The Day Facebook’s App Strategy Suddenly Made Sense

I’ve been annoyed at Facebook for some time. Not because of anything particularly serious, but because of the irritating habit they have of creating standalone apps for various functions.

For example, there are now apps for:

  • managing your pages
  • sending and receiving messages
  • sharing private photos with friend and family
  • managing groups
  • managing adverts (as an advertiser)
  • … and more.

This is all before we get to what I would call the “main” Facebook app. You know, the one that lets you use Facebook as a social network.

All of the core functions used to be in the Facebook app. You could send messages, chat, manage photos, and, of course, post to your timeline and your pages. So why on earth has everything been separated out into different apps? It frustrated me no end.

And then one day it made sense to me. I decided I was spending too much time on Facebook but I didn’t want to leave altogether because I manage a couple of pages; one for Geek-Speak and one for my IT company. So I deleted the Facebook app.

Suddenly I wasn’t tempted to spend all day looking through my friends’ status updates. If I wanted to do that I had to load the site in the browser and that pretty much meant I would only do it when I was sitting at my laptop. Yes, I know Facebook works in a mobile browser, but I never really got into the habit of using it like that. The key thing is that I was still able to send and receive messages for my pages, still able to keep my pages updated, and still able to keep up with what was happening in a few groups that interested me without the temptation to get bogged down in what I previously thought of as the central Facebook experience.

Now, you may very well be reading this and thinking, “Duh – tell me something new”, but I had never considered ditching the personal part of Facebook before and now that I have… well… Facebook’s app strategy makes sense to me. It lets me tailor which parts of the platform I want to use. Sure, if I want to use everything it means I have to have a load of apps on my phone, and that’s still a bit annoying, but it also means I can cut out any particular app and disregard that part of Facebook.

I still check Facebook regularly, and I’m still fairly active on my personal timeline… just less so than I used to be, and you know what? I feel better for it.

This blinding flash of the obvious has been brought to you by the letter F :)

Help your children learn to code with Code.org

Computers are everywhere. They make modern televisions, washing machines, and cars work, they control the flow of electricity into your home, they control the sequence of traffic lights on your local roads, and they are used to track and transport the food to your local supermarket.

You get the idea.

Hour of Code - Star WarsI passionately believe that learning to code is a valuable life skill for children to pick up as early as possible, and I was impressed that my children’s school held an Hour of Code event back in December of last year. That’s where I came across Code.org, which has loads of resources for introducing children to coding. I mean, I would have killed to have a Star Wars programming course when I was little… kids today don’t know they’re born!

If you’re looking to get your little ones interested in making technology work for them, you could do a lot worse than checking out Code.org. Who knows, you might even learn something yourself!

A Soft Murmur … of background noise while you work

A Soft MurmurSome time ago, I wrote about a website called Coffitivity. Coffitivity plays the background noise of a cafe so that you can have some ambience while working. I work alone (not in the Chuck Norris sense, it’s just that I work from home) so sometimes a bit of background noise can be welcome.

More ambience sites have sprung up since then, and one of my new favourites is A Soft Murmur. But why is it different?

Simply put, it’s because it offers a variety of sounds. The coffee shop is still in there, but you can mix it with thunder, rain, white noise, singing bowls, and more. Each sound has a slider (on the desktop version of the site) so you can get the relative levels you want. Personally, I like listening to the rain and thunder so that’s the combination I usually go with.

I find having a little background noise does help with my concentration, and these sites have an advantage over “live” noise in that I can turn them off anytime I want to. It’s kind of hard to get everyone in my local coffee shop to be quiet on demand! The disadvantage, of course, is there’s no counter to buy coffee from!

Have a listen at http://asoftmurmur.com/ and see if it works for you.

 

Terrapin Leather Case for Samsung Galaxy S6 [review]

Samsung Galaxy S6 - red leather wallet style caseI have to be completely honest; my phone is the one accessory and gadget that I always have with me. No matter whether I am leaving the house for 5 minutes, 5 hours or 5 days, my phone is with me. Although my husband loves his many and varied gadgets, for me it’s all about my phone. New discoveries come and go, but the phone is the one luxury I don’t mind spending a little extra money on.

Since I see it as such a necessity and since I have been known to be a little clumsy in the past, a pretty but functional phone case is an essential. Terrapin Accessories offered me the chance to try out one of their cases, and I chose  a red leather wallet type case.

I have tried a few different styles over the years, and I have grown to love the wallet type. I feel this give the phone protection from the general bashes and bumps that I subject it to during a normal busy day. Immediately when I opened up this phone case I realised that it was a far superior quality to what I normally use on my phone. It felt soft, yet the case seemed very sturdy. My S6 easily fitted snugly and securely into the plastic holder in the case. A lot of cases I have used recently have had a more flexible holder but this was a more rigid plastic. It was still easy to slip the phone in, though, and it was obvious that it had been measured to perfection.

[Read more…]

Codemaster: Learning programming via board game

I think it’s important to teach children to program computers; as the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology the ability to make that technology do what you want is going to be a useful skill. There are so many ways to teach programming it’s unreal, and this one seems interesting: a board game designed to teach you to think like a programmer.

Codemaster Board Game The game consists of a series of puzzles where the aim is to move an avatar to a portal, picking crystals up along the way. The board itself is a matrix of coloured paths, and you complete the puzzle by selecting a sequence of coloured tokens matching the colours of the paths. If you get to the end of your sequence (or “program”) and you are either not at the portal or crystals still remain on the board, you need to rethink the program and start again.
[Read more…]

Terrapin Leather Case for iPhone SE [Review]

Terrapin Leather Case for iPhone SEYou don’t need me to remind you how much I love my gadgets; if you’ve been reading Geek-Speak for any length of time you’ll know that already! You may also know that I like my gadgets “naked”, without a cover or case. I think the design of technology these days has progressed to the point where gadgets look good on their own, not as if they’re there purely to fulfil a function.

When you drop a “naked” device, though, things can go really wrong really quickly. No cover means no protection and, since I’m not made of money, I can’t really afford to keep breaking things just because I don’t want to spoil the way they look.

Because I still want my gadgets to look good, I spend quite a bit of time choosing covers and cases, so when I was contacted by the people at Terrapin Accessories to see if I would like to review one of their cases, I spent quite a while looking through the range before deciding on the one I’d like to try. I finally settled on a leather wallet case for my iPhone 5S (which, I have to say, I’m very pleased is the same size as the more recent iPhone SE!)
[Read more…]

Testing the Syma X5SC Quadcopter

Syma X5SC QuadcopterIt’s flying season! Or, rather, it’s meant to be flying season but the weather doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. Despite the fact it’s the summer holidays here in Scotland, we’ve had some impressive downpours lately (no jokes about that being the Scottish summer, please).

Despite weather woes, I’ve been enjoying testing out the Syma X5SC Quadcopter, kindly sent to me by Mobile Fun. You may have seen my previous review of the Syma X4 Quadcopter, and the X5SC is its bigger brother. So let’s have a look at what Big Brother is like. [Read more…]

Getting started with SAM Labs’ Make

I love tinkering with gadgets and electronics. I remember as a child I would take different devices, like clocks, alarms, and cameras apart to try and figure out how they worked. If I’m honest, I always struggled because I had no idea what each individual part of the system did.

SAMLabs: MakeNow I’m a parent I’m keen to engender a similar desire for discovering how things work in my children so I was really interested when I came across SAM Labs.

SAM Labs is a system of interconnected blocks, each of which is either a sensor or an actor. The sensors may be things like a button or a tilt sensor while the actors are things like lights, motors or servos. What’s clever is that the modules are all Bluetooth-enabled, so there’s no need to wire them together to make a circuit; instead they all communicate wirelessly. [Read more…]

Taga 2.0 Family Bike Kickstarter

David Lumm is a professional programmer and all round geek with a passion for taking complex things and making them simple.

When you become a parent it’s inevitable that your priorities and perspective change; whilst we still get excited by the same things that excited us before, we also get excited by things that perhaps wouldn’t have interested us before we were parents. It’s in that vein that I noticed the pre-kickstarter adverts for the Taga 2.0 on Facebook – there’s a good chance that you saw them too. As a parent and an occasional cyclist I found the concept of a purpose built family bike intriguing, especially given the chance of getting such a capable bike for a mere $599 (or about £410).

If you haven’t seen the advert, or maybe if you just scrolled past it, you might not realise just how interesting this bike is, so let me tell you a little. First of all, you’ve got the tub at the front, a bit like the dutch bikes, but has three wheels with the front two moving independently of the cargo tub; much easier to steer and balance, much shorter too.

Taga 2.0 Options
[Read more…]

Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SE [review]

I’m usually very careful with my mobile devices but, even so, I’ve been known to drop them. Before too long, they start to look a little scratched and scuffed. Unfortunately, I have managed to damage a phone and a laptop by dropping… and boy was I annoyed at myself both times!

In my day to day life as an IT Consultant, I don’t need to worry too much about my phone being in a harsh environment. If I drop it, it’s usually only a fall from the desk to my office floor. But what if you need extra protection for your phone? I was given the opportunity to try out an Otterbox Defender case, which claims to offer superior protection.

Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SEThe first thing that comes to mind when I look at the Otterbox Defender is that it’s chunky. I usually prefer my cases to be quite slim, but I recognise that comes at the expense of ruggedness. The Defender is large, mostly because that gives it room to add extra protection. So what kind of protection are we talking about here?

The main body of the Defender is a two-part polycarbonate shell. This rigid shell offers good protection against scratches and drops, forming a barrier between your precious phone and the outside world. The shell has an integrated plastic screen protector which, again, just forms another barrier between your screen and harm’s way.

Around the polycarbonate shell is a rubber “bumper”. This does two things:

  • Firstly, it helps to keep the main shell closed. There are catches on the shell that would keep it closed without the bumper, but the bumper just holds the whole thing together and makes sure there’s no way the case can be accidentally opened.
  • Secondly, because the bumper is softer than the shell (although it has to be said, it’s not exactly bouncy) it provides a little extra shock absorption in the case of your phone slipping out of your hand.

Another layer of protection comes from a thin layer of neoprene inside the back of the shell case. Again, this provides some shock absorption if you happen to drop your phone on its back. Remember the key to surviving a drop is to absorb the energy from the fall, which is why it’s not enough just to have a strong but rigid case (that would just transfer the energy to the phone). Squidgy materials like rubber and neoprene will absorb the energy rather than transfer it, and enhance the survivability of the device within.

So far so good. It’s worth mentioning that there are several openings in the protection, albeit all ones that are necessary for the good operating of the phone. There’s a cutout on the screen protector so that you can use the iPhone SE/5/5S thumb scanner, another for the front-facing camera and earpiece, one on the back for the rear-facing camera and flash, and two on the bottom for the microphone and speaker. There’s also a window on the rear so you can see the Apple logo, but this is covered with the same kind of material as the main screen protector. All of these openings are recessed, so unless you happen to be very unlucky and hit a stone, you’re still well protected.

The rubber bumper has flaps that cover the side switch, headphone port, and charging/data port. These all seem to be quite snug fits, so they should do a good job of keeping dust and dirt out. I don’t know what it is, but my pockets seem to be really dusty, and so far none of that has made its way past the flaps.

Having said all that, there are a couple of things I don’t like, or that I found fiddly.

  • The first was getting the thing open in the first place! The instructions said to remove the bumper so that I could then open the polycarbonate shell, but I found it really hard to do so! I think it was just because the case was new and the rubber was quite stiff (it’s easier to remove it again now) but I was starting to wonder whether I was actually reading the instructions correctly for a while.
  • I’m not too keen on plastic screen protectors. I find they never sit completely flush with the screen so, when you tap, you can kind of feel the screen protector moving. I also find you eventually get dust behind them, so have to keep cleaning them out. It’s not a huge gripe, and perhaps it’s just personal preference, but I much prefer glass screen protectors.
  • Thirdly, the size. And I know this one is just personal preference. As I mentioned earlier, I like my devices to be slim but the Otterbox Defender certainly isn’t that. I just mention it here again to be clear… this is not a small case, but if you’re looking for superior protection you might need to sacrifice a slimline look to get it.

Despite those gripes, I think this is a good choice for people who need an extra layer of protection on their devices. It won’t save your phone from being dropped off a skyscraper or run over by a truck, but it will help to save you from those awful, “slipped out of my pocket” moments (yes, that’s how I broke my last iPhone!)

The Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SE is available from Mobile Fun, priced £29.99 at the time of writing.

Note: The Defender also comes with a belt clip/kickstand. I honestly can’t abide wearing a mobile phone on my belt, so I haven’t used it. If you do want to wear your phone on your belt, you have the option to do so with this case.