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Monthly Archives: May, 2013

6 Best Android Clock Widgets

Clock Widgets

Some sample clock widgets.

There’s nothing more iconic in the Android operating system than the clock widget. From HTC’s distinctive digital clock to the stock ICS/Jelly Bean analog clock, a good clock widget is essential to quintessential Android.

I’ve rounded up some of my favorite clock widgets, and provided links below as well.

Holo Clock++

Holo Clock++

Holo Clock++

My favorite. It’s stylish, coming in both white and “Android blue” (a label I almost wish Samsun would use in place of “Pebble Blue“). It displays battery percentage and has a novel approach to hour/minute. Everything is resizable, plus it’s free: plus plus, indeed.

Holo Clock Widget

Holo Clock Widget

Holo Clock Widget.

A nice, big clock that comes in a variety of colors and which links directly to the Clock app. I prefer blue/black, but the red one also goes well with the fantastic SMPL Red icon pack from Creativity.

Clock Now

Clock Now

Clock Now widget.

A very functionalist clock widget: rectangular, with time and a variety of widgets. It works much like a clock-ified version of Battery Widget Reborn, showing you toggles for Bluetooth, wifi, cell data, etc.

Android Clock Widget Pack

Android Clock Widget

Android Clock Widget Pack

Because who doesn’t want a clock that looks like the Android mascot? It doesn’t provide any functionality (not even clicking thru to the stock Clock, sadly) but I enjoy pairing the blue one with the SMPL Blue icon theme.

Beautiful Widgets Pro

Beautiful Widgets Pro

Beautiful Widgets Pro clock widget.

Beautiful Widgets Pro is a nice paid widget pack that lets you add widgets of all sizes to your homescreens. It has clock and clock+weather widgets, and it even has its own theme store that has themes and skins for customizing your widgets.

UCCW

Ultimate Custom Clock Widget

A sample UCCW skin.

UCCW is the Ultimate Custom Clock Widget, but it also allows for widgets of all kinds. You’ll need to install UCCW and then pick from one of its many compatible 1st and 3rd-party skins to get the exact look you want (or create your own). Just search for UCCW in Google Play and it will return 1000s of compatible skins.

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The Internet Isn’t Objective

Objectivity

Objectivity?

Microsoft has updated Bing so that it now pushes Klout results to the top of its many of its results pages. Ostensibly, this is a move to provide better content and to keep pace with Google’s own efforts at integrating Google+ results into Google Search. It also squares with Microsoft’s generally aggressive commitment to social search, which can be glimpsed in its relationship with Facebook and Facebook’s Graph Search functionality in particular.

Microsoft’s defense of the move produced this strange paragraph:

“Microsoft believes that content is so powerful that is almost doesn’t matter whether Klout’s “experts” actually have any real expertise. If enough Klout users vote up an answer, it will still likely be a worthwhile addition to Bing results, Ripsher said.”

If one had any doubts about the internet’s objectivity or its “openness” (to use another overused adjective), then this peculiar development should allay them.

“The internet” is often characterized as an almost untouchable, coherent, self-contained system that can provide definitive knowledge and answers. The rise and insane hype around services like Quora and Klout are the current symptoms of this characterization, although it actually began long ago with Google and Wikipedia becoming (for relatively well-off internet users, at least: a relatively small portion of humanity) the go-to resources for queries, and with social networks then becoming echo chambers and in effect new realities for their respective users. As I have mentioned before, onlookers who regard these services in these ways seem to overlook the fact that the internet is actually a manmade thing and not a law of physics or deity.

On the contrary, the sheer volume of information available thru all of these channels in turn has led to the internet becoming, for many commentators, akin to the burning bush on Mt. Sinai, able to dictate authoritative wisdom at will, although it arguably one-ups even God’s favorite flaming plant, since much of that wisdom is “crowdsourced,” too. Now, the so-called crowdsourced structure of many online services – Google’s collection and subsequent application of user data, Wikipedia’s group editing, Reddit’s upvote/downvote system – is a hopeful development not because of the veracity of its content but because it, at the very least, shows that there are human agents who drive the internet, rather than some unstoppable, robotic force of nature that we often vaguely call “the internet.”

So how is that crowdsourcing intersects so snugly with the prevalent narrative of a self-driven internet? How is that search engines (the clearest, most obvious metaphors to a wisdom-producing computer from, say, Star Trek, yet another debt that tech owes to imagination and the liberal arts) are now, in many cases, conduits for social networks and other crowdsourced news? I don’t think it’s odd at all, actually, since it confirms that the internet, as a source of knowledge or truth, is just as subjective and contingent on human inputs as anything else. I mean, let’s look at some of the major drivers of internet content:

-Google: uses proprietary algorithms and integration with proprietary social networks (most notably G+). Results system can be gamed or “bombed” to promote certain results. All of this despite its promotion of “openness.”

-Twitter: proprietary social network that suggests certain celebrities or popular users to follow, primarily because said persons are the best evangelists for Twitter itself (as a tool/service).

-Klout: dependent on mostly amateur “expertise” and opinion, as noted above by The Verge.

-Reddit: predominantly male, and dependent on user opinion/taste. Often wildly wrong on important news stories.

-Wikipedia: predominantly male, too. Arguably sexist. Many articles are protected from editing at all, or are zealously guarded, despite its “openness.”

So Microsoft is hardly putting anyone or anything newly “under the influence” of amateurs. The entire internet is built around these types of subjectivity that inevitably result from human input and tinkering.

-The ScreenGrab Team

One Way Save Your Android Phone’s Battery: Use an Audi

Audi's Battery Saver

Audi Start-Stop in action

There are numerous clever hacks for saving battery on your Android phone. I’ve written about a few of them here. But I never expected that another one would come from Audi, of all sources.

The carmaker has released a new free app called Audi Start-Stop. It has a clever (and one could say skeuomorphic) button that, if pressed, initiates a task manager for your apps. It shows you exactly how long each app has been running, and it lets you kill apps, too. Additionally, it has a Super Save mode that suspends all app activity until pressed again.

The app has a few kinks – the app manager section is inconspicuously tucked away at the bottom of the screen, due in part to the oversized start/stop button. This can be seen as a case in which skeuomorphic design interferes with functionality, as it did in the old version of Apple’s glitchy Podcasts app for iOS (in which a giant reel-to-reel tape deck both ruined the metaphor and took up too much real estate).

But, this app is serious about saving battery, with the Super Save mode in particular being useful. Also, the marketing link between Audi’s automotive heritage and a single button that starts or stops your phone’s “engine” (so to say) is ingenious. Recommended.

Play Store link here.

-The ScreenGrab Team

Technology Doesn’t Cause Change

If you’ve read nearly any technology news site or blog in the last 15 years, you’ve probably encountered articles that told you how the Internet has “changed everything,” or how technology is forcing you to be ruder, or that technology, god bless it, is relentlessly making certain things obsolete. Yet there is still something deeply weird about all of the statements above: the agent is not a human being, but rather a nebulous concept like “the Internet” or “technology,” i.e., things that are either useless without human maintenance and input (“technology”), or theoretical concepts that are created mostly by a small group of programmers, journalists, and speakers who see said concept as a coherent system to be either written about, sanctimoniously defended, and/or milked for cash (“the Internet”).

I mean, just look at RealClearTechnology‘s homepage today. Apparently, “Big Data” can make one do something, and “the Internet” was kind enough to save marriage for us humans:

RCT

Big Data and the Internet: finally taking some initiative.

Despite its seemingly obvious level of ridiculousness, these sorts of constructions perhaps can’t be appreciated unless one tries in out in other contexts, like saying “My shirt is revolutionizing how I dress,” or “The umbrella is disrupting the reaction to rainstorms.” In both cases, the object itself isn’t revolutionizing/disrupting/doing anything; a person is, and the object is just a tool. The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk wrote something scarily prescient about agency and object-worship in his novel, The Black Book, speaking through the writings of a trouble character:

“In the beginning it was I who created the eye. My aim: I created it, of course, so that it could see me, watch me. I had no desire to escape its gaze. It was under its gaze that I made myself–made myself in its image–and I basked happily in its warm glow. It was because I was under the eye’s constant surveillance that I knew I existed. If the eye didn’t see me, I would cease to exist at all! This seemed so clear to me that I soon forgot I was the one who had created the eye in the first place and began to thank it for allowing me to exist.”

Indeed, it seems that much of the tech press and punditry is now in the position of thanking and/or blaming certain technologies and companies (rather than living persons) for the state of the world.

I’m hardly a pioneer in bemoaning how inanimate and manmade objects have taken on the traits of real, human agents in technology journalism. Leo Marx has written a great essay about the “hazardous” category of technology, and Evgeny Morozov has written several books about the fallacy of seeing “the Internet” as a singular, sacred creation with a coherent set of tools and concepts under its umbrella. To the latter point, it does seem silly that “the Internet” (as Morozov likes to label it) is often spoken of as if it is itself a living being with some unassailable set of laws and principles that protect and govern it, despite it being by and large a subjective creation that is driven by easily manipulatable, biased, and self-interested forces like Google or the whims of certain programmers and developers.

“The Internet is changing how…” no! “The Internet” isn’t changing anything; the persons who use the Internet are changing things, and by ignoring them as the true agents, we’re not assigning proper responsibility or moral assessment to societal changes. When musicians begin struggling to make money off of their catalogues, we’re probably tempted to say that “well, that’s just the way technology goes…iTunes, Spotify, blah blah blah,” without realizing that of course Spotify or any other tool would be useless if no one signed up for them and manually used them to listen to music. The users are driving the change, not the technology, but by saying that “Spotify is making it difficult for musicians to make money” we treat Spotify (in this case) as an active, unstoppable force of nature, when in fact it is just a human creation made by humans with certain interests.

Ignoring this fact makes it easy to in turn overlook the fact that Spotify’s creators (like iTunes’ creators) stood to make a lot of money themselves off of this “revolution” in music distribution, which sort of takes some of the luster out of the idyllic (and ridiculous, yet widespread) narrative that the change was instead incited by some disinterested, neutral, relentless natural force of “disruption” or “innovation,” which emerged to its chroniclers in the same way that, say, gravity emerged to Isaac Newton.

By avoiding assigning any agency to the service’s creators, we underserve our own interests and livelihoods since we don’t realize why a certain app or service or product became popular, namely, that it was designed and promoted by humans and then used by other humans. Regarding the agent of change as instead some unstoppable technological force, we thin become less sympathetic (even if unconsciously so) to the real humans who suffer from this change because, as the story goes, there’s nothing that can be done anyway. You would think that this sequence of events would be obvious and discernible, but instead it remains hidden under layers about how technology is forcing helpless humans to use certain devices or apps.

It’s time to stop and realize that technology itself is a tool and not a self-starting, self-sustaining force:

-Your smartphone isn’t making you ruder. You’re becoming ruder because you’re opting into a communications system designed by other human beings for maximum profit.

-The Internet isn’t making you sad. Comparing yourself to other human being is making you sad; the Internet is just the medium, one that you voluntarily chose to operate.

-Technology is not causing political upheaval in your country (though saying so is a good way to incite ridicule from some great satirical Twitter accounts). Technology is simply the medium; the message would exist with or without it.

The Internet isn’t changing concepts about copyright. It is only exacerbating the tendency of many humans to be cheap and not pay creators for their work: that couldn’t be pulled-off as easily in the past, prior to Web pioneers creating tools like Napster or BitTorrent to serve their own interests (those tools were not inevitable or unstoppable forces in any way).

Google Glass isn’t changing how privacy and decorum are regarded. It is simply an instrument that indulges many persons’ tendencies to keep up competitively with others and ignore unpleasantries in their midst.

We should take responsibility for our world and realize that we are its chief actors, rather than the “technology” that we often vest with such curious power and agency.

-The ScreenGrab Team