forgotten in My Life

However, Evernote’s killer feature is its synchronization. Even the free version allows syncing of a generous quantity of notes, Internet page grabs and camera snapshots across ALL devices: PCs, Macs, iDevices and Androids.

My time with Evernote started much the same as my time with Microsoft’s OneNote. “Right,” I thought, “first off, I’ll start a section for all my blogs and projects, then one for shopping lists and recipes.” I filled a few things in, in my heart thinking that a week down the line I wouldn’t be using it.

Then, however, the next day, I was sitting at a café near my home, and a flood of blog ideas came to mind. Straight away, my iPhone was out of my pocket. I went directly to the relevant lists and added the ideas. I decided to commit to this for a few more days, and suddenly, I had a better list of topics than I had in ages – and it was a click or a tap away wherever I happened to be.

At this point I started to think that Evernote may actually be a keeper, and decided to play around a bit more.

A new takeaway restaurant opened in my town. Wanting to show my wife the menu and suggest we tried the establishment that evening, I walked up to it, clicked my iPhone’s camera and quickly uploaded it to Evernote. All my wife had to do was look on Evernote on my Mac at home, peruse the menu and let me know what she wanted.

Evernote Displaying a Takeaway Menu
Evernote Displaying a Takeaway Menu

This was the light bulb moment. “Hang on,” I thought, “how much easier will life be once I’ve taken a little picture of all the takeaway menus?” No longer will my wife have to call me from the doorstep of a Chinese takeaway read out the menu and see what I fancy. I’ll just have all of them in Evernote.

My Evernote is now filled, as it should be, with idea lists, brainstorms, shopping lists, recipes and, yes, a bunch of takeaway menus. As time goes on, I will be seeing how other Evernote features work their way into my life. Evernote has improved my life, even without text searching of photographed content and the ability to access notes via a browser (in the paid version).

As I said before, to me, software is not about what it can do, but whether I will consistently use it. Well, despite my initial reservations, I now use Evernote everyday – and that’s a win.

“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.

HTML5 and the Future of Mobile Apps and Gaming

HTML5 will change the way we view mobile apps, and will change the way we think about how software has to be viewed on a mobile device. It will even change the way we view desktop applications. HTML5 is the biggest game changer since Apple’s App Store.

But if what I am saying is right, then why hasn’t this all come true yet? The reasons are many, some minor and easily overcome, and some not so much. Let’s start with an explanation of what HTML5 and JavaScript advancements are already doing in the mobile world.

HTML5 is the new HTML standard.

Major enhancements such as the <“video”> tag, CSS3 animations and better JavaScript support are what have made HTML5 such a hot topic. With the power of HTML5, web developers and programmers can write software in a cross-platform language and save significant time and effort.

HTML 5 Development Platforms

Some companies, such as Sencha who developed Sencha Touch, and Prism Technologies who developed PhoneGap, have created mobile development platforms that reach from Android and iOS all the way back to Blackberry and Windows Phone 7. The reason these platforms are so flexible is because they utilizes HTML5, advanced JavaScript and CSS3 to replicate a native app using a web browser.

I’ve had experience using Sencha Touch and PhoneGap (PhoneGap makes it easy for users to load HTML5 libraries into a native app “wrapper”, which can access hardware-specific functions such as the camera and accelerometer, for distribution on an app market) and have found that while it is very useful while building information and text driven applications, it is not very effective in creating graphically intense applications such as ones with photo galleries, interactive menus, or games. This leads me to why HTML5 has its limits in the mobile world today.

Mobile Browsers

Each mobile OS has a browser that is used to generate the HTML5 application. The problem is that not every browser was created equal, especially when it comes to HTML5 support. When looking at HTML5 on an iOS devices such as an iPhone 4s, HTML5 is very responsive and smooth.

This is not so true with Android and Blackberry. Although Android has good support for most of HTML5, it has many “artifacts” or poorly handled graphical renderings that make it slower, less attractive, and overall less responsive than its iOS counterpart. This is the main reason development of HTML5 has not surpassed development of native applications to date. There are a few other limitations to HTML5 such as hardware support when accessing components like the camera or file systems, but HTML5 hopes to circumvent that soon with future standards.

The conclusion is that HTML5, while being very powerful and flexible when used with JavaScript and CSS3, is not yet a suitable replacement for native development and therefore one must first consider the goal of the said application before deciding to proceed with development in HTML5 or native environments.

But don’t forget, according to Strategy Analytics, more than 1 billion HTML5 supported phones will be sold worldwide by 2013. Read more here.

You can read more about mobile HTML5 support here.

How to access Wikipedia during the SOPA/PIPA blackout

If you are a college student, like me, and you have an assignment due tomorrow, like I do, you may have noticed that Wikipedia has taken itself down (sort of) in protest of SOPA and PIPA legislative acts. While I agree with the protest going on and commend Wikipedia for doing what they have to raise awareness, (seriously people, take some time to voice your concerns to your representatives, see Techerator’s side bar for help) some of us have more important things to do than our required reading assignments.

While Wikipedia will be “dark” for the next 24 hours, the pages that Google has cached are not. So while the information on them may not be the newest available (the info I looked up was last updated Jan 14), I’m willing to bet for almost everyone out there it will work just as well.

How to use Wikipedia via Google Cache

First, enter the search term into Google, then find the Wikipedia listing and hover your mouser cursor over it. Click the gray box with the arrow inside it.

Search the term in Google, find and hover your pointer over the search result. Click on the arrowed box that appears.

Next, go up to the top right of the preview and click the small “cached” link

This should bring you to a blackout-free Wiki Page.

Oh Wikipedia, how I missed you.

Update

It has also come to my attention that disabling JavaScript in your browser will also remove the Wikipedia blackout.