Category Archives: Internet

Things I have come across on the net that I find interesting.

Amazon Prime

About a month ago, I decided to watch an old show, Veronica Mars, to see what the talk was about since they had recently filmed a movie version using funds from a Kickstarter campaign. I first checked Netflix but they don’t have the previous seasons. My remaining options were to either sign up for Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime so that I could get the instant video. Since Amazon Prime has the added benefit of free 2 day shipping on all purchases, I chose Amazon Prime. I wish I’d signed up when it was $79/year instead of $99/year.

ReQall v. Remember The Milk, Round 2

About a year and a half ago, I chose ReQall over Remember The Milk as my GTD/productivity reminder app of choice. I eventually upgraded to the Pro version of ReQall because I liked the idea of adding items by voice and the integration with Evernote. After upgrading to my iPhone 4S though, ReQall stopped recognizing my location and therefore couldn’t remind me to do something when i was near a particular location (i.e. pickup milk when I’m near the grocery store). I’ve been in contact with ReQall’s tech support since October 24, 2011 and they’re in no rush to correct the issue. They say the developers are too busy working on a new product called ReQall Rover. Personally, I think three months is too long to have to wait for a bug fix, especially since I’m a Pro user.
Because ReQall has been pissing me off lately, I’ve decided to give RTM another try. They’ve found a way to use Siri to add new reminders to RTM. I never really used the Evernote integration but it was nice to know that feature was there, should I ever want to take advantage of it. RTM also has the ability to remind me by location.
I tried using the built-in Reminders app in iOS 5, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. If I wanted to assign a location to an item, I had to have the address attached to a contact in my address book. I didn’t really like that I had to create a contact for my grocery store or my pharmacy just to add a location to an item. I did, however, like that I could have the Reminders app notify me about an item when I leave a location, instead of only when I’m arriving or near one. I’ve used it several times to remind me to do something when leaving work or home. I would use the Reminders app exclusively if there were a web interface through iCloud to add items more quickly and if there were a way to dictate a list of items to Siri and have her/it recognize it as a list and create one entry per item (instead of one entry for the entire list).

Google Flights

Yesterday, Google released a tool for searching airfare. It’s similar to Kayak, Hipmunk and Expedia yet only focuses on flights, whereas the others also handle hotels (Kayak and Expedia also handle rental cars and entire vacation packages).
One of the things I like about Google Flights over the other services is that you can choose a departing city and date and see airfares to popular destination on a map. You can further filter this by price and duration of flight.
One of the things I don’t like about Google Flights is that you’re currently unable to book a round trip which start and end on the same day. My fiancée and I are going to Hawaii for our honeymoon and are planning on visiting the main island for a day to see the volcanoes. I know we can fly out at 6am and return around 8pm on the same day for ~$100 (booked directly through either Hawaiian Airlines or Go!, yet Google Flights insists we stay overnight and pay $172 instead. Kayak, Expedia and Hipmunk can book the same day round trip but also say it’ll cost $172.
Another thing I don’t like about Google Flights is that you can’t choose the number of travelers or what class you want to book. They automatically assume only one person is traveling and that person would like to sit in coach.
I’m sure it’s still in beta mode even though it doesn’t have the beta label; so I hope that they’ll improve it to better compete with Expedia, Kayak and Hipmunk.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC2bUYVkjrY&w=560&h=345]

Google Plus

I’ve been trying out Google+ for about three weeks now and so far I like it better than Facebook. There are a few things I like about Google+ over Facebook and there are a few things I’d like to see Google+ implement that Facebook already does.
What I do like:

  • Group friends/acquaintances into “circles” instead of groups so status updates can be targeted appropriately
  • Group video chat (I personally haven’t tried this but it’s nice to know it’s there). Google+ calls this “hangouts”
  • Better control over profile privacy
  • Integrated with Picasa (rumored to change the name to Google Photos), which I already use as a backup to my Flickr account. I might even get rid of my Flickr account all together since storage on Google is cheap
  • No annoying posts about what games people are playing cluttering up your feed (or stream as Google+ calls it)

What I wish Google+ did that Facebook does

  • Allow for vanity URLs. It’s easier to tell someone to visit plus.google.com/your.name instead of plus.google.com/103067558420705101928
  • Have fan pages. The closest thing (and it’s not that close) would be “Sparks” which seem more like Google News filters
  • Condensed comments. I was very surprised to see that Google+ didn’t already have this implemented fully. Some comments on my stream are condensed (it’ll say there are 30 comments and let me choose to expand them to view all the comments) yet others are fully expanded out without giving me the option to condense them down. This makes my stream a lot longer than it needs to be. Hopefully Google will correct this soon.

What I wish Google+ did that even Facebook doesn’t do yet:

  • -1 something (the Facebook equivalent would be Dislike). People have been complaining that Facebook lacked this feature and Google should’ve listened to that and incorporated it into Google+ to one-up Facebook even more.

What I wish Google+ would copy from GMail and other social networking services:

  • Color coded commenting (similar to GMail)
  • Color coded stream entries (by circle, user configurable preferably – similar to labels in GMail but applying them to the person’s name)
  • A better @/+ mentioning system. It should default to showing me people I’m already following and not everyone in the Google Directory.

I think in about a year or two from now, Google+ will do to Facebook what Facebook did to myspace; even Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is on Google+.

VirtualBox

VirtualBox
Ubuntu 10.10 inside Windows 7
Yesterday, I posted an entry about creating a Hackintosh inside VirtualBox. I failed to realize that I never posted an entry about VirtualBox even though I’ve been using it for a while.
VirtualBox is a general-purpose full virtualizer for x86 hardware, targeted at server, desktop and embedded use. A lot of companies are moving towards virtualization because they can have multiple virtual servers running on one physical server. Fewer physical servers means less room needed to house the servers and less power to run the servers. Virtualization also makes it easier when migrating from one physical server to another. Typically, only a few files need to be migrated, instead of having to copy hundreds or thousands of files over; or having to create an image (Ghost, Acronis, etc.) of the old server and restoring the image onto the new server.
Oracle (the company who makes VirtualBox now that they purchased Sun MicroSystems) lists the following as reasons why virtualization is useful:

  • Running multiple operating systems simultaneously. VirtualBox allows you to run more than one operating system at a time. This way, you can run software written for one operating system on another (for example, Windows software on Linux or a Mac) without having to reboot to use it. Since you can configure what kinds of “virtual” hardware should be presented to each such operating system, you can install an old operating system such as DOS or OS/2 even if your real computer’s hardware is no longer supported by that operating system.
  • Easier software installations. Software vendors can use virtual machines to ship entire software configurations. For example, installing a complete mail server solution on a real machine can be a tedious task. With VirtualBox, such a complex setup (then often called an “appliance”) can be packed into a virtual machine. Installing and running a mail server becomes as easy as importing such an appliance into VirtualBox.
  • Testing and disaster recovery. Once installed, a virtual machine and its virtual hard disks can be considered a “container” that can be arbitrarily frozen, woken up, copied, backed up, and transported between hosts.

    On top of that, with the use of another VirtualBox feature called “snapshots”, one can save a particular state of a virtual machine and revert back to that state, if necessary. This way, one can freely experiment with a computing environment. If something goes wrong (e.g. after installing misbehaving software or infecting the guest with a virus), one can easily switch back to a previous snapshot and avoid the need of frequent backups and restores.

    Any number of snapshots can be created, allowing you to travel back and forward in virtual machine time. You can delete snapshots while a VM is running to reclaim disk space.

  • Infrastructure consolidation. Virtualization can significantly reduce hardware and electricity costs. Most of the time, computers today only use a fraction of their potential power and run with low average system loads. A lot of hardware resources as well as electricity is thereby wasted. So, instead of running many such physical computers that are only partially used, one can pack many virtual machines onto a few powerful hosts and balance the loads between them.

I typically use it for running older operating systems (Windows XP, Fedora 10, etc.) or for testing out new ones (especially Linux based). I haven’t yet, but if I wanted to, I could use VirtualBox create a virtual copy of one of my existing computers (with the help of third-party software).

Hackintosh VirtualBox

I successfully created a Hackintosh inside VirtualBox. For those that don’t know, a Hackintosh is a PC, originally designed to run Windows, running the Macintosh operating system instead. I had bought an eMac about five years ago but the hard drive died in it about two years ago. I’ve wanted to get a new Mac (most likely a MacBook) to replace but just couldn’t justify the expense. I had Windows computers in my house which were still running and were cheaper to replace. For a while now, I was thinking about trying to create a Hackintosh but I didn’t want to dual-boot one of my computers or blow away the operating system just to install OS X. I had read an article on Lifehacker which gave step-by-step instructions on creating a virtual Hackintosh. I haven’t had the motivation to try it until today.
I originally tried with an image I found called SnowLeo. I got that to install to the virtual hard drive without an issue; yet when I rebooted, I got the spinning beach ball of death (the OS X equivalent to a BSOD – Blue Screen of Death). Then I found an image put out by a person/group called Hazard. Not only did that version match up with the instructions that were listed in the article, but it installed and rebooted successfully.
I’m a little hesitant to update the OS because I don’t want something to break afterwards. It did only take me about an hour from start to finish, so it wouldn’t be too time consuming if I had to do it all over again.

Springpad v. Evernote

I’ve been using Evernote for a couple of years now; and recently I subscribed to their Premium service. For the last few months now, I’ve been trying out a competitor to Evernote – Springpad.
While Evernote has a client for Windows and Mac OS X PCs, Springpad is only available through a web browser. Both though have apps for iOS and Android devices.
Springpad recognizes what you’re “clipping” and classifies it accordingly. If you clip a recipe from a website, it will mark it as a recipe to make finding it later much easier. Springpad considers recipes as copyrighted material, so they link to the recipe online instead of including the directions. The downside is that if a recipe you have stored winds up getting deleted, you lose the directions. The only solution is to manually copy and paste the directions from the recipe into your note. I was going to use Springpad for this reason but immediately changed my mind when I learned it only linked to the instructions.
One feature I do like about Springpad involves remembering movies. Let’s say you’re really looking forward to a movie coming to the theaters. If you add it to Springpad, you’ll receive alerts when it’s

  • released to the movie theaters
  • available on DVD/Blu-ray
  • available on Netflix

Unlike Evernote, Springpad can scan a barcode and add the appropriate item to your notebook.

Will I switch? Probably not right now. There are still a lot of things I find useful with Evernote. I would like it if they added some of the features already available in Springpad (auto-detection of note type, barcode scanning, alerts). Until then, I’ll use Springpad when it’s the better app to use; otherwise I’ll stick with Evernote.

Below are videos about Springpad and Evernote created by each company.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHom6bgqg9Y&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&version=3]

Google Chrome

I’ve been using Firefox for the last five years and have been very happy with it (other than being a bit of a memory hog if left running for a long period of time). It allowed tabbed browsing long before IE. I’ve tried other browsers in the past, yet always came back to using Firefox. I even tried Google Chrome when it was first released. I didn’t care for it then but lately I’ve decided to give it another try.
Google Chrome
Google Chrome is a lot more minimal than Firefox is. There isn’t any menu bar or bookmarks bar. There are tabs across the very top and directly beneath the tabs is a combination address and search box. Chrome also doesn’t have a title bar, which allows the browser window to show more of the web page being visited.
Mozilla Firefox
It is possible to turn off the menu bar in Firefox but it does make certain tasks (like disabling or uninstalling addons) more difficult without the menu bar. Firefox has two separate boxes for web addresses and searches. Firefox also has a title bar, which can’t be turned off without going “under the hood”, which make the viewed page smaller.
After Firefox 4 is finally released, I’ll try it and see if I’m willing to stay with Firefox or if I’ll make Google Chrome my default browser.

Evernote

I’ve been using Evernote for a while now, so much so that I’m surprised I haven’t written about it yet. The beauty of Evernote is that it can help you remember anything. You can type a text note, clip a web page, snap a photo or grab a screenshot. It’s all searchable too!! Premium users get priority image recognition, though. I’ve been using Evernote recently to keep track of different jewelers my girlfriend and I have visited and engagement rings we’ve looked at. I took photos of the business cards of the associates who assisted us. On the back of the cards are the specifications about the ring(s) my girlfriend liked. I can go back and search for keywords in the specs and view the entire card. I don’t have to keep track of the original card. As long as I have an Internet connection, I can also view the notes on my iPhone. If I mark a note as a favorite, I can view it even if I don’t have Internet access.
Premium accounts can upload 500MB/month (free users only get 40MB/month) and notes up to 50MB in size (free users can only upload notes <25MB). One nice feature about Evernote is it can be configured to monitor selected folders for importing files. I have mine set to monitor my Dropbox folder on my home PC. I wish Evernote offered a referral system, similar to Dropbox, and would grant additional upload capacity (10MB?) per month for each referral.

ReQall v. Remember The Milk

For a while now, I’ve been using ReQall to remember tasks that needed to get done. I tried using Remember The Milk but didn’t like that the iPhone app wasn’t free (you had to sign up for a Pro account). Now, RTM has decided to offer the iPhone app for use with free accounts but limited the functionality. The limits imposed on the free accounts are very similar to what you get for free from ReQall.
One thing I do like about ReQall (should I ever upgrade to Pro) is the integration with Evernote. I can add items to ReQall either by voice or text. I can follow my ReQall calendar in Google Calendar using the iCal URL. I can add items using the official Firefox plugin; RTM doesn’t have an official plugin.
One of the features I like about RTM is that I can tell it that an item repeats however often, in plain text, and it’ll recognize the time frame; ReQall only gives you a dropdown menu to choose from. RTM has a tighter integration with Google Calendar but I like being able to turn the calendar on/off when a day/week gets too crowded with appointments/tasks. RTM allows you to tag an item with a location, regardless of the account type; this feature is only available to ReQall Pro users. The free version of RTM only syncs once a day, whereas ReQall Standard syncs constantly.
They both offer something that the other only includes in the pay version, so I’m going to keep using both until I can decide on one over the other. If I ever do pay for one, right now I would pay for ReQall Pro.