Category Archives: Software

Where Are You & What’s Around You?



One of the most useful features/services of today’s smartphones is the ability to take advantage of the integrated GPS chip in combination with an always-on data connection, facilitating location-aware apps.

Priced at $1.99, “Allstays Truck & Travel” is an app that is available for Apple iOS and Google Android. It’s part of a larger suite of different types of location-aware mapping apps available at http://www.allstays.com/apps/.

The “Allstays Truck & Travel” app concentrates on showing locations for truck stops, truck scales, truck dealerships, truck washes, low clearance overpasses, Walmart locations, public rest areas and other places with truck parking.

The list of data points of interest seems reasonably complete, and the producer of the app seems to encourage as much user feedback as possible.

One potentially useful feature of the app is the ability to set up automatic alarms to give notification when one is within so many miles of an upcoming exit with specific types of favorited business.


Adobe Audition Mac Free Beta Download



Making the switch to Mac OS/X a few years ago as my primary computing platform was not without its sacrifices. Among these was Adobe Audition. Sure, I could use Audition in a Windows virtual machine, but it just wasn’t the same thing and entailed its own sacrifices.

Sacrifice no more. Adobe finally heeded the call for Audition for Mac OS/X, and has released a public beta that can currently be downloaded for free available at

http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/audition/

After a cursory look at this new beta, I’m impressed. They seem to have succeeded in bringing the Adobe Audition user interface I love in Windows to OS/X. I’ll be buying the final product once it is released for sale to the public.


iTriage



Before she retired, my Mom used to be a nurse. She typically would always keep around a few current medical books describing diseases and other books listing prescription drugs and their uses. While these sorts of books can make for rather dry reading, they can also be extremely interesting to thumb through from time to time. They can be particularly useful if you need to look something up.

The need to have printed reference books such as these has been rapidly fading over the past few years. A useful and interesting smartphone app to have installed on your Android phone is called “iTriage.” It contains an extensive list of medical symptoms, diseases, and treatments along with the ability to help find medical treatments and practitioners.

The iTriage app contains an extensive list of diseases and their related symptoms and treatment. Coming at it from the other direction, iTriage also contains an extensive list of symptoms and causes.

Mom may find herself wanting a smartphone.


New Version Of dtSearch Available



dtSearch recently distributed a review copy of version 7.65 (build 7907) which I have been using for a few days.  If you aren’t familiar with the product, it’s a desktop search engine on steroids.  It does, not just the desktop, but your entire network.  The idea is to make any text document available to you in a flash, not matter what drive, or even what PC, it’s located on.

It’s actually pretty powerful stuff and may not be necessary for the casual computer user, but the techie it’s pretty cool, and for business this type of tool is really a necessity.

For a single home user the price is $199, but volume licenses are available and the price goes down as the amount of seats in the business goes up.  Beginning at $160 for 5-24 users and going all the way to $60 for 2000+ users.

Let me take you on a quick walk-through of my experience.

The download was 42 MB which isn’t too bad compared to some bloated software that’s out there today.

Installation took only a couple of minutes.  There’s an option for a Custom Install for those who like to tweak.

It creates the usual Start menu entry.  As you can see from the below screenshot, it is 64 bit compatible.

Once you have it set up then your first order of business is to tell it what files you want it to index.  The first time you click on dtSearch Desktop you will be prompted to do this.  You can always go back later and easily add, remove, or change choices you make here.  You can also choose certain file types to include or exclude.

After that was done I did a test search of the word genealogy, which is a hobby of my family and appears in quite a few files.  Here is the start of a search.

And, the results.

The Preferences, which can be found under Options in the main menu, allow for a lot of customization.  Enough to make almost any IT department happy.

Since I have been using it for a home network I have not had occasion to test all aspects of what this program can do.  And for the average home user, a free product such as Google Desktop Search would probably be sufficient, but for business (which this is really geared towards) this product could be a real productivity tool and time-saver.


WobZIP, An Online Unzipper



Have you ever downloaded some data off the ‘net only to find it’s in a compressed or archive file format that your PC doesn’t have a helper app for? Or you’re fixing up a friend’s PC, you download some drivers and ditto, you can’t get them unpacked?

If so, you’ll be interested in WobZIP. It’s a web site where you can upload an archive file and it will uncompress it for you.  Once uncompressed, you can either download the files one by one, or else the site will bundle the files back up into a zip archive for you to download.

The site is still in beta but claims to support the following archive formats – 7z, zip, gzip, bzip2, tar, rar, cab, iso, arj, lzh, chm, z, cpio, rpm, deb and nsis.  Obviously quite a few of those formats are Unix and Linux, but there’s a fair collection of DOS / Windows ones too.  As it’s a website, it doesn’t care what OS you’re running either. From the FAQ, WobZIP uses the open source 7-zip program as the decompression engine.

Cleverly, there’s also a feature to unpack or uncompress from a URL so you don’t always have to download to your PC and then upload back to WobZIP – you can just enter the URL and it will go and get the file for you.  Also, it will scan the unpacked files for viruses.

Put this site in your bookmarks.  You may not need it right now, but you will one day.


Big App Show For Android



Adam Curry is a clever guy. Back in 2004 he was working on the concept of podcasting. Now he is pioneering smartphone apps.

About 6 months ago, Adam Curry came out with a free iPhone application called “The Big App Show.” Each day, day in and day out, Curry records a new video of himself demonstrating an iPhone app.

The Big App Show is now available for Android. The concept is the same, except with the Android app the apps Curry demonstrates are obviously for Android and are available in the Android Marketplace.

The Big App Show is a very witty app that really takes advantage of the power of Android and iPhones. Curry is adding value by demonstrating the apps right on the screen as he talks rather than giving dry descriptions. He puts out a new app video on both the Android and iPhone platforms every day of the year.

Bravo Adam! I think you are on to something!!!


Android Pros and Cons



I’ve been using Android for a while now and feel I’ve been using it long enough to make some meaningful observations.

I like Android. It’s quick. It’s powerful. It has some astounding voice recognition capability built right in that even the iPhone can’t touch. For example, hold down the search button and when the voice search box pops up say “navigate to” and then speak either a street address, the name of a business or a business category, and watch what happens. The results are something right out of science fiction and nothing short of amazing. Try THAT with your iPhone.

In other areas, Android seems to fall rather flat. While it’s possible to create, name and populate folders, the process seems clunky and rather counter-intuitive.

How about allowing me as an end-user to rename application icons to something useful? Many apps have names that don’t bear any relationship or give any hint as to what their functionality is as an app. If I could just rename the text under the app icons it would help me out as an end user quite a bit. Either give me a direct icon name that describes functionality succinctly, or give me the ability to rename an icon myself just like I can in Windows or OS/X.

Another area that falls somewhat flat is how to discover great apps. There are a ton of apps, but it’s often difficult to find the best ones. I’m willing to spend money on apps, however I want the best bang for my buck. How can I be assured if I buy an app I’m buying the best possible one?


The Man Who Lied To His Laptop



I just finished listening to the unabridged Audible audio book version of “The Man Who Lied To His Laptop” by Clifford Nass and Corina Yen.

After many years of working as a software interface design consultant, Clifford Nass has developed the theory that human brains cannot completely and fundamentally distinguish the difference between interacting with people and interacting with devices. This book details nearly 30 experiments Nass has performed that back up this revolutionary theory.

Remember “Clippy” from Microsoft Word? Chances are, the mere mention of the dreaded Microsoft Office animated paperclip brings up wildly negative feelings. Clippy’s main flaw was that he couldn’t learn and kept badgering Office users over and over for carrying out repetitive tasks that were not mistakes. Even though users “knew” that Clippy was just an animated character, part of their brain actually related to Clippy as a real, despicable character that lived in their computers.

Similarly, BMW had a big problem with male German car owners complaining loudly about the integrated BMW GPS units. It turns out that German men objected over and over again to BMW’s help line that the BMW GPS units came equipped with a female voice, and that just wouldn’t do, because it just wasn’t “right” to take driving directions from a female voice. “Knowing” that mostly male engineers had developed it wasn’t enough to eliminate the problem.

The book is filled with some rather amazing results of experiments that indicate just how suggestible the average person really is. Be afraid. Be very afraid.


Do Frequent Phone O/S Updates Make Sense?



I’ve had my HTC Evo for a couple of months or more at this point. When I first turned it on, there was an update waiting. The update installed. So far, so good.

Over the next few weeks I heard there was another update available, but it turned out there was a problem with the update. It took HTC and Sprint about a week or more to fix the problem update, but since the Evo was still in very short supply, I chose not to update it right away. What if there was a problem with the update and it bricked the phone? How would I get an immediate replacement? Better to wait.

A few days ago, Sprint and HTC started releasing the “Froyo” or “Frozen Yogurt” Android 2.2 update for the Evo. I decided it was time to take the plunge and accept the update.

There were two updates. The first one downloaded and installed, and then the second. No problems.

Now I’m asking myself, did the upgrade to Android 2.2 live up to all the hype? Android 2.2 on the Evo might be a little bit more snappy, but it’s hard to tell since the Evo already had excellent performance with the version of Android it shipped with. There are a few changes here and there that improve usability, some of them somewhat worthwhile, but was it really worth the trouble? The phone was a great device before the update. It’s a great device after the update.

Are updates to existing smartphones enough reason for consumers to get really excited over? As I see it, if lots of new basic usability and reliability can be added with a particular update, then it’s likely worthwhile. Smartphones are still evolving devices.

It seems to me that the job of adding new functionality to smartphones falls primarily to apps, and not necessarily the operating system itself. The operating system should be a stable, functional platform that offers basic functionality and services to those apps.

Once smartphone operating system design begins to mature however, the danger of updating and changing things just for the sake of change is always a potential risk. Also keep in mind that on average people replace cell phones about every 18 months, which is a much more frequent replacement cycle than desktop and laptop computers.

In the realm of desktop computer software, Microsoft Office is a great example of mature software design. There are only so many things word processing software can do. Microsoft Word and Excel both had good design and usability for me starting way back with Office 95. With subsequent releases, Microsoft seemed to sometimes arbitrarily change things just for the sake of change, which is a huge usability mistake. Computer software design is not the same as car styling design.


Easy Web Templates Builder



Most of us, at some point, want to create a web page.  Almost everyone online wants to have some sort of presence.  For many it’s simply Facebook, but for some it’s an actual web site and a few of those are for a business.  And let’s face it – if a business doesn’t have a web site today then it may as well not exist.  I also believe that an individual who only has a Facebook account is not much better off than the business without a web site.  You don’t really want them controlling your online existence, especially given their shaky history.  But for many, setting up a web site sounds too hard.  Of course there are dead simple tools available for anyone who wants a very basic blog-type site.  Then there are those of us who want to get our hands dirty and really create something unique.  But, even then, we tend to simplify some aspects, such as choosing a free WordPress template, or maybe even buying a slightly nicer one.  But the majority of us would be lost if we tried to create our own WordPress template, and forget the other, even more obscure content management services that can run today’s web sites.

Enter CoolTemplate.  A fast, easy way to design your own web templates right on line.  They cover not only WordPress, but HTML, Joomla, and ASP.net.

Since my own site runs on WordPress, that was where I decided to take a look and do some testing.  It’s pretty simple as a matter of fact.  There are options for Design, Layout, Colors, Background, Border, Header, Menu, Buttons and Footer.  It’s a very easy, straight-forward interface to design a theme.

Of course, you need a little design skill to make a good template, but anyone can get started here and learn  how web templates work.  The site’s web app works perfectly.  And, beyond WordPress, it does much more complicated web design,  Joomla and ASP.net are not easy to learn – I know I have played with both.  But it does a good job designing both, and an especially good job with WordPress.  So if you are, even remotely, interested in designing your own site then this is a great place to start.