The countdown to the opening of the newest “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has officially begun! This week saw the release of a new trailer, an official movie poster, and pre-sale tickets. One thing noticeably absent from all the hoopla: Luke Skywalker. Also on the show, El Kaiser delivers his annual “State of the Podcast” rant and J.D. takes a look at note taking apps for mobile devices. Oh yeah, and we lots and lots of tech news.
We all have times when we need to jot down a few notes on the go. To-do list items and appointments are one thing, but notes are more: the name of a contractor, the model number of a thing you want to buy, a story idea, a recipe or paint color at the hardware store. And it’s even cooler when you can sync up your mobile thoughts with your desktop like. Here are four multi-platform apps to consider:
• Evernote is the pretty much the good standard for many a jotter — or people collaborating across different platforms on a project. Evernote works on most mobile and desktop systems and you can sync your notes and projects across them all. You can save webpages, email, audio clips, photos, charts, chats and more in your Evernote projects. It also has an extensive help section with videos, three levels of service — from free to paid to even more paid.
• Microsoft OneNote is another established digital notes-taking app that works on most major mobile and desktop platforms. It’s free and you can save mail, webpages and photos into it, plus it has integration with other apps like WordPress, Chegg, Feedly and several scanning apps. Microsoft also just announced this week that OneNote has formed a partnership with FiftyThree to support its Paper app and Pencil stylus. (OneNote will also work with the Apple Pencil, whenever that fancy $100 stick rolls into town.)
• Google Keep is the notes ‘n’ lists app for Google and Android users and stores your various types of thoughts in colorful boxes within the app on screen. If inspiration strikes, you can dictate your thoughts into the app, too. It’s all tied to your Google account, so you can get to all your kept items tucked away in the program through phone, tablet, computer or Android wearables.
• iOS 9 Notes from Apple is a major improvement over the limited notepad app that’s been in iOS since 2007. You can whip up to-do lists and checklists if you want, but you can also doodle or sketch with your finger, add maps, photos, webpages and text to your notes. And if you’re hooked into iCloud, the service will sync all your notes across your Mac and other iOS devices.
Plenty of other note-taking apps are out there to consider too. No matter which one you use, odds are it’s going to be more versatile than the scraps of paper we grew up using — and often losing.
Are you the type who needs to collect and file receipts — for work, taxes, reimbursements and so on? If you’re tired of carrying crumpled little pieces of paper around in your pockets and wallet and losing them anyway, you have a handy digital alternative. Sure, you can plunk down the bucks for in a table-top or handheld document scanner to convert paper to pixels for easy filing. Or you could just use your smartphone.
With the right app, you can use the phone’s camera as a mobile scanner to make instant PDF files or JPGs of your paper receipts. You can then store them on the phone, online — or send them to your computer by mail or message for electronic filing and printing.
You may already have an app that scans, and even if you don’t, scanning apps are not hard to find, especially those that can scan and sync documents to an online storage account. (Just remember the usual caveats about storing files with deeply personal information in The Cloud, a k a Somebody Else’s Hackable Servers.)
But back to that free option. If you have an Android device with a camera and the complimentary Google Drive app (shown here), you can scan documents and save them as PDF files, and better yet, delightfully searchable PDF files.
Just open the Google Drive app and touch the red-circled plus button in the bottom corner. Point the device’s camera at the document you want to capture and then tap the Scan button from the menu. If you don’t like the resulting preview, tap the Refresh button or a do-ver. If it’s a multi-page document like a contract or something, tap the + button to scan each page. When you’ve scanned them all, tap the checkmark button to have the file as a PDF to your Google Drive. And if you like home-screen timesavers, there’s a shortcut to the Google Drive scan command in the Android widget library.
If you have the iOS version of the Google Drive app, you don’t get the full Save-As-PDF option, but you can take a picture of the document and store the photo in your online Google locker. For those with iOS and a love of Evernote, however, there’s the free Evernote Scannable app that scans documents to PDF or JPG and instantly stores them in your Evernote collections. Among other things, you can also mail or message the resulting scans.
CamScanner is a standalone scanner app that works with Evernote if you want it to, but you can also use it to scan and share files across multiple devices. The app comes in mobile versions for Android, Windows Phone and iOS for either iPhone or iPad. The free version gives you 200 megabytes of online storage, but a $5-a-month premium account gets you 10 gigs of space and way more features. Genius Scan is another cross-platform scanner with free and premium editions, and the $3 TurboScan (shown here) for Android and iOS is yet another inexpensive option with helpful features and a good review from Engadget. However, The Sweet Setup site favors the $2 ScanBot software (for Android, iOS and Kindle) as top scanner app and explains why in a nice little article that also throws in a bit of document-scanning history.
If you don’t like any of those, you can find more in your respective app store. Even if you have to pony up $2 to $5 for an app, you’ll probably save at least that much by not losing those receipts you need to file and submit in the first place.
It’s the middle of October now, which in addition to being in the height of the Fall Product Announcement Season, the annual NaNoWriMo event is just two weeks away. Never heard of NaNoWriMo? It’s been around since 1999, and NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an Internet-based project designed to get creative people — wait for it — writing novels.
This is the challenge: You have from November 1 to November 30th to complete 50,000 words. Yes, 50,000 words s a bit short for a novel and to get that many words in 30 days, you need to crank out about 1700 of ’em a day. But the goal here is to get you writing. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done. But you know what? If you complete the challenge, you have a first draft to build upon. You have completed perhaps the hardest part of the process: just getting started.
If you want to sign up, just head over to the NaNoWriMo site. Once you make a free account, you can track your daily progress, meet fellow writers, get encouragement and so on. Almost 84,000 people have signed up fore this year’s event already, so you won’t be alone.
Now, knocking off around 1600-1700 words a day is going to take some time. You may have to get up early and squeeze in a few hundred words at lunchtime. This is where software — especially mobile programs that keep you focuses on the writing — can help you meet your word counts.
On the go? Grab a Bluetooth keyboard and your mobile device, and you’ve got a portable writing studio wherever you are. Next, check out your app store. For example, you can find desktop and mobile apps that help you see your book-in-progress with a helicopter view so you can keep track of your plot and dramatic arcs better. On the flip side, there are also so-called “distraction-free word processors” can help, too, by keeping you focused on a Spartan screen instead of procrastinating in formatting toolbars and menus.
Here’s a sampling of inventive writing programs for desktop and mobile devices:
- Scrivener 2, writing-studio software for Windows and Mac OS X, is designed for long-form works and lets you collect your thoughts, notes and research within the program so they’re all in once place when you need to write fast. The program normally sells for $45, but there’s a free 30-day trial edition designed just for NaNoWriMo participants.
- Storyist is similar outline/Word processing software for Mac OS X and iOS, Prices range from $10 for the iOS app to $60 for the desktop edition.
- yWriter for Windows breaks your story into chapters and scenes so you can keep track of it better. And it’s free.
- WriteRoom from Hog Bay Software is a fullscreen word-processor with nothing to draw your attention away from your words. Shown above, it’s available for Mac OS X or iOS ($5 to $10, depending on the version you want).
- WriteWay for Windows is a story-based word-processor that helps you organize your book. Normally, it’s $35, but there’s a 30-day free trial — just long enough for your NaNoWriMo project.
- OfficeSuite Pro 7 is a $15 mobile office suite for Android.
- Stenosaur, which calls itself a “personal microjournal” is a $3 iOS app from Axe Monkey. Sort of like a Twitter feed to yourself, you type in short bursts of thought, swim in your stream of consciousness, break through writer’s block and keep on going.
And when it comes to collecting ideas and keeping us focused on a project, let us not forget Evernote. The software works on mobile devices and desktop computers — and keeps them all in sync. And don’t forget Google Docs, Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft SkyDrive, Zoho Docs and the other online services that let you create and store documents.
Don’t think you can do 50,000 words in a month but want to explore shorter fiction? Check out Andrew Fitzgerald’s TED talk on the really short literary forms.
Roving correspondent Jocelyn Gonzales is back with a report on do-it-yourself iPad magazines and the online service that helps put them together while Pedro barely keeps his inner-Miley at bay as J.D. explains how a user can get a complete archive of their Twitter posts. In the news, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announces his retirement; Nokia gets set to launch a Lumia tablet; Samsung and Apple plan big September announcements; Apple TV gets more channels; and Kevin Spacey lays the truth down on the television industry.
In case you were on vacation last week like we were, you may have missed the non-Batman news from the West Coast…Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced he would be retiring within the next 12 months and with no obvious successor in view, it seems like it might be a bit of a PopeWatch thing there in Redmond. Windows 8.1, thought to be the corrected version of Windows 8, is due for release on October 17th for current users who wish to upgrade.
Nokia, the company that makes the Lumia smartphone for Microsoft’s Windows Phone system is also said to be working on its own tablet that will run the much-mocked Windows RT software. According to the Verge tech site, the Nokia Sirius will have a 10.1-inch screen, look like a big Lumia phone and be price around $500. If it’s real, let’s see how they do with that.
Summer’s pretty much in the archive now anyway, and September is shaping up to be a big month for the announcements aside from Nokia. Samsung has confirmed it will be introducing its Galaxy Gear Smartwatch at the IFA Consumer Electronics show in Berlin on September 4th. Apple has not officially confirmed it, but major media sources are reporting the company will introduce its next round of iPhone at a press event on September 10th, with the new models possibly being available on September 20th.
All Things D and 9to5Mac are among the sites reporting that Apple is prepping the program will allow customers to trade in their old iPhones for credit toward a new model. While Apple had no comment on that, the company issued an update for Apple TV this week that brings the Disney Channel, the Weather Channel, Vevo Music Videos and the Smithsonian Channel all to the main screen’s channel lineup. And one more bite of Apple news here — the company’s legal team has responded to the Department of Justice’s proposed punishment in that e-book case this summer. (Hint: Apple is not happy.)
The Federal government has been looking into other tech business as well, and just released a memo on mobile malware findings. According to the report, 0.7% of all mobile malware affected Apple’s iOS system, while 79% was aimed at Android and 12% was targeting the Symbian OS.
While we’re talking about national security, it seems US fugitive Edward Snowden did not need to have a sophisticated scheme to steal all those 20,000 leak-worthy documents from the National Security Agency. The investigations team over at NBC News did some digging and reports that multiple intelligence community sources told them all Snowden needed was a few USB thumb drives and the willingness to exploit a gaping hole in an antiquated security system — all without leaving a trace. (Hint: The NSA is not happy, nosireee.)
In other product news, Facebook is starting to roll out shared photo albums this week. Feedly has just announced the general availability of Feedly Pro. Feedly Pro offers Evernote integration, but if you really like Evernote — and writing in journals by hand — check out the Evernote Smart Notebook from Moleskine.
In the casual gaming world, the sequel to the popular PopCap Games title Plants vs. Zombies arrived this month for iOS. The new game, Plants vs. Zombie 2: It’s About Time had 16 million downloads during its opening week. The game itself is free but has many in-app purchase opportunities for coin packs and additional plants. No word on when the game will be available for Android.
Actor and producer Kevin Spacey had some words of warning for TV executives at the Edinburgh Television Festival in Scotland last week. (Hint: Content and story make people happy — while schedules and devices don’t matter.)
And finally, the old ways do work well for some people. Instead of going all digital video that some of the franchise’s previous installments, Star Wars VII will be shot on good old-fashioned 35mm film stock to recapture the feel of movies from the 1970s. The news comes in the same month that Gilbert Taylor, the cinematographer for the original Star Wars, passed away at the age of 99. In addition to Star Wars and many other films, Mr. Taylor shot Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day’s Night and some episodes of The Avengers TV series. Before his film career took off, rhe spent six years with the Royal Air Force Force during World War II and filmed night raids after a request from Winston Churchill. Rest in peace, Mr. Taylor — and thanks for all the amazing work.
Another week, another major corporate hack job: Evernote reset the passwords of all of its estimated 50 million users last week after it revealed that user passwords and encrypted e-mails had leaked in a hacking attack. And Java’s woes continue, as Oracle has patched two more zero-day holes in the software this week. This is the fifth Java update of 2013 and it’s only the first week of March. These patches probably won’t be the last as Polish researchers claim to have found five more security issues with Java SE 7.
Even though the company hasn’t announced anything so far, at least one analyst has told the Bloomberg News service that Apple’s rumored iWatch could be a $6 billion dollar opportunity for the company. (Not bad for a product that doesn’t officially exist, eh?)
Although the TV advertising campaign has wrapped up, Microsoft says it isn’t backing off of its “Scroogled” mission to publicly point out privacy flaws and other issues in Google’s products. Microsoft’s Scroogled Web site and anti ad-bot petition to Google CEO Eric Schmidt will remain. Google, for its part, points out that advertising keeps Gmail and other services free and besides, robots do all the work.
Ubisoft’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag takes place in the Caribbean in 1715 during the “golden age of piracy” and will be released on October 29, 2013, for the Xbox 360, Wii U, PlayStation 3 and 4, and “all other relevant consoles.” If you want a game to play in the meantime, the reboot of Tomb Raider hit the scene this week and some reviewers are calling it “arguably one of the best games of the year thus far.” The $60 game is out for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 now. There’s also a $3 iPad app called The Final Hours of Tomb Raider, which includes behind-the-scenes features, concept art, video, photos and other goodies for fans of the game.
In mobile news, Twitter is discontinuing its support for the standalone TweetDeck app for Adobe AIR, Android and iOS and Opera Software has released a beta version of its mobile browser for the Android platform. A report from The New York Times says that the new Samsung Galaxy S4 phone will have a new feature called “eye scrolling.” Will it feel like someone’s watching you as you read?
The future will be here before you know it, and Microsoft’s Strategic Prototyping team already has a video of what a possible future full of giant touch screens looks like. As the eWeek site reports, “PCs are out—or at least artfully obscured—while tablets and video walls are in.”
While Microsoft envisions the future of computing, NASA was keeping busy this week with things that were futuristic not too long ago. The Mars Curiosity had a memory glitch last week that caused the rover’s main computer to switch to a safe mode and a backup computer, but scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory say the rolling robot is on the road to recovery. (The astronomy journalist Stuart Clark reports that disruption caused cosmic rays may be one explanation for the rover’s little brain burp.) NASA also released news last week of a third radiation belt around the Earth.
Mars Curiosity was not the only star vehicle having issues lately. The SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule aimed at the International Space Station had a little problem with three out of its four thruster pods not working after it launched last Friday.
Thankfully, everything worked out for the SpaceX mission and the cargo arrived at the ISS last weekend, but not every air and space adventure is so lucky. But after 76 years, experts think they have solved the mystery of why the Hindenburg airship caught fire and crashed 200 feet over New Jersey’s Lakehurst Naval Air Station back in in 1937. The culprit? Static electricity.