Wednesday, September 16, 2009

10 must-have iPhone apps according to Ken

These are my favorites as of right now.  At this moment.  Subject to change at any time without notice.

I left off the social media apps everyone has, like Facebook, LinkedIn, and TweetDeck.  I also excluded the apps I’ve written to eliminate the obvious bias :) 

Here are 10 apps I use on a regular basis:

 #1 Simplify Media 2 ($5.99)

Simplify Media lets you stream music from your computer to your iPhone.  The downside is you need to leave your computer on.  But if you do that anyway then you can have your entire music collection with you anywhere you go.  For me, that’s enough music to fill 10 iPhones.  Plus I don’t have to sync music to my phone.  Once it is on my computer I can play it on my phone.  And the sound quality is great.

 #2  i.TV 2.0 (Free)

i.TV is the perfect TV guide app, especially if you have a TiVo.  You can see TV listings in a stylish format and flip through stations and show times quickly.  Once you find a show, you can read the synopsis, tell your TiVo to record it, and even change to the station using a built in TiVo remote (yes, control your TiVo from your iPhone.  Is there anything the iPhone can’t do?)  There’s tons more to this app that I haven’t yet explored.


 #3 Evernote (Free)

Evernote keeps Text, Pictures, and Voice notes, and does so with a nice easy-to-use inteface.  The real exciting feature, though, is all of your notes are synced and available via the Evernote Web site too.  I jump between using the Evernote Web site at my desk, and the iPhone app on the go.


 #4 Lose It! (Free)

Lose it! is designed to help you control your weight, the only way that works – by counting calories.  It has a huge, though not complete, list of foods including store brands and popular restaurant chains.  For the foods it is missing, you can add custom foods or recipes.  It tracks all sorts of exercises too.  You start by setting a goal, then as you track intake and exercise, you can see exactly how well you are doing.  I’ve only just started using it, but it does help you think twice before grabbing that brownie in the cafe (not that it stops me, mind you!)

 #5 Zenbe Lists ($2.99)

Zenbe is a simple app for keeping to-do lists, shopping lists, etc.  It syncs with a free Web site so you can update lists in both places.  I use it a lot for grocery shopping and keeping a list of projects I need to do at home.  There are many to-do lists in the App Store, including ones that are made specifically for grocery shopping, but I find this simple app works best for me. 


 #6 Sportacular (Free)

Sportacular has all the details you need for a sports fan who needs to know the current score of a game, or a team’s upcoming schedule, etc.  It’s a well-designed app and covers all the bases, if you will :)  Gives you play-by-plays, stats, and even has an alert feature to notify you when a score has changed.


 #7 Let’s Golf ($1.99)

I haven’t purchased many games for the iPhone, but this one caught my attention and is pretty amazing for the price.  I got it on sale for a buck, and it was worth every penny.  Very addictive once you get the hang of it.


 #8 Pandora Radio (Free)

Pandora is a free music streaming application that generates playlists based on a band name you enter.  The app uses a highly analytical process to guess what other music you’d like based on the band you select.  It is usually spot on.  This app was one of the reasons I dumped my Sirius radio subscription.  Who needs a monthly fee when I can get this for free?


 #9 Shazam (Free)

Have you ever heard a song and wished you could push a button to find out who the artist is, and what the name of the song is?  Shazam does that for you in 12 seconds.  Just hit “Tag Now”, hold your iPhone near the speaker, and it finds the artist, song, lyrics, bio, and much more.  It is worth checking out just for the pure novelty of it. 


 #10 iMapMyRun (Free)

Here’s another app that has replaced a separate device I used to use.  iMapMyRun will track your running routes using the GPS on the iPhone.  It records time, distance, pace, etc, and syncs that information to, where you can enter way more information about your run than you’d ever care to.  They also have an app for bikers and other activities.  It’s the best run-tracking app out there at the moment.  And I don’t need my giant Garmin wrist watch anymore to track my distances.


So there’s my list.  What are your favorites?  Feel free to comment!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Email enabling your Outlook 2007 To Do List

I use the Outlook 2007 Tasks, aka To Do List, regularly at work.  Occasionally when I’m out and about and I think of something I need to do, I send myself an email from my iPhone (before my memory is garbage-collected) because I know if I fail to write it down immediately it will be lost from my memory forever.  Then the next day, I can take that email and copy it into my to-do list, set a follow-up date, a project category, etc.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just have that all triggered from the email itself?  I thought so, and I started imagining how I could program a script or Outlook Add-on to handle it.  But thankfully, anyone can do this very easily using just built-in Rules for Outlook 2007.

First, create a new rule in Outlook by clicking Tools > Rules & Alerts.  I chose to Start with a Blank Rule then clicked the Check messages when they arrive option.

On the first step of the wizard, I selected a few conditions.  I wanted this to only run if the message was sent only to me, was sent only from one of my few email addresses, and only if there were specific words in the subject.  I entered TODO: as the specific word that triggers the action.


For step 2 of the wizard, I chose to mark the email message as read, flag it for follow up, assign a specific category and move it into another folder (i.e. out of my Inbox)


And that’s it!  Click past step 3, and then click Finish.  The system works great, with the only downside that Outlook must be running for this rule to work.  I leave it running usually while I’m away, so that is not an issue. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Relax with Tranzotica has hit the App Store

MainCover I’m a little late with this post, but my second application, Relax with Tranzotica, is available for sale on the App store.

Relax with Tranzotica is a relaxation / meditation aid filled with calming images and soothing ambient music. If you need to escape for a few moments in a busy day, Relax with Tranzotica can help ease your mind and put you at peace.

The music was written by Pamela Davis, an independent artist who released the album Tranzotica in 2008. Part of her inspiration for the album involved studying meditation and how music theory (scales, chords, rhythms) could influence the mind and aid relaxation.

Images are shown based on a theme that you select. A number of suggested themes are included such as "Sunrises and sunsets", "Waterfalls", and "Tropical Island Beaches". You can also create your own custom theme based on keywords you enter.

There is a free lite version available as well: Relax with Tranzotica Lite It includes two tracks and a limited set of images, but is otherwise similar to the full version.

Here is the app store description:

Welcome to Relax with Tranzotica. It’s time to get centered. Relax. Regroup. Use Relax with Tranzotica to de-stress during difficult days or unwind before sleep. Beautiful images and music draw you in to create an experience of peace, serenity, and calm. Select from these ever-changing visual themes, or create your own atmosphere: > Sunrises and sunsets > Exotic flowers > Tropical island beaches > Waterfalls > Mountains > City skylines > Redwood National Forest > New England foliage > and four more... Tranzotica’s music is the creation of Pamela Davis, an accomplished independent artist of 25 years. She describes this recording as "a collage of ambient instrumental music that makes one soul tingle from head to toe...packed full of intriguing music that takes the listener to another place, another time, another realm of reality, to unpredictable heights." No time for a yoga class, healthy meal, or spa treatment? Relax with Tranzotica.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It is amazing what a Google Images search on your own name turns up.

Someone in Japan used my Lotus Notes Export to Excel code and credited me on their blog. I'm just a bit amazed at the reach that application had.

Not only that, but who knew Lotus Notes was being used in Japan?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

How to better focus on your job in three easy steps

(I'm assuming you're a Windows XP user running Outlook, so Mac/Linux users maybe you can do this in two or one steps?)

1. Click Start > Control Panel > Sounds and Audio Devices.

2. On the Sounds tab, scroll to New Mail Notification in the list of program events.

3. Change the Sound to be played option to "(None)."

Congratulations, you've broken your Pavlovian chains and are free to concentrate on your project tasks without the need to check email every time you hear a ding.

In future posts, I will demonstrate how to logout of Facebook, set your cell phone's ring mode to Silent, disable your instant messenger alerts, and turn off your Twitter client.

UPDATE: Apparently in Outlook 2007 you're better off going to Tools > Options > Email Options > Advanced Email Options, and unchecking all the items under "When new items arrive in my Inbox". You really have to focus to eliminate these distractions.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

FrontBase ODBC Driver SQL Columns error

Sometimes I feel like the things I write on this blog are so obscure they'll never be read. But I suppose if I ran into this issue, chances are someone else will too.

I recently had a great experience with the support team from FrontBase regarding their ODBC driver. While their documentation included with the driver was lacking, they made up for it with the excellent support.

I had a problem selecting columns from a table using their FrontBase ODBC driver. I could select * from a table and get results, but if I tried to select a single column it failed. Also I could browse the tables and views, but couldn't browse the columns of the tables without receiving an error: Failed to Execute SQL Columns() statement

If you are using the FrontBase ODBC driver (I'm using version, and receive this error, there are a few solutions. First off, the error is caused by a permission issue. The driver needs to create a special view appropriately called VIEW_NEEDED_BY_FBODBC. If you aren't the db owner, or if you've set the ODBC connection in read-only transaction mode, then you'll run into this error. I'm told you can correct this by simply making the connection as the owner, and the driver will handle creating the view the first time you run a query.

You can also create the view yourself via FBManager or RazorSQL or whatever querying tool you have. For this you'll obviously need another way to connect to the database, and I used RazorSQL and the FrontBase JDBC driver.

Run this query to build the view:


You'll just need to run this code once and the ODBC driver will work as expected, allowing you to browse the table columns and select individual columns.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shark Browser iPhone App Submitted

Today I have submitted my first iPhone app, Shark Browser, to the App Store. With any luck it'll hit the store by the end of the month. Shark Browser is an alternative browser to Safari, with quick access to searches for many popular sites such as Amazon, IMDB, Flickr, Google and more. Plus it has full-screen features to take advantage of the full real estate of the iPhone. Here's the description from the App Store: SHARK is a full screen Web browser with a twist. Focus your keyword searches by tapping your favorite Web site including Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, ESPN,, IMDB and more! SHARK has many of the features you’ve come to expect from alternative iPhone browsers and some you haven’t seen before: - Show and Save Images: Tap to show all the images on the current Web page. Then tap any individual image to save it to your photo library. You can easily save any size image this way (this is difficult to do in Safari). - Find Text in Page: After you search a site, use this option to find and highlight the keyword for you. - Full screen mode: Hides the status bar and toolbars to use the full screen real estate of the iPhone. Jump automatically to full screen when you hit “GO.” - Privacy Browsing: When you close the application, your session is erased and there is no trace of your personal information or what you were searching for. - users will appreciate the shrinkster code search mode. Great for listeners of Mondays and other podcasts.

Friday, April 10, 2009

iPhone SDK: Device is case-sensitive, Simulator is not.

I've started developing for the iPhone this past month and ran into an issue that only appears on the device and worked fine in the simulator. It boiled down to case sensitivity for image filenames. The simulator doesn't care about case, but the iPhone itself does.

I called [UIImage imageNamed:@"myfilename.png"] and my images appeared fine in the simulator. When I tested my app on the device, it didn't crash, but the images never showed up. I fixed it by making sure all of my image files were named in lowercase, and then I used the lowercaseString method of NSString when calling the imageNamed method.

SQL Debugging within Visual Studio

Today's revelation: You can debug SQL stored procedures and functions. OMG. I just saved a half hour of digging through code by stepping through the debugger to see where my code went wrong.

It is simple to do and described well here. I just fired up Visual Studio 2008, opened Server Explorer, and opened a Data Connection. I had to make sure the connection was using Windows authentication, and that my AD account was registered as a user with the sysadmin role on the server. That was true, so I then right-clicked and chose "Step Into Function". Voila! The debugger console came up, asked me for parameters, and showed my function. This is extremely useful.

Apparently I'm late to the game since I've read this has been around since SQL Server 2000!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Export To Excel 2.0 for Lotus Notes

I'm posting this in case anyone has questions about the Export to Excel scripts I wrote (way back in 2002!). The code lives on the Lotus Notes sandbox and apparently folks have still been downloading it occasionally. The email address I reference in the code is long gone, so hopefully this will lead someone to me if they have a question.
UPDATE: The Lotus Sandbox has been closed down, so here is the original Export to Excel 2.0 database I created.