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NBC Olympics Cheer App

Cheering on the Olympians is fun, but you need tools if you want to do it right: cowbells (for Alpine ski racing), Alpenhorns (for ski jumping), irritating airhorns (hopefully never). NBC has thoughtfully provided an iPhone app that plays all of those sounds, and more-- see below.

Here are the standard sounds. All of them play when you tap them (warning: they keep playing! Tap again to turn off), but some of them have special triggers. For example, the cowbell plays when you shake it, and the whistle and Alpenhorn play when you blow into your iPhone's microphone. Fun.

Here are the "Game Sounds." You can hear the puck being hit (Ice Hockey), the starting countdown and wild cheering (Alpine skiing), and people snoring (Cross Country skiing). You can also record your own cheer. That's sort of fun. Play it back when you feel like cheering but don't have the energy.

You can even play the sounds of a Coca-Cola pouring into a glass.

Finally, you can click a link to see video of "Uplifting Moments" on YouTube.

It's not perfect (it stopped playing sounds after my iPhone's timer went off, though a restart of the app fixed that), but for free you are definitely getting your money's worth. I say check it out. Click here to get it from the iTunes Store.

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RepairPal iPhone App

I don't know much about cars. When the mechanic says "You need a new alternator" all I can say is "OK... but how much is this going to cost?" At that point, as long as he doesn't say something outrageous I tend to give him the go-ahead. Then I spend the next few weeks wondering how much I overpaid.

Those days are over! RepairPal, a handy and FREE iPhone app, lets you get an idea of what the repair ought to cost, based on your car's make, model, and year. It also takes your location into consideration. Here's an example.

Suppose your car is a Ford Explorer, 1996. Suppose the mechanic tells you it's time for a new alternator and that it will cost you $300. Start up RepairPal, put in your car's info, and then your location, as shown below. Then touch "Get Estimate."

Here you see a range of prices, a little bit higher at the dealers and a little bit less at the independent shops. Now you know enough to evaluate your mechanic's quote.

Scroll down a bit and you get more info... always handy to know more.

Touch the "Find a Shop" button and you get a list of places that ought to be able to handle the job. The one at the top paid to be there-- watch for that. The rest of the shops are sorted with the closest one to you at the top of the list. They even have ratings. How cool is that?

Knowledge is power. In a way, I'm sort of looking forward to having something go wrong with my car so I can pull out my iPhone and turn to RepairPal.

Turns out that RepairPal has a website too, so if you're not an iPhone user you can still use the service (which is free).

Still have questions? Email me.

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Google Translate, now even easier

Every use Google Translate? It's really handy. I know there are other options but there are things about Google Translate that are hard to beat. Have a look by clicking here. Better yet, have a look by Control-clicking here, and then choosing "Open Link in New Window." That way, you can play around with Google Translate and read all about it here, with the windows side-by-side.

The first thing that I especially like about Google Translate is that it translates what you type as you type it. Try it. I don't know how they do it, but it works very nicely for me (Safari 4.0.4, Mac OS X 10.6.2). Here's a picture of the finished sentence, translated, but know that it was translating away as I entered my lunch request. Very cool. And of course there are plenty of choices for the "Translate from" and "Translate to" languages.

The second thing that I especially like about Google Translate is it can translate an entire webpage. All you do is type the website address into the box, where I typed in my "I would like a cheeseburger" sentence. If you are looking at a website and you get the notion to translate it, you could (1) select the URL, (2) copy the URL, (3) switch to Google Translate, (4) paste the copied URL into the box, and (5) click the Translate button. Or you could do it all in one step, if you do some one-time set-up. Obviously you want to do it in one step, so read on and I'll show you how.

In Google Translate, click where it says "Tools and Resources" at the left. Or click this link. Ignore all of that complicated-looking stuff at the top and scroll down until you see something that looks like the following picture.

Choose a language that you want to translate into. Click and hold on the blue underlined text for that language. If you let go you will get a friendly reminder from Google:

Do what it says: click and hold on a blue underlined language and drag it to your browser's toolbar. While you're dragging it looks like this:

When you let go you'll get a chance to name it. I used the name suggested by Google:

When you're done it looks like this (minus the red oval). That little button will be there forever, or until you take it off.

That's it for the setting up. Now for the fun part! Go to a web page, any web page. Let it load up. Click the button you made. If you happen to go to the same web page that I did, you will change this...

into this!

I don't know about you but I think it's amazing.

Bonus: notice that Google's put some controls at the top of the translated page. That means you can EASILY switch to another language, without starting over. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think. You can even tell me in Spanish.

Still have questions? Email me.

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AT&T's Mark the Spot app

AT&T might not have the best phone and data services (might not?), but at least they're giving us an easy way to let them know when and where we experience problems. The idea is, when something goes wrong-- dropped call, no service, slow internet, etc.-- you fire up AT&T's Mark the Spot app and tell them all about it. Seems like a good idea.

You can get Mark the Spot from the iTunes Store for free. Here's a link to save you time. And here's a picture of the app's opening screen.

They haven't thought of everything, but they do realize that if you're having technical issues with AT&T's services it's quite likely that sending them a note right then isn't going to be possible. They handle that by dropping a little pin onto a map, marking the spot (get it?) and when you finally get service again the note and the map and the pin get sent. That's kind of a clever way to do it.

Complaining about AT&T's service seems to be the "in" thing these days but it's a lot more fun when you complain to the right people, and with Mark the Spot it's really convenient. If you're having issues with AT&T's service this is the app for you.

Still have questions? Email me.

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iPhone Photo of the Week

Taken February 9th, 2010, 5:30 PM, after the rain in Los Angeles. No special lens, no special tricks, just a steady hand. Remember, the iPhone takes a picture when you take your finger OFF of the camera button, not when you touch it, so put your finger on it and hold... and when you are ready to take the picture, gently take your finger away. Obviously, it works for me.

There's a tiny strip of white at the end of the street, on the mountains. That's the Hollywood sign.

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Macworld Expo Report

I'm back from Macworld Expo. I spent about a day and a half there, plenty of time to see all of the exhibits once and many of them twice.

The show was much, MUCH smaller than last year. We knew in advance that Apple wouldn't be there, but we were all wondering how many others wouldn't be there. The answer: about half of the vendors from last year stayed home.

Off the top of my head, here's a list of big companies that WEREN'T at Macworld this year:
  • Canon
  • Epson
  • Adobe
  • Quark
  • FileMaker
  • Intuit
  • Google
  • Logitech
Quite a list of heavy-hitters. Even so, the show was a lot of fun, and there was still plenty to see. I plan on attending next year and I encourage you to do the same. Dates for next year are already set: January 25th through 29th, 2011. Click here to add the dates to your iCal calendar. (Really, please click it. It's my first click-and-add-it-to-iCal link.)

Here is a short list of things that caught my eye at Macworld. Check 'em out.

iPhone apps
  • businesscardscannerBusiness Card Reader, $1.99 (Macworld Expo special-- regularly $5.99). Take a picture of a business card using your iPhone and the program reads the information and adds it to your Contacts on the iPhone. Since you're surely synching your iPhone with your Mac that means the contact will be on your Mac too. Very neat. I bought it and it works. It's not always perfect but it's always good enough to be pretty helpful.
  • grocerypalGrocery Pal, free. Tell it your zip code and it gives you all of the specials for the stores around you. Limit it to just the stores you like if you want to. Add items to your shopping list for each store and do price comparisons across all of your stores. Search for items easily. By the way, blueberries are 2 baskets for $3 at Ralphs this week.
  • SquareSquare-- not yet available, but boy oh boy does this look good. It lets you accept credit cards as payment even if you don't have a merchant account. The Square people will take some small percentage of the transaction, currently estimated at 2.99%. No yearly fee, no per-transaction fee, no muss no fuss. This will be great for when you go out to dinner with friends-- you could pay the restaurant with your credit card, and your friends can pay you with theirs. Neat. The app will cost 99 cents and the scanner thingy will be free.

Mac stuff
  • topazlabsTopazLabs Photoshop bundle, $129 (Macworld Expo special-- slightly higher now). This amazing set of tools, which also works in iPhoto, lets you do incredible things to your photos. Some of the tools help you to rescue badly exposed or backlit photos, others help you to take the noise out of noisy jpegs, others let you have a great time experimenting. Get a 30-day trial and go to town.
Click here to see a slide show of some pictures I fixed up last night with Topaz in about two seconds. Look for the navigation (next, previous, home) at the top.

I still have a lot of Macworld paperwork and notes to go through so I may be adding to this list.

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Save Time with Auto Fill in Excel

Take a look at the Excel document below. Notice anything? Of course you did-- each column is a series, progressing from a starting item to an ending item in some sort of regular way.

It took me 59.4 seconds to enter this data. Really. That's one cell of data per second-- very, very, very quick, and it's not because I'm such an amazing typist. Actually, I let Excel do most of the typing for me, using a feature called Auto Fill. All I did was type the first row of data. Excel did the rest. Here's how it works.

1. Type something into a cell and hit Enter (or Return).
2. Click on the cell again to select it, and let go.
3. Look for a little box at the lower right-hand corner of the selected cell. Move the mouse over that until the cursor looks like a little black "+" as shown below.

4. Click the lower right-hand corner with that black plus, hold the mouse button down, and drag down (or to the right). Excel fills the cells with the right stuff. Amazing.

The four steps above will work in a lot of cases. In fact, they work for the first four columns in our example. But, when you get to the last two columns, those steps don't work, and that's because Excel doesn't know whether we want to go up by one, or two, or five, or whatever. We have to tell it.

The trick is to enter not just the first item in the column, but also the second. So, in the example here, I typed a 1 and then below it a 2. Then I selected BOTH cells, via click-and-drag, and THEN I clicked the lower right-hand corner and dragged down. For the column at the far right, I entered 5 in the top row, 10 in the next row, selected both cells, then dragged that lower right-hand corner.

You'll know you're clicking in the right place when the cursor looks like the black "+".

Next time that you have a lot of data to enter into Excel look for the chance to use this Auto Fill method. It will save you a LOT of time.

Bonus: if you type "Jan" Excel will enter "Feb" and "Mar" etc. If you type "1st Quarter" Excel will enter "2nd Quarter" and "3rd Quarter" etc.

Bonus 2: you can select more than one cell in the top row, then grab the lower right-hand corner of the selection, and then Auto Fill all of those columns at once. Try it.

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Macworld Expo is this week!

The big Macworld Expo show starts this Thursday in San Francisco. For the first time in Macworld's history, Apple will not be there. (In case you didn't know, Macworld Expo is put on by the people who own Macworld magazine. Apple was never the host of Macworld, only an attendee.) It should be an interesting show anyway. Prediction: there will be several super-cheap iPad knockoffs available for you to waste your money on. I mean "buy."

You can get a free pass to Macworld by clicking this link and signing up. That will save you $25 over doing it at the show. Do it do it do it (Dave). You can buy me a cup of coffee on the show floor with the money you save.

For the first time in fifteen years I will NOT be doing a remote radio interview from Macworld. KPFK is having a pledge drive and it has pre-empted the Digital Village program that usually has me on. The hosts have told me that I'll be their first guest as soon as they get back on the air. Watch this space for details.

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My Top Five PAID iPhone Apps

Here are five iPhone apps that I bought with my own money. I use them all the time. Definitely worth your consideration.

Christian Boyce's Top Five PAID iPhone Apps
Live Cams, 99 cents. In combination with EvoCam ($30) on your Mac and a cheap webcam, Live Cams lets you see live streaming video on your iPhone. I use it to look out the window when I'm not home. Lots of fun, and useful too.

OmniFocus, $19.99. Combine this one with OmniFocus on your Mac and you will Get Things Done. See my review of OmniFocus for more details. I use OmniFocus all the time-- it is one of my "four at the bottom of the screen" applications, along with the Phone, Mail, and Settings apps.

Peterson Field Guide to Backyard Birds, $2.99. Easy-to-use bird identifier, with lots of pictures. You can play each bird's song-- very useful when trying to identify a bird that you can hear but not see. The app has 180 birds in it, is easy to use, and though there are many others I think for $2.99 you can't go wrong with this one.

LogMeIn, $29.99. I use LogMeIn on the Macs in my office to provide remote support for my customers-- it lets me control their Macs remotely, allowing me to give lessons and to troubleshoot around the world without leaving my chair. On those occasions when I do leave my chair, I have LogMeIn on my iPhone, and it lets me control a customer's Mac from anywhere that I can get cell reception. Yes, it's a little hard to do. But in a pinch, it's just what the doctor ordered.

RedLaser, $1.99. What a great world we live in (minus the lousy economy). With Red Laser I can use the camera on my iPhone to scan a bar code on something I'm thinking of buying. Red Laser then tells me how much that thing would cost at an assortment of online retailers, as well as at local brick-and-mortar stores ("local" because the iPhone knows where you are!). Having that information right there on the spot makes it super-useful. You'll save a lot more than Red Laser's $1.99 cost, and you'll probably do it the first time you use it. Especially handy on books, by the way.

Need more info before spending your hard-earned money? Send me a note and I'll answer your questions.

Still have questions? Email me.

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