Tech Trends #1 - Instagram

DING! "Basement floor."

Whoa, now! You're in the right place. Don't leave. Yes, this is Tech Trends. Yes, I know you probably didn't mean to stumble down here, but just hold on a second.

Tech Trends is a new, friendly place where we can share interesting tech tips, new smartphone and tablet apps and other geeky whatnot, but all in a way which everyone can understand.

To start things off with our inaugural post, perhaps it would be appropriate to begin with one of the biggest tech stories making the rounds recently - Instagram. The fun, mobile-only social network for sharing funky photos taken with your smartphone seems to have taken the smartphone world by storm with more than 30 million users.

Also, The Covington News just created our own Instagram account. Find us under the username: "covnews."

First things first. Where do you get Instagram? The Instagram app is a free app available for Apple's iOS devices (iPhone and iPod touch-only however. Sorry iPad folks, but fear not, I have something for you as well).

You can also get Instagram now for Android devices.

When you first launch the app, you'll need to make an account, which only takes a few seconds. Next you can find friends to share with and follow. Instagram makes it very simple to find other people who are also using the app. Friends can be pulled from your phone's address book, your Facebook friends or your Twitter followers. Or, using their email address, you can invite friends to create an account.

All setup? Good. Time for the meat and potatoes of Instagram - photos. To start, tap the blue camera-looking icon in the bottom-center of the app screen. You can either take a photo right away or use one you've already taken with your device.

Next you have the option of using Instagram's best feature - filters, filters and more filters! Filters are color styles that you can add to your Instagram photos to make them look very "retro" and almost Polaroid-like.

The magic of Instagram is playing with filters and other effects to make a cool, funky little snapshot.

Instagram is a free download on the Apple App Store and Android Market.

And now for you iPad users.

First off, yes, the Instagram app will technically work on the iPad, but I don't recommend it. The app is formatted for the screen size of the iPhone, so it will simply look terrible on the iPad. I say just avoid going this route.

But, all is not lost. There are apps for the iPad that work with Instagram, but with a couple caveats. First, you can't take or upload photos with these apps. Instagram, the company, doesn't actually make an official iPad app, and so other, third-party developers have stepped up to the plate. However, Instagram doesn't allow these other apps to post new photos - only view photos. You can, however, do almost everything else like the official Instagram iPhone and Android apps.

The other caveat is you must use the iPhone or Android app to create your Instagram account for the first time.
So what iPad-formatted Instagram apps are you out there, you ask? Quite a few actually. Just search "Instagram" on the iPad App Store.

A good one to try is Iris App. This recently-released app is the most "official-looking" iPad-formatted Instagram app. The design of the app is top-notch, from the icons to the layout, the overall look and feel of the app is fantastic. The app takes full advantage of the iPad's larger screen, displaying your Instagram photos in a way your smartphone could not achieve.

Last but not least, if you want to learn pretty much all there is to know about Instagram and then some, check out

- This story was originally published on April 24, 2012 on

Tech Trends #2 - Secret iPhone Tips

I got my first iPhone, the 3GS model, as a college graduation present. The iPhone 3GS was the third generation of iPhone. I remember sitting in the student center at Georgia Tech watching the Apple keynote speech when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone in 2007.

"I have to get this phone!" I said to myself. "This is exactly the phone I've been waiting for!"

Alas, as a college student with no job and in the middle of another cellphone contract, I had to sit on the sidelines, sans iPhone, reading about all the cool stuff the iPhone could do. Yeah I know, "First World Problems," right?

Therefore, not surprisingly, when I got my iPhone, I couldn't put it down. I'm now using an iPhone 4S, and it's pretty much with me 24/7. There are some cool tips and tricks that Apple doesn't explicitly advertise that can make the iPhone experience just that extra bit better. Here are a few of my favorites:

Take photos with the volume button
Here's a cool tip for all the iPhone photographers out there to make your iPhone even more like a point-and-shoot camera. With the latest version of the iPhone software (iOS 5), you can use the "volume up" button to snap a picture.

I find it much faster to take pictures this way, as well as being a more stable way to hold the phone for photography. It feels more like a real camera with some tactile feedback when you press a button to snap a picture.

There's a second part to the this tip: you can also use the "volume up" button on your iPhone earbuds to snap a picture. You can even use wireless Bluetooth headsets to trigger the camera with the volume button. This is great if you have a iPhone tripod mount or some other mounting system to take pictures without holding the iPhone.

Tweet with Siri
If you have an iPhone 4S, you've undoubtedly played with the little virtual assistant to set reminders, get the weather or send text messages just by talking to your phone. Now, if you're into Twitter, there's even a way to dictate your tweets to Siri.

There is a basic Twitter functionality built-in to iOS 5, but unfortunately it's doesn't work with Siri. There are a few steps you'll have to take to get this tip up and running. Luckily, they are simple.

The first step is to set up "Twitter via SMS" (SMS is another name for text message), which was the primary way to tweet when Twitter was first created. Simply send a text message to "40404" with the message "Start." Twitter will reply soon after with instructions, which you simply follow. All in all, it takes just a few minutes.

Next you just need to add the "40404" SMS number as a new Contact, name it "Twitter" and then you are all set. For example, you can now tell Siri: "Send a message to Twitter saying ‘I'm tweeting with my voice.''' It works just like sending a regular text message with Siri. Fun!

Custom vibrations
This next tip is very nice. I hate ringtones. I hate awkwardness of having my phone ring loudly at inopportune times, like at night, in a meeting or at the movies. So, 99.9 percent of the time, I leave my iPhone on vibrate mode. If you hate having your phone ring like I do, then this tip is for you.

The main function of ringtones is to assign different ringtones to different people so you know who's calling without even looking. At least, that's how it's been explained to me. You can now get that functionality with custom vibrations on the iPhone.

All you need to do is tap "Settings > General > Accessibility" and turn on Custom Vibrations under Hearing. Next, you just record your new vibration pattern by tapping on the screen in the pattern of your choice. The longer you hold your finger down, the longer the vibration - kind of like morse code. You can then assign these custom vibration to your different contacts as you would a ringtone.

Scroll to the top in a snap
Have you ever finished reading a long article or scrolled all the way to the bottom of a page and then needed to go back to see the top of the page? You could sit there swiping your way back to the top, or you could make use of a little-known, un-advertised feature to help you out: simply tap the status bar.

The status bar is the thin gray bar that sits at the top of the screen that displays things like the clock, your cell reception indicator, battery life, etc. All you have to do is tap anywhere on that bar, and the page will automatically scroll to the top. Very handy.

Hourly weather forecasts
There are hundreds of weather apps on the App Store. Many of which have additional functionality compared to the default Weather App on the iPhone. However, sometimes it's nice to keep it simple. The default Weather App is nice
for a quick check for the temperature and current weather conditions.

However, the latest version of iOS added a nice extra feature to the default Weather App: hourly forecasts. Just open the Weather App and tap anywhere on the week listing to open a drop-down list of the weather forecast for the next 12 hours. It includes temperature, conditions and a percentage for any precipitation.

Do you know of any handy iPhone, iPad or other mobile phone tips and tricks you'd like to share? Send me an email and include the phrase "Phone tips" in the subject, and I may pick a few to share in a future article.

- This story was originally published on May 10, 2012 on

Tech Trends #3 - Battery-saving tips for smartphones

I've mentioned in my earlier columns about cool apps and helpful tips for your smartphones, but that's all well and good so long as your phone powers on. With a dead battery, your iPhone just became a $200 paperweight.

Turn off extra services
Some of the most prominent tips I read about are those that advise you to disable or turn off some of the more fancy features on your smartphone. This can be nice at times, but I wouldn't recommend it for day-to-day use. Having all these cool features and services are what make a smartphone "smart." If you turn these features off, you might as well not have a smartphone. Nevertheless, I've been known to use some of the following tips from time to time when the need arises.

As you know, a smartphone like an iPhone cannot only make phone calls, but can browse the web, check email and do a whole host of things based around connecting to the Internet. The two ways that smartphones do this by Wi-Fi, such as the wireless network in your house or a coffee shop, and through cellular data networks like 3G and 4G networks on AT&T and Verizon.

Having these services enabled on the phone, even if you're not using them, can help drain your battery. For example, if you know you're not going to be around a Wi-Fi network to use, then disabling Wi-Fi can help extend the battery life. Disabling cellular data can extend it even more, but then your smartphone is really limited in its functionality if it can't connect to the Internet at all.

Overall, the only time I personally will turn off Wi-Fi or cellular data services is when I'm traveling. In those situations, I use a feature known as "Airplane Mode," which powers off all the communication devices inside the phone. Not only is Wi-Fi and cellular data disabled, so is Bluetooth and the GPS. You can really extend the battery life of your smartphone while in Airplane Mode simply because the devices doesn't have to power up all these extra devices inside the phone.

The downside to Airplane Mode? Your iPhone, for instance, is now essentially an iPod. You can still listen to music, watch videos or play games, but you can't use it for communication whatsoever.

Dim your screen
One of the more power-hungry components to smartphone is the screen. I mean, look at it, these screens are huge, and it takes some oomph to power all those pixels. Leaving your phone's screen at the maximum brightness level is a sure-fire way to drain your battery quickly, especially if the screen stays on for a long time when watching videos or playing games.

There's a nice feature on many smartphones out there called auto-brightness. It uses a hidden sensor on the front of the phone to detect how bright your surroundings are and adjusts your screen's brightness accordingly. This can help save battery life without you actually having to do anything.

Pay for apps
OK, we've all done it, but stop downloading all those ad-supported free or "lite" versions of apps. Personally, I find the ad-supported apps to look terrible, and now there is data that displaying all the ads can significantly effect your smartphone's battery life.

In a Purdue University study, researchers found that 65-75 percent of the energy used by free apps is set aside for user tracking, downloading ads and uploading user information for advertising purposes.

For example, the popular game Angry Birds has both a paid, ad-free version and a free, ad-suppported version. Researchers found that in the free, ad-supported Android version of the game only 18 percent of the energy used was for running the game. The rest was spent on downloading and displaying advertisements.

Lesson here: when given the choice between the free version or the $0.99 version of an app, just buy the one without ads.

Best battery tip for the day-to-day scenario?
Overall, these tips are nice in a pinch to help squeeze some extra life out of that battery. However, on a day-to-day basis, going to the extreme by disabling this feature and that feature or turning the screen brightness down to "barely-readable" is not really necessary. Not only do I find it to be a hassle to keep opening the settings and changing things all day long, but you also end up not being able to enjoy all those nice, fancy smartphone amenities.

Here's what I do: keep your battery charger next to your bed. Plug in the phone at the end of day and charge it overnight. Most likely your smartphone will have enough juice to get you through the day.

Don't have a smartphone and hate charging batteries?
You're in luck. If you're like my father, who doesn't have a smartphone and generally finds a cellphone more of an annoyance that anything else yet still carries one around, I may have discovered an awesome little phone for you.

It's called the SpareOne. It's an extremely simple cellphone that basically just makes phone calls.

The phone runs on a single AA battery and lasts 15 years!

It's mainly designed to be used as an emergency cellphone that can sit idle on the shelf, in the glove box or in an emergency kit.

It's also cheap. There's no contract, and it's just $70 for the phone. Then, buy a prepaid SIM card from the provider of your choice.

- This story was originally published on May 17, 2012 on

Tech Trends #4 - All about Twitter

All aboard the Twitter train! The tiny "microblogging" service that lets people send out short, 140-character posts known as "tweets" is one of the most popular social networks out there. As of 2012, there are over 140 million active users, who generate over 340 million tweets a day.

In my experience, people seem divided into two camps when it comes to Twitter: those who use it and those who don't "get it." I'm firmly in the pro-Twitter camp. I love it. I use it to get news, for entertainment and to interact with various people, both people I know and complete strangers.

For those people who tell me they don't "get" it, there isn't really anything to "get." It's a way to interact with people. Share stuff, rant, ask questions. Do whatever, really. It's kin to Facebook if Facebook was only "status updates."

One of the people I've been following on Twitter for a long time, an Apple enthusiast-turned-film director named Josh Helfferich, tweeted this summary of Twitter a while ago, which I think it spot on:

"Twitter will be known as the remarkable invention that allowed strangers to explore life together and become friends."

I don't think I could have said it better.

@FakeAPStylebook -
Ah, the parody Twitter account. One of most popular trends on Twitter is the satirical parody account, often mocking a celebrity, corporation or public figure. And @FakeAPStylebook is no exception, taking aim at the real @APStylebook, a Twitter account set up by the Associated Press as a companion to the news wire's famous journalism writing guide. For the literature and writing enthusiasts as well as fellow journalists, this is one account is a "must-follow."

FakeAPStylebook tweets are pure satire. Claiming to share "style tips for proper writing," their tweets are a collection of off-color jokes and spoofs on phrases, definitions and how-to tips on writing and reporting, often relating to current events and pop culture references.

Here are some of my favorite tweets:
• "Thorough research is the key to quality reporting. Read the ENTIRE Wikipedia article before writing your story."
• "Only spell it "errbody" if literally every person in the club is gettin' tipsy."
• "Avoid corporate buzzwords such as "paradigm" and "synergy." Simply use "bullsh*t."

@RobDenBleyker -
Rob DenBleyker is one of the four authors of the popular online comic strip, Cyanide & Happiness. And as one would expect from someone who create jokes for a living, Rob DenBleyker's Twitter account is pretty funny.
This guy's tweets are pretty hilarious. Here are few of my favorites:
• "I'm so glad television redefined the word "marathon" to mean the exact opposite of physical exercise."
• "I wanna see a remake of Titanic that exclusively focuses on the backstory of that one dude who hits the propeller."
• "Ugh, here I am stuck at a midnight show, only to learn that Hunger Games is not, in fact, a film adaptation of Man Versus Food."

@neiltyson -
Neil deGrass Tyson is probably the coolest scientist to come along and hit the pop culture mainstream since Bill Nye, the Science Guy. An astrophysicist, Tyson's day job is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. He is also a research associate in the astrophysics department of the museum.

As a science communication, Tyson has appeared in the media numerous time. His currently the host of the science TV program NOVA ScienceNOW on PBS and is frequent guest TV shows such as the Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

So, this guy is ridiculously smart, and as it turns out, quite funny. If you want a dose of knowledge with your humor, you should definitely follow him on Twitter. Here are a few favorites:
• "April 12, 1961: first human in orbit. April 12, 1981: first flight of SpaceShuttle. April 12, 2012: Snooki in 2nd trimester."
• "Just an FYI: Stars in the Universe far outnumber all sounds & words ever uttered by all humans who ever lived."
• "In 5-billion yrs the Sun will expand & engulf our orbit as the charred ember that was once Earth vaporizes. Have a nice day."

@bluthquotes -
Are you a fan of the cult hit TV series, Arrested Development? If not, then this Twitter account is not for you.

Seriously, it won't make any sense if you haven't seen the show. The Twitter account @BluthQuotes is for the dedicated Arrested Development fan only.

It primarily tweets quotes from the TV show, that FOX stupidly canceled because apparently FOX hates good television shows, despite the show garnering critical acclaim. At least the show lasted for three seasons.

There's good news though, after years of rumors, the show is going to start back up again with a fourth season airing on Netflix in 2013 followed by a feature film in the summer. Hooray!

Now for the tweets:
• "‘I'll have a vodka rocks' ‘Mom, it's breakfast time' ‘And a piece of toast.'"
• "I'm sure Egg is a very nice person. I just don't want you spending all your money getting her all glittered up for Easter."

• "And although the intervention didn't work, it turned into one of the Bluth family's better parties."

- This story was originally published on May 31, 2012 on

Tech Trends #5 - Music, the Internet way

I love music. You love music. We all love music. Right? Well, if you listen to a lot of tunes and would like an affordable way to have an all-you-can-eat, so to speak, music buffet, look no further. In this week's Tech Trends, I will talk about a few of the most popular music streaming services.

Spotify is one of newest music streaming services to come along (to the U.S. that is - it's been available in Europe since 2006). Yet, from my experience, it's my most favorite service I've tried so far.

Why do I like it so much? Try before you buy. Let's say you hear about a new album from a band you like. Do you just blindly buy it? What if it's awful? A waste of money, right? Well, that's pretty much what we've had to do in the past. Even with iTunes, you'd only get a 30-90 second preview of the songs, which might not be enough time to really tell if the album is worth the purchase.

Well, Spotify solves this. Just search for the artist, the album or song, and it will most likely be there since Spotify has licensing agreements with most major record labels (including the four major ones: Sony, Warner Music, Universal and EMI). Then simply listen away.

Another plus is that if you already have a big iTunes library, fear not, as the Spotify application that you install on your computer will import your iTunes music into your Spotify library.

Another great feature about Spotify is playlists. Make playlists of your favorite songs, playlists by artist or genre, whatever you like. Spotify also has a lot of social aspects built in, so you can share your playlists with other Spotify users or create collaborative playlists.

Rdio is another music subscription service that is very similar to Spotify. Its main difference is that there is no free account (except for limited trial account when you first sign up). Therefore, there is no advertising whatsoever. I like that. You also have a web browser-based version, so you can access your Rdio library and playlists from anywhere.

The look of Rdio is a bit different compared to a more "traditional" music library app like iTunes. Spotify is more similar to iTunes in that regards, so perhaps that's why I prefer Spotify just a bit more than Rdio. Rdio is not confusing to use, just not as simple as Spotify or iTunes, I feel. The Rdio website and the standalone compute program you install on your computer look and function identically, which is a nice touch.

Both Rdio and Spotify offer a very similar catalog of songs - millions upon millions, but each service has some exclusive artists. So depending on who your favorite artists are, that could be a deciding factor. Here's where Rdio stands out a bit. Based on a December 2011 article from Wired magazine, of the top 100 most popular albums, nine of them are found only on Rdio, whereas only one is exclusive to Spotify. For instance, Pink Floyd and many Bob Dylan albums are only available on Rdio.

Pandora Radio is bit different from Spotify and Rdio. As its name suggests, Pandora functions more like a radio station, except you have the ability to skip songs. Also, rather than giving you access to a plethora of songs to search for and play instantly, Pandora works by creating individual "stations." You first type in a song or artist that you like, and Pandora will create a radio station based on that and will play songs from that artist and other songs that are musically similar. For example, if you're in the mood to listen to some Miles Davis, Pandora will play that and similar songs in that one station. Don't worry about a Justin Bieber song popping up after "Spanish Key."

Pandora is therefore great as a "set it and forget" music service. You only really need to occasionally interact with it if you want to skip to the next track or pause the music. It's great for studying, reading or just as some mood music. My main dislike of the service is that if suddenly want to look up a song by a particular artist or want to just hear music from a particular album, I can't do that with Pandora.

- This story was originally published on June 7, 2012 on

Tech Trends #6 - Password Security

It happened again. A large social media website was hacked and millions of passwords were exposed., the social media site primarily focused at the business professional, was the latest victim. It has been reported that more than 6.5 million users' passwords were stolen in the hacking. Some estimate it's as high as eight million. The online dating site was also hacked.

Do you have a LinkedIn or eHarmony account? If so, then it's time to change your password. If not, it's time to change your password as well. It's good to be aware of what passwords you use across the web and to change them often.
Here are some helpful tips on password security:

Don't use the same password everywhere
It can be a hassle to remember all those passwords. So, why is it be beneficial to have different passwords for each website that requires a login? Well, as I've already mentioned, websites can get hacked, and people can gain access to your passwords. If you use the same password for everything, they now have access to everything else.

How to remember all your passwords
So, now that you've create different passwords for each of your online accounts, how are you going to keep track of them all? Don't write them down. That's extremely insecure; especially if you plan to keep that list of passwords next to your computer.

As with many things these days, there is indeed "an app for that." My all-time favorite is an app called 1Password ( It's a nifty program that you download and install on your Mac or Windows PC (they also have iPhone, iPad and Android apps). It is a password manager. You can store all your individual passwords and encrypt, or secure, all of them with one master password. You only need to remember this one single password.

The really nice thing about 1Password is that it also ties into your web browsers, like Chrome, Firefox and Safari with a handy icon so that when you want to login to a website, click this button, type your master password and 1Password will automatically fill in the blanks on the site and log you in. You never have to see or type an individual password.

How to choose a strong password
Don't use passwords like "secret," "password," "123456," or even something like "passw0rd." These and passwords like them are by and far the easiest for hackers to guess.

There are two things you should think about when creating a nice, secure password:
1) how easy is it for someone to guess?

2) how easy or how long would it take a computer program to figure out?

You don't want a password that is easy for someone to guess. A nefarious hacker would easy try a few easily guessable password right off the bat. Phrases like "password" and "secret1" are easy to guess. They're too obvious. Even a password that you think would be difficult to guess, is probably the complete opposite. For example, a password that includes some personal details like your birthday, street address, child's or pet's name are all easy for someone to guess. All this probably takes is a simple Google search or a browse of your Facebook page.

The second part of a good password is make it difficult for a computer program to brute force the password. A brute force attack is when a computer program systematically checks all possible passwords until the one is found. This can take a lot of time if your password is a good one.

Surprisingly, you would think a password phrase like "BLrbWC26q" would be a strong password. After all this password is darn near impossible for someone to simply guess. But, for a sophisticated and powerful computer program running a brute force search would find this password in less than two days.

A simple phrase of easily remembered words is more difficult to crack by a computer. This is nice because it gives us the ability to create passwords that humans can remember but are difficult to guess by other people and by computers. In password cracking, it's an all or nothing game. Guessing part of a password doesn't matter. Therefore, a password phrase of "apple cat dog sandwich" would take a supercomputer one hundred trillion guesses. It would also be pretty difficult for someone to personally guess that exact phrase with those words in that exact order and with those spaces in between. That's a good password.

- This story was originally published on June 14, 2012 on

Tech Trends #7 - Watch what you put online

Ah, the good ol' Internet. You think it's just one big, anonymous playground. You can do anything. Well, it's a playground alright. And you can do almost anything online nowadays, but it's definitely not anonymous. Everyone needs to be mindful of what they write, post and share online. You don't know who's going to see it or what tiny detail in that Instagram photo or post on Facebook can give away your identity or location.

However, you should also be mindful not to do blatantly stupid things and post about them on the Internet. Something's bound to happen. Let me share with you a couple recent stories that illustrate this latter fact:

Burger King Lettuce Guy

This story starts out gross and ends with a swift kick of justice. A few days ago, a person posted a picture on the notorious image-sharing bulletin-board website "4chan" depicting a person standing on top of two buckets of lettuce. The caption of the picture said, "This is the lettuce you eat at Burger King."

OK, that is extremely gross. Someone should do something, right? 4chan and other sites like this claim to allow users to be anonymous. So, is there no way bring justice to Mr. Lettuce Stomper? Turns out, yep.

Unbeknownst to the Burger King employee who posted the photo, the image file contained embedded GPS data, presumably from his or her camera phone. It took other users on the website all of 15 minutes to find the employee's location, the restaurant's address and contact management and the local news channel. Burger King has fired three employees related to this incident.

Complaining Chili's Waitress

About a month ago, a story came out about a Chili's waitress, who after getting stiffed pretty harshly on a tip, decided to vent her anger on Facebook. Already, we're treading into risky territory here. Next stop for our waitress, "Poor Choices Town" apparently. She finished off her rant by threatening to spit in this customer's food and face should he or she choose to return.

Oh man, bad choice there. Not only is it gross, and against company policy to spit in food, but since this waitress worked in California, spitting in someone's face is considered assault.

Well, our good friends on the Internet caught wind of this Facebook posting, and allegedly were quickly able to glean information from her Facebook page, find her location, find the Chili's restaurant where she worked and contact the management. A computer screenshot image of an email response claiming to be from Chili's described how the waitress was "no longer with the company."

There have been reports that complaints made by Internet users were simply fake screenshots. However, reports do say that Chili's management did fire a waitress for violating the company's social media guidelines.

Moral of the story?

There's two really: 

• Don't be gross and stupid.

• Watch what you post online.

The first moral here is preatty self explanatory. The second one might not be so well understood.

The Internet is pretty open, and the things you post and share on social media websites may not, and are probably not, as private as you may think. Ignoring this could have severe consequences. Nowadays, more and more employers are using social media websites as another metric to evaluate potential employees. Think that picture of you doing a keg-stand at the frat party last weekend is pretty hilarious? Do you think your potential boss (or current boss) thinks the same thing? I doubt it.

And this doesn't just affect young job-seekers. Are you a high school senior getting ready to apply to college? The admissions officers may just factor in your Facebook page in their decision whether or not to admit you. In a Wall-Street Journal story, 38 percent of admission officers who check social media sites of applicants said that their views of potential students were "negatively affected" by what they saw.

Even your current employment could be jeopardized by what you post online and on social media websites, as we've seen in the above two examples. The Internet and its collective users can be pretty fickle. Do something inappropriate, mean, or just plain stupid online, and you may find yourself on the wrong end of some Internet justice.

- This story was originally published on June 19, 2012 on

Tech Trends #9 - How to be a news junkie

I love news. I particularly love following breaking news. And thanks to the Internet, getting my breaking news fix is fairly easy. With a few programs and a few websites up on your computer, you have your own personal breaking news battlestation. You're now ready to not only consume news, but also help share and disseminate news.

If you don't already know, I am a huge fan of Twitter. It's a quick and fun way to share stuff and communicate with people. One of my all-time favorite things about Twitter: breaking news. Want to get your news the minute something happens? Then you need to hop on the Twitter train. Although, the mainstream news media outlets are getting much better at it by joining Twitter, independent and citizen journalist Twitter accounts used to be the king at breaking news. I would sometimes see news breaking on Twitter 30 minutes to an hour before it hit the airwaves of CNN. For instance, I heard about the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Twitter well before anyone was talking about it on TV. Remember the U.S. Airways flight that crash landed in the Hudson River in New York? One of the first and most widely-seen photos of the scene was a smartphone picture shared on Twitter.

So, how do you find and read about breaking news on Twitter, you ask? You have to follow the right people. Here are some of my favorites:

@mpoppel - Michael van Poppel is based out of the Netherlands and is the founder of the first Twitter-based breaking news wire service BNO News. Although BNO News now serves as a more traditional news wire service, Poppel himself still tweets global breaking news as it happens.

@BreakingNews - The former official Twitter account of BNO News, which currently has more than 4 million followers, is now run by NBC News. They also run a multimedia-rich website

@AP - the official Twitter account of the Associated Press.

@Reuters - the official Twitter account of Reuters news wire.

You can also find more people to follow by checking out what the "trending topics" are on Twitter. This will show you what's popular on Twitter right now and who's talking about it. Check out

It's the age of the smartphone: phones that take photos and video; phones with Internet connections. The result of this is that pretty much anyone with a smartphone can be a citizen journalist with the ability to share and disseminate news.

One of the more popular services that people have used to broadcast live news events is You can watch streaming video using your web browser on the computer or using the Ustream smartphone apps.

Ustream has a directory of official news streaming services at but there are also individuals that provide video streams of various news events from around the world. Unfortunately, it's hit-or-miss in how to find these. You'll just have to find these as they come along. The best way, I've found, is to look for links people are sharing around the web on Twitter and Facebook, for example, when breaking news is happening. If the news is big enough, the official Ustream Twitter account (@Ustream) will tweet out links to video streams relating to that particular news topic.
Livestation is a fantastic service that aggregates international TV news channels and streams them online. This legal services provides many live streams for a variety of 24-hour news channels from around the world. Many of the channels are free to watch, although a premium subscription is also available offering more channels and a higher video quality to some of the free-to-watch channels.

What I find nice about Livestation is that it provides a nice alternative to U.S.-based news channels that we're all used to. With LiveStation, you can watch English-language news from other countries such as Al-Jazeera English, UK-based Sky News, France24. LiveStation also has smartphone apps for a variety of platforms to watch your live TV news from anywhere.

- This story was originally published on August 16, 2012 on

Tech Trends #10 - From digital to tangible

Everything is digital now. Your camera is digital: images stored on hard drives and viewed on computer screens. Your books are digital: thousands of e-Books are stored on devices like Kindles. Movies and TV shows are digital: streamed from online services like Netflix or iTunes.

The Internet age has ushered in a whole new way of buying and consuming media. It's pretty much all digital, and therefore it's all instantly obtainable. I love it. When I go out to take photographs with my digital camera, I can then go back to my computer and instantly see the results on my computer. If I want to watch a movie, I don't need to drive to the store to buy it; I'll just stream it from Netflix. Or if I want to read a magazine or a book, I can just read it on my iPad.

However, there are times when I want a physical, tangible item, but not necessarily of something someone else created. What if it's something I created? There are online services now that allow you to create things like your own professional-quality photo book, or even your own magazine.

For example, I recently got back from a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. One of the big things I focused on while there was photography, particularly landscape photography. It was an amazing trip, and I have a lot of great pictures. As I went through all my shots on my computer, picking out my favorite shots and editing them, I realized that it would be nice to see these photos beyond the computer screen. Sometimes the laptop screen just doesn't do a photo justice. It would be cool to see some of these photos printed. There's one particular long panorama shot that simply can't be appreciated on a computer screen.

This web service lets anyone, with varying design skill levels, create a wide variety of different books. From travel photography coffee table books and wedding albums to cookbooks and even photo books of your Instagram photos, Blurb offers something for everyone.

There are multiple ways to design a book from Blurb. There are template-based layouts for photo books that can be designed using their website, or you can get more advanced using their own design program that you download to your computer. There's even an option for professionals that use Adobe InDesign. You get to design everything - the layout, the size of the book, whether you want a hardback or paperback book, and even the type of paper that's used.

The prices also seem reasonable. The smallest book is a 5x8 inch size and starts at $3.95. The largest 12x12 inch coffee table book starts at around $50. The interesting thing about Blurb is that they also function as a self-publishing service. You can create your own book, and then offer it for sale through their online bookstore. You keep 100 percent of the markup on the price of your book. So, make a book for yourself, make a handful as gifts or offer it up as a print-on-demand book and make some money. Neat.

OK, we've talked about books, but what about magazines. Turns out there's a service for this too. Do you have a cool one-off idea or subject that would lend itself to be a magazine, but don't have the resources or the publishing company to create it? Try MagCloud, from Hewlett-Packard. It let's you design the magazine as you want using their guidelines and tips, and then offer it for sale. MagCloud provides the marketplace and prints each copy on-demand whenever someone buys a copy. It's simple and they do all the hard work. &

Just because you have a digital camera now instead of a film one doesn't mean you can't enjoy a nice print. There are a multitude of photo printing services out there, but here are two examples - one service that I've used and another that I've heard rave reviews about.

The first up is Co-founded by a friend of mine, this company makes it extremely simple to quick upload, print and ship photo prints to your doorstep or your friends and family. The process is super easy: 1) upload photos, 2) choose what size prints you want, and 3) tell it where to ship the photos. Done. They initially started with just 4x6 prints, but they recently expanded to include 5x7 and 8x10 prints.

The service is bare bones, but the simplicity is nice thing. The prints come on nice professional, matte photo paper and the images look great. And that's about it. No need to worry about what and if you want frames or other special mounts or finishes. Simply send in a small batch of photos (say about 10 or so), and PicPlum does the rest. You'll have a package of photos in the mail in about a week.

Another choice for prints is These guys are a more traditional photo printing lab, but I've heard good things. They offer a wide variety of sizes, mounting and framing options, and a quick turnaround time. I will be looking at these guys for some of my Maine photos for sure.

- This story was originally published on August 30, 2012 on