PhotoTraces and Their Free Lightroom Presets

I’ve been a fan of Viktor Elizarov and his photography site PhotoTraces for a while now.  He is a solid photographer but even better for you and me, he is a great photo processor and concise instructor.  I cannot think of a more reliably helpful landscape photography website than his.  He is so generous with his information from the planning of a shot to the camera settings to the digital processing and he manages to convey the information in compact language with many visual aids (that are interactive more and more of the time).  You often get more from skimming one of his articles for 2 minutes than reading an article for 10 minutes on another site.  If you are a fan of landscape photography, you owe it to yourself to check out his site.

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Best Android Apps 2012

As I mentioned before in my iPhone 4S apps article, we’ve upgraded to smartphones finally.  Here are the best apps I’ve found for Android.  Preference is given to free over paid apps.  What I’ve looked for are things that improve the experience of the phone and make it a more useful tool.  I’ve run these apps on a Galaxy Nexus so they work with Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS).  I’ll be the first to admit that they have not been tested extensively by me, but this should be a great starting point for anyone that is new to Android smartphones.

TweetDeck for social media management.  I’ve always liked TweetDeck on the desktop so I’m giving it a whirl on the phone.  It makes me sad that it still doesn’t incorporate Google +.  I picked it over the native Twitter app because it also works with Facebook.  I think I prefer it over the desktop experience since scrolling is so fast and easy.

SeekDroid for tracking and securing a lost or stolen Android phone.  It costs $2.99 so I almost went with the completely free Prey but in the end I went with one that a few sites liked.  You can have your phone play an alarm if you lose it.  You can also track it if it is stolen and even lock and wipe it remotely.   Also, the app’s James Bond icon makes me happy.

Tiny Flashlight + LED is a free app that turns both your camera flash and your display into a flashlight.  The best part is the widget that turns the light on or off without having to go through a series of menus.  Just push the button just like a regular flashlight.  What puts this one over the top for me is that you can also change the color of the light, have it flash Morse Code, and strobe in various warning patterns and colors.

Red Laser scans a wide variety of barcodes and product codes to identify items.  The app will then do cost comparisons from other vendors both online and nearby.  If food is scanned it will provide the nutrition label.  From my few tests it has worked very quickly and accurately.

Astrid is a free top-rated to-do list.  I’m not sure I’m going to use it but it seems to be the best of the bunch.  It is easy to set up tasks.  I love that it has a little stopwatch to time tasks which is great for freelance work that is billed by the hour.  For $1.50 I decided to try Astrid Locale which is supposed to make your to-do lists location sensitive.  This would be great if it worked, but I’ve read complaints of spotty accuracy.  Time will tell.  Basically you can set an alert to say “buy milk” when you arrive at the grocery store.  I’ve got it set to go into vibrate mode whenever I’m at church.  The thing that bugs me is that I had to buy another app to make it work!  Maybe I just missed it in the lingo or didn’t read carefully enough but it wasn’t clear to me that I also needed to buy the app Locale to make it work.  What is worse is that Locale doesn’t have the greatest reviews and is $5.00!  I’ve noticed that Locale has changed my wallpaper once already.  I hope this isn’t more of a hassle than it is worth…

DropBox is the standard way to quickly and easily share large files with many people or just use it to back up documents to the cloud.  If you have a DropBox account (free), it makes sense to have an app to be able to access it on your phone.  The app is simple, straightforward, formatted just like the desktop program, and works well for everything I’ve tried.

My Tracks is a Google product that creates paths overlaid on Google Maps utilizing the GPS receiver in your phone.  You can save the tracks, edit, and annotate them.  It seems to work fine.  I’m hopeful that this will be nice software to have when I go hiking and want to share my route with others.  Google reminds you that your GPSr really drains the battery on your phone.  They mentioned that it will reduce most phones to a five-hour operating window.  If you don’t need to see the map as you record your path, they recommend switching over to airplane mode to extend the battery life.  You will still be able to record your path but it will be overlaid on a grey background instead of the map until you turn your other antennas back on.

Shazam is a song identification app.  Simply hold your phone near the music you are listening to and it will attempt to identify it as well as provide the lyrics.  I was only able to stump it with one relatively well-known chiptune song.  Sadly, it didn’t recognize any of my singing or humming.  I wanted to try SoundHound but any link I clicked on for it in the Google Apps store was dead.

iTriage helps you determine what you might need to do or which doctor you might need to see based on symptoms you tell it.  It then gives you a list of the nearest places to get that treatment.  It was really a toss up for me between this app and WebMD.  Both look good but the little info video for iTriage is funnier and it has many more reviews than WebMD.  I know they aren’t the best reasons to make a decision but it doesn’t look like you can go wrong with either one.

Google Chrome web browser is my favorite for desktop browsing.  It is a cool idea that the tabs you have open on your desktop will be open on your phone.  Basically it sounds like the syncing that occurs with Gmail but in browser form.  It is supposed to be faster than the built-in ICS browser on my phone.  Unfortunately, it is still in beta and according to the reviews is prone to crash.  I’ll keep my eyes on this one, but I’m not installing it for now.

While it isn’t the most practical app, Sky Map is probably the app that I was looking forward to the most.  With Sky Map you simply point your phone at the sky and it tells you what celestial bodies you are looking at.  You can also put in the name of an object and it will direct you to it.  I have found it to be roughly accurate.  In other words, things didn’t line up exactly where I hoped they would, but it was obvious what was supposed to be what.  Some of the reviews lead me to believe it is either a bug with the Nexus or the ICS implementation.  So maybe it will work even better on your phone.  Go get it.  It is free, simple to use, and I really love it.

Geocaching was a must have app for me.  Melanie and I love geocaching.  If you don’t know about this game check it out at www.geocaching.com.  It makes spur-of-the-moment caching a breeze.  Just turn on the app, see if something is hidden nearby, find it, and log it directly from the program.  I recommend going in to the settings and changing it to show only caches that you haven’t found because it doesn’t have icons to make those distinction on the map (On the website version smilies show caches you’ve found and boxes show caches you haven’t).

Movies by Flixter is the full name of what everyone refers to as Flixter.  It is a simple fast app to see movies, theatres, and show times but the real power is that it is tied in to the Rotten Tomatoes rating system making it a pretty complete movie selection app.  Very useful.

Pandora’s app for Android is probably not as practical as their desktop software.  This app can consume a huge amount of data unless you are on a wi-fi network so beware.  It runs smoothly and works well though.  Just in case you haven’t heard of Pandora, it is personalized radio over the internet.  You enter an artist or genre of music and a station is created around it.  You don’t have control of exact songs that are played but they are pretty good about sticking with the theme you set and you can certainly hear a much wider variety of music than you’d ever find on the radio.

WordPress is a decent little app if you have a blog on WordPress.com or use their software to host your own WordPress site.  You can see your stats or post stuff to your blog.

Yelp is a great tool not only for reading reviews of restaurants, but for finding local shops that are difficult to find online otherwise.  For example, my barber is listed in Yelp but a Google search will not turn it up.  The website is really fantastic for tracking down local independent places to eat.  I’m not completely convinced the Android app is quite as good as the website, but it is certainly easier to navigate when using a phone.

Dictionary.com may even work a little bit better than the website.  Fast and easy to use.  Plus, with text-to-speech you can make it say “fart.”

Google Translate is pretty neat and I think it will become a very good product in a short while.  Using the already excellent speech recognition software built in to ICS you can simply speak a word or phrase and translate it into one of about 50 languages which will be written and spoken.  It seems to do a very good job translating English to other languages, but not quite as good of a job going the other way.  I tried a little French, Spanish, and Chinese with limited success.  Of course, it could be operator error.  I did get an F in French one quarter.  On the bright side, I can confirm that it does an excellent job translating “fart” into Chinese and back to English.

Hanping Chinese Dictionary works very well from my limited ability to test it.  It got all the Chinese words I still remember.

Wikipedia Because many arguments can be quickly settled with a trip to the website, why not get there quicker and easier with the app?

ESPN ScoreCenter is one free convenient place to get all of the scores from all of the games and a little bit of news.  You can customize one page to follow the specific teams you like. Yahoo! Sportacular appears to be a worthy competitor.

GateGuru may takeoff as a one-stop app to get you through airports easily.  I like it because it provides a list of places to eat and shop and a map of the airport.  It is obviously set up to rely on crowdsourcing for ratings, wait times in security lines, etc.  This will work well if the user base grows.  As of now it seems that some of this info is woefully out of date, but I’ll keep it for the terminal maps if nothing else.

Google Goggles is not quite ready for primetime but is such a neat concept and it does work more than half of the time so it makes the list.  Basically it turns your camera into a Google search option.  Take a picture of a logo and it will take you to the company website.  Take a picture of a famous piece of art and it will identify it (I tried it on two movie posters and made sure to leave out the text and it got them both).  Translate foreign signs.  Scan barcodes.  They want to get it to the point where it can identify a plant by its leaves.  That would be really neat!  Similar to this is Layar where you hold up your camera and it overlays info about what you are looking at.  Seems like it would be great for sightseeing.  Supposedly too much unorganized info where it works and it only works well in the biggest cities so I didn’t try it.

Light Flow Lite – LED Light Control does just what it says.  If you have a phone with a notification light, this may be something you like.  It allows you to change the color of the notification light but it also allows you to organize how all of your notifications are handled.  I got it mostly to be able to play with the color of the notification light.

UltraChron Stopwatch Lite  is a voice-controlled stopwatch and countdown timer.  It has the option to countdown to zero by voice alert followed by an alarm.  It has editable laps.  It continues working and the alarm will still go off even if your phone goes to sleep.  Basic, simple to use, helpful.  The only issue is that it is rather ugly.

Let me know other great apps I should try.

The Best Apps for the iPhone 4s in 2012

We upgraded from our stupid phones to smart ones very recently and Melanie chose an iPhone 4s.  She loves it and is quickly adapting to life with the internet in her pocket.  Checking around with friends and various websites revealed a few of the best apps for the iPhone 4s.

Our criteria:  free, available through Apple’s app store, useful

Overdrive – This one is required to by our local library to download e-books and audiobooks.  So far we like it.
Redlaser – Bar code scanner.  This one seems to be the defacto standard for scanning products for more info and price comparison when shopping.
Runkeeper – Turns your phone into a GPS running watch.
Shazaam – Identifies songs by listening to them.
Web MD – For viewing the website.  I don’t know if this one will work out to be any better than just going through the browser.
Wikipedia – For viewing the website.  I don’t know if this one will work out to be any better than just going through the browser.  Oftentimes what you want to find out is info from Wikipedia so this a quick way to get to it.
Yelp – For viewing the website.  I don’t know if this one will work out to be any better than just going through the browser.  Great for finding local establishments.  When looking for my barber shop I could not find them even using a Google search but they were on Yelp.
Mapquest – Turn-by-turn directions.  It is tricky to find a free Garmin-style navigation program it seems.  Mapquest has worked for Melanie so far.
Gmail – Melanie wanted a separate app to view personal email.  It keeps labels intact unlike the built-in email app.  It is supposed to be able to do searches much faster too.
Dataman – Can set up a warning as you approach your monthly data limit.
Flixster – Movie app.  Haven’t tried it yet.
iHandy Flashlight – One of many flashlight apps.  This one also allows the light to strobe.
Grocery IQ – For making grocery lists.
Pandora – For streaming music.
Geocaching – This app by Groundspeak is the only app on this list that costs something.  It is $10 but it is an all-in-one geocaching app.  You can look up, find, and log geocaches all from this one app.  It makes geocaching a zero-prep event so you can just focus on playing.

Many of these apps Melanie has only had a chance to try out once or twice so I don’t know how robust they are.

Here are a few more that were recommended but she didn’t want:
Wunderlist – To do list.
Seesmic – Puts Twitter and Facebook stuff in one place.
Peak.ar – Tells you the height of nearby mountains just by pointing your camera at them.
Olive Tree Bible Reader – The only app on this additional list that costs money.  There are free ones available but this one is supposed to be very good.   Of course, I like the website http://www.biblegateway.com very much.

What other apps do you highly recommend?

E-Strengths: A Work Traits Identification Test

So, a few weeks ago I talked about Strengths Finder 2.0.  It’s a book that costs about $20 and allows you to take a test (one time) identifying your strengths.  The One Minute Entrepreneur has the same sort of thing but it is free!  As of the time of this post, even though it says it will cost money after 9/30/09, it is still free.  Keep in mind that you must provide a legitimate e-mail address to get your results.  I don’t think it is quite as good as Strengths Finder 2.0, but it is certainly helpful if you’ve never done an assessment like this.