Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Transition to new iPhone

In the end, I liked the larger size of the iPhone 6 better, so that's what I now have to replace my three year old 4s.

The transition from the 4s to the 6 was actually pretty easy.  I normally back up to the cloud only, but in preparation to switch to the new phone, I synced with iTunes, downloaded all of my purchases and then did a full backup to my computer.  Then I unplugged the 4s, plugged in the 6, and restored it from the backup.

To my amazement, it worked and all of my apps, data, etc. were loaded flawlessly.  I had to enter passwords on a couple of apps the first time that I used them (like my gmail), but other than that I didn't have to do any other setup.

My son is now using the 4s as an iPod essentially, since it does everything but make calls as long as it's connected to wifi.  In order to get the iMessage (text) function to work, I restored it to factory settings, then set it up as a new device using his apple ID.  Then we synced it using iTunes to get all of the apps he wanted (he's already got other apple devices).

It was a surprisingly pain-free transition, so I was very happy with it.  So far I'm also very happy with the phone itself.  It is much slimmer and larger than my 4s, so it feels very different in my hand.  The screen gives me a really beautiful image, very crisp and bright.  The battery life is ok so far and it's pretty comparable to when my 4s was new.  Of course I've been using it a lot more than normal, so we'll see how it does over the next few months.

Now that I've successfully done this transition, I'll know exactly what to do to prepare for my son's first fully functional phone in the future.  At some point he'll get a phone, so at least I know I can backup what he's got on the 4s and restore it to a new device (I'm assuming he'll get an apple since he loves mine so much).

Friday, September 19, 2014

Small Companies Bought by Huge Companies - the Death of Independence?

Yesterday I saw an announcement that a small video game firm called Mojang has been purchased by Microsoft.  My kids both love the game Minecraft, as do many of their friends, and it's a product of Mojang.  I had no idea that Mojang was such a lucrative company that they would attract the notice of a Goliath like Microsoft.

The original creator of Minecraft has also announced that he's leaving the firm as part of the Microsoft deal.  It's a bit of a sad thing that such a creative guy has to be cut off completely from the product that he created.  Of course, when he originally built it, he had no idea how popular it would become.  According to his own farewell statement, he's not been working on Minecraft directly for a while, but he's one of the original founders of the company.

When the big fish gobble up little fish like Mojang, it's a bittersweet thing for me.  In one sense, the purchase of your company by a larger one is a sign of great success.  It shows that you've built something of great value ($2.5 billion in this case).  In another sense, it's the end of an era for your company.  The culture of the firm will no doubt be absorbed by Microsoft now, especially since several key people are all leaving Mojang, including the Minecraft creator, as part of the deal.

While my own company is unlikely to be acquired by Microsoft, it does make me think about being in that situation.  Sometimes it's both good and bad to be as successful as Mojang apparently is/was.

Best of luck to "Notch" and all of the former Mojang folks in their future endeavors.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

iPhone 5 vs 6 - How to Decide

I'm due for a new mobile phone and I currently have an iPhone 4s.  I've loved my iPhone so I'd like to upgrade to one of the newer Apple models, but I'm not sure whether I'll go for the 5 or one of the new 6/6+ models.

I'm sure a larger screen would be nice, but the 5 is already bigger than my 4s.  Is it worth it to me to pay more for the "latest and greatest" to get one of the 6 models?  I'm not sure.  I think I need to see the 5 and 6 side by side, in person, and see how they actually fit in my hand, pocket, etc. to compare.  I've read a few reviews of the new features on the 6 and I may or may not need to newest model.  Usually the previous model is available at a big discount so my aversion to high cost may win out.

Once the 6 phones are actually available in store, I'll have to go check it out.  I'll post again once I've done the comparison and made my choice.

Using KTN for Easier Travel

Have you traveled by air recently and noticed a shorter security line at the airport with a sign posted for "TSA Pre-Check"?  Or have you been lucky enough to have a notation on your boarding pass that said something like "TSA Pre-Check"?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) now has a program called Pre-Check which selects random air passengers to go through that shorter line at the airport security point.  They are not required to remove their shoes or belt, nor to take their laptops out, when passing through security.  Obviously, getting through airport security is a much simpler process without those conditions.

If you'd like to increase your chances of being selected for the Pre-Check line, you can request a Known Traveler Number (KTN) with the TSA.  It's a simple process that you can initiate online.  You have to visit one of the TSA's local offices to finalize the process and provide a set of your fingerprints.  Then they do a full background check on you.  If you can pass the background check then they create a KTN for you.  There are some conditions that you should read before you start this process.  It does cost $85 but it's good for five years.

See this link for more information:

Once you have a KTN, you just need to include it in any airline reservations that you book.  You can also add it to your profile if you have an online account with any of the airlines, so it will be automatically included on any future reservations.

I've recently gone through this process and found it pretty simple.  I started my application online and booked an appointment to go to the office.   When I arrived, they took me right in, reviewed my online application with me and helped me to use their digital fingerprint machine to create my fingerprint images for my records.  The whole thing only took about 10 minutes.

To me, it's well worth the $85 fee to make my travel just a little less stressful.  I most often travel with my kids.  They can go through the pre-check line with me until they are 13, then they have to get their own KTN.  I'm hoping I'll never have to wait in the long "cattle call" lines at airport security again...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Non-Profit Organizations Can Benefit Greatly from a Website

I have quite a few website clients who are non-profit organizations.  They need to communicate to their members (as well as to the general public) about their events and programs in order to generate the maximum funds to support their cause.  They also want to grow their membership in order to better serve their cause.

Recently, one of my clients had this to say after their first year using my services:

"You fixed many of our problems. Membership is increasing, participation in events is way up.  We had the best fundraiser event in many years, one of our highest attendances ever, and possibly our most profitable. We have more cash than in years, largely due to the website."

If you are part of a non-profit organization, I can help you with a website, as well as other technology tools.  I often do Access databases, email marketing, Powerpoint slides and Excel spreadsheets for my non-profit clients.  The board of directors of many non-profits may not have members with the right technology skills to help with certain tasks, and that is where I am able to assist them.

Please contact me for more information.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Small Business Websites

I am in the unique position of being a web developer and retail business owner at the same time.  Last year I started designing jewelry and selling it locally.  Since I know how to create websites, I created one for my jewelry business (I already have one for my website business).

I've learned a few things about myself and business in general since getting involved in selling retail items.

It is a LOT of work to create and maintain a website to sell physical items such as jewelry.  Each item that I create is unique, so if I want to sell it on my website, I have to take photos, insert it on the site, and set up payment buttons for buyers.

I'm currently using paypal buttons since I've used them in the past and they're easy to set up on a website.  The down side is that  I have to create a unique payment button for each item.  It takes a lot of little steps to add every single item that I've created to the website so that it can be sold.  I can easily spend an hour to add just a few new bracelets or earrings to my site.  Since I'm doing everything myself, that's a significant amount of time to spend.

I'm considering signing up to sell my jewelry at a small local craft show.  I am concerned about the amount of product that I'd need to make and the cost of the inventory involved.  I don't see this business as potentially creating a large income, it's really more of a hobby, so it puts me in a somewhat unique position.  Do I want to pursue the jewelry business and actually try to make a profit?  That is the question that I've been pondering.  I don't really have a lot of free time between my full time job, my family and my other hobbies.

For now, I'm enjoying the creative process without pushing myself to make it into a real business.  It's good for me to have experiences like this in order to understand the business needs of potential clients.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Making Travel Easier

I've recently made some travel plans on the Delta Airlines website and noticed that I can add my flights to my Google calendar directly from the Delta website.  Here's how:

  • When I'm viewing my reservation, there's a few buttons at the top right - one is to print my intinerary, one creates a PDF, one emails it and one adds it to my calendar.  
  • I clicked on the calendar button and it gave me options for Google, Yahoo, Outlook or Apple iCal.
  • I clicked the button for Google, logged in with my primary Gmail account, and it added a nice little notice to my calendar for my outgoing and return flights.

I also love the online check in and using my phone as a boarding pass.  You simply open the reservation on your phone (I use the Delta app) and show the QR code to security when you arrive at the airport.  Then when you board your flight, you show the QR code to the gate agent, and you're golden.  I love having a truly paperless ticket now (instead of a paperless ticket with a printed boarding pass, like it was in the early days).

I love this kind of integration in tools, they save so much time and hassle.

Here's another thing that I like to do when planning a trip.  If I know I'm going to be doing several different activities, but I'm not sure when or which ones, I start a list in Excel.  As I look up each activity, I save the website link, phone numbers, hours of operation, ticket cost, etc. all in my spreadsheet.  I can easily find all of my information when I need it, and I can use the link to the website to check on anything else that I need.

Then as I start to figure out what I'm doing and on which days of my trip, I put the rows in the order of the dates of my trip.  Some activities have to be booked for a specific day while others don't, so that does allow some flexibility if the weather is bad or whatever.

I also try to book tickets for whatever I can online so that I won't have to stand in line when I arrive at every activity.  This saves a ton of time in line, which is a life saver when my two active kids are with me.

Some cities that have good public transportation options also allow purchase of transportation vouchers or passes online.  We bought Metro passes online when we went to Washington DC last summer and they were super convenient.  We each had one, and simply swiped our cards when we entered the station, and swiped them again when we left.  The system automatically deducted the appropriate fare from our prepaid balance of $30.  Of course my kids are too young to hold onto something like that themselves, so I kept all of them in my wallet.  Even my 9 year old found the subway experience to be fun and easy.

I've done a travel spreadsheet for several of our trips now, including Paris, Washington DC and a Caribbean cruise.  I'm now going to create one for our trip to Alaska later this year, to keep track of our cruise reservations for excursions at each port.

Gmail App for iPhone

Recently I downloaded the Gmail app for my iPhone, in spite of some bad reviews on it.  So far, I've found it to be a really nice alternative to the native email application on  my phone.

I can view my both of my Gmail accounts and I can choose to get notifications for only the ones that I want to see.  I use one as a spam catch all, so I definitely don't want to see notices pop up all day long for a bunch of emails on sales at my favorite store, or whatever.

It works much better with deleting - when I use the built in email tool on my iPhone, it doesn't really "delete" things from my Gmail, so then I have to delete them all again the next time I'm online.  I've always found that to be annoying, since I like to keep my inbox pretty empty.

I can easily flag emails as "important" or "starred" using the Gmail tool on my phone.  I use the "important" flag for personal items and I use the "starred" flag for business items.  It helps me to filter my view when I want to find something, even if I've labeled it and moved it out of my inbox.

Overall, I'd recommend the Gmail app to anyone with an iPhone.  I find it much better to use for Gmail than the native iPhone email app.

If you have the Gmail app on an Android or Windows phone and would like to share your experiences, for the good or bad, please feel free to comment.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Organizing Your Email Inbox (Outlook 2007 & Gmail)

Years ago, in the days when server storage space was expensive and small, I was forced to get into the habit of ruthlessly filing all of my emails out of my Outlook inbox and into personal folders which were stored on my hard drive.

Fortunately, storage capability has increased and cost has decreased over the years, so it's no longer necessary for your IT department to dole out email storage space like Ebeneezer Scrooge.  My habit of filing email has served me well, however, so I've stuck with it and refined it a bit over the years.

I create a folder for each project or client, sometimes with multiple subfolders under it for various major topics.  As I receive new emails, I read them, then if they don't require action from me, I file them in the appropriate folder.

For any items that I might need to reference later, I color code them by client/project so that they can be found in a "categorized mail" search folder that I've created.  I only leave items in my inbox that are essentially my "to do" list.  I color code the items in my inbox as well, so that I can see all of the ones I might need for a particular project at once in the "categorized mail" folder.

If I need to find an old email, I go to the folder for that client or project, or I search from the top level (inbox) and find it.  I don't like to keep hundreds of emails in my inbox, I just don't function well with it.  I don't like to have a lot of papers on my desk for the same reason (and I file those just as ruthlessly).  I find the clutter of papers or an overly full inbox to be distracting.

I can also color code my meetings on my calendar by the same categories, so my emails and my meetings for the same client/project are the same color.  This makes it easy to see at a glance where I'll be spending my time for the week (this also is helpful when reporting time).   Unfortunately, Outlook 2010  is a little tricky to set up with categories, at least in my experience.

I also use Gmail, which has categories, but they work more like labels than an actual folder.  Any item that I mark with a category will still appear in the "all mail" view.  They all still basically reside in the same location, but the views like "starred" or "important" allow you to see different subsets.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

I've noticed a lot of news stories lately about data thefts, identity theft and other similar issues.  Personally I have been lucky to never experience anything more than a few invalid charges on a credit card which have been noticed immediately.  I try to be smart about keeping my information private and not clicking on links in emails from strangers, all of the obvious stuff.

As a general rule, I try to follow these common sense guidelines:

  1. It's never a good idea to use the same password for everything that you do online.
  2. It's also not a good idea to use obvious passwords such as birthdays, the names of family members, etc. - these are too easy to guess or to find through a little light social mining on your facebook page.
  3. It's good practice to change your important passwords occasionally.
  4. Make your life easier when it comes to passwords and invest in a password manager like Roboform.  It will remember your passwords for you and keep them encrypted.  See roboform.com for more information.  This is one tool that I've used for a long time and I've recommended to a lot of people because I use it personally, it's easy and inexpensive.
  5. Don't carry your social security card in your wallet.
  6. Use a  password on your mobile devices like your tablet and cell phone.  Also, if available, set up the app for "where's my iphone" as appropriate for your device.  It will locate a lost or stolen device for you and also you enable to wipe its data remotely if necessary.
  7. Never try to put electronic devices like phones, tablets or laptops in checked luggage when you fly.  This may seem obvious but some people do still try to do it and it never ends well.
  8. When using public wifi hotspots, try to avoid doing anything sensitive such as banking, just in case someone nearby is monitoring the wifi and capturing information from it.
  9. Use a password on your home wifi network.  This prevents anyone from using your connection and it also gives one line of defense against someone who tries to pick up your data from it (see #7).
  10. If you receive any offers for credit in the mail, you should shred them before throwing them away.
  11. You should check on your own credit report periodically, or at least annually, to confirm that there is nothing fraudulent on there.
Have any good tips to share?  Feel free to post in the comments.  Stay safe everyone.