Feb 22, 2018

How to Make Pixel Paintings with Google Spreadsheets

You are using Google Spreadsheets for budgeting and project management but did you know that the same sheets application can help you create impressive pixel paintings in minutes? The Google blog recently published a story of two illustrators who created a bright and beautiful wall mural using Google Spreadsheets.

Marina and Mallory connected on Google Hangouts to plan and sketch out ideas, and creatively “hack” Sheets in order to make art: resizing cells into thousands of pixel-like squares, merging cells to create color blocks, creating vibrant color gradients with conditional formatting and cell values, and other cool things we had no idea you could do with Sheets.

The idea is simple. Each cell in the spreadsheet corresponds to a pixel in the painting. You compute the color of the pixel and make it the background color of the corresponding cell. Now resize the spreadsheet cells in small perfect squares and your spreadsheet will look exactly like the original artwork.

How to Paint with Google Spreadsheets

If you would like to create your own spreadsheet art but don’t have the time to carefully paint every cell manually, here’s a simple workaround for you. You can take any photograph, vector art, or any other image and use a Google Script to convert that bitmap image into spreadsheet art.

Here are some examples of art created with Google Spreadsheets.

Watch the video tutorial or open this Google Sheet for sample artwork.

Create Pixel Art with Google Sheets

It takes two easy steps to make pixel art with Google Sheets.

  1. Open the Google Spreadsheet template and create a copy of the sheet in your own Google Drive.
  2. Go to the Spreadsheet Art menu and upload the image from your desktop. You can use images of any size or resolution.

The underlying Google Script will now parse every single pixel of your image and write the corresponding hex color codes in the cells of the spreadsheet.

It will then set the background color of every cell same as the color of the corresponding pixel. If you have chosen the ’emoji’ option, the cell will be filled with the closes emoji that matches the color of the pixel.

In the last step, the script will resize the cells and turn them into perfect squares. That’s it. Your spreadsheet art is now ready.

The latest version of the Spreadsheet Art project can transform your pictures into emojis pixels as well. It takes the average color of the pixel, finds the closest emoji and adds it to the corresponding cell in the sheet. The emoji module is based on the work of Monica Dinculescu.

The end result may appear slightly pixelated (video) because we have used a small image as the source template but impressive nonetheless. You can download the Google Sheet as a PDF file or save it in Microsoft Excel format.

Check this Google Sheet for more examples.



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Feb 20, 2018

How to Keep your Folders on FTP Server and Google Drive in Sync

How do you connect an FTP server to your Google Drive or Dropbox for transferring files in either direction automatically?

Well, the easiest option would be to use a desktop FTP client like Cyberduck (supports Mac & Windows, free) or Transmit (Mac only, paid). These software applications can connect to all the popular cloud storage services including Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox and Amazon S3. They can perform a remote-to-remote sync allowing you to recursively transfer files and folders from the FTP server to any cloud service and vice versa.

The only issue with using a desktop application is that it needs to be run manually on your computer. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could set up a task that continuously monitors your Google Drive (or Dropbox or OneDrive) for new files and automatically copies them to a specified FTP server?

Transfer Files from FTP Server to Google Drive

Enter Microsoft Flow, an online automation service that lets you create automated workflows similar to Zapier and IFTTT. The free plan lets you create unlimited workflows and each workflow would run every 15 minutes. And it is the only service in town that can simultaneously talk to Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox and FTP /SFTP servers.

google-drive-ftp.png

Let’s create a connector that will upload a copy of the file to Google Drive whenever a file is added to Google Drive. You can similarly setup workflows to sync files from a folder in Dropbox to folder on FTP server. Or connect to Gmail and download emails to your FTP server automatically in the background.

  1. Go the Microsoft Flow Connectors page and activate the FTP (or SFTP) service.
  2. Next select the trigger that should start the workflow. In our case, we’ll choose “When a file is added to the FTP server”
  3. Specify the host address, the username and the password for your FTP server. If you are using SFTP, you may also need to specify the SSH private key and passphrase.
  4. On the next screen specify the full path of the folder on the FTP server that should be monitored for new files.
  5. Click “Add an Action” for the New step, choose Google Drive from the connector list and set the action as “Create File”
  6. Select the folder in Google Drive where the files should be saved, set the file name and file content fields from the list of available files so they match the incoming file name and content.

Save the flow and test. Also checkout the documentation page to know about the various actions and triggers available for the FTP / SFTP connectors in Mcirosoft Flow.



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How to Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator outside Gmail and Google Chrome

Rapportive was one of my favourite Google Chrome extensions of all time. If you are new, Rapportive added a little widget in your Gmail sidebar, you could hover your mouse over any email address and the widget would show details for that contact including their current job title, social profiles, contact details and more.

This came handy in two situations. If you receive an email from an unknown person, you can quickly see their social profiles without leaving Gmail. If you are sending an email to someone but unsure if the address is correct or not, you can open the Gmail compose window, type the email address and hover your mouse to see if that person has an associated profile or not.

gmail-linkedin-profile

LinkedIn acquired Rapportive and rebranded the add-on as Sales Navigator targeted more towards the sales professional. The good part is that the original functionality continues to exist so you can still hover over any email address to view the corresponding Linked Profile right inside your Gmail Message.

Remove the LinkedIn Clutter in Gmail Sidebar

While the basic version of LinkedIn Sales Navigator is free, it is more cluttered and feels like a distracting advertisement for the premium version that is continuously displayed in your Gmail sidebar. See the screenshots below:

Gmail LinkedIn addon clean

If you would like to continue using Rapportive but sans the clutter, there are other CSS injecting Chrome extensions that can help. The idea is that you inject custom CSS into the Gmail website that hides any element on the page.

To get started, install User CSS in Chrome. Switch to the Gmail website, click the User CSS menu icon and add the following CSS code. The other good alternatives are StyleBot and User JS CSS if you prefer to inject JavaScript code in addition to user styles.

CSS for Gmail LinkedIn

Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator outside Gmail or Google Chrome

The Linked Sales Navigator add-on is the easiest way to find the LinkedIn profile of a person that is associated with a particular email address. Here’s how it works:

When you hover your mouse over an email address inside a Gmail message, the Chrome extension makes an HTTP request to a particular URL. The HTML response of that URL is rendered in the Gmail sidebar.

Open Demo Page

The interesting part is that this URL can be used outside the Chrome extension as well so you can just append any email address to that URL and get the corresponding LinkedIn profile.  The URL format is:

http://ift.tt/2ojKjWJemail@domain.com

Replace email@domain.com with any other email address, open the URL in any browser and you’ll have the basic LinkedIn profile, just like the one displayed inside Gmail.

Give it a shot by opening this page in your browser. The only constraint is that you should be logged in your LinkedIn account as anonymous requests are not allowed.

Also see: How to Verify an Email Address



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How to Verify an Email Address?

How do you verify if a given email address is real or fake? The obvious solution is that you send a test mail to that email address and if your message doesn’t bounce, it is safe to assume* that the address is real.

[*] Some web domains may have configured a catch-all email address meaning that messages addressed to a non-existent mailbox will not be returned to the sender but in most cases, such email messages will bounce.

Ping an Email Address to Validate it!

When you send an email to someone, the message goes to an SMTP server which then looks for the MX (Mail Exchange) records of the email recipient’s domain.

For instance, when you send an email to hello@gmail.com, the mail server will try to find the MX records for the gmail.com domain. If the records exist, the next step would be to determine whether that email username (hello in our example) exists or not.

Using a similar logic, we can verify an email address from the computer without actually sending an email message. Here’s how:

Let say that we want to verify if the address billgates@gmail.com exists or not?

Step 1. Enable telnet in Windows or use the PuTTy tool. If you are on a Mac, open the iTerm app.

Step 2. At the command prompt, type the nslookup command:

nslookup  –type=mx gmail.com

This nslookup command will query name servers for that domain. Since we have specified the type as MX, our command will extract and list the MX records of the email domain. Replace gmail.com with the domain of the email address that you are trying to verify.

gmail.com MX preference=30, exchanger = alt3.gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com
gmail.com MX preference=20, exchanger = alt2.gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com
gmail.com MX preference=5,  exchanger = gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com
gmail.com MX preference=10, exchanger = alt1.gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com
gmail.com MX preference=40, exchanger = alt4.gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com

Step 3. As you may have noticed in the nslookup output, it is not uncommon to have multiple MX records for a domain. Pick any one of the servers listed in the MX records, maybe the one with the lowest preference level number (in our example, gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com), and “pretend” to send an email message to that server from your computer.

For that, go to the command prompt window and type the following commands in the listed sequence:

3a: Connect to the mail server:

telnet gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com 25

3b: Say hello to the other server

HELO

3c: Identify yourself with some fictitious email address

mail from:<labnol@labnol.org>

3d: Type the recipient’s email address that you are trying to verify:

rcpt to:<billgates@gmail.com>

The server response for ‘rcpt to’ command will give you an idea whether an email address is valid or not. You’ll get an “OK” if the address exists else a 550 error like:

  • abc@gmail.com – The email account that you tried to reach does not exist.
  • support@gmail.com – The email account that you tried to reach is disabled.

That’s it! If the address is valid, you may perform reverse email search to find the person behind the address. And if you get stuck somewhere, this step-by-step video should help:



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Feb 19, 2018

Perform Text Analysis with IBM Watson and Google Docs

Google, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon have made it easier for developers to add human cognitive capabilities (also known as artificial intelligence) within their own applications. You need not be a machine learning expert to build a computer program that can recognize objects in photographs, or one that transforms human speech to text or even a chatbot that converses with people in natural language.

The Google Photos app leverages machine learning to identify landmarks and faces in your photos. You can even build and train your own machine learning models by installing Google’s TensorFlow library on your own computer. IBM’s PowerAI lets enterprises deploy TensorFlow like frameworks in the cloud on power systems for training custom machine learning models of any size.

The IBM Code Patterns microsite hosts hundreds of ready-to-use examples around artificial intelligence. For instance, here’s an open source repo that explains how to recognize images of houses that have swimming pools. Another example on Github shows how you can easily build a system that can detect and count products on store shelves using the PowerAI platform.

Train your own Machine Learning Model

If you would like to build your own image recognition engine without the complexity of servers and TensorFlow, try this online demo of the Watson Visual Recognition engine hosted the IBM Cloud (formerly Bluemix) website.

watson-image-recognition.png

You can create your own classifier and upload a set of images to train the classifier.  It is also essential to upload a set of negative images that may look similar but are different. Train the model and, in about a minute or so, your model is ready. Upload any image and the classifier will be able to tell if it matches any of your trained bundles.

IBM Watson + Google Docs for Natural Language Understanding

The Natural Language Processing (NLP) service of IBM Watson uses machine learning to extract entities, person names, places, and understand the overall sentiment and emotion of text. Amazon Comprehend and Google Natural Language are other competing platforms that offer powerful text analysis in the cloud.

ibm-watson-nlp.png

Getting started with Watson NLP is easy and all you need is an IBM Cloud account to get started. The lite plan is free (no credit card required), it never expires and the quota resets every month automatically.

I’ve built a sample Google Apps Script based app that uses Watson NLP to analyze the text in your Google Document. Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Copy this Google Document to your Google Drive
  2. Select the text in the document, go to the IBM Watson menu and choose the Analyze text menu.
  3. Grant the necessary authorization and you’ll see get a pop-up with the list of entities found in the selected text.

The Google Apps Script is open-source and you can find a copy of the source code inside Tools > Script Editor. If you ever run into quota limits, remember to replace the credentials in the source code with your own Bluemix account.

ibm-watson-google-docs.gif

Disclaimer: The writer attended IBM Code Day in Bangalore at the invitation of IBM. The travel and accommodation were arranged and paid for by IBM.



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Jan 27, 2018

Place Google Drive Files on your Android Home Screen for Quick Access

You are at the check-in counter, there’s a long queue of people and the lady at the other end has just asked you to present a digital copy of some document for verification. You remember saving that file on your phone but don’t exactly remember where you placed it? Maybe the file is in your Gmail inbox, or Google Drive, or is it on the SD card?

Locating files on your mobile phone isn’t always straightforward, especially when you are in a hurry, and this is exactly where Google Drive can help.

Create File Shortcuts on Android Phone

You can upload the file to Google Drive, then open the file inside the Drive app on your Android phone, and tap “Add to Home Screen” to create a shortcut to that file on the home screen. You should also check the “Available Offline” option so that the file shortcut works even when you are outside the coverage are.

Android File Shortcuts

If you would like to place shortcuts to multiple documents on your home screen, it is recommended that you create a folder inside Google Drive and then create a shortcut. Unlike files, you cannot make an entire folder offline in Drive.

The Dropbox app for Android also allows you to create shortcuts for folders through widgets. Long tap any blank area on your home screen, drag the Dropbox folder widget and select the folder for which you would like to create the shortcut.

Please note that the option to add files to home screen is only available inside the Google Drive app but not the Docs, Slides or Sheets app. If you would like to create a shortcut to your work-in-progress presentation on the Android screen, you should do it inside the Drive App, not the Slides App.

Also see: The Best Android Apps (2018)



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How to Use Google Chrome to Play YouTube in the Background on Android

Wouldn’t it be great if you could check your emails on the phone and also enjoy YouTube videos in the background at the same time? Or, to save battery, you turn off the phone display and YouTube would still continue to stream the audio from the selected YouTube playlist in the background.

Unfortunately, none of this is possible with the YouTube app on Android and iPhone. The app has to be active in the foreground and the phone display should be turned on else YouTube will immediately stop playback. The limitation holds true whether you are playing videos inside the YouTube app or using a web browser like Google Chrome or Firefox.

youtube in background

Play YouTube in the Background on Android

A few years ago, the Google Play Store listed a bunch of apps – uListen and SuperTube to name a few – that would let you use YouTube as a background music player but they’ve all been removed now.

Also see: Most Useful Android Apps

A bunch of open source options exist – MinTube and NewPipe for example – that are very capable and let you do more with YouTube than just play videos in the background.

Both offer a floating video player which essentially means that you can pull out a YouTube video and place it over any other app. It’s like the Picture-In-Picture effect – you can read the New York Times in the browser and watch a movie on YouTube simultaneously.

Use Google Chrome as Background YouTube Player

If you aren’t too inclined to download another app just to play YouTube videos, you can use the default web browser on your phone itself. Here’s how:

  1. Open Google Chrome or the Firefox browser on your Android.
  2. Open the youtube.com website and search for any video or playlist.
  3. Go to the browser menu and choose “Desktop Site” to switch to the desktop version of the YouTube website.
  4. Tap the play button to start the YouTube video and then switch to any other app on your phone.
  5. YouTube will stop playback. No problem. Just pull down the notification bar and tap the play icon in the drawer to resume playback.

That’s it. YouTube will now play in the background while you multi-task.

youtube-background-music.png

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How to Send Emails with Google Forms Based on User’s Answers

With the Forms Email Notifications add-on, you can automatically send emails to anyone each time a user submits your Google Form. You can choose to notify the form owner, the form respondent, your team members or anyone else and the emails are triggered immediately after a form is submitted.

The Google Forms add-on can also send conditional emails to specific people depending on what a user has selected in your Google Form. The body and subject of the email message can be personalized for each recipient with the form answers.

Before we get into the implementation, here are some real-world examples where conditional email notifications can come handy:

Example A: Send Email to Different Departments

Conditional Email Notifications

This is a tech support form where the customer fills in the product name and their location. With the Google Forms addon, you can create a conditional email that goes out to the iPhone support team when the selected answer is either iPhone or iPad. Another email could go out to the India team when the customer selects India in the country drop-down.

Example 2: Route Emails to Class Teachers

School Google Form

This is a school form where parents are required to give consent. If a parent says “yes”, the class teacher of the student should be emailed and a confirmation email should also go out to the parent’s email address. If the answer is “No”, the email notifications aren’t sent anywhere.

How to Send Conditional Emails with Google Forms

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to set up notification emails based on the user’s answers in the Google Form.

Go to the Google Forms store and install the Email Notifications add-on. Next, go to forms.google.com and either create a new form or use any of your existing forms. The addon is also compatible with Quiz based forms.

Configure Email Notification for Google Forms

Inside the Google Form editor window, click the add-on icon (it looks like a puzzle), choose Email Notification for Forms > Create Email Notification (you can also set up mobile notifications with IFTTT).

Here, specify the form rule name (say “Inform the Teacher”) but leave the “Email Addresses to Notify” field blank  – we need to send emails only when specific conditions are met, else we skip the notification. Click Continue.

google-forms-email-rule.png

On the next screen, click the Visual Email button and create your own rich-text email template. You can also include placeholders for form fields – like – and these will be replaced with the actual values entered by the user. Click Continue

Click the Edit Conditions button and here add one or more conditional statements per rule. In the following screenshot, emails are sent to the parent and jeff@school.com whenever the consent value is “Yes” and the teacher’s name contains either Jeff, Jordon or Mary.

In the Rule #2, emails are sent to the school principal if the parent has chosen “No” as the answer and other rules will be skipped.

form-conditional-email-notifications.png

That’s it. Save the rule, go to the live Google Form and submit a test entry. If the rules are correctly set up, the emails will be correctly routed to different email addresses and you can find a copy of all the emails that were sent out in your Gmail Sent Items folder.

Check out the video tutorial ? on YouTube and the documentation to know more about the capabilities of the Google Forms Notifications addon.



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Jan 16, 2018

Search your Handwritten Notes with Gmail OCR

One of the most useful features of Evernote and OneNote is Image OCR.  When you clip an image – be it a screenshot, a scanned business card, or a picture of the whiteboard – these tools automatically detect the text inside the image and make the image searchable.

Gmail Gets OCR to Search for Text Within Images

Gmail text search has always been very capable but some might not know that Gmail, like Evernote, also performs OCR on images contained in email messages. When you perform searches inside Gmail or Google Inbox, the results always contain matching images that contain the search keywords.

I tried Gmail OCR search against different types of images and the results were fairly good. Text recognition in Gmail works for both image attachments as well as inline embedded images.

Gmail could successfully find matching text inside product manuals with small fonts, scanned book cover and a handwritten note but failed with logos and some street signs.

Scanned Picture (Pass)

book-cover

Handwritten Note (Pass)

handwritten-note

Product manual with small fonts (Pass)

scanned-product-manual

Street Sign (Fail)

street-signs

Extract Text from Images from Google Keep

Google Drive and Google Keep are other Google products that offer you the ability to search for text within stored images. In the case of Google Keep, you also have the option to extract the text detected inside in an image and store it within the note itself.

google-keep-ocr.png

Developers can use Google’s Cloud Vision API, or Microsoft’s Computer Vision API, to incorporate OCR technology into their own apps with few lines of code.

Also see: Reverse Image Search on Mobile



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Jan 11, 2018

Voice Dictation – Type with your Voice

Introducing the all-new Voice Dictation v2.0, a speech recognition app that lets you type with your voice. There’s no software to install, there’s no training required and all you need is Google Chrome on your Windows PC, Mac OS or Linux.

Dictation can recognize spoken words in English, Hindi, Español, Italiano, Deutsch, Français, and all the other popular languages. Another unique feature of Dictation is support for voice commands that let you do more with your voice. For instance, you can say a command like new line or nueva línea for inserting lines. You can add punctuations, special symbols and even smileys using simple commands in most languages.

This YouTube video will walk you through the Dictation app.

Open Dictation

How to use Dictation for Speech Recognition

Dictation stores everything in your browser locally and not a byte of your data is uploaded anywhere.  Speech recognition will be more accurate in a quiet environment and the built-in microphone of your computer should be good enough.

Open dictation.io in Google Chrome and choose your native language from the drop-down. Then click the microphone icon (or tap the Start button) to activate web speech and start speaking.

The first time you use Dictation, you would need to allow permissions to the website to access your microphone.  Also, make sure that no other browser tab is using Speech Recognition at the same time.

allow-microphone-access.png

As you speak, your voice is continuously converted into text in real time. There are no limits o and when you are done with dictation, you can click the “Stop” button or say “Go to Sleep” to turn off speech recognition.

Speech to Text with Dictation

Dictation supports speech to text as well so you can listen to the transcribed audio in any of the available voices. You can alter the speed and pitch of the playback with simple controls.

Publish to the Web

Dictation includes a WYSIWYG editor to help you format the transcribed text. You can copy the rich-text to the clipboard with a click and paste into other apps like Gmail or Microsoft Word with the formatting.

You also have the “Publish” button to anonymously publish your note to the Internet and this page can only be accessed by users who know the link.

dictation.voice.png

Convert Recorded Audio to Text

If you have an MP3 file that you would like to transcribe to text, Dictation can help you do that well. Choose the language on dictation.io, click the start button, then play the audio file on your mobile and watch as the words are converted into text in real time. See demo.

Dictation – The Technical Stuff

Dictation uses the HTML5 Web Speech API that is currently implemented only in Google Chrome on the desktop. For Text to Speech, it uses the SpeechSynthesis interface of the Web Speech API that is available in Chrome, Microsoft Edget and Firefox.

The rich-text editor is built with Quill while the voice command interface is made possible with Annyang. Dictation uses the Github API to publish dictated notes online as anonymous gists.



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