New WeMo Features: Away Mode and Long Press

I’m a big fan of WeMo and there was an update to the WeMo line of switches this week that added additional functionality along with an update to the WeMo IFTTT channel.

The first new feature is called "Away Mode" which will randomly turn on and off your selected WeMo devices to make it look like someone is home. You can select all or a few WeMo devices (lights would make the most sense) and during the pre-determined interval WeMo will randomly turn on and off the devices for at least 30 minutes at a time and temporarily suspend your existing rules. This is a great rule to pre-configure and then enable when you know you're going to be away.

The other new feature is the "long press" which applies to the WeMo light switches. You can now “long press” (meaning press for two seconds) a WeMo light switch and use this as an IFTTT.com trigger. I have a couple WeMo light switches installed throughout my house. One is right next to my back door where I normally enter and exit. I also have a few WeMo switches connected to various appliances including fans and lamps. I’ve configured an IFTTT recipe where a long press on my back door switch as I exit will turn off all my WeMo switches.  This means when I leave the house I can quickly turn them off everything connected to my switches.

IFTTT Recipe: If Long Press - Turn Off All Switches connects wemo-light-switch to wemo-switch

Another clever idea I saw was to use the light switch as a phone finder. If you lose your phone, a long press on one of your switches will call it for you. Here’s that recipe:

IFTTT Recipe: If I lose my phone, call it with a long press of my WeMo Light Switch connects wemo-light-switch to phone-call

Perhaps a more practical use, if you have an appliance that would be easier to control by switch.  For example, I have a lamp in the foyer of my home, very near a WeMo light switch at my front door. I've programed my front door Long Press to turn on or off the lamp. Here's that rule:

IFTTT Recipe: Turn on your WeMo Switch from your WeMo Light Switch connects wemo-light-switch to wemo-switch

The possibilities are endless. In fact, Mac Power Users will be teaming up with WeMo later this month for a special contest to see what other great ideas you have for using these new features. Stay tuned for details.

Disclosure: Belkin is a sponsor of Mac Power Users

Macworld/iWorld Livescribe 3 Smart Pen

Since its introduction I’ve been intrigued by the LiveScribe Pen. For my day job I spend a lot of time meeting with people, taking notes, sometimes drawing diagrams and then referring back to those notes. Most of the time this is done with a legal pad and a pen. There’s still nothing that compares to the versatility, portability, ease of use and speed associated with pen and paper. I’ve tried several different stylus designed for iPad, and they just aren’t there yet.

Being someone who adopts a paperless practice at home, and strives to do so at the office, the idea of creating digital copies of my notes is appealing. I had an opportunity to play with the new Livescribe 3 at Macworld/iWorld this year and I was very tempted to bring one home and try it again.

The Livescribe pen has an embedded camera and uses traditional in. When combined with special paper that is covered with a micro-dots and the accompanying App, Livescribe can convert your analog handwriting to digital form. The companion App syncs with an iPad or iPhone allowing you to view and search notes and even convert handwriting to text. You can optionally record audio while taking notes and replay the audio by tapping on a portion of your notes. Notably, audio recording is actually done from your iOS device now, there is no microphone in the pen unlike pervious versions.

At David Sparks’ suggestion, I ordered the original Livescribe a couple years ago. I used it for about a month and ultimately sent it back. My biggest complaint then is the Livescribe just wasn’t a particularly good pen. I’m accustomed to writing with small pens with fine points using gel inks and the Livescribe has an ultra thick ballpoint. Version 3 of the pen is a noticeable improvement in terms of ergonomics and pen quality, but still uses fairly tick ballpoint. I’m told this is required for the technology to work.

In addition to a slick new appearance, the new pen also comes with other improvements. The pen turns on and off with a twist, pairing is easier, the “eraser” at the top of a pen is a capitative touch stylus (though it’s too thick for me to do much writing, it’s more for highlighting or selection) and the hardware has been simplified, no more screen.

Another pain point with my original Livescribe experience was the app. iOS support was limited and the Mac App was clunky, awkwardly designed and importing and exporting pages was a bit of a pain. Now, most everything is done through iOS and Livescribe will integrate with other services such as my beloved Evernote. The App still looks like there’s room for significant improvement, but the pen appears to sync up quickly and respond well with the App and you have the ability to easily export to PDF or another App like Evernote.

I’m not sure if the new Livescribe 3 would fit any better in my life than the original pen did, but I’m still intrigued and I think they’re heading in the right direction. I didn’t bring the Livescribe 3 home with me from San Francisco, but I’ll admit, I’m still thinking about it. Currently I use a variety of methods including taking notes in Day One, writing on a legal pad and transcribing notes into the computer, scanning handwritten notes with a document, or using an iPad. I’m still looking for that one perfect solution to solve my note-taking problem.

Mac Power Users 187: Word Processors

This week on Mac Power Users David and I dive deep into the topic of Word Processors. We’ve covered text editors quite a bit on the show, but this time we talk about the different word processor options, whether word processors are really needed, discuss the evolution of Pages, Microsoft’s new iPad apps and the future of their product and word processing alternatives.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Mac Power Users 186: MPU Live: Mail Attachments, AppleScript, OmniFocus, Hazel and More!

I’m a little late in posting this, but last weekend David and I recorded MPU Live and it is now posted to the podcast feed as Episode 186. This was an episode packed with listener feedback and tips on a variety of topics. We followed up on our discussion of taking action on mail attachments using a few listener provided workflows using AppleScript and Hazel, had several listeners share how they were using Hazel to automate their workflows, discuss travel tips, follow-up on apps for education and hit a few quick topics including OmniFocus, Paperless and more.

Our live shows are recorded on the 1st Saturday of the month at 10am Pacific/1pm Eastern. You can join us or find more information about how to stream the show, participate in chatroom or find when the show occurs in your time zone at 5by5.tv/live. If you want to share your workflows or provide feedback (we love the audio comments - keep them coming!) send an email to feedback@macpowerusers.com

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Mac Power Users 185: Workflows with the Mac Observer’s Dave Hamilton

This week on Mac Power Users David and I sit down with Dave Hamilton of the Mac Observerand the Mac Geek Gab Podcast. The Mac Geek Gab was one of the first podcasts I started listening to and has remained one of my must-listen shows ever since. Dave chats with us about how running the Mac Observer, protecting equipment from power surges and brown outs, Mac maintenance, his podcasting setup, music and more.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Heartbleed OpenSSL Bug and 1Password

Another day, another vulnerability. This one is scary. It's called Heartbleed and it's a problem with OpenSSL.  It allows the skimming of information that would normally be protected by SSL/TLS encryption.  You can find more information at heartbleed.com along with a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions. The good news is  there is a fix but we're going to have to wait for venders, distributors and administrators to adopt it.

As usual, the folks at AgileBits have done a comprehensive summary on their blog, as well as breaking down what this vulnerability means to 1Password users. While having strong unique passwords for all your various sites certainly helps in circumstances like this, inputing your passwords in a compromised site could make make them susceptible.

From AgileBIts Blog: Imagine no SSL encryption, it’s scary if you try:

Your 1Password data remains safe, as does your 1Password Master Password. But whether or not you use 1Password to log into an affected site or service, your username and password, along with everything else that happens over that supposedly encrypted connection, may be exposed to attackers.

You will, at some point, need to change a lot of passwords. But don’t rush to do that just yet. Not every server is affected, and those that are need to fix things at their end before you change your password. If you change your password before the servers fix things, then your new password will also be vulnerable to capture.

All that most of us can do is wait at this point. Presumably, various service providers will announce over the next few days when and whether users should change passwords or be aware that other confidential information may have been exposed.

If you're a user of 1Password Anywhere, be sure you read the additional information concerning Dropbox and Heartbleed on the AgileBits blog. For now, seems the best advice is to hang tight, be mindful of where you've been on the web and be prepared to change your passwords soon. Also, trust no one

Disclosure: 1Password is a sponsor of Mac Power Users

The Sweet Setup Interview and More on PDFPen Scan+

This week I had the pleasure of being interviewed for The Sweet Setup about my iPhone home screen. You can find the post here.

I’ve already received a few questions about one of the Apps on my home screen, PDFpen Scan+ and how I use it. I use Scan+ for capturing all those little bits of paper “everywhere else” in my life. Mainly receipts, but also occasionally I’ll use it to snap photos of documents, forms, etc. The power of PDFpen Scan+ is it’s OCR capability built in the App. I can upload documents scanned to Dropbox or other cloud services and when they sync with my Mac back home, I have a series of Hazel rules that will automatically activate and take action accordingly.

For example, if I take a photo of a receipt at Home Depot, then it will automatically give it a date and time stamp and file it in my “Home” notebook in Evernote. (More on how that works here). If I take a photo of the receipt from the Pharmacy, it will give it a date stamp and tag it for my taxes as it may be deductible as a medical expense.

To work, this requires I setup some rules in advance using Hazel back on my home Mac, but since I tend to take the same type of photos repeatedly, setting up a rule once usually pays off big time later.

Using cTivo to Take TiVo Shows on the Road

When I travel, I like to take my TV shows with me. Probably the easiest thing to do is to buy TV shows from iTunes for $1.99 and sync them to the iPad. But, I have a TiVo with a number of season passes set to automatically record my favorite shows. So it seems a bit of a waste to spend money on shows I already have recorded digitally.

If you have one of the newer model TiVo Roamio’s, the functionality to stream TV shows is either built in or optionally added with a TiVo Stream. But if, like me, have an older TiVo you’ll have to use software to download, decrypt and re-encode the shows from your TiVo box. This is where cTivo comes in.

I learned about cTivo from Dave Hamilton at the Mac Geek Gab podcast (who incidentally will be our guest on MPU next week). cTiVo is a free Mac application to download shows from your TiVo (Premiere, HD, S3 or S2 devices) and convert them to many popular formats. To decrypt episodes, you’ll need your TiVo’s Media Access Key (MAK) which is available in your account information on TiVo.com or in your TiVo’s account information screen.

cTivo allows you to encode your downloaded episodes in a variety of formats for iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. You can optionally have cTivo mark or edit out the commercials in your broadcasts. While this feature is still in Beta, I’ve found it does a pretty good job and will usually shave about 15 minutes off an hour long recording, saving you time and space. Once downloaded, shows can be automatically added to iTunes or saved to your location of choice. You can also create subscriptions to certain shows so whenever cTivo detects a new episode it will automatically download, encode and save it for you. I’m doing this with the current season of NCIS and archiving to my Drobo to watch later while I catch up on earlier seasons.

While traveling for Macworld/iWorld earlier this month, I loaded up my iPad with a couple of TV shows to watch on the 5 hour plane ride over. Unfortunately, between my mom and I, we exhausted all our shows and that left nothing to watch for the lengthy trip home. So, a couple days before we left San Francisco, I logged into my Mac mini back at home using Back to My Mac, popped open cTivo and started downloading a half dozen new shows that recorded that week and set them to save in a directory on my Transporter. Because saving the shows to my Transporter was done locally over my home’s Ethernet, the process didn’t take long. That night, I was able to use hotel Wi-Fi (which was surprisingly reasonable) to sync my home Transporter with my MacBook Air to retrieve the shows and transfer them to my iPad. I could have used other options for transfer such has Plex, or another cloud service, but the Transporter seemed ideally suited to this type task.

While this is no doubt a specialized setup, it’s worked well for me over the years. If you have a TiVo, especially an older model that doesn’t have built-in stream support, cTivo is worth checking out.

Amazon FireTV and Apple TV

Yesterday, Amazon launched FireTV, a competitor to Apple’s set-top box. I’m a heavy Apple TV user and earlier this year I spent some time with a Roku as preparation for my Macworld/iWorld presentation. FireTV is an interesting blend in this market, and it has a good shot at being competitive.

On the hardware side, the FireTV packs an impressive quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM which means this box should be responsive and have the ability to queue up videos and run moderately graphics intensive apps. Amazon highlighted a feature they call “ASAP” which predicts which videos a person is likely to watch and pre-loads them to cut down on buffering time. No doubt they can do so thanks to the generous RAM. The included remote works via Bluetooth rather than IR meaning you don’t have to point it at the box, much less even be in the same room. This is nice if you have your media cabinet closed off or the box hidden behind a TV. Given the Box’s small size (about the height of a dime standing on its end) I suspect some will choose to mount the Fire TV behind their TV screens. There’s also a microphone built into the remote for voice search, though it currently only works for Amazon’s content.

The feature everyone is talking about is the optional $39 game controller meaning that Amazon is setting the FireTV up to be at least a casual gaming platform. Amazon is working with developers including EA, Disney and Sega to bring their games to the FireTV but also hopes that because the FireTV runs on Android, App developers will port their games over for use on the FireTV.

Hardware isn’t the only advantage, Amazon has taken on the idea of a unified search. Rather than having to comb through the various streaming services to know whether or not the movie or TV show you want to watch is available, you can now search for the content you want and be presented with a list of options of where to watch the content prioritized by your available services and cost. I really like this concept and it’s one I hope that Apple and others will adopt. Of course, Amazon seems to prioritize their content over others, but some of that is to be expected.

As far as content, Amazon FireTV has most of the major players, with a few notable exceptions. For example there’s no HBO Go though presumably this could come in the future. As expected, there’s no access to your iTunes content, just as Amazon does not, and likely will not, have a dedicated App on the Apple TV. Notably, Amazon’s iOS App is supported on Apple TV via AirPlay.

Of course the featured provider is Amazon’s own streaming video service. Prime members can stream form a catalog of over 40,000 movies and TV episodes as well as access to their substantial catalogue of movies and TV shows available for rental or purchase. Amazon continues to aggressively pursue exclusive streaming deals they just nabbed an exclusive streaming deal for one of my favorite shows, 24. If you’re a FireTV owner, chances are you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber. Amazon includes a 30 day trial prime membership with every FireTV purchase.

What does this mean for an Apple TV user? I must admit, I’m very impressed with the FireTV and if I wasn’t so deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem, the FireTV would be something I’d buy. Based on my lackluster experience with the Roku, I would probably already recommend FireTV over a Roku to someone who is not so deeply connected to iTunes.

I’m trilled to see more competition in this market that will push Apple forward. I suspect Apple has an update to the Apple TV on the horizon, likely later this year, and with another serious competitor out there, Apple is going to have to step up their game. Apple TV has been a great hobby product, but it’s time for a refresh. In the short term I expect we’ll see upgrades to the hardware including a faster processor and more flash storage. I expect the IR remote will see an upgrade to bluetooth and we’ll see faster wireless networking. The Apple TV desperately needs a facelift with better organization and unified search. Hopefully WWDC will bring a development kit. Longer term, the Apple TV may incorporate a tuner and onboard storage to be able to handle DVR and cable box features, but I think these updates are further down the roadmap.

Your move, Apple…bring it.

Macworld/iWorld: Cloak 2

Cloak is a VPN service that allows you to surf the web securely, I’ve spoken about it in the past on Mac Power Users and I’ve been a Cloak subscriber for the past year. This year at Macworld/iWorld Cloak introduced version 2, a major update to the service.

The biggest changes with Cloak 2 came to the iOS App which now has the ability to automatically secure your connection without any interaction on the user part. In the Cloak settings you can define trusted networks. By default, any network that is secured and any cellular network is automatically trusted. When your Mac or iOS device connects to an untrusted network (such as the Macworld/iWorld public network or stay the public network at a Starbucks) Cloak will detect this and automatically activate the VPN service securing your connection. I had no idea this was even possible on iOS, but the engineers at Cloak have figured it out. This now makes using Cloak effortless.

Also new with version 2 is upgraded pricing plans. You can subscribe to Cloak with either a mini-plan giving you 5GB of monthly access for $3 a month or unlimited access for $10 per month. If you only occasionally need to use a VPN (such as when traveling) you can now purchase a one-time pass directly from your iOS device for $4 a week, $10 a month or $100 a year with unlimited data for that time period. I personally subscribe to the mini plan and find that most months I use public Wi-Fi enough to justify the minimal cost.

I received a few codes for free cloak service in my Macworld/iWorld speaker bag, so follow me on Twitterand I’ll be giving these way soon.