Thursday, June 26, 2014

Add your barcodes to a smartphone

My key chain is getting heavy.  Sounds like a funny statement once I put it into words.  Unfortunately, it's true.  I have keys and cards from all of my favorite stores, restaurants, and my library on my key chain for ease of use.  Alas, now instead of cluttering my key chain, I've put all of the cards' barcodes on my smart phone. 

There are a number of different apps that you can use but on my Android phone I used CardStar.  It was easy to access and add my barcode numbers.
Getting Started:
1.  Download the CardStar app to your Android smart phone using the Google Play Store.
2.  Once the app is downloaded tap on the CardStar icon to open.
3.  Tap on the image with the plus sign to add a new barcode.

4.  You may select from the list of options or tap Other to add a new barcode.
5.  A new screen will open asking your to type your barcode or scan it.
6.  Once you have completed adding your barcode tap Save.
7.  The next screen confirms your account information. If you tap on Title: Other you can change the name of the card from "Other" to "Stark County District Library". Tap OK.
8.  Back to the account review screen. If you are finished here tap Done and your library card has been added to your CardStar app.
Now your keychain is a little lighter and next time you visit the library you will not be fumbling through all of your cards. Simply grab your phone, tap the CardStar app, tap Stark County District Library and your library barcode will appear on your phone's screen. Scan the barcode at one of our Express Checkout stations to begin your checkout process.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Screen Lock and App Lock: What They Can Do For You

After finding my phone on more than one occasion with pictures in it I didn’t take, posts on my Facebook wall, and notes in my contacts…I put a screen lock on my phone.  A screen lock secures my device so that a password, pin, or pattern of my choosing needs to be entered before the device can be used.  This is great to keep people from using one of my devices and accessing my entire phone while it’s lying around the house or if I lose it.  However, if I decide to let someone use my phone and enter my pin, while they have it they have access to everything:  email, facebook, messages, settings etc.

So, to keep my personal information personal and my ringtone set to the one I like (and not what one of my children think is cute), I installed an app lock on my phone. There are several to choose from in the Google Playstore, and I chose AppLock by DoMobile Lab.

So far I’ve been pleased with the features and its ease of use.  You’ll need a pin number to install the app, but after that what you apply a lock to is entirely up to you.  It’s possible to lock individual apps, settings, even Wi-Fi, data and Bluetooth enabling.  I went through all of the options and picked the areas I don’t want others either browsing or changing on my device: messages, email, settings and contacts.  Now when I hand my device to one of my children I do not have to worry about them reading my messages, changing my ringtone, browsing my mail or any other inquisitive behavior on their part.  I didn’t lock other apps such as my library books or magazines since it doesn’t matter to me if they read those.  Now I can hand my device to someone and not have to worry about what they are doing while they have it. 

One small drawback is having to enter the pin number I created to access any of the locked features every time I want to use one.  When I want to send a text I have to enter the code again. For me this small inconvenience is far outweighed by the fact that I can keep my children out of my messages if they are using my device.  So take a look in your app store, read some reviews, and see if an app lock may help you manage your device and your privacy. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Windows 8.1 Update

The latest Windows 8.1 update rolled out last week, and most in the tech community see it as Microsoft’s attempt to win over PC users who found the operating system too tablet/touch screen based. The general consensus is that Microsoft achieved that goal, and I think PC World may have said it best: “Simply put, the Windows 8.1 Update no longer treats keyboard-and-mouse users as second-class citizens.”
The update should detect whether or not you are using a PC or a tablet and tailor some of the updates accordingly. (Full disclosure: I had some issues getting all of the PC pieces of the update to install on my Lenovo Yoga RT, and I wonder if it’s because it sits so close to the PC/tablet line that Windows didn’t know quite what to do.) A lot of the updates for PC users focus around the fact that even if they have a touch screen computer, there’s a real chance the user will be clicking a mouse instead of tapping a finger. For instance, hovering the mouse over the upper right corner of an app reveals our old friend, the Red X. Clicking that to close an app is distinctly easier than swiping from the top of the screen to the bottom in just the right way with a mouse. 

Another mouse-friendly change is the ability to right click on apps on the Start screen.  And what’s found in the menu that pops up when you right click? Among other things, the option to pin apps to the taskbar. So, even though the Calendar Metro app was designed for touch screen tablets and not a PC, I can now pin it to the taskbar and open it directly from the Desktop.

And speaking of the Desktop, if you’re using Windows 8.1 on a PC, it should now boot directly to the Desktop, skipping the Start screen. (This is one of the features I didn’t get with my troubled updates, but it’s pretty simple to do it manually. Right click on the taskbar and select Properties. Under the Navigation tab, click the box next to Show my desktop background on Start. Click Apply and OK.)

But what if I want to open the Calendar app when I have OverDrive Media Console open reading a book from the library? The taskbar is now accessible everywhere, not just the Desktop, by simply moving the mouse down to the bottom of the screen and hovering for a second—the taskbar pops up. And when I return to the Desktop to write myself a note in Microsoft Word, OverDrive Media Console shows up on my taskbar as an open program.

One last feature I want to mention (although there are many more) is the slow return of a true Start menu when working in the Desktop. A right click on the Start button now offers many of the options we had all come to expect from the Start menu, including the option to Shut down or sign out. So, no more hoping to swipe in just the right fashion over on the right side of the screen praying the charms menu will grace you with its presence so you can shut down. A simple right click in the bottom left corner over the Start button lets you click your way out, just like you did for years and years. And Microsoft promises to restore the Start menu to its former glory in a later update. Fingers crossed.

For some more information on the new features in the update, check out:

If you’re having problems with the update, these links might help:


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Five tips to turbo charge your web browsing habits

Of all the programs installed on your computer, the web browser is probably the most frequently used. Since you spend so much time surfing the internet, why not learn some ways to do it quicker and more efficiently? This post will highlight five browsing habits that will enable you to spend less time clicking buttons in a browser and more time viewing websites.

1. Take advantage of tabs

Tabs allow you to have multiple pages open at once and are great for multitasking and research on the web.

Tabs have been around for a while, and for a reason—if you're not using them, you're missing out on one of the best ways to browse the web. Tabs basically allow you to keep multiple webpages open at once, and you can switch between open tabs quickly. Rather than using a single window, open up new tabs to keep other webpages open and ready for you to return to.

Tabs can normally be opened by right-clicking on a link and selecting “Open in a new tab” (exact option varies by browser). You can also open a link in a new tab by middle-clicking the link with your middle mouse button/scroll wheel.

As an example of how tabs can improve your browsing experience, let's say you're researching something on Google. Rather than open each new link in the existing window, open the links in tabs so you can return to your search results quickly. Plus, if you find a site you want to keep open for reference, you don't have to navigate away from it—simply leave it in an open tab alongside your search results.

Be careful to close tabs after you're done with them, though—having lots of tabs open can slow down less powerful computers.

2. Use keyboard shortcuts

Why use the mouse when you don't even have to take your hands off the keyboard? Keyboard shortcuts take a bit to learn, but they shave valuable seconds off common tasks. A few seconds here and there might not seem like much, but they add up. Some of the most common and useful keyboard shortcuts for web browsing are as follows:
  • Ctrl-L highlights the address bar, allowing you to immediately begin typing a URL or search term.
  • Ctrl-T opens a new tab.
  • Backspace returns to the previous page, unless you're in a text input field.
  • Tab advances to the next input field—useful for when you're logging into a site and have to jump to another text box.
  • Enter/Return typically sends data if you're filling out a form.
  • Ctrl-H opens your browsing history.
  • Ctrl-D adds a bookmark/favorite.
There are many more shortcuts out there, and some are dependent on the browser you're using. These were tested using Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, but they should be universal.

3. Store frequently accessed bookmarks on the bookmarks toolbar

The Bookmarks toolbar can be enabled by
right-clicking near the top of the browser window.
There's no better place for your most frequently visited sites than the bookmarks toolbar. It's conveniently located and even displays colorful icons for your bookmarks, making them easier to recognize.

The bookmarks toolbar might already be present in your browser—it's usually right below your address bar. If you can't find it, it's easy to enable. Right-click on the top of your browser window and select “Bookmarks toolbar” (or “Favorites bar” if you're running Internet Explorer). You can move existing bookmarks to the toolbar and place new bookmarks directly onto it.

4. Ditch third-party toolbars

The Java installer includes the Ask Toolbar. If you don't
uncheck it during installation, you'll end up with the
toolbar in your web browser.
There are good toolbars and there are bad toolbars. Third-party toolbars such as the Ask Toolbar or Yahoo! Toolbar would qualify as the latter. If you have too many of them, they can be detrimental to your computer's performance.

The functions of many search toolbars can be replicated by simply using bookmarks in the bookmarks toolbar, so why take up valuable screen real estate?

To completely get rid of third-party toolbars, you'll have to uninstall them from your computer. You can do this by going to Programs and Features in the Control Panel.

5. Take search shortcuts using DuckDuckGo

If you really want to take your web browsing to the next level, consider using search shortcuts on DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo is a search engine just like Google. One of the nice features it offers is the ability to use shortcuts to directly search other sites like Wikipedia, Amazon, and many more.

DuckDuckGo uses special keywords preceded by a “!” character to search other sites. (A complete list can be found here.) For instance, if you want to search for “library” on Wikipedia, you can just type “!w library” into your address/search bar. This brings up the appropriate Wikipedia entry in your browser almost instantly.

By entering the above search query into DuckDuckGo,
you will be presented with the Wikipedia entry
for the term "library".

If you combine this method of searching with keyboard shortcuts (particularly Ctrl-L to access the address bar quickly), you can open pages in mere seconds, all without touching your mouse!

DuckDuckGo has the added benefit of being a privacy-oriented search engine that doesn't track or profile you, unlike Google. Don't get me wrong—Google is great for searching the web, and I still find myself using it as a secondary search engine. That said, DuckDuckGo is my primary portal to the web these days.

- - - - -

With these five time-saving tips, you should be able to use your web browser more quickly and efficiently, with a little less clutter along the way. I think everyone can agree that the time you normally spend fighting your web browser's interface is better spent actually surfing the web.