07/02/14 11:30am

The Martian by Andy Weir

Everyone likes MacGyver: He’s cool under pressure, has great hair and he’s so handy! Now imagine MacGyver on Mars, looking into the sky, watching his spaceship take off while he holds a roll of his signature duct tape. Most people would let the air out of their suit. Not MacGyver! MacGyver shrugs and then he starts collecting his own poop so he can grow some potatoes.

In The Martian by Andy Weir, MacGyver’s name is Mark Watney. He’s both a botanist and mechanical engineer, so he’s pretty much the ideal candidate for life stranded on Mars. (He makes his own water!) Andy Weir, the author, makes him funny and loveable, and grounds the man-versus-nature story with realistic details, relying on existing technology to make Mark’s struggle that much more intense.

The Martian is a page turner, perfect summer reading and an interesting look at what it will take for us to survive on the red planet. Also, I giggled a lot.

More summer reading recs>>

04/17/14 9:00am

Thinking about ditching your monthly cable bill? Have a Roku, but wondering if there’s something better out there? With Amazon’s recent introduction of Fire TV, a little black box that allows you to stream video, listen to music and even play games, there are now enough players in the $99-device-that-will-free-you-from-cable market for it to become crowded and confusing. Here’s how Fire TV stacks up against Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Roku. Though I will caution, between subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu and Vudu, and iTunes and Amazon purchases, it’s pretty easy to spend the same as your cable bill–or more–on one of these streaming players each month.

The Boxes: Apple TV Versus Fire TV Versus Roku 3 These are your top-of-the-line devices. They’re all the same price ($99) and they all have ethernet ports, which means you can use them without having to depend on wifi, which, in my experience, can be problematic when trying to stream 1080p, surf the internet and stream music simultaneously. Don’t think this applies to you? You must not have roommates.

AmazonFireTVAmazon TV: The newest contender’s killer feature is voice search (though it’s for Amazon content only, you can’t navigate through Netflix and other services with it) and a potentially awesome gaming platform (though you’ll need to spend an extra $40 for the Amazon Fire game controller). Amazon threw some serious guts into its Fire TV–four times the RAM of its competitors and a legit processor for games like The Walking Dead and BADLANDS, which are all kinds of fun. Don’t expect XBOX or PlayStation caliber games–think more like smartphone and tablet entertainment. The major bummer here is its lack of HBOGo, though that may change soon.

UPDATE: Well, that was fast. Amazon has added Hulu Plus, Crackle and Showtime to Fire TV’s voice search. That means when you say, “Hannibal” Amazon will search through each of those services as well as Amazon Instant, giving you an opportunity to watch it on which ever services return a result. Sadly, Netflix is still missing, which means if you search for “House of Cards” you won’t find it free on Netflix. Instead, you’ll find it for a premium cost on Amazon.  Seems as if it’ll come soon, though. Broadening search really makes the Fire TV more enticing. This gives it a huge leg up over Apple TV.

Apple_TV_2nd_GenerationApple TV: The best feature here is AirPlay, which allows you to push content (videos, music, podcasts) to your TV from your mac or iOS device (iPhones or iPads). If you’re an Android user, AllCast, a $3 app, gets your content to the screen. There’s even an app for Windows computers called AirParrot. Apple TV is still evolving and Apple has recently added a ton of new channels and apps to the device. Expect this one to eventually be iOS for your TV, though it may go through a spec bump (basically we’ll see a new iteration of Apple TV) before it gets there. If you’re an iPhone user and have invested in iTunes content, this is a no brainer, though limitations abound when trying to connect to services like Amazon Instant or Vudu. I love my Apple TV, but I sure would appreciate more video apps on my iPhone supporting AirPlay. That said, I’m basically asking for free stuff. ABC, NBC and CBS want to get paid, as does AMC and FX.
(more…)

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04/10/14 1:00pm

Screen shot 2014-04-10 at 11.46.42 AMSo, I’m not 100% on what the hell Heartbleed is, but I think it goes a little something like this: Change these passwords, NOW! Which ones? To start, Facebook, Tumblr, Google/Gmail, Yahoo/Yahoo Mail,  Go Daddy, TurboTax, Dropbox, OkCupid, and SoundCloud.

Mashable has a great, detailed list. The above are the highlights. So, is it a big deal? Well, a computer-security expert the entire Internet is quoting (because it’s a good quote and is indebted to This is Spinal Tap) had this to say: “’Catastrophic’ is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.”

So what is it? Heartbleed is a major security bug that affects SSL encryption, which is basically how things get encrypted between a server and a client. You don’t need to know exactly what that means to be concerned.
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01/10/14 2:58pm

Two years ago, I made (and kept!) a New Year’s resolution to get in shape. The hard part, of course, was getting to the gym, but I managed to make it. For a week I went about randomly lifting heavy stuff and putting it back down like I always had. At some point, however, I sat next to a very large mammal lifting an obscene amount of weight over his head. After his set, he put down his dumbbells and grabbed his phone. I asked him what app he was using. He convinced me, through a series enthusiastic grunts, to try Fitness Buddy (Android , iPhone), so I spent $1.99 to see if it might provide some structure for my workouts.

I had no desire to look like the large mammal who’d suggested Fitness Buddy, but I recognized that he seemed to know what he was doing. I doubt he learned everything he knew from Fitness Buddy, but the app is so comprehensive that it’s totes possible. (more…)

12/20/13 4:00pm

Okay, okay. You don’t care anymore. But, that’s your fault. When Siri first appeared on your phone, she was a delightful sideshow act that you and your friends bullied into responding to dirty jokes. In private, on your couch, you may have tried a few things, asking questions here and there, hoping for thrilling answers. The truth is, Siri isn’t that thrilling, but she can be useful—you just need to know how she works, thinks, feels…

The real question is: Why use Siri at all? The quick answer: Typing on a phone is terrible, terrible! With gloves all the rage this season, it’s time to give Siri a second chance. (more…)

12/13/13 1:30pm
There's so much more to SoundClound than scratch demos from unknown artists. Photo: SoundCloud

There’s so much more to SoundClound than scratch demos from unknown artists. Photo: SoundCloud

SoundCloud sees north of 250 million unique visitors a month. That’s a lot… I think. (After a million, numbers start to lose their meaning for me.) Only a little more than 14 million of those unique visitors come from the U.S. OK, that’s a big number, too, but it should be higher. When I conducted an informal poll consisting of five people–some my closest friends and others smartphone-holding strangers on the street–none used SoundCloud. Here are four reasons you should rectify that right now.

I like music, but I don’t like paying for it.
Sure, Pandora, iTunes Radio, Spotify Radio and Rdio are great, free options for listening to tunes, but SoundCloud allows you to curate your own playlists–a feature you have to pay for from other services. The problem is SoundCloud’s song selection isn’t as deep as the paid version these other services provide, but that’s actually a good thing. At its heart, SoundCloud is a promotional tool, where new artists, weirdoes and more can share their creations with people of the internet.

In your heart, you miss curating your music collection.
In SoundCloud’s case, free doesn’t mean free of hard work. A solid SoundCloud account requires a bunch of clicks, hours wasted reading music reviews and even more time going down various rabbit holes. SoundCloud’s unique music-listening experience requires more than selecting an artist and building a station around them or loading up a shared playlist, but you like music and liking music isn’t passive. (more…)

12/06/13 3:44pm

According to Apple, 74% of iOS devices are now running iOS 7. According to conversations I’ve been eavesdropping on, at least 50% of you haven’t turned off all the superfluous, battery-draining features that came along with the update. So, here’s how to get more battery life out of your new gizmo.

Turn these off now:

last ios7 2Parallax
This feature is not to be confused with the 1974 thriller The Parallax View starring Warren Beatty (Where are you Warren!?). Not only is Parallax draining your battery, it may be, if you’re the kind of person who has to avoid merry-go-rounds, making you sick. The feature, though it makes your phone kind of trippy in the way it brings depth to objects, is utilizing gyroscopes, accelerometers and helicopters to make you “ooh” and “ah.” Truth is most see battery life as a far more important feature. So, you’ll need to make sure “Reduce Motion” is “On” to turn off Parallax.

Settings > General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion (more…)

10/25/13 2:00pm
If you thought Flickr was just for photographers, think again–here's how to work the system to your advantage and save space on your smartphone at the same time. Photo: Flickr

If you thought Flickr was just for photographers, think again–here’s how to work the system to your advantage and save space on your smartphone at the same time. Photo: Flickr

Early adopter or not, you’ve probably had your smartphone for a little while. Chances are you’re going to have it, or something like it, for the foreseeable future, which means pictures are going to start piling up. Flickr, though it may not be as cool as a 3D scanner, is going to be more useful.

If you, like me, are too lazy to back your phone up to a computer, services like iCloud and Dropbox work great as backup plans. I, however, finally went over my free 5 GB of iCloud storage and coughed up $20 a year for an additional 10 GB–It was easy. I was lazy–and now, boy do I feel dumb.

Flickr’s update for iOS 7 now offers auto-uploading—iCloud’s best feature. Take a picture with your iPhone’s camera, and Flickr will upload it to your account automagically—in full resolution. Don’t worry about internet stalkers, uploads are set to private by default. The best part: Flickr provides 1 TB of free storage. For those keeping track, that’s 1,000 GB, and it’ll free up you iCloud storage for important stuff like restoring your phone.

How to set it up:

1. After you download the app and open it up, you’ll need to turn on Auto Upload. Tap the blue and pink dot in the bottom right hand corner and find Auto Upload.

2. Pretty. Now tap “Turn ON Auto Upload.”

3. Flip the switch to green. If you get nervous about data usage, select Wi-Fi Only.

Your photos will thank you.