iPhone App of the Week – FlightTrack Pro

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I’m a seasoned traveler! I travel for business all the time and last year clocked over 90,000 flight miles. So needless to say I’ve had my eye out for the ultimate travel app for the iPhone. When I travel, I want an App that can keep track of my flights, reservations, and updates if anything changes. Nothing is more frustrating than to break your neck getting to the airport only to find out that your plane has been delayed for an hour anyway. I was pretty comfortable using the mobile version of Northwest Airlines (mobile.nwa.com) and putting my schedule on my calendar. I would also put the confirmation numbers in the notes of those calendar events. My frequent flyer/stay numbers go in the notes of the Contact records. Granted this is a multiple app/entry effort, but I’ve used it now for years.

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FlightTrack Pro is it!

Actually FlightTrack Pro isn’t it all by itself, FlightTrack Pro works in conjunction with the free travel website TripIt.com. It’s the integration of these two pieces that make this a near perfect solution. FlightTrack Pro by itself is an app for the iPhone/iPod touch that keeps track of your flight information. It will stay updated on any delays and gate changes. The information about your flight becomes live 3 days before your flight takes off. FlightTrack Pro also displays the ever important GATE number. It also allows you to check the weather for both your departure location and your destination as well as any airport delays.

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This is all well and good, but it wouldn’t be enough for me to pay for. Again, I pretty much fly one airline and most of the above is available for free on a cool iPhone friendly version of their site. It’s the TripIt integration that makes FlightTrack Pro worth the price.

TripIt.com is the secret sauce

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Like I said, TripIt.com is a FREE site. You can go there right now and sign up and start using it to manage your travel. What I absolutely LOVE about TripIt.com is that I don’t have to manually enter my trip information. They make it so easy! All you have to do is email/forward your itinerary to plans@tripit.com from the email address(es) that you registered with the site. The site automatically converts that email into all the right fields on the site. It takes only a few seconds once you send the email, for the site to be updated. It’s like magic. I was blown away by how well this works. When I book travel for work our travel agent sends the itinerary as a PDF attachment in an email. I was thinking, “this will never work”. However, I decided I had nothing to lose by trying it, so I forwarded the PDF itinerary and IT WORKED! I was floored that the site was able to digest the PDF.

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Once you configure FlightTrack Pro with your TripIt login info, FlightTrack Pro will then pick up your flight information automatically and instantly! You can even email your itinerary to someone (perhaps the person meeting you) directly from FlightTrack Pro. There is also a button that you can tap to take you right to the TripIt site on your iPhone if you want to see more details about your reservation such as hotel, rental car, etc.

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Mac Users: TripIt has an added bonus! It automatically generates an iCal that you (or your loved ones, colleagues, etc.) can subscribe to that contains all your travel details! This feature is outstanding and icing on the cake.

It even tracks the current progress of the flight

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This feature isn’t really that useful for the actual traveler unless you just happen to be on a flight with Wi-Fi. The reason is, in order to show your current flight status such as location on the map, altitude, MPH, etc., you have to be able to get online, which is a no no while you’re in the air on most commercial flights. Now if you enter the flight information of a loved one or someone you’re shuttling to/from the airport, it’s pretty awesome to know EXACTLY where their plane is and when it will land.

The Bottom Line

FlightTrack Pro by itself is not that exciting. FlightTrack Pro combined with TripIt.com ROCKS! While FlightTrack Pro works as advertised, I’d like to see the 2.0 version of the app or maybe a super pro version that incorporates ALL of the itinerary instead of just the flight info. This has the potential for being the ULTIMATE travel app. While the link/button to TripIt is cool, I would much rather have the native app contain ALL of the info. Imagine how cool it would be since the app would know about your entire trip? For example, it would know about your flights like it does now. Once you land it would then display your rental car info or other ground transportation info/confirmation numbers. It could use the iPhone’s GPS to track where you are and direct you to your hotel. Once you arrive at the hotel it could automatically display your hotel confirmation number. How about suggest restaurants in the area?

This app is great, but there is so much more potential! The only thing that I was slightly disappointed in is that in its current incarnation when I landed, it would have been nice for the app to display the baggage claim carousel. Granted, this info may not even be available via the database that the app uses (FlightStats™), but it would be nice! Other than that I think the app is well worth the price for anyone who travels by air on a regular basis.

FlighTrack Pro goes for $9.99 on the App Store. Even if you don’t buy the app, you should head over to TripIt.com and setup an account TODAY!

Tips for Nikon DSLR and Adobe Creative Suite 4 Users

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Nikon D-Town

There are two hot new resources I wanted to make you aware of.  First off, my buddy Scott Kelby has just released a new weekly video podcast show called “Nikon D-Town.” This show is aimed at Nikon DSLR camera users. It’s co-hosted by Matt Kloskowski and airs each Thursday starting today! Each episode will be geared towards Nikon shooters so that they can get the most out of their gear. As a Nikon shooter myself, I can’t wait to check it out! Check out Nikon D-Town right here.

“Everyday Timesavers” now on Adobe TV

Next up, the Adobe evangelists have started a series called “Everyday Timesavers”! If you’re a Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) user and you want to get the most bang for your buck, then being more productive with the software is going to yield a greater ROI for you. Check out Everyday Timesavers on Adobe TV right here. New videos are due to go up every week and of course they’re free to watch.

Adobe Updates Photoshop CS4

Adobe just released updates to Photoshop CS4 (Mac|Win) to address the following issues:

The Adobe® Photoshop® CS4 11.0.1 update addresses a number of issues discovered after Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop CS4 Extended (11.0) software were released.

The most significant fixes in the Photoshop CS4 11.0.1 update include the following:

• A number of issues that could cause slow performance have been addressed.
• Pen barrel rotation with Wacom tablets now works correctly.
• Photoshop now correctly recognizes 3D textures edited by a plug-in.
• The quality of the results of Auto-Blend Layers (Stack Images) has been improved.
• A problem that could result in a crash when pasting formatted text has been fixed.
• A crash that could result from a corrupt font no longer occurs.

However, one of the most important things for me is that Adobe also released free a Photoshop Plug-in that allows you to disable the TrackPad Gestures in Photoshop when using one of Apple’s newer MacBooks. Scott, this should make your day and now you can put away your gun 😉

Terry White Recommends…

I have fun reviewing technology and gadgets. Now that I’ve been running my blog for a few years, it occurs to me that new readers may not have seen some of my earlier posts. I also get asked by friends and relatives all the time to recommend my top choice in any given category. I do this formally once a year in my Holiday Gadget Gift Guide, but that doesn’t really help you much when you want recommendations throughout the rest of the year. So I’ve put together my own Terry White Recommends aStore. I will constantly update this site with any new recommendations that I have. These are products that I either have first hand knowledge of or use on a very regular basis. I have no paid sponsors, so these are products that I simply feel are great!

The Everything You Wanted To Know About Photoshop Book

It’s not often that I do book recommendations here. Quite frankly, I don’t get to spend much time reading books these days. So when I take the time to read one and review it, it must be pretty special. I also know how much work goes into writing a book. I’ve written a few myself. What I can’t imagine is how much work would have to go into a book called “Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual“? In this book Ms. Lesa Snider King had to cover EVERYTHING! That’s a tall order when it comes to Photoshop. She had to explain every little facet of the program and Photoshop CS4 is a lot to cover.

This book is designed to be “the manual”, but not the typical manual written by an engineer. It’s written in plain english with plenty of useful examples and techniques. You can use this book in a couple of ways. You can use it to look up things (which is probably what I would use it for most) or you could use it to actually learn the app, step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter. I also appreciate the fact that this book is in color! I dread seeing Photoshop books in black and white.

Whether you’re new to Adobe Photoshop or you’re an experienced user, this book is worth a look see and weighing in at 796 pages, there is a lot to see. The book has a list price of $49.99. Amazon has it for only $29.39.

iPhone App of the Week – Arcade Bowling

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If you’re looking for a little distraction without having to put much thought into it, then you should check out Arcade Bowling. Arcade Bowling is just like the bowling games in the arcade. You roll the ball down the alley and up into cups to score. Just like the real game it takes a little finesse to get the balls into the cups with the higher scores. The first time I played this game I really sucked at it. The problem was that I was flicking the ball to fast/hard. Then I slowed it way down and started getting higher scores. 

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Arcade Bowling has two modes: Classic and Progressive. The Classic game is just like the one in the arcade. You get a set number of balls and ones you’ve bowled them all, the game is over. The  Progressive game is based on achieving a set score. If you achieve the score then you get more balls to continue playing.

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  • Classic Mode (9 Balls)
  • Progressive Mode – multiple levels of game play with increasingly challenging score plateaus and bonus targets
  • Choice of two background music tracks
  • Accelerometer control of the ball in flight
  • Sound and music volume controls
  • Local high score boards
  • Global High Score boards so you can compete with other players around the globe (pending Apple approval)

Arcade Bowling is a fun game and provides a nice distraction when you need a break in your day or your standing in a line somewhere.  If you like Skeeball, you’ll love Arcade Bowling. Arcade Bowling goes for $1.99 and works on the iPhone and iPod touch. Download it from the App Store here. There is a lite version that is FREE. The lite version only has the Classic game with 9 balls. Download Arcade Bowling Lite for FREE from the App Store here.

Landlines, Do we need ’em anymore?

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OK, I’m thinking about cutting my last cord. My main home line is still with AT&T. Each month I look at the bill I ask “why?” I switched my business/home office line over to Vonage years ago and haven’t looked back. I get unlimited voice for $24.99 a month. It has worked out very well for me. My old bill back then was over $100/month for both voice and fax lines and that didn’t even include the separate Sprint long distance bill. Now it’s under $50 for both. Plus no long distance charges.

The one feature AT&T offers that I can’t seem to find via the VoIP/Digital companies is “Privacy Manager”. I pay for this service each month (in my package of services) to cut down on solicitors. Rather than just block their calls if they don’t display their number to my callerID, it plays a recording something to the effect of “your name or number was not recognized, please state your name after the beep and you call will be put through.” At this point a solicitor or automated caller will hang up. A legitimate caller will say their name and all is good. I have no idea of how many calls this blocks as the phone never rings if they don’t state their names. But I would hate to be inundated by a rash of solicitors if I switch over to Vonage or Comcast.

 

Vonage or Comcast

Vonage is certainly cheaper! Their unlimited service is $24.99/month. Comcast digital voice has introductory offers, but once that period has past, the rate jumps up to $39.99/month. However, Comcast seems to offer a lot more call blocking features, although none of them seem to be as good as Privacy Manager. It seems that you can either block blocked calls or not. There is no compromise. Even though I’m a Comcast TV and Internet customer, their combined packages don’t seem to bring the price down far enough to be in-line with Vonage. There is one thing about the Comcast service that I do like and that is they will send someone out to wire the new Cable/Voice modem to your existing telephone jacks. So once my phone number is ported over, it would be no physical difference to how I use the phone now. My February AT&T bill came in at $46.21 (January was $67.97 and then I called them to cut some stuff out and move to a different plan.) and that’s with no long distance as I try to do all my long distance calling either on my Vonage line or my cellphone. The other thing that bugs me is Zone Calls! There are usually anywhere from $2-$10 of Zone Calls on my bill each month because we may dial a number that is in the same area code, but just far enough away to be charged as a Zone Call and then by the minute.

 

Do I really even need a landline anymore?

My buddy Bruce sent out an email to all of his friends announcing that his home number was being disconnected and he gave out his and his wife’s cell numbers. His reason was that now that his daughter had gone off to college and it was just the two them, they couldn’t really think of any reason to keep the landline.

Everyone here at my house has a cellphone (yes iPhones). We all have our own numbers and our friends and family members know our numbers and call us. Other than the landline being used by the alarm system and a couple of older TiVos (that are slated to be replaced this year), do I really need one? Cell reception is 5 bars here in the house. I even get great reception in the basement. If I kill the landline, what am I giving up other than another bill? I will still have my office Vonage line if I need that to feel like I’m on a real phone.

MobileMe – 6 months later…

No company is perfect and that includes Apple, Inc. Apple has been hitting some good home runs lately. No one can argue the success of the iPod, MacBook, iTunes Store, iPhone and Mac OS X. However, Apple’s MobileMe is still, well, um, let’s just say not quite there yet!

MobileMe was launched in July of 2008 on the same day as the iPhone 3g. It was the revamped replacement to .Mac. The main focus of MobileMe was to allow iPhone, iPod touch, Mac and PC users to sync their data wirelessly with the cloud (MobileMe). Of course on launch day there were nothing but problems. Apple’s servers were overwhelmed by all the simultaneous activations of iPhones and MobileMe accounts. 

So let’s fast forward 6 months later and take another look at MobileMe. MobileMe provides its subscribers with email, online storage, data syncing and web hosting. I’ve been a MobileMe user (and before that .Mac and before that iTools) user since day one. So I’ve got first hand experience on what works and what doesn’t. I’ll start by saying that I have no issues with email and data storage (other than the slowness of using the iDisk in the Finder). These services work quite well for me. My issues are pretty much all with the data syncing. 

I love the concept of no matter where you make the changes to your contacts, calendar or email, it will be updated on all your other devices. As an iPhone user this is a really nice thing to have. I was very happy to turn on MobileMe syncing on my iPhone 3g the day I got it. It was like magic to see my phone load up with all my contacts wirelessly. Life was good! 

 

Trouble in paradise

It didn’t take long for the problems to surface. My contacts are probably the most important thing to me on my iPhone. I’m constantly making calls, looking up addresses and looking at contact notes. So if there is the least little problem here it’s going to be magnified for me 10 fold. A couple of days later I went to make a call and my Contacts list was EMPTY! That’s right all gone. Poof! Oddly enough they were still on my Mac in Address Book and still on the www.me.com site. A few minutes later, they were all back on my iPhone. Now other than the obvious inconvenience of them not being there when I went to make a call, there was another issue. My custom ringtone settings were gone. I’m big on assigning ringtones to friends, family members and co-workers so that I have an idea of who’s calling before I even pickup the phone. Well when the Contacts came back, they came back without the ringtone assignments (Apple doesn’t sync your ringtone assignments with the cloud). I timed it and it takes me about 15-20 minutes to reassign them as it has to be done one-by-one. I figured OK, this is probably a one time thing. A hiccup with the cloud perhaps. So I did all my ringtone assignments over again and moved on. Unfortunately this was not a one time thing. It happened at least a dozen times from July to now. There are a few threads on Apple’s discussion boards of people having the same exact problem, so I’m not alone here. I finally gave up!!! That’s right, I just couldn’t take it anymore. One minute they’re there, the next minute they’re not. So I turned off MobileMe syncing of Contacts and went back to syncing them manually via iTunes and the USB cable. I haven’t had a problem since. Now my Contacts are always there and my ringtone assignments stay intact!

 

Calendars

Apple still doesn’t seem to get it when it comes to  calendars. There are several issues that I don’t have the time to go into here so I’ll stick to the big ones.

The biggest problem is that MobileMe still doesn’t handle subscribed iCals. This means that if you use the automatic Birthdays calendar from Address Book, you won’t have this important calendar on your iPhone. No birthdays! At least not without some workarounds. Also if you subscribe to anyone else’s iCal, you won’t have those calendars on your iPhone either. So much for checking your spouse’s calendar before making plans. Another odd problem is that you can’t even select which of your non-subscribed calendars get sync’d. It’s either all or nothing if you sync using MobileMe. So if you have some misc. calendars that you don’t care about on your iPhone, they will be there whether you need them or not. Now if you turn off MobileMe calendar syncing and sync manually via iTunes you’ll be able to have just the calendars you want including subscribed ones. Go figure! Unfortunately I can’t turn off MobileMe calendar syncing like I did for Contact syncing because I also use Exchange syncing for my work calendar. If you sync with Exchange, you can’t sync manually with iCal. It’s either all manual syncing or all cloud syncing for any given category (contacts, calendars, etc.). You can’t mix the two.

 

The Bottom Line

MobileMe is $99/year (or less if you find it on sale). If I wasn’t using the other services if offers, it would be really hard for me to justify renewing this! I keep hoping for a silver lining in the cloud, but after 6 months it’s still a storm cloud. If one of my friends walked up to me and asked me if they should use MobileMe, I would be very hard pressed to say yes at this point. Let’s hope that Apple is hard at work fixing these issues and maybe we’ll see a MobileMe that works by its one year anniversary in July 2009. With all the emphasis on software as a service that most companies are moving towards, Apple needs to get this one right in order to be taken seriously in the future.

iPhone App of the Week – Lose It!

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This app was recently featured in one of Apple iPhone commercials. I believe the line was "if you want to count calories, there’s an app for that." I was sitting there watching LOST and when I saw the ad, I picked up my iPhone and downloaded it. I was blown away by this app from the start. It’s so much more than just counting calories. This is a complete fitness, diet, nutrition tracking app. I was using Weight Tracker (another fine app) before this one, but Lose It! does everything Weight Tracker does and a lot more.

 

Getting Started

You start out by simply inputting your current weight and then your goal weight. Lose It! then prompts you with number pounds you would like to lose each week to meet your goal. In my case I could have either chosen 1 or 2 pounds a week. Then it tells you the date by which you should meet your goal. Next it figures out a per day Calorie Budget. Whatever this number is, if you stay under it, you should reach your goal. It even takes into account exercises that you do and adds those calories burned back in to your budget for that day. 

 

Figuring out how much you can eat

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I was also blown away by the extensive database of foods that are already in its database. You simply tell it what you have/had for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and it will subtract those calories from your budget. Of course it can’t possibly know the calories for everything. So you can easily add your own custom foods or foods that aren’t in its database. Many restaurants now have their nutrition information on their websites. This has been very helpful for me. I was surprised to see how many calories there were in some of my favorite foods at like P.F. Chang’s vs. some of the other foods I eat at the same restaurant! It was really eye opening. 

 

Tracking your progress

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You enter in your weight each day (or as often as you like) and Lose It! will track your progress with a nice graph. It will also tell you how much you are under or over your calorie budget each day and for the week.

 

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It even has one of my favorite activities/exercises…… er, um Scuba Diving! 😉 

 

The Bottom Line

We are all trying to live a little healthier these days and having this app has really made a difference for me! I much more conscious of calories than I ever would have been without. I’ve already lost 7+ pounds since I’ve been using it. The most amazing thing to me is that this app is FREE! That’s right, there’s no charge. I’m stunned by how well this app is designed and that it doesn’t cost a dime. It works on both the iPhone and iPod touch. Download it today from the App Store.

 

 

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