July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
Having just recently returned to the continental United States after an extended absence and travels through many exotic locations (newsflash: I am back), a Chronicle reflecting upon my experiences and all I have seen, done, and learned is appropriate.
This is not such a Chronicle. You’ll just have to check back later…
Instead, I must move quickly to a topic that in our modern, tech-without-borders virtual society may be somewhat of a rude awakening to the enduring geographic limitations imposed on us by jurisdictions and telecom service providers: the need to purchase a new phone and compatible local service. More specifically, what apps and other features of my brand spanking new phone are going to make it (and therefore vicariously me) smart. Are any of these features and widgets actually going to make my life easier, as opposed to sucking up whatever is left of my productivity?
What the Chronicles have been preaching for years now has lately finally become accepted truth: most of these gadgets and tech-tools marketed as time-saving make-your-life-easier devices actually tremendously decrease productivity with their constant distractions. Corporate efficiency experts (think Bob and Bob from Officespace) have long ago concluded that email itself is one of the top culprits, even in work environments where other distractions (Facebook…) are unavailable. But smart phones and the constant need to check in with witty status updates on any one of several social networks, post photos, browse pictures, and of course, play whatever game happens to be the latest fad, I’m of the opinion that the iPhone and its numerous colorful games and things is probably the single most productivity-sucking device on the planet. With all those bits of information clamoring for the user’s attention continuously, it is a miracle anything can actually be accomplished.
In the ever cheaper world of overabundant hand-held computing personal spy devices better known as smart-phones, I am reasonably certain that any model in the realm of $100 offers more than enough processing power for my needs. Since I do not like to be tied to contracts, I opted to purchase the phone outright, with a pre-paid monthly plan from Boost Mobile, as opposed to any annual contract, which came to $45 with unlimited talk and text, and something like 5 Gigs of data, which apparently grows to 8 Gigs after a certain number of on-time payments. I’ve had Boost Mobile before, and I was satisfied with their service. For example, up in the Berkeley hills at a friend’s house, where even his own phone service cut out, I still had coverage. So now, armed with my brand new LG Volt 2, I can get down to the nitty-gritty.
My previous phone was also an Android phone, and I had customized the apps and widgets to my liking. I began the process of doing the same for my new phone, starting with setting up the email. I have an old Google Apps for domains email address, which has been grandfathered into whatever they call their new system. By any other name, I use a custom domain but I can use all the features Google has to offer, including Google drive, hangouts, calendar, etc. Setting it up was relatively straightforward, and with that, all my contacts were synced to my phone.
Now, I wanted to set up my widgets similar to what I had done on my previous phone. Specifically, I wanted to use a separate page for the calendar widget, so I could simply swipe the screen and have a glance at a monthly calendar. But to my shock, awe, and disgust, the calendar widget was gone!
Where did the Calendar widget go??!!
After hyperventilating for a while and searching various online sources, I came across discussion forums bemoaning the loss of the calendar widget. For whatever reason, I had to make do with two sorry alternatives. A tasks list, and an agenda view of the calendar. I set the agenda view widget on my home page, along with an email widget right next to it. This way I could glance at incoming emails (those annihilators of productivity) as well as my upcoming meetings and events. I still hold out hope that this version of Android will once again have the calendar widget, so I can avoid the cumbersome step of clicking on the calendar application to actually open it, as opposed to having it continuously available as a widget. Some might say that’s just a minor inconvenience, but it is strike one against this version of the smart phone. It is just slightly dumber, I’d say.
Having decided to set my home screen up as a sort of information portal that lets me know what’s going on in my world as well as the outside world, I placed a shortcuts widget beneath my agenda, which allows me to scroll through and instantly access my mobile phone shortcuts (formerly known as bookmarks); specifically CNN.com, Facebook, and something called Lifetick, which is a web-application I will get to later on. At least this way the evil of Facebook is sandwiched between two things that might prove useful. I have also added the Google newsstand widget, which has a scrolling list of headlines from specified news sources based on my preferences, and I installed the NPR news app, because I like NPR news. The bottom bar, which remains constant no matter what page I scroll to, has the phone dialer/log/contacts button, Google hangouts, messages, settings, Chrome, and camera.
Scrolling to the left, I set up my next page to serve as my notes/document management portal featuring the Google drive widget that makes uploading and managing files on my ‘cloud’ of a drive simple, as well as a tasks widget, Quickmemo+, file manager, gallery, and various other apps I installed that could prove useful in gathering information in my plans for world domination. My other pages I also arranged in a loose grouping of apps based on functionality, with a weather and world time page on which I also included my banking apps and a unit converter, along with Amtrak’s app. I am thinking about a cross-country rail trip using one of the passes available through Amtrak. Whether the app proves useful in this remains to be seen. The same applies to the other apps I installed, with great hope but results yet to be seen. Among these are:
Finally, I tried to install some sort of a fitness/exercise tracking app. However, this turned out to be largely unnecessary. For one, I am always hesitant to install software that tracks pretty much everything about me, and I don’t like to have my name and personal information out there on a million different platforms just waiting for the latest data breach or hack. Google already tracks my every move and reads my emails, so I might as well not expose myself any more than I need to. Plus, most of these are of no more use than a log I could just keep for myself. I don’t really need the social aspect to show off or to seek support from online ‘friends’ with my badges and achievements. I do not want to jump on the annoying post-my-workout-of-the-day-crossfit-nut-job or post-my-run-map skinny-fat runners club bandwagon. I’ll just track my workouts myself, without providing free data that is in turn resold by the app that would otherwise track my habits.
Which brings me to: Lifetick.
The way I came upon this website is by searching for something that allows for a more structured way to track tasks and goals than just the plain old to-do list. I would like to be able to set tasks and sub-tasks showing dependencies, and track long term goals as shorter term goals are set and accomplished in working toward them. So, after some searching, I came upon this thing called Lifetick.
They have a free account, along with some paid ones. Obviously, being cheap (eh, I mean frugal) I only install non-paid apps. Since this isn’t even an app, but rather a web app (in other words I can only put a shortcut to the website as opposed to installing an app), I had nothing to download. Whether or not it proves useful is a different story.
What I hope Lifetick will help me do is manage and track my various goals and keep me accountable. Usually, I am drawn to many different directions, which is both a blessing and a curse. Maybe of all the gadgets and services, this will actually help me stay on track with my various pursuits, or at least help me keep track of my workouts…
Other apps I looked into (but did not get) were things that would block the most notorious time-guzzlers (i.e. Facebook and similar things) or at least limit them to certain times and hours, an outdoor survival guide of some type (because, why not?), and various apps that would help me learn this or that.
All sound great, but even setting up my phone with the above mentioned apps and arranging them in just the right way on the appropriate screens proved to be quite labor intensive and a hefty time investment that has yet to pay off in any way. And, most of all, I just miss my calendar widget…
What apps do you find useful? Let us know!