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March 16, 2011

Secure your data

My flatmate has been making fun of me for my NYC sensibilities: locking the doors, keeping my stuff out of sight. I got the unfortunate last laugh because our friends across the hall last night got robbed while they were sleeping.  Gael, an artist, had his laptop of writing and photography taken from right next to his head.  Life is short & the data is precious.

Dropbox: for easy data backup & filesharing

That’s why I recommend Dropbox or every person or business. Data backup and instant syncing of your files into the Internet cloud. 2 gigabytes of storage for free or 50 gigs for just $100 a year.

Easy to use. Just put the Dropbox folder on your desktop and copy all of your important files into it. Whenever you save a file, Dropbox detects this and automatically transfers the new copy to the Internet. If your laptop is stolen or your computer crashes, it’s only a few easy steps to download all of your files to your new computer.

Dropbox also makes filesharing easy. Shared folders allow several people to work on the same file. Very helpful in an office environment. A construction company could share their blueprints, change orders and project documents to their supers in the job trailers or on their smartphones.

Lex’s Dropbox Tips:
1. Put Dropbox on your Desktop and make it the default save point for all your documents, photos and projects. These are the things you probably care most about losing.

2. Make Dropbox the destination for backup data files from programs like MS Outlook, Evernote or anything else that you use often for creating content you don’t want to lose.

Find your phone:

There’s a bunch of apps out there that can locate your phone via GPS whether stolen by bad guys or lost by children (who can be more annoying than thieves).

For Android & Blackberry, I recommend the free app Lookout Mobile Security (site here, Android app here).  It does antivirus and phone finding. Just log into their website and click the locate phone button. I setup the app on my phone this morning and in a couple of minutes, it emailed me my location down to the street address. For thieves, I would wait outside their place with mace and a baseball bat. For children, just the mace should suffice.

For iPhone, the FoneHome app recently got some new features besides remotely locating your phone. You can sound an alarm on the phone if in vibrate mode (useful for a phone lost somewhere in the house) or remotely take a photo using the front or rear camera.


February 10, 2011

Plans in your hands or: AutoCAD comes to Apple
Filed under: Reviews,Uncategorized,iPhone,video — admin

Apologies for the dearth of posts. I just completed a transition to Brussels. Along with some of my own projects, I’ll be working on a photo book with a Belgian friend about a Tibetan protest march that we did through India with a gaggle of Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople. He took the photos and I wrote articles and biographies of the marchers. In case that intrigues you, here’s some of my writing from that time. Also, it’s still not easy to find blog post topics in this still small world of construction apps so your tips & comments are always appreciated.

AutoCAD app for viewing drawings everywhere:

It just got easier to carry your plans around the jobsite. According to this Wall Street Journal article, AutoCAD drawings can now be shared between your desktop, your iPhone, iPad and web browser (link to app in iTunes store). According to Autodesk, “In just eight weeks, over 410,000 users have registered, 430 000 drawings have been uploaded and the mobile application has been downloaded from Apple’s App Store over 560,000 times.”

This app & program will keep your drawings synced between all of your devices and have them available offline in case you’re out of Internet range. You can share the drawings with others and see their edits in real time. It’s not for hardcore drawing but seems helpful for simple viewing and editing in the field. Seems designed so the sales guy can understand it, the field guy can work off it and the super can make changes from the field or see the edits just made by the architect in the office.

As always, if you have used this app, I’d love to hear how it works for you. The reviews are decent in the iTunes store but it’s more relevant to hear from guys in the field who better see the strengths and weaknesses. Especially when the product comes from an industry giant with a penchant for abusing their position of virtual monopoly. In this new world of app development, the best stuff often comes from the garage products put together by do-it-yourselfers. Those are the developers that we try to support here at

Below is the video review from the design site Core77. You can check out the AutoCAD Youtube channel for videos about the app from Autodesk.
Helpful hint: When you are signed into a Youtube account or Gmail, you can subscribe to a Youtube channel and then you see when new videos are released. I recommend TEDTalks for smart lectures on a wide range of topics and Youtube’s project called LifeInADay where thousands sent in homemade movies about a regular day in their life. Check out the video on the front page of a cute little girl with a surprising and impressive skill.

In other news, Autodesk also created Fluid FX – a special effects iPad app for photos and movies. It has very strong reviews and seems like a nice product for a buck.


January 24, 2011

How To Get & Move Your Money
Filed under: Android,White Paper,iPhone — admin

This post might not be useful for everyone in construction but some might find it helpful. This post will be form part of the white paper I am creating called “Transferring Your Construction Business into the Internet Cloud To Make Life Easier and Save Money”

This post is about two tools that can help a contractor or tradesman spend less time printing out checks, making trips to the bank and wasting valuable time on physical money when now it’s getting easier to handle all of your banking from your computer and phone.

American money used to be green but now it’s mostly just a series of 1s & 0s buried deep in computers around the world. A recent episode on this American Life called the “The Invention of Money” made the strange nature of money more clear to me. In the first section, the host talked about one of the world’s first currencies on the island of Yap in the South Pacific: giant circular stones called Rai. The largest of these were taller than a man and weighed as much as a car. Naturally these suckers were hard to move around and so they usually stayed in one place such as the crossroads of the village. It was understood that it belonged to one person until a verbal contract transferred possession to someone else in exchange for land or wives or the bodies of slain warriors. But the stone still sat there. It never moved no matter how many times it changed hands.

These giant circular stones were made on another island and transferred to Yap by canoe. The story goes that once a canoe almost capsized in a storm and the valuable (aka: extremely large) stone sank to the bottom of the ocean. Fortunately, it was still considered legal tender because the rest of the society agreed that the stone was just as valuable buried in the ocean as it was staying in the same place on land. The value arose from the agreement of all members of the society about the valuation.

Here’s two ways for you to be able to collect and send money quickly and easily:

This free app for the iPhone and Android allows you to take credit card payments on your smartphone. As soon as you install this app, the company sends you a card reader that plugs into the top of your phone. Within minutes, you can get payments from customers on the spot instead of waiting for that check that’s “in the mail” for several weeks. Especially helpful for small contractors but I think many businesses could find a use for this free service.

PayPal as your central banker:
Most people think of this online e-commerce service as how to pay for knickknacks on eBay. But it’s actually become a powerful banking service. The account is free and it’s easy to link your bank account to PayPal and give the website permission to take money out of your account and deposit it. Personally, I rarely bother with traditional banks anymore with their lousy hours and slow methods. Paypal makes your money fluid.

helpful trick: in your gmail account, click on the labs button in your settings. there’s many helpful option’s here including one that verifies that an email from paypal is actually a legitmate email from them. this way you can be sure that email about your account are valid and you can click on the links in the email to take you into your account. however, the safest way to sign in always to type in and then logging in.

Paypal’s time saving services:
Transfer money:
Most companies have several accounts and once they are all linked to your paypal account, it’s easy to transfer money between your accounts. The only limitation is that the standard two-three day transfer time applies because the banks still haven’t gotten their act together enough to transfer money as easily as email.

Get paid easily by a link on your company website:
This feature allows your customer to skip writing a check and running to the post office. Instead, they log into Paypal and send the money directly to your account. This also means no waiting time for the check to clear.

Send money to anyone instantly:
From your computer or the free Paypal app on your smartphone, you can send money to any email address or phone number. You can stop writing checks and instead pay your bills instantly with the money automatically pulled from your bank account. The only downside of this option is that the reciever must create a free PayPal account to get their money. But it’s a short and free process and then they can request a check to be sent to them.

Get a paypal debit card:
You can request PayPal debit cards for your employees that will automatically pull money out of your bank account if your PayPal balance is too low.


December 3, 2010

Project Quote Estimate iPhone App Review
Filed under: Reviews,iPhone — admin

There is definitely a need for a good field estimating app. Unfortunately, the Project Quote Estimate for iPhone probably won’t completely fill that need for most of us. While it has some very interesting features that I like, the strictly Residential nature of the app limits its value.

Being the only construction field estimator app available at this time, it may be worth purchasing just to see if it works for you. I like the 18 tool screens. Some will be useful: concrete, drywall, acoustic ceiling, stairs, sheathing and roofing. Others seem useless: paint, wall paper, tile, asphalt, seeding, etc. The lumber calculator wouldn’t work for me, but others may find it useful. They included a Scale calculator for plans that are reproduced to the wrong scale (a handy device) and several other useful estimating tools. The lack of equipment pricing would also be a problem for me.

As you can tell from my comments above, I’m a bit conflicted about this app. On the one hand it seems like a toy that won’t get used, yet it has some features that you may find helpful. As a final comment, the user interface works well, you will be able to just pick it up and use it without instructions. I’d like to hear feedback from anyone else that’s downloaded it.


December 2, 2010

Roofing Estimator Review
Filed under: iPhone — admin

The Roofing Estimator by Lake Simcoe Concrete Forming for the iPhone performs area calculations. The program, though simple, lacks adequate descriptions of terms.

Basically, either a gable roof or a cottage roof can be analyzed. I’m assuming a cottage roof is what I’d call a hip roof, but the app doesn’t clarify. The inputs are done well with pitch, overhang, eave and house width and length all required.

The outputs are number of sheets of plywood and bundles of shingles. The outputs are given to two decimal places, so I assume (again, clarity would be a benefit here) that no waste factor is included. As for improvements, I’d like to have area in square feet included (useful for other things) and the ability to text or email the inputs and outputs to create a record.

Overall, it’s an ok app, but should really have the improvements listed above.


November 27, 2010

Drainage Calculations iPhone Review
Filed under: Civil Engineering,iPhone — admin

Drainage Calculations for the iPhone from Jared Judd performs drainage calculations on pipes and channels. For Pipe Flow, you can (using Manning’s Pipe Flow) Calculate Discharge, Calculate Pipe Size or Calculate Wet Perimeter. For a Channel Flow, you can Calculate Discharge’ Approximate Free-Board or Check Rectangular, Trapezoidal, and V-Ditch Sections.

The lack of a help screen keeps this app from attaining our CK App Seal of Approval. Unless you know how to do these calculations already, you won’t know how to use this app. So it’s a good app for engineers trained in hydraulics, but not for the rest of us.


November 24, 2010

Heavy Calc Pro iPhone review
Filed under: iPhone — admin

I’m not a fan of the handheld construction calculators. I’ve always found them difficult to use (you have to memorize all sorts of keystrokes) and only able to accomplish simple tasks (finding areas, volumes, etc). It’s simpler to just find the area or the volume using a regular calculator.

The HeavyCalc Pro is simply one of those construction calculators on your iPhone. The programming seems done well and the user interface is excellent. They’ve done a nice job on the app…if you like this sort of app. For example, the proposed and existing grade keys tell you, if you input the information correctly, how to subtract the one grade from the other.

I don’t recommend purchasing this app because I can’t imagine anyone actually using it on a regular basis. Please let me know if you use this calculator and love it, maybe I’ll change my mind.