February 4, 2010

5 Essential iPod Touch Apps for the Mobile Geek

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5 Essential iPod Touch Apps for the Mobile Geek

by Scott Nesbitt – January 31, 2010

The iPod Touch is more than just an MP3/MP4 player. And it's far more than just a crippled iPhone. It's a portable entertainment center, and a powerful tool for the mobile worker.

The key to the latter, though, is finding the right apps. Many of the applications for the iPod Touch that are available through Apple's AppStore are fun. There are some that are … well, they're interesting. Others are downright useless.

The apps that this TechTip covers are perfect for the geek on the go. They range in price from free to under five dollars. Best of all, they can keep you productive and connected.

Echofon

If you use Twitter, you've probably noticed that many tweets are sent from mobile devices. I've tried several Twitter apps for the iPod Touch and the best by far is Echofon.

Like any other Twitter client out there – whether for smartphones or a desktop computer – you can use Echofon to view tweets from the feeds that you've subscribed to. You can also view @mentions, direct messages, and any Twitter lists that you follow.  Obviously, you can also post tweets, reply to tweets, and retweet any interesting posts.

The interface is attractive and clean. It's easy to scroll though tweets and the Echofon alerts you not only to any new tweets and @mentions but also how many of each. While I'm leery of calling any application intuitive, Echofon comes really close. Everything you want to do is a tap or two away. And you pretty much get  used to the interface after only a couple of minutes.

Unlike a number of for-pay apps, Echofon has a free version. The free version has fewer features than the pay version but gives you a good idea of what Echofon can do. If you like it, the full version will set you back $3.99.

Evernote

genuine viagra without prescription height="270" align="right" />One way in which two million (and counting) people keep track of information and manage their lives is with Evernote. Evernote started as a desktop application for Windows or Mac OS X. But Evernote also has a Web-based component that you can access using a mobile device like an iPod Touch.

With the free Evernote app, you can read and edit your notes in the Web edition of Evernote. You can also create new notes and even upload images to your Evernote account.

Best of all, if you're offline and want to write a note you can do that within the Evernote app. Once you're back online, just tap the Sync icon to upload the note or notes to the Web

Obviously, you'll need an account with Evernote. A basic account is free, or you can get a premium account (with more storage space and options) for $45 a year.

Stanza

Information. People can't get enough of it. And for many, that information comes in the form of books. When you're on the run though, carting one or more dead-tree volumes weighs you down – literally and figuratively.

I'm an enthusiastic user of an ebook reader. But sometimes, even that's more than I want to carry. Luckily, there's the Stanza ebook reader for the iPod Touch and iPhone.

A free app, Stanza offers the closest thing to print-quality text on a screen that I've seen. Unlike many dedicated ebook readers, it also has a backlight which allows you to read in low light.

Using Stanza is simple. Just choose the book that you want to read from the ones that you have on your iPod Touch. Once it's loaded, tap the screen to turn the pages. You can change various aspects of the text – including font, color, and the amount of space between lines. You can also bookmark pages that contain interesting information.

On top of that, Stanza supports a variety of ebook formats. (Note: the reader can't open ebooks that are protected by DRM.)

How to get books onto your iPod Touch? You can try transferring them from your computer to the device, but that process can be more than a little cumbersome. Stanza does include links to several sources of ebooks online – both free books and ones you have to pay for. You can also download ebooks from Web sites as long as they're in the ePub format.

Dropbox

You're away from your computer. But you need that file or document. And you need it now. What do you do? If you use DropBox, you can view that file on your iPod Touch with a couple of taps of the screen.

A previous TechTip discussed DropBox. Just to refresh your memory, it's an online file storage and sharing service. You upload a file or set of files to DropBox, and you can access them from any computer or device on which you have the necessary software to get to your DropBox account.

You can download the free DropBox app for the iPod Touch from the AppStore or directly from the DropBox Web site. Once you've entered your account details, you can view files or upload them from your device with a tap or two. How do you think I got the screen captures in this TechTip onto my laptop?

Of course, you need a DropBox account – you get 2 GB of space for free, and can pay for even more storage. On top of that, you'll need software to view the types of files – for example, word processor documents or spreadsheets – that the iPod Touch's built-in software doesn't support.

Boingo Mobile Client

I'd be lost without wireless – whether in my home or when I'm on the road. While there's a lot of free wifi out there, there isn't always a free hotspot where I am. Which is why I have a Boingo Mobile account.

For $7.95 a month, I get unlimited access to thousands of wireless hotspots in over 70 countries. Not that I'll ever visit all of those 70 countries, but for the two that I do frequent, Boingo Mobile is one of the most useful apps on my iPod Touch. And the monthly fee is about the same as the hourly fee charged by many for-pay hotspots.

The first time you that you try to use a Boingo-enabled hotspot, you'll have to manually connect to it. You do that by tapping Settings > Wi-Fi and then tapping the name of the network. Once you're connected, go to the iPod Touch home screen. Tap the Boingo Wireless icon, then tap Login.

If you frequent one or more hotspots, make sure that your iPod Touch is set up to automatically connect when it detects a hotspot. To so that, tap Settings > Wi-Fi, then slide the option Ask to Join Networks to ON. Whenever you need to connect,  Tap the Boingo Wireless icon, then tap Login.

Summing up

The five apps discussed in this TechTip really only graze the surface of the body of apps for the iPod Touch that help make mobile geeks more productive and keep them better connected. They are, though, a great point at which to start building your library of mobile apps.

What apps do you recommend for the iPod Touch? Feel free to leave a comment or to share your favorites in the forums.

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Reusing Old PC Drives with External Enclosures

Tech tip 252

Reusing Old PC Drives with External Enclosures

by Bryan Lambert – January 24, 2010

Pull Quote 252Given the Geek that we're sure you are, you're probably on your third or fourth desktop generic viagra computer already. If this is you, then this Tech Tip is for you!

Before recycling that old machine why not make good use of its parts – specifically the drives. This week we'll be looking at some cool things that you can do with those old drives.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Getting the most out of your old PC means more that just donating it or recycling it when the time comes, but also innovative ways to reuse some of your old computer parts. For example, because your hard drive more than likely holds information you rather not get out (even if you reformat the drive, your information is still there – and easily recoverable), why not reuse it. Or perhaps, you're getting rid of a PC because it died, but the DVDRW drive is still perfectly good. While you may think of adding your old hard or optical drive into your new PC, why not just install it into an inexpensive external hard drive case instead. Before you do that however, you will need to know what case to get for the drive you have.


The size and the interface

When you start looking at external drive cases, you'll notice that they come in three different sizes: 2.5-inch, 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch. This simply refers to the physical "size" of the drive (OK, more specifically, the physical sizes of the discs inside the drive, but I digress). Basically, it comes down to if you have a notebook hard drive, then you'll use a 2.5-inch enclosure; a desktop hard drive, a 3.5-inch enclosure; and an optical drive then a 5.25-inch enclosure (or a slim 5.25-inch enclosure for a laptop optical drive). Note that some 5.25-inch enclosures can also accommodate 3.5-inch drives as well. The interface on the drive itself will either be IDE (PATA) or SATA and most drive enclosures will take either one or the other (some can take both) so be sure that you get the correct one for your drive. This is of course the internal interface – the external interface of the enclosure will either be the very popular USB (USB 2.0 most likely since USB 3.0 is taking its sweet time arriving ); eSATA or FireWire (FireWire 400 being the more prevalent flavor). One of the nice things about using 2.5-inch enclosures is that they'll usually be powered via just the USB port and not need any external power source.


Other cool features

Some of the other cool features to look for on external enclosures are one touch back-up (for easy back-up of your main hard drive); RAID enclosures (which take two drives at a time for larger total capacity); and also "entertainment" enclosures (that can be used as a multimedia server that works not only as an external hard drive but also as a entertainment hub for your television). In addition to those types of enclosures there are also some enclosures that can be installed internally in a desktop computers drive bay and then pulled out and used as an external drive. If you don't want to go the enclosure route, you can also use cable adapters that are simply a cable that plugs directly into the drive on one end and the PC on the other (for quick and easy access to your drive). Just like enclosures, be sure to get one that "fits" your drives interface. Another innovative item that goes along the non-enclosure route is the hard drive dock. With a hard drive dock you simply "drop" your hard drive into it and can quickly access your information in that fashion.

A couple of pitfalls

One of the biggest things to look out for is that enclosures will typically have a limit to the capacity of the hard drive that they can support – so be sure that it can support your drive. Also, because the USB interface is much slower than what the drive can deliver, USB enclosures can be frustratingly slow at times (USB 3.0 promises to be much faster); this is true if using USB for either optical or hard drives. If you are planning on reusing drives from your laptop, these sometimes have caddies around them that need to be removed first (before installing the drive into an enclosure). Also, many optical drives found on laptops have curved bezels and may have problems fitting in some of the slim external enclosures that are made for notebook optical drives.

In conclusion

Reusing old computer drives is an economical way to get more life out of your old PC's components. Not only can it be a fun learning experience, but it helps reuse drives that may otherwise take up landfill space. So break out a screwdriver, pick up an inexpensive enclosure, put on your Green-Geek hat and Pimp your PC by reusing your old drives!

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5 Must-Have Google Chrome Extensions

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5 Must-Have Google Chrome Extensions

by Scott Nesbitt – January 17, 2010

In just a couple of years of existence, Google Chrome has come a quite a way. From a niche and geeky apps, Chrome is positioning itself as a rival to Firefox and Internet Explorer. Recently, it passed Apple’s Safari to become the number three browser on the Web.

When I talk to Firefox users, they say that they want to switch to Chrome; but the only thing that’s holding them back is Chrome’s lack of add-ons and extensions. That used to be the case. But over the last year or so, Chrome has gained a sizable number of extensions. While not as numerous as those for Firefox, Chrome’s extensions are nothing to sneeze at.

Just a heads up for all you Mac fans out there: Google Chrome Extensions are not supported on Mac just yet. I expect they will available very soon.

This TechTip looks at five extensions for Google Chrome that any geeky Web surfer will find indispensable.

Before you begin

To use the extensions, you’ll need a recent beta version of Chrome. Versions are also available for Mac and Linux.

Installing extensions is easy. Just go to the official Google extension repository. If you want to find out which extensions you have installed, type chrome://extensions in the browser’s address bar. As well as displaying a list of extensions, you can also disable or remove them from this page. If any of your extensions have options, you can click the Options button beside the name of the extension and configure it.

With the prelims out of the way, let’s get to the extensions.

Metrist

There’s no denying that Twitter has become a powerful tool for personal communication. And for companies to communicate with customers and to market themselves. Even Geeks.com has a Twitter feed! As a previous TechTip mentioned, why log in to Twitter when you can use something better?

Metrist is a Twitter client that sits on Chrome’s toolbar. When new tweets are posted, Metrist lets you know how many there are. From there, you just click the icon and compact interface pops out.

You can not only read tweets, but post them too. You can also reply to tweets, view tweets that mention you (Twitter’s @mentions), and re-post tweets of interest. In fact, Metrist is the easiest Twitter client I’ve encountered – either on the desktop, in a browser, or on a mobile device.

Google Mail Checker Plus

Gmail. It’s addictive. And it’s incredibly useful. Most people I know who use Gmail never go back to using any other Web-based mail service.

To be honest, I find logging into Gmail to check my email to be a chore. When I mainlined Firefox, I used an extension called Gmail Notifier to check my Gmail accounts. I’ve tried a few Chrome extension, and the best of the lot is Google Mail Checker Plus.

Like Metrist, Google Mail Checker Plus is very simple. It sits on the toolbar and when new messages come in, it displays the number of unread emails in your inbox just below the extension’s icon.

Click the icon to get a preview of the unread messages. You get to see the subject and first line of each message. Click on a message to open it in Gmail. You can also mark a message as read or delete it. The extension also allows you to archive messages or to mark them as spam. Be careful with the latter – I accidentally did that with an email while writing this TechTip and got a bit frantic when I couldn’t find it.

My only gripe with Google Mail Checker Plus is that it only supports one Gmail address. There are people, like me, who have two addresses. Some people even have more than that. The ability to check multiple Gmail addresses would be a nice addition to this extension.

Bit.ly URL Shortener

If you microblog, then you know that adding a URL to an interesting Web site can take your post over the 140 character limit. for Twitter. Some URLs are longer than 140 characters! Thankfully, there’s a small cottage industry on the Web that develops services that shorten URLs. One of the most popular of these is bit.ly.

Using bit.ly involves copying a URL, going to the bit.ly site, pasting the URL into a field, and then clicking Shorten. That’s a lot of work. The Bit.ly URL Shortener extension cuts the amount of work down to one click.

The extension puts the bit.ly icon (a blowfish) on your address bar. When you go to a site, you click the icon and it’s immediately shortened by bit.ly, ready for posting on a microblogging site like Twitter or to be pasted into an email or instant message.

It’s fast and it’s flexible. But the Bit.ly URL Shortener doesn’t work with URLs secured using HTTPS.

As a quick aside, what happens if you want to expand those shrunken URLs before you click them? Check out the Explode extension, which does just that.

SmoothScroll

Not every extension – whether for Google Chrome or otherwise – requires you to interact with it. Some, like SmoothScroll, work in the background to make your browsing experience that much better. Or, in this case, smoother.

If you use your keyboard or the scroll wheel on your optical mouse to move through Web pages, you might notice some delay or flickering. SmoothScroll gets rid of that.

The options page for SmoothScroll contains settings for both your mouse and your keyboard.

You can change settings like the number of frames per second to display, the speed of animations, and the number of frames to display whenever you press the PgUp and PgDn keys. The default settings work well for me. You’ll probably want to experiment with the setting to suit your own needs.

AdBlock

While I have nothing against making money, I do have problems with a lot of the ads that I see on the Internet. Not just pop up or pop under ones, either. Banner ads. Large, gaudy ads that distract from what I’m trying to read or trying to buy. Annoying Flash ads. That kind of thing. AdBlock gets rid of that kind of thing and makes my Web surfing cleaner and faster.

Like SmoothScroll, AdBlock works in the background. Its developer claims that AdBlock not only stops the usual types of ads that you run into on the Web, but also ads on Facebook and even the text ads that appear in Google search results. Not being a Facebook user, I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of that feature. But I’ve yet to run into pop-up or pop-under ads since installing AdBlock.

The options page for AdBlock allows you to subscribe to two pre-configured filter lists. You can also point it to another Web-based filter list that you might know or want to use. You can find generic viagra without prescription new ones by doing a search for the term adblock filter list . You can also blacklist or whitelist Web sites. Very simple, but very effective.

Summing up

The list of extensions available for Google Chrome is steadily growing. The five (plus one) discussed in this TechTip really only scratch the surface. If you want to expand Chrome’s capabilities, try playing with as many extensions as you see fit. You’ll definitely find more than a couple that meet your needs.

Do you use Google Chrome? What are your favorite extensions? Share them by leaving a comment or discussing them in the forums.

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