Random Neural Firings

the inner workings of a restless creative brain

My Most Favorite App Ever (Tech Tuesday)

June14

I love Grocery IQ. First, the fine print: it’s free and available on iPhone, Android and iPad. So you don’t even have to think about whether or not you want to spend the money or whether it’s available on your phone. It is available, unless you have a Blackberry, of course, but if you have a Blackberry, you’re already used to getting the short end of the app stick. (It’s free because Coupons.com owns it and wants you to use their coupons. I don’t have a problem with that.)

This is my favorite app, hands down. I use it every day. It solves a problem I have – multiple grocery/drugstore/Target lists laying around on pieces of scrap paper, scattered around the kitchen, and NEVER IN MY PURSE WHEN I NEED THEM. It also solves the memory/responsibility problem. What’s that? It goes something like this:

Chris: We’re almost out of paper towels. We should remember to get that next time we’re at the store (transferring the responsibility to remember to me).

Me: (scrambling for one of my scrap papers OR barely listening/registering what he said because I’m wiping snot off my son’s nose) – Uh, yeah, sure, and uh, we need garlic. I think we’re out of garlic. Do you know if we’re out of garlic? And lemons? (transferring the responsibility to look to him)

Fast forward to the next day at Publix as we’re cramming the kid into a “car” cart and rushing to the bakery for his free cookie:

Me: what was that thing you said I should remember to get?

Chris: Uh, uh, uh . . . oh gosh, what was it? (wiping chocolate off son’s mouth)

This app SOLVES all that and more. Next time you run out of something, whip out your phone, and add it to the list. You can choose which list because the app lets you organize by store. Which is perfect for me because some of the items we like are only available at certain stores. So I have a Whole Foods list, a Publix list, a Target list, and so on. The app is smart and uses predictive text, so as I start typing, it pulls up a list of suggested items – including brands they carry at your selected store. Once you add the item, it automatically categorizes by department, so all your produce items are grouped together, deli items together, etc. How freakin’ awesome is that???

Maybe you don’t care which store you get your toilet paper from. That’s fine. When you add your item, just pop it in the list for “any store” and it’ll show up on your list no matter which store you’re at.

Back to the kitchen and the oatmeal you just ran out of. You also have the option to scan the barcode and pop it into your list that way. Nice. Or click on the coupons tab and see what deals are out there. You can send those coupons to your printer straight from the app, too.

Or, let’s say you’re working late and don’t have time to go to the store, but your husband does. You can EMAIL HIM THE LIST right from the app! (Or, if he has the app on his phone, too, you can sync the lists.)

I’m telling you, GroceryIQ is the THE MOST USEFUL APP EVER. At least, until I come out with my own app, which I hope to launch in a few weeks. For real! Pinch me and all that.

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Tech Tuesday – Stream Movies Free on Amazon

February22

Today, Amazon announced a service with unlimited streaming of over 5,000 movies and T.V. shows – FREE if you’re a Prime member, which I am. I have to be. I order so much from Amazon that I think UPS in my region would have to layoff a worker if I stopped.

Prime membership is $79/year and gets you free two-day shipping on a whole lot of things. I’ve even bought an umbrella on Amazon when we left ours behind on a trip. I just ordered a box of my son’s oatmeal, which was cheaper than at the store, and free to ship. And Parents, join Amazon Mom NOW if you haven’t already. It’s free and you get 30% off diapers and wipes. BEST DEAL ON DIAPERS OUT THERE. Trust me, I’ve done the research. (Better than Costco even.)

But back to the movies. Here are details on today’s announcement. Happy streaming!

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Tech Tuesday – Pandora’s (Music) Box

January18

Have you tried Pandora yet? Pandora is an Internet music station that figures out what kind of music you like and serves you up more of it. They call it the music genome project. As I understand it, they analyze the rhythm, beats, instrumentation, etc., of artists you like and create radio stations for you of similarly styled music.

I have to say it works great. I love music by the Killers and so I set up a Killers station. The way Pandora works is when you click on one of your stations, it first plays a song by that artist. So I’m listening to a Killers song right now. But next, it might play something by Coldplay or Muse or Queen – and nine times out of ten, it’s a song I have on my iPod or wish I had. It’s a great way to have a mix tape without taking the time to put it together. And of course, you get introduced to some new songs and artists in the process.

You can set up as many artist stations as you like. They’ll serve up a quick ad every 5 or 6 songs or so. They also have their own created stations by genre. When we were in the mood for some Christmas music over the holidays, we just quickly surfed over to Pandora and played their holiday station.

They have great apps for your phone, too.

I honestly have no idea how they mapped my music genome (for real?) but somehow they got inside my musical head and nail it every time.

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Tech Tools to Help You Move

October20

Still up to our eyeballs in boxes and of course, all the utilities hookups are not going smoothly (I’m talking to you, Comcast, and you, Atlanta Gas Light.) No heat or hot water so we’re staying in a hotel until that is resolved (tomorrow). Technically no cable or Internet and Comcast gave us the wrong phone number.

But it’s still Tech Tuesday here at Random Neural Firings so I thought I’d take my real-life moving fiasco and tell you what technology tools we’re using to make this easier.

First, let’s start with the moving company. We found a great one through Kudzu. Have you ever used them? The company we selected had rave reviews and indeed, they have been great to work with.

Second, with the cable fiasco, I don’t even mess around with calling customer service. I send out a tweet about it and generally, Comcast responds very quickly on Twitter and escalates it to corporate.

How do I tweet without Internet service, you ask? I have a Palm Pre smartphone with a Twitter application called Tweed. So yesterday, while the installer was here telling us what he couldn’t/wouldn’t do, I launched Tweed and had at it with some of the Comcast folks on Twitter.

So how am I creating this post without an Internet connection? Well, I could have done it last night from the hotel but I was too tired, and I was still dealing with Comcast until very late. I have a MiFi card from Sprint. It’s basically a portable Internet connection that is about the size of a credit card. It’s around $50/month and it allows you to have a good Internet signal from just about anywhere. Does your local coffee shop charge you for Internet service, like my new neighborhood shop does? Screw ’em. Take your MiFi card with you. Is your hotel Internet connection so slow it feels like the old dial-up days? Screw ’em. Fire up your MiFi. Are you WAITING FOR COMCAST to come back out and do what they were supposed to do in the first place? SCREW ‘EM and find a warm spot between a tower of boxes, boot up your laptop, fire up your MiFi and surf your troubles away.

Interested in any of these tech tools but need help? Drop me a note and I’ll be happy to assist. (sherean at gmail dot com)

OK, on a lighter, non-technical note, my 11-month old seems to be surviving the move pretty well. He’s been a bit fussy at times and he would NOT go to sleep the first night in the hotel, but he slept well the last couple of nights. And last night, he scooted/crawled forward for the first time! In the hotel! He’s obviously a late crawler, and usually all he does is scoot himself backwards or in circles but last night, he inched himself forward about a foot.

Of course, I immediately Facebooked and tweeted about it. :-)

Come back tomorrow for a CUTE moving picture!

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Tech Tuesday – Figure Out Which Hotels You’re Bidding On (Hotwire and Priceline)

October13

This site won’t win any design awards, but if you’re looking for serious insider help getting the best hotel rates, you won’t care what the site looks like. My hubby and I were planning a trip to NYC for our anniversary and I was coming up short with my usual research; the room rates in NY were stupidly expensive. Googling away, I found this site called BetterBidding.com. If you like to use Hotwire (and I do), they have all kinds of cheat sheets to help you figure out which hotels match up with your Hotwire search results. You can then go check those hotels out on TripAdvisor or another review engine and see if it’s a decent place. And if you still can’t figure it out, post a request for help on the boards and you’ll get very useful tips, rates, and links. It’s like having a travel agent who really knows how to “game the system.” Be sure and use the links they provide you; this guy makes his money through the referrals.

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Tech Tuesday – Amazon’s Universal Wish List (re-post)

September29

Do you keep a wish list on Amazon? I do. It’s a great way for me to keep track of things I’m interested in but don’t want to buy now. And it provides a handy cheat sheet for my in-laws when my birthday rolls around. But as much as I love Amazon, they don’t sell everything I love. (I do buy just about everything from them, including diapers and umbrellas!) What if I really want a darling little necklace from an Etsy seller? Wouldn’t it be great if I could add that to my Amazon wish list? Well, you can! Just use their Universal Wish List button. Drag and drop it into your web browser tool bar and any time you see something you like, simply click on the button and add it to your Amazon wish list. When your friends or family go shopping for you, they’ll see all your favorite things, including the ones that can’t be bought on Amazon.

UPDATE. Since I first posted this in June, some of you have told me about another great way to use Amazon’s wish lists: create wish lists for your children! That way, when birthday time or the holidays roll around, your friends and family will know what to buy. I know I’m always bugging my friends and relatives to give me a list of what their kids want. I love the moms who just send me a link, ya’ know? But a link to an entire wish list? Even better!

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Tech Tuesday – Skip the Voice Mail Jail

September8

You’re busy, right? Too busy to wait on hold while a computer voice tells you which number to push, only to have to sit through another message to get the next command, when all you really want to do is to is have some fun, AND speak with a real live person! Icall it the “Voice Mail Jail.” Have you noticed that you can’t just press “0” any more to get to a real person? It’s like they’re onto us or something.

Well, we’re onto them, too. Worth bookmarking, GetHuman.com gives you the short cuts to get through to a humanoid. The guys behind this site are on a mission for consistent standards, among other things.

That’s it for today’s tech tip. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see us tip-i-fy.

And don’t forget to register for this week’s giveaway to win an outfit from CandyStick Lane or The JumpOff. Entries must be received by midnight Wednesday, 9/09. And we’ll announce a NEW giveaway this Thursday, and every Thursday this month.

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Tech Tuesday – Manage Information Overload

September1

google-readerYou’ve got a career, a family, friends . . . you know, a life. You can’t find time to read all your emails, much less keep up with the news you want to read.

One of the most helpful things I’ve done is set up an RSS reader. What’s an RSS reader? RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication. Your favorite websites and blogs (like this one) have an RSS feed that you can subscribe to. This will let you know when there is a new post and give you a quick summary of it (you can then decide to click thru to the full post).

You need to subscribe to these feeds in some sort of a reader. It’s like the personalized My Yahoo or iGoogle pages, both of which use RSS feeds to populate your selected content. But the one I like and use is Google’s Reader. It has a list of my feeds down the left hand side. I click on one and get summaries of stories (or blog posts) in a reading pane — just like email. I scroll through and scan and click if I want to read more. To add a site to your reader, just look for the RSS or Atom XML button on a site. (Sometimes, I do a CTRL+F which is a “find” shortcut and type in “RSS” to find the feed button.) Once you click on that, it’ll ask you where you want to put the feed, and there is almost always an option to add it to your Google Reader.

It’s simple once you get the hang of it. If you try it and need help, just shoot me a note and I’ll help you out.

One more thing: I often read news on my phone when I’m in waiting rooms or standing in lines. You can pull up your Google reader on most mobile phones and it optimizes the content for mobile viewing. That’s another tool I use to keep up with what’s going on and maximize my time a bit.

Subscribe to RandomNeuralFirings in a reader here and never miss a contest or cute baby pic ever again!

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Tech Tuesday – Did You Know You Can Call or Text Google?

August25

Let’s say you’re craving Indian food at 2:30 and can’t remember if that restaurant you like closes at 2:00 for lunch. You’re in your car, you’re pre-menstrual, and don’t have the number. What do you do? It’s simple, Nancy Drew. Simply send a text message to Google (466453) with the restaurant name and city and they will text you back the phone number. (Which, if you’re on a smart phone, you can probably just click on to dial.) Or let’s say you’re out and about and in the mood to see a movie but don’t know what’s playing or even what theaters are nearby. Simply text Google with the word “movies” and your zip code or city and they’ll kindly text you back the theaters, movies, and times. Oh, and Google SMS (Short Messaging Service a/k/a “text”) is FREE.

OK, but let’s say you’re pre-menstraul, craving Indian, AND your thumbs hurt too much to text. That’s o.k., Princess. Just CALL Google: 1 (800) GOOG-411 and tell them what you need. It’s like the old directory service 411 call, only it’s free. They’ll tell you the number, or connect you directly, and they’ll even text you the number for future reference.

You literally have the world at your fingertips.

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Tech Tuesday – Use BankRate to Find Best Interest Rates

August18

Looking for a mortgage loan? Or maybe you want to put your savings in a CD? You can quickly search for the best interest rates at BankRate.com. I first used it when my husband and I were engaged and planning our wedding. We opened our first joint checking account together and I wondered if there were any that paid interest. I went on BankRate.com, found a checking account that did pay interest (with no minimum balance) and so began our financial tethering. While we were setting up that account, I noticed that the bank offered an equity line that was one point MINUS prime; my husband had been paying the standard one point PLUS prime. So we switched that over, too, while we were at it.

Great, useful site. We’ll be using it again soon as we search for the best mortgage rate (if we’re able to sell our house). Fingers crossed!

Got a tech problem or an idea for a future Tech Tip? Email me (sherean at gmail dot com) and I’ll do my best to help you out.

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Tech Tuesday – Find Stuff with Control F

August11

If you’ve ever gone to a site with a really long scrolling page (ahem, like this one!) and tried to find that one post you were looking for, you know how maddening it can be to scroll and scroll and scroll. . . look away for a second and you’ve passed the spot you were looking for. Fortunately, for impatient folks (or redheads like me), there’s a super simple shortcut: use the Control key and hold down the F key at the same time (Ctrl+F). It’ll pop up a little “Find” dialog box in the bottom left hand of your screen. See here in the example I posted? I was looking for the funny brownie pans that Unclutterer blogged about so I typed in “brownie” and the computer wizard popped me down to the first instance of the word and helpfully highlighted it for me. I’ve used this a lot lately scrolling through real estate listings. My husband will ask, “what about that house on Park Lane?” and I’ll go to the results page on Realtor.com which is a mile long, Ctrl+F it, and pop to that listing. Super simple and it’s your Tech Tip Tuesday!

controlF

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Tech Tuesday – Open Table

July28

Anything that saves me a few minutes is O.K. in my book. Well, almost anything. I can’t be bothered with a hot dog machine, for instance, no matter how much time it saves me.

But OpenTable? I love it! It’s an online restaurant reservation system. Free, of course. Friends coming to town and you’re looking for the perfect place for a large group? Or maybe you have a client you’d like to meet for lunch. Rather than call around to see who has a table, simply click your way around OpenTable. It’s super simple. You can even put in special requests for the restaurant such as “it’s my friend’s birthday” or “table next to the window please” or in my case, “do NOT let my dad pay for the meal no matter what he says.”

Sign up for a free account and earn rewards each time you book through them. Redeem rewards points for dining gift certificates (I’ve just earned a $20 one for doing nothing but booking my reservations online!).

They have great mobile apps, too. I’ve used that many times when I’ve been out and looking for a place to go to lunch. Just pulled up OpenTable on my phone and found the perfect spot.

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Tech Tuesday – Amazon’s Universal Wish List

July21

Do you keep a wish list on Amazon? I do. It’s a great way for me to keep track of things I’m interested in but don’t want to buy now. And it provides a handy cheat sheet for my in-laws when my birthday rolls around. But as much as I love Amazon, they don’t sell everything I love. (I do buy just about everything from them, including diapers and umbrellas!) What if I really want a darling little necklace from an Etsy seller? Wouldn’t it be great if I could add that to my Amazon wish list? Well, you can! Just use their Universal Wish List button. Drag and drop it into your web browser tool bar and any time you see something you like, simply click on the button and add it to your Amazon wish list. When your friends or family go shopping for you, they’ll see all your favorite things, including the ones that can’t be bought on Amazon.

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Tech Tuesday – Create PDF Files for Free

July14

Ever wonder how people create those nifty PDF files? They must have the full version of Acrobat (translation: expensive!), right? Or maybe they’re using one of these nifty free tools that Mashable has so kindly catalogued. I use PDF995 myself and it works like a charm.

So now you can be like all the cool kids (i.e. graphic designers) and make your own PDF files.

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Tech Tuesday – Manage Information Overload

July7

google-readerYou’ve got a career, a family,  friends . . . you know, a life. You can’t find time to read all your emails, much less keep up with the news you want to read.

One of the most helpful things I’ve done is set up an RSS reader. What’s an RSS reader? RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication. Your favorite websites and blogs (like this one) have an RSS feed that you can subscribe to. This will let you know when there is a new post and give you a quick summary of it (you can then decide to click thru to the full post).

You need to subscribe to these feeds in some sort of a reader. It’s like the personalized My Yahoo or iGoogle pages, both of which use RSS feeds to populate your selected content. But the one I like and use is Google’s Reader. It has a list of my feeds down the left hand side. I click on one and get summaries of stories (or blog posts) in a reading pane — just like email. I scroll through and scan and click if I want to read more. To add a site to your reader, just look for the RSS or Atom XML button on a site. (Sometimes, I do a CTRL+F which is a “find” shortcut and type in “RSS” to find the feed button.) Once you click on that, it’ll ask you where you want to put the feed, and there is almost always an option to add it to your Google Reader.

It’s simple once you get the hang of it. If you try it and need help, just shoot me a note and I’ll help you out.

One more thing: I often read news on my phone when I’m in waiting rooms or standing in lines. You can pull up your Google reader on most mobile phones and it optimizes the content for mobile viewing. That’s another tool I use to keep up with what’s going on and maximize my time a bit.

Subscribe to RandomNeuralFirings in a reader here.

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