Just a short note to say that Tecca, one of the best technology websites I’ve ever read, is shutting down this week. I’m so very sad about this, it’s hard to express. Even before I joined the Tecca team I admired the website. I loved the mix of tech news and reviews with space and science stuff and the geeky sensibility. I also liked that the site aimed itself at mainstream technology users and wanted to ensure everyone had the ability to understand how to get the most out of their gadgets and have fun. In many ways it was the perfect place for me as a reader and contributor.
The shuttering of Tecca does mean that I’m on the lookout for new freelance opportunities. I have some very promising nibbles already, but if you’re looking for a tech reviewer please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Several months ago, Tumblr users who had a browser extensions called “The Missing e” installed loaded up their dashboards and came across this message:
The message uses a lot of scary words — browser hack, privacy, data loss — meant to rattle the less clueful. Then it presents users with a silly choice: uninstall the ‘hack’ right now or forfeit any Tumblr support for any reason forever.
The reactions to this message amongst my friends can be summed up as: LOL son, but no.
Most of the people I run with are not only tech-savvy, but also wary any time a company tries to use scare language to coerce behavior. And this is a classic example.
The dev behind The Missing e refuted all of Tumblr’s claims at the time and, as far as I know, many people continue to use the extension to this day. I know I do. The reason being that TMe makes using Tumblr tons easier. And with every update the extension gets better and better.
The sad thing about the bitch fight between Tumblr and The Missing e is that Tumbr should have hired that dev to find a way to integrate all of those features into the platform in a way that did not put a burden on performance and does not call for an extra download.
Tumblr’s continued insistence that TMe was the devil, as were all those using it, just made the company look like a whiny baby angry that someone on the outside made their service better without their input.
When I look at what Twitter is doing to third-party apps and developers, I see a very similar situation.
I can understand why Twitter wants more people to use their service through their website and their apps instead of other folks’ when the issue of monetization comes up. But the main reason why so many people use Twitter via apps and portals and such is because the company’s apps suck, as does their website.
Even if I didn’t have four different accounts to maintain, I would still use services like HootSuite and apps like TweetCaster on a regular basis. Those apps give me options Twitter doesn’t, like keeping my lists in a column, scheduling tweets, and easily accessing the keywords I want to keep track of.
Every time I try to use the Twitter app for Android I force close it in frustration. And having to deal with Twitter.com to find something — like the thread of a conversation — is just tedious.
Instead of fighting against devs and being petulant about how many people are accessing Twitter through third-party services, why not invite devs to be your partners, help you make better apps, and smooth out the experience on the web side?
That would be too much like right.
What ever happened to the old adage, If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Employ Them?
This week marks my first time contributing to the Tecca WWIN (What We’re Into Now). I gushed about the Series 7 Gamer I just bought (more on this later) and made a sad face about The Closer finale, but I forgot to mention the fiction I’ve been reading.
This is a particular crime since my whole short fiction reading setup is very tech-influenced. I read way more now that I have a good device and good apps to make it all possible.
Just a year ago I was complaining about how it was still an annoying multi-step process to get short fiction from my favorite magazines onto my mobile device of choice. Back then it was my eReader. These days I read on a tablet, but only because none of my eInk eReaders has the versatility I need for what I do.
The tablet I use everyday is a 7-inch Galaxy Tab, which is the perfect size for tableting, according to me. The two apps I use to grab short fiction are the official Google Reader app and Pocket (used to be Read It Later). Sometimes I have to use the browser.
Many of the online magazines I read have RSS feeds, so I subscribe to them in Google Reader. Every month I go to the Fiction folder, find the stories I want to read, then Share them to Pocket. Even if the RSS feed doesn’t have the whole story, it doesn’t matter. Pocket goes to the source link and pulls the webpage into their app.
For the magazines without an RSS feed, I go to the browser. Same deal there. I find the stories I like, then Share them to Pocket.
Pocket is awesome. It pulls in and saves all the links I share to it, then has the full text waiting for me to read whenever I want. It automatically caches everything offline, so if I’m on a plane or on the subway I can still read my stuff.
I used to use Readability, but that app went wonky on me too much and also wasn’t reliable with the offline cache.
Pocket makes reading a bit easier on the eyes by offering some control over background colors and font size. Settings aren’t as robust as eReader apps like Nook or Kindle, sadly.
So, you ask, why can’t I do this on my eReader? It’s not that I can’t, I just don’t like the options available for eInk eReaders.
Most of the services available for saving web pages (which is where these stories reside) exist for the Kindle. There’s Instapaper, which I used for a while, and now there’s a new Chrome extension for Kindle that works similarly to Pocket. Problem is, I much prefer Nook to Kindle.
The reason I can’t get stuff automatically sent to Nook is entirely Barnes & Noble’s fault. For whatever reason, they don’t feel the need to create a WhisperSync-like system where you can easy send stuff to the Nook via email or syncing to a cloud service. Instapaper does have a way to download your saved pages as an EPUB file for Nook, but then you have to transfer it yourself. An extra step.
It would be worth taking if Instapaper’s formatting wasn’t extremely odd. What I like about Pocket is that it gives you text or the actual layout of the web page. Nothing janky.
Instapaper might be better at this now, I don’t know, it’s been a while.
Still, being able to click once and know that the story I want to read will be where I want to read it is a big thing for me.
Several online magazines have started creating eBook versions for people with eReaders, and I think that is awesome. Some will deliver to Kindles automatically, but not Nooks. This has something to do with how ridiculously hard it is for a magazine to get into Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s newsstands. And perhaps it’s prohibitively expensive, too.
Once again, the eBook sellers are putting barriers between me and the stuff I want to read, thus costing both themselves and content creators money. All by making stuff far more complex than it needs to be.
Anyway, this got me to wondering how other fiction lovers read stories from their favorite online magazines? Do you get the eBook versions, save them to your phone/tablet/eReader some other way, or just read on a computer?
- I should point out here that I only bother to do this with magazines I really, really like. If I come across your zine and it has no RSS feed and has no track record with me, I skip it. Shorter: Magazines, get an RSS feed. It’s 2012. Come on. [↩]
Earlier this summer, Google announced the newest version of the Android operating system, dubbed Jelly Bean. The moment this new Android became official I started seeing posts pop up on tech blogs attempting to answer the queston: When will my phone get Jelly Bean?
Before that you could find hundreds of posts attempting to answer a similar question: when will my phone get Ice Cream Sandwich? (the previous version of Android) I know that tech blogs write these posts and obsess over the question of when which phone will update because it generates a lot of hits. However, I wonder how many people really care if their phone gets updates to the latest Android? And if they do, why?
There are some obvious reasons to want a newer version of the software, such as the ability to run newer apps. Developers will only make things backwards-compatible to a certain extent. So it’s good to be on the right side of the line.
The reason I hear most often is that the newest version has features the user wants. But if your phone had all the features you wanted when you bought it, why this rush to get more features? Are they really so necessary? Or is it just the newness you like?
Do the majority of users even care, or only the ones who are likely to care about having the newest thing (people who read tech blogs)?
Last week Google announced that their podcasting app, Google Listen, will soon be kaput. For those out there that use the app this is sad news. (Personally, I never liked Listen.) If you’re looking for a replacement or trying to find a good Android podcatcher in general, you should check out DoggCatcher.
DoggCatcher isn’t free like Google Listen. And $4.99 is on the expensive side for an Android app. It’s worth the price thanks to a long list of features and settings, including full (and customizable) automation of podcast maintenance duties.
The top reason why I settled on DoggCatcher after an annoying search for a podcast app for Android is the automation. Once I subscribe to a feed I never have to worry about whether the app downloaded the latest episode. It does so automatically, checking for new items at an interval the user can set. I don’t want to have to force an update since I often go to listen to podcasts when I’m not connected (such as on the train). Whenever I do new episodes are there.
For those of you who’d rather stream podcasts than take up space on your device, that option is available, too. Users can also customize how many episodes to keep and will delete old files to save space.
There are dozens of settings that govern what DoggCatcher does with podcast media files from how often they’re downloaded, when to delete them, whether to download over mobile broadband or not, and even whether to keep files even if they’ve been deleted from the podcast server.
Another feature I love is the ability to create podcast playlists. I find this useful in the shower — I can listen to several short podcasts in a row without having to touch my phone.
Adding podcasts to DoggCatcher is easy. Users can import their Google Listen subscriptions as well as adding by search, category browse, or feed URL. The app also collects together certain highly sought-after podcasts in groups, such as BBC, NPR and TWiT casts.
The discovery bit on the app could be a little better, but is there. It’s better if you already know which podcasts you want to listen to, though.
DoggCatcher will download and play both audio and video podcasts.
The only con to this app is that it doesn’t have much eye-candy. The user interface is straightforward instead of being super pretty with tiles or attractively designed podcasts pages and other things you’ll find in apps like Stitcher Radio. This is a minor issue, obviously.
Due to all it does and how well it works for me — I’ve used the app across four Android phones and tablets with no stability issues — I recommend DoggCatcher to anyone looking for a good podcasting app. It’s well worth the $4.99 price.
Stitcher Radio is one of the more popular podcasting apps, possibly due to all the advertising they do in podcasts. I’m not a fan of the app since you can’t listen or watch podcasts and video casts when offline.
For those who always listen to podcasts when connected to the Internet, this is not a big problem. However, even when I drive I’d rather listen to local media than stream since streaming uses up data. People on limited data plans don’t want to waste megabytes on something they should be able to download when connected to Wi-Fi.
Other than that, Stitcher is a fine app for exploring and discovering podcasts. I like that the app will recommend new podcasts based on what you already listen to. Plus, Stitcher does a good job of curating podcast content.
If content discovery is more important to you than saving the media locally, then Stitcher is an excellent free alternative.
In my preparation for the BlogHer conference (which was awesome!), I wanted to put together several ways to share my contact information with the people I would meet. I have traditional paper business cards, of course. But since I’m a digital geek girl, I also poked into my contact card on my phone and looked into ways I could share it. I assumed that there would be an easy, straightforward way to do this. Sadly for us all, I was wrong.
Sharing contact information via a smartphone is one of those things that many people assume is a basic, standard task. Going all the way back to the days of Palm Pilot supremacy and the rise of BlackBerry, the ability to “beam” your info to another person was a nice and expected perk of having a mobile, business-focused device. I remember that the process didn’t always work on the first try, but it was there and was easy.
Fast forward to now. Last week I went into my Android phone’s contacts, found my contact card, hit the Menu button and tapped “Send My Contact Info.” The menu that came up informed me that I could send via MMS, Mail, or Bluetooth. You might think: oh, that sounds reasonable. Let me explain why it’s not.
MMS is multimedia text messaging; thus, I’d send my contact info as a vCard attachment to an SMS. Not all phones/services support MMS. I use Google Voice for texting. It does not support MMS. So I can’t use that.
The Mail option is what I wanted… except Mail does not indicate the Gmail app, it indicates the Mail app for non-Gmail accounts. I don’t have any accounts set up there because I use Gmail on my Android phone. In order to send via my Gmail account, I would have to set up that account in the Mail app then set it to not notify me when messages come in because Gmail is already doing so. Convoluted? Yes.
Bluetooth is what people meant by “beaming” in the past, but connecting to another phone via Bluetooth isn’t always straightforward. Try doing it in a conference hallway when you’re on the way to the next panel and the person you want to send to doesn’t know how the Bluetooth works on their phone. Not ideal.
So really, my phone offered little in the way of easy or viable options. Why?
The heart of the problem lies with Android. Apparently, there is no native option for sending contact or vCard data in the OS at all. How is my phone able to do so? It’s all down to the HTC Sense user interface skin. Android skins do more than just change the way icons look and offer fancy widgets, they also provide deep interface functions which are sometimes fixes for things Android doesn’t provide.
Who should I shake my fist at more, Android for not having a native contact sharing function or HTC for not realizing people might want to share contacts via their Gmail accounts? I’m inclined to be a little angrier at HTC.
That’s because I also happen to have a Samsung phone. I don’t use it as a phone, only as a MID/PDA. It connects to Wi-Fi just fine, so I could send my contact info from that device. I checked, and lo Samsung’s TouchWiz UI does realize that users might want to send via Gmail and offers that option. My problem is solved.
That doesn’t solve the overall issue though, does it? It also doesn’t help if I’m not near a free Wi-Fi signal. And my HTC phone is my main device; I want to be able to share from there. That’s when I started to look for alternatives.
I’ll share what I found so far in another post. Right now I’d like to know: how do you share digital contact information from your phone? Is it easier on iOS or webOS? Have you found the perfect app for the purpose? Let me know in the comments.
- This is what I gleaned via research and appears to be true at least up until Android 2.2. Some forum threads suggest that this function is available in Gingerbread (2.3), but I have not had a chance to check this myself. [↩]
I’ve typed some variation of this sentence dozens of times over the past few hours, yet typing it again still feels very odd: Today is my last day at Laptop Magazine. Yep, I’m leaving my post as News Editor after almost exactly two years in that position. No, I am not going to This Is My Next like all the other cool kids.
I’ll be writing for Notebooks.com/GottabeMobile as well as Android Central and some other media outlets as the opportunity arises. Still covering the same stuff: mobile technology, accessories, apps, all that. Not going far, really. I’m really excited about these new opportunities and can’t wait to get to know the communities around these sites even better.
Moving on from Laptop wasn’t an easy decision. Over the past 3+ years I’ve had the chance to meet and work with some wonderful people. And I’ve learned so much about writing and what it means to be a journalist from my editors and fellow writers.
When I started there back in 2008 I thought I had the best job in the world: creating and producing web content all day? Blogging for a living? Getting to try out every new laptop, phone, and other mobile gadget that came through the office? Sweet! What I didn’t realize at the time was that I would get the chance to do so much more, with constant encouragement from everyone around me. I will forever be grateful to the folks at Laptop for giving me the opportunity to grow, particularly Editor in Chief Mark Spoonauer and Online Editorial Director Avram Piltch. Thanks for all the fish :)
Today I turn in my final review and write my last blog post. Tonight I party with my friends. Tomorrow I sleep in. Next week I move on to the next big thing. See you there.
As you may have seen if you’re following my Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr, I’m doing a regular column for Book Country now. (By the way, Book Country is an excellent hangout for genre writers. Not just SF/F, but mystery, romance, etc. Get critiques, get writing advice, meet new people, it’s pretty awesome.) The column will focus on tech for writers and how to find the best tools so you can just focus on achieving wordcount.
One of the topics I plan to cover in the near future is good gadgets for writers. Not laptops — those get their own posts — but the other pieces of tech we find useful. For instance, I have a LiveScribe Echo Smartpen, a fabulous pen device that records what I write and digitizes it. It can also record audio while you write and sync it up with what you were writing at the time.
I find it very useful for crit sessions. I don’t have to write down everything a person said, but I can jot down a one or two word note, click it later, and hear their exact words on why my characterization felt flat. It’s also useful for journalists and students (for obvious reasons). One day I’ll write a full review.
So far I’ve got a short list of my favorite gadgets, but I wanted to throw the question out to my fiction writing friends. Are there any gadgets or pieces of tech that you’ve found helpful to have as a writer beyond your computer or cell phone? Things that either help you when writing or researching or even keeping your sanity when dealing with the business end of writing (taxes, promotion). Tell me about them in the comments. Don’t forget to tell me why you find them useful to you.
K. T. Bradford
If code is poetry, then CSS is The Iliad. In the original Greek.
I write about and review mobile technology, which means I get to spend the day steeped in laptops, smartphones, tablets, eReaders, and other things that go beep. Lest you question my status as a ChicGeek, I'll proudly claim an unabashed love for netbooks, Linux, science fiction, and curly hair products. You can find my new reviews and articles on Digital Trends and Techlicious.com.