Break Those Barriers

Recently I stumbled upon this intriguing  tweet:

Some backgroundVim is a powerful text editor that is mostly used from a command prompt/terminal by programmers or other IT professionals.  It is notorious for it’s steep learning curve because its simplest operations (like moving the cursor or even exiting the program) are not immediately obvious.

After reading the article that was linked to in the tweet, I was motivated to try to learn vim even though I had originally been intimidated by the learning curve.  The article suggested a specific tutorial (vivmtutor), explained about how long it would take to complete (30 min), and promised that it would break all of the major barriers to entry.

This experience got me thinking about other learning obstacles that we can come across every day.  How many tools or topics have you aspired to learn, yet give up after 5 minutes?  Whether it is Linear Algebra, Underwater Basket Weaving, or Art History, everything has a barrier to entry.  Don’t let that get in your way, set your expectations properly and find a tutorial or crash course to help you through!

I ended up doing the tutorial and as promised, I now know how to exit vim (and a few other tricks).

Another Day, Another Delivery

Same day delivery is obviously where it’s at. Amazon recently expanded its Prime Shipping option to include $5.99 same day delivery options. Google teamed up with Costco, Target, and Barnes & Noble to roll out its Shopping Express service. And now Uber, a transportation provider, has rolled out same-day delivery for basic items in the Washington DC area.

What makes this evolution compelling is how only one of these services started in retail: Amazon. Google was a web services company, albeit one which wisely teamed up with challenged brick-and-mortars to compete with Amazon. Uber is still principally a transportation facilitator, but now has a clever way to use its drivers’ excess time and capacity. It certainly isn’t a threat to drugstore.com, or even FedEx (yet), but the ability to see your delivery en route is pretty darn compelling.

Waterproofing

I recently read an article about bringing one’s iPhone back from the dead, after a nearly-fatal drop into water. As someone who destroyed his fair share of gadgets in water, I took the precaution of purchasing a FRIEQ Waterproof Case for my iPhone 5 in advance of my recent trip to the Caribbean. I had been initially skeptical of how well the case would work, but was pleasantly surprised when I was able to safely – and effectively! – take video under water. Check it out!

Just for Kicks

As I’ve written in the past, I’m a big fan of MapMyRun, an extremely versatile fitness tracking app that works on both iOS and Android. I use the free version, since I don’t mind the occasional Reebok splash page when I finish my runs, and $30/year seems a little steep for additional functionality that I’m not likely to use.

The other day, I noticed a new feature called “Gear Tracker,” which allows you to input your sneaker type, expected mileage, and even a “sneaker nickname.” The feature is “sponsored” by Zappos, and I have no doubt I’ll get a helpful reminder when I’ve put 500 miles on my Nikes.

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MapMyRun’s monetization strategy is interesting on two levels;

1. They follow a freemium subscription model (much like a newspaper or media app), rather than just a freemium purchase model. For instance, many games are free until, say, Level 10, but charge a $4.99  premium to continue beyond that. The gamer now owns the game, and there’s no recurring annual subscription. In contrast, MapMyRun is monetizing in a way more akin to the New York Times, Hulu or Spotify: the most basic, ad-filled experience is free, with a plus-level yearly subscription available.

2. It’s neat to see how tightly MapMyRun has integrated “corporate partners” into the use of the app itself . They’re offering the user/runner one more measure of quantified self, along with a very convenient “buy” button. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an ad for Clif bars the next time it shows me my calorie count.

 

Podcasting

In light of Ben’s recent post about NPR’s new NPR One app, I figured I’d chime in on my own public radio listening habits. I really love NPR and APM (American Public Media). NPR tends to have more human interest stories, whereas APM has a strong tech- and finance- bent. I enjoy NPR’s Religion podcast, as well as NPR Economy and, of course, Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Plus, Planet Money is always fascinating.

In the last three weeks, I’ve formed an addiction to APM’s programming. I start my mornings with the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, a daily dose of poetry, literature, and history. I then spend a considerable portion of my afternoon listening to APM’s Marketplace family of broadcasts: Marketplace Morning Report, Marketplace Weekend, and Marketplace Tech. In advance of the weekend, I tune into APM’s Dinner Party Download, which is the consummate blend of history, pop culture, and cocktails.

For longer-form content, I enjoy the New Yorker’s Political Scene, a weekly discussion of politics and policy, and Out Loud, another weekly discussion, often of culture. The Economist Podcast is an excellent summary of the most recent Economist issue, and they also recently spoke with President Obama in a compelling conversation on foreign policy.

I also greatly enjoy Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s weekly podcast, which is generally a summary of his weekly Torah thoughts, but also includes recent speeches and lectures.

I do most of my listening on Overcast, a new, iOS-only podcasting app that’s elegant and functional. It has a cleaner interface than Apple’s native Podcasts app, and focuses on the listening experience (smart fast-forward, etc), rather than on content curation, as is the case in Stitcher, another podcasting app.

 

NPR One Review

Last week, NPR released NPR One as the official National Public Radio mobile app (Android and iphone).  I’ve become a big fan of theirs (David has too!) as I now spend much more time in a car than I did in Manhattan and don’t always want to hear the same five songs on repeat on the radio.

I find that NPR can really hold my interest most of the time with their unique (often poked fun at) reporting style and I walk out of the car feeling more intelligent than when I walked in.  I have heard many complaints that it is too politically biased, but I find that it devotes real time to most political issues and usually interviews people from both sides of the spectrum.

After using the app for a week I am impressed and enjoying it thoroughly, yet I see some room for improvement.  It is (as far as I can tell) NPR’s only station-independent mobile application, as opposed to WNYC’s which mostly covers New York City topics.  The latter is a bit more mature and has some great features like “On Air Now” – which lets you listen to the live broadcast – and “Discover” – which downloads to your phone 20 to 180 minutes of content related to topics you choose (great for a subway or airplane ride).

NPR One tries to be more like Pandora, providing a stream of content that adapts to the stories you like.  This works quite well, but can still be a bit buggy and lacks a necessary dislike button.  I love that when you first log in it starts with the most recent hourly newscast.  There definitely needs to be an “Hourly Newscast” button so that I don’t need to log out and back in to get the most recent one.  It also uses quite a bit of data, about 500 MB in a week of only casual use, so if you don’t have an unlimited plan you might want to wait until they fix that.

The app is perfect for someone with a long commute who wants a simple, personalized NPR app.  Users who want to listen live or download a bunch of content for later consumption should stick with the WNYC app for now.

Use Latest Photo

I’ve written in the past about my disdain for many of Apple’s native iOS apps. I often find them clunky and limited, particularly in comparison to third-party (and often multi-platform) alternatives. Instead of Notes I use Evernote, in lieu of iTunes I use Spotify, and in place of Mail, I use Dropbox’s Mailbox, a superb mail client which pioneered the “swipe-to-snooze” feature two years ago.

I’ve come to use rely upon another Mailbox-only feature that would be wonderful if it ever made its way into Messages or Facebook: “Use Latest Photo.” I’d estimate that about 50% of the pictures I take are meant to be shared. And generally, I share a picture – regardless of the app – almost immediately. And if I want to send a picture from Messages, it’s a frustrating multi-step process. I need to click (1) photos (2) choose existing (3) album (4) photo (5) confirm. In Mailbox, it’s two steps: (1) photo (2) use latest photo.82472C4F-F0D2-46E2-9AB5-B808C7727E8A

This does make the assumption that I don’t plan to send multiple pictures, or to take one within the app, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. It’s fascinating that one tiny feature makes an important difference in how I use my email. Now, if only Mailbox would let me save drafts.