Busy times call for short posts

Hey everyone, I’m going to be really busy this week, but I’m planning a longish piece on space and astronomy (with the last space station mission having just docked with the ISS) hopefully before the weekend! Anyhow, I did still want to share some of my favorite things with you, as a bonus today I have a great app to share with everyone, for those smartphone owners among us.

Jailbreak Tweak: Running List

This tweak lets you use otherwise wasted space in your spotlight search area to show all the apps you have running, and allows you to quit them by tapping on the icon on the left and then pressing quit, or with a simple swipe across the name followed by quit. This app saves time in quitting apps and lets you easily access apps which are running if you don’t like the multitasking dock.
Google+ Feature: Hangouts

While this video is low on details, it gets the basic point across quite nicely. Basically you can start a chat conversation or “Hangout” and then invite people to join you. People you have allowed who log in will see that you are hanging out and will be able to join the hangout, up to a maximum of 10 people. The main video automatically focuses on the person who is talking, just like in a conversation, although you can also choose to focus on one person by clicking on their video. You can also selectively mute people in the conversation, as well as the awesome feature of playing a YouTube clip as a “member” of the group chat. Conversation volume is lowered, and a walkie-talkie-esque push to talk button appears so that the video clip has focus. It is a great way to show friends you can’t be with clips and gauge their reactions in real time since everyone is watching the same part of the clip at any given moment. From experience it also makes for really fun dance parties when you can’t actually be at a club, for example mid-afternoon.

Smartphone app: Viber (iOS)/Viber (Android Beta)
This app is an extremely basic yet extremely useful one. It lets you send SMS messages and make voice calls for free using data/WiFi. This can be extremely useful as the calls are of very high quality and long distance is still free and doesn’t use any more data. From what I have seen the data usage is also minimal. The best part about this app is that signing up is as simple as installing the app and inputting your phone number. The app then finds your friends who also have the app installed and shows you those people. You can also make calls to people who don’t have the app installed through the app, but it will use your minutes. There is no account to worry about, your phone number is your account and it is how people will find you. The more people who use this, the better, so get crackalackin! I have also heard that there is an Android version conducting beta testing, so please do try this out and see how it works, I would love to see everybody get this to try!
I hope to have a real post for you soon!
-Robert

Contract Killer

Hello again, I have been asked to discuss the pros/cons of cell phone contracts. This is an issue which I’m sure impacts almost all of you, so hopefully you’ll get something out of it whether or not you actually care.

First of all, in the 8 or so years I’ve owned cell phones (don’t quote me on that number), I have run the gamut of plans and contracts, so I consider myself a wealth of knowledge in this area. My first cell phone was a pay-as-you-go throwaway phone from Telus back around the start of high school. When I describe it as a throwaway phone I mean that it was being sold for $30 with $30 worth of pay-as-you-go included on the account. The phone was a piece of junk, but it was really only for emergencies and arranging rides with my parents, so all in all it was a good first experience, but a short lived one. My second phone, the first one I got without my parents, was also pay-as-you-go, with Bell. It was a beautiful Nokia bar phone which I loved with all my heart. I knew even then that contracts were a terrible idea, and that at that time I also didn’t have the money or requirement for a plan, so paying 15c/txt wasn’t a huge deal, and I rarely made calls with it. That setup also didn’t last long, which was the beauty of paying for service as you use it, because there was no commitment to any particular carrier. Next I moved on to Virgin Mobile, still on pay-as-you-go. I had the same Nokia phone for a while with Virgin, but I think I went through 3 phones with them in the span of less than a year. I was working part time in high school and had disposable income with nothing to buy, so spending $50-80 on a phone every 3-6 months wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and I enjoyed always having a new phone, so I was never bored. Through first year of university I still didn’t have any need for a plan since I barely used my phone, but I was suddenly hit with the knowledge that I could sign a piece of paper, receive a phone, and with the promise of paying a bill every month, I would be set for (at that time) life!

December 9th, 2007 was the night when my life changed. My shiny new Motorola W510 arrived in the mail and I hurriedly called to confirm and activate my service. I had locked in a 36-month contract with Fido and with the awesome phone number 613-255-3311 I was off to the races. In my adolescent naivety I had signed up for a 3 year contract in order to save $100 dollars on the price of my phone, which was originally $150. My plan was $60+change/month, and included several instances of the word unlimited. At the ripe old age of 19 I was all too susceptible to reacting favourably to the word unlimited. My plan came with UNLIMITED text messaging, UNLIMITED incoming calls, UNLIMITED evenings and weekends starting at 7 PM. It had all the call display, voicemail and call waiting options included, and it was more than what I needed. That is all well and good, but I didn’t use all of my minutes, and ended up that most of the time I used was both incoming as well as evening, so both weren’t really necessary. After 2 years, Fido changed their plans and so I was able to change my options and  save about $10/month getting rid of the redundant unlimited options. I also decided at that time to add data to my plan, as well as upgrading to add unlimited picture/video messages and extending my evenings/weekends to begin at 5 PM, which only cost $5/month all together. I was very frustrated with having a contract at this point, but it didn’t bother me too much because I was very happy with my plan.

Fast forward now to December 9th, 2010. I still have the same plan, and I am now paying $45.20/mo consistently for 100 daytime minutes (ie. 9-5 weekdays) a month, with unlimited everything else (data and texting) besides long distance. I have the ability to make calls through Google on my phone as well as any computer with a microphone, which is what I do for long distance since the long distance I use is always from home this isn’t a big deal anyhow. I am still extremely happy with my plan and expect to continue to use it as long as I can. I bought my last 3 phones at cost without the contractual subsidy because I have come to realize that contracts are a gigantic rip-off (in most cases) designed to take advantage of people who don’t have the money to buy a snazzy new phone up front but still want one. People see this as an advantage because as humans we find it extremely difficult to think long term. That being said, there are certainly cases, especially with smartphones, where you are saving up to $500 with a contract. This contract though, is worth over $2000 to the carrier in most cases, and in the cases where you are saving $500, you are usually still paying anywhere from $50 to $300 dollars for the subsidized phone. With new phones being pushed out every few months, and older models being made obsolete within a year or two, three year contracts have become a little bit less pervasive, with some carriers also offering two year contracts, which are a little bit more reasonable. Even still, contracts are certainly not worth it for me without considerable perks.

I have decided in light of some discussions I have been having with friends that I would like to show reasons people why iPhones should be jailbroken, as well as why Google+ is the future of social networking, not just a fad.

Jailbreak Tweak: SBSettings

This utility allows for quick toggling of items such as WiFi, bluetooth, brightness, and gives the ability to close processes. If you are tired of going into settings to change these things, they are accessible with a quick swipe of the status bar on a jailbroken phone. It is a very easy convenient way to access these settings, and I recommend everybody jailbreak their phone, even if just for this tool. A quick visit to http://www.jailbreakme.com is all it takes for the time being!

Google+ Feature: Sharing options

Lets you choose who specifically [or which groups (called circles)] you would like to share things with. You can add a photo (or album), a video clip, a link (or embedded video or photo) and your location (even from desktop computers) should you so desire. It is a beautiful smooth interface so you don’t have to share new baby pictures of your cousins with your acquaintance you met last night at the bar, and you don’t have to share pictures of you cheersing your bar mates with your boss when you call in sick the next day. It is a beautiful thing, and extremely easy and intuitive to use.

A Time to Kill

I wonder from time to time if I am too dependent on technology, and more specifically on being networked at all times. I currently have a cell phone service plan with unlimited data as well as a broadband cable internet package with a 300 GB cap. I do not have cable or subscribe to any sort of internet TV/movies package. My ultimate goal is to be paying one small price for my telephone and internet services and not pay for absolutely anything which I don’t use. I also often dream of what life would be like if I didn’t have a cell phone and/or data on my phone. This would save money, but I’m sure I would miss it and in fact be worse off without it. The one problem is that if I try to scale these things down, like for example if I cut my phone usage down to nothing for a month to see if I can survive (or thrive) is that I would still be paying $45 for the phone if I’m not using it. Some people might say that this isn’t a huge deal, but I’m a student, and if I’m paying for a telephone plan, I’m not not going to use it. There are much better cheaper replacements to SMS and voice calling using cellular networks, but they are not widespread and so adoption of them would simply serve to break my communication up many different ways. In this manner I suppose that settles the issue right there, in that clearly it is more affordable to just pay the $5/mo for unlimited texting just because it is convenient.

I am however, a firm believer in the idea that doing something only because it is convenient is ridiculous. SMS is a horribly outdated technology, and the fact that it exists only on your cell phone and nowhere else seems incredibly silly to me. I had a Sony Ericsson phone 2 summers ago which connected to my computer via USB and had an application interface which would be able to see my texts, and would send me a notification when I had a new one, which I could respond to without touching my phone. I now know this sort of thing is possible, and so I cannot understand why we are forced to send texts on the tiny little keyboard if our computer is the device we’re actually using. On a WiFi network this seems like it would require very little extra work on the part of the programmer, and yet we live in a world where the majority of messages we send rely on actually having one specific device in our hands. I am hopeful that with the widespread adoption of smartphones one day we can be freed from expensive texts. (PS, I know that if Google Voice ever came to Canada, this would be a moot point, but it seems like that may never happen, so this is the best we can do for now)

I could continue on this point for a long time but I feel like a long-winded rant is super pointless, so if anybody wants to talk further on this, or has something working really well in this regard, please let me know, I’m curious to talk about it more.

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekends!

-Robert