The Path To #INBOXZERO

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?
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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 ILikeTek.com 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 LifeChurch.tv, 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.

What’s On Your Home Screen?

iOS 8 Home Screen


It doesn’t matter what operating system you’re on and how you organize your screens there’s always one main go-to screen.  In iOS that’s called the home screen.  Everybody organizes their apps in different ways but one thing remains fairly consistent and that’s the most important or most often accessed apps typically end up on the home screen.  I actually arrange my screens based on themes.  For example I have a full screen devoted just to camera and video editing apps.  Since they are my guiltless pleasure I have nearly enough to fill up an entire screen.  I reserve another screen for entertainment apps such as Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, iTunes, etc.  The theme my home screen has going for it though is quick access to my most used apps.  I’ve decided to share my home screen with a brief description of the apps encompassing it.  Think of it as my top ten list for app recommendations (in this case top 28 list because that’s how many can fill up my iPhone 6 screen including the bottom four located on the dock).

Here’s my list in order from top to bottom and left to right according to the included screen shot (click on any link to download):

1)  Fantastical – I’ve tried several calendar apps and I just keep returning to Fantastical.  I believe it really sets the benchmark for calendar apps.  I prefer agenda (list) views over calendar (monthly) views and an agenda view is front and center in this app.  Rotating your screen horizontally gives you the traditional calendar view so it should appeal to everybody.  It’s always worked fluidly and flawlessly for me and easily bests the stock Apple Calendar App. You’ll notice that speed and reliability are very important to me as you read through the rest of this list.

2)  Photos – I’ve replaced virtually all of the stock Apple apps except for 9, 8 of which show up on my home screen mostly out of necessity.  There are other photo apps but in my experience the stock Photos App gives me the fastest access to my pics and until iOS 8 was the only place you could delete photos.

3)  Litely – As previously mentioned I’ve got another screen that houses all my photo and video editing apps except for this one (and Instagram but it’s also a social network).  With its dozens of preset filters and zippy/simple interface it’s really my secret sauce to serving up endless sunsets that are so easy to come by in my part of the world out to my social feeds. Turns out Litely was written by the same guy who wrote seven of the original Instagram filters.

4)  Google Maps – One word…Awesome!  Does any other mapping and navigation app come remotely close?  It recently saw an update to Google’s Material Design experience and it’s oh so lovely to look at.

5)  Checkmark 2 – Little known and still overdue for an iOS 8 update it’s still the best reminders app in the App Store in my opinion.  It’s best feature is location-based reminders with the ability to postpone said reminders.  For example you can set a reminder to take out the trash 10 minutes after you arrive home because if you’re like me and if your phone dings in the car the second you pull into the driveway then by the time you get in the house and are gang tackled by the kid and dog you’ve done forgot about the reminder 5 minutes later.

6)  Safari – Necessity here because though I love Chrome on any other platform Safari just offers a zippier experience in iOS though that’s changing as Apple is opening up their walled garden more and more.

7)  Settings – Necessity again because I change a system setting at least once a day (usually wallpaper) or am usually looking to connect to a wifi network.

8)  App Store – Because I shop for apps and look for updates daily.  Still a choppy experience but getting better.

9)  Google – Two words…Google Now!  Check it out.  It’s both a little creepy but so so cool when it dazzles you with just the right information at just the right time or place.

10) Weather – This is the lone Apple app that I actually prefer over third-party apps because I think Apple got it right.  I’ve tried a half-dozen weather apps and I recently dumped them in favor of the stock Weather App because it just does one thing and does it well.  It quickly displays all the pertinent weather info upon opening the app and does it blazingly fast.  It’s got a decent flat interface that doesn’t fill your screen with ads like so many other weather apps do.

11) Evernote – This one’s actually just filling a void left behind when my favorite note taking app was shuttered.  I was a big fan of Springpad, a direct competitor to Evernote until it abruptly closed up shop.  When it did it offered a streamlined method to port all of your notebooks directly into Evernote hence it’s arrival on my home screen.  Nothing against Evernote which actually is quite pleasing on the eyes and is certainly light years more robust than the stock Apple Notes App.

12) Rise – Rise is my alarm app.  I was duped into purchasing it with the allure of tapping the screen anywhere to snooze but found out after the fact that you had to leave the screen on all night in order to take advantage of its full feature set.  Leaving the screen on all night albeit dimmed just seems silly so I don’t.  Nevertheless I keep it because it’s stock set of alarm sounds and remaining feature set are better than the stock Apple Clock App.

13) Mail – Another Apple mainstay but only on my home screen until Inbox (see below) accepts my Hotmail account.

14) Wunderlist – Bar none the best list making app and I’ve tried them all!  Super easy to use and uncluttered but can be as feature rich as you want it to be (think sub lists for lists).  Especially love sharing a grocery list with my wife because you can go back through completed items and re-add them to the list again.  Handy for things you need every week like milk and bread.  Completely free to use and ad-free to boot.  It syncs shared lists with ease and allows you to drag to reorder items.  It’s the small things that count and being a lifelong list maker Wunderlist truly lives up to its name.

13) Drafts – One thing Apple’s stock Notes app does well is it allows you to dive right into creating a note fairly quickly.  Drafts one-ups it.  The app defaults to opening right into a brand new note every time you open it.  It’s got a nice selection of fonts and share options so for me it really has replaced the stock Notes App more so than Evernote has.   At $9.99 it’s a bit pricey though.  I’m still on an older version and waiting for a deal to upgrade to the latest but it’s still the fastest app period when needing to tap out a quick note.

14) Misfit – This is the accompanying app to the fitness tracker I use (the Misfit Flash).  The Jawbone Up app gets all the attention for fitness trackers but I find Misfit’s to be more than par for the course.  It’s got a crisp flat design and for an app that I frequently check throughout the day I can’t honestly think of a single hiccup I’ve ever experience.  It’s quite stable and that should always count for something.

15) Google News & Weather – Seems I’m always trying out a different news service.  This is the flavor of the month for me.  It’s claim to fame is being able to Google any term and creating a whole news feed on it.  For example when I was researching the aforementioned Misfit Flash fitness tracker prior to purchase I created a whole news feed that offered up several pre-launch reviews since it was new to the market.  It also tipped me off when it was finally available for purchase since they were being tight-lipped on the exact date.  It also shows a snap shot of local weather on its home screen.

16) Asana – Another list taking app.  This one’s claim to fame is that’s an enterprise app.  I’ve begun to track my projects and daily to-dos in it at work.  Not sold on it yet and really it is meant for team collaboration which I don’t do a lot of because that’s how I roll.

17) Kindle – The king of reading apps.  No other reading app comes close to its feature set yet it will get out of the way when you need it to and let you just read.  I bought into the Amazon reading ecosystem long ago when I preordered their 2nd generation Kindle eReader and have never looked back.  The Kindle App a mainstay on my home screen and each successive version adds clever little things to further enhance reading experience like page numbers, percentage completion, their X-Ray service, and estimated time remaining to read.

18) Pocket – A read it later service.  It literally is formerly known as “Read It Later”.  It’s an app that allows me to read web links that I save to read later in an uncluttered mobile friendly canvas.  It gives the Kindle app a run for the money on number of reading features.  It’s one of the few apps that actually gets the low light reading experience right by offering a dark gray background with off white text rather than the deep black with bright popping white letters most other reading apps do.  It’s so much easier on the eyes in the dark.

19) Paper – Facebook sucks but like the other billion people on the planet like it or not I’m stuck with using it because all my other friends use it.  Paper is one of the rare things they cooked up that actually enhances the experience.  Born out of one of their labs it’s basically a heavily gesture based alternative to the traditional Facebook App sans ads (for now).  It also allows you to subscribe to a stream of curated news feed.  Not fond of their daily selection of news content I’ve turned off those feeds and use it exclusively for viewing and posting to my Facebook feed over the decidedly vanilla and cluttered traditional Facebook App.

20) Twitter – Nothing flattering to say here.  Does its job adequately, no praises per say but no complaints either.

21) Instagram – I must admit to a bit of nostalgia for Instagram.  It did after all spawn my shutterbug app addiction.  It works well and stays fresh enough.  I just never understood it’s love affair with square photos.  Why does it always seem when technology gives us more screen real estate something comes along to put black bars all around it?  Still mad they sold out to Facebook too.  Forever tainted but like Facebook, we’re stuck with it because everybody uses it.  At least it’s been mostly left alone to thrive since selling out and the few ads that I’ve seen begin to populate my feed are usually tasteful.

22) Bible – Did you know this app has been downloaded 161.4 million times and counting?! There are actually better apps for traditional bible study (see Faithlife Study Bible) but the Bible App has the best overall package with a thriving social feed and an ever-growing library of free community supported devotionals many authored by prominent Bible thumpers.


Dock Apps

23) Phone – These next four apps encompass my dock apps that show up on every screen.  The first is the stock phone app and I’m beginning to rethink its place here as I consider how little I use it.  I don’t place a lot of calls and most usually am on the receiving end of calls so I’m not sure I can justify its coveted place anymore in the dock.  I’ve never really pondered searching for a replacement phone app.  Open to suggestions…

24) Inbox – This is Google’s next great thing.  Think Google Now for Gmail.  It’s currently an invite only affair and I’m super glad I snatched an invite.  It replaced my all time favorite app (Mailbox by Dropbox).  Though I believe it still carries a Beta moniker it certainly doesn’t feel like it.  What Inbox does is basically serve you up a feed of emails automatically organized in categories like Promotions or Financial but rather than leaving you guessing at content by what the subject line says it will pull out the pertinent parts and put them front and center.  For example it will offer a link to track a package without having to open the message or serve you up a movie ticket confirmation number right in the subject line.  It is also written with a heavy dose of Google’s new Material Design experience which personally I can’t get enough of.  It takes liberally from many of my favorite features offered up by Mailbox and even gives you the option to add reminders to your message feed which just seems to be a natural place to add reminders after all.  How has nobody else thought of that yet?

25) Songza – If there’s one app on this list I would encourage anyone to download it has to be Songza.  You simply will not find a larger library of curated playlists anywhere.  You can pick from moods to genres to activities.  Google recently purchased and incorporated these playlists into the Google Play Music App but for now seem content to leave this free ad-supported service intact.  The ads aren’t in your face either and mostly consist of a small static banner at the bottom of the screen and you can rest assured that no loud car commercials will interrupt your feed like so many have ruined the Pandora experience for me.  Please download it, you’ll thank me later…tip check out the “Songs From Apple Commercials” playlist.  It’s delish!

26) Messages – And finally the last app in my dock is the stock Messages App because it’s adequate for me especially now with the latest feature set added with iOS 8.  Most of my friends use iMessages so really it’s a no brainer for me.  I’m actually aware of the plethora of better alternatives but truthfully none of my core friends and family use them so…

Startup Morale

OfficeSpace

Every day I enter the doors to my current place of employment I pass by 3 plaques housing the names of every employee honored for 20 years or more of employment there.  The plaques have accumulated 180 names total.  Sadly this is a rarity in today’s marketplace.  I would wager that 20 years from now, those plaques are removed because few new names are being added.  This is no disrespect to my employer it’s just the reality of the marketplace where jobs are constantly abandoned for greener pastures. Loyalty exists paycheck to paycheck simply because money is usually the only morale driver at least in my region of the country.

I live in the Midwest where the famed startup stories and legends of company perks at places like Google are only part of some mythical place known as Silicon Valley.  Typically the only benefits that differentiate one company from another in these parts is the amount of out of pocket expense incurred for yearly medical benefits.  Boring.  Except for the local Big Oil company or two most benefits and company policies are fairly interchangeable from one place to the next.  Now I currently have a couple entrepreneurial things on the back burner and who knows maybe one day something will take off.  When it does I’ve got a wish list of perks or intangibles I hope to institute from the start that I hope will coax a few people to work for me and stay put.  Here they are and reasons why in no particular order:

  1. Offer A Flex Work Schedule.  Can you say Half Day Fridays?  This is something common in places like Colorado where you live in a real life playground but it makes sense for many other practical reasons besides morale that I won’t list here.  I once watched a 60 Minutes special on Patagonia the outdoor gear outfitter based in California.  One key to their employee success and productivity they highlighted was a very liberal and trusting flexible work schedule policy.  It was simple; get your time in when you wanted to…period.  For example employees still had to put in a 40 hour workweek but if someone popped in the door and boisterously exclaimed, “Surf’s up!”, they bolted for the beach and returned to work that afternoon, evening, or weekend when their cups were full and the waves had died down.  It didn’t matter when so long as you got your hours in.  You can only imagine the loyal employee base they have as a result!  For some this simple flexible policy will cause an employee to think real hard before bolting for a  job that paid a couple dollars an hour more.  That’s a novel concept that certainly goes against the grain of our punch card culture for standard factory workers but perhaps a slightly more restrictive policy will still produce similar results.  I know for me a similar policy would’ve allowed me to catch my son make his first snow angel this year rather than sulk that the moment was enjoyed via a texted photo.  I would have happily came in the following Saturday after the snow had melted if I could’ve left early that day.
  2. Work To Play Is The Company Motto!  I’ll never understand our country’s aversion to vacation allotment but it’s not remotely close in comparison to the rest of the industrial world.  Some will argue it’s a factor that affords us the world’s largest economy but I say bunk.  I say we’re successful in spite of our lack of vacation days.  Two weeks a year seems to be the universally accepted starting vacation policy.  That typically goes up as a reward for different milestones of company service.  I’ll offer 3 weeks starting vacation minimum not counting personal time.
  3. Provide Only The Best Stuff For Employees.  If the smartphone and tablet trend has taught us anything it’s that employees are tired of drab corporate centric products.  Buy them that iPhone, iPad, or touch mouse they envy.  Buy them the best gear available to do their job or at least help them get it.  My company pays up to $100/year for steel toe shoes.  I took the $100 and added $30 out of pocket to buy a premium brand that are ridiculously comfortable.  I haven’t dipped into that $100 allowance the last 2 years because I’m quite happy with the pair I bought then.  I’d say this was a win win policy for my company and me.
  4. Offer Internet Freedom.  Want to foster employee loyalty?  Show some trust.  Naturally all things should be doled out in proper portions but for most company internet policies that means an all or nothing approach.  Bandwidth restrictions I get because we are after all at work to be productive and a few Pandora boneheads can really sap internet productivity for the responsible majority.  Restricting adult sites is a no brainer too, but that’s where I think a line should be drawn after.  For starters open up social sites already!  Get with the times employers and let your employees have a free second to make evening plans with their buddies or even a coworker.  Internet filters in my opinion are a lazy exec’s way of micromanaging.  It’s silly.  If your employees are judged on their productivity and performance and they’re spending all their time on Facebook then their performance will suffer.  These things work themselves out if your people are being fairly judged on performance.
  5. Never Waste Employees’ Time.  Don’t make your accountant take a 45 minute online safety training course covering the proper shop safety gear when he/she will never ever set foot on the factory floor.  Limit the allowable number of meetings/length of meetings for each business day.  I know this sounds restrictive but most employees will actually appreciate such a policy for it’s time-respecting merits.
  6. Premium Toilet Paper.  This one is self explanatory.
  7. Free Great Coffee.  Can I get an Amen!  Don’t be cheap, pick one great perk like free premium brand coffer or an expresso machine to splurge on your employees. It really is the small things that count folks.

How To Select The Right Compact Fluorescent Bulb

Bulb1

You may have noticed recently the supply for good old fashioned incandescent bulbs seems to be dwindling.  You might have even heard that they’ve stopped making certain ones beginning this year.  Myself I find it near impossible to locate clear 60W incandescent bulbs but an overwhelming selection of compact fluorescent bulbs abound.  It’s like there’s some grand conspiracy to get you to stop using incandescent bulbs.  Technically there is but it’s not as bad as you think and no they’ve not stopped making incandescent bulbs either; just check out this article from The Verge that debunks all the rumors here.  The problem with switching to compact fluorescents is that nothing seems like an apples to apples swap.  The packaging would lead you believe it’s a pretty straightforward affair by printing bold letters indicating 13W bulbs are 60W replacements and technically they’re right but that’s really where the similarities end.  Buy two different brands and try to mix them within the same light fixture and you’ll see what I mean.  One light is more blue, one is more yellow, and one is brighter.  How do you pick the right one and how do you replace one brand with another?  It really boils down to reading the fine print, literally on the bulb that is.  There’s really three key specifications you want to try and match up closely particularly if you’re mixing different brands of compact flourescents.

Bulb2

The first you already know is wattage.  The package usually takes care of that by spelling out the incandescent equivalent.  The second specification you want to pay attention to is bulb brightness.  This is usually measured in Lumens.  This is easy to follow, simply the higher the number the brighter the bulb.  If you’ve got a fixture with 4 bulbs from Brand A and one burns out and you can only find brand B then you want to try and get this number to match as close as possible.  You will also want to match the color temperature of the bulb.  Color temperature is usually measured in Kelvins or simply ‘K’ as shown in the picture above measured as 2700K.  The lower the number the yellower the hue of the bulb.  The higher the number the bluer the hue becomes.  That’s it.