Useful Android Apps

May 10, 2014

Here’s a few Android apps that are on my favorite’s list:images

Agent – This is a nice background-running app that controls various settings on your smartphone during the day. For example, when my calendar shows that I’m “Busy” in a meeting it will turn off all notifications. When I’m sleeping at night, it will turn off alarms, the ringer, and notifications (unless they are from someone identified as a VIP). It also will read out IM messages through my connected Bluetooth system in my car, save my last car parked position, and has various features for battery saving. Works very well, and silently in the background.

Today Calendar – A great replacement app for the stock calendar app on my HTC One. Very clean with a beautiful interface. Well worth the nominal cost of the app.

Play Newsstand – This is Google’s news app which I’ve found to work pretty well. Lots of available content, so you’ll never run out of news to read while eating your lunch at work!

Google Remote Desktop – Absolutely excellent remote desktop app for Android. With this app, I can very, very easily connect to my home desktop iMac system and do some basic activities remotely on that system. I’ve tried numerous different remote connection apps, but this works the easiest and smoothest. Works amazingly well on my HTC One smartphone with a LTE cellular connection.

SkipLock – This app will turn off your smartphone’s lock screen if you’re connected to specific WiFi networks or connected to your car’s Bluetooth. Very convenient when at home or driving in your car.


PushBullet – Great Message Mirroring App

January 26, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 8.06.06 AMIf you have an Android tablet or smartphone, you check out an app called PushBullet. It had a companion extension for your Desktop PC’s Chrome Browser (and Firefox, I believe) that allows you to wirelessly push information between your Desktop PC and Android devices, or between the Android devices themselves. So if you have a web page link, web address, file, or short checklist that you’d like to transfer from one device to another (or all) you can do it from PushBullet. The app does all of this by using the Google Messaging System that is available for free by Google’s Servers.

One really cool feature of PushBullet, is the ability to mirror notifications that appear on your Android phone or tablet to your Desktop PC. So, when I get a notification on my HTC One smartphone (like a CNN or USA Today breaking news), a small dialog window pops up on my Desktop Mac system in the right top corner of the screen with the same message. Other notifications like when someone is calling me or when I get a text message also appears on my Desktop Mac as well. Really cool, since I don’t have to stop and look at my phone when I get these notifications.

Definitely worth installing and checking out if your in the Google Android ecosystem.

Web Browser indexDB = Sucks!

February 18, 2013

The Javascript programming language has become so powerful that really good applications can be developed and run inside a web browser. Free Javascript modules are also available with great widgets to make your ‘web browser-based’ app look and act like a real native application. After developing such a web browser app, I decided to convert it to a Google Chrome Packaged App so it can be installed and run on the Google Chromebooks.

As I discovered, there were lots of pitfalls with regards to writing Chrome Apps. Here are a few that I ran into:

  • WebSQL disabled – It turns out that the Web Browser consortium (whomever they are) decided to dump the WebSQL (SQLite) database system for HTML5 and go with something called indexDB. From what I can tell, indexDB is not a relational database system, but rather an indexed named-pair flat file concept. I think it was a bad move dumping the SQLite database system (which is well established) for some less featured system that is more complicated to code up.
  • Security Policies – There are lots of policies in place for security that handcuffs Javascript development with Chrome Apps. For example, I’m trying to use some Javascript modules that use the eval() function and they are prohibited in a Chrome App. As such, I can’t use those modules and have very limited tools available to me.

Because of all this, it seems you can only write Chrome Apps that are very limited and follow the strict protocols defined by Google. I understand the need for security, but these policies really limit what you can do. That’s too bad, since Javascript app development can really produce some great, functional apps!

Tasker: My Automated Robot

July 29, 2012

I’ve been using a great Android app called Tasker on my HTC EVO LTE smartphone, and it’s been working fantastic. Tasker allows you to define certain tasks that get fired off under certain conditions, events, etc. For example, I’ve defined a Tasker entry that will turn on the WiFi on my smartphone if I’m getting close to my house (based on cell tower proximity) and will turn off my WiFi if I leave my house area. That way, I know my WiFi is always turned on when I get home and turned off when I leave.

Another good use case is my for my weekday morning drives to work. Normally, I listen to a podcast using an app called “Podkicker”, so I have a task that will activate this app every weekday at 5:00 am. I also have another task that will turn up the media volume on my smartphone when it connects to the Ford Sync system in my Ford Explorer vehicle (via Bluetooth), and will later mute the media volume when this Bluetooth connection is severed.

Finally, I have a task that will read out-loud any SMS messages while my phone is connected to my Ford Sync system.

Tasker is a great app, and definitely worth its price. My big dilemma now, is coming up with more useful Tasker tasks to implement!

Side Loading Apps on your Kindle Fire

December 26, 2011

If you own an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, you’ve quickly learned that you only have access to the Amazon App Store for downloading and installing Android apps. The Android Market (which is used by all other Android phones and tablets) is not available for the Kindle Fire. Since most of the available apps are in the Android Market and not in the Amazon App Store, this is a real drag.

Some KF owners have rooted their tablets to gain access to the Android Market, but as you may have read in one of my previous postings I decide to not go down that route for a number of reasons (include voiding the warranty of your tablet). Instead, I’ve taken the “side loading” approach which allows me to install desired apps outside of the Amazon App Store.

If you do a Google search on “kindle fire side loading” you’ll come across many web sites and blogs that explain the process. Basically, you need to install a desired app on another Android device (like a different tablet or cell phone), then use a File Explorer app to make a “backup” of that app. Next, you copy the backup file of that app (which is a standard .apk Android installer file) over to your Kindle Fire and install it. It’s a multi-step process, but you don’t need root access to do this procedure.

In my case, I have an Acer Iconia 10″ Android Tablet that I use to install my desired apps. I then use the app called Astro which is a file explorer app on my Acer tablet to do a “backup” of selected installed apps to the internal SD Card. For convenience, I’ll then use the DropBox app on my Acer tablet to upload these apk files to my DropBox cloud account. Finally, I run the same DropBox app on my Kindle Fire to access my online account, and just tap on the apk files. They then automatically download and install themselves. Using Dropbox in the manner is convenient for me, but you can always transfer the apk files from your PC or Mac over to your Kindle Fire via a USB sync cable.

Note, that not all 3rd party apps will install on the Kindle Fire, as some required Google libraries are not present. For example, the Pageonce Travel app that runs fine on my Nexus S phone and Acer Tablet  won’t install on my KF (I think it’s because certain Google Location Libraries are not present on the KF). So be aware that not all apps can be loaded using this side-loading method.

Calendar mayhem!

April 17, 2011

I have trouble remembering appointments, family events, birthdays, etc. so I rely heavily on a calendar to keep my life in order. This is true for both my personal and business life, so like to keep two separate calendars to keep things compartmentalized. The issue I’ve been struggling with is finding the most efficient way of dealing with these two calendars and keeping them synced with my computers and mobile devices.

So here’s what I have available:

  1. Personal calendar for my personal appointments and events
  2. Business calendar for my work appointments, travel dates, etc.
  3. An iMac at home running Snow Leopard Mac X OS
  4. A Dell laptop running Windows 7 for work
  5. An Apple iPhone 4 as my smartphone
  6. Microsoft Exchange Server for my work email, calendar, and contacts
  7. Apple MobileMe for Calendar, Email, and Contacts
  8. Google Calendar and Contacts
My goal, is to be able to view and edit my calendar appointments (personal and business) on my iMac desktop computer, Dell laptop, and iPhone device. I know there’s all kinds of 3rd-party freeware and commercial software for syncing calendar data between applications and the cloud, but I wanted to minimize that as much as possible to eliminate any chances of “foul ups”.
I ended up using this solution: Create two calendars with my MobileMe account that allows me to create,view, and edit appointments. If you’re unfamiliar with MobileMe, it is Apple’s cloud-based system which allows for centralized email, calendar, contacts, and offline disk storage. Using this method, I can always access my calendars via a web browser with an Internet connection. Because the majority of my devices are Apple-based, it made sense using this method for syncing purposes. So, I now use the Apple iCal application to access both MobileMe calendars on my iMac desktop computer, and the built-in Calendar app on my iPhone for doing the same. For my Dell laptop (running Windows 7), I use the Microsoft Outlook application along with a MobileMe syncing utility (provided by Apple) to sync my two MobileMe calendars with Outlook for local access. This method seems to work well so far, but I need to always make sure I’m viewing the two MobileMe calendars in all my apps and not the default local calendars (which should be empty).
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Trip Tracker – A great smartphone app for travelers

April 16, 2011

Trip Tracker is a great app that I use to keep track of my airline, rental car, and hotel reservations. It’s made by Page Once, and available for free for the iPhone and Android smartphone devices. I’ve been using the iPhone version and am very, very pleased with its functionality. Once I’ve set it up to access my airline, rental car, and hotel frequent traveler accounts, it will automatically download my latest reservations to my iPhone. It will also display my current frequent flyer miles/points for those accounts as well. Finally, it will send me notifications alerting me of upcoming travel via my email and popup notification on my iPhone. What a great app!

For airline reservations, it will show you the arrival/departure times and gate numbers at the airport. What I really like about it is that I can check my reservations without having to fumble with paper printouts or search through my emails for my travel confirmation information. Best of all, it’s free, so I recommend anyone who travels to check out this app.

Remote access my home Mac

September 11, 2010

I’m often traveling on the road for business so I find it nice to have the ability to access my home computer for checking email, running applications, etc. In the past, I used Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection to remotely connect to my Windows 7 desktop PC at home using my Windows XP (yeah, still using XP) work laptop. I preferred the RDC solution because it just seemed to work the best at scaling the screen of my desktop PC to my laptop’s resolution.

Now that I’ve retired my Windows 7 desktop PC in favor of a new iMac, I can’t use the Microsoft-based RDC method. So, I decided to do some Googling to find an equivalent method for my iMac.

It seems that Apple has Desktop Sharing which will work if you are using two Macs for a remote connection, but in my case I’ve got a Windows-based laptop that I want to connect with my iMac machine at home. Since the Mac OS X is based on UNIX it also has some Virtual Network Connection (VNC) capability for remote access, but I was a little nervous opening up my system to the general Internet public. Of course, I could use 3rd-party VNC software on my Mac, create shared-key passwords and use SSH tunnels to log into my Mac, but that seems like a big hassle compared to what I was using with Microsoft RDC.

So I decided to use a product called LogMeIn which allows me to easily connect to my iMac from any web browser on the Internet. LogMeIn has been around for a while and I’ve used it occasionally in the past, but I never really used it in earnest because Microsoft RDC seemed to work much better in my opinion.

To use LogMeIn, you sign up for an account on which you will use to log into LogMeIn’s servers. You then download and install a small application on your Mac (or PC) which runs in the background listening for incoming connection requests. What’s nice, is that you don’t need to fiddle around with your home router to open up ports, etc. The LogMeIn installer handles all the necessary settings. So once installed on my Mac and activated, I can simply log into the LogMeIn servers using Firefox or Internet Explorer on my PC laptop and select my iMac machine to remotely connect to.

Once connected, I’m asked for my Mac’s login password, so once I’ve entered that I’m connected to my iMac at home. What I see is exactly what I would see if I was sitting in front of my iMac at home, all inside a web browser. I then have the option of having the software scale the screen to fit inside the web browser or have it display in full-screen resolution (which required me to scroll around the browser window to see all of my iMac’s screen).

With a relatively fast Internet connection (which most hotels have), I can run applications on my Mac reasonable well. There is definitely a delay in screen refreshing, but it is certainly usable. Using this method, I can check email using Apple Mail on my Mac, do my banking transactions from my home computer, and do some WebOS application development with the Eclipse IDE and Palm Emulator.

What’s really nice, is that the basic LogMeIn service is FREE! Yes, you can use this service free of charge. If you really like it, you can upgrade to the Pro version which allows you to do file transfers and a few other features. I’ve found the basic free service meets my occasional needs for remote access.  For file transfer I can always use the service provided by DropBox which has a 2 GB storage space limit for their free basic service.

So, I’d definitely recommend you check out LogMeIn if you want or need remote access to any computer while on the road. Note, that you aren’t limited to just one computer, as you can have multiple computers accessible from the LogMeIn servers.

Good image editing app for the Mac?

August 29, 2010

One of my favorite image editing apps is,  a program that comes very close to matching the features of Adobe Photoshop. With Photoshop priced at $700 US, is a steal since it’s free! Unfortunately, is only Windows-Based, so there is no Mac equivalent.

I’ve explored running using the app called CrossOver (which allows you to run Windows apps directly on the Mac), but it just wouldn’t install within CrossOver. Another alternative is to run in a virualization environment (using VirtualBox, Parallels, or VM Fusion running the Windows OS), but that would just be a big hassle to setup, etc.

As such, I’ve been looking for something equivalent to (or Photoshop) that I can use on my new iMac OS X. Unfotunately, I can’t seem to find anything that suits my needs. After Googling for such an image editor app, I came up with a short list of freeware and shareware apps. For my needs, I need to have the ability to use layers, have anti-aliased lines and text, and a few other advanced features. This requirement quickly eliminated most of the photo editing-based apps for the Mac.

The short list I went down included apps such as Pixel, Pixen, Cinepaint, GIMP, Seashore, Pinta, and Pixelmator. Nearly all of these apps had their flaws, as some couldn’t handle anti-aliasing of lines and text very well, while others just had a bad user interface. GIMP is a famous open source app that is recommended by many, but it runs under the X11 environment which gives it a very old user interface. I ended up narrowing my choices down to Pinta, Seashore, and Pixelmator.

Yesterday I worked with some basic image editing using Pinta and Seashore, and was disappointed in what I couldn’t do as they are limited compared to From what I can tell, the only real contender is Pixelmator, as it has lots of good features. The online help is really nice, as well as the very pretty user interface. Also, Pixelmator is a native Mac OS X application, which is a big bonus. The only bad thing I found during my testing, is that the app crashed on me twice which is a bad thing.

So for now, I’m planning to try using GIMP and/or Pixelmator for the next month. I have a feeling Pixelmator will win out, and I’ll then have to buy a copy once the demo period is over.

For Macs, it really does “Just Works”

August 26, 2010

For Apple’s Mac slogan of “it just works” it really does just works. For example, I bought the TrentNet Wireless Gaming Adapter yesterday and it came with a $20 rebate offer. So, I needed to jump through the usual hoops of filling out the rebate form, cutting the UPC symbol off the product’s box, and providing a copy of the receipt. With everything filled out, I of course needed to make a copy of the form and receipt in case it got lost in the mail.

To start, I used the HP Photosmart C4700 All-in-One Printer that I bought at the Apple store along with my iMac (which had a $100 rebate offer, that made it free) to scan the rebate form. I initiated the scanning using the convenient HP scanning app on my iMac. Once the rebate form was scanned, the app asked if I had any other items to scan (which I said yes), and I then scanned the receipt. Once I was done, I had two images scanned showing up as thumbnails in the HP scanning app. I then had the HP app print the images to a PDF file which was conveniently placed on my desktop screen. At first, I thought I would need to print each scanned item separately and then try to figure out how to combine them into a single PDF document (for my convenience), but the HP scanning app did that for me automatically.

Next, I needed to print the send and return address on an envelope to send off my rebate. Fortunately, I found a nifty free dashboard utility called EasyEnvelopes that did the job nicely.

I just copied the rebate center address from the web site where I got the rebate form, pasted it in the EasyEnvelopes send address box on the dashboard app, and printed the envelope label right on the envelope from my HP Laserjet printer.

Using my old Windows PC, I would need to do the following for the same procedure:

  1. Use my Canon LiE30 scanner to scan the rebate form and receipt into two separate images into my application.
  2. Create a MS-Word document and paste both images in as two separate pages.
  3. Print the Word document as a PDF file using the printer driver app called PDF995 (commercial app).
  4. Open MS-Word again and type in the rebate send address.
  5. Highlight the send address in Word and select “Envelopes” to print out the envelope label to an envelope on my Laser Printer.

I could have probably tried to streamline this process, but I was never able to find a good, simple envelope printer app for my Windows PC. Also, I wasn’t able to find a simple app for scanning images as with my Mac. This is just an example of how easy it was for me to do this simple task on my iMac, and be more productive.

As for another example, I recently bought an Apple Remote for my iMac ($20) which I thought I’d try out when watching movies, etc. I removed the remote from the packaging and followed the instructions on how to pair it to my iMac (simply hold it 4 inches away from the screen and hold down a button). I then just clicked on the menu button and my iMac’s screen faded to black and up came the app called FrontRow, which looked similar to Windows Media Center on the PC.

So from here I could watch current movie trailers, videos that are stored on my iMac, listen to my music, etc. Again, this is a great example of “it just works”. I don’t have to navigate through popup dialog boxes, etc. to do what I want to do. This is a real productivity boost to me, and shows that Apple has given a lot of thought to user usability with their products.