Thursday, July 24, 2014

New leaked Windows 9 screenshots show an operating system PC users can love

New leaked Windows 9 screenshots show an operating system PC users can love

July 22, 2014 11:15 AM EDT

Two new leaked Windows 9 screenshots show good news for users of traditional PCs -- it looks as if the operating system will actually be useful for them, and not just for those with touch-based devices. I've got screenshots and details.
The site myce got its hands on two new screenshots purportedly from Windows Threshold, the code name for the next version of Windows. There's no guarantee that these are real, although a number of Web sites, including the Verge, report they are authentic. myce reports that these new screenshots were from build 9795, compiled on July 13, and from the team responsible for interface design and windowed apps. You'll note that the screenshots are labeled as Windows 8, but that's nothing more than a placeholder.
One of them shows the new Start menu, and it still looks much like the one that Microsoft showed off at its Build conference in April. If you're a user of a desktop or laptop rather than a tablet, you'll be pleased. In addition to the traditional Start screen features, such as a built-in search box, application listings, and so on, there are a number of Metro-style apps pinned to it. That goes a long way toward unifying the two disparate Windows interfaces, the Start screen with its Metro-style apps, and the desktop. From the Start menu, it will be easy to see and launch both desktop apps and Metro-style apps.

The other leaked screenshot shows the Windows Store app running on the desktop. What's the big deal, you might ask? The big deal is that it's in its own window, rather than running full screen. So when you use the desktop, you'll be able to run, see and switch between desktop apps and Metro-style apps. It's what Windows 8 should have been in the first place.

The next version of Windows is expected by early 2015. If these screenshots are accurate, I wish it would get here sooner.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Working together: 3 new team collaboration tools

Working together: 3 new team collaboration tools

Flow, Glip and Slingshot try to enhance the ability of teams to converse and collaborate using a variety of tools.

David Strom

July 23, 2014 (Computerworld)
The concept of how we collaborate is changing. Better tools are being developed that help workgroups put together documents, quickly schedule meetings and chat with each other.
When business first started operating online, collaboration was largely done via Internet-connected email, where messages could be sent in minutes. But these days, an overloaded inbox can be the enemy of quick collaboration. Then, starting in the '90s, instant messaging via AIM, Skype, Yahoo and others became a quicker alternative to sending emails. But it still wasn't a complete collaboration package.
Today's collaboration environment includes tools for text chats, bulletin boards, video conferencing, screen sharing and scheduling meetings. There are dozens of workgroup collaboration tools these days, starting with video conferencing (such as Citrix GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx) and moving into more sophisticated internal social networking setups (such as Yammer, SocialText and Jive).
Among these are a number of lightweight products that offer quick and near-real time collaboration. Some have been around for several years (such as FMYI) and some have come onto the market in the past year.
This review looks at three of the newcomers: Flow, Glip and Slingshot. While all have some things in common -- all three seek to enable collaboration and can be used either on desktops/laptops or on mobile devices -- they all do somewhat different things in the collaboration space. Indeed, you might want to purchase more than one of them to handle your needs.
I tried them out them on a small network using Windows PCs, Macs and iPhones. I looked at what these tools offer small workgroups (up to about 20 people), whether they are easy to use, how potent they can be in terms of lessening the number of emails you need to deal with and which particular circumstances they are best suited for.


Flow is about tasks, and the more that you can concentrate on a series of well-defined tasks the more productive you will feel with it. It comes from MetaLab, which also makes Peak, a workgroup collaborative tool that connects various social cloud accounts.
Flow has versions for the Web, iOS, Android and the Mac (this last requires OS X 10.7 or later). The Web client offers a menu on the left while the rest of the workspace can show a calendar, tasks or a threaded conversation stream (with an input field at the bottom) using either a one- or two-column format.

Flow's menu is on the left while the workspace shows the calendar and/or tasks; a third column holds a threaded conversation stream..
You define a task, schedule when it is due and who is helping complete it, and upload documents either from your own computer or from a connected Dropbox account. While this is handy, because Flow concentrates so much on tasks, some things just don't fit. For example, tasks can be scheduled for a specific day but not for a specific time within that day, making it difficult to schedule meetings among task participants.
The service is extremely easy to learn and use. When you complete the signup process, you are brought into a series of simple on-screen tutorials that highlight the menus and prompts needed to get started with creating lists and tasks. The screen layouts are clean and consistent across the Web and mobile clients.
One of Flow's strengths is in its numerous notification options. You can receive a daily email digest of your tasks, change the notification settings to hourly or not at all, and toggle between a dozen different activities such as being notified if you are mentioned or if a new task is assigned. One downside is that these notification settings can't be accessed in the mobile client.

At a Glance

Price: $19/mo. (2 people/1 workspace/1GB storage); $29/mo. (5 people/2 workspaces/5GB storage); $49/mo. (10 people/5 workspaces/10GB storage); $129/mo. (25 people/10 workspaces/30GB storage); $249/mo. (50 people/15 workspaces/60GB storage) 
Pros: Nice markup editor, many notification options for task progress 
Cons: Pricing plans are somewhat complex, no meeting scheduler
Another nice touch is an optional text editor for the body of your task messages that works like GitHub's Flavored Markdown editor, which lets you add HTML links, simple numbered lists and blocks of code. If you mistakenly delete a task (the icons are small and I found it was too easy to click on the wrong one), you can restore it if you realize your mistake within a few hours.
On the Web version, some image file contents (such as PNGs) can be previewed in the dashboard; others (like TIFFs) you'll need to click on to view. On the mobile version, no file previews are available, possibly to save screen real estate. In either case, you can't edit attached documents -- you can just view them. Each item in the task list can be "liked" by each team member, similar to Facebook likes.
Teams have three different access rights: member, guest and admin. Team owners set these up when they create your account. Guests can only view the particular content that they are explicitly invited to see. Admins can change the access rights at any time. And members have full read/write rights but can't change others' access rights.
Flow has six different pricing plans, all of which are billed on an annual basis. The Team plan allows up to 10 people to share 10GB of storage and five different workspaces for $49 per month. There are additional plans that can go to $250 a month or more. The first 30 days of any account are free, with no need to supply a credit card.

Bottom line

If you don't need to schedule meetings, or already use something else such as Outlook, then Flow is a good choice. Depending on your usage, it could also be cheaper than Glip.


Like Flow, Glip (which was introduced last fall) is geared around tasks: How to start a task, who is working on a task and when to schedule a task for completion.
In addition to keeping track of your tasks, you can also track text chats with individuals or with groups of correspondents (in that, it's similar to Yammer, FMYI and Jive, among others); these chats can include Web links, images or other documents.
In fact, if you have used Facebook you already have a pretty good notion of what is involved with Glip. It is useful for small workgroups, especially those involved in collaborating on pictures or documents.

When you click on the icon over Glip's text entry box, a menu lets you type in a comment, upload a file, start a video chat session or organize an event. .
At the top of each threaded conversation is a text entry box with a selector icon to the right. This is how you post content to each conversation. When you click on the icon, you bring up the main action menu of Glip, where you can type in a comment, upload a file, start a video chat session or organize an event. This is a very clean and simple mechanism and demonstrates Glip's power and utility.
Each chat session has its own thread that you can access from the main Glip menu on the left-hand side of the screen.
Images can be previewed in the stream and annotated with comments, which is helpful when you are working on a photo shoot, for example, or trying to select the right image for a brochure. The annotation or preview doesn't work for TIFF images, however.
Video chats are done through a service called Zoom. The integration with Glip is a bit clunky: When you start a video session, you are taken out of Glip. In addition, I had some problems getting my sessions to start up.
Each threaded conversation in Glip is assigned a special group email box such as Any messages that are sent to that address will show up in the conversation's stream, and any attachments the come with the email will also be posted. This is a quick and easy way to share files. It also means that your co-workers can participate in the conversation before they sign up for the service, a nice feature. Any HTML or rich formatting inside the email messages is removed, however.
Of the three services tested, Glip offered the most granular control over notifications that it sends via email or by text to your mobile phone. (Flow comes with some customization but not as much.) For example, it can play a sound when a new message arrives or send just an email notice.
Glip supports groups of users in two different ways: You can set up teams for particular projects or create ad hoc groups of three or more users to share some documents quickly.
Glip is also the most extensible of the three services. Its integrations are fairly effortless, including the ability to share files from your accounts on Google Docs and Dropbox and to synchronize events to your Google Calendar. You merely follow the pull-down menu choices; there is no need for any additional action outside the workflow.

At a Glance

Price: Free (up to 10,000 posts/5GB storage/500 minutes video chat/5 external integrations); $5/month (unlimited posts/10GB storage/10,000 minute video chat/unlimited external integrations/increased support); $10/month (unlimited posts/20GB storage/3,000 minutes video chat/unlimited external integrations/advanced admin functions) 
Pros: Lots of APIs and integrations with other SaaS services, solid image collaboration feature 
Cons: Some image formats can't be previewed, video chats poorly integrated into overall service, no collaborative editing of documents in conversation stream
There is also a list of upcoming integrations; users can vote on their priorities, a nice crowdsourcing touch. However, you can't do any collaborative editing in the conversation stream; you have to leave Glip and use another service such as Google Docs or Dropbox.
There are also extensive FAQs and help screens, but the user interface is very clean and I didn't need much support at all to get up and running.
Glip comes in Web, iOS and Android versions; the mobile apps retain most of the look, feel and functionality of the Web app.
The service has a generous pricing schedule: It is free until your workgroup hits 10,000 total posts, 5GB in storage or 500 video chat minutes. After that, it costs $5/user/month or $50/user/year. Once you pay for your account, you become the admin for your domain, which is so incredibly simple that I wonder why other services haven't done something similar.

Bottom line

Glip has the most features and is the easiest to use of the three services I tested. Its mobile clients also come very close to matching the features and user interface of the Web experience.


Slingshot is the only service of these three that offers both screen sharing and lightweight video/audio conferencing. You wouldn't use this tool for running a large meeting with dozens of participants, but for more limited (up to about 10 people) collaborations it works well.

During a Slingshot audio/video session, you can also create text chats and meeting notes, just like WebEx and other conferencing tools.

You set up a video session and then each participant connects using a local Slingshot client, either from a mobile device or from a desktop app. Both apps have a small series of menus in a narrow column, very like services such as GoToMeeting. But Slingshot lets you share anything that you have on your mobile device, while GoToMeeting allows you to share only Web pages and Office documents.
Each session has its own unique identifier that is given out to participants either over the phone or via an email message. This is similar to how WebEx and other video conferencing tools work.
Slingshot offers Android, iOS, Mac (OS X 10.7 or later) and Windows clients (the last of which requires .Net Framework v4 or better and Windows 7 or 8). I had trouble using the screen-sharing feature on a Windows 7 PC with 2GB of RAM: my screens were shown upside down and backwards. I suggest using a system with at least 4GB of memory.
A separate Web client tracks administrative items such as user access and accounting details. You can start sessions from a Web browser but it will then bring up your client for the actual working parts of the app.
Common Office documents can be uploaded, viewed and downloaded as part of a shared session by dragging them into the interface. Users who don't have the client software can participate via a built-in audio bridge (but without a video feed). Sessions can be initiated from a mobile client, which is a nice feature that some of the larger video conferencing services don't yet support.

At a Glance

Price: $9.99/mo. (2 users/2 cams/1 active session); $29.99/mo. (dial-in/5 users/5 cams/1 active session); $39.99/mo. (dial-in/25 users/5 cams/1 active session); $99.99/mo. (dial-in/25 users/5 cams/5 active sessions) 
Pros: Support for mobile screen sharing, some document sharing supported
Cons: No meeting scheduler, no Web client outside of administration
During an audio/video session, you can also create text chats and meeting notes, just like WebEx and other conferencing tools. They are not archived although they are listed in the Web admin panel. However, there is no event scheduling function.
Slingshot has five different pricing plans. It comes with a free 30-day trial (no credit card required to get started) that can support up to five users sharing a single session. Once the trial period is over, it costs $30 a month for a single active session that can be shared among five users. If you want more sessions, you'll want the enterprise plan at $100 a month for 25 users and five collaboration sessions.
Slingshot is in a very crowded and competitive market for video sharing services and its service needs a bit more maturity and polish before it can compete with more established vendors. If mobile access is important, then LogMeIn's has video conferencing, scheduling and screen sharing features, along with viewing-only apps for iOS and Android. is easier to get started and use than Slingshot, and it's free for up to 10 users.
Additionally, if all you want is video sharing, you might want to look at one of the free video conferencing services from StartMeeting, MeetingBurner, Google+ Hangouts or Zoom.

Bottom line

Slingshot's primary focus is sharing your screen between two or more people for a video chat, along with support for document sharing, text chat and meeting notes. For small groups that need these features, the free trial is definitely worth a shot.


These three services have different strengths, so which you choose strongly depends on your needs.
For example, the video conferencing aspects of Glip were less than stellar (and non-existent in Flow, which has a different focus). Slingshot is useful for video conferencing and screen sharing, but it needs more maturity before it can compete with other low-end but free video conferencing tools such as Vyewor, which both support video conferencing, screen sharing, document sharing and threaded discussion spaces for up to 10 users.
On the other hand, Flow handles task management quite well, along with some rudimentary file sharing.
In the end, however, Glip is clearly the most capable of the three and could probably make your team more productive and cut down on lots of emails about scheduling, task management and sharing document versions. In fact, Glip stands up successfully to some of the heavier and older collaboration tools such as WebEx and GoToMeeting (provided you keep the group size small). It is particularly useful for groups working on visual projects, such as art directors and photo editors.
David Strom has been contributing to Computerworld off and on since 1996, and has been the editor-in-chief at Network Computing and Tom's He can be reached via Twitter at @dstrom or his website

This article, Working together: 3 new team collaboration tools, was originally published

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Apple Granted Patent For 'iTime' Smartwatch Design

7/22/2014 @ 1:23PM

Apple Granted Patent For 'iTime' Smartwatch Design

Apple has never publicly acknowledged that it’s working on a smartwatch, although it’s widely expected that an “iWatch” could be introduced as soon as this September. On Tuesday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted a Patent to Apple for a smartwatch concept referred to as ‘iTime’ in the documents, lifting the veil of secrecy on the company’s wrist-based ambitions at least a little bit.

Plenty of patents are granted for products that never make it to market, and the application for this particular one was originally filed almost exactly three years ago, but it shows that this is a product category that Apple has been considering for some time now.

Because the patent application dates back to a time before the world even knew the iPhone 4S and Siri, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that it centers largely around a “smart wristband” sort of concept in which the actual watch band contains circuitry and sensors and acts as a sort of docking station for a small media player like an iPod Nano, allowing the whole setup to connect to a nearby computer or smartphone.

What’s really interesting about this particular patent is the final drawing included, which details an alternate, stand-alone smart watch design that doesn’t rely on an inserted media player for its central unit. In other words, it resembles a sort of combination between a fitness-tracking wearable band and the early smartwatches we’ve seen from the likes of Pebble, Samsung’s Gear line and the first two Android Wear smartwatches launched in June.

I’ve been wearing one of those Android Wear watches, LG’s G Watch, for the past few weeks. With the support of a widespread and powerful ecosystem like Android behind it, it makes for a surprisingly useful new category of product, but this first-round of smartwatches just barely taps into the potential of the form factor.

Based on what we saw at WWDC of Apple’s plans for health, fitness and home automation, a new wearable (or wearables) could fit perfectly into the company’s grand scheme. And if this patent is any indication, they’ve already been devising that scheme for years.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What will happen when a $35K Tesla arrives?

Tesla's Model 3 Will Be Its Best-Selling Car--Despite Musk's Failure To Work Sex Into Name

The all-electric Tesla Model S sedan.

Tesla-watchers and first-adopters alike last week were agog with news that by 2017 the electric automaker will make a new electric sedan named the Model 3.

The Model 3 will actually be Tesla’s fourth-ever model line (that’s if you count the tiny Roadster and the forthcoming Model X SUV) but the company considers the 3 its third-generation vehicle because the S and X are built on the same platform.

Which brings up an interesting point of note: Founder Elon Musk had cleverly wanted to name this car the E, so that the acrostic of his models could spell S-E-X. Ford, alas, didn’t take to Musk’s style of humor and, according to him, threatened to sue Tesla over naming rights. Apparently Ford thought the name was too close to its naming scheme for the admittedly important-to-automotive-history Model A and Model T.

“Ford tried to kill sex,” Musk joked at Tesla’s 2014 annual shareholder meeting.

It may have killed SEX this time but I have a feeling the Model 3 (S3X isn’t too far off, come to think it) will catapult Tesla into mainstream car culture in a sudden, historic and irreversible way when it debuts. All told, Tesla sold more than 22,000 Model S cars in 2013, a number that will pale in comparison to what it can do with the Model 3.

For starters, it’s cheap—$35,000 is inexpensive for an electric car and for any car made by what I’d consider a luxury brand. To combine both—a green power train with creature comforts often reserved for Porsche or Audi —for less than $40,000 will prove a major breakthrough in both the automotive and technology industries. Most of that savings is due to improved economies of scale enabled by Tesla’s planned $5 billion Gigafactory, which will reduce the cost of its battery packs by an estimated 30 percent. In fact, Musk says, by 2020 Tesla will be shipping 500,000 cars a year—10 times the nearly 20,000 it put out last year.

Furthermore, the Model 3 is a manageable size. It sits in the sweet spot between hulking sedan (think Mercedes-Benz S Class) and sport sedan (think BMW 1-Series). It’ll come in roughly 20% shorter than the Model S and gain extended range from the weight savings gained—200 miles to a charge is the estimate—while going head-to-head with something like the size of, say, the handsome BMW 3-Series. That suits the American buying demographic perfectly, because while crossover sales are still growing the quickest of any model size, sales of midsize sedans remain a strong and ever-present constant.

That athletic BMW brings up my third point—the Model 3 dutifully maintains the good-looks precedent set by the Model  S, which is no small thing to today’s intensely image-conscious consumers. It’s telling that Model S sales are coming at the expense of BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Porsche: In the first half of last year California alone saw more than 4,700 Model S registrations, and nationally Tesla matched total combined sales of the Lexus LS, Audi A8 and Porsche Panamera . Indeed, it’s telling that Model S competitors are fancy whips from historic brands, not other green energy cars like the Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt or Nissan LEAF.

In stark contrast to the Prius, the Model S is proving that alternative-fuel cars can look just as sexy as sports cars. Should look just as sexy as sports cars.

Even if they don’t actually spell out the word.

13 ways to optimize your Android smartphone

13 ways to optimize your Android smartphone

Make your Android phone more powerful, useful, and efficient with these 13 quick tips
By JR Raphael, InfoWorld, July 21, 2014

13 ways to optimize your Android smartphone
Listen up, Android users: It's time for a smartphone tuneup.

Don't get me wrong, most Android devices work fine out of the box. But with a few minutes of manipulation and a few helpful apps, you can optimize your phone to make it more powerful, useful, and efficient. Isn't that what technology's all about?

Let's get to it, then. Here are 13 quick tweaks that'll improve your Android experience.

1. Blast away bloatware
Manufacturers and carriers love to clutter up phones with preinstalled apps, better known as bloatware. But just because it's there by default doesn't mean you have to live with it forever.

To send your bloatware packing, head into your system settings and look for the Apps option. Swipe over to the right until you're in the column labeled "All," then scroll through the list until you find the app you want to zap.

Tap the app and look for the Uninstall or Disable button. Next, pound that button while belting out your most intimidating battle cry* -- then repeat as needed.

*Battle cry optional (but strongly recommended)

2. Make Chrome more efficient
Using less bandwidth can make mobile browsing faster and help you burn through your monthly data allotment less quickly. Best of all, it takes just a flip of a switch to move yourself into a more efficient gear. 
Open up your Chrome app, tap the Menu icon at the top-right of the screen (or press your phone's Menu button, if you're using an older device), and select Settings. Tap the option labeled "Bandwidth management," then select "Reduce data usage."
Flip the switch to turn the feature on-- shazam! Chrome willstart optimizing content to decrease the amount of data sent to your phone.

3. Take control of your home screen
Your phone's home screen is the starting point for everything you do, so why not make it work the way you want?
A custom Android launcher can make your phone infinitely more flexible and productive. It replaces your entire home screen and app drawer with a different and generally far more customizable environment.
There are plenty of interesting launchers worth exploring. My favorite is Nova Launcher (pictured), which emulates the stock Android environment but allows you to tweak and improve all sorts of details with the setup. Other launchers, like EverythingMe and Terrain Home, reimagine the home screen experience more dramatically with features like context-sensitive panels and card-centric layouts.

4. Step up your task switching
Find yourself jumping between apps a lot? Android's native Recent Apps feature can help, but you can give multitasking even more oomph with a third-party task manager likeSwitchr.
Switchr lets you swipe in from the edge of your phone's display to bring up a specific set of commonly used or recently used applications. It allows you to set up which area of the phone's edge acts as the trigger and control exactly which apps appear in the list. You can customize all sorts of stuff about how the list looks and works, too, allowing you to create an experience that's tailored to your personal workflow.

5. Make your display smarter
Your Android phone can automatically keep your display on when you're actively using it and off when you're not -- if you give it the right tools to get the job done.
An app called Screebl is all you need. Screebl uses your device's accelerometer to detect how you're holding the phone. If the device is in a position that indicates active use, it'll keep the display lit up; if not, it'll shut it off.
It's simple and effective: No more wasted power -- and no more annoying instances of your screen automatically going dark when you're trying to read something.
6. Fix your phone's autobrightness system
While we're on the subject of smartphone screen improvements, let's make your device's autobrightness system a little more effective, shall we?
An app called Lux does what your phone should do by default: It regulates your screen's brightness in a way that actually makes sense -- both for your eyes and for your battery life. The latter is especially important, as display use is almost always the single biggest consumer of battery with today's big and bright screens.
Lux is far more aggressive and effective than most stock setups, and it even lets you make adjustments to "teach" it your own personal preferences for different lighting environments if you want. Fire it up, and watch your phone's stamina improve.

7. Get a better keyboard
Most Android phones ship with decent virtual keyboards, but nine times out of 10, you can find one that's better. So why settle for OK when outstanding is an option? 
The Google Play Store is full of excellent third-party keyboard choices. I like SwiftKey (pictured), which combines personalized next-word prediction with superb swipe-to-type functionality and a host of opportunities for customization.Swype and TouchPal are a couple of other popular contenders.
8. Make your lock screen more useful
Android allows you to put widgets not only on your home screen but also on your lock screen -- the first thing you see when you press your phone's power button.
Lock-screen widgets can give you a quick glance at info like the weather, upcoming appointments, your phone's battery percentage, or the latest news without having to unlock your device. You can combine multiple lock-screen widgets so that you can access different types of info with a single swipe.
Tons of possibilities are out there; head to the Security section of your phone's settings to make sure lock-screen widgets are enabled, then look for the apps that provide you with the info you need.
9. Take control of notifications
Android's notification system can be incredibly handy -- until an overzealous app starts filling up your notification panel with information you don't need. 
Android has a built-in mechanism for taming such pesky programs. If you can't find an option within the app itself to disable its notifications, mosey over to the Apps section of your phone's system settings. Scroll through the list until you find the app in question, tap on its name, then uncheck the box labeled "Show notifications."
The app will never annoy you again.
10. Don't let an important email go unnoticed
Speaking of notifications, wouldn't Gmail alerts on your device be far more useful if they could alert you only whenimportant messages arrive?
Turns out they can -- if you know the trick. The first step is to sign into the Gmail Web interface and create a filter that'll assign a special label to any messages you consider important. You might want to base the filter on a sender's name, for instance, or the presence of certain words in the subject.
The next slide shows how to complete the process, shifting attention to your phone.
Once the filter's saved, go into the settings section of the Gmail app on your phone and select your account from the list that appears. Select "Manage labels" and tap on the label you just created.
Now tap "Sync messages" and change the setting to "Sync: Last 30 days." Last but not least, check the box for "Label notifications" and tap the Sound option to select what sound will play whenever an important message comes in.
Repeat the process to create multiple labels -- each with its own set of triggering conditions -- to get alerted with different sounds for different types of important emails.

11. Let yourself zoom free
Most websites these days are optimized for mobile viewing, but that doesn't mean you never need to zoom in to see something more closely. Unfortunately -- and somewhat bafflingly -- many mobile pages don't allow you to do that.
Here's how to get around that irksome restriction: Go into the settings of the Chrome Android browser and hop into the Accessibility section. Check the box labeled "Force enable zoom."
That's it: You can now pinch or tap to zoom as you please, even on a site that doesn't natively allow it. So long, squinting.
12. Free your phone's intelligence
Perhaps the most powerful action Android allows is the ability to make your phone contextually intelligent. Maybe you want your device to sense when you're at home, then activate Wi-Fi and connect to your home network. Or maybe you want it to lock your screen and go into silent mode anytime you place it face down. The possibilities are practically endless.
For simple contextual intelligence, an app called Agent is a good place to start. Agent has recipes for basic tasks like modifying how your phone acts based on the time of day or current calendar events. It can detect when you're driving and, for example, read your text messages aloud and let you respond without touching your phone.
13. Take the learning up a notch
If you really want to get wild -- and don't mind getting geeky -- an app called Tasker takes it to another level. It lets you create a massive range of if-then-style profiles to control how your phone acts based on almost any variable you can imagine -- location, battery level, the phone's physical orientation, what app is actively open, or almost anything else the phone can detect. I even use Tasker to route my calls to different numbers when I'm in specific places.
Tasker's interface isn't easy to navigate, but if you're reasonably tech-savvy and willing to take the time to figure it out, it has the potential to make your phone more powerful than you thought possible.

How to Find a Public Bathroom in the U.S.

How to Find a Public Bathroom in the U.S.
July 17, 2014 3:23 pm by Patricia Magaña

It's not something most people take into consideration when planning a day of travel, but it's something each one of us does every day—several times a day, actually. When nature calls, locating a loo—quickly—is crucial. We did the research, so all you have to do is go. Here are three apps that will help you locate a public bathroom wherever your travels take you in the U.S.

Where to Wee

Restroom facilities are never far away with the Where to Wee app. This is easily one of the most comprehensive lists of restrooms available, and it's no surprise, because the app developers cleverly partnered with Cintas Corporation, a company that stocks more than a million businesses with bathroom supplies. Cintas' expertise in the field also gives the company the privilege of honoring the most-proper loo with the highly coveted America's Best Restroom Award.

The Where to Wee app provides its info in map and list form, and it also permits users to rate by cleanliness, soap and toilet tissue availability, and odor. The facilities' business addresses and types are also extremely helpful. It's easy to scan the list, which is color coded, to find the cleanest restrooms in your location.

Where to Wee is free on Android and Apple.


The makers of Charmin toilet tissue know a thing or two about their customers' needs, and they've created one of the most useful toilet-locator apps on the market, SitOrSquat.

SitOrSquat finds the closest toilets to your location and then indicates on the map a green toilet paper roll for sanitary conditions ("sit") or a red roll to indicate unsanitary toilets ("squat").

Listings can be filtered to display those with handicap access, those with changing tables, those that are complimentary, and only the "sits." The names of the businesses are included, as are the addresses, and the app links up with your phone's GPS to provide directions. Users can also add new restroom sites and leave comments.

SitOrSquat is free on Android and Apple.


ToiletFinder claims to have the world's largest public database of restrooms (60,000 facilities). Its database is user generated and relies upon the public to report crucial information about available restrooms.

The app quickly generates a list of the closest restrooms to a location, both in list and map form. Adding a bathroom to the database is quick and easy. However, ToiletFinder does not list the name of the business in which the facility is located, a significant weakness compared to Where to Wee and SitOrSquat.

ToiletFinder is free on Android and Apple.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Internet rules stir passionate debate

Internet rules stir passionate debate

By Kate Tummarello - 07/20/14 06:00 AM EDT

The Federal Communications Commission is being bombarded with passionate calls for a wholesale change to the way the Internet is regulated.

While reclassifying Internet providers to treat them like phone companies would be an uphill political battle, companies, lawmakers and members of the public are pressing the agency to do it anyway.

The FCC has received more than 1 million comments about its proposed rewrite of net neutrality rules. Amid profanity-filled diatribes and threats against FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, many of the comments ask the agency to change the way it regulates Internet providers.

Under the agency’s old net neutrality rules, Internet providers were regulated as “Title I” or “information” services.

Phone companies, in contrast, are classified as “Title II” or “telecommunications” services, meaning they are regulated more like utility companies.

While Wheeler initially focused on rewriting the net neutrality rules under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, he began focusing more seriously on reclassification after a backlash from Democrats on the Commission and on Capitol Hill.

The pressure from lawmakers and industry players — including Internet companies such as Netflix and Mozilla — has intensified since May, when the FCC voted to move ahead with Wheeler’s plan to rewrite the net neutrality rules, which had prevented Internet providers from slowing or blocking access to websites.

This week, 13 Democratic senators — led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and including Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — wrote to Wheeler, pushing him to reclassify.

The agency should reclassify “to reflect the vital role the Internet plays in carrying our most important information and our greatest ideas,” the letter said.

Markey told The Hill that he is pushing reclassification to create certainty for the companies and users that rely on an open Internet.

“My goal is to create real predictability for the long term future” so that companies “understand what the rules are going to be in the years ahead,” he said.

Franken called reclassification “the only realistic path left.”

“The FCC already tried to create net neutrality rules without reclassification, and they were stopped by the courts,” Franken said in a statement to The Hill.

“The FCC shouldn’t make the same mistake again.”

According to one Hill Democratic aide, lawmakers fear the FCC is headed for another court defeat with its current approach to the rules.

“If they go down [the path of Section] 706, a lot of people think it’s going to be déjà vu,” the aide said. “Why not try Title II?”

Supporters of reclassification also point to the mounting public interest in the net neutrality debate.

Cathy Sloan, vice president of Government Relations for the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said the first court defeat has raised the stakes for the FCC.

“When the Commission was trying to build a rule where there was none before, expectations weren’t so high,” said Sloan, whose group includes Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

As Internet becomes a more crucial part of most Americans’ everyday lives, reclassification becomes less of a political issue, Sloan said.

“Beyond the Beltway, it’s not a partisan issue,” she said.

Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, said “Title II” has become a more widely accepted idea.

Reclassification “has gone since 2010 from being what was considered to be the sort of more radical position … to being a much more mainstream political selling point,” he said.

Supporters of reclassification say that, as awareness of reclassification has increased, opposition has begun to soften.

One oft-cited measure is the number of Hill Democrats who oppose reclassification.

In 2010, when the FCC last mulled reclassification, Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) organized more than 70 of his colleagues in a letter to then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski opposing reclassification.

“The significant regulatory impact of reclassifying broadband service is not something that should be taken lightly and should not be done without additional direction from Congress,” the lawmakers wrote.

“We urge you not to move forward with a proposal that undermines critically important investment in broadband and the jobs that come with it.”

A similar letter Green sent this past May had fewer than half as many signatures.

Reclassification supporters also point to a recent House vote on an FCC funding bill.

Republicans could have attached a measure that would have prohibited the FCC from reclassifying Internet companies, but chose not to.

“It’s sufficiently controversial that the Republicans decided that, ‘We don’t want to pick this fight right now,’ ” Feld said.

“The political tide has changed.”

While there may be less vocal opposition from some camps, there’s no guarantee that reclassification would succeed.

In filings to the FCC, the major Internet providers — including Comcast, Verizon and AT&T — warned that reclassification would hurt the Internet.

“Reclassification would mire the industry in years of uncertainty and litigation, and it would abruptly stall the virtuous circle of investment and innovation that has propelled the United States to the forefront of the broadband revolution,” AT&T told the FCC.

Comcast warned the agency that reclassifying Internet providers “is not only entirely unnecessary but would be unwise and likely unlawful.”

Jon Banks, senior vice president for law and policy at USTelecom, said the FCC should focus on the growth of Internet access under its current classification.

“Under Title I, we’ve had massive investment and innovation from broadband providers” and websites, he said.

“Why would you want to change that?”