The Gadgets Page

September 24, 2014

Duolingo: Teach Yourself A Language

Filed under: Software — Laura Moncur @ 2:44 pm

Duolingo Streak from The Gadgets PageI downloaded Duolingo quite a while ago. It was a game. It acts like a game. It looks like a game. I set it up for only five minutes a day. I thought, I’ll play this for a while. See if I learn anything.

I set it for French.

I wanted to learn French so I could read the advertising posts on Facebook from Safari Alto, a camper manufacturer from Montreal, Canada. It was a humble goal, especially since they usually provide an English translation.

To be fair, I speak Spanish pretty well and took a semester of Latin in college, so this is the third time I’ve tackled a language. Some of the words are very similar to either the Spanish or Latin words I know, so I have a little bit of a head start. Still, I’m shocked.

After only a few months of practicing five minutes every day, I was able to read my first Safari Alto Facebook post:

The First French Thing I Understood from The Gadgets Page

I covered the English and was able to understand most of the French. It was such a feeling of liberation! I had only been playing with Duolingo for a couple months at that point and I could understand something!!

Then, yesterday, a friend linked to this video:

I was watching it on my phone, so I couldn’t read the English translations, but I UNDERSTOOD IT! I didn’t get the nuances of the fact that the cat didn’t live there, but I understood the punchline. He wanted the human to open the door because it was closed, not because he necessarily wanted to come in. “Porquoi?” “Se ferme!” Even now, it makes me laugh again.

All because of a silly little video game. I have spent a mere five minutes a day playing my game and now I can UNDERSTAND things. I’m not fluent. I’m not even able to understand the answer to a simple question like, “Where is the bathroom?” But I can understand the gist of things.

Thanks, Duolingo!

March 14, 2013

Google Reader Retired

Filed under: Software — Laura Moncur @ 9:56 am

Google Reader Retired from The Gadgets PageI am in a panic. When I loaded Google Reader this morning to look at my RSS feeds, they announced that it would be retired in July. That gives me MONTHS to find a new RSS reader, but I was sincerely ANGRY.

I know I SHOULDN’T be angry. Google Reader was a service that I was not paying for. I was happy to use it and never worried for a second that Google would pull a “Yahoo” and kill my beloved reader. Even though they crippled it by taking out all the things that my friends had shared and shoveling them into their Google+ monstrosity. I STILL believed that Google wouldn’t possibly kill Reader. Call me naive. It appears that Google is heading the route of so many companies before it, killing the things that they have created despite protests and beloved status.

So, I exported my subscriptions using Google Takeout and put them into Vienna, which is an open source RSS reader. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than Newsfire, which cost me ten bucks and couldn’t import the .xml file that Google provided me… grr…

I would be bothered by going back in time by about five years to a desktop RSS reader, just like the old days, but I’m not. I realized that I only read RSS when I’m on my “real” computer, so the fact that it’s not synced with my iPhone or iPad isn’t an issue. I just don’t read RSS on my iPhone or iPad, mostly because reading RSS is my form of work and work is VERY difficult to do on my phone.

In short, I feel betrayed by Google. I know I shouldn’t because I wasn’t paying for the service, but I feel as if Google can no longer be trusted. I’m downloading all my YouTube videos and I’m suddenly worried whether shifting our email to Google’s professional email service was worth it. If they are willing to kill a service that I used EVERY SINGLE DAY, then they might just be willing to kill my email or delete all my videos. I can’t trust them anymore and suddenly, I’m looking at other options.

Thank God I don’t have an Android phone…

November 21, 2011

Keep Track of Your Favorite Interests with Pinterest

Filed under: eBook Readers and Peripherals,PDAs and Phones,Software — Christy Strebe @ 10:26 am

When I used to browse the web and find something I wanted to remember, I’d bookmark it with a description of what it was. I’m crafty, so I would do this with crafts. I also have three kids so I’d bookmark an educational site or ideas for decorating.

This worked great for me, until the hubby decided I needed an iPad upgrade (okay, I wanted it too). I’m not super technical and he is, so I let him do it for me. Everything went great until tried to go to a bookmark on the new iPad – everything was gone, and the bookmarks on my old computer had been wiped clean. I no longer knew where that cute headband idea was, or the great site for math games, it was all gone. I was able to remember some of the sites that had catchy names but for the most part I was back to ground zero.

I knew there had to be a better way, and stumbled upon it a few days later, when my sister-in-law was telling me about her new favorite site – This site lets you pin pictures from the web and categorize them by whatever you choose. Not only that, but you can find other people with similar tastes or friends and follow them to see what they have pinned. You can also browse Pinterest to see what has been pinned lately.

I have to warn you though – it can become addicting. To pin your own stuff, you add a “pin it” button to your toolbar. Then, if you’re on a site you want to save, click the “pin it” button and it will display all the pictures on that page. Select the picture you want to save, select a board (like a folder) and give it a description or note. Viola! It is saved into your account on Pinterest land. You can have your pins posted on Facebook if you want also.

There are different kinds of pinners, those who pin everything and do nothing and those who pin and do. I fall somewhere in the middle. So far I have made a ton of projects:

  • Bracelets and rings
  • Halloween treats
  • Beaded spiders
  • Cookie dough dip out of hummus (not recommend – and I went back and commented on my pin to that effect so my “followers” wouldn’t be led astray)
  • Jewelry holder out of an art canvas
  • Energy balls (these were good)
  • Spelling game for my kids
  • Felt flowers
  • Repurposed a t-shirt into a shrug
  • Dish washer detergent from scratch
  • 72 hour emergency kits
  • Foot scrub
  • Crafts for the kids

As you can see there is a wide variety of crafts to choose from.

You can also pin travel ideas, books, gadgets, humor, etc. Pinterest has a list of 32 categories for you to browse, and assign your pins to, for others to browse, but you can create as many boards as you want and name them whatever you want.

Additionally, Pinterest has created an iPhone app to work with their website. You can download it here:

A few tips and tricks I’ve found:

  • The Pinterest app is a little crashy. When it starts acting strangely, restart the app, or if that doesn’t work, restart the device.
  • On if you click on the pinterest logo at the top it will take you back to the home screen.
  • You can search for friends to follow by name in the search box, and everyone who has signed in with their Facebook account will have their profile pic so you can see who it is.
  • If the Pinterest web site is too much information for you, try the app. It gives you the top pins for that category and you can pin from there. Here is a picture (above right) of what the DIY & Craft board has on my phone.

So happy pinning, and I’ll see you on Pinterest.

Update 06-21-12 from Laura Moncur: I had avoided Pinterest when Christy reviewed it because it was so difficult to find the original link to the photos on their site. I’m happy to announce that they have fixed that, so I can easily see WHERE the pins came from, no matter how many times it has been repined. I’m happily pinning along with Christy now and I love it!

October 30, 2011

Are iOS 5 Location Reminders Helpful?

Filed under: PDAs and Phones,Software — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

I was first in line the night of pre-orders for the new iPhone 4S because my poor 3GS had seen better days. After skipping a generation, there are so many new features to enjoy on my new phone that I’ve felt a little overwhelmed with all of it.

That’s why I’m so surprised at how UNDERWHELMED I’ve been with the location reminders.

Having a phone with a working GPS antenna is a blessing, of course (my 3GS lost its GPS capabilities in its tragic fall that cracked the screen), but the GPS on the iPhone still isn’t sensitive enough to make location reminders work. The biggest problem is that the location reminder has to get pretty far away before it is triggered. We were about a mile away from the house when my test reminder went off and that was too late.

The typical example: “Remind me to call my wife when I leave work,” is a good test. Depending on how far away your home is, you might actually SEE your wife before Siri reminds you to call her.

Additionally, I had particular problems telling Siri where my work and home are. It’s perfectly easy to tell her to remind me when I leave “here,” but if I want to have her remind me to call Mike when I arrive at work, she would tell me that she didn’t know where my office is. I added my work address into my contact information and the iPhone was able to find it on a map when I tapped on it, but Siri still insisted that she didn’t know where my office was.

In the end, she had a problem with the city abbreviation. She couldn’t recognize SLC as Salt Lake City (even though the map app had no trouble with it), so she was powerless to set up that reminder until I changed it. It was frustrating to me and I’m a power user. I can’t imagine how frustrated a beginner might feel about this.

Yes, Siri is amazing and she makes me feel like I’m in the future, but her location reminders are hobbled by GPS inaccuracy and address parsing problems. They are a great thing to show off your phone, but they aren’t quite useful enough to be trusted.

October 28, 2011

How I Solved My Siri Envy with Vlingo

Filed under: PDAs and Phones,Software — Ian @ 10:37 am

Having heard about the iPhone 4S and Siri, I wanted to experiment with it and see how well it worked. Laura’s old iPhone 3GS had a cracked screen, so she bought the new iPhone 4S. She showed it to me and I thought Siri was very interesting and we became curious if there was something similar to it for the iPhone 3G. We began searching and we found Vlingo.

Vlingo is free to install and available for not only iPhones, but Android, Windows and Blackberry users as well. There is also a Vlingo Plus that charges a one-time fee, but that appears to be available for Samsung Jack and HTC users only.

We compared Vlingo on my iPhone 3G and Siri on Laura’s iPhone 4S together and took this video. They do both need to be connected to the internet in order to work.

I was very surprised at how well Vlingo did. My poor old 3G has slower internet than Laura’s iPhone, but it was only seconds behind when we searched for turtles. When we both called a phone number I forgot to push the button a second time otherwise it would have called at the same time. I like that with Vlingo you can choose when it starts listening, while in Siri you start as soon as you start the program. As you can see, Vlingo works slightly better than in Siri when emailing.

I was slightly disappointed with Vlingo when trying to set an appointment. Hilariously, it searched for “set an appointment at 5:00 tomorrow” in Google. Vlingo Does have some other disadvantages as well:

  • When starting the app, it asked for access to my contacts, so it doesn’t already have access to my contacts.
  • In Vlingo, you must hit the button again to stop it rather than it noticing when you stop talking like Siri does.
  • We found that Vlingo doesn’t have access to the Apple apps like the calendar, reminders or alarms.

For those of you who already have an iPhone 4S then you wouldn’t be interested in Vlingo, but for all of us who have older generation iPhones (or Android, Blackberry or Windows phones) I would suggest Vlingo. It cannot access the calendar or the alarms, but it can do everything else Siri can and will solve your Siri Envy nicely.

October 21, 2011

iHandy: Better Than An Ordinary Flashlight App

Filed under: PDAs and Phones,Software — Ian @ 10:00 am

I was looking for a free flashlight app because we were leaving for Yellowstone and we were staying in a cabin there. I looked for a while before I came across the iHandy flashlight [iTunes link]. There are literally hundreds of flashlight apps, but fortunately I found the best one for you. I liked how it worked for my iPhone 3 and it worked even better on my father’s iPhone 4. Rather than lighting up the screen it turned on his camera flash which worked twice as well as it had on mine.

When you first run this app, you will come to this selection screen. Along with the regular flashlight there are many other settings you can use for different purposes.

  • Lights: This is an ordinary flashlight. It lights up your screen (or camera flash depending on generation) in any color you want to get the brightest light from your phone.
  • Strobe: Lights will flash on and off and you can change colors if you slide your finger across the screen.
  • S.O.S.: S.O.S. in morse code will flash on the screen.
  • Emergency: This will make blue and red lights flash split screen, or red, blue, and white will flash one after another.
  • Motion Control: It will turn different colors if you shake it.
  • Spiral: Two different options of spinning colors.
  • Glow Sticks: A few different colors of glow sticks you can choose from.
  • Neon: Displays on the screen I (heart) NY. More options probably with the full version.
  • Trippy: This one was difficult to find, because you must swipe right to left from the main screen. One color of light will fade into another and so on.

If you slide you finger along the selection screen from left to right it will bring to this screen. In this mode, you can set if and how fast the lights will turn on and off along with setting it to say S.O.S. in Morse code. The numbers at the bottom of the screen control the speed of the light flashing. I prefer this mode when using the flashlight, but unless you swipe correctly, it is difficult to find.

We often used this app on our trip whether it was to see in front of us or if the fire was out. I think that this flashlight is one of the most useful things for the iPhone. Next time you catch yourself in the dark (or find yourself at a crazy rave), think of iHandy flashlight.

October 13, 2011

Adobe Finally Gives Me A Reason To Buy Photoshop… NOT!

Filed under: Software — Laura Moncur @ 3:55 pm

This impressive demonstration is dry as dirt, but it shows how Adobe is making Photoshop relevant again. The BORING presenter does an excellent job of showing us how Photoshop can analyze a blurry photo and make it unblurry. With its algorithm, Photoshop will analyze your photo and find out how the blur was created: for example HOW your hand moved when you took the photo. It will then restore your image.

The audience was quite impressed and there was a point when someone said “No Way!”

It has been years since Adobe has given me a reason to plunk down the insane amounts of money they want for Photoshop, but finally they have given me a reason to buy it.

Via: Photoshop Will End Blurry Pics Forever

Update 10-31-11: It appears that Adobe faked the blur on one of the photographs in the demonstration. They applied an artificial blur to a photograph of Kevin Lynch and then used their algorithm to “fix” it. Here is the quote from their blog post: Behind All the Buzz: Deblur Sneak Peek | PHOTOSHOP.COM BLOG

For those who are curious – some additional background on the images used during the recent MAX demo of our “deblur” technology. The first two images we showed – the crowd scene and the image of the poster, were examples of motion blur from camera shake. The image of Kevin Lynch was synthetically blurred from a sharp image taken from the web. What do we mean by synthetic blur? A synthetic blur was created by extracting the camera shake information from another real blurry image and applying it to the Kevin Lynch image to create a realistic simulation. This kind of blur is created with our research tool. Because the camera shake data is real, it is much more complicated than anything we can simulate using Photoshop’s blur capabilities. When this new image was loaded as a JPEG into the deblur plug-in, the software has no idea it was synthetically generated. This is common practice in research and we used the Kevin example because we wanted it to be entertaining and relevant to the audience – Kevin being the star of the Adobe MAX conference!

When I showed Mike that Adobe video, he was skeptical and said that you can do anything in a demonstration. He said he wouldn’t believe it until it actually showed up as a tool in Photoshop. I guess he was right all along.

Via: Adobe admits using ‘synthetic blur’ image in deblur demo: Digital Photography Review

August 24, 2011

Weird Al Goes Digital with Accordéon HD

Filed under: Software — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

I absolutely LOVE this video from Weird Al:

He is using Accordéon HD on his iPad. The app is here:

It’s also available for the iPhone, although it’s quite small:

I would think that playing an iPad accordion would be much harder than a real one because you couldn’t feel the buttons, but Al makes it look easy.

Via: “Weird Al” Yankovic Goes Digital – Celebrity Pictures, Lol Celebs and Funny Actor and Actress Photos – ROFLrazzi

June 15, 2011

Geotagging for your non-GPS camera

Filed under: PDAs and Phones,Software — Matthew Strebe @ 1:54 pm

If you’ve got a DSLR or a point-n-shoot camera that does not do geotagging automatically, and you have an iPhone, then you need to know about two apps in the iTunes store that will turn your iPhone into a Geotagging gadget for your photos.

Geotagging is a simple concept: Photos are stored with the location where they were taken. It gives you the ability to map out your trips after the fact, remember where you were, and upload your photos to Google Earth and other cloud services so that other people can see what you saw everywhere around the world. Of course you want to be careful not to Geotag photos around your house and then upload them to online services like facebook because it will reveal where you live. This is why I don’t necessarily like cameras that automatically Geotag all photos.

I’ve used two Geottagging apps for the iPhone:

Both are good and differ only in the method they use to transfer geotagging information from the phone to your computer. With both, you go through these simple steps:

  • Sync your camera’s time to your phone time
  • Create a “trip” (shooting session)
  • Let the app run in the background while you take pictures all day
  • Export your GPS logging data
  • Run the app’s desktop Geotagging application
  • Import your photos into iPhoto, Picassa, or whatever tool you use to manage photos.

The only difference between the two is the way they export data from the iPhone app:

With GeotagPhoto, you export your trips up to their website, and their Java-based desktop app downloads that info to tag your photos. This requires an active network connection when you import, but it’s simple and it works well. You have to go through a one-time “pairing” of your iPhone app to your computer via an emailed link. Of course there will come a day with this service stops working, and then the app won’t work. GeotagPhoto is $3.99.

With gps4cam, when you export it generates a QR (2D) barcode containing all your GPS data on your phone screen, and you take a photo of the screen on the same memory card. When you run the import app, it scans all your photos and finds the QR codes from amongst them, extracts the GPS log data, and then updates the photos that aren’t QR codes. Extremely clever, equally easy, and no network connection required. The only issue I found with it is my zoom telephoto has to be about 5′ away from my phone to achieve focus on the QR code (so I change the lens first).

These two apps are amazing examples of how smartphones and apps are replacing various gadgets that you would either go without or spend hundreds of dollars on.

June 9, 2011

Easy Meditation with Ambiance

Filed under: eBook Readers and Peripherals,PDAs and Phones,Software — Laura Moncur @ 8:01 am

Ambiance iOS appI can hardly believe that I never wrote a review for Ambiance [iTunes link]. It’s one of my favorite iOS apps and I literally use it every day for both meditation and going to sleep.

There are a ton of sounds to download for free to use, which makes it incredibly versatile. For example, I have downloaded several nature sounds like the one shown here, Scottish Springtime. I’ve set my timer for fifteen minutes and the shuffle to change every minute, so I can meditate to various sounds of nature no matter where I am. When the timer runs out, I’m finished meditating.

My sister Stacey and her husband Dan, however, use Ambiance to distract the dogs. They have downloaded a white noise sample and use it to drown out the sound of children playing and neighbors walking past the house so that their dogs won’t erupt into a fit of barking when the two of them are not home.

There are always new sounds on AmbianceI love that there are new sounds available quite often. When I first downloaded Ambiance several months ago, I only had a few sounds, so it felt like I was meditating to the same sounds every day. Now, I have so many different sounds to choose from that it’s rare that I hear a repeat in a week. I adore that the app will push me a notice when they have new sounds available. I usually drop everything just to see what is available.

I honestly haven’t used all the features available to me in Ambiance. There is a way to record your own sounds to use with Ambiance, so you can populate your meditation with your favorite comforting sounds. There is also a rating and favorites system. I’ve never rated a sound because I’m pretty much happy with all the sounds I’ve downloaded and deleted the sounds that turned out to be jarring or inconducive to meditation.

Ambiance iOS appA favorite for me is the alarm feature so that Ambiance can wake me up. It will bring up a clock to sit next to my bed and it will play sounds to lull me to sleep and slowly fade out after a preset time. In the morning, it will fade in, gradually waking me up to my favorite soothing sounds. It’s a fully functional alarm with “normal” alarm noises and a snooze option as well.

I have enjoyed Ambiance so much over the last few months that I can hardly believe it only cost me three bucks. I remember looking at clocks at Sharper Image and Brookstone that would play relaxing sounds for me that cost easily ten times that amount and they didn’t have as much functionality as Ambiance has, much less the ability to add more sounds. It has been a great app for me and I literally use it every day.

You can download Ambiance here:

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