No Surprises: Worst Passwords of 2014

January 21, 2015 at 11:25 pm (1Password, Applications, Productivity, security) (, , , )

Yesterday, SplashData announced its annual list of the 25 worst passwords (read: most common) on the internet. The list is compiled from over 3.3 million leaked passwords. Having worked at an Apple store for five years, the greatest offenders were no surprise to me. During those first few months at Apple, I was constantly amazed at the number of customers who used many of these top passwords.  Not surprisingly, many of these folks were hacked. The most common offenders were (are you ready for it?) “123456”,  “password”, and “qwerty”. Other commonly used passwords that are easily guessed by hackers, or by someone you know who might like to get into your account for nefarious purposes, include names (yours, your significant other, your favorite pet), favorite sports (baseball, football, golfer), favorite sports team (yankees, steelers, rangers), and favorite superhero (superman, batman). Hackers commonly use a “dictionary crack” which takes only a short time to run. If you use a word or words from the dictionary with no letters or symbols to break it up, your password can be easily guessed by the program.

Because of so much publicity surrounding data breaches this past year (Target, Home Depot, and many others), people are finally starting to pay attention and use slightly stronger passwords.  However, simply substituting numbers for some letters (3 for E, 4 for A, etc.) is really not enough anymore.  While “P4ssw0rd” is better than “password”, it is still easily guessed. It would be better to use something like “P4$$w)rd”, which is still “password”, but with substitution of numbers and symbols. Another big risk that people take is using the same password for all their sites.  If your login information was accessed during a data breach, all the hacker needs to do at that point is start using that login information for the common banks. If you reuse passwords (use the same password for your Target account that you use for your Bank of America account) then the hackers have just gotten both your Target account information and your banking information. Now do you see why reusing passwords is a bad idea? 

DilbertPasswordInstructions

Here are a few tips to make your passwords stronger: 
1.  Use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols.  Most sites have a minimum length, but it can vary from 4 to 8 characters up to 14 to 18 characters or more.
2.  Do not reuse passwords. In other words, don’t use the same login information for multiple sites. 
3.  Use two-factor authentication when possible.  Many sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Battle.net, and others, are using this method, which is like having a security door in addition to your main door. Each time you log into the account, you are sent a code to your phone to enter after entering your initial credentials. It changes each time you login, so a hacker would have to have access to your device at the time of the login attempt in order to get the code.  
4.  Wait for it.  You know it’s coming.  Use a password manager such as 1Password for the best possible security.  Not only does 1Password store all your login information for every site you visit, but it will also generate strong passwords for you (and you can set criteria, such as length, number of characters and symbols,  etc.), and you only have to remember your master password.  The app remembers all your other passwords for you. In addition to login information and passwords, it also stores secure notes, attachments, software information (serial numbers and software keys), network information, banking info, and more.  It works across platforms, and is always in sync.  Best of all, the next time there is news of a data breach somewhere, and everyone is scrambling to change their passwords, you can sit there with a smug grin on your face knowing that you don’t have to worry about it. Do you have any tips or tricks to add?  Do you want to tell us the ‘best worst password’ you’ve used (or heard of)? Let us know in the comments. 

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Start Your New Year with Day One

January 1, 2014 at 6:43 pm (Applications, iDevices, iPhone/iPod Touch, Personal, Productivity, shareware, writing) (, , , , , )

Happy New Year!  Another year beginning, another year ending, resolutions to make, resolutions to break.  I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic.  In the past couple of weeks with the old winding down and getting ready to give way to the new, I’ve had several friends ask me if I still journal, and if so, what app I use.  

I have always jotted down thoughts here and there, since I was a kid and got my “First Diary”.  You remember those, right?  They were little books with a cardboard flap and a couple of flimsy keys that anyone with a pair of scissors or a paperclip could get into; but we were young, so we thought it was locked up tight.  But, how things have changed.  Well, sort of.  They still make those for the kiddies, but our adult selections are so much better.  Most of the ones you actually write in no longer have locks, and are made of leather, pleather, vinyl, card stock, etc. and can be found ruled, as a grid, or blank.   

Day One Icon

But, for those who have transitioned to the digital world, (wait for it…), there’s an app for that. (You had to know it was coming). Actually, there are a lot of apps for that now, and quite a few good choices. But the one that has won my heart is the award-winning Day One.  It is a truly wonderful app for Mac, and there is a universal companion app, which is an excellent standalone app in its own right, for the iPhone and iPad. 

It is incredibly easy to get started, and you won’t even have to read any how-to guides to get up and running.  Their tag line is “Record life as you live it”, and the app’s design makes it easy to do just that. The interface is simple, clean, and minimalistic. Data that is automatically entered includes date and time, location, weather, photo EXIF, activity (walking, biking, running), and music playing. There is tagging and Markdown support, as well as customized reminders that you can set to be sent daily or weekly at certain times. The app really shines with its organizational abilities, as you can view past entries using the calendar, maps, photos, timeline, and more. Day One’s Mac version has a nifty little Menu Bar quick entry feature where you can (just like it sounds) make an entry right from the Menu Bar without opening the application. That’s great for a quick notation, or even a longer one when you’re not attaching a photo. Automatic backups keep your data safe as well.

Your entries can be synced from your Mac to and across your iDevices using iCloud or Dropbox.  I will say that I tried to use iCloud, and I really wanted to use it to save my rapidly filling Dropbox space.  But, I kept having issues with it, and in the end, it was just easier to disable iCloud syncing and go with Dropbox.  I haven’t had the first issue since the switch.  

Entries can be shared by emailing to friends and family or posting to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Day One also creates individual webpages at dayone.me for any entires you want to publish. I’ve seen examples of it used for almost anything you can imagine, for typical writing and journaling, for research, for reviewing books, movies, and other media, as a work journal and timekeeper, as a travel and mileage log, as a prayer book and inspirational guide, and much more. 

I must say that it is a joy to use Day One.  I use it for jotting quick notes about events or captioning a photo, as well as making more personal longer entries or capturing special events. I’ve also been using it to log geocaching adventures, as well as ideas for my own devious geocaches to hide.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.  

You can get more information about Day One at its website here.  The Desktop version for Mac is available thru the Mac App Store for $9.99 and the Universal version for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch is $4.99. Now go jot down all your resolutions, then use Day One to write about them. Once you start using it, you’ll be likely to continue.  Enjoy!

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Cool Stuff that Siri can do for You

June 12, 2013 at 12:48 pm (Apple, How-to, iDevices, iPhone/iPod Touch, Productivity) (, , , , )

You may already be a seasoned professional when it comes to using Siri, but there are always more goodies you can add to your bag of tricks. When Siri first became available on the iPhone, one of the first things I asked was “What can you do for me?” and Siri tossed up a handful of suggestions. Back then, they were fairly simple things like calling people, sending texts, and setting reminders. Siri has evolved in the nearly two years that we have been using her assistance. There are a lot more things you can outsource Siri to do for you now. 

Here are just a few:

Say/Ask This:                                          To Do This:

Call (Mike / my brother)               Call a person (by name or relationship)

Launch ‘Facebook’                        Launch (app of choice)

Tell Malissa I’m on my way           Sends text to (person) with your message

Set up a meeting at 9am              Adds a meeting onto your schedule

Did the Broncos win today?         Checks and reports team scores 

Give me directions to Selmer       Gives directions to any named place

Tweet a message                          Tweets a message to post to Twitte

What movies are playing?            Tells what movies are playing nearby

Play brandi carlile                          Plays (singer) or (playlist) that you request

Remind me to pay bills                 Sets a reminder based on your request

Email Nik about the trip                 Sends email to (person) about (subject)

What’s today’s weather?                Tells you the weather forecast 

What’s apple’s stock price             Tells you company’s stock price

Wake me tomorrow at 9am           Sets an alarm for 9am 

What’s Nancy’s address?               Gets (person’s) address

Note that i need to buy milk          Adds a note to buy milk

Search the web for xxx                  Searches web for (chosen topic)

Define (word)                                  Looks up and gives definition of (word)

Find a good Sushi place                Lists nearby Sushi (or other) restaurants

In addition to the above commands, you can also have Siri help with punctuation and a few emoticons (oh, come on. You knew it was only a matter of time). 😉  Speaking punctuation such as “new paragraph”,  “new line”, “cap”, “period”, “full stop”,  or “(other desired punctuation mark)”,  will get the desired results most of the time.  Some emoticons  work, such as “smiley” or “smiley face”, “frowny” or “frowny face”,  and “wink face”. 

There is occasionally a glitch if Siri doesn’t understand you.  Get some practice by speaking normally, being sure to enunciate your words properly.  The more you use it, the more accurate your results will be.

Most of those listed above are, believe it or not, fairly basic uses of Siri.  She has evolved quite a bit in the past couple of years.  Some of the even more impressive tasks Siri can help you manage now include the following:  search other web browsers (Bing, Yahoo, Wikipedia) for information; update your social network status on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ via SMS (must set up ahead of time);  see and set calendar appointments for a certain day;  tell you what actors were in a particular movie; set or delete alarms; list flight times;  restart springboard/finder;  and more.  Calculations and other “fact-type” questions are searched using Wolfram Alpha. It is also integrated with Remember the Milk and other applications, to make those apps even easier to use. 

Many folks are aware that Siri also has some nifty little Easter Eggs, as well as a rather wicked (programmed) sense of humor.  There are at least a few blogs dedicated to these chuckle-inducing experiences, along with some dedicated to funny “oops” moments when a word is misspelled or misunderstood, yielding some unpredictable and often hilarious results. 

I tried a few questions early on, several of them the same that many others have also tossed at our able silicon-based assistant. Just a few samples:

Siri StarWars 2

Q:  “What can you tell me about ‘Star Wars (1977)’?”  
A:   “It’s about a couple of really nice robots who get mixed up in a silly intergalactic war”.  

Q:  “Define supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”  
A:   “The sound of that is something quite atrocious”.

Q:  “Who is on first?”
A:   “Correct. Who is on first.”  

 Q:  “What is the meaning of life?” 
 A:  “All evidence to date points to chocolate” (“42” is another hilarious answer).

These are just the tip of the iceberg regarding things that Siri can help you do these days.  I suspect that with iOS 7, that list will increase exponentially. I love having Siri help me make quick work of my tasks.  That gives me that much more time to spend on things that are really important.  Those are just a few that I’ve asked, and I’ve heard of or read many dozens more.  I’m glad the programmers made it a bit humorous. It makes me think they thought even more of their end user. 

What are your favorite things about Siri?  Have you had any humorous interactions with her? What would you like to see in iOS 7?  Let me know in the comments.   

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Lay/N/Go Bag is Great Travel Companion

April 27, 2013 at 6:40 am (Personal, Products, Travel) (, , , , , )

20130427-062937.jpg

Ok, folks, for all of you who have cosmetics spread all over the bathroom counter, or you have lots of stuff in several little bags, or you’re on a business trip and you realize your favorite concealer didn’t make the trip with you….there is a new product for you. It’s called the Lay N’ Go Bag and it is beyond awesome!

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not big into makeup anymore, but I do wear it for special events, church, and things like that. I started using Cat Cosmetics makeup developed by actress, entertainer, and entrepreneur, Catherine Hickland, a few years ago. My face and I were unhappy with the expensive high end products I was using and, while looking for an alternative, I came across Cat’s product line. I liked that they were natural, not tested on animals, good for sensitive skin, and worked with all skin types. Best of all, they were affordable, and the customer service was top-notch. She had put together a small kit that contained six products: a concealer, blush, eye shadows, and liner, plus applicators. I tried it and loved it. I got a couple other products and was hooked. There was no going back.

Fast forward a few years. I had been looking for a bag in which to keep cosmetics while traveling. A couple of trips last month showed us that we were woefully underprepared. I happened to see Cat post about a new bag she found, and it looked interesting. It didn’t do anything for the part of me that wanted some organizational aid, but there was something liberating about just dumping everything in a pile on the counter then scooping it all up together. We decided to take the plunge and order our own Lay N’ Go Bag.

It arrived today, and (I’m slightly embarrassed to say) I had to watch the short video to figure out how to close it. LOL. I kept trying to “open” it…It was so easy that I was making it difficult. I must admit, I felt pretty dumb once I saw how simple it was 😉 You just lay the bag flat, put all your stuff on it, then pull the drawstring. It scoops everything up like a bowl, then you slide the cord lock down and it’s secure.

It is just amazing! It truly holds a ton of stuff, plus it has a large inner zipper pocket and a small outer velcro pocket. It’s also water repellant and washable, thanks to the nylon and poly fabric. Another little bonus is that it comes inside its own little drawstring bag, so you actually get a cute little bonus bag. This may be one of the coolest things I’ve ever bought…it is just so practical.

You don’t even have to use it just for cosmetics. Obviously, it’s great for that, but I’ve already been thinking about other uses for this bag. It would work equally well for guys and gals, and would be just as good for a business trip as a weekend getaway. An artist could toss a handful of paint tubes in a bag and head out to a specific location. Toss a handful of toys on it and scoop them up for a quick and easy rescue pack for kids (or the babysitter, ha). It is available in black for $29.95, or silver or gold for $34.95.

Above is a snapshot of the bag with most of my Cat Cosmetics inside…I was skeptical, but you can see how much it holds. Fantastic! Order yours from Cat Cosmetics, and let me know what you think. Cheers!

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15 iPad Apps to Boost Productivity

April 25, 2013 at 4:19 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Like many people these days, my friends and I are spending more and more time using mobile devices for work and play. I’ve done a little bit of investigating, and have come up with fifteen of the best iPad apps for boosting productivity:

IOS App Icons 2

1. Evernote (Free) How would you like it if you could remember everything? With Evernote, you’ll never forget anything again…but, if you do, you can skim back thru your index and find it. Evernote for iPad lets you create new text, audio, and photo notes. With its gesture control, you can view existing Evernote content just by swiping or tapping your finger. It lets you create multiple types of notes, organize them in notebooks, and syncs automatically and flawlessly. You can also share with others. There is also a Premium account with more great features, including their amazing text recognition. It’s cross-platform and cross-device, so you’ll never be without your information again. It’s truly become my peripheral brain. If I could only have one app, this would be it.

2. 1Password ($17.99) This hall of fame app is easily the best password manager for the iPad, iOS and Mac (also for Windows and Android). It uses industry standard security, has a user-friendly (and gorgeous) interface, has desktop partner apps for Mac and Windows, and automagically syncs with Dropbox to keep everything at your fingertips. Use it to store log-ins, software registrations, secure notes, account information, and more. Generate strong passwords to protect your digital information. Use the in-app browser to log in to places like online banking sites securely from within the app. There were previously separate apps for iPhone and iPad, but now there is one universal app. This is a great standalone app, but it’s really powerful when you use it in conjunction with its desktop counterpart.

3. Dropbox (Free) This service lets you take your photos, documents, and videos anywhere and easily share them. You can keep files in a central location accessible to all devices, and share with other users. It is integrated with many iOS apps and has become the standard app to which many apps sync to safely store information.

4. TextExpander ($4.99) – This is an invaluable app on your Mac, and now it has come to the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Use short abbreviations that expand to words, snippets of text, or entire paragraphs to increase productivity and save lots of typing. Set your abbreviation then watch it expand to fill information such as addresses, URL’s, standard responses, and more. Every day, more apps are integrated with it…over 100 already. Sync your TextExpander snippets with your Mac via Dropbox.

5. Notability ($1.99) This was Apple’s best selling note-taker of 2012. Taking notes is an essential part of important work meetings, but everyone has their own style and preferred method of capturing and transcribing information. Notability rolls all those styles into one handy app. You can type, doodle notes by hand, record snippets of audio, pull images from the web or add them from your photo library, annotate PDFs, and index everything in one place. Once you have your notes, you can sync to your favorite cloud service. You can also import Microsoft Office files (.doc, .ppt, and .xls) as PDFs using Google Drive.

6. JotNot Scanner Pro ($.99) When you need to scan docs, this is the app to use. Take a picture of your document (or batch scan multiple docs), adjust the corners where you want them, then send it to yourself via Evernote, email, uploading to Dropbox, etc. Scan your docs, receipts, (and anything else you can snap with your camera) into PDFs. Take advantage of in-app faxing to U.S. numbers via fax credits (99¢ for up to 5 pages). You can adjust file size and resolution within the app. Tag, search, and sort your documents. It automatically detects standard paper sizes, or you can set custom sizes. View PDF docs or export them to other iOS apps such as iBooks. Some folks prefer Scanner Pro ($6.99). Both do essentially the same things. I’ve always used JotNot, and never had an issue. I have some friends who use Scanner Pro who say the same thing. Get whichever looks better to you. You can’t go wrong with either one, although there’s a $6 price difference at the moment.

7. Wunderlist (Free) After trying over a dozen planners, to-do lists, and reminder-type apps, this has become my favorite of the bunch. It might not have all the bells and whistles (or price tag!) of OmniFocus or Things, but by the same token, I don’t get all bogged down in it, and I can just concentrate on getting things done. Wunderlist has won multiple awards from Lifehacker, Mashable, and others. You can create and manage multiple lists in one place, set reminders, and add recurring tasks and subtasks. It is easy to collaborate with others by inviting friends or colleagues to share lists. In addition to using this for basic to-do lists, I have a media list that a group of us share and a shopping list that I share with my partner. We can both add to it from our respective iDevices, and it stays in sync between us. Never forget the ice cream again 🙂

8. Log Me In (Free) This app gives you direct access to your computer at home or work with just one click. Remotely access your computer or access and edit files from your iPad as if you were sitting at your computer. Never be away from important files again. The Pro version has premium features.

9. Dragon Dictation (Free) This is by far the best voice-to-text tool that I’ve ever used. It works from the moment you install it with no configuration or setting up, and no ‘training’ period. It is the embodiment of the phrase ‘it just works.’ If fast typing isn’t your thing, this is a great solution for hands-free transcription. This helpful and accurate dictation app turns your speech into text, then lets you send it easily to social networking apps, email, or other programs. Once you get a feel for it, using this app is a breeze.

10. iXpenseIt ($4.99) – This one has taken multiple awards for favorite app from different sites. It helps with expense tracking, budgeting, and bill reminders for personal or business use. There’s an export feature using email or wi-fi, or use .CSV importing into either Numbers or Excel spreadsheets. Access your data via any web browser using the wi-fi option, or email expense reports, with photos if desired. The lite version has limit of 200 records, including recurring expenses, so you can give it a try.

11. OfficeTime ($7.99, Universal) Accurately tracking time spent working across multiple projects in a day can feel like a tedious juggling act that completely saps your focus. This easy-to-use time tracker app handles that task for you. All you do is set a project and tap a button. Switching between different tasks auto pauses your current project when you swap. Export to Numbers or Excel, Mac or PC. Designed for Freelancers and small teams. There is also a free version with limited functionality, but it should be enough to let you see that you would like the paid version so you can track unlimited projects and categories and sync to your Mac or PC.

12. Camera+ for iPad ($.99) Since the day it was released, Camera+ has been the best iPhone app for taking and editing photos. It runs circles around Apple’s own Camera app, largely due to the “Clarity” filter that improves almost any photo in any circumstances. I rarely take photos with my iPad, but I do a lot of minor editing and enhancing, and that is where this app shines. There are oodles of filters, effects, and treatments that have been created by figure skater turned model turned professional photographer, Lisa Bettany, and she has worked some serious magic with this app. Use one effect, or stack them for even more unique results. Then add borders and captions for a little extra punch. Keep your photos in sync between your iDevices using their iCloud Lightbox feature, then share your photos via popular social media apps.

13. Flipboard (Free) This flagship iPad app is still the standard for news apps on the iPad, or as they say, “your personal magazine”. Completely customizable to suit your tastes, it is a great aggregator of all your favorite sources, from Twitter and Facebook to your favorite ‘read later’ app, with a gorgeous magazine style layout. A cool new feature includes the ability to literally save content into your own magazines, for example to make a “Dream Trip” planning guide, or set up your very own magazine for all things geocaching. Did I mention the gorgeous layout? 😉

14. Pocket (Free) Save long articles, web pages, or videos to view later, when you have time, on your computer, iPhone, or iPad. It syncs automatically across devices. Save virtually anything from your browser or from over 300 apps. This is another app that has been a repeat award winner over the past year or so. This is a great app for when I’m stuck somewhere without online access and a weak or non-existent cell signal. Thanks to Pocket, I can still access prime content. Some new features include sharing content and sending to friends.

15. Spotify (Free) When I’m working or relaxing or pretty much any time in between, I’ve got to be listening to music. It just makes me more productive. This excellent music streaming service is now a universal iOS app and it’s a great one. You can listen to your own music for free or get full offline access to all your favorite synced playlists with a Spotify premium account. U.S. users can listen to free radio as well. Share your favorite music with friends and send it to Facebook. Listening to music just got a whole lot better.

Bonus app: Bento for iPad ($9.99) For an all-around organizational tool for your life, check out Bento. This app has 25 different database templates designed for a variety of subjects, including recipes, event planning, inventory tracking, billable hours and expenses, vehicle maintenance, and contacts. All the templates are customizable, so you can tweak them to suit your specific needs, or design your own from scratch. Organize virtually any type of information. This can be used as a standalone app, or in conjunction with the iPhone ($4.99) version or Mac ($49.99) version. It does have a bit of a learning curve, but there are some great tutorials available online.

There you have it. Those are my fifteen top apps for boosting productivity using just your iPad and a few well-placed taps and swipes. Let me know what apps you can’t live without.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tips and Tricks: Some (Slightly Snarky) Google Help

December 23, 2012 at 12:40 am (Apple, Applications, How-to, Humor) (, , , )

Most of you guys know what it’s like to have family members always calling you with mundane questions about things.  They are usually along the lines of “How to I…..” or “I can’t figure out how to …..”.  Frequently, these involve their remote, computer, printer, iDevice, and so on.  They’ve obviously never heard of Google, or any other search engine since the days of AOL.  How many of you have a t-shirt (or want one) that says, “No, I will not fix your computer”? So, you know what I mean, right?

Folks always seem to call at the most inopportune times.  Do you help them with their issue, or tell them to look it up themselves?  Well, some slightly exasperated developers at Google have helped us out with this conundrum. LMGTFY to the rescue. “Let Me Google That For You” is a nifty little assistant that lets you show someone else how to use Google.  So, rather than outright telling them to look it up for themselves, you can let Google be the smart@ss and tell them to look it up for themselves. 😉 Nifty, no?

LMGTFY Stickers 1

Here’s how it works:

Go to www.lmgtfy.com.  There’s a box below the search box that says “Type a question, click a button”. Type in your query and submit. It then creates a link and the box tells you to “share the link below”. You can copy and paste it for sharing,  or shorten it or preview if you like. The resulting animation shows you typing the query into the box, shows Google’s search results, then the box says, “Was that so hard?”.  Gotta love it.

Here’s an example.  I searched for “LMGTFY”.  Here’s the results:

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=LMGTFY

Give it a shot and see what you think.  Of course, what they do once they get results is another story.  Good luck!

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What’s in Your Geopack? A Look Inside the Geocaching Bag

November 18, 2012 at 11:04 am (Geocaching, Productivity) (, , , , )

What's in my Geocaching Kit?

Last month, I asked about the Top 5 geocaching tools in your bag.  This time around, let’s just dump that bag on the ground and see what’s there. I decided it was time for a reorganization, as I couldn’t find anything anymore. You know how it is.  You grab something in a hurry, then toss it back on top. Before long, nothing is in its place anymore and nothing can be found.  So, much like doing a nuke and pave of the computer, to start with a clean slate, I’ve done that with my Geopack, to start with an empty bag and gradually restocked it. Let’s see how it goes.

I took a photo of the empty bag, contents all nicely laid out and photographed.  Then I tagged it on my Flickr Photostream, partly so I could see what all I had, and partly to share with you, my geocaching friends. Here is a similar photo, although you will have to see the one on Flickr to get the annotated version (click the photo above to be transported to the Flickr pic).

The primary contents of my bag, and those most often used, includes the following: extendable mirror/magnet, flashlight, hemostats, tick key, whistle, duct tape, Field Notes, baggies and logs, insect spray, and hand sanitizer.  Not listed, but always with me, is my Smith & Wesson .38 Special.  I always have it, especially in the woods (we’re in snake country, remember?).  Thankfully, I don’t have to use it often, but when I do, I’m really glad to have it. I generally use the Geocaching App on my iPhone 4S, but I’m trying to learn to use the GPS.  The iPhone App is just so easy, plus I can log my finds as I find them, rather than having to jot them down and log them when I get home.

My primary bag is an XPS Camelback. It’s a small backpack, which is what I wanted.  I have some larger ones, but I wanted as light as possible. I tried to use a Dajo Adventure Gear waist pack, but I just couldn’t do it.  I tried several times, and the messenger bag style strap did help, but having all that stuff hanging around my waist and hips just drove me crazy.  I did like the way the Dajo pack was set up, but in the end, it just didn’t work for me. With the XPS, which I got on clearance for about $12 (great deal!), I keep the things we rarely use in the back, the things more often used in the front section, and the things we use all the time actually go in a little space between the front and back sections.  It works great because there’s nothing to open and close. We just grab it and go, then put it back when we’re finished. It’s not perfect, but it will do for now.  One day, I’d like to design a modular pack that would satisfy the needs of most of us.  Until then, I’ll be on the lookout for the perfect multi-tool and the perfect Geopack.

I was amazed when I checked out some of the bags of geocaching friends.  Some of them have everything but the kitchen sink in their bags. A grappling hook?  Really?  I suppose there might come a time when I might need a grappling hook, but if that happens, you can bet I took a wrong turn somewhere 😉 Another item that frequently appeared was a folding ladder. These have become very popular, and I might seriously have to check into one of these.  However, considering my luck (or lack thereof) with ladders, that might not be a good thing for me to have.

I did pick up a few useful tips.  I’ll be adding a few things to my bag very soon. One item that kept coming up repeatedly that I hadn’t thought about stocking in my bag was glowsticks. I’ve used some for swag on occasion, but several folks noted that they could be handy in an emergency, especially if the batteries went out on your flashlight and you were lost (or delayed 😛 ) in the woods. I just picked up a roll of neon colored survey tape over the weekend for marking areas, especially when on a not-well-marked trail, as it can be confusing to tell where you’ve already been.  Tie the survey tape along the way like breadcrumbs, and it makes it much easier to get back out…just grab the tape on your way out to leave the area as you found it.

Binoculars were another often mentioned item that I hadn’t thought about previously. It would make it easier to search some areas, especially those with dense ground cover when searching for the elusive ammo can, or for looking skyward for a very small nano. I have an inexpensive pair that will be perfect for tossing in the truck for occasional use.

What about you?  What do you have in your Geopack?  List any must-have items in the comments, or post a link to you bag contents on Flickr to share with the rest of us.  Until next time, be safe and cache on!

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Try Clarify for quick “how to” instructions

August 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm (Apple, Applications, How-to, Productivity, shareware) (, , , )

There’s a new kid in town to make life easier when you get emails, texts, and phone calls from friends and family asking, “Hey, can you tell me how to do (task of the day) real quick?”.  It’s an application called Clarify from Blue Mango Software. You might be familiar with them for their terrific ScreenSteps application that’s been around for a few years and is invaluable for those who write technical instructions, software manuals, and the like.

Clarify is like a lighter version of ScreenSteps. In fact, the process is very similar, so anyone who has used ScreenSteps will be able to use it right out of the gate, and those who aren’t accustomed to it will be able to use it in mere minutes. It’s that easy and intuitive.

Blue Mango says they streamlined the application to be more of a screen capture tool and is primarily for “reducing round trip emails”. Rather than having to send multiple emails back and forth to re-explain, or clarify, your instructions, you can easily do it in just one email using this software.

I did a quick “How to create a how-to using Clarify” in about 2 minutes.

The following is what the user interface looks like within the software while you’re creating your document.

CreateHowToThis next screenshot is what the finished product looks like on the Clarify-it.com sharing site, where you will send folks to view the how-to information. It looks very nice and polished. It can also be exported as a pdf file.

FinishedProductThere is a free public beta available now so you can try it out. The price will be $29.99 when the application is released. It’s available here: http://www.bluemangolearning.com/clarify/ .  Give it a go then leave a comment and let me know what you think about it.  What other methods do you use for this type of communication? Email? Skitch? Something else? Let’s hear your ideas below.

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Get More Done with Jott

June 29, 2008 at 7:45 am (shareware) (, , , , , , , , , )

jott_logo.jpgIf you are not using Jott, you are missing out on some serious chances to be more productive when those little random thoughts, that I call ‘popcorn thoughts’, jump in and out of your head before you can make notes.  Enter Jott. The premise is deceptively simple. It is a program that uses voice recognition software, and a few humans, to transcribe what you say to text. The uses have grown almost exponentially as the application has matured. It is still in beta, but it is quite stable and has a very long list of features. This review will just scratch the surface, but I hope it will interest you enough to head over to Jott.com and check it out for yourself.

We’ll start off with the most basic function: sending yourself an email message. This is affectionately known as “Jott to Self”. First, you pop over to Jott.com, cell phone in hand, and set up an account, which takes about 30 seconds. Now you’re ready to start Jotting. Enter Jott’s phone number, 866-JOTT-123, in your cell phone directory (mine is in my iPhone favorites, so it’s right there on the front screen so I don’t have to search for it). Call Jott. You will be asked, “Who do you want to Jott?”. You can say “me” or “myself”, or press 1. When you hear the beep, leave your message; for example, “Add more contacts to Jott”. Jott will confirm by saying, “Got it”. You may then hang up, or stay on the line to Jott again. You will then receive an email message (and also a text message if you set it up to receive confirmation texts) of your Jotted message.

That’s how you get started. You can leave a Jott to remind you about meetings, birthdays, special events, or anything else for which you need a reminder. You will get an email and a text message approximately fifteen minutes prior to the date and time you specified. You can set up lists for things to do, movies to see, places to go, etc. Those lists can be printed as well. When you set up your friends as contacts, you can choose to send their Jott as an email, text message, or both. The accuracy is quite good, but if for some reason the message they get is unclear or doesn’t sound right, there is a link that will also let them listen to your spoken Jott.

In addition to setting up friends as contacts, you can also set up groups. Let’s say you need to let the members of your softball team know that the time of your game was moved up an hour. Rather than call a dozen people, you only need to make one call to Jott. You’ll Jott the message to your team (group contact), then the whole team will get the text and/or email, and everyone will be on time for the game. How’s that for efficiency?

Jott has links that you can add for integration with other sites such as Remember the Milk, 30 Boxes, and many others. They even give instructions for developing your own link! If you use Google Calendar, by all means, link to it. You can set up events and reminders thru Jott that will sync to your Google Calendar. If you use iCal, you can still use it by using a third party shareware application such as BusySync or SpanningSync. For example, if I Jott a reminder for “Karen’s Birthday Party” Saturday at 3pm, it will post to Google Calendar, then BusySync will sync with iCal. When I connect my iPhone, I will have the notation for the party in iCal and on my iPhone. How cool is that?!

If you like to Tweet, add Twitter as a link, and you can Jott your tweets (you just have to keep up with those 140 characters in your head!). You can also blog to WordPress and other popular blogs using Jott. I even Jotted part of this review (see the brief post below this one)! You have to keep in mind that Jotts are limited to thirty seconds. If you want to add a lot of content, just edit several Jotts together.

Jott Feeds was recently added to the growing list of features. You call Jott, and say “Jott Feeds”. Then you tell Jott which feed you want to hear (they have a few there by default, but you can add more to your account). If I say, “Lifehacker”, it will read the latest Lifehacker updates to me. Score another point for safety. It’s kind of funny to hear the relatively pleasant, but still quite mechanical voice reading this to me. There are a lot of run-on sentences and a lot of it is really hard to understand. I’m sure this will likely be refined over time.

Jott is now integrated with the incredibly popular Evernote application. Evernote is cross-platform, and also has a desktop client. It recently went public (it had been in private beta). Evernote generates a special email address for members. I made a contact named Ever Note and listed the Evernote email address. Then I called Jott, and Jotted to Evernote. It sent the text of my Jott to Evernote via the Evernote-specific email address. Nice.

There are a few important guidelines to remember when Jotting. Speaking clearly is paramount. Pronounce the words clearly, and you can even spell out proper names or difficult words if you want. The voice recognition software can be a little tricky sometimes, but for the most part, it just works, and works very well. The accuracy is amazing. I have a little bit of a southern accent, but I haven’t run into any major problems so far. I looked over the longest paragraph that I Jotted to my blog, and it was spot-on, 100% accurate.

I have to give a shout out to the very responsive staff at Jott. There was one feature that I wanted desperately, and that was the ability to send myself text messages separately, not associated with emailing a Jott. Kevin over at Lifehacker had come up with a way to do this several months ago, but the application had undergone a few revisions since then and it was no longer possible to do it. I tried to implement a few workaround hacks, but I just could not get it to work. I emailed support a few times and talked to Brooke about it. That’s when I got the bad news that I couldn’t send myself just a text message.

I pleaded for her to work on it. A couple of weeks went by, and just the other day I got a message from Brooke saying that, because of my emails, they changed some things and re-introduced that bit of functionality. Yay! For anyone else wanting to do this, here is what you do. First, I only have my email address listed for my contact information (to Jott myself). I did not list my cell phone number with my main contact info. I added a contact called “Text Me” and added my phone number to it, but not my email address. Inidentally, I tried saying both ‘my phone’ and ‘phone’, but it had voice recognition conflicts with those, so I had to get a little more creative. However, Brooke told me she used “phone” and it worked fine for her…probably my southern accent! Now, when I call Jott, and I am asked, “Who do you want to Jott?”, I say “Text Me”. I leave my message, and a few minutes later, it sends it to my iPhone as a text message. Perfect!

So, if there is a feature you would like to see, just let them know. They have implemented so many new features in the past several weeks and there are even more to come. This is only the tip of the iceberg as far as what you can do with Jott. There are many more suggestions and examples at their website.

Another very important point to bring up is the safety aspect. By using Jott, you can use a bluetooth headset with your cell phone, BlackBerry, or iPhone. This makes it much safer for you to be productive while on the road. You don’t have to try to scroll through a list of contacts or rummage around to find pen and paper.

Jott is free while in beta. No word yet on pricing when it comes out of beta, although the free application will remain. According to posts at their forums, they will be implementing a premium service that will allow longer Jotts, possibly including transcription services, and more features. It’s practically impossible not to get hooked on it. Give Jott a try.

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