Saturday, April 30, 2016

Gadget Goodies 36 - Spiritual Tech

image used under Creative Commons license,  photo by deviantart user Hernaaan
It's been awhile since we did a Gadget Goodies column.  With good reason. We've joined the crew at Techaeris.  So, that's where our straight tech writing has gone.  And we've been able to cover a wider range of topics, from gene modification, to tech security, to a few personal reviews.  From now on, that's where you'll find my straight tech/science stuff. There's a link in the sidebar to a listing of my Techaeris articles and columns.  But, along with a variety of miscellaneous non-tech stuff, we're keeping some tech stuff here on Bill's Other Stuff.


Specifically, we'll periodically be exploring where the spiritual and tech intersect.  First, it keeps Bill's Musings pristine for the usual spiritual and leadership topics.  Second, you may have noticed that wherever I write, I'll either find a new angle or additional information that makes what I share unique.  There are a number of sites that include church/Christian tech stuff, but 99% of the time it's focused in one specific area, to match the focus of the site or periodical.

That focus is necessary.  But it works because the rest of the magazine or newsletter is also focused, covering a variety of topics within that focus.  So, for instance, if we're interested in things related to running a church, we may be bored by a projector review, but there are other topics of interest to make up for that.  On the other hand, you and I have a wider range of interests than any one focused place is likely to cover.  We just may be interested in that church projector, but also interested in how a particular app is going to be useful in sharing the Gospel or in our spiritual growth or just to be able to chill and refocus.

There are several warnings we need to have up front, before we go any further.  I write about what interests me.  Something about it has grabbed my attention.  And my hope is that either it or what I say about it will be of interest.  I'm not some fancy reviewer that everyone wants to review their products.  For one thing, my interests vary too much.  So, unless it's something that's free or was a gift, everything I write about is something I've paid for.  While I'd love to always point you toward things that will benefit, this means you get to be warned away from my mistakes.

We've spent a long time explaining the "new and improved" Gadget Goodies.  Let's get to a couple that are almost blasts from the past.

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There's a portable speaker system that came out back in 2008.  Surround Xi by Rapha.  At that time, I think it ran about $39.99.  It was particularly aimed at iPhone users.  They could connect their iPhone via a USB connection and have on/off, pause, volume, and forward/back a track controls all on the speaker. For the rest of us, no controls except on/off for the speaker and the connection had to be via a 3.5 mm audio cable.  No bluetooth.  The speaker came with a USB cord, a wall wart to power the speakers via A/C, and a short 3.5 mm connector cable for the non-iPhone users.

The speaker system looks like a toilet paper roll with the speakers stuck in the end.  Mine is black with white plastic trim and base.  A friend who owns a computer repair store has a blue one.  It runs both on A/C and four AAA batteries.  So, there is portability.  In its day, it was much closer to "state of the art" portable audio.

The sound is actually pretty decent.  Although bass isn't thumpin' like we've come to expect from newer speaker systems, it is clear.  Volume is definitely not room filling in the sense of blocking out other sounds easily, but it works well, both indoors and out in the yard.

Any of several music apps on my Nexus 6 is also my alarm, but sleeping is one of my more finely honed skills.  The Surround Xi gives me enough added volume to be sure I'm awake when I want to wake up.  And that's without being either too loud or too distorted to make the experience unpleasant.  And, although the audio range isn't as great as newer stuff, the Surround Xi is as good as portable and table radios I've used.

By the time I got my Surround Xi, I think I ended up paying about $10 at Radio Shack. Unfortunately, one of its downsides is that it's no longer available.  But they show up on eBay and other sale sites, periodically.  If one does for $15 or less, including shipping, I'd suggest grabbing it. Besides size, there's the weight -- we're talking ounces instead of the usual pounds.  And it fits nicely in one of those water bottle holders on the side of a backpack.  Which, whether you're hiking or going on the mission field, it's portable without adding much weight.  As I said, the sound is more than "good enough".  Better than satisfactory.  It's probably going with me on the mission field.

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If you use Twitter and schedule your Tweets, you may have been a Tweetdeck user.  By the time this post goes public, the Windows desktop version of Tweetdeck will be gone.  At one point, Tweetdeck was, in all its forms, its own entity.  Then Twitter bought the company.  Shortly after, the mobile versions of Tweetdeck met its demise.  Now, the PC desktop version is gone.  There is the online version that's still live.  But that eliminates going fullscreen and shrinking to the taskbar when needed.  You can still do that, but no fullscreen.

Over time, I had created five Twitter accounts.  Each had it's own set of topic areas.  It made reading easier.  I didn't have to change mindset every tweet or two or three.  As I followed back a number of friends and interesting tweeters, the lines between accounts became more blurred.  But I didn't want to give up any of them and take the chance of hackers grabbing one or more and posting things to those accounts, shocking some who may not have kept up with the change.  That's where Tweetdeck was a gem.

Twitter, in its wisdom, had determined that third party Twitter apps would be limited to fewer accounts than I have.  So, no one could use a single app that wasn't Twitter owned and post to that many accounts.  The Tweetdeck app covered that.  So, the switch to the browser based Tweetdeck has been interesting.

The switch between tabs is actually smoother than switching apps to do the same input.  And, of course, having one less app open means less of your computer's resources in use.  As much as I had expected the change to be far less smooth, it actually is easier.  Even the loss of some tweet viewing taken up by browser controls isn't as much of a loss as had been expected.

One might ask what difference there is if you lose internet connection.  None.  If you always have used Tweetdeck when you're connected, it seems like Tweetdeck is nothing more than a local app that feeds the 'net on a schedule.  In truth, when the internet connection is down, the app argues loudly because it immediately uploads scheduled tweets.  So, there's no real change between using the app and using the web based Tweetdeck.  We're either productive or not in the very same way.

There is one real downside to the web based version of Tweetdeck.  Sometimes I start and stop setting up my tweet schedule.  Other things might require my attention or I get distracted.  Then I may need to check what I've set up and what still needs to be added.

The desktop app could scramble the display of scheduled tweets a bit, after adding a series of them for multiple accounts.  That required a restart to sort the entries.  Not a big deal, except you needed to delay before restarting, which wasn't great if, like me, it was the last thing for the day before bed.

The browser based version can sometimes scramble worse.  But closing a tab doesn't always fix that, which leaves closing the entire browser.  That also means restarting everything else I had open in other tabs.  That's even more time consuming, unless you have the right browser.

I've been testing out a new browser called Vivaldi that's still a work in progress, but very nice. Vivaldi is a combination of features from Opera and Chrome.  In relation to my Tweetdeck use, it has two useful features.  I can start at the bare speed dial tab, choose a set of tabs to open, and go to work.  I can also close Vivaldi with a bunch of tabs open, then restart it and those tabs will reopen where I left off.  That's VERY handy for this situation.

All in all the web based Tweetdeck may actually be a better choice, with the help of Vivaldi.

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Anker Multi-Angle Aluminum Stand
Finally, Anker is noted for a wide variety of mobile device accessories, some higher tech, some not so much.  This last item could best be termed low tech.  And it has a feature that should endear it to every tech savvy missionary.

Many of us buy some form of charging stand for each of our devices.  Whether it's put out by the device manufacturer or a third party, there's two problems to deal with.

First, most are limited to a single device.  So, we end up getting another accessory that's not usually that cheap, but isn't usable with our next device.  I started looking for an alternative that might not need replacing so frequently.

Anker came to my rescue with the Anker Multi-Angle Aluminum Stand.  Yes, I cut down the Amazon description to easily readable length. It's aluminum, with a plastic piece in the curved holder, for thinner devices.  That's removable, as needed, for thicker devices, such as with devices in cases.  One "leg" is also plastic.  It can hold both phones and tablets.

Thanks to a pushbutton in the hinge, the Anker stand is adjustable in a variety of positions.  I described it as low tech because it's not actually a charging stand.  It's just a stand, but it can be used while a device is charging or when it's not charging.  I now have two - one for the bedroom and one for my desk.

What makes this stand different from the charging stands is the fact that it's far more universal and the materials make it potentially more durable.  At $9.99 for silver and a dollar more for the black finish, it's cheaper than charging stands, too.

We said this deals with two problems.  In order to conform to a given device and hold the charging plug and electronics, a charging stand is usually bulky.  The Anker stand folds flat enough to pack for travel, too.  That makes it ideal for travel and the mission field.  The fact that it will still be usable for my next set of devices is the capper.  Really worth considering.  So, are you ready to be Anker-ed and take a stand?

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