Jan 16th, 2010 No Comments

Printed word not dead yet just getting harder to create



During the ’90s, computers made training manuals and technical books obsolete. During the oughts, PowerPoint made printed presentations obsolete. Over the next few years, e-readers will make paper news and fiction obsolete. But once in a while you still need to print things, or just distribute a copy of something where Internet access is not available, and that can be difficult because Web pages are not designed for good-looking paper output.

A new Web site can simplify the process of grabbing a Web page and turning it into a PDF file. Called simply pdfmyurl, this Web site does exactly what it says. Enter any Web page address (URL) and it will hand you a PDF file.

There are other Web sites and desktop tools to this already, and Apple computers have the capability to create a PDF built right in. But Windows users have to go looking for the proper tools, and the results have been mixed. pdfmyurl is fast and handles formatting of complex pages very well.

If you frequently need to print Web pages pdfmyurl can save you lots of paper. After getting the PDF file you can easily delete unnecessary pages before printing them, such as a page filled with ads and Flash video, or skip printing the last page if it only contains a footer with navigation links.

Dec 31st, 2009 No Comments

2010 is the year of the Net-smart Book-tablet

Regardless of what you want to call it (smartbook, netbook, web book, e-reader) 2010 will be the year that we all realize we need a fourth computer device in our lives, and wonder how we got by so long without it. By the end of 2010 our personal IT infrastructure will fall into four categories:

Design concepts below courtesy of
Freescale Semiconductor




Desktop computer – The old standby, and still the best tool for most work. Prices are low for powerful, multi-display devices that have high quality speaker systems and can serve as a media hub for the whole office/home.

Notebook computer – The only way to travel with most of your office in a backpack. Large keyboards, decent screens and good battery life make today’s notebooks ready for serious work. Some people are starting to eliminate the desktop computer in favor of using a notebook full-time, but the most powerful are too big and heavy for frequent travel.

Net-smart Book-tablet – This is where the new category fits into the lineup. It’s a device that is smaller and much lighter than a notebook/laptop computer, but bigger than a cell phone with an 8 to 12 inch screen for easy reading. It is primarily designed for consuming media, that is: reading books, magazines, newspapers, and blogs; watching television, movies and YouTube; browsing Web sites for work, school and fun; and listening to music. Skype will allow you to use these wi-fi devices as a phone, but some will no doubt be sold with cell phones built in (the Kindle already includes a cell radio, but only for data). The current crop look mostly like small notebooks, using a clamshell design. But the old notebook form factor isn’t very convenient for reading on the couch, in bed, or in the bathroom, and weight is a big problem. Expect the new 2010 generation to be very light and more tablet-like, or have clever folding or sliding systems so they can be held flat. You’ll take this new device places you would never think to bring your notebook, but not everywhere like your cell phone.
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Dec 30th, 2009 No Comments

iPhone credit card terminal for everyone

iPhone Credit Card Terminal

Use your iPhone to Swipe Credit Cards

Have you ever wanted to accept credit cards for your small business, or just during your weekend garage sale? For many people the process of getting a merchant account, paying the minimum monthly fees, and setting up the software is just too much trouble and expensive so they don’t bother. But that could result in lost sales and unsatisfied customers. Finally, a new company called Square, Inc. is making it much easier. According to the Square Web site you can “Start accepting payment cards immediately with Square. No contracts, monthly fees, or hidden costs.”

Sign for your purchase

Sign for Your Purchase

Square has created a clever little credit card reader that plugs into the audio jack on the iPhone. (The Web site actually says any device/phone with an audio jack, but it appears that they currently have software only for the iPhone.) The little scanner reads the credit card and uses audio to transfer the data to the iPhone. Customers sign the receipt on the iPhone screen. The phone then encrypts the information and uses its Internet connection to authorize the purchase, just like a Web site would authorize a credit card.

Besides simplifying the actual credit card process Square is also providing customer relationship features. For example, they can track repeat customers for you so, for example, the 10th bagel or coffee could be free.

A nice security feature is the ability to see a customer’s photo to verify their identity. But this would require the customer to set up an account with their picture in advance – not very likely until Square becomes hugely popular.

One of the people behind Square is Twitter co-founder and chairman Jack Dorsey so the team certainly has the resources to make this successful.

We will be signing up for a Square account and will update this post with first-hand information as soon as possible.

Dec 16th, 2009 1 Comment

How to select a cell phone these days

Motorola DynaTAC

Motorola Cell Phone 1983

Back in the old days it was easy to buy a cell phone – if it made phone calls you were good to go. At some point the cell phone became the “smart phone” which is really code for “universal communications and entertainment device that fits in a pocket.” It’s pretty amazing really, but a short list of things I expect my phone to do these days includes:

  • Web browser
  • E-mail device
  • Contact and calendar management
  • Task managment and notepad
  • Instant/text messaging
  • GPS moving map with audible turn-by-turn directions
  • Watch television shows, movies and YouTube
  • Music player (and music store)
  • Mobile hot spot providing Internet access for multiple computers
  • Manage my Netflix movie queue
  • Still camera and audio/video recorder
  • Weather reports with animated radar images
  • Animated airline flight tracker
  • Make phone calls

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Nov 27th, 2009 No Comments

Ads gone wild – bad, good and not quite Taylor Swift

Newspapers and magazines are struggling to keep customers spending money on their paper products while both readers and advertisers are quickly turning to online news, commentary and fiction. So it’s interesting to watch publishers adapt to this new world, testing technologies to draw in readers and trying to keep their ad revenue flowing.

Three magazines and their online advertising caught our attention over the past couple of days. One site (Forbes) we may never visit again because their advertising is so obnoxious. Another site (Esquire) has an ambitious online/offline integration that works well and is fun to play with. The third (InStyle) also tried to integrate online features, but it was a total bust – we couldn’t make it work at all, which probably doesn’t make Taylor Swift very happy since she’s the 3-D cover girl.

Bad – Forbes

Bad ads on Forbes I

Never, ever design pages like this

Forbes has solid editorial content and a rich history, but the desperation apparent in their online advertising is ridiculous. They seem determined to cover every inch of the online page with ads. For some time now their site has been loaded down with multiple animated ads on each page. This is really distracting when trying to read the story. To make things worse, some of those ads have sound that begins playing automatically. This can be shocking if you left the volume turned up while rocking out the night before, or it interrupts your current soundtrack or the quiet of your office.
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Sep 29th, 2009 6 Comments

Google Voice teaches your old phones some new tricks

Google Voice logo


Most of the excitement about telephones these days concerns the iPhone, Palm Pre, Android phones and similar small computers. These devices let you browse Web sites, check your e-mail, make appointments in your calendar, watch the latest You Tube videos, listen to music, take pictures, make movies, direct you to your next meeting with spoken turn-by-turn directions, and even make phone calls.

With all that excitement in your pocket it’s easy to forget that most of us are also tethered to one or more wired phones at home and work. Missing an important call from a client is easy to do if you don’t hear your cell phone ring, and don’t bother checking your office voice mail before heading out on Friday afternoon. Using only a cell phone works for some people, but it’s not practical if your company has a main and/or toll free number, or for those cases where you have to transfer a caller down the hall.

Google seems to be everywhere these days so I guess it’s not surprising that they are also trying to shake up the old fashioned phone business with a service called Google Voice. (No surprise, AT&T has already complained to the FCC about Google Voice, trying to nip this upstart competitor in the bud.) Like many of their other new online tools Google Voice is technically in beta test so it’s not guaranteed to be reliable, available, or ever become a real product. But for now at least Google Voice is available, mostly reliable, free, and really handy for small businesses in particular.
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Aug 7th, 2009 1 Comment

CrossLoop screen sharing improves phone meetings

CrossLoop logo

Have you ever been on the phone with a client across the country when you wanted to show them something on your computer? You can try reading the URL. (Me: type this URL. Client: what’s a URL? Me: nevermind. in the address bar of your browser, type httpcolonslashslashwww… Client: wait. what’s a colon?) But that’s a great way to waste valuable time and aggravate the client. If you have a spreadsheet, or some artwork to show them your only option is usually to e-mail the file – another great way to waste the client’s time on the phone, and they might not be able to open your file anyway.
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Jul 27th, 2009 No Comments

Twitter guide for business

Twitter logo


The folks at Twitter have just released an interesting new guide for businesses. Called Twitter 101, the online guide (also available for download as a PDF file) provides a comprehensive overview of Twitter, the terminology you’ll need to understand, and best practices.

The really fun stuff is the case studies from companies like Dell, Pepsi, JetBlue, CoffeeGroundz, and Teusner Wines. Some of these companies are large, public corporations while others have just a few people. Lots of good ideas in there that would apply to any business.