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Jan
15
2011

myUMBC 1 - Google Site 0 , Bottom of the 4th

With the start of the new year I thought I would update my personal web site. Last year I used the Apple iWeb product. I found the product to be a reasonable tool but it was designed to work with Apple's MobileMe product and not UMBC. As a result, I didn't like the way it organized the files and what you had to do to upload the files onto UMBC's servers.

My initial reaction was to use Google Sites but ultimately I did this using myUMBC. I thought I would share my story and see what others think. Google Sites is designed to be an easy to use web creation tool. The tagline is "Google Sites makes creating and sharing a group website easy."

Google Sites is available as part of the Google Apps for Education program that UMBC is utilizing. Sign into http://gmail.umbc.edu/ and then click on the word Sites in the upper left where you see the other modules such as Mail or Calendar. Once you enter Sites you can select a template to use, one real advantage of Sites is that it has a variety of templates that you can examine and then select one as your template.

For a variety of projects this is probably great but to use as a professional web site I found few if any good templates to use. Saying that, it you wanted to create a web site for managing a project or some other types of collaboration where nice templates exist you might find Google Sites perfect.

After spending more that an hour looking at templates and experimenting with dozens of templates I selected one to try. The challenge I found with Sites what that it was not intuitive how to do things. I wanted to easily pull in items from my TechBits blog and twitter account. After "Googling" for help and reading different Google help articles I still couldn't figure out how to do what I wanted. After three hours of playing around I had an web site that didn't do anything I wanted - https://sites.google.com/a/umbc.edu/jack_suess/

I then talked to Collier Jones our myUMBC portal architect and asked whether it might be possible to try using the myUMBC groups to do a personal web site. He was more than willing and set me up with a site in myUMBC for me try out. One of the downsides of myUMBC is that you don't have the thousands of templates that you can choose from.

That said, you do have the ability to customize things based through the Settings menu. In working with myUMBC the only item that was not intuitive to me was how to create a spotlight. Once I learned the trick of clicking the Thumbnail image on the right hand side of the Spotlights menu I was off and running. I spent about three hours playing with this and produced the following web site: http://my.umbc.edu/groups/jack/home .

What I like about myUMBC is that it is relatively easy to pull in blogs and media and use the simple text editor to create additional pages for your web site. MyUMBC doesn't give you all the options for Google Sites but what it does, it does well.

One item missing from myUMBC is some basic help sheets or tutorials on each of pages. This would have helped me on the question of making a spotlight the first time. I don't know if myUMBC will ever be the spot for personal web pages but I was impressed with how well it worked. For what I wanted, I gave myUMBC the edge.

I think with some formal training I could get Google Sites to work as well. For that reason I don't think the game is over. Please share your experience with myUMBC groups or Google Sites by sending me an email to jack@umbc.edu

Jan
09
2011

iPhone enabled gloves - Why the Human Computer Interface is so Important

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The touch sensitive display for the iPhone (and iPad) uses an electrostatic screen, there is a great article on this in How Stuff Works. The key point is that a glove interferes with your finger delivering the electrostatic charge necessary to register on the phone.

In an earlier post I talked about RunKeeper as one of my new iPhone app favorites. However, one issue you quickly realize when you use an iPhone and it is cold is that the device doesn't work with gloves! For people like me that enjoy running outside this means to stop and start the device you need to stop, take off your gloves, and then touch the screen to stop or pause the phone.

Of course, the people at Apple live in California so this is not a big problem for them, but in places that experience winter you need gloves. This is a broader issue in thinking about the human computer interface for devices as we rely upon new touch sensitive interfaces. The web site BoingBoing shows how some enterprising Koreans found using a mini-sausage as stylus worked.

I stumbled across an interesting review of four different glove products that work with iPhones when using the Flipboard app for my iPad.

Review roundup: Four touchscreen-compatible gloves:
http://www.macworld.com/article/156543/2011/01/touchscreen_gloves_review.html?lsrc=rss_main

For those like me in Maryland suffering through the cold I thought I would share, I went with the Aglove product. Please let me know if you have tried any of these, when I get mine in I'll let you know how they work-- jack@umbc.edu.

Jan
01
2011

My Technology Resolutions for 2011

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We make all kinds of resolutions each year so I thought I would add a category for technology resolutions. Here are a three technology resolutions for 2011.

1. Be more Social.
In this case I mean be more active with social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and twitter. I have been on these for years but not been very active. In 2011, my resolution is to actually use these to stay more connected with my friends and colleagues. For UMBC, my resolution is to be more active on our blog sites and share more information through blogging. You can track my progress on twitter as jjsuess.

2. Look to the clouds.
At present I am tied to my laptop and depend on it for most of my work. I carry it home every night to do email. I want to rely on my iPad and iPhone much more extensively and want to be able to do my work from any device at any location. For me, my resolution is to embrace google docs and use tools like dropbox to sync my documents. Over the course of the year i will let you know how it goes.

3. Lose five pounds.
Every day I lug a backpack that has my laptop, power cord, and other assorted stuff that runs about 12 pounds ( without papers). I want to reduce that by at least five pounds. If I can succeed on the other two goals I should be able to get a smaller laptop or get away with using the iPad at home and leave the laptop back at work.

I’ll add these some of my other resolutions and update you on how I did in a year.

Let me know if you have any technology resolutions, I can be reached at
jack@umbc.edu

For more blog entries visit my entries on UMBC Techbits

Jack Suess

Dec
31
2010

My Favorite iPhone Apps

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It my earlier blog I highlighted my top technology picks of 2010 and rated the iPhone 4 as my #1 pick.

I wanted to share a few of my favorite applications and ask you to give me some feedback as to what you enjoy.

Here is my top set of applications.

1. Maps + GPS - I drive an older car with no GPS and can't tell you how many time these apps have saved me. Even when I take the subway to DC I find I use the walking directions to find my final destination.

2. RunKeeper - I love to cross-train and RunKeeper is a great app for people who like to bike, walk, or run outside. It tracks your distance, pace, and maps all this using the integrated GPS.

3. Mail - The iPhone mail application does a great job on a small display. I can keep up with my email very effectively through mail. It integrates with UMBC's email and if you switch to Google and handles most attachments very well. There is just no better mail application on a mobile device.

4. Safari - the iPhone web browser is very good. I use the web browser to read the mobile web sites of the Baltimore Sunpapers and New York Times. While I don't recommend this I have even used the web browser to access Peoplesoft and approve a requisition that needed to go in.

5. iPod/Camera - Having a phone that is also has all your music and can be used as a camera or video recorder is very convenient. Not having to carry other devices on vacation is what it is all about!

6. Facebook - The iPhone facebook application is very good and allows you to quickly keep up with friends. I use it more than the web version when I find I have a few minutes to wait somewhere.

7. Pandora - Pandora is a great application for streaming music. It allows you to enter your tastes and then sends music that fits your taste.

8. Amazon.com - I use this application when shopping. You can do a really quick price comparison to see if you are actually getting the deal you think you are.

9. Reeder - This is a great iPhone application for following Google Reader feeds. The interface is outstanding.

10. Todo - This is the iPhone version of the iPad application I use for managing my tasks. Once you set it up to sync with your Toodledo account you can enter or modify Todo's on any device and sync to the "cloud."


Do you have an iPhone app that you love, if so drop me a note,
jack@umbc.edu.

Jack Suess

Jack’s 2010 Top 10 Technology Picks

With 2010 coming to an end I thought about what I considered to be the best technology tools for 2010. This list is based on tools I’ve used and is thus in no way a complete overview of everything on the market.

1. iPhone 4 - http://www.apple.com/iphone/
The one device that for me is indispensible is my iPhone 4. This device supports me finding my way ( GPS + maps), exercising (iPod + RunKeeper), capturing life (camera and video), staying connected (text, phone, email), and serves as my portable information applicance (web viewer, newspaper reader). Read my list of top iPhone Apps.

2. iPad - http://www.apple.com/ipad/
The iPad is a device that will remember as changing the way people interact with computers. When it first came out it was somewhat limited because it did not support multi-tasking. Since November, when IOS 4.2 came out I’ve been using this device much more and enjoying it immensely. In late November, Google Docs became available on the iPad. I use it to take notes, stay on top of email, manage my tasks, and develop plans. Read my list of top iPad Apps.

3. Google Docs - http://www.google.com/docs
Google docs has become one of my favorite software tools. I have been using it extensively for note taking, agendas, and collaborations. For simple editing tasks it is outstanding, especially if you want to share this with others to collaborate. While it is true that right now docs does not do everything that Microsoft Office does, what it does do works amazingly well. Coupling this with the fact I can now edit and view docs on my iPhone and iPad makes it worth living with what it can’t do.

4. Chrome browser - http://www.google.com/chrome
I have been using Google Chrome as my default browser for the last half year. I found chrome to be a fast and secure browser that of course works very well with google docs. I use this for most of my work but occasionally I find a site that doesn’t work well in Chrome and I bring that up in Firefox. Chrome handles javascript in web pages very well and has tools built into it to help prevent downloading malware. Chrome works on all major platforms.

5. Apple TV/ Netflix - http://www.apple.com/appletv/
The new Apple TV is one my favorite devices at home. Apple TV works with wireless network and has a connection to plug into the HDMI port of your hi-definition TV. The device allows you to play podcasts, youtube videos, or access content from Netflix and iTunes. Netflix offers a streaming instant service that provides thousands of movies and TV shows which has changed the way my family uses TV. This device came out in November and at $99 is much less costly than other devices like it on the market.

6. Windows 7 - http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/
As you may tell I tend to be a fan of Apple products. Recently, I helped my youngest son when he built his own computer and he installed Windows 7. I really found windows 7 to be a major improvement in usability and security. Recently, I helped to upgrade my wife’s computer to Windows 7 and really felt it is a major improvement and I must admit, comparable to OSX.

7. Office 2011 ( for Macintosh) - http://www.microsoft.com/mac/products

Office 2011 for the Mac came out in late October and I have found it works well. It brings compatibility with Office 2010 for Windows and fixes a number of minor bugs found in Office 2008. To date I have been very impressed with the quality of the software and the added features. Microsoft added the ribbon interface to Office 2011 and I thought it would be an annoyance but in general I have not found it to be so.

8. Flipboard + Todo http://flipboard.com/ or http://www.appigo.com/todo/ipad

These two iPad applications are great examples of the potential of tablet computing and the kinds of innovative applications that will make tablet computing so compelling. Flipboard is an application that allows you to connect a variety of rich media sites such as facebook, google reader, washington post, and flickr and track what is happening. Todo is a great task manager and integrates with your email and web. For more information look at my article on iPad applications.

9. Logitech Internet Radio -
http://www.logitech.com/en-us/speakers-audio/wireless-music-systems/devices/5847

The vast array of music on the Internet via Internet radio or streaming services such as Pandora make having access to this from something other than a computer very desirable. The logitech Internet Radio provides excellent sound quality and a nice user interface. It you have an iTunes music library on your computer the device can connect to that and play music from your own music library.

10. Kinect - http://www.xbox.com/en-US/kinect

This is one I don’t have but really want! I think this is the future of gaming and will look for this under the tree sometime in 2011.

What did I miss, drop me a note at,
jack@umbc.edu.

iPad Apps I Enjoy

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The iPad is one of my favorite devices. I got one as part of the initial rollout back in April and have now been using it for 7 months. Recognizing that the iPad was one of the most sought after gifts this holiday season I thought I would share a few of my favorite applications and uses and get feedback from others on what they are using the iPad to do.

Continue reading "iPad Apps I Enjoy" »

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