Skitch – Quick Review

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Have you ever wanted to annotate an image to highlight something important and had to resort to low-tech techniques like using the default Paint program in Windows? Are you looking for a better alternative? Look no further. Skitch is the quick and easy way to add annotation to your images.

Overview
Skitch, by Evernote, is a free app (iOS and Android) and software (Windows and Mac) to annotate images or PDF files. You can select import images from your camera roll, snap a photo, digital maps, webpage, draw a simple diagram or PDF (purchase required) directly in the app.

You can add mosaic, various arrows, emoticon arrows, draw, add shapes and text with this tool. There are eight colours (black, white, pink, blue, green, yellow, orange and red) five pen sizes in all of the tools bar mosaic. You can even undo or clear all annotations, and crop as well as rotate your images.

Sharing in Skitch is easy also. You can make an Evernote link and publish directly to Twitter and Facebook, send in Message and Mail. You can also share directly onto your iCloud enabled Calendar to schedule as a meeting diagram.

There are various options for saving your image as well. You can do this by saving to Evernote (obviously), save to clipboard and also to your camera roll. You can also send directly via AirDrop, attach it to a contact or print via AirPrint.

And once you’re ready to save or send you can add a caption to your image.

Additional settings include linking to your Evernote account and choosing which calendar to attach to. You can also set Skitch to automatically resize your canvas, turn on quick markup in camera mode and copy to your camera roll after sharing. And if you are sending via email or SMS the Skitch promo text can be appended to the end of your message.

Quick Review
Skitch does pretty much what I need it to do specially for photo images. And it does it well – really well – even on the small iPhone screen. The design is intuitive with side swiping for your main tools.

However, more features would be welcome for annotating maps. Drawing paths and routes to take was not easy on the iPhone and had worked much better on the iPad with a stylus.

One main disappointment was that the mosaic tool is not available in the PDF markup purchase. I had specifically purchased it for this tool so that I can mosaic out students’ names for presentation on the projection screen or CALL monitors. Not only was that not written up clearly (I had to look hard to find the disclaimer) but that it seems not to be diffcult to include. Considering the iOS purchase was $2 USD it wasn’t such a big deal but still it was a disappointment.

Summary
Still I am happy with this app. The software version, compared to the app version, is a bit slow and heavy like all software on traditional computers. It is handy to have especially on web-connected devices but for me it is still a low-usage app requiring preparation rather than being a tool to be used in class on the fly where I do most of my editing. And the PDF markup feature may not be worth the $2 USD pricetag since I can do most of my same annotations on the free Adobe Reader app.

Note: This review pertains to the iOS app version only, not the Windows or MAC versions. The version used for this review was 3.2.1 (3940).

Zamurai Mobile Whiteboard – Short Review

Back in the 1990s I was fascinated with electronic whiteboards. These things work like ordinary whiteboards on which you would write then press a button to print the content of the whiteboard for copying and distribution. It was better than taking a photograph, print or nowadays digital. The problem back then and still now is the prohibitive cost and that of the single format in the form of a physically printed page.

Now fast forward to 2014.

45NxYn2jsJgYg0yJNsFjOw-Zamurai_Logo_HorizontalZamurai Mobile Whiteboard is an app for the Apple iPad that works like a whiteboard for projectors. You simply write, draw or attach images to your tablet whiteboard space and it shows up on the big screen during meetings or in lectures. It is better than a whiteboard – electronic or otherwise – because you don’t need to physically be at the board. The physical act of drawing and writing is translated on to gestures you make on a tablet surface. It will also automatically be saved on your device as a note, or to be used in future meetings or lectures, or else can be saved for distribution later in various useful formats. Finally you can supplement it with image icons and digital images to make electronic whiteboarding just like old fashion displaying of photos and pictures.

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Apple Wireless Keyboard and iPad Air – Hands-on test

The other day I made friends with someone who had a similar approach to technology as me. He had bought an Apple wireless keyboard to go with his iPad.

As logic would dictate genuine Apple products should work seamlessly with their other products. But this was not the case.

Soon after I bought my keyboard I immediately found problems with compatibility. Not so much that it didn’t connect with the iPad but rather some apps just didn’t recognize the keyboard as Japanese layout (which is the country I bought the keyboard in). That really isn’t the problem as I also require Japanese. But not being to find characters because your iPad thinks you are using an English keyboard is really really annoying.

Thinking that this was an issue with the keyboard and Apple’s manufacturing error I went online to find a solution but to no avail. I gave up and continued to rubbish Apple for its lack of language compatibility.

But as I said, I made friends with this guy who had a similar to mine and asked him about whether he had this problem or not.

“No,” was his answer.

So this got me thinking: perhaps the problem isn’t with the keyboard but with specific apps.

So I went home and began testing all my apps to see which worked with keyboard and which didn’t. And these were the results.

Text-input-driven apps that didn’t work with the keyboard:
Gmail
Instagram
Facebook
Moleskine
Simplemind (mindmapping)
Blogger
Twitter

Text-input-driven apps that worked with the keyboard:
ALL Apple made apps (including Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Notes and Calendar)
WordPress
Tumblr
My Wonderful Days (journal)

Of all the apps listed Gmail and Simplemind are perhaps the most missed. It literally means I cannot write emails or produce mindmaps effectively with the keyboard hardware. The point of a keyboard is to make typing easier, as an alternative to the virtual keyboard. But since most of my work is done on the Apple apps and the WordPress app not all is lost.

And Apple are not the ones to blame for this since this seems to be a problem on the individual app makers’ part. So now I wish there is a list of apps out there that would tell me which apps are not compatible with Japanese keyboards. This would save me from buying unusable apps.

Zotero

Manage your paper/articles/thesis references with Zotero.

Zotero is a free and open-source add-on to Firefox, Chrome or Safari for managing your references within papers, articles or thesis. You may ask why is it in a browser. Good question. Hopefully it will be abundantly clear after you have finished reading this post.

Workflow
Typically I go online to find articles. Either by search or a reference through another source. When I do Zotero can then save reference information your want with just one click. It will save the author, publication, volume, issue, pages, date, and other relevant information (and/or the PDF or webpage) in Firefox.

Once you have this information in your Zotero database you can then use it to automate that information into any Word document via an “add-in”. At the point where you want to enter a source you click the “insert citation” button and a pop-up box appears asking for the source. Click OK and it will be inserted there.

Once you have finished your paper at the reference section part of the paper click “insert bibliography” and everything will inserted with just one click.

I have used Zotero for over six years now and I have found it to be an indispensable tool. I cannot compare it to other similar products because I haven’t use any of the other similar software like EndNote. But I can say is it is an incredibly easy tool to use. I haven’t had to create from scratch a bibliography since. I used it for my Master’s thesis and it worked perfectly making my five-page bibliography section with literally one click.

Some personal practical advice

  1. Don’t save PDFs into Zotero. It slows down your entire Firefox browser as you can imagine how much information needs to be loaded each time it is started up. I recommend that you download it separately into your computer system.
  2. Check for errors and extraneous information in the references. I generally weed them out in the final draft of a paper. Once corrected you will never need to do it again for other papers.
  3. Back up your database by exporting your library. Do this regularly especially after extensive online research.

Where can I get Zotero?
You can download Zotero from its homepage. If you don’t already have Firefox then download that from here. The add-in for Microsoft Word can be found on the Zotero homepage as well.

Surface Pro 2 or iPad Air?

Our family secondary computer has finally died. It was a 2007 Sony Vaio notebook running Vista. It had served us well. RIP.

This means we need a replacement, a new computer. So it was time to take measure of what is out there. The landscape has certainly changed since 2007. And my family’s tech has too. The Sony was replaced by a highly underrated Fujitsu Lifebook UH75 ultrabook (video) running Windows 7. It has lots of harddisk (500GB) and RAM (4GB) with a Core i5 weighing in at 1.4kg (3.08lb). It is a lovely computer to tote around – light, thin, battery life of 6-8 hours.

Anyway, as we both work we need more than one computer but not two computers. My partner doesn’t use her computer too often. So buying full spec computer seems silly. If we are going to plonk down this much cash we might as well get something which is going to be used more than just occasionally for work. So our two options were this – a tablet PC or a tablet. After looking at what was out there right now I came to the conclusion that it was either a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 or an Apple iPad Air. My reasoning was this: tablets are the way to go. The question left was do we need the full power of a PC for the two of us or can we get by with just a tablet. And this question can only be answered by weighing in our position now.

Two years ago I switched to an iPhone 4S from a (very cool but) not-so-smart phone. And my life changed. These things are in effect a very small iPads with phone and internet connectivity. I now use my iPhone as my primary tool for teaching using its camera, presentation app (KeyNote), connection to the web to show everything needed to the students. I do this for two or three straight classes with conservative battery use. It is a beautiful tool that I cannot live without now. The point is portable touchscreen tablets are the best things for teaching even if it is an iPhone.

And as you can see from my last post I also got more digital with the latest Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500. This scanner is amazing. Everything I need can now be digitalized quick and simple. It works really for my iPhone, so I can see it will work wonders with a tablet.

But the do I need PC power in this now my secondary computer? One option is to buy the Surface Pro 2 and use it as my primary computer relegating the Fujitsu to (a very good) second fiddle. But then I would ask why do I need two computers? I only need one and something else to let me write notes occasionally. And as I said the setup with my iPhone is incredible. Apart from not having a keyboard I have been able to do a lot of things including writing notes and reports on my 4S. And yes there is no way I will revert to non-tablet notebooks. Touch-screen enabled computers are definitely the way to go.

That is why I had a long look at the Surface Pro 2. The problem isn’t that it isn’t a great product. Microsoft has made a fantastic computer. Arguably it is the best what I call “ultrabook tablet” out there at Xmas 2013. But it isn’t worth it to spend that much to replace my perfectly good one-year old notebook. I can live without touchscreen on my computer for now. In other words a computer has its place and a tablet is in different place. They serve sightly different lifestyle uses. Do I want a PC which moonlights as a tablet or the other way around. My iPhone as a very “mini iPad mini” gets more air time than my PC. It is that useful.

And the winner is …

You may have guessed by now that I have opted for the iPad.

The pros were:

  1. very light and portable
  2. will use a lot for things other than productivity
  3. fits between my iPhone and notebook in terms of being a lifestyle tool
  4. cheaper than the Surface Pro 2 setup (by about half even after buying the wireless keyboard and stand/cover)
  5. iOS is a great operating system. The workflow is excellent but not seamless)
  6. my partner needs to be introduced to the world of tablets

The cons were:

  1. not as good as a PC for word processing or spreadsheet (even with keyboard setup)
  2. can’t use “legacy” software (though much of what I need can be found as apps)

After considering all this we (I) decided the iPad Air was the deal. Apple’s Pages seems to work fine with some minor text alignment problems (along with Numbers and KeyNote it’s free with new iPad purchase). I also went with the Apple Wireless Keyboard (which works with my iPhone as well) and Smart Cover (which doubles as a stand).

The Surface though a great computer will have to wait until my PC breaks down. If the last computer was anything to by that would be another four years (sorry Microsoft).

Now I just can’t wait for it to arrive in a couple of days. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Playing with the ix500

Bought a Fujitsu ix500 scanner last week. Wow! I don’t know how I had lived without this incredible machine for so long.

The scanning is so quick – 30 pages double-sided in a minute. By default it saves as PDF. But one click and it is converted into a Word document. I scanned a novel (for research purposes) into what used to take me the better half of a day. Now it is finished in just 10 minutes. You have to use destructive scanning though but that is a small price to pay (if the book is commercial paperback, of course) for having the scanning done in literally a fraction of the time.

I had planned to use it for corpus building only but the use of this machine goes well beyond that. Very useful for work, research and teaching.

More on this later.

Wait for the full Microsoft Surface with Windows 8

Apparently the released version of the Microsoft Surface version this week isn’t the full version.

The version now is more like a tablet (example: Apple iPad) with an app store. This means it cannot do productivity stuff yet. But according to this video the 2013 version will be running Windows 8 (think next version of Windows 7) which means you can install some if not all programs you use on a notebook or PC computer. It can do this because of the higher end processor, Intel verses the ARM in the just released Surface.

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iPhone mobile projector

Here is a nice portable projector for your iPhone 4/4S.

As usual Jetdaisuke gives an entertaining review. Here are the key points:

  1. bright at 35 lumens
  2. maximum projection size 1524 cm (yes, centimitres)
  3. 120min battery life
  4. works as a OHP (overhead projector) with your camera

With external speakers you can add sound to your presentations.

Check out his youtube video (sorry, in Japanese, but you can get an idea of the product).

Surface or iPad? That is the question.

I have been tossing about which tablet to buy. For me the question is productivity-based – I want to be able do word processing on the road. Lugging around a PC hasn’t been fun. And often I just give up. But look at my choices I see that Microsoft is coming out with their Surface tablet. The selling point is the Word and Excel intregration, something which will be a winner for the company purchasers.

And then there is the iPad.

Looking at the apps available I discovered that Apple’s Pages word processing software can import and export to Word. So isn’t that all I need. The selling point of the iPad is its UI. Nothing beats the feel of it. Sure, it is built for fun. But it can do the extra task of work, and that is music to my ears.

As someone who is making this purchase individually it is a no brainer.

Having Word is not such a big deal really. Afterall we live in a cut-and-paste world now. So there will be a work around somehow through this battle of market dominance.

Apple Digital AV Adapter for iPhone/iPad

Wow. Who needs a computer anymore when you have an iPhone or iPad. With this digital AV adapter you can do your powerpoint presentations from your igear. Check out jetdaisuke‘s video on YouTube (sorry, in Japanese but you can get an idea of how it works).