Thursday, January 30, 2014

Spotify Trumps All

Music listeners over the years have satisfied their urges in several ways. It started out with physical pieces such as records, CDs, and cassette tapes. These were easily carried around and usually had the whole album of one artist on it. From here music went online, and you could buy any single song you wanted to. The most prevalent example of this was with iTunes and the huge business they created with iPods. Going even a step further is internet radios, which are like regular radios except that it is based on the user. The person can choose a genre or artist, much like a radio and stations, but can constantly change it ever so slightly to be exactly what the user wants. There are many of these services out there who all claim to be the best. My choice is Spotify because of the features, ease of use, and accuracy.

Spotify is unique because it has more features, especially when comparing the free versions, than any other service. On mobile, you can listen to the genre, song, or artist specific radio, not all that different from other competitors such as Pandora. Where it does beat everyone out with features is in the tablet and desktop versions. There you can do exactly what you do on mobile, and you can also play any song on demand. So if you hear, for example, Wrecking Ball and decide you want to listen to the whole thing, you can play it right off of Spotify without having to download it or go on YouTube. This is a very convenient aspect that neither 8tracks, Pandora, or Beats Music have.

Ease of use is another reason why Spotify is the best music service available. Compared especially to its biggest rival Pandora, Spotify has significantly fewer ads. Ads come up every so often as a way for the company to make money off of the listeners who aren't paying for monthly service. On Spotify, I have found that there is a surprising lack of them. This lack of ads is really nice, because there's nothing more annoying than listening to a great song, especially one that's peaceful, and then have some Hillbilly screaming at you about Pat McGrath Chevyland. The lack of ads may only be rivaled by 8tracks, but with 8tracks you only have set playlists, whereas Spotify never ends their playlists and songs are very rarely repeated.
The accuracy of the music on Spotify is "spot" on (that was a terrible play on words). When you like or dislike a song, I genuinely feel like they take that into consideration in their algorithm. I've tailored my stations very well, and I've never had a song repeated, they just keep getting closer to what I like. Compare that with Pandora again, and I've had tons of repeats there. I've also disliked a song then the next song will be the same style which I just said I didn't like. As for Beats Music on this issue, I have not used it enough to know how well it performs this task. 8tracks doesn't take input, you choose, so that's one idea, but as I said before, playlists are limited and not endless there.

Like playlists on a lot of these services, the options are almost endless for how you want to play your music. The most recent though, internet radio, has only one truly good option in my opinion. Spotify is the one to download, and if you're a die-hard Pandora fan like I was a few months ago, just try it, I promise you'll like it better.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tracking Your Fitness

There has been an explosion in the linkage of fitness and technology in the world, with many people believing that an easier linkage between body and computer will motivate them to workout more. I'll just take a moment to point out the irony that making fitness tracking lazier is supposed to get you to be less lazy. Anyway, with this explosion there has inevitably been some competition and different models. The top ones are the FitBit, the Jawbone Up, and the Nike FuelBand SE.

Of these, to start off with price, the Fitbit comes in at $129.99 and the other two at $149.99. This makes the Fitbit initially more attractive, as everybody always wants to save a few bucks. In another plus for Fitbit, only the Fitbit and Nike FuelBand have actual displays on them. This allows you to see some of your stats like calories burned and pace on a run easier. All of these fitness trackers allow you to track distance traveled, sleep, pace. In all honesty they're really nifty devices to have, especially if you're trying to get more healthy initially. What I've found is that tracking yourself and seeing your progress and pitfalls helps motivate you to continue to be active, and these trackers will achieve that purpose.

I was thinking about buying one of these, and if I do its very likely I'll go with the FitBit. These trackers have added a convenience to tracking workouts and health that is hard to do in the busy world we live in, where to even work out in the first place is a bit of a challenge. I am also interested with this technology, like others, because it has a long ways to go from here. There could be a point where it tracks strength workouts and respiration rates. It could get really immersive, and for me, that would make it even more worthwhile than the current models.

To buy:
Fitbit Force
Jawbone Up
Nike FuelBand SE

Immersive Gaming

I'm going to attempt to make myself seem really ahead of the curve, but I'm really not. About two months ago I was bored in class and thinking of different things, and at the time it wa gaming. In my head I envisioned an augmented reality game, where you could basically live the game. My daydream was pretty elaborate, so the class must have been pretty boring. Anyway, I had a whole idea of running around, having a weapon (I was envisioning mostly CoD), and being in an actual environment where even temperature could be controlled. In reality, something kind of like this exists, and its called the Oculus Rift, although I still have time to develop the temperature/environment aspect.

Oculus Rift was developed in 2012 for immersive gaming. From there it went on to KickStarter. KickStarter raised the company $2.4 million. This included backing from major gaming companies, who gave huge capital for the development of the device. Although they are pretty far away from being as common as a PS4 or Xbox One, they are really improving and developing more. At CES 2014, from what I've read, they introduced a moving aspect, so you can actually walk around in a game, and the speed in the game changes depending on how fast you're moving in real life. This could actually alter the type of person that is classified as a "gamer" if this type of gaming beats out consoles. No more will the best in online lobbies be overweight teenagers drinking energy drinks to make up for their lack of sleep, but could actually be the extremely fit and strong people, and actual soldiers. Branching off from this and away from gaming is another possibility for Oculus Rift. Imagine a med school, with hundreds of young, soon-to-be surgeons. If the students could be immersed in a situation where they were giving surgery, with no repercussions if a mistake was made, only a learning opportunity.

As of right now I have failed to mention the actual hardware. The Oculus rift is basically a huge pair of goggles with a screen on the inside. The idea is that it has sensors built in that makes the game move when your head moves, to make gaming more natural to feel. They also introduced a "gun" made of plastic that you can use with games to give it a more realistic feeling.

The Oculus Rift is, to me, really exciting. That could be because I am ridiculously into new stuff, or because I've always been envious of the super-good in gaming. The advantage with Oculus Rift for me is that I work out all the time, so I would hopefully dominate in a more physical game play. Whatever my motivations are, I believe this could be the future of gaming, something where a parent saying the game is too real to the child might be a more significant concern.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why You Can Never Really Trust Software

As I am finding out recently, and as many experienced programmers already know, coding is far from easy to do. Often you'll write out lines and lines and then realize your syntax was wrong, or there were problems in a part of your logic, or you didn't initialize a variable. Writing a perfect program right off the bat is pretty hard, especially as the programs become increasingly complex. That being said, major software is no different. Over the years there have been countless bugs that have had to be ironed out of code in very popular programs, such as iOS, Toyota, and most recently, the e-mail giant Gmail.

Arguably the best mobile platform ever built was Apple's iOS, which took the world by storm in 2008 with the original iPhone. When it first came out, there were tons of bugs in that code that had to be ironed out, as has happened with almost every new release and update. Something almost always needs to be changed or added onto to fix a problem. Even in apps, if you look at the description of what the update contains, many times it says it contains bug fixes. The largest bugs I have ever seen was when I had the beta of iOS 7 three months before it came out. The first one was glitches galore, with the camera not opening properly, many apps crashed, my phone shut down unexpectedly. In short, it was the worst experience I've ever had with Apple software, if you take away the fact that I was the first of my friends to have it and it looked really cool. Apple, the company worth the most right now, continues to have bugs in its software.

Toyota as well had problems with their software. At first you may be asking what software Toyota has, but keep in mind that many cars are using software today, especially cars like the Prius that rely heavily on electricity. There was a software bug there caused the lights to go on without need, and required a recall of thousands of cars. This is a more extreme example of how software is never perfect. Usually you can test it out to where problems like this don't happen, and even if they do, if its on a computer its not much of a big deal, but in a car the stakes go up.

Finally, as another example that software is never perfect, we have the Gmail bug that happened today. As I have seen in reports, the bug happened when you searched Gmail. When you clicked on it, it could come up with a new composition that was sent to a random man's Hotmail in California. The main got thousands of e-mails from people around the world. For all we know at this point, Google could have just pulled off the biggest spamming feat of all time, but more than likely it was just a software bug. The tech giant who is known for brilliant programmers had a bug in their code.

With the small amount o examples in software bugs, it is apparent that they're to be expected. Huge, multi-billion dollar companies with top-notch programmers have them. I am by no means saying that you should never use software because they're destined to have errors, in fact, just the opposite. If anything I would like to be writing this to encourage people who, like me, are starting out inprogramming. Keep in mind that the errors you are having are common in this profession. If you get frustrated, at the very least you can take comfort in that fact that nobody in California is going to sue you for recieving huge amounts of e-mails.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Internship

Last week I finally got the time to watch The Internship after being addicted to Breaking Bad and Sherlock for a couple months. It seemed appropriate, because I'm obsessed with Google and I like the Owen Wilson/ Vince Vaughn combo. Now this is the first time I've tried doing a movie review, so it could be stellar, or more likely just plain bad, but bear with me and I promise I will get better.

The premise of the movie was, to me, the best part. The idea of competing in an internship that few have even dreamed of is a fresh idea. Sure, there are plenty of the "guys are out of work and go through a comedy to find new work", but to use Google was brilliant. When you think of the awe that surrounds working at the company, with free food, personal gyms and trainers, and optional nap time, people's interests are piqued. The one thing about this movie is that it makes Google look really good. Like REALLY good. Two top comedians exploring every part of Google's exciting campus. My dad wondered how much Google paid for this. I was pretty sure Google wouldn't pay for publicity like this, especially after Kit-Kat was a mutual agreement between the two companies, but I had to admit, it looked fishy. After a little research though, I found that it was actually Vince Vaughn who pitched the idea to Google, and that Google just gave them a lot of free stuff, but not necessarily much money directly.

The actual story line is a bit.... odd I guess. It seems to me like they tried too hard to pound the aspects of Google into the audiences faces. Pretty much every scene is shot in a different part of the Googleplex, no repeats, and even in the sensitive parts of the movie, they always have to be showcasing another thing on the campus. I don't necessarily have problem with this in itself, the more Google the better I say, but for a movie, I don't think that was the smartest move. At some points the two top comedians were overshadowed by their surroundings. The audience is sitting there admiring some piece of Google and not fully paying attention to the jokes. To be fair, I usually caught all the jokes because I was already pretty familiar with Google as a company, and it was a very enjoyable movie.

Overall, despite it flaws, I was very satisfied with The Internship. I would recommend seeing it to anybody, unless, of course, you've already seen it like millions of people. It really is a unique look at Google and their amazing company, and the talent that they garner from around the world. You'll see the geniuses just trying to make it, and learning all the while what makes the feeling of Googliness.


I've never owned a business before, but I'm almost positive that its a main goal to get money, though correct me if I'm wrong. As such, it would seem to be like the method of getting the money from the customer to the person would be of great importance. That's where I come in today to write about a little device called Square. Any business owner almost needs a smartphone or tablet nowadays, and Square is a small device that you plug into one of those that swipes credit cards. The best part, its only $10, whereas the cheapest cash register I could find was about $50. In that sense, I don't get why you wouldn't want one of these if you owned a business, its easy and uses  a device you already have.

Square just hooks into your audio jack on your phone, and you can directly swipe credit cards. Its that easy, and the customer is e-mailed their receipt. This eliminates the need for a large cash register that would need some kind of programming to run, which would be a lot harder than the setting on Square. The only problem I could see if that for this to work, it really would need to be only you or a very trusted employee doing this, as there is some margin for cheating, say if they transfer some of the money to their own accounts. Despite that, in my opinion its a much better decision than destroying space for a checkout in your business.

The other advantage to Square is that it draws on technology you already have, You don't have to go out and buy a whole new register. You already have a smartphone, and Square just lends another use to your device. The other advantage to having this kind of payment system is that you don't have to deal with a third party, and can put your money directly into one of your online wallets. I see this as being used mostly in retail and food, but the options are truly limitless. A travelling salesman would have his job infinitely increased by the ability to make quick, mobile payments. A small consultant could get their payments a lot faster and easier than if they were to accept payment in the traditional way.

Square is  device that I believe has revolutionized small business. Its a device that draws on your current hardware to provide you with a fail-safe way to get credit card payments, and not have to be one of those annoying stores that takes cash-only. I'm not saying its a product that everyone should have, but if you run a small business you should seriously consider it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Google Now: Another Valiant Effort at Digitizing Our Lives

Many new phones with Android have Google Now built in and there is an app that does kind of the same thing in iOS. To explain it basically, Google Now wants to provide the information you want, exactly when you need it, all based on previous location history, to-the-minute location tracking, and activity on your Google account. I've been using Google Now for awhile now, and although it is useful in several situations, I've found it much easier to use other apps, and even when I do use Google Now, its not that great. Here I will make my case why Google Now is a step forward, but not quite there yet: The range of features are not as extensive or as easy as you want them to be, and it can be an inconvenience to have it on your phone.

The commercial on Google's website for Now makes it seem pretty cool. A businesswoman getting how long it is until home and a father following a baseball game while at his son's soccer game. I'm not sure where I saw this, but I used to be under the impression that it was the equivalent of Siri as well. Its not. Maybe I'm not in a big-enough city, but all the places I go I already know how long it will take me to get to different places, almost without variance. With weather, I've discovered that AccuWeather is more accurate  than Google Now is. The search feature, which takes your previous searches and recommends content based on those searches, is pretty cool but also has some flaws. For example, I searched the release date of the show "Sherlock". Google Now recommended me a story based on my search. The problem was, I had read that after the search. Now maybe this was an isolated incident, but I have rarely looked at those suggestions since. As for the Siri-like features, those too disappoint. Google Now isn't stellar at playing music, sending texts, etc. This made it really frustrating moving from my 4S, where I used Siri pretty often. The only cool thing about this line of Now features is that if you play music into the phone, it can identify the song. As far as the features of Google Now, I believe that I was promised a lot more than I got. Don't get me wrong, I think that with a little more development, it could be pretty cool, but like some other technology right now, its just not there.

As for the convenience of Google Now, I've found that it really doesn't live up to its promises either. As I said with AccuWeather, I don't even have to look at my notifications to see the weather, and if you click into the app like you do with Now, you get the full forecast, not just Google's daily weather and temperature. Another way I've found Google Now to be inconvenient is because, on my phone at least, you swipe up from the bottom to access it. This has been surprisingly annoying because as it happens I accidentally pull up a little, quite a bit, leading to an unwanted session of Google Now. On iOS, Now is even more inefficient to use, as it comes in a separate Google app, not even Chrome. So not only do you have to open a separate app than the Google app you use most, you actually have to do the same swipe-up inside the app. I don't know why anybody would continue to use Google Now on iOS when its that hard to access, Google Now is supposed to be all about convenience and ease.

So these are my reasons why I don't like Google Now, as of now (clever play on words, right?). Its just not developed to the point where its overly useful. To me, its more of an inconvenience and I'll probably disable it here soon, I can get the same stuff better with other apps anyway. Give Google about a year though, and with usual Google finesse and efficiency I bet they will have gotten it to the point where I will re-enable it on my phone.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

4K TVs, Worth It?

There is another product that has been making splashes in the technology markets, and that is 4K TVs. 4K TVs are extremely high resolution has about 4000 pixels on one dimension, making them extremely crisp, but also extremely expensive. There is hope coming as announced today at CES 2014, a technology conference of sorts that unveils a lot of new technology. Vizio now has a model, not a great one mind you, for $1000. Otherwise, you can pay up to $40,000. 4K TVs are cool, but at this point they are unnecessary and there is no need to blow thousands of dollars on one because there is not enough content in 4K, there is no infrastructure to stream in 4K, and its just too dang expensive for anything of quality.

4K has an extremely low amount of broadcasters right now, in both the streaming and regular TV realms, and they're only really big names on really big events. You would haveto get something specifically designed or a 4K TV. Given, some networks will be broadcasting in 4K soon, but I'm afraid that it will not go as planned. Broadcasting in that high of resolution will likely be less than stellar and will be a lot of work for broadcasting companies, limiting its growth, at least in the near future. 4K streaming is a bit different, but still a pretty bleak outlook. Netflix, for example, plans to record all future original shows in 4K, but that's just one company, a company that also has a ton of money invested in the growing business of streaming. In other words, the success of 4K will, they believe, enhance their profits if people can view in great definition. This is by no means widespread throughout Netflix though, and will likely be a while before even some shows are offered through 4K.

4K is also not worth it at this time because the infrastructure is just not there to support broadcasting and streaming. The recording and broadcasting equipment will be very expensive as is the TV to watch it. There is also the problem with streaming, that many people's internet will not support 4K streaming, or it will but it will not by any means be fast and the content you want to watch will probably not be very comprehensible.

The last and probably most important reason not to buy a 4K TV is they're insanely expensive. I don't see the point of dropping probably at least $1000 to get a TV, when you're not going to be using it to its full potential. Plus, when 4K is more widely implemented, you'll just have a TV that's first-gen, and you'll want a new TV. If you're gaming at all, it probably won't look any better on 4K, as your console only outputs a maximum of 1080p.

All in all, I would highly suggest waiting for a 4K TV. I am by no means an expert on this stuf, especially when it comes to TVs, but from what I've gathered, I just don't think its a smart investment. Wait a couple of years, and go ahead, a bunch of people will be in 4K and prices for TVs will have gone down. But until that time comes, its probably better to stay with your ol' 1080p screen and be satisfied with super HD that is already available.

Why Pebble is the Best Smartwatch on the Market

Over the last few months, smart watches have been a very popular topic in technology. This has mostly been due to the huge marketing campaign by Samsung for their Galaxy Gear, featured in almost every one of their phone commercials.What a lot of consumers don't know is that there are other smart watches out there. Sony makes one, Metawatch has one, Qualcomm has one. Point is, smart watches are exploding throughout the market, and there are definitely some choices if you decide to buy one. The Pebble is the best smart watch on the market because of its functionality, its price, and its cosmetics.

The Pebble is one of the most functional watches that are out in the slew. Initially funded through Kickstarter, it hit its goal through offering traditional time-keeping, message alerts from your phone, calling alerts from your phone, and fitness tracker apps, among other things. These apps are very useful on a day-to-day basis and makes life with a busy smartphone infinitely easier. For example, one friend I know who has one likes it for work because if he is talking to a customer or is at a meeting and gets an e-mail, he doesn't have to take out his phone and be disruptive, he can just glance at his wrist. The fitness tracker can replace the job done by a separate fitness tracker that would cost upwards of $50. It can time how long you've been working out, how far you've run, and monitors pace. Really, if you can think of a function you would want in a convenient wrist location then Pebble can do it. Many argue against the Pebble's non-touch screen and lack of camera that the Galaxy Gear had. To that I would cite GeekWire, who testifies that with an odd placement angle and low resolution, the camera isn't that great. And many have said that with such a small screen, touchscreen isn't needed, plus, if the Pebble was touch, it wouldn't be waterproof.

The Pebble is significantly cheaper than almost any other smart watch on the market at about $150 before tax. Compare that to its main competitor, the Gear, which sits at $300, and the Sony Smart watch 2, at $200. For the features that are packed in, $150 is a very reasonable price. When you consider the features and durability of the Pebble, that's an extremely fair price. Not by any means just some toy that you can throw around, but for some top-notch next-gen technology, its pretty stellar. If you're in the market for a smart watch at all, the Pebble is definitely the way to go, especially if you're not sure about the whole concept and want to try it out.

Now for the cosmetics. While the pebble doesn't quite get the sleekness or sexiness of the Galaxy Gear, it is incredibly thin if you compare it to Sony's smart watch. This was a downfall of a lot of first-gen smartwatches, was that it was like a little cube sitting on your wrist (alright, maybe it wasn't that bad, but you get the idea). The Pebble is also completely waterproof, which lends a lot of attractiveness to the product. This lets it be used in water sports, snow sports, and on a particularly bad weather day. The Pebble also has a nice band which is durable, There's nothing worse on regular watches than having the band wear out and having to go buy a new one. With the Pebble, you're practically set for life. There are of course though, customization options. Pebble initially comes in red or black, but you can add skins to make it almost any color. Similarly, you can buy different bands if it suits your fancy. The cosmetics of this watch put it way above any other market competitor.

The rapid increase in the amount of smart watches on the market has led to a lot of debate on which one is the best. There are some major names producing right now, and many are compelled to choose with brand preference. The Pebble smart watch, however, is the best watch, and made by a relatively small company. The Pebble is the best on the market because of its functionality, its price, and its cosmetics.

Get a Chromecast

My latest little gadget is a popular item out by Google called the Chromecast. Chromecast is a product in a category that is not by any means new, its the home entertainment industry. The tidy little HDMI dongle plugs into your TV and allows you to play movies, TV shows, music, etc. from your tablet, smartphone, or computer, onto the screen. Essentially it turns your TV into a smart TV. The best part about this little device? Its just $35. Compare an $800 TV with  $35 Chromecast to a $1300 smart TV, and the winner of that battle is pretty clear. You should buy one.

The Chromecast is a clean little dongle that is incredibly easy to set up. You literally plug it into your TV, name it, and connect it to your Wi-Fi. Then you simply download an app on one of your other devices, and voila! You just got a smart TV for $35. I used to have a competitor product called the NeoTV. This device came in the form of a small box with a remote. This was much more laborious to set up, because it was a lot slower. The beauty of the Chromecast is that it is cheap because it runs of of the existing hardware in your device. That means if your device is halfway decent, then the Chromecast will perform extremely well. The NeoTV's major fault was that the hardware was awful, so if you wanted to stream something, you had to go through the really cheap hardware that was built in. Coincidentally, my NeoTV broke a couple months after the release of the Chromecast, so I was able to upgrade for free through the factory warranty on the old device.

The other thing about Chromecast that makes it a product that you should buy as soon as possible is that it is insanely cheaper than other devices. For example, the Apple TV, $100. Roku 3, $100. My crappy NeoTV, same price. As long as you're an inhabitant in modern society and have an existing computer, phone, or tablet, the Chromecast is the best possible option for a smart TV alternative. That's another main reason I liek the Chromecast, because you can operate it with devices that you are already familiar with and use all the time. On the NeoTV, I had a remote that didn't work very well and which I didn't really ever get familiar with. With the Chromecast, I get on my iPad or my Moto X and use the features that I am in contact with daily. Its a far better user experience.

I hope that this has convinced you to get a Chromecast. I've only had mine a couple of weeks, and I can tell you that its the easiest device I've ever used. No hassle setting it up, no hassle using it. If you want a smart TV, heck, if you have a TV, get a Chromecast and you will not regret it at all.