Monthly Archives: December 2011

App of the Week: iProcrastinate

More and more students are going digital in their studies, and many are moving their schedules with it.  But many people, myself included, find keeping track of homework assignments inside of a standard calendar app to be a pain.  You could just make a list of assignments in a word processor, but it’s not as functional.  An app that strike this balance between scheduling and listing is what you truly need.  For this, I’ve turned to iProcrastinate (and yes, the name was certainly an incentive).

iProcrastinate is designed perfectly for students.  You first create “Subjects”, which correlate to your classes and appear in the left side bar.  You then create tasks under the individual subjects.  In the process of creating these tasks, you not only name the task, but set the due date as well.  Is it a repeating assignment?  Not a problem, you can set repeats as well.  Under each subject is a list of the tasks due, or there is a setting for one master list of what’s due.  You can also see from the left sidebar a list of tasks due today, tomorrow, or tasks that are overdue.

But one of the things that helps separate iProcrastinate from the rest is the ability to make a list of the steps needed to complete the tasks.  Then you can

iProcrastinate on the Mac.

mark these off as you make progress through the task.  If you’re typing up a paper or working on a project, you’re probably working on a number of files on your computer.  iProcrastinate allows you to attach files to the tasks, and then open them in their default apps.  While I don’t often use this feature, especially for small assignments, it can be useful when working with large research papers or group projects.  And if you prefer not see all of your stuff in a list, you can look at it in a calendar view, though you can’t add of remove anything from said view.  Overall, the interface is really easy to use, and really slick.  I also like the menubar icon, because it integrates well with the Mac’s menubar theme and because by clicking it you can create new tasks and see which tasks are due today.

iProcrastinate has a couple of different saving and syncing options for users.  You can create backups within the app and then restore them through the restore button in the menu.  This way you can easily move all of your details from one installation of iProcrastinate to another.  It also has syncing options so you can use it not only with multiple Macs, but with the iOS app as well.  You can choose to sync over Dropbox or through a local network using Apple’s Bonjour.  I tend to use Dropbox, as I find it simpler to use and longer range than Bonjour, though occasionally items synced in one app don’t transfer over to the other.

The iOS app is really simple to use, and is really beautiful.  It looks like a simplified version of Mac app, with only the subject list, and then they slide over to show you the tasks under that subject.  It even keeps the same colors marked between apps.  You can also create backups within the iOS app, just like you do in the Mac version.  I have to say that though the app looks good on iOS, the settings seem a bit cluttered when compared to the simplicity of its Mac counterpart.

There are one or two features that would be nice to have.  One big hole is that there isn’t a way to show reminders for tasks in the app.  You have to go look at the list.  Since I tend to manage things in my head, I might forget what is actually on my list of assignments to do (you’d think I would have learned by now).  Perhaps the app could integrate with iCal to show reminders for assignments due, or at least pop-up a Growl notification to remind you of upcoming projects due.  However it’s done, I think it’s something worth fixing.  I think there could be a group project feature too.  While I know people tend to use these scheduling apps for themselves, it would be cool to have a shared “Subject” where you could create tasks and somehow invite people to participate in the task.  The other reason I see this as an advantage is that you could use iProcrastinate on one device to synchronize documents utilized in a project  with everyone else, and likewise people could check off steps completed in a project.  Perhaps this is a minor detail, but it would be a cool feature to have.

Overall though, iProcrastinate is a nice app if want to take your assignment book to the digital realm.  For this type of work, it’s my app of choice.  You can download it in the Mac App Store for free, where it runs on OS 10.6 and higher.  You can download the iOS app for 99¢ in the iOS App Store. You can check out more about the app by going to the developer’s site at craigotis.com.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com  You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen.  You can also check out my Google Plus page.  Thanks!

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App of the Week: DNSCrypt

When talking about security, DNS and encryption have become two major discussion points. Encryption is making the information being sent look random to anyone on the outside staring in, while the people sending and receiving the information can read and write in it just fine (the same way people might send secret coded messages). DNS basically is like a phone book for the Internet. When you type in an Internet address, that name is actually tied to an IP address, the individual number tied to each Internet connected device. Whoever provides your DNS, usually your Internet provider, looks up what IP address is connected to what you entered, and then directs you to the website. It’s the same principle as if you wanted to call a person or business. If you look up the name of the person or business in a phone book, you can find what their phone number is, call them, and exchange whatever business, pleasantries, or other reason you had to call them.

DNS has become more of a talking point lately, as recent malware attacks on multiple operating systems have resulted in changing your DNS addresses to lead you to malicious sites, designed only to steal your information and/or give you more malware. Other holes in the DNS process have caused concern for the process itself. But since DNS is such an integral part of the way we connect to the web, there’s not a way just to turn it off without disconnecting from the web. So the wonderful people at OpenDNS have created DNSCrypt to help with these security problems. DNSCrypt works to encrypt the traffic flowing between you, your DNS provider, and the website you are trying to contact. It works to prevent your

DNSCrypt's Preference Pane

DNS traffic from being intercepted and maliciously changed. But wait! What if your DNS addresses have already been changed? DNSCrypt fixes that because it runs off of OpenDNS’s own DNS servers. Some people may be concerned about changing DNS servers, but DNSCrypt changes it automatically so that you don’t have to, and can change back automatically to your former DNS servers if something doesn’t work right. If you’re worried about OpenDNS’s security though, OpenDNS has award-winning security, and can even speed up your web browsing experience. To change your DNS to their servers is free, but they offer home and business plans for more efficient and even more secure use.

I have been using the program for about two weeks. With it booting up as a startup program, I noticed a small increase in my Mac’s startup time, but I have not noticed any decrease in the speed of my overall browsing. I can’t say how well it blocks DNS attacks (I tend not to go searching for sites that do that), but I trust OpenDNS and have used it for a while now. And OpenDNS has a nice menubar icon to let your know its status.

While DNSCrypt is going to be a great tool to use in anyone’s security arsenal, there are a few caveats I have with it. For one thing, the program is still in beta, so anyone worried about stability might want to stay away. I haven’t experienced any crashes with it, but I would still wait until the final version of the program before using it for corporate work. Another issue with the program is that when it initially starts up, encryption hasn’t been enabled. You have to manually enable encryption from within the app’s preference pane. OpenDNS acknowledges this and say that they are coming with an update soon to fix this. And as an ascetic touch, I wish the menubar icon would have a more Mac-like feel, rather than being a red, yellow, or green light in the menubar (but at least it’s easy to understand your status).

For those willing to try a beta program, and for those who want some extra security, check out DNSCrypt. You can download it at http://www.opendns.com/technology/dnscrypt/ for free. It runs on OS 10.5 and higher. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen. You can also check out my Google Plus Page at https://plus.google.com/107817518299218190319. Thanks!

100 Posts and a Year Later

December 24, 2010: A young college student decided that he was going to begin writing about technology.  Specifically, he decided to start writing about Macs.  Macs were still fairly new to him compared to Windows, and at the time he didn’t even own a smartphone.  But he loved technology, he loved writing, and he wanted to share his knowledge with anyone who needed it, and at the same time grow in his own knowledge.  Now almost a year later, he’s learning to code, has the new iPhone 4S, a couple of jobs, and 100 posts on his tech blog (101 if you include this one).

Yeah, it’s hard for me to believe it’s already been a year since I started.  It seems like I have only just started, and I guess in the grand scheme of things I have.  Since that day I’ve branched out; iOS has taken on a growing role in my world, I have made great friends such as the guys at BetweenBytes, I’ve gotten a Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and Facebook Fan page now, and several other groups that have followed and supported me.  I’d like to thank these people and groups, and likewise my family and friends that have helped me along the way (this is beginning to seem like an award speech).  They encouraged me to write and to become better at it.  I’m humbled by the whole thing, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still experimenting with this.  But I love it.  I’d say that this blog also helped me to get a job working at my college’s computer lab, and from that I’ve grown into a better techie than before.

There have been times when it’s been slow going, when I had little to write about, or maybe just as little desire.  Sometimes I just didn’t get a chance to post because of other things.  But perhaps because of this blog I’ve grown not only as a techie, but as a writer, and a person.  For that, I thank all of my friends, family, followers, and supporters.  For that, I cannot thank you enough.

I don’t exactly have much to pay you all back, beyond what I already do now (I’m still a poor college student you know).  But I will have you all know that as far as I can see, I plan to continue this blog and the attached networks that go with it.  I also can tell you that I plan to make everything I do better quality, more insightful, and better to be a part of.

With that, I am pleased to announce that work has begun on a brand new app for the site.  When completed, you will be able to check read the latest news, reviews, tips, and tricks from EasyOSX.  You’ll also be able to watch my YouTube videos, and check out the latest from my Twitter and Facebook feed (sorry, Google+ is currently not supported).  You should be able to use it on your iOS, Android, or Windows Phone 7 device.  Don’t have one of these device?  Well the app will be turned into a webpage that you can use on any mobile device with a modern mobile browser, such as Blackberry, Nokia phones, and more.  The app has yet to be released yet, but if you want to try it out, the mobile webpage is up for testing.  Just go to easyosx.mobapp.at.  From there you can bookmark it onto your phone or tablet’s home screen and use it like the app.

Be aware, this app is still being tested, so the look, pages, and other bits of the application may change over time.  Conduit is helping power the app of the moment, though as my coding knowledge expands, I may work on it independently.  In the meantime, please feel free to give me you thoughts, ideas, and anything else to contribute to this work.  And thanks again for your support.

UPDATE: Conduit is having some issue with my app, claiming third-party rights violation.  I’m working with Conduit to resolve this issue, and the testing app should be back up as soon as possible.

App of the Week: Raven Browser

It seems that the world of internet browser is growing more and more daring. A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Sleipnir browser’s release for Mac, which had a very surprising twist to the browser interface, specifically where tabs and the URL bar were concerned. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying out the newest beta Mac browser on the scene, called Raven. Like so many new upstart browsers to the scene, this one runs on the Webkit engine, the same one that powers Safari and Chrome. As such, most browser testing sites see Raven as Safari. That being said, it feels very light, fairly responsive, and only takes up a little over 7 megabytes.

What first sticks out at you when you first run Raven is the left sidebar, called the SmartBar. You can install into Raven what are called webapps, which really are nothing more than glorified versions of websites. However, where other browsers like Firefox and Chrome simply let you pin the tab,

Screenshot of the Raven Smartbar

when you install a Raven webapp, it really acts like an app. For example, if I install the Facebook app, upon subsequent opening, the app’s icon opens up to reveal quick access to my news feed, messages, friend requests, and calendar. Likewise, other apps have appropriate shortcuts that open up under the app’s icon. If you navigate away from the webapp, you’ll see a a small little light to the right of the icon, much like the OSX dock, to show that the app is still running. These webapps are different from tabs. The tabs are found at the top, just under the URL box. But just like Safari, the tabs are hidden until you have multiple open tabs, or you re-enable them. The tabs also aren’t open in every webapp; so if I open a link in a new tab on my Facebook webapp, and then switch to the YouTube webapp, I won’t see those tabs anymore until I switch back to the Facebook app. Depending on who you are, this may be annoying or convenient, I however did not find it all that distracting. Also, most links opened from outside sources, such as a mail client, will open in the main app, which just looks like the Raven logo at the top of the Smartbar. It is also from this tab that you can easily access your history, downloads, and bookmarks.

Bookmarks also are treated a little differently in Raven. Bookmarks are organized as bookmarks and favorites. Confused? Favorites are websites that you might visit frequently. Bookmarks, are websites that you want to have for reference later or to read the articles on later. It seems a bit of an odd choice to do so, but then again many people have done this before. If you do bookmark a lot of items to be read later, you can link Raven to an Instapaper account so that you can read it later from there. Raven takes a page from Apple’s book, and then makes it better. Raven gives you a visual history of your web activity in a two-paned window style. One pane shows the link and the headers of said links that you clicked. Once you click on one of them, the second page shows you the page itself as when you visited it. I find this nicer than Safari’s visual history because it gives a nice chance to read over the page, so you don’t have to open a whole new tab if you just want to reread an article or quote a small portion of it.

The control bar, which is the main bar of the browser, also has some interesting features. On the left side of the URL/search bar, you have the standard back, forward, and home buttons, but also the add bookmark button. Here you can add the current page to either your bookmarks or favorites. On the other side of the URL/search bar, is the favorites button, for quick access to your favorites, a tab reveal button that will hide of show all your open tabs in the current window, and a mobile view switcher. I find it strange that the favorite button and the add bookmark are not closer to each other. The mobile view button allows you to switch the current webpage from a desktop browser mode, to a mobile mode that you would see on a smartphone or tablet, including the width. I can see this being handy for people testing websites, but I found the idea buggy when trying to exit mobile view. Sometimes it took a restart of the browser to fully exit mobile mode.

Since this is a beta browser, there are some flaws in the system. The browser still seems slow in some areas, such as loading the YouTube homepage, though overall it is faster than Apple’s Safari from the feel of it. I also found that it had occasional problem properly loading Flash video, meaning that my mouse arrow would sometimes vanish from screen, and the when moving to a different part of the video that hadn’t been rendered yet, Raven would get stuck loading that page. While this seemed to be fixed in a recent update to Raven, the browser still seems to struggle with Flash content. Raven also has an abundance of preferences, but it seems most of them can’t be turned on or off. For example, while there is a setting to turn on or off JavaScript being run in a page, the setting is grayed out so that I cannot change the setting

Grayed out preferences

if I want. And while Raven does have a rudimentary Ad-blocker, there are still several ads that it still seems to miss. This also relates somewhat to download. Raven automatically sends and downloaded files straight to your Downloads folder. While this isn’t necessarily bad, I prefer that it pops up a notification asking at least if I want to download the file. Once I was on a merely reading a forum when it automatically started downloading a file. What that file was, I don’t know, but that is a security flaw to me if there were any chance of getting some Mac malware or unwanted crapware on my system. The browser, like most beta browsers do, also does not support links opening the browser from an outside source. So if Raven is closed and I try to open a link from my Twitter feed, I have to click the link once to open the browser, and a second time once Raven is open to actually open the link. One last request would be the addition of notification badges in the webapps, that way I could know if something important changed on the page without always flipping to it (say like a notifications badge for Facebook, new tweets badge for Twitter, etc.).

The browser is still in beta, so it would be no surprise that most of these issues should be resolved with future updates before the final version is released. It is worth the try and is a step in the right direction, but I wouldn’t recommend using this browser just yet for work or for any sensitive web browsing. Raven is a free download from raven.io and runs on Mac OS 10.6 and 10.7 (Snow Leopard and Lion). And If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen. You can also check out my Google Plus Page at https://plus.google.com/107817518299218190319. Thanks!

Final Thoughts on the iPhone 4S

This is my final review of the iPhone 4S and iOS 5. Should you buy it, should you upgrade?

And yes I know this is overdue.

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