What is a Podcast?

Image result for podcastsYou’re about to see how you can find a huge variety of new and interesting content from the internet to fill your smartphone, tablet or PC for free. You can listen to what you want, when you want, and how you want.

Imagine getting new “radio”-style talk and music shows to listen to on your smartphone every day. You wake up and automatically have new shows ready to listen to while you exercise, commute to work or just while relaxing around the house. This is the podcast listening experience.

Let’s face it. Broadcast radio is getting old. The same songs get played over and over until you’re sick of them. A few large companies have control of the formats and what gets played. There is very little variety.

With podcasts you don’t have to wait to hear something that interests you. You choose what you want to listen to. There are now thousands & thousands of podcasts and the number is growing rapidly.

What is a Podcast?

The word podcast is a play on the word broadcast combined with the word iPod (one of the most popular portable MP3 players at the time podcasting became popular).

At the core a podcast is an audio file that is automatically received from the internet and then synced to your smartphone, tablet or computer. The files are received by subscribing through a podcast player app.

You do not have to have an iPod to listen to a podcast. The best podcast player is right there on your smartphone, which makes it very convenient.

What Are Podcasts So Popular?

What sets podcasts apart is that they can be automatically downloaded to your computer or smartphone and synced without you needing to do anything. You can wake up each morning with new shows (that interest you) on your smartphone, tablet or computer ready to listen to.

The ease and convenience of this automatic delivery in addition to the endless content makes it so popular.

Content! No matter what you are interested in, science, politics, technology, history and much more is all there waiting for you. Also many of the popular networks such as NPR, ESPN, CNN, BBC and many more make their on-the-air content available via podcasts as well!

Finding Content and a Podcast Player

The first thing you want to do is pick a podcast player app. I have 2 recommendations depending on what smartphone you have. There are many others – these are just my personal favorites.

Once you have a podcast player on your smartphone or tablet you can begin to search for content that interests you.

Enjoy…. and welcome to the 21st century!

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Sonic Heads to Your Smartphone

Following in the tradition of Nintendo – Sega is making a comeback, thanks to your smartphone. The legendary video games company has launched Sega Forever, which is devoted to keeping the Sega name alive long into the future. And what better way to do that than to reach back into the past and bring classic Sega games to your smartphone.

Sonic I didn’t realize how much I missed you. Welcome to my iPhone!

There was a time, not so long ago, when Sega was the biggest games company on the face of the planet. In terms of consoles, the Genesis was a major success. And then there are the famous characters, such as Sonic the Hedgehog.

And then Sega released the Dreamcast, a woefully underrated console, and the whole thing went belly-up. Sega still exists, and still makes arcade machines and games for other consoles. And now, thanks to Sega Forever,the old Sega magic is back. Its a little bit smaller but more mobile then ever before.

Keeping Classic Sega Games Alive Forever

Sega Forever is the new banner under which dozens of classic Sega games will be released on Android and iOS. The games will be be available as free to play with supported by ads and ad-free for a one time payment of $1.99 (per title).

Sega has kicked things off with five Genesis titles: Sonic the HedgehogComix ZoneAltered BeastKid Chameleon, and Phantasy Star II. New games will be launched every two weeks, with titles from the Master System, the Game Gear, the Saturn, and the Dreamcast still to come.

All Sega Forever titles will be available to play offline, with online leaderboards available for those who like comparing their talents with others. The older Sega titles will be brought to smartphones thanks to emulation, while the more recent titles will require full ports to iOS and Android.

My biggest complaint here is that the free ad-supported version is truly annoying. The ads are everywhere and very intrusive. If you want to truly experience that old Sega magic spend the $1.99 on the ad-free version.

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BigKeys for Big Hands On Your iPhone

If you are like me you sometimes wish that either the keyboard on your iPhone was bigger or that your hands were smaller. While I can’t really help you with the size of your hands I can give you a tip how to make your iPhone Keyboard a little bigger.

Now that’s a keyboard I can work with!

If the size of the keys on the built in iPhone keyboard has ever caused you frustration I have an app for you try out.

Because iOS supports third-party keyboards there are a couple of good solutions out there for replacing the built-in keyboard. One of my favorite keyboards for the iPhone is Microsoft’s Wordflow. I have written about this nifty little keyboard a couple of times and you can check out those articles here if you are interested. However if all you really need is an app that gives you bigger keys on your keyboard I might just have a solution for you.

If you are looking to increase the size of your keyboard check out Big Keys. It’s an iOS app normally worth $2.99 but is free at the moment. Big Keys lets you increase the size of the keyboard keys. It works best in landscape mode but it does help in portrait mode as well.

How to Try out Big Keys

Download and install Big Keys from the App Store. You then need to add the app as a keyboard. Open the Settings app. Go to General>Keyboard, and add a new keyboard. From the list of keyboards, select Big Keys.

Next, open any app that you can type in. Tap the globe key and select ‘Big Key’ from the available keyboards to switch to it.

You will also need to open the app (it has it’s own icon) to customization the text & emoji sizes.

This app is not perfect but it is simple and may help if you have trouble with the keyboard size.

Good Luck if you give it a try!

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Manchester Terror Highlights the Power of Social Media

Tragedy almost always brings out the best in people. Social media services often get bad press and perhaps this criticism is deserved sometimes. However as we found out during last evening’s tragic act of terror in Manchester social media often steps up and provides help to those caught in terrible events.

Image result for facebook safety check logo

Last night, shortly after the terror attack in Manchester Facebook began helping people connect to those who were impacted by the tragic events at Ariana Grande’s Manchester Arena.

Hours after the incident unfolded, the Greater Manchester Police confirmed that there were 19 fatalities (this number rose to 22) and as many as 50 people injured in an explosion just as Grande wrapped up her set at the 21,000-seat sports and music venue.

Police and emergency services quickly began working at the scene to evacuate those trying to flee the arena and others who’d been injured in the blast.

Police at Manchester Arena

To help those impacted by Monday’s explosion get in touch with their loved ones, Facebook quickly initiated its Safety Feature for anyone in the Manchester area. I have reported on this a couple of times in the past and you can read the earlier articles here.

All you need to do is click this link, and then tick the box for Safe if you are indeed safe. The Safety Check also lets you connect with friends or loved ones who were also in the area.

The service has been used by Facebook in the aftermath of natural disasters, and incidents like the November 2015 terror attack inside Paris’ Bataclan concert hall.

Tragic events bring out the best in most people and as you can see the same is true for social media services like Facebook.

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Microsoft Looks to Invade Your iPhone

I love my iPhone. However I have been slowly morphing it into a Windows Phone. If you are a long time dedicated reader you surely know that I was a big fan of Microsoft’s much maligned smartphone. I do still hold out hope for Microsoft in the smartphone world but I would not bet much on it. However all of that being said there are quite a few Microsoft apps that can help you get the Microsoft experience you deserve and improve the iPhone experience along the way. Here are a couple of my favorite Microsoft apps.

Microsoft Word Flow

Word Flow, the keyboard Microsoft puts it brand on, has grown from an experiment to a charming and fully-realized alternative in recent months.

Word Flow’s big hook is that, with a couple of taps, you can contort the keyboard to a shape that rounds out on the left or right. This is less accurate than its full-sized mode, but it does work, and it makes Word Flow the most convenient option to use with one hand.

Image result for microsoft word flow ios

The keyboard itself isn’t as snappy or active with suggestions as SwiftKey, but it yields few complaints with both swipe and touch typing. It’s all stable and smooth. There are several themes to use with it, too.

Word Flow’s narrow lead comes from its search function — as of late last year, you can search Bing for GIFs and web links that can be shared right from the keyboard. You can look up Microsoft-using contacts as well. This is all much faster than going in and out of a browser.

Put it all together, and you have a surprisingly full-featured option that’s both smart and comfortable.

Outlook

Outlook’s design is very clean, but still unique. That’s fine; I’m not looking for something to mimic Mail.app exactly. Do I want it to be a complete departure from the normal look and feel of iOS? No, but I want a unique experience.

Image result for outlook ios

Outlook has 5 icons across the bottom: Mail, Calendars, Files, People, and Settings. The way it’s laid out makes it feel like a complete communications/file management ecosystem. You are only one tap away from getting what you need. It uses a light theme with black and blue text throughout. I know some people like darker themes, but I feel like the design is very easy on the eyes. I don’t ever feel like the UI is distracting; it melts away and allows me to focus on what I need to see.

From a usability perspective, Outlook really shines. It provides me with just enough options to make it my own, but not so many that I am overwhelmed or spend time tinkering.

I love the built-in calendar function. I love being able to see email and my schedule in one app. The compose screen is simple to use as well. It allows me to change which account I am sending from, add files, photos, send calendar invites, or see my calendar availability.

One important aspect of all third-party email apps is which types of email services it supports. Outlook supports Office 365, Outlook.com, Exchange, Yahoo, iCloud, Google, and IMAP. (POP3 isn’t supported, so if you require it, you need to look elsewhere.)

Outlook has support for iPhones with 3D Touch features. From the 3D Touch menu, you can hop right to your calendar, create a new event, or start a new email. I find myself using the View Calendar function frequently. A Notification Center widget and watchOS app are included as well.

Outlook supports push notifications for new emails, or just “important ones” with a feature Outlook calls Focused Inbox.

Focused Inbox sorts your email so you see the important ones first. It does this by considering past emails from a particular sender and your address book. You can also reclassify emails as you go in order to help train it. The calendar feature can also notify you of upcoming appointments as well as send short emails letting the people in your meeting know you are running late.

The snooze/delay function of email was made popular by Mailbox, but has since become adopted by a handful of other apps. Outlook offers a feature that allows you to control which folder your snoozed emails are stored. Your options for snoozing are in a few hours, this evening, tomorrow morning, or a custom time. Outlook doesn’t offer the ability to customize these times, and I’d like to see that added in the future.

Like I mentioned earlier, I love the fact that Outlook has a built-in calendar. It also has native support for a number of file systems. It includes OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive. While this isn’t as important for attaching files (due to document providers), it does offer some advantages. There is a file screen that shows your most recent files for cloud document apps, as well as making saving attachments faster.

A recent update added third-party app integration through “add-ins.” Add-ins let you turn any email into a Trello card, save a message to Evernote, insert a GIF, translate messages, and more. These are currently only available to users with Office 365 email addresses, however.

Overall, Outlook is the best Mail.app replacement, especially if you are a Microsoft 365 user.

Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint & Word

These are full-fledged mobile versions of Excel, Word and PowerPoint. All of the apps are jam-packed with advanced formatting and editing features, although they don’t include quite as many options as the desktop versions. They’re also beautifully designed and touch optimized, with big, easy-to-tap buttons.

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App Spotlight – Outlook for iOS

Although I gave up on Microsoft’s Windows Phone a couple of years ago I still have plenty of good memories of me and my nifty Windows Phone. In fact if you are in a nostalgic mood you can browse my Windows Phone articles here.

All is not lost for Microsoft in the smartphone world. Even though I gave into Apple empire for both myself personally and my organization all is not lost. That’s because Microsoft has been publishing apps at an amazing rate during the past two years and many of them are simply top notch.

One of my favorite Microsoft Apps is “Outlook”. Why do I recommend trashing Apple’s default mail app and installing Outlook?

Phones with Outlook app.

Innovation and Consolidation 

The Microsoft Outlook app is a mobile productivity powerhouse, bringing your email, attachments, contacts and calendars into easy reach. Outlook’s built-in analytic engine automatically surfaces important email (across multiple accounts) based on your communications, and quick swipe controls allow you to easily triage your email. It’s a great mobile email app, and works with Exchange, Office 365, Outlook.com, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and iCloud email accounts.

Also included with Outlook is your calendar, files (OneDrive, Box, Dropbox & Google Drive) and contacts. If you are using Apple’s default apps you have separate programs for each of these. With Outlook – you have one app to control them all.

Of course if you rely on Microsoft Outlook on your desktop this is the perfect companion app on your smartphone or mobile device.

You can learn more about Microsoft’s Outlook app here.

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Our Adware Battle Continues

Over the past couple years, we have focused much attention on Ransomware, and that’s for good reason. However old threats are still here to make our digital lives miserable as well. One of the oldest surviving threats we continue to deal with is adware.

Image result for adware

Adware Today

There’s no denying that adware is a big problem. In fact 2016 saw a huge spike in Mac OS malware, mostly due to bundled adware. Google has tried tackling this problem by kicking known adware distributors out of the Play Store.

Google is perhaps the most aggressive trying to battle adware today because Android especially has seen a great deal of adware in recent years.

Earlier this year, a number of Android phones were discovered to have been infected with powerful adware. The “infection” took place somewhere between the factory, and the business that ordered them. That means some Android phones were purchased with adware pre-installed!

Avoid Download Portals

Desktops also continue to be targeted. One of the popular ways of infecting desktop PCs are through download portals. Many people continue to unwittingly use download portals that bundle adware and other unwanted programs with legitimate apps that people are looking for.

Unfortunately, these download portals show up at the top of search results and trick searchers into thinking they’re getting the best version of the app. When you are looking for a specific app take the time to go directly to the software provider’s website. If you do not – and you simply click on the first link in the search results you may be using a download portal which usually will give you a boatload of unwanted apps, in addition to the one you actually wanted.

* Yes – I know I used the words “download portals” five times in this section. That’s because I want you to remember what they are – so you can avoid them.

Keeping Alert for Adware

As with any other type of malware, the best way to deal with adware is to be aware if them – and what they are. Here are four things to watch out for.

If Ads Abound on Your PC – Don’t Panic But You Do Need to Act

If you’ve been infected with adware, you’re going to be seeing a lot of ads. Pop-ups, in-app ads, browser takeovers, and all sorts of other annoying behaviors might happen.

Different types of adware behave differently.

phishing ad
Image Credit: Fireofheart via Shutterstock

However one thing that they all have in common is that they will show you a huge number of ads. You’ll notice more ads, more insistent and pervasive ads, and ads outside of the locations where you usually see them. If you’ve been seeing any of this stuff, download anti-adware software right away.

Just don’t get it from…

Third-Party App Stores

If you stick to Apple’s App Store, the Google Play Store, the Chrome Store, and other first-party, controlled app stores, you will be much safer than if you use third-party options.

The same rule for desktop and laptop software applies. Unless the app isn’t available from the Windows or Mac app stores — and you can’t find it on the developer’s website — avoid third party software download sites.

Watch for the Warnings

Believe it or not, you will often be warned right before you download adware. It’s those small print terms and conditions that often go ignored. Take the time to read them if you really – really want that free app. There’s a good chance that they contain something useful. They’ll often tell you that you’ll be getting something else in addition to the software you’re looking for.

No matter where you’re getting an app, make sure to at least browse the terms and conditions first. You just might save yourself the hassle of trying to deal with the problem later.

Avoid Free Versions of Software

If you found a place to download Microsoft Office for free, run the other way. You’re not going to get high-end, fully featured apps without paying. Someone might be offering it, but they’re probably offering a few other things that they aren’t telling you about, very likely adware – or worse.

Even apps that are normally free often carry some sort of adware. Ironically a number of illegitimate anti-virus apps have been discovered to come bundled with malware.

Always be very careful about where you get your software.

What to Do If You’ve Been Infected

Here are some warning signs to watch out for.

Have you noticed a lot more pop-ups than usual lately? Or advertisements that you can’t close? If you see a new toolbar (these are very popular), a new default search engine (also a common symptom), new programs that you don’t remember installing, or new bookmarks in your browser, you are then more likely infected with adware.

Do your best not to interact with any of these ads, as that may make the problem worse. Close — force close, if you need to — those apps and download an anti-adware application as soon as possible. Here are three choices that will help you rid your computer of adware for free.

Malwarebytes AdwCleaner (Windows)

With one of the best reputations in the game, Malwarebytes is a company you can trust to clean up your computer. Its AdwCleaner software specifically targets adware and browser hijackers, as well as “potentially unwanted programs,” which could include toolbars and other questionable downloads.

AdwCleaner is free, and all you have to do is download it and run it. It doesn’t get much easier.

BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition (Windows)

Another company with a great reputation, BitDefender is at the forefront of anti-malware tech. This lightweight antivirus app protects you from all sorts of mayhem, including adware and spyware. It also packs anti-phishing and anti-fraud features for additional protection.

While you get more features out of the paid version of this app, the free option is still a great way to go.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (Mac)

While some of anti-adware software out there only works on Windows computer, Malwarebytes’ anti-malware software will protect your Mac from attacks. This extremely lightweight client is great even if your Mac is starting to get old and slow down.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Macs don’t get adware. They do. So download this now.

And if you’re looking for mobile anti-adware apps, check out Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware. It’s free on the Play Store.

Be Proactive Against Adware

As with any type of malware, the best way to deal with adware is to not get infected in the first place. Make sure you have an up-do-date antivirus solution running on your computer, watch out for suspicious-looking sites, and remember that the best things in life aren’t free. Especially when it comes to software.

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Google Earth Receives a Major Update

Image result for google earth logo pngIn the first major update for over two years, Google Earth has added several new features in addition to updating the satellite imagery for a significant portion of the globe. The update also adds 3D maps of specific locations, facts about random places, and guided tours. Also you no you no longer need to download and install the application. Google Earth now loads in-browser, with all of its features ready to go. This improvement alone will probably intice many more people to check it out.

The Whole Wide World

The Google Earth redesign introduces some very cool new features.

First up is the Knowledge Graph. Knowledge Graph is the technology behind the bite size bits of information displayed directly in Google search. Meaning that each time you search Google Earth for a specific location, an informative snippet will display with details of the particular place.

Google Earth Just Received A Massive Global Update Google Earth Penzance

The next feature is “interactive guided tours,” created by scientists, non-profits, and other “storytellers.” The feature, called Voyager, showcases different aspects of the world around us. For instance, you can tour the Tanzanian Gombe National Park, led by primate expert Jane Goodall. There are several different habitats on offer, as well as interesting partners to assist with content creation, such as the BBC and Sesame Street (for child-specific experiences).

The addition of 3D view is excellent. Instead of the flat satellite imagery we are used to, you can now explore almost any location in 3D.

And there is more. Google Earth now has a “I’m feeling lucky” button. It works just how you would expect: one-click takes you to a random location. Additionally, Google Earth users can now directly share locations with a simple link.

Exploring with Google Earth

Google Earth’s massive update really brings some great improvements to what was already a great service. Check it out.

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Facebook Stories Arrives But What Is It?

Facebook Stories is rolling out to everyone on Facebook. Along with it comes a filter-tastic new in-app camera, as well as a direct messaging feature.

The update started rolling out this morning on iOS and Android and it brings with it three parts: a redesigned in-app camera, a new feed of ephemeral stories at the top of the News Feed, and a private messaging feature called Direct. Taken together, the features represent the biggest changes to Facebook’s core product in several years.

Just like Snapchat, Facebook Stories consist of photos and images that disappear 24 hours after they are posted. You can decorate your posts with text, drawings, stickers, and Snapchat-like animated filters. While the basic suite of creative tools is the same across Facebook’s products, the flagship app’s stories have a few twists of their own. It’s the first Facebook app to get animated face filters.

Facebook Stories works exactly like on Instagram; Stories live above your News Feed for 24 hours, and can include both videos and images with a variety of filter effects. There’s even now a dedicated camera button on the top left of the app to serve as a constant reminder to post some goofy filtered-up photo.

But to Facebook, the filters are more than just trivial additions. People are sharing more visual content than ever, and these effects are a way to augment and provide context for the moments being shared on screen.

Facebook apparently is so smitten with filters that the company has a small team of artists creating the filters, and works to adapt the filters for each region so that they are relevant to everyone using them. It’s also partnering with various brands for themed filters, including Power Rangers, Minions, and Wonder Woman masks, and intends to introduce “new ways for the Facebook community to create their own frames and effects” in the coming months.

One area Facebook is a bit different from other apps is that you have the option to share Stories directly onto your Timeline and News Feed as well, giving them a bit more visibility by placing them among standard posts. You can also now share 24-hour media with only a few specific people via a ‘Direct’ feature.

Stories is clearly a big push for the Facebook, and the fact that they live above your News Feed is remarkable, considering the latter has always been your main way of experiencing media on the social network.

 

 

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Tech Tips in Bad Weather

A massive winter storm is slated to slam the eastern portion of the United States tonight. The area where I live could see as much as 2 feet of snow.

These are some tech tips to help you prepare for the storm:

Keep Your Mobile Devices Charged

Make sure you keep your mobile devices, smartphones and laptops charged so if your home loses power you have a way to communicate and stay informed.

Stay on social media

Posting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is an easy way to let friends and family know you’re safe. Social media will also alert you to breaking news and updates on the storm.

Watch your local news

This should be a no-brainer, but you should be tuning into your local news for updates on the storm. In the case of a power outage, you could pull that old radio out of the closet. Don’t own a radio? Check your old iPods or smartphones. The iPod Nano and some Android smartphones, such as the HTC One M9, also include FM tuners.

Internet down? Use text instead of voice

Cell phone networks can quickly become overloaded during storms and natural disasters. It’s best to send a text message, rather than continuing to attempt a phone call. Standard text messages have dedicated bandwidth on cell carriers’ networks. If Web connectivity (or even worse electricity) is spotty or down, and the phone circuits are overloaded, your text messages have the best chance of getting through.

Charge all your batteries

It’s always smart to be prepared for the power to go out. Make sure all of your devices (not just your smartphone) are fully charged. When power and Internet are down, CNET editor Dan Ackerman recommends using a laptop’s USB port to charge your smartphone.

Apps could be a lifesaver

If you still have power and Internet, you should be keeping an eye on weather apps. Some of my favorites are NOAA Weather Radar, The Weather Channel, Weather Underground (Android, iOS) and 6abc (Philadelphia). Make sure to check out local apps because they will be there to help you stay up to date with where you live.

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