Tech Tools and Apps That Enhance the Great Outdoors

Tech Tools and Apps that Enhance the Great OutdoorsWho says technology and nature must be mutually exclusive? As the spring season takes root and more of us can’t wait to replace stale office air with the sights and sounds of the outdoors, there are definitely some cool tech tools and apps that make the great outdoors even greater.

While burying your face into the screen of an iPad while hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail seems counter-intuitive (and rightfully so), there are ways to enhance your outdoor experience with some digital assistance. Here are just a few apps and tools to keep handy while exploring your neck of the woods.

For the Birds

Available on Apple’s App Store for just $2.99 for a limited time (it’s regularly $19.99), Audubon Birds: A Field Guide to North American Birds offers thousands of photos of North American birds, and maps of real-time sightings, among other features and interactive functions.

From the developer:

The newly updated Audubon Birds app has all the right ingredients to enhance your birding experience. Now with eBird, you can experience the thrill of locating birds in real time with quick access to recent sightings, locations of notable and rare birds, and maps and directions to all the birding hotspots across North America. The best bird app just got better!

On the Right Track

A recent article in The New York Times discussed the osprey’s dramatic recovery in Queens over the last few decades and a banding initiative that allows wildlife managers and the public to track, via GPS, the movements of the grand birds with 4-foot wingspans.

That’s Knots

For those of us who enjoy the quiet challenge of fishing, the App Store offers a handy app that demonstrates how to tie different fishing knots. Animated Fishing Knots is just 99 cents and is a great way to familiarize yourself with the art and sport of fishing.

Also helpful if you ever find yourself in a Jaws-like situation such as this:

Quint: [talking Brody through making knots] Little brown eel comes out of the cave… Swims into the hole… Comes out of the hole… Goes back into the cave again… It’s not too good, is it Chief? [Referring to Brody's messed up knot]

iHurt

If you’ve ever seen an episode of the Travel Channel’s When Vacations Attack, you know a free-spirited bungee jump can go from “yay!” to “no way!” in seconds.

While there isn’t an app that can turn back time and allow you to go with your initial gut feeling of “this bungee instructor seems kinda distracted, maybe I’ll sit this round out,” there is an app that contains more than 30 first-aid topics, including CPR, bleeding, burns, choking, drug overdose, bites, stings and many more.

iFirstAid will set you back $2.99, but if you need it, it’s money well spent.

From the developer:

It’s simple one-line memory jogging format helps you act fast when you need it most, in a life or death emergency. But heaps of additional detail is always just one touch away.

 

 

How To Select a Backup Service: Start By Identifying What Files You Have

Back up Computer FilesBefore you can choose a backup solution, you have to know what files you want backed up.

In order to decide what files you want to back up, you have to know what files you’ve got on your system as well as various information about them:

What programs and peripherals are creating the files that you want backed up. Where — as in, where on your computer’s storage, or possibly, where on a network storage device — are these files are created and saved to.

It’s possible that the backup utility you use will a.) ask you the right questions, and b.) find the directories and files that you care about. But if you don’t know the answers, you can’t tell the utility what to do and you can’t be sure it’s doing what you need.

What programs and peripherals create files?

It’s easy to lose track of what creates/saves files to the computer.

Every time you use an office productivity application, such as Microsoft Word/Excel/PowerPoint, or OpenOffice, you’re creating, and presumably saving, files.

Other programs and activities that create files include:

o Creating documents on NotePad, WordPad Scanning documents

o Creating PDF files (e.g., “printing to a PDF”)

o Saving web pages Getting receipts from web transactions (e.g., for airline, hotel, car reservations)

o Purchasing or downloading digital media (iTunes and other music, ebooks, video, etc.)

o Using digital media editing programs, e.g., Picasa, Flickr, Audacity

Also, other devices that connect/sync to your computer may create/transfer files. For example, your smartphone, tablet, digital camera, or MP3 player may create files that can be backed up.

Where are the files?

In order to tell a backup service to backup your files, you have to know not only which ones you want — e.g., documents, music and photos you create, but not documents you’ve downloaded — but also where on your computer they are.

On Windows PCs:

“Windows 7 uses libraries,” according to Ed Bott, author and a blogger for ZDnet on Windows and other technology issues. “By default, Documents are stored in the Documents folder within your user profile. You can add a separate location to a library (and optionally make it the default save location for that datatype), or you can change the default local Documents folder to be a location of your choosing.”

On MacOS:

For MacOS users, places in your directory structure that are likely (keeping in mind that I’m not a Mac user, this comes from consulting a MacOS-using friend plus some searching) to have files you may want to back up include:

o Your “home” folder, which is /Users/[yourname] — often abbreviated as “~”, e.g. /Users/grumpy/helloworld can be done as ~/helloworld

o Your home directory includes data for applications, like ~/Music (for iTunes), ~/Pictures (for iPhoto), ~/Movies (for iMovie)

o Bookmarks and other configuration data (as opposed to actual content) created/used by programs, like iCal calendars, Mail accounts and rules, Address Book contents. These are mostly in ~/Library, e.g.

~/Library/Safari/Bookmarks.plist

~/Library/Keychains/

~/Library/Application Support/AddressBook

~/Library/Calendars

o Shared Folders and Public Folder — if you’ve put anything here you want to save.

As somebody still using Windows XP on my primary machine (my new notebook is Windows 7, though), I’m still accustomed to Windows saving to My Documents by default, which in turn by default is part of the top Explorer view of “Desktop” or “My Computer.” My desktop machine has multiple hard drives, and I try to use the C: drive for software, and the D: and E: drives for data — currently, about 250GB of data, including multimedia (photos, video, music).

Even so, my C:/Documents and Settings folder has (after close to four years of using the computer) slightly over 50GB — 50,000+ files in it. Of this, about 14GB are in the Application Data subdirectory, 30GB in My Documents, and 5GB in Local Settings. (For comparison, there’s only about 30GB of software on my C: drive.)

And you may have files to backup from multiple external hard drives, NAS devices and removable media.

Once you’ve determined what files you have, and where they’re located, you’re ready for the next steps in deciding on a backup strategy and selecting a backup solution.

 

 

5 Things to Ask Your Cloud Backup Services Provider

Online backup is a booming industry, with dozens of vendors providing storage in the cloud. The idea is a compelling one: for a few dollars a year, you have immediate and automatic offsite storage of your most critical files. No messing with tapes, making DVDs, or worrying if you have the most current files backed up. But how to get started with finding the right service for you? Here are five questions to ask your potential provider.

1. What does it cost for my backups?

The first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to backup and how much data you are talking about. Are you just interesting in saving critical files, such as photographs and documents? Or do you want a backup of the entire PC itself, including program files and the operating system? Now, think about how much data you had on your computers a year ago, and how fast your storage needs are growing. You want to make sure that you anticipate this growth, too. If you are storing lots of photographs, audio or video files, this is very important because these are all big files compared to ordinary documents.

Once you know how much data you are dealing with, you can calculate what your monthly backup costs will be. Some providers offer discounts on annual service contracts too. Some providers offer unlimited space for a fixed fee too.

2. Can I backup more than one computer on a single account?

Some services assume that each account will be setup with a single computer, while others offer the ability to backup an entire collection of PCs. While you are checking this out, also look to see if they support the specific operating system versions of your entire computer collection. Some services don’t support 64-bit Windows, or Windows Server versions, or Macs for example.

3. Does your service save previous file versions?

Many products have the ability to save multiple versions of each file, up to a pre-set maximum that you can specify. This means you can go back in time if you have made a mistake in your work, or saved something that you would have rather not have done. If this is important to you, then consider which services have this feature. Note that some providers will include the space occupied by multiple file versions in their storage quotas.

4. How does my first backup get saved?

The first backup that you make can take several hours or days, depending on how much data you are sending to the cloud and how fast your Internet connection is. But once that chore is done, your incremental backups shouldn’t take too long, and happen in the background anyway. Some vendors, such as Mozy with its Data Shuttle, provide for this by having you mail them (via the postal mail) an actual external hard drive so the initial backup “seed,” as it is called, can be stored quickly. Other vendors have software that create backups locally and allow you to move the backup to another location across the Internet.

5. What kind of support do you offer?

Most service providers offer email-based support but not much beyond that. That is great if you don’t have many problems or are fairly confident and comfortable with using the service. But if something goes wrong, you want to talk to a live person. Some services only have live support during their business hours. If you want 24/7 support, then consider vendors such as Mozy, who offer the service.

 

 

Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – May 14

The cloud helps during natural disastersHow Cloud Computing Helps Weather Dangerous Events

For emergency management, the biggest advantages of cloud computing come down to three words: virtual mission continuity. Cloud computing reduces concerns about whether the data center will survive a disaster, according to an article in the publication Emergency Management.

Businesses and agencies regularlycopy and back up data, but the real challenge is restoring the applications to keep essential services and critical functions online after a disaster. Entire servers, including systems, applications and data can be copied, backed up and be ready to activate in another data center in a matter of minutes.

“The cloud is going to change the whole mentality of emergency management,” said Pascal Shuback, a program coordinator for the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

“Responders can be anyone with connectivity, the public included. We can regionalize our capabilities and create virtual operation support teams composed of the people able to support an event, and it doesn’t matter where they are.”

Robot Cars Pass Driving Test

Autonomous cars have been granted permission to use public roads in Nevada.

After officials from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles rode in the vehicles, dubbed “Google cars,” along freeways, state highways and neighborhoods, as well as the busy Las Vegas Strip, they were given the state’s stamp of approval.

The cars are controlled by computers processing a combination of mapping data, radar, laser sensors and video feeds.

Google is one off several firms racing to develop cars able to drive themselves. It is competing with car manufacturers as well as military firms to develop the technology.

It’s an interesting concept, but let’s hope these Google cars won’t exhibit signs of Droid rage while stuck in heavy traffic.

Apple Looks to Claim iPhone 5 Domain

Apple has filed a claim with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for the domain name iphone5.com.

So far, Apple’s smartphone line has counted up only to the iPhone 4S, but the company is widely believed to be getting ready to bring an iPhone 5 into the world.

While there are no device specifications to be gleaned here, the WIPO filing does at least suggest that Apple is considering the iPhone 5 name for the next iteration of its immensely successful product. Or perhaps it just wishes to take that domain out of play, regardless of what it calls the device.

 

 

Yard sales – A good place for tech bargains

Tech Deals at Yard SalesStore prices for technology keeps getting cheaper — but even the prices you can find online or at retailers forrefurbished and remainder products may be more than you want to spend on some things.

Fortunately, there’s an even better-priced market out there, if you’re a savvy, patient shopper. No, I’m not referring to eBay, Craigslist, or other web-based shopping sites. I’m talking about the live in-person ever-changing marketplace of yard sales, a.k.a. garage sales, tag sales, and flea markets.

With the right combination of luck, timing, and product savvy, you can pick up some remarkable bargains, on everything from parts and accessories to entire systems.

My friend Howard, for example, says he has purchased some nice flat-screen monitors and TVs for $10 or less. (“Why on earth do people let these things go so cheaply?” he asks. If possible, he adds, get the remote — and the manual if they’ve got it, although those are available online.)

Yard sales have the advantage of instant gratification, no shipping costs, and being sure that you’re getting what you expected. The downside, of course, is the possibility it won’t work, and there’s no warranty or refund.

Don’t expect to find the newest products (although you may). Yard sales are where you go for last year’s — and last decade’s — stuff.

For example, you can find “classic-format” flat-screen displays, at $5-25; USB floppy drives for a buck or two; Unopened copies of Windows XP and Microsoft Office for $5-20; and keyboards, mice and USB cables for a buck. You can also find a range of computer desks and office chairs to outfit your home office.

And yard sales are a great place to find spares of niche products that you use, like trackballs, phone-to-audio connectors, adapters of various types, and the like — even if you already have one, stocking up on a spare or two at the right price never (well, rarely) hurts.

If you’re still listening to music through stereo gear, yard sales can also offer great bargains, especially as everybody else is discarding theirs. CDs and movie DVDs often for a buck or less. Good pre-BluRay CD/DVD changers are commonly available in the $2-5 range, good tuners and receivers for $5-20.

Great stereo gear costs a little more, anywhere from $25 to $200. Caveat emptore:you have to know what you’re looking at, and, if you can’t test it before you buy, be prepared for some to have problems.

Some things to avoid, or at least be cautious about: digital cameras and notebooks. Make sure they work. Think carefully before spending more than $15; these items become obsolete quickly, you may be able to do better through store/web remainder bins. The same is true for printers; I’ve given up buying them at yard sales.

Of course, not everything you buy will work. As a rule, yard sale purchases are “as is,” so if possible and appropriate, see if the item is working before you take your wallet out — if it’s an AC-powered device, see if they’ve got an outlet available.

You will, inevitably, buy some things that you decide weren’t worth it, or simply don’t work. But that’s part of the game; you have to decide whether, overall, you’d be better off sticking to the stores.

To know what’s a fair price, it’s helpful to periodically visit a computer store or scan the ads, so you know what new stuff is going for. (And you might do a quick check on the spot, from your smartphone. Be sure to pull the item from the pile so somebody else doesn’t grab it while you’re researching.)

And don’t hesitate to bargain! That’s half the fun of yard sales, after all. My rule of thumb is to offer one-third to one-half of the asking price, and be ready to go one more round after the counter-offer.

Another tip: if you’ve selected three or more items, make an aggressively lower offer “for the pile.” Remember, most yard sale runners are more interested in getting rid of their stuff than getting the most money.

And, of course, after a while, it’s probably time for you to do your own yard sale.

 

 

How to create trust with your online presence

How can online relationships fuel and shape how we interact with our colleagues in the real world? You know, that environment that exists outside our desktops?

Our newspapers and websites are filled with stories about how the nature of friendship has become devalued as we go about connecting on MyLinkFaceSpace et al. But what few have covered is how the online world creates new kinds of communities, and builds trusted relationships that carry on in the real world of face-to-face interaction. This post is how small businesses can enhance their online reputations to build trust in their brands.

Oddly, where I started thinking about this was reading a book from a couple who I have worked with in the past. Now, this isn’t your typical business book with about 10 pages of content and the rest is mostly common sense. Instead, it is a very practical hands-on book on geocaching.

Geocaching? You mean that hobby where people hide stuff in public places and then use their GPS to try to find them? Let me explain. The book, which is called The Joy of Geocaching by Paul and Dana Gillin, talks about what you need to get started, and has some great stories of very involved cachers that the couple met over the course of doing their research. This is where the lessons about online relationships come into play.

There is one story of a woman who traveled to Toronto on a business trip with several colleagues. She left them at the airport, and was picked up by a stranger – with the only thing in common being that both were cachers. How many of us would climb into a car in another country with nothing more than exchanging a few emails? That involves a certain level of trust and comfort that just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Other examples are people that use the Meetup.com site to find people of similar circumstances. And of course there are the online dating sites, too. Crowdsourcing is another. I am sure you could think of other examples.

This use of online connections to prime the pump for a face-to-face meeting happens more and more frequently because we are doing more than just sending emails, or friend requests, or linking to others via online sites. We are sharing a common bond, a series of interests. We are building an authoritative source of content, context and identity. And along the way, we start shaping these micro-communities one person at a time.

Yes, there are people who pride themselves on having thousands of “friends” or who can connect with celebs and CEOs alike. But that isn’t what today’s Internets are all about.

Yes, it takes a village. But increasingly, our villages are formed online and with hyper-specific interests – not just because we share a common street block or elementary school classroom of our children. This is nothing new. The early bulletin board systems were great at this. But what is new is the potency of these relationships, and how quickly they can come to fruition.

Sure, I belong to lots of different communities, some based here in St. Louis, some that include people from all over the world. So take a moment to think about the online communities that you are a member, or should be a member. And see if you can start building some trust.

And if you want to learn about geocaching, go get a copy of the Gillins’ book. It is a good read, even if you never leave the comfort of your home.

 

 

Mozy in the Running For Utah’s Most Admired Companies – People’s Choice

Mozy

Mozy is a participant in this year’s version of the Utah’s Most Admired Companies – People’s Choice contest, sponsored by Utah Business Magazine.

The contest is a people’s choice award, and the most admired companies will be selected by the total number of Facebook likes accumulated during the contest.

During the entire month of May, you can vote for Mozy and be entered to win one of 12 Roku LT boxes and a free year of MozyHome.

We need and appreciate your vote!

So what can I do?

Mozy

Vote, share your URL with your friends to gain more entries, and check back at the end of the month to see if you’ve won. Ready to get started? Vote for Mozy!

 

 

Travel Apps and Sites Worth Writing Home About

Travel Apps and Sites Worth Writing Home AboutWe’ve all been there. After several connecting flights, a bus ride on a road seemingly unfit for a vehicle wider than a scooter, and a hotel check-in experience conducted with the charm and warmth rivaling that of an episode of ‘Locked Up Abroad.’

But your relief is short-lived when you soon realize that “suite” may be a stretch. And “ocean view” apparently is a subjective term.

There’s nothing worse than being disappointed in the first few moments of what you had hoped would be a stellar trip. As Oyster.com, a website geared to savvy travelers, says on its homepage, “you can’t return a bad vacation.”

“Our special investigators visit, photograph, review and rate each hotel. We uncover the truth, before it’s ‘uh-oh’ time,” Oyster promises on its site.

In order to avoid that “uh-oh” moment, it’s important to do your research before embarking on a trip into the unknown. There are hundreds of sites and apps for the traveler that shed light on the far reaches of the globe. Here are just a few sites and tips that are sure to help you avoid some common traveling mistakes.

Pearl of a Site

Oyster.com provides actual photographs from thousands of hotels around the world. It allows you to sidestep the hotel’s carefully crafted marketing photos and see how things really are, good, bad or otherwise.

“Oyster strives to be as transparent as possible. When you’re looking at a hotel on our site, we clearly differentiate each room type so that you know whether an upgrade is really worth it,” Oyster says.

The site also includes a section called “photo fakeouts,” which compares the hotel’s own photographs to a more realistic view of the grounds and your fellow vacationers.

Warning: Some of the actual photos show some not-so-limber folks doing yoga on a Caribbean beach, and European dudes wearing what are apparently little European bathing suits.

That’s Trippy

Another cool site to check out before planning a trip is Trippy.com.

“Trippy is the place for you to collect and share travel ideas, and collaborate on your travel plans with the people in your life who know you best – your friends! It’s a full-circle travel experience that takes you from Dreaming to Doing,” Trippy promises on its site and app.

You have to sign up for Trippy and connect through Facebook in order to share photos of where you’ve been and peruse quality traveler photos of where you’d like to go.

Trippy definitely creates some wanderlust, and it was described as “travel candy for the eyes,” according to a quote in The New York Times Travel section.

Ex Marks the Spot

A great resource for travelers can be found on forums where expatriates discuss their new homelands. You never know what type of vital information you may uncover, and visiting these forums is a good way to get a sense of how things really are in paradise.

I once found driving directions from the mountainous center of the Dominican Republic to the country’s north coast. Since there are very few (if any) street signs in the DR, one courteous expat posted a photo of a particular road that was lined with bright flowers, and wrote, “if you’re on this road, you’re going the right way.” Sure enough, we found the road, and eventually, the coast.

Happy trails.

 

 

Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – April 30

Cloud Computing a Lifesaver?

Cloud Computing - a life saverIn spite of its current popularity, many people don’t realize the cloud’s potential extends far beyond trimming budgets and bolstering the next social networking start-up.

Cloud computing is proving it can be an important tool for extending or even saving human life, according to an article from Silicon Angle.

Case in point: Cycle Computing created 51,132-core supercomputer on the cloud to test 21 million synthetic compounds that could be useful in treating cancer. The cluster ran for 3 hours on March 30 and cost $4,828.85. A comparable build out using a traditional infrastructure approach would have cost over $20 million and taken months to deploy. The same research could have taken a year to complete if the simulation was run on the 1,500-core cluster Cycle Computing’s client, Schrödinger, typically used for biotechnology and pharmaceutical research.

Researchers no longer have to endure the longs waits to rent time from supercomputing centers or obtain billions in funding, which is substantially speeding innovation in the industry, according to Silicon Angle.

Snapguide Becomes First to Have Seamless Pinterest Integration

Snapguide, a newcomer in the Apple App Store looking to make its mark in the social media world, wants to increase Pinterest’s presence on third-party mobile apps.

The app lets users create how-to guides, allowing them to easily incorporate pictures and videos. The idea is to post the guides online and share knowledge with others in a social and viral way. It has had integration with other networks such as Facebook and Twitter from the outset, some three weeks ago. But now, recognizing the extreme growth and increasing importance of Pinterest, it has added that to the list.

Because Pinterest doesn’t have its own application programming interface (API), Snapguide had to work directly with the Pinterest team. The result is a product that works seamlessly for end users. As for whether there will be a Pinterest API any time soon, Snapguide founder Daniel Raffel told paidContent, “I am confident they are doing everything they can to give developers high-quality APIs to interact with. I’m sure some great news will be coming soon and that when they launch developers will be very happy.”

When Calls Truly Get Under Your Skin

Nokia recently filed a patent for a communication system consisting of a magnetic tattoo that would receive signals from a smartphone and vibrate to alert users of incoming calls, according to Smarter Technology.

The new system could enable you to be in constant contact with family and friends. The Finnish phone company is working to develop a tattoo that would vibrate to alert you of a call.

Nokia recently filed a patent for a haptic communication system that would be “capable of detecting a magnetic field and transferring a perceivable stimulus to the skin, wherein the perceivable stimulus relates to the magnetic field.” In such a notification system, a small iron tattoo would be painted on a user’s skin. The tattoo would then be able to receive a magnetic signal and vibrate when the phone is ringing.

 

 

Should you consider a co-working space?

Co-working spaceMost of you are familiar with the idea of a shared tenant services for small businesses that can’t afford their own office space but want to take advantage of a common collection of services such as fax machines, conference rooms, reception areas, and the like. But what if the $400 or so a month fee for these services is still out of the park for your nascent business owner? And what if working out of a coffee shop or other free WiFi place isn’t really professional enough? In between these setups, several different kinds of shared office spaces are also available. Let’s look at the options.

First up is co-working, which also goes under various names, including the “Jelly” movement started by Amit Gupta. The idea is that people who want more than just a virtual water cooler of email, Tweeting and posting online can actually get out of the house and spend some time nearby other humans doing their work too. The goal is to create a community of like-minded people but from different walks of life, skill sets, and interests – just like your local Faceless Big Company Cubicle Warren. Bring your own laptop and cell phone, tie into a WiFi connection, and sip some of the included coffee. The “rent” is reasonable – about $50 a month or even less, depending on how often you need to show up. Some facilities have more, such as multiple-line phones and conference rooms, and some have less. All are a step up from Starbucks, though. Some are in business district locations, some in more residential areas that are not much more than a converted home with a bunch of desks in them. Some are sponsored by local governments, others are setup by private businesses.

Probably the best thing to do is just to check out some of the many resources on co-working on the web. Look at the co-working wikilistings by city, or the link for Jelly (listed above). Call a few of the places that are in these directories and find out the basics, such as price, hours of operation, and what else is included.

Before you visit with your laptop and cell phone, make sure you have a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones along too. Some of these places can get noisy, and you’ll want some protection from all the hubbub. Also, if you do get a lot of phone calls, consider leaving your desk and finding someplace a bit more private, so as not to disturb your fellow co-workers.

Somewhat different from co-working is where companies are renting spare office space by the hour. This is the growing trend in some California cities. An article in ReadWriteWeb talks about this and where you can find these kinds of services.

Still, my work style wouldn’t tolerate such close quarters – at one of the co-working sites that I visited last week, it could easily house ten people in a large bullpen area. I like it nice and quiet and no one else around, because that is what I need to write and to interview people on the phone. But perhaps you are different, and crave the company and companionship. You might want to investigate co-working, and see if there is someone in your area that has such a setup, or even start one in your own house.