Posts tagged How-To

AppSpace.com Helps You Find The Right App

The number of apps available for the iPhone, Android OS and Blackberry is rapidly approach a combined 200,000. Wading through the sewage that constitute most apps to find that diamond in the rough can be a daunting task.  For some of us installing and deleting apps is a hobby, but most people don’t have the patience or desire to go through all that downloading and testing.

AppSpace.com is a recommendation engine for the app store of your choosing (WebOS is once again snubbed) and is intended to help you find just the right app for your needs.  By taking your indicated areas of interest and the apps you like and dislike (based on your ratings) AppSpace will recommend apps for you to try (along with the appropriate download links).

It’s a handy little system and while you’ll probably still have some trial and error in finding the perfect app for your tastes, AppSpace should definitely make the process easier.

This video will do some explaining and you can click through to MakeUseOf for a writeup on the site and it’s features…

via [makeuseof]

4 Favorite Firefox Plug-ins I Can’t Live Without

First off, if you use Internet Explorer regularly… What is wrong with you?

Now that that is out of the way lets talk about Mozilla Firefox.  The beauty of open source applications are the plethora (I can’t say that word without thinking of the 3 Amigos) of plug-ins, add-ons and extensions to let you add or tweak features.  Firefox is no exception and offers thousands of add-ons to allow you to manage your web browsing experience.

The key to technology is making it work for you.  Choose applications and technologies that put the power of customization in the user’s hands then take full advantage of making the technology better for yourself.

To that end, here are 4 add-ons that almost everyone would benefit from using regularly.

Sage

I subscribe to a ton of RSS feeds that I need to get through regularly to stay on top of news around the world and sage is my favorite RSS reader.

It is basic and simple, displays in the Firefox sidebar and allows for drag and drop adding of feeds.

Xmarks

Xmarks synchronizes your bookmarks and passwords across to a server so that they can be accessed through the web and in different physical locations.  I spend a lot of time reading articles and bookmarking resources, but I do it at work, at home on my desktop and on the road with my laptop.  Now when I find a work related link while at home I don’t have to e-mail it to myself, it’ll just show up in the bookmarks folder in every location and everything happens in the background so you don’t have to worry about it.

Firebug

I am not a coder, but I do often have to mess with CSS elements of a website to tweak this or that.  Every skill level from code peons like me all the way up to hardcore developers use Firebug to steal look at and tweak code.  From figuring out how a page is laid out to where a particular DIV ends, there is no tool better for getting a quick look at the behind the scenes action of whatever page you’re look at.  If you’re curious, download it and mess around. You wont break anything.

Greasemonkey

Greasemonkey is a plug-in that allows users to run javascript to modify or manipulate web pages.  For example, there are scripts for creating a Facebook Dislike button, re-organizing gMail’s layout and (my personal favorite) automating Mafia Wars playing.  There are thousands of scripts and often many for the same purpose so you should read the comments and consider ratings and # of downloads before you choose  (also don’t be afraid to try one then replace it with another).  Is there some way that you wish you could tweak a site you use every day?  Check userscripts.org and you might find the script to do.

Google Docs Lets You Share Any File For Free

Back in October ’09 the Google Docs team announced shared folders which was a much needed addition to the gDocs featureset.  Now the team has announced the ability to upload any file type you please, essentially making Google Docs into an online file sharing repository.

Users can upload up to 1GB of data and make the files available for viewing and download to anyone they want.  Additional storage is $.25 / GB / Year.

There are many ways out there to share files with friends and coworkers (including creating a Google Site or manually uploading to your FTP site), but being integrated directly with Google Docs makes the process much cleaner, simpler and safer.  Users can leverage their existing accounts to take advantage of the sharing and security features that come with Google Docs.

This isn’t a mind blowing feature, but the next time you need to distribute a file that is to big to e-mail you should think of Google Docs.  It’ll save you a ton of time.

via [Google Docs Blog]

How To Make Twitter Useful For You – Privacy, Advanced Twitter Search

I think Twitter is the best way to get real-time crowd sourced news.  Yes, Twitter can be a clusterfuck of useless people spouting useless information…but it doesn’t have to be!

If you’re not interested in publishing to the masses I’d recommend setting your tweets to private and requiring that you approve followers before they can see your tweets (check your account settings).  This combined with only following people you trust to tweet useful information will go a long way towards minimizing any craziness.

Even if you’re not going to tweet at all, following your favorite news sources is a great way to get access to your news in one place.  If you read CNN, ESPN, NY Times and, of course, Tech to Live By everyday then follow those twitter accounts and your feed will be filled with info from sources you already read (for me it’s often easier than RSS feeds).

Now, searching Twitter is the other side of the equation.  There are millions of tweets that you’ll never see (nor have any desire to see) and that’s the way it should be.  On occasion though, you’ll want information on a topic that hasn’t shown up in your feed.  That is when you can fire up the Twitter search engine.  With millions of tweets constantly flowing through the system there is almost always at least a few people tweeting about whatever it is you’re interested in.

My personal favorites are things like:

  • Finding out why I’m stuck in traffic (and yes, it can be faster than waiting for your navigation system POI to update).
  • Finding out why there are 8 cop cars circling my house.
  • Figuring out if that was an earthquake I just felt.
  • How big an area is affected by this power outage?
  • How long the line is for a ride at Disneyland.

The list goes on for a while… It’s really an excellent way to get real time reports of things that wouldn’t normally be covered by a regular news source or just haven’t had time to make it to the larger slower moving news team.

Searching is pretty simple and you can use keywords or #hashtags to investigate a particular topic.  Your searches can be saved as necessary to make running the same search again later easy.

The real power of searching  comes in when you move over to the Advanced Twitter Search page.  Advanced Twitter Search gives you a wide range of ways to search the Twitter stream and brings a lot of new opportunities into the mix.

There are lots of services to help you manage searches, but I like the Twitter’s own version the best.



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Instead of just keywords and hashtags you can search by:

  • Words – Search by word or phrase with various syntax options including hashtags and multi-language support
  • People – Search by username including to, from and referencing that person
  • Places – Search within a radius of a given location. Recognizes different location information (like zip code or ‘NYC’), but the location is limited to what the user sets in in their profile (more on this later).
  • Dates – Search by since / until X date.
  • Attitudes – Search for positive / negative attitude (looks for emoticons) or asking a question.
  • Other – Results include links and/or retweets.

The places search feature being limited to the user’s profile location is not as useful as a real location. Twitter is no doubt working on updating this feature based on their GeoAPI.

Combining all these different search elements you are able to create a search tailored to exactly what you are looking for and really get the most out of the abundance of information that is available through Twitter.

[ NOTE: For nerds and text editor lovers, all these search options are available through basic search using advanced syntax (if you want to use that method then you're smart enough to find the commands online without me giving you a link).]

Hopefully now you can use Twitter to your advantage rather than just being overwhelmed by useless information (or staying off the Twitterscape completely).

Do you have a favorite way to use Twitter?  Let us know in the comments!

http://search.twitter.com/advanced

Keep Personal Errands and Work Projects on Track With the Right Tool

Everyday people have tasks they need to complete.  Be it at work, at home or somewhere in between there are chores, tasks, issues, assignments, to-do’s, … on and on.  There are basically as many ways to track and organize all of these from the always classic Franklin-Covey planner to a well organized spreadsheet to enterprise level project management platforms (and yes, in the end, I believe all of these serve the same purpose).  Most of them have individual pros and cons and it’s up to the user to choose the right one.

Today we’ll talk about solutions for different applications ranging from managing daily errands to project management for medium to large-ish projects.  There is a lot out there, but we’ll focus on the ones I’ve had the best experiences with while trying to keep my life and projects organized over the last decade.

A quick talk about my organizational philosophy…  For a tracking system to work, first and foremost, it has to fit with what you are trying to accomplish.  A 1,000 line project plan and gantt chart aren’t necessary to get your grocery shopping done and your dry cleaning picked up, but a checklist isn’t going to get you through a a significant development project either.  Next most important is that the tools fit the process.  A person without a smartphone is probably not a prime candidate for an online task list and you can’t use MS Project with anything agile project management.  In the end, I like a solution that is just barely powerful enough to support what you need.  This usually helps keep things streamlined and prevents the tool from becoming a crutch (this is obviously a fine line, but is something to always watch out for).

So, without further ado…

The Spreadsheet

The simple spreadsheet is a category unto itself…  The beauty of the spreadsheet is that it can be as simple or complicated as you need/want.  When you think about it, all the other tools you might use are really just pretty front-ends on some really complicated spreadsheets (I may have just oversimplified the concept of a database, but I’m going with it).

For most people just writing down the things they need to get done for the day, a party, or even a research project is an extreme improvement in productivity.  Create a spreadsheet with columns for a task name, task description, priority and due date and you’ve got a powerful little method for keeping track of your tasks.   For example, input the list of chores for the day and rank them as 1s, 2s, or 3s (don’t agonize over it, you can change it later) and set the due date for all the tasks to today.  Now you can use the sort function of your spreadsheet app (I recommend Google Documents) to sort everything into a prioritized list of tasks.  Review your tasks, rework your numbers, sort again and keep crossing things off the list until it’s all done.

Maybe you need something a bit more complicated to keep track of tasks at work?  Add  ‘last action’, comments, and ‘assigned to’ columns and now you’re ready to track yourself and other across a broader range of tasks.  If you want to get fancy learn a little bit about conditional formatting to highlight what is late, who is assigned to what or what is the highest priority.  In no time you have a quick, reasonably powerful, and well organized document you can use for yourself or share with others to keep you and/or your team on track.

I’ve gone as far as using spreadsheets to run small projects with great success.  The point is, the spreadsheet is the most flexible of the options because, small or large, it is what you make it.

Personal Use, Get your errands done or your party planned

RemembertheMilk.com is basically a project management platform for your life.  It offers organizable lists with due dates and priorities in a simple web interface with a great deal of integration and power behind the scenes.  You can setup different lists to group tasks, prioritize the tasks within that group then schedule all manner of updates to be sent to you through e-mail, sms, etc.  There are iPhone and Android apps (where are my WebOS apps!) as well as a number of ways to integrate RTM into your life.  It’s an excellent platform for people serious about using an application to stay organized.  Jump into the the RTM Tour and signup for an account (it takes about 15 seconds) or hope over to Lifehacker’s extensive rundown of the features.

A far less powerful, but still very useful tool is Google Tasks.  Integrated into gMail it offers a simple way to create and manage lists.  For now it’s about as simple as can be and due dates don’t show up on your gCal, but it’s Google and you can expect gTasks to grow like any other Google product.  If you want a quick and simple task list accessible on almost any platform, Google Tasks is a great option.



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Small to Medium Project, Getting things done with other people

Redmine is my personal favorite for a project where I get to choose the tracking platform.  It’s open source, easy to setup and offers the flexibility necessary to work on many different types of projects.  It’s simple to keep multiple projects going on the same installation of Redmine while limiting access across projects to only those people that need it.  In particular I like the ways that Redmine manages tasks across users and projects in summary views while also allowing for very granular resource and activity tracking.  Checkout Redmines site and demo to get a feel for the application.

Redmine is not a hosted solution and requires installation on a web host.  Anyone that has ever FTP’d a file to a webhost can get this setup in about 10 minutes and any SysAdmin worth his salt should be able to do it in 5 (if yours can’t then I suggest you find a new one).  This done mean there is a little bit of effort upfront to setup the site, but it also means no monthly fees (beyond your hosting) and unlimited accounts.

For a hosted solution ProjectOffice.net offers an excellent feature set at a reasonable per user price.  I always prefer to host my own apps, but not everyone can do that.  Project Office is clean and simple without a lot of overhead or clutter.  In addition to the basic project management features there are some gantt charting abilities and Blackberry integration too.

Conclusion

Both in your personal life and in business the key to the right tool is to choose one that fits what you’re trying to accomplish.  There are literally hundreds of solutions out there and I’ve tried A LOT of them.  I’ve touched on my favorites here, but what works for me might not work for you (heck, what works for me on one project might not work for me on the next) so it’s up to you to try things out and tweak them until they do what you need (which is why I love spreadsheets so much).  The key is that you try different solutions and continuously improve on your methods as you gain experience.

No matter what the venue or goal following the basic best practices of writing things down, assigning tasks and setting due dates will always lead the charge.  Start there and add-on accordingly until you’ve found the limit of what you need to track to be effective.  Follow that method and, at the least, you’ll always end up with an efficient system for your needs.

Kill Yourself Online (How to remove your online presence)

Recently I’ve heard a growing grumble about people’s over exposure through social networking sites (particularly in the wake of Facebook’s privacy policy changes).

Lifehacker (via Quick Online Tips) has found a solution.  The Web2.0 Suicide Machine will go through and not only kill your online profiles and accounts but will also remove what it can from the servers of the respective service (no wonder FB has blocked this app for now).

Are you so fed up with social networking, cloud computing and the online existence that you’re ready to commit suicide?  Let me know how it turns out!!

via [lifehacker]

4 Ways Google Voice Can Help You

Google VoiceGoogle Voice’s tagline is “One number to rule them all! err The way phones are supposed to work err Teach Your Phone New Tricks – Voicemail like email, call routing, voicemail transcription, and more” and that’s only the beginning!

If you don’t know what Google Voice does this will get you up to speed and if you’re not sure it’s for you this will help you decide.

When I first signed up for Google Voice I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d use it, but now that it’s been a while I want to share 4 ways I’m using Google Voice that could help you immediately.

The Use Everyone Should Use … Google VoiceMAIL

“I HATE VOICEMAIL!”

If you hate voicemail and you probably do…Sign up for Google Voicemail NOW! As a feature of Google Voice you can forward your regular cell phone calls to Google Voicemail instead of your carrier’s voicemail service.  Very quickly you’ll get transcriptions of your voicemails, control over what callers hear what message, and much more.  My single favorite feature is that each voicemail is emailed to you both with a transcription and an audio file.  I’ve always hated dialing into check voicemail and with Google Voicemail I’ll never have to do that again (though you do have that option for those times where you don’t have internet access).

This one is a no-brainer folks.  It’s better then your current voicemail, Go Get It!

Most Obvious Use

“I need a second line for work.”

I’ve always wanted to have a second cellular line for a business number but could never justify the extra cost.  Now I’m using my Google Voice number as my business line and my regular number as my personal line.  It’s great! I can manage what voicemail message people here depending on what line they dialed (no more customers hearing unprofessional outgoing messages) and I know when I need to answer a call professionally (vs. answering as the National Porn Archive and the like).

Most Comforting Use

“I lost my phone and I don’t have a landline to check messages with!”

Recently I lost my phone and I don’t have a landline.  It’s a terrible feeling in particular because I was expecting some calls.  I have a Skype account, but that only handles my outgoing calling issues (I don’t use Skype for incoming, though that is another option).  So, using Google Voicemail I was able to get e-mailed transcriptions of my incoming voicemails and call people back more efficiently then if I had to use Skype to constantly check voicemails.  I’ve always been a fan of this feature, but didn’t expect it to be so helpful when my phone was never to be seen again.

Trickiest Use

“My apartment building has a call box at the door but my roommates and I don’t have a landline… Can Google Voice help us?!”

Yessir it can!  As always when there are roomates someone will have to take charge.

  • Signup for a GV account
  • Setup each roommates phone in the account (pick a night when everyone is home to make all the coordination of confirmation codes easier).
  • Have your landlord setup the call box to call your new GV # (consider adding *82 as a prefix to make sure the call box caller ID shows up).  It’s very important that the call box caller ID be displayed.

Voila! If this is all you use GV for and you want all the roommates phones to ring when someone is at the door… then you are done!

If you want to customize who gets called when, then you’re in luck.  Part of GV’s feature set is the ability to manipulate which phones ring based on the incoming number and the time.  For example, I work from home so my phone is set to always ring when the call box is dialed, but since my roommate works a 10-4 9-5 I set his phone to only ring in the evenings on weekdays.

When we moved in we thought we’d need to get a landline (blech!) or have only one phone attached to the account (lame!), but Google Voice gave us the solution we needed.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve demonstrated a few of the ways that Google Voice might benefit you quickly and without any real change to the way you currently use your phone and e-mail.  If you’ve got your own uses for GV I’d love to hear them.