Software



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ABC Blocks by Rohan Baumann

A is for Apple. B is for Ball. C is for Car.

Yawn.

We learn these simple phonetic tools early in life. The idea is the first letter helps a developing brain associate the sound with the noun; person, place or thing. Adding to the learning a picture or drawing helps further reinforce the letter shape to the sound to the picture. It is typical to not use verbs in most cases because they are harder to visualize.

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Jackson 5 – ABC – Click to Play

Double Yawn.

“Did I  just walk back into Early Childhood Development? I thought Techlife writes about, well, Tech.” Ahh, young grasshopper this is a  good time to remind you of our mission, Techlife, where the crossroads of Technology and Life intersect.”  

“Well if you don’t get to the point soon I am going elsewhere.”

Window Blue Screen of Death

 Windows Blue Screen of Death

For years computers have had a way to speed up the way you work. Since the early days there always were a series of key combinations allowing users to perform many tasks and navigate their computer even without a mouse. The earliest two I used were CTRL+ALT+DEL and CONTROL + Open Apple + RESET.

Remember those? The first one was used for the PC and the second used on early Apple machines (pre-Mac) to reboot them. How many people remember jamming those three down hard when the computer got you upset? C’mon raise your hand. It was the ultimate power, forcing the computer to your whim. Reboot now! I command you.

Another fond memory was the first time you showed a friend or family member how to reboot the computer and them hitting each key in order and complaining because nothing happened. The magic was the combination, pressing all the keys simultaneously. Presto!

Reading a recent article about keystroke shortcuts, I thought how few of the more than 200 combinations I actually used. The problem is quantity; with so many options being able to use them regularly enough to remember them all is arduous. But then — I started to realize I am a power user, and I bet you are too.

Cat on a Keyboard by Anelis

Power User in Action

Let’s go over some basic useful time saving keystrokes combinations everyone should be using to help speed along their work. In the spirit of debate I have ranked them in order of importance.

KEY: Windows = underlined / Mac = italics / Windows & Mac = underlined italics

  1. TAB – CTRL+TAB/ALT+TAB/CMD+TAB – In Windows/Mac the TAB key combo is powerful. It does a ton to speed up access.
    1. ALT+TAB/CMD+TAB in the operating system cycles through open windows.
    2. In a tabbed browser or program, CTRL+TAB /CMD+TAB cycles through tabs.
    3. In online forms, spreadsheets and more TAB  advances to the next field.
  2. F –  Find everything. Search on a single web page, document, pdf, spreadsheet. Hit CTRL+F/CMD+F  if you like search already. You will love what you find.
  3. C, V and sometimes X – Cut, Copy and Paste are built for speed. Mostly Copy CTRL+C/CMD+C and Paste CTRL+V/CMD+V in my case. These are used many times a day. Big time saver.
  4. A – Before you copy, cut, bold, italic or underline you need to select the text. If you need it All, then CTRL+A/CMD+A is the fastest command of the bunch. Boom, you’re done!
  5. B, I, U – Style is everything. This entire column has been styled with Bold, Italic and Underline. CTRL+B/CMD+B for Bold and CTRL+I/CMD+I for Italics are used quite a lot in writing. CTRL+U/CMD+U is used to Underline text.

Is there a command you use for a repetitive task? Every pull down and right click menu offers up the short cut keys for each command, sometimes the letter is underlined as well. Got a quick key combination you can’t live without or disagree with the order of these short cut key combinations? Please CTRL+V/CMD+V them here.


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Pixels by Martin Walls

I’m lazy. There I said it. Of course when I say, I’m lazy. I mean of course you’re lazy. Face it. You are.  I bet you are lazy enough you won’t even finish this paragraph.

Ha-ha! I tricked you into that one. Don’t be mad I promise the rest of the way, no tricks.

Let’s face it. We’re both lazy. More than ten years ago the Techlife office needed to store files much as we do today. We researched options and landed on a small server running a custom version of Linux and supporting RAID 1 (two hard drives that mirror each other, one dies, replace it and keep working.) Our office would diligently back-up the entire system every month taking the back-up hard drive off -site for safe keeping.

Pug Server

Three loyal readers of Techlife would often comment it was a great system for the time. But we began to see breakdowns in our process. First email back-up broke and wasn’t fixed. I got lazy. Then offsite back-ups stopped after a new PC didn’t get set-up with the backup software. I got lazy. Then the power supply in the file server died. I got scared, but was still lazy. But I did get the power supply replaced and then I got serious.

The three loyal readers each in their own way shared the same story. Hard drives are mechanical. They don’t last forever. I got more worried, but a little motivated. I did research and more research. I talked to the three readers about their areas of expertise. One is a business data back-up expert, one is a computer engineer and the third is a small business IT specialist. Each talked about RAID options (multiple hard drives setup to store data while reducing risk in case of drive failure.) They also talked about cloud storage for remote off site storage and about local back-ups as well.

With their help I setup Lazy Backup. It uses a variety of technologies but is flexible enough to allow you to mix and match your own Lazy Backup solution. Bottom line, protect your files before it is too late.

Here’s my custom Lazy Backup recipe:

1 x Windows machine to be the network file server (can be an older machine)

1 x 1 TB WD Blue Hard Drive – $60 (my Windows machine can handle more drives as  needed)

2 x 500 GB USB External Hard Drives – $55 (I had these already and just plugged them in)

1 x Install of TightVNC (allows remote log into the machine from another computer on the network)

1 x Install of Dropbox (allows easy sync of files if needed)

1 x Install of a backup software (I use Seagate’s which came with my external drives)

1 x Subscription to Backblaze (Used for off-site cloud storage, unlimited storage, less than $4/month)

Directions: Installed TightVNC, DropBox and the Seagate back-up software to the Windows machine. Manually installed the large hard drive and plugged in the two USB external drives  into the Windows machine.  Then copied all the files from all computers on the network to the new file server and set-up sharing so that each computer has network access to their files. After this I set-up  the Seagate back-up software and scheduled nightly at 10pm half the large hard drive to back up to one USB drive and half to the other USB drive, providing on-site local back-up.  Then installed Backblaze to the Windows machine and it backs up everything, including the Windows machine file server and the two USB hard drive local back-ups all to the cloud.

The three loyal readers all agree that RAID is nice but expensive and not needed for me. This solution has four copies of the data. One main, one local backup and then remote backup of each of the locals. After the initial setup, I do nothing and all data is backed up. Everything is automated. Just set and forget. It’s the perfect back-up for lazy people.  How lazy are you? What’s your solution?


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Tic Tactics Game Play

Every kid’s menu at every restaurant that provides them always includes a few games of Tic-Tac-Toe. It’s a staple. It’s simple. And it’s why you are about to be addicted to an updated classic game. Techlife has been heads down testing Tic Tactics by Hidden Variable Studios to ensure our readers would fall in love. Ok, who are we kidding we have been playing games all in the name of fun.

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Tic Tactics takes the game we all know and adds just enough complexity that adults and kids alike can play and discover what’s old is new again. Tic Tactics is a multi-player, free game for both Android and iOS. The game starts with what looks like a big Tic-Tac-Toe board, a 3×3 grid. Looking closer each square of the board is subdivided again into another 3×3 Tic-Tac-Toe board, providing a total of nine little games of Tic-Tac-Toe that make up the big board. The goal is simple, get three in a row in any direction of the big board to win.

How To Play Tic Tactics

Each player at the start of the game places nine of their X’s or O’s spread among the board. Tic Tactics won’t allow a user to complete a line in this initial setup phase, by taking away squares as you place each of your symbols. After both players have placed their initial moves, X goes first.

Each player then alternates playing a piece. The strategy is that each move impacts the full big board. When you place a piece the location corresponds to the placement of the next piece by your opponent. Place a piece in any of the  little boards’ upper right corners and the next move made by your opponent will be in the upper right corner little board.

Once a user does play three in a row on any little board they own that square on the big board. Getting three in a row on the big board wins you the game.

Tic Tactics You Won

Tic Tactics Strategy

My first time playing I had some questions and Techlife’s strategy section should help new users as well as experienced players. What happens if a little board has a “cat’s game” or a draw? If the last piece of a little board is played (9 in total) and the board is a draw, both players get to claim that board as a wildcard toward the goal of three in a row on the big board. This can include winning someone the big board.

Just because a little board is claimed, the empty squares on the little board are still in play, but they hurt you. A lot. Avoid getting into a situation where your opponent keeps forcing you to play in a little board that has already been won.

Each little board has one square that when played makes the next play on that same little board. Use these squares wisely, both on offense and on defense.

Giving up a little board isnt’ a bad thing. Be willing to sacrifice a little board.

When you start Tic Tactics you will notice your rating is 1500. This is because the game uses the Elo rating system. This system, invented by Arpad Elo allows the Tic Tactics server to try and set up fair matches between random players. Tic Tactics users can click on the person they are playing against to get a full game stats biography.

Keep your battery charged as you won’t want to put this game down.

Tic Tactics User Profile


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“Is that really the best headline to use?” said my editor.

“It’s not mine,” I replied. “It is courtesy of the students of Thomas Dubick, Founder of Young Engineers of Today, LEGO Educator and engineering teacher at Charlotte Latin School.”

“I’m guessing this Techlife isn’t about pie recipes?”

“It’s the title of a TEDx talk presented by a group of Tom’s amazing 13 year-old female students. Tom read Techlife’s ‘Build It From Scratch‘ and wrote to tell me more about how he got his students immersed in learning using $35 computers known as…wait for it…Raspberry Pi.”

“Does it come à la mode?”

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Tom and Techlife sat down to discuss his work, the future, and of course a little science fiction.

Techlife: Where did your passion for technology come from?

Tom Dubick:  I have always been an early adopter of technology.  Growing up on a farm I learned to work with my hands, and I was fascinated with mechanics, from planes to cars to motorcycles.  In college my late-wife and I ate popcorn to save money so we could by our first computer, an early IBM PC.  Now I am teaching students locally and across the US programming, microcontrollers, microcomputers, and biotechnology.

TL: Where did your passion for teaching come from?

TD: Starting in the fourth grade, I was always told I should be a teacher, so of course I completely rejected the notion.  I started working as an industrial chemist and then became a programmer.  During the course of my job, I began training teachers, and they in turn recruited me to become a teacher.  I have never looked backed.

Trading aprons for circuit boards, these young engineers are excited to work with the Raspberry Pi.

Trading aprons for circuit boards, these young engineers are excited to work with the Raspberry Pi.

TL: What’s your personal history with technology? Share some firsts.

TD: In the early eighties we developed software to help semi-literate adults learn to become better readers. It was a multimedia project that used CDs.

I started using LEGOs in the classroom in the late eighties. I offered summer camps to help pay for the materials. I believe I am one of the first folks to offer LEGO camps.

Around this time, I began offering engineering, my version of an applied math and science class, that focused on inquiry and project based learning to solve engineering problems. Over the past 20 some years, the class has grown and expanded, and now in addition to teaching middle and high school students at my school, I teach enrichment “labinars” for local students and virtual classes for students across the country.

In 2002, the multi-player game Neverwinter Nights was released. It was quite popular and included a game engine that was similar to C++. My students learned to program by recreating a scene from Sword In The Stone, a book they were reading in English at the time.

Beginning in 2009, we developed a curriculum called Fly To Learn that used X-Plane, a flight simulation software, to teach the engineering method by designing, building, and flying their own virtual airplanes. The curriculum is used throughout the country. Today the GAMA (General Aviation Manufacturer Association) uses Fly To Learn as part of a contest where the student winners build an actual small passenger airplane.

The Raspberry Pi is now a hugely popular, very affordable microcomputer the size of a credit card that people can use to explore software and hardware engineering. In 2012 my students were the first in the US to use the Pi in any classroom, across all levels.

TL: Where do you see technology education in 3 years? 10 years?

TD: 3 years – I see more engineering and programming taught in classrooms across the US. This is in part because of Common Core; it is also due to the popularity of robotics and the recognition that a four-year degree does not necessarily mean a job.

10 years – I believe we will need to re-imagine vocational education in the college prep world. Most schools in the US prepare kids for college. They are prep schools. At one time every student took vocational education classes because building or baking is an act of creation. Through these activities, students learn invaluable skills they could use outside the classroom. We assumed wrongly that if you were going to college you did not need these skills, and so vocational education classes fell out of favor and schools dropped these programs.

Imagine vocational education classes today? These might include programming, engineering and entrepreneurism. Everyone can benefit from these classes and there are tremendous work-force opportunities for students who have these skills.

TL: When did you begin addressing the need for young women to be a part of the program?

TD: From the very start.

My late wife was an engineer and many of my friends were engineers. I remember how there were very few female engineers in college. Recently my daughter graduated with a degree in applied mathematics, and it was evident in her classes that there is still work to be done. Early on I noticed my middle school engineering classes were predominately male, and this was influencing girls to not sign up. To encourage young women to pursue STEM careers, I decided to offer single-sex classes. Boys and girls still learn the same lessons and do the exact same projects, but in separated environments that foster full participation.

Young female engineer works on her $35 computer, the Raspberry Pi

Young female engineer works on her $35 computer, the Raspberry Pi

TL: How do you tell others about the origin of the Raspberry Pi? Do you use the same explanation for your students?

TD: I tell students and others alike, that the British have a similar problem that we (USA) do; not enough young people are going into the computing fields.  The British remembered inexpensive computers they used as kids.  These computers allowed them to hack, create, and explore the world of computing, and were a big influence for some to enter the computing field.  The Brits created the Raspberry Pi so that today’s kids could explore computing and later pursue technical careers.

TL: How have lessons with the Raspberry Pi evolved?

TD: The original lessons focused on the Raspberry Pi and programming.  They quickly evolved to include the GPIO pins and embedded or physical computing.  Later, we began exploring Arduinos (open-source microcontrollers).  This has all led me to become involved in the maker communities.

TL: Have any of your past or current students surprised you with Scratch or Raspberry Pi?

TD: I am constantly being surprised by what is being created by my students and others using Scratch or Raspberry Pi. Go on the Scratch website and see the quality of the some of games being created there by students. You cannot go a day without seeing some amazing hack of the Raspberry Pi. I am particularly amazed that my young students are learning to program microcontrollers and they are not even teenagers. What will they make in the future?

TL: How did the opportunity to speak at a TED event come about for you and your students?

TD: I have been helping other local schools implement engineering programs and another educator nominated me for a local TED talk.  I was asked to come back and speak again, but this time I really wanted my students to share what they were doing in class, so they put together and presented the How Girls Should Serve A Raspberry Pi talk.

TL: What was the best thing to come from the TED event?

TD: Meeting other like-minded parents and educators both at the event and online.

TL: Have any of your students surprised you with where their journey has taken them?

TD: It is still too early to tell, but several of the young ladies from the TED talk now plan to pursue technical careers.  They are actively taking the appropriate classes and so I am very excited for them.

TL: What are some resources for students, parents and educators that you suggest for learning about programming, engineering or Raspberry Pi?

TD:

TL: Star Trek or Star Wars and why?

TD: Blade Runner! Blade Runner seems almost prophetic today; climate change, the emergence of robots and loneliness in the connected age. In Blade Runner technology created to assist to us is replacing us. While most folks are struggling, the technologists are all powerful. Blade Runner with its flying cars and amazing replicants, both tempts us and warns us about technology all at the same time.

Have you used a Raspberry Pi in a unique way? Have you brought technology from practical to classroom or reverse? Have you learned to code? Share with Techlife.


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Scratch Programming: Imagine. Program. Share.

“I love engineering and science toys for young women,” a long time reader wrote to Techlife recently. As a mom, she was concerned how most science toys are geared toward young boys. She was sharing with me an engineering product aimed at young girls she had found. Breaking a stereotype is something many teachers, parents and grandparents think about, but find a challenge. Techlife has always believed the best new inventors need to be encouraged at a young age to explore their world, find a problem, no matter the size and solve it.

A local school in my area instead of holding a science fair holds an invention fair. It challenges students to find creative ways to solve problems. They build models of their inventions, many of which actually work. Students then present their inventions to the community and during the explanation you can hear their passion. They explain the problem they are solving and how it all worked out. From Jello ice cubes to a backpack with a a built in microwave/refrigerator to Cloudwater a device to solve the world’s drought issues these inventors were not just creative, but focused and driven.

Since 2003 students of all ages have been using Scratch to build games, share stories and create animations. (Shhh, don’t tell the students but they are really learning the building blocks to computer programming.) Students love the ability to quickly construct their ideas using a simple to understand interface of blocks. They chain the events together to build animations, sound controls, decision trees and more. Scratch has a great step by step hands-on tutorial to get users quickly building their first project and most of all understand the logic needed for a machine to process a set of instructions. Scratch offers a site built just for educators and another built just for parents as the two largest influences in a young inventor’s life.

Started in MIT’s Media Lab and offered for free, schools at all levels are using Scratch to teach the principals of computer programming. Harvard offers Scratch lessons during an introductory computer class for example, while many elementary schools have integrated it into their curriculum. With a simple tagline of “Imagine, Program, Share” the idea that anyone can do this by learning from what others have done before them is a pillar of computer science classes at any age.

The name Scratch comes from the idea that music DJs remix albums and scratch together their creations. Users of the language are encouraged to do the same. The best part of the learning is the ability to see someone’s amazing creation and not just peek behind the curtain at how they did it, but save a copy and start tinkering with the work right away. Users can see exactly who created what remix of their work, plus favorite, comment and love a project all of which builds a community. As of  this writing (Oct 2013) there were more than 2 million registered users with nearly 4 million projects shared in over 150 different countries.

As the thought everyone can build something becomes more and more prevalent, it’s a single graph buried on the Scratch site that is most telling; age of users when they registered to use the site. Impressively as you can never stop learning nearly 200 people registered when they were 80 years old. Conversely more than 3,000 registered when they were just four years old. The bulk of the age range is 12-13 with nearly 400,000 creators signing up. It’s a promising sign to see. But more amazing is what everyone is building.  Be sure to share your first Scratch with Techlife. We are ready to be inspired by your creations.

 


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RAM by Dave from www.opticgroove.com.au

I made up the title. Yes the words are completely made up, as if you weren’t sure. The first is a play on words of technology and the second tech knowledge.  Today’s goal is to make you smarter, we aren’t off to a great start at this point, are we?

Techlife has always been a forum for you, the readers. I just pretend to know about the technology we discuss. But there is a topic we have never addressed here your “Go-to”.

Each of us has someone who we see as our “Go-to” This is the person who makes us tech knowledge-ier.  Our “Go-to” is someone who we rely on for technology — questions, decisions, hints, tips and troubleshooting. In most cases this isn’t our “Go-to’s” main role in our life. We just view them as more knowledgeable about technology. Oh how lucky they are to know us.

Raise your hand if you are laughing because your “Go-to” is your 4 year old grandson. It’s ok. Many “Go-to” roles are filled by someone younger. Of course that choice becomes a problem when it is time to upgrade your old tower PC and you aren’t sure if trusting the 4 year old with a decision such as “Should I add more RAM or a bigger hard drive?” (Tip: Always add more RAM if your machine can handle more.)

Some of you who laughed at the 4 year old grandson as someone’s “Go-to” were a bit smug. You are thinking I have the best “Go-to” they know everything. You know they do because even a simple question turns into a complex explanation. They use fancy math equations and acronyms you have never heard of before. So as great as their answers are, they end up needing to “explain it in language you’ll understand.” Result: You nod your aching head, and reach for an aspirin. (Seriously who takes aspirin for a headache anymore?)

You may even serve as a “Go-to” yourself. Laughing inside as you spew forth advice word for word from your 8 year old “Go-to” as your listener’s eyes glaze over in a combination of thanks and fear you secretly know all to well. You always hope they never ask that scary question which makes them question your tech knowledge and your “Go-to” status in their eyes.

5 Tech Tips for Everybody

Here’s where we make you smarter, run this by your “Go-to” and let us know if they agree.

  1. Don’t sweat new hardware. PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone more than four years old? Anything you buy will be faster and work better than what you have today.
  2. Buy last year’s model. Most people don’t need the latest top of the line hardware and will do just fine with last year’s model, saving while still buying good gear.
  3. Review actual needs. Examine your requirements” and see if there is software/website/app that does 60-70% of what you need at a fraction of the cost or even for free.
  4. Try before you buy. After using software/website/app for a bit of time. You’ll know when/ if it is worth supporting the company by upgrading.
  5. Tech shouldn’t complicate life. Technology should be used to speed up tasks and improve your work/life. If you aren’t finding that to be the case stop using it.

Next time before you scream and reach out to your “Go-to” yelling about how you are about to jump off the Tech Now Ledge. Take a breath. Your “Go-to” is a thankless job. They deserve more love.

And lastly remember to double check if the power cord is actually plugged in.


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Imagine gripping your handlebars tight, gunning the engine, shifting your weight while hanging on during a forward full flip of you and your motor bike all from the comfort and safety of your mobile.

bikerace

Turning back the clock to your earliest days with a Nintendo Entertainment System you may recall the classic Excitebike and exclaim, except for the flips you remember that game. Then long time fans of Techlife may recall the physics based builder Line Rider where you guide a rider and sled over a hand drawn course. It wasn’t a game as much as a chance to build your own track.

Then we have our faithful readers, you lovers of the mash-up bring us a motorbike-riding physics-based simple-line-track with user created levels and multi-player cross-platform experience. (Let’s let the rider race over the hyphens in that last sentence). How does it work? Addictivley well.

How to Play Bike Race

Visit your favorite app store and download Bike Race. Level 1 is a simple tutorial which explains the right side of the screen is “go” and the left side of the screen is “stop”. The game forgoes actual visible control elements but you shouldn’t need them. The game uses the accelerometer. Tilting left while on the ground pops the bike into a wheelie. Tilting left while in the air the rider and bike perform a backflip and tilting forward does a front flip.

You progress through each level as a time trial. Complete the level more quickly to earn the maximum three stars. Just after starting I got an invite from the loyal reader to play them in a multi-player match. Multi-player is a turn-based style game awarding you a win if you beat your opponent in head to head match of a single race. While you wait for them to race you can race other people or continue the single player racing.

Like Line Rider and the grand daddy Excitebike, Bike Race offers a track creator for those who want to build their own. Bike Race will take care of sharing them in the game and let others play your levels too. It gets addicting quickly so be careful that you have a few hours to kill before you try and build your masterpiece.

Thanks as always to the greatest readers for finding some real amazing things. We had quite a little struggle this month as reader suggestions came pouring in and made the job of curating just one a tough chore. Send those small ideas, fun things, and creativity to techlife at dkworldwide dot com.

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

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As The Byrds say:

So you want to be a rock and roll star?
Then listen now to what I say.
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time
And learn how to play.

Rock Stage by Lisa

Every musician starts somewhere, usually playing music with some friends. Next thing you know someone suggests you form a band with dreams of playing to stadiums or clubs full of fans. It is that last word, “fans” that makes you into a rock and roll star. While The Byrds teach you the music side, Techlife  has four simple tools for the self promotion side of the budding rock star in you.

It seems today that a new group pops out of nowhere and then before you know it even your mom is telling you about them. It starts because everyone who’s anyone gets their microphone, guitar, Facebook Fan Page and YouTube Channel. It almost seems silly for The Byrds to include the first two, but just as silly for Techlife to not include the last two. These two are the cornerstone of today’s self-promotion movement. Direct access to your fans on a Fan Page and great music shared via YouTube are the staples of a rock star. Fans get to see and hear you, both performing music and behind the scenes of the creative process. Welcome to the life, you are a budding rock star.

Your YouTube Channel is gaining some momentum, at least your mom checks it out. But it isn’t fast enough. What you need is more exposure and the best way is simply to let fans easily listen to your music. Bandcamp is a great service for helping musicians set up simple sites with songs, albums, album art, lyrics, liner notes all in digital format. It lets the artist keep full control over their music including even selling it. Though early on give it away to fans as they will share it with more people. Bandcamp like YouTube Channels and Facebook Fan Pages let you track your fans too, seeing stats on what they like and what they love. Bandcamp also plugs right into your Facebook Fan Page making it easy for fans to see new music from you.

All this exposure and the hottest club in town calls you to play Saturday night. Then you wake up with a little drool on the side of your face. A more likely route is your visiting local venues who have open mic nights or small bars or other places that encourage live music or might consider it. Talk to the manager, have them hear your music see your fanbase and if you are lucky get a chance on a Tuesday night. This is it, your first gig. Obviously sharing the gig is key. Sure Facebook Events lets you invite fans of your Fan Page, but a little bit more exposure using Songkick and their artist tool Tourbox allows you to seed your tour date (just one right now) to Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Foursquare, Spotify, and of course your Songkick artist page.

As a bonus tool, consider crowd sourcing your first studio album. This is how all the indie bands do it these days. They reach out to their fans and use a site like Indiegogo or Kickstarter to entice their fans to help share the cost of making the first album and give them great rewards for like good seats, sitting in a studio session and even guitar lessons. (Techlife has used Indiegogo to run a camaign and supported a few cool Kickstarter efforts.) It takes creativity and work but it is another way to connect with fans.

Having all these tools makes you look like a rock star. Now comes the easy parts; put out good music and a great show and the fans will follow.


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ISS  - International Space Station

“There are people up there? Real people? How did they get there? What do they eat?” and of course “How do they go to the bathroom?” These were the questions that came up the first night we went out to see the International Space Station (ISS).

Space is  a vast place that is hard to comprehend. You see stars but are told the light you are seeing is from years ago. Perplexing. Some stars we see today on Earth have not been around for millions of years. Head scratcher. Jupiter the largest planet in our solar system  is just a “bright star” as seen from Earth, but it really is more than 300 times the mass of Earth. Whoa.

Humans have long been fascinated by space travel. Children and adults often list astronaut as a career they would like to have when they grow up. One thing that brings the vastness of space a bit closer is to experience it.

Best Reader’s On The Planet

See what I did there? I said it because it is true. Techlife’s readers ask and inquire about many things. One reader loves the photos from NASA and sends amazing images every so often. A few months back the reader over some information about the ISS. I was busy and didn’t think much about it. But I bookmarked it for reading later. Turns out it was a chance to see the ISS from anywhere on Earth.

The International Space Station is third brightest object in space as seen from Earth after the sun and moon. The difference is that it isn’t found in a fixed area in the sky so the only way to see it is to know where and when to look.  NASA offers up “Spot the Station” a website for just that.

How do I see the ISS?

There are a few key facts to understanding the ISS and Spot the Station. First off the ISS orbits the Earth at an inclination of 51.6 degrees.  The ISS never travels past 51.6 degrees latitude north or south of the equator, so Techlife readers in Alaska won’t see it directly over-head.

To be notified you visit Spot the Station and sign up for either an email or text message notification which is based on the location you provide. It appears any country, state/region and city work across the globe. Then you wait.

The cryptic message delivered from Spot the Station looks like:

“ SpotTheStation! Time: Wed Jan 30 6:45 PM, Visible: 2 min, Max Height: 64 degrees, Appears: WSW, Disappears NE. ”

The quick breakdown of this message is the time is based on your timezone. A cool aspect is that messages will always be for just after sunset or before sunrise by no more than a few hours. This is the best time to catch the sun reflecting off the space station and provides an easy to find object in the dark sky.

NASA ISS Spot the Station Diagram

 

As the ISS is orbiting the earth it appears from below the horizon and then disappears back below the horizon. The visibility provides you with the length of time it will be easily seen. The longest I have seen is six minutes, but it was a cloudy overcast night that evening.

Spot the Station provides the maximum height in degrees, which combined with where it will appear and disappear gives you a viewing path to find the ISS. A simple hint, the horizon is zero degrees and straight above you is ninety degrees. I bisected those two spots to find the approximate 45 degree mark which helped. Also the letters of where it will appear and disappear relate to a compass markings.

What am I looking for?

The ISS is a small dot since it is more than 200 miles from the surface of the Earth. Seen with the naked eye it appears to be a shooting star. It moves pretty fast and evenly like an airplane. Mission Control calculates 4,600 sighting locations and suggests picking a nearby town if yours isn’t listed. Due to how far it is from Earth your location need not be the exact city listed.  Don’t worry if you don’t get notified for a while. Mission Control only includes what they consider “good” sighting opportunities. This means you might go a few weeks without getting notified.

It’s a great family or co-worker event opportunity and a great chance to learn more about what they are doing up on the ISS too. Let the ISS staff and Techlife know what you see.


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You sit white knuckled behind the wheel. You quickly check your rear view mirror, then scan the field of cars ahead. Then you make your move and gently coast and brake into the red light during your commute home. This. Is. Racing.

Four Driving Metrics - Miles, Braking, Time, Speed

Raise your hand if you’re a good driver? Ok, put your hands back on the steering wheel. Now raise your hand if you can prove it. This becomes much tougher for a variety of reasons, starting with what is your definition of good? It is your amazing ability to simultaneously talk on the phone, eat lunch, check your email, drive with your knees while still obeying most of the rules of the road? Maybe it is your uncanny ability to beat the train and know where all the traffic cops sit so you can avoid long delays and speeding tickets?

As with most things, data might say otherwise. Insurance companies have always known more data is better. Now they are taking the stance more data is even better when shared with you. It just might change your driving habits. Techlife feels like a good driver, no insurance incidents, including accidents or major moving violations. But that kind of thinking is so last century.

I recently agreed to become a real life driver in the Data Racing League, allowing the insurance company to know nearly everything about every trip I take in my car. So I can hear half of you saying “Why would you allow that invasion of privacy?” and the other half saying “What does “everything” mean? What are they measuring?” Let’s look a little closer at what they measure first.

  • Mileage
  • Braking Events
  • Time of Day
  • Speed over 80mph

Seems simple enough with just four metrics. But here’s where the leery among you might cringe a little more. With just these four data points, the system breaks them up into smaller increments, such as a Hard Braking Event and an Extreme Braking Event.  What does that mean? Hard Breaking Events are a deceleration of 8 -10 mph in one second. Extreme Braking Events are a deceleration of over 10mph in one second. Pretty detailed. The system also tracks how many miles were traveled during various times of the day and how many miles you travel over 80 mph.

Overall Grades for Driving

You might be pretty skeptical, let’s just turn your fear of being tracked and monitored to the maximum setting . You, the person who tells the world on Facebook what you ate, where you ate it, and more than most of us care to know about it. The tracking breakdown is by trip, providing the four base metrics, combined with a start and stop time down to the minute of the whole trip, plus average speed and maximum speed.

“There better be a great reason for doing this! I’m not just giving my private life out to any company who will penalize me even more because -” Let me stop you right there. It’s money. That’s right, the insurance company is offering money in the form of a discount of up to 30% off my next premium and it continues as long as the device stays installed. The live discount for my company is clearly displayed on a companion website and adjusts daily. All of a sudden you might be wondering how invasive could it really be and how does it actually work?

Weekly Driving Grid by Event

Contact your insurance company or agent to see if they offer the program. If they do they will send out a small device that plugs into your car above the gas pedal  below the steering wheel. It’s a data port used by mechanics. This small device about the size of a large pack of gum talks to your car’s computer to collect the data. A few things to note, my insurance company insists that no matter what the device can only lower premiums. The goal of the company is to share this information with drivers so they can consider their habits long term.

Single Trip Details

I spoke to a company representative who said she tried it personally and due to her long commute via high speed highway most of her driving was over 80 mph and lots of mileage daily and her discount was zero. She opted out. There is no obligation to try it, you can quit the program at any time. Let’s face it your travels aren’t top secret and if you can save on your premiums, it’s probably worth it. Are you a Data Racer? Share your experience.


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It’s not an easy question. Like what did you have for lunch yesterday? It’s history, something humans easily forget.

With quotes like “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” by Winston Churchill and “History takes time. History makes memory.” by Gertrude Stein it is clear we create and internalize our own history. For our purposes at Techlife Rudyard Kipling said it best,

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Last summer the Techlife West office was my home base for a few great weeks. I traveled the Pacific Coast and soaked up the people, food, climate and culture of California. I made some great personal history in other words:  memories.  In today’s digital world, there are a few great ways to remember the time.  Most readers have seen or own a digital picture frame. These are a nice and easy way to allow you to rotate the old analog picture frame image. But what else can you do with the memories you make?

Many people move their photos and videos online to easily share. It is also great to have them online for a cloud storage backup. Fast forward one year, now only you care about that history, and how often do you see it? If you are like most people the answer is never.

We have great camera tools such as mobile phones, point and shoot cameras, flip cameras, DLSR cameras along with great photo and video editing software but what becomes of our personal history after the initial share? It fades from memory, from our personal history.

This week one of our Tehclife West readers asked about an email I sent him that was a little jog down memory lane of the places, sites and photos from a day we spent together a year ago. I sent him one of my Timehop emails. Timehop is a simple concept. Send me a daily email with what I was up to 1 year ago.  To automate this it uses your choice of services including, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and Text Messages.

Another service I use is Memolane, which offers a visual timeline of your history on their site and a daily email. Memolane can tie into more than 15 different online services to extract last year’s memories and let you relive them. Plus the timeline feature allows browsing of the chronological history by day which adds a new dimension to reviewing your online and offline life. Memolane also offers MemoSearch and MemoShake, available on Google Play.

One of my favorite tools for personal history is the Android app  WallSwitch. This app does a single easy thing, rotates my wallpaper every so often and uses my photos folder to pull from. Since my phone is always with me to capture my history it is great to pull out a photo from 3 years ago and relive the moment. WallSwitch seems to have an uncanny knack for pulling recent photos and anniversary of 1 year, 2 year or 3 year photos. I haven’t seen the algorithm, but it’s perfectly balanced. I have WallSwitch change hourly from my more than 3000 photos.

Are you an iPhone user? Do you have a wallpaper rotation or wallpaper automatic switching tool you love? Please share it.


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Leon Kiriluk - NES Reproductions

Father’s Day used to mean a neck tie, a steak dinner and some quality time with the old man. Today’s dad grew up not wearing a necktie and swears off too much red meat. So that leaves quality time. For those Dad’s who grew up playing the  Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), we have the ultimate Techlife 8-bit gift this Father’s Day; never released Nintendo Games ready to play on Dad’s NES. Often called ROMS, these games for many reasons were never published or in the case of my personal favorite Super Tecmo Bowl, have a loyal fan following that has updated the ROM with new player rosters and stats and even a few more teams.

Meet Leon Kiriluk of NES Reproductions. Leon was kind of enough to sit down for an interview and this will only add to the gift for dad; the backstory.

Techlife: What is NES Reproductions?

Leon Kiriluk: As a collector and gamer, I love playing NES games on the real system, rather than the artificial constraints found on a PC game emulators.  Through sheer luck, I discovered a community of game hackers that took these game dumps and put them back on original NES carts.  Being proficient with electronics, I decided to experiment with making my own NES games as well.  After I successfully reproduced a few of these never released NES games, I posted my creations to a popular video game forum.  To my surprise, many collectors, less electronic savvy than me, messaged me pleading me to make these games for them.  NES Reproductions was born.

 TL: When and why did you start this hobby?

LK:  I grew up with Nintendo (the original) in the late 80’s.  As with most kids, my Nintendo was eventually sold off in a garage sale as the family upgraded to better and newer video game systems.  Sometime around 1998, my brother brought home an NES system with a handful of games which he purchased at a flea-market.  I was hooked.  We played for hours on that system, bringing back all my childhood memories.

For the next 5 years I made it a personal mission to collect as many NES games as I could; I completed my NES collection a few years later.  In the process, I discovered that there were many NES games in development that were never released for one reason or another (mostly due to marketing pulling the plug in the last minute).  These game prototypes went home with the engineers and eventually made it into the hands of game collectors, such as myself.  These collectors proceeded to dump the games from these prototype boards and provide them for free on the Internet.  Gamers are now able to play these games on their computers using NES emulators.
Over the next decade, it grew to not only reproduce never before released games, but also game hacks, such as the community based hack to Tecmo Superbowl.
TL: What is your background?

LK:  From a very young age I was interested more in how toys worked rather than play with them.  Every new toy I ever got, I proceeded to disassemble it, learn what made it function, and then put it back together.  Over the years, as my interest in electronics grew, the tools of the trade naturally grew with it: soldering stations, desoldering stations, memory chip programmers and erasers.

TL: How did you figure out what hardware you needed?

LK:  There’s a big community out there (thanks to the Internet) that can help anyone do what I do.  Someone just has to be driven enough, and invest enough time/money in this hobby.  It’s also not that expensive to get started.  I started with a cheap 40$ programmer and 5$ soldering iron.  These tools will suffice for half a dozen reproduction carts, but for any significant volume, investing in professional equipment is a must as with any “hobby”.

I use the word hobby because that’s what NES reproduction is for me.  A hobby that fills my time most evenings when my kids are asleep.  I’m fortunate enough to have a very good full time job where I don’t need to supplement my income with making these games – I consider it a way of giving back to the community, for gamers such as myself.  This is the main reason why I never raised my prices for reproductions in a decade.
NES Reproductions - A Collector and Gamer's Dream
 TL: How long does it take to create a cartridge?

LK:  On average, about 30-45 minutes per cart.  Surprising, the finishing touches on a cart (making the label, cleaning the cart, installing the cart, and testing it) take a lot more time than the actual electronic desoldering/soldering of new memory chips process.

TL:  Of the 52 titles listed on your site what’s the most popular title?

LK:   Earthbound followed by Super Mario Brothers 2 (Japan) by far; both made by Nintendo, and both killed for silly reasons.

Earthbound courtesy of NES Reproductions

Earthbound courtesy of NES Reproductions

Earthbound only came out in Japan.  Nintendo did have a full english translation completed, but for some reason never released it.  It wasn’t until the SNES release of Earthbound did North Americans got access to this wonderful RPG game.  But in reality, Earthbound on the SNES is actually Earthbound 2.
Super Mario Bros. 2 courtesy of NES Reproductions

Super Mario Bros. 2 courtesy of NES Reproductions

The other game, Super Mario Brother 2 – Japan, looks and plays the same as the original super mario bros, except it’s a lot more difficult.  It wasn’t released in North America because Nintendo felt the game was too difficult for us.  Instead, they took a different game, hacked mario characters into it and released it as SMB2.  Nintendo fans aren’t stupid – anyone can see how different SMB2 is from every Mario game that came before it, and after.  Simply put, it’s because it’s not a real Mario game.
TL: Have you seen requests steady since you began?

LK:  For the most part, yes.  I have also taken breaks (4 month breaks when both my children were born, as my families’ needs took precedence.)

TL: What’s the most unusual request to date?

LK:  Oh .. that’s a tough one (for the most part, game reproductions boil down to the same process)  I think special or custom game hacks.  I’ve had customers request special one off reproductions and requested of me not to share the games with anyone else, which I complied with their wishes.  I actually did have a couple of customers request a special NES game made for them, which they can use to ask their girlfriend to get married.  Unfortunately, I’m not that good at actually programming a new NES game.

TL: Have you had any companies or individual game makers approach you? Any interest or even legal hassle?

LK:  Not yet.  🙂

Truthfully, for any game hacks, such as Gamepad Hero 1 & 2, I e-mailed the game developer first, and attained permission to offer a game reproduction of their games.  In most cases, the company that made the game is long gone, or simply doesn’t care anymore as there really is little to no money in these old titles.
Even Nintendo itself lost the patent on the NES a few years ago due to the original Nintendo patent expiring – this is why there’s so many NES clones on eBay these days – and there’s a lot more money to be made selling NES clones than game reproductions.
TL: What is the best game in your opinion that was ever released?
The Goonies courtesty of NES Reproductions

The Goonies courtesty of NES Reproductions

LK:  That’s a hard one.  It depends on the gamer.  The best RPG game is Earthbound (because it’s so different from any other RPG on the NES), for shooters nothing can touch Recca (I can’t believe this is an NES game! It really pushes the NES to its limits). I personally love playing The Goonies – what a great puzzle game.  And the soundtrack is awesome too!

 TL: What’s are some things you are requested to do that are not possible?

LK:  I get a lot of requests for games that only came out in Japan or Hong Kong pirates that simply can’t be reproduced.  They use special circuit boards that were only released in that part of the world, and as such I can’t reuse any of the game carts that came out in North America in reproducing these games.  This is a shame as some of those games are actually really good .. many of these games were created long after the last NES game was shipped.

 TL: What’s the most interesting story to come from this hobby?

LK:  For me personally, I can’t believe how long it lasted.  I initially created it just to help a few people on a popular chat board which I was an active member of.  Over the last decade, it grew to so much more.  I’ve had happy customers from all over the world, places that I never thought I’d ship a video game to.  It really shows how international the NES has become.

TL: Do you have any future plans for your hobby?

LK:  Truthfully, so much has changed in my life in the past decade.  Getting married, having kids.  Priorities in life have changed, and hobbies always tend to be the first to suffer.  Can I see myself still making NES reproductions a decade from now?  Probably not.  Heck, even hobbies change!  About 5 years ago my wife and I purchased our first home (a century old home) and my hobbies have moved away from working with electronics to doing home renovations.

TL Bonus question: We met when I found out you had Tecmo Super Bowl updated rosters. For the updated teams and rosters, how did you determine things such as “speed” or “quickness” or any other stat that has a no single statistics associated with it?
Tecmo Super Bowl 2K11 courtesy of NES Reproductions

Tecmo Super Bowl 2K11 courtesy of NES Reproductions

LK:  The Tecmo Superbowl updated NES game is developed by a team of developers on the Tecmo Superbowl repository web site.  I only provide the service of putting their game on a cart.  I’ve contacted the web site owner a few times, and sent him free reproductions as a ‘thank you’ for all the great work he does for the Tecmo community.


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Look out! This is a warning to everyone who has ever bought a digital camera, and for all those future digital camera purchases. Don’t install the software! The first thing many readers are saying is, “Wait if I don’t install the software, how do I get my photos and movies off the camera?”

Here’s a secret the camera manufacturers don’t want you to know, you already have that software in most cases. That’s right, the cat is out of the bag. Now any good hardware company will argue you “need” their software but in reality  you don’t. Unless of course you do, tricky camera makers.

A few weeks ago a Techlife reader was taking their new camera out for a spin. They shot some photos and recorded some video and got back to the computer to transfer it. Lo and behold they had never installed the included software so they asked me if they should. What do you think I would say? The title of this column should clue you in.

“How do I get my photos and video off the camera then?” they asked.

Cameras are big thumbdrives

Cameras are truly big storage device enclosures with a lens. Obviously they do much more, but to your computer they are just another drive. If you pop out the portable storage often times an SD card,  a computer can accept them with a USB card reader. The camera company often preaches for a user to connect the camera via included cable directly to the PC. Of course then the more modern operating systems attempt to detect the type of camera and then offer a dialog asking what you want to do.

Since most start up guides explain you should install their software first, the dialog box has you naturally choosing the “camera software”. But look at the dialog box from the Techlife computer (see image). Notice the Secure Digital Storage Device, that’s the card taken out of the camera and put in the computers SD card reader.  I then have three Picture Options and some other General Options.  The simplest option is often the best.

How to get your Photos without Camera Software

  1. Under General Options choose Open folder to view files
  2. You will see a basic folder view with all the files
  3. Simply choose the images you want and copy them to the folder on your computer
  4. Then delete the files off the SD card

No additional software was needed. It was easy and something most users are comfortable with doing; copying files from one place to another.

Camera Makers Fight Back

Bringing us back to the Techlife reader, who followed this How to with ease for their photos. Then asked about the movie files.  After careful review it seems the camera shipped from the manufacturer set to record in a non-standard format. Worse there was no mention of this anywhere and the only way to access the few movies were, you guessed it, the software that shipped with the camera. The simple fix, switch the camera to record in a standard movie format and ignore the installed software once again.

New Camera? File Basics

For all new camera purchases, take a few test shots and test movies before you do anything.  If your the files are easy to copy to your computer with the additional software great. You’re done. If they aren’t, change the file format the camera saves in and try again until you do.  In the end the camera should have files that allow you do use the software you want to modify the still images and the movies, not the other way around.

And what of our Techlife reader? Happy to report the movies are now set to record in a standard format, and we should see a lot of new cat videos on YouTube.


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Click. Click. Click. There is not much more satisfying a sound. Sorry I realize because this Techlife you likely think I meant the sound of a mouse or a keyboard. Actually something much more clickable – LEGOS! There have been countless articles, fan sites, acronyms (AFOL, SNOT) and more created for this very physical toy which has grown in spite the of the evolution of the digital age. It’s a testament to the creativity and simplicity that allows anyone to sit down and start playing immediately.

But this is Techlife, and we want to provide five very different LEGO experiences in the online world. Our summaries won’t do these justice, so please jump off and explore them all.

Life of George

Help George with your building skills. A LEGO official product that combines a free iPhone/iPod app with physical brick set. This takes the best thing about LEGO; the ability to create endless new things with the same bricks and combines it with an interactive story about George. The challenges you are presented with help move the story along. A race against the clock puzzler combined with a cool snap a photo of your creations to check accuracy make this a really unique meld of physical and digital and story and game. (may contain an easter egg or too)

Rebrickable.com

Rebrickable makes replay endlessly amazing. It’s the ultimate unofficial LEGO replay resource. LEGO sets always provide instructions to build the pictured item. Some sets even allow for a few more items from the same pieces.  Simply enter some existing LEGO set numbers you own and the power of the database sparks to life. As of this writing, 6436 sets and more than 1 million parts power the database and the suggestion engine often provides multiple sets you could build with your parts on hand. Even better there are photos to help you along the way, just like real LEGO instructions.

Cuusoo

Unusual name. Still in beta. Cuusoo is an official LEGO site that is a simple to use crowd sourcing tool. Non-employees who are fans for LEGO submit designs they have built. If the designs reach 10,000 supporters, LEGO turns on the production of these into official sets with the designer sharing in the proceeds. To date three projects have hit the 10,000 supporter mark including a submarine, a satellite, and most recently a Minecraft model. Interesting to note how LEGO really adds value in helping design the models after they reach evaluation.  The creative initial Minecraft model is quite different from the production model, Minecraft Micro World which looks even better.

The Brothers Brick

Earlier I mentioned AFOL, and The Brothers Brick is a blog for Adult Fans of LEGO. Started in 2005, the same time as Techlife, The Brothers Brick is a showcase for LEGO creations from around the world. They sprinkle in new set releases, news about events, and even a bit of education. I learned and built a Studs Not On Top (SNOT) creation after reading about how many AFOL use this method to showcase how the small bumps that connect one brick to another are hidden with this method of building. One of  The Brothers Brick contributors was a bit part in helping get the Minecraft Micro World built on Cuusoo.

Rebrick

Rebrick is another LEGO official site also in beta. The site attempts to form a community of users around LEGO creations. Rebrick promises in multiple places it won’t use the site to advertise or market. With a name that’s confusing compared to Rebrickable, contains less high end quality builds and writing than highlighted on The Brothers Brick and lacks the interactivity of Cuusoo, Rebrick is worth exploring for a few minutes.  It has an easy-to-use tool to bookmark and share things found in other online locations. Re-brick could use a bit of a re-think.

Have another online place you love to explore the world of LEGO. Share it.


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“On thine day, in thine month, in thine year, it has come pass thy new The Tab King has been crowned.”

Is Techlife really declaring it is the king of something? Well of course not loyal subjects, I mean readers. Kings are people and Techlife is but a vessel to share knowledge. And what is it again that I rule you ask? Tabs? Sit back and let me explain the kingdom of web browsing and open tabs.

Modern web browsers all employ the concept of tabbed browsing. A tab is a way of storing many browsing sessions in a shared window. Need to look up something but want to keep search window open as well, just open the search in a new tab. Visiting Facebook and need to read an article in your stream, open it in a new tab . The advantage of a new tab is your existing window remains as you left it. There is no hard and fast data on tab usage but in a recent unofficial Twitter poll, my usage of more than 60 concurrently open tabs outdistanced the rest by more than 35 tabs. (As I write this there are 73 open tabs in two browser windows.)

Why so many open tabs?

I use tabs for Techlife research of course. As well as keeping tabs on news of the day, shopping takes a few tabs for research and reviews, another for price comparison and yet another for the actual online store.

“So it came to pass that The Tab King began to worry about losing all the tabs.”

With all the open tabs Google Chrome rarely crashes and even when it does restoring the tabs is pretty easy. But yet, there are times when restoring the tabs is not easy and tabs are lost. I’m sure the astute reader says, what about Xmarks, the solution from a previous Techlife column? Bookmarking each tab is more of a chore and less a solution for short and mid term tabs.

The Elegant Evolution

Faithful reader Rob who has emailed back and forth suggested a new tool he found, TabCloud by Connor Dunn, a student at the University of Warwick, UK. This amazing tool allows a user to save the current tabs. But it does more. It lets you save them to the cloud. (Quick sidebar: The Cloud is another way of saying the internet, or more accurately not saved locally on your computer.) By saving your tabs to the cloud, TabCloud let’s a user access them anywhere.

“So faithful subjects of the realm, The Tab King was worry free and the brave reader Rob granted knighthood.”

Epilogue

“As The Tab King began to prepare for sharing the discovery of the brave knight Sir Rob with the loyal subjects, the King made yet another discovery.”  

TabCloud has an Android application and an iPhone and iPad webapp! The apps allows a user to access their saved tabs on their mobile device as well and it is as simple to use as the Chrome and Firefox extensions.

Next Page »


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