15 digital secrets to help you work better and faster on the go

Your work increasingly demands that you be able to get things done no matter where you are–so the bigger your mobile tech toolbox, the better.

In the past, we’ve described how to accomplish more with popular online tools like Google Calendar, with text-messaging utilities like Web-based personal assistant I Want Sandy, and with voice-to-text service Jott; but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. This time we’ll take a closer look at 15 mobile tech tricks and tools that’ll have you working better, smarter, and faster on the go.

Use Your Laptop as a Wi-Fi Hotspot

Next time you find yourself in a hotel room with only one wired connection and a handful of laptops begging for a Wi-Fi hotspot, transform your laptop into a wireless router by setting up an ad hoc wireless network and sharing your wired gateway. Here’s how it works.

First, plug the ethernet cord into your laptop. To create a new ad hoc network, be sure to enable Internet Sharing on your laptop by checking the box labeled Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection in the Advanced tab of your connection’s Properties menu. From there, setting up an ad hoc network works differently in XP and in Vista.

In XP, right-click the Wi-Fi icon in your system tray and select Open Network Connections. Then right-click the Wireless Network Connection icon and select Properties. Click the Add button in the Wireless Networks tab, give the new network a name and password, and check the box next to This is a computer-to-computer (ad hoc) network.
In Vista, right-click the Network icon in your system tray and choose Connect to a network. Click Set up a connection or network in the sidebar, and choose the Set up a wireless ad hoc network option. Then follow the setup wizard and save the new network.

Once you’ve created your ad hoc wireless network with the laptop you plugged in, you can connect any other computer to the new Wi-Fi network just as you would connect it to any other wireless hotspot.

Set Up a Laptop Security System

If you’re a seasoned traveler, you’re used to working with your laptop in public places. But if you’re not securing that laptop, you’re asking for trouble. Apart from using a physical laptop lock (which you should already do), you can set up a software security system on your laptop with free software designed to deter thieves and to recover laptops.

For example, Laptop Alarm, when switched on, will set off a loud alarm if anyone unplugs your power cord, moves your mouse, or tries to shut down your computer. And since no security system is complete without a security camera, try Yawcam, a free app that turns your laptop’s Webcam into a motion-sensing security camera capable of uploading photos of potential thieves to the FTP server of your choice.

Last but not least, the free LaptopLock utility focuses on retrieval and extra security for stolen laptops. With LaptopLock you can delete files, encrypt data, and log the IP address of your stolen laptop–all remotely.

Automatically Lock Your Computer When You Walk Away, and Unlock It When You Return

Free application BtProx monitors the proximity of your computer (laptop or desktop) to your cell phone or other Bluetooth device, and automatically locks the computer when the phone goes out of range. When you walk away from your laptop with your cell phone in your pocket, for example, the computer will automatically lock–protecting its contents from prying eyes while you’re not there.

In addition, you can arrange for BtProx to launch any application at the same time that it issues the lock command–so you could automatically lock your PC and turn on your laptop security system when you walk away rom the machine.

Set Up AIM Forwarding to Your Cell

Instant messaging may seem like a productivity black hole, but in some workplaces, it’s the quickest and easiest way to communicate with your coworkers. You can even reply to IMs via text message, meaning that you can have the same conversation using your phone as you would from your instant messaging client.

To enable IM Forwarding on the Web, just go to AOL’s IM Forwarding page, click the Manage Your Mobile Settings link, and fill out the form (you’ll need to log in if you haven’t already).

Use Your Cell Phone as an Internet Hotspot

The problem: You’ve ponied up for a lightning-fast data plan on your cell phone, but your mobile browser sometimes fails to provide the browsing experience you need. The solution: Tether your cell phone’s data plan to your laptop so you’ll have an Internet connection anywhere your cell phone has a signal. PdaNet turns any iPhone, Windows Mobile Phone, or Palm OS phone into a wireless router; and if you have a Nokia phone, JoikuSpot will do the job. Keep in mind that tethering your data connection will significantly decrease your phone’s battery life, but it’s a godsend when you need it.

Beef Up Your Voicemail

One of the iPhone’s most innovative features was visual voicemail, which lets users see who left voicemail and listen to individual voicemail messages on demand. Web service YouMail upgrades your cell phone’s voicemail for free, adding visual voicemail, voicemail filtering, and caller-specific greetings to any cell. It even sends voicemail straight to your e-mail inbox, so archiving a voicemail message permanently or sharing a message is easy.

Send Group SMS Messages

Whether you’re organizing a night out with friends or you need to mass-message your company softball team about a change of venue, group messaging is an excellent method to use.

Phone trees and e-mail lists work, but cell phones make text messaging the quickest, most effective way to get the word out. Unfortunately, filling out an enormous To: field with every contact on your list is tedious and time-consuming.

Ad-supported service Tatango remedies this problem by letting you communicate with every member of a predefined group of people by sending just one text message. The process is simple: Sign up, build out your contact list, and enjoy convenient mass SMS messaging.

Name That Tune

One way to get a song out of your head is to listen to it again from start to finish (this doesn’t seem to work with “da da da da da I’m lovin’ it,” however); but setting up a replay can be difficult when you don’t actually know the song’s name. Sure, you can fire up Google, enter the few lyrics you know, and hope for a positive ID, but phone service 411-SONG takes a more scientific approach to music matching.

The next time a song you don’t know is playing, just dial 1-866-411-SONG and hold your phone up to the music for 15 seconds. 411-SONG will identify the song and send you a text message containing the song information and a link for buying it. The service costs 99 cents for each accurately identified song, so if you plan on using it a lot, the unlimited plan ($3.99 per month) might make more sense for you.

Check Your Bank Account Balance With a Text Message

We’ve all been there: You’re out on the town with friends or clients or associates, and you don’t want the fun to stop, but you aren’t entirely sure whether you have enough money in your checking account to cover another round.

Rather than taking your chances on an overdraft or prematurely calling it a night, fire off a text message to Quicken Beam, a new service from personal finance software-maker Quicken. After you sign up, Quicken regularly checks your account balance so that when you text BAL to 636363, you’ll instantly receive a response identifying your current balance.

Save the Cost of a 411 Call

When you’re out and about with a cell phone as your only electronic companion, and you need local information, 411 is still one of the quickest and easiest ways to obtain it. The catch: Traditional 411 services charge you for every look-up.

But now there’s an alternative: GOOG-411, a free 411 service from search giant Google. Just dial 1-800-GOOG-411, follow the automated voice prompts, and let GOOG-411’s voice recognition program take care of you for free.

Quick hint: Try saying “Text message” or “Map it” at the end of your call to get additional details sent directly to your phone.

Bring the Subway Map With You

When you travel by subway, knowing your route–and your route options–is a must. Web site iSubwayMaps offers free maps of 22 different cities across the globe, so you can plan your route no matter where you are.

The maps are optimized for use on iPods and iPhones, but each map is just a photo, so it should work on any mobile device capable of displaying images.

Shop Amazon via SMS

You’re a member of Amazon Prime, you have an extensive Amazon wish list, and your delivery person knows you by your first, last, and middle name. Admit it: You’re an Amazon junkie. So how do you get by while you’re away from an Internet connection? Check out Amazon TextBuyIt. This free service from Amazon lets you find and buy items on Amazon via text message. To use it, just text a keyword to ‘AMAZON’ (262966).

Amazon TextBuyIt will instantly reply with a list of results, and you can text the company right back to identify the one you want to buy. After you do so, you’ll receive a phone call from Amazon to confirm the details of your service. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it should satisfy your need to buy online until you can reconnect to the Web.

Stay Up-to-Date With Your Favorite Blog via SMS

Whether you’re a news junkie or you’re hung up on your crush’s personal blog, RSS feeds are an obsessive site-refresher’s best friend. Unfortunately, your newsreader won’t do you much good when you’re away from your computer. Free tool Pingie steps into the breach to create SMS alerts from any RSS feed–so whether you’re sitting at your computer or not, you’ll receive an SMS alert the second your favorite site updates.

Go Straight to Voicemail With SlyDial

Maybe you have just enough time between meetings to fire off a quick text message but not enough time to type. Or maybe you just want to avoid talking to the person on the other end of the line. Either way, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to skip straight to voicemail?

Web site SlyDial lets you do just that, forgoing the formalities of conversation by sending you straight to your contact’s voicemail. The person you’re calling won’t know that you called until the voicemail pops up in the inbox, and you’ll have saved yourself the effort of a full-fledged conversation when all you wanted to do was relay a quick message.

Instantly Find Yourself on a Google Map

Peripatetic types are used to plopping down in the nearest coffee shop to enjoy a little free Wi-Fi and a well-heated latte.

But when you need a quick set of directions or want to find a good place to eat in the neighborhood, you have to go through the same tap dance over and over: Open Google Maps, manually enter your current address (assuming that you even know the coffee shop’s address), and finally search for what you need. Instead of going through that routine, try installing the Geode Firefox extension, the Greasemonkey extension, and the Google Maps and Geode Greasemonkey script.

Armed with them, the next time you visit Google Maps you’ll see a new Current Position link next to the search box that will instantly locate you on a map. And when Firefox 3.1 is released, you won’t need the Geode extension at all.

© 2007 PC World Communications

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