Tag Archives: mobile devices

Scan It! – Mobile grocery shopping

Grocery shopping seems like the last place you’d be living life online, but new mobile apps are making it easier than ever to pick a few things up from the store.

Mobile shopping inside the store

Stop & Shop's ScanIt! appStop & Shop’s ScanIt! mobile app (iPhone & Android) lets you scan and check out using your smartphone, expanding the existing service using a store-provided scanner. With the smartphone version, you need to type in your Stop & Shop loyalty card number when you set up the app. Then, show up at the store, grab a basket or cart, and just start walking around. When you see an item you want, take a picture of the barcode with your smartphone and it’s automatically added to your virtual cart. Put the item in your real cart and continue until you’ve got everything on your list.

While you’re walking around, you’ll also get notifications of special deals available for items nearby on the shelves. Yes, it can feel a little creepy, but it might also give you a reason to actually try that new mustard that looked so tasty while you were grabbing the relish next to it.

To check out, go to a self-service checkout station and scan another barcode there. The app sends your virtual cart over to the checkout station, lets you add any items that didn’t have barcodes or need weighing, and then finish up and pay. You never have to take the items out of your basket or cart, which is a real time-saver for big trips.

Mobile shopping outside the store

Most supermarkets now have some kind of online shopping service, either for delivery or to pick up in the store. You visit the store’s website, place your order, pay for it with a credit card, then set up a time to get it.

Earlier this year, Peapod & Giant Foods combined the mobile scanning and online purchasing tools for an ad campaign in Philadelphia. At commuter rail stops and bus stops, they put up billboard ads that featured photos of popular items, with QR-style barcodes next to each one. While standing and waiting for your train, you scan the items you need and set up a time to have them delivered to your home or office. Simple, and brilliant.

In May, Peapod took it one step further and opened an entire virtual store in an unused subway tunnel in Chicago. I’m sure they got that idea from international supermarket company Tesco’s virtual store in a major downtown subway station in South Korea. Rather than just a few items, entire sections of the store are available to scan and buy.

List-making and coupon-information only

Peapod / Stop & Shop seem to be the only store in the US offering a full mobile shopping experience, but other stores have apps too. These apps send you weekly or daily deals, let you create a shopping list, and sometimes put that list in the order you’d find the items as you walk around the store. Definitely useful, but not quite as cool as doing the whole thing online.

How Is It Useful?

Stop & Shop’s ScanIt! streamlines the entire shopping experience by making you touch every item just once: you take it off the shelf, scan it, put it in a bag in your cart, and you’re done. One of the biggest hassles of grocery shopping – loading, unloading, and reloading a cart – is reduced from three steps to one, saving you lots of time on each trip.

Using your mobile device to order grocery deliveries lets you do that wherever you are, whenever you have time, not just when you’re sitting in front of a computer. Imagine combining two errands: waiting at the doctor’s office, you set up your grocery delivery for the following night. Especially if you often buy the same products, app-based online shopping is a breeze.

The other mobile apps still help speed up shopping by letting you create your entire shopping list ahead of time (maybe in that same doctor’s office), so that when you get to the store you’re ready to go. All that, plus the automatic notices of coupons and weekly specials, make for a much easier time all around.

Help & Resources

Finding and Sharing…and Being Social

Last week, we took a look at using more traditional sources of news online to find neat stuff to share. Now, let’s look at the social news sites that make finding and sharing news a much more interactive experience.

What Is It?

Social news sites are places where users – anyone in the world – can post a news story that they’ve found online and share it. Then, other users get to vote on that story, making it appear higher or lower on the list of news items. In this way, the reading community decides what is more interesting or relevant. The same goes for any comments on a story – they can be voted up and down, depending on how interesting they are or what they contribute to the conversation.

Digg was the first general social news site to be well-known beyond the computer industry. It was also one of the first to introduce the “voting” feature. Digg now has Newsrooms specifically tailored to different topics. Read more About Digg.

Reddit (say the name out loud to get the joke) has been around nearly as long as Digg, and it still has the very personal feel it had at the beginning.

Slashdot was one of the first social news sites, focused mainly on science and technology. It’s still one of the go-to places for geeks to get their news, and the conversation in the comments is usually as good or better than the posts.

Fark is a social news site with the motto: “We don’t make news. We mock it.” Try Fark out if you’re a fan of sarcastic humor and weird news.

Now Public is a website for citizen journalists – everyday folks who actively try to find news near them and report it, especially when it doesn’t appear on big media like newspapers and television.

Newsvine was originally focused on political news, but has expanded to include any sort of news from around the world.

Social to Personalized

StumbleUpon is a site that lets you you vote on what you find, and then the site will suggest other stories based on what you tell it you like and dislike. It’s a great way to discover things you would never have known to search for on your own.

Pulse is a social news app for iPhone, iPad and Android that makes news visual. You can choose news sources to create your own personalized news reader from around the web. Read more about how Pulse works.

Digg has also added a customizeable section: the Newswire lets you fine-tune your Digg experience according to your likes and dislikes (not just the community’s). Get more of what you want by choose filters or seeing what’s Trending. (More about Newswire)

How Is It Useful?

Even on the web, major news outlets like newspapers and television news programs can only cover so much, and they don’t often point to all the fun and interesting things in blog posts, on image sites, and in little-known corners of the internet. Social news sites show that by distributing the work among millions of readers (otherwise known as crowdsourcing), much more information can be found and shared than if a single organization tries to do it all by themselves.

Help & Resources

Finding Neat Stuff Online

Last week, we described many of the ways you can share the interesting links, images and videos you find online. Before we look at some places to find that neat stuff, let’s answer a reader question first:

Why Share?

What’s the point of all this sharing? Who cares, and who has time?

Remember: the internet and the world wide web are just another form of communication, like a telephone conversation or a billboard. Just like you’d share tidbits from the news or a little bit of celebrity gossip with your friends and family on the phone or in a letter, you can do it online via email, a blog or in a social network. The chitchat hasn’t changed much, but now we can share the original works with audio and video, too.

Where to Find It

Searching for topics using a search engine like Google or Bing can give you hundreds of links to choose from. Fortunately, there are many sites out there that have gone through them and found some of the niftier ones.

Technology News – The New York Times has a great Technology section that covers new tools, gadgets and some of the culture of life online. The Personal Tech section and Gadgetwise blog focus on things important to regular folks, while the Bits blog talks about tech business. For everything mobile, check out the Mobile Apps index to articles.

Wired has been reporting technology news for nearly 20 years, and is still one of the best places to find what’s new. It and CNET are also fantastic places to get reviews of that new gadget you’ve been thinking about buying. (And then you get to play with your new toy!)

General News – Every major newspaper and news station worldwide has a website, but there are some web-only news sources. Search engines like Google have news searches built in to offer a wide variety of news sources. The Huffington Post calls itself “The Internet Newspaper,” and it is one of the biggest and longest-running, and Five Thirty-Eight is a political analysis blog focusing on election results. The Daily Beast is the online home of Newsweek magazine, and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is a good first stop for international news. Finally, BuzzFeed pulls hot news from hundreds of sources on the web, and it’s a great place to see what resources out there.

Interesting and Fun – There are more good sources of nifty things online than we can name, but here’s a shortlist of favorites:

  • Boing Boing is a geeky source of news and neat things (Note: occasional strong language)
  • Neatorama, also geeky, but without the edge. Just good fun.
  • This is Colossal showcases amazing images and videos of art and design. Highly recommended.
  • I Can Has Cheezburger is an extremely silly site, full of pictures of animals with funny or ironic captions often in LOL-speak.
  • And, best for last: Cake Wrecks, “When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong…”

This is only the very tip of the “neat stuff” iceberg online. Next week, we’ll look at social news networks and “placeblogging” (blogs focused on places rather than people). In the meanwhile, please share any other sources that you enjoy.

Playing With a New Gadget

Welcome back to Learning for Life Online, the Boston Public Library’s self-directed learning program about online life. We’re starting up again after a brief hiatus by getting back to basics.

Courtesy of Imamon on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed
When you’re trying to live life online, it’s important to know how to play with a new online tool. It’s also important to know how to start using and playing with the gadgets that connect us to those online tools. Some gadgets are so easy to use that it’s no problem, and others require a little more work.

Here are some suggestions for getting started with a brand new gadget:

  1. Read the manual, but don’t try to read it all at once. Start with the list of What’s in the Box and the Getting Started or Quick Start sections. Go slowly, and look up any words that aren’t familiar. Read as much of the manual as you can before you turn your gadget on.
  2. Push the buttons Follow along with the manual, step by step. Learn what each button and setting does when you press it, one by one.
  3. Do the ‘driving’ yourself. If you let another family member or friend ‘set up’ your gadget for you, you won’t understand how it works. Try to at least get the basics, so you can troubleshoot any problems yourself. Do ask someone to go through it with you, if that helps, but push your own buttons.
  4. Be patient with yourself. You’re learning a new skill and a new tool. Don’t rush, and take breaks when you need to. The more time you take now, the more you’ll know from now on.
  5. Have fun! This isn’t school, and you aren’t getting graded. Learning how a new gadget works gives you the freedom to play, and gives you the power to make it do what you want it to (rather than the other way around).

Remember, like online tools, similar gadgets often work in similar ways. The Power button always turns it on and off. The volume controls will be the same everywhere, as will Play and Stop. Menu button will almost always get you back to your main menu of choices. Yes, some of these gadgets have a lot of buttons, but the basics tend to look and work the same way on all of them. If you knew how to operate a cassette Walkman, an iPod or other mp3 player will feel very similar.

Help & Resources

There are too many kinds of gadgets out there to list, so here’s a few good ideas for finding help about your gadget online:

  • Go straight to the company’s website. Type the full website address in at the top of your browser and hit Enter. Then, look for a link on that says Product Information, Support, Help, or Troubleshooting. Click on it, read the screen, and click the appropriate link.
  • Use a search engine to find information. Type in the full name of the gadget and the word ‘support’ or ‘help,’ then click Search. Lots of results will come up – look for ones from the company that made your gadget first, then try others. The first page of results will have the most popular links, which might be most helpful (if they’ve helped other people).
  • Ask someone else who owns one. A friend, a family member, someone you know from work or school. Even if they don’t know the answer to your question, the two of you might be able to sit down together and figure it out. That answer might be useful to them one day, too.
  • Use a search engine to find discussion forums about your gadget; search for the name of your gadget the word ‘forum’ or ‘discussion.’ This is a little more advanced, usually, because the conversations on these forums are often technical.

Stay on Schedule with Google Calendar

Continuing our theme of going deeper with online accounts, this week we’ll take a brief look at Google Calendar.

What Is It?

For starters, it’s a calendar that is easy to check and edit from anywhere you can log in to your Google Account. You can see a day, a week or a month at at time, or view upcoming events as an agenda list. To add an event, you just click on the day, type in a start time and a couple of words about what you’re doing, and click Create Event. If you want more details, click Edit Event and add a location, a description or more.

If you want to keep separate calendars for different things in your life – family events, volunteering jobs, consulting clients, house repair schedules – you just Add a new calendar and then choose whether to make it public, share with only invited people, or keep it private. This lets you share out calendars with the people who need to see them. Other people with Google Calendar can share theirs with you, or you can request that they share with you by typing their email address in the Add a friend’s calendar box on the left.

Google Calendar lets you invite people to the events you create. If you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party, set up the event in Google Calendar and then email invitations to everyone on your list. Guests click Yes, No, or Maybe (and the event will be added to their calendar if they have one) and you can easily keep track of the RSVP list. You can send emails to all invitees to remind them of the party, or last-minute changes to the menu.

You can keep a to-do list in Google Calendar using the Tasks feature. Click on a date that you need to run an errand, and click on the word Task at the top of the box that pops up. Add the information about the errand and click on Create Task. The errand appears on your calendar and on a list of tasks off to one side of the screen.

Set reminders for any event or task to pop up on your screen a few minutes or hours before the event starts or the task is due. Never miss a meeting or an appointment again.

Finally, you can add a Google Calendar app to your mobile device and get all these features wherever you are. Those reminders will pop up on your phone, or you can set a ringtone to go off whenever an event is coming up.

How Is It Useful?

Imagine how you can combine all the features mentioned above: You’re hosting that New Year’s Eve party for friends and family. Start by setting up the event and inviting all the guests via email. Check the RSVP list to see who’s coming, and send out reminders to those last-minute folks. Add Tasks to your calendar for party preparations (buying supplies, shopping for a new outfit, meeting with your friends who are helping with set-up) and have that list on your mobile while you’re out running errands. Share the Party calendar with your partner so he or she can keep track of what’s going on without having to ask, and maybe even add a few tasks to their calendar. As the day gets closer, send out a note to everyone attending about how to get to your place by public transit and where the good parking choices are. That morning, check the RSVPs one final time and you’ll know who to expect. Then, get a reminder 15 minutes before the first guest arrives. Success!

You can also use shared calendars to coordinate care between family members for an elderly relative, to find a good meeting date for a volunteer organization, or to stay aware of your closest family and friends’ schedules. Have all that information at your fingertips wherever you are.

Try It Out

If you have a Google account already, just click on Calendar at the top of the page and start pushing some buttons. Add a few events, click on Edit Event and see what your options are. Send an invitation to someone you know well and see how that works. Add a Task or two, or add a few public calendars like holidays or Phases of the Moon. Share your calendar with others, or ask that they share theirs with you (if you know them well enough).

If you don’t have a Google Account, click through the links below to see if it’s useful to you.

Help & Resources

Google Documents – Working together far apart

First, an apology – there was no lesson from LLO last Monday due to circumstances beyond our control. Sorry for the missed week, but we’re back today!

As you may remember, we posted early on in Learning for Life Online about online accounts being more than just email nowadays. During December, we’ll take a closer look at some of the things you get along with your Google, Yahoo and Hotmail accounts. This week, we’ll start with Google Documents (better known as Google Docs).

What Is It?

Google Docs is a service provided by Google to let users create and save documents entirely online. Just like the Microsoft Office programs (Word, Powerpoint, Excel), these Google Docs will let you write papers, draft resumes and cover letters, create presentations, put together spreadsheets and write and distribute online forms and survey – all completely online. You can switch from computer to computer to mobile device and always be able to work on your files. Best of all, you can share these documents with others and let them work collaboratively with you on the document. Think about all the party and project planning that would be so much easier without emailing lists back and forth.

Google Docs is made up of five different features:

  • Google Documents is like Microsoft Word. You create a document and type, just like with any other word processing program. Use it for resumes, letters, papers, flyers and so much more.
  • Google Spreadsheets is similar to Microsoft Excel. These spreadsheet programs are good for creating budgets, developing project plans, putting together party to do lists and similar tasks. The basic formulas you can apply do some of the math for you.
  • Google Presentations is their version of Microsoft Powerpoint. Create slideshows for school reports, conference talks, book discussion groups or any other place where you need to present visual ideas to a group of people. Best of all, you can embed the slideshows in a blog or website to make them available to everyone!
  • Google Drawings is a newer service. Use the shapes and drawing tools to add diagrams and flowcharts to reports, to sketch out a process for making household decisions or create an organizational chart.
  • Google Forms is a neat tool to help you create, distribute, and collect responses from online forms and surveys. Simple to set up and share, you can quickly put together a survey to choose an event date, get ideas for a potluck, figure out the best choices for paint colors and learn more about what people are thinking about anything.

For all of these, you can choose to share each document with specific people (invited by email) or publish the document publicly using a web link. You can also download most of the documents to your local computer in a variety of formats including PDF, which is useful for sending out documents that you don’t want changed.

If you’ve started a document on your own computer, you can upload that document to Google Docs to start a file there – you don’t need to do the whole thing over again.

How Is It Useful?

In addition to all the suggestions above, here’s a few ways you can use all of the Google Docs together. Let’s say you’re working with your friends or coworkers to put on a holiday craft fair. By using Google Docs, you can all share the documents, edit them from wherever you are, and save them or print them out as needed. So, create a flyer for the fair in Google Documents, put the price lists and the fair supply budget into a Google Spreadsheet, figure out the map of the artists’ booths in Google Drawings, add an online registration form to your website or Facebook page using Google Forms, and when it’s all over, give a presentation on how it all went using Google Presentations.

Try It Out

If you have a Google account, just click on the word “Documents” up at the top and try a few of them out. Start with things you know already – Google Documents would be a good one – and then try some of the others. If you don’t have a Google account, follow the links to each feature above and play with their demonstration documents. Watch a few videos on how each service works, then maybe sign up for an account and try it for real.

Help & Resources

Food…Glorious Food!

Last week’s post on copyright & Creative Commons was a little heavy, so let’s lighten it up this week on Learning for Life Online! It’s fall in New England, the time of year when the scent of wood smoke, crisp leaves…and soups, stews, pies and casseroles is in the air. Are you looking for Thanksgiving recipes, tips or tricks, or even looking to get ahead on the winter holidays? Harvest a few ideas from the online bounty of food-related tools!

Web Sites & Resources

Epicurious, Food Network, Rodale’s Healthy Recipe Finder, Allrecipes.com and Recipe Source all feature searchable databases of recipes. Type in something you have in your fridge and see what you can do with it! Recipes can receive ratings, garner user comments, and be shared and printed with ease. Recipe Source is currently featuring its collection of Halloween recipes if you still need a spooky salad or two. From any recipe on the Rodale site, click on “Add to Shopping List” and you can easily figure out what you need to get before you can cook.

The Joy Kitchen is the online home of the Joy of Cooking. They don’t have the complete contents of the books online, but the site is full of tips & techniques and featured foods. America’s Test Kitchen / Cook’s Illustrated has multiple sites, depending on what you’re looking for. You can start by reading updates to the America’s Test Kitchen feed (there’s a great post about making salted caramels) or watch episodes of the show online, then register for free to read the recipes. If you like what you see and read, you can try a free 14-day trial to the Cook’s Illustrated site, with all the product reviews and advanced recipes.

Cookstr.com is a “collection of cookbook recipes online.” You can browse and search their collection of recipes, or sign up with an email address and have a recipe mailed to you each week. It’s an interesting combination of blog and recipe database, and worth checking out.

Blogs

There are thousands and thousands of cooking blogs out there, but let’s feature just a few:

A Year of Slow Cooking chronicles daily experiments with crockpotting. From crockpot hot chocolate to turkey cutlets in mango salsa, there’s something for every palate and taste. For an added bonus, many of them are gluten-free!

Simply Recipes has a worldwide directory of food blogs, including Habeus Brulee, written by a New York cook and “occasional restauranteur.” Not only does she cook and post mouth-watering recipes, Habeus Brulee also also has an oustanding blog roll of food blogs; skim down the right-hand column to your stomach’s content.

Cooking for someone with an allergy or special dietary need? Here’s just a few to get you started.

Mobile Apps

The most useful place to have a food app is on your mobile device, for checking recipes in the store and on the go. Most of them will both search recipes and help create a shopping list; choose your favorite and give it a whirl!

eBooks – Reading on Other Devices

Last week, we introduced eBooks and eReaders. Today, we’ll look at what’s needed to read ebooks on other devices. After a quick look at some free independent ebook apps, I’ll go into detail about the Kindle apps, using them as an example for how many of these services work.

Independent ebook apps

There are hundreds of ebook apps available through the app stores and markets of whatever device you own. A few of the more popular ones are:

  • Stanza for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch
  • Aldiko for Android phones and tablets
  • eReader for many devices
  • Overdrive for ebooks checked out from your local library (many devices)

Most of these apps are easy to use – all you need to do is follow the steps on the screen. They also work similarly to Kindle apps, which I’ll describe next.

Something a little different is Ibis Reader: a web-based, app-less service that you can access from any computer or mobile device. You simply create an account (by typing in an email address and choosing a password) and you can upload any ePub or PDF format ebooks, or choose from hundreds of freely-available ebooks from FeedBooks.

Kindle ebooks

Originally, you could only read Amazon Kindle ebooks on the Kindle itself. Over the years, Amazon has added Free Kindle Reading apps so you can read Kindle ebooks on your computer or laptop, on your smartphone or other mobile device, and on your tablet (like an iPad). Now, you don’t even need to own a Kindle to use the Kindle Reading apps.

Before you can use any of the Kindle apps, you must have an Amazon account. Visit Amazon’s website and find any link that says “New customer? Start here.” Click the link and follow the instructions on the screen. You will have to provide your email address and a credit card number for buying ebooks. Remember, you can use a dedicated credit card for your online purchases if you want to.

Like all apps, Kindle apps are small programs that let you read your Kindle ebooks on whatever device you’d like. You can download the app either from Kindle’s app page or from the app store on your mobile device or tablet. Once downloaded, open the app and it will walk you through the steps to sign in using your Amazon account. After that, just find an ebook you want, purchase it, then open up the Kindle app on your device and choose that title to download and read. Easy!

The latest innovation from Amazon is the Amazon Cloud Reader. This web app lets you read your Kindle ebooks in either the Chrome or Safari web browsers. (The Cloud Reader doesn’t work with Internet Explorer or Firefox.) If you remember how the cloud works, this app means that you don’t have to download the ebook you want to read – you can just store it on Amazon’s Cloud drive and read it anywhere, from any computer. This is useful if you are borrowing someone’s machine or using a tablet or other device that doesn’t have an app yet.

Nook ebooks

Not to be left behind, Barnes & Noble’s Nook ebooks can also be read on different devices, though they don’t have the web app for any internet browser. Just like with the Kindle ebooks, you do need a Barnes & Noble account before you can set up the apps and download books. Also just like Kindle, you don’t need to own a Nook to use Nook ebooks – just find your preferred device on the list and download the app today!

Kobo ebooks

If you have a Kobo account, you can also read your Kobo books on your iPhone, Android phone, Blackberry and Palm Pre using a Kobo app.

iBooks on Apple products

Apple’s iBooks works on any Apple mobile device (iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) and can read both ePUB and PDF formats. It does not work on Apple computers and laptops. You purchase books to read through the iBookstore with the same account you use for iTunes and the App Store.

How Is It Useful?

In our previous lesson, we mentioned a man who never finished a book because he’d lose them 50 pages from the end. Now, he can purchase one ebook from Amazon and read it on his Kindle, on his laptop, on his work computer and on his phone. That same book is always with him, wherever he goes, and he never loses his place or the book itself. He can take notes in a reference book on his Kindle, then bring those highlighted sections up during a work meeting on his laptop’s screen. When he’s standing in line at the Motor Vehicle office, he can read the next few pages of the novel he’s working through…or maybe more. No matter where he is, his library of ebooks is there with him, ready to be read at a moment’s notice.

What isn’t useful about this?

Help & Resources

Apps – The Basics

“Is there an app for that?”

What Is It?

Apps is short for applications, a fancier name for software programs. On your computer, applications include things like your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome), your office programs (Word, Powerpoint, Excel), your media software (iTunes, iPhoto, Windows Media Player), your email and calendar clients (iCal, Mail, Thunderbird, Outlook) and any other program you’ve got running.

Apps are much smaller versions of applications for smartphones like Android phones, iPhones and BlackBerrys; the iPad and iPod Touch; Android tablets; Palm devices and even e-readers like the Nook.

You search for and download apps from markets like Apple’s iPhone App Store, the Android Market and the BlackBerry App World. Some apps are free and some cost a few dollars. More and more often, companies and organizations are directly offering apps for their products and services on their sites (check out the MBTA’s App Center!), but the easiest way to find apps is to use the app resource on the device you own.

How Is It Useful?

Apps are available to help you do anything you might want to do with your smartphone. Use an app to find a good restaurant for dinner, know when and where a movie is playing, figure out who sang that song playing on the speakers, find a recipe, or even use your Starbucks card to pay for coffee right from your phone.

You can download audiobooks and videos that you check out electronically from your library directly to your device. The Boston Public Library uses Overdrive, which has apps for iPhone and Android.

Try It Out

All smartphones and tablets come with a few apps to get you going. Click on these, open them up, and see what they’re like. There’s no need to sign up for every service with an app on your phone, but most of them provide some kind of use even without an account.

For more apps to play with, visit the app market on your phone: the App Store iPhones/iPads/MacBooks and the Android Market for Android devices. Either use the search bar to find a particular app you’ve heard about, or click on “Top Free” to find popular free apps to try. Don’t limit yourself to games – give a few others a whirl.

Help & Resources

LifeHacker’s App of the Day suggests quality useful apps every day.
Android Market
Apple iPhone App Store
Amazon Apps for Android
Google Chrome Web Apps