All it takes is a trip to the Weather.com homepage and you’re quickly bombarded with imagery of severe weather, including tornadoes, dramatic lightning, damaging winds, and large hail. Don’t believe me, have a look here: https://weather.com/storms/severe/ This time of the year, severe weather is a common occurrence across the country. Heck, just today, there were severe thunderstorm warnings back in my hometown just outside of Pittsburgh.
It’s important to be prepared for severe weather and one way to do that is with technology. There’s a multitude of different apps and gadgets that can get you through when severe weather is imminent.
Alright. I have posted before about the connected house. We’ve got Philips Hue, Nest, Apple TV, and so much more. It’s great. There are occasional hiccups, but overall, it’s fantastic.
Enter Google Home.
Google Home is similar to Alexa from Amazon in that you can ask questions, query about various topics, set timers, and do so much more with this tabletop appliance. Smaller than a football, Google Home plugs in and sits on a table listening for your cues. It’s stylish and allows you to accessorize it, changing out the base with a different color to match your decor.
Not only is it stylish, it’s also functional. The usuals work really well. You can ask Google Home to do simple math problems, set a timer, ask it who stars in a particular movie, play a song or playlist from your favorite music app, and even play games with you. In addition, you can connect it to your other connected home devices, setting up cues that allow you to turn on the lights, adjust the temperature, and more. With the exception of occasionally missing a light (which we hope will be fixed in the near future), it worked as you would expect.
One of the biggest benefits of Google Home is the fact that it works with IFTTT, a utility that lets you define if-then statements to make things happen. IFTTT, or ‘if this then that,’ connects with a variety of apps and websites to make life easier. IFTTT takes a little effort to connect, but once you set things up, it’s great. Ultimately, what happens is you connect Google Assistant with your Google Home device. Once connected, you set up a trigger. This can be a text phrase or a phrase with a text or number modifier. For example, you can have it post a tweet by setting up a trigger that’s activated when you say ‘Post a tweet saying (fill in the blank).’ It’ll connect up to Twitter and post your comment to social media. That’s just one example. There are other utilities that link to your calendar, notifications, fitness tracker, and other connected home devices. Bottom line, it’s super useful.
So what else can Google Home do right out of the box? Instead of me coming up with an entire list on my own, I found a great compilation of shortcuts from c|net. Take a look at a few of my favorites and then click the link below for the full list.
Roll a die: “OK Google, roll a die” or, “OK Google, roll a 12-sided die.”
Timer: “OK Google, set a timer for [time].”
Daily briefing: “OK Google, good morning.” (includes personalized greeting, info on weather, traffic, and curated news stories)
Weather: “OK Google, how’s the weather today?” or, “Do I need an umbrella today?”
Play music: “OK Google, play some music” or, “Play some [genre] music.”
Sports updates: “OK Google, who is [team] playing next?” or “Did the [team] win last night?”
Here’s a link to the full list of shortcuts for Google Home. There are also some Easter eggs that might be fun to try out! One thing that it can’t do yet is set a reminder. I’m hopeful that will be rectified in a future update.
Overall, I get to try a lot of different devices through a partnership with Verizon. This is no different. This, however, is one that I would definitely be interested in buying now that my trial period is over. Google Home, while only several months old at this point, already has a strong position in the market and I’m truly excited to see how it improves.
Bottom Line: You WILL use this device. Even if you don’t think you will, you WILL use this device. It’s convenient and really does make life easier.
It’s been a while since I’ve updated you on the new house. I moved into my new place in March 2016 and since then, I’ve been working to fill it with tech. Here’s a quick update and how everything is working so far.
I’ve been using Philips Hue for a while now. I was lent a starter pack from Verizon and it wasn’t long after I returned it that I went out and bought the starter pack for myself. We now have two starter packs since consolidating homes and that means 6 Hue light bulbs scattered throughout the house.
They have their daily uses in the hallway and the living room light, where we set up Apple’s Siri to enable ‘movie mode’ with HomeKit. I also set up my phone, the Galaxy S7 Edge to use an app called Hue Pro (available on both Android and iPhone) to create various modes that I can access with a single touch of a widget on the screen. They are super convenient. If that isn’t enough, we also have a Hue Tap Switch set up in case we have guests. It’ll let them turn on the lights just like a normal light switch.
The most fun we’ve had has been for holidays where we light up the bulbs special colors. We had a multi-colored bulb going outside for Halloween and for Christmas, we plan on lighting one up over the fireplace either red or green. I’ve also hosted game nights and have used the Hue to signify correct or incorrect answers by changing the lights to green or red.
I am pretty sure we’re going to buy more bulbs in the future.
We wanted the ability to open the garage with my smartphone and for that, we turned to GoGogate. GoGogate is a pretty nice solution even if it isn’t the prettiest for our purposes. GoGogate needs an outlet next to it in order to run and unfortunately, the only outlet in the garage is at the back wall. The console needs to be next to the garage door opener, which is on the side wall. For that reason, there’s an extension cord running along the wall from the back to the side until a better solution comes around.
The solution was easy to install, even for someone who doesn’t have much experience. You do have to take the cover off of your garage door opener and attach a couple of wires, but for me, it was pretty easy. There are instructions online, too. They’ll help out. Once I figured out how to do that, I was in great shape.
GoGogate is fantastic. We’ve used it quite a bit for going out for a run. We can leave the front door locked and simply close the garage door with our phone. The app works for both Android and iPhone, so compatibility isn’t an issue. We’ve also used it for visitors from out of town. We had guests that arrived while we were both working and with the push of a button on the app, we were able to let them into the house through the garage. It was super-convenient.
That’s the big stuff, but there are other things we use on a regular basis in the house that comes in handy. Our Nest thermostat works really well and saves money by going into ‘Eco’ mode. We have a UE Boom Bluetooth speaker that we use in the bathroom while getting ready in the mornings. An Apple TV (yup, I like an Apple product) is a great solution for controlling Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming sites. The TiVo is still a centerpiece of the entertainment system along with a Chromecast. We also have some WeMo switches, including one on each side of the bed and one in the guest bedroom. The guest bedroom is set to ‘away mode’ and randomly comes on to make it look like we’re home even when we aren’t. It’s a great setting within the WeMo app. I think the next purchase might be a Google Home, but we’ll see.
Overall, we’re connected and even though there are occasional hiccups, it really is a great setup. Think about it. You have your phone almost all the time anyway. By simply addressing Siri or touching a widget on the phone, you can turn on your lights, open your garage, search for and play TV shows or movies, and so much more. Technology is here. Embrace it!
I like things a certain way and that includes my text messaging app. I’ve gone through a handful of them and I’m going to run down some of the pros and cons of each. Spoiler alert… one actually really surprised me!
Let’s get to it, then.
Messenger is a solid app. It works well and I love the use of color. The app puts all of your text messages into one list and used colored circles or images to indicate who you’re chatting with. If you have a group message, everybody gets a different color and that means that you won’t be confused about who is saying what. That’s super-important for me. Unfortunately, Messenger falls short on options. There are practically no real options besides the basic notification sound, vibration, and welp, that’s about it.
Bottom Line: If you like a text messaging app that is simple with no frills, go with Messenger.
Textra is great. I used it for quite a while without the desire to change. It has a fantastic integrated animated GIF searcher and allows for a lot of customization. It’s pretty clean, although not as visually appealing as Google’s Messenger. (Man, I’m looking at Messenger now and it just looks so nice. I’m wishing it had more options. Step up your game, Google!) Textra’s high marks come from the fact that it can easily be changed and has lots of options. For example, let’s say I want conversations with family to always be a certain color, I can program that to happen. I can make conversations have specific ringtones, as well. I can skin the whole thing dark or light if I want, too. They also handle group chats wonderfully in their new update. Your group conversations can now be given a name instead of having a bunch of people listed. For example, let’s say you’ve got a fantasy football group that you talk smack to. Name that group Fantasy Football and it’ll show up cleanly in the app. My downfall was with what I mentioned above in the Google Messenger. I like colors for group chats and they didn’t have individual colors per person.
Bottom Line: I used this a lot. It’s solid. I moved on to the one below and it surprised me.
I know a lot of people just ignore the stock apps on their phones. Don’t do that with Verizon Message+. It’s actually a really good app that gives you a lot of customization options. From the start, you get the benefit of your messages being backed up in the cloud. That’s a perk in itself because if you get a new phone, you can quickly recover the majority of them quickly by reloading this app. In addition, you don’t even have to have service to send a text message. Wi-Fi is all you’ll need. Heck, you can even use your computer to send a text message from your own number. I mentioned customization and there’s a lot of it. You have the ability to change: bubble style, bubble color, backgrounds, avatar color, font size and style, emoji style, tones, LED color (if your device supports this), and more. What’s even better is that you can do this globally and on a per-conversation basis. Not only does it have your basic abilities such as camera and gallery, it also has the ability to send users your real-time location, create a collage, or even do a GIF search with the ‘media search’ option. There are always a couple of downsides and for the Message+ app, I don’t love the way the camera and gallery are handled. There are a few improvements that can be made to make them a little more polished. Otherwise, it’s been a really solid app.
Bottom Line: I was surprised. This is a fantastic app with lots of options. While it has a few flaws, mainly in the camera and gallery, it’s still a solid option that should be considered.
I don’t have a lot of experience with many others, but there are a few. Chomp SMS had a lot of options, but if I recall, I couldn’t do the different colored individuals in groups. If it wasn’t that, something else pushed me away. Hangouts from Google is a decent choice if you want a no-frills solution, like Messenger. I thought Allo was going to be a text messaging app, but it wasn’t. It was more like a WhatsApp where you need to sign up for the service. Neither are really true SMS apps. I don’t have a lot of experience, but a lot of people also use Handcent. I downloaded it briefly and it looks polished. The camera and gallery open to your native apps (big props for this). The group messaging does an okay job differentiating between people, but it isn’t visible enough for me. I also don’t love ads, which I’m assuming you can pay to turn off.
Ultimately, this just comes down to personal preference. Hopefully you can make a better decision based on the reviews above. I have been using Message+ for a while now. I think it’s a nice mix of features and functionality. Do you have a favorite app for messaging on Android? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (TT_7).
One of my absolute favorite places on this planet is Cedar Point. If you haven’t heard of Cedar Point, let me tell you about it for a minute. The amusement park, located in Sandusky, Ohio, is home to a slew of coasters. I was going to count them but decided to just say ‘a slew’ because I was lazy. These aren’t just any coasters, though. They are award-winning, record-setting coasters. Their newest, Valravn, is a dive coaster that sets world records for both the coaster itself and the park, 10 if you’re counting. Look them up. They’re on the website.
I had the opportunity to visit CP last week and had a fantastic time. Here are a few things that I did to enhance the trip:
First off, I grabbed the Mophie Juice Pack, a charging case designed for the Samsung Galaxy S7. This case is designed to give you 60% more battery life when connected to your phone. I figured with the chance of being in lines all day, having 60% extra battery might be a good thing. It definitely came in handy. I didn’t find myself conserving much at all. I actually spent a lot of time playing Pokemon GO for the first half of the day. (FYI: There are PokeStops everywhere at Cedar Point.) The case also provided some extra grip to keep the phone in my pocket throughout the day while on the coasters.
It was important to have a lot of juice because one thing I wanted to do was to check in for every ride on Swarm. This was crucial to keep track of everything we had ridden throughout the day. By the end of the day, that list included 21 total rides, all of them roller coasters. We had ridden Millennium Force 3 times, Top Thrill Dragster twice (once in the front car!), Valravn 3 times (once in the front car!), Raptor twice, Magnum twice, Gatekeeper twice, and several other coasters at least once. The only coaster-like ride that we didn’t ride was Cedar Creek Mine Ride, which we honestly just forgot about.
You may ask how we were able to ride so many rides. The answer is the Fast Lane Plus pass. My thoughts before this trip included sentiments such as “These fast pass people are annoying.” and “I’ll never pay that much for that pass.” My thoughts after this trip are essentially a 180 from my prior thoughts. The pass, priced at $93 on the day we went, is worth every penny. Going during the week and having that pass ensured that we never waited more than 20 minutes for a ride. Lines were topping out at around an hour or so for the most part for the bigger rides on that day. I won’t go again without buying the pass. Yes, it’s expensive and yes, it was worth the price.
There was one ride that had a slightly longer wait and that was the Iron Dragon. *screeching tire sound* Wait, what? The Iron Dragon had a wait? Indeed, it did. Let me explain why. The ride was going through some pilot or beta testing using Samsung Gear VR. In this exclusive event, guests could sign up for a time to ride the coaster while wearing a pair of goggles equipped with a Samsung device. Each set of goggles was washed before being given to the next train. When they handed out the goggles, they noted which car of the train you were in and gave you the appropriately-calibrated equipment. Riders would then put the goggles on and enjoy as the train left the station. Keep in mind that with true virtual reality, you aren’t seeing your surroundings. Instead, you were immersed in a fantasy world filled with a horse, angry monsters, a winged dragon, and hostile villagers. It was a unique experience. They will have a few things to figure out before this hits the masses (such as alleviating the dizziness the goggles caused), but it is a really cool concept and could breath new fire… err… life back into that coaster.
Overall, the trip to Cedar Point was a fantastic adventure filled with high-speed acrobatics… and that’s just what I have come to expect from America’s Rockin’ Roller Coast! Ride on!
What’s your favorite ride at Cedar Point? Let me know by leaving a comment or sending me a tweet @TT_7. My favorite is probably Millennium Force.
Note: Verizon provided me the Mophie Juice Pack and the Samsung Galaxy S7. If I do not like a product, I do not have to write about nor endorse it. Both of these have been great. The Galaxy S7 is highly water resistant, but I’m not positive about the Mophie. Keep that in mind when using it around water. The Galaxy S7 has been the best smartphone I’ve ever had.
One thing you have to know about me is that I really like to adopt technology in its early stages. I was using Android Pay back when it was called Google Wallet and was only accepted in as many places as I can count on my fingers and maybe a couple of toes. I reluctantly migrated to Android Pay from Wallet even though the app forced me to password-protect my phone. (This was before I had a phone with a fingerprint reader. I just didn’t want to deal with unlocking my phone. I’m now spoiled.) I used it where I could, but it was lackluster because there were only so many places that would accept mobile payments, whether it is Android Pay or Apple Pay.
Several months ago, Verizon shipped me out a Samsung Galaxy S7 to try out for a while (best phone I’ve had in a very long time, but more on that later). I had been using an LG before and while life was good, I was excited to try some of the newer features on the S7. I had been reading great things about the phone and was pretty pumped to receive it. The biggest feature that had me so excited was Samsung Pay.
OK, let’s go over what exactly this is… Samsung Pay is *similar* to Android Pay and Apple Pay. The one BIG exception is the method behind the madness. Not only does it use NFC (near-field communication), the same technology as Android and Apple Pay, but it also uses patented MST (magnetic secure transmission) technology. Basically, this means that you don’t necessarily have to be at a tap-to-pay terminal to use it. It allows you to ‘tap’ at pretty much any machine that has a magnetic stripe reader. Ultimately, you really don’t have to tap as MST creates magnetic signals that are then relayed to the stripe reader in the credit card machine.
Watch this video to get an idea of how it works. This comes from the Samsung Pay website…
This has been a game-changer for me. One of the biggest things is that I can now go places without my wallet. A prime example is the gym. I can sign in with my membership card within the Samsung Pay app. Then, if I need to buy something, I can use Samsung Pay for that, as well. For the most part, Samsung Pay seems to work pretty much wherever I try it. There have been a few exceptions, but overall, it’s been a fantastic, reliable app.
My favorite Samsung Pay story comes from Culver’s, a Midwest fast food chain. I went to use the app and the guy at the counter promptly told me that they didn’t accept mobile payments. I told him that he did and I proceeded to put my phone over top of his magnetic stripe reader on the kiosk. His reaction was priceless. I went back a couple of weeks later and he remembered me. He told me that he went out and bought the Galaxy S7 because of what it could do!
Well, what happens when I have this technology craving and I just purchased a condo?
That’s what we’re going to find out.
Luckily, I have some friends at Verizon who were willing to lend me a couple of items to try out to see if I liked them. Unfortunately for my wallet, I liked them.
Let’s talk first and quickly about the WeMo Insight. The Insight is basically just a traditional WeMo with the ability to tell you how much you’re spending while using whatever you have plugged into it. I already own a couple of the original WeMo outlets and they work great. If you’re energy conscious, you may want to give this one a try. I currently only have a need for two of these kinds of gadgets, so I’ll hold off on buying another until the need arises.
Then there was the Philips Hue. I was lent the starter kit, which included what they call the ‘bridge,’ the piece that connects to your wi-fi, along with three light bulbs. I had seen the Hue before, but not in action. The idea is you get these fancy light bulbs and you can put them pretty much anywhere a normal light bulb would go. The cool part is that they don’t have to stay white. You can set up various ‘scenes’ to change the colors and intensity and control it all with your phone.
Let me give you an example. For my purposes, I set these up in the upstairs hallway (two lights) and in the bedroom (one light). The lights work just like normal with the light switches. When you turn the switch off and then back on, the lights illuminate in the normal soft white color. This is great because not everyone who comes into my house has the Hue app installed on their phone. If you don’t have the app but still need to turn on the light, you can.
On my phone, I created several scenes that I could then deploy with the tap of my home screen. The Hue app comes with a handful right out of the gate. I used one of the defaults, ‘Concentrate,’ that turned all of the lights on, illuminating the entire hallway and bedroom in a flood of white light. This was great. When I was going to bed at night, I’d turn that one on and turn off the lights downstairs before heading to the bedroom. Once I got into the bedroom, I used a self-created scene that I called ‘Ready For Bed.’ I had read somewhere that a softer red/orange light before bed can actually help you get to sleep easier. While I was getting ready for bed, I triggered the ‘Ready For Bed’ scene and the hall lights turned off while the bedroom light shifted to a more nocturnal color. When I was ready for bed, I hit the ‘All Off’ button and the bedroom light dimmed to darkness with just the light from my cell phone left over. I really loved this feature.
In my old place, I had my lamp and WeMo switch in the bedroom and could kill the lights that way. In my new place, I relocated my lamp to the living room and didn’t have an easy way to switch off the lights without having to get my lazy you-know-what out of the bed. This solved my problem.
I do have other plans for the Hue, as well. In one of my blog posts for Verizon, I gave tips on how to techify (nope, that’s not a word but I’m gonna run with it) your game nights. I still host game nights for my friends and I think these lights are going to let me up the game a bit. With correct and incorrect answers, I’ll be able to shade the lights to green or red with the touch of a button. It may also be possible to automate this for certain games. I look forward to trying that out when I get a chance.
Overall, the Hue was a winner! Now, I need to pick one up for myself since, sadly, my trial period is coming to an end.
Quick disclaimer before I get going… I was lent the watch by Verizon.
A couple of years ago, I was lent the original Samsung smartwatch. It was fun to try out the tech, but it was before the days of Android Wear. There was no uniformity. The operating system was somewhat clunky. The whole experience, while relatively smooth, was not very robust. It could do some basic things, but it didn’t really have a lot of razzmatazz. Oh, and it didn’t really look like a watch, either.
Fast forward to today and I’m wearing the LG Watch Urbane on my wrist. I had the opportunity to pick from a variety of wearables from Verizon’s website and decided to go with this one. Why did I choose this one, you might ask? The biggest reason for the choice was the fact that it actually looked like a watch.
It has a circular face with what appears to be a ‘winder’ on the side. The ‘winder’ in this case is simply just a button to help control the watch itself, but it is reminiscent of a traditional watch. My only concern when I picked it was that it might be too large for my wrist.
Now, I’m not going to lie… it is a large watch. It wasn’t too large, in my opinion. It fits and sits well on my wrist and looks pretty good, as well.
One of the cooler features, however, is the ability to
There are some companies that do social media the right way and some that do it some other way they probably think is right. Sears, from what I can tell, is a company that does it the right way.
Here’s what I’m talking about…
On December 23rd, I ordered a grinder online at Sears.com for my dad for Christmas. (Full disclosure: He actually sat there and picked it out. I just put my credit card information in – Christmas Shopping at its finest!) Anyway, the website said that there was one left in stock so we bought it and I made the trek out to the mall to pick it up. I had some other stuff in my virtual cart as well that I was picking up.
I get really frustrated when companies try to charge an arm and a leg for everyday items. I know I’m on the road and staying in a new town and at a hotel, but work with me here, people. You probably need some backstory for this one. Here goes.
I was in Tallahassee staying at the Residence Inn on I-10 north of the city. I got myself breakfast then went to grab a bottle of water for the road. It was $3. The bottle of water was only 20 oz. and it wasn’t one of those nifty reusable bottles with the sport cap. It was a typical 20 oz. bottle and the hotel was charging $3 for it.
I’ll be honest. If the cost was $2, this wouldn’t have been a big deal. Two-and-a-quarter. Fine. Even two-and-a-half would’ve been okay. For some reason, that three dollar mark just set me off.
I took to the Twitter and posted the following tweet mentioning @ResidenceInn: