Tech Savvy: A Cornucopia of Information | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Tech Savvy: A Cornucopia of Information

Posted: February 8, 2013 - 9:45pm

Hi there, Tech Savvy Fans! This week we’ve got a bunch of different things that I wanted to touch on and for the most part we didn’t really have a set theme. My thanks to all our readers out there. I appreciate hearing from you and the questions that you’ve sent in. I hope that my advice gives you some ideas.

A couple updates

I’ve said before that I’m a huge fan of Slacker Online Radio and they just keep getting better! Recently Slacker has created two new ways that you can find artists you like — based on concert events and rising stars that you haven’t heard of yet. The best part about this is they are offering these playlists options to all Slacker users, not just their paid subscriptions.

Their event-based selection is really cool. Remember the last concert that you went to? It probably consisted of a couple opening acts and then the main headliner. If you were really lucky the event was double- or triple-billed and you got a concert that you wouldn’t soon forget. After the event you maybe pulled individual songs off your collection and put them on a mix CD, or more recently shuffled it around on your iPod. This allowed you to recreate the concert virtually. The converse is that sometimes you do that before you go to the concert, to get a feel for what it’s going to be like. Well, rejoice music lovers — Slacker’s made that easy for you. They have compiled a list of recent and upcoming music festivals that create a playlist that features music from the participants of that festival! Austin City Limits, Coachella, Lollapalooza and the list goes on and on. I tried both out and it had all the great features that I’ve come to expect from Slacker — great audio quality, good mix of artists and songs and it streamed perfectly.

Are you all about the latest and greatest? Well, Slacker has you covered there too. In addition to the festival collection, they also released an Artists To Watch station. In this are the up and comers across all genres featuring artists that you more than likely have not caught up with yet. Some of the artists featured are: HAIM, Ab-Soul, CHUVRCHES and more. Even I’ll admit that they are unfamiliar to me but that just makes the station all the more appealing. They’ve done a great job sourcing a playlist full of artists that they are predicting will make it big in 2013. Check it out, and when they make the big time you’ll be able to say you heard them first!

PHIL SEIBEL, Digital Manager, may be reached at 855-5862 or phil.seibel@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pseibel(@pseibel).

Thanks again readers for sending in your questions. I have a couple that I’d like to answer for you this week. They cover a nice range of some really current topics.

Starting a website

n Question: I have a couple websites I’ve made using software for non-developers, having someone design it for me was more than I could justify spending. For the most part they work, but I want to be able to personalize them further and I’m not sure I can do that on my own. I’m running into difficulty as most companies I’ve approached don’t use the same software I have and I want to be able to learn a little more of how this all works on my own too. Any ideas?

n Answer: Good question — it’s actually the second one I’ve gotten this week on the same subject. I remember when
I learned how to create a basic web page — it was all written
line for line in HTML in a text editor then uploaded along with images and then everything had to be mapped out. If one thing was out of place, often it had a ripple effect across the entire page! Things have come a long way in even the past year and there are now some different options that you can check out that will help you learn these skills yourself, as well as make the process for creating a webpage a little easier. That being said, there are some great local companies that really know their stuff. If you hit a brick wall as you’re putting things together, in the end it may be more efficient to consider calling them.

Let’s start with some of the additional learning. You mentioned that you had originally created your own site, so I will assume that you understand some of the basics. That being said, there are always more ways you can make your coding efficient or learn time saving techniques like CSS or things like that. One source that I’ve used in the past is the w3 Schools website (www.w3schools.com) which has an incredible library of information that you can look through. One aspect that I really like about the way they have their information is that you can learn things in courses, i.e. how to use CSS or you can also search by topic like how to embed a video. They are a great source to learn new add-ons, or improve what you’ve already got going. They also have a place where you can “test” what you’ve learned in an interactive HTML box where you can manipulate the code and see the effect it has.

OK, but what if you want to start from scratch? This is where I had my other question asked — they have sites, but they don’t have the ability to edit them or they want to just start over. There is a site called Wix (www.wix.com) that I’ve used in the past, and they have some really awesome features. Basically Wix is a DIY website building site that you can either start with nothing but a blank page or you can start with one of their templates. Initially they only offered Flash sites, which was a problem for iOS users, but in the last few months they have added HTML5 templates, which are iOS compatible.

One final piece of advice is to check out YouTube and Google. A lot of times the elements you want to add or fix are also things others have had difficulty with and this is a way you can find a quick tutorial for help. Keep in mind that as great as YouTube is, for every one great video there are probably five or six that are worthless.

Can opposites attract for
staying in touch?

n Question: Hey, Dr. Phil, I’d appreciate your advice on the best apps or options on video calling. Our son, who is in the Navy, is an “I” guy… iPhone, Mac Air, etc.; however, we are PC/Android users.

What can you recommend that would work across both OS’s?

n Answer: Dr. Phil, eh? I suppose I shouldn’t give a recommendation so much as a prescription? Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion ... (canned audience groan).

First off, thank you to your son, serving in the Armed Forces is not a light undertaking and I applaud him for making that commitment.

That does lead in to the obvious though, doesn’t it? Now that you’re in different locations, what is the easiest way to stay in touch? Let’s maybe set some guidelines that can help us determine what apps or services may be best.

n Compatibility: is it an issue of using iOS and Android?

n Wi-Fi or 3G/4G capable

n Quality of Call

To me, those seem like the most important factors to get out of the way, so let’s just go down the line.

Compatibility is certainly something you want to be aware of but for the most part all the major options will be cross compatible. Really, the only app that comes to mind that is completely tied to one OS is the iOS Facetime which only works on Apple devices. A more important question is if your device can properly handle the resources needed to run the app. Make sure that the app you decide to use runs smoothly on all the devices that you are planning on connecting. That being said, you certainly don’t have to pick one and be stuck with it, so try out all the options you want to.

Wi-Fi or Data Connection? This is a biggie — can you use the chat over wi-fi only? Or can you use it on a cellular network like 3G or 4G? It used to be that many of the apps used on mobile devices like smartphones or tablets could only use video chat over wi-fi. It was by design as wi-fi offered a faster, more consistent, connection and would therefore be less taxing on your device and battery. The other benefit is that using wi-fi didn’t use up your data package either. Although, if you have an unlimited data plan or you don’t have wi-fi sometimes that’s your only option and more and more apps are allowing use over a cellular data connection.

Quality of the call may be influenced by the data connection or wi-fi. But let’s be honest, what good is using the app if you can’t understand what the other person is saying or if the picture is so grainy that you would be better off calling them. That’s something to take into consideration.

So, now that we’ve got our expectations let’s look at the apps. We’ll explore some of the more popular ones although it should be noted that there are new video chat and conferencing apps that pop up nearly every single day and I would definitely recommend that you check out more than one and pick the one that best suits your needs.

Skype was, for years, the standard in video chat and conference. They are available online with web, on mobile for Android and iOS and they got the ball rolling on what everyone else came to expect from video chat. I’ve used it from PC before and the service was just what I expected. It was consistent and it worked but as I’ve gotten more and more into the world of video chat I want to look at options that are available as mobile. Skype did put together a nice app and it functions well and if it’s something you’ve started using, it is a pretty solid program to use.

Google Hangouts are now my preference for video chat. Not because it’s functionally better than Skype — quite honestly they will both accomplish the means — but mainly because I use Google so much already. They also have a mobile app that I like using much more; it feels more integrated for my mobile device, my iPad especially. And it has no problem connecting to other users. If you’re on the PC side you also have add ins that you can call up during your conversation, like birthday cake images, or mustaches, etc. In other words, it’s just a lot of fun.

At the end of the day, I have ended up using Google Hangouts and I would recommend that any day. I would suggest checking out Skype but also keep your ear to the ground for some new ones coming up. There is a service called Ten Hands that I feel has a lot of promise, they are still more of a start up, but they will be one to watch.

Good luck finding a video service that works for you, with all these set ups my mantra is keep it simple and then you’ll have less stuff that can break.

Ihave been reading different articles about the rejoicing that the BlackBerry (Formerly RIM) users have been doing with the launch of BB10, the latest offering from BlackBerry that they are hoping will propel them back into the smartphone market. I’m not impressed. That being said, I am not nor have I ever been a BlackBerry user and while I am sure they deserve the reputation they had in their heyday, I think smartphones have evolved past anything they are doing now. For all intents and purposes, they have repackaged what Android and iOS users have been experiencing for years into the traditional BB handset and feel. Well, whoop-de-doo, they should have been the first to do that rather than get beaten out of the game before they knew what hit them. Consequently they are relying on “the top-notch BB physical keyboard that everyone knows and loves” and their security for their exchange servers. Well, I hate to break it to them but the unique factor of having a physical keyboard is not going to offer them salvation and security is a bit of a moot point too. Studies have shown that the majority, up to 97 percent, of all cyber attacks are initiated through social attacks where a user downloads an infected file or gets tricked into giving out a password to help free a deposed Nigerian prince. Very few of these attacks are initiated by the hacker attempting to breach the security of the user’s network. In my opinion, don’t count on BB to make a comeback. Oh, and all you Apple fans out there take note — to me the story of BB should be a warning bell to the complacency that Apple has enjoyed while millions are slowly realizing that the iPhone isn’t the best option out there any more.

I’ll have reviews of a Samsung Note 2 and Sony Smart watch from Verizon Wireless. They were kind enough to let me test out some of the new equipment!

We will also be taking a look at two Bluetooth speaker options on loan from Sprint Wireless. I’m really impressed so far, as each model has something to offer for different people. I’ve got my favorite, and you’ll get the full review in the coming weeks.