Using Dictation (Siri) for Blogging and Texting

Using Siri for Dictation - BloggingDo you know what one of the worst things about blogging is? Not being able to do it (easily) from the comfort of your own bed.

For you lucky folks with tablets, this does not apply to you. The rest of us with our laptops and our phones are torn: do we awkwardly lay in bed with out laptop or type ever-so-carefully on our phones to make the blogging magic happen. This just in — there’s a better solution!

Ever since upgrading to the iPhone 5 I have been taking advantage of a number of new features such as Siri. Now, don’t get me wrong, Siri is mostly useless. Seriously. But for composing the odd text and, surprisingly, writing blog posts, Siri is great! Keep in mind that while I am referencing Siri, the same should apply to other dictation applications on other smartphones. Some apps like Dragon Dictation work across platforms and perform well.

It takes some getting used to, but once you learn to speak somewhat slowly and dictate punctuation, the process is very simple. I was very surprised to discover that I could write posts just as quickly by dictating them as I could typing them on a full keyboard. Fairly impressive considering my average WPM is about 86. It makes sense, of course. After all, speaking is surely much faster than typing — even for us fast typers.

The biggest issue is that it is hard to insert images and “pretty-up” a post from a mobile device (at least with WordPress it is). So I find myself having to hop on the computer to finish of the post. I usually finish it the next day or whenever it is convenient. That way all of the content is written when my creativity and motivation have peaked and the images and such can follow later.

If you are an avid blogger that doesn’t like to switch it up and be comfy while writing posts, I recommend giving dictation a go.

Bing Desktop | Automatically Refresh Your Desktop Wallpaper

If you are like me, you likely spend the majority of your day on a computer. Why not make that screen you stare at all day a little easier to look at?

I used to periodically change my desktop wallpaper manually, until I discovered Bing Desktop. Bing Desktop allows you to automatically update your desktop background every day to the same image currently featured on Bing. Although I am a Google fan through-and-through, I have to admit that Bing’s interface — with its gorgeous featured images — is superior to Google’s plain interface. However, the search engine is certainly not. So, this way you get to enjoy Bing’s beautiful desktop images without having to interact with an inferior search engine.

Installing Bing Desktop is very easy and once installed it will automatically update your background when launched. To have it update each day you can do one of several things:Automatically Download New Desktop Wallpapers

  1. You can have it running all the time, simply minimized (not recommended, unless you use Bing for search)
  2. You can have it opened at a scheduled time with Task Scheduler (this is what I have done. I have it open every day at 9am to refresh my desktop).
  3. Or, you can drag it into a corner which will cause it to auto-hide and be placed in the system tray

Interestingly, Windows 8 (and maybe even Windows 7) comes with a built-in ability for a desktop refresh with specified intervals. However, I was not able to find a way to tell it to use Bing images. You can specify a folder of images for it to scroll through but there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell it to set the image to whatever is featured on Bing. This is an obvious feature that would have been nice to have baked into Windows 8.

Anyways, give it a shot and let me know what you think. I have already found staring at my computer to be much more pleasant now that I see a refreshing new image each day.

The Easiest Way to Get Around PayWalls

easiest-way-to-get-around-pay-wallsIf you read news articles online somewhat frequently, from major publications like the New York Times or the Globe and Mail, you’ve probably encountered a Pay Wall (or PayWall). I did some searching online to find the best ways to get around them and I thought I would share with you the easiest way to get around PayWalls.

The answer: Private Browsing.

If you search the Internet for ways to get around PayWalls you will find a number of different solutions, some of which are very simple, and some of which are overly complicated. Common solutions include:

  • Using a VPN
  • Clearing your cookies
  • Using Private Browsing

Private browsing is by far the easiest way to get around most of these pay walls because all you have to do is turn on private browsing, which is made easily accessible in most modern browsers. Both chrome and Firefox, for example, have the ability to enter private browsing mode simply by opening the menu and selecting “start private browsing” or  “new incognito mode” in Chrome.

Private browsing works by not saving any of your history or your cookies when you’re browsing websites. This means that sites that use cookies to track how many articles you’ve read over time will not be able to do so.

So far I have tested the private browsing technique on both the Globe and Mail in the New York Times and it works flawlessly. After hitting the pay wall I switch to private browsing and was immediately able to access other articles. As long as you stay in private browsing mode you should be able to look at as many articles as you want without any problem.

Of course there may be some sites that use more sophisticated techniques for tracking your browsing, however, if it works for the Globe and Mail and the New York Times it will likely work for most.

Enjoy!

Quora: Powerful Crowd-Sourced Questions & Answers

Q&A

The internet is a miraculous tool. Type in a question and the majority of the time you will find the answer. Sometimes the answer comes in the form of a blog post, other times you can find an entire video answering your specific question. However, despite being extremely powerful, there are some questions that are too specific or hard to articulate that Google simply cannot fetch a simple answer for. Enter Quora.

Quora is a crowd-sourced Question and Answer platform that allows users to post a question and have the community submit answers and vote on which answers are best. In this regard Quora sounds much like any other Q&A site out there but there is a major difference: the people on Quora aren’t 11 year old trolls.

Quora can be summarized thusly: Yahoo Answers but with the exact opposite quality of answers.

The average Quora user appears to be rather well educated with a demographic that appears to skew heavily towards a variety of professionals; whether they operate in the tech, science or general business space. What this means is that you get insightful answers to very specific and often technical questions — questions that Google cannot easily answer.

Specific questions like: What is the best way to redirect a single page URL to the same page with a different URL?

The site has already accumulated a large user base and, while there are plenty of trolls, the site has remained intellectual with reputable answers. The site’s power lies in its crowd-sourcing nature. Instead of typing a query into Google and hoping it can find an answer to your obscure question, you are able to put your question out in front of thousands of intellectuals to tap into their knowledge.

What is even better about the platform is the ability to identify your skills and knowledge and follow topics of interest so that you can share information on topics that you are well versed in. For example, I have used the site many times to get answers to questions about developing my wedding site, since weddings are not generally my forté, while answers questions about marketing, technology and social media.

Quora is now my number 2 source of information with Google Search still holding the number one spot. I thought I would share because I think many others will find as much success with Quora as I have. Imbeciles need not apply.

Crowd-Sourced Questions and Answers

Google+ Hangouts are Great for Business (and Hilarious)

Not too long ago I ran into a problem at work: I wanted to have a meeting with someone that I couldn’t meet with in person. Of course, given today’s business environment, there are a number of options to meet with people remotely. Many of these options are rather cumbersome and costly.

For example, here at Blue Link we use GoToMeeting for our remote meetings. It’s a great piece of software that certainly serves this purpose but it is really not as simple to get started with as it should be. You need to install software on your computer before you are up and running and when you want to have a meeting right then you don’t want to be bothered with installations.

That is when I decided to try Google+ Hangouts. Needless to say I was very impressed with Hangouts. There is a plugin to be installed, if I remember correctly, but it does not take long to get started. Of course, the major problem with Hangouts is that you need Google+, but I’m not sure. You can access Hangouts from within Gmail but it is unclear if you have to have a Google+ account first.

Hangouts are really intuitive and surprisingly reliable with great audio and video connections. A neat feature is how the main video section changes to show the person speaking at the moment which encourages people to take turns and give the speaker the floor. Hangouts are great for businesses, not just for fun, as you can share your screen and easily show off documents to the group as well.

Screen Shot 2012-07-31 at 4.06.38 PMGoogle didn’t take Hangouts too seriously though – they included some hilarious features, like the ability to add funny video masks that follow your face. These masks can help lighten the mood and keep things upbeat during what might otherwise be another boring business meeting.

If you haven’t tried  Hangouts yet, give it a try and let me know what you think of it below.

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How to Save Website Passwords and Forms with Last Pass | Password Manager


Video Transcription

I just want to take a minute to introduce to everyone, one of the biggest time savings sites/add-ons that I have found in a long time. Everyone I have shown this to, have lived by it ever since. So I want to show this to everyone in as much detail as possible.

The add-on is called Last Pass, and you can find it at LastPass.com. It is a browser add-on that is compatible with all the major browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera) as well as mobile operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry etc.). What it does is it allows you to store website passwords automatically. It sounds basic, but it is extremely comprehensive and powerful and has a couple other tools such as the ability to automatically fill in web forms.

First, you will download LastPass. It’s going to install to your browsers, whatever you have installed by default. I use Chrome and Firefox and IE if I absolutely have to. So I have it for all those browsers. So if I open up a new tab and go to Twitter, you will see that there is a new bar “last pass has filled in your login information for the form”. So if I go to sign in here, you will see that my username and password has been already inserted. You can see the little Last Pass logo so you know it has filled it in.

Last Pass can remember multiple logins so you can login with a work or personal account. Once your login details have been autofilled you simply have to click once to sign in automatically. You can actually set autologins as well so they automatically fill in the information and login.

Password Manager - Last Pass

Again, it is cross-browser, so you install it once on each browser and sign in and it will keep all your passwords in the cloud. You can log off and have someone else login and they can immediately access their passwords from your computer as well. So you can move computers with no problem. Last Pass is one of the most amazing things I have ever installed for my computer, period. It is actually incredible.

The other thing that it allows you to do is automatically fill web forms. I have this Yahoo registration form and I can sit their and fill in this form manually (no idea why anyone would want a Yahoo account these days) or I can actually define a form profile to have auto-filled. If I click on the Last Pass button and click “Fill Forms” you can see that I have two profiles already, one for my company and one with my personal information. For demonstration purposes, I’m going to create a new profile.

Start by clicking “Add Profile” and enter a name for the profile. I’m just going to call it “Test”. You can then enter in your name – “Dave, Silva” – and can fill in your birthday information, for example. Then you click “Add Form Fill Profile” and now I can click on the add-on, click on Fill Forms and click on “Test”. The information I entered is then inserted into the form automatically. The more information you fill out on the profile, the better. When you have those long forms that ask for your address and more, it can save you several minutes every time you need to register for a new website.

The fact that you can have multiple forms is very useful. You can have a work profile with work phone number and address as well as your personal one. Obviously, this is extremely useful.

Those are the most useful features, there are some others that are nice add-ons but those are the most important parts. You can save multiple logins for each site, multiple forms and even have websites auto-login when you visit them. The app is password protected and encrypted so you can choose to have to log on each time you open your browser for added security.

This is literally the most useful thing I have installed as long as I can remember. If you are like me and you have to reset passwords for sites all the time, this will save you a lot of grief.

Please let me know what you think about it in the comments below, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

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Cash is Horrible — Credit is King!

I have almost completely eliminated cash from my life and I want to share my experience with you. First of all, it is amazing! The number of benefits associated with doing away with cash should not be underestimated  — as I will get into shortly. Contrary to popular believe, it is very easy to eliminate cash from your everyday life. There are still some situations where you will still need cash, but with careful planning you can keep those situations to a bare minimum.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of not using cash (and I’m just scratching the surface):

1. Transaction Speed

Many people consider cash the fastest payment method, but I strongly disagree. Modern alternative payment methods (such as credit cards) are often just as fast as using cash and emerging technologies such as tap-to-pay technology are much faster. People often spend a lot of time counting change and reaching for coins when a single swipe or tap is all that is necessary. One of the most obvious examples of the speed difference is at gas stations. Esso, and other leading edge gas stations, have implemented quick pay technology that allows you to pay for gas with a tap of a key-fob or swipe of a card. This eliminates the need to enter the gas station to pay the clerk, leading to significant time savings (it takes 5 seconds to tap the device as opposed to several minutes to walk into the station and pay the clerk. Add even more time if there is a line-up).

2. Physical Convenience

Cash is cumbersome. It takes up an excessive amount of space. To carry the cash-equivalent of the spending limit on a single credit card, you would have to bring 10 extra wallets and a couple extra pairs of pants. Okay, so normal people don’t carry around thousands of dollars of cash, I get that. However, cash users should ask themselves how many times they have gone to the bank in the last month. I go to the bank less than once a month and it’s fantastically convenient. Also, coins. ‘Nuff said.

3. Cash Doesn’t Pay

Sounds weird, right? It should be obvious where I’m going with this. When you use cash, you get nothing. Okay, sometimes businesses will give you a break because they don’t want to pay taxes but legally-speaking there are no benefits. Credit cards, on the other hand, pay rewards and have many other benefits. For example, with my current credit card I get 1% cash-back on all purchases as well as roadside assistance and various travel perks. Sure there are downsides to using credit cards, but if you are of above average intelligence, have reasonable self-restraint and pay off your cards in time, you will be laughing all the way to the bank. Like me: muwahahaha!

4. Cash Leaves No Trail

Cash is very hard to track. For criminals this is fantastic but for the rest of us it is inconvenient. Unless you keep a cumbersome personal log of where you have spent your cash on a daily basis, it will be very difficult to budget and look back at your purchases. Modern technology allows you to automatically keep track of transactions with very little thought or effort on your part. Mint.com, the website I use to manage all my budgeting and transaction history, has the ability to import debit and credit transactions automatically from your bank. It may sounds sketchy, but just like everything else you have to embrace technology to benefit from it (cars were scary back in the day too. Imagine if everyone had insisted on still riding in carriages . . . Yup, I went there). Mint allows you to set budgets, view your account balances and even set financial goals for yourself, all in one convenient location. It even automatically tags transactions and categorizes them for you. Oh, and did I mention it is completely free? It can also record cash transactions, but it requires manual entry of that information (obviously) and defeats the purpose of the site.

5. Cash Can Be Lost — Never to Return

You drop a bill in a gutter. It’s gone forever. Someone steals your cash that you had lying around. It’s gone forever. Your cash gets irreparably damaged. Say it with me now: It’s gone forever. None of these circumstances are any worry with a credit card. Drop your card in a gutter? Get a new one – no loss! Someone steals your card and makes obscene purchases on it – call your bank and declare the fraud purchases to get a new one with no out-of-pocket expense! Your credit card gets damaged. Get a new one – no loss! You get the point. (I wonder how many incomplete sentences I just wrote . . .)

Needless to say, this is an issue I am very passionate about. I am now in my 4th successful year limiting my cash use and I will never go back. I cannot wait for further advancements in technology like Near Field Communication (NFC) to further reduce societies reliance on cash. I discussed this new technology (as well as my wicked auto-card wallet) in a previous post for those that would like to make their lives that much easier: Mobile Wallet, Google Wallet – Finally!

Insert inflammatory comment here: anyone still living in the stone-age using cash? Let us have a discussion in the comments below.

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Which Browser Do You Use? Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari or Opera?

Many users may not care what browser they use – perhaps they all seem the same. Us web designers know that there are big differences and we wish some browsers (ahem, Internet Explorer) would disappear forever. My question is: What browser do you use? Please answer in the poll at the bottom and let me know why you use what you use in the comments below.

Personally I use several browsers, although my favourite is Chrome. For the longest time I was using Firefox but Chrome was first to implement some of the most innovative features such as the universal bar (where you can enter searches, web addresses and even search through your bookmarks and history). Chrome is lightweight, quick to load, has all of the features of a modern browser, and continues to push the envelope.

Firefox is my second choice; a great browser all-round. I used Firefox for several years before switching to Chrome. Firefox now has most of the features Chrome has implemented. I switch between the two for website testing purposes and with each new version release I may find a reason to use one over the other. Each browser also has its own strengths for certain uses (some websites run better on Chrome than Firefox and vice versa). Also, some updates cause issues with the browser so I temporarily switch until the next release fixes those issues.

I imagine that most young and reasonably tech-savvy people use either Chrome and Firefox and know better than to use Internet Explorer. Previously I wrote about how how mucchrome-firefox-internet-explorerh internet explorer sucks, especially for web designers that have to find work-arounds to support a browser that doesn’t work like the rest. Unfortunately, us web designers are forced to take Internet Explorer into consideration because many users (mostly new to the internet) still use Internet Explorer. It doesn’t help that IE is the default browser on all new Windows installations.

I ask each of you, regardless of which browser you use, to please do the world a favour by installing Firefox or Chrome for your friends and family that are still using Internet Explorer. It will save web designers like myself significant pain and several heart attacks.

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Organize Your Messy Desktop with Fences

Does your desktop look like this?

organize-your-messy-desktop

(Not my desktop, but mine looks similar)

If so, you probably want to do something about it. Chances are it is hurting your productivity as you try to find files and lose track of files you might want to have remembered for later.

I am a big supporter of saving files to the desktop, especially if you will be using the file often or need to keep it front-of-mind. However, this approach can also quickly become overwhelming and will lead to frequent clean-ups. The solution? A brilliant application known as Fences.

Fences allows you to create “regions” on your desktop for better organization. An example would be an “applications” region where you would store all the shortcuts to applications. You can set the size of each region to display all, or a subset of the files contained within. This way you can strategically keep the most important in front of you while keeping the rest a simple scroll away, within the region.

organize-messy-desktop-fences

Lifehacker has a great description of the ways in which you can use Fences but the program is very easy to use and self-explanatory. In fact, once it is installed you can select an option for it to automatically organize your desktop for you. This option saved me a lot of time as I was able to have my files automatically categorized and then just make some changes where I didn’t agree with the categorization. Adding new regions is very simple as well (accomplished with a right-click and “Configure Fences” to create new regions).

One of the best features of Fences is the ability to automatically have files added to a “New files” region. That way, you know exactly where the files are that you have to deal with and organize when you decide to. You may need the PRO version to access this functionality, however (I have not yet found out for myself yet).

Using Fences is not the only answer to the clutter problem but it certainly helps. Obviously you will still need to do a periodic clean to ensure you are only keeping relevant files on the desktop but I stand by my approach to keep icons on the desktop. After all, organizing information into folders might actually decrease productivity.

Facebook Subscriptions: Facebook Competing with Twitter

facebook-subscribe-twitterThis is not breaking news, as Facebook has offered this functionality for a while but, like myself, it might take a reminder to actually start using it.

For those who are not yet aware, Facebook is trying to make Twitter irrelevant. With the last major layout change Facebook added a scrolling section of “live” updates trying to replicate Twitter’s timeliness with updates. If you’re like me, you have probably completely ignored this box, located in the right top-hand corner of your news feed. This is just a small change to replicate Twitter – the big change comes with subscriptions.

Facebook Subscriptions allow users to “follow” “interesting people” such as celebrities, blogs, comics and other pages. The major change is that you can receive updates from those you do not know if someone has opened up their page/feed to subscriptions. This works exactly like Twitter in that they do not have to have any affiliation with you for you to be able to see their public updates.

By default you are subscribed to all of your friend’s feeds, which makes sense. You can unsubscribe from your friends as well, clearing up noise from those who insist on hating everything on this planet or who persistently share everything including their bowel movements. The universal “subscribe” functionality makes a lot of sense to me and is a welcome addition to Facebook. As long as other celebrities dedicate their efforts to Facebook, this could theoretically end up as a great reason to leave Twitter. Of course, you can’t speak directly to people who are not your friends which is one of the great things about Twitter.

With that being said, what do you think, are subscriptions a good answer to Twitter? Assuming you can find all the people on Twitter to subscribe to on Facebook, would you consider dropping Twitter?

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