Conversations On tech, literature, art and business

14Dec/080

Hex Color Tools – Mac & PC

Having migrated from a PC to a MacBook over the summer, things have been progressing smoothly. Despite the relative ease of the transition, now and then I still discover utilities from my PC toolkit that I don't have an immediate alternate for on my Mac.

PC - Instant Eyedropper

Instant Eyedropper

One PC tool I always had running in my toolbar was Instant Eyedropper. Click the icon, and an info box shows the hex value for any pixel your mouse hovers over. Simple concept, but for a consultant jumping from system to system, a terrific timesaver.

So, a new day and a new client.  Creating some quick content for them but I don't have access to their systems yet, just a screenshot of a mockup. In the old days, I could gather the HTML colors I need in seconds and move on.  Am I going to fire up my VM just to find out a couple of colors? I think not.

Mac - DigitalColor Meter

DigitalColor Meter

A quick Google search cleared this up.  Turns out there's a utility built into the Mac that does this exact thing, DigitalColor Meter. You can find it in Applications/Utilities.  Try it out!

It's capable of retrieving colors in 13 different formats, making it useful for more than just web development.

Now I'm wondering what other clever apps are hiding away in Mac OS Leopard.

What's your favorite Native Mac App?

8Dec/084

Twitter Phishing – Hype or Hoopla

The Bait

If you are a die hard Twitter fan, you've probably already heard the controversy around TwitterRank. It's a fairly basic concept, like a page rank for your Twitter account:

"As the name implies, Twitterank is sort of like Page Rank for twitter users. True to its namesake, it uses "back references" of sorts to determine how worthy of a person you are in Twitterverse."

The Hook

Most of us have given our password to any number of clients in our search for the one that works for us: Twinkle, Twhirl, Twitterific, TweetDeck, etc. How can we be sure that any one of these is legit? TwitterRank has posted an official response to the phishing question. Basically it says, "I'm a good person, don't worry about it". I accept that. It's not the developer's job to assure people they are not malicious when offering free services. It's really a case of buyer (read user) beware.

TwitterRank's creator states the problem is the Twitter API is a closed system. You need to have a username and password to retrieve data. TwitterRank goes on to refer to sites like Yahoo and Facebook that allow you to retrieve data in other ways.

Fair enough, but it is possible to retrieve a lot of data from Twitter just by using the publicly available xml timelines, user and friend. I have an alpha version Twitter tool in the works that gives you the option to enter your password but operates just fine without it. You only need to enter your password if you want to access protected, i.e. private, data.

The Solution?

Hard to say. Perhaps Twitter could have an approved list of affiliate tools. Sort of like the iTunes approval process.

What do you think? Have you ever given a second thought to entering your Twitter password to a third party tool? If not, would you do the same with your email password?

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7Dec/080

Top 7 iPhone Accessories

Here are my latest picks for the top iPhone accessories.  There are several options in each category depending on your primary usage.  My primary considerations in accessories are:

  • Portability
  • Productivity
  • Experience enhancement

Screen Protector

Absolute no-brainer! This is the first thing you do, while your phone is activating even.

Charger 

Solar Charger

Solar Charger

As much as I enjoy the diverse applications of this phone, the battery life is a big disappointment (Somewhat better with the 2.2 update - the jury is still out).  There are many discussions going on how to preserve your battery, most involving turning off services or 3G, on the web already.  I'll post my preferences on that later but in the meantime, I just charge regularly.  That is, until I get my new case; see the next item on the list :)    
  • The chargers that came with the iPhone 3G were recalled. See the article here for info on what to do about that.
  • Car Charger - under $10
  • Solar Charger - You can also opt for this Solar Charger case
  • My top pick for a non-solar charger: Incase 2-in-1 wall and car charger. Cut the number of cords cluttering up your laptop bag and grab this one. The 5 ft cable is nice.

Case 

Incase Battery

Incase Battery

I bought this elan holster the same time I got my iPhone but I really should have held off. Great holster but there's no clear space for the camera?!?  Purchase FAIL.

I've had the phone for several months now so I have a much clearer vision of my needs in a case.  There are some terrific options. If someone can combine #1 and #3 I'm your first customer. My favorite cases:    
  • Case with close up lens - for the productivity junkie. Clarifi excites the productive side of my personality. I see me happily scanning barcodes, business cards, and other evernotes.
  • Telescope - for the photog. Telescopic 6X zoom looks good. ThinkGeek has a version of this for the non-3G iPhone.
  • Case with Battery - lets face it, this is for everyone.  Most especially the truly mobile workforce. Mophie probably had the best battery case on the market but check out the newest contender from Incase.  

Headset 

MyVu Video Shades

MyVu Video Shades

A few options here also, depending on your needs.  Are you a:   
  • Conference Call Commando - Jawbone is the way to go.  Warning - there have been reports of pairing issues with 3G.  My top pick at the moment but the next option has a huge cool factor.
  • Frequent Flyer - Holy video glasses batman! Or just a batman video.  Widescreen movies in a narrow seat = awesome flight, or at least more tolerable!
  • Music Lover - Bose kicks some ear and you know it! A few other good options for audiophiles but I'll leave that argument for another time.

Docking Station 

Griffin PowerDock

Griffin PowerDock


Do you just need power or are you sans stereo?

  • Stereo / Alarm Dock - I liked the look of this one from TunePro until I saw it had no speaker  shielding for GSM interference. 
  • Better Stereo / Alarm Dock options to be found here, including another Bose reference (I should get a commission from them).
  • Multiple Docking - great if you have a family of iGear.  Top pick for now because it keeps counter top clutter to a minimum.

Car Mounting

Windshield mounting is a great idea!  Clear visibility for GPS pathfinding and it leaves all the ports accessible.  Drive safe folks.

Audio Visual Cable

AV on the go. Want to share the latest diggNation with your friends on your new big screen?       

That's it for my current picks.  New accessories are released every month.  If you come across something terrific share the link with me.
30Nov/080

Virtual Holiday Shopping

Ahh, the holidays.  With the joy of a few days off looming, why is it some people cram as much stress in as possible until then?

We've been picking up some bits and pieces as we come across them for the last few weeks but I've skillfully avoided any major excursions.  Unless there is a spectacular sale, a specialty item I can't get anywhere else, or I'm out anyway and make a serendipitous find, I'll stick to online.  I can cover more "ground" online in less time, at less cost, and the variety is endless.

I'm not alone in my predilection for virtual shopping. eMarketer estimates that online holiday season sales will reach $32 billion in 2008, up 10% over 2007.  That's up an incredible 350% from the year 2000! Although Tech Observer reports online shopping may dip this year as people carefully budget their holiday shopping, I have doubts.

I thought I'd share some of my favorite places to browse for the holidays. Check these out for those hard to shop for folks on your list:

  1. Think Geek - I love this place.  It's not just for the closet techies in your life.  There are items for the just plain smart people too!
  2. Lush Fresh handmade cosmetics. Awesome soaps and such.  The Body Shop is a close second.
  3. Amazon - Books and Beyond. It's possible to spend too much time and money here but its always enjoyable
  4. Abe Books - This is THE spot for those other, ie not new, titles. They have new releases too but that's why I have Amazon. Slowly building a wish list from here. The link goes to their listing of the First British Edition of 1984 by Orwell. Came across that when searching for the First Canadian Edition to price a flea market find.
  5. i-Sobot - World's smallest humanoid robot. I just found this awesome guy for $99!
  6. Game Buzz Awesome shops mainly in the Montreal area. It's not obvious from their site but you can get a membership a la NetFlix to get games mailed to you for a monthly fee. Return when you want. Plus, they are an authorized Nintendo product reseller.
  7. Apple If you have the coin you can't go wrong buying anything Apple.
  8. Toys R UsI still find some goodies here now and again. That's not to say I won't comparison shop once I've found something I like.
  9. Kiva - Donate in someone else's name. Great gift that benefits a third world entrepreneur.
  10. EBay - If you're feeling adventurous. Not a big fan when time constraints are in the mix but you can find some hard to get things here.

Alternatively, you can do some open searching of your own.  Several product oriented search engines exist, including Google's product search Beta:

Got an awesome site or hidden treasure to share?  Let me know!

19Nov/084

Google Voice Search iPhone App – A Review

No buttons required

No buttons required

Downloaded the Google Mobile App last night so I could test out the new voice search capabilities.  The app is not 100% hands free but it's a great step.

To get started:

  • Open the Google App (requires a screen tap)
  • Choose Search from the icons along the bottom (if you had it open before it's still on that selection)
  • Now you hit the microphone icon in the top right and speak
  • OR (here's the no tap part) simply bring the phone up to your ear.

Either way, you'll hear a tone when the app is ready to receive your search criteria.

Voice Search Speak Now

Talk Now!!

If you've hit the button you'll get an even bigger hint.

After a moment or two of the working screen you get your results.  I've had decent luck with my test queries. It seems the best results come from common searches.  That is, the more popular the search term, the more likely voice search is to get it right.

Snack Results Yum...

Snack Results Yum...

For example, while I got odd results looking for Jon Reid (hey, you would have searched for you, admit it) Tim O'Reilly quickly turned up the Web 2.0 man himself. In fact I had better results slowly spelling out J O N R E I D than I did when saying it.

Here are my results for a quick snack in the GTA:

The snapshot isn't wonderful but if you can make it out, you see that I get addresses, phone numbers, and links to maps.  Not bad!  Search can also be tied to you GPS location so you can search for nearby goodies.

My ultimate vision of voice search has me asking Google questions as I drive. Letting me get directions safely without having to pull over first to type.

I know that day is coming!

Alas, we aren't there quite yet.

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17Nov/080

Cool Tools for Cool Weather

The weather is finally starting to turn.  I fully expect snow in the next few days.  I'm resigned to it but the transition is often annoying.

However, it's not all bad!  The blogo/twittersphere brought me 2 awesome tools this week that I can see using for a long time to come, yay!

Tool #1 - The aptly named Drop Box.

Check out the intro video. Sounds ok at first, but you'll be saying to yourself, "um, I have ftp...", but  by the end it had me. Still testing it out but I have high hopes in using it with my virtual team mates. I hear from good sources in local colleges that it's the real deal.

Tool #2 -TokBox

Kind of funny that someone introduced this to me the same evening I see Gtalk integrate video chatting. Plus there's the fact that I and most of my team are on Macs so we have the iChat option.

Still it was a big hit at the last team meeting because it shows you the video stream of everyone at once!! Something nice about seeing everyone for a change. Not to mention it was kind of Brady Bunch when we finally hit nine people.

I'll know for sure if these apps pass the acid test over the next couple of weeks.  Something I hope to see is an API.  By the time that's available, I'll be surprised if both of these are still free.

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