App of the Week: InstaStitch – an easy photo collage maker

Why InstaStitch?

I have finally started using a journal app to record special moments with my family – something I’ve been planning to do for a long time.  I’m trying to stick to just one picture per day, but sometimes I need more than one photo to properly capture a moment, or can’t decide which photo is best – which is where this app come in handy!

What does it do?

You can very easily create a photo collage with up to 5 photos per collage, 38 different layouts, customised borders and 20 lovely photo effects.

How does it work?

1. Select a layout

2. Pick photos from your camera roll

3. Apply filters (each photo in your layout can have a different filter) and adjust borders

4. Save to your camera roll

Cost?

Free!!

The Verdict

Love it!  Really easy to use and a lovely way to capture multiple special moments in one picture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anything else?

I used InstaStitch on my iPhone 4 3G running iOS6.0.1.

The pictures in the slideshow were created by my kids using the Balloonimals app 🙂

I’m trying out the TinyBeans journal app – really liking it so far too. I know some of the other journal apps have photo collage functionality built in – but for some reason I’m finding the InstaStitch/TinyBeans combo is working for me.

Any other great photo or journal apps out there worth trying?

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Malware in the Corporate World

An interesting info graphic on Malware threats by Shawn Hess at WebProNews back in April.

Update: replaced image with one that is actually readable….original post was done by iPhone

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What is Malware? (and how to prevent and get rid of it)

Malware logo Crystal 128.
Malware logo Crystal 128. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you ever get suspicious that your PC has been infected? Particularly if your applications start falling over or slowing down?

I do.

I start getting worried but then convince myself I’m being paranoid – there are loads of reasons why apps fall over or run slower, and my firewall and antivirus software would have stopped anything suspect, right?

Finally, last week, prompted by an article by Jack Wallen for TechRepublic, I looked into what Malware is and whether I needed to do anything extra to protect my PC. This is particularly important coming up to the silly season as I plan to do as much of my Xmas shopping online as humanly possible. Taking two toddlers anywhere is difficult at the best of times, I can’t even contemplate Xmas shopping with them..

So, what is Malware?

According to Wikipedia Malware is

software used or created to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems.

We are probably most familiar with Malware such as viruses, trojans and worms which have been around since the dawn of computers. Today, Malware on personal PC’s would most likely be looking for personal information to use for profit – possibly by recording your keystrokes (very creepy..). You’ve probably heard at some point that only Windows PC’s are targeted, but it’s important to know that Mac’s are not immune. Since 2007 there has been a rapid increase in the number of viruses found on Mac’s and as more and more users switch to Mac’s the number of viruses will also increase.

What do Trusted Sites have to do with Malware?

Very little hopefully! Website owners pay companies such as Norton (Symantec) to run tests on their site to make sure Malware is kept out. One danger to us is that, without this level of security, a Malware creator may have found a way to inject their Malware into perfectly good software that we want to download – and when we install it, the Malware gets installed too. Most Malware is created so cleverly that you can’t see that you have it installed at all – not even in your programs or processes list. If a website is secured it will have a badge such as the Norton one here and you can be pretty sure it’s safe. Make sure you only download or buy from trusted sites.

Is Spyware a type of Malware?

This is the $64,000 question! Hmmm… yes and no. Spyware is designed to track what you do on the internet and use that information in some way to benefit the Spyware creator, so technically if you haven’t explicitly installed it, yes, it is Malware. It’s a funny one though, because some forms of Spyware are useful – like the ones that target ads at your interests, or suggest similar music or websites you might like (unless you don’t want anyone to know what your interests are….). Some Spyware is also packaged with legitimate software and the licence agreement vaguely worded to cover the use of it by the company – and since practically no one reads licence agreements you don’t know you are agreeing to it. A bit sneaky I reckon.

I’m getting paranoid now, how do I check if I have Malware on my pc?

Your security/firewall/antivirus software should run disk scans and check all your downloads – but it’s also useful to use a few different utilities and run them manually the odd time when you get worried. Malware is constantly evolving so there’s a risk that one utility will detect new ones faster than another.

Just to be safe, I have installed two – Malwarebytes (on a 60 day free trial) which was recommended by Jack Wallen who says its great for detecting Spyware; and Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removing tool because, despite some detractors from the anti-Microsoft camp, it’s seems to work as well as any other tool – and it’s free! They were both very easy to install and run but can take a while to go through all your drives if you have a lot on them.

The good news is neither tool found anything on this PC (and if they had they would have automatically removed it) – woo hoo!

Top tip

The easiest and best way to keep your computer (or tablet, or phone) Malware free is to always keep your operating system and anti-virus software up to date. Make sure you switch automatic updates on – your system will be protected from any new viruses as early as possible.

And for an extra credit..

Ever wanted to know the difference between a virus, a trojan and a worm? If so – read on…

According to Wikipedia, a virus is something that gets distributed by you taking some action – like opening a dodgy attachment from someone which then infects your PC with a virus and can be passed on. During the late 90’s there were a few big ones that used your address book and email to distribute itself on – remember those? Mostly harmless from what I recall, before the online banking and shopping boom of course.

A trojan (from the trojan horse of Greek mythology) is Malware that gets installed along with desirable software. Spyware is commonly distributed in this way – but as mentioned above, you may actually be agreeing to it in the terms and condition.

A worm, on the other hand, actively transmits itself over a network to infect other computers.

So now you know 🙂

If you’d like to know more about Malware, click through to Jack Wallen’s and Wikipedia’s articles linked above or on some of the articles listed below.

Wishing you a very pleasant and Malware-free online shopping season!

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Top 5 Apps Your Kids Will Love This Week

See on Scoop.itUseful Apps

Chris Crowell is a veteran kindergarten teacher and contributing editor to Children’s Technology Review, a web-based archive of articles and reviews on apps, technology toys and video games. Download a free issue of CTR …

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5 essentials Microsoft Surface must get right (IMHO)

 

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18:  The Microsoft tabl...
LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 18: The Microsoft tablet Surface (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

There’s a lot of talk about what the new Microsoft surface tablet will do – call me skeptical, but I want to actually use it before I get too excited.  I have a Windows 7 tablet that I thought would be a cross over device (both laptop and tablet), just like Windows Surface. As it is, I have 5 major peeves with it, and these are 5 things that the Surface must do well (not just “do”) before I’ll buy it.

Background

I have an Asus EP 121 Slate and have a love hate relationship with it. Mainly because I tried to use it as my primary device for about 6 months (when my laptop died) which accentuated it’s drawbacks.  I absolutely love the concept of the cross over device and have high hopes for Surface.

ASUS Eee Pad Slate
ASUS Eee Pad Slate (Photo credit: Masaru Kamikura)

Microsoft Surface Top 5 “Must Haves” 

1. A built in kick stand that works:  Why is this my #1?  Because my Slate just would not stand up properly, period.  What seemed at the start to be a minor inconvenience very quickly became a major issue.  I Skype my folks back home with the kids twice a week and the cover/stand just would not support it properly, especially if the kids so much as breathed on it.  My folks spent quite a bit of time talking to the ceiling, a nice decorative ceiling, but they would have preferred to see their grandkids.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18:  The Microsoft tabl...
LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 18: The Microsoft tablet Surface is unveiled during a news conference at Milk Studios on June 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

2. A great integrated keyboard: The keyboard that came with the Slate was always somewhere else.  Not the manufacturers fault you would think, but it was quite big relative to the Slate so would be stored in a cupboard somewhere random and unfindable.  I also found the onscreen keyboard really difficult to use accurately, which is strange considering I can easily type emails on my iPhone. That, combined with the Slate constantly falling over, meant I used my iPhone as my primary emailing device for most of the 6 months I was without a laptop. I can’t wait to find out if the keyboard cover for the Surface works well, it certainly looks fantastic.

3. Light and Truly Portable: The Slate is officially 1.16kg (2.6lbs) but feels much heavier. In fact, it’s 1.57kg (3.5lbs) with battery and case according to my kitchen scales. It’s got a 12.1 inch display and is 312 x 207.2 x 16.95 mm (WxDxH) overall.  This combined with the weight means it’s not small and light enough to carry around in my handbag and use as a truly portable device. Surface promises to be 0.7-0.9kgs (1.5 – 2lbs) and 9-13mm thick, almost half the weight and thickness of my Slate.

4. Long Battery Life:  The Slate officially had 4.5 hours but didn’t seem to last that long. It will be interesting to see how Surface fares.  Good battery life on a portable device is obviously essential.

5.  Great Windows 8 touch screen experience: I cannot wait to try out Windows 8 (I did try to upgrade to the pre release but had some issues). Everyone knows that Windows 7 doesn’t provide the best touch screen experience but it’s worth mentioning here as it contributed to my overall underwhelming experience.

So there you have it.  If you have been lucky enough to get close to a Surface tablet and can comment on any of the above, please do!

Anything else you think Surface must do before you’d buy it?

You might also like to read : 10 reasons I can’t wait to get a Microsoft Surface Tablet by Debra Littlejohn Shinder at TechRepublic

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App of the Week: Readability

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Why Readability?

Last week I wrote this post on how many of us are using tablets as reading/consuming devices on the move and leaving our laptops at home. Readability is making it really easy for me to save articles to read later on the train.

What does it do?

You can save links to your reading list or send them to your Kindle –  “Read Later”.  You can also change the font size etc. to make a web page easier to read – “Read now”.

Readability
Chrome browser extension

How does it work?

1. Set up a Readability account

2. Install the Readability app on your iPhone/tablet

3. Install a Readbility browser add-on on your PC

4. Add the Readability bookmarketlet to Safari  on your iPhone/Tablet

5.  Start building your reading list!

Cost?

Free!!

The Verdict

Brilliant!!  Really easy to set up and use. I used to clog up my Favourites with articles to read later and email links to myself to read on the train – no more!

There are a few similar apps out there, this is a good article by Allyson Kazmucha at www.imore.com which compares the different offerings.

Anything else?

I used Google Chrome on my Windows 7 laptop and Safari on my iPhone when trying this app out. Multiple browsers and operating systems are supported, including Android – see http://www.readability.com for more details.

Do you use Readability (or one of the other similar apps) already? If so, do you like it? Have you any other apps you’d like to recommend?  I’m always on the look out for good ones..

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Ah the memories!

I found this picture today and it really brought me back….
I was completely addicted to Speedway as a kid, what a fantastic game! Other faves were Snake, Duke Nukem 2D (yes 2D, that’s not a typo), and Little Brick Out. Oh the wasted hours.
We had an old Apple 2e (the pic is an Apple 2c, the compact version) and were thrilled that it had a floppy drive – my best friend had a PC with a tape drive which took up to 45 mins to load a game – if it didn’t fail or eat the tape.
Now my dishwasher has cycles shorter than 45 minutes. Progress eh!

Can you remember any other cool games from that era?
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Spooky Spokeo…how much does it know?


Spokeo is a “Personal Information Site” that uses deep web crawlers to find information publicly available on the web to build a profile of you, yes you. And me, and anyone else that has ever signed up for anything on the web.
I’d never heard of it but started seeing it in search results over the last few weeks. We have some major changes happening at work so I was googling a few names (as you do) to see what linkedin had to say about them. I kept seeing these “Spokeo” results so clicked in to have a look.

“Not your Grandma’s phone book”

Spokeo is a people search engine that aggregates white-pages listings and public records. Luckily for us non-Americans, the name search is limited to US residents. You can search on an email address for non-US residents which will tell you a bit more, but then it wants to charge you for the privilege. The urban legend website lists quite a few similar sites, the most comprehensive (for free) seeming to be pipl. Urban legend also mentions concerns about so-called invasions of privacy – but from what I can see (and read), all the information available is public anyway.

How much does it know?

I come from a large Irish Catholic family so put the lot into pipl to see what came out. I put both names and primary email addresses.

Mum – nothing even though she has a gmail address.
Dad – ditto
Sis 1 – lives in the US so they had her age, work address and Spokeo even had a google map of her house (this site returned very little for free for anyone else), but then again her address is available in the white pages.
Sis 2 – not a lot, only found one social network profile but she uses a wide variety of email addresses and online profiles, and lives in Dublin
Sis 3 – found a load of her public profiles including tweets and facebook pages – she runs an online wine business in Shenzhen, China (www.crushedgrapes.cn) so would be delighted I’m sure.
Bro – again, lots of tweets and public profiles – but again, he runs a live music service (www.45sound.com).
Me – pipl returned my age from my bebo profile (I’d forgotten I was on that site) which was a bit disturbing as I try to keep that private, not that I’m embarrassed of course, merely for security purposes.. Anyway, I went to the effort of getting my bebo password reset only to find that I can’t remove the year of birth – how annoying! Apart from that, again I wasn’t too concerned by what it found.

So why are people freaking out?

From what I can see, two reasons – firstly, Spokeo (and pipl etc.) gathers all the data it can find about you on the web, so if you use the same email address and your real name for all your online memberships, it will probably build quite a comprehensive picture of you which could be a bit confronting. If you don’t, it won’t. It could be used by someone stalking you, but then again, they could find all that info about you anyway if they looked hard enough.

Secondly – there are rumours out there that if you go onto the Spokeo website it downloads cookies that start tracking your movements and therefore gather more data about you. Now, I don’t really believe that, but since it wouldn’t kill me to delete all my cookies for the last hour, I’m going to do it anyway 🙂

So if you’re curious have a look at the sites below:

http://www.spokeo.com
http://pipl.com

Did they have much info about you? Anything that freaked you out? Should I be more concerned? Let me know!

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3D printing – a brave new world or a geeky fad?

Picture this:
Your car breaks down outside a one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. Instead of waiting a week for your car to be fixed you are on your way again in a matter of hours. Why? Thanks to 3D printing, the local mechanic can simply download a plan of your faulty part, “print” it off and bob’s your uncle!

Ok, so we’re not quite there yet, but we are getting pretty close..

What is 3D printing?
It’s exactly what you think it means – printing a object, like a car part, in it’s full 3D form. Instead of ink the printer uses cartridges containing the raw material needed, such as plastic or metal, to build up the object layer by layer according to the given design. It sounds like sci-fi but it really does exist!

3D printing has been around for a few years in various forms (this is a good introductory article on what 3D printing is) but it’s hit the headlines lately because prices of printers have been dropping fast and soon the average person will be able to afford one. This will be very interesting! Some of the most popular 3D printers are open source – which means there may be no big corporations reaping huge profits off their backs. How refreshing would that be?

What will happen to copyright and patents?

Who knows! This article on 3d-printing-the-new-frontier-of-piracy is about a guy 3D printing his own warhammer figures (an online gaming thing) and being sued by the games creators. However, if in the future everyone has their own 3D printer and you have millions of people printing spare parts for their various electronic devices instead of paying to have them fixed, how would that possibly be regulated?

Will they be used for good or evil?

As with everything else, probably both. 3D printers will soon be used to fix medical machines and save lives in remote areas and the third world and to create life-saving drugs on demand even tailored to an individuals biochemistry (see printing-technology-could-let-you-print-your-pharmaceuticals-at-home for more on this topic). On the same note they will also be used to create street drugs, guns, chemical weapons or even a copy of your car key. See criminals_find_new_uses_for_3d_printing for a good article on the dangers of 3D printing.

Will it be like living on Star Trek?

Will we all be printing our own food and supplies a few years from now? Maybe… but while the printers may come down in price, the reduction in price is also likely to result in a reduction in quality and accuracy. Those looking forward to Star Trek type food replicators will probably have to wait a bit longer.

One for the trekkies – pan fried catfish anyone?

Hard core techies and hobbyists are already tinkering with 3D printing of everyday products and devices but for the average person it’s still too time consuming and complex, much easier to go shopping.

Glass Skyscraper Project Mies Van Der Rohe 1922. Photo via The Lying Truth and http://www.ArchDaily.com

Future potential or fad?
The worlds experts seem to agree that 3D printing has the potential to radically change the medical, dental, construction, pharmaceutical and engineering industries and that’s just for starters. The biggest losers might well be corporations, as they could lose a level of control over patents, copyrights and pricing. The winners will be those who control the raw materials (the material in the cartridges that the printers use), and pretty much everyone who can benefit from the  freer distribution of technology.

What do you think? Will 3D printing be a game changer?

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What is a QR code?

Have you seen a lot of these lately?

They’re everywhere!  I had seen plenty and knew they contained information but had never actually scanned one until this evening.

To find out what’s behind the picture all you need is a smart phone and a QR scanning app.

So I downloaded QR Reader for iPhone (a free app) from the App Store and went in search of QR codes. You simply start the reader app and hold your phone camera over the QR picture. I found them a bit fiddly at times to scan, and holding the phone landscape instead of portrait over the code seemed to work better. Given I’m a novice it’s most likely me not the app whose at fault, and I would imagine scanning from paper is easier than scanning a computer screen.

So once you scan one of these, what happens?

Well, first the app decodes what you’ve scanned and then shows you the result. You might see some text, get a picture, get a coupon/discount voucher, someones contact details, be redirected to a web page, a twitter profile, a geographical location, “like” a facebook page or watch a video – to name but a few examples.

They can be put anywhere really. On massive billboards, sides of cars, on people (tattoos ?!?, clothes, nails), on business cards, in newspapers, in restaurants, on websites – the possibilities only constrained by imagination and potential for embarrassment.

They could be so much more effective than flyers when you think about it. Once you have the information on your phone, you’ll have it to hand whenever you think you need whatever the code creator was selling.

QR reader for iPhone also allows you to generate your own QR codes. If you try my sample above you will be redirected to my brother’s brilliant crowdsourced music video website www.45sound.com (family plug!).

QR stands for Quick Read. These codes have been in popular use for really only the last 2 years but have been around since 1994.  They were invented in Japan (surprise!) by Toyota (surprise!) and were used to track car parts on conveyor belts. Eighteen years later it’s a global phenomenon.

If you believe some of the stats elsewhere on the web, in June 2011 14 million QR codes were scanned in the US, 60% of the scanners were male, most between 18 and 55, most earned over $100k p.a. and almost 50% of the items scanned were discount coupons!

Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m off to scan myself a few freebies…

Happy scanning!

What do you think – fad or here to stay? Have you scanned any good QR codes recently?

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