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Flow is Microsoft’s version of IFTTT; it’s worth checking out

Microsoft has caught onto the IFTTT trend, creating its own service called Flow that helps you “create automated workflows between your favorite apps and services to get notifications, synchronize files, collect data, and more.”

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Teaching your devices to interact

For years, we’ve profiled IFTTT which stands for “If This, Then That,” referring to the conditional commands you use to automatic specific functions. For example, “If I post a picture on Instagram, then save it my Dropbox.” Or, “if the temperature drops below 50 degrees, then turn on the thermostat.”

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You make the rules

IFTTT “recipes” are a great way to connect functions between different devices based on rules that you create. It’s kind of basic if you think about it, and yet there wasn’t an easy way to do it before IFTTT.

These days, tech companies are scrambling to create ever-smarter devices that learn to anticipate your behavior and needs. In the meantime, IFTTTs are a great way to program your devices to interact in ways that save you time and hassle.

Microsoft is on the Flow train

Microsoft has caught onto the IFTTT trend, creating its own service called Flow that helps you “create automated workflows between your favorite apps and services to get notifications, synchronize files, collect data, and more.”

Flow can be programmed to complete hundreds of IFTTT style operations – the only limit is your imagination.

Flows can “instantly deal” with emails, notifications, file shares, or anything else that happens online or on a device. It can be used to connect Office 365, Twitter, OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack, MailChimp, GitHub, Salesforce, and more.

So, what can you do with it?

Microsoft, as well as independent developers, have also created handy guides to give you ideas about ways that your apps could connect. Some templates help you get notifications. For example, you might want to receive a text message any time your boss sends you an email.

Some flow functions are used to synchronize your files between programs like OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive. Others automate the collection of data, for example, by saving tweets into a spreadsheet, or saving contact information across all of your devices and software.

You can also set up functions that require your approval. For example, you may want to add new members from your MailChimp list to your SharePoint list, but only if you OK it first.

Smart devices are great, but only you know exactly what you need your devices to do for you. Microsoft Flow is one way to help streamline your experience.

#MicrosoftFlow

Ellen Vessels, Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for her wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when she's not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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Tech News

A reusable, cloud synced notebook?? I’ll take 10!

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) The future of note taking is here with Rocketbook Wave, a microwavable, reusable notebook that stores all of your musings on the cloud.

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Not just any notebook

Some folks just can’t go paperless. Try as we might, the satisfaction inherent in the pen-and-paper medium is firmly engrained.

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Everyday we are bombarded by reminders that paper is increasingly unsustainable—which is why Rocketbook’s reusable notebook, the Wave, is a potential life-saver.

Smile and Wave

The premise behind the Rocketbook Wave is simple, yet elegant: you write in the notebook like you normally would—up to 80 pages’ worth—and then snap a photo of each page using the accompanying smartphone app. The photos are scanned to enhance their image quality, then they’re delivered into a cloud account.

You can even cross off a symbol at the bottom of the page to scan the note into a specific, customized location, and each page has its own QR code for later reference.

Note Game So Cold, Had to Defrost

That’s all fine and dandy, but how do you wipe the Rocketbook Wave to reuse it? Well, you put the book in a machine that you use to eliminate stuff (e.g., nutritional value) every day…

You put it in the microwave.

Counterintuitive as it may be, a few minutes in the microwave with a mug of water and minimal attentiveness will result in a clean notebook, making it ready for another round of note-taking, doodling, or what have you.

With Paperless, You’ll Pay for Less

The obvious benefits of the Rocketbook Wave are twofold. Firstly, you won’t have to worry about running out of paper, and you’ll have a backup in case Mitch from chemistry lab sets your belongings on fire (again).

Equally as important, though, is the sustainability factor: if you’re even remotely worried about the environment, $27 gets you a notebook that won’t quit.

Fine Print

As with anything, there are a couple of caveats that accompany the rush of using the Rocketbook Wave. For one, you can’t erase a single page at a time—it’s all or nothing. This is a non-issue if you don’t mind scanning everything into the cloud as a matter of practice, but it’s something to be aware of.

More importantly, however, is the type of ink you have to use. If you don’t write with a Pilot FriXion utensil, the ink will remain on the pages and no amount of microwaving will wash it away.

These aren’t likely to be deal-breakers, of course. If you’re interested in picking up a Rocketbook Wave for yourself, they’re for sale now starting at $27 on Rocketbook’s official site.

#RocketbookWave

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Taskiness is the note taking app for those who ditched the last one

(TECH NEWS) We all love trying new note-taking apps but for some of us we just end up reverting to to old habits. Taskiness is here to change your habits and keep it that way.

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In the great realm of to-do apps, there are lots to choose from: heck, I’ve even made a hobby to write about them – but what makes them so popular is that people have a hard time adapting to a system. With so many solutions, there are so many to try!

Startup, Taskiness, hopes to solve that by being the first note taking system that uses natural language processing – where you take notes and it then it pulls tasks out.

Over 1300 people have already signed up, and Taskiness hopes to keep all those people off the to-do list app rotation and give them a more permanent solution. Feature wise, Tackiness is fundamentally made of two components:

Notes – the “place for the thoughts” where you take notations and comments.

Taskiness boasts four key benefits to this functionality, which basically looks like a standard notepad:

– You can organize the notes how you want (much like you can on a pad of paper) rather than being forced to work in the confines of the app.
– Easy input – as easy as writing into old school MS notepad – so no field form entry, no awkward forms/templates
– “Natural language” – basically, this is the largest feature of the app, it recognizes how you write to pull tasks from notes and to better utilize your note taking. This is especially important as it helps with the natural feel of the app.
– Synchronization across all platforms – which is a must feature and you should never use an app that doesn’t have cloud functionality – this isn’t 2004.

Tasks – the place for “action” where your to-do list is extracted from your notes. Most of us some kind of to-do list, and Taskiness hopes to keep you hooked by emphasizing:

– Focus – where it highlights tasks that are relevant to you immediately (as to avoid getting bogged down by the list).
– Snooze – where you can use those alarm clock skills you’ve been developing since junior high to snooze tasks and avoid your to-do list from becoming an inventory list of things never to be finished.
– Rich text – that uses that natural language to pull deadlines and priorities and “much more” – this is perhaps the advantage of the app. This keeps you from having to spend time organizing your to-do list so it becomes more of a passive partner than just another thing to do.

Taskiness currently has a backlog for registration, and is most likely not going to be free – but it looks like a promising app. It was recognized by Betalist as one of the most popular startups of October – and both it and fellow Medium call out “Iris” look like a promising to do solution.

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Tech News

Five inexpensive VPNs to keep you all sorts of secure

(TECH NEWS) If you work on public internet or are just looking to beef up your internet security VPNs could be your answer. Here are five worth looking into.

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We must speak, as we so often do, of l33t h4x0rz.

Let’s get blunt. We have reached the point in the evolution of technology where access to your personal data is equivalent to access to everything you own. Data security breach, which involves fewer twentysomethings with improbable hair and more Russian state actors than 90s movies led me to believe, can be the end of a business, especially a small one.

Frustratingly, the mainstream market hasn’t really produced perfect solutions for that. At present, you really have two options.

Option one, you roll with AppleFacebookGoogleSoft. Different companies, same model: hand your data to a giant organization with an affirmative interest in keeping it confidential. That can work! It can also, y’know, not. A lot.

Option two, full infogeek. Pull together All The Information and put it behind tight security you control. We’re big fans of this. On the other hand, we’re geeks. Doing this successfully requires knowledge, specialty tools and changes in behavior that may not be practical for you.

Ain’t exactly optimal, those options. So for the love of the white hat, what’s to do? Where’s the middle ground between “put it in a big sack and hand it to HugeCorpCo” and “lock every 0 and 1 in a painstakingly handcrafted box?”

Meet your friend, the VPN. Virtual private networks aren’t just the irritating things you have to sign into before another constructive day on the cube farm. For any entrepreneur or freelancer who isn’t into a rad Linux solution, a VPN is a straight-up necessity. They’re how you Internet without people keeping logs (your ISP does), tracking your activity (everybody does), or carrying off your innocent data to the dark web or the Kremlin.

Better yet? There are lots of good ones that are inexpensive, reliable, and only a Google away. Here’s 5. Unranked, because every VPN is a beautiful snowflake.

IPVanish wins at efficiency. They own 100 percent of their resources, rather than outsourcing any work to third parties. That means high speed and optimal security, since their commitment to keeping zero information on their clients can’t be undercut by nosy contractors.

NordVPN has tech wizardry going for it, with double encryption and even an optional kill switch that automatically disconnects you from the Internet if anything goes amiss with the VPN. Nord also wins at most devices per subscription, and will happily wrap up to 6 of your robots in the warm embrace of infosec.

Private Internet Access, in addition to winning the Most Straightforwardly Named Product Ever award I just made up, is great for power users, with unlimited bandwidth and a subscription allowing up to 5 devices. It’s also super simple, designed to run in the background while you go about your digital day, so for folks who aren’t looking for bundled apps or a shiny interface, this is your guy.

PureVPN gets compatibility cred, since it’s usable across Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows and even provides proxy workarounds for Chrome and Firefox. It also has a frankly enormous server network, which is good news for speed freaks.

TunnelBear, in addition to being adorable, is extremely user friendly. It’s kind of the anti-PIA, with a rich interface and lots of shiny features. Those features include neat security tricks like Intellibear, allowing users to selectively VPN into particular sites, and Vigilant Mode, which makes like Nord and blocks Internet traffic in case of outages.

Snowflake jokes aside, the list really isn’t ranked, and for reason. Your VPN will be your gateway to the Internet. What works for you is totally contingent on what you do and what you need. There are only two definitive rules.

One, never free. A free trial is fine. “Free VPN” is online shorthand for “place all your information in this bucket, which I will then steal, seal and sell to the Internet’s many, many buyers of evil buckets of data.”

Two, it’s a numbers game. There are countless choices for VPNs on the market. The entries on our list offer substantially similar services to dozens of others. What makes our 5 special?

Twelve bucks. The maximum cost of each of the 5 VPNs above is less than twelve dollars per month. Most cost less: spring for a subscription and you can get the average cost down to 2 or 3 dollars monthly. But month to month, no obligation, even the most expensive entry on the list – that’s a tie between NordVPN and PureVPN – costs you less than twelve dollars a month.

Beat that for peace of mind.

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