Monday, November 21, 2011

Android Apps That Are Actually Useful

A couple of months ago my trusty flip phone finally circled the drain after several years of unfaltering service. So I bit the bullet and upgraded to a smartphone. All I really wanted was a phone with a decent camera, but as I soon found out the only option for that was to go with the smartphone. I’d been dragging my feet on the upgrade for a while despite the constant pleas from Her Indoors. I’m not sure what it is about these phones that I dislike so much. I’m a serious tech geek in all other aspects of life, and I’m an early-adopter on most other pieces of technology. However, with regards to phones I tend to lean more into crotchety old man status. I think it is probably the way people constantly rely on them to relay every painfully useless morsel of information about their life to those in their social circle. At the same time they make people more socially inept. I see groups of friends gathered together to have a pint, but rather than being present with their mates they’ve got their faces focused on their mobile device. People are constantly answering messages, checking emails, doing web searches while in the middle of a conversation with no indication of what they are doing. It’s rude. In my mind it’s the same as turning your back on someone that is talking to you mid-sentence and engaging someone else in a conversation. Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a rant against mobile devices. They are amazingly versatile and powerful pieces of technology, and they can be very useful if configured properly. In the end I purchased HTC’s Incredible 2 because it had a great combination of features, and I’m not an Apple fanboy. 
 
So after a few months of use I thought I’d put together an incomplete list of applications that allow the mobile device to actually be somewhat smart and marginally useful. Of course Android devices come preloaded with a crapload of questionably useful applications. The top preloaded apps on the Droid are: Camera, Flashlight, Kindle, YouTube, Google Maps, Navigation, and Quick Office. To be fair these are the only preloaded apps that I ever use. All of the dozens of other applications that are preloaded are just wasted space and are particularly annoying since you cannot uninstall them. Lame. 

Over the course of a few months I have downloaded and uninstalled dozens of apps that I thought were cool or useful, but here are the ones that remain. These apps are all free, by the way. So here is Daniel P. Daniel’s list of essential free Android apps for your device in no particular order…actually let’s do this in the order that I downloaded them, shall we? 

1. SoundHound:  Ever wonder who the artist is that is singing a song while you’re buzzing down the highway? Want to settle an argument about which album the song was on? What is that song anyway? Identify it with this gem.

2. Google Earth:  This is easily the most powerful free app on the market. You can use Google Earth to fly around the planet with the swipe of a finger. I found this app surprisingly useful on a recent hunting expedition in Routt National Forest. Since this app finds your location via satellite it will work in areas that have no cell service. If you pre-load the maps of the areas you plan on visiting this single free app will replace your compass, GPS, and maps. If you are looking for a more full-bodied GPS/ Topo map application check GAIA GPS (http://www.gaiagps.com/), but it is not free.

3. ConvertPad: ConvertPad is a simple and powerful unit converter. Nothing glamorous here, just a full-featured app that is fast and easy to use.

4. BJCPDroid: This is a must have for any beer snobs in the group. BJCPDroid gives you the beer judge certification program style guidelines in the palm of your hand. Fully searchable by style, and it even comes with a standard reference meter to gauge the color of the beer in your other hand.

5. Gmail: I think we all know what this is.

6. Facebook: Although it takes a bit of getting used to the interface, the Facebook app gives you everything you need to post drunken pictures of yourself online and check in from the stall of your favorite Mexican restaurant’s bathroom.

7. MP3 Ringtone Box: Apparently every smartphone user needs to have the annoying capacity to customize ringtones to every person in their contact list, and the preloaded apps that come with the Droid are surprisingly dismal. This application makes millions of popular mp3 ringtones and sounds available to you for free. The best part of this app is that you can also create your own ringtones from mp3 sound files via their sound editor.

8. Zedge: This has a pretty good list of pre-edited ringtones and notification sounds, but I prefer the Ringtone Box app above for most of my ringtones.

9. Google Goggles:  This is a surprisingly under-marketed piece of software. It allows you to perform a web search by simply taking a picture. Goggles uses image recognition technology to recognize objects and return relevant search results. Identifies products, famous landmarks, storefronts, artwork, and popular images found online. Goggles can translate words in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. You can scan barcodes to get product information, scan QR codes to extract information, add contacts by scanning business cards or QR codes, and even solve Sudoku puzzles. Nice work Google.

10. Google Sky Map:  This is the sister app to Google Earth. Simply point your phone anywhere in the sky, and the Google Sky Map will instantly turn Cousin Billy Bob into Copernicus.

11. RealCalc: This is a simple to use scientific calculator. ‘Nuff said.

12. Alarm Clock Xtreme: I find it annoying that the Droid doesn’t come preloaded with an alarm clock. I mean, how am I supposed to know when I’ve been sleeping too long at my desk? Anyway, this app is great, and it comes with loads of possibilities for customization.

13. TED Mobile: TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting ideas worth spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The talks are inspiring and enlightening. Much better that scanning YouTube for people getting kicked in the crotch…well, pretty close.

14. Photoshop Express: This app allows you to edit and share photos virtually anywhere. Simply touch to crop, rotate, adjust color, and add artistic effects. Then send them into cyberspace.

15. Spirit Level Plus: Finally! I don’t need to carry my four-foot level around wherever I go. Everybody carries a level around with them, right? Well now you can.

16. IMDb: Handheld access to the international film and movie database. This app is essentially the movie version of SoundHound. I just use it to settle arguments.

17. Baby monitor: Baby Monitor is an app that helps you in watching your baby even when you don’t want to be in the same room with it. If your baby is asleep and you are in another room, the baby monitor will detect if your baby is crying and alert you by a call or a text message to whatever phone number you like.

18. Random Mahjong: Awesome app for killing time while dropping the deuce.

19. Vlingo:  Vlingo combines voice to text technology with its "intent engine" to help you quickly complete your desired action. Simply speak to your phone or type a command through the action bar to get just about anything done while on the go. I find this application immensely useful while driving. However, talking at my phone makes me feel like a weirdass, so I only use this app when I’m alone.

20. GEICO BroStache: Yeah, yeah. I know it’s silly.

21. Google+: G+ is Facebook’s up-and-coming competition, and (like I said before) I’m an early adopter. This app would be a whole lot cooler if it had the “What’s Hot” links that standard G+ has.

22. Pandora: The Droid operating system comes preloaded with Slacker, but I already have all of my stations figured out on Pandora. I can’t be bothered to do the same on Slacker, so here we are.

23. SwiftKey X:  The stock keyboard for the android is OK at predictive text, but the SwiftKey X keyboard steps it up a huge notch and has mastered the art of predictive conversation. It is fast, customizable, and uses swipe gestures, which makes this a necessary addition to the “must have” apps. 

These mobile devices can be customized to be as unique as their owners, and not everyone uses them in the same way. However, I think this is a pretty good starting point for any new Android owners out there. What do you think? Am I missing any big hitters? 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupy This...

I know we don’t usually wade too deeply into the political fray here at Daniel P. Daniel’s blog, but there is a movement afoot that at least bears mentioning and discussion.  Amidst the Arab Spring, the recession/depression/banana/whaterverthefuck, the two wars, and the build-up to next year’s elections people are massing by the thousands all across the United States and elsewhere on our fair planet to cry foul against the top 1% of the wage earners.  The Occupy Wall Street movement has gained momentum among the middle class, and those enlisted to “protect and serve” are starting to push back.  The delicate theatrical act that is the dance between protesters and police is being played out on the world’s stage as it has so many times before.  What is this Occupy Wall Street movement, and why are the participants willing to be beat about the neck and face with a police baton to shout at the statistical 1%?  What do they hope to gain?  Let’s take a moment to dig a bit into this, shall we?

According to the web site www.occupywallst.org:  Occupy Wall Street is a people-powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. #ows is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.  Shit yeah, stick it to the man!  This is of course a noble goal, but it is one that is entirely unattainable.  People have been fighting against the power of banks and corporations since the day currency was invented.  I think the important question to ask here is: why is this happening when the economy is bad?  Why not rise up when the economy is good?  The answer to these questions should tell us something about the movement itself.

The majority of the participants of the Occupy movement are white, male, independent voters that have college educations and are gainfully employed.  You won’t find too many poor, Mexican immigrant farm workers participating in the movement even though they are the ones that should be shouting the loudest.  The people of the movement are people that feel entitled.  These are people that have had good lives and now, maybe, they are getting a taste of what it feels like for the rest of the world, which is why this movement is happening when times are rough.  There is no reason to complain when the living is easy.  No reason to pick at the fabric that binds them.  Here’s the problem: these guys work for corporations, and the corporate hierarchy is populated by this richest 1% that people are so fond of mentioning.

I don’t really understand this 1% idea.  Statistically, there is always a highest 1%, right?  Why is that number any more significant than any other?  Because it sounds good, and it's easy to keep in mind that we are talking about one in a hundred.  However, it is also important to realize that the lower half of that top 1% has much less than those in the top half; in fact, both wealth and income are super-concentrated in the top 0.1%, which is just one in a thousand.  Basically, the top 1% just sounds good to say, and most Americans don’t understand decimals.  Here’s a good article about some historical trends regarding the 1%: http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html.  Wealth will always be concentrated at the top of the scale because money is needed to make money.  It will be and always has been that way regardless of the form of government or currency that is chosen.  It will be that way even if we decide to trade in chicken beaks and shiny rocks.  Does that make the people in the top 1% evil?  Not at all.  They are likely to be out of touch with reality and hardship, but not always evil.

People like to think that corporations are filled with black-souled, sulfur-smelling evil doers because corporations seem to make questionable deals and they are big targets.  However, corporations are not necessarily evil – they are necessarily apathetic.  Apathy and evil are not the same.  They have to be apathetic in general because they must guard their profits to ensure that their shareholders make money on their investments.  This begs the question: who are the shareholders?  Anyone that owns stock or has a pension plan, a 401k, a retirement plan, life insurance, etc. that invests in the stock market (and reaps benefits) is basically a shareholder.  Do you hold on to mutual funds that lose money or do you drop them down the toilet like yesterday’s lunch burrito?  I thought so.  Fundamentally, corporations must make money to survive.  This generally happens when consumers purchase their goods.  Let’s take your favorite fast food chain as an example.  They want to produce the final greasy product and get it into your fat hands for as low of a price as possible and sell it to your fat face for as high of a price as you’re willing to pay (speaking strictly about money here, not health, self-esteem, happiness, etc.).  How do they accomplish this?  By pushing around their suppliers and demanding that the beef (for example) they buy for their burgers only costs a nanocent per ton.  The small, sometimes local, suppliers agree because the fast food jocks sell so much product that it would kill them to lose the business.  How do the local suppliers (who are not large corporations, by the way) cut costs?  Any way they can regardless of the health and safety of the work force or the quality of the product.  Now, in this example, who is at fault?  Is it Mega-McFood Corp or is it the suppliers that bend to them?  Hold your monitor upside down for the answer.  Actually, it is neither.  The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the chunky consumer that thinks it is OK to cram six ten-cent burgers in his face every day.  In the U.S. (and most of the rest of the developed world) we live in a consumer-driven economy.  If consumers demand products that are produced in a manner that promotes the health and well-being of the planet and the workforce they will get it.  It is up to the consumer to tell the corporations what kind of products to sell.  Consumers can’t yell at corporations for protecting their own bottom line when they field complaints that a gallon of milk is $0.02 more than last year.  We, as consumers, give them power, and essentially force them into action.

Imagine a world where all of our food is produced organically, all of our energy is renewable, all of our clothing is made by consenting adults, everyone has healthcare, and cute baby bunnies ride unicorns over rainbows.  How do you think those organic fair trade sandals are going to be produced, Hippie?  If you guessed “Jesus will provide them” I appreciate your naiveté, but you are wrong on many levels. There will still be corporations that manage the production and sale of these goods.  Unless we pull all of our money out of banks and bury it in the backyard with our dead pets and grow our own clothes from found seeds we will always be beholden to corporations and banks, and it will always be our responsibility to force their actions by the choices we make as consumers.  We can’t keep buying the least expensive option and act surprised when we find out that Chinese three-year olds are making the toys for our five-year olds. 

Take a look at the picture.  It is pretty accurate. The people of the Occupy movement complain about the corporations that they support directly by working for them or indirectly by purchasing their products.  It seems a twee bit hypocritical to complain about the corporations that they do business with on a continual basis.  This hypocrisy was highlighted recently when the protesters became outraged that their personal possessions were taken away by the morons at the NYC police department (admittedly a shitty move by the fucksticks at the PD).  Those possessions that they cling to are made by the corporations that they are railing against.  By the way, banks and corporations have never listened to protests.  I can’t think of one instance in which a carefully worded chant spoken through the people’s megaphone has ever shown a bank the error of their ways.  Protests will not convince politicians to put anti-bank legislation on the ballot, either.  That would be a political death sentence.  And, unless voters say that there should be no professional politicians, no politician is going to willingly give up their job no matter how socially beneficial their choice would be.

If change is truly what is wanted, the people of the Occupy movement shouldn’t wait for November to vote anyway.  They should vote with their checkbooks.  They should join the Buy Nothing movement if they want out, or buy products locally if they want to keep their money clean.   Don’t camp in a public park and be surprised when a bunch of remedial, mouth-breathing, lack-witted, ball-washing, douche holes with lizard brains (read: police) spray them in the face with pepper spray (manufactured by Dow Chemical).  Of course that is their right as a U.S. citizen; just don’t tell me it will ever make a difference to the corporate landscape.  And, by the way, comparing this movement to the Arab Spring is particularly offensive considering Wall Street isn’t kidnapping and torturing dissenters or treating women like pets (any more).  Occupy your desk, Whitey, and be the change that you want to see in the world.  Leave the uprisings to the people who are truly repressed.