Category Archives: Android

Automation with IFTTT

Image result for IFTTT

“If This, Then That”, or IFTTT, is a powerful and easy to use automation tool that can make your life easier. IFTTT is an easy way to automate tasks that could be repetitive or inconvenient. It operates on the fundamental idea of if statements from programming. Users can create “applets”, which are simply just scripts, that trigger when an event occurs. These applets can be as simple as “If I take a picture on my phone, upload it to Facebook”, or range to be much more complex. IFTTT is integrated with over 300 different channels,  including major services such as Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and many others, which makes automating your digital life incredibly easy.

Getting Started with IFTTT and Your First Applet

Getting started with IFTTT is very easy. Simply head over to the IFTTT website and sign up. After signing up, you’ll be read to start automating by creating your first applet. In this article, we will build a simple example applet to send a text message of today’s weather report every morning.

In order to create an applet, click on “My Applets” at the top of the page, and select “New Applet”.

Now you need to select a service, by selecting the “this” keyword. In our example, we want to send a text message of the weather every morning. This means that the service will be under a “weather” service like Weather Underground. Hundreds of services are connected through IFTTT, so the possibilities are almost limitless. You can create applets that are based off something happening on Facebook, or even your Android/iOS device.

Next, you need to select a trigger. Again, our sample applet is just to send a text message of the weather report to your text in the morning. This trigger is simply “Today’s weather report”. Triggers often have additional fields that need to be filled out. In this particular one, the time of the report needs to be filled out.

Next, an action service must be selected. This is the “that” part of IFTTT. Our example applet is going to send a text message, so the action service is going to fall under the SMS category.

Like triggers, there are hundreds of action services that can be be used in your applets. In this particular action, you can customize the text message using variables called “ingredients”.

Ingredients are simply variables provided by the trigger service. In this example, since we chose Weather Underground as the trigger service, then we are able to customize our text message using weather related variables provided by Weather Underground such as temperature or condition.

After creating an action, you simply need to review your applet. In this case, we’ve just created an applet that will send a text message about the weather every day. If you’re satisfied with what it does, you can hit finish and IFTTT will trigger your applet whenever the trigger event occurs. Even from this simple applet, it is easy to see that the possibilities of automation are limitless!

Getting Started with Android Studio

Android is a great platform for a beginner developer to make his or her first smartphone app on. Android apps are written in Java, and the graphics are generally written in XML. Android apps are developed in many well-known IDEs (integrated development environments – programs that typically package together a code editor, compiler, debugger, interpreter, build system, version control system, and deployment system, as well as other tools) such as Eclipse, IntelliJ IDEA, and Android Studio. In this article we will cover the basics of Android Studio.

Android Studio logo

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Fitbit, Machine Learning, and Sleep Optimization


Photo: Fitbit Blog

My big present for Christmas this year was a Fitbit Charge 2. I’d wanted one for a while, but not for anything Fitness related. While I do like to keep track of my active lifestyle choices, I didn’t desire one with fitness in mind at all. My model Fitbit’s key feature (the reason I ditched my reliable $10 Casio watch for it) is its heart rate monitor. The monitor on my Charge 2 takes the form of two green, rapidly flashing LED lights. Visually and technically, it’s similar to the light you may be familiar with seeing underneath an optical mouse. Instead of tracking motion, though, this light’s reflection keeps track of the subtle changes in my skin’s color as blood pumps in and drains from my capillaries. It sends the data on time between color changes to my phone, which sends the information through a proprietary algorithm to determine my heart rate. Other algorithms take into account my average heart rate and my lowest heart rate to calculate my resting heart rate (55).

But in the end, these are all just numbers. Some people (like me) just like having this data, but what can you actually do with it? Well, the Fitbit has another interesting feature. It uses your heart rate and motion information to determine when you’ve fallen asleep, when you’ve woken up, and whether you’re sleeping deeply or restlessly. I can check my phone every morning for a graphical representation of my sleep from the previous night, and determine how well I slept, how long I slept, and how my sleep fits in with my desired regular schedule (11:45 to 7:45). Kind of cool, right?

With a new market emphasis on machine learning, and sleep researchers making strides in answering fundamental questions, things are about to get a lot cooler.

Everybody has experienced miraculous three-hour slumbers that leave them feeling like they slept a full night, and heartbreaking ten-hour naps that make them question whether they slept at all. Although most of us consider those simple anomalies, scientists have caught on, and are actively studying this phenomenon. From what I’ve gleaned online, scientists that study sleep find that allowing a sleeping subject to complete REM cycles (lasting about 90 minutes, with variation) results in fuller and more restoring sleep. In other words, 7 hours and 30 minutes can result in a better sleep than a full 8 hours. It sounds like quackery, but the evidence is widely available, peer-reviewed, and convincing to the layperson.

Machine learning has been a buzzword for at least the past year. The concept itself is worthy of an entire post, but to summarize it for my purposes, it’s a broad term that refers to programming algorithms that adjust their behavior based on data input. For example, programs that predict what a customer wants to buy will show ads to that customer on a variety of platforms and decide where to show those ads more often, based on how much time the customer spends on each platform. Machine learning is essentially automating programs to use big data to improve their predictive or deductive capabilities.

Let’s bring this all together for a look into the future: If my Fitbit can keep track of my heartbeat to a precise enough degree to determine when I am in REM sleep — or can use an intelligent, learning-capable algorithm to set alarms that give me an optimal amount of sleep — I can have a personalized, automatic alarm that adapts to my habits and improves my quality of rest. Would that convince you to buy one?

Organize your life with Taskary

Calendar apps are a popular way to organize your schedule and keep track of upcoming events and deadlines. One issue I have often had with these sorts of apps is that they tend to consider everything as an “event”. For example, if all I really need to know is that a paper is due on November 20th, I don’t really need to build in an arbitrary hour long “event” that’s happening on that day just to remember that my paper is due.

What I really want is a To-Do list, in this case, and that’s where Google calendar comes in. Even though the default item you can add to a calendar is an “Event”, with a start and end time, if you click beside it on “Task”, you can just add a single item with a name and a description.

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Then, all it has is a checkbox for you to select once you’ve done it. No notifications about “upcoming events” or anything of the sort, just simple items on a calendar.

However, one downside to this is that the Gmail calendar apps don’t sync tasks. For Android, there is a solution. The app “Taskary” is a great choice, with both a free and premium version, to sync tasks to your phone. You can quickly look at your schedule of to-do list items, as well as check them off once you’re done. And it all syncs back to your google account.

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For iOS users, or Android users who don’t want to install another app, the browser version of Google Calendar should let you access your tasks as well. But if you’re looking for a simple way to plan your schedule and deadlines, and have it accessible in a quick app, Taskary and Google Calendar are a great choice.

Today’s Virtual Reality Headsets

The world of Virtual Reality has had a dramatic increase in popularity in recent years. The technology that people have been waiting for has finally arrived and it comes in the form of a head-mounted display (HMD). There are many brands of HMD which range in their ability to achieve total immersion. The low-end forms of VR use a smartphone and a pair of lenses, like Google’s Cardboard:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Google Cardboard costs $15 and is about the cheapest form of VR you can find, assuming you already own a compatible smartphone.

The cheapest versions of VR use the same same lens-enclosure method of delivering VR. Users are limited to apps they can find on their phone’s app stores, which are buggy at best. Still, if you’re unsure whether or not you want to buy a more immersive HMD, this is a great way to get an idea of what you’ll be buying. The real immersion begins when the display and the technology inside is specifically designed for VR gaming.

The best VR experience while still keeping your wallet happy is from Samsung Gear VR, but it requires that you already own a recent Samsung Galaxy smartphone:

Samsung_Gear_VR

Samsung Gear VR

AT $60, the Samsung Gear VR has some more intricate technology than the Google Cardboard allowing for a better experience. You could also add the Gear 360, which allows for “walk around the room” immersion for $350 but if you find that price point reasonable you may be better off in the high-end territory. The Gear VR has its own app store with games designed for use with it.

If you don’t have a Galaxy Smartphone, but you do have a PlayStation, you may be interested in what 25818482705_8a1bb716bf_bSony has been working on. Their VR HMD is the Playstation VR. At $400, the PSVR connects to your PlayStation for use with VR-enabled games. The PSVR is meant to be used with the Playstation Move Controllers which will add another $100 to your total. A Sony executive says plans to make PSVR compatible with PC may be in their future.

The high-end forms of VR include the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive:

HTC Vive

These HMDs are designed with PC games in mind. They provide an experience far superior to the cheap options but will run at a high price of $599 for the Rift and $799 for the Vive. The Vive includes two hand controllers which allow the user to have virtual hands for interacting with VR objects. Oculus is working on a similar device, the Oculus Touch, which is available for pre-order as of October 2016.

Oculus Rift

Many companies are investing in virtual reality and creating their own devices to compete with the front-runners. It is expected that the VR market will expand much further, especially once the price point of the high-end HMDs comes down. Virtual Reality is in a state of great potential; the applications of these headsets goes well beyond gaming. The military is interesting in them for training purposes. Educators can use them to teach students. Doctors can use them to treat psychological conditions. I have no doubt that Virtual Reality will eventually become part of our everyday lives.

Working towards Perfect Information in the Digital Age

Voting with your dollar has been an idea since the earliest days of economic theory. It goes like this: In the absence of government intervention, ethical standards will be upheld by consumers, who will — being moral people — refuse to buy from companies that violate what they see as important rules and standards of ethical conduct.

As great as this idea sounds, for most of human history, it’s been a bit of a fantasy. After all, who but the most devoted of humanitarians with the most leisure time would take the time to research and evaluate every one of the companies they patronize? Like everyone interested in technology, you’re probably looking at this problem and wondering… Isn’t there an app for that? The answer is YES (http://www.buycott.com/): there IS an app for that. Multiple, in fact, but Buycott is my favorite. They crowd-source everything, and create a collaborative knowledge database on companies both in America and abroad, noting everything from corporate family trees to campaign donations.

Here’s how it works: You create an account, and the app immediately prompts you to choose from a number of causes that you feel strongly about. Be that GMO labeling or Female empowerment in developing countries, or even acceptance of Bitcoin, you can probably find a campaign that suits your interests. The idea is that you select support for multiple campaigns, then use the in-app barcode scanner to check items you plan to buy, and see how the companies you support stack up to your dearly held beliefs. If they don’t (which is a probability if you’re like me and buy a lot of cheap products from large, monolithic corporations), the campaign suggests an ideology-safe alternative.

Can’t find a cause you’re looking for? Make your own! All campaigns are user-generated and user-maintained, and on the off-chance you scan a product Buycott hasn’t yet heard of, it prompts you through a simple module to enter it into their database for the benefit of other users.

Never before has voting with your dollar and living according to your beliefs been so easy. Through technology, Buycott has created a community of consumers, dedicated to giving the buyer more bargaining power to engage in activism without giving up quality of life. As technology advances and people become more open to the idea of sharing their thoughts and activities with the world, we can move closer and closer towards a perfect market, in which all parties to an exchange know of alternatives, of each party’s activities, and of the moral character of those with whom we trade, and make redundant the clunky regulation of government intervention.

 

PS: There’s also a Chrome Extension

New Dual-Boot Android/Windows Phone

Ever wanted to have an Android phone but still be able to play Xbox Live games on mobile? Soon you’ll be able to!

An upcoming handheld developed by a Chinese company called Elephone will be able to do just that! The new phone rumored to be arriving in June will reportedly be able to dual-boot Android 5.0 and Windows 10 giving you the best of both worlds.

 

 

Although Windows phones are not nearly as common as Android devices and iPhones, they are still packed with plenty of useful features.

  • Full Microsoft Office Suite. Word, Excel and Powerpoint are included on all Windows 10 phones. The Suite will work the same on your phone as it does on your desktop with minimal compromises. Outlook and Calendar are also being revamped for 10.
  • Xbox Live gaming on your phone. Currently with the Xbox Live app you can tweak your avatar, check achievements and Gamerscore and message your friends. Using the SmartGlass app from the Windows Phone store you can navigate your Xbox dashboard, start and pause movies, and view information about your games and videos. In Windows 10 Microsoft is planning to be able to allow users to play Xbox Live games on their phones. Although the list is short Microsoft is working to integrate mobile and Xbox multiplayer capabilities.

  • More Space! When you sign up for a Microsoft Account you get 7 GB of free space on their OneDrive cloud-based storage. You can automatically sync your photos and videos to your account.  You’ll be able to able to access all your content through your Xbox on the big screen.
  • Messaging. With inline messaging you’ll be able to send text messages and Skype messages through one app. You can also resize and drag the keyboard around for more one-handed usability.
  • Cortana. Windows’ version of Siri can assist at making phone calls, texting, making calendar events and setting reminders, control alarms and music, set up directions and help you find places to go. You can ask Cortana about certain facts, ask her to check sports scores, suggest weight loss workouts, and find out how the Dow Jones did today.

With the dual-OS option you’ll be able to access all those great features and at the same time run Android Lollipop which has a whole slew of unique features itself:

  • Access to the Google Play Store which contains the most mobile apps ( over 1.3 million) compared to the iOS app store, Amazon Appstore and Windows Phone store. You can also download movies, books, and music.
  • Full integration of Google Services. Out of the box Android phones come equipped with apps like Gmail, Maps, Play Music, Hangouts, YouTube and Google Drive. It’s handy having everything in one Google folder on the home screen.
  • Google Now. Although originally a Google Search application, Now can do everything Cortana and Siri can do. Google has announced that they will also begin supporting third party applications such as Pandora, Duolingo and Lyft, among others.
  • Open Source. It’s easier to design and program applications for Androids as they are written using the Java coding language. There is a lot of documentation out there and free programs where one can learn to develop mobile applications.

Elephone is planning on releasing two phones, one just with Android and the second with the dual boot capabilities. Both versions will have large 5.5-inch 2K displays (1440 x 2560), 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of built in storage. There will also be a a battery reported to exceed 3800 mAh  For reference, the Samsung Galaxy S5 has a 2800 mAh battery and advertised for 21 hours of talk time.

There are slight differences in the 2 handhelds as the Android version of the phone will contain a 64-bit octa-core processor while the dual-OS phone will only contain a quad-core chip. Also, the Android-only handset will come with a 21MP camera while the dual version will only be 20.7MP. Both are expected to also come with fingerprint scanners.

If you, like myself, have been used to the Android interface but want to see what’s different or special about the mobile Windows OS you’ll be able to get both without sacrificing anything. Elephone is already popular outside of the United States for making affordable Androids so it’ll be interesting to see if they make any impact in the US market.

Stream services for TV and Movies

From cable-cutters to college students, nearly everybody is interested in video streaming services. You may be tempted to use torrenting software to get your TV shows and movies, but this software is notorious for landing people with copyright violation notices and occasionally some hefty fines. There are many legal alternatives to torrenting software, and I will discuss them here. Continue reading

Customizing Your Android

Android phones and tablets have many apps that allow you to customize how your device looks and behaves. Although the stock options do look nice by installing a few apps you can customize your device to your liking. One of the first things you will want to change is your wallpaper. Continue reading

How Does the “Cloud” Really Work?

cloud

Cloud Computing is becoming increasingly popular among both businesses and consumers; but what is the “Cloud” and how does it work?

A Cloud Computing System can be divided into two parts: the Front End and the Back End.  The Front End consists of either a user’s computer or a network of computers connected to the Internet.  The Back End is comprised of many different servers, computers, and storage databases that are all interconnected; these components, functioning together as a whole, form a “Cloud”.  A central server exists to administer the entire system, constantly monitoring it to prevent failures.  All these different components interact and communicate with each other through the Internet, forming a web of inter-connected, redundant devices.

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K-9 Mail for Android

Most smartphones come with an email app pre-installed. These stock apps provide a great way to check your email on the go. However, if you are having trouble configuring your mobile device, there are other email apps out there that offer additional features and customization options; that just work.

K-9 Mail for Android is an open-source email client that supports IMAP, POP3 and Exchange 2003/2007. Follow the instructions on the OIT Website to setup your Google Mail account for a mobile client.

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Reddit on the Go

Reddit is a popular online website that allows sharing of user created content as well as other material found online via articles, pictures, text based stories or comments, and videos. If you use it, you might want to access Reddit from your mobile device, as Reddit isn’t optimized for mobile browsers.

There are a lot of Reddit browsing apps available for mobile devices, and most of them are fantastic. But how do you choose which one to use? The easiest way to figure out which app works best for you is to try them, and here are a few free suggestions that might be worth checking out.

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Note Taking on a Touch Screen Device

It seems more and more that paper is on its last legs of usefulness. Most readings are posted online and books can be read on anything from your computer to your phone. One of the few things remaining is taking notes in class. Most touch screen devices don’t have the sensitivity or the speed to take down notes as fast as you can put ink to paper, at least until now. Touch screen devices now have the capability to nearly match paper, with the obvious benefits of having a digital copy of your notes and even helping the environment. Many professors post lecture slides online before class and having a touch device makes it easy to write on them without wasting tons of money on prints (and if you’re taking Organic Chemistry it is incredibly helpful). With that said, there are a couple options to choose from.

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5 Apps Every College Student Should Have

Most students on campus have these devices called smart phones, but what makes them so smart? Most people would tell you it’s because they are able to do more than just call and text, you can check Facebook, Twitter, reddit, and watch all the cat videos you want from a device that fits conveniently in your pocket. These phones have other features too, and some of them could help make your college career a more enjoyable experience.
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Mobile Malware: In the Wild

Introduction:

According to a recent study conducted by the networking company Juniper, mobile malware is on the rise, and malware found in the wild is targeted almost exclusively toward Android devices.

“Theoretical exploits for [Apple] iOS have been demonstrated, as well as methods for sneaking malicious applications onto the [Apple] iOS App Store,” the report says, but criminals have tended to favor Android as their target, because there is less oversight on the process of releasing applications into the wild” [1].

Running older versions of Android with a lack of consistent update support can significantly increase the risk of a device becoming infected. Users are encouraged to update to a newer version of Android if possible (through each device’s update utility). Continue reading

Android Apps: Comic Book Readers

dcheroesWith the new superhero craze that’s sweeping across the nation, comic books are becoming ever more popular. You can buy comics, download them on your computer, and even get them on your phone or tablet. There’s a huge variety of file types you can end up with – .cbr, .cbz. .cb7, .cbt, .cba, and so on. But, with great variety comes great responsibility. If you want to read these comics on your phone (or tablet), you’ll need an app that can do it all. Continue reading

Android Apps: A General Guide

As the number of Android smartphones sold worldwide continues to increase, so does the number of apps available to users in the Google Play Store. With over 850,000 apps and counting, it can often be a chore to separate the apps worth buying from the junk apps that are hardly worth a penny. What follows is an overview of some general techniques that can be used to discriminate between apps worth paying for and apps that aren’t quite worth the price tag. Continue reading