Month: March 2015

FutureMind Weblock and AdBlock for iOS Software Review/Shout-out:

Every week, practically every day one hears of data breeches/attacks on various sites and services. When one is not having their critical data potentially stolen, it seems we are being watched by prying eyes of various bodes, companies, and associations, via cookies, transparent GIF’s, and general ad tracking code. Such intrusions are hazards that need to be dealt with smartly.

I, for one, am very concerned with my identity’s presence on the web, therefore I use multiple tools to try and turn the tide against these and more threats. The usage of antivirus/firewall/antispam on any device that supports them is the first line of defense, but not an option on Apple mobile devices. These devices are somewhat hardened to infections, but lack critical coverage for ads and tracking constructs to close the gap. This is a critical area that needs to be addressed by Apple, or a forward-looking company to step in and correct this flaw.

For myself, I have always used adblocking plugins on my desktop devices and browsers, and have been looking for a way to bring that to my portable experiences as well. I have wanted an iOS version of a popular adblocking plug (AdBlock Plus) in available to Chrome and Firefox desktop, but it was not available. Recently, I discovered a company, called FutureMind, who makes many applications, but the two standouts that fix the above issue are Weblock and AdBlock for iOS.

These, two programs, available on the Apple iOS App Store for $1.99 USD and $0.99 (respectfully), give excellent approaches to blocking the annoying/dubious content. They have their differences and uses, but both are great choices, depending on what sort of environments that your devices may be used. I will now go over each piece of software, in greater detail.

Weblock allows you to block content on Wi-Fi connections, with customizing rules, based upon whitelisted/blacklisted URLs. Weblock also allows you to set filters, manually, which allow you to control what is or is not blocked, and even make custom rulesets above this protection. The customization is great for users, who want to configure the blocking and filter settings, in detail, while only needing blocking on Wi-Fi (great for home usage or on devices without a cellular data plan). Around two dollars is not a bad price for the streamlining of apps and the added peace of mind this provides.

AdBlock for iOS, on the other hand, is a “set it and forget it” model of blocking. Currently, you purchase and install the app from the Store, run the Setup wizard, and allow it to install a faux VPN configuration file that will function as a cellular/Wi-Fi ad blocking solution. There is no user-defined rulesets or blocking filters that can be set, but this feature is projected to be added, at a later date. While some users may miss this feature now, the ease of configuration and full domain blocking (*.people.com vs. *.people.com/ads) far outweighs these missing features as an offset program. Whether you choose AdBlock for iOS, or the other option, both will serve you well.

I could go on about these fine pieces of software, but I recommend you see for yourself. Check out http://www.weblockapp.com/ and http://www.adblockios.com/ and see what you feel will serve you better. I use both for my various devices, so I can attest as to their usability, functionality, and value. I know I fell better that I have more control of ad tracking and content blocking, and I am sure you will too! As always, until next time. . . Keep on fighting the fight of web privacy and disabled user empowerment.

BolideSoft AllMyBooks 4.3 Review:

One constant that has remained with us, since the days of the Cradle of Civilization in Mesopotamia, is the recording of the written word. Whether impressed onto clay tablets to the Gutenberg Press, we have been recording our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and knowledge to preserve and share with others. Even with the advent of the “paperless society” promised to us by the new technological marvels, we still read/consume information in very similar ways, today.

With such a vast array of written knowledge, how to catalog/peruse their holdings becomes a paramount issue for many people. How best to do that is a varied question that has many possible answers. You can choose to use pen and paper (old school), an office suite program (MS-Access/Excel, LibreOffice Base), or a dedicated piece of software, for the task.

How do you choose with these options available to you? Do you consider the expense of the chosen solution? Costs play a role for what is chosen, but that is only one factor to consider. The feature set should be the most important? That, too, is a key thing to add to your list for what to consider. How about the convenience factor? The true answer is all of the above!

While you could pick from my prior list, my personal recommendation is a specialized piece of software that is cost-effective, easy to use, and fully featured. Of the titles that are out there, for my book cataloging, only one choice springs to mind, Bolide Software’s AllMyBooks.

All_My_Books_Sample_shot
Sample Bookshelf View with book media information

They have three levels of software that you can choose from: Single-License ($39.95/1-2 personal computers), Family ($59.95/1-6 computers in your family), and Business ($99.95/commercial & library usage).  Future upgrades to new major versions can be bought for a 50% price reduction (which is optional, and not subscription-based, like some competitors).

This fine piece of software is easy to install, via a simple installer that is bloat-free, contains no adware, and cleanly installs. Once installed, the software can first be tried for 30-Days, without payment, to see if the features work well for you. If you choose to, you can go ahead and purchase it, or go ahead and do the said trial.

Whatever you choose at the onset, the software starts up, and allows you to very easily look at a demo library to see how the program lays out things. Adding books (Hardback, Paperback, eBook, etc.) from a wizard popup menu is fast, easy, and allows you to get not only the vital statistics of the titles, but even cover images. Once added, you can see titles as a list, coverflow (a la iTunes) or even virtual bookshelves (stone metal, wood).

All_My_Books_Add
Add Wizard/Genre Tagging Window

I could go on, but to save your time (and mine), check out Bolide Software, and try AllMyBooks. While you are there, checkout their other fine software titles that might suit some of your other software needs.

Mailbird Pro In-Depth Review

Today, one the key things that people face is how to better organize themselves, their environment, and the proper flow of informational input. Nowadays, info comes into one’s home or place of business at a very rapid rate. Emails (personal and business) social network connections (Facebook, Twitter), document sharing (Evernote, Google Docs), contacts and appointments (Google calendar and address books), pour in throughout the day. It can be a jumbled mess! How can you tame the clutter, and deal with what you need to, easily? You could just try and do you tasks in web browser windows. One problem of this is that it is too cluttered and many times, advertising-laden. Also, if you are working on other internet-related projects, your web browser interface may be occupied for these other tasks; not suitable for switching back and forth. Secondly, you have to take in everything posted, digest the contents, and then sort out what you might need now, later, or not at all.  An example of this is a very full inbox in one’s email account. You open your inbox in the morning, and find twenty-five messages. Some you need for your tasks at hand, some are from co-workers, family, junk, and so forth. In a traditional email window, you have to look closely, so things end up in the right places (spam/junk in a Junk folder, business emails in your Business folders, family stuff in dedicated folders, etc.) .With a basic email web portal or client; this is time-consuming and lost productivity. The problem exacerbates itself, when you also have to sort your Facebook messages, posts, appointments, and shared documents. Now you must make judgment calls on what to tackle now, times how many interacting vertices of communication that you use. Should I send that email to Jose now, reply to Robert’s tag of me in his photo, or where did I place that budget proposal for next quarter for Cindy? Before you know it, you have lost thirty minutes on tasks that should have taken 5-10 minutes. I have found a solution that deals with all of the above, and so much more. That solution is Mailbird Pro.

Continue reading “Mailbird Pro In-Depth Review”

Bolide Movie Creator HD Review

In today’s market, finding the right video editor software that meets your needs and meets your price point is a little daunting. Many software titles that are available are poorly supported, under featured, and overpriced. The top contenders cost in the near $100.00+ USD price range, and have a steep learning curve. Finding something that non-technical people can operate, and do so effectively, for a fraction of the cost is a tall order. Fortunately, Bolide Software comes to the rescue, with Bolide Movie Creator HD. This is the perfect way to create a polished video presentation, instructional video, or a custom compilation of various clips for everybody. My wife (who is a professional artist) recently started to create instructional and promotional videos for her web-based business. She takes her artwork (in progress), and goes systematically as to how it is done, to help her audience better relate and understand her process. The avenue that she uses to broadcast her message is YouTube. Rendering the video in a quality standard that is legible, viewable on multiple devices, and such is a little hard to get right. With our internet connection, it takes all night to upload her files, as the video tools that she has been using do not make it easy for her to streamline her workflow to better get the file loaded in a balanced quality/file size for playback. She has been using some basic tools, including with our operating system, and I feel the end result could be better accomplished by higher quality tools. Recently, I discovered that one of my favorite independent software developers have gotten into this arena is Bolide Software ($39.95/Single-User License). As I alluded to earlier, their Movie Creator allows one to take their images, music, and elements that are needed for the production; places them in a window that can be adjusted readily.  You can then add transitions, framing devices (picture frames, billboards, device screens, etc.), and then watch a preview of the changes. Once you get things in order, you can set output settings to common video formats (480p, 720p, 1080p), and then render them for playback/upload purposes. Bolide_Movie_creator_sample_shot_01 Bolide_Movie_creator_sample_shot_02 Bolide_Movie_creator_sample_shot_03 I could go into more details, but you can check out my screenshots of some of my wife’s art stills (Note: The images of my wife’s work are FULLY COPYRIGHTED!!!, and used with her permission; All Rights Reserved) that I have used in my sample project. If you like what you see, check out http://movie-creator.com. Until next time, stay tuned.

A Quick Shout-Out on a Great Toolbox for my Techie Folowers

I recently came across a wonderful full-featured tool box for Power Users and Computer Technicians. While surfing the message-boards for new tools to test, detect, and diagnose HDD’s, in an anticipation for Windows 10 release, later this year, I found a great site/tool-set to accomplish this goal. A long-time software pioneer and tech-savvy trailblazer, Michael Ayers has been compiling the best tools that he has used into a cohesive suite of software. The site and tool-box is called GeGeek.   GeGeek.com has nearly twenty categories to fit whatever you need, from reference documents, parts, to utilities and maintenance. The flagship product is GeGeek Tech Toolkit, a launcher ha t allows you to find, install, and launch numerous key utilities that can save your system from certain doom. The software is now donationware, but well worth your money, especially if you need such tools to help you achieve your goals. Check it out, and tell Mike I sent you!

Magic: Origins Duels – Coming Summer 2015!

I know that I am late to the party, but I just heard this past weekend that the next Magic: The Gathering electronic game in the series is coming out in July of this year for most platforms, and PlayStation 4 sometime in the fall. The title is called Magic: Origins Duels (a take on the recently renamed M16 Core set), which chronicles key moments in the life of five key Planeswalkers, and how they became the characters we know and love of today.

magic-duels_-origins-logo

A digital prequel to the game’s current time period, and allows both new and returning players a chance to see where the game is coming from. A key difference that this new version is unveiling is that that game is going free-to-play. With stiff competition from the likes of Hearthstone, failed monetary models of the past, few editions (specifically 2014’s Sealed Deck Slots, and 2015’s trouble of Premium Boosters and no 2HG mode), and the changing game landscape with mobile platforms, this was bound to happen.

So how will the game flow, and how can cards be obtained. The current explanation is a little sparse, but the gist is that players can download the client (base game), and start to earn cards, either by grinding (playing matches, winning, adding/subtracting cards) or by paying for content. They promise that ALL content can be accessed either way; the only difference is that the time invested for grinding versus just getting it right away for a money cost. While I do not as of yet, play Hearthstone, I understand a similar model is used by Blizzard for their CCG card game, as well.

In addition, there are rumors that this game will break away from annual releases, in favor of new content (cards, expansions, modes, etc.) that will release periodically. It is high time, in my opinion, and in many players, that this is well overdue and better reflects the game we have been playing for over twenty years. Some people may not know that is the reason that the card backs on actual cards have never been changed. So theoretically, you could play any card printed with any other card that is legal in a format (Standard, Extended, Modern, Legacy, etc.). In taking all of this in, and evaluating my experiences with this game series, playing with actual cards in person, and my expertise in being a long-time gamer (disabled and non-disabled), I do have some key thoughts.

First of all, this is a critical move to save the series. The player-base has become more disgruntled and jaded with how this series has been developed. They cite constant bugs that are never patched, lobby problems, cheaters finding ways to lagged the game, and so forth. By allowing the developers (who I assume will be Stainless Games) to develop one client, and iterate on that base, they can maybe systematically be able to squash these long-time bugs for good. This will help restore confidence in the product; not by itself but contribute.

Secondly, making the game free-to-play will better accomplish the goals of this series; namely getting new people/players interested in playing Magic. I know that if i did not ever play Magic prior to now, getting into this game with an upfront cost of around $20.00 (base game, expansion/boosters) might be off-putting. People are much more willing to spend that amount of money or more on something they are familiar with or at least know how to operate/play (DVD/Blu-ray, Video Game, Music). Allowing players to try the game, win some cards, see how the turn flow works, will encourage not discourage them from picking up the habit, and playing (in person, as well as digitally).

Thirdly, having the optioning of playing Magic without cost, in a digital format will allow people like myself (on a fixed income) to continue to play and be social. While I have been able to eek out the funds to keep playing the last, few years this will give me and this disable community the flexibility to play for free and grind stuff or if we are able to, on occasion, buy digital product. That alone has me open and encouraged to try this model for digital Magic.

There are some potential detractions that I should mention in good standing of fairness and balance. Many free-to-play games do suffer quality content issues and frequency of releases. I do not feel that Magic will suffer this fate, but I cannot say for certain that it will not. Developers take a risk that their product will be compelling enough to get people to shell out money for the game. That is the main reason that paywalls exist to force the player’s hands. I applaud WOTC and Stainless from staying away from this; risks are being taken none the less.

Another risk is that if the game does not perform well and generate revenue, then the product will be canceled, and no additional development will be forthcoming. The flip-side of that will be the risk this poses to Magic Online (the premier version of digital Magic, where prices fluctuate, based on demand, complex rules, and even digital-to-physical redemption is possible) . This has always been the flagship digital Magic product, and handled internally by WOTC, rather than outside developers. They treat it as their “sacred cow” and hold that is is the advanced way to play Magic. if this succeeds on a grand scale; what will happen to one or both products?

In closing, this idea is long overdue, much needed, and helps open Magic to more players. There may be rocky starts, new bugs, and unforeseen issues, but I am hopeful. Look for this in July for XBox One, PC (Steam), and iPad. PlayStation 4 is expected by the fall. Below is a link to the official YouTube Announcement Trailer:

Collectorz.com CLZ Barry App Review:

As in my last article, I mentioned that I had experience with barcode scanners and inventory entry. I used to be a field service IT tech, working in major retailers and stores to help track parts and installations going in/out of the facility. We used specialized tools and equipment that was fairly expensive, required dedicated hardware, and needed a dedicated network interface for data exchange. Such factors make the cost usually prohibitive for the average consumer.

Thankfully, technology is making our access all the more affordable. Now, instead of needing a dedicated piece of hardware, we can have a scanner in the palm of our hands, in the form of a smartphone or tablet. Not only on these devices do we now have away to collect the data (via camera), but we can use cellular and WI-FI to transmit the data, to when we need it; be it home, work, the store, etc. The question then becomes, what is best option out there, based upon price, usability, platform, flexibility, and support. I can tell you that there are free versions that have some of these qualities; some have some of the features described, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more well-rounded and capability software title/app than Collectorz.com CLZ Barry App.

collectorz_movie_collector_review02

The time savings and convenience are well the investment to have access to a barcode scanner that greatly expedites the process, significantly. Of note, as well, is the ability to be used on either Android or iOS device platforms.

The cost of this powerful, full-featured app is $7.99 USD, and well worth it as I have expressed. One of the great benefits of this app is that once purchased for the platform (barring any unforeseen changes to App Store policies/company pricing models) future updates will be free and potentially add more features as time goes by. A great deal for fewer than eight bucks!

Once key distinction that I have discovered in my usage of this fine product is that is works as bulk barcode scanner, storing the codes by category/class, which can process them to email, text file or direct input into software that will take text input. On top of this great option, there is support for all of the Collectorz suite of software for bulk add/cataloging.

collectorz_clz_barry_review01

(Example above is from Movie Collectorz Pro 9.5b Cobalt; you can enable this feature in various software, by going to the add Title – -Bulk Window).

One final area I want to discuss is the robust online manual and top-tier support for this great piece of technology for us collectors. You know the reputation that Collectorz.com has for their Windows/Mac software support, and they do not flounder in this area for their apps, either. If you have any problem, they are more than willing to help you get the assistance you need, including fast email replies. I know how very happy I have been with the(ir support, and I know that between fabulous software, ease of use, and fine support, you will not go wrong; scanning all day until the cows come home, and your collection is tabulated. Until next time, keep media compiling. . . .

P.S. My wife and I’s heartfelt condolences to the Nimoy family on their great loss. Leonard gave us many happy hours on our TV and movie screens, and he will be so missed! He was always my wife’s favorite actor, and a close favorite of mine. No matter whether searching for Spock, foiling adversaries on Mission: Impossible, or being the villain on an episode of the TV mysteries series, Colombo; he always gave his best and made a definitive impression. Godspeed and second star to the right, until morning!