Playing in the World of Android Apps

Since we got our first smartphones, Droid Bionics, we’ve been on the hunt for apps.  I’ve found many that I love and a few that immediately got deleted.  Here are a quick rundown of three free apps that I’ve quickly grown to love and one that will likely become the first app I pay for.

1. TweetDeck – Tweeting from my phone was pretty important to me.  Pre-smartphone, I did this via SMS messages.  That meant that I could send messages, but could only see limited messages coming in.  Thankfully, our new Android smartphones and data plans meant that we could install TweetDeck and see more comprehensive tweet streams.  We could also tweet more easily.  This is probably one of my most used apps (if not my most used one).

2. Angry Birds Space – Yes, games are important to me.  I’ve long been hooked on the Angry Birds franchise.  Angry Birds Space kicks it up a notch.  What I find most interesting are not the new bird designs/powers.  After all, except for the Ice Bird, most of the other birds keep their usual functionality.  No, it’s the addition of gravity wells that changes everything.  Instead of gravity being a constant downward force, you might need to slingshot around a gravity source to hit your target.  You get some assistance by a new targeting line that shows where your bird will head, but it’s not a complete mapping of the bird’s path.  The line helps enough to make the levels playable, but doesn’t help do much as to make them easy.  Even though I’ve beaten all of the levels (including the Golden Egg levels), I keep playing again to try to get better scores.

3. JuiceDefender – It’s no secret that battery life on smartphones can be an issue.  All of that data transfer can run down your battery.  Thankfully, JuiceDefender can tweak your phone’s settings to lengthen your battery life.

And now, the application that will likely become the first one I pay for:  Add Watermark ($1.99).  As you might have noticed, all photos on get a watermark stamped on them.  This is done automatically via a script on my computer before I upload them.  Of course, I can’t run this script on my phone.  Enter Add Watermark Free (the free version of the app).  I downloaded this one and was quickly able to take a photo, watermark it, and then post it to my blog.  My only problem with the app was that the process was a little convoluted.  Then, I noticed that this was by design.  The pay version includes additional features to streamline the process.  Since I could really use these features, I’ll likely pay for this app very soon.

What apps do you use on your smartphone?

Keeping History Alive, Part 2: GRAMPS and the Family Tree

In Part 1, I explored how I scanned in my family’s old photos. After doing this, my "Preserve Family History" initiative languished for awhile. Then two things happened. First of all, I started watching "Who Do You Think You Are?" For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a wonderful show that takes a celebrity and traces their family’s history. It’s amazing to see Sarah Jessica Parker anguish over the fate of an ancestor charged with being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. Or marveling with Emmit Smith over the cold calculations that went into the slave trade. While there are parts of the show I could do without (the "coming up next" clips that give away major surprises and the musical segment at the end), overall I really like the show.

The other thing that happened was that B’s grandmother had a fall about a month ago. I realized that her grandmother’s not going to live forever. I’ve already lost a huge family history resource on my side. With my grandmother’s passing last year, all of my grandparents are dead. On B’s side, her grandmother is the last one still living. I wanted to preserve as much family history as possible.

I began looking into programs to help me organize my geneological pursuits. I came upon a nice piece of free (and open source) software called GRAMPS. The interface took a little getting used to. I’ll admit that I came pretty close to deleting the whole deal a few times. Once I worked out how to operate it, though, I was amazed by how much information I could input into it. What really sealed the deal, though, was the portable version. Pop that onto a USB drive and you can tote your entire family tree around and work on it on any computer.

The fun doesn’t stop at inputting data, however. You can add plugins for GRAMPS that allow it to easily output the data to web pages, family trees, etc. Pretty much anything you want to do with your family history, you can do with GRAMPS. This is definitely a tool I’d recommend for people who want to keep a local family history.

Next week, I’ll expand my search beyond your PC to the World Wide Web and the various resources that are available there.

Aloha Friday: Teaching Kids About Computers

Computers are very important to me.  After all, I work as a webmaster so I’m around computers all day.  When I heard that NHL’s school wasn’t *really* teaching him about computers, but only letting them go online to visit some kid-oriented websites, I decided that *someone* had to teach him about computers.  After all, computers are important in today’s society.  A computer-literate child has more opportunities than a computer-illiterate one.  I quickly decided that I should have semi-regular computer lessons with NHL. » Read more

Freeware Review: Quoth the Raven, Blog It More!

I’ll admit that, as much as I love blogging, part of me hated writing blog posts. It was filled with annoyances. First I had to go into WordPress’ admin panel. For some reason, I’d always wind up logged out, so I’d have to load up PasswordSafe to retrieve my password and log in. Once in, I’d have to navigate to the New Post page. When I was there, I’d need to type in my post, remembering to hit Save every so often lest my browser crash and I lose it all. (Somehow, auto-save never works when you need it to.) When I wanted to put images in my post, I had to upload them then add them to my blog using a variety of tactics.

All of these little annoyances meant that it was hard to write a blog post. At least harder than it should have been. All I wanted was a local version of WordPress’ admin panel (so I wouldn’t need to log in) with more of an application’s feel to it. After some Google searching, I found Zoundry Raven. Zoundry Raven gives you a local copy of your blog to work on. It uploads changes (posts, photos, etc) via XML-RPC. What this means is that you load up Raven, select a blog post (or create a new one), add images via dragging and dropping and then hit Publish to send it all to your blog. No messing around with a separate FTP tool. No stopping writing to upload some files.

» Read more

Freeware Review: Shape Collage

B likes putting photos together into collages for her blog. They help save space when she wants to display a series of related photos. However, her usual tools for making collages weren’t working out well so I went hunting for a new one. Something that can arrange a series of photos in a layout and allow her to decide how (or if) the photos are cropped. Unfortunately, I didn’t find such a tool. (If you know of one like this, tell me about it in the comments section below.)

What I did find was Shape Collage 2.5. Shape Collage will take a set of photos that you specify and toss them together into a shaped photo collage. It comes with 3 preset shapes: Rectangle, Heart, and Circle. You can also enter some text to use as the shape. The real strength of the program, however, is the “More” category. Here, you get to draw your own shape or load one from a file. The photos will take on the shape of whatever you draw.

The first use I thought of for it was making a poster of our nearly 3,000 Disney World photos. I loaded the directory with the photos and decided on a shape. After a quick experiment drawing a “Mickey Ears” shape (turned out well enough, but my drawing skills are lacking), I decided to take it to the next level. First, I found a PNG image of Mickey online. (Shape collage uses PNG and I figured this would be the best format to modify into a shape.)


I tossed this into a photo editor (Paint.NET), gave it a white background (instead of transparent) and turned Mickey completely black so that the image turned into this shape:


I loaded this shape into Shape Collage, changed a few settings around (e.g. I told it to only use 1,000 photos) and clicked Preview. After a short processing screen, I was treated to a sequence of photos appearing and rearranging. They quickly formed the Mickey Mouse shape. Once this was done, I clicked Create and got my image:

Mickey Mouse Photo Collage 1000_web.jpg

Trust me, the original photo is huge. Almost 100 megapixels huge! That would be big enough to make into a poster (which isn’t a bad idea for displaying your vacation photos). Here’s a crop from the original:

Mickey Mouse Photo Collage 1000_Crop.jpg

The only caveat is that it puts a “” watermark on the resulting image. You can pay $25 for the Pro version which doesn’t add watermarks and adds a few other features like exporting the image into Photoshop/GIMP formats (complete with each photo on its own layer).

Even if you stick with the freeware version, I’d highly recommend this piece of software. I know I’ll be having fun putting together some shaped photo collages in the near future!

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