Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Android Apps I Used in 2013

Shamelessly aping MG Siegler, here's a list of apps I used most in 2013. This is from my Android-centric view of the world, and leaving out the obvious ones like Gmail, Play, Maps and Calendar. I'm going for a categorized approach.


Foursquare — love seeing the world as my friends travel through it
Google+ — unsurprisingly
Instagram — I have some very talented friends
Path — it's a weirdly compelling life-journaling experience
Twitter — has gotten steadily worse this year, alas


Any.do — though I spent most of the year with Todoist, liking Any.do's lightweight approach
Evernote — my outboard brain
Google Keep — shopping lists!
Google Now — the most useful app of all 2013
LastPass — lifesaver, repeatedly
Todoist — a fan over many years
Tripit — still useful, though Google Now is eating away at this


Hue — not the greatest app, but the lights have been a great discovery
UP — this device has been a big part of me getting in shape this year
Wiithings — love the Wiithings scales
Netatmo — crazy eccentric app, but fascinating monitoring my environment


RunKeeper — very well designed app that works well
LoseIt — one of the earliest fitness apps on Android and still working great


Amazon — it's bad to have shopping as a hobby, right?
Netflix — winning when together with Chromecast
Plasma Sky — polished and addictive casual shoot'em'up
Reddit — a guilty secret: not sure it even counts as a pleasure
WordOn — nicely balanced word game

Finally, a word about iOS. I still have and use an iPad, but for one thing only: FiftyThree's most excellent Paper app.

Geek On The Go: Staying Fueled And Healthy

I'm a relentless optimizer and a gadget nut. If something sticks for more than a few months, then it's likely to be a decent fit for my lifestyle. The idea behind the "Geek On The Go" blog posts is to share the best equipment and habits I've found for travel as a technophile: check out the other articles in this series.

The best way to look after your health is to have the default and easiest choice be the most healthy one, and when you're traveling this can be hard. The chief enemy is running out of fuel, then being tired when it comes to deciding what or where to eat.

Here are a couple of ways I've found of making better choices that help me keep going.

First up are Kind Bars. These things are amazing. They provide 180-210 calories of energy that's released slowly, and they taste great. By that I mean, they don't taste like cardboard. As Kind advertise, you can both recognize and pronounce the ingredients. Being gluten-free helps a lot too for me. I buy boxes of the things and keep two or three as a permanent fixture in my laptop bag, as well as keeping a couple in the car's glove box.

For long journeys, cross-country or international, I also take a packet or two of beef jerky. In the worst of all worlds you can fool yourself into thinking that makes a meal. It can be a lot better for you than the 24-hour club sandwich your destination hotel offers!

The second thing my travel bag always has is a water bottle. Staying hydrated is a great way to avoid headaches and make better eating choices. Specifically, I'd recommend one with a built-in filter. It's not that the filters sterilize water, but they can help manage the taste if all that's available is hotel tap water. Some airports these days also have fill-up stations for bottles too, though I'm still often doing the awkward practice of filling these up at drinking fountains. I've used both these bottles successfully in the past, the Brita hard-sided filtering bottle, and the squashier Bobble bottles. The Brita tends to leak a bit on airplanes, though, so be warned. If you're flying, get into the habit of visiting the bathroom before going through security and emptying your water bottle out.

The trick to these is to buy a bunch: at least one for the car and one for your travel bag. Even better, have one extra in the kitchen to fill up and take with you.

Finally, get to know the signs your body is sending you. If you're getting grumpy, you probably need to take a bite to eat!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Self Importance of Registered Trademarks

My first memory of encountering trademarks is on cereal boxes as a kid. Over breakfast I would read the box, do whatever puzzle is on the back, and notice the sprinkling of ® and ™ symbols over "Nabisco", "Shreddies" and the like. I imagine it fueled my lifelong interest in typography, as an eight year old I certainly had no clue what they were actually for!

Sadly, today I mostly encounter these marks as a symbol of ignorant self-importance. The proud display of trademark symbols proclaims a belief that success is a matter of legal procedure and large commercial deals: the way things used to be. And more often, it reeks of a tone-deaf self importance.

I think most of us are perfectly smart enough to understand that the Academy Awards, that is, the Oscars®, are a thing because they're a movie industry institution. Furthermore, the institution long pre-dates the obsession with protecting the brand. Rendering "Oscars" all the time with the ® serves only to underline the massive commercial interests behind the entertainment industry, and distance them from the customers. Ironically, the same people without whom they wouldn't have an industry at all.

The situation gets even worse in the world of enterprise software. Check out the screenshot I took of the TIBCO home page, and these guys aren't even the worst offenders.

There are legal reasons to protect one's trademarks, but there are ways and means to do it. Companies with a deal more self confidence don't feel the need to sprinkle them everywhere, see Oracle or Microsoft's home pages, for instance.

Marketing is a conversation. I always think of it as a dinner party. Nobody wants to talk to the person who can only talk about themselves, especially when their first move is to proclaim how important they are. At the end of the day, sprinkling your page with ® and ™ is just that. Another case of "if you have to say it, it probably isn't true."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Geek On The Go: Mini Jambox

I'm a relentless optimizer and a gadget nut. If something sticks for more than a few months, then it's likely to be a decent fit for my lifestyle. The idea behind the "Geek On The Go" blog posts is to share the best equipment and habits I've found for travel as a technophile: check out the other articles in this series.

Mini Jambox and Jambox together
When you travel a lot, you want to find a way to make whichever room you're in feel a bit more like home. Music, podcasts or Netflix help a lot. I can never be bothered to battle with the TV remotes in hotel rooms, and even if I do, there's only garbage on most of the time.

Unless you want to wear headphones—not something I would even try in the shower—you'll have to make do with the tinny sound of your tablet, phone or laptop. Enter Jambox: a small box that makes a pretty big sound. Although there are imitators around, Jawbone's Jambox was early on the scene and sets the standard for Bluetooth speakers.

Unfortunately the original Jambox was also just a little bulky and heavy. The new Mini Jambox fixes those problems, and retains the same great sound. Pictured, for comparison, are the two together. As well as being smaller, the Mini has a refined industrial design with a pleasing aluminum enclosure.

All the Mini's other features work like you'd expect. The new Mini has a much improved physical interface, and great battery life. A big bonus for me is the speakerphone mode, letting you turn pretty much any room into a good place to have a conference call.

Throw one in your bag and make your next hotel room feel a little more like your own space.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Geek On The Go: Mophie Powerstation Duo Power Block

I'm an expensive combination: a relentless optimizer and a gadget nut. If something sticks for more than a few months, then it's likely to be a decent fit for my lifestyle. The idea behind the "Geek On The Go" blog posts is to share the best equipment and habits I've found for travel as a technophile, and perhaps save the dear reader some expense.

In the bay area, we live by the availability of three things: coffee, internet access and power. Starbucks of course completes the trifecta, but there's plenty of times you can't find one or the other. In this post, I will share the reason I've stopped worrying about power.

The Mophie Powerstation Duo is a power block that's worth spending the money on. You charge it up via USB, and then it's able to charge up to two other USB-connected devices. It has enough power in it to manage both a smartphone and a tablet. If you have an HP Chromebook 11, it can manage charging that too.

My routine for the Mophie block is simple: ensure it's fully charged before a journey, and then just plug it in to charge overnight. The output from a laptop's USB is usually enough to return the Powerstation to full before the next day starts, given my typical usage.

The 6000mAh capacity means I've never managed to run the Powerstation to empty yet. It holds its charge well enough that it sits permanently in my bag, and is enough to charge my phone, even when I've not thought ahead to top up the Powerstation's juice. Two charging ports means you can also offer help to a friend in need.

The footprint of the Powerstation block is about the same as a smartphone. If you are in a crunch situation, it's possible to hold both the block and the phone together in one hand so you can use your phone while it's charging.

Finally, and important to me at least, the Powerstation Duo looks good. The external LEDs make it easy to see when it's charged, and the finish is visually appealing.

Pick up one of these and you'll never buy a lame powerpack in an airport store again.