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Archive for the ‘tech tips’ tag

December 27th, 2011 at 7:48 am

Our Top 10 Tech List for 2011

At this time of reflection on the year that was, one of my favorite activities is checking out all the “Best of” lists that come out. It’s always fun to see what apps, movies, books, music, tech and other pop culture topics make the list. And it gives me a chance to create a list of the ones I’ve missed that I hope to enjoy in the new year.

So I thought I’d take a look back at 2011’s Tuesday Tech Tips blogs and report back on my own personal favorites. Here are the ones that I think are worthy, in no particular order.

  • Best all around app? Evernote is by far the most versatile and useful application that I’ve used this year. I can record anything by typing it in, snapping a photo, or scanning a doc and keep it all organized in an app that syncs between my pc, phone and ipad.
  • Most enjoyable smartphone app? I have to say that the most fun app I’ve used this year is Shazam. I love music and it’s so great to be able to capture the song and artist info for anything I hear.
  • The best non-tech gadget? This is certainly my Grid-It organizer. I love having a place for my things and this device lets me keep my chargers, pens, flash drives and other small items nicely organized in my computer bag.
  • Best tech shopping assistant? How great is it to have an app that helps you find your way through the sea of technology choices and let you compare options and know whether to buy or not? Whether you’re a geek or a neophyte, this product is truly helpful
  • Favorite and most rewarding home-organizing-with-tech project this year? Scanning all the torn out recipes that I’ve been collecting for years and organizing them in Evernote. Being able to search and access them on any device? Priceless.
  • Best way to share a great moment? Digital postcards. We all know that the art of sending anything personal through snail mail is on the endangered list. But when it’s as easy as a few clicks, there might just be hope for that old fashioned art of sending a “wish you were here”.
  • Best way to share and collaborate? Google Docs. Storing documents in the cloud and being able to view and edit from anywhere and on any device is such a convenience. And the Google forms product is a fantastic feature for anything that requires data gathering.
  • Most useful gadget? The New Trent portable charger. This device has saved me from battery death so many times this year. While traveling, during power outages, and any time I forget to plug in my charger over night, I have a backup plan that puts me back in the game.
  • Best electronic greeting? Paperless post. Of course a hand written note is the most refined way to say thank you or share a greeting, but sometimes that’s just not an option. These elegant electronic greetings are a wonderful alternative to a bland email.
  • Best time waster that can be really educational? This site is really addictive. Create a profile that reflects your interests and use the Stumble button to find related websites and posts that you might never have found on your own. There is some incredible web content out there that can truly capture your imagination, and StumbleUpon can take you there.

I’d love to hear back from you about some of the posts that you’ve enjoyed or hear about what you’d like to share or know more about.

Best wishes for a very Happy New Year!

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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October 25th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Looking For The Right App For The Task? Try Catchfree.

I often get calls, emails, and questions that start something like this. “What’s the best app for……?” I’d like to think that I’m a great source for information but I gotta tell you, keeping up with everything is a herculean task that I just can’t keep up with.

So imagine my delight when I Stumbled Upon (yep, another shout out to that excellent site) an app called Catchfree. In it’s brilliant simplicity, it has created a graphical table of available free apps that fulfill a specific need, such as how to backup your files online or how to connect to another person’s computer.

Catchfree has done the research and come up with the most popular free apps for whatever it is you need to do and given it grades based on multiple criteria, such as user popularity, number of Facebook likes, how easy it is to configure, and other features which can help you decide if it’s right for you.

In addition to the table of grades, there’s a section on the right of the screen where you can whittle down the choices base on operating system and the device you plan to use it on. This is a great feature. Very helpful.

There’s also a tips sections as well as an area where you can post specific questions and get answers for those pesky “but what if this happens?” scenarios. I love the fact that you can ask any of the questions you’re often afraid to ask or see that someone else has asked for you.

This website actually got my heart beating a little faster. Sad, I know. I can see certain people I know shaking their heads in dismay. But all you fellow geeks out there can relate I’m sure. This one’s a keeper.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.


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September 27th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Less Mail? All Accounts in One Place? Sign Me Up With Manilla!

How would you like to reduce your mail, eliminate paper bills, and be able to monitor your credit card accounts, travel points, subscriptions and utility bills on one site? Manilla offers you a very simple way to do just that.

This service gives you a place where you can organize your accounts on a single web page so that you can see your phone bill, credit card balances, airline points, and magazine expiration dates just by logging in.

Not only can you see your account info, you can arrange reminders, view your bills and even pay them via the site. The service is available via website, and as an Manilla iphone/ipad or Android app.

It’s free and really easy to set up. Sign up for an account (remember to use a good strong password) at the Manilla website and start adding accounts for the banks, travel sites, magazines and household utilities that you use. They even give you access to your daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, so you can be sure that you never miss an expiration date on your coupons. And don’t forget your Netflix account.

Not every vendor has a presence here yet, but they are constantly updating the list, so as the site gains popularity, you’ll see more of yours. And if you don’t see a vendor on the list, do a search and see if it comes up. I found a few more by doing this.

At first, I thought this wasn’t really for me. I already use online bill pay with my bank, manage my finances with Quicken, and have already significantly reduced the amount of paper bills I receive by mail. However, once I tried it, I realized how convenient it is to have one sign-in and see balances for 20 different accounts on one page.

Oh yes, this is definitely for me. How about you?

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.


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June 21st, 2011 at 5:00 am

Google Forms to the Rescue

A few weeks back I did a post on Google Docs and told of the benefits of using a cloud-based document software suite. Today I’d like to expand upon one of the coolest features of Google Docs.

One type of document you can create is a form. Forms are useful. Forms are also annoying. Collecting data from forms is even more annoying. Typically someone fills out a paper form and someone else has to compile all of the data into a spreadsheet or other system by typing in the data manually. For those of you on the receiving end of the paper forms, Google Forms is a brilliant solution.

Say you’re the keeper of the emergency contact info for your child’s soccer team, scout troop or other organization. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could provide the users with an online form that will collect all the data in one place for you? Well you can.

You create the online form by choosing Create New/Form from you Google Docs home page. Add your questions, give it a nice theme, name it and you’re almost there.

There are multiple types of questions. Text, multiple choice, check boxes, scale, grid, etc. Customize your form to gather all the appropriate types of data you need, make questions mandatory if desired, and give helpful hints for answering.

What Google Docs does with the form as you create it is structure a spreadsheet with the appropriate column headings behind the scene. As people submit their responses from the online form, the spreadsheet records are populated automatically. NO TYPING.

To share your form, do the following:

  • Open the form you just created from the Google Docs home page
  • Go to the Forms drop down menu
  • Click on Go to Live Form
  • Copy the url from the live form page
  • Paste the url into an email or put it on a website
  • Ask you recipients to fill it in and submit
  • Go back to the form/spreadsheet in Google Docs and view the results

Hint: Don’t share your form. If you do, your responders will all have to have a Gmail or Google account to access the form. If you use the link to the live form, anyone can access it.

Once your data is there you can sort, total, organize, filter, and manipulate as you wish. As more people fill in the form, the data keeps coming in. It even records a timestamp for each submission to help you track the responses.

To see an example of a user survey I created for this post, click here. Feel free to fill it out (it’s anonymous) if you’d like to share a little info about your technology usage. I’d love to know a little bit more about you my reader.

Thanks and have a great week! Summer’s here!

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.


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June 14th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Tabs, Tabs, Tabs

Don’t you just love tabs? I am a huge fan because they make it much easier for me to multitask. I can switch from site to site or document to document so easily that I can have many things going on at the same time. No logging in and out every time I move to another website or task.

Browser Tabs
While Firefox was first with tabbed browsing, it is now standard with all browsers (FF, IE, Safari, Chrome). It enables you stay logged in to multiple websites at once and just click between them when you want to go from your email to Facebook to iGoogle to Garanimals, or elsewhere.

Just click on the New Tab icon to the right of the open tab or tabs on your toolbar (or CTRL-T/Command-T). Type in a new URL. Continue opening new tabs so that you have as many as you need.

Firefox, Safari and Chrome allow you to save the open tabs when you shut down so that when you start up the browser again, all the tabs in your last session come right back. You may have to go to the Tools/Internet Options and change the Tab behavior setting, but it’s worth the steps to do that.

IE doesn’t have this option, but if you want to simulate it, go to Tools/Internet Options/General and in the Home Page section, type the URL of each desired tab on it’s own line in the box and it will open each one every time you restart IE.

While you’re there, you might want to look further down in the General tab and click on the Settings button in the Tabs section. Here you can choose the “Always open pop-ups in a new Tab” option. This will keep IE from opening a new window every time you click on a link. Tabs are much easier to navigate than multiple windows.

Office Tabs
I could kiss that guy who turned me on to these (thanks Coop!). This app allows you to open multiple documents in Microsoft Office in tab format so that instead of jumping down to your taskbar to move between open documents, you’ve got tabs just below the ribbon. I love this.

To get the free (for home use) Office Tabs app, click here. It’s a great blog post by Kim Komando and includes the link for the app itself.

Works with Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Office 2003, 2007, 2010 (not Mac or Linux)

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.


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May 24th, 2011 at 5:00 am

What’s a QR Code?

Have you noticed the funny looking square codes like the one here, showing up all over the place? Have you used them?

These codes are QR (Quick Response) Codes and are the next generation of a bar code. A traditional bar code is a product number that has information attached to it but it resides somewhere else. If you don’t have access to it, then the bar code is just a number. The QR graphic holds more information, like text, URL, geographic, contact, and other information that you can access just by scanning it.

I attended the National Restaurant Association trade show this weekend and some of the vendors used these codes on promotional materials. By scanning them with my phone I could click on a link to their website and sign up to win a prize or read about a special promotion. A QR code was printed on my entry badge so vendors could use hand held scanners to capture my registration information electronically. Quick, easy, painless.

Next time you fly, notice the QR code on your paper or mobile boarding pass. This is what gets scanned when you check in.

Another popular application for this is putting a QR code on a business card. When someone scans the code, they can easily collect and save all of the contact information in their contacts app or link to your Facebook, Twitter or other social media site.

So how do you scan them with your phone? There are apps for that. Google Goggles, QR Droid, QR Reader for iPhone and QR Code Scanner Pro for Blackberry. Download them from your app market and give it a try. Start the app, point your phone at the QR code image and it will either show you the relevant information or give you a link to click on to visit a web page.

So next time you see a QR code in a magazine or on a product, scan it with your phone and see what shows up. Better yet, scan the QR code above and click through to the Garanimals Facebook page. And while you’re there, Like us and help us get to 1000 fans!

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.


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May 17th, 2011 at 4:00 am

Do You Google Doc?

Have you tried Google Docs yet? If not you should give them a try. The suite of products offered in Google Docs is a free, easy and really useful alternative to Office.

Here’s how it works. If you’re a Gmail user, then just click on the Documents link at the top of your Gmail home page. If you’re not, then go here. You will need a Google account (not the same as a Gmail account, just a free account that lets you take advantage of all of the Google products) to sign in.

Once you’re in the Google Docs home page, you can create a document, spreadsheet, presentation or form using the Create New button. If you’re familiar with Microsoft Office products, it’s pretty easy to create your documents and use the tools and menu items to design and format them.

Keep in mind that for heavily formatted documents and complex spreadsheets and presentations, the Office products are still the best, but for everyday docs, Google Docs have a distinct advantage. Here’s why.

Any document that you create can be shared with others for collaboration or just viewing. I use this feature for working with colleagues and the ease of use is a real plus. These are also great when working in school and volunteer committees. No more attaching docs to emails, and worrying about revisions and saving under a different version and all that headache. Once you’ve given someone share privileges, they can edit the document freely and you can check out the changes by watching them work on it in real time, or checking the revision history to see what changes have been made. And if you are working on it together, you can conduct a chat to discuss the process. It is so easy and so efficient!

You can also upload your existing documents into your Google Docs space. Different options allow you to convert to the Google Docs format or keep in their native format. The beauty of using the Docs product is that your documents are now available online from any web enabled pc or tablet. So any device becomes your workstation.  That is powerful.

Goodbye flash drives. Welcome to the cloud.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.


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May 10th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Name That Tune

You know how when you’re driving along in the car listening to the radio and a really great song comes on that you’ve never heard? You wait for the dj to come back on an announce the name of the song and the artist, and very often, you either miss it or you’re out of the car when they actually do. Don’t you hate that?

Well, I’ve found a really nifty new smartphone app that solves this problem  nicely. It’s called Shazam and to use it all you have to do is initiate the app, hold your phone up near the speaker and let Shazam search the database to match the song. The result is the title, artist, album name, genre and record label. It even gives you the option to download the song from Amazon or share it on a social networking site. I just love that.

The app is free and you can get it for most phones and the ipad. Download it here.

On car drives, our family likes to play “Name that Tune” and see who can come up with the right answer fastest. A lot of times we’re stumped by either the song title or the artist. My husband and I tested it out last week on a funky oldie that came on. The song was immediately recognizable as “Palisades Park” but neither of us had any idea who the artist was. With a little help from Shazam, we quickly found out that it was Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon. What a hoot!

Unfortunately it won’t recognize your rendition of the song. I tried singing into my phone but no luck.

Don’t you just love having information at your fingertips? Our family is going to have a lot of fun with this one.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.


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May 3rd, 2011 at 5:00 am

My Favorite Web Keyboard Shortcuts

I was thinking about how much time I spend on the computer. It’s a lot. But most of it is work related, so I have an excuse. It’s not like I’m addicted or anything, right? I mean I do like to do other things, it’s just that so much of my life is technology related.

Now you, my readers, I’m not sure about. Hopefully it’s time well spent, like reading the Garanimals blog (shameless plug), perhaps work of your own or catching up with friends and taking care of important things efficiently so you have extra time with family and for yourself.

What I’d like to share this week are a few of the tips that I’ve discovered that really are worth incorporating into your online time. I’ve watched a lot of people at their keyboards and from what I’ve seen, I think there are a lot of extra movements and steps that aren’t necessary if you know how to avoid them. Here are my faves.

The Spacebar/ Scroll – when you’re online, reading our blog or your Facebook news feed you often have to scroll down the page to keep reading. My favorite tip ever is the ability to just hit the Spacebar to move down one page. And if you want to go back up, hold down the Shift key and hit the Spacebar. Go ahead, try them both out now.

The Tab Key/Move to Next – filling out forms online requires moving from field to field. Everything from logging in to signing up for anything requires multiple bits of info. Try using the Tab key to move from field to field instead of reaching for your mouse. And like the scrolling tip above, holding the Shift key and then Tab brings you back to the previous field.

Enter Key on a PC – Return Key on a Mac/OK – so you’re done filling out the fields using the tab key to navigate and you’re ready to grab the mouse and click on the ok button? Don’t. Just hit the Enter key on a PC or the Return key on a Mac. Try it next time you log into a website or your email.

F5 on a PC – Command – R on a Mac/ Refresh – if you’re like me you move around alot between tabs. And when you go back to a tab, you often need to refresh the page to get any updates or newer mail. Instead of going up next to the address bar to click on the Refresh command, Click on the F5 key on a PC (F-keys are across the top of your keyboard) or hold down the Command key and tap the R key on a Mac, and your page reloads.

CTRL – T on a PC – Command – T on a Mac /New Tab - when you need to open a new tab, you can either click on the New Tab box at the top of your window, or hold down the CTRL key and tap the T key to do the same on a PC or Command key and T key on a Mac. And when you do, notice that your cursor is in the Address bar and waiting for you to type in your URL. Quick and easy.

If you’ve been reading my posts you’re probably beginning to recognize my preference for keyboard shortcuts, minimizing wasted hand movements. We’ve become so dependent on the mouse or the touchpad to move around the screen that you may not realize that you can avoid taking your hands off the keyboard for many often-repeated tasks. Getting familiar with even one of these tips will save you some time and make it easier to navigate.

And who knows, over the course of a lifetime, all that time saved might actually add up to something. More time to play!

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April 19th, 2011 at 5:30 am

So Much to Read – Never Enough Time

When I was upgrading my browser to Firefox 4, I stumbled upon an add-on that I’ve grown very fond of called Read it Later. As I’ve mentioned, I am a serious tab user and as I’m browsing, doing my work, taking care of business at home, or just going through all my email, I find myself clicking on links with interesting topics, but running out of time to read them all.

What happens is I end up with way too many tabs open. It’s great that I can do this, but I end up keeping them open, thinking I’ll get back to them shortly. Too often I don’t. I can always bookmark them, but as it is I’ve got way too many of those already.

How to deal with all the clutter? Read it Later to the rescue. This add-on allows me to simply click on the arrow-shaped button on my address bar and it saves the link in a list, out of the way of the active tabs. When I have the time, I can just click on the drop-down to see the links I’ve set aside, and read them at my leisure. And if I select the option to make them available offline, it downloads the text only version that I can read without even having an internet connection.

And the best part? You can download the Read it Later app for your android, iphone, ipod or ipad and sync your list from your pc to your mobile device. Imagine, any time you have some time to kill (yes, I know, that’s a fine thought), you can catch up on your saved web reading list, from whichever device you have at hand.

Get Read it Later add-on for Firefox here
Get Read it Later for your Android ($.99) at the App Market on your phone
Get Read it Later for iphone/ipod/Ipad at itunes. There’s a free version and a Pro version ($2.99)

And for those of you who do not use Firefox, unfortunately there’s no add-ons for the other browsers yet. However, once you create a list in Firefox, you can access it from any browser by logging in at the ReadItLaterList website.

I’ll never actually catch up on my reading list, but it sure is nice to have it all easily available when I have a few extra minutes to make the attempt.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.





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