Free eBooks From Your Local Library

These are tough economic times and if you want to save yourself a few pennies, stop buying ebooks, join your local library and borrow ebooks for free. The OverDrive Media Console app lets you download and read ebooks offered by your local library for nothing, and if audiobooks are of more interest, the app can handle those as well. The OverDrive app is available for most common smartphones and tablets, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Kindle Fire and Nook tablets. If you have a Kobo, Sony or Nook ereader, you can still borrow books from your library but you’ll need to use Adobe’s Digital Editions to download via your PC. If you have a Kindle ereader, you’re out of luck.

The app can be downloaded from most app stores and directly from OverDrive if your device’s app store doesn’t host the app. In the first instance, the app asks you to find your local library via simple search. Poking around I was able to find libraries in UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, Germany, India and Japan, so it has worldwide coverage but I’ve no real idea of how extensive it is.

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For my library, I had enter my borrower number and again I assume it will be similar for most public libraries. Once you are in the system, you can browse for your favourite novels and authors, and then borrow the book you want. Before you can download the book, you’ll need to sign-up for an Adobe ID and put it into Overdrive’s settings. This is all part of the ePub DRM, but getting an ID is straightforward and free of charge.

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Obviously the range of books is entirely dependent on your library but I found a good selection of books available (several of which I already owned!) and once you’ve got your reading selection downloaded, you can swap to Overdrive’s bookshelf to see what’s available for reading.

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As a reader app, OverDrive Media Console is good. There’s a bit of delay when opening a book for the very first time, but after that it’s snappy. All the other usual features are there – typeface selection, font size, line spacing, colour schemes, animations, but overall it’s well done. Reading books is easy and a pleasure.

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So, if you don’t want pay for ebooks and you’ve a tablet or smartphone, download the OverDrive Media Console, join your local library and start saving money. It’s a no-brainer!

30/30 Productivity App Review

30/30 If you have seen the movie Up you know that the dogs that are in it are well-disciplined except when they see a squirrel. Unfortunately like a lot of people I have a lot of squirrels in my life: email, Facebook, and Twitter just to name some. I have been trying to become more disciplined and more productive by ignoring the squirrels. One of the applications that I have been using lately to help me in this effort is the 30/30 app by Binary Hammer. If you are familiar with the Pomodoro Technique the 30/30 app is built around this technique.

The 30/30 is a very nicely designed application. There is a time indicator at the top and then below a list of task for the day. Once you finish with a task, there is a sound and then the next task begins. You can schedule your whole day, even when it is time for coffee breaks, social media and email. Each Task is divided into 30 minute sections by default, however you can go into the settings and change the time period for any task. You can also adjust the alert sound and change the icon for each task. You can also set up more than one schedule if you need to. You can also have it show you the duration of each task and the time of day. The 30/30 app also sync with iCloud.

I like the 30/30 app, however I think it works best in conjunction with other apps or methods, like full screen mode. I am also still trying to figure out how to stop it from looping automatically back to the start. The biggest problem with an app like 30/30 is that you must have the discipline to use it. I think that a lot of people download it with good intentions, use it for a short period of time and then stop. If you are disciplined and use it I think that the 30/30 app can boost a person’s productivity. It is a free and available in the iTunes store.

IF This Then That Comes to the iPhone

IFTTT Today If this then that (IFTTT) came to the iPhone. If you are not familiar with IFTTT, it is an automator tool for the Internet. For example I use Feedly and Pocket and I use an IFTTT recipes that sends any article I save on Feedly to Pocket. There are hundreds of recipes that users have created on IFTTT from the very simple to the very complex. If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again on the Internet that can be described as If A happens then Do B then you need to take a look at IFTTT.

Previously IFTTT was only available through the desktop. Today it was released to as an application to iOs, specifically for the iPhone, although it will work fine on the iPad. The app has added Contacts, Photos and Reminders function to IFTTT adding more recipe possibilities. I have already set one up that sends any photo I put in a specific iPhoto album automatically to Flickr.

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The bad news per Gizmodo is the app has to be active on the iPhone for the recipe to work. Unfortunately Apple doesn’t allow apps to run persistently in the background. This means that if you want to use a recipe you will have to open the IFTTT app first and then proceed. This kind of removes the automatic part of the equation. This problem will not exist on Android which does allow apps to run in the background. Despite this I do think it is worth downloading and giving the IFTTT app a try.

Dispatch for iOs versus Mailbox for iOs

Dispatch I wish someone would make an iOs email application that would combine both Mailbox and Dispatch. Currently I am using a combination of both. I like Mailbox because it allows me to easily sweep emails I want to look at more closely later into three boxes Read, Buy or Watch. The rests are quickly archived or deleted.  I can also label an email to do later in the day, tomorrow, on the weekend, next week, in a month or a specific date. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters from websites like MacWorld, Fast Company, and TechDirt Daily and I like to quickly go through them and send the links I want to read later to Pocket . To do this in Mailbox I have to click on the link and then click share and then the email icon and then put in the Pocket email address and then re click the email icon and then hit send. The fact that I have to click the email icon twice doesn’t make sense to me and it is a constant source of irritation.

Then I saw a lot of people recommending  Dispatch, so I decided to take a look at it.   Unfortunately  I immediately ran into a problem, Dispatch doesn’t have labels or tags or folders, so when I first go through the email I can not organize my email into the various categories. My only option without opening the individual is to either leave it in the in box , delete or archive. I like to have the ability to label or tag them for later processing. However when you pull up an individual email, then the power of Dispatch comes through. You can quickly send the email to your favorite Getting Things Done GTD application like Omnifocus, or Things. You can also send an email to Evernote, Draft, or Create a Reminder, If you click on a link in an email you are then given the option of adding it to the Safari Reading List, opening the link in a browser, copying the link or sending it to your favorite read later application including Pocket and Instapaper. If it is an event link you can create a Calendar Event or a Reminder. If there is a phone number you can make a call, pull up Skype or FaceTime directly from the application.

As you can tell I really like Dispatch, but I miss the ability to use folders, tags or labels that Mailbox offers me. So I end up doing my initial process in Mailbox and once I am finished the initial processing I then move all the emails I haven’t archived back into the inbox. When I am ready to process those emails I open up Dispatch and go through the individual emails and send the links to what ever application makes sense: news links go to Pocket, receipts or things I’ve cancelled to Evernote, things I want or need to do in the future go to Omnifocus and those items that are due today go into the Reminder’s application. If I had to choose between Mailbox and Dispatch, I think I would choose Dispatch I really like how it is integrated with other applications, still though I would miss the folders in Mailbox.

Rovio unveils new Angry Birds levels

angry birds

Duck Mr. Piggy, there is a bird heading your way! Rovio pushes the envelope a bit further with its massive gaming franchise, rolling out new levels to its record-breaking original Angry Birds game.

The Red Bird gets his very own episode featuring new “Egg Defender” gameplay, combining Angry Birds and Bad Piggies in a frenzy of bird flinging and crazy pig contraptions. The update features 15 new levels of play in which Red defends the eggs against wave after wave of Bad Piggies advancing in their 72 crazy contraptions. In other words, this time you are fighting pigs that are moving.

To pull this off, Rovio has given the bird new powers to aid in your fight. According to the announcement, the “new powers from the Mighty Eagle himself, so he can attack with speed and pinpoint accuracy! Watch the trailer to see what’s happening to the eggs and how you can defend yourself against the pesky pigs”.

Rovio announces that “to celebrate Red Bird’s own episode, we’re also giving a 15% discount on Red Bird products in the Angry Birds Online Shop! Offer is valid until July 10, 2013″. The update is for both Android and iOS.

Voxer Walkie-Talkie App

For several years, I’ve made heavy use of the Heytell walkie-talkie app on both iOS and Android devices. Heytell is functional, but it has its problems from time to time. I have continued to my eye out for worthy walkie-talkie app alternatives.

I originally tried out the Voxer app upwards of two years ago. At that time, I found that Voxer just wasn’t a worthy replacement for Heytell. For one thing, I found the Voxer audio quality to be fairly poor compared to Heytell’s audio quality. I left Voxer installed on my devices, but contined to make use of Heytell.

Recently my youngest brother contacted me via Voxer and I started noticing the app once again. I noticed that not only had the audio quality improved, but other useful features had been added and the overall performance of the app is now quite robust.

One of the key features that makes Voxer extremely useful to me is that I can easily pass through poor and changing mobile data performance areas, and Voxer is able to robustly adapt to the changing data connectivity conditions. Even in marginal connectivity areas all outgoing Voxer messages are eventually transmitted to the recipient as connectivity permits. All incoming Voxer messages likewise come in as connectivity permits.

Another really nice feature of Voxer is that it allows unlimited message length. It’s possible to talk and not arbitrarily get cut off after 20 seconds. Also, unlike Heytell there are never any “full” inboxes to contend with. It’s possible to leave plenty of messages for your recipient and they will be waiting for them on their device when they get time to listen to them. This is really a great feature if you are trying to give someone how-to instructions.

Voxer also has the ability to text chat as well as transmit photos back and forth. Additonally, Voxer puts a GPS stamp on each transmitted message, so it is possible to see a map of exactly where either you or your recipient was when a particular message was transmitted.

Walkie-talkie apps on mobile devices can be extremely useful. When you don’t have the time or the inclination to make a phone call, yet have need to communicate with someone, a walkie-talkie app is extremely useful. With both Android and iOS versions, Voxer is the best free walkie-talkie currently app available.

Rovio pushes out a brand new game

Just days after announcing its new cartoon series and touting 1.7 billion downloads of its Angry Birds games, the Finnish game maker has pushed out a brand new game called “The Croods”.

According to Rovio, “Meet the world’s first modern family: The Croods! These cavemen are breaking out of the Stone Age with the use of a new revolutionary tool: the IDEA! The Croods will hunt & gather their way through spectacular new landscapes as they tame amazing new creatures”.

The game is more like Bad Piggies and Amazing Alex than the Angry Birds series, because of the puzzle element to the play. It also has a different look to it.

Features:

  • Trap & tame 10 crazy Croodaceous creatures! You’ve never seen anything like the Girelephant or Molarbear! Think you can catch them all?
  • Create wacky inventions with Crood patriarch Grug to open and explore new areas!
  • Decorate your pre-historic world with the latest in caveman fashion accessories!
  • Get to know the whole family from the upcoming film from DreamWorks Animation!

The Croods is available for both iOS and Android. You can check out the trailer video below.

After 6 months Apple finally fixes App Store vulnerabilities

Last summer a Google security researcher announced he had found serious flaws in the Apple App Store. The company was serving up data over an unencrypted HTTP connection, leaving its customers open to attacks from anyone using the same public network. Six months later, the company finally flipped on the encryption.

Elie Bursztein announced yesterday that “I am really happy that my spare-time work pushed Apple to finally enable HTTPS to protect users”.

The lack of HTTPS left iOS customers open to password stealing, app swapping — the ability for an attacker to force a customer to install/buy the attacker’s app of choice instead of the one the user intended to install/buy, fake app upgrades and serious privacy leaks.

“When contacting the upgrade server, the device sends in the clear a PList that contains all the applications installed on the phone. This is a privacy leak as it allows an attacker to know which bank/doctor/services the user uses,” Bursztein said. “It can also allow an attacker to track users, as a list of installed applications is pretty unique to each user (it seems likely that it will generate more than the 31 bits of entropy needed to uniquely identify a user.)”

Bursztein made these attack scenarios public in an effort to force Apple, and other mobile companies, to fix the problems. He has been waiting since July 2012 for the Cupertino company to act on its flaws and now the wait is finally over.

Sphero Meets Sharky the Beaver

Sphero LogoGNC first saw Sphero at CES last year and it’s a really cool toy: a rugged waterproof ball controlled from a smartphone or tablet. So what has Sphero been up to in the past year…Todd and Don find out from Ian Bernstein, CTO Founder.

While the  hardware is unchanged from last year, Sphero has grown the number and type of companion apps from around 5 apps to over 20 with several produced by third parties. New on the scene is a mixed reality app which uses the tablet or smartphone’s camera to track Sphero and overlay Sharky the Beaver on the device’s screen. It’s particularly fun as the real-world interaction with Sphero creates a relationship with the cartoon character which makes it that bit more believable.

Sphero works with both iOS and Android devices, and retails for around $130. Lots of fun and there’s an SDK if you feel like rolling your own (sorry!)

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

Parrot AR.DroneRemote control vehicles are fun and remote control aircraft doubly so. Imagine then how much fun a remote control quadricopter is, especially when it’s controlled by wifi from your smartphone. Todd takes flying lessons from Parrot’s Julian.

The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 is an update of the original AR.Drone, with the main difference being an HD camera on the drone which streams video footage of the flight back to the device so the operator can see what the Drone is seeing. The AR.Drone 2.0 is controlled via wifi from either an Apple or Android  tablet/smartphone.

There’s some pretty sophisticated technology in the AR.Drone. For example, it has a downward-facing camera that the Drone uses to track motion over the ground. On a windy day, the Drone can hold position over a spot by using this camera to detect wind-blown motion and then compensate for it. Very clever and cool.

The AR.Drone is pricey enough but not unaffordable at $299. Available now from good retailers worldwide.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Daniel Lewis of The Audacity Podcast for the TechPodcast Network.