Category Archives: Computers

Review: Cloak Personal VPN

If you’re using your smartphone or laptop on a free Wi-Fi connection, you totally need a personal VPN service. At WordCamp Los Angeles 2013, Jason Cosper mentioned his favorite personal VPN service, Cloak. Now, I’m a fan of Cloak! It’s fast and simple to set up.

I have the 5GB Mini Plan for $2.99/month, which is sufficient for now since I don’t stray too far from home with an unsecured connection on my iPhone. It’s seems easy enough to upgrade to their Unlimited Plan for $9.99/month. My wife and I use iPhones and MacBook Air laptops, and we can share a single account.

If you’re worried about how long they keep personal session information (data related to your Cloak account), their Policies page is written in plain English.

Another notable read on their blog: Why Trust Matters When Choosing a VPN

Give it a try! :)

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Simplenote revisions, you SAVED us!

Last week, I created a new item to document notes, ideas, and tasks for the move to our new place. I’ve shared it with Amy so she can refer and add to it.1

Yesterday, she got distracted, selected all the text by accident, and typed some gibberish — wiping out all the text about our new place.

(I estimate the damage was worth writing and brainstorming for a couple of hours.)

Fortunately, Simplenote — like most excellent products and services — includes revision history.

Yay! :)


  1. I think it’s time to split things up into separate notes. 

Custom Roost Laptop Stand for 11–inch MacBook Air

Bryan's current setup

I was stoked to receive a The Roost as one of several awesome Automattic Christmas gifts a few months ago. While it wouldn’t fit my 11″ MacBook Air, I saw Joey Kudish receive one that would fit. After a few pings and a couple of days, a custom Roost stand arrived.

(How am I worthy?!)

Previously, I used a mStand laptop stand by Rain Design. It was okay and stylish, but it didn’t compare to the raised height of The Roost.

Another bonus: I love the portability! Along with my Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad, when I venture out with my laptop and backpack, I bring The Roost.

I’m fortunate that I don’t feel shoulder or neck pain, so taking steps like this hopefully means I can prevent it.

To James Olander and Warren Kleban: thank you for making this happen!

Sharing lists

My colleague, Andrew Spittle, asks:

What do you and Amy use to keep track of groceries?

We use Listary. When we’re low on something, we add it to the list.

It’s quick, simple, and syncs instantly with Simplenote.

Inventory tip — To easily see when you’re running low on stuff, add the quantity to the beginning of the item. For example:

  • 2 Bathroom tissue paper rolls
  • 5 Dishwasher packs
  • 1 Brita water filter
  • 2 Snack Pack cups
  • 1 Bagel
  • Half jar peanut butter

FaceTime audio calls are excellent

While I’m in Budapest, I’ve been using FaceTime audio–only calls with my wife on our iPhones.

Free WiFi access at our apartments means:

  • Amy doesn’t need to setup Skype. We can use the built–in iOS app.
  • I don’t worry about minutes.
  • Audio quality is great (as long as the internet connection is stable).

Here is the data usage from our calls so far:

  • 27 minutes (18 MB)
  • 5 minutes (4 MB)
  • 56 minutes (30 MB)
  • 9 minutes (7 MB)

Mac users can also use the FaceTime app if you aren’t an iPhone user.

How? In iOS, view the contact information, and tap the phone icon next to the FaceTime video camera icon.

FaceTime options

Happy chatting!

Track shared data usage for two with DataMan Pro

I installed DataMan Pro on my iPhone on January 2nd. While it was slightly uncomfortable ditching my unlimited (grandfathered) data plan from Verizon Wireless when I upgraded my phone, this app makes it a breeze to track my cellular data usage.

From left to right, and top to bottom:

  1. Current usage from this month
  2. Smart Forecast estimates usage for the rest of the month1, while the Balance displays how much cellular data I can use for the rest of the day.
  3. Stats: Usage by day
  4. Stats: Usage by hour
  5. Settings > Data Plan
  6. Settings > Data Plan > Add Usage
  7. Stats: Usage by month

Setup Tips and Observations

Data Plan — Review a few monthly statements. If your billing cycle starts on the same day every month, use the Monthly plan type. (e.g. 14th of the month)

For Data Cap, I just switched it from 1,000 MB to 1 GB (screenshot not shown) because 1 GB = 1,024 MB. Every bit helps!

Add Usage — To start accurately, log into the account with your service provider to verify your current data usage.2 Add the largest unit byte (whole number), then convert the decimal (probably from MB to KB) to add that last portion.

Multiple people — Amy and I share 2 GB of data, so we’re splitting that in half for each person.

Notifications — DataMan Pro includes push notifications at four configurable thresholds (called Usage Alerts). The defaults are 50%, 70%, 90%, and 100%.

Verizon Wireless can send email or text notifications when you reach certain preset thresholds (50%, 75%, 90%, 100%). I’m going to disable them because they reflect shared usage. We’re only concerned with individual usage.

In context, if I’ve used more data than Amy in a month, it’s up to me to ease up. She shouldn’t stress about it. :)

Turn off Percentage Badge — If you’ll primarily rely on push notifications, you probably don’t care to see the percentage badge on the app icon, so you can turn that off in Settings > Advanced.

Interesting trends — When I’m home for most of the day, which is usually the case, I don’t use much cellular data.

However, when I’m out and about, Rdio, Day One, and Tweetbot can use up quite a bit if I’m not careful.

I’ve since disabled cellular data for the following apps in iOS 7 (Settings > Cellular):

  • Rdio
  • Day One
  • App Store
  • Netflix
  • Newsy
  • Scanner Pro
  • TuneIn Radio

Quirks

I always forget:

  • Swipe left goes to Settings
  • Swipe up displays your data usage over time.

Conclusion

I’m blessed to be able to work from home with a fairly solid internet and Wi–Fi connection. When not traveling, I don’t need to pay another $10/month for another 2 GB of shared data.

DataMan Pro will help us stay strong or realize when it’s time to fork over some extra cash. I gladly paid $4.99 for DataMan Pro, and will buy a second copy for Amy’s iPhone.


  1. In other words, if I don’t change anything with my service provider or data usage habits (like disabling cellular data for certain apps), I’ll use too much data on my account. With Verizon Wireless, overage costs $15 per GB. 
  2. Note the timestamp. That doesn’t update in realtime, so you may need to check several times and make multiple adjustments with Add Usage until it matches up. After that, DataMan should match exactly with your service provider. Should. ;) 

I love Scanner Pro for iOS

I grabbed Scanner Pro for free a few weeks ago via 9to5Mac. Awesome timing!

Previously, I was using a new, regular envelope each month to keep small paper receipts for over a year — shoved into a shelf in my home office.

I’m on a purging kick, so I aim to shred old receipts that aren’t important.

For receipts worth keeping, capturing with this app is quick, and the scan quality is phenomenal.

Which receipts are worth keeping? Here are some examples:

  • Health–related co–pays, medication.
  • Car maintenance.
  • Non–grocery items (gadgets, non–trivial household items).

I’ve decided to scan all receipts, and I’ll archive the less important items into a ZIP file every month. I’ll also do the same in the rare case I take written notes.

If you’re intrigued, Scanner Pro for iOS is currently $2.99 in the Apple App Store — originally priced $6.99, about 58% off — for less than 48 hours.1


  1.  I’m not sure when the promotion began, so just snag it. ;)