Saturday, November 19, 2022

Stuck waiting? Doing mindless chores? Don't be frustrated or bored: Fire up a podcast & learn or just be entertained.


When your body must be present, but your mind isn't engaged... 


Not everything we do requires our full mental engagement. Whether it's a "mindless" chore or an unavoidable waiting period, it can be boring or downright frustrating to find yourself stuck "killing time" with your brain disengaged. What's the solution? For me, it's podcasts! 

Here are some perfect opportunities to tamp down your boredom or impatience and crank up your mental engagement with podcasts: 
  • Waiting in line at the bank or shopping
  • Waiting for a ride
  • Travelling on a bus, train or plane
  • Slogging through traffic while driving to work, running errands or on a road trip
  • Exercising
  • Showering, shaving, putting on makeup and generally getting ready for your day
  • Doing household chores or yard work 
  • Cooking or cleaning up after the meal
I find that doing any of the above while listening to podcasts makes the time pass much more quickly. And since most podcasts are designed as pure listening experiences (no video screen needed), I'm free to use my eyes to pay attention to traffic or shaving or my tool/chores or whatever.  Best of all, depending on the podcast I'm listening to, I come away from the otherwise boring experience having learned something new or useful. 

Say "No" to YouTube, TikTok, Facebook and other algorithm-driven time wasters.


A typical response to mindless work or waiting is to click through Facebook posts or the algorithm-driven freak shows that are served up by TikTok or YouTube. Sure, these can help you pass the time. But they are a kind of mental candy, engaging your brain in a quick and often stimulating way, but leaving you hungry when the engagement is over. Wouldn't it be better to spend these little bursts of down time learning something useful or digging deeper into one of your interests?

Who's in charge: A mindless algorithm or your own conscious choices?

Say "Yes" to your podcasts & your content stream on your schedule.


Podcasts are the answer to dealing with mental "downtime." They give you your own custom-tailored content stream which you can access at your own pace and on your own schedule. Specifically: 
  • You can pause them when you need to switch your attention to your otherwise boring chore and then pick them up later. 
  • If you miss something because your chore needs you for a few minutes, you can easily "rewind" the podcast and go back and repeat what you missed.
  • You can listen to them at high speed, without chipmunk voices, but with the pauses and spaces squeezed out. (See the settings in your podcast player or this on Google Podcasts' "Podcast Controls" from PC Mag, for details.)
  • You can save them for later and even binge listen to a whole series you may have missed.  
  • With today's smart speakers (Google Home, Amazon Echo, etc.) you can do all of the above completely hands free while you move around your house. 
  • Using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay you can start or continue listening to your Google Podcasts (and most other podcast apps) while you drive. 

How to Get Started 


Are you new to podcasts? Here's an easy way to get started: 
  1. Get the Google Podcasts app. It's easy to use, it's free and it leverages Google's powerful search capabilities to unearth all kinds of brilliant and crazy podcasts. Get it here: 
  2. Decide on one or more topics you want to learn about or subject areas you might find simply find entertaining. For example, comedy podcasts are among the most popular. But so are podcasts that provide "how to"  info, political analysis, tech updates/analyses and business/market news.  
  3. Search your chosen topic using Google Podcasts' search function and see what comes up.
  4. Review the brief descriptions of the podcasts that turned up in the search. 
  5. If something looks good you can either subscribe (almost always for free) to get automatic updates of that podcast or "test drive" the podcast by playing a few episodes to see if you want to commit to the subscription.
    (Note: Most podcasts are free and supported by ads. Rarely, I'm told, a podcast is only available behind a paywall. I can't confirm that, since I've never paid for a podcast. Re: ads... it's easy to fast forward through the ads if they are obnoxious.)
Pro Tip: One of my favorite features of Google Podcasts is the ability to download podcasts and store them, then sequence them in a custom playlist. This way when you're offline you can play these without incurring any data charges for downloads. This can be especially useful when you're waiting for an appointment somewhere deep within a building or some other location where there is no cell service.

For your consideration: That's a actually a podcast?!?


Podcasts: Plenty of topics to choose from...

To show you the wide range of podcasts that are available, I did a quick Google Podcasts search using a bunch of different search terms. Here's a sample of what I found: 

A Few of My Favorite Podcasts



Here are my six absolute favorite podcasts: 
  • Up First from NPR - Provides context for major news you'll hear about later in the day
  • NPR News Now - A quick, 5 minute summary of the latest news, updated hourly, 24/7
  • This Week in Google (Audio) A huge, rambling discussion (2 - 3 hours!) about Google and all things related to the web and smart home with Leo Laporte and my favorite feisty tech geeks
  • Marketplace - An interesting daily summary of business & marketplace news for regular people
  • Left, Right & Center - A balanced analysis/debate of the week's top political topics
  • PBS Newshour - Segments - A collection of brief, individual segments (audio only) from PBS' nightly Newshour [Also available: PBS NewsHour - Full Show]
And I also enjoy these podcasts:
  • This Week in Tech (Audio) "...  top tech journalists and pundits in a roundtable discussion of the latest trends in tech." 
  • The Audio Long Read "... a selection of the Guardian’s long reads... including in-depth writing from around the world on immigration, crime, business, the arts and much more."
  • Marketplace Tech "... demystifies the digital economy in less than 10 minutes."
  • On the Media "... [This] Peabody Award-winning... podcast is your guide to examining how the media sausage is made."
  • The Good News Podcast "... your thrice weekly reminder that not all news is bad."
  • The New Yorker Radio Hour "... The New Yorker’s award-winning writers, editors and artists ... present a weekly mix of profiles, storytelling, and insightful conversations about the issues that matter."

Actually, just about everybody's got a podcast!


It's amazing how many television shows, radio shows and YouTube programs, which would normally  require you to sit and stare at a screen, are also available as in-your-ears, downloadable podcasts to use on-the-go! In addition to the PBS NewsHour (as noted above), many regular ABC, NBC, and CBS news programs are available as audio podcasts. Even such venerable network offerings as Face the Nation, Meet the PressThis Week with George Stephanopoulos and 60 Minutes can be downloaded to your podcast player.  And if you are a regular NPR listener, like I am, you'll be pleased to know that almost all NPR programs, even some of your local station content, are available as discrete podcasts.

What I've shared above are just examples. And they might not interest you. But you need only name a topic and there's probably a podcast out there that deals with it. See for yourself: Just go to Google Podcasts and search for topic, subject or whatever that might interest you. You'll be surprised what you find. 

Conclusion


Remember: When you're faced with mental downtime, the choice is yours. Will you get sucked into mindlessly thumbing through Facebook posts or the algorithm-driven freak shows served up by TikTok, YouTube and the like? Or will you make the decision to listen to stuff that you hand pick for yourself to enlighten or entertain you on your own terms? 

Take charge! And enjoy.

Related Articles


Thanks, DALL-E! 

This image of a smart speaker, which I used in the intro graphic in this article, was generated by the DALL-E AI art generator which is now available for free for anyone to use. While I don't remember exactly what I asked DALL-E to generate, it went something like this: "smiley face, smart speaker, cartoon." I got several results and finally settled on the one above. Pretty cool, eh? AndI owe ZERO ROYALTIES for using it!  You can learn more about DALL-E here

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Too confused to VOTE? Get fast, accurate info on local candidates, issues & where/how to vote.


This article will help you:
  1. Quickly get accurate info on any candidate or issue that is on your ballot. (i.e., Eliminate confusion about the candidate or issue.)
  2. Quickly find out how and where to vote in your particular voting jurisdiction. (i.e., Eliminate logistical confusion about casting your ballot.)
So if you feel stuck in a state of "analysis paralysis" or logistical overwhelm about the upcoming election, you can use the tools below to get unstuck! 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Worth the Money: My Top 5 Paid Android Apps

What makes an app worth paying for? 

There are three criteria that make me willing to shell out a little cash for an app:

  • It's really good at what it does. That is, it's powerful, efficient, does something unique/amazing or it's a real time saver.
  • I use it a lot and I don't want to be distracted by ads! Maybe I'm spoiled by years of ad-free media streaming and browser ad-blockers, but seeing ads in an app that I frequently use drives me nuts! So I'm glad to pay a reasonable fee to remove the ad clutter.
  • I want to support the app's developers. After all, if I don't want them to monetize their app with ads and they have created an app that I really value, then I have a moral obligation to see that they somehow get paid for their work!

The apps described below meet all three of these criteria. If you're an Android user, you should consider them. (FYI, Apple users: a couple of these are also available for iOS.)

AccuWeather Premium 

Screenshot of AccuWeather Premium listing at Google Play Store

This is my always-on app. I use it several times a day to track outdoor conditions and help me decide when to exercise, how to dress/sunscreen for the weather, when to plan/postpone errands, etc. And I find their predictions to be extremely accurate, so they truly live up to their name! Their Play Store listing summarizes: 

"[AccuWeather provides]... Live weather forecasts including:

  • MinuteCast® forecasts for Minute by Minute® precipitation updates [Note: In my experience these are amazingly accurate! I have timed many outdoor exercise sessions down to the minute between rain events by using these. -- MG]
  • Local weather including severe weather alerts, temperature, precipitation, and allergy outlooks for your day 
  • WinterCast™: winter weather forecasts giving you advanced warnings of snowfall probabilities and accumulation
  • Daily forecasts include rain probability, cloud coverage, wind, live radar, air quality index, snowfall, and even UV index
  • Advanced weather radar gives you up to the minute views of storm tracking, snow, rain, ice, temperature changes, and much more
  • RealFeel® & RealFeel Shade Temperature™ technology helping you get a better sense of how the weather actually feels... "

The Google Play Store listing provides lots more details. Apple users please note that the app is also available at the Apple App Store

Bitdefender Mobile Security 

Screenshot: Bitdefender Mobile app from Google Play Store

It's this simple. I have installed Bitdefender on each of our Android devices to help protect them. With a single yearly subscription you can install the app on as many devices and for as many users as you wish. (I got a 50% discount for the first year at $7.99.) Currently I have the app running on 10 devices (3 phones, 5 tablets & 2 Chromebooks) belonging to my wife and me. I manage these through the separate, but free, Bitdefender Central app. 

From their Play Store listing:  

"...Bitdefender Mobile Security & Antivirus is the most powerful antivirus app for Android. It protects your smartphone and tablet against viruses, malware and online threats and keeps your private information secure from hackers... Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android - 5 TIMES winner of AV-Test’s “Best Android Security Product” (2021, 2020, 2017, 2016, 2015). Try it free for the first 14 days."

Bitdefender Central is a "free management tool for all your Bitdefender security products..."  Bitdefender Central places your local and network cyber security at your fingertips. Use it to control security for all your Bitdefender-protected devices... With Bitdefender Central you can:

  • Install Bitdefender protection on all your devices
  • Manage security and protect your kids online
  • Scan, clean and optimize any device remotely
  • Get instant notification whenever Bitdefender detects a threat
  • Quickly access your activity dashboard
  • Receive security updates for your devices 24/7

The Google Play Store listing provides lots more details. Apple users please note that the app is also available at the Apple App Store

CloudPlayer Platinum 

Screenshot: CloudPlayer Platinum app from Google Play Store

I use this app several times a day to stream my own MP3 music files, for free, from their storage locations on my various cloud drives to my earbuds, smart speakers, etc. (See details about my process here: "Replacing Google Play Music: How I Store & Stream 22 GB of My Own Music (MP3s) for a One-Time Cost of $7.99")

Here's a summary from their Play Store listing, my bold added: 

"CloudPlayer is a revolutionary music player that puts you in control of your music, no matter where it's stored. Use it as an offline music player or link your Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive [Google Drive is supported for existing users only, not new users] to create a giant cloud jukebox for all your music. Stream or download from your cloud accounts for offline playback. Enjoy built-in cloud playlist back-up & sync, Chromecast support, hi-fidelity FLAC & ALAC lossless sound, gapless playback, 10-band EQ, Android Wear & Android Auto support and more."

[Note to Apple users: It appears that this app is not available for iOS devices. However, the publisher's website has an entire page with topics devoted to "doubleTwist for Mac OSX." I know nothing about the Apple/iOS world, so you'll have to investigate this on your own here. Sorry! -- MG]   

Package Buddy Pro 

Screenshot: Package Buddy Pro app from Google Play Store

I've been using this for years to track all my packages, regardless of shipper, across all my devices (tablets, phone, Chromebook). Just enter the tracking code and (optionally) add your custom name for the shipment and the app picks up all the rest of the info from the web. Open the app to see the updated progress of your shipment. It also keeps a historical record of stuff I've sent/received. Recently I counted well over 100 carriers tracked by these guys! (See the whole list at their Play Store listing). 

[This app does not appear to be available at the Apple App Store.] 

PDF converter pro & PDF editor - pdf merge

Screenshot PDF converter pro from Google Play Store

I don't use this often, but when I need it it proves to be a real powerhouse for manipulating, converting and generally doing anything you want with PDFs. Their Play Store listing summarizes (I've substantially edited for brevity --MG)

"PDF Converter & PDF Editor is very comprehensive tool to perform various operations on PDF files: 

  • Convert Word (or Doc) files to PDF file 
  • Convert JPG Image to PDF file 
  • Convert a html webpage into PDF and save for later
  • Merge/Combine PDF documents into a single one.
  • Split PDF file into smaller units.
  • Encrypt your PDF file & add password protection
  • Remove password from a file
  • Delete selected pages
  • Extract selected pages (and extract graphics)
  • Add a watermark to your file
  • Rotate selected pages of a file
  • Compress (reduce size) of a PDF document

[This app does not appear to be available at the Apple App Store, though there are many PDF editors and converters listed there. For more on what's out there for your iOS device, see techradar's "Best PDF reader for Mac 2022: Free and paid" or iGeeksblog's Best PDF editors for iPhone and iPad in 2022 [Reviewed]

Conclusion

Over the years I've paid for many more apps than the above five. Some of those I've bought are oddball, esoteric or have proven to be not so useful over time. I decided to share the apps above, however, because each is powerful, a good value and can be valuable for almost anyone! So I hereby endorse them as being worth the small purchase price they ask from their users. If you need any of the capabilities they provide, I highly recommend you check them out!