Living a distraction free finals week

Posted Posted by Emily Strandvold in Comments 0 comments

Many people struggle with being able to sit down and do homework, study, or do projects. They get distracted by Facebook, or their phone, or whatever else is around them. If they could just sit down and concentrate fully they would have more than enough time for what needs done and all the fun other things that are being the distractions. One solution to this problem comes from an unlikely place and that is what distracts us all the most...apps.

One such app is Focus Booster. It uses the pomodoro technique of short bursts (25 minutes) of interrupted work, with short breaks between bursts. It is mostly just a timer that tells you when to take a break and when to start working again. It also automatically makes timesheets that track when you worked and also allows for manually entry if you didn't use the app when you worked.

30/30 is another app that has a similar goal. It is built off the concept that 30 minutes of hard work with a 30 minutes of unrelated stuff afterwards is best for you. But this app will also let you change those numbers to better fit your needs. It also lets you put in a bunch of different tasks along with when you want to do them and how long you want to work on them for. The app will then alert you when you should be doing something. It has a very simple interface so you can always look at it and immediately see what you are supposed to be doing and how much longer you have left to finish it.

Focus Locker is another approach to the problem of distractions. It is an app that will lock you out of other potentially distracting apps. You can tell it exactly what apps you want it to lock you out of and for how long. So if you have a sudden desire to look up function pictures from last weekend you can lock yourself out of your Facebook for 30 minutes while you study for an upcoming final.

Self-Control is another app that is similar to Focus Locker but for browsers. You can whitelist or blacklist certain websites for a specific period of time and no matter what you try (restarting the browser, restarting the computer, etc) you cannot access those sites.

Tracktime doesn't change your behavior in any way, but it does show you how you spend your time on your computer. It will break things down into categories like how much time you spend on social media, how much time you spend watching cat videos, and how much time you actually spend researching for papers or submitting job applications. While it won't stop you from continuing your previous time habits, it can show you how much time you really spend and that may just be enough to motivate you to use your time more effectively.

Timeout is an app that helps with a different problem. It defaults to taking a 10 minute break every hour and a 15 second break every 15 minutes. These time lengths can be changed be the user. During a break the screen will slowly fade and be replaced by a break theme. The longer break is to encourage you to get up and move around and the 15 second break is to help with eyestrain from looking at a computer screen for too long. These breaks are more to help with your health than with your productivity, but taking consistent breaks may just help with productivity as well.

Well whether you decide to give any of these apps a try or not I wish you the best of luck on your upcoming finals and I hope that you have a wonderful summer!

Studying in your dorm coffee shop

Posted Posted by Mack Peters in Comments 0 comments

For some time we have been told that there are at least three types of learners: auditory (just listening to people talk gets those facts locked away), visual (slides and aides make the world go round) and kinesthetic (if you could be dancing, you'd probably learn better). I'd like to suggest a fourth: the coffee house learner.
In this era of mustaches, single speed bikes, and people claiming to be the only person who knows a particular band, coffee shops have become a popular haven for many activities. Their welcoming atmosphere, and the fact that they sell liquid that removes 'tired' from your system, allows for a study environment that, for some, is bar none exactly what they need.
But what happens when you don't want to be told about that band you "probably" don't know, or be told by someone that they "literally have no money" and then watching them buy the most expensive drink on the menu, but you crave the ambiance.
Theres a website for that!
 That's right coffee shop hounds! Now, you can get all the sounds and feels of being in a coffee shop, from the comfort of your dorm room!
HipsterSound is still fairly new, so it only offers three coffee shop venues. Once started, you're instantly transported to a totally unknown coffee shop (you probably haven't heard of it), where you're comforted by the familiar clinks of ceramic mugs and the senseless chatter of other cafe goers.
There is an on-screen option to raise or lower the sound, which initially seems somewhat pointless, but because it is designed to act as an ambiance it actually comes in handy for if you want to listen to a lecture and also simulate the sound. It also comes in handy for if you'd like to maybe add the sounds of a cozy fireplace or add some traffic in the background to make you feel like you're on a busy street corner. Which you can actually do straight from the site itself!

The current options are: Piano bar, Open-air bistro, Street corner cafe, and Rainy Terrace. All wonderful additions to your chosen, totally unique, no-one-else-has-ever-heard-of-it cafe. The site actually even has an option to download a bundle of all their backgrounds and sounds, for free, under the terms that you don't sell, share, or redistribute to third parties.

With dead week upon us, and finals week looming in it's shadow, if you're looking for a quaint little coffee shop to study in, why not make it your dorm room!

Four Items You Don't Need (but still really really want)

Posted Posted by Kory Jones in , , , , , Comments 0 comments

It's true: I am an Apple addict. To be fair, it's kind of a family thing. Between my mom, dad, brother, and myself, we own approximately 30-40 various Apple devices at tech, collected over the past 10 years. Since coming to college, I have sought help from various support groups and have recovered. However, whenever Apple comes out with a new product, it still takes some self-control to not empty out my bank account.

In order to help other tech addicts out there, I would like to share my top five tech items that everyone really doesn't need but really wants. (Note: This is not a wish list. Not at all.)

1. Apple's New Rose Gold MacBook

It's a traditional MacBook, nothing exciting, except in ROSE GOLD. I don't even like rose gold, but it's so fresh and clean looking. How could you pass this up? Of course, the space grey would match my phone, so that might be the better option. Starts at $1299. 

2. Xbox One Elite

I'm not a gamer. I grew up playing Looney Tunes Space Race and losing miserably to my brother. However, Xbox has proven to very handy to combine both my Netflix and regular DVD watching habits. This Xbox's only true advantage is the 1TB hard drive and amazing controller. Worth the $499? Probably not, especially just for watching movies. 

3. Panasonic TX-65CZ952

This is the best Ultra HD 4K TV. The picture quality is phenomenal and at 65 inches it's perfect for the aforementioned Netflix viewings. However, the sound is only okay and the price ($11,150) makes me want to cry. 

4. 42mm 18-Karat Rose Gold Case with Midnight Blue Classic Buckle

I can see the versatility and usability of an Apple watch (specifically for when phones are not supposed to be out) but this one retails at $15,000. Despite my desire to be able to answer messages immediately and love of all things navy-colored, I don't think the price of one semester at Harding is totally desirable. 

All of this technology is great, but this is the cream of the crop (or pricest) when it comes down to it. My advice would be to just buy the smaller/cheaper/better reviewed option and spend the money saved on an extra shot of espresso this finals week. Best of luck, fellow tech addicts!

Sweet, Sweet Relaxation with the Amazon Kindle Oasis

Posted Posted by Garrett Holmes in , , , , Comments 0 comments

The Amazon Kindle Oasis is Amazon's newest addition to the kindle family announced on April 13th 2016. The kindle Oasis is much smaller and lighter than the previous Kindle Voyage that was released in 2014, however this comes at the cost of battery life to the device and also at a higher price tag of $290 as compared to the previous $199.99. 

The battery life of this Kindle is reduced from the 6 weeks of life by the Kindle Voyage to a shocking 2 weeks with the new Oasis, however, the Oasis comes with a new accessory. This accessory is the leather case pictured above which magnetically attaches to the Kindle and contains an extra charge of battery that extends the life to an overall 9 weeks, an increase from the Voyage!

The touchscreen for the Oasis is the same size and resolution as the original, but is only 4.6 ounces.

Overall the Kindle's new Oasis is fun but "The Kindle's job has always been straightforward: to look as much like paper as possible, and let people read with minimal distractions. Amazon nailed that mission a while back. Subsequent devices have been so well made and loved, that there's not usually a big rush to upgrade, as with smartphones." This will make it very hard for Amazon to make good sales because a majority of customers are already satisfied with their current Kindle product and don't have any need or desire to upgrade, especially for the new high price, but for those thinking of upgrading, Amazon claims that they don't make any money on their Kindle sales. You are getting a full $290 worth when you buy it, Amazon starts making money when you start buying from their  4.4 million e-books on the site

A Blast From the Technological Past

Posted Posted by Erin Hasler in Comments 0 comments

I remember being very young and very excited when my parents got their first Nokia brick cell phones. They were awesome and I would play Snake while my mom drove us somewhere. It's hard to remember a time when cell phones didn't permeate society, but that time really did exist! So what was there before cell phones? How did people communicate while driving? Well, let's take a look at some of those old technologies shall we?

The first piece of technology I'd like us to look at is the Motorola Bag Phone. It came out in the 1990s and was an alternative options to the cell phones that were out at the time. Because of their durability they were popular for truckers, boaters, and people who lived farther out from the city. These phones were primarily powered by a battery pack, which made them portable, and they were encased in a leather bag, which made them more fashionable. They had a "hands-free" option which was made possible by plugging the loud-speaker into the phone's transceiver. Several of the bag phones came with different options for the carrying cases, so you could choose what you liked best.

The other piece of technology that I would like us to take a look at is the ever popular car phone. It has been around for a much longer time than the bag phone, with its earliest uses being in the 1940's. They were extremely bulky, the originals weighed around 80 pounds, and were made specifically to fit into a car. Because of their antennas and high-power transmitter they were ideal for people who lived in rural areas. They were powered by the car's battery, similarly to the car chargers we all know and love today.

Isn't technology interesting? Look at how far we've come! It makes me wonder what the next step will be.

Balloon-Powered Internet for Everyone

Posted Posted by Adam Lantz in Comments 0 comments

Google X, the group we most frequently hear about through their development of the self-driving car, has been hard at work on something a bit more whimsical. 

As a "moonshot factory," Google X seeks to find seemingly crazy solutions to big problems using breakthrough technology. While this means that the company dives into a lot of challenging issues, they also get to explore some very novel ideas.

One of the most unique ideas Google X is currently working on is know as "Project Loon".

Project Loon

Project Loon is about narrowing the gap between reality and the expectation that everyone should have access to the internet. Currently two thirds of the world population has no access to internet. Much of this problem is due to the exorbitant cost of expanding internet infrastructure out to rural and remote locations. Currently, most of our infrastructure relies on copper or fiber lines to be run across land or under the ocean; this is expensive, susceptible to damage, and difficult to upgrade. Another current solution is to send out satellites; this is also expensive and comes with high speeds because of the time it takes for signals to be passed up to the satellites and back down. 

So how do we give internet to the world in a cost effective way? Google X went back to the drawing board and came up with something completely new. Balloons. By utilizing balloons we can avoid laying expensive copper/fiber connections across land/ocean and we don't need to spend large amounts of money to shoot a satellite into space. 

How It Works

Google X's balloons are inflated and sent to the stratosphere, above the realm of birds, planes, and weather. In the stratosphere, the balloon is only effected by predictable patterns of wind. Each balloon is sent into a part of the stratosphere that will help steer the balloon to areas of the planet that need internet coverage. The balloons, of course, are designed to be durable enough to withstand the lack of air pressure and exposure to the sun in the stratosphere (and with exposure to the sun, the electronics on the balloon are solar powered!).

Google X has also partnered with telecom companies to provide this internet service using the existing LTE technology that many of use on our cell phones. For those people who will be using Loon, this means that internet is available at a relatively low cost. It's as simple as purchasing a mobile phone with LTE or a LTE hotspot to get access on a device like a laptop.

Automatic Alternative Text - Facebook Accessibility

Posted Posted by Madison Haskins in Comments 0 comments

Accessibility on smartphones for the visually impaired has continued to improve in recent years. iOS has many features to aid in the usability of smartphones and recently Facebook has come out with a new one. Facebook has launched a new feature to describe a photo's contents to the visually impaired user. The feature uses something called automatic alternative text which is used to give a basic description of the photo using key words the screen reader finds to describe the setting, color, and content of the photo. In the past, the screen reader for Facebook could only tell the user there was a photo in the post or status, but now the user can further understand the content of the post using this new screen reader feature. For example if someone post a photo of themselves with their family on the beach, the screen reader would read your caption long with keywords like: "sky, sea, outdoor, 4 people, ect."

Accessibility features like this are very important because there are more than 39 million people in the world who are blind and 246 million who have severe visual impairment (Facebook). Advances in "object recognition technology" has allowed Facebook to develop this type of feature. The program was fed millions of photos as examples pertaining to a certain subject such a "ocean" so that the program learned to recognize them. This is called a neural network, a way to train computers to think and make decisions on their own. Neural networks have billions of parameters to determine what object is what, similar to the way our brains work. 

When there are nearly 2 billion photos being shared online right now, this technology is keeping us all connected  and - as Facebook puts it - "When people are connected, they can achieve extraordinary things as individuals and as a community - and when everyone is connected, we all benefit."