Thursday, June 24, 2010

Super Software Secrets

The apps you use most--your Web browser, productivity tools, media managers, and Windows and its built-in accessories--are more powerful than you realize. They are loaded with unpublicized features that make your PC easier to use, they respond to superquick keyboard shortcuts that you've never heard about, and they support add-ons and plug-ins that can shave minutes or even hours off of mundane daily chores.

But finding these shortcuts and obscure features usually means perusing dusty manuals or digging through intimidating help menus, and many of the most useful tips are ones that you would never have thought to look for in the first place. Fortunately, you don't have to do the searching yourself--we've done it for you. Read on for the mother lode of expert software secrets.

Windows Tricks

No matter how fast your system is already, a well-crafted Windows shortcut can give it a recurring productivity boost. These tricks and workarounds will make your applications quicker to launch, your files easier to find, and your PC simpler to manage.

Work Your Windows Key

Quickly view your system specs: Press Windows-Pause to bring up the System Info window. This keyboard shortcut can be especially handy if you're troubleshooting a PC and need to pull up the system's specs in a hurry.

Launch taskbar apps: Put your most commonly used appli­cations in the taskbar, and you'll use your mouse a lot less. Pressing Windows plus any number key will launch the program in the corresponding taskbar slot (so Windows-1 will open Windows Explorer, Windows-2 will open the app positioned to the right of Explorer, and so on).

Ditch the Displays Control Panel: To switch display modes instantly when you plug in a projector or dock your laptop to an external display, press Windows-P.

Run apps from anywhere: You can launch applications and set parameters from your keyboard, without having to waste time digging through the Start menu to find the one you want to use. Press Windows-R to bring up the Run dialog box.

Fix the Small Stuff

Don't lose your work to automatic updates: Windows Update often forces your PC to restart after it finishes updating the operating system with the latest fixes--and if you're away from your desk with an unsaved document open at the time, you'll lose your work. To prevent this from happening, open Windows Update in the Control Panel, click Change settings, and in the drop-down menu select Download updates but let me choose whether to install them. That way, you'll never again get burned by a post-update reboot.

Change Windows Explorer's default folder: Tired of clicking through Windows Explorer to find the one folder you use regularly? You can save precious time and mouse clicks by making Windows Explorer open your favorite folder by de­­fault. Right-click the Explorer icon in your taskbar, and then right-click Windows Explorer and select Properties. In the Target field, add a space and a file path at the end of the ‘%windir%\explorer.exe' section, so that the new (longer) path looks like this: ‘%windir%\explorer.exe C:\Users\yourusername\yourfolder'.

Stick to one point of view: Windows will remember and abide by your View settings for each individual folder--a level of faithfulness that's annoying if you like to stick with a particular view setting. Open a folder, click the Organize tab, and choose Folder and search options. Select the View tab and click the Apply to folders button at the top. You have a new default folder!

Disable touchpad clicking when you type: If your touchpad is set to detect a tapping motion as a mouse click, it can send your cursor flying around your screen whenever your wrist accidentally brushes against the touchpad. Grab Touchfreeze, a free utility that automatically disables your touchpad while you're typing, and you won't have to wonder where your newly typed text ended up.

Use your local Library (folder): Windows 7's Libraries provide an easy way to organize and access files, but they become much more useful when teamed with Win7 Library Tool, which lets you add nonindexed folders (including network folders) to your library of choice.

Safely remove memory cards without waiting: You're supposed to use the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the system tray before unplugging memory cards and the like--but waiting for it is such a pain that you'll be itching to pull your memory card without waiting for Safely Remove Hardware to do its thing. The key to making quick removal safe is to ensure that Windows isn't writing to the card without your knowledge; if the operating system behaves itself, you can eject the card whenever you want without corrupting your data. To adjust your settings, first right-click the memory card in Windows Explorer, choose Properties, click the Hardware tab, select the memory card reader, and choose Properties; then click the Policies tab (you may have to click the ‘Change settings' button before Policies shows up), and choose Optimize for quick removal. Henceforth, you won't need Safely Remove Hardware.

Taskbar Techniques

Restore your Quick Launch bar: Windows 7 added a lot of neat features to the taskbar, but in the process it got rid of the Quick Launch bar. Fortunately, bringing Quick Launch back is fairly easy. Right-click the taskbar and uncheck Lock the taskbar; then right-click the taskbar again and choose New toolbar. Type %appdata%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch into the file path, and then click the arrow button on the right to navigate to that folder. Quick Launch will be back in action.

Clean up your system tray: Your system tray probably contains lots of icons that you rarely use. Instead of clicking the arrow to expand the system tray every time you need access to its contents, just drag the icons you use most often from the expanded tray to the minimized tray area on the taskbar. That way, you can click them immediately instead of having to expand the tray and root around for the icon you need.

Drag and drop to your taskbar apps: A taskbar icon's behavior depends on which modifier keys you hold down as you click it. Hold down Shift while you click an app's icon to open a new instance of the app. Hold down Ctrl-Shift while clicking the app's icon to open the program as an administrator. Drag a file from your desktop (or from an open window) over an app's icon on the taskbar to pin the icon to the app's jump list, or hold down Ctrl to open the file with that program.

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What Is Your Facebook Data Worth?

The gargantuan amount of high-quality user data on Facebook is causing everyone--from marketers to hackers--to salivate like dogs gazing at a steak. They all want a piece of you.

Thanks to Facebook's Open Graph API (which simplifies the development of third-party applications that interoperate with the social networking site) and social plug-ins (which essentially splash Facebook's "Like" button all over the Internet), people who are interested in your data are getting a chance at a much choicer cut of it. (For more, read "How Facebook Plans to Dominate the Web.")

Additionally, Facebook's Instant Personalization Pilot Program, which the social network introduced this spring, was the wake-up call for many users who had been ignoring the concerns of privacy watchdogs. In response, Facebook updated its privacy settings in late May, to some praise--and confusion.

Read on to see who's getting a look at what you do on Facebook. You're sharing more than you think--and you might be surprised at what your data is worth.

Facebook Itself
It goes without saying that Facebook has unrestricted access to everything you do relating to its site, and its growing collection of profile data, preferences, and connections is prompting some experts to estimate the value of the site beyond the GDP of some countries.

For instance, a Mashable article reported that SharesPost, a marketplace for shares in privately owned companies, suggested an $11.5 billion value for Facebook, versus a $1.4 billion value for Twitter and a $1.3 billion value for LinkedIn.

"You've filled out the biggest survey in the world for Facebook, and you didn't even know it," says Cappy Popp, founder and principal of Thought Labs, whose Doorbell application is one of the top 100 most-used apps on Facebook. "You can't put a price on it because there's never been anything like it," Popp says of the user data that Facebook could accumulate over the next few years.

Everyone Else
Facebook status update displayed on Openbook.comA quick look through the Website Openbook, which allows users to search for embarrassing Facebook status updates that anyone can view, shows the volume of people whose accounts are set to broadcast status updates to everyone. Some Facebook status updates reveal far too much.

For instance, a search for "cocaine" or "drunk" in Openbook's search field yields status updates such as "Cocaine is a man's best friend" and "I'm so drunk right now need to go to bed." (Note: Despite its resemblance, Openbook is not part of Facebook.)

Are these updates just jokes? Are they statements taken out of context? They could be either. But slapped next to a name, gender, and profile picture (information that Facebook requires to be public), they create an impression. And it could cost you.

Just ask Natalie Blanchard, who in November 2009 was fighting to have her health benefits reinstated by her employer's insurance company. The Canadian woman was being treated for depression, but Manulife Financial questioned her health claim after seeing Facebook photos of Blanchard enjoying herself at a party and on the beach.

Facebook's Instant Personalization Partners's use of Facebook's Instant Personalization can allow you to see what artists your Facebook friends are enjoying.One day in April, registered users of Pandora and Facebook launched their favorite online radio station on Pandora's site and discovered that they could now see which of their Facebook friends liked the artists and songs they were hearing.

For that to happen, the users either purposely or accidentally passed by the opt-out bar for Facebook's Instant Personalization Pilot Program, for which Pandora, Yelp, and Microsoft were launch partners. The same thing happened to readers of MSNBC, who were surprised to find information on stories recommended by their Facebook friends pop up on the news Website.

Instant Personalization allows selected Facebook partner Websites to access your data and tailor content to your tastes. With Instant Personalization activated, your Facebook information is available for access the moment you arrive on partner sites. When the program launched in April, Facebook automatically activated it for all users. However, a privacy uproar forced the company to revise its policy, and Instant Personalization is now optional for users.

"A number of people have reported to me that this feels a little weird to them," says Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, about Pandora's Instant Personalization implementation. Pandora declined to be interviewed for this story.

How Instant Personalization Works
The implications of Instant Personalization are more serious than your discovering your boss's love for '80s boy bands. Partner sites can work with Facebook to learn a whole more about you than what you may have told them directly.

According to Peter Eckersley, senior staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Instant Personalization partner sites use JavaScript code and Ajax calls to get personally identifying information about you from Facebook. So if you already had an account on the Instant Personalization partner site, that site can now see your Facebook information and your existing account information at the same time.

"[The Facebook partner sites] would see the usual cookie that they set in your browser, and the one that Facebook's API constructs using Ajax, simultaneously," says Eckersley. "The design of the Facebook API clearly anticipates that the Website will do this."

Application Developers
Zynga's FarmVille is one of Facebook's most popular applications.Facebook applications are fun. According to All Facebook, which calls itself the "Unofficial Facebook Resource," the site's Facebook Application Leaderboard of applications with the highest monthly users shows that a variety of games--including Zynga's FarmVille, Texas HoldEm Poker, and Café World--make up more than half of the top 20 applications.

However, fun comes at the cost of privacy.

Once you accept an application on Facebook, it gets an all-access pass to your profile data. The application runs through an iframe (inline frame), a widely used HTML element that lets a site embed its content onto Facebook's site.

As a result, you're sending data directly to the third-party application's servers. Previously that server was required to refresh its Facebook data every 24 hours, but as of the April F8 conference, Facebook did away with that requirement. As a result, the outside parties can store user data for longer periods before refreshing it.

"You've authorized that application to do whatever it wants to do," says Thought Labs' Popp.

The info accessible through your friends settingsAnd even if you don't use Facebook applications, your friends do.

Unless you've gone into the 'info accessible though your friends' portion of Facebook's Applications, Games, and Websites privacy settings, your friends are taking your profile information with them on their farming and gambling adventures--without your knowledge, but in most cases with your tacit consent. (For some advice, read "Facebook's Social Web: How to Protect Your Privacy.")

Game applications are big business. For instance, FarmVille maker Zynga is reportedly valued at as much as $4 billion. Plus, Facebook just revamped its Insights dashboard, which page owners and application developers can use to obtain data and graphic visualizations about social plug-ins and integrated site content to better understand their return on investment for using Facebook.

Hackers and Worms
Right now it's hard to know the worth of user data shared through Facebook's Instant Personalization since the program is so new, but in the wrong hands such information could represent a large chunk of change.

A May article on TechCrunch reported a proof-of-concept exploit on Yelp that took advantage of cross-site scripting to grab Facebook addresses and other information. The exploit's author was a security consultant looking to prove a point. Yelp, which declined to be interviewed for this story, patched the vulnerability. No user data was stolen.

But other, genuine security threats are thriving on Facebook. The Koobface worm has been lurking on Facebook since 2008, growing more sophisticated with its ability to create an account, friend strangers, and join groups.

And on Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of thousands of Facebook users encountered a clickjacking worm that duped them into "liking" pages that led to the installation of malware for perpetuating the worm's spread.

"The biggest danger that I can see is that they get your log-in credentials," says Beth Jones, senior threat researcher at Sophos Labs. The intruders can gain access to information such as mobile phone numbers, partial credit card numbers, and billing addresses stored in the Payments section of Facebook's account settings.

"That's where some of the true value of stealing these log-in details comes in," says Jones. "[Attackers] can start pulling off some really decent identity theft."

Identity theft can also occur when a snoop looks through Facebook profile data that privacy settings haven't locked down. "Unfortunately a lot of password-reset questions are answered in your profile," says the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Opsahl.

So how much is your Facebook identity worth?

Researchers at VeriSign's iDefense recently reported that a hacker named Kirllos claimed he had 1.5 million Facebook accounts for sale for a price of $20 to $45 per 1000 accounts, depending on the number of contacts. According to a New York Times story, Facebook said that its own investigation did not find the claim credible. Facebook did not answer an interview request for this article.

Marketers and Advertisers
Facebook advertisers pay good money to target their ads to your profile characteristics.Companies selling everything from online dating services to lattes are thrilled that they can direct their advertising to Facebook's 400 million users through nine key demographic and psychographic filters.

"It offers the kind of targeting that marketers have been looking for for years," says Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst for eMarketer.

In January, Einstein Bros. Bagels ran a highly successful Facebook promotional campaign, offering new fans of its Facebook page a digital coupon for a free bagel and schmear. The company grew its fanbase from 7000 to 613,063 (as of this writing). In exchange for free food, Facebook users gave Einstein Bros. feedback on food preferences, stores, and who they are.

Reggie Bradford, CEO of social media management company Vitrue, calls Facebook pages a great way to get to know your fans. "There are features like polls, quizzes, or coupons; through those vehicles, you can collect all kinds of market research," says Bradford.

Vitrue's Social Page EvaluatorBut how much are people like those rabid bagel eaters worth?

To answer that question, Vitrue created the Social Page Evaluator tool, which attempts to quantify the return on investment for a Facebook page. The tool places a $3,227,020 value on the Einstein Bros. Bagels page based on the number of fans, the posted content on the page, and the interaction between the two. (Note: The dollar amount doesn't correlate to real-world dollars, but instead serves mostly as a way to compare the "value" between pages. You can evaluate your own Facebook page.)

You could also say that Facebook users are worth the $605 million that eMarketer expects marketers to spend on worldwide Facebook advertising by the end of 2010. That's up from $435 million in 2009. (eMarketer defines advertising as display, video, search, and other forms of advertising appearing within social network environments.)

"Quantifying the value of a Facebook fan is something we're going to see a lot more of in the next year," says eMarketer's Williamson.

Despite waves of privacy backlash, Facebook continues to thrive and to look for new ways to make money for itself and its partners. To do that, Facebook will continue to leverage its biggest asset: you.

"Facebook is a business. I don't think they have any ill will toward anyone, but they're going to do anything they can as a corporation to be successful," says Popp. "The onus of privacy is on the person using the Web."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hands On With Apple's New 32GB iPhone 4

The Apple iPhone 4 is everything that a new piece of technology should be: It's innovative, attractive, and ahead of its competition. In comparison, previous iPhone upgrades seem inconsequential--that's how much iPhone 4 brings to the table.
The phone will ship on June 24, priced at $199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB model (in white or black).

Premium Look

I spent some hands-on time with the new handset at the Apple event. I'll start with the visuals: It's stylish. Whereas the iPhone 3GS looks and feels plasticky, the iPhone 4 is svelte and has a premium feel. Surprisingly, it achieves that impression while retaining the same general design, although the edges appear a bit more squared than before.

iPhone 4 (left) and iPhone 3GS (right)It's noticeably slimmer than the iPhone 3GS, measuring 0.37 inch deep versus the iPhone 3GS's thickness of 0.48 inch (that translates to 24 percent less). The iPhone 4 is also slightly narrower, 2.31 inches to 2.44 inches. The weight stays the same at 4.8 ounces, but the tweaks to the dimensions make the current iPhone 3GS seem downright kludgy in comparison. (See all iPhone 4 specs.)

However, it's the aesthetic design touches that make the iPhone 4 stand out. The overall design screams elegance--from the rounded, individual volume up and down buttons that replace the plastic volume rocker on the iPhone 3GS to the ring/silent switch and the power/sleep button up top. The face and back are made of glass that is specially treated to withstand scratches and oily fingers, according to Apple. The side edging is stainless steel, and doubles as the device's three cellular and wireless antennas.

Sharp Display

Of course, the iPhone 4 isn't just about cosmetic enhancements, pleasing as they are. What makes this phone such a technological improvement is what's inside the handset.

Like its predecessor, the iPhone 4 has a 3.5-inch display. But the new phone's display doubles the resolution to a 960-by-640-pixel IPS display. At 326 pixels per inch, this is the highest resolution available on a phone to date.
That display truly makes a difference. Whereas the iPhone 3GS's text--in the menus, in apps, or on Web pages--appears thick, fuzzy, and undefined, the iPhone 4's text is razor sharp, even when enlarged (as I tried doing when viewing a PDF).
Apple 'Retina display' (at right)The new "Retina display"--so named because it surpasses the number of pixels the human retina can process--also greatly improves the sharpness, clarity, and visible detail of images.

In both cases, I'd liken the magnitude of difference to that between a standard-definition 480p DVD and a high-definition 1080p Blu-ray Disc: When you view both on an HDTV, the differences are striking. And once you see them, you can't go back.
The real value of the new display will become evident for people who spend time reading on the iPhone 4. I expect the display will make reading a more pleasurable experience (although, clearly, limits will remain given the inherently modest screen size--modest, at least, as compared with handsets such as the Sprint Evo 4G, which has a 4.3-inch screen, and the much larger 9.7-inch iPad screen).

iBooks Goes Mobile

The high-res display, coupled with the addition of iBooks on the iPhone 4 (and with iOS 4 upgrades), makes the iPhone a more relevant e-reader. iBooks retains its structure, appearance, and function from what we've already seen on the Apple iPad; and with this OS's ability to sync the iPad, desktop, and iPhone, readers gain the flexibility to move seamlessly among devices. This capability is available for Amazon's and Barnes and Noble's respective e-readers, as well, but not for other competitors.

iBooks also gains a few new features previously unavailable on the iPad. You can now create notes and bookmarks, and see those notes, bookmarks, and highlights in the table of contents. I suspect that the notes remain trapped in line--for example, there's no way to create cheat sheets, summaries, or other such personalized shortcuts that you could then utilize on your computer or elsewhere--but these new functions are a step in the right direction.
iBooksThe major new feature in iBooks is its native support for PDFs. You'll find tabs for both books and PDFs. Each one gets a bookshelf or list view (your choice). You can add PDFs via e-mail or Safari, and PDFs can sync back to iTunes and to other Apple devices such as the iPad or iPod Touch.

iPhone 4: A Computer in Miniature
The iPhone 4 uses Apple's A4 CPU, the same processor powering the Apple iPad. And it runs the newly renamed iOS 4 operating system (which the iPad will also use, starting in the fall).
As part of iOS 4, the iPhone 4 gains a bevy of capabilities. One of them--multitasking--feels long overdue, but as with Apple's long-awaited cut-and-paste feature, the company delivers on the promise of making multitasking work smoothly.

Quickly double-tap on the home button to pull up a pane that shows which apps are open. From there, you can swipe horizontally through the apps that the iPhone 4 has retained in either a running or suspended state.

When you find the app you want, you just click on the icon. The app will then resume its activity, and, if written to take advantage of this new feature, it will pick up precisely where you left off. At the very least, reaccessing the app will be faster.

Comparative Use Tests
Let's take the example of the side-by-side tests I did with an iPhone 3GS (running iPhone OS 3.1) and the iPhone 4. I navigated between the Safari Web browser and the Photos application and back again to Safari, and then back again to Photos.

iPhone 4: On the iPhone 4 using iOS 4, the phone jumped quickly and smoothly between the apps, with virtually no pause or hesitation. I left a fully drawn Web page in Safari to go to Photos, navigated to a folder within Photos, and then to a picture in the middle of that folder. When I popped back to Safari, I resumed at the fully drawn Web page, and when I jumped back to Photos, I was looking at the same photo I'd left moments earlier.

iPhone 3GS: That same exercise on the iPhone 3GS required the Web page to draw the first time. To change apps, I had to press the home button to exit Safari. I then went into the Photos app and found my image in its album. To go back to Safari, I pushed the home button to return to the home screen and then clicked on Safari. (On one pass, the page loaded immediately; on another, it did not). I then pressed the home button to return to the home screen, selected Photos again--and found myself back at the top-level list of Photo Albums, as opposed to drilling down to a specific image within a specific folder.

Closing apps on iPhone 4To close an app out of the multitasking bar, you click on the icon and hold. The icons then get a red button with a dash; touch there, and you can close the app.

Equally as elegant as multitasking is Apple's implementation of Folders, an increasingly necessary addition. To add icons into a folder, you simply drag one icon on top of the other to create the folder; the folder automatically gets the name of the category those apps share. Or, if you prefer, you can rename the folder on the spot. You can pack a maximum of 12 apps within a single folder (that gives you three rows of four apps across the home screen). And, thanks to the addition of Folders, you can now add up to a maximum of 2160 apps.

Dramatic Camera Boost

The iPhone 4 brings much-desired camera and video recording advances, as well. The primary camera on the back bumps up from 3 megapixels to 5 megapixels, while retaining the same pixel size (which can further improve image quality). The camera also gains an LED flash, a backlit sensor, and an integrated 5X zoom. The camera now lets you shoot in high-def, at 720p, 30 frames per second; in addition, video gains the tap-to-focus feature already available on the camera.

I did not test these features--the lighting at the demo room was a bit funky, and I would have only been able to view the results on the demo device. However, the examples that Apple showcased during its keynote were compelling evidence that these upgrades are indeed worthy ones. These will be among the first features I'll try when I get my hands on a device for our full review.

I didn't fully test the front-facing camera, another addition to the iPhone 4, either. This camera is integral to Apple's FaceTime videophone app, which works only for communicating between two iPhone 4 handsets.

iPhone: Upgrade?
From my early look at the iPhone 4, this handset appears to be a must-have for anyone with an original iPhone or iPhone 3G (the former won't get the iOS 4 upgrade at all, while the 3G won't support some features). And people who have an iPhone 3GS will find this a worthy upgrade, too.

Unlike the previous jump, from the iPhone 3G to the 3GS--which focused on slight performance improvements--the iPhone 4 bolsters the hardware's digital imaging capabilities and its display, making it a comprehensive and measurable upgrade over its predecessor.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Best Fitness Technology

These gadgets, software programs, Websites, and mobile apps will get you in shape at home or on the road.

With personal trainers producing YouTube fitness videos, iPod Nanos sporting pedometers, and yogis practicing tree pose using the Wii Fit--technology has become one of the best ways to set and maintain fitness goals. We consulted sports professionals, fitness enthusiasts, and tech companies to find the latest and most interesting hardware, software, and Websites that you can use to get in shape and stay the course.
General Fitness Gadgetry
A portable music player is still as important to workouts today as it was when the first wave of yellow Sony Walkmans hit gyms in the early 1980s. (For more tech oldies, see "The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years.") One new fitness-focused model is the Philips Activa ($130), which adds workout software to a combination portable media player and FM radio. Enter your age, weight, and height, and the Activa will count calories, time, or distance as you engage in an activity such as running, cycling, or rowing. Use the TempoMusic feature in conjunction with the up and down arrows to find songs that match your speed, so you won't find yourself listening to speed metal during your cooldown. Need a little encouragement? Program a male or female voice to update you (whenever you hit the Boost button) on calories burned, distance covered, or simply the virtues of staying the course. Plus, you can download all of this information to your PC and track it over time.

The Polar WearLink+ Transmitter Nike+ adds heart-rate information to all of the workout data you track through Nike+ productsThe ultimate athlete's gadget is a heart-rate monitor. Polar, a popular maker of heart-rate monitors, has recently teamed up with Nike, which makes the Nike+ SportBand and iPod Sport Kit, to create the Polar WearLink+ Transmitter Nike+ (street price $70). This awkwardly named chest strap, slated to be available before the end of June 2010, transmits your heart-rate data to Nike+ devices for upload to the Web service for tracking over time. It's compatible with the fifth-generation iPod Nano and Nike+ iPod Sport Kit.

Want the pedometer sans the iPod? Released last year, FitBit ($99) is a souped-up pedometer that uses a 3D motion sensor to track your walks and runs, count your calorie intake, and even gauge how well you slept based on movements you made during the night. Wear the tiny clip at all times (in an included wristband while you sleep) and when you walk by the bundled base station, the FitBit will transmit data via a close-range wireless signal to, where you can track your activity over time. The base station also charges your device. The FitBit is made for walking, running, and general everyday activities. It won't accurately measure long bike rides, however, and it isn't waterproof so don't swim with it.

Nutrition and Weight Loss
You can track calories in and calories out with the free Lose It iPhone app.A multitude of weight-loss Websites and applications serve up huge searchable databases of different foods and exercises to help you count calories, analyze nutritional information, and use portion-control systems to dial down the pounds safely. But these services are only as good as the information that you put into them, and remembering to note every carrot and candy bar can be a pain in the very posterior that you're trying to slim down. Mobile apps such as Lose It (free), available for iPhone and iPod Touch, have made the task of logging in data about your meals a lot more spontaneous because you always have the app with you.

"I'd go and do it four times a day," says Kirsten Owen, a Bar Method instructor and former triathlete who used LoseIt to sharpen her awareness of what she was eating. LoseIt's database contained entries for a lot of the foods Owen ate, though its litany of prefabricated packaged foods didn't match her preference for cooking from raw ingredients or eating at restaurants. Still she was able to use the app's Recipe feature to determine the caloric make-up of her home-baked cookies and muffins. You can register for a LoseIt account to obtain more-detailed reporting, data backup, and a method for sharing results with friends.

DietPower; click for full-size image.If you're more comfortable using PC software, you might like DietPower 4.4 ($30), which lets you track 33 nutrients in more than 21,000 foods. It also has tools that encourage you to adjust your eating throughout the day by telling you which items you should be eating more of (skim milk) or less of (fudge). As with LoseIt, you can count carbs and cholesterol. The 4.4 version also lets you track trans fats, and enter portions by volume or weight.

Nutrition for You; click for full-size image.If you want to feel as though an actual human were determining your food fate, try Nutrition for You ($10 per month). Gina Gutierrez, general manager of San Francisco-based Diakadi Body Personal Training, calls it a great tracking system. "Our clients have used it quite a bit and have seen a lot of success from it."

Developed by sports nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, Nutrition for You creates a customized dietary plan based on your age, activity level, resting metabolic rate, dietary restrictions, and fitness goals. You use the Website to track what you eat and to read fitness news, tips, and recipes. If you need a little more help, you can sign up for 30-minute consultations with a registered dietitian at about $30 a pop, depending on the number of sessions.

The Withings Internet-connected Body Scale sends your weight wirelessly to an online account.For some people, success takes the form of weight loss, and if that's the cohort you belong to, the Withings Internet-connected Body Scale ($159) can help you measure keep track of the vanishing pounds Wi-Fi-style. A thin black-metallic unit with a backlit display, the scale wirelessly transmits your measured weight to your Withings Web account. You and up to seven other users can track progress over time. If you're feeling especially confident (or triumphant), you can broadcast your results via Facebook or Twitter or more discreetly transmit them to fitness services such as DailyBurn and RunKeeper.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Social Music Service From Skype and Kazaa Founders

Rdio is opening up its social music service to a new round of users, the company said in a blog post on Wednesday.

The service, created by Kazaa and Skype founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, allows users to share their taste in music with friends, and offers access to music via a Web-based client for PCs, iPhones and some BlackBerry devices. The phones can also store the music for later playback offline, and an Android application is coming soon, the blog post said.

Users who have helped develop the service have been sent invitations which they can pass on to their friends.

Rdio has also been integrated with social networks, so users can share links to music via Twitter and Facebook. Listening to the music requires a subscription: Invited users can choose between Rdio Unlimited, which costs US$9.99 per month and works on the Web and some smartphones, and Rdio Web, which is web-only and costs $4.99 per month.

At first, the service will only be available in the U.S., but other parts of the world will follow in the near future, according to the blog post.

Its music library includes about five million songs, according to a statement.

Friis and Zennström incurred the wrath of the entertainment industry with an earlier venture, Kazaa, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service that allowed users to download content for free.

However, Rdio has music majors EMI Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group as well as a number indie aggregators of digital music on its side, the company said.

Rdio is far from the only service that offers streaming music to mobile phones. Others include the European service Spotify, which so far isn't available in the U.S. Spotify offers a subscription-based service and an ad-funded version that is free to the user. The latter has been a runaway success, but Spotify has had problems converting people to the paid version, according to Paolo Pescatore, an analyst at CCS Insight. Users are willing to pay for tracks and albums, but they haven't been as keen to pay for monthly subscriptions, he said.

Kazaa and Skype were both big hits. But one of Friis' and Zennström's more recent projects, the Internet TV service Joost, hasn't managed to take off in the same way, so it remains to be seen whether the duo still have their golden touch.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting The Best Out Of Facebook

32 Ways To Use Facebook In Your Business
Facebook’s not just for keeping tabs on friends and filling out quizzes — it can also be used as a highly effective business tool. It’s great for marketing your products, landing gigs and connecting with your customers...

How to Use Facebook: 5 Tips For Better Social Networking
Facebook is a social networking site that is enormously popular, but it can be a frustrating user experience. The design of Facebook leaves a lot to be desired and there are almost too many choices for things to do on Facebook...

How To Test Your Facebook Privacy Settings
We've been talking about Facebook's privacy mess for days now. We all know the story, right? Privacy controls are broken, everyone's getting irritated, Facebook's not too concerned, blah flippidy-freakin' blah.
Don't get me wrong: That's all important information. What's been lacking all this time, though, is a simple fix...