What's this 'installing' stuff?

Posted by Ed King on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 in , , ,
You're a PC user and the words 'install program' cause you to break out in a cold sweat. I've seen that look of dread on the face of many a Mason when discussing their need to add a program to their system. There's no need for me to recount those horror stories here: we've both lived them far too often. The short, simple, and complete story is that when you purchase an app from iPhone's app store, it installs ALL BY ITSELF!

REALLY. There's nothing more to it than that. I've installed about a hundred programs so far without a single problem, compared to my hundred problems per program install disasters on my PC. With your iPhone, you see the icon appear on your screen, watch a tiny progress bar, and then it's ready for use. Done. Believe it!

It's yet another reason why you'll love your iPhone!

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WoW, George! Here's your reason....

Posted by Ed King on Monday, April 27, 2009 in , , ,
Or perhaps "excuse" would be the better word in that heading.

My Lodge's Secretary, a Past Senior Grand Warden, has a secret. Now since he hasn't told me that it's one I should keep as a Mason, I'm going to tell all of you: he's a World of Warcraft addict. Oh, he won't admit it but if you ask his wife, she'll probably tell you. His father, a PGM, has no idea what this is all about but for George, it's a way to keep in contact with his (blood) brother, cousins, etc. who all romp about in this, ostensibly the biggest online game ever. (Me? I'm still back in the days of the original Zork - but that's another whole story.)

Now there may be a reason for George - and all the rest of you 10 million WOWers - to seriously consider getting an iPhone. Yesterday while both George and I were at a Maine Masonic College program "The Tenets of Freemasonry and the Four Cardinal Virtues, Living With Meaning", The iPhone Blog posted a story about World of Warcraft coming to an iPhone. They point to Touch Arcade who had posted the story a bit earlier that day as well.

So while I'm trying to convince George and the rest that having a panoramic camera feature made it all worthwhile, the lost word - for him at least - had been found amongst the rubble of my tweets right there on my iPhone in the Tweetie application.

So, George: your Jedi Knight is once again doing the mind-meld thing. Find that AT&T store now! But PLEASE don't tell your wife why: I've got enough angry women chasing me around, thankyouverymuch.

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A blast from the past: Police Scanner

Posted by Ed King on Saturday, April 25, 2009 in , ,
Depending on your age, you either (a) remember when you got your first police scanner and you’ve been listening ever since, (b) remember when you got a police scanner but had to give it up to keep peace in the family, or (c) have no idea what a police scanner is/does. Now your iPhone can be a real, live police scanner and you can (once again?) spend some quality time listening to the many challenges faced by your local law enforcement and fire protection agencies – and this time, it won’t cost a half-week’s pay. In fact, you can move the decimal place two points to the left from what you might well have paid several years ago.

If you’ve never listened to a police scanner before, the experience is a bit like trying Scotch: you’ll either like it or you’ll hate it. Maybe, just maybe, you will develop a taste for it after time but likely you won’t if you aren’t hooked right at the start. It does take a while to be able to quickly follow the 10 codes (lists for your local area can be found via Google) but if you’re at all familiar with your area, you will be waiting on the next call to see what’s going on.

I found this app by accident and – unlike a lot of iPhone app downloaders – actually followed the instructions before whining about things in the reviews. I checked the developer’s website to see if there was coverage for my area. It showed my county dispatch for both fire and police so I went ahead and paid my $2.99. It installed and away we went. As you police scanner buffs know, Friday and Saturday nights can be exciting but I started on a Tuesday in the rain. It was pretty boring and I wondered if this was something I’d outgrown. Wednesday night I put it on again and at about 2125, my ears perked up when I heard the dispatcher giving the license information on – of all things – a PMC of our DeMolay Chapter. WHOOPS! A gentle call from ‘Dad’ King the next day was added to my FCtasks program on the iPhone but subsequently deleted when they reported back that the stop was for a burnt tail light. Brandon scraped by on that one – although I did learn he had a speeding violation unknown to me previously. (Any DeMolay Advisor would recognize the mischievous grin on my face!)

Listening to a police scanner (once again?) is yet another of the MANY things you can do with your iPhone - and for less than three bucks, you may be able to find out some of the details for that police car racing to the house up the street.

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Finding those apps....

Posted by Ed King on Friday, April 24, 2009 in , ,
A LOT of Masons are curious about things. It was, perhaps, their curiosity that brought them to the fraternity in the first place and most have never lost it. So you've got an iPhone and now you're curious about the depth and breadth of apps that are offered.

The first and most logical choice is the app store but, sadly, that's pretty much a one-by-one deal. You pick something and then go off to see what it's all about. Then press 'Back' and start again. Very inefficient. There is, though, something much better AND it will prevent you from reexamining apps that you'd looked at before as well as bookmarking those you don't want to get right now but might decide to grab later.

It's a website called AppBeacon and it's about the greatest thing since sliced bread for somebody like me. Create a login and away you go. You 'sink' the apps you don't like and either bookmark or note that you own it for the rest. Simple as can be. They've got categories so you can head for what you want and leave the rest although you'll likely find things of interest everywhere. The site keeps track of what you've seen on prior visits and only shows you the things you've not sunk/kept. And the best part: it's all free.

AppBeacon is a truly helpful website that keeps me finding more 'stuff' every day - and boy, can I collect 'stuff'.... Right, dear?

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There's an app for that....

Posted by Ed King on Thursday, April 23, 2009 in , , ,
Since getting my iPhone, I've caused a few family members, colleagues, and Masonic Brothers to come precariously close to needing professional eye care treatment because of the eye-rolling they do when I say.... Well, there IS an app for that. Really!

A few weeks ago we had an early-season thunderstorm. As things got more noisy and the storm came pushing through, it was clear we were pretty darn close to the center of activity. I had JUST barely browsed the Apps Store and found - hold on for it - an application that tells you how far away a lightning strike is. Sure enough, there was one just for that.

BANG! My wife, down the hall, hollered "That was CLOSE! I wish we knew how far away that one was." whereupon I came rushing in, siezed her (little Masonic reference there, get it?) and pointed to the iPhone saying, "There's an app for that."

For my next project, I'll be putting plumbing in the dog house for such times. Is there an app that will help me with that?

Incidentally, the app is called "FlashBang" from Refactr, LLC. The best part? It - like so many other handy apps - is FREE. Amaze your friends and never have to do the "one and one thousand" dance again. (Also check out Refactr's 'LeanTo (tm)' product if you do website development. Looks pretty interesting!)

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A tip calculator for the intelligent - and wary

Posted by Ed King on Thursday, April 23, 2009 in ,
To me, tip calculators are sheer idiocy. If you can't do 10% and then halve it, add the two together and then add it to the.... Well, maybe it's not so idiotic after all. On the other hand, Brethren, mathematics IS one of the seven cardinal virtues....

But I digress! Out here in Vacationland, crime problems are relatively minor but with the influx of summer tourists are also a few unscrupulous 'from away' restaurant staff hoping to make some money. Color me naive but it never crossed my mind that someone might later change a tip amount I'd written down on a credit card statement. In talking with friends, I'm surprised to hear how often it happens.

A solution? The iPhone Checksum Tips Calculator (catch the bad waiter). If you're a software developer or someone who provides programs for download, you understand instantly the value of a checksum. To the rest of us mortals, it's just something else to breeze by. However, by getting this nifty little app for only 99 cents you can create a nearly foolproof methodology to use for glancing over your credit card statements at the end of the month.

For example, if your dinner bill is $50, a 15% tip is $7.50 making the total $57.50. Checksum Tip Calculator will round the dollar portion to 58, and since 5+8=13, the total will be $58.13. So, when you get your credit card statements, you can give it a quick glance, and make sure all the restaurant charges conform to this checksum pattern. No need to dig out all the receipts and compare each charge. Save time, and keep your peace of mind.

The program's maker, Sudobility, also has an interesting set of camera filters, a golf scope and more. I'll be reporting on some of these in future posts.

Checksum tip calculator seems like a keen idea. Is anyone using this? Will you now? Leave a comment....

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Franklin-Covey: you gotta love it!

Posted by Ed King on Thursday, April 23, 2009 in , , , ,
Warning: LONG post - but this is important stuff. You might finally get organized!

AppCraver and iPhone App Reviews Net both featured good reviews of the FCTasks app by FranklinCovey. This post is more specific to Masonic activity. I got hooked on the Franklin task/time management system well before Mr. Covey came along and when our Brother Ben was on their logo. Ssoftware implementation of their paper products has always been, in my opinion, spastic. Nevertheless, their task management system is unique and once 'worked' in your life, really does increase productivity even for the inveterate procrastinators like myself.

What's wrong with ol' Outlook or the myriad of other planners etc.? I like my tasks sliced and diced differently. It's not just A, B, or C. It's A4 and C27.... I've never been able to do A1 and then move to A2 but at least I understand the system which is more, apparently, than those who've written software programs they've sold prior to now.

This iPhone app, though, seems a rare exception to all that's gone before. It's certainly a workable app and has most of the features that FC users want/need. There's no calendar: this is a task management program only. Oh, and there's no help file but the FC apps help files over the years were totally useless anyway so you're not missing a darn thing. There's no help file nor YouTube video so those who aren't true FC 'believers' will instantly hate this app.

If your one of the A1 crowd, though, you'll really like this program. For Freemasons, it allows you to categorize things and then just look at the tasks you need to do for that grouping. If you want to look at everything lined up in the future, you can. And, using the old Franklin methodology, you can re-prioritize your tasks each day. (That's the core element of the system: something is likely more/less important tomorrow than it was today.). It's not 'high-medium-low'; it's 'Vital - Important - Optional' - and that really is what life seems to be these days.

This is THE killer app for me - and it works FAR better on the iPhone than it does on a SmartPhone integrated with Outlook. Beyond that, it's always in your pocket so no need to scribble a note and run home to the computer to add it to your task list there.

Two negatives: no syncing desktop app which would make it easier when adding a major project and no recurring tasks. The latter are promised in the next version although I don't hold out hope because of a decade of software disappointments from FC. It sure would be nice though if well implemented. One last note: don't get confused between the FCTasks iPhone app and FranklinCovey's online subscription program "mobile life". I'm writing about the former and really wouldn't need/want the latter.

If you're about to take an office in Lodge which requires a lot of planning (Junior/Senior Warden, Master, Secretary, Chaplain!!!) or if you've taken on some major committee tasks, get this app now and get organized! If you need tips on its use, drop a note below and hopefully we'll get some good ideas going. The $5.99 spent on this paid off far more handsomely than the $6 spent on Powerball tickets last night! (No dear, we didn't win - again - but neither did anyone else! )

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Coming home late - the Shake to Call app

Posted by Ed King on Saturday, April 18, 2009 in , ,
We've all done it: we finish up at that llllooooonnnngggg meeting, jump in the car, and start rolling home as fast as we can. Now it's time to explain where you are and when you'll be home - but it's dark. VERY dark. You know you should not be taking your eyes off the road to look down at that 'favorites list' even for a few seconds and if you do, you're likely to press the phone number for your boss rather than your wife. Not good. Pull over? That would be the sensible thing but....

Here's the app for you, Brother: it's called "A Special Phone". It allows you to set up 6 quick dial - no vision needed contacts. Then you simply shake to call. It allows multiple numbers for the same contact and different number of shakes per contact (one for #1, two for #2, etc.). The phone will then speak the name of the contact to confirm that you want to make the call to that person. And away you go....

It's a pretty ingenious app and only $2.99. If it keeps you from taking your eyes off the road for that split second and allows you to catch a glimpse of the moose up ahead on the road, it'll be well worth it. I think every Mason should have this app on their iPhone!

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Long distance travels - and your iPhone

Posted by Ed King on Friday, April 17, 2009 in , ,
You've just become a part of the Grand Line and now the fun begins. Yeah, right! The travel that seemed SO glorious when others were doing it will now become part of your life as well - and along with it all those things like flight cancellations, car rental mixups, etc. So what's a guy to do?

Well, among the MANY free internet services is TripIt who, on Wednesday, released an app just for the iPhone so now when you arrive at the hotel desk and they claim that they don't have a reservation but your bag containing that information is back in Peoria somewhere, you can just check from your iPhone and make that desk clerk give you your room plus an upgrade for the problem! Yeah, right!

The particular beauty of Tripit is that you can share your itinerary with whoever you desire. Things change - but now you can let everyone who needs to know about those changes without pestering them.

The first reports are that some problems were found on day one but they promise to fix them shortly - and for a free app, I'll wait a few hours. Let us know how you've found this service to work with your iPhone by leaving a comment.

Edit: And rolling on to other blogs this afternoon, I find Chris Hodapp has a comment about this on his blog today as well. Great minds, eh?

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More secure than a notecard

Posted by Ed King on Saturday, April 11, 2009 in ,
It never fails. I'll be standing in line at the checkout counter somewhere and --- my little pea brain is unable to conjure up the correct PIN number for my credit/debit card despite the fact that I've used it a thousand times before. If I do remember it, it's after the 'Three strikes and you're out!' rule has shut down access and I fumble for something else for payment.

As you probably realize, I'm here to tell you that your iPhone has a solution for this. Actually, it has LOTS of solutions in the form of note pages or, even better, password protected programs designed specifically for holding that valuable information.

I've settled on SplashID and find it to be top notch. It's got both an iPhone version AND a desktop version for the Mac or PC (as well, I should add, as versions for Palm, Blackberry and Windows Mobile). You can sit at your desk and enter a bunch of different bits of life information into the desktop version (driver's license number and expiration date, credit card numbers and contact information, PINs, website logins, and more) and then simply synch it to your iPhone. Standing at the bank when they give you a new debit card? Enter the info to your iPhone and then just synch to your desktop later. It's an intelligent synch too so even if you make changes to both places, it knows which is the most recent and uses that one.

The downside of all this is the cost. ENORMOUS! $9.95 and that includes BOTH the desktop and the iPhone app. (The desktop version is free to current iPhone SplashID licensees although the site shows it normally sells for $19.95.) To me any reasonable price was worth not standing there in the checkout line like a senile dummy, pounding on that little square box while the kid who's young enough to be ten generations removed chews gum and rolls their eyes.

I'll be trying some of their other offerings in the near future but if you've done so already, add a comment so we can all benefit.

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A billion apps - real soon now!

Posted by Ed King on Friday, April 10, 2009 in , ,
Regardless of how you feel about the U.S. spending money these days, the word "billion" has certainly been devalued a lot in the past few weeks. It is with some awe and reverence, though, that we use that word since it does represent such a large amount.

Today, Business Week and other iPhone reporting outlets are noting that the magic 1 Billion Apps served figure is about to be broken. This is, certainly, no mean feat and it took McDonalds a lot longer to sell a billion burgers than it has for Apple to reach their milestone.

There are several reasons for this but those most relevant to readers of this blog are few:

First, there are apps for everything. Literally. During my years as a Mason, I've come to the conclusion that most of us are dabblers. We dearly love to 'stick our nose' into things and the quest for getting into something new never seems to end. So whether you want a program to tell you the time of sunset (so you can climb out of that coffin without delay) or a game involving stacking sheep (and there is one, honestly!), you can find it. Those in the medical profession can buy a regularly updated Merck Manual or if you're sightseeing in Boston, "...there's an app for that" (as the television commercials note).

Second, stuff is pretty darn cheap. A TON of apps are free and a lot of the apps which sell for the princely sum of 99 cents have free trial copies so you can see if you like it before parting with your hard earned dollars. If you're a smoker, you can get an app for the price of a single cigarette, practically, with the new taxes/prices now - and you won't get lung cancer from them as an added bonus.

Third, and perhaps most important, is that it's easy - easy as pie! If you can't manage the Apps Store (an icon comes pre-configured on your iPhone), you probably shouldn't be taking showers as that's more complicated. (Please don't stop if you've mastered that process though....)

As any iPhone user quickly learns, apps downloaded does not equal apps kept and in your first couple of weeks, you'll download and toss away a bunch. But the beauty of the process is that there's no harm/no foul. And, if you later decide that you really did like that costly 99 cent program, why it's still there on your home computer tucked neatly into iTunes to re-upload back onto your machine.

I'm off to buy a burger now where billions and billions have been sold. Along the way, I might even take a picture with - yep - my iPhone!

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Shaken, not stirred.

Posted by Ed King on Friday, April 10, 2009 in , ,
The title will likely resonate with James Bond fans but unless you're an old poop like me, it might not have the same context. Once upon a time (all good stories start this way, don't they?), that phrase - uttered by 'Mr. Cool' himself - was the ultimate in sophistication. Today, MANY gadgets compete for our attention so seeing television commercials which actually SHAKE an electronic device is, at best, bizarre.

Not so with the iPhone 3G, Brethren. This device is MEANT to be tipped on its side (changing its orientation causes a change in nearly every program - but not all) from a portrait view to landscape. In some programs such as the calculator, this turn will even give you more features.

And it's also meant to sometimes be SHAKEN!

One of the features that can be built into an application is the ability to do what, in effect, is a 'random selection' if the device is shaken. You don't need to shake it like a dirty golf towel nor do you need to handle it like Mother's best china. Just a little shake and - VOILA!

Next time you see it on television ads, you'll understand that they're just doing 'random selection' to show off some feature of the app they're showing.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, there's no evidence whatsoever that Sean Connery is a Freemason. You can read more about this and other famous non-Masons at www.masonicinfo.com/famousnon.htm

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iTunes - It makes it run!

Posted by Ed King on Friday, April 10, 2009 in , ,
Something I didn't quite understand when I first approached the iPhone is that iPhone and iTunes are inseparable. iTunes - despite what may seem to be a cutsey name - really is the driver of the whole process. For those not familiar with iTunes (and there may be quite a lot of you), it's not just about music so eliminate that bias from your thinking before going any further. Mac users understand all this and can move on; this post is primarily for the luddite PC users like this site's author.

iTunes is a free software program that runs quite comfortably on your PC. When you start iTunes, you're given a LOT of choices and it's very graphical. On the left, you'll see various options including podcasts (more about those in a later post), movies, tv shows, audiobooks, radio and a lot more. iTunes really is an 'entertainment and education coordinator' in many ways.

Clicking on any one of those categories, you'll see what you've already downloaded AND - the best part - what you CAN download. The depth and breadth of offerings is amazing. While the number of specifically Masonic items is quite small in comparison (I'll cover those in a separate post later), there's a LOT to stimulate your mind and your senses. National Public Radio broadcasts galore, lots of college lectures on any subject imagineable, and - of course - your favorite music albums or individual songs. There's so many things that are free, the inquisitive mind can easily become engorged with 'stuff'. If you just took the things there today, you'd spend the rest of your life listening to them. If you don't have iTunes on board your computer (most of the newer ones seem to have it so check your menu options), you can read more about it here at the Apple web site. However, to get an even better idea, go ahead: download and install the program. Even if you don't have an iPhone yet, you'll find iTunes will be great for grabbing that lecture from Berkley about astrophysics you've always wanted to listen to - or that program on cooking summer squash. Once you're using iTunes - even at its minimum capability, you'll start to see why and how it can really help with your iPhone.

With your computer, you can pick out the audio and visual treats you want - and your iTunes software will then get it to your iPhone AND provide a second location from which to enjoy. Make sense? It will....

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But I've GOT a cell phone already!

Posted by Ed King on Thursday, April 09, 2009 in

Yep. I once thought that way too. But OH.... what I didn't know.

I've got a laptop too. A really nice widescreen HP that was a screamer back about two years ago used as my primary machine. So, armed with both, I was the true road-warrior techno-geek - or so I thought. Even with that, I LONGED to be able to pull out my laptop (all 8.3 lbs of it) and have documents available to look at instantly without the normal 4 minute warm-up. When someone asked me if I was busy on the 14th, I could tell from my cell phone that I was but without the details. I could even have a few pages of text notes in there - but never, it seemed, what I was looking for.

It was time for a Smart Phone: one with a good screen, a good calendar program and full Microsoft compatibility. Something to replace my Franklin Planner once and for all. Something capable of being used DURING a lodge meeting for notes or to add a contact. Something with various PDF files of important documents (by-laws, for example), access to the web, and a something I could synch back and forth with my laptop. Something..... something for EVERYTHING!

Are you like me? Is your life becoming more and more 'electronically oriented'? I wanted ONE THING that could do everything my portable could do - and make a phone call discreetly too. (It's not easy to put a 17" screen beside your ear while driving!)

The hunt began but I was constantly shocked at how the websites announcing the latest and greatest SmartPhone iterations were light years ahead of my local cell phone store. Little 'niggles' that were fixed in an x3 version while my local stores were selling the x1 model. In fact, because of the technology lag I toyed seriously for several months with the idea of getting a PDA and carrying it along with the cell phone. However, I'm a big guy and the thought of having TWO things in my pockets (shirt or pants) really was a bit much - nor did I want to have too many (more) unsightly bulges. Yep, SmartPhone was the solution but then more compromises became apparent.

Not only would I need to buy an older machine than the ones touted online but I'd also need to get a broad swath of programs. The standard bundle that the manufacturer packed onboard were neither standard nor, I found through many weeks of trial, very useful. They were basic in the extreme, seemingly designed by someone who'd never made an appointment in their life. I was frustrated.

If this sounds like you, stay tuned for future posts which will describe how I accidentally came to have an iPhone and you may find that this Blog will change your life for the better - even if only a little!

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Very first Masonic Application - sorta

Posted by Ed King on Thursday, April 09, 2009 in , ,

Don't get too excited yet. Sadly, this is nothing more than an exhibit of some of the features of the iPhone software developer's kit with a Mason's working tools.

iCraft - which comes in both a free and (ironically) on April 1st with a $0.99 version - has, for example, a plumb with a line that moves as you tip your iPhone. Hold the plumb level and - well, that's it! The plum is as it should be if used in a craft project.

Nothing more to see here, folks: just move along. Seriously! The graphics that have been used are very nice though somewhat dimly lit but those who want their apps to actually DO something related to Freemasonry (or anything, for that matter) will need to look further.

More pictures of the program can be found here. The app's author solicits suggestions but I'm honestly at a loss as to what else can be done except for adding more working tools -but why? This isn't an app you'll rush to show family or the guys down at lodge. It sadly lacks in both steak and sizzle. I'm thinking this one won't be onboard my machine too very long.

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Hello World!

Posted by Ed King on Friday, April 03, 2009 in
Yes, the first official post to a brand new blog related to Freemasonry - but please, no yawning yet.

For those who use an iPhone 3G, there's SO much you want to tell your Brethren about how absolutely great this device is. Here, we'll hope to add to your store of knowledge and help you make even better use of what you've got.

For those who've just watched while a Lodge Brother scribbled something in his calendar or pretended to drink beer from his iPhone (yes, you can do that too but not during a Lodge meeting!), you've come to the right place. Here, we'll provide the KEY (NB: if your jurisdiction does 'mouth to ear', don't worry: these secrets can be shared in print!) to help you decide if you want one of these or not.

Do enjoy.

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