Monday, December 27, 2010

Family Tech: Oranizing new gadgets

Make your new gadgets feel at home.  Get to know them well before you actually need them.  Why this is a good idea, and tips on how to best do it are in this week's Family Tech column.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Android App Inventor

The only advantage of getting older (until I qualify for the Seniors' discount at Denny's anyway), is being able to see trends repeat themselves.

I wrote previously that what is happening with the iPhone/iPad running Apple' iOS operating system versus tablets and phones running the Android operating system, is very reminiscent of the battle in the 1990's between the Macintosh an Windows.  The Mac was clearly better at first over Windows, but Windows was cheaper and more open.  Windows won.

The same I think, is happening in the iOS versus Android world.  Only Apple products can use iOS, while anyone at all can make products using the Android system.  That's why we are seeing Android phones for each carrier, the excellent Galaxy Tab tablet, and K-Mart carrying a $149 Android tablet.  In the US, the iPhone is on one carrier, and the only tablets are the iPad and iPod Touch.

The plethora of PC's running Windows in the 90's was one reason for Windows ultimate triumph in numbers over Apple.   The other was the ability for users to create their own apps for fun, profit and to meet their own needs.

Microsoft's Visual Basic made creating Windows Apps easy for even hobbyist programmers.  And it was affordable, with Visual Basic starting at just $99.

Corporate IT shops liked VB too since they could then make company specific apps cheap and fast.  A company could afford to whip up a little app to meet the needs of a specific department and not have to buy some large, commercial app and then modify their processes to meet the software's expectation.  They could create their own software tailored to their existing business processes.

To be fair, Apple had Hypercard, sort of a pre-intenet hyperlinked information system.  Hobbyists did some amazing things with it as they built and distributed their own "stacks".

There was also a book that came out after the Mac came out, showing a fantastically powerful BASIC that was coming for the Mac.  The language never appeared, rumored killed by Apple at Microsoft's behest.  So the Mac never had the easy-to-use app production ability Visual Basic gave Windows.

In the last couple days I've been fooling with Google's App Inventor.  It is a free app that is to Android as Visual Basic was to the PC.

It's free.  It uses building blocks to let you assemble your own apps.  It has tutorials and a growing user community offering their own tutorials and help.  In that way, it is very reminiscent of Visual Basic.

I've just gotten it installed, and built the trial app.  I am very excited to get going with it.

I don't see myself creating apps to submit to the Marketplace (you can't yet put App Inventor apps there),.  My wife though, needs some very specific data gathering capabilities for her job.  I see a app that can do that for her.

Microsoft too remembers their roots, although hazily.  Users can create their own apps for the new Windows Phone 7 using the latest version of Visual Basic.  The problem is that long about version 6, Visual Basic got as complicated to use for hobbyist programmers as Java or C++.  And you can only develop phone apps using Visual Studio 2010 Professional, Premium or Ultimate editions.  They cost about $700 and more, a far cry from the accessible $99 Visual Basic once was.

Update : I am saving App Inventor resources I find to my Public Bookmarks.

Optimus S and Google App Inventor

If anyone else out there is trying to use the LG Optimus S with Google's App Inventor, you can find the needed USB Drivers here.  Be sure to use the model number of the Optimus S.  It is LS670.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Family Tech Support

November of 2009, I wrote in a Family Tech column about how to be the family tech support person.  When adult children visit their parents this time of year, they spend a lot of time helping the seniors get their computers tuned up.

Google has a wonderful new resource for helping your parentals and others with their tech support.  Check it out.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Quick Start Sheet for Android

Kevin Purdy who put out the wonderful Complete Guide to Android, now has a single page Quick Reference Guide for new Android users.

Family Tech: Accessories for your Gadgets

In this week's Family Tech, I advocate buying accessories to get more from your gadgets.  Stores push so hard for us to buy accessories, we have may resist their hard sell without considering the value accessories can offer.

I point out the worst offensives, like selling a $2200 HDMI cable that works as well as ones costing under $10.  And of course, a plug for the great

Friday, December 17, 2010

Uses for Evernote

I added "Students" to my list of blog posts about ways to use Evernote by specific groups of people.  The rest are listed in my blog post  "The Many Uses of Evernote".

Thank you Evernote

Evernote just gave their users a nice present.  Monthly uploads for free users went to 60 megabytes (up from 40), and for Premium they doubled from 500 meg to a full gigabyte.

Mobile Format

Cool, when I logged in to tonight to do the previous post, it told me they now had Mobile Templates.  I turned them on.

The blog now looks much better on phones.  What do you think?


I amassed something like 4000 bookmarks in Delicious before I moved them to Evernote.  I was saddened yesterday to hear what turned out to be rumor only, that Yahoo was shutting down the service.

Today, the Delicious Blog suggests they will seek a buyer for the service.

Meanwhile, Evernote, having previously disabled the Delicious import I used when I transitioned, published a new method for importing from Delicious.

My only regret about not using Delicious was that I was no longer participating in a community.  There was a social aspect of sharing your bookmarks in public.  When you searched Delicious, you could tell how many others had posted the same bookmark--effectively a recommendation.

When you found someone who bookmarked on a topic you liked, you could see all their bookmarks on that topic.  I found a lot of gems doing that.

Of course I could still get that information after moving my bookmarks, but was no longer participating in building that group wisdom.  I felt a little guilty about it.

Of course, I was always mindful any bookmark I posted to Delicious was accessible to anyone.  People could learn a lot about my interests, politics, concerns and other details about my life.

I hope they find a buyer.  I hope that buyer finds a way to integrate and perhaps sync my bookmarks in Evernote that I don't mind being public, to their database so I can again participate.

Phil Libin?  Something you might be interested in?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

First weekend with an Android phone

We've had the phones for a few days now.  Having used an iPad, and a iPod Touch extensively, I think I'm in a pretty good place to compare and contrast.

The geek in me loves the Android phone.  I can see into the phone easily.  When I hook it to my PC, I can see the entire file structure.  It is easy then to move movies, photos and such on and off the phone.

The internal memory is not so big, but I can put up to a 32 gig SD card into the phone.  It comes with a 2 gig card which I filled in the first two days.  I put in the 8 gig card I had bought from my old Instinct, and it works fine.  But still, the internal memory is 70% full.  Many apps, some major ones in fact, do not yet allow you to move the app to the SD card.  One such app happened to update today to a version that did prermit copying to the SD card, so I guess that will likely improve in time.

Meanwhile, all the capabilities I had on the iPod Touch are there with two exceptions.  I cannot stream video from Netflix, nor can I play Words with Friends.  I do a not of Words with my wife and mother, so I have to go find the iPod when I need to play.

Something else I an do with the Android I cannot easily or affordably do with the iPhone, is develop for it.  I'm not sure I will, but I'll be playing with that capability in the next few weeks and see how it goes.

I'm not a music lover, so I don't really miss iTunes.  I use Google Listen to subscribe to my podcasts.  If I were a iTunes user, I could use DoubleTwist to get my iTunes music onto the phone.

So far, the only pet peeve I've developed is I can't find a way to set a default ring sound for the included alarm clock.  I'll have to poke around the Marketplace some.

Family Tech: eBook Readers

Seems like everyone is asking me about eBook readers these last few weeks.  A lot of people I know are getting Kindle or Nooks for Christmas I'll bet.

So I decided to explore the topic in this week's Family Tech column.  In 600 words, I could just cover the basics.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Smartphones for the Family, again

When this blog was about a month old, I documented my thinking when choosing our family's first Smartphone.  Its been two years so our contract is finally up.  My wife thrilled me with the announcement that a new phone for me, and also for her and my son, were to be my birthday present.

I have literally been shopping for this phone for over two years.  Even when I bought the Instincts in December of 2008, I knew I ultimately wanted an Android phone.  Then, only the G1 was out, and solely on T-Mobile.  I knew our street didn't get good coverage on T-Mobile.  I didn't want to stay with Verizon; the only company that could reach our street.  Sprint had affordable service, and a Femtocell, the Airave.  That would give me excellent coverage in the house.

Note:  I spoke before the County Planning Council two weeks ago in support of a T-Mobile cell tower that will give us more options during the next contract renewal.

Having chosen Sprint back in 2008, I then looked at their Smartphones.  There were not many, but the Instinct was then about six months old and affordable at $100 each.

You would think my exposure to the iPad, and to an iPod Touch this year would make me want an iPhone now.  Being a gadget lover, I want to try something different.  Also, I like the idea that I can develop for the Android much easier and affordably then for the iPhone.  I might never do it, but I want the option.  I am an old Visual Basic 3.0 and PHP programmer although I've lapsed somewhat in the last couple of years.

I decided to stay with Sprint.  I love the idea of their EVO, but the $10 a month 4g tax would have come to $720 for our three phones over the life of the contract.   When I chose the Instinct, the option was to go with the iPhone.  When it comes to technology, I know that "best" and "pretty good" in quality are usually closer together than their costs.  In other words, "pretty good" is usually a better value.  That is true today with Sprint's selection of Android phones.  I went with the LG Optimus S.  At $49 per phone, all the reviews I have read indicate it is a good value.

I have gathered a few notes on Android together on a separate Android page on this blog.  It will be a dynamic page, so if you are interested in Android, be sure to check it out periodically.

I just got off the phone with Sprint.  The phones should be here next week.\

Cancelled the Sprint order.  Best Buy has them for free with 2 year contract.  I have them now.

Google docs on the iPad

I've been using Google Docs as my primary word processor for the last year.  I write my weekly column on it for example.

I'm, pleased to see that you can now use the full Google Docs word processor on the iPad.  I have owned Documents to Go  for those times when I needed this capability.  I used it briefly this morning, but will test it more fully soon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Family Tech - Gift Recommendation Engines

This week's Family Tech column is about ways to discover gifts based on the recipients interests.

I mention in passing that it is always good to be thinking about gift giving all year long.  I've used a few techniques over the years to remember gifts I see online that I think would be good for people I love.

The simplest is to bookmark them into a folder called "Gifts".  The problem with that anyone using your computer can easily discover them.  And unless you use folders for each person, you may forget later who you meant the gift for.

Since I have made Evernote a critical part of my life, I simply capture the links of good gifts to Evernote.  I can tag the item with "gift" and the persons name.  People who use my computer do not poke through my Evernote, but if I was paranoid, I can encrypt individual notes.

The other advantage Evernote has for gifting over simple bookmarks is I can capture a note of an item without having to have a web link.  If I see a commercial for an item, and think it is good product for my wife, I can create a note for it now, and research it online later.

As I start shopping for an gift later, I can use the note I originally made for it to record the results of my research (i.e. best stores, best prices etc.)

Now, I just need to way to find more money for gifts.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

XMarks to Survive

Good news.  XMarks has found a buyer.  They had said they needed to shut down, but LastPass, a password service has purchased them.  I love X-Marks as a way to have all my bookmarks available on the various gadgets I have.

I tend to use Evernote to keep bookmarks falling in the "Hey, this is cool, I might need this again someday" category.  I keep frequently visited bookmarks in my browser, and XMarks lets me sync them between supported browsers.  And if I am using a gadget without a supported browser, I can still go to the XMarks website on that gadget and see my bookmarks.

I mentioned XMarks before.