Google Photos (OCR)

I’ve been using Google Photos for ages, but it was only recently that they added an optical character recognition feature. Basically, if you take a photo of text on your smartphone, check it out in the Google Photos app or (after it’s been uploaded and synchronised to the cloud) computer web browser and you get the option to optically scan the text in the photo and convert it to editable text. It will even read it aloud for you.

While we’re on the subject of Google and text, there’s also another app that’s very useful, one that I use all the time. One of the features of Google Keep is that you can record audio notes that are automatically transcribed into text. It’s remarkably accurate and useful for those times when you have an idea and are unable to type. I used it for this blog post and it required minimal editing to finish it off.

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Too many notifications?

We live in a technological world where everyone and everything is trying to grab our attention. It can drive us crazy, but we don’t have to accept it or put up with it.

Every app on your smartphone demands your attention and will notify you about all sorts of things, often distracting you from what you’re doing or important conversations you might be having. They’re designed to do this, to keep themselves at the forefront of your mind, to take you away from far more important things.

Default notification settings can increasingly irritate you and those around you.

Quality time you might be having with a loved one, or a person in need of your full attention, is far more deserving of your time and attention than the fact that someone might have laughed (or groaned) at your joke on Facebook or your opinion on Twitter.

All notifications can be turned off individually, and doing this can substantially improve your quality of life. For example, I choose when I check Facebook to see who has replied to me, rather than being disturbed all the time. I take control of my smartphone, instead of my smartphone controlling me.

Every time you get a notification, ask yourself if you actually needed it at that precise moment. If not, mute it in future.

You can also set the [Do Not Disturb] feature, so that even those notifications you do want during the day don’t disturb you at night. Technology is a truly wonderful thing, but can also be very intrusive.

Are you getting too many noisy notifications? The means to control them is in your own hands.

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Ambient Mood (Bandcamp)

Bandcamp is a website for musicians and labels upload music and control how they sell it, setting their own prices or the option to pay what you like and offering occasional discounts. I use it to discover independent music, listening mainly to ambient music, although not exclusively. I’ve also made a number of online friends through Bandcamp. You can find my fan profile and public music collection here.

Bandcamp’s website offers users access to an artist’s page featuring information on the artist, social media links, merchandising links and listing their available music. Artists can change the look of their page and customize its features. Source

You can stream the music on the website, listen via an app or download. Downloads are offered both in lossy formats as MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis, and in lossless formats as FLAC, ALAC, WAV and AIFF. Some artists may offer the purchase of their music on physical media such as CD, vinyl, and even cassette.

I download my purchases and listen to them on a dedicated music player, as well as listening on the website and app on my smartphone. You can read about some of my favourites by clicking here.

Steady – Breathing Exercises App

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There’s a lot of anxiety and other mental health concerns around at the moment related to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and so anything that can help us is welcome.

Steady is an Android app that I’ve started using on my smartphone. I recently came across this recommended app in a magazine and expected to have to pay for it, but it’s free with no adverts.

Breathing exercises are a really helpful way of relieving anxiety and stress, and this app helps you tackle your anxiety. It also provides daily reminders and encouragement for hitting monthly goals and the like.

Note: I’ve discovered there’s also a free app (Insomnia) to help you sleep, this can be accessed via the above app.

Update January 2021: Although I’d been using this app regularly, it failed to work after an Android OS update, so now I’m using the equally excellent Breathly app.

Essential Chromebook Apps

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Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

When I first got my Chromebook I downloaded loads of apps, but I’ve deleted many of them because you can do most things you want in the Google Chrome browser.

Amazon Prime Video and Netflix: Although you can watch movies and TV series in the browser, there are some apps that work better as apps and these are two that I do use. Other content providers are available.

Chrome Canvas: This is an excellent, and possibly little-known, drawing app that comes with the Chrome OS. Yes, you can use it in a browser on any operating system, but there are advantages of using the app on a Chromebook, not least the fact that the app defaults to full screen.

JotterPad: This is a wonderful distraction-free notepad app that I use on my smartphone and tablet as well as on my Chromebook. It’s free, but does have in-app purchases. Two of these are one-off payments to unlock extra features, but if you want to connect to a cloud services there’s a monthly payment. I’ve paid for the two one-off benefits, but haven’t bothered with the cloud integration as you can easily share the notes manually with other apps and services. There are many adjustments you via settings, so an altogether essential app for me.

Nimbus Screenshot & Screen Video Recorder: This is a Chrome browser extension rather than an app, but I include it here because it’s useful on whichever device you use this browser. It does what it says on the tin with many different options.

Photoshop Express & Snapseed: Everyone knows about Photoshop, and so their app for Android devices is pretty much a must-have. Snapseed is not so well-known, but it’s a neat little photo editing app to have in your Android tool box. Take your pick, or install both.

VLC: This media player is simply essential on any device, make sure you have the app on your Chromebook.

ZArchiver: If you work with ZIP files this is an essential app.

Note: I hope this selection of Chromebook apps is useful to you, and remember the apps can be used on any Android device.

Natural Health Service

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Today’s family afternoon excursion into beautiful nature wasn’t just daily exercise, but emergency treatment from the Natural Health Service.

We’re all in the same situation in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, but everyone has their own personal challenges to face. For us, it’s having three young children, me trying to work from home, and preparing for my imminent retirement in July and moving house.

We’ve had a few bad days, and were both physically, mentally and emotionally drained. So, not only did the therapy walk do us the world of good, spending quality time with Naomi and our children really helped, but also observing and photographing nature.

Note: All the photos were taken with my smartphone, I just got in close, or low, or used unusual angles. See all the original here. Why not have a go for yourself?

Four by Four and Four by Sixteen

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Photography (a smartphone is all you need by the way) and writing, whether personal or for work, are two of the things that are currently helping me maintain my mental health and sanity in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Partly by accident, but also by design, I’ve developed a way of posting them on social media and here. I take four square photos and then stitch them together with an Instagram app to make a four by four photo which I share then to Instagram (and automatically to Facebook and Twitter). I repeat this three more times, and then stitch the four stitched photos together into a four by sixteen photo. The above stitched photo is today’s offering from my afternoon walk in Richardson Dees Park in Wallsend.

I then add all the individual photos to a Google Photos album, and you can see the ones from today here. I’m particularly pleased how the dandelion shot turned out, I spotted it in a ray of sunshine that didn’t extend to the background, making it stand out dramatically.

I also took four photos of some fungi on a tree stump that I’ve stitched into a standalone four by four one. Again, you can see all the individual ones here.

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Oh, and even though I concentrated on nature, I was with my family. Here’s the one shot I did take of them (Naomi was taking photos of the children), and I immediately loved it.

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Morning walk in the early light

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I don’t know about you, but (like many people in this coronavirus pandemic lockdown) my sleep pattern is all over the place. Last night I couldn’t get to sleep until the early hours and then I woke up early, and that was without the usual alarm clock of my bladder (it’s an age thing). When this happens, I sometimes feel like lying in bed, but at other times I just get up. This morning it was the latter, and I also decided to go for a walk.

The above are some of the photos I took with my smartphone. You can see all the individual photos here, and another set (not shown) here.

Companion piece: Therapeutic Nature

See also: 10 Tips for Top Sleep and Digital Wellbeing (Sue Thomas)

Note: all photos unedited except one to adjust the composition slightly.

Therapeutic Nature

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I’ve had a couple of bad days in lockdown, but after getting our children into bed I was able to enjoy nature just a couple of hundred yards from our house while I walked the dog – and it did me the world of good.

Looking closely at nature and capturing its essence in the evening light, all on my smartphone. That’s all you need, although a steady hand also helps. The above photo is a composite of the photos I took, you can see them all here. As they say, nature is cheaper than therapy. Next time you’re out for a walk (with or without a smartphone) look closely.

Companion piece: Morning walk in the early light

Note: all photos unedited except one to reduce brightness slightly.

Rising Sun Country Park

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The Rising Sun Country Park is a wonderful place to visit, just two miles away from where we live in Wallsend. It’s somewhere we’ll miss when we move away from the area on my retirement in a few months time. It’s also the location for a parkrun.

In the current coronavirus pandemic the main facilities and car park are obviously closed, but it’s still open for exercise and there’s plenty of space for social distancing. We had a lovely walk round part of the country park yesterday. The above photos are some that I took while out with my family.

You can see all the photos taken on my smartphone by clicking here.