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The most beautiful app I’ve ever seen is a game

We don’t usually recommend iOS games here at IvanExpert, but we wanted to make an exception for Monument Valley. It’s beautiful, both visually and aurally. It’s mildly challenging, but by no means  impossible, and there’s no time pressure, no score, no way to die, and no way to get stuck. It just waits for you. It’s strangely relaxing to play. It’s no accident it was an Apple Design Award winner.

Monument Valley is a puzzle game in which you move a figure named Ida, a character in a deliberately vague storyline, through a series of three-dimensional “monuments” that resemble a cross between M.C. Escher and Dr. Seuss in their oddball geometry. In fact, what makes the game fascinating is that you have to do things that are only possible as a result of your 2-D perspective on the 3-D environment. It’s hard to explain; you should just try it out. For $3.99, it’s well worth it for such an enjoyable labor of love.

If you solve all the levels, there’s a $1.99 in-app purchase to acquire eight newly released ones. If you have an iPad, I suggest you play on that, to get the full impact of seeing the game on the larger screen.

MonumentValley-2

Highly recommended!

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Simple, Inexpensive Home Camera Monitoring with your iPhone

Are you interested in setting up a simple camera monitoring system at home (or at a small office)? Here are a few options.

dropcam

Nest

Nest, the company that brought you the “smart” thermostat (and is now owned by Google), has a new product that we’re interested to learn more about. It’s called Dropcam.

Dropcam is a video camera that can be used for home security and baby monitoring (and business security too, if you have a small business). Cost is $200 for one camera.

It’s supposed to be super simple to set up, and works on your wifi network. Plug it into your USB port on your computer for initial setup; then disconnect and put it wherever you want to start recording.

You can watch the video from your iPhone or Android phone using their app. Camera can be set up to turn on or off at specific times, or it can be motion-sensitive. It can even push alerts to you if it senses movement. The camera is also infrared, so it can “see” in the dark.

There’s also a separate charge if you want Dropcam to store your videos on its website for a week ($99/year) or a month ($299/year). So you can go back and review the footage if something has happened.

netgear-vuezone

Vuezone

Another option is Vuezone, from Netgear. It’s a small wifi camera with infrared that you can set up anywhere in your home. It has iPhone and Android apps so you can see what’s being recorded. With this system you also need to purchase a base station. For 1 camera and base station the cost is $130; for 2 cameras plus base station it’s $200 (so you get twice as many cameras as the Dropcam for the price).

If you want to get alerts and have Vuezone save your video for later viewing, the cost is $50/year for up to 5 cameras and 250MB of storage, or $100/year for up to 15 cameras and 500MB of storage.

belkin-netcam

NetCam

A third option is Belkin’s NetCam. Like the others, it connects to your wifi network, and you can watch video from your mobile phone (or computer). Also like the others, it’s got an infrared camera.

The camera, which is HD wide-angle, costs $130.

You can set up an account to have video saved whenever the camera detects motion, for later viewing (up to 30 days). Right now the cloud video saving service is free; after the initial testing “beta” phase there will be a monthly fee (prices to be announced).

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Send Email Later from Your Mac

Have you ever wanted to schedule an email, to be sent at a later date? Perhaps you want to make it look like you’re not at your desk. Or maybe you want the recipient to think you waited awhile to answer an email. Or you don’t want everyone to know that you’re up at 3 am answering emails.

Here are solutions for sending email later from your Mac.

sendlater-apple-mail

If you use Apple Mail: SendLater

Cost: 9 Euros (just over $11)

This piece of software is installed on your computer and lets you schedule your emails in Apple Mail. Remember that for it to work, your Mac has to be on and Apple Mail must be running at the time you’ve scheduled the send.

act-on-apple-mail-scheduler

If you use Apple Mail: Mail Act-On

Cost: Free 30-day trial; $30

This software does much, much more than just let you schedule emails for later. You can create powerful rules for inbox and sent mail; create templates for email replies; and set a ton of other workflow options. Again, for the send later function to work, your Mac must be on and Apple Mail must be running.

boomerang-send-later-gmail

If you use Gmail or Google Apps: Boomerang’s Send Later

Cost: Free 30-day trial; $5/month for Gmail unlimited emails; $15/month for Google Apps unlimited emails

This service connects to your Google account and lets you schedule emails from within Gmail or Google Apps. (If you don’t know if you have Gmail or Google Apps: Is your email something@gmail.com? Then you have Gmail. Is your email something@something.com but you check it on Google? Then you have Google Apps.)

This only works if you write your mail inside a web browser, not if you use Apple Mail for reading and writing your Gmail/Google Apps email. It works with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

rightinbox-gmail

If you use Gmail or Google Apps: Right Inbox

Cost: Free for 10 emails/month. $60/year for unlimited emails and reminders, for both Gmail and Google Apps.

This is a service you use with Gmail or Google Apps. Note that the price is better than Boomerang if you use Google Apps. Again, this solution only works if you are writing email in a web browser. Works with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. You can also use it to set up recurring emails, email reminders.

 

If you use Outlook for Mac: Nope. At this time there’s no way to schedule emails to be sent later (It’s a feature in Outlook for Windows only.)

iPhone and iPad: Nope. This feature doesn’t exist for iOS — yet.

 

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5 Tools and Apps from the MacTech Conference

Caroline with R2D2 at MacTech.

Caroline with R2D2 at MacTech.

We just got back from the MacTech Conference in Manhattan Beach (Los Angeles), where we learned a ton about everything related to Mac consulting and support.

A lot of it was pretty technical. But these 5 cool tools and apps are useful for almost any business, so check them out!

1. ODesk
Find freelancers across the country and around the world for a variety of needs. They’re all rated and categorized by specialty. The website takes a 10% cut.

2. Lynda.com
For $25/month you can watch as many video tutorials as you want, on topics as diverse as iPhone app programming, to photography, to management, to editing videos, to using Excel…

3.  Trello
This web-based project management system is particularly great for creating checklists that everyone in your group can access. And its calendar syncs to your Apple calendar. Use it on your Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android. The basic version is free.

4. Shapes
This $10 piece of software lets you create easy diagrams, charts, and workflows.

5. Pop
The name for this iPhone app stands for “prototyping on paper” and if you are thinking of designing an iPhone app, you should definitely try it out. You draw your app design and then make your drawing functional. Essentially it lets you create and test your app idea before you need to start the hard work of hiring people to make it for you. And it’s free for 1-2 projects! ($10/mo for 2-10 projects.)

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Customize Notification Center in iOS 8

This is what my Notification Center looks like today. Including a nice NYC photo from Yahoo Weather.

This is what my Notification Center looks like today. Check out that nice NYC photo from the Yahoo Weather app.

We finally advise that it’s safe to upgrade your iPhone or iPad to iOS 8. The number of problems after the upgrade has quieted down after Apple’s updates.

I just upgraded my iPhone to iOS 8 and am taking advantage of the Notification Center.

What is the Notification Center? Put your finger at the very top center of the screen, and swipe down. You’ll get a page of useful info having to do with your day. (Note that at the top you have a Today button and a Notifications button.)

You can edit what shows up in the notification center. To edit: Scroll down to the bottom of the Notification Center page and click the Edit button. You have options to add or remove, such as calendar, reminders, and stocks. You can also change the order by dragging.

Did you know some non-Apple apps have “widgets” to allow you to show relevant into in your Notification Center as well? Here are a few. (You need to download the app first, and then go into Notification Center > Edit and click the plus sign to get them to appear.)

Some of the best apps with a Notification Center option:

Evernote: Add a note right from here

Wunderlist and Clear: Shows your items on your to-do list

Weather Channel and Yahoo Weather

OpenTable: Shows your dinner reservations

Dropbox: Shows the most recent file changes

New York Times and Breaking News: News highlights

ESPN SportsCenter: Quick access to scores

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Best iPad Stylus?

The Pogo stylus.

The Pogo stylus.

I read the technology reviews site The Wirecutter, which tests tech hardware and software and advises on what’s the best and why. (I highly recommend you subscribe to their weekly email newsletter; they also have a related site The Sweethome for household items.)

Last week they published an article on “The Best iPad Stylus for Note-Taking” — their pick is the Pogo Stylus, for $20.

So I purchased one at B&H Photo and am testing it out.

My best choice for a stylus up until now has been the Adonit Jot pen, which starts at $20. I like the Adonit Jot because the little plastic disk on the nib makes it easier to do precision writing and drawing, on the exact spot you want. However that little plastic piece is easy to lose (as is the cap), plus it doesn’t feel completely natural to use a pen with a plastic disk on the end.

The Pogo is inexpensive, yet it feels sturdy and easy to hold–and no pieces to lose. The rubber tip doesn’t let you get quite as thin and precise a line as the Jot but it does do almost as well for note-taking. This is something I could throw in my bag without fear of destroying it, and it feels much more natural to write with. Plus it’s also great for tapping buttons and navigating around. So I’d say for ease of use, it wins over the Adonit Jot.

My 2 favorite note-taking apps:

  • Notability, $3: Best for basic note-taking plus has a microphone feature to do an audio recording of a meeting or lecture as well.
  • 7NotesHDPremium, $8: Its main advantage is that it converts handwriting to text, either as you type or after the fact. (Only the premium version does this.) And it does it very well; it didn’t make one mistake with my handwriting. Pretty amazing.

My conclusion is that unfortunately it’s still much faster to take notes with a pen and paper than it is with a stylus on the iPad…and speed is what’s most important, when I’m in a meeting and don’t want to miss anything. I’m going to try the Pogo and iPad combo at an upcoming event, to get some real-world experience.

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Maker Faire: Works of Art

Some booths at Maker Faire were showing off projects that were a cross between technology and art. Here were our 3 favorites.

Popcade
This half-scale arcade game console plays any MAME game you want to install on it. Takes up way less room than a full-size console. Cost is $2000.

not-a-camera

Not-A-Camera
This handmade piece of jewelry that looks like a 2-D camera etched in wood is actually a real camera that shoots 3.5MB jpgs and HD video. Gorgeous. Cost is $150. Check out the designer, Olivia Barr, and her other projects.

Custom Pinball Machine
Dave Gaskill, who is based in Rhode Island, makes custom pinball machines. He had a Night of the Living Dead machine at Maker Faire that was extraordinary. If you want your own custom machine made, cost will be $5000-$10,000 depending on options. Which is amazingly inexpensive for this one-of-a-kind piece of art. I highly encourage you to check out the website.

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Maker Faire: Music Makers

Check out these music items we saw at Maker Faire that are well designed as well as functional. Either one would be a cool gift for the right person.

ototo-1

ototo-2

Ototo
This British company’s site says “Make music from anything!” and it’s true. Buy their kit which costs about $100 and then you can set up anything, including vegetables, to make sounds when touched. Ototo can also act as a midi controller. Yes that’s Ivan playing the vegetables.

brandnewnoise

BrandNewNoise
These beautiful little wooden boxes are voice recorders, with controls for speed and looping. Make your own cool sounds. Each one is made by hand in Brooklyn. Prices start at about $50. Photo from the company’s website.

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Maker Faire: Machines for Making Things

There were dozens of 3D printers at Maker Faire this year, at various price points and with different specialties.

But it wasn’t all about 3D printing. Here are 2 other machines for making objects that we found and liked.

othermill

The Othermill
Computer-controlled desktop 3D milling. What does that mean? You can use your Mac computer to create a design, and then use this to incise your design into wood, metal, plastic, or other materials. So you can make your own computer circuit boards, wooden stamps, or jewelry (and lots of other things). Cost is $2200.

diwire

DIWire
This is a desktop wire-bender. So you can draw a wire design on your computer and then use this device to custom-bend based on your computer design. It bends 1/8” and 1/16” wire; uses steel, aluminium, or brass wire; and is the size of a breadbox. Cost is $3200. Check out the very cool photo gallery of light fixtures, clocks, tables, and other cool things that have been made with it.

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Maker Faire: Raspberry Pi

This is the Raspberry Pi, plugged in to ethernet and power.

The Raspberry Pi is a very small (Altoids-tin-sized), very inexpensive ($35) computer that uses an open source, free operating system and has been embraced by the DIY/hacker community because of its price and versatility.

The Pi was everywhere at Maker Faire this year.

Representatives from the Raspberry Pi nonprofit organization were onsite and spreading the word about all the useful tools on their website. A few of them were:

Other cool things we saw, related to the Pi:

Raspberry Pi User Guide, Third Edition book from Wiley, $25, coming October 2014

PiCade
A mini arcade cabinet kit so you can play old video games using your Raspberry Pi. Kickstarter project that’s already been fully funded.

SmartUPS,
An uuninterruptible power supply for the Raspberry Pi, $65 from OpenElectrons. They sell other cool Pi products at OpenElectrons so check it out.

Slice Media Player
Kickstarter project that has been funded; it runs off a Raspberry Pi and has 2TB of storage, plus it’s small enough to take with you when you travel.

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About IvanExpert

IvanExpert provides superior Mac, iPhone, and iPad support for small businesses and home users in New York City. We provide on-site help with a range of Apple computer and mobile issues.

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