Cutting The Cord Act 3 – Cordless Is A Myth


Scene 1 – The Cord Was Already Cut
Newsflash – there is no such thing as going truly cordless not if you’re ditching the cable box for streaming services that require a data connection to stream.  My first act to cut the cord was to establish a healthy data connection and that meant dealing with a cable company since in my area the conduits are completely controlled by cable cos.

It’s at this point I feel a disclaimer is warranted – this is the one post where I will definitely be going into full-on rant mode so for those of you hoping to read an eloquent post full of practical advice (though there will be some) and void of angst then move on.  Nothing to see here.

Still with me? Good then read on as I scorch the cable industry as a whole as the reasons why so many customers like me are ditching cable become crystal clear!
My approach to cutting the cord and one I recommend for anyone else was to overlap my streaming services with my cable subscription for at least a month.  This takes the edge off the shock of cutting cable and allows some extra time to work out at least the biggest and most unexpected kinks.  Little did I know then but I would end up maintaining an overlap for almost 2 months as what transpires over the next few paragraphs is a colossal failure to execute a basic reconnect by a previous cable provider!  My current data connection was capped at a paltry 18 Mbps with my current provider which shall remain nameless (eh hum nickname Ma Bell).  Their tap (code name for the actual distribution box where their lines are distributed to several residences) was the limiting factor and it was barely adequate for our needs to begin with so I decided to return to a previous provider where the tap could feed us up to 300 Mbps.  We would settle on their 100 Mpbs plan which included phone and internet since we still maintain a landline.
This does bring up a good question, what’s the best data speed for cutting the cord?  Generally speaking, I recommend a minimum 25 Mbps if you plan on streaming from multiple devices including mobile devices.  Ideally go for 100 Mbps and above to future proof you for data-hungry 4K content.  Side note of caution…read the fine print when you ditch your cable programming package for internet only.  Since customers are fleeing profitable cable bundles cable companies are fighting back by capping their internet data packages, usually at 1TB per month.  For those of you who sleep with your tv on this may be troublesome for all others a 1 TB limit is more than adequate however as the amount of 4K content increases over streaming services it may become a factor in the future.
So now back to the task of reconnecting the cord (internet sic) so I could cut the proverbial (cable) cord and stream away.  Leaving my current cable service intact I contacted my previous cable provider (who shall remain nameless but whose name just might rhyme with fox) with faster internet to schedule a reconnect.  Bear in mind my last connection with them was only 3 or 4 years ago and since we were keeping a landline we also needed to get our phone number transferred to them as well.  The initial phone call was easy and pleasant.  I was told the cable would be on in a few minutes as it was just a flip of a remote switch for them though I learned that my old modem that I’ve kept won’t keep up with the data speed I’ve chosen so I had to purchase a new one.  I tell them I’ll get my own rather than pay their silly rental fee.  When I’m done reestablishing the internet connection I’m transferred to an automated system to request the phone transfer a process called “porting”.  I followed the instructions and was advised that the porting process would take up to 5 business days.  No problem since I was wisely overlapping my two services anyways right?  So VERY wrong!!
It’s at this point things took a diabolic turn.  I purchased the new modem that day and went online to register the IP/MAC addresses with the cable co. as instructed before connecting it.  It doesn’t register a signal.  After exhausting all avenues of troubleshooting including reconnecting my old modem and busting out a multimeter I’m convinced there’s no cable signal coming into my house.  I finally call customer service and thus enter a pit of misery that I won’t see daylight from for several weeks.  I’ll skip the blow by blow because honestly it could fill a novel and might just come off as so outrageous that it must be embellished and just do my best to summarize:
  • 2 visits by techs just to find out previous cable co. sabotaged box on my house by cutting all cords.  Apparently this is a thing and “I’m lucky they didn’t cut cables in my attic”.
  • Over the next several weeks after finally reestablishing a signal it will lock up on average once a day and sometimes once per hour.  The only way to resolve it is to reset my modem.  Call customer service.  More fruitless troubleshooting which leads to many more visits usually by clueless contractors and not actual cable co. techs not to mention at least two instances of being stood up at appointment times.
  • There’s constant squabbling over service fees and my insistence that nothing has been resolved meanwhile I continue to extend my other cable service until resolution.
  • Coinciding with all this a whole separate saga with transferring my phone unfolds.  It includes work orders never created to work orders mysteriously closed.  There’s confusion between cable co. and techs whether the phone box on house must be upgraded.  I’m also given a ginormous phone modem I now have to find a place for and a temporary phone number until old one is ported.  This would eventually be the last issue sorted out nearly 2 months later!
  • Related to the phone issue is nobody at any point ever asks me if I have a monitored alarm system. Once phone finally gets ported my connection with alarm co. is thus severed. Alarm co. begins making weekly robo calls 8 AM EVERY SINGLE Saturday morning to inform me that the line is not connected.  More visits by clueless contractors until I pitch an epic fit and finally get a cable co. expert tech out to resolve the issue.

Cutting The Cord Act 2: Why Cut The Cord?


Scene 1: Why not?

I won’t beat around the bush. My reasons for cutting the cord are almost entirely to do with money. When I ranked my monthly bills my cable bill was consistently my third greatest monthly expense behind mortgage and car payment. After decades of dealing with cable companies (note I’m lumping satellite and cable services together into the term “cable” for this discussion) I’d like to think I’ve become somewhat of a pro at working their systems. It usually goes something like this – sign up for new customer bundle deal, bundle deal runs out a year or two later and price soars, call and get a discretionary deal that reduces price but adds content and features for 6 months, call 6 months later and cancel the new content and features and receive another special offer that lasts for another 3-6 months until finally the price inflates again and fed up I cancel service altogether and repeat process with a different provider. Similar plights to mine are well chronicled on many cable hating blogs in much more angst-filled terms so I’ll stop there and move the discussion on to the second reason of why I cut the cord.

Scene 2: Choice

Over the last few years the market has been flooded with new streaming services all vying to top each other with brand new binge ready content. Their original content is getting really good as budgets continue to increase and as this year’s awards season begins they are sure to follow the trend over the last couple of years and snag up more than their fair share of awards. I decided I wanted in on all the fuss, however, we’ve already established my skyrocketing cable bill and the 475 out of 500 channels I never watched made it unfeasible to splurge on these new services.

I decided enough was enough and I was ready to watch what I wanted to watch when I wanted to watch it!

Additionally, cable is inherently wired and by nature made it difficult to watch my content on the go. It’s only recently that many cable providers are making inroads on their mobile apps to allow for even paltry mobile experiences, for me though it was just too little too late. In hindsight, I wished it was a greater factor in deciding to cut the cord than it was at the time else I would’ve ditched it likely long before I eventually did.

Even 6 months later and 475 channels less my newfound freedom and variety are no less appreciated.

Scene 3: The Gear

Let’s face it I’m a gadget guy. I’m unashamed about this fact and I was simply fed up with my 4 year old cable box and its clunky interface, noisy hard drive, a litany of indicator lights that lit up my bedroom like a Christmas tree, and wretched rental fee to boot!! This was not lost on me every time I passed a tiny Roku stick at Best Buy with its tiny remote and Netflix shortcut button. It sorta gets back to wanting choice and not just about the content I consume but also the hardware by which I watch the content and by extension control over my experience. In fact, I’ll never forget the time when I returned to a cable provider after running the gambit with another provider and literally being handed the exact same hated hardware I had turned in 3 or so years earlier! Not one thing had changed in that time.

I suspect most like me will consider cutting the cable due to the promise of big savings, and make no mistake you will save, however, in hindsight should in some alternate reality the price savings be voided I will NEVER give up being able to choose my own tailor-made experience that I now have to return to the bondage of cable.  If you can ever get past the shock and bumps that I’m about to unleash in my next few posts I suspect you will neither.

Cutting The Cord Act 1 – Kickoff



Scene 1: Introduction
People are cutting cords in droves this past year and I was one of them.  I considered blogging each step of my experience and perhaps in hindsight it really was a missed opportunity because in so many ways so much went so so wrong; it would’ve been great fodder.  Nevertheless in the next few posts I’ll hit the highlights of just what it takes to cut the cord and along the way offer some perspective after 6 months cord-free (which turns out is not entirely possible) and I will at least cover some of what went so very wrong because it’s so relevant to the conversation of just why so many people are cutting the cord in the first place.
You’ll also notice I’ve decided to label this series by Acts and Scenes as if it was some long drawn out saga because really well it is!  The whole process has been full of drama with highs and lows ranging from extreme rage to ‘Well I’ll be darned’ moments of surprise when things actually work really well so sit tight and enjoy.  I hope my ongoing chronicles help tailor expectations for those just starting your own cord cutting journey or for some validate your choice to stick with cable and for others maybe just feel good to know somebody else feels your pain.


When I start to nerd out on the latest productivity app I’ve stumbled on people’s eyes usually just glaze over but when I tell people I have reached the holy grail of #inboxzero their eyes pop open wide then begin to flutter in a jealous haze.  What is #inboxzero well simply put it’s when you manage to empty the entire inbox of your email client.  If you’re like I was for years your inbox has become so inundated that you may have resorted to entirely turning off your mail’s app counter icon or notifications because it’s just too depressing.  Honestly any time I’ve ever bragged about being at inbox zero I’ve never met anyone else who claimed to be as well.  We’ve gotten so acclimated to the furious pace of incoming mail that we’ve become numb to it and have resorted to workarounds to filter out all the noise so important emails raise to the surface.  Most people develop their own methods for keeping track of the most important emails.  Personally my strategy was to simply mark every one as read then leave the most important ones marked as unread until it’s been properly dealt with.
My process to #inboxzero began with a now-shuttered app called Mailbox.  It started the trend of swiping to archive email or to snooze an email to return to your inbox at a later time or date.  It worked exclusively with gmail and Dropbox snagged it up and soon after shut it down.  Meanwhile Google created Inbox by Gmail.  Its secret sauce, borrowed liberally from Mailbox, is a balanced blend of purposeful swipes and automatic smart filtering that enables any user to easily tame the beast that is most people’s inboxes and keep it tamed.  Swipe right archives any email and swiping left snoozes any email until a later time or date of user’s choosing making it quick and painless to dismiss email on the fly.  For the bulk of your incoming mail Inbox smart filters will automatically filter out most emails into 6 main categories (purchases, finance, social, updates, forums, and promos).  You can archive entire categories or train certain emails to skip your inbox entirely and go straight to your archive.  You can go deeper and create your own categories if you like.  My favorite feature is the ability to mute any conversation (automatically archive emails from sender) by simply long pressing the option to archive (checkmark).
Inbox makes email meaningful again by filtering out the noise and allowing only those emails that actually merit your attention into your inbox.  If you’re a gmail power user and haven’t tried Inbox yet I highly recommend taking it for a test drive.
Other features include the ability to pin important emails, display Google Reminders, Google Now events like trip summaries, and a handy Chrome web extension for sharing or saving web links.   Finally Inbox will group emails not assigned to a category together.  So for example that weekly newsletter you get might get grouped together with every newsletter from that sender and appear as one email.  Selecting it unrolls all the emails in a stack with a summary of the most recent at the top of the stack.
There are other email clients that adopt many of the same features but not many are available across all major platforms like Inbox is.  Inbox shines best in Chrome while I primarily use the iOS version.  The iOS version, as is to be expected from Google, is pretty stable.  In contrast, I also use the Outlook App (which was actually Accompli before Microsoft snatched it up and rebranded it) for my MS accounts and it’s consistently glitchy.  In any case, a few hours spent with an app like Inbox can lead you to #inboxzero heaven!  What are you waiting for?

New Year’s Resolution | Quit Technology

1451778196_DangerThis is not some post ranting and raving about the societal impact of social media or some wake up call after realizing every person in my family can’t even eat a dinner together without the added appendage that is their smartphone and thereby pledging a righteous fast from all forms of technology for the New Year.  Nay this is simply the rant of a fed up tech nerd.  I started as an outlet for somebody who really does nerd out and appreciate most all forms of tech (almost all…selfie sticks are kidding me?!).  I really do like tech and love even more opining about this passion.  Most days I relish my tech savy panache and just last week had someone confide in me how they wished they knew even half what I knew because “the world would be such an easier place”.  That was my mom after I hooked up a flat screen TV that sat idle for a few weeks until the next time I visited to hook it up.  It took me all of five minutes to bring it to life and I even reduced her entertainment center down to one remote (that she already had but didn’t know how to program).  Her wish implied that I just didn’t get tripped up like most other non-techies on gadgets and software.  It implies I breeze through life like a Kardashian.  This actually couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact you can say today, gasp, I Don’t Like Tech!  You see at any given moment I have a laundry list like most people of gadgets or software that simply aren’t cooperating and like most people it can be downright frustrating and almost debilitating at times.  For full effect here’s a glimpse at my present laundry list:
  • The volume pot on my PC speakers is malfunctioning resulting in a constant tussle to get both speakers to actually play.
  • I wasted over an hour just yesterday trying to reformat a micro SD card for my new Kid’s Kindle Fire that inexplicably was corrupted with no success.  Crashed my computer twice in the process.  Right now my kid is playing with our original Kindle that has a faulty power connector where getting it to charge requires a time sapping jiggle dance with the power cable.
  • My iPhone also inexplicably decides to revert to default text tones robbing me of my glorious “Alright Alright Alright” Matthew McConaughey one liner that serves as my text tone for my B Team phone contacts.  This began with the release of iOS 9 and I still haven’t cracked the puzzle to resolve it and every time that friendly default text tone dings it infuriates me to no end.
  • I’ve spent more time than I care to admit this past week trying to transfer my XBOX gamertag to a more desirable Microsoft account to no avail.
  • Yesterday I had to return my wife’s Fitbit I bought her for her birthday just 4 months ago because its bluetooth radio failed.  It was her fourth activity tracker that failed in the past year alone.  They’re all universally junk.
  • My keyboard occasionally decides to wig out and substitute different characters and commands for key presses.  Not kidding…requires a reboot to clear it up.  Same issue on my old pc so I know it’s driver related to an accessory I recycled from old pc.  Have tried other keyboards with no success.  Forum queries have been fruitless.  Have honestly fought this one for about four years.  It’s quite shameful actually.  Had to take a break writing this to reboot for this very issue.  Fail.
  • My wifi gets crazy slow sometimes.  Every single diagnostic I’ve ever done shows a healthy signal and speed yet my devices drudge on and then magically it’s healed.  It’s secure, doesn’t appear to be hacked.  Also no clue, perpetually unresolved.
  • Have a printer that can’t connect to said wifi.  Also it recently spazzed out and issued several errors codes.  Did a factory reset then it ran out of black ink.  Replaced ink with a new cartridge.  It still said is was out and wouldn’t let me print with color unless I replaced the black ink cartridge…again.  Finally caved and replaced the black ink cartridge with another new cartridge.  It worked but still spurns wifi.  Whatever.
  • Bought my kid a lava lamp for Christmas.  The lava doesn’t float.  It just sticks to the bottom in one congealed blob.  Shook it real good…then read instructions which explicitly states to never shake it.  The blob remains but has now moved to the top.  I’ll have to return it.
  • I have a portable speaker I’m particularly fond of that periodically turns itself off then back on after a couple of minutes.  The next day it’ll work just fine.  As an electro-mechanical engineer by day I am also shamefully clueless as to why.
  • I have a piece of Dell crapware that I can’t get to stop pestering me with daily notifications.  For certain reasons I don’t want to uninstall it.  It’s not found on any of my startup programs or background processes where I could disable it so for now I’m forced to answer it’s rude and overriding interruptions.
  • Recently my engine light to my car started coming on intermittently.  I theorized it was a loose battery terminal, the dealer disagreed and the light never stayed on long enough for them to catch it with their diagnostic machine.  Later there would be a battery terminal recall for this very reason.  It was with no small measure of satisfaction I had them service it under the recall.  The intermittent light has recently returned.  Face palm.
  • Finally the clock on my coffee maker runs fast.  It gains a whopping 4 minutes a day.  If left unchecked for even a week it starts brewing coffee 30 minutes early.
The truth is I’ll only resolve half of my technological issues at any given time and the rest I’ll lose patience and simply replace whatever is malfunctioning.  Today (after I finish this post if my keyboard allows sic) I’ll quit technology.  Tomorrow I’m certain I’ll renig on this resolution.  There is really only one difference between me and most non-techies.  Most of the time technology does not cooperate for me either; I just can’t feign ignorance when it does.

How Leveraging Technology To Resolve To Read The Bible This Year Can Help You Stay On Track With Other New Year’s Resolutions

Bible AppsLast year I posted New Year’s Resolution: Read The Bible and it ended up being the most read post of the year for ILikeTek.  To ring in the new year I’ve decided to offer a followup post.  As mentioned in the original post my app of choice was The Every Day Bible App however I ditched it midway through the year.  There was nothing wrong with the app, in fact it delivered daily on what it promised to do but I found myself longing for an actual Bible….in print.  I eventually filled this urge with the purchase of a study bible which came with free access to the study content in the publisher’s accompanying app (ESV Bible App).  Wanting to go deeper into Bible study turned out to be a precautionary tail of be careful what you ask for as I picked one of the most in depth study guides available which in turn took up all of my available daily reading time and eventually led me to falling behind on my reading plan on days I opted to read other things.  Since I’m not one to skip anything available to read in front of me I knew that if I was to get back on track and complete my New Year’s resolution I needed a straight forward approach for days when I just wanted to read the Bible and therefore it must exclude access to study material for those days.  It was around then that I stumbled on to the NeuBible App.
Herein the NeuBible App I found a beautifully polished app whose emphasis is solely on quick access to scripture with further emphasis on font.
I love a good font and it has a crisp selection.  I fell in love with the app’s straightforward approach with a simple swipe right gesture to select a book and swipe left gesture to select a chapter.  Best of all it always remembers precisely where I left off even if it was mid-chapter which came in quite handy as though I wasn’t using the Every Day Bible App anymore I was still following its year long reading plan.  Its plan was nice for its app where following from top to bottom every reading was laid out daily but trying to pick up outside the app was tedious since it jumped around to at least three different passages each day with some leaving off mid-chapter.
My next dilemma was knowing what each day’s reading consisted of.  This usually involved opening the Every Day Bible App to find out what it was and then opening whatever alternative app or print edition I chose to read from that day.  This just felt silly so I decided to improvise.  I would open the Every Day Bible App periodically and log ahead a few days’ readings into a list I created in my favorite to do list app – Wunderlist.  This allowed me to set reminders which I could access from my notification center at any time and check off complete as I read each passage.  It also helped me keep track of readings if I got behind easier than I was able to within the Every Day Bible App which reset each day.  In fact returning to the most popular Bible app the Youversion Bible App for an occasional reading plan didn’t even offer reading plan visibility from its notification center widget like I now could through my Wunderlist… eh list.
Now that I could get daily reminders and pick up my reading from any Bible app or print edition of choice I quickly got back on track and even finished my resolution to read the Bible in a year a few days early!  Besides as most experts will tell you the best way to complete New Year’s resolutions is to form habits.  For me daily checking off a year long goal and remaining mostly on track kept my other New Year’s resolutions fresh in my mind.  While I didn’t complete all of them it’s safe to say I completed more and made more progress on others than any other year in recent memory in large part due to the daily satisfaction of checking off each daily Bible reading in my to do list.  It’s no shock that good things really do come from reading the Bible every day!

5 Things I Wish Apple Would Design

Vending MachineApple’s design accomplishments are legendary.  Their design prowess in most ways sets the benchmark.  Their feats and are often credited with inventing new categories of products we never knew we needed when I think they actually are simply the best at perfecting ideas.  With that said what if that prowess extended far beyond the technology stratosphere and reached many of the simpleton things we encounter on a daily basis.  Here’s my list of 5 things I wish they did just that.

  1. Vending Machines.  Vending Machines universally suck.  They constantly rip you off.  They’re giant, orca giant, and noisy.  Can you say, “Siri, can I have a Milky Way please?”
  2. ATMs.  Also universally suck.  “Siri, give me a Benjamin please.”  “Certainly, how would you like that?”  “Three 20s, two tens, two fives, and the rest in ones will do.”  Notice I never had to select my language preference in this exchange and yes I’m aware of Apple Pay but the vending machine I frequent isn’t and is perfectly content stealing my cash.
  3. Microwaves.  Now these don’t normally suck but how cool would it be to pop in your tv dinner, shut the door and it started automatically because it read some NFC tag or bar code that in turn translated to the proper wattage and heating time.  It will even pause to tell you in Siri’s wonderful voice it’s time to remove the wrapper over the refried beans and stir them.  Oh and the door makes virtually no noise to open or close.  Why are microwave doors always so loud anyway?  Loud buzzers, forget about it, just Siri’s delish voice.  Step out of the room when the timer ends no problem, a gentle notification to your iPhone or Apple Watch will let you know your dinner is ready.  It would also alert you when it detected metal and not operate until it is removed.
  4. Automatic faucets.  You know the kind in public bathrooms.  Seriously why do these never work when I put my hands under them and why do they stop when I haven’t removed my hands?!  The urinals usually work as do paper towel dispensers and air dryers why not faucets?
  5. A Kid’s Tablet.  Because my 5 year old has access to a LeapPad, a Kindle Fire, a Nintendo DS, and a Xbox Kinect but almost always prefers my iPhone 6 I believe because it offers the most hassle free experience for him.  This may not qualify to be on this list because it’s still a tech product nevertheless I just want to see what Apple would do with a product designed from the ground up exclusively for kids.

TekFail | LastPass Won’t Give Me A Final Pass

1426316167_699481-icon-5-thumb-down-512Today’s TekFail comes courteous of LastPass the online password manager.  I’ve been using LastPass for the last couple of years and have come to love its simple interface and painless transition from Norton’s Password Vault.  Best of all it is free for the web version only.  Recently I’ve found myself stuck trying to sign into an app or website while away from my pc.  LastPass offers a premium version that allows you to access your entire vault of usernames and passwords securely from within its mobile app.  A couple of months ago I sprung for the chance at a free two month trial offer delivered to my inbox just to see if I could justify the paid leap.  At the end of two months I could not and simply let it expire.  This though was just not good enough for them.  The emails began a month before my trial period was over and so far continue more than three weeks since it ended.  In the final month I got six emails from them reminding me that my trial subscription was due to expire.  When I let it expire I expected at least one followup.  After three in a week I was fed up.  I’m all for a sales pitch, in fact it was their original sales pitch by email that got me to sign up for the trial period in the first place.  What irks me is nine emails in less than five weeks just to get me to renew.  It’s borderline harassment in my book.  It’s not like I quit using their service altogether.  A simple check of my account usage through a feeble query algorithm would’ve established that I was still using their online service.  Instead though I could count only a handful of emails in the last 2 years as a customer they’re now hounding me almost daily. This has decidedly turned me off as a customer almost completely.

On the 9th email about renewing my subscription I decided to fire back a reply.  In it I wrote simply, “I know already. You’re previous 8 emails told me so. Stop harassing me about it!”  I expected either a canned response about how to contact them for support or maybe even a mail undeliverable return reply.  What I got instead is the reason why I’ve given LastPass a TekFail today.  I got an email describing they’ve responded to my service ticket request.  Service ticket request..huh? That’s right they opened a customer service ticket based on my sarcastic response.  I again ignored this email.  Two days later I was emailed a reminder to the first email about my alleged service ticket request.  This time I read it and opened the link to the service ticket.  Naturally it offered me instructions on how to access my account settings and change my email preferences.  Incredulous!  It was also clear that it would likely continue to hound me unless I officially responded and closed the request.  I did and in the comments section I wrote, “The simple fact that you created a ticket for my snarky email shows that you just don’t get it. Point being that just because I’m a customer and I entrusted you with my email address doesn’t mean you have to abuse this trust. I’m not changing any settings. Just leave me alone.”  That last comment I think just about sums it up for me.  Companies and services think since you’ve entrusted them with your email address even as a customer paid or not they have cart blanche on spamming it.  News flash, if I’m already a customer and I continue using your service, be happy and just leave me alone already!

New Year’s Resolution: Read The Bible

1420972105_holy_bible2015 has rang in and you’ve decided this is going to be your year to read the Bible cover to cover so to speak.  I’ve put together a short list of apps to get you started.  There were many worthy Bible Apps to choose from but I’ve narrowed the list down to my three personal favorites.  The good news is you can’t really go wrong with any app that brings you…well the good news right?

The Bible App*

Bible-app-icon-english-64x64The Bible App by YouVersion is the most downloaded Bible app at 166 million downloads and counting.  It’s been my go to Bible app for at least the last 6 years. The Bible App is best known for giving away free unfettered access to virtually any translation or language you might fancy and a robust selection of devotionals to boot.  You’re most likely to find a devotional by your favorite author, pastor, or publisher in its library.  Part of the reason for its success is the fact that you’d be hard pressed to find a single platform it’s not available on.  This past year saw the addition of a social feed to discuss your favorite verses and insights with friends and video content most notably from the Lumo Project and the popular Bible Series that aired on The History Channel.  I personally love that I can easily switch between any Bible translation and find a plethora of devotionals and reading plans on any topic to suit my mood or need.  In fact one thing I’ve struggled with is staying current on a one year reading plan while being teased with so many tempting (pun not intended) choices.  Bonus if you’ve got kids, check out their accompanying free The Bible App For Kids.  It’s chock full of interactive storyboard kids’ games of popular Bible lessons.

Faithlife Study Bible

FSB-100If you’re familiar with Logos Bible Software then you’re already likely aware of their suite of Bible apps.  One of them is the Faithlife Study Bible App and I’ve listed it here because I stumbled on this gem last year and found myself even more distracted from my traditional one year reading plan in The Bible App.  Basically it’s a free study bible complete with maps, pictures, exhaustive study notes, and even videos.  It’s library is so huge it can actually be a bit daunting.  The only caveat is the only free translation is their in-house Lexingham English Bible (LEB) translation unless you’re willing to pay for popular translations like the NIV or NLT which are available for free on the aforementioned Bible App.  Nevertheless it’s a feast of biblical knowledge and even serves up a daily dose of sharable Bible word art each day.  If you’re serious about going deeper in your Bible study this is a must download and is available on most major platforms and the web.  Tip- be sure to create an account for their Logos content store because I was pleasantly surprised at Christmas time with a free $20 to spend on anything which I used to buy the NIV translation which is transferable across their suite of apps and services including the next one in this list.

Every Day Bible

EveryDayBibleAlso from the folks at Faithlife /Logos Bible Software and recently released in December.  You see both The Bible App and the Faithlife Study Bible App are robust at what they do good which can be a bad thing if all you want to do is open the app up and just pick up reading the Bible where you left off distraction free.  Enter the Every Day Bible App with its straightforward top to bottom reading design.  It’s literally a Bible app devoted solely to a one year reading plan.  You can’t select chapters or verses, study notes, maps, social feeds, or even highlight individual verses or phrases.  You simply open the app each day, start at the top, and read to the bottom where you check a box marking that day complete.  It serves up a mix of old and new testaments with some nice Bible Word art mixed in and if you’re faithful with it then 365 days later voila you’ve read the Bible through and start over.  It’s become my choice to read the Bible through this year and thanks to the aforementioned $20 gift I’m able to read it in my preferred translation.  I will still flip to the Bible App for shorter devotionals, topical reading plans, and social feed but the Every Day Bible App will be my workhorse year round solely due to its simple and fast formula.  Note it’s only available on iOS and the web for now.

* It should be noted the Bible App by YouVersion is a ministry of, a multi-site church based in Oklahoma of which I’m a devoted member of.

The Third Party Keyboard Fail

Apple Third Party KeyboardsI lauded the arrival of iOS 7 more than another other iteration of Apple’s mobile software mostly because I was so ready for its new flat look but it doesn’t remotely compare to my anticipation for iOS 8 and with it the arrival of third-party keyboard support.  Apple’s stock keyboard has been much maligned for every successive iteration of their software and for me has been the single greatest point of frustration with iOS.  Reasons for my frustration are quite simple and don’t really have much to do with snazzy gestures or pretty color templates so much as it has to do with accuracy.  I simply just can’t master typing on the stock keyboard.  It’s really quite maddening how poor I can be at times.  It’s not rocket science but for reasons both known and unknown I can nary type a single sentence without an error and at this point I’m honestly resigned to the fact that I just suck at it.  I had great hope that some third-party keyboard would come along and rescue me from my unmanageable thumbs.  By the title surely you’ve guessed by now I was disappointed with the results.  So here’s what lead me to the ultimate conclusion that I am ditching all third party keyboards for the stock Apple keyboard.

Somewhere in all the buzz leading up to the launch of iOS 8 and with it third-party keyboard support I came across news that a third-party app available on other platforms had set the Guinness World Record for fastest typing.  Its name was Fleksy and after reading up on it I was immediately sold on its gesture based predictive algorithm.  It seemed so fluid and quite slick.  You see my crutch is simply typing accurately.  I can spell just fine.  I know how to structure a sentence.  Still it’s a mystery to me why I err so much because I don’t have fat fingers, I consider myself very dexterous, and my thumbs keep in shape playing Xbox nevertheless I’ve always sucked at typing on the iPhone.  The UI presented to me by Fleksy just seemed to hit the sweet spot because unlike most other keyboards including Apple’s it doesn’t try to predict as you type instead it just tries to predict what you just typed.  Translation, it basically auto corrects your spelling.  After downloading iOS 8 Fleksy was the first new app I installed.  Frustration set in immediately as the keyboard crashed the very first time I took it out for a spin.  After about a day of constant crashes I would learn that all iOS 8 users were experiencing the same thing and that the issue was baked into iOS 8 and affected all third-party keyboards.  I would stumble on a couple more days until I just turned off the keyboard entirely to wait for Apple to offer up an update to fix what was a widely reported major bug.  The first update supposed to fix the bugs we would quickly learn could brick phones and a successive update for the update would promptly come out soon after.  I gave things a couple more days to smooth out before downloading that update.  What’s important to note here is in that brief period while Apple was ironing out the kinks to the kinks so to speak I got some time with the updated stock Apple keyboard and discovered as advertised it had improved by leaps and bounds over the last one.  It’s prediction engine was quite good and I would have to say did cut down my errors to some extent. That didn’t stop me from reactivating Fleksy once I finally downloaded the iOS update with fixes for third-party keyboards.  I had after all already made my mind up to ditch yet another stock Apple feature for a better alternative something I have successfully done with practically every other stock Apple app or feature to date where alternatives existed.

Sadly Fleksy would turn into a maddening disaster.  The predictive gestures were fun but what sunk it for me from almost the first day was its over corrective tendencies.  How can you over correct the spelling of a word you ask?  Simple really.  Take the word “gun” for example.  Typing it correctly would often yield a different word like “fun”.  It begs the question how does this happen really?  Wouldn’t in the hierarchy of rules a correctly spelled word take precedence over really any other rule?  With Fleksy replacing a correctly spelled word with another word entirely happened astonishingly frequently.  This left me altogether pissed off frankly.  If I couldn’t correctly type in a word and have it accepted (especially since we’ve already established how much trouble I have typing accurately to begin with) then what is the point really?  I researched the 3 major keyboards getting buzz at launch (Fleksy, Swype, and SwiftKey) and I’m not sure if I made it past two full days with my first choice, Fleksy, before moving on to my next choice.  SwiftKey.

The lure for me about SwiftKey was really 3 things.  First it was free which helps considering I had to purchase Fleksy, next it incorporated swipe to type gestures and learned your typing patterns getting better the more you used it (allegedly), and last you could always tap away if you didn’t want to swipe.  I was at first really impressed with it but quickly discovered that learning your typing patterns was too much of a good thing.  If I incorrectly misspelled a word in the same way a couple of times well…the incorrect spelling became its default first prediction thereafter.  After 2 or 3 weeks I found myself full circle with the keyboard over correcting too often albeit now with a slew of misspellings.  I could easily reset the keyboard to rid myself of all my polluted predictions but as I stated with Fleksy what’s the point of using their keyboard then?  Truly frustrated I took a brief hiatus from third-party keyboards and went back to the stock Apple keyboard.  At this point though I found that I had grown quite fond of the swipe to type gesture.  It just felt more natural for one-handed use especially with the bigger iPhones that have virtually eliminated the ability to type one-handed so I finally convinced myself to drop a buck and download my third option.  Swype.  As luck would have it Apple would make it the FREE app of the week the very next day.  Go figure.  Nevertheless I found myself as with SwiftKey quite smitten with it I think mostly because it worked better (at first) than the previous keyboard I had tried, but not perfect.  In fact Swype‘s fatal flaw is no different from all the others for me.  Over correction.  I don’t understand it really.  I found it had trouble acknowledging swipes for words with two identical successive letters but not in the way you might think.  For example I can’t tell you how many times it replaced “to” with “too”.  Such a common word…too pun intended!  Ultimately I concluded I was spending just as much time correcting Swype‘s predictions as I was correcting my own typos in the stock Apple keyboard so like I’ve stated the other two times what then is the point?!

I’ve been mulling this question over for some time as my frustration level has continued to build.  Not mentioned with these three different experiences is the one factor that is the same across the board that muddles all of these third-party keyboard experiences.  Crashes.  Yep they are still a constant despite Apple updates meant to address these crashes.  I know it’s not just my phone because in the middle of this experience I actually switched iPhones (for other reasons) starting from a clean slate rather than restoring from a backup.  Users still complain of the constant crashes.  They’re certainly better than at launch but nevertheless they are a daily miff.  Honestly it’s astonishing really how prevalent they are and how little attention it’s getting.  There’s another factor that has influenced my choice to spurn third-party keyboards.  Emoticons or lack thereof.  Support for them varies between the apps I tested with Fleksy doing the better job nevertheless emoticon support seems more or less an afterthought.  I’m not really sure why.  Perhaps it’s a combination of both iOS restrictions and/or lack of creativity on the part of third-party app makers to incorporate them better.  It seems petty to include this as a deciding factor but I must admit to embracing emoticons as a significant portion of my day to day mobile communication and to have it buried sometimes 3 taps back is off-putting to say the least.

It’s taken me two and a half months to finally throw in the towel but I finally did.  It really boiled down to simple math for me.  In the negative column you’ve got a common theme of over correction, constant crashes, and a case of emoticon denial.  In the positive you’ve got an improved stock Apple keyboard that at least is stable and better at offering you up predictions while not jamming them down your throat.  Ultimately though the deciding factor for me was my general level of frustration.  When I use a third-party keyboard I have this expectation that it will work better than the stock one and that some launch bugs are expected but not to this degree.  I expect it will not just be pretty but actually make the task of typing easier or more efficient for me.  None of these have remotely been up to the task.  I got more frustrated using third-party keyboards than with the stock keyboard which I guess in part is because I have come to accept some level of frustration already over the years with the stock keyboard.  I’m left now with only one choice to return to the Apple stock keyboard.

Now that I’m reluctantly all in on the Apple keyboard train I offer a couple of thoughts for the masses who might agree with me.  Why can’t we have different colors schemes for the stock keyboard baked in?  It’s surely not because it’s not possible; I find a different color themed keyboard when I’m utilizing spotlight search versus Messages already.  How about long presses to a secondary keyboard much like Swype already employs?  Yes I know there’s already the trick to long press the 123 button already to get to that secondary keyboard but it’s nowhere near as intuitive as the Swype keyboard in this regard.  What about adjusting the size of the buttons like Fleksy offers?  This one really seems like a no brainer especially with the bigger screens for the new iPhones.  How about the option to add a top row of numbers or characters so I can easily tap out #comeonalready?  Am I asking too much…really?  Final parting thought, I wonder how long it’s going to take me to untrain all the different gestures and shortcuts I’ve learned the past 11 weeks and just get back to my normal pace of error laden typing?  Er I feel worse off than when I started.