TIME Apps & Web

The Best White Noise Apps and Sites

The science of sound can help you in many aspects of your life, from increasing concentration to creating the right atmosphere for a better night’s rest. The key is to know which kind of sound will do the trick and the easiest way to access it. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites and apps that do just that.

Pink noise generators for better sleep

Do you notice that you sleep better when the rain falls steadily outside or the wind blows gently through the trees? That’s what researchers call pink noise, a combination of sounds that contain all of the frequencies that people can hear, with volume decreasing in high frequencies. This kind of pink noise “has significant effect on reducing brain wave complexity and inducing more stable sleep time to improve sleep quality of individuals,” according to a Journal of Theoretical Biology study. In comparison, white noise keeps the volume consistent across all frequencies and most people don’t find it as restful.

There are many apps that offer noise generation for better sleep, but be sure to only use the features that provide a steady, consistent sound, not intermittent noise.

Lightning Bug

Lightning Bug provides relaxing nature sounds that will help you sleep better at night. Make sure to enable plug-ins and download the free White Noise pack. In the pack, you can choose from white noise and pink noise. Bonus: it also comes with an alarm, snooze button and sleep timer.

Price: Free with premium plug-ins available at Google Play

Sleep Fan

Sleep Fan

Similar to falling rain, the noise of an electric fan also helps many get a better night’s sleep. This app, a favorite here, generates that exact sound for you. You can play a fan sound at low, medium or high speed and also set a time for how long you want the noise to play. It even plays as a background app, allowing your phone to go into sleep mode but still play fan sound through the night.

Price: $1.99 on iTunes

WhiteNoise

If you don’t like fan noises, try WhiteNoise. It has pink noise, brown noise (low frequency sound masking) and many more soothing sounds. Plus, it gives you great flexibility for painting your own soundscape, mixing up to five sounds at once. Pay a little extra to get a recorder and generator to create your own sounds.

Price: $1.99, $0.99 each in app for recorder and generator at iTunes

Sleep Bug: White Noise Soundscapes

Here’s your Windows Phone alternative. Sleep Bug offers an interesting twist on mixing your own sounds by providing auxiliary tracks that you can turn on or off on top of main tracks.

Price: Free or paid upgrade for additional content at Windows Phone; also available for iPhone on iTunes

Finally, if you are looking for an all-around effective noise generator, not just an app or sound file that mimics sounds, we highly recommend the Original Sleep Sound Generator from Hammacher Schlemmer. It creates a soothing sound that helps block other sounds in your environment that may be distracting you.

Sound for better focus and concentration

No matter how many times experts remind us to turn off the distractions when we’re trying to get things done, most of us enjoy listening to music on the job. A little bit of whistle-while-you-work can boost flagging energy and bolster creativity — but too much of a good thing is a definite no-no.

What you need is the right noise for the job: ambient sound for creative focus, white noise for tight concentration or more relaxed soundscapes for calm efficiency or relaxation. If you’ve always suspected you do better and more rewarding work when you cart your laptop down to the local shop, research is on your side. When you’re trying to coax creativity out of hiding, moderate levels of ambient noise can provide just enough of a distraction to free the rest of your brain for broader thought.

A study in The Journal of Consumer Research shows that background noise as mundane as the hum of a coffee shop in full swing or the muffled chatter of a television in the other room can enhance performance. Apply that knowledge with discretion: Higher noise levels are too distracting, and tasks that require concentration and focus on detail are better performed in a quiet environment.

If your surroundings are already littered with distracting sounds and conversations, you might need white noise to mask the chaos. Be careful about playing these sounds too loudly, too close to you or for too long. A recent study shows that white noise used to keep babies drifting in a peaceful slumber could in fact damage their hearing.

Options for laptop, desktop and mobile browsers

Ready to download some sound apps to help tune up your life? Not so fast. Our favorite sources for ambient sound, white noise, meditation gongs and calming music aren’t apps at all — they’re free websites you pull up right in your browser.

Coffitivity

Coffitivity

Here’s the hottest spot to find that coffee shop ambience — what Coffitivity calls a “combination of calm and commotion” that inspires and supports creativity. Choose from several different vibes: “Morning Murmur” gives you the traditional hustle and bustle of the corner café; “Lunchtime Lounge” carries a little more energy; and “University Undertones” soothes you with the calmer sounds of a campus café.

Price: Free at coffitivity.com or for Mac desktop at iTunes; Coffivitity app free at Google Play and iTunes

Noisli

This ambient sound generator plays to maximum advantage on a second monitor because it includes a color generator that helps set the mood. Research also backs the role of color in influencing productivity. Using a blue desktop background, for example, can enhance creative performance, while red helps you attack and focus on nitty-gritty details.

Noisli lets you toggle and layer as many sounds as you like to create your own tapestry of sound. Choose among coffee shop chatter, three types of white noise and nature sounds including rain, thunderstorms, waves, crackling fire and more. Still distracted? There’s also a text editor for distraction-free writing.

Price: Free at noisli.com

myNoise.net

Here’s some serious noise. “Welcome to the convergence of serious audio engineering, creative sound design and the scientific understanding of human hearing,” reads myNoise’s introductory text. “The site you are about to enter is not just another of those soundscape websites but a serious tool oriented toward the needs of hearing professionals, sound therapists and people interested in noise machines in general.”

At myNoise, choose from sounds designed specifically for noise blocking, healthcare, sound therapy, meditation and tonal sound. The site allows you to calibrate much of the sounds to your own computer and hearing. Because the website is so robust, playing the noise generators from Mobile Safari (iOS) requires the larger RAM sizes of the newer iPads and iPhones; on Android tablets, Firefox 22 has been confirmed to play well. An iOS verson is anticipated to launch within the next month.

Price: Free at myNoise.net

App options for mobile productivity

If you’d prefer an app for your mobile device, you have plenty to choose from. Just remember to use earbuds or headphones if you’re going to use an ambient sound or white noise app on a mobile device; you’re seeking immersion in sound that surrounds you, after all.

Ambiance

Ambiance

For your iPhone or iPad, we like the capacious sound library of Ambiance. With this polished app, you get more than 2,500 free sounds, from ambient and urban environment (the traditional coffee shop mix plus many alternatives), binaural beats and more. You can mix multiple sounds to blend just the right custom sound.

Price: $2.99 plus $0.99 for premium sounds on iTunes

Naturespace

While the whole idea of these apps and tools is immersion, if you’re really committed to going deep, go Naturespace. Naturespace attempts to reproduce soundscapes in a 3-D environment; you hear the birds in the trees above you as well as what’s before and behind you. This is some of the best sound quality out there.

Price: Free with limited previews or purchases from $0.99 and up on iTunes and Google Play

White Noise Box

Looking for something free? White Noise Box is the ticket. You get all the basic sounds and features you need and expect.

Price: Free or $0.99 for premium (removes ads and pointer to the store) on iTunes and Google Play

If what you really need is pure, sweet silence, try a pair of noise-cancelling headphones; Techlicious’ guide shows you the best.

This article was written by Lisa Poisso and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Apps & Web

Yahoo to Users: No More Signing in with Google or Facebook

The Yahoo! offices are pictured in Santa Monica
Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

You really ought to have a Yahoo ID, says Yahoo.

Have you been using Google or Facebook to sign into Yahoo services such as Flickr or Fantasy Sports? You won’t be able to in the future, as Yahoo will eventually require a proper Yahoo account instead.

Reuters reports that the shift will occur gradually, and that Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick’Em will be the first service to require a Yahoo login:

“Yahoo is continually working on improving the user experience,” the company said in a statement, noting that the new process “will allow us to offer the best personalized experience to everyone.”

Translation: We’d like to be able to have better-targeted advertising by requiring a single sign-in. The same strategy’s working out pretty well for Google, after all.

Okay, maybe that’s a little cynical. If you’re using lots of Yahoo services, it surely makes sense to have a single login for all of them. And with Yahoo buying up companies that deal with contextual information, such as Donna and Aviate, it’s possible the company wants in on the AI/virtual assistant craze to compete with Google, Apple and Microsoft. If that’s the case, having a single point of entry into Yahoo services is essential.

Not that those reasons are any consolation if you basically just use Yahoo for Fantasy Football. Hope you enjoy your new Yahoo Mail account!

TIME Video Games

Batman: Arkham Knight Is Going to Be All About the Batmobile

WBGamesUK / YouTube

The next Arkham game is real, and Rocksteady's been working on it all along.

When I think Batman, I don’t think Batmobile, unless I’m thinking about the silly-looking Adam West thingamajig, or the slick, overwrought version Tim Burton cobbled together back in 1989, and that Chevy basically used to hype its Chevy Impala for ages (alright, I admit I loved it when I was 17).

So when Sefton Hill, Rocksteady’s director of the just-unveiled new Batman Arkham game, says that the game’s pièce de résistance is Batman’s ride, I’m a little nervous, because like I said: not what I think about when I think about Batman.

But I am sold on Rocksteady doing more Batman games, because where the studio created something terrific and daring with its 2009 bolt-from-the-blue, Batman: Arkham Asylum, it elevated the series to masterfulness with Batman: Arkham City — one of the best games, superhero or otherwise, I’ve ever played.

People who don’t engage with superhero games or even much care for open world ones played Arkham City. People who have no investment in the Batman mythos (or who, like me, have little use for the comic industry’s commodification of the postmodernist horse it’s been beating since Alan Moore’s subversions) played Arkham City. If you haven’t played Arkham City, you might as well be telling me you haven’t played BioShock 2, Dark Souls, Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, Persona 4 or Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s not a game you miss.

Judging from Game Informer‘s overview, it sounds like the new game, dubbed Arkham Knight, takes place a year after Arkham City‘s events. Rocksteady says it wanted to do a next-gen version for its third (and apparently final) Arkham outing, so it outsourced Batman: Arkham Origins for last-gen platforms to keep the series rolling for commercial reasons, rolled up its sleeves, and got to work on Arkham Knight — ostensibly the conclusion of what Rocksteady’s now calling its Arkham trilogy.

Let’s talk metrics. According to Game Informer, Arkham Knight‘s sandbox play-space, still situated in Gotham City as you’d expect, is “five times” the size of Arkham City‘s map. Rocksteady adds, however, that the focus is on making that play-space more detailed. The days of slipping into a deli in the middle of nowhere and striking up an arbitrary, procedurally generated conversation with a contextually-aware but otherwise game-irrelevant A.I. shop owner, say about recent events in the neighborhood for whimsy’s sake, are probably decades away, but it’s nice to see a developer working to flush out the usual prettified facades.

What else. The game is single-player only (thank goodness). The game’s cutscenes and gameplay are of a piece now: the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are powerful enough to keep everything seamlessly in-engine. Kevin Conroy is back as the voice of Batman (though I thought Roger Craig Smith did a fine job in Arkham Origins, and would have welcomed him back here). And it sounds like you can use certain gadgets, say throwing out zip lines, more dynamically, instead of looking for narrowly defined usage zones.

Combat’s been diversified, but not further complicated, so think alternative maneuvers, not fussier mechanics. And there’s the Batmobile, which sounds like Rocksteady’s making a noir version of Car Wars: vehicle use is for much more than city traversal, up to and including locking onto and lobbing missiles at enemy vehicles.

As for your nemesis this round, it won’t be the Joker. That’s my takeaway, anyway, and thank goodness. That story and character have played out in this timeline. If you’re reading this Rocksteady — and minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t played Arkham City — if you reanimate the Joker’s corpse, or play it all off as a trick, Sherlock-style, I’ll be very unhappy. Fingers crossed the shadowy Bat-like character silhouetted in the Game Informer piece really is someone new, as claimed, and not just a story stunt involving Joker clone cells and Days of Our Lives-caliber shenanigans.

Arkham Knight is due for PlayStation 4, Windows and Xbox One on October 14.

TIME Apps & Web

FileThis Automatically Gathers and Files Important Documents Online

FileThis

FileThis is one of the more exciting new products for taking financial records to the digital realm.

Finally, a critical missing link in the paperless billing chain has been filled. FileThis is a new Web-based service that that automatically downloads your e-statements into your PC or cloud storage.

FileThis covers the gamut of household paper filing — bank statements, phone bills, tax documents, mortgage statements, credit card statements, insurance policies and benefits, online shopping accounts, utilities and so on.

Is It safe?

Security is a legitimate major concern on such aggregating sites, for fear that one password could give a thief access to the family jewels. So let’s address that up front.

Do you have to give the site your passwords to access bank accounts and more? Yes. How secure can that be? It is essentially as secure as online banking, using the same methods.

FileThis encrypts your login information the moment you enter it. Once you’re on its servers, everything is encrypted to the highest standard so no one can decode your content, even if hackers were to somehow break in. The few employees who manage the encryption process undergo the same rigorous security measures used in banks, including background checks.

And finally, even if someone accessed your FileThis password, it could not be used to make changes to your accounts, because FileThis only does one thing: retrieve statements. Your individual account passwords are never visible, not even to you. The system has been built from the ground up to be secure and safe.

FileThis is based on a user fee revenue model (free basic service with fee-based advanced services). Income comes from customers, not from partners or advertisers. This means there are no hidden loyalties.

Why would I need this?

Our world is gradually shifting from paper to paperless systems. During the transition, consumers must grapple with both types of media for tasks such as preparing taxes and maintaining records. Many institutions charge a fee for paper statements or don’t offer paper at all.

Digital records can equally be a hassle because of the manual process necessary to download all e-statements into your digital file cabinet. PayPal, for instance, keeps only three months’ worth; fall behind at your own risk. FileThis comes to the rescue by automating the whole process, running in the background to collect e-statements while still giving you complete content ownership and control of where they get filed.

How does it work?

First, link your various accounts. It takes just a moment to find your institutions on the supported list and enter login credentials for each. Then choose where you want the documents stored.

The rest is automatic. FileThis automatically fetches all the stored statements at the institutions — up to three years’ worth if available — and saves them in PDF format (a boon, if you’ve been lax at downloading and filing or if you’ve wrangled PDFing HTML statements).

Next, FileThis analyzes each document to automatically give it a descriptive file name, tag it with the correct date, index key words and categorize it for easy searching (for example, “tax documents” instead of “bank statements”). All of this occurs in the background.

Finally, documents are moved to the destination you’ve chosen in automatically created sub-folders. According to the company, most consumers choose one of the supported cloud services, such as Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive, although some users chose their local PC drive. FileThis also offers its own proprietary cloud with additional robust features like advanced filing and keyword search.

What’s the hitch?

FileThis carries a few limitations. The list of covered institutions is finite. FileThis has to write code to connect to each institution, and though it plans to continue adding new ones, those with the largest demand take precedence.

So while you’ll find major institutions like Chase, Comcast, Verizon and Amazon all covered, FileThis lacks regional institutions like health insurers or local utilities. As a work-around, the site offers document upload and invites users to suggest other institutions to support. The list of supported institutions is expected to triple from 330 to 1,000 by 2015.

Another limitation: The service is available only in the United States.

And, finally, it’s not easy to direct documents to more than one location — for example, both your local PC and a cloud service. FileThis is designed to be used with one or the other. Lastly, while some leading cloud services are supported, many are not yet.

Pricing

The free version of FileThis allows connections with up to six institutions, with $20 per year for 12 connections or $50 per year for 30 connections.

If you’re using the proprietary FileThis cloud storage, your storage space increases from 500MB to 10GB.

Of course, there are no space limitations if you’re downloading to your PC or your own cloud service.

Similar solutions

Other products perform some of the same functions. Manilla, built for online bill payments, offers more breadth in some ways, such as email syncing that automatically pulls in emailed statements. But it connects with institutions at a different level, often grabbing only the information it needs for bill payments rather all the e-statement documents needed for filing and tax documents, and Manilla does not go back so far to pull history. Another example is Doxo, similar to Manilla.

Services like these are evolving rapidly, as they pioneer new ways to organize digital household information.

What currently sets FileThis apart

  • FileThis is a digital mailbox and filing service for all documents, including healthcare benefits or policy documents, year-end tax documents from mortgage or investment companies, trade confirmations and quarterly reports from investment companies — not just billing statements!
  • FileThis is designed for viewing and storing documents. There is no access to transactional processes.
  • FileThis automatically files documents, classifying and tagging them and making them text searchable.
  • FileThis lets you choose where to store documents.
  • FileThis consumer-paid subscriptions are its single source of income, so there are no backroom deals with business partners or advertisers.

The bottom line

I have to admit, FileThis is one of the more exciting new products for taking financial records to the digital realm. That paper tiger no longer seems quite so scary.

This article was written by Kristy Holch and originally appeared on Techlicious.
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TIME How-To

Quick Gmail Trick: Pre-Write Email Messages with Canned Responses

Watch the above video or follow the steps below:

1. Click the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner of Gmail, then choose Settings.

2. Click the Labs tab, find Canned Responses, click the Enable radio button to enable Canned Responses, scroll down and click Save Changes.

3. Compose an email message you’d like to use over and over again, and then click the arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the message window. Choose Canned Responses, and under the Save heading, select New Canned Response. Give your response a name and click OK.

4. The next time someone emails you something that warrants the canned response you created, reply to the message and instead of typing your response, click the arrow button in the lower right-hand corner, select Canned Responses, and then under Insert, choose the canned response you created in the previous step. You’ll then see your response appear in the body of your reply.

5. You can also automate canned responses to be sent out based on certain criteria (sender, keyword, label, subject and things like that). Click here to read Google’s how-to.

More Quick Tech Tricks:

 

 

TIME Video Games

Zynga Wants You Back with New Farmville, Words With Friends and Poker

Zynga

What's Facebook? Zynga's new games are all about phones and tablets.

If you could just stop playing Candy Crush Saga for a minute, Zynga would really like you to get back into Farmville, Words With Friends and Poker now.

As such, the company is announcing revamped versions of its hit games for mobile devices:

  • FarmVille 2: Country Escape has you raising crops in a coastal setting on phones and tablets. It connects with the web version of FarmVille 2, has a common rewards system and adds “Social Control” options so you don’t have to spam all your friends and family with your progress. It also works offline.
  • Words With Friends is getting a dictionary, leaderboards and detailed statistics. Players can switch to the new version and have all their in-progress games and history carry over.
  • Zynga Poker will be faster and more responsive, and will learn how good of a player you are to match you up with people of equal skill.

Things haven’t been going so well for Zynga. A few years ago, Zynga dominated Facebook gaming with hits like FarmVille and CityVille, but the company hasn’t been able to sustain that success, and declining user numbers have led Zynga to lay off hundreds of employees over the last year. On mobile devices, Zynga hasn’t been as dominant, and one of its biggest efforts to buy into the space–with the $200 million purchase of Draw Something makers OMGPOP–was a spectacular failure.

The trio of revamped games are a clear attempt by Zynga to refocus on mobile. In fact, the company’s blog post announcing the games doesn’t mention Facebook at all. Still, Zynga will need more than few warmed over classics to recapture the enthusiasm of its Facebook heyday.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Autos

Volvo Shows Off the Apple CarPlay iPhone Interface

Hot on the heels of Apple rolling out the details behind its CarPlay interface, Volvo has posted a video to YouTube showing off what everything will look like.

Hot on the heels of Apple rolling out the details behind its CarPlay interface, Volvo has posted a video to YouTube showing off what everything will look like. As you can see, you’re presented with a limited number of apps that have been given car-friendly designs: Maps, Phone, Messages, Spotify and others.

Apple says “even more supported apps are coming soon,” which is a sign CarPlay won’t just be a free-for-all where you can futz with every app you have on your phone. They’ll each have to be re-imagined for a quick-glance environment first, which is probably safest for everyone involved. There’s no mention of web browsers, either, which may very well be another safety measure.

You can read more about CarPlay from my colleague Harry here.

Volvo and Apple CarPlay [YouTube via 9to5Mac]

TIME Rumors

A Glimpse at Cortana, Microsoft’s Version of Siri and Google Now

Microsoft

The Halo-inspired AI will reportedly follow Google into creepy-useful territory.

Microsoft’s long-rumored virtual assistant Cortana will likely make its debut next month at the company’s Build developer conference. In the meantime, The Verge is showing what the Halo-inspired AI might look like.

Cortana reportedly takes some cues from Siri, addressing the user by name and showing an animation — a circular blue icon, as opposed to Siri’s white microphone — when it’s thinking or speaking. Users will apparently be able to ask Cortana questions by voice or type them in.

But Microsoft’s assistant will also reportedly borrow ideas from Google Now, digging into e-mail, location and other sources of personal data to serve up information without the user having to ask for it.

As we’ve seen with Google Now, e-mail can be a pretty rich data source for things like flights, restaurant reservations, ticket purchases and incoming packages. A virtual assistant could use this data to give directions when it’s time to leave for dinner, or let you know what the weather will be like on your next trip. It’s as creepy as it is useful. (Thankfully, Cortana will apparently let users control which data the service can access, or turn off e-mail monitoring entirely.)

At first, Cortana will reportedly be part of Windows Phone 8.1, which itself will be revealed in full next month. But as Microsoft slowly merges its phone and tablet operating systems, it seems likely that Cortana would find its way into Windows as well.

This is Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri [The Verge]

TIME Apps & Web

Shutterfly “Doodle” Feature Lets You Draw Custom Gifts

Shutterfly

Draw pictures or words with your finger in your choice of colors.

One of my favorite photo-publishing services is Shutterfly. The company takes all the cool pictures trapped on our phones and cameras and helps convert them into real world things. And not just prints, of course – you can have photos printed on mugs, phone cases, canvas prints and all sorts of other unique photo gifts.

This past week, Shutterfly announced a new Doodle drawing feature now built in to the Shutterfly Photo Story for iPad app. It lets you draw pictures or words with your finger in your choice of colors. It’s a nice little way for kids to add their own signature or personal touches to a gift, or for them to create their own children’s storybook.

Since Doodles are saved to shutterfly.com, you can use the company’s website to order from its large catalogue of custom-printed gifts as well. That opens up some neat possibilities for the creatively inspired, like creating your own custom throw pillows.

You can download the free Shutterfly Photo Story for iPad app on the Apple App Store.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Apps & Software

BroApp Sends Automatic Texts to Your Girlfriend to Make Her Think You’re Thinking About Her

BroApp

There's really going to be no middle ground here. Either you're going to think this app is brilliant, or you're going to think it's stupid.

There’s really going to be no middle ground here. Either you’re going to think this app is brilliant, or you’re going to think it’s stupid. Let’s move on, though. It’s Friday and we’re all trying to get our affairs in order before the weekend.

BroApp is a $2 Android app that sends pre-selected text messages to your lovie throughout the day. Texts such as:

  • “Hey babe, how was your day?”
  • “Miss you :)”
  • “Hey babe, just leaving work now”
  • “Hi darl, how did you go today?” (protip: this one sounds weird – don’t use it)

You get the idea. If the built-in messages aren’t doing it for you, you can add your own custom messages.

Knowing that your girlfriend receiving a BroApp text while you’re sitting next to her would set off a red flag, the app can be set to not send texts when you’re connected to various Wi-Fi networks (such as the one in her house). It’ll also refrain from sending auto-texts if you’ve recently sent her an actual text. Finally, the app says it’s got safeguards to prevent her from finding it on your phone.

Here’s a demo video:

BroApp [Google Play Store via Geekologie]

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