After reading a lot about 1:1 iPad programs and there being an "app for" everything in education, I found How To Use Google Voice In Education to be refreshing. Many schools use Google Apps for Education, but I haven't read many educator accounts of using Google Voice.

Google Voice wasn't around when I was a teacher, but I've still found it very useful for the non-teaching roles I've had in schools. When I was an admission receptionist, Google Voice helped me to better manage the hundreds of phone calls I was getting every day.

  1. I could easily forward (including a bad but still helpful transcription) voicemails to others working in the office.
  2. I could make notes about when I got back to each voicemail or missed call.
  3. During particularly heavy call periods, I could prioritize in the morning (based on—yes, even bad—voicemail transcriptions) which calls were most urgent and time-sensitive to return.
  4. As an office, we could give it a phone number visiting parents and students could text, which meant it was also easier to answer everybody (not everything is a phone call, which means you can text back straight from a web browser and move on to the next call or text more quickly).

Even as a student advisor, I found it convenient (particularly on a field trip) to give out my Google Voice number to my advisees and not worry that they then have my cell phone number (yes, it would ring my cell, but I could always easily block or mute them if it came to that—fortunately it never did).

I'd love to see more and more educators using less obvious technology in more obvious ways.

Moto X gets Kit Kat!

November 23rd, 2013

I'm a bit sad that so many of my former Android-using friends have jumped ship to the iPhone, because it's only now that Android is getting really good. I've always liked Android, and I've owned many Android phones, but the Moto X is the first Android phone I would recommend unequivocally to anyone open to not using an iPhone. No lag. No fuss. A very great user experience. Long battery life.

And, of course, timely updates!

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If you're a fast runner running against another fast runner, having the right running shoes (light enough, with spikes) can mean that extra second it takes to win. But if you're a slow runner, having the best running shoes on the planet won't help you win the race. You have to train—you have to get faster, to get your body in shape.

I've seen some pretty amazing stuff done with Illustrator or InDesign. I've also seen people have these professional tools and manage to create ugly, ugly images and designs. And I've seen a professional graphic designer make a work of art from a Google Doc. I'm not joking.

If I have the choice of having a true artist use MS Paint or of having a hack use Photoshop and Illustrator, I'll take the true artist any day.

Moto X: First Impressions

September 28th, 2013

The MyTouch 4G
After dealing with a horrible Sense overlay and a total lack of rom updates from the rooting community on my T-Mobile MyTouch 4G, I vowed to get only Nexus phones in the future.

The Verizon Galaxy Nexus
My next phone was the Verizon Galaxy Nexus. That was a big mistake.

No, unlike the Nexus One and Nexus S (or the later Galaxy Nexus GSM version), the Verizon Galaxy Nexus did not get timely updates from Google.

Transitions between CDMA 3G and LTE 4G were horrible—if I got in an area with poor LTE coverage, the phone would never be able to make up its mind whether it wanted 3G with three bars on 4G with no bars, so I would just end up with essentially no usable mobile data. Radio updates never fixed this problem.

More importantly, the battery life on the Galaxy Nexus is piss poor. Check out this great chart, where, out of over forty phones, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus rates last for battery life on web browsing (3 hours vs. 7-9 hours on any smartphone you could purchase now). Whether I had the screen dimmed or used an extended battery pack or whatever, I could never consistently get more than two hours' worth of on-screen time. Usually it was about 100 minutes.

What else to consider?
So the past few months, I've been reading about a lot of different potential phones. People were raving about the Samsung Galaxy S4, but my parents got that phone, and when I helped them set it up, I knew the phone wasn't for me (not a fan of TouchWiz, and there doesn't seem to be a stable Cyanogenmod for that model yet).

Over the summer, I seriously considered the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition, as well as the HTC One Google Play Edition. I was also curious about what the next Nexus 4 might be like.

The Moto X
When I started reading about the Moto X, I was a bit disappointed. People were comparing number of processors (dual-core vs. quad-core) and screen resolution (720p instead of 1080p) to other top-tier phones, and the Moto X seemed to come up short.

But then the tide turned a bit in the online reviews. All of a sudden, online reviewers were actually using the phone, and they were raving about how well it fit in the hand, how the new Moto X–specific features were actually useful and not gimicky, and how the battery life really was that good.

Some hiccups along the way
Unfortunately, Motorola totally botched the Moto X launch. It wasn't announced with a clear release date. And they made a whole big deal about Moto Maker and customization, but then Moto Maker (initially at least) is available on AT&T only. And the phone itself is available in the U.S. only (sure, part of the marketing was that it's assembled in the U.S. instead of China, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be available in other countries).

More importantly for my situation, once I ordered my Moto X, I immediately got a confirmation saying that it was In Stock (which I take to mean existing and ready to be packed up and shipped—not ready to be assembled in Texas, and then packed up and shipped), ready to ship in 1-2 business days, and then shipped with two-day shipping. I kept logging into my Motorola account to see if the status would change from Not Shipped to Shipped. Maybe I would get an email with a package tracking number.

Nope.

Instead, one day randomly—while my online account still said Not Shipped, the phone just arrived via Fed Ex. The whole thing from order to receipt took six days (not six business days but six days).

still not shipped
Interestingly enough, I now have the phone, and have it activated on T-Mobile, but Motorola still (as of this writing) says it's not shipped.

The Moto X
So I get the phone, and it comes in a white box with a Motorola logo on the front. Included is a power cable (micro USB), a little tool to get the SIM card out, a T-Mobile SIM card in the phone itself, and the phone itself with a nice screen protector already on it.

When I turned the phone on and connected it to my wireless router, this is the first thing I saw once I logged in:
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Am I worried at all that I didn't get a Nexus phone? No. Sure, it's still technically running Android 4.2.2 when Android 4.3 is already out, but I have Android 4.3 on my Nexus 7, and I honestly cannot tell the difference between the two. Still, The Moto X has a fairly vanilla Android–looking interface (no Sense, Motoblur, or TouchWiz), and...
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... it gets updates fairly quickly.

A few annoyances
One really annoying thing about the Moto X is that when I got it, there was already a voicemail notification (which makes no sense, because I hadn't actually activated it on T-Mobile yet, and there was no phone number attached to the phone). The worst part about it was that there was no way to clear the notification. I couldn't swipe it away. I couldn't actually listen to the voicemail to get it to go away.

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Here you can actually see me trying to call the voicemail to get the message to go away as the Moto X is interrupting me to tell me the software update installed okay.

The other thing that's annoying is the overwhelming number of how-tos. Any time you launch an application or do anything, every app is trying to tell you how to use it. I signed in with my Google account. Google, you know I've had four Android devices before this. You should know I know how to use these apps!

And, of course, there's a very convenient auto-backup of photos to Google Plus, which oddly gets its own separate app called G+ Photos. The horrible thing about the app is that it notifies you (with your default notification sound) every time photos get backed up. There is no option to have the photos back up silently in the background. My temporary workaround? Disable all notifications for Google+.

There is a little nub or dimple you can rest a finger in on the back of the phone, but generally the phone back is pretty slippery. I guess the assumption is everyone would get a case? I don't know. Slippery expensive phones... not good.

One last small annoyance: there doesn't seem to be a way to disable the vibration that occurs when you unlock the phone (yes, even if general haptic feedback is turned off in the settings).

Okay. What's good about the phone?

  • I mentioned before that it comes with a screen protector. It does. Most phones will come with some kind of temporary screen protector that is ugly and not meant to be used permanently. The Moto X comes with a screen protector that covers the screen fully, with a little hole for the mic. There is no branding on the screen protector that covers up the screen. The only unsightly bit is a small white triangle on the bottom-left corner that you can scissor off and still have the rest be useful to protect the screen.
  • Active Notifications is the bomb, even with a pattern or pin lock. I love that I can pick up the phone to check the time without having to press the power button to wake it up. The phone just knows you want to check the time and displays the time for you. It also knows you're picking it up to unlock the phone to use it, so you don't have to press the power button first, and then unlock it. It's also nice (yes, even if you have pattern or pin security in place) to be able to swipe notifications from the middle of the screen instead of from the top down. My hands aren't huge, so one-handed (yes, I ride public transportation, so I don't always have two hands available) it's nice to not have to get my phone into an awkward position so I can swipe down to see a notification.
  • The double-twist to activate the camera really works. And it is really convenient. I'd read some criticisms about the camera and the shutter speed for the Moto X. Coming from the horrible camera and shutter speed on the Galaxy Nexus, though, the Moto X camera is like a dream to me.
  • I know I'm not the first person to say it, but the phone feels nice in the hand. All the pictures and videos you see online of the phone make it look like a rectangular brick, just like any other Android phone. No, it's not. The phone has a big screen that doesn't seem big. The phone feels very snug and small in your hand—comfortable (apart from the back being slippery).
  • It feels fast. I don't know anything about dual-core or quad-core or processor speeds or GPUs. I do know my Nexus 7 has a quad-core processor and 2 GB of RAM and is generally fast but can sometimes be sluggish. The Moto X has a dual-core processor and 2 GB of RAM, and it is just the buttery smooth that Jelly Bean was supposed to be last year on every Android phone. It is certainly much smoother in terms of getting up the list of recent apps or returning to the home screen. This phone does not lack for performance.

Other notes
The whole OK Google Now thing doesn't really work well, and I don't personally see any use for it in my daily routine.

Where I am, I'm getting much better data service from T-Mobile than I got from Verizon. Very shocking to me!

I don't really understand why people got all excited about being able to customize the colors on the phone. Maybe I'm boring, but black works for me.

I haven't had a chance to really test out the battery life on this thing. I'll update the post or put up a new post about battery life when I get the chance.

This is the first Android phone I've gotten that I didn't want to root and install a custom rom on right away! I highly recommend this phone!

Just when I thought shoddy tech "journalism" couldn't stoop any lower, there is now a supposedly "new" report out that Chrome stores its passwords in plain text.

From Google Chrome security flaw offers unrestricted password access at The Guardian:

A serious flaw in the security of Google's Chrome browser lets anyone with access to a user's computer see all the passwords stored for email, social media and other sites, directly from the settings panel. No password is needed to view them.

Absolutely no mention that this has been known for years. Why this is being reported now, I have no idea.

From Google Chrome flaw exposes user passwords at The Telegraph:

Software developer Elliott Kember stumbled across the vulnerability when importing his bookmarks from Apple's Safari browser to Google Chrome. He discovered that it was mandatory to import saved passwords from one browser to the other – something he described as 'odd'.

After doing a bit more digging, he found that Google does not protect passwords from being viewed when a user is logged in and running Chrome. Anyone with access to the computer can view stored passwords by going to the advanced settings page and clicking on the “Passwords and forms” option, followed by “Manage saved passwords”.

Here the reporter goes a step further to make it sound as if this is some new discovery.

This is not a new discovery. Many people, including the developers at Google, know about this, and have known about this for years. It's a deliberate (albeit bad) design choice. I knew about it in 2009, and I've known about it ever since.

Someone back in December 2008 already reported it to Google:

Google, Why does your browser Chrome not have a master password for saved passwords? This is ridiculous

and Google's response:

Hi everybody,

We understand that many of you want a master password for your saved passwords in Google Chrome. You’ve laid out many scenarios in which this might be useful, but the most common is that if your computer were to fall into the wrong hands, that person would then have access to your saved passwords.

While we agree that this situation would be terrible, we believe that a master password would not sufficiently protect you from danger. Someone with physical access to your computer could install a keylogger to steal your passwords or go to the sites where your passwords are stored and get them from the automatically filled-in password fields. A master password required to show saved passwords would not prevent these outcomes.

Currently, the best method for protecting your saved passwords is to lock your computer whenever you step away from it, even for a short period of time. We encrypt your saved passwords on your hard disk. To access these passwords, someone would either need to log in as you or circumvent the encryption.

We know this is a long-standing issue, and we see where you're coming from. Please know that your security is our highest priority, and our decision not to implement the master password feature is base

Okay. It took Google almost a year to make that official response, but that's still almost three years ago!

I thought the "There are millions of Android malware apps (which no one is actually installing)" scare headlines were bad enough. Now known bugs that are deliberate design choices are suddenly newly-discovered security flaws. I can't palm forehead this enough...

If you want to store passwords with a master password, use Firefox. The master password encrypts your saved passwords. It's not a perfect solution, but it's better than what Chrome's doing... and has been doing for years.