Category Archives: Android

Some new apps for my Android phone

I organize lunch on Thursdays every week, and I ask my lunch group a question so that people can say a few words after they introduce themselves. This week the food was at Taco King (yummy) and the question was about new apps for people’s phones that they added, or apps that they uninstalled. It was a good way to get some insight into the new parts of the net that are explored only through apps.

Some new ones to me or recommendations that were shared included:

  • Wickr, a secure messaging app with self-destructing messages like Snapchat
  • Telegram, an instant messaging app like WhatsApp
  • Slack, the mobile client for the IRC-like group network
  • Mapillary, a crowd-sourced version of Google Street View
  • GasBuddy, a crowd-sourced view of gasoline prices

This is just a fraction of all of the apps listed. It feels like the app space still has a lot of room in it for innovation, but you’ll notice that for each of these my short description is harkening back to some other application that more people know about.

What’s your favorite new app? Email me, or @vielmetti on Twitter, or post a comment here.


Octodroid is a Github client for Android

I’m using Github as a personal issue tracker, still using it in fact for a whole year. It says that I’ve crossed 1200+ things off my todo lists and still have 70+ left to go. Unlike “inbox zero”, I’m resigned to the notion that my todo list will hover somewhere between 60 and 90 things to do at any time.

Octodroid is a Github client for Android. It provides access to a bunch of Github features, most notably the issues feature. I can sort through issues, scroll through them, add comments and mark them as closed. It’s free (free is good) though there hasn’t been an update to the software in the better part of a year.

There are other fancier todo lists in the world, but very few of them come with a complete source code control system and a serviceable wiki. My only complaint with any of the Android tools for Github that I’ve found so far is that none of them are really good wiki editors. I sometimes miss how good Evernote is at providing a simple synchronized text editor, and wish that it had more wiki-nature. Octodroid is just good enough at tracking what I’m doing and not doing to satisfy the need to have a todo list that goes with me everywhere that doesn’t live in my inbox.

Evernote (for Android) as a reminder system

I have a fickle relationship with reminder systems. Usually the drill is to discover something new, vigorously dump everything I can possibly think into it, and then slowly but surely get disillusioned with it as time goes on. The smell of a new system is seductive, and when something new comes along there's a tendency to look at its good side and to focus on the bad parts of whatever you were using before.

Thus my latest desire is to stop using Github as an issue tracking system for personal reminders, and to start using Evernote. I've written about Github before; the truth of it is that it's not a bad system, but it's set up enough for multi-person use that some of the easy affordances of single person use go to the wayside. Besides, my own use of it has tapered off and that's a sign that something new needs to take its place.

Evernote hasn't been written about much here, but there's a lot that I am starting to like about it. The Android support for reminders is new. Android support in general it lags a bit behind iOS. The level that I'm currently using it it's still free. Their reminder system is new, but still looks at least minimally functional enough to get the work done. Since it fits in my phone pretty well it seems as though I should be able to make the transition and not be pinned down in front of my computer screen when it's time to brainstorm what to do next.

Basically it's what every new system is, the new system smell, while it's still revolutionary and not the politburo. Enjoy the new system before you figure out how to routinize it into distraction.


TuneIn: listen to broadcast radio from all over the world

Tunein-appicon-freeI'm fond of TuneIn, a free service that lets you tune in to radio broadcasts from all over the world. I used it last night to listen to Pacific Coast League AAA baseball, and I've previously tuned in hockey games, news stations from far-away places when there's breaking news, and the occasional music channel.

One of the remarkable things about TuneIn is that they have program schedules for the stations they are following, and so you can get real time updates for what's playing now and who's playing whom. The front page rotates new songs that if you're a quick click you can hear more or less in their entirety as they are being broadcast.

A particularly useful part of TuneIn is its "trending" tab, where it gives you real time feedback on which channels have the most activity. When people are listening primarily to music, it's a slow news day; when the top station is an all-news local channel, there's breaking news. 

The TuneIn Android app has nearly all of the features of the web site, and it takes advantage of knowing where you are to offer up local stations. In addition there's a "TuneIn Radio Pro", which gives you record and rewind for $4.99. There has to be a monetization strategy in there somewhere; they also serve up ads as you connect to some channels.

Recommended. For public safety scanner monitoring, Broadcastify is a good complement.

Runtastic and Cardiotrainer for Android, a brief review

Runtastic is a workout tracking program for Android. It lets you keep track of where you have gone on your run, bike ride, or walk (or a bunch of other means of locomotion) and using the GPS in the phone makes some estimate of how far you've gone and how much effort you have expended. 

I've also used Cardiotrainer for this purpose, which has a similar reason for being.

It's really handy to have your device track where you go so that you get a nice map of your journey. Those trips where you're trying to find your way through an unfamiliar neighborhood generate a trail of breadcrumbs you can follow, and it's really helpful to have a good sense for how far away a mile is while walking. (For me, it's a mile to the Michigan Union.)

Both Runtastic and Cardiotrainer have a synthesized voice to give you details of your progress as you go. Runtastic is rather more sparing in its narration, which I find just fine. Both systems allow you to log your progress to a variety of online media like Facebook.

I started out using Cardiotrainer, and it wanted me to log a trip every day and keep track of myself. When I used to wear a pedometer, that was really easy to do, and I could type in a few numbers every few days and feel like I was keeping up with myself. It doesn't make sense to have any of these running all the time, and so I was fine with Runtastic keeping that detail in the background for me rather than the foreground.

Runtastic also has a feature, as of yet incompletely tested, that lets you know where your friends are right now on the map. That's actually the feature I want more than any to test out, because it points to the possibility that you could use this for something even a little more like a real time channel for careful coordination of where people are and what they're doing. I'm imagining getting lost and having this be helpful.



Both apps are free, and both have Pro or Paid versions that unlock a few more features.

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Being partially online is worse than either being online or being offline

There’s nothing more frustrating to me than being almost but not quite on the Internet, as I discovered today when going to a cafe (unnamed, but linked) which advertised free wifi. My connections were slow and unreliable and frustrating to use. It looks like you’re online but any applications that depend on always-on Internet for their well being work out badly.

The best reaction that I have for this state of interrupted connectivity is to go offline and write in my little notebook. I’ve written before about Pocket Twitter; there’s also a very effective Pocket Issue Tracker where you write down things to do and then re-sync them with your online issue tracker once you are online again.

There is technology that will help this state of interrupted connectivity, and I use it when I can. Of all of the applications that I use, Gmail and Evernote are the two that have the best developed clients that can intelligently buffer things when you’re offline. If I have my laptop and no connectivity, I can also use “git” and “vim” to work on my writing projects, knowing that a “git push origin master” command will resync when I’m ready to update changes.

Once upon a time there was no internet and every application worked well offline. Netnews was delivered one batch at a time, and you’d read it while the modem was quiet; email, if it was important enough, might warrant a long distance call to deliver. Now, when the net is down or flaky you should still be able to get work done. And yes, I should really get a data plan for my new phone so that I don’t have to rely on the quality of random coffee shops for personal productivity.

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