Tech Toolbox: Etekcity Roverbeats T3

I will never be able to truly consider myself well-versed in technology; very few people have seen it all. But I do love searching out the best I can find, and once I find it, I stick with it. In my Tech Toolbox I share my favorite software, applications, and occasionally gadgets.

img_0402

Portable speakers are on the rise these days, and for clear reasons: mobile devices are everywhere, Bluetooth is incredibly convenient, and you need to have sufficiently loud music to share with your friends anywhere, anytime, right?

When I decided to get a portable speaker, my requirements were these: it couldn’t be too big, it couldn’t be too expensive, and it had to have both Bluetooth and jack capabilities. Volume buttons and audio track control were bonuses.

Upon starting research, I guess I was [uneducatedly] surprised to find that everything was quite expensive and many speakers were as pill-shaped or even bigger (to me, the portability and convenience start to be sacrificed here). Eventually, I found a category  of ‘mini-speakers’ that were between 20-40 dollars and had some amount of functionality. I was looking for something small, therefore, I could not have the highest sound quality ever, but I was fine with that.

Eventually, based on prices and features, I decided on the Etekcity Roverbeats T3. It satisfied all my basic requirements–it doesn’t include phone pickup or a microphone or anything, but it has everything that I outlined above. A close second place was the T16, but I believe the prices were different when I bought it (I sacrificed red for economics). The T16 still looks like a fantastic option and if I ever need a replacement, I would heavily consider it.

The T3 comes with:

  • Speaker
  • USB to mini-USB charger cord
  • Male-to-male 3.5mm audio jack cord
  • Drawstring storage bag

There’s always some amount of uncertainty when buying technology online, what with trying to filter through reviews to see whether something is worth it or not, but in my experience, I have learned that only those who have a fantastic or absolutely dismal experience with a product really bother to write reviews. Therefore, I would say to take reviews one reads with a grain of salt.

img_0414

How it works: I have been using this speaker for about a year now, and it works fantastic. It is very loud (it is challenging to play anything softly on it). It is very simplistic and small and serves the purpose I wished, so I couldn’t say there is much wrong with it. The volume buttons are not functional on cord mode, but work with Bluetooth. I enjoy the rubber grip around the outside as well as the grippy ring on the bottom to ensure anti-slip. Battery life is long enough for me–I haven’t had it run out on me yet, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t used it longer than 6-8 hours straight before. Both the Bluetooth and audio cord methods both work well–one note to make is that Bluetooth is considerably louder; wired connection doesn’t/can’t play as loud.

Due to its size, of course the sound quality cannot be the greatest. As it gets louder, there is a bit of distortion and the bass can get lost. However, I have never been listening and thinking, “well, my speaker doesn’t sound good.” It delivers without disappointing.

It is to be noted that although the shape of the speaker is very bulky and strong, it isn’t made out of very tough material; besides the rubber grip around the middle, the frame seems to be made of plastic. I have dropped it once, and now there is a dent on the rim, but use it and love it, you know.

If you don’t have too many expectations for a portable speaker, I would recommend the T3. I like it for its small size and simple power, achieved without dishing out for sound. I mean, my sister has already piggybacked off my assiduous shopping and bought the same product.

Tech Toolbox: Etekcity Roverbeats T3

Tech Toolbox: Lightshot

I will never be able to truly consider myself well-versed in technology; very few people have seen it all. But I do love searching out the best I can find, and once I find it, I stick with it. In my Tech Toolbox I share my favorite software, applications, and occasionally gadgets.

One of my goals in this column is to find the best software for specific, ordinary purposes, and share that. An example of a staple any computer user needs is screenshot tools. Most computers come equipped without a good way to handle screenshots; the image copies into the clipboard and just kind of…is there. Pasting images isn’t compatible with most places, and to save it into a file is tedious. (Or maybe I’m ignorant about how most people do this.) If you want to upload it to the internet, that’s another step.

(Admittedly, screenshots are less relevant these days, since these days pictures are taken with phones and those have countless ways to share with friends. People even photograph their computer screens. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Anyways, I use screenshots frequently, especially when programming, so I really appreciate this tool, Lightshot, which basically streamlines everything related to screenshotting on the computer into one beautiful, free tool.

It’s a bit too meta to screenshot the screenshot tool to add pictures here, but here are some of the things it can do:

  • Use a selection tool to choose what part of the screen you want to capture (easy corner-draggers)
  • Annotate the screenshot with pens, lines, rectangles, text, and more, in any color you want
  • Upload to prntscr.com for free and instantly get a shareable link (if you create an account, you can keep everything you’ve uploaded together
  • Save file to computer
  • Send screenshot to the printer
  • Copy to clipboard
  • Share to social media or search for similar images on Google

There’s really not much to say. Lightshot is simple, yet has everything one could need, has a UI that is neither ugly nor overdone. Et sequitur I recommend it highly.

Download the application for any OS here, and check out the general site/generally file host for free here.

Tech Toolbox: Lightshot

Tech Toolbox: Quizlet

I will never be able to truly consider myself as well-versed in technology; very few people have seen it all. But I do love searching out the best I can find, and once I find it, I stick with it. In my Tech Toolbox you can find my favorite software, applications, and occasionally gadgets.

One of my very favorite tools out there on the internet at the moment is Quizlet, a rising flashcard tool. Although admittedly limited in its purpose for studying term-definition relations (it’s hard to manipulate the cards into holding other types of information and the tool still being effective), and thus its effectiveness only for students, that doesn’t stop it from being an amazing company.

To start, the tool functionality itself is amazing. Equipped with a simple 6 ways to study terms, each is effective in its own way.

  • While studying with Cards, you have options to shuffle them and even hear them read out loud.
  • Speller is useful for foreign language learners, drilling the terms in using a different sense than sight–sound.
  • My favorite mode for drilling in definitions is Learn, in which you have to go through the cards again and again until you are able to correctly repeat the definition for each one.
  • Auto-generated Tests can help simulate anticipated tests; there was a period where I was able to use Quizlet to make up Test questions exactly the nature of the matching questions I’d get on my Latin tests.
  • The two games, Scatter and Space Race, are so simple yet strangely addictive. I suppose it helps when you have the most competitive of friends to try and match scores with! Not to mention these can help improve your mouse accuracy and typing speed.

(Click on the circles for mode previews and screenshots. And repetitive captions?)

There are little pieces of genius all over Quizlet–the process of printing lists of terms or even paper flashcards is so wonderful and just as effective on paper as it is on the computer. The ability to quickly juggle, copy, combine, and edit already-entered terms is amazing. There is support for innumerable foreign languages (I mean, languages and flashcards, right?), and thought is even given to things like being able to sort sets into folders (accessing them by class!) and getting stats on who’s studying what where in the world.

Another aspect of Quizlet is the all-important, but, in a sense, ‘gated’ community. Quizlet is specifically designed for classroom use, so that students studying the same thing can spur each other on, and teachers can track their students’ progress in studying. Yet, while maintaining that encouraging aspect of friendly competition, it’s not a social platform–it’s not built to make friends on or discuss on.

There are a couple extra features you can get with a PLUS account (which, by the way, I could not resist getting when they went on sale for back-to-school; the awesomeness of the company and wanting to support them overcame the slightly underwhelming benefits of the upgrade); for example, the ability to add pictures to your cards. That way, instead of matching terms to definitions, you can match pictures of different butterflies to their names (for example). Another perk is being able to join an unlimited amount of classes. Classes are collections of sets shared between a private set of people. As I had many uses for many categorizations, it became extremely annoying that this ability was stunted with a free account, and was probably my favorite upgrade with the PLUS account.

If I stopped here, Quizlet would just be a pretty sick flashcard tool. But I’m far from done. Quizlet has the most awesome UI ever. The look, the prettiness, the simply beautiful CSS–that’s what I’m talking about. The fluidity of the keyboard shortcuts and their modern, sleek design is some of the best I can say I’ve seen on the internet (and I like to think I’m a hard critic!). Often, when websites make large overhauls or add new features, there’s plenty of criticism and begging for the old way (I’m among them usually). But never once have I ever disliked anything Quizlet does to improve their website. It all just keeps getting better. And the ability to pull off non-subtle gradients and not look super cheesy! That takes talent.

There’s yet another amazing point about Quizlet that makes it stand out from virtually any other tool I use for any other purpose–their customer support is simply out of this world. I mean, check out this totally sick feedback tool they use! It’s simple to send them notes, bug reports, and feedback, and their staff is the best. They’re all so cordial, polite, and everybody shows enthusiasm for getting their users what they need. Upon sending something in, they’ll reply to anything and everything you say within a dazing few hours–usually faster than I ever estimate. Perhaps I’m not even describing the quality of their support adequately–you need to use it yourself to understand. It’s saying something when I dream of emulating their support system myself one day for who-knows-what purpose, I just want one with tools, speed, and staff like theirs.

I could go on, but I’ve said my share. As I know the majority are, some people have little use for flashcards in the first place (I myself, in fact, am not a perpetual user of flashcards), so Quizlet can be quite useless for many. But I remain in love because of more than them being an impressive flashcard tool–they are an amazing business company and website. So go use it, maybe not even for the flashcards; for using it.

UPDATE (12/2/15): Approximately a week ago, Space Race was rejiggered and renamed Gravity! They’ve jazzed it up to look a little more like space. As it’s just been released it’s not that polished yet, but I’m confident it will be.

Tech Toolbox: Quizlet

Tech Toolbox: Sublime Text

I will never be able to truly consider myself as well-versed in technology; very few people have seen it all. But I do love searching out the best I can find, and once I find it, I stick with it. In my Tech Toolbox you can find my favorite software, applications, and occasionally gadgets.

Sublime Text is a relatively new code editor on the market, being initially released in 2008. Its newness, however, has nothing to do with how popular it has become in recent years, and for good reason. Sublime Text has a streamlined interface and basic, easy to customize-features.

sublime-text-2-screenshot

I don’t like to say it, but I will pick the nicest UI when I can, over the more “hardcore” yet functional choices. Perhaps this is only because I am personally not very “hardcore”, but when I find a combination of great functionality and great UI, it’s a winner. Sublime Text is both of these.

Currently Sublime Text 2 is the stable version, yet the beta Sublime Text 3 is off the charts in terms of features and interface. Currently, it is free to download and the trial is unlimited, meaning you may use Sublime Text 2 or 3 as long as you want, no catch, and buying the $70 license doesn’t change the experience, except that you’re supporting the developers. However, they plan to only release Sublime Text 4 and future versions to those who pay.

So what’s so great about Sublime Text? Why do I use it?

  • The file control is amazing; the auto-updating sidebar contains a directory for folder navigation; there are projects, so that one can combine multiple folders which do not actually reside in the same parent directory into the sidebar, and the Goto Anything tool lets you bring up a file in seconds (even jump to a certain line in a file! They mean it when they say ‘Anything’). Files open in fully draggable tabs at the top, which you can reorder and even drag into new windows. On the side of each file, you can use the minimap to quickly jump hundreds of lines in a long document. Of course, all these features can be turned on and off.
    • The one complaint I have about the otherwise amazing tabs is that the shortcuts Ctrl+Tab and Ctrl+Shift+Tab don’t shift forward and backward tabs based on the current order on top, but a counter-intuitive algorithm based on which tabs have been most recently viewed.
  • Built for the coder, text control is superb; besides nearly-perfected automatic indentation, bracket autocompletion, and even bracket deletion, you can put your cursor/selection in multiple places, quickly editing multiple lines at once. With a simple dialog in the corner, you can change tabs to spaces and spaces to tabs, or change the width of them based on a number of spaces.
  • The syntax highlighting is excellent. You can quickly apply syntax libraries using the Command Palette, or save the file with an appropriate file ending and the colors just happen. There are different colors for functions, strings, rules, tags, parameters, and even escaped characters. Rifts in the coloring alert you of a missing quotation mark or parenthesis very quickly. I’m quite sure there is a way to customize the colors you use, as well.
  • As well as being able to highlight different languages fluently, Sublime Text hosts knowledge of libraries of functions for those languages. Functions can be brought up with a shortcut, autocompleted and ready for parameterization, and even HTML tags autocomplete themselves. Type <html>, hit tab, and watch a complete html skin appear, complete with head, title, and body tags, all indented. The amount of native functionality that Sublime Text holds, untouched and uncustomized, is the main reason coding in this environment is so fluid.
  • Sublime Text even has a Python plugin API, which means you can write your own functionality into the amazing text editor. Many plugins already exist–you can integrate Git right into the editor, or add a linter, or even a color wheel.
  • It’s getting there on this part, but Sublime Text can even display basic image file types right in the editor. Amazing.
  • There’s so much more I haven’t mentioned here. There’s distraction-free and full screen modes, tons of text control tools, collapsible code blocks, and, I believe, ability to compile some languages.
    • That’s one thing; Sublime Text is not an IDE. It’s not built for heavy compiling or running of programs. You’ll have to do that with a command line, or search for a plugin. However, I don’t currently work with many languages which require compiling, so this isn’t a problem for me.

The main reason I use Sublime Text is because it has amazing text control, and it meets all my needs. I’ve been using it for years now, and I haven’t needed to look for anything better in the meantime.

Convinced? Go to the website and download for Windows, Mac, or Linux (try the beta ST 3, rather than ST 2)! Not convinced? Look around the website for even more convincing. There are more screenshots and demos of the amazing functionality.

Resources:

Image credit Wikipedia, credit another blog.

Tech Toolbox: Sublime Text

Tech Toolbox: HabitRPG

I will never be able to truly consider myself as well-versed in technology; very few people have seen it all. But I do love searching out the best I can find, and once I find it, I stick with it. In my Tech Toolbox you can find my favorite software, applications, and occasionally gadgets.

HabitRPG, at first, sounds like just another one of those “social gaming” games, a time-consuming “Farmville”, a nerdy pretender’s game (okay, that last one is kind of true), but it’s much more than that.

The land of Habitica is a place filled with the usual; Warriors, Mages, Rogues, and Healers, but it is also filled with dangerous, daunting monsters. These aren’t just any ordinary RPG monsters, because a honest Habitican will never find these monsters simple to tackle; you’re not in a game which some will just find boringly easy. HabitRPG turns your life into a game, and the monsters which you are up against are your bad habits, daily tasks, HabitRPG Tasksand that really long checklist of to-dos. Yeah, so it’s productivity tool meets game. You don’t say.

I like to compare HabitRPG most closely to one of those “social games”–the empire building games, the “Farmville” games, the “Pokemon” type games. All the usual aspects are there; the quests, the monsters, the pets, the equipment, and the social community.

One of the main reasons I keep playing any social game is because of the competitive, level-up nature of them; in the end, all you want is to move forward, gain another level, complete another quest, do better than the other players, and that drive is what keeps you coming back each time you do. And besides, have you ever met a grumpy social gamer? They’re the nicest. (The selfish ones just stay quiet.) Social games, upon zooming out, can seem like a stupid waste of time, but HabitRPG is one I continue to play because of the positive effect on my actual, real life.

Here are some of the aspects of the inside of Habit.

  • You create your enemies, the monsters you battle.
    • Any habit you need help breaking or building? Do you need to be waking up earlier each day, stop reading the sports news
      Quest for soap to get rid of all the dirty dishes!
      Quest for soap to get rid of all the dirty dishes!

      incessantly, or (gasp!) use the soap when you wash your hands? Make a Habit monster, which will attack you upon failure to build it up, or take a blow from you if you can muster up the strength to pick up your sword and swing at it.

    • Need to take out the trash daily, or perhaps just on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Create a Daily. They’ll attack you if you don’t subdue them on the days you have to complete them.
    • Have homework to do, errands to run, or knitting projects to complete? To-Dos can help you siphon that pesky to-do list out of your mind and onto paper–er, turning them into monsters which need…defeating?

      HabitRPG Equipment
      Choose your armor and weapons from the equipment screen.
  • As you tick of the checkmarks on the tasks that are your foes, you gain gold and experience. You can use gold to buy cool armor and weapons for your character from the Rewards store, or perhaps you need to reward yourself sometimes with a TV show or a snack sometime by buying them with gold from the store.
    • In addition to gold and experience, there’s a chance of getting drops when you slay monsters, or getting crits (that’s critical hits for you non-gamers). Especially if you’re just waiting for that one drop, it’s another incentive to check things off!
  • Role-playing games are famed for having a class system, and HabitRPG is no exception. Once you reach a certain level, you’ll be able to choose your class, thus determining what character attributes you wish to focus on improving with your equipment sale options. Each class can further help spur you on based on what most motivates you to keep playing social games–the level ups, the gold hoarding, or perhaps staying alive and not dying.

    The Laundromancer is here to pelt you with dirty clothes!
    The Laundromancer is here to pelt you with dirty clothes!
  • Although they confer no extra benefit, some super cute pets and fierce-looking mounts are in order for you to collect. After finding an egg and a hatching potion via the drop system, you can hatch a pet, which you can then feed with food (also found as drops) to nurse it until it grows into a huge mount! These can be incorporated into your avatar as you like.
  • The entire Habitica population is there for you. An important aspect of a social game is competition found in community, as well as fighting the good fight alongside others who are struggling against the same habits. You can join the talk in the tavern, or align yourself with cooking, music, coding, student life, or even LGBT guilds to find people with similar interests and obstacles to overcome.Stag Battle
    • Either with online-made friends or even those you know in real life, you can create a close-knit party, with whom you can go on boss quests, buff each other’s stats, and have a tight circle in which you can specifically encourage each other to continue killing monsters.
  • There are even challenges in which you can compete against others to claim the most rare of currencies, gems. Once again, competition and high stakes are there to get you to try new things, achieve new goals, or slay all of your dailies.

There’s so much more to Habit, which I can’t possibly detail here, but in summary, it’s an amazing tool which can literally boost your productivity through a very gaming-aspected system.

That’s not to say that Habit hasn’t got it’s flaws, though; what tool hasn’t? Here’s a look at the other side of it all:

  • Habit is a beta-stage open-source project, which means it’s still highly under development. There are plenty of bugs yet to be ironed out, and missing features to be added. If you decide to use it now, you have to work with the fact that stuff just isn’t going to work sometimes.
  • One problem I have with Habit is that the aspect of social games which motivates me most, leveling up, has major problems with its math. It’s definitely some underlying formula which I can’t explain, but many other games which incorporate a sense of leveling up are much more motivating in this aspect. Perhaps it’s only because it takes so much work to level up in Habit that there’s absolutely no celebration when you finally cross that threshold, gruelling in exhaustion.
  • Look through the community guild listings for those with similar interests!
    Look through the community guild listings for those with similar interests.

    I play as the mage class currently, and unlike promised, it is underwhelmingly underpowered. Mages’ strong point is supposed to be a large boost in XP and mana collection, while an extremely buffed Warrior will find much more XP and mana than a mage in all the crits. Perhaps this is only the warrior class being OP (a different but equally problematic flaw), but I’ve lost all hope in catching up to a member of my party who is a warrior.

  • There is a lack of equipment for the stuff-hoarder. Habiticans will very quickly, and I mean very quickly, find themselves out of exciting armor and equipment to purchase. Even now, I am disappointed that I can’t get any new wizard robes or magical staffs. Finding all the pets and mounts does take a while, but it’s more of a grueling task than a quest which has been well-gauged in terms of difficulty and time.
  • As is with most RPGs, it’s a very geeky game. If you don’t really have fun pretending you’re in a fantastical world, it’ll be harder to stare down the ridiculous outfits and large boss penguins without wondering why you’re doing it.
The infamous Snackless Monster has arisen out of the trash lying around!
The infamous Snackless Monster has arisen out of the trash lying around!

Although HabitRPG may not, admittedly, be a suitable tool for the “non-geek”, it sets itself apart from other productivity tools because they provide incentive to keep playing–it’s a game, it’s fun. In a scramble to best your friends, to not die in-game, or be the first to collect all the pets, HabitRPG coerces you into logging in periodically to check up on everything.

Habit is also known for some very drastic and life-changing results. It’s a very encouraging thing to check into the tavern and read a moving story about somebody who has used Habit to turn their entire life around.

So, in total, what do I think of HabitRPG? I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a motivating productivity tool, although only the subset of those who enjoy games (those who don’t would not enjoy it as much). Users also have to be tolerant of the fact that it’s a beta tool, not yet perfected. In spite of all of this, I enjoy using HabitRPG day-to-day, and I hope to be battling monsters alongside you soon.

Tech Toolbox: HabitRPG