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LIVE SMART WITH TECH

complex tech made simple

Airtable for Lists and Reference

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AirtableApp: Airtable – Cost: Free

Sometimes you want to track a certain type of thing (perhaps ratings of your favorite coffees or brews). There are probably apps for that, but maybe they’re too socially connected or just downright confusing. Personally, I’ve been wanting to track favorite beers, but the apps I’ve found stink for one or more reasons. And using the iOS Reminders or Microsoft OneNote never really worked well. Then I heard of Airtable.

Airtable provides a fairly intuitive interface for creating simple or complex lists called Bases. It’s like creating a spreadsheet but Airtable makes it work like a charm in a tappable interface like your phone. For those who understand database concepts like tables and views, Airtable can become that much more powerful.

If you’re interested in this kind of app but databases sound intimidating, the folks at Airtable have you covered. The support section is thorough and surprisingly easy to grasp. The sample Bases have a refreshingly short learning curve, and once you take a close look, the concepts will just click for you.

Hey, I’m dense, and I figured it out.

Airtable Bases can be created and edited in app or online, and they’re always in sync. There’s collaboration tools and connectivity to online services like Dropbox, Evernote, and many more. If you keep your Bases under 1,200 rows (aka, records), then the service remains free. If you need more, then there are reasonable levels of service.

Airtable.com

Airtable App [iTunes] – Android coming soon

iPhone and a Changing Marketplace

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$ iPhone

Just the other day, Apple reported flat growth in iPhone sales for the first quarter of its fiscal year 2016. Keep in mind the number for sales (and revenue and profit) are phenomenal, but it’s still the first lack of significant growth in the product line’s history.

Here’s a quick thought about a market factor that I believe will be a challenge for iPhone going forward: Carriers are dropping the 2-year contracts. And because of that, customers are seeing the true cost of their iPhones.

I’ve done the math for my family, and dropping the 2-year commitment and paying for our phones resulted in reduced cost over the same time period. That is based on our usage, of course. Your mileage may vary.

But the on-contract price of $199 or even $299 is mentally more appealing than $750 or $850. These higher prices are now being explicitly exposed to buyers. And while consumers are still buying at those prices, I suspect that they will do it less often in the future.

Other factors certainly play into this consumer behavior. Economic conditions around the globe are relatively volatile. The smart phone market is clearly maturing with fewer distinct and meaningful new features being added to the annually updated devices.

So Apple will need to consider dropping the prices of their phones (gasp!).

Apple’s leaders are not stupid. They’ve certainly been aware of these trends and what the company will need to do to adjust.

Just my two cents for today…

Non-Obvious Features Hidden in Your iPhone

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Hidden FeaturesBack in 2007, Apple revolutionized the smart phone industry with the iPhone. And at that time, the phone’s operating system was refreshingly simple. Since that time, the operating system (now called iOS) has become much more complex with a simple-looking interface. Some of the best features are hidden in that simple-looking interface.

Here are a few tips to expose some non-obvious functionality that you might be able to adopt into your daily usage.

App Switcher

Double-press the Home button and then use two fingers on two apps (one finger each) and swipe upwards to close both with one gesture. This requires a bit of practice and dexterity, but it works.

Calculator

Turn the phone to landscape orientation (sideways) to expose the built-in scientific calculator.

To backspace (delete) a digit that you’ve entered, just swipe left or right across the number string.

The calculator in portrait mode limits numbers to 9 digits in length. Turn to the landscape, scientific mode to work with larger numbers.

Camera

When set for taking a photo, press and hold the shutter button for burst mode. This takes several photos per second. This is great for those action moments to get the perfect picture of the winning goal, touchdown, or slide into home plate.

While taking a video, notice the white circle within a circle. Tap that during the video recording session to take a still photo. While this isn’t hidden per se, it’s kinda hiding in plain sight.

You can activate the photo shutter with the volume keys on the side of the phone. You can also do this with the volume buttons on the EarPod headphones. This is good if you ever use the phone on a tripod and long shutter exposures (you’ll need a third-party app for long exposures, many of which are free).

Find the Owner

Press and hold the Home button and ask “Who owns this phone?” You’ll get contact information that should help you return the phone.

Flashlight

If you have the flashlight on and the phone auto locks, you can simply swipe up on the lock screen’s camera icon and the light will go off. This is probably more of a tip than a feature.

Mail

There are many hidden ways to view your email messages. Navigate to your list of Mailboxes, then tap Edit. You might find the ability to view only Flagged or Unread messages helpful. Also in this edit mode, you can reorder you mailboxes to have your primary service at the top of the list.

Messages

When you’re not in the Messages app and you receive a new message as a banner notification at the very top of your screen, you can swipe down while it’s visible to respond to the message without going into the Messages app.

Phone

On the Keypad screen, tap the green call button to display the last dialed number. Don’t worry, it won’t automatically call it.

Photos

In the Albums view, long press the plus sign to be offered to create a new folder or a new album.

Reachability

[For iPhone 6 and later] From anywhere except the lock screen, lightly double tap (not press) the Home button. The top half of the screen will drop to the lower half allowing your finger to reach the items. Double tap again for the screen to return to normal.

Safari

From the carousel view of open windows, tap and hold the plus sign to view a list of recently closed browser tabs.

Quickly request the desktop version of a website by pressing and holding the reload icon in the URL bar. If you have a content blocker enabled, you can also choose to reload a page without the blocker temporarily disabled.

Spotlight

Spotlight appears when you swipe downward on any home screen (but not swiping down from the screen edge which shows Notification Center). It’s also available when you swipe to the left from the first home screen. It shows a search box, app suggestions, and (sometimes) news.

Enter a simple math problem to get the solution.

Type in a measurement or currency to get a conversion.

System

Clear iOS cache by tapping any single tab icon 10 times in the following Apple apps: Apple Store, Podcasts, Music, Game Center, and Phone. For example, tap the For You icon in the music app 10 times. Don’t expect any confirmation for this action. I guess you just have to have faith.

To clear iOS RAM, press and hold the Power/Sleep button until the Slide to Power Off prompt appears. Then press and hold the Home button until you’re returned to your home screen.

Touch ID

[For iPhone 5s and later] In the Setting app, navigate to Touch ID & Passcode. Now place a registered finger on the Home button. The entry under which that finger is registered will highlight while the finger rests on the button.

Wallet

From the lockscreen, double press the Home button to open the Wallet app. THis gives you access to Apple Pay and supported payments and loyalty cards.

3D Touch

[For iPhone 6s and later] In Safari’s carousel view of open tabs, you can peek and pop any of the web pages. Press to peek. Press deeper to pop it fully open.

In Reminders, press a reminder to get a quick menu to add an alarm based on time or location.

Almost everything in the Music app supports peek and pop.

The drawing tools in Notes support 3D Touch. Deeper swipes make a darker, wider line.

Source: ArtKeele.com, BGR

Review: Mpow Seashell Bluetooth Sport Headphones

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Mpow Seashell Bluetooth HeadphonesDisclosure: An Mpow representative shared this product with me in return for an unbiased review, and I promise that is what follows.

Packaging

These headphones were packaged very well. The box has a magnetic closure allowing you to store your headphones in it again. In addition to the headphones, there are small, medium, and large ear cushions as well as ear stabilizers in the same sizes. And finally, a small user guide.

Build Quality

Build quality of the Mpow headphones appears to be of very good quality. They are very lightweight, but quite solid. The band that connects the headphones is very flexible and is ribbon-shaped so it won’t tangle or kink. The ear cushions and stabilizers are pliable but very durable. Overall, I am impressed with how well-made these headphones are.

Fitting & Comfort

The Mpow Seashell headphones fit great. At first, I thought I might be constantly refitting them during my activities, but then I adjusted the stabilizers in a non-obvious way (at least non-obvious to me). I rotated them toward the back for my ear instead of pointing upward. Once I did that, these headphones stayed in place no matter what. Awesome! So I encourage you to experiment with the cushions and stabilizers. For me, the results were remarkable. The Mpow Seashells are pretty darn comfortable, overall. They’re feather-light and a pleasure to wear during long activities.

Pairing

These headphones pair fast! When I turn them on, they immediately connect to my iPhone 6s. Initial pairing as a cinch. Have the headphones off, put them on, press the multifunction button for about 5 seconds, the audio prompt will indicate that it’s pairing. I tapped the Mpow entry in my phone’s Bluetooth settings, and it was paired in seconds. And when I turn them back on, they’re immediately connected to my phone. I do this several times per day, so it’s convenient to never need to troubleshoot the Bluetooth connection. This may be related to the new Bluetooth 4.1 spec that these headphones support (and thankfully so does my phone). Establishing the Bluetooth connections is always as smooth as silk. It’s just really nice to have such reliably quick connections.

Sound

Talking about sound is always the most controversial part of any product review. It’s such as subjective aspect, but let me try to be as objective as possible. The Mpow Seashell headphones sound just fine, and they’re great for workouts and activities. While I could not get them to reproduce low-end/bass (even by tweaking my phone’s equalizer settings), the high-end/treble sounds terrific. Bottom line: They’re not going to reproduce sound like expensive, high-end products, and that’s okay. I appreciate those products as well as anyone else, and these Mpow Seashell headphones sound great for its product segment. And they sound very good at low and high volumes.

Using Them

I’ve used these while at my desk job, working out, and doing yardwork. At my job, the Mpow Seashells were comfortable and provided the convenience of being cordlessly connected to my phone. During my workouts, they were just as comfortable and out of the way the whole time. And I don’t recall needing to adjust them. Very nice! While doing yardwork, I noticed the headphone’s band would become lopsided while I was raking leaves. This led to tugging when I would switch to rake the other direction. The solution: Let the band hang in front of your neck. They’re lightweight, and it allowed me to rake trouble-free after that.
When I take the headphones out of my ears and let them rest on my shoulders, I notice that the microphone side of the headphones tended to slide forward. This isn’t a big deal but something to be aware of so you don’t lose them on a run.

The Mpow’s volume and multifunction buttons control my iPhone’s playback just like the headphones that came with it. Volume, skip back, skip forward, and pause are all available.

Phone call performance was terrific. During one call I switched from the phone to the Mpow Seashells, and the caller didn’t notice (I mentioned it later in the call). And the headphone controls work as you’d expect during calls, too.

You can invoke your phone’s voice controls by pressing the multifunction button for about 2 seconds and then releasing. I do this, and Siri is waiting for my command.

Conclusion

It’s easy to recommend the Mpow Seashell headphones. They’re terrific for activities or just lounging around. They sound great especially for this price segment. And the Bluetooth performance is the best I have ever experienced. These headphones go with me everywhere.

Your Privacy Versus The Government

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Data SecurityWith the proliferation of mobile devices around the world, data security on these devices is getting truly serious attention. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others are automatically encrypting data on these devices. This encryption is getting so strong that it has intelligence and law enforcement agencies very concerned. They’re worried they won’t be able to get into these devices during investigations.

What Is Encryption?

I won’t be getting too technical, but here is the concept: The data on your mobile phone gets randomly scrambled based on a complex key. That key allows your phone’s operating system (Android, iOS, Windows Mobile) to descramble and use the data. If you legitimately access the phone with a passcode or biometric check (like fingerprint reader), then you can access data on the phone. If you don’t have the passcode, your truly locked out. Even if you disassemble the phone and remove the storage element, all you’ll be able to see is jumbled, meaningless numbers, letters, and symbols. Without the encryption key, it could take a supercomputer thousands of years to discover the key that decrypts the data.

Governments Want a Back Door

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies want a special key to a “back door” to access data on phones. Sounds reasonable, but there are ramifications. If there’s a known back door, then malicious hackers have a target. These people will find it. That’s what they do. Also there’s the obvious government intrusion potential.

It’s Not A Good Idea

For the greater good, a government back door just can’t be a good idea. While it would make investigations much easier, the potential for abuse and exploitation is just too great. It’s not whether abuse will occur but when. When pressed, I think most investigators will admit that other tactics will discover the evidence they need. And there’s always the possibility a suspect can be convinced to surrender a passcode to access a mobile device’s data.

If a universal back door exists and is exploited, it puts a huge number of people at extreme risk for identity theft and more. A virtual skeleton key to access any device is so profoundly dangerous to the well being of so many people, it’s ludicrous to even consider.

Anyone who argues otherwise is shortsighted or untrustworthy.

Learn more: Daily Dot9to5mac

Apple Music’s Biggest Problem

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iCloud Music Library Raining on Apple Music

Apple Music has emerged as my favorite music streaming service … but it ain’t perfect. And the Achilles heel is iCloud Music Library.

iCloud Music Library is Seriously Flawed

I use playlists, and I have several filled with tunes that are not in my personal music collection. To enjoy this feature, I must have iCloud Music Library enabled. And for the most part, that’s fine. Until I want to listen to one of my own more obscure tracks.

In theory, iCloud Music Library will scan my collection and make all the matching tunes in Apple’s library available to me. If it can’t find a match a tune, then it uploads my own tune to make it available to me.

Big surprise! It doesn’t usually work.

Example 1: I have a track of the Olympic fanfare followed by Summon the Heroes. So the matching song in Apple’s cloud doesn’t include the Olympic fanfare (selfish Olympic rights holders?). So that is less than optimal.

Example 2 (but related to 1): I cannot just drag and drop my Olympic fanfare/Summon the Heroes track to my iPhone. That’s right! I can’t just attach it my my PC and use iTunes to copy over my preferred track (or any other track for that matter). I’m assuming Apple can’t fathom a world where any of their “solutions” would ever fall short of customer expectations. Perhaps, I’m expecting it wrong??

My Workaround

Okay, this scenario doesn’t really impact me very often, and I hate workarounds. But we live in a techie world, so workarounds are part of our worlds.

Settings Music

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings/Music.
  2. Tap the toggle to turn off iCloud Music Library.
  3. Confirm that you wish to turn off that feature.
  4. Connect the iPhone to your computer and use iTunes to add your desired music tracks.
  5. On your iPhone, return to Settings/Music to enable iCloud Music Library.
  6. Confirm that you wish to Merge the media resources on your iPhone.

Hope this helps!

Amazon Tries to Improve Work Conditions, and You Can, Too

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Amazon Misery

Living smart with your tech begins with making your living. Choosing where and how you work is critical to a balanced life. This topic has been gnawing at me for a long time, and this seems like an appropriate time to post it.

Last summer, the New York Times reported on some unflattering work conditions at Amazon. Punitive performance reviews for employees who missed work due to serious health issues or tending to grave family matters were just a couple of the cited examples. To be fair, Amazon is far from the only organization with such a corporate culture.

But Bloomberg recently reported that Amazon is working on it. And in a fairly innovative way. The company is soliciting employee feedback on a daily basis, aggregating the responses, and reporting on perceptions. This sort of daily barometer should help managers understand the atmosphere they are fostering, compare it to stated goals, and make adjustments as needed.

Many of us find ourselves in work environments that are less than optimal. If you’re miserable, you need to understand what made the environment the way it is and then realize your options.

Your Drive

Professional Life

You probably want to do good work, be recognized for it in meaningful ways, and be provided opportunities to advance and receive more take-home pay. These desires drive us and encourage us to get up and go to work each day.

Your Bosses

The person to whom you report used to have these basic desires, but now he or she has additional responsibilities. In many places, bosses are expected to manage you (not just your work) to meet organizational goals. Some of those goals aren’t supposed to be shared with you, so your boss walks a fine line sometimes. Your boss is expected to make things happen on the front lines that conform to those organizational goals … and every now and then a goal might actually compete with others.

Their Bosses

Your boss’s bosses answer to a wider group of organizational stakeholders: Executives, board members, shareholders, etc. They truly earn their pay at this level because they likely never stop working. Evenings and weekends chained to their work-issued smartphones aware of each and every incoming email message. The organizational goals can be difficult to manage. Some goals are fleeting and some are long-term. All are probably communicated as “critical”.

The Result

The scatter-brained response to answering to disjointed demands can result in a organization run by fear of not meeting all these overwhelming goals. And this fear trickles down to you.

The Unexpected: You’re Human

For your direct boss, this is all difficult to manage. He or she needs all available resources to meet objectives. You are one of those resources. When you’re not available, your boss might consider you the problem.

You’re human, and sooner or later you’re going to have demands outside of work. If you’re out of the office a day or two here and there, that’s manageable. When you have a serious illness or condition that takes you out of commission for weeks, that’s not manageable. And corporate fear could result in your manager perceiving you as a liability.

Your boss and your boss’s bosses aren’t evil. They don’t hate you, per se, when you can’t perform as expected. They fear how their bosses will react when objectives aren’t met.

This fear can impact you in surprising ways. Like when your boss tells you that your cancer is affecting your work.

The Solution: Examine What’s Important Before You Make a Change

When you’re in this kind of environment, you can seek to work somewhere else. Also, you should really examine how you measure your success. Do you want to make yourself comfortable? Or do you want to keep up with the Joneses? Either answer is acceptable as long as it’s honest.

Personally, I used to want a large custom home, all the latest gadgets, and a nice automobile. These things are high-cost items. But I’ve learned there is a high cost of earning a high living. No family time. No uninterrupted time off. Living to juggle the next email message … and the one after that. Some people can manage this lifestyle in stride, so their cost of earning that living might be acceptable. For others, this lifestyle is miserable.

If having time for yourself and family are also important, you’ll have to decide where your balance is for you and for them. Perhaps, a track home or apartment is comfortable. Perhaps a Chevy is as good as a Cadillac. Perhaps the 2-year-old smartphone and 3-year-old laptop still work well. And quality downtime with your family and friends can be realized.

I’m not going to expand into philosophical or religious aspects that might influence your decisions. All of that is up to you.

I’m also not going to discuss at length the whole notion of finding work you like. But there is something to the old saying “find work you like, and never work another day”. That’s cute, but there’s always a reason they call it “work” and not “fun”.

Personal Life

But there are jobs out there that allow you to balance your professional and personal life. Organizations that actually support you if you need to tend to health and family matters. But jobs like these might not make you rich.

But in other ways, these jobs might make you richer.

Review: Anker ToughShell for iPhone 6s Plus

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iPhone in ToughShell - Front and Back

Disclosure

Anker provided their ToughShell for iPhone 6s Plus without cost in return for an unbiased review, and I promise that is what follows here.

Packaging

Anker’s product packaging continues to be as thoughtful as anything Apple can design. Opening the ToughShell package was pleasant and looked classy.

Anker ToughShell Packaging - Closed and Open

Look

The case looks rich and professional. The design appeals to my own preference of solid, well-built understatement. Even the Anker emblem is embossed in a classy-yet-inconspicuous way.

Build quality

The materials used are of very good quality. It looks good and feels just as good. No mushy feeling air gaps under the shell. I don’t think this aspect of the case could be any better.

Feel

Lightweight and smooth, which is good for easily gliding in and out of pockets and purses. It’s easy enough to hold while using, but some might prefer a less slippery feel. This is a subjective preference, of course, but buyers might want to be aware of this.

Protection

The back and sides are well protected. The corners feature built-in shock absorbing bumpers that should offer adequate protection from a usual drop. The front offers a raised edge that will most likely protect your phone from a drop onto a flat surface. The barely there design for the front bezel helps the iPhone maintain its aesthetics. Some people (like me) might want that front protection to be a tad deeper, but it probably protects the phone just fine. This design makes it easier to swipe in from the edges to take advantage of iOS features. Deeper bezels can get in the way.

Fit

The ToughShell fits the iPhone 6s Plus like a glove, and installing it on the phone was a breeze. The case holds the phone just about perfectly and with confidence. A drop will not dislodge the phone from this case.

Use: Access to buttons

The volume and sleep/power buttons are covered by the case, but pressing any of them is simply effortless. The button covers are designed to be flush with the case. This is great for aesthetics, but it’s not so easy to locate the buttons by feel. I imagine this would become easier over time as you get used to the case.

Use: Access to ports/mute toggle

Accessing the mute toggle, headphones jack, and lightning port are very easy. While they are not covered by the case, they are recessed for protection.

Here is the only real criticism I can find for the ToughShell case: Anker’s own lightning cables will not fit into the opening for the lightning port. I tried Anker’s 3ft, 6ft, and 3ft braided lightning cables, and none will fit. If you pull firmly up on the front lower lip of the case, you can manage to connect Anker’s cable. But this is an awkward chore that requires one more hand than most people have. Meanwhile, Apple’s OEM lightning cables fit perfectly. Go figure.

Anker-brand Lightning Cables Do Not Fit in the Case, but Apple Cables Work Fine.

Conclusion

I can easily recommend this case to any iPhone 6s Plus owner. If you’re looking for this level of protection, Anker’s ToughShell appears to offer great protection and professional looks for a terrific price point for an excellent overall value.

Siri: Apple Music’s Biggest Advantage

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Apple Music

Having millions of songs available for your streaming pleasure is not a new concept. Spotify, rdio, and even Xbox Music Pass have offered this to subscribers for a long time. But this can be a double edge sword, especially when enjoying music on your mobile device.

I’ve used Spotify while driving. There have been times when I wanted to listen to a certain song or artist while in rush hour traffic, but I just cannot safely tap and type to search for what I want. So I don’t. Spotify is not allowed to integrate with Apple’s Siri, and the app itself does not have a voice command feature. And using voice dictation is still a clunky, distracting experience.

However, with Apple Music on my iPhone, I would be able to just ask Siri to play that song or artist. Very nice. And much safer for commuters around me, too.

Side Note: For what it’s worth, I think Apple Music’s second best advantage is the Family subscription offering. At $14.99 (in the United States) for six members, this is a tremendous value relative to subscription offerings from competing services.

Here is CNET’s helpful video with tips for Siri and Apple Music:

Fix iTunes When It Doesn’t Recognize Your iOS Devices

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iTunes

[UPDATE: This article was first published Feb 1, 2014. I republished it for today, July 2, 2015, because it has proven very helpful to me lately. I am testing Windows 10. During the last few builds, my iPhone has not been recognized by Windows or iTunes. Going through this quick driver re-installation has saved me a lot of time compared to uninstalling/re-installing Apple’s iTunes and related software. Perhaps it will help others, too.]

If iTunes on Windows will not see your iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch), you may be thinking that uninstalling and reinstalling iTunes will fix the problem. Well, it probably won’t. You might think that uninstalling and reinstalling all Apple applications could do the trick. Well, this will probably work, but will take a lot of time.

Here’s your quick(er) fix.

  1. Open Device Manager.
    • In Windows 8, go to the Desktop and right-click in the very lower left of the screen. Click Device Manager
    • In Windows 7, click the Start orb and type “Device Manager” and press the Enter key.
  2. In Device Manager, find Portable Devices.
  3. Click the + or the arrow beside Portable Devices to view those devices.
  4. Right-click the first Apple device and click Update Driver Software…
  5. In the dialog box, choose to browse to a location on your computer.
  6. Browse to this folder path (or type it in directly if you wish): C:\Program Files\Common Files\Apple\Mobile Device Support\Drivers
  7. Click Next.
  8. It should confirm that you’ve just installed the latest driver.
  9. Repeat the Steps 4 through 7 for each of your remaining iOS devices.

If it says you have the latest driver already, then you’ll probably need to uninstall and reinstall all Apple software of your computer. Uninstall these in this order.

  1. iTunes
  2. Apple Software Update
  3. Apple Mobile Device Support [This one might refuse to uninstall. If so continue with the remaining apps.]
  4. Bonjour
  5. Apple Application Support

Now, reinstall iTunes. Good luck!