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Archive for the ‘tips and tricks’ tag

December 18th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Tips for Taking Better Holiday Photos with Your Smartphone

Here come the holidays! No doubt there will be many photo ops with family, friends and children opening presents. Back in the day, we would grab our camera and click away. These days, many of us are more likely to grab our phone. It’s always nearby and it’s easier to click and share, so it’s not surprising that we’re using our digital cameras less frequently, even though the cameras are a much better device.

Here are a few tips for taking better photos:

  • Get Close. Always take the photo from as close to your subject as possible rather than using the digital zoom option.  You’ll get a better quality image.
  • Zero in on the Subject. Eliminate as much background as possible, especially lots of sky.
  • Turn off the Auto Flash. Don’t rely on your phone’s flash. Most of the time the results are disappointing. If others are around, enlist their flashlight apps to help light the scene. Use the angle of the light to enhance the shadows and highlights.
  • Step Aside. Consider taking the photo from the left or right rather than straight on. You’d be surprised at how much this helps create more interesting shots. Or for fun, try sneaking in some photos from waist level or from a dog’s eye view. You can get some really fun shots from an unusual angle.
  • Hold steady. A shaky hand does not produce a good photo. Hold your phone close to you rather than at arms length. Or better yet, use a tripod-type gadget like a Gorillapod to hold the camera still for a nice clear shot.

And some general housekeeping:

  • Make sure your lens is clean. Give it a wipe with a lint free cloth to clean out any dust or dirt. How many of you have ever done that?
  • Check your settings.  Make sure you’re on a high enough resolution to get the best pictures you can.
  • Know your phone. Get familiar with all of the settings and options so that you can easily choose or change them in a pinch. Take some time and play. See what results the different options deliver. Then you can have some fun. This will also help you capture the unplanned photo opportunity with confidence rather than fumbling with your phone and missing it altogether.

Add some Free apps and you’re off and running:

These are some great tools that enable you to have fun making  beautiful memories with your phone. Be careful though, you might become the designated photographer!

From my family to yours, may you find joy and blessings this holiday season in the love of your family and friends.  We’ve all been reminded of how precious our families are. Enjoy every moment.

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

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August 21st, 2012 at 8:46 am

Woofound – A Good Times Concierge on Your Phone

Looking for ideas for something to do today? There’s a nifty new app called Woofound that can offer suggestions for restaurants, fitness, entertainment and other activities based on your user profile and your location.

I’m currently on a road trip with my family we were looking for some daytime activities in a new city. I downloaded this app to my iPad (it’s also available on iPhone, Android is coming soon) to see how it works.

The first step is to create an account and go through the Play function which shows you photos of foods, sports, and other activity types. You simply click on Me or Not Me and the app will then suggest local places to go or things to do that fit your profile. And the more you “Play”, the better it gets at choosing appropriate activities.

This way you can avoid suggestions for jousting, hookah lounges or English cuisine if they’re not your thing.

Once you find an attraction or destination that you like you can then “Plan” it. You can set a day and time, find it on a map, go to the website or call the site. And if you want, you can share it with your friends on Woofound or Facebook.

You can also search by category and price range to narrow your options.

I think this is a very cool app. I found a museum, a bike rental, a designer consignment shop and a restaurant for dinner without having to search various websites or travel guides. Once you’ve established your profile, let Woofound play matchmaker for you. It’s quick and easy.

If you’re the travel agent for your family or the social director for your pals, Woofound is 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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July 10th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Firefox Tips and Shortcuts

If you’re anything like me, your Firefox sessions are full of movement. Lots of tabs, long lists of search history, and overall too much clutter. You may not be aware of some of the features that come with Firefox that make navigating all of this clutter easier.

Here’s some tips that can help you use Firefox like a power user.

  1. The best feature of today’s browsers is the tabs. In order to make even better use of this feature and save time the next time you open Firefox, make sure that you have set the option to “Show My Windows and Tabs from Last Time” under Tools/Options/General.
  2. You can save space on your tab bar keeping your favorite and most used tabs organized at the left end of your tab bar by pinning them. Just right click on any tab that you want to always show, and choose “Pin as App Tab”.
  3. Just as multiple tabs are a blessing, they’re also a bit of a curse. It’s so easy to keep opening new tabs that you soon find you can’t even see all of your tabs without scrolling. Hate that. So you tidy up by closing, but then you end up closing tabs that you want to get back. To reload a closed tab, simply right click on the last tab and choose “Undo Close Tab”.
  4. When you open a new tab, it opens at the right end of your tab bar. When you click on a link that opens a new tab, it inserts it on the left end. If you’ve got a lot of open tabs and want to organize them more efficiently, just click and drag the tab to where you want it.
  5. When you Google search you click from link to link and find yourself many clicks away from the original search results page. You can right click on the Back button and see the list of all the links you’ve visited in that tab.
  6. Find a webpage that you want to save as a bookmark? Just click on the white star in your Address Bar and it will save it in your unsorted bookmarks. Click on the (now yellow) star again and you can organize the bookmark with a name, put it in a folder, and add tags to help you find it later.

And to give you even more speed and power, here’s a few keyboard shortcuts that you need to know:

  • Spacebar – scrolls down a page
  • Shift+Spacbar – scrolls back up a page
  • CTRL+T – opens a new tab
  • CTRL+Tab – moves through your tabs
  • CTRL+= – increases font size of your webpage
  • CTRL+- – decreases font size of your webpage
  • CTRL+F – brings up the Find option – just type in the word or phrase you are looking for
  • F5 key – refreshes the page

Here’s to saving time and clicks while you’re surfing the web!

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

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May 29th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Your Family’s Medical History at Hand When You Need It

When my kids were born, we had these little green notebooks for recording all of the important medical info, vaccinations, weights, heights and other pertinent statistics every time we visited pediatrician. This was a really useful book to keep on hand, but it was only as handy as my memory. Too often, I’d forget to pull it out of its folder and bring it with me on doctor visits.

It’s still a great resource for referring to all those early medical milestones, but in this day of handheld applications that do just about anything, it’s no longer the most effective solution.

How often do we need to visit a new practitioner or specialist and have to fill out the dreaded medical history form? How are we supposed to remember the last time one of us had a tetanus shot? My brain just can’t hold that kind of data for very long. And I’ve long since stopped keeping the medical book up to date or bringing it along.

That’s why I’m ready to check out an app for keeping my family’s medical history on my phone. How cool it will be to just whip out my device and have all the dates, times, and historical records of illnesses, doctor visits, allergy info, and medications at hand whenever I might need them? I think very cool.

So I did a little research to find out what options are out there and I found a few. There are some free apps but I also looked at the paid apps to see what they offered. I wanted apps that allowed me to keep information on multiple members of my family, not just me, and it was worth the few bucks.

The apps seem to be pretty similar. There’s a place to record allergies, medications, vitals, doctor visit histories, illnesses, surgeries and other useful information related to your health, well being and healthcare. You can store contact information for your doctors, dentist, insurance company and pharmacies and customize the categories to suit.

For Apple users, there’s two apps, My Medical ($2.99) and Family Medical History ($3.99 iPhone, $4.99 iPad) that both provide an easy to use interface for entering your information. You can take photos or attach files to keep an even more comprehensive record of x-rays, prescription bottles, caregiver instructions, and any other pertinent documentation.

Each of these has an app for iPhone and iPad, as well as a website interface, but only for Macs.  For me, a Windows user, I can take advantage of the iPad apps, but there’s no cross-platform support so it won’t be available on my Android or my pc.

For Android users, there’s a similar app called My Medical Info ($1.99) that offers most of the same database features for recording your information. However, there is no option for adding photos or documents and there is no associated website app for easier data entry and synchronization. There’s no iPad app either. That’s too bad. I hope they add these features soon. It’s a lot easier to enter lots of data on a keyboard than a smartphone.

So when it comes to taking advantage of this very useful application, Apple device users have the best options. But my guess is that before long that functionality will exist for us non-Apple folks too. I’ll be waiting.

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

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February 14th, 2012 at 7:02 am

A Pinterest-ing Valentine’s

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Last week I gave you some ideas for some creative ways to celebrate and commemorate Valentines Day. Hope you had some fun with them.

I’m a recent convert to the Pinterest phenomenon and I’m having a great time browsing through the boards and finding inspiration. There is an incredible amount of creative, fashionable, clever, useful and funny content on that site. It’s really fun to see what people are pinning and re-pinning and I’ve gotten so many great ideas for cooking, organizing, decorating and shopping.

In case you’re not yet familiar with this newest social craze, check out an earlier blog by our favorite Monday blogger, Kim Ross for an explanation. She was an early adopter of Pinterest and her boards are chock full of fun and creative ideas.

In a nutshell, Pinterest is a social site where you share photos of things that interest you that you find on the web.  You create “boards” of a particular topic or category and pin your content to the boards.  It might be fashion, baking, home decorating, pets, fitness, etc. You can browse by subject or by what’s popular. When you see something you like, you can pin it to your own board, like it, and/or comment on it.

Say you’re interested in ideas for your garden or you’re planning a baby shower. You can browse the subjects and see what other people have pinned. The clever and useful ideas are abundant. The pins themselves are pictures from actual websites. Click through on the picture and you can link to its original site.

You can also put an applet in your browser to pin anything on the web that you find and like. You’ll  notice that many websites have added a “Pin It” button alongside the Facebook Like, Stumble, and Tweet buttons.

Consider this the web version of all the folders and binders you used to create with torn out pages from magazines, only much neater and well organized. We like organized.

And to show you what I’m talking about click on either of these links below to see an example of how I’ve used Pinterest to showcase my favorite Valentine’s Day ideas.

Be careful though, you might find yourself spending a little TOO much time browsing, pinning and generating ideas. It’s very addictive.

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

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November 15th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Three Ways to Send a Digital Card Through the (Real) Mail

Back in July, I wrote a post on a very cool app, Postcardly, that enabled you to turn a digital photo into a postcard that you could send through the mail.

Since then I’ve had the pleasure of trying out two other apps that also use the postal service for mailing postcards or cards.

The first, Postcards on the Run, has the same idea as Postcardly but it’s smartphone based. Take a photo with your phone, run the POTR, app, and send to the recipient. This is really handy, because you can do it all right from the phone, on the spot. It’s quick and really easy. It also has a fun feature that lets you use your finger to sign your name. A nice personalized touch. You can even add a map of the location of your photo if you want.

I also hear that the next release of POTR will include a scented feature. You’ll be able to add a smell to your card, such as bubble gum, ocean breeze, chocolate, holiday spice, and more. So your postcards from the beach can not only look beachy but smell that way too. How cool is that?

The third app I tried is Cards. Since I don’t have an iPhone I downloaded it to my iPad instead. This app is a little different because it is for creating actual cards with envelopes as opposed to postcards. There is a nice, but so far somewhat limited, selection of cards (thank you, birthday, wish you were here) that you can personalize with a photo from your device. Cards prints it on high quality letterpress paper and sends it to your recipient via U.S. mail. Each card is $2.99 (U.S) or $4.99 (international).

I’ve tried all three and while they are all similar, here’s a rundown of the finer distinctions of each.

Postcardly is for sending your pc based photos. Once you’ve downloaded from your camera you can pick and choose your best shots and send via an email. After the initial free 3 cards, you can buy 20 cards for $19.99. The quality is great. They’re printed with a matte finish on heavy card stock. No international option yet, but it’s coming soon.

Postcard on the Run is great for sending your photos right from your phone. Snap the shot, run the app, and send. Prices range from $.99 to a $1.49. (add .20 cents for international). The photo quality is also great. It’s a glossier finish, also on good quality card stock. I like the signature feature. I also like being able to send internationally.

Cards is a nice app for sending an actual card rather than a postcard. The selection is not extensive yet so you might not find just the right card for the occasion, but the card quality is really nice. They even include a piece of tissue paper inside the card. An elegant touch. The photo quality is not as good, since it’s printing the image on the card paper rather than photo paper, but the card itself was beautiful.

All three of these are really great apps. I find it interesting how often I now think of sending a postcard or card through the mail now that these apps have made it so easy. I can’t really remember the last time I bought and sent a traditional postcard. But I can tell you, I’ll be sending a digital postcard from my weekend visit with a friend right after I’m done with this post.

And if this catches on, I think the U.S. Postal service might be thanking the creators of these apps too.

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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August 2nd, 2011 at 5:00 am

Organizing Your Gmail Inbox Part 2 – Filters

Last week I told you about creating and applying labels to your emails as a way of keeping your GMail organized and your inbox small. Hopefully you’ve tried this method and started the process of whittling down to a manageable number of active emails.

Now I’ll tell you about taking that process to the next level.

If you want to get really efficient with the labeling process, you can create a Filter that automatically labels the item when it arrives. Say for instance you want to apply a label to all emails from a certain person or organization. Select an email from that sender by opening it or just clicking on the check box to the left of the item. Choose the “More” button at the top of the inbox, and select “Filter messages like these”.

Step 1 is to create the criteria that the email must meet. It can either be to or from a particular person(s) or domain. Or it can contain particular keywords in the subject or body of the email. Use the “Test Search” option to do a dry run.

Step 2 asks you what you want to do with the emails that meet the criteria in Step 1. To label them, choose the desired label from the “Apply the Label” drop-down. Check out all the other action alternatives that you could use for this or other filters you might create.

Step 3 is to apply the filter. Before you click the “Create Filter” button, check the option for applying to results in the list below. This is great for cleaning up the existing emails in your inbox that meet the criteria. If you don’t click this, then the filter will only work for any emails that come in after you’re done.

The excellent result of filters is that your emails can be labeled or have some other action performed automatically.   A real time saver.


  • Beware of automatically sending emails to the archive. If you’re not disciplined about checking your All Mail, you may never see them.
  • Other organizational tools include Stars, Priority Inbox and Importance Markers. GMail now lets you sort your inbox by these categories. In my case, I have all of my starred emails up at the top of the list, which helps me keep track of items that still need attention.

I just love automation.

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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