10 Killer Texting Tricks

By Rick Broida, PC World

Text messaging isn't just kid's stuff anymore. Use these amazing online tools to turn any SMS-capable phone into a productivity powerhouse.

To many people over 30, text messaging can seem like one of those strange, complicated behaviors only teenagers understand. In reality, it's one more great tool in your productivity arsenal, right up there with e-mail and instant messaging.

In function, texting treads a fine line between those two communication capabilities, essentially serving as a basic form of e-mail for even the simplest of today's cell phones. Text messaging relies on a decades-old technology called SMS -- Short Message Service -- that's used to relay brief messages (usually no more than 160 characters, equivalent to a couple of average-length sentences).

Teens typically use texting for trivial cell-to-cell communication ("WHERE R U?", "AT THE MALL!"). But savvy travelers can leverage SMS for a whole lot more. Let your thumbs do a little walking (over your phone's keypad) and you can check flight status, update your calendar, track a package, check your bank balance and get driving directions to almost anywhere.

You don't even always need your thumbs: Some services let you send messages and retrieve information using just your voice. Best of all, most of these text-messaging marvels cost nothing to use -- though you'll want to check with your carrier to see how many messages (if any) are allowed as part of your monthly plan.

1. Remember Your Appointments and Schedule New Ones
Can't remember what time your next meeting takes place? If you're a
Google Calendar user, you can find out in a flash: Just send a message with the word "next" to GVENT (dial 48368) and you'll get back the time and details of your next scheduled event. Send "day" for a full list of today's appointments and "nday" for tomorrow's.

Google Calendar also lets you add new events via SMS -- and you can use plain English to do it. For example: "Lunch with Joe at Panera Bread tomorrow at noon." Shoot a message like that to GVENT, and Google will add it to your calendar with all the appropriate details.

Finally, you can configure Google Calendar to send automatic reminders in advance of an event. For any existing entry, click Edit Event Details, then Add a Reminder. Choose SMS from the list of options, and then specify how far in advance of the event the notification should arrive.

Before you can leverage Google Calendar's SMS features, you have to configure it for use with your phone. In your Web browser, open Google Calendar and click the Settings link, then choose Mobile Setup. Follow the simple cues to enable cell-phone notifications, and you're all set.

Of course, Google Calendar isn't the only game in cyberspace. Services like PingMe and Sandy can deliver notifications to your phone and process new reminders that you send from it. And Kwiry helps you remember things you're supposed to do by routing text messages created on your phone to your e-mail inbox.

2. Track Packages, Calories and Cash
A number of Web services now offer alerting and information options via SMS to help keep you in the loop. For example, are you dying to know when your newly ordered MacBook Air will arrive? Forward your delivery-confirmation e-mail to
TrackMyShipments.com, and you'll subsequently receive SMS updates on your package's status, location and delays (if any). You can also monitor your own shipments by sending its tracking number to a special e-mail address.
If you're watching your weight,
Diet.com can help you count your calories. Text any major restaurant chain's name and menu item to DIET1 (dial 34381) and Diet.com will shoot you back the nutrition stats: calories, fat, carbs and protein.

Quicken Online can send you a text-message reminder when a bill is due, so you won't have to worry about racking up late fees. Other Web-based money managers like Buxfer and Mint offer even more SMS-alert options: They can notify you of low balances, unusual spending and large deposits (such as a paycheck). You can even record transactions (great for tracking expenses on the run) or request an account balance.

3. Compose Text Messages with Your Voice
Most people who hate text messaging do so for the simple reason that it's such a hassle to compose messages using a cell-phone keypad. You could always upgrade to a keyboard-equipped phone like the AT&T Tilt, LG Voyager or RIM BlackBerry Curve, but even those models are "all thumbs" when it comes to text input. Plus, it probably seems excessive to spend hundreds of dollars on a new phone just for the sake of easier text messaging.

Instead, let your voice do the legwork -- or fingerwork. A free service called Jott will transcribe your spoken message into text and deliver it via SMS to anyone in your contact list (which you have to set up in advance on the Jott site). Just speed-dial Jott from your cell phone, say the name of the person you want to contact, and then start talking. (Remember to keep it short: Text messages can't be longer than a few sentences.) This is also a much safer way to send a message while you're at the wheel. (Note, however, that some states ban or discourage using the phone while driving, or are considering laws against it.)

4. Get Driving Directions
If your phone lacks GPS and you need to find your way between points A and B, let SMS be your guide. Before you hit the road, head to
MapQuest in your desktop browser and input your destination. Once the site generates the driving directions, click the Send to Cell option and enter your cell number. In seconds you'll receive a text message containing a link to turn-by-turn directions for your route.

If you're away from your PC, tap Google SMS for on-the-fly navigation. Create a new message with your starting point and destination, then send it to GOOGLE (dial 466453). In return, you'll receive Google Maps directions in one or more text messages (depending on the length of the route). You can also get an actual map by texting "map" and your location.

Need directions but don't want to take your hands off the wheel? Dial 800-FREE-411, 800-GOOG-411 or DIRECTIONS (dial 347-328-4667) for voice-prompted assistance. State your starting address and where you want to go; all three services will whip up directions and shoot them to your phone via SMS. Best of all, they're free. You pay only standard calling and text-message charges.

5. Search Google From the Road
Google SMS offers more than just driving directions: You can text your way to stock quotes, movie show times, currency conversions and much more. The trick lies in remembering the proper syntax to receive the information you want. To access Google's glossary, for instance, your message should read "Define" and then the word. Looking for a particular business in your area? Send the business name (or category, such as "pizza") and the Zip code or the city and state. If you can't remember the proper format for a particular inquiry, just send "help" or "tips" to Google SMS (dial 466453), and the service will send you a cheat sheet.

4INFO offers a similar batch of SMS services, but adds helpful extras like package tracking and a Wi-Fi hotspot finder. You'll find fun stuff, too, such as jokes, drink recipes and pickup lines. You can also sign up for text-message alerts: 4INFO will send you the game scores for your favorite teams, educate you with a word of the day, and even deliver Craigslist ad updates (so you can swoop in the moment playoff tickets go on sale).

6. Keep Tabs on Flights ...
Jet-setters can also tap Google SMS and 4INFO for flight information. Just text your airline and flight number to receive up-to-the-minute arrival and departure times. If you'd rather have flight updates pushed to your phone, head to
FlightStats, sign up for a free account, and then set up some Flight Alerts. The site will send you a status report up to three hours before departure, notifications of any flight delays or cancellations, and a notification when the flight lands (helpful if you're on airport-pickup detail).

7. … And Keep Tabs on Friends
Fans of Twitter, the micro-blogging service that lets others know what you're doing at this very minute, will find SMS virtually indispensable for sending and receiving updates. Start by configuring your Twitter account to support text messaging: Click the Settings link and then click Phone & IM. Follow the instructions to enable your phone, then set Device Updates to "on." (While you're at it, click the Notices option and set "sleep" hours so you're not bothered by new messages all through the night.)

To receive text-message updates from your friends and family, click the Following link in your profile and set Device Updates to "on" for each person. To broadcast your own updates straight from your phone, text your messages to 40404.

8. Transfer Files to Your Phone
Savvy users know that the easiest way to move a file between PCs is to e-mail it to yourself. So why not take the same approach for transferring a file to your phone? Unfortunately, it's not always that easy: Many phones balk at e-mail file attachments due to size or format. And what if your phone isn't set up to fetch e-mail anyway? Your only option is a traditional PC-to-phone connection, which usually requires a special cable or a complicated Bluetooth configuration.

Enter Beam It Up Scotty, a free Web-based service that leverages SMS to send just about any kind of file to your phone. Just browse your hard drive for the desired file -- document, photo, MP3, movie or whatever -- and then choose a compression setting. Beam It Up Scotty can automatically optimize video and audio files for mobile-phone playback and can compress other kinds of files for speedier transfer.

Finally, enter your cell-phone number. Within a few minutes you'll receive a text message containing a link to download the file straight to your phone.

9. Send Text Messages From Your PC
Suppose a text message arrives on your phone while you're sitting at your desk. Do you really have to peck out the reply on the phone's tiny keypad? Not if you know the recipient's phone number and carrier. Just fire up Outlook or any other mail client and compose your reply like an ordinary e-mail. The trick lies in knowing the proper way to address the message.

For example, e-mails sent to phones on the Sprint network must be formatted like this: phonenumber@messaging.sprintpcs.com. To send e-mail-via-SMS to a Verizon customer, use phonenumber@vtext.com. You can find a full list of carriers and their text-message addresses at SMS 411.

If you don't know the recipient's carrier or can't remember all those different suffixes, take a shortcut: Send your e-mail to phonenumber@teleflip.com. The free Teleflip service does the legwork for you, routing your message to the appropriate carrier. Whatever method you use, keep in mind that replies will come to your e-mail inbox, not to your cell phone -- which can be a good thing if you're spending the day at your desk anyway.

10. Archive Your Messages
Need to save an important message for posterity (or a pending court case)? In an ideal world, you'd simply connect your phone to your PC and copy the messages to your hard drive. Few phones can do that out of the box, however. But the free utility
BitPim makes this possible for many models from LG, Motorola, Samsung and Sanyo. You'll also need a USB cable that's compatible with your phone; check with the manufacturer (or eBay) to hunt down the proper cable.

To preserve only a select few messages (and avoid the hassles of software and cables), check out Treasuremytext. This free Web service archives and manages all messages forwarded from your phone. Later, you can visit the Treasuremytext site to review your messages, add notes and organize them in custom folders.

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10 Books You Should (Re)Discover

School just ain't what it used to be. Or is it? Some books can take us back to our school days and teach us valuable lessons all over again. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Ahh, adventures in Paris--what could be better? Madeline and 11 other little girls live "in an old house in Paris," under the care and tutelage of Miss Clavel. This edition captures their exploits in three-dimensional pop-up spreads of selected scenes from the book based on Ludwig Bemelmans's original illustrations.

2. Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton
A gentle schoolmaster is ridiculed at first by his rowdy charges, but gradually his dignity and generosity gain the students' respect. Did you have a teacher you tortured, whom you later grew to admire? You're bound to identify your former teacher with Mr. Chips, who over the years has come to represent all beloved teachers, whose lessons extend beyond the classroom.

3. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
An heiress has a difficult time at boarding school after her father suddenly dies, leaving her penniless. No longer a "princess," she endures cruel treatment from the other students. Despite her change in fortunes, she remains determined to maintain her dignity and to give voice to her princess within.

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
What happens after Holden Caulfield flunks out of boarding school yet again? The school of hard knocks has some bitter--and often hilarious--lessons in store. Sixteen-year old Holden narrates this classic coming-of-age story, offering wry commentary on the "phoniness" of the adult world around him and hinting at the emptiness inside.

5. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet is a young girl determined to be a famous writer. To gather material, she faithfully writes in her secret notebook everything she sees and hears while walking her daily "spy route." She makes brilliant observations of life's absurdities, and her writing career seems assured--until the notebook is discovered by her classmates who read it aloud. Suddenly, she finds herself a social outcast and the target of her vengeful classmates.

6. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
The unbelievably popular series about life at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry starts with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. As you must know by now, Harry's unbearable childhood is transformed when an owl delivers a mysterious letter inviting him to attend a school for wizards. The young wizard-in-training encounters one adventure after another, and confronts the great destiny that awaits him. While you're waiting for the next novel in the series, have you reread the first one yet?

7. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
A tale of friendship and betrayal at a private New England school for boys during World War II. One is brainy and lonely. The other is handsome and athletic. The two form an intense bond that draws out both the best and worst in each. A Separate Peace is an unflinching look at the dark side of adolescence and a classic portrayal of the complexity of friendship.

8. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
An eccentric teacher in Edinburgh in the 1930s has a soft spot for all things Italian, including Il Duce. Is she liberating young minds or preaching fascism? A defense of individual thought in the face of unchecked conventionality, the novel explores Miss Brodie's intense, and ultimately dangerous, relationship with six of her students.

9. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
A teenager refuses to be bullied--into selling chocolate--and winds up in a larger battle. Did your school have fundraisers? Did you ever sell raffle tickets or wash cars? Well, things could be worse. When Jerry Renault refuses to sell chocolate for his school's fundraiser, he provokes such divisiveness that the entire social fabric of the school seems to come apart at the seams.

10. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Surviving fourth grade and a rambunctious little brother isn't easy--can Peter do it? His little brother Fudgie is so disgustingly cute and so meddlesome that Peter's often not sure if he'll be able to make it another day. If you have a younger brother or sister, Peter's story may sound all too familiar--but this time it's fun.

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Fitness: Gyms Go Designer

Mood Lighting: Milan's Younique gym and spa pays attention to the details
By Tiffanie Wen NEWSWEEK

Those seeking a gym worthy of their Stella McCartney exercise clothes are in luck. A new wave of luxury fitness centers allows exercise lovers to work up a sweat in high-concept spaces designed by brand-name architects.

London's trendy $10 million Gymbox even resembles a high-end nightclub. Created by Ben Kelly and the award-winning firm Light and Design, the space offers neon lighting, film projections, split-level flooring and a "floating" dance studio that can turn into a nightclub at the flip of a switch (www.gymbox.co.uk).

The 1,700-square-meter Younique fitness club and spa in Milan features a downstairs spa area that includes a Swarovski-crystal-studded sauna, Turkish bath and warm-massage waterbeds (yhc.it). Famed design firm Conran and Partners transformed an old glass factory in Cambridge, England, into Glassworks, a sleek new health club that preserves the original timber roof and exposed-brick walls. It also boasts a ground-level Jacuzzi, where members can view boats passing on the river through one-way glass (theglassworksgym.co.uk).

New York's Equinox gym chain features the by-invitation-only E Club, which is limited to 200 members. Entrance to the gym on Columbus Circle is gained through an iris scan. The $2,000 monthly membership includes access to private changing cabanas and Frette robes, an elite group of personal trainers and Olympic-quality training equipment (equinoxfitness.com).

For complete privacy, the Technogym Kinesis Personal Heritage home machine allows for more than 200 resistance-based exercises but takes up just one square meter of space. The limited-edition gold model is completely hand-covered in gold leaf, guaranteeing that even those who slack off from their workout routines have something pretty to look at ($19,950; www.technogym.com).

© 2008

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