Thursday, March 19, 2015

Favorite Travel Apps

No comments:
An Australian radio show had me as a guest the other day to talk about travel apps.

I mentioned Gogobot, a neat mobile app that uses your location to find things to do, see, and eat nearby, as reviewed by other travelers. You can filter the results based on special interests you have (you opt into "tribes"), such as family-friendly or foodie. It's really well used around the world. I'm on vacation right now in Hawaii, in fact, and there are plenty of great notes for places nearby.

On the show, I also mentioned TripIt! and TripCase. Both of those apps take travel confirmation emails and collate them into one itinerary, with all the fine print garbage removed. Say you get a travel confirmation from Orbitz, Kayak, and even OpenTable for a restaurant booking, all for a week-long vacation. TripIt! will see those confirmation emails (because you give the app access to your email accounts) and pulls the details into one timeline. TripCase is similar, except it doesn't go into your email. You have to forward messages to a special email address for the app. Both of those apps really shine when your flights or gates change at the airport. In testing the apps, they alerted me to changes at the airport before the airport board even showed them.

One app I forgot to mention in the radio show that I realize I always use is GateGuru. It's a specialized app that tells you detailed information about airports, including which restaurants are good and where to find ATMs. When you have a tight layover and need to grab some lunch or dinner before your next flight, it's really helpful to see what all the restaurant option are near the gate where you arrive or depart.

For more recommendations and details on how best to plan, budget, and book a trip, check out my Kindle single The 'Get Organized' Guide to Travel.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

'Twitter DMs Can Be the Hand on the Knee,' a Destructive and Ridiculous Remark

No comments:
Direct messages from a man to a woman on Twitter are the social media equivalent of a hand on the knee. That's the statement that had me worked up in anger for a week.

Let me back up.

Vivek Wadhwa is a researcher and professor, and some of his research and writing relates to women in technology. He was the subject of a huge controversy with a podcast called TLDR put out by On The Media, a fantastic radio program produced at WNYC in New York. The podcast, I've decided, is not so fantastic. I listened to several episodes, not just the controversial one, and I can clearly state that it is not for me. The show doesn't put out content that makes me smarter or more introspective. 

Without regurgitating the whole hullabaloo, allow me to summarize.

What Happened
TLDR released a podcast in which a reporter and a critic of Wadhwa's named Amelia Greenhall trash talked him. They clearly did not fact check most of the material, nor did they even reach out to Wadhwa for comment or to get his side of the story. The show even had moments of snickering. Some of the points raised could have been valid, but I for one dismissed almost all of it because it reeked of back-biting and one-sided opinions. Wadhwa came under attack on social media thereafter, mostly Twitter, where he has long been an active participant in all kinds of discussions. Wadhwa then published an op-ed on Venture Beat in response, and TLDR (or On the Media; I'm not sure who made the call) pulled the original episode, even though you can still find it easily online. It was correct to pull the episode because it was filled with slander that wasn't even fact-checked. TLDR then aired a follow-up episode in which the host, Meredith Haggerty interviewed Wadhwa to get his side of the story. Wadhwa comes off as overly defensive, as well as someone who is not media-trained.

The Twitter DM Can Be the Hand on the Knee
I have an opinion about nearly all the twists and turns of this whole debacle, but I'd rather focus on just one destructive comment made by Haggerty and Greenhall in the first episode that kicked off the issue:
GREENHALL: It's really creepy when a man you don't know goes into your DMs. It's really kind of this consensual, "Let's go over here where people can't see you criticizing me and then maybe I can talk to you there." Wadhwa has done this to several women.
HAGGERTY: It really feels like the Twitter DM can be, like, the hand on the knee of, like, social communication. 
What? What? What are you crazy people talking about? It's one of the most ridiculous things I've heard on an NPR-affiliated podcast, and it's destructive because it's spreading a fear-based message that simply isn't true.

Here are a few facts you need to know about Twitter. DM stands for direct message. It's when someone sends you a private message, which is still limited to 140 characters, on the social network. Only the specified recipients can see it. To receive or send a DM, however, each party must be following one another. Therefore, by following someone on Twitter, you are consenting to DMs. 

In fact, as my work as a writer, it happens all the time. A PR representative or source for a story will find me on Twitter and message me publicly to ask: "Who you mind following me so I can DM you some information?" If Greenhall or any of these other women didn't want to converse privately with Wadhwa, all they would have to do is click the unfollow button by his name. DMs are consensual! 

Additionally, this business of "when a man you don't know goes into your DMs." What? No one "goes into" anyone else's DMs. Getting a DM is the equivalent of getting an email. If you receive an email, the sender did not "go into" your inbox. 

The beauty of DMs and email for that matter is you can simply ignore them. Block the sender if you like. You are totally in control.

Wadhwa has in fact sent me a direct message or two. I asked him a question, and he answered me directly rather than publicly. I'm glad for it. I'm thankful he had the sense to think about where his reply would be most appropriate. And it made me feel like he was answering me and actually paying attention to my question, rather than using Twitter as a megaphone.

When a man emails me, I do not feel creeped out or violated in any way. I usually assume that this person has something to protect or is afraid, and that's why they want to move the conversation to a private area. Often 140 characters get misconstrued. If you tweet one thing and realize too late that it came out the wrong way, it's often safer to explain yourself in private to the people who got the wrong message than it is to try and fight fires publicly. I think it's everyone's responsibility to have an ounce of humanity and decency when another person sends you a private message to say, "I think I messed up. I feel like things are getting out of hand. Can we talk about this one-on-one so I can explain myself to you?"

Limited Room
Another comment sent up a huge red flag for me in regards to whether I would take Greenhall's criticism seriously:
"[H]e's taking up space and, like, sucking all the air out of the room from this conversation about sexism in tech and gender issues in tech that is a really big deal. And somebody who actually has experience and has something useful to say isn't getting quoted."
I don't think this woman understand how the Internet works. There is unlimited space and air for voices. No one is taking anyone else's place. We need more voices, not a limited number!

Second, she's just wrong. In Wadhwa's retort, he specifically mentions that when he's speaking to journalists who plan to quote him, he encourages them to cite women on the subject matter instead, or at least in addition. But he's an expert source, and just because he's male doesn't make him any less so.

Women in technology need allies right now. We need all the voices and backing by researchers, scholars, pundits, activists, and so forth, that we can get. I'm really sad that Wadhwa was attacked so viciously that he's now announced bowing out of the debate about women in technology. While I don't know if he means he'll no longer conduct research or write books on the topic, either way, it seems like self-defeating outcome for women in technology.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

What's Wrong With Wearable Fitness Trackers

No comments:
I test a lot of fitness trackers, everything from runner's watches to Fitbit smart pedometers. And I spend a lot of time picking apart what makes them great and what makes them duds. Here are a few ideas for how they can be better:

1. Touchscreens
Touchscreens are ubiquitous among smartphones. Several activity trackers use them, too, such as Samsung Gear Fit (shown), Microsoft Band, Basis Peak, and Fitbit Surge. The problem with touchscreens is they require a steady hand. When you're outdoors, running or riding a bicycle, and when your heart rate is elevated, it can be very difficult to navigate a device by touch with any grace. Touchscreens don't work well when the user is active, and so they don't work well for activity trackers.

I favor fitness trackers with buttons that you can press and feel. They are much better when you're moving around and wearing gloves.

2. They're Missing the Right Heart Rate Indicators
I love all the new wearable tech that use built-in optical heart rate monitors: Basis Peak, Wellograph, Mio Fuse, Fitbit Surge, and the forthcoming Apple Watch. These devices take your pulse through the skin of the wrist, so you can wear something that looks like a watch or a bracelet and have it work like a chest strap heart rate monitor. The problem is very few give heart rate feedback in a way that's smart and easily accessible during a workout.

My favorite device for heart rate monitoring during activity (as opposed to heart rate at rest) is Mio Fuse for one simple reason: It tells you your heart rate in more than one way. Mio Fuse flashes an LED light in different colors to indicator your heart rate zone. For example, you might want to workout in your green zone. If you're doing interval training, you want to push to your red zone, and then try to quickly bring your heart rate back down to purple. The Mio Fuse also vibrates and occasionally flashes the actual number of your heart's beats per minute. In short, it tells you your heart rate in a number of different ways, and all those ways are extremely convenient if you are huffing and puffing.

3. Wrist Space
The most common reason I look at my activity trackers is to tell the time. Those that don't double as a watch and have a time readout on them are just taking up valuable real estate on the wrist.

4. Static Form Factor
Clip-on fitness-tracking devices just didn't catch on they way Fitbit seemed to think they would when it created the Fitbit Ultra (the company's first commercial device), Fitbit One, and Fitbit Zip. But clip-ons tend to be more accurate than wrist bands for counting steps and estimating distance traveled. Additionally, women can wear them tucked onto the front of their bras, which is great if you're going out and want to continue tracking your activity (an evening of dancing, anyone?) but don't want to wear a sporty silicone bangle.



The only big-name clip-ons still on the market are made by Misfit Wearables (the Shine, shown, Flash, and some newer models in the Swarovski-co-branded lined) and Jawbone with its Jawbone UP Move. What makes these devices extra smart is they aren't just clip-on devices but also come with a wristband, letting you choose how and where to wear it. Being able to change form factor from a clip-on to a wristband is so much better than having a static form factor.



Monday, January 19, 2015

A Game of Whatchyamacallit With Apps

No comments:
I spoke at a conference today at Rutgers and fielded a couple of great audience questions about different apps that can make you more productive.

When people outside the tech industry ask for recommendations, I often find that they can describe what they need but don't have the words for it.

In a search-engine-centric world, that's a problem. If you don't have the language to search, you can end up shit out of luck.

It's a problem not only in technology but in any, ahem, "discourse community."

Technology, however, is spreading to all facets of life rampantly. In other words, everyone needs to partake in the discourse.

Here are a few examples of questions people asked me today:
Can you recommend an app that will brings together information from different accounts I use? 
Yes. If by "accounts" you mean both email and social media, you're in the market for an aggregator app. If you just want to consolidate email, you are better off with an email client app. (The person was looking specifically for email, and I recommended Inky, which is free.)
Are there any apps that let you build your own circles of productivity with friends and assign points and win conditions so that you are playing a game as you do your work?
I don't know of any, but the idea you're describing is gamification.
This kind of thing happens all the time. When I covered the video game industry, a lot of people would ask about the larger category of games made for military, education, and training, and I'd explain, "The search term you're missing is 'serious games.'"

If you don't know the language that's used, it's really hard to find information.

One trick, however, with technology is to use a site called AlternativeTo.net. Say you don't know the name of the category of app, but you know of one app that does loosely what you need. You can go to AlternativeTo and type in the app or software product you know, and the site will suggest similar apps, or ones that are an "alternative to" the one you have in mind. Read through the descriptions and look at the tags on the resulting entries, and you're likely to find the category name.