Using your Android or iOS tablet as a second monitor

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As we’ve seen previously (The more screens, the better – Our guide to multiple monitors ), having more screens to distribute your desktop across can be a huge benefit to your computing experience.

And as you’ll have noticed in the title, if you’ve got a tablet, you can even bring it into the mix, as long as you’ve got access to a WiFi network and have installed a few pieces of software. Lets take a look.

Apps
There are quite a few apps out there for Android and iOS, on both Windows and OSX. This post isn’t really about all the variations available, so to keep it simple, I’m using Air Display by Avatron, which is available for all four configurations (Android (OSX/Win), iOS (OSX/Win)).

It’s a simple matter to set up, just install a server application on your desktop, and a client application on your tablet. Configuration took a minute or two and then I was sharing my screen.

MacAndroid.jpgIt’s about the network
The way these desktop-extending apps work is they basically fool your operating system into thinking you’ve just connected another monitor to the system. To your operating system, the tablet looks just like a monitor, and is treated as such.

You can drag windows on to it, launch your computer’s applications from it — it’s just another screen.

Screen with benefits
Ok, it’s not really just another screen. This new mini-monitor also becomes a touch screen. Yep, you can tap on your screen, and the computer’s cursor immediately snaps to the location you tapped. Which means all your mouse functions are also now available on the touchscreen tablet.

Portable
For me, one of the best uses of a tablet as an extended desktop is when I pair my iPad up with my MacBook Pro when I’m on the go.

Imagine pulling up to your favourite table at your local coffee shop, setup up your laptop, and next to it, your tablet. Extend the screen onto your tablet and poof! You are now uber productive while being extremely portable.

Refreshing
Since you’re actually getting an extended desktop sent through the network to your tablet, don’t expect blisteringly fast screen updates. Depending on the app and desktop, you can make Flash animations appear on your device. In my case, I managed to get just under 60 frames per second in my highly un-scientific HTML5 Fishtank framerate test :smileyhappy:

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Drawbacks?
No system is perfect. Using the tablet as a second screen requires a WiFi network connection. This can be a bit tricky in some locations where you’re only allowed one WiFi connection per person.

Also, if there are multiple WiFi networks in the same building, say at a university, you must make sure that your devices are all on the same WiFi network.

Why?
Well, I like using the extra monitor provided by my tablet as a news desk, tweet monitor and reference desk. Yep, just a passive display that I can occasionally glance at that means I don’t have to Alt-Tab to check on stuff. Much less distracting that way, I find. And it’s a portable solution to my multiple monitor addiction.

Thoughts?
Got a favourite computer and tablet configuration you want to share? Tell us about it and we’ll all learn something!

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How-To: Streaming stuff around your house

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In this increasingly wireless world, it seems odd that it’s actually kinda difficult to get music or other media from one device to another.

In my case, I have photos, movies and music all stored on a central storage device on my network — a Network Attached Storage device, or NAS.

Getting to that media easily with other devices means I have to have a something running and acting as a server to manage access to the media. In my case, it’s a small windows based computer that acts as the server.

Or should I say ‘servers’ because to get my media streamed around the house is a feat that requires more than just one piece of software.

ituneslogo.jpgLet’s start with iTunes
I have that running  and sharing its library (which is pointed at the media on the NAS). iTunes allows any other copy of iTunes running on my network (and that I’ve enabled Home Sharing on) to see the shared library and use the media on it.

So now any computer running iTunes can play music from my shared iTunes library. This means my Apple TV (2nd Gen) can see my media library too.

But moving a computer from soundsystem to soundsystem is a little clunky, so read on, gentle reader, read on.

iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone
It’s fairly easy to plug your iDevices into most home sound system these days, so I won’t go into details on that, but that’s how I get the music to the room I want listen in.

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WiFi2HiFi

Now things get a bit more complex. Streaming media to these devices requires another piece of server software running on that server box. And a matching application on the iOS device.

The iDevice is the receiver, and the Server is, erm, the server.

There are currently three solid iOS receiver apps (and matching free server software):

With all three, the basic principal is the same:

1) Point the server software (on the PC) at the directories you want to share with the iOS devices
2) Let the server software build a catalogue

Now things get a bit different
With Air Video and Stream To Me, you just:
3) Point the app (on your iOS device) at your server (usually using an IP address).

If you’re using WiFi2HiFi, it’s easier — you just start the server software, and it automatically detects your iOS device with the app running and streams all your computer’s audio to it. So whatever you’re playing on your computer will be streamed to the iOS device.
4) With Stream-To-Me and Air Video, you have more control. The matching server software lets you view your media libraries and select the media you’d like to stream.

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Stream-To-Me

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Air Video

As of this writing, Air Video only streams video (with on the fly conversion or queued conversion), while Stream-To-Me sends most video and audio formats without conversion.

So depending on your needs, you’ve got hardware and software options for getting your media to you using your existing devices. Very cool, and convenient way to get your stuff to where you are.

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Show your parents you care – tech style

It’s highly likely that many of you, like me, are responsible for technical support of your families’ computer systems and internet connection.

googfooter.pngEarlier today I found a great little microsite (by Google) that’ll help you support your parents with their online issues.

http://www.teachparentstech.org/ is the site that helps you build a friendly little email and bundles links to appropriate self-help videos.

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Obviously this won’t address every question they’ve got, but it does:

  • Get them using email (they’ll need to in order to view the message)
  • Get them watching online videos through a browser
  • Teach them how to do something to customize their computing experience
  • Give them a sense of accomplishment and independence as they use new tech.

Here’s what your outgoing email could look like:

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It’s not just simple issues either, here’s a video showing how to set up an email autoresponder in Gmail — though similar email apps work in much the same way.

And it’s a great little marketing and branding opportunity to get Google into their computing experience.

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Things to do with your new iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone

Black Friday has come and gone, and you’ve likely got a new gadget, gizmo or toy — I’m going to assume it’s an iPod Touch or iPhone — which is a perfect opportunity for me to dig into my archives and pull out a few posts that may help you and your new baby.

So, these are from the archives, but did I miss anything? It’s how I use my iPod Touch, but what do you do with yours — maybe something I should look into or try on mine? Let me know…that’s what comments are for 🙂

Portable computing with Portable Apps

Not everyone wants to lug a laptop around with them between classes or across town to a study session at the library. Or perhaps you’re moving between a work computer, your home computer and a remote worksite computer, yet want to make sure you’ve got your suite of regular-use tools at hand (’cause you certainly can’t guarantee they’ll be installed on computers you don’t control). This is where the concept of the ‘portable application’ comes to the rescue. …more



This post is an excerpt from one of my weekly posts on the Future Shop Techblog. Check out the full post here.


A simple and easy way to back up your Google Docs

If you do a lot of your work on various computers in different locations (as I do), conveniently accessing your documents is important.

Though I carry a 2GB USB drive everywhere, I actually find it easier to use Google Docs and store my work ‘in the Cloud’, so to speak.

But, that amorphous blob of computing-storage could crash, or my Internet connection could be down. My productivity would end unless there was a way to backup and continue my work on my USB drive too. And there is.

FireFox + GreaseMonkey script + DownLoadThemAll == Solution
If you understood the above heading, then you can see how I solved it. If not, bear with me and all will become clear(er).

First, install and run FireFox. You can’t continue (and your browsing experience will be greatly improved) until you do.

Next, if you’ve not yet installed GreaseMonkey, do so now. This little application runs sophisticated scripts within your browser to improve your online experience. There’s a whole host of cool GreaseMonkey scripts to explore.

Thirdly, install DownloadThemAll — a nifty FireFox addon that automagically downloads all the links or images on a web page. You’ll see how that works for us after the next step.

Finally, install the Google Docs Download GreaseMonkey Script. This is the crux of the solution. To quote the documentation, once inside your Google Docs account:

Just navigate to the document list that you wish to download and select the documents you want to download by clicking their checkboxes or click the select: all link at the bottom of the page. Click the drop down menu on the right side of the page that reads “Download Your Documents” and select a format. A new window will open and you now have a list of links to download all of the documents that you selected.

The beauty of this script is that it you can select which format you’d like for output (PDF, TXT, CSV, Open Office or Microsoft Office), and it works with regular Google Docs accounts, as well as Google Apps for Domains accounts.

To summarize
By simply navigating to my Google Docs main directory, selecting ‘All Documents’ (making sure they’re all checked), and then launching the DownloadThemAll Add on (now in your FireFox Tools menu), I’ve easily created an editable local copy of all my work stored in the G-Cloud. And any work I do on a local copy can be easily imported (as a new file) back into Google Docs.

Admittedly, it’s not as easy as storing it all on a USB stick. But a stick can be lost, and I’d rather have my backup go south, than all my finished work should I actually lose the stick.

Your thoughts? Would this work for you or am I too paranoid?  🙂

A few Twitter tips for TV media

TV Test Pattern of Color Bars - Broadcaster's Twitter TipsRecently I had the opportunity to help introduce a local TV news anchor to the rather convoluted world of Twitter, via Twitter.

That session gave me pause to think about what the TV news media really knows about this new media and its denizens.

So, to save repeating myself, and perhaps help a few other TV types enter into the Twitter-sphere, here’s some of the items we’d discussed.

  • What’s Twitter all about? Check out the best Twitter intro. video ever.
  • What’s an Avatar? Avatar = your icon, just another name. You use them on many networks, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, etc. Here’s an example of an Avatar generator.
  • Shorter tweets work better. You’ve only got 140 characters. Terse works in Twitter. Not like broadcast. Don’t be conversational. Get to your point quickly.
  • What’s a ReTweet? ReTweeting or RT is when someone spreads your tweet to their list of followers. I RT your message, and my tweeps see it. That’s why short tweet is better, it leaves room for RT without major re-editing.
  • Tweet about something that NOBODY ELSE HAS. This is where you add YOUR value to your followers. Wire services are all on twitter. Plug something exclusive to your broadcast (and say so) rather then something that moved on a wire service.
  • That being said, subscribe to all the Twitter wire services and news organizations in your geographic region. Otherwise you won’t know what’s happening in the Twitter-sphere that’s important to your broadcast.
  • Monitor mentions about your Twitter account using http://search.twitter.com. Just enter your @username as the search criteria and you’ll see all the mentions of your account.
  • Remember, Twitter is a Social Media. Interact with your followers, don’t just ‘spam’ them with announcements of a story you’re running in your next newscast. Interaction is key to developing and maintaining an audience in the Twitter-sphere.

*** UPDATE *** I found this excellent list from the Poynter Institute. If you’re getting your feet wet, this is the place to start!
*** UPDATE 2 *** Here’s another great list I plucked off of a recent #journchat (Twitter formal chat for journalists, writers, bloggers, etc)

So, did I miss anything? Please feel free to add to this list in the comments. Oh, and feel free to follow me on Twitter 🙂