Some of us still remember life before spell check. Yes, we could use a dictionary. We could also use a thesaurus. We could even tap on the shoulder of a friend or coworker and say, “Hey, any idea how to spell sarsaparilla?”
But nowadays, even verbivores can’t imagine life without spell check. It’s handy and free, and it prevents us from making a lot of embarrassing mistakes. This was one of the earliest conveniences that consumer computers had to offer; now there are millions of little utilities that make our routines easier and more efficient.
Here are five little gems that have caught my attention in recent years. Most of them will streamline your daily life, while one is designed to make you a podcast host.
1. Look at your mail before the post office delivers it
In the age of email, the regular post office can seem slow and antiquated. We’re so accustomed to receiving messages in a matter of seconds, the process of sending a physical letter or parcel can be maddening. But the post office has always fought through snow, rain, heat, and gloom to get your mail to you on time, and now they’re finding ways to compete with the internet as well.
Informed Delivery helps recipients anticipate the mail that’s still in transit. Just sign up for a free account, and you can track packages (much like UPS or FedEx), leave specific delivery instructions, and schedule a redelivery date for items that didn’t quite reach you.
The most futuristic feature is “preview incoming mail,” which provides a grayscale digital photo of impending mail. This will only reveal the envelope, so you won’t necessarily know what’s inside, and it only applies to regular sizes, not larger packages. But you’ll still be able to see the return address and the parcel’s size and shape.
2. Know what people are really saying about your home that’s for sale
Showing your home to prospective buyers is an unnerving experience. Real estate agents usually arrive while you’re away, and a stranger (or group of strangers) gets to walk around your private space, scrutinizing every nook and cranny. Buyers are particular, and most of them see red flags everywhere. There’s usually no way to know what they’re thinking because sellers rarely overhear their deliberations.
That is changing, thanks to domestic spycams. This may sound like cheating, but homeowners are perfectly within their legal rights to record video of the people who tour their private homes. Sellers can learn a great deal about the strengths and weaknesses of a property. Buyers must remember not to say things like, “Wow, I would have expected a home like to be 15% more than they want!”
Do you think you could spot spycams? Be prepared to be shocked! Click here for 10 ordinary objects that may be secretly recording you.
3. Take part in the podcast revolution – without building a home studio
Here’s the irony about podcasting: It sounds so simple, yet the process has frustrated people out of the industry. Anyone can record a video on their phone and upload it to YouTube, and you have enormous amounts of space to stream your segments. Audio takes a fraction of the memory, yet editing podcasts and posting them to iTunes used to be a complicated hassle, involving third-party hosts and RSS feeds.
Luckily, podcasts have exploded in popularity and making them public has become much more accessible. One of the easiest tools is Anchor, which helps you record, edit, and share your pieces with the world for both iOS and Android. Anchor is completely free, and it won a Best App of 2017 award from Google Play for its ease of use.
One caveat: Because I work in radio, and I’m a perfectionist at heart, I still think you should read a little about how to podcast. Just because you can record decent digital audio on your phone doesn’t mean it will always sound great; echoing rooms, ambient sound, and poorly positioned microphones will still affect your recording and make it hard to listen to. Anchor is limited regarding levels and tracks, but it’s also infinitely mobile, so you can record almost anything from anywhere.
No matter what your ambitions, Anchor is an excellent place to start for novice podcasters, and you can tinker with your equipment (phone) and software (Anchor) as much as you like. Click here to learn more about how it works and get the links you need.
4. Proofread and grammar check your own work
If you spend a lot of time writing, you have likely heard of Grammarly, the “free writing assistant” that you helps you fix your syntactic issues. This browser extension has received a lot of press lately, and let me tell you: It’s worth the download, and it’s hard to believe it’s free.
Less well known is Hemingway, an app that not only helps you simplify your writing but also gives your prose a numbered score for directness and clarity. Just paste a few paragraphs into the Hemingway website, and you’ll see what I mean; the software is designed to eliminate confusion, passive verbs, and run-on sentences.
The most unusual tool is also one of the most helpful, if you have a habit of using the same words over and over. OneLook Reverse Dictionary helps you find the right word based on its definition. It’s sort of like “Jeopardy”; you already know what you want to say, you just can’t think of the right word. Enter a description, such as “the front of a building,” and OneLook will give you dozens of guesses, including “facade” and “forecourt.”
You can also use OneLook to search by rhymes, number syllables, and primary vowels.
5. Use your smartphone to help you remember things
I have a friend who uses a refrigerator wipe-board for his grocery list. Every time he uses up a carton of margarine, he marks it down. But before he heads to the supermarket, he doesn’t type out all those handwritten entries; he just takes a picture of the wipe-board itself.
Most people know they can use their phones for selfies and vacation pictures. But smartphone cameras have become helpful memory aids. Maybe you are buying a house (see above) and you need to want to refer to certain architectural details later on. Maybe you need the minutes of a meeting, but you can’t wait for the secretary to transcribe them. Or maybe you have to re-enter your Wi-Fi password, but the password is printed on a little sticker on the back of the router, and your desktop is in another room. Take a picture!
Just remember, when photographing important or sensitive information (like your passport, passwords, special documents) that you store them safely. Memory aids are great, as long as they stay in the right hands.
What questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
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Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.