What apps do you use on your Smart devices?

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Calling all owners of smart phones and other devices! Are you using your equipment for business or pleasure, or a mix of both? And what apps have changed the way you work and play? I bought an iPad at Apple's sale a couple of weeks ago. I'd had an iPhone for several weeks by then and wondered how I'd managed without it. Would the iPad give me the same experience? Would I use it the same way? I seem to have divided the way I use my devices even though they both have for the much part the same apps on them. The iPhone battery isn't as long-lasting as the iPad so that limits the time I spend using it as a leisure toy. The apps I tend to use most on the iPhone, apart from the phone/contacts/messages/music etc are:
  • iCal - syncs beautifully with my Mac and I have the iPhone with me all the time whereas I don't necessarily have the iPad
  • Safari - looking up websites on the fly
  • ShapeUpClub - brilliant diet app and dovetails with associated website; helps you count your kilojoules and it's the only diet I've used that's helped me lose weight this year
  • WordPress and Joomla - but they are nicer on the iPad
  • eBay - excellent for when I'm at the Post Office posting off items to buyers and have forgotten to bring the printed labels!
  • ShopShop - great shopping list app. You can delete items from your current list and they stay in the database
  • Facebook - good for updating status and comments on the run
  • Twitter - likewise. Love the Twitter app.
  • TripViewLite - for when I'm taking public transport into town or elsewhere. Trip planner and timetable for Sydney and suburbs.
  • Notes. Indispensable. Saves writing on the palm of my hand or the back of envelopes when I don't have my day book to hand. It's my current To Do list among other things.
  • My bank's app - I can check account balances and transfer between accounts when I'm out and about, saving embarrassment at the checkout.
  • Games such as Bejewelled, Solitaire, Paper Toss and Angry Birds. I'm not a great gamer but I enjoy these, particularly at mindless times like telly ad breaks in the evening. They do chew up the battery though.
And for the iPad:
  • iBooks, Kindle and Kobo. I've got all three installed so I can have wide access to e-books. At the moment I have plenty of free books to read which I've downloaded. All three readers are similar and easy to use. Great app for when I'm sitting on the train. I have them on the iPhone as well but the experience is much better on the iPad.
  • Pages and Numbers. Mac's 'lite' version of its productivity suite which can read and export to Word and Excel files. Getting the hang of the iPad's keyboard is an art to be accomplished, especially if you're a touch typist like I am and tend not to look at the keys when typing. I've created some very unusual words in the last few weeks! Excellent for note taking in meetings or on the fly. Pages beats Word hands down for creative layouts.
  • WordPress and Joomla - so I can update my own and clients' sites on the road. Obviously I can't create graphics etc but at least I can make changes to pages and posts, categories etc.
  • Facebook, Twitter, Tweetdeck. As for the iPhone, these are easy to use when I'm out and about
  • Zinio - magazine reader. You get some free magazines with it but are encouraged to subscribe. Most of the mags appear to be from the USA however as a mag reader it's excellent and free to download the app itself.
  • GoodReader - have only just downloaded it but I suspect it's going to be a good friend, allowing me to read PDFs and other uploads and downloads.
  • I've loaded Photoshop Express but suspect won't use it an awful lot; it's limited as to what one can do with it, but it's a 'nice to have'.
  • I've loaded Smart Maps on the iPad as well as the iPhone. These are good - you don't need to be online to see your city and its suburbs in all their glory. Excellent for navigation if, like me, you prefer to look at a map rather than rely on a GPS in the car.
  • DesignNote - another I've just loaded and haven't used yet but I suspect this will be a hit with clients when showing them work. It allows you to annotate your work so you can make the necessary changes back at the desk.
  • Games as above - much nicer on the big screen!
So, those are my current useful tools and favourite leisure pursuits on my smart devices. I'll update again soon when I've explored more apps. Let me know yours!

New Facebook features not as useful – or private – as they seem

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I've just read an interesting article here. Facebook has launched a new Groups feature which you think might help you organise your friends vs work contacts, but it's not as useful as it seems. Other people can apparently add whoever they want to your group. So much for controlling your own account and your privacy. And it gets worse. Seems that if you have an iPhone and use it to connect with Facebook, syncing may take your telephone numbers from your iPhone and attempt to connect them with users on Facebook if you set up your FB wrongly to work on the iPhone. Here's the article in full, from the Geek With Laptop website: 'Facebook have just launched “groups” on the popular social networking site, apparently so that you can have more control over the way you socialise or communicate with different groups of people. The idea behind it is that just like in the real world, there is information you might only want to share with your family or your friends or business colleagues and so on. Facebook doesn’t create these groups for you automatically; you actually get to put your own little groups together. “We’ve long heard that people would find Facebook more useful if it were easier to connect with smaller groups of their friends instead of always sharing with everyone they know. For some it’s their immediate family and for others it’s their fantasy football league, but the common concern is always some variant of, ‘I’d share this thing, but I don’t want to bother 250 people. Or my grandmother. Or my boss.’” Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post. However, as usual where Facebook is concerned, all might not be as it seems, so let me explain. What users might not be aware of is that once you create a group, other people in that group can also add whoever they want to it and you have absolutely no control over that, so it isn’t exactly your own group is it. (Mark Zuckerberg was embarrassingly added to a group earlier this month which shows just how ill-thought-out the group feature is at the moment - click here to read.) What is far more worrying though, is a report in the Guardian newspaper outlining how a syncing feature on the iPhone (and possibly Android phones too) takes all the telephone numbers of all your contacts and uploads them to the site, Facebook then attempts to match the contact data to a particular user and this information is then visible to others. “It’s very possible that your private phone numbers – and those of lots of your and their friends – are on the site” said Charles Arthur of the Guardian newspaper. (NB - the full article is here ). Arthur goes on to quote Kurt von Moos, who had earlier written about Facebook stealing contact info. “Phone numbers are private and valuable. Most people who have entrusted you with their phone numbers assume you will keep them private and safe. If you were to ask your friends, family or co-workers if they are ok with you uploading their private phone numbers to be cross-referenced with other Facebook users, how many of them do you think would be ok with it?” Not many I suspect. It would be interesting to hear what others think, have you encountered this problem?' Personally I'm wary about what I put on Facebook. Anyone who puts their full date of birth including the year on their public profile, or even makes it visible to just friends, is asking for trouble. Identity theft anyone? Be wary about how much you share with anyone on any social media platform. What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas - it stays visible on servers somewhere forever, and your privacy could be compromised.

Why I’ve got the *(&^s with Telstra

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Bad Telstra story. I know iPhone 4s are in short supply but how long do we have to wait? On or about 3 August this year my husband got a call from Telstra, our current service provider for home, mobile and internet. My husband was offered a fantastic deal - new iPhone 4 for no cost, bundled capped deal on our home phone, more download on our internet connection, all for far less than we're paying now. They'd send it to us as soon as they got one in stock. We're still waiting for the iPhone. As I write this, it's nearly October. Telstra's contracts department itself, whose representative contacted us, doesn't have any in stock. Priority shipments of this still apparently scarce bit of kit (which I see people using all the time lately) go to Telstra shops. They don't appear to put any aside to send out to existing long-term clients who have agreed to a new contract. We spoke to the Telstra contracts/sales people ten days ago. Their advice was to go to the nearest Telstra shop, explain the situation, produce a phone bill so they could verify our account details and we'd get the iPhone there and then. So we went to the overwhelming retail hell of Westfield Parramatta, only to be told - you know what's coming - they had no phones in stock. They get deliveries on Wednesday afternoons apparently and by the time we got there on Saturday they were sold out. We rang up on Wednesday this week but the shipment was running late. After explaining the situation once again to the nice people at the shop they agreed to put us on a list to receive the phone since we'd been waiting several weeks. They don't, they said, put people like us on shop waiting lists as we're already on a list with the Telstra sales office. However...they'd ring when it was in stock. That was two days ago. My husband rang them ten minutes ago figuring they must have received their shipment. The phones came in and went out. We were down the bottom of the list. No phone for us. Better luck next time. This is pathetic customer service. We have no choice with our internet connection as we're too far from the local exchange to get ADSL so we're stuck with cable - in this case, Telstra. We don't have a wide choice of reputable suppliers. It makes sense to bundle our bills with one supplier who can give us a discount. We do like the 3G coverage my husband gets with his current Telstra iPhone3 (which I'll be getting when he gets his iPhone 4, which may possibly be when iPhone5 is released). That's one good thing Telstra has got going for it which the other phone companies can't quite match yet. But I am so *&%^%^ annoyed with Telstra. They are messing us around. They promise but they can't deliver. Has anyone out there experienced the same waiting time, wasted journeys and sheer ineptitude?

Update, 3 October 2010

My husband finally got his iPhone on 30 September. Phew! It's a fab piece of kit. He loves it, and I'm over the moon with his old iPhone3. I had an interesting experience upgrading my Telstra mobile phone account to my chosen 3G bundled account for the iPhone3 when we were in the Telstra shop, however. Because my phone is under my business name the guys in the shop couldn't simply upgrade me and give me a new SIM card as they needed a signed letter on letterhead by me authorising me to make upgrades to the account. It's been a long time since I bought something in a Telstra shop. Probably ten years. I can't remember what hoops I had to jump through back then. Since then I've done upgrades with Telstra by telephone, usually when they've rung me offering a special deal. No letterhead required. After almost two hours in the Telstra shop getting the paperwork sorted for both phones and filling in a raft of forms, this was exasperating. I really didn't want to have to go back there the next day. (Did I ever mention how much I hate going to Westfield shopping centres? They are too big and too hard to find a parking space in.) I had a full day of work with clients needing things done urgently and the thought of another hour and a half away from it all was distinctly unpleasant. I had a current telephone account with me. I had taken the precaution of bringing a copy of my company registration with me, which stated my ABN. I had a driver's licence, Medicare card, and a photo of my cats. None of those combined or or singular made any difference (guess the guy didn't like cats). They weren't a letterhead. Having mentioned through gritted teeth my happy experiences with upgrading my account via telephone, Telstra said I could do that. I could ring up tomorrow and they'd send a SIM through the post. In the meantime I could use my existing SIM but wouldn't have the 3G capability. That sounded great... I didn't mind waiting, anything to avoid another blasted trip to Westfield Parramatta. The manager then suggested an even better workaround. If I was able to fax them a letterhead that night when I got home, they'd let me take the SIM and activate it on receipt of the fax. Being late night shopping night this was ideal. I agreed. We galloped out of the shop, and they had the fax by 8pm. I had an active phone ten minutes later. So all's well that ends well. Next time I go into a Telstra shop I'll have a letterhead to hand.

Digital Publishing

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Digital evangelist Seth Godin has advice on navigating the new media landscape you can listen to here. It's a keynote address on the publishing industry. The digital age has certainly impacted on non-fiction publishing. According to Godin people who may have bought around 200 non-fiction books a year now buy around 50, and get their knowledge fix from blogs and other alternative media sources. Companies like Amazon provide infinite shelf space, especially for e-books. Traditional marketing methods such as launches and press releases have been superceded by viral marketing via Twitter and Facebook. So how do publishers change and adapt and thrive in the new media? And is it a better world for prospective authors? You'll have to listen and find out. A plug here for my bookshop: Seth's books are here for you in digital and traditional form.

I love books so much I’m selling them

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I've always been a reader. I learned to read when I was about two I think. Books have always been my best friend; I have one or more on the go at any one time and love re-reading old favourites. Like many voracious readers I've dreamed of running a bookshop over the years. However I think I'd gravitate between acting like Bernard Black of Black Books (that's him on the right) or simply dreaming the day away reading the stock! So I've found a compromise. I'm selling books over the net as an Amazon Affliliate. At the moment my bookshop concentrates on:
  • Business books - marketing, sales, motivational, computers, software and internet/web
  • Kindle e-books - the entire Amazon stock so there's something for everyone, fiction and non-fiction
  • Photography - a personal interest which many people I know share
  • Books on writing - for when we need inspiration and a nudge in the right (or write) direction
  • Murder mysteries - because I love them. Specifically I love British mysteries and if I have to narrow it down, I tend towards relishing some of the marvellous Golden Age writers like Josephine Tey. But here, at the House of Arion, you can buy any mystery by any author Amazon has in stock.
  • And lastly, software. Any and all. By all the suppliers.
As you can surmise I'm not doing this as a volunteer. I genuinely hope people will buy from me as I do get a minor cut of everything I sell. I'll be upfront about that. Look around you and you'll find a lot of people branching out and monetizing their website. I don't mean the shonks who ask you to spend thousands on, let's say, a diet plan that doesn't work, but genuine people expanding their avenues of income. It's a good thing. And like I said, I always wanted to own a bookshop.

Could the rail link finally become a reality?

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You can tell it's election time. The Federal government has announced the Epping-Parramatta Rail Link is back on the agenda with work to start next year. If all goes to plan it will be complete in 2017. Frankly, I'll believe it when I see it. I'd love to think it will actually happen. The State Government went ahead with the Epping-Chatswood part of the rail link and to date it's been reasonably under-utilised. A key factor in that is that is doesn't go all the way to Parramatta. You still end up with a rail bottleneck at Epping to get anywhere else. If you want to get to Parramatta from North Ryde by rail you change at Epping AND Strathfield, and hope the connections are favourable and the trains are running on time. It takes 48 minutes, apparently, for the journey.  Is it easier, and in fact faster, to take the car? In most cases, ie outside peak hour, it is. I've done it by rail and car outside peak hour and car wins hands down; in peak hour I'd prefer the train I think. Let the traffic be someone else's problem. Actually having a through service from Parramatta WILL get used, I believe. It's a truly viable alternative to sitting in peak hour traffic. The entire journey from Parramatta to Chatswood via the rail link will shave 25 minutes off the current journey via rail. Right now if you want a direct train that does the journey it takes almost an hour and goes through the Sydney CBD. I haven't seen the projected figures today on how long it will take to get from Parramatta to North Ryde, but it has to be a heck of an improvement on 48 minutes. If you had to drive down the M2 it could take you an hour if there are holdups. There are currently bus services from the Hills area that only take 30-40 minutes in peak time, but the buses are apparently packed like sardines. So when the rail link is in place it's probably worth making your way to Parramatta station and jumping on the train. This is something the rapidly growing Macquarie Park area desperately needs. Epping Road, Lane Cove Road and Victoria Road are daily bottlenecks. Employers are urging their staff to use public transport to get to and from work, but if the buses are stuck in traffic you may as well just drive. Having a rail link from the west, a lovely direct link, will make the area more attractive to prospective employees and corporations seeking a home. This area is one of the biggest business precincts in NSW and growing day by day. It's criminal that the State Government ditched the Epping-Chatswood part of the link in the first place. Now I love my car. I love having the freedom and convenience of my own personal transport, of not having to sit next to someone fat/smelly/noisy/talkative who is a complete stranger enroaching on my personal space. But if I have to go into the Sydney CBD, for example, I'll take the train 9 times out of 10 (unless it's nighttime). I can sit back with a book and an iPod and relax, strangers permitting. It's quicker, or just as quick, as driving. Usually if I'm in the North Ryde area I'm running errands from Hunters Hill and Henley through central Ryde and up to North Ryde, and using public transport isn't really an option as it would add literally hours to my journey. Either that or I'm carrying banners and bags and boxes; again not ideal on public transport. But for single meetings - using a fast rail link makes sense. Sprawling Sydney desperately needs improved public transport, particularly rail and light rail which is capable of mass transportation. Will the Government keep its promise if it's elected? We have to remember that the Epping-Parramatta Rail Link will run through Bennelong, which at the moment is a very marginal seat. The state Labor government has steadfastly cancelled or postponed rail plans for the Sydney Hills and northwest region as it's blue ribbon Liberal territory. I do get cross that we have to put up with inadequate transport because of politics. Like sport, it should be above politics.

“Birthday Leave”? Sounds good to me.

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Last week I got an out-of-office reply to an email which brought a smile to my face. The lucky person was on a day's 'Birthday Leave'. That's a new one, I thought, and wondered if she had to take her 'Birthday Leave' out of her annual leave or whether the corporate she works for offered it as an additional day's leave. I don't know her personally - she was responding to a bulk email I sent out on behalf of a client - so I didn't ask her, but it got me thinking. 'Birthday Leave' is a nice touch, whether it's something you are given as an extra, something you can take voluntarily from your annual leave should you wish, or something you are forced to take from your annual leave. Most of us put the hours and energy in to do our best. If you've risen to middle or senior management, you certainly know about the hours. You may receive a fat salary package but in most corporate cultures you'll be expected to work longer hours than the people you supervise. I've worked for myself for nearly ten years now, but before that I spent 13 years working for a multinational corporation. One of the lovely benefits of this particular company was the monthly Rostered Day Off. One day off a month - and not out of annual leave, either. Certainly we worked a little longer each day (official hours) to build up the 8 hours we needed to take our RDOs, but the RDOs were a godsend. They fell on a Monday but you arrange to take yours on a different day if you needed to. So there - a long weekend once a month. Time to have a mini-break, or do a DIY job, or have a day of pampering at a spa... It will come as no surprise to learn that this company didn't have many issues with people taking 'sickies'. It was a win/win situation for everyone. While we didn't have 'Birthday Leave' it was rather a tradition to head out with your team for a birthday lunch - usually at the local pub, sometimes at a restaurant. My boss usually found the money in the budget to take me and some team mates out to lunch. We didn't stint on the wine, either. This was the 80s and 90s, and the long lunch was still an option to be enjoyed. And oh boy, did we enjoy it! We all knew back at the office we would have a few hours to sober up before heading home (and if in doubt, we arranged for a lift from a friend in advance). Efficiency and output was certainly down on birthday lunch afternoons, but the spirit of goodwill the birthday lunch engendered made you willingly make up for it over the next few days. Did we feel appreciated by our bosses and team mates? You bet! Which brings me to this triumph for wowserism and OH&S in today's Australian: I can understand the need to monitor blood alcohol levels in the mining industry, where people deal with dangerous heavy machinery. But now the insidious hand of big brother is wagging a finger at everyone. I can see it won't be long before drinking alcohol at any corporate event is frowned on by the do-gooders. We'll even be made to feel guilty at after-hours cocktail parties or dinners if they are work-related. (I can attest that numbers at Ryde Business Forum's After Hours events are usually down if the host doesn't offer beer and wine, but only soft drinks.) I'm a bit of a rebel; I loved the wild ride of the 80s and 90s with the boozy lunches, not to mention some of the evening functions. I worked at a car dealership in the 80s and had the fun of attending the annual 'trade nights' when the corporate customers and the staff would be wined and dined to excess, with dancing, live music, cigarette girls offering cigarettes on a tray(!), and heaven knows what hanky-panky in the shrubbery. Sensible people ordered taxis. This was the days before mobile breath testing and it wasn't unusual to see someone reeling to his car with an unsteady stagger, collapse into the driver's seat and drive off. Nobody at the dealership ever came to grief after a trade night; miraculously, they all arrived at their homes safely. It's my birthday this month. So I've decided I'm having a day's 'Birthday Leave' (it might make up for some of the many weekends I've worked this year). I'm going for a long lunch with my husband, and it will include wine.