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software

A look at the Facebook Profile through the years

For those who are unaware yet, Facebook has recently launched their vision of a new Facebook at their f8 conference, and while the Internet is buzzing with thoughts on the keynote, Web.Appstorm’s article on how the Facebook Profile evolved over the years offer a great reprieve and appreciation of just how far we have come.

Link to Web.Appstorm’s article in header. If you are interested in the keynote, check out Facebook’s own f8 page on (no surprises) Facebook.

Neutrinos faster than light? OMG! Anyone wanna bet?

XKCD has always been one of my favorite webcomic, and their take on the latest news about how Neutrinos might be faster than light puts everything in perspective.

Brilliant read if you ask me; link in header. For those who are interested in the Science bit, check out Reuter’s article about the Neutrino faster than light experiment by CERN.

Shawn Blanc’s guide on how to spell tech names properly with correct capitalizations

I’ve always wondered if it was Facebook, facebook, or FaceBook, and their logo doesn’t help. Hence imagine my joy when Shawn Blanc published a simple guide on common miscapitalized tech names.

But that’s not all. Both he and I (and many other Mac users) use TextExpander, which is well, a text expander app, and he has included for download the snippet group to make typing these pesky names easier.

Link to his article in header. Meanwhile, do check out TextExpander and how it can save you time typing.

YouTube launches video resource for teachers

Just a while back I posted on TOOZE roundups that YouTube rolled out editing features for uploaded videos. Soon after, the good people over at YouTube rolled out a specific site which promotes the usage of YouTube as an education tool. I quote from their profile page:

This site is a resource for educators everywhere to learn how to use YouTube as an educational tool. There are lesson plan suggestions, highlights of great educational content on YouTube, and training on how to film your own educational videos.

This site was written by teachers for teachers, and we want to continue that spirit of community-involvement. We’re creating a new YouTube newsletter for teachers (sign up above!) and are asking teachers to submit their favorite YouTube playlists for us to highlight on YouTube EDU.

Link in header. Do check it out sometime to add those spice in your teaching and learning.

YouTube Video Editor

YouTube recently added a video editing function for users to combine videos, trip clips, rotate clips, add music, insert transitions and stabilize clips. There’s also color filters like Black and White or Cartoon, just to name two.

One small caveat though. Videos which have more than 1000 views will have to be saved as a new video after editing. It’s probably to keep the popular video unaltered.

Personally I haven’t tried it, but it looks like a great thing for those who want to make small changes after they have uploaded their video; I mean, there really isn’t a reason to use it when there’s other free video editors out there right?

In case you are not sure, there’s always Windows Movie Maker and iMovie. For photo slideshows, there’s always Animoto and MixBook.

Link to YouTube’s blog post about the editor in header.

Social media during its puberty days

Social media sites like FaceBook and Twitter didn’t use to look like what it does today. Like all pretty grown-ups (sort of), they also went through an awkward puberty. Kottke put together the first sites of FaceBook, Tumblr and Twitter, and as a bonus, threw in Google and Yahoo.

Link in header for a good laugh! Thanks to Gizmodo for sharing.

Quickly add events in iCal

David W. Martin did a short post about how one can quickly add events in iCal using simple human speech. It’s a nifty little tip that’s worth your few minutes to check out, especially if you are a heavy iCal user.

As an aside, you don’t have to click on the + sign. Instead, you can just hit Apple (Command) + N.

Link to post in header.

Wired’s short update on Canon’s S100

Frankly, when I saw that Canon has released a new camera (S100), I didn’t pay much attention to it until I saw Wired’s article, and realized that it was a successor to the S95, which is a successor to S90, which, is one of my favorite compact cameras. Basically, the 100 didn’t hit me; after all, 90 and 95 are double digits.

Anyhow, the S100 looks to be really good, so check it out if you are looking for a compact this holiday season.

Link in header.

Thoughts management using Thoughtboxes

Web.AppStorm ran a review about Thoughtboxes, a Web app that allows you to capture your thoughts on a free-form canvas. It’s pretty similar to Popplet, another Web app that I love, but this one is a little different in that they allow you to mark thoughts and classify them linearly within different thought boxes, instead of the concept-map approach of Popplet. I haven’t tried it myself but it looks pretty good.

Train-example

How Thoughtboxes look like. Credit: Thoughtboxes

Link to Thoughtboxes in header; review by Web.AppStorm can be found here.

Plain text and Simplenote

Simplenote was one of the first few iOS apps I ever had, and it has stayed with me ever since. And I don’t think I’m pushing it if I said that it was the app that made plain text (note: rich text refers to text with formatting, like bold and italics; plain text are just words and spacings) popular again.

In short, Simplenote is a note-taking app but the true power of it (to me) is how it syncs across devices and apps that support it. For such a great service, Web.AppStorm did a review of it and if you haven’t tried Simplenote at all, you really should.

Link to Simplenote in header; review by Web.AppStorm here.

Password management with Mitto

Web.AppStorm very timely ran an timely article about Mitto, a Web based app that helps you manage all your online login credentials. Why did I say it was timely? Well, it happened after we finished our three-parter on password security over here at TOOZE, and while I mentioned the benefits of a password manager, it’s a habit that many are not prone to undertake, unless compromised (which I hope will never happen!)

To do a quick recap, here’s what we haven been talking about:

  • Part 1 covers the need for a unique password for each site that you go to, and highlights the computing power of modern hardware in hacking.
  • Part 2 covers the difficult choice of choosing a good yet usable password.
  • Part 3 covers the usage of a password manager to well, manage all those pesky individual passwords.

So check out Mitto if you don’t already have a password manager, and be safe!

Link to Mitto in header; review by Web.AppStorm here. Link to the first part of our post on password security can be found here.

Kirk Tuck with the Olympus PEN E-P3

Kirk Tuck, a well-known photographer spent some time with the Olympus EP3 and did a very extensive usage review of it. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system as it felt like a weird hybrid between a compact and a dSLR; then again, it is that mix which has created many loyalists. The other thing is that being in its relative infancy, MFT systems are rather expensive, and have a limited range of lenses available. However, let me quote from Tuck’s article:

People on the forums have taken Olympus to task for the price of the camera and me to task for daring to mention how much the EP3’s other branded predecessors cost… You pay a premium for design but then you get to use a camera that’s beautifully designed. Very few people will buy an EP3 with the intention of making it their sole business camera. That’s just not its role. It is an artists camera and while there are many camera choices on the market people gravitate to cameras that make them feel productive and make them feel creative. If you are a person with a spreadsheet mindset and must quantify every camera purchase with a series of metrics and check off lists then the Pen is very much not for you. Stop reading and buy the Rebel T3i. It was made for the check list people. But you can’t really put a hard price on good design and good ergonomics… But the important thing to understand is that different attributes have different values to different people and artists don’t have to justify their tool purchases to engineers.

And another:

If you think the Olympus is overpriced then it is. For you. I am a veteran buyer of many Leicas and, for what they were able to accomplish, I didn’t think they were over priced. You just can’t over estimate how important the feel of a camera in your hand is until you spend hours each day with it.

It’s a brilliant article, even if you are not interested in the PEN; for there is a lot to learn from it about how to judge a camera, and how to evaluate a tool (hopefully) more objectively.

Link to article in header.

Previously in Part 1* we looked at how RSS and Google Reader might help us put all the new information in a place for quick access. Today, let’s look at how we might be able to access the information on the go.

RSS reader apps and Reeder

I used to just use Google Reader in my browser, but I don’t have my laptop all the time; in fact, I read usually on the go when I only have my phone and iPad with me. Enter the need for a RSS reader app. Basically it’s an app that allows you to log in your Google Reader credentials so all the feeds that you have amassed will be found in the app. A good app should do the following:

  • Syncs with Google Reader (meaning it mirrors the feeds from Google Reader, and if I mark a feed as read in my app, it should be marked in Google Reader as well)
  • Allows for Read It Later/Instapaper integration – more on that later
  • Allows for sharing on FaceBook, Twitter and others
  • Allows me to mark a whole category as read (trust me, it’s useful when you are dealing with over a 100 feeds)
  • Allows me to read from oldest feed, or newest feed.

Previously I used NewsRack and it has worked fine for me. There’s also Pulse and Flipboard, but they work best for a small amount of feeds and leisure browsing (I’d admit they really look good); they are not built for fast skimming of 200+ feeds a day.

Then there’s Feedly, which I have been using for a while, and really loved. Except that there were several things I didn’t like about it, and switched.

I didn’t want to go back to Newsrack because it felt really dated. To be fair to it, it works really well and it actually allows you to manage feeds without logging onto Google Reader, meaning it is not a prerequisite to have a Google Reader account before using it.

Personally, I like to have my feeds managed on a Google Reader account and synced to the app, because when I change a reader app, all my changes stay; this will not be the case if I don’t use Google Reader. Nevertheless, it’s great for those who want an alternative.

So, what am I using now?

Say hello to Reeder.

The thing about Reeder is that beside being one of the prettiest RSS reader app out there, it’s very intuitive in the way it handles feeds: sort feeds by favorites, unread and feed sources; pinch in and out of categories; swipe to mark as read and to perform a special function (which I use to send to Instapaper). It also fulfills all I ask for in a good app.

There’s only one catch, and that is the inability to manage feeds subscriptions within the iOS app itself. Actually there’s two catches, with the second one being more expensive than NewsRack, because the iPad and iPhone apps are different, while the NewsRack app is universal. To overcome this, I bought the iPad app and read on my iPad solely (anyway I have my iPad with me almost all the time). Incidentally, I own the Mac app as well, and it’s equally gorgeous, and it can manage feed subscriptions.

Here’s some shots of how it looks like on the iPad.

IMG 0259

Reeder on the iPad

IMG 0260

List of feeds in Reeder on the iPad

Instapaper and Read It Later

Often we’d come across a great article that we want to keep for future reference, or simply further reading as we are kinda occupied at the moment. This is especially true when I skim through my feeds in the morning on the commute to sieve out things that interest me.

Here’s where Instapaper and Read It Later (RIL) come in. By the way, I was an RIL user but found instapaper to be much better with text, and switched.

As a care in point, here’s an example of how it all works out for me in a day.

As mentioned, I’d scan through my feeds in Reeder in the morning, and send those interesting-looking ones to Instapaper. When I get a reprieve in the day, I’d make a cup of coffee and sit down with Instapaper, reading through the articles that I have saved previously. This pretty much sums up my news reading for the day.

Here’s a primer on some nice touches in Instapaper; note that this is not a full review.

First, saved sites are formatted for reading (though sometimes it screws up because the page renders wrongly, but in that case I can just view the original site in a built-in browser). This is something RIL does as well.

IMG 0265

The original site in the in-built browser in Instapaper

IMG 0264

The same text as above formatted for reading in Instapaper

Second, Instapaper has quite a fair bit of options for customizing the reading experience, including a auto dark-mode (white text on black background) in accordance to your time-zone (it auto-switches at 7)

IMG 0266

Reading options in Instapaper

Also, In the main screen, there’s little dots at the bottom-right of each article to signify the length of the post: more dots, longer post. If I read the post halfway, the dots will be colored accordingly.

IMG 0267

Subtle dots to signify the length of a post in Instapaper

There’s also folders to organize your readings, and a “like” button which you can customize to send to services like Evernote or Twitter (note that if you send to Evernote, the URL will not be the original one but an Instapaper one. If you need the URL, save the article from Reeder or any RSS reader app and not from Instapaper).

Incidentally, Apple’s Reading List in the Safari 5 works pretty much the same (and coming soon to iOS 5), except that it cannot save out to external services yet. Also, unlike Instapaper or RIL which supports offline reading after loading, Reading List requires you to be connected as it’s just a list of sites.

A note about RSS

Recently, Jacqui Cheng wrote an article on Ars Technica about the problem with RSS**, and Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper chipped in***.  Ben Brooks then responded to both posts****.

All posts are worth a read, but in summary, Cheng’s argument is that RSS creates too much clutter for us, and having to (note the words) keep up is driving us insane. Arment takes a more balanced view, saying that

RSS is a great tool that’s very easy to misuse. And if you’re subscribing to any feeds that post more than about 10 items per day, you’re probably misusing it. I don’t mean that you’re using it in a way it wasn’t intended — rather, you’re using it in a way that’s not good for you.

Then Brooks made what I felt was the most important statement:

If you don’t like RSS don’t use it. If you want to use it but don’t want to have thousands of items, then use it like Marco does. Or use it like I do and check the feeds more often…

But don’t blame RSS.

My personal journey with RSS is somewhat like Cheng’s. Initially, I subscribed to news sites like Channel News Asia, The Straits Times, Reuters, CNN etc, but was quickly overwhelmed with the number of feeds a day (almost a thousand). Then I realized I don’t even read the papers; what makes me think I’d appreciate a boatload of feeds?

Then I killed the news feeds totally (apologies to my teachers who always told me to read the paper), relying on friends and the occasional news on TV to stay updated. One good thing about this is that if it’s a big enough news, sooner or later I’d know it. As a case in point, I knew about Michael Jackson’s death not from the news but from a friend’s Facebook feed.

I then subscribed to major tech news sources like CNET and PCWorld etc as I was well, a geek. Soon, I noticed that there’s a wealth of independent tech writers out there like John Gruber (Daring Fireball) and Ben Brooks (The Brooks Review), and added them to my RSS subscriptions.

Over time, I realized that the major tech news sources were duplicating each others’ news and similarly, when it was a big enough story, all independent writers would be writing about it, so I killed most of my major news feeds, and relied on independent writers more.

To make my skimming better, I created a few folders (you could create a ‘when I am free’ folder to the same effect) where I’d file RSS feeds which I could just mark all as read if I didn’t have the time, and hence focused on those I needed to read to get the best updates.

That’s the state of things for me now. In short, I’m mostly following independent writers with more original writings and regular, but not oppressive post schedules.

What it means for you, our reader

Try out RSS if you haven’t to follow even things like Manga updates. Start with Google Reader that is free, and move to dedicated apps when you are totally sold on RSS and need a more seamless and intuitive platform.

For tech news, follow us on Twitter where we repost curated news items from many major tech news sources (yes I still follow them, but only on Twitter). If you would like to stay updated on our posts, you can either subscribe to our RSS, or like us on Facebook (Tech bOOZE) to get our articles in your news feed.

That’s all for Part 2. In the last part to come soon, I’d post a list of (most of) my RSS subscriptions to get you started on RSS.

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*Part 1 can be found here, and Part 3 here.

**Why keeping up with RSS is poisonous to productivity, sanity

***Sane RSS Usage

****RSS Usage

Using OmniFocus as a note-taking app

J. Eddie Smith, IV wrote an article about using OmniFocus as his primary note-taking app on his iPhone. Personally, I use Simplenote a lot more and only on occasion OmniFocus as a note-taking app. However, one thing about Smith’s argument stands out to me:

This is really a message about the power of inbox unification. I’ve always been a believer in minimizing the number of inboxes I have to juggle. The inbox in OmniFocus is one of the best all-purpose inboxes I’ve ever had the pleasure of juggling.

And that’s really key, because I have notes in Simplenote and yet another inbox in OmniFocus. Streamlining down to one helps me to not lose materials or juggle between two.

Do check out his article for more arguments and examples of how he use OmniFocus in this aspect. It’s a great read. Link in header.

Even if you don’t use OmniFocus (yes I know it’s pricy but I love it), it’s still a great read because it’d prompt you to think about how you can minimize the number of entry points. In Smith’s words:

It’s become an efficient single point of entry for nearly everything in my electronic information ecosystem that doesn’t come from email. Even if you don’t use OmniFocus, you might want to think about how you can create a common funnel for the mixed bag of information you invite into your ecosystem.

Sony Vaio Z review

Gizmodo posted their review of the laptop, and it looks to be pretty good except for the tiny trackpad and price. I quote:

The Vaio Z is proof that Sony can still do some things very right. But for everything this computer does well (which is a lot!), I just can’t get over the damn trackpad. Maybe if you have hobbit hands it’ll suit you, but I just wanted to cut my fingers off at the end of the day. That said, if you have a couple of money stacks to throw around and want a PC that combines size, speed and utility in a generally well-conceived way, the Vaio Z is a fine machine.

Link in header.

Adults playing online games

Oatmeal published a cartoon about how it’s like to play online games as a grown-up, and man did it resonate with me!

Link in header.

 

Dropbox updates Lion computability

If you’ve upgraded to OS X Lion for your Mac, you’d probably realize that Dropbox doesn’t seem to work very well, in that the iconic green status icons are missing. Well, Dropbox has released an update and it’s a manual download (bummer). Nevertheless go get it!

Dropbox before update

Dropbox folder before update

Dropbox after update

Dropbox folder after 1.1.40 upgrade. Notice that the green ticks have returned

Link in header.

Web.AppStorm writes about the top Web apps that their staff can’t live without

I’m a huge fan of Web apps for the following reasons (there’s more but I’d stick to 3):

  • they are usually free with paid (usually tiered) upgrades to fit my needs
  • they are always updated (no need to download or buy new versions)
  • they are easy to share and allow for great collaboration

And some apps I’ve been using are Instapaper, Dropbox, Popplet and Sliderocket. So check out their list and see if there’s something for you to use and improve your productivity!

Link in header.

Cheap printers are a bad idea

PCWorld published an article about why cheap printers are best to be avoided. A great read for those looking to pick up yet another printer (and trolley) at the upcoming IT fair (or whatever it’s called) in Singapore.

Link in header.

Scott Adams’ phone reviews

Scott Adams was approached by the Windows Phone team to test their phone after he complained about his iPhone 3GS and Android phone. So the challenge was for him to use a Windows Phone and if he didn’t like it, they’d donate $1000 to a charity of his choice.

Link to his review in the header.

It’s a great read, though one must bear in mind its context (which Adams painstakingly tried to remind readers) in judging for one’s self.

Interestingly though, he didn’t explicitly mention if the charity of his choice got the $1000.

Here’a an update for the review* I did of 4 iPhone expense tracker apps a while ago.

1. Versions

I realized that to do justice to the apps, I needed to include the versions I’ve reviewed, so here they are:

Saver — 1.0
BudgetCare — 2.0.1
MoneyBook — 2.5
Expenditure — 1.1.2

This is because some changes/improvements to the apps might have occurred since the post, and I want to set a context for my review, lest I give a wrong impression of the apps. Hence, if readers read the review and find that the version number has changed, it would then be wise to compare my review with the change log and see the improvements.

This would apply to any review done by anyone. I’d go so far as to say that if there is no way to ascertain the version in question, then the review is moot because it might not be the version you are paying for.

2. Budget setup

For all the 4 apps, there is no need to setup a budget in order to start tracking your expenses. The only downside is that you cannot see a balance (because there’s nothing to compare to!)

3. Search

Sometimes you’d just want to check how much you spent on that dress but there’s too much data to sieve through. Of the 4 apps, only BudgetCare and Saver allow for searching of individual expenses.

4. Recurring expenses

Recurring expenses are available for all apps except Saver, and BudgetCare has a nice touch of reminding you about future expenses via notifications.

———-

After writing the original review, I stuck around playing with the various apps and went back to MoneyBook eventually for its familiarity and robustness.

Then I realized that I had a fifth app to test out on.

Numbers by Apple. [Update: $9.99]

At this time of writing, it’s at version 1.4 and an universal app, meaning that it runs on both the iPhone and iPad natively. For those who are unfamiliar, Numbers is the Excel of Apple, and though I’m not doing justice to either by making a parallel, it’s the most effective in terms of introductions.

I’m not doing an Excel vs Numbers post here, but rather exploring the option of using Numbers as an expense tracker, especially since we have Numbers on the iPhone and iPad.

And it works pretty darn well.

Going by my original review criteria of setup, creating entires and reviewing, here’s how Numbers stack up.

a. Setup

Setup is a pain compared to the rest, simply because Numbers is not an expense tracker app but a spreadsheet app. What I did was to take the budget template and tweak it a little to fit my needs. It wasn’t immediately obvious how I could edit it, but after a while I had it fully customized.

And that is the power of Numbers — customizability. I could have as many graphs or categories I want, and as many budgets as I want. For the latter, none of the apps allowed multiple budgets, and multiple budgets is pretty useful if you want to well, budget.

There is a downside to Numbers though. Remember that it’s a spreadsheet app and so if I were to key in all my transactions it would soon be too cluttered. So what I did was to create a spreadsheet for each month of transactions by duplicating the previous month’s and removing all entries. It’s not pretty and soon I’d have too many spreadsheets, but for now it’s still managable. A potential workaround would be to keep the current month’s spreadsheet in my device, and store the rest on my computer for reference.

b. Creating entries

It’s hardly elegant in that I have to double tap on a cell to bring up the virtual keyboard, and there’s no way to quickly add in categories except by copy-pasting. In comparison, it’s terribly cumbersome.

IMG 0191

Expense tracking in Numbers (iPad) for the month of Aug-Sep

c. Reviewing

I think in terms of reviewing, Numbers trump all the rest, simply because I can make it look exactly the way I want it to. And there’s no tabbing or multiple windows. It’s just all there. This is where the pain of customizing pays off.

Conclusion

Numbers is not meant to be a expense tracker app but I’m using it as one, and in some ways it is more powerful; in many others cumbersome. Should you buy it just for this purpose? Never! However, if you are considering Numbers already or have it, give it a shot as an expense tracker before sinking in the cash for the rest.

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*My original review of the 4 apps can be found here.