Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Social media channels come together in Simplifi Me

Now that there are several babies in our extended family, everyone has stepped up their picture-posting game. Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t share a fresh photo of a cute toddler on their favorite social media channel.

And that’s the problem. Everyone seems to have their own preferred platform. Some are anchored on Facebook while others prefer Twitter or some other outlet. And that makes it difficult for grandparents, in-laws, aunts and uncles to keep up.

Simplifi Me could be the solution. The Android app lets users manage their social media by following their connections across multiple platforms. The app currently supports posting pictures and videos to Facebook and Twitter simultaneously and it and likes and comments on Facebook. Aggregr8tor, LLC, the app’s developer, says it plans to add more channels in the near future.

With Simplifi Me, users sort all of their social media content by contact. That makes it easy to see what a particular person has posted without having to across through days of tweets or updates. Users can also use the app to share photos or videos to a wider audience.

For a closer look at the app, check out Simplifi Me in the Google Play Store where it’s available to download for free.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Summer checklist: Water vapors and air duct cleaning

As temperatures in my area zoomed past the 90-degree mark this week, I turned to the internet looking for a blast of cool air.

One of my stops was Altitude Comfort Heating and Air, a Denver-based company that provides a wide range of services from system installs to air duct cleaning.

I was looking for information about evaporative coolers, a technology that uses water vaporization to produce cool air. Reading Altitude Comfort’s blog, I learned that evaporative coolers, also known as swamp coolers, are often used in situations where a building lacks adequate duct work to support a traditional AC system.

That sounded like the perfect cooling solution for the cabin in the mountains that I’ve been dreaming about for more than a few years.

I also checked out the company’s current promotions page where I found a discount coupon for a discount on an air duct cleaning package.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Smart lightbulb is key to Notifi's video doorbell

I like the idea behind the video doorbells that will send an alert to your mobile phone when someone arrives at your front door. They also activate a webcam to give you an instant live view of your visitor.

But there are two things about the brands I’ve tested that stopped me from making one a permanent addition to my front porch. First, they quickly gobble up batteries if you can’t hardwire them to an electricity source. And second, the camera shows only one view: straight ahead.

The Notifi Video Doorbell System from HeathZenith avoids both of those issues. The centerpiece of the system is a a multi-purpose light bulb that screws in the socket of an ordinary porch light.

Attached to the bulb is a tiny video camera at the end of a 22-inch cord with a mounting bracket that can aim the lens  anywhere you want. Instead of the front door, you might prefer a view of an entry gate or the front yard.

The doorbell kit also includes a stick-on push button that only requires one battery and an indoor chime that plugs into any standard AC socket.

The bulb contains an LED light, a motion sensor and a built-in speaker so you can talk to your visitors. The camera captures the scene is 720p resolution and stores the video on your mobile device and online for 24 hours. A premium service that costs $5 a month will store all videos events for 30 days.

For more details about the Notify system, visit the HeathZenith website and check out the Notifi apps in the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store.

Friday, June 30, 2017

New book tells how to safely explore the Dark Web

For the past year, I’ve been exploring the Dark Web. I wasn't there to buy guns or drugs, I was assisting with author and consultant Stephen E Arnold with research for his latest book.

Dark Web Notebook is a practical guide to the digital underworld used by criminals and terrorists. It was written specifically to assist law enforcement, intelligence, and corporate security personnel.

In one chapter, Arnold tells how obtain an untraceable computer, how to create a legend (a false identity), how to use Tor (the encrypted browser), and how to buy and use Bitcoin without revealing your true identity.

Other chapters present profiles of Dark Web vendors, open-source tools for investigators, and descriptions of the services private companies offer to government agencies and corporations.

The 250-page book costs $49 and is available as a PDF download at from Gumroad, a digital publishing service. For more details about the book and the topics it covers, visit

Thursday, June 29, 2017

This bow tie can summon help in an emergency

In this age when children can be bullied at school or snatched by strangers, parents are using high-tech tracking devices and emergency alerts to help protect their loved ones.

Now there’s a new wearable invention called Bow2tie that disguises an audible alert inside a fashion accessory shaped like a bowtie.

The can be worn as a bow tie for boys or a hair clip for girls. When pressed, it emits a high-volume sound that works as a distress signal and call for help. According to Bow2Tie’s developers, the alert is loud enough to attract attention but not too loud to cause hearing damage.  

The developers plan to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to produce the device in different styles and colors.

The alarm will be housed in a durable casing with a rotational clip and powered by a small but long-lasting battery.

In addition to wearing the device as a neck tie, Bow2Tie models can also be worn as a pendant or bracelet.

For more details and to sign up for email updates, visit the Bow2Tie website and Facebook page or follow @Bow2Tie_USA on Twitter. And check out the video below to see the device in action.

New app locks shared photos

Gizmo Editor Review

Almost every week we hear about some Hollywood starlet having her private photos hacked and distributed. But online privacy is not something only celebrities need to be concerned about. Do you want to explain those bachelorette party photos to your grandmother?

There are plenty of online services that let you share photos with groups of friends, family members or business associates. But they typically don’t provide a high level of security. That’s the niche that is targeted by a new iOS social media app called SecureTribe.

The app’s name is a pretty good summary of what it does. It lets users join and create photo albums for different groups or tribes. And it uses encryption technology to keep photos secure. Only members of the designated tribe have the decryption key required to view photos in their group’s album.

I created a personal account on SecureTribe using a pre-release version of the app provided by the developers. The security features start immediately with the setup process. Once I entered a username and password, the app generated a QR code that users will need if they forget their password.

Unlike most other services, you can’t simply click a “Forgot password” link to get a new one. The app prompts you to store the code in a safe place and it delivers this stern warning:

“Without this there is NO WAY anyone (including SecureTribe staff) can help you gain access to your account.”

For additional protection, SecureTribe requires your password every time you launch the app. It doesn’t store the password in a keychain or password vault.

Once my account was in place, I could begin creating my personal tribes, joining other tribes and sharing my photos. Pressing the + symbol on your My Tribes page lets you give a new tribe a name, choose an image for cover art, enter a description, and start adding images.

Photos and videos can be captured live using the device’s camera, or selected from the user’s camera roll or iCloud drive. Each tribe has its own option menu to enable mature content, allow members to upload or download files.

How do you add members to your tribe? That’s handled from the main menu in an option called Create Invite Graphics. I assume it’s labelled that way because the process generates an image containing a QR code. You can send the invitation through email or messaging. You can even post it on Twitter or Facebook, just be sure you’ve selected the correct tribe.

I created a tribe to share photos of my grandchildren and sent invitations to several family members. The app would be a good way for parents to share photos from youth activities such as a sports team or dance group while maintaining control of the images. And SecureTribe suggests using the app at an event. For example, a musician or artist could display the scannable QR code invitation to give attendees at a performance access to songs, images, stories or other special content.

The basic version of SecureTribe is available for free in the iTunes App Store. A Premium version includes support for additional features such as custom graphics for invitations, high-resolution images, and time or user limits on subscriptions to tribe content.

The app was launched today in the iTunes App Store. To see it in action, check out my video below and for more details, visit the SecureTribe website and follow the discussion @SecureTribe on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Plugging into online book clubs

Reading a good book? People are talking about it over at Goodreads.

While the book chatter can be lively at Barnes & Noble's website and a few others, none of them can match the action at Goodreads. It's a book-lover's playground that boasts 25 million members, 29 million reviews and 20,000 book clubs.

With more of us reading books on Kindles, Nooks and computer tablets, we're making fewer visits to bookstores and libraries. But that's no reason to stop sharing opinions about the our favorite books and our latest reads. In fact, the Internet makes it easier to join a book club, meet other book lovers and even borrow books from people we don't know.

Online book clubs are blooming with dozens of discussions groups, reader guides, author information and connections to brands and celebrity sponsors.

The best-known book club is the one talk show host Oprah Winfrey launched in 1996 when the Internet was still in its infancy. Oprah selected a book each month for viewers to read and discuss and often followed with an interview with the author.

Today, the club has evolved into a section on Oprah's website where readers can read author profiles and interviews and download special ebook versions of here selections from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and other sources. The Oprah ebooks are special editions that have Oprah's notes and comments in highlighted text.

Other clubs are hosted by The Wall Street Journal and NBC's Today Show. In the Journal's club, authors select a book by another author, then host a live discussion on Twitter and Facebook. One of the first events featured Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, talking about Hilary Mantel's historical novel Wolf Hall.

The Today Show's club puts authors online for a live chat in a Google Hangout. One of Today's first guests was Nancy Horan, who discussed her second novel, Under The Wide and Starry Sky.

Authors also make frequent appearances at the Barnes & Noble Book Club where the forums are divided among different genres such as Mystery, Romance and Fantasy. The most active areas include Teen Reads and the Harry Potter section, each with more than 50,000 posts.

While the book chatter can be lively at B&N and a few other sites, none of them can match the action at Goodreads, a book-lover's playground that boasts 25 million members, 29 million reviews and 20,000 book clubs. If you can't find one that fits your interests, you can start a new one. Someone out there shares your love of memoirs by punk rock stars from the 70s.

Goodreads connects to Facebook, so you can see what your friends are reading. It also lets you build lists of books you have read or want to read and a feature that will analyze your reading habits and offer books that you might like.

Can't afford to buy all the books on your list? Some ebook sellers, including Amazon, have a loaner program that lets you borrow or loan ebooks for a couple of weeks if their contract with the author allows it. You can pass a book around to members of a discussion group or use the website to connect with strangers who make their ebook library available for loans. The service only works with Kindle books and it tries to balance borrowers and lenders. The more books you make available to lend, the more you are allowed to borrow.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Doctor Spring offers fast online consultations

The Internet is loaded with medical information but it’s not easy to separate unbiased and independent information from content that’s more like advertising for a company or a  product.

Doctor Spring is a service designed to fill that gap. It offers users a fast online consultation with a doctor who is not trying to sell you something. Users submit a question along with a brief medical history and they get a response in a few hours.

Doctor Spring offers three levels of service. Users can get answers to simple medical problems from a certified family physician or general practitioner; consult with a specialist in areas such as oncology or cardiology; or get detailed reports from four specialists.

The service has more than 2,000 participating doctors covering 41 specialties. Prices for the service range from $18 for an answer to common problems to as much as $59 a month for the group reports with unlimited consults and follow-ups.

For more details and to read profiles of the doctors, visit the Doctor Spring website.

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