Keep track of local and remote weather conditions with The Weather Channel Desktop

Keep track of local and remote weather conditions with this must have Windows Utility

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Having local and remote weather at your fingertips is part of what makes the internet the internet. I mean, how good would the internet be if you couldn’t find out if it was gonna rain today either at the places you live and work, or where you were going to travel to? Its actually kinda silly… Its for this reason that I find tools like the Weather Channel Desktop so important, and a must have on your Windows desktop.

The Weather Channel Desktop provides one-click access to current weather conditions, local temperature, severe weather alerts, hurricane updates, maps – including radar and other precipitation tracking tools – ad well as hourly and10-day forecasts. Your local temperature is placed in the system tray, and many functions are accessible via this tray icon. An always-on connection keeps you informed of weather changes and allows you to plan ahead.

The Weather Channel Desktop is one of my most favorite applications. I often have a long commute to work and knowing what weather conditions I will encounter during that commute is very important in preparing for the day. While I really like what the app does, its graphs and maps, the fact that its adware supported and comes with some apps that I didn’t necessarily want installed when I installed the Weather Channel Desktop is a bit frustrating. However, these apps are easily removed via the Programs and Features Control Panel App. This is the only real blemish on what otherwise is one of the best system tray apps I’ve ever used.

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Recover lost data, drives and partitions with this must have 321Soft Data Recovery for Mac

Recover lost data, drives and partitions with this must have Mac utility.

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Keeping your data safe is important. I’ve had times when not only the source file, but the backups of the source data is corrupted and the only way to get anything back is to try to recover the data from a bad drive. I’ve been there, and its been painful. When you find yourself in a situation like this, its good to have tools like 321Soft Data Recovery for Mac. It just might be able to save your bacon.

321Soft Data Recovery is a full-featured data recovery solution for OS X that’s designed to recover lost, formatted and deleted files from hard drives, flash drives, Memory Cards, mobile devices, or any other type portable storage devices. Flexible parameter settings give you absolute control over data recovery. Regardless of how the data was lost 321Soft Data Recovery can still recover the data.

The app is VERY easy to use. You don’t need to have any previous data recovery experience in order to use the app effectively. The app’s File Preview will allow you to preview files before you recover or attempt to recover them.

In addition to being a full-featured recovery utility, 321Soft Data Recovery also includes a powerful RAID reconstruction utility that can repair lost or damaged RAID volumes. The tool also has a feature-rich hex editor, and a disk clone/imaging module that allows you to create disk image files to recover data from drives that have bad sectors.

Every computer owner should have an app like this around for emergencies. The biggest problem with it, however, is its price. Its expensive, and in normal use cases, you’re likely not going to use it very often. You’re going to have to really think about the importance of the lost data before you purchase. However, from a recovery and usability perspective, this is a must have, no brainer.

 

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Convert audio and video to any format you need with iDealshare VideoGo

Convert audio and video to any format you need with this multi-platform tool.

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If there’s one thing that I know, its that more and more of what people are doing on the internet today involves video. More than anything else (for most people… I’m a still-photo nut as I have an elaborate DSLR rig), people are taking video on their cellphones and posting it to Facebook, YouTube, Picasa and other social network sites.

Unfortunately, not every video is created equally and getting the video – or even audio – you want in the format you need it in, isn’t always easy. Its for this reason that tools like iDealshare VideoGo are so important. The app is a cross-platform tool and if you don’t have it, you really should give it a long hard look.

iDealshare VideoGo is an easy to use professional video converter. It helps you convert all kinds of audio and video formats with little to no loss in quality. You can use it to covert HD, 3D or SD video in any number of formats, including, but not limited to, WMV, ASF, ASX, AVI, DV, DivX, MKV, FLV, F4V, SWF, MXF, MVI, and OGM. It also supports mobile formats such as 3GP, 3G2, 3GPP, 3GPP2 and MP4. It also supports standard formats such as MPG, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, MJPEG, MJPG, H.263, H.264, MOV, M4V, QT as well as many others. The app also supports conversion of audio formats such as MP3, WAV, WMA, M4A, Apple Lossless OGG, AAC, AC3, as well as many, many others.

If downloading video from any website is what does it for you, then you’re going to love iDealshare VideoGo. The app is an all-in-one video downloader and converter. It enables you to download videos instantly in HD 720p, HD 1080p, HD 2k, including ultra high definition (4K) and 3D video with a single click from popular video sharing websites like YouTube, Facebook, Google Videos, Metacafe, eHow, Vimeo, MTV, BBC, and Dailymotion. You can also convert the downloaded videos to almost all popular video or audio formats.

Conclusion: iDealshare VideoGo is a cool app. I really like that it converts both audio and video, and that it allows you to download video from popular video sharing sites. It also allows you to convert that downloaded video to the supported format you need it in. The only thing that you really have to worry about is copy protection on the source video. The app may be able to download it, but it won’t be able to convert that video to any other format you might need.

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Create animated GIF’s from your life pictures with PicGIF

Create animated GIF’s from your life pictures with this handy Mac tool.

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Some of the simplest movies that you can create are simply made from stills and stitched together with special tools. I’ve done this throughout my computing career for a number of different reasons. However, that’s mostly been on the Windows side of the house. Thankfully, you can do this just as easily on the Mac side of the world, and that’s one of the reasons why I really like PicGIF from PearlMountain Software. It’s an animated GIF tool for your Mac, and its really easy to use.

PicGIF for Mac is an easy to use and intuitive GIF maker that allows you to create animated GIFs from your photos and videos on your Mac. One of its really cool features also lets you edit existing animated GIFs. The program is simple and easy to use, and it makes animating your pictures a lot of fun.

One of the coolest things about PicGIF is that it doesn’t matter what format your source photos are in. If you’re Mac can open them, then Pic GIF can use them to make an animated GIF. The app also works with common video formats, allowing you to quickly and easily string videos together into a longer, larger movie that can be played over the web or by other computers. It’s a great way to quickly and easily share special moments with family members and friends who happen to live far away.

PicGIF is a great application. Not only can you take control of the entire animation process, but you can set the picture size, fill mode, frame delay and playing sequence. Because its on your Mac, you can do most of the things that you would expect you can do with pictures on a Mac. It supports full drag and drop, has a text editor that will allow you to add text to your animations as well as giving you complete font control. You also get a real time preview of the animation. The app is amazing.

 

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In-Flight Cellphone Calls to be Banned?

The US DoT is moving towards banning in-flight calls

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The use of electronic devices on plane flights has been banned for a number of years, not only in the US, but worldwide. Originally, the thought was that the electro-magnetic radiation or EMR from these devices would interfere with onboard aviation equipment. So the FAA banned their use on flights in the US. Recently, that policy has changed.

Last October, the FAA announced that it would permit the use of all electronic devices during all phases of flight. This meant that you didn’t necessarily have to turn off your iPad or iPod when the doors closed and you had your nose reducing headphones plugged in, turned on and pumping music through your ears during take off. No more crying and screaming children for you!

However, this also meant that you could conceivably spend the entire flight next to Chatty Cathy as she gabbed away on her cell phone at 35,000 feet. However, according to the DoT, the agency is preparing some rules that may prevent just that.

While the FAA hasn’t laid down any new rules, and the DoT hasn’t come out with anything definitive as yet, its clear that the airline carriers are considering making some rules of their own. Your time next to Chatty Cathy may be totally cut off if they get their way, so you may be saved from all of the grief.

As of this writing – 2014-08-11 – I am currently sitting in the O’Hare International Airport waiting on a flight to Pittsburgh, PA for a job interview. I’m flying the Friendly Skies, so United has my business on both legs of this trip. In my opinion, United has been one of the more restrictive carriers with passenger privileges and freedoms in Coach. It will be interesting to see how things go after I get on board.

UPDATE:
OK, well, this is already partially implemented…at least on United. They allow use of portable electronic devices at all times on the plane. When the doors close, they tell you smartphones and tablets with cellular have to be put in airplane mode. Wireless headsets are permitted, but no Wi-Fi. The flight I was on didn’t have in-flight Wi-Fi.

I fully expect that despite what the FAA or the DoT implement as rules or guidelines, that the airline carriers will do what they want. They will likely further limit the use of electronic devices on domestic and international flights originating in the US. Despite what the regulatory agencies specify, passengers will be required to follow the rules the carriers lay down. Failure to do so, will get you booted and likely banned (depending on how you behave). Its going to be an interesting time. I will continue to follow the issue and will report back with any new updates.

In the mean time, why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below and let me know what you think the FAA and DoT should outline in any new regulations? I’d also like to hear what you think the airlines will do, too; so jump in and give me your thoughts!

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iOS 8 Beta 5 – Finally… PROGRESS!

iOS 8 Beta 5 has been released. Let’s take a look to see how (well) things have progressed…

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 Introduction

Over the past ten weeks or so, Apple has been releasing betas of iOS 8, their new mobile operating system. I’ve covered the first four betas with some rants that have left me (and I would assume other developers and testers) lamenting. You can read up on how things have progressed here:

Beta releases of iOS 8, to put it politely, have been a train wreck at best. They have been nearly unusable, crashing and causing issues and problems with nearly each and every core, as well as nearly every third party app I have had installed, too. Apple recently released iOS 8 Beta 5. Let’s take a look at how things are going and see if iOS 8 is (finally?) ready for a wider audience as well as some other third party app work by developers worldwide.

I’m also going to touch on a few OS X Yosemite Beta 5 issues, as I bumped into updates on them while looking at iOS 8 Beta 5. So much of what is cool about iOS 8 requires Yosemite and a Mac, that it’s hard to draw the line between the two devices and operating systems… at least when they are close by (and vice-versa)

 Installation

Installation of iOS 8 Beta 5 was only slightly smoother than previous versions of iOS 8. I did have problems with iTunes Match again (see Music, below), and almost had to blow the device and reinstall, but thankfully, have not… Yet.

There are still a number of know issues with iOS 8 Beta 5, and as always, caution should be used when deciding to install any kind of beta on any mission critical equipment. Generally, it’s not a good idea. For example in Beta 5, updating iCloud settings may appear to hang when you try to change them. The thought is that the device will eventually come back. Try to see if you can wait it out before you kill the app, or perform a hard reset (power + home button until the Apple logo appears), which will clear all settings and reboot the device.

While using Beta 4, I didn’t blow the device and rebuild it from scratch. I toughed it out and made it the entire two weeks. However, during the 2-3 days prior to the release of Beta 5, I REALLY did want to. I didn’t as I knew that I would be doing exactly that for Beta 5 soon. However getting to that release wasn’t a lot of fun (though it was mildly better than with Betas 1 – 3).

The question of stability of iOS 8 Beta 5 is still to be determined.

 Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

According to Apple’s release notes, there aren’t any known issues with Bluetooth in iOS 8 Beta 5. There weren’t any documented issues in Beta 4 either, but it was still a mess. I am pleased to say that things are a bit better here in Beta 5.

BT-LE (Bluetooth Low Energy) seems to be working and communicating with my Pebble Steel smartwatch. However, the Pebble app does seem to be sending some corrupted data, as the watch doesn’t always vibrate at configured intervals and the display often gets corrupted. I haven’t had to hard reset the watch (return it to factory settings), but I’ve wanted to at least once since repairing it with my iPhone 5.

Now, the only issue I need to verify is the secret sauce connection (Continuity and Handoff) my iPhone shares with my MacBook Pro.

Speaking of secret sauce connectivity, little to nothing related to Handoff or connectivity (both relying on Wi-Fi and home network connectivity) worked well for me in the iOS 8 Beta 4 – Yosemite Beta 4/Consumer Preview 1 combination.

There are currently two huge known issues with Handoff

  1. Handoff will not work on systems configured with multiple user accounts.
  2. Handoff icons may not appear in the Dock after using the corresponding app on another device. Trying another Handoff-supported app may resolve this issue.

At this point, Handoff should be considered a work in progress. Though when it does work, it IS pretty cool, especially if you’re using apps that save to documents in iCloud Drive.

 FaceTime, Phone and Contacts

In previous versions of OS X as well as iOS, Apple had a clear line of separation between the Phone app and FaceTime. With Yosemite and iOS 8, that line is SERIOUSLY blurred. This is both good and bad. Now, you have a choice in how you communicate with someone given the type and speed of the network you are connected to. On your Mac, all of your calls regardless of type – FaceTime or cellular – all show up in FaceTime. It looks like it wants to function as the main phone app for your Mac, though you can dial from just about anywhere you can find or see a phone number, Calendar, Contacts and Safari included. In Beta 4 of both OS X and iOS 8, this was nothing more than a total train wreck.

I have no idea if this is because of development issues with Phone on my iPhone 5, with Contacts on either my device or my Mac or with FaceTime on either my iPhone or my Mac. There are too many possible integration points for me as a tester (without direct access to design docs, code and/ or developer resources) to determine. I’m going to have to give this a shot when I get a moment back at the house.

Besides the “progress” made, above, Apple has also fixed the ability for users to use FaceTime in landscape orientations on your iDevice. In earlier betas, this didn’t work. It does now, in Beta 5. Fixed – at least somewhat – is also the ability to determine which number to specify as a Favorite, though the Favorite chooser in Phone. Favorites now provides a contact method picker, but force quits the Phone app when a contact method is chosen. We’re close, but no kewpie doll yet. Unless Apple has gotten the iPhone integration working correctly with both Beta 5 releases of iOS 8 and Yosemite, it’s going to be a very long beta period for both operating systems.

UPDATE: While this article was being written, a new <a href=”http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/08/05/apple-to-hold-iphone-6-media-event-on-sept-9—report”>rumor was breaking</a> regarding a reported Apple media even scheduled for 2014-09-09. <a href=”http://recode.net/2014/08/05/codered-apple-to-hold-iphone-event-on-sept-9/”>Re/code</a> is reporting that both new iPhone 6 devices – the 4.7″ and the 5.5″ iDevices – will be announced with a projected order rate of 80M units. It is not known if the iWatch will be announced at the same event or not. However, you can expect new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina models to be announced with TouchID sensors.

UPDATE 2: The integration between iPhone with iOS 8 Beta 5 and OS X Yosemite Beta 5 is MUCH better than in the Beta 4 release of both operating systems. Previously, while a call could be established by your Mac through you iPhone, no audio would come across. In short, the feature was only partially implemented and didn’t work.

Now, not only is the connection established, but I was able to use my Mac as a speakerphone as intended without too many call quality issues. There does seem to be a volume issue for the person that you’re talking to. The caller I spoke with initially had trouble hearing me, though the call quality for them did improve over the length of the call.

Provided that audio quality and reliability improves on both sides of the call, I can see where this would be very usable as a way to conduct conference calls in a home office. I have my doubts however, how this kind of feature would work in the enterprise. Unless Apple builds some kind of partnership with, say, Cisco, Avaya or some other VoIP vender where the feature was totally integrated into their server(s), I’m not sure how this would be considered valuable or usable in any kind of corporate setting. The feature (even if mic and volume issues were totally resolved and call quality was continuously in the upper 90th percentile), as currently implemented doesn’t seem well suited for anyone else other than regular consumers or SOHO users.

However, it was really kinda cool to be able to get up away from the computer and still be able to converse with the caller without having to wear a Bluetooth headset. This is an area where I will need to do further testing, however, as its clear that this is a work in progress for Apple as well.

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Apple Rumors – What to do? What to do..??

There are a number of Apple rumors floating around.  Here’s how you should interpret them…

I’ve been covering the tech industry for almost 20 years. If there’s one thing I know to do – and can do well – its keep my ear to the ground and listen for the whispers.  After a while you get a Jedi like sense about some of this stuff, and like Michael Keaton in Johnny Dangerously (you know your last name’s an adverb..?), you learn to interpret the grape vine and can divine the truth out of the many tech rumors you hear.

Apple-question-markMost of the time with companies like Blackberry, it’s totally easy – especially over the past few years. You know the industry, you know the trends and you know the product.  You just KNOW what their chances are – slim to none.  With Microsoft, it’s not quite as easy. Under Ballmer, yeah… after covering MS under Ballmer for 20 or so years, you can dope it out.  It’s still early with Nadella, so, it’s a bit more difficult.  Apple however, is a completely different story.

There have been a number of rumors about the iPhone 6 – launch dates, release dates (they’re usually a month apart, so you divine one, you have the other…), model types, form factors, components, etc. The list goes on and on.  However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned after covering them for nearly 10 years – it’s don’t even try.

Apple is the most secretive tech company without a US military contract in the country, if not the world.  Sure… checking the Magic 8 Ball and getting the rumors right is real easy the night BEFORE an Apple Press Event, but that’s nothing and not very impressive at all. Any good rumor monger with at least an OK source or a bit of experience can do that.  I don’t know of many people at all that can do that months and months before the event and get it right.  Many have tried. Nearly all have failed. Those that have gotten it right have been merely lucky.

So what should you do with the rumors that you hear about on the internet regarding any unreleased Apple product?

That’s simple – smile, nod your head and move on.

Apple rumors are fun to read. Apple rumors are fun to talk about… but unless you get Tim Cook drunk AND are able to get him to spill his guts (which, by the way will never, EVER happen, because Tim is just NOT that way; but I’m trying to illustrate a point here, so work with me for just a sec…), and can get it on video with some kind of certificate of authenticity, I would treat any Apple rumor you hear as nothing more than a rumor.  Enjoy the story, hope for the best, but in the end… smile, nod your head and move on.

The latest rumors include not only the release of a 4.7″ iPhone 6, but also a second 5.5″ iPhone 6.  One, the other or both are supposed to have a saphire-glass touch screen.  The screen yields of one, the other or both models are said to have good yields, bad yields or other manufacturing problems that may delay the release of either model until late this year or early next year.

OR

We could get the 4.7″ model with or with out a saphire-glass touch screen as early as mid-September.  Or, we could also get the 5.5″ model at the same time, or after the First of the New Year. Maybe… MacRumors is also reporting an iPhone 6 release date of October 14, 2014, based on a rumored press event thought to take place sometime in mid-September.

And what happens in the background at Apple..?  Nothing.  They sit back and smile, basking in glory of the massive amounts of free publicity and hype that will likely send initial sales of the newest (and rumored to be the biggest) iPhone into the tens of millions in the first quarter of sales after its announcement, if you believe all the rumors, that is…

The point, kids is that you should treat these rumors as nothing more than what they actually are… a rumor.  Enjoy them. Talk about them.  Spread the living schtako out of them if you like; but don’t put any stock in them what-so-ever.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about covering Apple over the last 10 years, it’s that you aren’t going to be able to figure out which way they’re going to go until you get there.

Apple is very good at keeping secrets, and divining what they really WILL do with this, that or the other product has proven to be next to impossible.  So again, enjoy the rumors… have fun with them; but don’t buy into them at all.  You’re likely not going to do anything else other than confuse yourself and your friends if you put any stock in them.

So, move along… these aren’t the ‘droids you’re looking for…

Have you heard any new Apple rumors?  Any of them fun or exciting?  If you’d like to share them or have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear about all of them.  Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below, and tell me all about it?

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Facebook is Killing Me

This whole, “splitting-off-FB-Messenger-into-a-different-app-thing” is making be bang my head against a wall. Here’s why…

facebook-messenger-transparent-300x300It started with Apple, I think.  I think… and it was in early 2012 with the release of Messages Beta.  I published an article on InformationWeek about two years ago that covered this.  I also wrote a feature length review of Messages, which was new at the time.

While others may disagree and provide other info and stats, (and I welcome that in the Discussion area, below…) sending text messages via IP instead of GSM/CDMA has started a huge in-flux of messaging and texting apps to hit the market.  Now, Facebook is tossing their hat into the ring with Facebook Messenger.

Facebook has somewhere in the neighborhood of, like, one billion users. If each and every one of them send just one message a day, to just one of their friends, that’s one billion messages exchanged via their social network each and every day. That’s seven billion a week and 30.44 billion each month.

That’s a lot of messages (and only if each user sends just one message a day).

Facebook has been saying for months that it would be breaking the messaging function out of its mobile app and would be moving it to a separate app all together.  I find this very painful.  I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to my mobile experience.  The last thing I want on my phone is yet ANOTHER mobile messaging app.

I’ve been reviewing software for Windows, Mac, Pocket PC/ Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, Android and iOS for almost 20 years. I’m a software QA manager/ director and I can tell you with 100% accuracy – there’s a great deal of crappy software on the market.  Installing and uninstalling apps on to my mobile phone – a mission critical, communications tool for me – isn’t something I really like to do.  It tends to clutter up your device and trashes its performance, stability; and in many cases requires a wipe and reconfigure when its performance tanks and it acts buggy.    The LAST thing I want to have to do in order to keep current functionality, is install two apps to provide the current functionality I have in just one.

However, that’s what Facebook is doing.

In a recent note to its customers, Facebook states, “We wanted to let you know that messages are moving out of the Facebook app to our Messenger app, a free app that’s faster and more reliable for everyday messaging…. Soon, we’ll start guiding you to get started with Messenger. After a few days, you’ll also see a reminder notice in the Facebook app, where you’d normally see your messages. At that point, we’ll ask you to install Messenger or go to the Facebook website to view and send messages. You’ll still see new message notifications in the Facebook app, and it’ll be easy to switch between Facebook and Messenger.”

In short, if you do any PM-ing in Facebook on a regular basis, you’ll have to start using FB Messenger if you want to PM someone from your mobile device, from within Facebook. Facebook states that the swap to their Messaging app from the Facebook mobile app should be seamless, or nearly seamless. These changes won’t affect functionality experienced on the FB website on any platform or in any browser.

I’m not certain how Facebook monetizes all those messages people send and receive; but you have to think that there must be some financial angle for them to pursue this.  Perhaps they’re planning on implementing an ad supported app. I’m not certain… Any way you cut this, though, it’s another messaging app that I HAVE to install (if I wish to trade or view PM’s sent to me while I am using the Facebook mobile app). I hate that. I’ve got enough junk on my phone as it is with Angry Birds and Candy Crush… I don’t want to have to install another app, despite the messaging experience it’s supposed to provide.

Do you communicate via Facebook messaging with your friends a lot?  Will you continue to do so on your mobile device after Facebook removes its messaging functionality from its mobile app?  Will you install Facebook Messenger on your mobile phone and use it, or is it something that you’re just going to HAVE to install to keep all your current functionality?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the discussion area, below. This is just killing me.  I hate installing separate apps for this stuff.  How about you?

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