A Podcast To Give You The Creeps

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Halloween is quickly approaching, and for those that enjoy good ghost stories or creepy tales both old and new are in for a treat rather than trick. If you’re looking for a vast chilling mixture of horrifying true stories and bizarre historic folklore to go with the autumn weather, check out the Lore Podcast by Aaron Mahnke.

A bi-weekly podcast established in March of 2015, each episode of Lore features a small collection of short stories from master storyteller, writer, and producer Aaron Mahnke. Each episode is centered around an eerie theme that Aaron artfully crafts. I’m only about 30 episodes in at the time of this post, and one of my favorite episodes so far is one of the first episodes of the entire series Dinner at the Afterglow about the history and haunting stories surrounding a limestone monument on an island near Vancouver Island in Canada.

This is a great evergreen podcast, meaning you can enjoy listening to these episodes anytime of any year and not just around Halloween time. If listening to podcasts isn’t your thing, but you still want to experience the frightful tales of Aaron Mahnke, you can watch the stories unfold on his Amazon Prime series of the same name, now in its second season. You can also enjoy these dreadful tales the old fashioned way, through written word with the World of Lore books.

Have you already listened Lore? What’s your favorite episode? Got a podcast recommendation? Let me know in the comments down below!

My Five Favorite Reads (Listens?) of 2017

 Photo courtesy of  The LEAF Project

Photo courtesy of The LEAF Project

 

I read more books in 2017 than any other year in my life. I'm excited I found a new love in reading books. I used to be a slow reader (I still am, somewhat) and I didn't enjoy the idea of having to carry around a thick book on top of everything else I may have at the time. However, after learning about Audible in 2007, I was hooked on the ability to "read" books on my own time while my eyes were preoccupied doing something else (such as driving on long road trips or walking to class during college). Eventually I got my hands on a Kindle e-reader and started to consume books in volumes like I never had before. It iscommon for me to now be in the middle of two or three books at any given time - typically one audio book and two e-books. I also try to maintain a 1:1 ratio of fiction to non-fiction reads, which I feel helps provide a healthy balance between fantasy and reality.

In 2015 I read fifteen books, thirty-three in 2016, and now forty-three this past year of 2017. My goal this year is thirty, but I don't want to make it all a numbers game on how many books overall to read. My focus this year will be reading longer books than in previous years, such as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Grapes of Wrath. But enough of future plans and goals for now, this is supposed to be about the past year of books.

Honorable Mentions

Before I get to my top 5, here are a couple that didn't make quite make the cut, but I think merits talking about in some form since I enjoyed them so much.

MR. Robot: Red Wheelbarrow (eps1.91_redwheelbarrow.txt) by Sam Esmail

Physical book

I'm a fan of Mr. Robot, and I was intrigued when I learned about Red Wheelbarrow, the journal that Elliot is seen writing in during season 2. Created by the same writes for the show, this book provides another level of immersion into the story-line of the popular series. I can only recommend reading the physical version of this book as there are additional inserts in the book that act as props to further enhance the reading experience. Remember the church group Elliot frequents during season 2? That group's pamphlet is one of the inserts. There are several of these inserts spread throughout the book and, as a bonus, each insert is a puzzle which, when solved, leaves a message for Elliot. The only reason I don't have this book in my top 5 is because it's such a niche book since it's tied to the TV show.

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre

Audio book

Physical book

I enjoy reading history every once in a while, particularly World War II history. My latest trip into this area was Operation Mincemeat, a true story about an outlandish plan by allied forces to use a random corpse with a completely fabricated history in order to mislead allocation of Nazi forces. The attention to detail of the planted evidence and the faked personal history of a fictitious person is fascinating. It goes so far as to involve physical actors feigning love letters to generate a paper trail in the hopes of fooling Nazi forensics and scrutiny.

My Five Favorites of 2017

And finally, after giving a hard look over the dozens of books finished in 2017, I decided upon my top 5 books. Oddly enough, all 5 picks I listened to in audio book form.

#5 - Artemis by Andy Weir

Audio book

Physical book

With this follow-up (but not sequel) to one of my favorite reads of 2014, The Martian, Andy Weir is back at it again with a fun and action-packed scifi novel. This book was best described to me as "Ocean's 11 on the Moon" which is a decent description. The narrator for the audio book version, Rosario Dawson, does an amazing job portraying the various characters in the book and brings in an extra energy that helps elevate the whole experience while listening.

#4 - #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur's Take on Leadership, Social Media, & Self-Awareness by Gary Vaynerchuck

Audio book

Physical book

This is the first book on the list where I highly recommend getting the audio book version if you can. Not only because it's read by Gary VAY-ner-chuck himself, but Gary oftentimes goes "off-script" in his audio books which leads to loads of extra (and sometimes updated) content that you may not have gotten just by reading a text-only version of the book. This book was developed by pulling some of the most popular audience questions from Gary's #AskGaryVee podcast surrounding everything from building up a small business, engaging with celebrities, or just developing your own personal brand. This isn't your typical marketing book of "10 tips to grow your business online" - Gary gives genuine advice with a passion and drive you can hear throughout the book. If you have any interest at all in making a business (be it your core or side-business), and you're curious about how to help market it for today and the years to come, you should give this book a listen.

#3 - The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Stephen Pinker

Audio book

Physical book

With all the negativity in the news and rumors of war flying about, it may be right to check ourselves to see whether all of this worry is warranted. The Better Angels of Our Nature provides a good grounding, laying the foundation for why the past century (which included two World Wars) is, in fact, the most peaceful time in human history. Pinker describes four major "better angels", one of which includes empathy. The current information and technology age we're living in has helped us get a better view into other peoples' lives and cultures, bringing understanding, context, and communication - key factors when developing a sense of empathy for others.

#2 - The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

Audio book

Physical book

The second part of a three-part series, The Dark Forest is my favorite out of this scifi trilogy. The hard science provided, and all of the different scenarios described combat or avert an oncoming alien invasion provided a series of interesting thought experiments to ponder. It also provided a new perspective to deep space and its potential civilizations, comparing it with nature which gave me a newfound terror if any such civilizations exist.

#1 - Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Audio book

Physical book

I never thought much of Trevor Noah. I only recognized him as the host that took over the Daily Show when John Stewart left, but I didn't pay much attention to him. After listening to many praises of this book from others on different podcasts, and upon recommendation from a friend across the globe (thanks Ryan!), I picked up Trevor Noah's autobiography Born a Crime through an Audible audio book. It had me captivated from when I first started the book to when I finished it less than three days later. The stories shared in these pages show a rough upbringing of a young, mixed-race man by a loving mother in post-apartheid South Africa, where the mere act of his birth made him a crime.

I can't recommend listening to this book in audio form enough since Trevor Noah narrates the book himself. There are several places in the book where various African languages and dialects are used as part of his story-telling process, and Trevor knows how to speak them all. You can hear the passion in his voice as he recounts the stories he lived through, including the terrifying tale of his mother and her ex-husband. That outcome had Trevor Noah literally pricing the life of his mother when debating whether to try and save her life in a hospital emergency room, weighing how old she was versus how Trevor may be able to afford to take care of his family if he went through with it - all because the hospital didn't take his mother's health insurance.

On to 2018

That completes my 2017 reading tear, and now to focus on 2018. You can find some of my 2017 Goodreads statistics here and follow me and my progress of reading 30 books for 2018 here. What's your goal for 2018? Do you have any books in particular you want to get through before the year's out? Do you have any recommendations to add to my reading list? Let me know in the comments down below!

On Wireless Headphones

 Photo by Aaron Yoo, CC BY-ND 2.0

Photo by Aaron Yoo, CC BY-ND 2.0

Earlier this week the batteries on my bluetooth headphones died and a funny thing happened: it reminded me why I prefer bluetooth headphones over wired headphones. Many people may think the batteries running out on headphones would be a large red mark in the "con" column when comparing them to their wired brethren, but I count batteries as a large "pro." Why? Because it had been five days since I charged my headphones - they lasted so long that I forgot.

The Freedom of Wireless

I cannot see myself going back to wired headphones for my smartphone ever again. The convenience and freedom given from bluetooth just cannot be matched with wired headphones. Bluetooth allows for maximum connection distance of approximately 30 feet without wires. That's a 30-foot radius of freedom where I can leave my phone in one place and walk around the apartment, my work desk, or anywhere else for that matter without worrying about whether my phone will get pulled off whatever surface I set it on. I don't need to worry about headphone wires getting tangled in my pocket when they're not in use because I can wear my bluetooth headset around the base of my neck all day. With automatic pairing, all I need to do is turn my bluetooth headphones on and they immediately connect to my phone. I don't need to dig my phone out of my pocket to plug in my headphones when I want to listen to something.

Just minutes after pulling out my backup pair of headphones which I keep for listening in on virtual meetings on my work laptop, I began to resent the restrictions the two or three feet of cordage I needed to manage and be conscious of at all time. Attempting to put my phone anywhere with the cable attached was an awkward ordeal, and the cables hanging down from my ears to my phone like some audio umbilical cord just made me more distracted. My forearm and hands constantly bumped the cabling and, when I needed to move around, I need to be wary of the armrests for my chair or the corners of my desk for fear of getting my headphone cable hooked and the earbuds torn off of my head or phone pulled out of my pocket.

The main criticism I hear from people is that getting a set of bluetooth headphones just means remembering to charge yet another device. Sure, much like how knives don't need reloading, wired headphones don't need recharging. However, the sacrifice in mobility and agility isn't enough for me to justify using wired headphones again. Plus, unless I'm listening to something nonstop for at least 6 hours, recharging my headphones is not enough of an inconvenience, if it can even be considered one. I typically go for days without charging my headphones after normal use, and, when I do need to give them some extra juice, a short 10 to 15 minutes on a USB cable will give them enough power to get me through the remainder of any day. With the increasing prevalence of USB-C and wireless Qi charging for smartphones and other devices, it is only a matter of time before charging a wireless headset becomes less of an issue.

My Headphones

I have a pair of LG HBS-750 bluetooth headphones. The kind that look like a tech necklace of sorts. Previously, I owned bluetooth headsets like those from Jabra or Jawbone - the kind that hang off one ear, made you look like cyborg when viewed from one angle, and made you look like some crazy person having a conversation with yourself when viewed from another. I used them so I could listen to podcasts, but after their inevitable malfunctioning from use and wear, I needed to move on to another, more robust model.

I've owned this particular pair from LG for going on two years, and I don't know why I would ever go back to wired headphones when I'm on the go again. This pair is comfortable, light, hardly noticeable after I tuck them underneath the collar of my button-up over-shirt, and always quickly accessible when I want to listen to something. The battery life is fantastic. I use them several hours a day, and even after keeping them on standby because I forgot to turn them off when I'm not using them, I usually go three days or more without needing to put them on a charger. Even when they do need a charge, a quick 10 to 20 minutes on a micro USB cable will give them enough charge for me to finish my day.

The weakest part of them from my experience is their poor call quality. I can listen to phone calls with reasonable clarity, but when attempting to have a conversation through them I get comments 98% from the person on the other end that it's hard to understand me or that I sound far away.

Overall I'm impressed with these headphones. Considering I bought them at around $70 a couple of years ago and they're still operating to this day after daily use, this pair of headphones definitely earned every penny of their worth.

Edge Case

I understand I'm probably an edge case when it comes to headphones and audio. A majority of the audio content I listen to are podcasts or audiobooks, with actual music making up a small portion of my overall listening time. Due to most of my audio experience being spoken word, overall quality is not as much of an important factor to me as an audiophile.

My want for gadgets and other tech keeps me interested in chasing the dragon of the next cool device, and I'm currently on the lookout for my next pair of bluetooth headphones. I think you should be too. With the rising trend of smartphones without a headphone jack, with the iPhone 7/8/X and now the Pixel 2 just to name a few, bluetooth headphones will be gaining in popularity regardless of where your loyalty may lie.

How to Get 30GB of Free OneDrive Cloud Storage from Microsoft

UPDATE: From November 2015, Microsoft announced it will stop the Camera Roll Promotion along with the option of paid, unlimited OneDrive storage, Paul Thurrott notes on his blog. These changes started coming into effect early 2016 according to Microsoft's OneDrive FAQ found here.

 

Microsoft, in an effort to bolster their online suite of online productivity tools, gives anyone with a Windows Live account 15GB of OneDrive cloud storage for free. That's right: 15 Gigabytes of online storage for any files (documents, videos, pictures, etc.) for free. You can even double this amount of OneDrive online storage size to 30GB by using Microsoft’s “camera roll backup bonus” feature with your Apple, Android, or Windows smartphone or tablet. I'm here to show you how.

Claim your First 15GB of Storage

1.) The best part about this free OneDrive storage is you don't even need to own a copy of Windows to take advantage of it. All that is needed is a Windows Live account. You may already have an account if you have an Outlook.com or Xbox Live account. In the event you may not, you can make a free Windows Live account by going here and clicking either signup link on the page.

 Click on either of these links to create your free Windows Live account.

Click on either of these links to create your free Windows Live account.

2.) You will be taken to a Windows Live account creation page. Fill out the form on this page to obtain a free account.

Note: during the signup process, you can create an Outlook.com email account or use an email account from a different service (such as Gmail or Yahoo! Mail). This email will be your Windows Live account username that you will use to sign in to any Windows Live service. I prefer to use my personal email account for Windows Live so I don’t need to keep up with yet another email inbox! If you use a personal email account, you will need to verify you own the email account through a verification email Microsoft will send when you first log in to your Windows Live account.

3.) Once a Windows Live account is created, you will be able to view your OneDrive storage by signing in using your newly-created account at https://onedrive.live.com/. On the initial page after login, you’ll see that you have 15GB of OneDrive cloud storage available. We don’t want to stop there, however. I promised 30GB of OneDrive storage.

 15GB of OneDrive cloud storage is currently available

15GB of OneDrive cloud storage is currently available

Claim your Second 15GB of Storage (30GB Total)

4.) I mentioned we can double this amount to 30GB. In order to do that, we need to let OneDrive back up our camera roll on one of our mobile devices. This can be a smartphone or tablet, just as long as you can download the Microsoft OneDrive app to it. The links to the various OneDrive app downloads for the iOS AppStore, Android Play Store, and Windows Phone Store are below:

OneDrive - iOS AppStore
OneDrive - Android Play Store
OneDrive - Windows Phone Store


(Optional Step) You can also find these same links by clicking the “Get started” button on your OneDrive web page. Click on one of appstore boxes that apply to your mobile platform of choice.

 Click the "Get Started" button to claim your extra 15GB of storage.

Click the "Get Started" button to claim your extra 15GB of storage.

 Click the download button for your mobile platform (Windows Phone, iOS, or Android).

Click the download button for your mobile platform (Windows Phone, iOS, or Android).

5.) Once you download and install the OneDrive App, go ahead and open it on your device. For this example, I am using my iPad to continue the process. When the app is initially opened, you’ll be prompted to sign in to your Microsoft Live account.

6.) After you sign in using the app, a prompt will come up asking if you want to activate the Camera Backup feature and receive an extra 15GB of storage on your OneDrive account. Tap “Turn On” to activate this feature.

 Tap "Turn On" to receive an extra 15GB of OneDrive cloud storage.

Tap "Turn On" to receive an extra 15GB of OneDrive cloud storage.

7.) Once the feature is activated, you will be able to see that your OneDrive cloud storage has jumped to 30GB by visiting the settings of the OneDrive app or refreshing your https://onedrive.live.com/ web page.

  30GB of OneDrive cloud storage is now available.

30GB of OneDrive cloud storage is now available.

 30GB of OneDrive cloud storage is now available.

30GB of OneDrive cloud storage is now available.

That’s it! You now have 30GB of online storage for free from Microsoft for just a few minutes of work.

Final Remarks

There are many cloud storage options out there, and this is just one of them. I find myself constantly informing people of these free options which is why I made this quick tutorial. I believe this article will be especially useful to iOS users. Apple provides a default of 5GB iCloud storage for free, but then requires a monthly subscription for anything over that amount. Every iOS user I’ve encountered (including myself) has hit the 5GB limit due to the number of apps, photos, and videos that are backed up. This article is to help lighten that burden.

What if you don’t want to backup your camera roll using OneDrive, but still want the storage? If you have multiple mobile devices (such as a smartphone and a tablet), turn on camera roll backup through the OneDrive app on the device you don’t often use to take pictures. For example, I have both an Android smartphone and an iPad. I almost exclusively use my Android phone to take pictures, and since I already use Google+/GoogleDrive to automatically backup all of my photos (I will have a separate how-to article on this later), I don’t need to have my photos backed up to OneDrive as well. I can use that OneDrive cloud storage for something else. In this case, I just sign in to my Windows Live account on my iPad and turn on camera roll backup, but decline to turn camera roll backup on through my phone. You will still get the bonus storage either way.

Have additional questions, comments, corrections, or suggestions? Let me know in the comments down below or on one of the various social media outlets I’m a part of. If you found this article useful and want to see more like it, please like and share using the buttons below to get the word out.

Until next time, take care!

Book Review: The Art of Social Media

I just blazed through The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users, the latest book from Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick regarding online social presence. I believe this should be on any current Social Media Marketer/Analyst/Strategist's reading list. Even though I've used the major social media platforms discussed in the book for years (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.), I still walked away with some great insights on how I can enhance my usage across these various platforms.

Tons of Tips

This book is packed with hundreds of social media tips (123 to be exact). These tips range from just basics in social media to help establish your brand (picking a screen name, what kind of pictures to use for your profile, etc.) to using advanced features of specific platforms (e.g. Chapter 8 - How To Run Google+ Hangouts on Air).

In addition, Guy and Peg give a plethora of online web services and tools that can be used to provide interesting or entertaining content (Chapter 2 - Feed the Content Monster) or help in publishing posts to multiple platforms and streamlining or scheduling posts to different social media outlets. There are also a number of online tools that can enhance the usage of a specific platform, such as Twubs for tracking Twitter hashtags or Tiberr for increasing exposure of one's blog post. I even used Guy's graphic tool service, Canva, mentioned in the book to create a quick and easy graphic for this review.

Some Criticisms

Most of the information found in this book is very useful, but as Guy and Peg point out, "No matter how smart you are, best practices always change, because the platforms change how their sites work." Technology moves fast and iterates quickly, and the same can be applied directly to social media. If you're going to read this book, read it soon and quickly, because even though this book was published in December of 2014 it's starting to become outdated. For example, Guy mentions how to "Use Comments and +1s to Run Polls [on Google+]." However, Google added a built-in polling feature to Google Plus in October of 2014, so there's no longer a need to use the workaround of adding comments to a post and use the +1s as "votes" in his example.

My own personal tip: if you're going to read this book, get the eBook version from Amazon or the book's website. The eBook contains hundreds of useful URLs to the services and examples listed throughout the book, and you can quickly jump to the example or resource provided with a quick click of the mouse or tap of the finger. I do not recommend reading the physical dead-tree version like I did. Although I could Google many of the tools Guy and Peg mention in their book, it still left me with frustrations of not being able pull up several examples while reading. The screenshots and pictures were sometimes difficult to make out in the printed examples as well.
 

The Bottom Line...

All in all, whether you're just starting out in social media or perceive yourself as a seasoned veteran in the social arena, this quick and easy read contains plenty of useful nuggets to extract and help you increase your online presence.

Update: As Guy points out in the comments, physical book readers can got here to find a digital document containing all of the URLs listed in the book.

One Google Chrome Extension You Should Have

google-earth-large_1024x607 Google pushed out a new Chrome web browser extension last week that, in my opinion, everyone should have. It's not much in terms of functionality, but it is still a fantastic addition to any Chrome installation.

Earth View from Google Maps adds appealing eye candy to your browser by providing a different dazzling Google Earth satellite image every time you open a new tab in Chrome. You can also get a new image by hitting "Refresh" on the new tab. Be careful. It be mesmerizing hopping across the globe wondering what image will pop up next from an unknown destination.

  photo credit: fatboyke (Luc) via photopin cc

The next Bendgate is already here

 

Bendgate is apparently still a thing on the Internet as I've come to learn on Mashable. Bendgate, for those not familiar, is the overblown story of Apple's new iPhone 6 Plus bending in consumers' pockets and gained traction when Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy posted a video on YouTube of him bending the device with his bare hands went viral. Apple later released a statement saying that only nine (9) customers have complained about bent iPhones and 9 out of  10 million ain't bad. It looks like Lewis is at it again posting a video of him bending the similarly-sized Samsung Galaxy Note 4 with his bare hands.

In the video, one can see that the Note 4 bends near the volume rocker on the device's side, which is pretty much the same spot as the iPhone 6 Plus. Lewis points out in the video that the Note 4's partially metal exterior may play a role in the bending of the device, and he was able to straighten the smartphone back out using nothing else than his hands as well. "Everybody's perception of durability is different" he mentions, "As we continue to miniaturize our devices, we're going to take hits on durability." I know that statement may seem like common sense to some, but unfortunately that needs to be spelled out to others in the world.

Plastc Looking to Take on Mobile Payments

Plastc_Card It looks like the race to win the wallets of millions of consumers is heating up again with the emergence of Plastc, a company planning to build an all-in-one payment solution. Plastc aims to combine not only the traditional magnetic stripe cards commonly used in the US today, but also incorporate the more secure chip & PIN payment method that has been widely adopted across the world. It won't stop there, however, as Plastc also brags about bringing NFC payments, retailer reward cards, gift cards, and even contactless access keys to the device. The company states the device will start shipping 2015 and you can currently pre-order one for $155 through their website.

Once bitten, twice shy for me, however. After being one of those people lied to and left out in the cold from the folks at Coin, I'll wait for competing card Plastc to come to market this time around. I have to say, though, if the people at Plastc can deliver on only one of the theoretical promises made by their promotional video (card recharging, chip & PIN, or 20-card storage capacity) they will have a significant edge over Coin.

Coin, which is currently in beta testing, can only hold 8 cards, has an 85% success rate being swiped at card readers, will have a dead, non-changeable battery in 2 years, and is slated for a release in Spring 2015. That's just in time for the entire US market to move to chip & PIN through forced adoption by government law which goes into effect October 2015. Oh, and the Spring 2015 estimated ship date from Coin for consumers is after the failed delivery of Coin by "end of summer 2014" which was repeatedly promised by the Coin company until the waning days of August, when the improvised backup plan of Coin Beta was announced.

I'm hoping Plastc will be able to deliver on their promises. I'm also getting a sense of déjà vu since I was hearing this same song and dance from Coin about a year ago. However, I am interested to see how Plastc will play out against current NFC payments on Android devices and Apple's upcoming Apple Pay, which is due to become active on latest model iPhones this month. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments down below or on one of the many social networks.

Apple Shows Ominous Power in U2 Release

iTunes Store - iPad_MBP_iPhone Apple's September 9th keynote ended with a concert from rock band U2 and the announcement that the band's latest album, Songs of Innocence, would be released for free on iTunes. What Apple somewhat touched upon, but didn't really mention, was that the album would be added automatically to every iTunes user's library whether the user wanted the album. When I first learned about this publicity move, I immediately checked the Music app on my iPad. Sure enough, there was U2's album sitting in my library, ready to be downloaded from Apple's servers. This move caused quite a stir online, yielding both positive and negative reactions, but mostly negative. The response was so strong that Apple created a support page with a step-by-step process on how to remove the album from one's iTunes library.

Apple Spilled U2 in my iTunes

I'm not really a fan of U2. They made some good singles, but I never actively sought out to listen to one of their albums in the past, and I probably won't in the future. When I first found Apple had spilled U2 in my iTunes, I didn't think too much of it. It was added to my iTunes cloud, and I could download it later whenever I want what whatever Apple device I choose. I enjoy free music and frequently check the Google Play Store, Amazon, and iTunes for new free music downloads. It helps me explore my musical tastes and branch out to find new artists. When Apple gave me a free album from what, in my opinion, is a moderately good artist I thought "Ok, free music. Great." If I didn't like some songs, I would just do what I do with every other song I don't like: I delete it from my library. No harm, no foul. Then I reflected upon the stunt Apple pulled with this U2 album a little more.

Apple Put U2 in my iTunes

I'm sure Apple had the best intentions in mind. CEO Tim Cook and even former CEO and the late Steve Jobs repeated that Apple has a passion for music, so releasing a brand new album exclusively on iTunes from the same band which Apple designed a special edition iPod for made sense. It's clear that Apple loves U2, and Apple wanted to share that love by giving U2's music to their users. Of course, Apple gets the side-effect of being able to tout that U2's album release is the largest in history at the same time. I imagine it's easy to say that when you force an album into the libraries of approximately 800+ million iTunes accounts. This action has broader implications, in my opinion.

What I can't get past, despite Apple's best intentions, is that Apple forced something on me and millions of other people without our consent. One quick look at Twitter shows confusion, anger, and feelings of an invasion of privacy at having this unknown U2 and their music mysteriously appear on people's iPhones, iPads, and iTunes libraries. Many didn't know it was the work of the very same company that sold them the products they use to listen to music, which Apple apparently paid upwards of $100 million to bring this album to everyone for free. Some people will brush this off as a case of others wining about getting something they didn't want for free, but I don't believe we should be so quick to dismiss this issue.

Harmless Intentions, Ominous Repercussions

This whole conundrum could have been easily avoided if Apple simply made the album free to download from iTunes and publicizing the album's availability instead of taking the short route and putting the album directly onto everyone's iTunes library. Even meaning the best, Apple has shown a potentially darker side of controlling an entire ecosystem and what power that holds. In this case, it was a harmless musical album - an album Apple was able to push out, virtually instantaneously, to millions of iTunes accounts world wide. Many of those that received this album had preferences set on their devices in such a way that the music was automatically downloaded to the device. Apple demonstrated its ability to put data on millions of devices regardless of customer consent whenever Apple wanted. This data could be anything from music, video, a much needed iOS software update, or even an app all because Apple deems it necessary be it for security, marketing, or whatever reason Apple wants. The implications, to me, are quite chilling.

Do I believe Apple has ill intentions to abuse this type of power? No. I hope Apple actually learned a valuable lesson about forcing something on their users and makes more careful, responsible decisions in the future. I do believe this is the biggest PR incident to happen with Apple since the Maps app fiasco in iOS 6 or the Antennagate debacle with the iPhone 4, but most of the press is missing the ramifications this forced album release shows: Apple can put whatever they want on your Apple-branded device, whenever they want. This ultimately leads to the question of, "How much does one trust Apple to make the right decisions from here on out?" Personally, I still hold a great deal of trust in Apple and hope they continue on with a responsible focus on security, quality, and integrity of their products.

What do you think about Apple's actions of placing this album in to your iTunes library? Is it no big deal? Are you concerned? Let me know in the comments down below!

Next Windows Preview Screenshots Leaked

win9-01-hero  

A couple of tech blogs in Germany leaked a number of screenshots of the next version of Windows, often codenamed "Windows Threshold" or "Windows 9." Paul Thurrott, the authority on all things Microsoft, has a rundown and analysis on each of the 22 screenshots on his blog. Some quick tidbits I pulled away and looking forward to:

An updated start menu combining both Windows 7 and Windows 8 "Modern UI" elements (pictured above). It's gotten to the point in Windows 8 where I don't ever use the Windows key anymore, and dread the moment when I accidentally press it since I'm jolted out of my desktop view into the Modern UI view which I hardly ever use.

Running Modern UI apps in a windowed mode on the desktop. I use a couple of Modern UI apps when I need to, but it becomes annoying as I need to also work with traditional desktop applications at the same time. Try switching quickly between a Modern UI app and a desktop app. It's annoying.

Virtual desktops. Finally Microsoft is joining the virtual desktop crowd and adding it in to, at least, the technical preview of Windows. I first understood and learned the necessity of virtual desktops under various flavors of Linux, and when Apple eventually implemented the functionality into OS X I wondered how I got by without it on my Mac. Now I can't wait for the next version of Windows to come soon enough!

win9-02-hero

 

Paul makes a note that "There is no Windows codename or version number listed." This can imply that the next version of Windows, as previously rumored, will just be called "Windows" and not "Windows 9" or something else.

It's also important to note that, since this is a technical preview, some UI elements may be changed before the final release of the next version of Windows. With an expected ship date of April, 2015, a lot of changes can still be made.

 

Source: WinSuperSite

All You Need to Know from Apple's iPhone Event

AppleStore_3rdstprom_hero There is no longer a need for rumors after Apple's keynote event on September 9th announcing not one but two new iPhone models, a mobile payment system, and a watch. Both iPhone models, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, have larger screens than their predecessor at 4.7- and 5.5-inch, respectively, come with a more powerful processor, and come with NFC (Near Field Communication) which plays a part in their "Apple Pay" system. What's the most important stuff to take away from the keynote?

 

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Two New, Thinner iPhone Models

The rumors were spot on with the prediction that two different iPhone models would join the line, both a larger screen size than the iPhone 5s. One other physical difference, however, is that each iPhone is thinner than its predecessor. With the iPhone 6 coming in at 6.9mm thick and the iPhone 6 Plus at 7.1mm, both are notably thinner than the 7.6mm iPhone 5s. The edges of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have a seamless curve from glass to metal, differentiating themselves further from the previous generation. Early reports say this design decision makes the new iPhones easier to hold. The volume rocker and silence switch are located on the left-hand side as previous models, but the power button has now moved from the top with the iPhone 5s to the right hand side on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

More Pixels and Power

Of course the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus each have their own Retina Display (Apple calls them "Retina HD") at resolutions of 1334x750 and 1920x1080 respectively. Apple takes advantage of the larger screen of the iPhone 6 Plus adding more content to apps when viewing them in landscape mode. It really appears that Apple is making the iPhone 6 Plus into a phone/tablet hybrid, as the homescreen will also orient appropriately when in landscape mode and will also show additional keys on the iOS keyboard.

Both iPhones have the next generation, 64-bit A8 processor that is reportedly 50% more efficient and 50 times faster than the A7 processor, with GPU performance for gaming up to 84 times faster than the iPhone 5s. There is also the addition of an "M8 motion coprocessor" which exclusively takes data from the iPhone's various sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and barometer) to redistribute the workload of the A8 processor as a means to extend battery life. This M8 process will hopefully increase the accuracy in measuring of steps, speed, and even elevation for Apple's push into the health industry, but more on that later.

The All-Seeing iSight

Apple has kept the iSight camera at 8MP, but appears to be focusing on other qualities to improve the camera. For example, optical image stabilization has been added to help improve image quality in low-light settings and to smooth out action shots while recording video. Apple has also added a new sensor the iSight camera which they have dubbed the "Focus Pixel" allowing for faster autofocus and increased image noise reduction.

Apple also adds autofocus while recording video, so the iSight camera can keep an intended subject in focus and change focus quickly to a new subject when needed. Although slo-mo recording at 120 frames-per-second was already present on the iPhone 5s, Apple has added the ability to record up to 240 fps at 720p resolution.

One potential downside I see with the camera is that it extends slightly from the back of the iPhone, but that may just be nit I'm picking. The lens cover is made of sapphire crystal which, as iFixit has shown, is incredibly tough to scratch, so those who fear damaging the lens should rest easy.

Increased Wireless Connectivity

It's no surprise that the iPhone 6 would be announced with LTE, but what may perk some ears is the support of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) - the emerging standard to bring high-quality voice calls into the LTE spectrum. VoLTE also has the advantage of being able to use data while on a phone call at the same time, which will be a relief for consumers on carriers such as Verizon.

In addition to VoLTE, Apple stresses the technology of Wi-Fi calling, which will allow you to initiate a phone call on one service, such as using your cell signal, then transfer over to a local Wi-Fi connection if you lose reception, or vice-versa.

Apple Pay

The most interesting announcement, even bigger than the Apple Watch announcement in my opinion, is Apple's NFC mobile payment initiative called Apple Pay. NFC (Near Field Communication) has been available through Android and other platforms for years allowing for payment of a product when a device comes within a couple of inches of a point-of-sales terminal, and it appears Apple is finally throwing their hat in the ring with Apple Pay come October of this year. Coupling this with their fingerprint-reading Touch ID system, however, I believe Apple can really excel in this area.

Apple already touts their Passbook system for the storing of loyalty cards, gift cards, tickets, and boarding passes. Soon it will be able to store credit and debit card information. You'll be able to type your card information in manually to add it to Passbook or use the iSight camera to take a picture of the card to have the payment information added automatically.

Apple is quick to stress security when it comes to your payment information. Apple implements the NFC technology known as Secure Element, a physical chip that encrypts the credit and debit card numbers, assigns a unique Device Account Number, and stores that information locally on the device. Your physical card number isn't even stored on the iPhone and is instead tied to the Device Account Number. This data is not backed up to iCloud, and when a transaction is made, Apple goes on to say, "your actual credit or debit card numbers are never shared with merchants or transmitted with [your] payment." Apple does not even collect your transaction data.

To pay in a store with an NFC terminal, one will just simply need to tap their iPhone 6 to the terminal and use their fingerprint on the Touch ID sensor for verification. The iPhone 6 will beep and vibrate as confirmation of a completed transaction.

In the event your iPhone is lost or stolen, payments can be disabled through Find My iPhone and, as Eddie Cue points out in the keynote, "because the credit card isn't stored on the device, there's no need to cancel your credit card."

 

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Pricing and Availability

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will come in 3 internal-storage capacities: 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB and will be available in 3 different colors: Silver, Gold, and Space Gray. The following is a breakdown of the pricing with a 2-year contract from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint:

Model 16GB 64GB 128GB
iPhone 6 $199 $299 $399
iPhone 6 Plus $299 $399 $499

 

 

 

T-Mobile will also carry the new iPhones for off-contract pricing, shown below:

Model 16GB 64GB 128GB
iPhone 6 $649 $749 $849
iPhone 6 Plus $749 $849 $949

 

 

 

Pre-orders for both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will be start on September 12th, with availability for purchase at retail stores starting on September 19th. iOS 8, the next iteration of Apple's mobile operating system, will be available for download on September 17.

One More Thing...

As a nod to Steve Jobs's famous "One more thing", Apple had one more announcement to make: the Apple Watch.

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Coming in early 2015, and "starting at $349" the smartwatch will come in 3 different versions: the Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and Apple Watch Edition. I'll go over the specifics of each in another article, but, in short, the Apple Watch will be the standard day-to-day edition, the Sport, as the name implies, will have a lighter build and geared towards exercise and sporting activities, while the Edition will be the luxury-class Apple Watch featuring an 18-karat gold casing. A variety of bands is also available for each model.

Unclear what operating system the watch is running, apps are presented not in the traditional grid format of its iPhone counterpart, but in a mesh of circular icons that can be navigated using swipes of the finger in, what appears from the demo, in a fluid and responsive manner. The watch will still need to be paired with your iPhone.

Aside from touch navigation on the screen, Apple added the "Digital Crown" on the side of the watch to assist in zooming in and out between the various interfaces. This can be used to zoom in on a specific app to select, or focus more closely on a specific point on a map when getting directions from your watch. Pressing in on the crown will act as a "home" button to bring the user back to the app navigation view on the watch. The Apple Watch can also tell the difference between a tap on the screen and a press on the screen, implying there is force detection built in to the watch. A "Taptic Feedback" system gives subtle notifications to the wearer via soft beeps and a slight tap on the wrist that would only be felt by the wearer, as opposed to the vibrating buzz given by a phone or other wearable device.

Sensors on the bottom of the watch can detect the wearer's pulse, while a built-in accelerometer tracks additional movement for purposes of tracking exercise goals and achievements. This also houses how the Apple Watch is charged, using Apple's Magsafe technology with inductive charging to keep the device sealed as par of its water-resistance.

Phil's Take

Honestly, I found the announcement of the Apple Watch lackluster. After seeing competing devices using the Android Wear platform, I'm much more intrigued by devices such as the Moto 360 with Google Now integration. I am impressed with the responsiveness and fluidity of the Apple Watch interface, which, in my opinion is already ahead of Android Wear, but as I think a wearable smartwatch's navigation needs to be centered more on voice recognition and touch than assistance using a physical dial.I'm still looking forward to playing around with the device in early 2015 when it comes to stores.

I am highly interested in the new iPhone. Specifically the iPhone 6, which has an even larger screen than my current daily driver, a Nexus 5. As expressed earlier, I think if Apple plays the mobile payment game right, they'll be able to run with it quite easily. I have some additional concerns regarding Apples hardware "Secure Element" solution, but only time will reveal additional details with how it's specifically implemented. Regardless, I'm looking forward to interacting with both models around September 19th when the devices hit the stores. What do you think of the Apple event? Are you going to buy an iPhone 6? Let me know either on the social networks or in the comments down below!

Bungie Giving 'Destiny' as Free Upgrade to Current-Gen Consoles

via bungie.net The tech world may be a buzz about a certain company's event coming up tomorrow in California, but gamers around the world are looking forward to the launch of one of the most anticipated titles of the year: Destiny. With a launch across two generations of consoles just hours away, Bungie helped ease fears of those that expect to get an updated console for the upcoming holiday season.

Buying the Destiny game on or before January 15, 2015 for the older-generation consoles (Xbox 360 and Playstation 3), gamers will be able to upgrade their purchase to the next generation console (Xbox One or Playstation 4, respectively) for free. This also means game data progression made on one console will transfer over to the next. One caveat is that you will need to stay within the console family, meaning a copy purchased for the Xbox 360 will only be eligible to upgrade to the Xbox One edition, and the Playstation 3 will only be eligible to upgrade to the Playstation 4 edition. You will retain the ability to play the game on the older consoles even after upgrading the to next big thing, which makes sense.

I, for one, am pleased at this decision and hope more game developers follow suit until the next-gen consoles gain more adoption. Do you think Bungie made a good move? Will you play Destiny when it comes out? Have you already pre-ordered? Let me know in the comments down below!

Source: DestinyTheGame.com

Twitter Testing "Buy" Button for Feeds

Image via blog.twitter.com Twitter announced a new buying system in the works for users today with the aim to make shopping on a mobile device more seamless. Partnered brands, artists, and charities such as Burberry, Eminem, and (RED) will begin to tweet special offers and merchandise with a "Buy" button that will allow you to purchase the product directly from the tweet. Since this is in the testing phase, only a percentage of U.S. users will see this new purchase method, and the user will need to follow brand in order to see the special offering.

It appears that Twitter is working with online payment startup Stripe, as pointed out by Re/code, to secure credit card and billing information. Once you make your first purchase through this new buying initiative, your payment information is encrypted and stored so additional purchases can be made more easily. Twitter goes on to say that "your credit card is processed securely and won’t be shared with the seller without your permission."

 

A Virtual Strip Mall

I believe Twitter is building up to make a virtual strip mall, but with the advantage of having only stores that users want to see and shop from. This can be a powerful revenue medium for Twitter, which has been trying to find ways to monetize its service outside of traditional advertising methods of sponsored tweets. Using this new approach, however, users will be able to build up their own custom strip mall and see what they want to be sold by following the brands they want to buy from. If this testing phase goes well and more brands hop on board to increase their own revenue streams, the 271 million active users Twitter reported on in Q3 of 2014 will begin to look quite valuable as this new initiative is pushed out to more users later in the year.

Source: Twitter

All Systems Are Go! Tech Philter is Lifting Off

Tech Philter is ready for launch! Things are finally getting off the ground and it's time to get this project started.

What is this?

Tech Philter is a new venture where I'll bring you news stories, analysis, reviews, and opinions on anything and everything tech ranging from social networks to consumer electronics, startups to enterprise and everything in between. In short: I grab the tech stories and Philters them down to the important and interesting ones so you don't have to. It's "Phil's take on tech."

What can you expect?

My goal is to have at least 2 articles out per week, if not more. We are in a busy time especially in the mobile phone realm with new smartphone announcements from multiple companies last week just in time for the early days of the holiday buying season. I am also in the works to bring a short 5-8 minute video podcast out to supplement the blog. One step at a time, though.

Want to help or participate?

I want this to be as much a conversation about tech as it is a blog about tech. If you have a suggestion on something for me to cover, or if you want to provide feedback in some form or fashion, leave a comment down below or reach out to me on one of the many social networks found on the right sidebar. I value your opinion and need your help in this.

See you soon!