Get it All

I adore my Android phone and am a serious fan-boy loyal customer of the Android operating system. But like any operating system, there are generally a few things you need in order to properly maintain the system and get really full use out of it. Fortunately, the Android Market is teeming with option for you to download and install. Many of them are either entirely free or else offer a basic shareware version. After pawing around the marketplace for the past year, I’ve come up with what seems like the base list of applications Google should have just included in their core:

7. Scan Life

Those crazy black and white squares are everywhere, now. Magazines, websites, newspapers. And they’re handy as all get-out, after all, providing you with a way to scan a barcode and instantly get downloads for the phone or do all kinds of other things like download coupons and such. To do this, there are a number of options. The option I settled on was ScanLife. ScanLife is a simple and relatively lightweight application that allows you to scan bar codes and get information based on the results. While it was originally built for the new style of scan codes that I’ve been discussing, the application will also scan any UPC code as well, providing you pricing information.

6. Color Note

Another thing I’ve found odd about Android is the lack of a note pad. I suppose not many phones do have this feature, but if you think if a phone as a mini computer – and what else is it, these days? – then having a simple text editor or note pad seems like a pretty basic thing. Well, the solution I found was ColorNote. ColorNote allows you to create a note or a list quickly and easily, automatically saving whatever information you put into the note. The notes are then searchable, sortable by name or by the color of the “paper” you wrote the note on – very handy for keeping similar notes and lists – or by the date of creation/update. I find this app invaluable, especially when I think of things to remind myself of that don’t bear the time and trouble of sending myself an email or some other less handy method.

5. Lookout

You pretty much have to have some sort of anti-virus. It might as well be a free system. Lookout provides a fast, unobtrusive system for maintaining anti-virus basics on the system. The only time you really see Lookout is briefly on downloading something or when the system needs to be updated, which is about once every two weeks or so. Because it doesn’t seem to run all the time, it’s not the drain on memory I anticipated it would be.

4. Mini Info

Now we’re getting into the maintenance of your phone as it’s own entity. Mini Info provides information on resource usage across the system, including memory and memory card usage, along with CPU usage. It’s good to be able to monitor this stuff, especially because applications have an unfortunate habit of running in the background, even when they’re not required. You close out of an application, thinking you’ve stopped it, but in fact, the app continues to exist in memory. The results? Buggy, slow performance and a drained battery. Not fun. Well, what do you do about all those nasty bits, like browser windows, apps and Android systems running for no good reason? Funny you should ask….

3. Juice Defender

Enter the first level in active device maintenance apps. Juice Defender provides a fast and efficient background process for regulating the flow of data on and off the phone, which in turn limits the amount of battery life used. By limiting data usage to, say, once every fifteen minutes, Juice Defender throttles those greedy apps that constantly want to update themselves. This leaves you with much more efficient battery usage, which any smart phone user will appreciate.

2. Advanced Task Killer

But our job is not quite done. Limiting the Internet usage on the phone is important. But that doesn’t by itself get rid of the problem of open applications and memory usage. For that, we take the next step and install Advanced Task Killer. ATK runs in the background and silently kills tasks that are no longer necessary. These would include things like open browser windows or applications and you’ll be amazed at the number of these processes that are running without your knowledge and not required for your system’s performance. You can also see a list of currently-running processes and kill the ones you wish to. An icon you can place on your desktop also allows you to kill non-vital tasks with a single click.

1. Locale

Finally, the best way to keep your battery life under control is to simply not use things when you’re never really going to use them. What governs when you will and when you won’t use applications largely depends on where you are and what time it is, and so Locale is your best friend in this regard. Locale will allow you to specify a number of conditions as a single profile, then set the power and access settings that make the most sense for that set of conditions. For example, when I’m home, it’s past 10 and the phone is on the charger, the most likely case is that I’m asleep. So in this case, I turn all options to silent modes – no phone rings, notifications or email. When I’m at the school my wife works at, I set all the ringers to vibrate because I’m probably at a play. When I’m at work, my phone vibrates on ring, but all other notifications are suppressed. When I’m home, regardless of time, my wifi connection is turned on, whereas my default setting turns it off to keep battery life under control.

I hope you got some good use out of this little list. Especially for new Android users, the list of possible applications is huge and daunting, but with a little experienced help, you can be up, running and humming along straight away.

Photo Courtesty Bob n Renee @ I remember being a teenage drummer in the late 80’s and early 90’s, looking through issues of Modern Drummer, the bible for kids such as I. And I remember looking at images of these strange, flat disks with cords hooked up in what approximated the shape of the drumset I knew and loved with big-name drummers sitting proudly behind them. People would read over my shoulder and say, “that’s the end of drummers! Now that they can have a drum machine do what you guys do, they don’t need you anymore. And soon they just flat-out won’t need musicians at all.”

Some part of me found this whole line hysterical, but a large part of me worried they might be right. What would happen once a newer, presumably better technology came into prominence?

We’ve had a few decades to learn the truth and the truth is just fine, thank you. Drummers are still very much needed and revered in the musical community, as are musicians of all stripes. Yes, there is a large segment of the music landscape dominated by electronic instruments, but even in these genres, when a really nuanced musical touch is called for, they call in the instrumentalist. And as it turns out, just because you don’t play a traditional analog instrument does not in any way make you less of a musician or artist.

What is the lesson here, and how does it apply to eBooks like the Barnes and Nobel Nook or the Amazon Kindle?

Fundamentally, there is a difference between the evolution of a need-fulfilling technological niche and the further development of new needs to fulfill. There are certain needs which are common to humans and even life itself for which science and technology have provided solutions. There are also human needs which never existed in the past that are a reflection of our technological and intellectual growth, and where these needs arise, new technological niches follow. eBooks fall under the category of digital media, generally, and while they certainly fulfill a role similar to books, they do not altogether replace that need because they occupy a different set of spaces.

Consider for example the common need to travel: even plants need to get seeds away from the parent tree in order to spread their influence. Humans have invented shoes, domesticated horses and other animals, invented chariots and eventually stage coaches to get where they need to go. Ultimately, we get to our modern era, when a curious thing occurs: our need to travel has cleaved off in many separate facets. Trains and ships have existed for many years without replacement because they fulfill a role of bulk transportation. Automobiles have not been replaced by air travel because air travel is only efficient in groups over relatively long distances.

It is true that one does not see horse-drawn carriages as a practical means of transportation anymore, save for a few isolated Amish societies. At least not in most industrialized settings. In rugged terrain like Afghanistan or even the Grand Canyon, however, four feet remain the only truly reliable means of transportation. So even in the case of technologies urban societies have long-forgotten, sometimes usefulness does not go away simply because something newer has come along.

Scrolls definitely disappeared once bound books became available. But books did not get replaced by radio. Radio did not get destroyed by television. Television remains irritatingly powerful in our Internet society. And after all this time, what reason have we to believe that books will get replaced by the Nook? One good power outage should disabuse us of that notion.

I love my Droid Eris, it’s the neatest little toy I’ve bought myself in years and years. But it does have one disadvantage, which is that the high-power consumption means that the battery doesn’t last very long. And when you’ve got a job out here in the sticks, the phone starts roaming and you really lose battery power. At this point, its like I’m driving an “A Car,” with my phone running out of juice about 7pm every night.

What’s an A Car? Well, during the rationing of World War II, they assigned every car in the country with a letter, A, B or C, that dictated when the car was eligible to get gasoline. A Cars got gas on Monday and Tuesday, B Cars got gas on Wednesday and Thursday and C Cars got gas on Friday and Saturday. In those days, everything was closed on Sunday.

Well, as you can clearly surmise, those cars that got gas on Monday and Tuesday would be at their lowest point on Friday and Saturday, which meant A Car drivers generally got stuck at home or else had to tool around in someone else’s ride. C Cars were the cars to have.

But, this is just me talking. Interesting point of history, nothing more. But I really wish they would make a higher-capacity battery for this phone. Should I have bought that clunky Motorola model instead?

Hey! Who remembers the “Scream Sheets” of William Gibson’s future? All those disposable computer screens that could bring you the latest in the news? Well, Amazon’s going to be the first one to try and market such a device with the new Kindle: a wirelessly-connected little PDA type thang that connects to their service for free.

Kindle will allow you to connect to Amazon, find the book or newspaper you want to read, buy it and read it from anywhere. You don’t need a wireless Internet connection service like Verizon or AT&T, because Kindle comes with its own “Whispernet” wireless network. Plus you get free access to Wikipedia: Kindle: Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device: Kindle Store

# Revolutionary electronic-paper display provides a sharp, high-resolution screen that looks and reads like real paper. # Simple to use: no computer, no cables, no syncing.

OK, that’s cool. But now for the down side. . .

For one, this Whispernet is available through Sprint’s network, which is fine if you live in one of those “good zones” of Sprint’s network. But I bailed on Sprint for the simple fact that I had the worst time getting reception with them in Rochester. I could literally walk ten feet from my house in either direction and get a signal, but directly in front of my house, no go. Now, I realize there was probably some sort of microwave interference in the area, but my Verizon phone never had the same problem.

So, the network is a problem. A second problem is the volatility of the media. This may not matter to some, but I guess I’m old fashioned enough to want to be able to keep a book for a while, whereas if your Kindle becomes kindling, all those books you read are gone. I’ve never been able to quite comprehend the people who have music stored on their iPods without any kind of backup, now we’re going to do it with print media as well.

But the biggest thing is: that damned thing is $400! If you’ve got $400 to spend on something you can only read books on – and you really like reading books that much – knock yourself out. But it seems to me that the entire purpose of those “Scream sheets” of William Gibson’s fantasy was that they were cheap and disposable. If you left your scream sheet on the subway because you were too busy fiddling with your latest “Teach Yourself the Mambo” sub dermal chip, no biggie.

But unless your Paris Hilton on a bender, you’re probably going to want to keep your Kindle where you can find it.