Tag Archives: surprisingly useful tools

Ravelry, a DIY knitter’s paradise

A short but important DIY post this week, LLO readers. This one’s for the fiber artists out there.

What Is It?

Ravelry logoRavelry is a social network and online community for fiber artists: knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, weavers and dyers. Once you set up an account, you can post your projects from pattern to finished piece, and get all sorts of suggestions on yarn, technique, and great resources.

You do need to be a member to use Ravelry, but setting up an account takes only a minute or two. Just visit their main page and click on Join now!. Enter your email address and click on Send a signup link. In a few minutes, you’ll receive a link from Ravelry to finish creating your account. Click on the link and then enter all of the information they ask you for.

For more information and Ravelry news, check out their blog.

How Is It Useful?

My usual answer to this applies – “You can keep everything about your projects in one place, online, accessible at any time from anywhere” – but there’s more to Ravelry than that.

  • Connect through comments and discussion forums with other fiber artists from around the world
  • Find technique help, pattern suggestions, and yarn recommendations
  • Get encouragement and support for your projects – post updates and photos as you work and when you’re done
  • Use the growing number of mobile apps that work with Ravelry to update and work with your account wherever you are
  • Check out Ravelry’s video tutorials for more walkthroughs of their features

Next week on Learning for Life Online, we’ll take a look at some DIY sites for musicians, sound engineers, and special audio effects artists of all sorts. See you then!

Facebook Timeline…once more, with feeling!

Good morning. Over the weekend, many Facebook users were told that as of August 4th, their profile pages would be switching to the new Timeline format. Let’s take a look at Timeline’s features and see how you can prepare for the big switch.

Facebook Timeline

New Features in Timeline

The major updates with Timeline are a new look for your own information and your Wall and an easier way to navigate a person’s history of posts in Facebook.

    Facebook Timeline's timeline

  • New layout. In Timeline, there’s a Cover photo up at the top (just like on many websites), your information underneath, and then your posts down below. On a laptop or desktop computer, you’ll see two columns of posts. On a mobile device (smartphone or tablet), you’ll just see one. The stories scroll down the page in reverse chronological order – newest first and older as you go.
     
  • Timeline to get to older posts. One of the big problems with the old profile page is that you could only go back a few dozen posts at a time. There was no way to see what you or someone else had written last month, last year, or back when you started on Facebook. Now, there’s a ‘timeline’ off to the upper right – just click on a year or month to look at posts from that time.
     
  • Cover photo. This image should be a large-ish, interesting picture either taken by you, of you, or is of something important to you. It’s the first thing people will see when they look at your Timeline, and you can have fun with it. Later this week, we’ll be adding a separate post on uploading photos to Facebook, to walk you through the process of adding a Cover photo.
     
  • New kinds of updates. From your timeline, you can add different Life Events and use Facebook as a true online documentary of your life.
    Facebook Life Events menu
     

A Few Facebook Tips

  • Change settings easily. Watch what happens when you put your cursor over things on the screen. There are a lot of settings hidden in plain sight on Facebook pages. Put your cursor over text, images, and empty boxes on the page and wait a moment – a box with an X, a small gear, or some text might appear on the right to offer you choices. Click on them to see what your choices are.
     
  • Edit link previews. When you post a link, Facebook automatically creates the link and adds an image if there is one. Remove the image by clicking the box next to No Thumbnail. Change the description by clicking on the text until it turns yellow, then delete or type until it says what you want it to.
     
  • Unfollow posts. If you’re tired of getting notifications for new comments on a post you’ve commented on, Unfollow it. Up at the top left, click on the globe icon and put your cursor over the latest notification for that post. Click on the X that appears in the box, and then click on Unfollow.
    Facebook's Unfollow feature
     
  • Create lists of friends. Now you can create different lists of friends, so you can easily choose which people can see which posts. Make a “Close Friends” list for the people you know well, add your parents and cousins to “Family,” and keep your “Work Friends” separate. You can also click on the list name under Friends on the left side of your News Feed page to just view posts by those people.
     

Why some folks don’t like it

Facebook has been moving users to the new Timeline for a few months now, and many people have said they don’t like it. Some don’t like the layout, some think it’s slow to load, some think it’s just broken. Some people don’t like the fact that it’s easier to get to older posts, and some don’t like all the ‘extra work’ they think the new layout makes them do.

But before you decide you don’t like it, please do three things:

  • Really try using it. Add a life event, look back at old posts you made when you first got on Facebook, add friends to lists, quickly and easily change settings on a post. Like your parents said, “Try it before you say you hate it.”
  • Remember that it only affects your personal page. Your news feed page will stay just the same.
  • See what Timeline does really well, and what your News Feed page does well. Ask yourself if it might be okay for one to work one way and the other, another?

In the comments or on the Learning for Life Online Facebook page, tell me what you think of Timeline. Good or bad – we want to know.

Help & Resources

Doodle Me This…

When you’re trying to coordinate plans, one of the hardest things to do is to settle on a date and time. Why not use an online polling tool like Doodle to make that easier?

What Is It?

Doodle logoDoodle is a very simple tool that does just one thing: you quickly create a poll to let a group of people vote on a date and time for a meeting or event. That’s it – nothing fancy – and that’s what makes it great. In two minutes, you can set up a poll and send it out.

Once you’ve created the poll, send the web address to everyone who needs to vote. They visit the poll, enter their answers, and Doodle saves their responses right there for everyone to see. Participants can add a comment to give you more information, or they can just choose Yes, No, or (Yes) [Yes, if need be]. You get an email notification every time someone answers your poll, and you can change the poll if you need to add more options or update information.

How Does It Work?

First, you don’t need to set up an account to create a basic poll. Just visit Doodle and click on Schedule an Event. Fill in the information about your event and enter your email address to receive notifications and to get the Administration link for updating your poll.

Next, give your poll-takers a few options to pick from. Use the Basic calendar to just suggest days, or click on Calendar view to suggest both dates and times. Offer as many choices as you can, but not so many that no one will ever agree on a single day and time. In Basic Calendar, click on the days you want to include in the poll; in Calendar view, click and drag to choose blocks of time on each day you want. Click Next.

You can stay with a basic poll or click on Settings to pick from more options. This is most useful if you want to give your participants a “Yes, if need be” choice, or force them to pick just one option.

Finally, click on Finish to complete the poll. Doodle will send you two emails: one with the link to send out to your poll-takers, and the other with the link for you to change the poll if you need to. Copy and paste the poll link into an email message and send it to everyone whose opinion you want. They’ll reply, and you’re on your way to a decision!

See a finished product at Doodle’s example poll.

Why Is It Useful?

Like many other online tools, Doodle is most useful because you can keep everything in one location, where everyone who needs to can see everything at the same time. Similar to Anyvite, PerfectPotluck, or any of the online collaboration tools we’ve looked at, the best thing about Doodle is that it gets rid of the dozens of emails or phone calls you send back and forth trying to coordinate an event or a meeting or even just dinner with friends. There’s less of a chance that people could agree to two different times, or miscommunicate about what day everyone chose, or get stuck with any of the misunderstandings that happen when many people try to plan together.

Doodle also lets you make other decisions with votes from your friends. After you click on Schedule an event, click on Free text instead of sticking with the Basic calendar view. You can also go to the Functions and Products page and click on Make a Choice rather than Schedule an Event. You can poll friends about what sort of party to have, poll coworkers about the best gift to buy someone who’s leaving, or poll family about what to do for Mom’s birthday.

Try It Out

Are you trying to agree on a day or time to make plans with friends? Put together a simple Doodle poll and send it out to them, asking them to vote on the days that work best for them. You could even use it to arrange a good night for a babysitter, a good time for a working lunch, or a good day to visit the library! Any question that could use some opinions is a good one for a poll.

Help & Resources

What to bring? – coordinating with PerfectPotluck

Hope your 4th of July was exciting in all the best ways. Today on Learning for Life Online, let’s continue the food theme and look at ways to make sure you don’t have 15 macaroni salads at your next backyard BBQ. You could just have everyone email you what they’re bringing, but then you have to keep track of it all and let folks know when they need to pick something else.

Instead, why don’t you try an online tool that all of your guests can see and add to themselves – something like Perfect Potluck?

What Is It?

Perfect PotluckPerfect Potluck is exactly what it sounds like: a place to coordinate what people are bringing to a group potluck.

Perfect Potluck is simple to use – just click on Click Here to Create a Group Meal and fill out the form with all your event details. It asks for your phone number, but you don’t have to enter your real number if you don’t want to. It’s just there for your guests to contact you, and if they have your number already, you’re all set. In the same way, you don’t have to add your address if your guests know where you live, but if you do add it, Perfect Potluck will include a link to a map for your guests to use.
Perfect Potluck sign-up block

For the potluck categories below, you can keep the ones that are already there or delete them and type in your own. You need to add a quantity of at least 1 item for your category to show up on your potluck sign-up list. After the categories, add details like time and other instructions in the Notes section. If you have any useful links for your guests (like Yummly!), you can add them.

When you’re done, click on Submit Group Meal Details and you’re all set. You’ll get an email with a link to your sign-up page. Send that link to your guests using plain email, an invitation or party-planning site (we’ll cover those next week), or an online calendar or Facebook event invite.

When your guests click on the link, they’ll visit your Perfect Potluck sign-up page. They can see what other people are already bringing and choose something to fill in the holes. All they have to do to sign up is click on Take next to whatever they want to bring. The only required field is their email address – they can fill in whatever else they’d like. They can also go back to the link and change their reply at any time.
Perfect Potluck guest sign-up

How Is It Useful?

The big answer to this is that you don’t have a hundred emails or phone calls flying back and forth about what people are bringing. There’s a single list, in a single place, that everyone can see and add to. Better still, that list is online and always accurate, unlike paper lists that might have duplicates. Guests with smartphones can even check the list while in the store on the way to the potluck, helping out with last-minute needs.

An online potluck tool cuts down on the duplication, the hassle, and the potential for too much pasta.

Try It Out

If you’re planning a potluck or any group meal, try out Perfect Potluck or any of the other tools on the list below.

Other online potluck tools:

Help & Resources

Listgeeks – for people who love lists

Sometimes, the simplest tool is the most interesting. This week on Learning for Life Online, let’s look at Listgeeks a social sharing tool that’s all about lists.

What Is It?

Listgeeks logoListgeeks is just what it sounds like: it’s a social network make up of lists. That’s it – you create lists, share them with others, and follow other people to get ideas from their lists. Nothing fancy, and that’s okay.

To start saving lists, you do need to create an account or sign in with your Facebook or Twitter username and password. Then, you can just start making your own lists, or you can make your own version of someone else’s list. No, it’s not stealing their idea – this is a social listmaking site, and one of the ways it’s social is that the lists are collaborative.

Let’s say you find an interesting list, like Random Things I’m Into Lately. You look at it, and it’s pretty neat. You know from the little numbers next to the list name that 26 other people have made their own versions of this list, so you can click on the Next or Prev buttons on the right to see those other lists.

As you click and read, you realize that you’re into some interesting stuff yourself, so you can start creating your version of this list by either typing into the spaces next to the numbers in the left-hand list or by clicking and dragging one of the items from someone else’s list onto your own. You’re not “stealing their idea” – you’re adding your own voice to the crowd.

To see what the average set of results for this topic is, click the word Average just above the right-hand list. You’ll see the most commonly added items to this list, up to the top 99. See how popular your random things are by finding where they are on this average list.

How Is It Useful?

Featured List from ListgeeksFirst, just by searching through other people’s lists, you might be inspired to try something new or find a new book/movie/TV show/artist/song you’ve never heard of before. Think of it as a way to search all those lists of recommendations people scribble on scraps of paper to each other. If you check the averages for a topic, you’ll find the most popular suggestions for it.

Secondly, if you create an account and save your lists, you’ll have access to them wherever you can get to the internet. This includes a smart device or tablet, as well as a standard computer. Create a list of “Books I Need to Buy” or “Stuff to Do While Waiting in Line” – with links to things to read or websites to visit – and you’ll always be able to get to it quickly while you’ve got a few minutes to kill.

Third, like Pinterest, you can use these online lists to share your interests and ideas with other people. Make a list of things you need for your new apartment and send a link to the list to your mom, or post a list of things you want for your birthday to your Facebook timeline. Share a list of movies you want to see this summer and see if anyone wants to go with you. Create the list in one place and share it everywhere you are online.

Try It Out

Let’s go back to that Random Things list to play a little bit. Once you’ve found the Random Things I’m Into Lately list, try clicking on and dragging the second item – “Planning the production of a feature film” – into your list. Simple, yes? Use the Next button to find another list with another interesting item on it, and click and drag that item to your list. Keep doing this, or type your own ideas into your list at any point.

Let’s try finding another set of lists to play with. Type a topic or thing into the search field at the top right of the screen and see what lists are already in there. Get wild – try to find something a little bit different. Here’s a few ideas to get you going:

You can practice finding, clicking, dragging, and typing without ever signing in, but if you decide you enjoy working with Listgeeks lists, you do need to create an account to save and share your lists. Just sign in with your Facebook or Twitter account information, or make a brand new account just for Listgeeks.

Share

Did you make a list you really like? Add it to the comments below, or post it on the Learning for Life Online Facebook wall.

Help & Resources

Spotify – Much more than radio

Much earlier in Learning for Life Online, we talked about Internet radio – the ability to listen to radio stations or services like radio stations over the internet. Click back and read that post for a quick review of what online radio is and why it’s useful (spoiler: because it’s as easy to listen to music or talk online as it is on a radio).

Since then, I’ve gotten to know one particular online music service very well, and it goes far beyond internet radio. This week, let’s look a little more closely at Spotify.

What is It?

Spotify is, for starters, a great source for streaming music over the internet. Millions of songs from around the world are available to find and play whenever you’d like. It also will let you create playlists, subscribe to playlists other people create, share what you’re listening to to Facebook and other social networks, send suggestions to other users, and start a ‘radio station’ based on any song, album or playlist you find. On top of all of that, you can use Spotify to play and share the music you’ve saved to your computer, just like other music library services we’ve looked at.

Try it Out

In order to use Spotify, you need to a) sign up for an account and b) download the Spotify software onto a computer. (This is different than other internet radio services.) From the computer you want to have Spotify, visit the Spotify website. Click on Get Spotify at the top, and then on Get Spotify Free. Spotify will start to download – follow the directions to download and install it on your computer.

Once Spotify has been installed, open it like any other software – by clicking an icon or finding it in your applications folder. Spotify will ask you to log in with either your Facebook account or to create an account just for Spotify. If you don’t have a Facebook account, or you don’t want to connect your Spotify account with your Facebook account (you don’t have to), just create a Spotify account. Choose a username and password, type in your email address, and you’ll be good to go.

Spotify menuNow the fun starts! There are many things you can do with Spotify – we’ll cover some of the basics here. Check out the complete list of features to see everything you can do with this great online music resource.

Search for music. At the upper left, you’ll see a search box. Use this to find artists, songs, albums, or genres of music. You’ll get results separated out into categories; click on a title or artist to get to more information and to play music.

Playing music. When you’re on a page for a song, album or artist, you can just double-click on a track to play it. The playback controls are at the bottom of the screen. The wiggly arrows to the far right let you Shuffle and play things randomly, and the circular arrow Repeats a track until you move to the next one.

Put together a Play Queue. You can set up a play queue of music so you don’t have to search and play songs one a time. To set up your queue, search for music using the search bar. Once you’ve found a track, click and hold on the title and drag it over to the words Play Queue on the left. That adds the track as the next thing to play. Keep searching and adding to stack up hours of music at a time. Note: Your Play Queue is emptied every time you close Spotify. To make a more permanent list, create a Playlist.

Share! At the top of the screen for every song, album, artist or playlist, you’ll see the Share button. Click on that and choose whether to share to any Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr accounts you have. Log in with your social network username and password (don’t worry – Spotify doesn’t keep track of it) and share your music.

Start a custom radio ‘station.’ Look at the top of any page for the Start [a] Radio button to create a temporary radio station based on the music you like. Spotify will play music that it thinks matches the song or artist you started with. You can see all the stations you’ve started by clicking on Radio in the left menu; click on any of those older stations to play them again.

Play your Local Music. Click on Local Music to see everything you have on your computer. You can play these songs, add them to playlists, and share them to others just like all the other music in Spotify.

Playlist instructions on Spotify: The playlist is currently empty. To add to this playlist, drag a track to the playlist title in the sidebar, or right-click on a track, select Add to and select this playlist.Create Playlists. Playlists let you permanently collect music by theme, artist, genre, or any other category you want. To create a playlist, click on + New Playlist on the left, then type in a title. Follow the instructions on the screen to find and add music the same way you do for the Play Queue.

Subscribe to other people’s Playlists. You can also listen to playlists made by other people. Use the search bar to find playlists, then click on the playlist title to see the tracks on it. Click on Subscribe at the top to add the playlist to your list of favorites and listen to it whenever you want.

Neat stuff, huh? And this is only the beginning: check out the full features list and read the articles below for more.

Help & Resources

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

Two Neat Google Tools – Street View and Art Project

For our last May post, let’s look at a pair of online tools that could be useful if you’re traveling over the summer: an online map that shows you not just the streets, but the view as you drive down them; and a series of guided tours to a variety of art museums and galleries from around the world.

What Is It?

Google Street ViewGoogle Street View is a feature of Google Maps that will let you see what would be around you as you drive a route you’ve plotted out on a map. Several years ago, Google began driving vans with 360-degree cameras on top through major cities and towns, recording the view from the street. Then, they connected these street views to Google Maps, so that travelers could see what was around them as they drove or walked from place to place. Now, all you have to do is visit Google Maps, type in an address or get directions, and then use Street View to see what the route will look like when you’re there.

Google Art Project menuGoogle Art Project takes the technology created for Street View and brings it inside a growing number of art museums and galleries. Using the Google Art Project, you can “visit” a gallery from the comfort of your computer screen, wherever you are.

How Is It Useful?

When you’re planning a trip, it’s easy enough to find out what roads you need to take, but what if there’s a hidden entrance or a missing sign? By using Google Maps, and then looking at the Street View for your route, you can see landmarks and other useful details that no road map would ever show you. It’s like taking a practice drive before you have to do it for real, and can help prevent frustrating mistakes.

In order to decide where to visit, get a preview of a museum’s collections at the Google Art Project site. Walk through the galleries and see what sorts of art and sculpture are on view, then decide if you want to visit. Students can use the art project’s views to find out more about different artists or specific pieces of art, to help with projects or to study techniques to try on their own.

Try It Out

Getting to Street ViewStreet View: Go to Google Maps and type in the address of a location near you that you know well. (Or, take a look at the Boston Public Library’s Copley Square location) Once you’ve found your location on the map, click on the icon of the little orange person on the left and drag it to a street on your map. That activates the Street View, and you’ll see what that section of street looks like.
 

Navigation circle in Street ViewClick on the white arrows at the bottom of the screen to move forward and backwards, right and left. Click and drag the image to “turn” the camera and see what’s around you. Use the small street map in the lower right corner to keep track of where you are. You can also use the circle at the top left of the map to look around – just click on the arrows or grab the N (for North) and drag it around the circle to change direction.
 

Google Art Project sidebarArt Project: Go to the Art Project website and just start exploring. You can click on Collections, Artists, or Artworks up at the top left to view all of the images, organized differently, or you can click on that little orange person in the top left to only see the museums that have Museum View available. Try out the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City and walk around its galleries for a while. Again, click on the arrows to move forward and backwards, and click and drag on the image to see what’s around you.

Use the icons on the left side of the screen to discover more art similar to the piece you’ve found, to add an image to your own gallery, to share what you’ve found out to social media, and to view a slideshow of art in the collection you’re in. Click on the plus sign on any piece of art to find out more about it, or click on the word Details.

Help & Resources

Where’s My Bus? How’s the Traffic? – Transit Information Apps & Websites

As the weather gets warmer and we spend more time outside, more people are out on the roads and on public transit. There are many tools to help keep tabs on when the next bus or train is due, and on traffic conditions everywhere. Some are websites you can visit from any mobile device or a regular computer, and others are apps for iPhones, Android phones, iPads and more. Since Learning for Life Online is based in Boston, we’re going to look at Boston-are resources, but there are similar tools for most areas of the United States and around the world. See the Help & Resources section at the end for more information.

Public Transit Apps & Sites

If you’re in Boston, the main public transit system is the MBTA, known as the T. Here are some tools to help you track buses & trains, or to figure out the best way to get somewhere by T.

    MBTA app center

  • First, start out at the MBTA website from your computer or smart mobile device. They’ve got a good trip planner, alerts about problems on the different lines, and a list of apps you can use to see bus & train schedules or to track them in real time. We’ll list a few of the apps below, but there are many more at the site. (Website, free)
  • Where is the T? is a mobile-friendly website (not an app) that gives real-time information about the Red, Blue and Orange lines of the subway system. Just visit the site on your phone or tablet, choose your line, and you’ll see icons for each train and when it’s due into the next station. Tap on a station name to see all the trains due into that station in both directions. Simple and easy. (There’s no information for the Green line because it doesn’t use the same tracking system as the others. Boo.) (Website, free)
  • NextBus is a website that does the same for all the bus lines. Visit the site, then choose the MBTA from the list of transit systems. Pick your bus route number, direction and stop, and you’ll get predictions for when the next two buses will arrive. You can also see them on a map. Each prediction page can be bookmarked for easy access later. (Website, free)
  • TLeave is an extremely simple and mobile-friendly site for the Commuter Rail (services from Boston to other cities in eastern Massachusetts). Select your commuter rail line, a starting and ending stop, and what day of the week it is, and you’ll get a list of all the trains that will get you where you need to be. Note: this is not real-time information, just a schedule list. (Website, free)
  • Catch the Bus is an app for any smart mobile device. You can see a list of routes, a map view for any particular route, get predictions for stops, and save stops to a list of favorites. (App, costs $0.99)
  • Boston Bus Map is an Android app that you can download to your phone and customize for the buses you take most often. Choose the route, set your favorite stops, and then just tap on a stop to see the arrival time for the next bus. (App, free)
  • Pocket MBTA is an iOS (iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch) app that works the same way for Apple devices. Pick your route, pick your stop, and get predictions and real-time information with a tap of the screen. (App, free)

Traffic Apps & Sites

  • Mass511 is a website from the MA Department of Transportation (MADoT) that has real-time traffic information across the state. You can visit the website and see a color-coded traffic map, or use the Android app or mobile website on your smartphone. (Website & app, free)
  • SigAlert (formerly SmarTraveler) is a website that shows real-time traffic speeds for all major roads in Boston and many other cities around the country. Just visit the site on your computer or mobile web device and choose an area by city or by road/route number. If you go by road number, you need to know what exit ramp you’re nearby to find it on the list. Note: This site now has banner ads at the top. Don’t click on them. (Website, free)
  • Google Traffic

  • Google Maps has a traffic option that lets you see how fast or slowly traffic is moving on your route. When you use the site to get directions, just click on the Traffic menu on the right side of the map to see traffic speeds in red, yellow and green. (Website, free)
  • Bing Traffic

  • Bing Maps has the same feature, right on their main page. (Website, free)
  • Both CBS Boston and Fox Boston have apps for Android and Apple products that include traffic updates from these local news sources. (App, free)
  • Traffic Boston is an Apple app that uses the MA Department of Transportation traffic cameras to actually show you traffic conditions at locations around the city. It doesn’t give you speeds or additional information, but it does give you a live view for right now. (App, costs $0.99)
  • Once you’ve gotten where you’re going, PrimoSpot will help you find parking for your car or bike. Visit the site or download the app, then choose what kind of parking you’re looking for (on-street, garage or bike rack) and type in the address you want to be near. (For the app, you can just find what’s nearby.) See nearby places to park, and tap on a location for more information and useful photos. Highly recommended, and also good for New York City and Seattle. (Website & app, free)

Help & Resources

Five Search Engines You Haven’t Heard of…Yet

With all our coverage of privacy, security, and account settings, April was a pretty heavy month here at Learning for Life Online. Let’s celebrate spring by lightening things up a little bit in May. We’ll start by showcasing five search engines (similar to Google or Bing) that you might not have heard about.
 

Duck Duck Go logoDuck Duck Go is a nifty alternative to Google, Bing and the rest. To use this all-purpose, general search engine, just type in whatever you’re looking for into the search box and click. For tips, tricks and shortcuts to get very specific information quickly, check out their special “goodies” searches page.
 

Million Short logoWhat if you’re not looking for the most popular results? What if you want something obscure, or want to find the small stuff without having to skip past all the answers you already know? Try Million Short, a search engine that will let you cut off the top million, hundred thousand, thousand, or hundred results and get to websites and pages you may have never seen before. This isn’t a search engine you’d use all the time, but if you want to really research a topic online, it would help get to the weird stuff more quickly.
 

Spezify logoSpezify is an entirely different kind of search engine – rather than a list of results, you get a visual collection of images, video and text spread out in front of you. No, it’s not in a particular order, but you can quickly see whether something is useful to you by just looking. Lots of fun, especially if you’re looking for photos or images.
 

EcoFreek logoEcoFreek is a search engine that specifically looks for items that other people are giving away, willing to swap for, selling at a garage sale, or are otherwise free or really cheap. Type whatever you’re looking for into the search box, choose what part of the world you’re in, then click Search. You’ll get a list of results with a short description; if one of them sounds like what you want, click through to the original listing to see if it’s still available.
 

BookFinder logoTired of searching Amazon first to find books to buy? Try BookFinder, a search engine just for books. It’s great for out of print or hard-to-find items, and has an international focus for better non-English language materials.
 

I Like Using Google – Why Change?

If you were shopping for just the right shirt, you wouldn’t look in one store and then stop when you didn’t find it, would you? Same thing with search engines – the same one will tend to give you the same sorts of answers. To really know what’s out there, you need to try your search in different places, and compare the results you get from each one.

There are hundreds of search engines available, some more general and some for very specific topics. Don’t just trust results from the big three – take one step further and see what else is out there.

Help & Resources