Duolingo

I have strong feelings about the fact that a large population of the world speak more than one language and that many Americans barely know English.  Given that I like to travel, I very much appreciate that many people  in other countries know our language but it makes me feel worse that I don't know much about theirs. 

Here and there I've tried to do my best to learn.  I asked some El Salvadorian friends in the restaurant I worked at a few years ago if they would teach me Spanish.  It didn't really get anywhere.  I dabbled in Rosetta Stone a little bit, once after returning from a trip to Mexico after really falling in love with the country and it's language.  While it did a bunch for me in terms of learning certain words, it really wasn't a help for conversation and truly understanding certain aspects of the language (like when do you make a word masculine or feminine.)  Eventually I trailed off and stopped using it, mainly because the Rosetta Stone software itself sucked and I just wasn't progressing.    

Well I think I found a great replacement.  It gamifies the learning of a language and makes the process fun.  It makes you want to do a new lesson every day.  It works in an app or on the web and the best part is that it's completely free.  

You can sign up with just you're email address, a Facebook account, or Google account.  Once you sign up and select a language (they currently offer Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and English.  

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The idea is to get through one lesson without losing all of your hearts.  Lose your hearts and you lose the lesson.  Each lesson takes about 5-10 minutes and if you're doing well you can get through a few pretty quickly.  

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On certain questions the app speaks to you in a pretty quickly and asks you to translate the sentence.  You can listen again at regular or slow speed if you want.  I do my best to try to not say it a second time at all.  

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I'm totally hooked.  At times when I might normally be playing a game I found myself using my spare time to do a lesson in Duolingo.  

A helpful coach will remind you to stay on track (you can shut this off if you want) at certain times during the day depending on certain levels you set. 

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I've tried a few and Dualingo is the best language learning app/service I've seen yet.  It's completely free and at times just seems too good to be true.  If you're interested in learning a new language I think it's the first thing you should check out.  

Visit Duolingo on the web

Get the app:

Android  //  iPhone/iPad

Yahoo Weather App

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This is hands down my new favorite weather app (and I am somewhat of a weather app junkie).  It's free, it looks great, and has almost every feature I could want in a weather app.

It is amazing that this is a Yahoo app.  Yahoo used to be my home screen years ago until they simply stopped making things better.  Then Google came out of nowhere and flat out crushed them in services.  Clearly their "new" CEO knows whats up and this is one of the first awesome products I've seen from Yahoo in a long time.  I hope to see more because this app is great.  It should be the built in weather app for iPhone and Android.

Lots of things I like about this app:

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  • It displays awesome pictures from Flickr that are based on your location.

  • All your most important info is on one page and very easy to access just by sliding up or down.  I love how they did the maps too.  

  • It has a great display of sunrise and sunset.  Great for photographers!

  • It loads quickly, works smoothly, and is a flat out joy to use.  One of the best designed apps I've seen in a while.  

Now if they could only build in a feature from my now second favorite app Dark Sky, which sends you a notification a few minutes before it is about to rain or snow in your area, then this might just be the perfect weather app.  For now its just a super awesome weather app. 

Yahoo Weather is available for iPhone and Android (FYI no tablet support yet)

Download on iOS  //  Download on Android

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Cool Apps: Field Trip

I love information.  I love learning new things about my hometown and the places I visit when I travel.  Whether it is a historical landmark, cool building, point of interest, or nice/interesting place to eat, I want to know about it.  Being into technology helps with all this because we are seeing so many advancements when it comes to social discovery and it makes it a lot easier to find out about cool things around you as you move throughout the world.  That is why I am really liking one of Googles new apps, Field Trip. 

First let me say that Google has really stepped it up over the past 6-12 months when it comes to software design.  Apps that used to be terrible now not only look good, but act as they should and are far less buggy.  Plus they are releasing quality new apps for both Android and iOS which is awesome.  This will force companies like Apple (which has sucked in terms of software lately) to innovate and compete more, which will only be better for consumers in the long run.  Alright so lets jump into the app.

The basic idea of the app is that it monitors your location as you move around, and when you get close to points of interest, it sends you a notification.  By default it wants to tell you about everything it can but you can filter it down to only the things in which you're interested.  You can view via a list view or by map as you travel, and as far as the notifications go, you can get a lot, a little or none at all.  I really feel like Google has thought of everything with this app.  

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What I thought was the most neat was the topics and sources you can choose from to let Field Trip know what to tell you.  You can filter by architecture, historic places, lifestyle, offers, food & drink, cool & unique, and arts & museums.  And if you tap into each one of those categories you can pick from a list of sources and tell each one of those to show you more, less, or nothing at all if you uncheck the checkbox.  Again I really feel like they thought of everything here.  For example, I was driving the other day and got a notification to go to Chipotle. Chipotle? REALLY?  Not only is that place an embarrassment of a food establishment but I don't need an app to tell me to visit one so I was easily able to go into the settings and shut off anything that might tell me to go to food places like that.  

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I've been using the app since it came out just in the area where I live and work and have already found some neat things close to home that I never knew existed.  I can only imaging what I'll find when I take this app on a vacation with me.  

Field Trip is free for iOS, and of course Android.

Download on iOS  //  Download on Google Play

Genius Scan: Less Using An Actual Scanner!

No matter what you do there will most likely come a point in time where you'll need to scan something.  Whether it be a picture, a document, or some form of identification, the time will come.  Personally I have to scan at least a few things a week but that is just because of my job and I have to tell you there is nothing worse than having to use an actual scanner for this.  In my use they are generally unreliable and a pain to use.  There are just too many steps:   

  • Load your document into the scanner. Scan it
  • Where is the file?  Did the scan go through properly?  This is especially tough at work where the scanners are networked.
  • Find your file, load it into email, and send it.

Might seem like a small amount of steps but for me that is too much.  

Document not lined up? The app can help with that.

Document not lined up? The app can help with that.

How about this for steps?

  • Take a picture of the document using your phones camera.
  • Send the document

This is what Genius Scan does.  It has a lot of other options as well and the paid version has even more.  Sure this wouldn't work for all your scanning needs especially if you wanted to scan a old picture, or something of that nature, but for me it works great.  

The ad supported version of Genius Scan is free:

iOS  //  Google Play

Quick Audio Messaging is the New Texting (I Hope)

Have you been getting sick of texting?  Do you feel like you get too many texts in a day and that it's a pain to respond to them all?  We message in so many other way these days through Facebook, Twitter, and Google on top whatever messages we may get directly from friends on our phones.   I feel like since we are so connected these days we are constantly messaging and at least for me it feels like an overload at times, and it is making commutation suck.  Here's why I'm sick of texting.  

  • It's impersonal and the actual message is often lost or misinterpreted.  Even with emoticons, it is pretty emotionless.

  • You should never do it when you are driving (as much as you really want to)

  • Your phone company makes way too much much off of them (although this has changed a little with things like iMessage, Kik and other messaging services) but either way, your wireless carrier charges way more than they should for texting. 

Luckily it seems like audio messaging is starting to take off.  It is much easier than texting and solves the issues I have above.  I've been trying to get people to use audio messaging for a while (you could do it early on with most smartphones but people just had no idea).  But now there are dedicated apps that do it on all platforms and recently Facebook launched the service to the US & Canada.  Here's a quick overview of the ones I consider the main three options, all of which work on multiple platforms over wifi or cell connections:

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1. Voxer

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A friend of mine told me about Voxer a while back.  I have it a quick try and didn't really look at it again for a while.  It is always tough to get your friends to start using something new but I've seen this one catch on as of late.  Voxer if free on all platforms, is very straightforward to use, and reminds me of the old Nextel walkie talk functionality we don't see too much of anymore.  It's very easy to set up, find friends and start sending audio messages.  It stores your previous "Voxes" so you can look and play them back, and you can even audio message in groups.  It works great

2.  Facebook App Audio Messaging

Most people would prefer something they know rather than having to download an app like Voxer to get set up and start using right away.  Most people know Facebook and use it daily so I can really see this one taking off soon.  Facebook started slow and this functionality only works in the US and Canada right now.  I'm sure if people knew it was there they would use it more.  The couple things that I'm not really liking are that it takes too many steps to to send an audio message and that Facebook would store all of your messages on their servers, although if you have a problem with this you should stop using Gmail, Whatsapp, Voxer, iMessage, and just about every other messaging service out there.  Here's how you do it and keep in mind that this is only working in the US and Canada right now and coming to more countries soon.  

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  1. Tap the messaging tab and choose someone you want to message
  2. Tap the plus sign and then tap audio message
  3. Press and hold the record button while speaking.  Release.
  4. Done!

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3. Use Your Phones Built-In Audio Recorder

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I was doing this since I had an iPhone 3G.  I got a few friends to do it but not for any extended period of time.  I'm sure there are one (or many) equivalents on Android but I'm not familiar with any.  I like it because it is simple, but its still a few more steps than I'd like which is why I prefer Voxer.  This will work on all smartphones and some older feature phones as well.  On iPhone, all you really need to do is find the Voice Memos app, which comes built in:

  1. Hit the big record button to record your message then tap the menu button opposite the record button to view it.
  2. Tap Share
  3. Add there person (or people) you want to message.  
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So there we have it , a few ways out of many that you can send audio messages today. I think this type of messaging will take off because it is more personal, is easier than typing out a humungous text message to tell someone something, and in the long run it is cheaper than true texting.  I think in the next year or two we'll see a lot more of this and video calling, especially now that we have super fast 4G LTE available which makes sending these even faster when on the go.  How much do you want to bet this will be built into Apple, Android, and other smartphones in the near future?  

Searching for Sugar Man

I'll admit I'm not a fan of the Oscars at all but I do like a good movie.  I had heard a little about this film which won an Oscar for best documentary last night.  

I follow tech news pretty closely and what I had heard about this movie that was so interesting to me was that the director blew through most of his budget using tradition 8mm film.  When he ran out of money he found an iPhone app that simulated 8mm film and shot the rest of the movie on that.  Pretty crazy when you think about it.  

I'll definitely check out this movie when I get a chance.  Preview and link to the app he used below.

Gmail App for iPhone

A couple of weeks ago, I needed to search for an email that was probably a year old.  I tried to use the search feature of mail app on iPhone but the search came up empty.  I knew the email had to be in my account, but for some reason it wasn't coming up.  I remembered that Google had a separate email app you can download and that if I was going to find the email, using the app made by Google would probably be the best way.  

I had tried the Gmail app when it first came out a while ago but it was horrible.  It was slow and extremely buggy and I deleted it pretty quickly.  

This time though I found it to look, and work much better.  I found the email I was looking for in seconds, and the experience was so good that I deleted my Gmail account from the built in iPhone mail app and started using the Google app exclusively for my Gmail account.  

iOS Email App

iOS Email App

Gmail Dedicated App

Gmail Dedicated App

A few reasons why this has been working out really well for me:

  • Since most of my email is done using my work account, I can keep each separate now.  This helps to navigate mailboxes easier as well as stop accidentally sending personal email from my work email address by mistake.

  • I have multiple Gmail accounts and the new app supports fast switching between them.  
  • Thank you for a new email sound!  So refreshing!!!  I really think Apple needs to come up with a few new sounds for email to freshen things up a bit.  I am getting sick of the stock email sound and the other sounds they offer aren't that great.
  • Works great in notification center.  This was a huge problem when I first tried the app.  I would get tons of notifications for just one email.  

  • The Gmail App  flat out looks and works really well.  

Gmail was already the service a LOT of people use for their email, and now Google is getting so much better at mobile software design (where Apple just isn't keeping up these days).

I'm glad I made the switch and if you haven't given it a try, I suggest downloading the Gmail app today.

Gmail app direct download link