Friday, November 30, 2012

Most Used Apps: BeyondPod

I get asked the question all the time, mostly because of my job, "What do you use your smartphone for?" The typical answer can be just about anything except doing the dishes. The following post is, and some of the posts to follow will outline, specifically, some of the most useful things that I use my smartphone for. I am going to try to keep them platform agnostic as possible, because I truly don't prefer one smartphone operating system to another, so everyone should receive some benefit from these posts. Currently, I am using an Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.2.1, but I have used and will use in the future (I'm sure), iPhones, Windows Phones and Blackberrys.

The app that I use the most on my current phone is one called BeyondPod. It is, if you haven't guessed, a podcast app. Podcasts are "a type of digital media consisting of an episodic series of audio radiovideoPDF, or ePub files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device.(Wikipedia

BeyondPod is one of my most used apps for many reasons; chief among them is because I spend a lot of time driving, and I need to be both productive and alert during that time. I find that listening to podcasts is great way to accomplish both of these objectives. 

Many people will tell you that they can't suffer a long trip without music. But when you spend enough time driving, the repetition that comes along with a regular radio station is maddening. Radio stations have to play what is most popular in order to keep listeners coming back. Which means they play the same 15 to 20 songs on a reoccurring loop, ALL DAY LONG. Not to mention, when you drive long distances, I typically drive between 35 and 70 miles one way to work, you can drive in and out of radio station coverage, and keeping the constant stream of music flowing can be a hassle. Not to mention the 10 minute long commercial blocks that radio stations need to subject you to in order to remain financially solvent. Call me crazy, but I hearing the same used car dealer prattle on time and time again about how much inventory they have, and their great pricing just doesn't hold my attention.

I also use podcasts to be productive. If you have an interest, hobby, profession or maybe you want to learn a new language, there is someone in the world that produces a podcast for you. In my current profession I need to keep current on what is going on with technology. So my playlist includes: All About Android, MacBreak Weekly, Tech News Today, This Week in Google and This Week in Tech (all from the TWiT network). There are times when I do get "tech'd our" though, so I also subscribe to Freakanomics Radio, and The Moth Podcast, when I want to listen to human interest stories. But you can find podcasts that cover just about everything under the sun from personal fitness to financial management to cooking to sports to music. If there it is written about on the internet, then chances are there is a podcast about it somewhere out there.

BeyondPod is hardly the only podcasting app out there. I have been using BeyondPod for more than a couple of years and find it easy to navigate (because of familiarity) and very functional. There are quite a few podcasting apps in each of the respective operating systems app stores, and in fact iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry all have their own podcast app built into the operating system. My suggestion is to try out a few and pick one you like. It's free and easy, and like I said, much more engaging and entertaining then listening to "DEALS, DEALS, DEALS!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Internet Privacy

One topic that has been in the news a lot lately, at least in tech circles, is internet privacy and how it should be governed. Of this I have a conflicted view. On one hand I can see the need not to make it legal for any government agency to just be snooping around in your stuff, but on the other hand I do see the benefit to some sort of monitoring.

The current rules that govern electronic communication, The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, are a little outdated I would say. Since 1986 the web has totally change. Think of it this way: Yesterday, November 20th, was the 28th anniversary of the release of Windows 1.0, that's the original version of the operating system that 90% of the world uses now. Internet Explorer wasn't released until 1995, Apple's Safari in 2003, Mozilla's Firefox in 2004 and Google's Chrome in 2008. Much of the web wasn't even thought of in 1986. Forms of communication like Facebook (2003), Twitter (2006) and even Google (~1998) were not even a twinkle in their creators eyes in 1986.

Since that time the web has become a go-to form of communication for many people, companies, not-for-profit agencies, organizations and yes, bad people. Let's face it, the web is faster, cheaper and more secure than face to face interaction, telephony, fax, courier and snail mail. You can communicate and store and transfer large amounts of data with the click of a button. But, good people are not the only ones who have figured this out; bad guys are smart too; and there has to be ways to act at the speed of communication.

The current amendment to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act would allow for certain government agencies to obtain records of emails, data stored online (via Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud etc.) to be obtained by 22 federal agencies without the need for a time consuming warrant  only a subpoena would be necessary. This would reduce the time needed to procure, what may be life saving, information. I think this principal has its merits.

One part of the amendment that I disagree with is that the agency would not have to tell you if they have obtained those records for as long as 360 days. This is done for the purposes of ongoing investigations. While on one hand I have watched enough episodes of Law and Order to know that a strong case needs to be assembled, I am a little uncomfortable with the fact that the government may show up on my doorstep a year from now and say "Last year we looked at your Dropbox and Gmail accounts and we didn't find anything."

I am of the opinion that if you don't want something to be out there for the world to see and for your comments pictures and activity to be entombed on the internet for eternity (because they will be) then don't put it on the internet. Use some common sense. But as the old saying goes: "Common sense is not always that common." I am also of the opinion that if you aren't willing to accept your punishment, then you probably shouldn't be a criminal, because at some point you will get caught. There is no such thing as a perfect crime.

Technology will always out-pace Law, there is no disputing that. But I would say that a law that was written in 1986, that is used to govern electronic communications is ancient by the internets standards. Does it need to be re-written? Of course. But I don't want it to be re-written in terms that move us closer to a socialist state like the former Soviet Union or current China. Let's take some time to think about this and write a law that will be able to evolve to support the good citizens on the internet as well as punish the people that use it for evil. Don't just jump at a piece of legislation because you are in a lame-duck session and you want to get it on the books so that you can leave your governmental stamp on the internet.

Obviously, these are only my opinions. And this is only a VERY rudimentary explanation of what is going on. If you want more information so you can form your own opinion I suggest CNETs article by Declan McCullagh (Senate bill rewrite lets feds read your e-mail without warrants), this is the article that broke the news yesterday. And if your opinion is strong enough, I urge you to contact your local Senator (Contact Elected Officials) to let your voice be heard on the matter. And if you want to let me know how you feel, leave me a comment, I'm always open to learning and hearing other peoples point of view.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Do I Want To Do With My Life

There comes a time when you have to figure out what you want to do with your life. For me that time has come in the last couple of weeks.

I have done many things in my life and worn many hats. I have gone from working in an amusement park right out of college to building homes and construction, to building furniture in a factory, bar tending, customer service, product representative to national retail locations and currently am in sales management. My life has changed at many different times of my life, and sometimes that change was forced, but I have always landed on my feet and will continue to do so.

I have also had many dreams in life, and not all of them have been realized. During college I wanted to own a bar (I even had a name: The Third Base - The Last Stop Before Home, clever huh?). Then I worked in a bar, and... well... 2 o'clock in the morning on a Tuesday trying to usher drunks out quickly ended that dream. I have wanted to be a custom woodworker. I don't know why I gave up on this, probably lack of time and money needed to start. I have wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a reporter, start my own blog, and tell people about whatever was on my mind. But for anyone who has suffered through some of my writing, you can figure out why I gave up on that endeavor (plus I lack the consistency to sit down and write regularly).

Currently I am in a "dreamless" state, I don't know what I want to do, I am looking for that next "hat" to wear. It may be that I am where I am supposed to be. What is next? I don't know, but in all of the years that I have been working, the only thing that has stayed constant is change. It has come at me whether I want it to or not.

The thing that determines how successful you are in life is how you adapt to that change. Do you let it crush you? Or do you embrace it, make it work for you and rise above? As for my part I would like to say that I have been fairly successful at rolling with the punches.