Saturday, June 28, 2014

Alarm Calendar; Best Android Alarm Clock App

In my seemingly endless quest to find the perfect Android Alarm app, I have a new champion: Alarm Clock Calendar. I won't provide a full review, that ground is pretty well-plowed. It has almost all the expected features that make smartphone alarm so superior to dedicated alarm clocks[1]. In addition, it has one vital missing feature: the ability to set an alarm, well in advance, for one specific, arbitrary calendar date. This is what I have been looking for.

NOTE: I am a feature maximalist when it comes to alarm clocks. Not everybody will want the complexity. If you don't find yourself wishing for missing features, stick with whatever alarm clock you have--perhaps the one pre-installed on the phone.

It has a couple of other notable features. One is really more than a mere feature, it is a new category of functionality: it shows you a calendar view, that highlights all your upcoming alarms. This strikes me as a thoughtful innovation. For me it is a nice-to-have, but I can see it being even more useful to some people.

The other nice feature is not only can you set an alarm for an arbitrary date, you can also create exceptions to repeating alarms. Again, can be very useful--for instance, to not sound on the Monday holiday. Then the integration between this feature and the calendar view provides some further value-add: instead of not showing alarms for the skipped repeating dates, it shows them highlighted in red, to call your attention to the fact that the alarm will be skipped.

The free version works fine, has minimally intrusive ads. But if you try this and like it, you should definitely support the developer by purchasing the $1.99 paid version

UPDATE 07/25/14: I still like it a a lot, but I have discovered two super-nice features from Alarm Clock Plus that I really miss. One is the ability to change the length of snooze, on-the-fly. I don't use this so much for morning wake-ups--too much effort, too dangerous--but more for reminder alarms. The other is to set "skip next occurrence". While Alarm Clock Calendar has a fine-grained way to set an arbitrarily complicated schedule of skips, it lacks this quick, super-simple way to set a one-off skip, for the very common use case of "tomorrow is an exception".

[1] One notable missing feature--no "math to snooze/dismiss" option. For some people this will be a deal-breaker, but I never use it. It also doesn't have a quick nap mode, and the UI isn't quite as nice as Alarm Clock Plus.

Community Library as Forerunner and Exemplar in "Sharing Economy"

I've started tutoring one night at Rondo public library in St. Paul. Rondo is a terrific, large library that is buzzing with activity. In my brief time there, I have seen that in addition to tutoring, it hosts ESL lessons, they have a drop-in legal clinic, and all kinds of other community stuff. It seems to be a center of community life and activity that suburban libraries, such as our local R.H. Stafford, however nice, will never be.

I kind of think that the community library was part of the "sharing economy" before that was "a thing".

I See Trouble Brewing for District 833 High School Boundaries

After a lull from the Great Recession, housing construction is picking up in the Woodbury area. Most of it is concentrated in the large expanses of open area in south Woodbury and north Cottage Grove. 

Much of the new development is roughly equidistant between East Ridge and Park high schools.  I think most people, and especially those building the new houses, would rank desirability of the 3 district High Schools, in descending order, as East Ridge - Woodbury - Park, with a marked drop-off from Woodbury to Park. Unfortunately, the order of capacity between the high schools is the reverse--Park has significant capacity, East Ridge does not.

So I foresee disappointment, complaining and special-pleading in the coming years, from some of those neighborhoods that get districted to Park. Maybe even lobbying for a fourth district high school.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Google Calendar Reminder As Smartphone Alarm

For a long time, I've wanted the Google Calendar to offer a third Reminder type. The two existing types are Email, and Notification. The notification pops up, but is not super-urgent and can be overlooked; and it will be muted if your phone is on silent mode. That's all fine and as it should be.

But there are times, mainly when I have an early-morning appointment, where I want my calendar event to also serve as my morning alarm (this is predicated on use of smartphone as your alarm clock, or at least having it in your bedroom). It needs to be treated as a first-class Alarm, primarily meaning that it will override silent mode, secondarily, that it provides the various features related to modern smartphone alarm clocks (snooze, gentle wake, math to dismiss, etc etc).

The primary benefit of this feature is that it would save me the trouble of double-entry: once for the calendar event, again for the alarm. Another important benefit is that most of the Alarm apps don't support setting alarms for arbitrary dates. So you still have to remember to set the alarm the night before--a critical opportunity for error. Finally, related to the above--if the event time changes, you have to remember to go change the alarm (as a night-person, I find it especially disappointing when an early morning event is canceled, and I forget to cancel the alarm).

For the first time in a while, I took some time to search Google Play store for such an app. Finally, I found something that comes close: the wonderful Calendar Event Reminder (CER) app. What this app does is convert every Notification Reminder into an Alarm. It also provides a wealth of configuration features, pretty much everything I would expect, and more. I've been using it for a week, and am so far very satisfied.

Note that while this is probably the best a third-party app can do, it is not quite the full realization of my ideal solution. Instead of adding a third reminder type of Alarm, it effectively transforms the Reminder notification type into the desired Alarm notification type. This has a few important implications.

First of all, obviously, all Notifications  are transformed from mild reminder pings, into urgent reminder alarms. If you use a lot of Notifications, this would get really annoying and is likely a deal-breaker. Fortunately, for my personal use cases, I mostly prefer email notifications anyway, so I can work around that side-effect.

Assuming then that you can live without the traditional Notification reminder functionality, you will want to update any of your recurring reminders that do use it. Otherwise, you will be getting intrusive alarms when you really don't want them.

The last compromise is that it doesn't integrate with Android Alarm Clock apps (a direct outcome of the fact that it isn't implementing the Alarm type, per se). So the alarms will be raised using CER's UI, not that of your favorite alarm clock. The UI is pretty good, so this isn't a big drawback, but it is an adjustment.

This is a $2.79 paid app. Well worth it, a more than fair price for those who crave this functionality. I am happy to pay such a small price to have this long-standing itch scratched away. Much preferable to ad-supported or, heaven forfend, in-app purchases.

Bottom line, this is a great app, one I have been awaiting over four years. 2/3 of a loaf is better than none!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mao Worship Is A Festering Cancer That Will Prevent China...

...and many of its people, from reaching anything close to their potential. It's enduring "appeal", such as it is, is really incomprehensible to this westerner.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Please Don't Plan a Group Hotel Based on Where You Have Points

I am a big proponent of keeping costs down, in regard to life's activities. Especially if they involve groups of people, who may have differing incomes and financial situations. I don't like it when enthusiastic parents jack up the price of kids sports--everybody has to have matching Adidas warmups, that sort of thing.

Also, if you are the one organizing the hotel for an out-of-town tournament, do not choose a relatively expensive hotel, such as Marriott, just because you can stay there for free on points. That is just not thoughtful.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Neu's Law of Idiotic Analogies

With apologies to Godwin's Law...The first party in an argument to resort to a patently idiotic analogy is considered to have lost the debate, and the discussion is terminated.

(This one isn't as good as my other one, and of course neither approaches the originality and brilliance of Godwin. Still, I have been hearing so many really stupid analogies lately, I felt compelled.)

Neu's Law of Sloganeering

With apologies to Godwin's Law...The first party in an argument to resort to sloganeering is considered to have lost the debate, and the discussion is terminated.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Bergdahl Release from Taliban Will Be the Next Benghazi of U.S. Politics (but better-justified)

I thought trading 5 Taliban prisoners for captured U.S. Private Bowe Bergdahl was a bad idea when I first heard about it. I have always been hard-line on resisting the temptation to cave, because it will only induce more of the behavior in question.

Usually, a government following this course feels pressure to do so from the public, and expects to be likewise rewarded in the court of public opinion. As I learn more about this particular case, I think no such rewards will be reaped. Rather, the administration has committed a major blunder.

First of all, right or wrong, there has been zero public outcry for Bergdahl's release. (Probably wrong, but that's another story). Political pressure to make a bad deal has been non-existent.

Now it turns out there is strong evidence that Bergdahl may be a deserter!

I have to believe Obama's opponents will make political hay from this blunder. And in this case, unlike, say, Benghazi, I think they have quite a lot of justification.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Basketball Statistic: Points per Attempt

I do not understand why Points per Attempt is not the key offensive basketball statistic, rather than Field Goal Percentage. First of all, it would correct for the major distortion of under-weighting the increasingly important 3-point field goal. Second, it would fine-tune for players who are good at both drawing fouls, and sinking free throws.

A Scholarly Response to ‘Tiger Mom’: Happiness Matters, Too

I won't recap the Amy Chua "Battle-Hynm of the Tiger Mother"story, if you are not up on it, it is easily Googled. I do think the hardcore "Tiger" style is unappealing, and often a mistake. As with so many things, the best course lies in blending best practices. The extreme discipline, the rote-ness, the un-Christian "scarcity principle" that underlies the idea that nothing short of being the top student, is all terribly misguided, IMO.

Much, much better to inculcate emotional intelligence and above all, a love of life-long learning. Not learning and scholarship for the sake of top grades or clearing admissions hurdles, but simply because it is: A) enriching; B) ultimately, temporally rewarding in unpredictable ways. More of Confucian view, perhaps?

Here are a couple of good responses: Brooks, Tatlow.

Digital Natives - more conventional wisdom than truth, I think

There is a school of thought that thinks applications of information technology and the digital world continue to be a "young person's game". One expression of this school of thought is the label "digital native". I don't agree.

I think it is reasonable to believe there continues to be some statistical correlation to "digital fluency" and age, but it is increasingly weaker. The average 18-year-old does not "get" digital technology in some qualitatively different way than the average, 40-year-old knowledge worker. By virtue of their age, and the free time and lack of installed base of digital commitments that comes with it, they are undoubtedly more likely to adopt and experiment. But I don't think using 5 social-media tools, versus the 1 their parents likely use (Facebook), represents a major qualitative difference in experience.

Something that particularly surprises me is the lack of adoption of person-to-person electronic payments by the millenials. Judging by my 3 older teens, this generation is as likely to rely on IOUs and cash to settle debts as we were at their age. None of them seem to use the very convenient PayPal app, or its competitors.

Then there is the tendency to conflate comfort with "digital lifestyle", and technical understanding of information technology. In the latter area, I think there is even less difference between digital natives and their parents. In my experience, the typical, non-STEM teen has a very shaky understanding of the Windows file system, for instance.