Monday, March 14, 2016

I think I'm in Love With a Man Named David Maxim Micic

One of my best friends introduced me to the music of David Maxim Micic, a young Serbian Guitarist/Musician/Songwriter and Berklee College of Music Alumni.

The first thing I heard from the artist was Bilo 3.0, his 3rd solo album.  I was blown away by his ability to genre mash (a trait in a lot of progressive metal these days) while retaining exceptional hooks.  Lots of attention to detail in the sound production made his compositions as dynamic as modern pop music, while the music itself was as complex as classical.  I have long felt that there are 2 kinds of effective hooks:  Cheap hooks, the kind that get stuck in your head and end up making you angry or annoyed, and deep hooks, which addict you to a sound, and leave you constantly fiending for more.  Micic's hooks are deep, but this isn't just empty calorie pop music, inspired by everything from Swedish Metal icons Meshuggah, to the music of Japanese Video Game Composer Nobuo Uematsu.  There are even shades of Jazz, and Opera.

My exposure to Micic was years ago, but I am writing now because I have been unable to stop listening to Lun, the first studio album by his band Destiny Potato.  Lun basically took everything I loved about Nu Metal and Alternative in the 90s, and added that Micic kick of complexity.  Progressive metal sensibilities, industrial sound engineering, Meshuggah-esque Djent-ie percussive rhythm guitars, Eastern European folk influences, and more.  Than it eschewed the most tired Nu Metal tropes that killed the genre. No repeating whispered statements into screamed iterations, no repetitive song structure, no rap culture inspired tough guy attitude.

I have found myself, over the course of listening to the entire album multiple times, becoming addicted to random songs in the running, then several listens later, that track is old hat, and I am addicted to another.  It is the way I consume music, obsessively.
The first track I became super addicted to on the album was Love Song, thanks largely to the brilliant chorus, and the bridge, which is straight off of Micic's solo album Bilo 3.0.  

My current addiction is UYM.  I adore the speedy electronica opening with the slightly skipping double bass beat that makes my favorite 1980s scifi/adventure movies screen across my eyelids.  Then the entire tone shifts with the chorus, a smug laugh sample stutters over the hard rock hook, and back into the pre-chorus as integrated into the chorus itself, the vocals repeating "Can you, can you, can you be around? Do you, do you, really feel the sound?".  The best part?  At roughly 2:44, when the pre-chorus breaks collides into a digital glitch and breaks before snapping back with the chorus.  When I was in a band, these hooks were my favorite to play, that moment when the whole band skips a note and then slams back in perfectly in sync, it just feels awesome.

So yeah, I'll be obsessing about this for another couple weeks, and then I'll obsess over something else for a bit.  Years will go by, I'll check in with my old obsessions, and get hooked all over again.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My 10 Most Important Android Apps

In no particular order, these are the apps I first install (or check on if they are already installed) on any Android device I use.  I HIGHLY recommend every last one of them.

Pushbullet

Though recently crippled with an annoying subscription model,  Pushbullet is still one of the best and most important apps on Android.  The initial use of the app corresponded with a browser plug-in to let you easily transfer pages between your computer and your device.  Pushbullet continued to expand into even more useful use cases.  You can send text messages from your computer, recieve phone notifications on your desktop, share your copy/paste clipboard among varied devices and computers, etc...  Some of those features are now locked behind a subscription, but the core properties are still free.

Agent

I mentioned this in a previous post in which I talked about automation.  Agent is a great easy to use automation app with very specific and deeply customizable functions.  Set a time of night for your phone to go silent while you sleep, but let specific contacts get through, or provide an option for them to wake you in an emergency.  Functions like this make Agent a must have app.

Chronus

This widget represents my homescreen. Cronus is gorgeous, militaristic, and gives me most of the information I ever check my phone for at a glance. I also recommend the optional in-app purchase as it unlocks tons of amazing options.

Google Opinion Reawards

This app, THIS APP!  Google Opinion Rewards sends surveys to your phone, very short and simple surveys which grant you Google Play Store credit.  most surveys I get are literally 1 or 2  multiple choice questions which we then give me 10-30 cents of play store credit.  Often times the question will be something like "which of the following stores have you recently visited" very often my answer is none of the above... then boom, 10 cents.  That's it.  Over time, 10 cents here or there makes buying mobile apps, music, TV episodes etc, much less painful. I even got my mom into the app.  She is a teacher and occasionally buys songs to use in school activities, she has never put a dim into the google play store, but always has money to spend.

Netflix/Hulu/Crunchyroll/Youtube/Etc.

Yeah I know, its a bit of a cheat, but they all essentially do the same thing... these are my media apps, all of which can throw video to my chomecast as well, making them the primary means by which i consume television.  Apps I use include Netflix (mostly for their originals or other binge-able series, Hulu (for some simulcast anime, as well as some originals, and lots of day after shows from network TV, and British imports), Crunchyroll (for most of my simulcast anime), Pocket Casts (for listening to or watching podcasts), HBO Go (for HBO content), Google Play Movies and TV (mostly sued for the tons of free pilots they give out, but also for when I do buy digital movies), and Youtube.

Dropbox

I was first introduced to Dropbox when I was running Operation Rainfall, when it allowed us to easily share digital assets.  I use it frequently now to host our podcast shownotes, to move files between different computers, and to store important files, just in case.  You can even configure the app to auto back-up every picture you take on your device, or every screenshot on your computer (a useful feature I use to get some screens on TVEnthusiast).  My favorite aspect of Dropbox is the companion app on my computer, moving files between my computer and Dropbox is like dragging an icon from 1 folder to another... it is easy and feels natural.

GMail

If you have an Android device with google play services on it, you already have this app.  Still the best webmail solution, GMail is easy to use on mobile, and the cornerstone of a good android experience.  Your GMail account is your google account which links to every service they offer, it is how you keep your contacts your calendars, everything.

Twitter

I use Facebook against my will, but Twitter, Twitter I love.  I first heard of Twitter as a way to "text message the world", but the real strength of Twitter is as a news source... follow the right people and you have a steady flow of easily digestible and ultra quick updates on any subject you care about.  I follow a lot of TV Showrunners, many of them tweet out information as episodes of their shows air.  Concept art, behinds the scenes pictures, etc... Twitter is THE second screen experience for television.  Beyond that, it is also the easiest and quickest way to reach out to people you would normally never have a chance to talk to.

Google Now

A lot of people with android devices have probably never even used Google Now, but if you have an Android device with Google services, that isn't more than 5 years old, you have Google Now.  So what is Now?  In the easiest way to describe it could say it is Siri for Android, but it is SOOO much more.  it is always listening for your "Ok Google" keyword, regardless of what you are doing on your phone, say "Ok Google" and it prompts you for more.  You can then search the web or even cotnrol functions of your device by voice.  But that isn't all.  You can also open the Google Now page by swiping up from your home button.  Doing so  will present you to links and information that Google anticipates you might want...  If you search for a game, Google Now will begin sending information about the game to you as it comes out, even when you don't ask for it.  The service can also glance over your GMail account and bring up the QR codes for your flight if you happen to be at the airport.  It is a brilliant time saving feature that is so good it might creep you out.

Google Play Music 

Google Play Music is Google's app for listening to music you buy in the Play Store, but there is more to it then that, you can also upload up to 50,000 songs you have already to your google account for free, those songs are then available to you anywhere you can access your google account, and are treated like anything you bought in the play store.  In addition to this, you can also listen to music for free by selecting automated playlists based on interests, like working out, or relaxing at home.  Play Music will even create radio stations based on songs you listen to, so you can find more... all for free (though ad supported).  You can also forgo the ads by paying $15 a month.  This, which is the same rate as apple music) lets you listen to all of the music on the play store, but in addition to that, it acts as a subscription to the Youtube music service AND Youtube Red, the subscription based version of Youtube which gives you access to original content and removes ads from your regular Youtube experience.  Personally I like buying my music, so I just use Play Music in the regular way, cashing in the rewards from my Google Opinion  Surveys for albums.


 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Android is Not a Cheap iOS Substitute. Your Device Does More Than You Think.

Do you use an Android device?  Do you use one because it is cheaper than an iPhone?  If so, you probably are not aware of the myriad of features that Android has which iPhone does not.  Personally, I am a big Android enthusiast, so I decided to make a post detailing some of the things I do, and apps I use, that cannot be done on an iPhone.

1.  Automation


Android has a ton of apps focused on programming your phone to act on its own based on pre-set conditions.  Some of this is way over the heads of all but the most elite Android users, though it is becoming more and more common to see simplified apps that achieve much of the same result.  

Right off the bat I have to mention Tasker, the fully programmable big daddy of all automation apps.  As good as Tasker is, I would not recommend you try the software, unless you have experience with programming, or have reached the end of what is possible for you in other automation apps.

So lets jump back to the easier apps, and then build towards the more complex.

Agent came around as a means of non Moto-X users to gain access to some of the cooler new features introduced with Motorolla's flagship device.  Agent consists of 4 automation routines. Battery, Sleep, Parking, Meeting, and Drive.  

Battery can kick some actions off to save battery life in the event that your battery dips bellow a specific level.  with Battery you can set the trigger battery percentage and then configure what the phone turns off to conserve battery.  

Sleep is perhaps the most immediately useful.  With Sleep, you can set hour ranges in which your device goes silent.  Sleep does not end there, however, their are loads of granular settings which can allow you to give access to important calls.  For example, I have white listed my mom, if she calls within the time my phone is on silent, my phone will still ring.  In addition, I have Sleep set-up to sent a text message to anyone who tries and contact me while I am sleeping, this text message gives a code that allows them to bypass my sleep setting.  Other options include shutting off Sleep if you receive multiple calls from the same number back to back.  

Park automatically detects when you are driving, then when you park it detects the stop and pins your location, making it easy to find your car again if you parked somewhere crowded, like at an amusement park.

Meeting ties into your calendar events to perform actions based on scheduled events in your calendar.  Essentially, Meeting merely silences your phone when you have a meeting.  As with Sleep, however, Meeting lets you set granular controls for who can bypass this silence.  Meaning, you can allow important calls through, while filtering out everything else.

Lastly, Drive looks out for your safety by turning on hands free controls when it detects you are driving.  Drive will read your messages to you, and/or auto respond to messages and calls based on how you configure it.

IF by ITTT (If Then Than That) is more like Tasker, but works on the concept of recipes, with recipes made by others presented for easy use.  The way this works is that you trigger events that are responded to with your apps.  For example, you can make a recipe that automatically saves photos from Twitter with a specific hashtag to your Dropbox.  Like with Tasker, the options are nearly endless, but the interface is, thankfully, more user friendly.  ITTT also has a series of breakout apps.  Do Button, Do Note, and Do Camera.  These "Do" apps use recipe functions in a specific way.  Do Button, for example, is a widget that performs a programmed action whenever you touch it.  The rabbit hole isn;t as deep as Tasker's, but more most people, IF gets the job done.

Automate is about the closest you can get to Tasker without using Tasker.  It still requires you to think like a programmer, but it makes everything more visual, and therefor easier to understand.

There are tons of other automation apps out there for Android, some easy and specific, some  complex and vast. 

2.  Non-payment NFC


You know how you can use your phone to pay by tapping it to the credit card reader in stores?  Did you know that the technology used for those payments is not limited to payments alone?  Unless you have an iPhone that is.  

Again, I have to start by mentioning Tasker, which can use NFC plug-ins to activate features based on NFC tags.

When you get into NFC, and the use of NFC tags, the biggest name in town is Trigger.  Trigger is like Tasker, for NFC tags.  NFC tags are ridiculously cheap circuits that you can place anywhere, these circuits are powered by, activated by, written to, and used to activate features on your phone.  For example, I used Trigger to write to an NFC tag that is on my keychain, this tag has all of my contact info...  I can tap this tag to any android phone with NFC to share all of my contact info.  Not just my phone number, but my e-mail, Twitter account, Facebook contact, my birthday, my address, EVERYTHING.  This information pops up on another's device as a contact card which can be saved as a contact on their device with the press of one button.  In addition, I have a tag on my bed stand which turns off my alarm and sets a new one for 10 minutes later... meanign I can just grab my phone and tap it to the tag to snooze.

NFC can be used for other things besides payment and tags though, Android has a built in feature called beam which can let you share contacts, pictures, video, etc.. by tapping 2 devices together.  Basically, you open the picture in your gallery, the contact in your dialer, etc.. then tap the back of your phone to another's, they get a message that asks them to confirm, and then it establishes a direct WiFi link to send the data from 1 device to another.

3.  Widgets

iOS has used the same visual interface since it launched in 2007.  Android, however, has continually evolved, and expanded the options you have available to you.  In Android you can install 3rd party launchers which can replicate the look and feel of iOS, windows mobile, or any of the hundreds of custom Android UIs.  Android even allows you to use programs as your wallpaper, letting you have an animated, or even interactive, background.  Most importantly, however, is widgets.  Widgets are essentially apps that are embedded into your home screen.  Instead of a cluster of icons, for example, you could have a clock, your local weather, key news story headlines, and your calendar events.  You could even create buttons that perform specific action and appear on your homescreen in place of an app icon.  Proper use of widgets can allow you to make your homescreen both beautiful and more useful.  I am going to focus on my personal favorite widget, as it is the only one I use.

Chronus is an absolutely beautiful, and highly customization, minimalist widget. Perosnaly, I use 2 separate Chronus widgets on 2 of my homescreens.  Front and center on my main homescreen is a fullscreen widget which shows the time, date, current weather and a scroll-able list of my upcoming calendar events.  it looks gorgeous and gives me all of the information I usually need in 1 place, front and center, right when I wake up my phone.  My second Chronus widget is a task list, populated with  quick tasks.  I need to remind myself to vacuum upstairs, so I throw the task  in my task list and it is there.  Whenever I have free time I swipe to the right and see what tasks are waiting for me.  I see "vacuum downstairs" so I go and vacuum, after completing the task I simply click the check box, and it is gone.  The task list feeds straight into your google accounts task list so you can even have tasks that repeat on schedule.

Here is a snapshot of my homescreen:

There are tons of other things that Android can do, which  iOS cannot.  Never think that your Android device is a cheap iPhone substitute.  Dive in, learn, and experience an interface and feature set that is years beyond what Apple offers on their iPhone.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mi Bloga es su Bloga

Thank you for visiting my new personal blog. My name is Tyson Gifford, I am the Editor in Chief of TVEnthusiast, and a Co-Founder and original leader of Operation Rainfall (A fan movement to push for the localization of 3 key Nintendo published video games in the west.  I am not affiliated with their current role as a gaming and culture website.).
My Day and Night Job
This blog will be home to many of my non-TVEnthusiast writings.  Besides TV, and Video Games, I am a big fan of Anime, Manga, Fantasy Literature, and Metal (Progressive and Death mostly, as well as some Djent) and Hard Rock.  I am a big follower of the tech industry, with a leaning towards Google and their many eccentric projects.  In this blog you might find me droning on and on about my Android device (currently an HTC One M9), talking about the music I am listening to (right now that would be the new album from Textures), or posting various podcasts, stories, or projects I am involved in.

Here are some recent developments for me.

Episode 42 of The Weekly Set covers The Magicians, Colony, The Expanse, and some of the week's news.
We just published our 42nd episode of The Weekly Set over at TVEnthusiast.  The Weekly Set is our weekly podcast about all things television.  This includes streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video.  We primarily cover genre TV and anything else that we just love as TV viewers.  You can check out our 42nd podcast here. Or subscribe to us on any podcast aggregate by searching for TVEnthusiast.

The Android Marshmallow statue at Google's Android offices.
Finally, after just over 3 months of waiting, my HTC One M9 is running Android 6.0, Marshmallow.  Those not obsessed with the Google's mobile operating system probably don't know that every public version of Android has been named after a desert in alphabetical order.  The trend started after the original alpha and beta builds with 1.5, which was named Cupcake.  Since Cupcake, Android versions have explored 10 more desert varieties. Doughnut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice-Cream-Sandwhich, Jelly Bean, Kit-Kat, Lolipop, and now Marshmallow.  New features in Marshmallow include a battery saving mode called Doze and granular permission controls.  The real highlight, however, is the next step of Google's digital assistant, Google Now.  Initially serving primarily as a Siri competitor, Google Now established it's dominance in the digital assistant field by making use of Google's extensive command over the Internet's (our) data in order to provide its users context sensitive information before they ask for it.  The new iteration of Google Now has a new feature called On Tap.  By holding down the home button on any screen, Google will parse the data displayed to give context to whatever is written there.
For example, if a friend sends you a text asking if you have heard of The Expanse, The Magicians, or Agent Carter, by holding the home button down for a second you will be given contextual information about all 3 shows.  Links of where to watch them, a cast and crew list, trailers, pretty much anything Google can find.  I only just got my upgrade to Marshmallow, so I need some time with it before I can judge it, but I do have a few early impressions.  Google Now On Tap works beautifully, but I am annoyed that they got rid of the incredibly useful Google Now gesture (a swipe up from the home button).  I access On Tap by holding down the home button, I access home by tapping the home button, the removal of the swipe up gesture to open the regular Google Now features seems senseless.  Besides that, my device seems to be running a bit smoother, and the notification bar icons take up less space and look nicer.  Deeper impressions could come later, if they are interesting enough to write about.

Dutch metal band Textures dropped Phenotype on February 5th, 2016
Lastly, I recently picked up (bought digitally on Play music) the new album from Textures.  The album, titled Phenotype, seems to be a bit heavier than their more recent fare, yet, oddly, the synth parts feel like they are taking a little inspiration from Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess.  I am good with that.  I like it when bands put a lot of contrast in their songs.  The heavier the verse, the more melodic and hooky the chorus should be in my opinion.


I don't know if I will like Phenotype as much as I like Silhouettes and Dualism, only time will tell.  For now, though, It is just nice to have a new album to obsess over.  Thanks to my buddy Brandon for exposing me to Textures, and most of the music I currently listen to.

That is it for now, if you have a moment, be sure to check out TVEnthusiast.com, read a story or 2, post a comment (I won't bite), check out our podcast, our YouTube video series TVE Versus Marvel and DC (in which we talk about Marvel and DC connected universe properties on TV), and/or our take a glance at our other regular features.  I recently did a review for the first season of The Expanse, for example.

Until next time, I leave you with this.