• Friday Five: Awesome food apps

    Recommendations for food apps, please!

    I’ve been in a serious cooking funk lately, so I downloaded a couple of recipe apps in an effort to kickstart things again.

    And then I thought, why not make a list of my favourite free food apps? Not just recipe apps, but food apps in general.

    foodspotting iphone mobile app

    Foodspotting 

    The opening image that greets you every time you open this app is quite exquisite, and possibly the most gorgeous on any of the apps I own. Use it to find good eats nearby, rate eateries, and follow other Foodspotting users. What I like is how visual it is – it’s all about the pictures of dishes and what looks good. There’s also a tab for specials, though it’s empty for my area. (I tried downloading Urbanspoon but it’s not available in Auckland. Sadface.)

    metro eats app nz

    Metro Eats (Auckland only)

    I tend to stick to cheap eats, as a function of being on a budget and simply preferring ethnic flavours over traditionally haute cuisine. Take your fusion and stick it. While we’ve got a few classic favourites, it’s always good to find new restaurants. Metro magazine’s app comprises its top 50 fancy restaurants, 50 best bars, and 100 top cheap eats. Each listing includes a little bit on information about the food, the ambiance, and the address. I’d also like to see opening hours for each eatery – next year? (Also, one blogger with a very ambitious appetite is eating her way through the entire Metro list.)

    theinsider nz food app deals

     

    The Insider (New Zealand only)

    The Insider informs you about nearby deals and offers – that’s happy hours, two for one deals, and other specials in Auckland and Wellington bars, cafes and restaurants. You can search and filter deals to drill down to find what you’re looking for within quite specific parameters.

    epicurious app

    Epicurious

    Epicurious offers both culinary inspiration and a baked-in grocery list so you can manage all your mealtime admin in one place. Narrow down recipes by categories such as low carb, low fat, decadent desserts, weekend brunch, and healthy snacks. My fave is the ‘I can barely cook’ tab for super easy meal options.

    half hour meals food app

    Half Hour Meals

    Like Epicurious, Half Hour Meals incorporates grocery list and offers search by ingredients, cuisine type, meal type, special dietary requirements, etc. I’m all about minimal ingredients and fast cooking times (hence why I watch Rachael Ray/Jamie Oliver and my favourite cooking blog is Stonesoup), so meals in 30 minutes? I’m all over it.

    Got any good foodie apps to share?

  • Friday Five: Must-have WordPress plugins

    Editorial Calendar

    Confession: I heard about WP Editorial Calendar a long time ago but didn’t get around to installing it  until Leslie mentioned it in a comment this month. You know how WordPress makes it a bit of a pain to manage scheduled posts (and likes to fail to publish them about 25% of the time)? This plugin creates a visual calendar so you can review your planned posts at a glance, and move them around just by dragging and dropping. If you blog like me, writing out posts in batches, this is awesome.

    WordPress SEO by Yoast

    I started out using All In One SEO Pack, but later got turned on to the new version of Yoast when I was searching for a separate plugin to automatically append content at the bottom of posts in my RSS feed. WordPress SEO is a powerhouse of a plugin. Amp up your SEO on your post editing page (here’s the box that appears below the text input box) by writing separate titles and meta descriptions for search engine purposes. (I’d already done this on some posts with All In One, and Yoast allowed me to import those changes easily.) There’s even a visual preview of the snippet that will show on the search engine result page. If you’re so inclined, you can enter your focus keywords and get the plugin to check your content and generate a score based on how well you’ve optimised for it.wordpress seo yoast review

    Also, Yoast allows you to add text to the bottom of your posts with RSS ender, add breadcrumbs to your site if your theme is compatible, and automatically takes care of XML site mapping for you. Yay.

     

    One Click child theme

     

    For relative newbies who want to customise their themes on their own, one way to tweak your theme is by creating a child theme. And of course, there’s a plugin for that, to make it even easier. Using a child theme minimises fuss in the back end and keeps things clean and tidy. It functions separately from your parent theme, but draws on those stylesheets – code you use in your child theme overrides that. If you download an updated version of your theme you can then retain your changes using the child theme. Most importantly, it minimises the chance of breaking anything in your code, which is a risk if you’re going to  be playing around with your CSS. This plugin generates a child them you can then edit under Appearance > Editor in your WordPress back end. And of course, you can access those child theme files in your FTP.

     

     

    Nrelate

     

    There are a handful of plugins out there that automatically add a list of recommended posts for further reading to the end of every blog post. It’s a good way to keep readers on your site for longer, increasing engagement and reducing bounce rate. Yet Another Related Post plugin is a popular one, but I use Nrelate (largely on a recommendation from Geek in Heels) and am really happy with it. Even if you don’t have thumbnails on your old posts, it will generate images for you. And you can monetise by enabling Nrelate to link to external content as well as your own.

     

    PhotoDropper 

     

    When I was on wordpress.com, I used Zemanta when I wanted to add photos to my blog posts. This is not built in with self hosted WordPress, so I scouted around for an alternative and landed on PhotoDropper. Once installed, it adds a button to your post editing page to the right of the Add Media button. Click on it to bring up the dialogue box. From there, you can search Creative Commons and select a picture that suits. This is then uploaded into your own media gallery, and a credit automatically appended to your post after you click insert.

    What are some of your favourite WordPress plugins? Fellow blogger Manda swears by Revision Control and Footnotes (though I’m not sure which version).

  • Friday Five: Social media peeves

    It’s been a little while (too long?) since I last got my rant on.

    Here are a few things that are getting up my nose (I’ve been saving these up):

    • People sending me random LinkedIn connection requests. I’ve been getting quite a few from people I share connections with but don’t directly know and have never met or dealt with. If you think connecting could be mutually useful, then let me know why you think it would be beneficial! Otherwise your generic message is going into LinkedIn purgatory.
    • People who, when tweeting their own posts out, include “via @[ownusernamehere]” at the end of the tweet. I get why you do it – in case people RT it, you want your handle included. But this is just WEIRD. Sorry.
    • People who clog up my timeline with their frequent tweets namedropping all their new followers, ostensibly to thank them. ANNOYING. I may end up unfollowing them. Personally, if I start following someone, seeing a tweet like this would annoy me far more than it would make me feel, I dunno, special. Maybe that’s just me.
    • People whose Twitter streams are basically just a flood of headlines, links and Twitter usernames. It’s nice that you’re showing love to other bloggers’ posts, but Twitter is Twitter, and RSS feeds are RSS feeds. Show some personality! (If that’s what yours looks like, that’s quite possibly why I didn’t follow you back.)
    • People who laboriously thank everyone in a post who linked to one of their blog posts that week. Again, I get that it’s all in the name of reciprocation. But it’s tiresome.

    Phew! That feels better. Now, onto the weekend! Feel free to vent away yourselves in the comments.

  • Tuesday Three: Tech thoughts

    • It’s been about six months since an iPad was added to our household, courtesy of my employer. Annoyingly, it’s one of the very early, chunky ones. That said, it’s still handy for dealing to emails and for reading in bed – Flipboard FTW – or being out and about during the day. Full on blogging and serious writing, not so much (I might feel differently if it was a newer version and fit properly into the iPad combo stand/keyboard I also have, but it doesn’t.)
    • I’ve always spoken out against e-books, and I still don’t see myself ditching paperbacks at any point. That said, I’ve found it particularly handy for one thing: free classics. I’m plowing my way through a long list of old novels and it turns out they’re mostly available for free (generally through the Gutenberg project) online. I can’t possibly rack up late return fees at the library, don’t need to wait for them to be transferred to my local branch and go pick them up in person, and it’s unbelievably handy to be able to highlight words and look up their definitions right there on the page (which I find myself doing at a frequency which correlates with the age of the book).
    • I’m still not convinced by 3D movies. Pretty much every free film screening I’ve been invited to over the past couple of years has been a 3D one (most recently the Hobbit) and while the technology is occasionally impressive, in general, it stinks. It’s patchy from scene to scene, most of the time looking no better than cardboard cutouts in front of a backdrop.

    By the way, I’m working on a post about my favourite WordPress plugins, so if you’ve got any to nominate, let me know in the comments!

  • Review: Grammarly

    My boss is a bona fide grammar Nazi. I’ve learned all sorts of things from her, like not to hyphenate descriptors when the first adjective ends in ‘ly’. In comparison, I’m a dilettante – I know more than the average Joe Bloggs and I’m quite fanatical about it, but that’s not really saying much, I suppose. I’ve never even seen a Strunk and White, let alone read a copy. It wasn’t until this year that I definitively learned the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’ and ‘i.e’ vs ‘e.g’. My writing is based on gut; I can write well, though I can’t really explain how or why I do anything in terms of word choice, grammar or sentence structure aside from IT FEELS/LOOKS right. I’d be a terrible teacher in that regard.review grammarly

    Anyway, I recently got the chance to try Grammarly out for free – an editing tool that’s kind of an all-round writing helper (automated proofreader/personal grammar coach, to pinch their slogan) that will pick apart your text and check for plagiarism at the same time. There’s an online version, plus integration with Microsoft Word and Outlook, although if you’re a Mac user you’re out of luck.

    You can run Grammarly in several different modes: academic, business, casual, etc. That determines the kind of style you’ll be assessed on (for both work and play, I’m more or less always operating on ‘casual’. If you had to write serious policy reports all day, you’d probably go for a different one). It processes your writing, and spits out a scorecard that rates your piece overall out of 100. It also lists all the issues found in your writing, and takes you through them individually.

    Grammarly touts itself as ‘the world’s best grammar checker’, boasting that it corrects up to 10 times more errors than “popular word processors”. It tests for 150-odd types of mistakes as well as offering vocabulary suggestions (and as I said before, running your text to compare it to other material online for potential copy-and-paste jiggery pokery). Your basic spellcheck is included, and other errors it detects include boo-boos of passive voice, punctuation, capitalisation.

    Drilling down further, it also picks up often-overlooked things such as repeated words (as as or and and, anyone?) and incorrect usage of correctly spelled words (than vs then). This contextual technology is its real strength and the key differentiator. It’s not unlike Word in that it reiterates general rules with generic examples for each.

    It costs $139.95 for a year, $59.95 per quarter or $29.95 a month. And like all good software, it has a free trial period (seven days). Depending on your needs, that might be a worthwhile investment. My take? After having used it, I can’t say I’m a full convert. Its capabilities are definitely more impressive than, say, your built-in Office checker, but I don’t personally need them for what I do, and I can’t see myself ever paying that much for them.

    (And no, I didn’t run this post through Grammarly.)

  • Self promotion WITHOUT crossing the line into douchebaggery

    Self promotion without being a douchebag

    It’s a fine line, isn’t it?

    The topic cropped up at work the other day – how some people successfully build a profile without coming across as total asshats. Figures who seem to do it naturally and almost effortlessly. Who are almost universally liked and seem genuinely lovely.

    I have a few thoughts on this:

    Twitter is where it’s at

    Seriously. You cannot deny the power of Twitter in the age of brand-building. Funnily enough, many of the earlier adopters and self-style social media gurus (at least from an NZ perspective) have now more or less disappeared from Twitter entirely.

    More shallowly, that TV confers legitimacy

    TV is still sort of the lowest common denominator. And there’s the glamour factor. Everybody I know who has appeared on telly can tell you that everyone comments on it. TV, so freely and widely accessible, reaches people you wouldn’t expect.

    Very rarely does anyone ever say they saw something I wrote online. On the other hand, dear biddies such as my mother’s friends have seen my byline in the newspaper and taken notice. And when a news camera once panned over a media scrum, a crowd of which I was part of, amazingly, an acquaintance of mine noticed my split second of fame and immediately sent me a message about it.

    Selflessness, humility and humour goes a long way

    Being good at self-promotion, without being a douchebag, inherently involves conversing with others and generally being a good bugger about it. Having a personality that shines through, consistently. Doing it the right way means building high awareness without hitting oversaturation. Being in relevant media, yet not quoted everywhere you look.

    Being articulate, and ideally, quick off the mark

    Twitter is great for those who can come up with witty quips. There’s a lot to be said for being concise and quick of tongue (and typing fingers). But being able to write well in longer form is invaluable. There’s a lot of money (and profile building) to be had in speaking/MCing at events, but cultivating your own content today is so easy to do, you’d be foolish not to, be it regular columns, reviews, or your own blogs or books.

    On that note, I’m constantly dismayed at how many businesses in New Zealand fail at content marketing. Intellectually, I get it. They’re corporates. They don’t understand editorial.

    Ask yourself: Would I want to read this? Are we only ever talking about ourselves on [insert any social network of your choice] ? Does every blog post end with a sales pitch?

    If the answer to any of the above is no, then pass Go, do not collect $200, and start again.

    On another, slightly related tangent, the new Advertising Standard Authority rules here are interesting, particularly the guideline that people who are paid to tweet should mark their tweets with the hashtag #ad.

    I’ve done some sponsored tweets through Mylikes in the past on my blog Twitter account – tweets where you are paid per click, sometimes based on location.

    When that first began, those tweets (sent directly from their site using their Twitter interface system) used to be unmarked, but today I think they are automatically appended with (spon) at the end, and you don’t have the option to remove it.

    But what about tweets that are not strictly paid for? As part of my job I go to my fair share of PR events. At a recent lunch I instagrammed and tweeted pics of the lunch, and used their designated hashtag. I wasn’t compensated for that. I did it because the food was amazing and I wanted to share it of my own accord, and as they were sufficiently up with the play to have organised a hashtag, it was no trouble to use it. I would do the same if I was eating out on my own dime (I’m one of THOSE annoying instagram users), and I’d usually make the effort to @ the restaurant if they’re on Twitter.

    Or for example at TedX Auckland recently, I queued up for my free drink at the coffee stall, which was sponsored by Kordia. I tweeted a pic of my cup (complete with logo), because I was genuinely impressed with the freebie hot chocolate. Plus, events live and die by sponsorship and I figured I’d do my bit by helping plug one of the supporting companies.

    What’s your take on the commercialising of social media? Who do you admire for building a public profile from the ground up, and why?

  • Link love (Powered by custard pies and strawberry milk)

    I remember taping songs off the radio. I remember scouring the early internet for codecs to get Windows Media Player to play MP3s, and struggling to bend RealPlayer to my whims. I remember when my phone had Bluetooth and infrared and both seemed so foreign and cutting edge.

    That was 10 years ago.

    This week, we plugged our hard drive into a PS3 to transfer files. We also played movies on a laptop, movies stored on an external hard drive. And we played the sound through a separate audio dock wirelessly using Bluetooth.

    Technology is a wondrous thing.

    This week’s links:

    Suburban Sweetheart’s raw and honest post about her college experience is incredibly moving.

    Amanda Lee, who lost her mother to cancer, explains her beef with  breast cancer awareness campaigns.

    Loved this Brazen Careerist post: Things you should never say to someone who works from home.

    I can vouch for Tripit, but now thanks to Yes and Yes I have all these other travel apps and sites I need to bookmark.

    Here are some handy tools to make you more efficient with social media, via Grow.

    I recently toyed with the idea of starting a Tumblr devoted to the terrible press releases and pitches I get, but decided I didn’t want to devote any more of my time to those, even for entertainment. Here, Grace Boyle shares some of the doozies she’s received.

    Lastly, I’m also in this week’s carnival of financial camaraderie talking about hybrid cars.

    Happy weekends, all!

  • Link love (Powered by mascarpone and early nights)

    So I have this Facebook friend. She has, shall we say, modelling aspirations, and frequently posts photos from her shoots.

    There are a few classy ones – think long flowy dresses on the beach – but by and large they’re more of the bikinis, cars and leery guy mag ilk. Topless, even with strategic coverups.

    It’s equal parts mesmerising and gross, but aside from the pictures, I really enjoy the rest of her status updates. Ever had a similar situation on Facebook? Maybe it’s time I hide her posts.

    Links I liked this week:

    Cents and Nonsense shares a few stories of financial fails from younger, foolhardier days

    Even if you are not a writer, read Obsessions of a Workaholic’s piece imagining a life without writing, and substitute another passion of yours

    Warren at Married with Luggage struggles to reconcile his real self and ideal self

    Loved this post on Dinner: A Love Story by Dan Coyle on nurturing your kids’ talent without being a psycho parent

    I’m in love with lentils, and want to try this red lentil and coconut soup via the $120 Food Challenge

    It’s okay to want something different than you did before; it’s okay to change your mind and leave a passion or job you always wanted behind. From revolution.is

    Dollars and Deadlines reminds us of the importance of saying no, especially for freelancers

    I haven’t linked to Bullish for awhile but I’m rectifying that with Jen’s latest on how to recover from a stalled career

    Blast from the past:

    A year ago I asked for your take on the pros and cons of living with friends, and touched on how my dreams have changed over time.

    The year before that I indulged in a very decadent day by my standards and talked about my family history and its effect on my money personality. Apparently I was feeling pretty introspective, also writing that post on having immigrated at a young age and tattoos and heritage (and, er, I’d forgotten all about the resolution at the end of that post).

    And in 2009 I asked what you’d do if money was no object, contemplated the life of an army wife and counted my relationship blessings.

    Hope your weekends are going well!

  • The iPad review to end all iPad reviews, plus the curse and infinity of digital overload

    I may have indulged in a bit of false advertising there, I’m afraid.

    Really, I’m just going to list a few quick points, and frankly, that’s probably all that matters.

    It’s been a month or so since I was issued an iPad for work (an old model – it doesn’t even have a camera). I’ve long been a tablet holdout, and am vehemently personally opposed to e-readers. I don’t care what you say; you’ll never convert me to e-books. I do see the appeal of the iPad for media consumption, but not for anything beyond that.

    I’m still of that opinion, though I’ve warmed to the iPad somewhat. I took it on my work trip to Sydney, which was a good choice. It’s a less obtrusive way to keep up with emails and it was easy to check in on my Google Reader while waiting for presentations to start and whatnot. I can even get close to touch typing on it now, though it’s still a pain to comment on blogs this way, which I would much rather do on a proper computer. Nonetheless, it’s handy for pre-bed online tinkering (compared to my laptop) and T uses it just as much as I do, albeit for playing games and watching Naruto. Obviously the gaming monitor back home is the king of video games, every other screen just seems tired.

    Big is beautiful when it comes to the screen, which renders content beautifully and responds instantly to gestures. My early-gen model is probably about twice the size of the current version, but I’m not opposed to a bit of comfortably solid heft – while reviewing the super lightweight Samsung Galaxy S3 a while back, I couldn’t get over the flimsy feeling.

    But in order to squeeze more out of it, accessories are where it’s at. Special stands to place the iPad at the right angle, so it’s not sitting awkwardly in your lap, on a table, or being propped up either by your hands or something else close to hand. Keyboards enabling you to type out lengthy emails and documents without your hands cramping up. Or, my favourite to date, a combination keyboard/cover – the former works over Bluetooth, the latter through a combination of a physical slot combined with magnetic wizardry. Get that going and you have a pretty neat setup to take anywhere – it’s just as easy as sliding out and unfolding a laptop.

    I do feel that a tablet could eventually make up my entire workstation, and sooner rather than later. When I’m at the office, I hook up my laptop to a larger keyboard and extra-large second monitor; it’s not a huge leap to think the laptop could be replaced by a tablet as technology improves. I firmly believe that it’s all about going for what’s closest at hand, mixed in with choosing the right device for the job (I am a guilty second-screener as charged), but maybe when it comes time to buy my next laptop, perhaps I won’t be replacing it with a laptop at all.

    The good

    • Well, it all comes down to one thing, really, doesn’t it? The iPad is all about reading and viewing content, be it through a browser or via an app. And it does that brilliantly (I love the Twitter app, for one). Beats browsing on your phone any day. Of course the toss-up is that the best gaming monitors are ridiculously more powerful and enjoyable but you can’t bring them to bed, can you?

    The bad

    • A lot of sites (cough *Flash* cough) don’t play nicely with the iPad. For example, I can’t watch iSky content on it, and when I tried to pay our Northern Gateway toll online on the iPad, the fields for inputting my Visa details weren’t working.
    • I can almost touchtype on it … but not quite.
    • I can’t plug my phone into it to charge like I can with my laptop.

    While I’m on this topic, is anyone else out there totally drowning in digital overload? I know a lot of you take online sabbatical from time to time, and occasionally I’ll more or less unplug for a weekend.

    Flipboard helps, of course, as does following good curators who filter content for you. For example, there’s Jason Hirschorn’s media/tech/digital roundup, the new Evening Edition, and new attempts at delivering stringently curated and targeted stories popping up frequently, like Launchticket. I was gutted when Summify was sold, though Twitter now uses that technology to send out its own daily summaries.

    Yet I often feel that reading news and blogs and keeping up with industry happenings is itself a fulltime job. While I do that for fun sometimes, more often than not I actually can’t be bothered. Heck, the majority of the time I just skim over or delete the Hirschorn roundups because I’m short on time, though it’s a valuable digest. Attention and time is finite, which as a content creator, I am also well aware of, treading both sides of the line.

    Keeping on top of the digital world is tough. It takes so much time and effort, and increasingly I’m torn by my love for the web and my desire to unplug from it all.

  • QR codes on vending machines. Say what?

    I happened to be at Startup Weekend last month, and while they didn’t win, team Open Sesame has lingered on in my mind since that Sunday evening.

    Basically, their business idea was to bring coin-operated vending machines into the 21st century by enabling mobile payments. There would be QR code stickers placed on the machines, which us 2.0ers would scan on our phones and use to pay via Paypal, credit card, Google Wallet, etc. (A little like this, this, or even this, but more seamless?)

    English: YoZone Vending machine

    This is genius. Also, potentially very dangerous to my wallet.

    See, I have never been a frequenter of vending machines. Their wares are expensive, and I’m a frugalite. But also, I hate cash. I never carry hard money on me, let alone heavy, bulky coinage.

    Back in high school, we had a vending machine in our common room/student lounge, where only the popular kids hung out. My friends would often stop in to grab snacks – particularly during the stressful exam periods – but I never did. I remember one conversation by the vending machine in particular, that went something like this:

    Friend: You’ll go to a psychic, but you won’t spend $2 on a brownie?

    My retort: I got PAID to go to the psychic. (Albeit, I had to wait for reimbursement, as you do. That was for a feature I was writing. Obvs.)

    Likewise, my former newsroom colleagues often practically subsisted on vending machine fare on long days, even though we were in the heart of the city with the widest possible range of food options all around us. It wasn’t unusual for someone to do the rounds of the desks, scrounging up spare change to buy a pack of chips or a chocolate bar. Again, I never did, not in all my years there.

    But remove the need for cash, and my iron will suddenly becomes more like pliable soldering wire. My willpower, when it comes to food, is pathetic. Sugar, in particular, is my Achilles heel. I won’t lie – there have been days that I would have given in and fed the vending machine downstairs if I had had coins on me.

    So while I love the concept, and hope it catches on – ie, that they take it beyond Startup Weekend – I kind of hope it won’t be coming to a vending machine near me.

    What do you think of the idea?