Mini Metro: Sim City for the Stressed Out

 

Mini Metro – $4.99 on the App Store

There are a lot of apps on my iPad that stress me out sometimes. Managing email, keeping up with todo lists, organizing homework – life is busy! That’s why I really appreciate a good, calming iOS game. Gentle music, soft colors, and a moderate pace all make for an enjoyable experience when I’m feeling tense. Mini Metro has all of this. I’m even going to put it in the same category as Monument Valley and Alto’s Adventure. Yeah, it’s good.

Mini Metro is a real time strategy game in which you create subway lines to move passengers around a city. The map starts small, but more stations pop up quickly as time goes on. You can connect the stations any way you want, but you’re limited by the number of lines, trains, and tunnels at your disposal. You earn more of these resources as the game progresses, allowing you to create a larger network.

What really makes the game challenging for me is the different types of stations. At first, there are three: the triangle, the square, and the circle. Each “passenger” is represented by the shape of the station they’re trying to reach. As the game progresses, more obscure shapes start popping up. There might be only one star-shaped station on the entire map, which means a passenger will have to transfer lines. Uh-oh.

I love this game because the objective is simple, but the execution is difficult! One minute my subway is operating like a well oiled machine, and the next minute I’ve got three stations nearing capacity. I’m still learning what strategies work best, and I’m enjoying experimenting with different techniques. Mini Metro is a great game because there are a myriad of ways to approach it. When my mind feels cramped, letting it out of the box like this is a great way to relax. ••


Thanks for reading! Have comments or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com. And be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium!

5 Apps from my Friends that You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

As part of my epic quest to bring you Apps to Make Your Life Better, this week I reached out on Facebook and Ghacklabs to ask you for great apps. Here’s the catch – I asked for really obscure apps that most people haven’t heard of. Here’s what I got! (These descriptions were all written by those who submitted, although some were edited by me)

Opinion – Record & edit podcasts on your iPhone

One app that I love to use is called Opinion. It allows you to create a podcast from your iPhone, without any hassle of complex software or cutting/mixing/etc. I use it to record the Building Task Pigeon podcast. I was looking for a solution that would allow me to quickly and easily record and upload a podcast to platforms such as iTunes, without having to download the file to my computer, edit it and then submit it. It really has saved me a ton of time, and I enjoy using it as a way of sharing short and interesting stories on what I am doing with Task Pigeon.
Submitted by Paul Towers

Reverb – Buy and Sell Gear

Reverb.com is the best place on the internet to buy and sell musical gear. There are thousands of listings, but the Reverb app very well designed. The filters are very specific and allow me to easily narrow my search to find exactly what I want. Reverb has tons of listings, but the app makes it easy to find whatever I’m looking for.
Submitted by Ryan Foster and Daniel LaRoche

Cachebot Geocaching

If you’ve never been geocaching, you’re in for a treat. People hide “caches” all over the world and post the coordinates online, and then you go find them, signing the log book and swapping trinkets. The official Geocaching app won’t let you view advanced caches without paying, so using Cachebot is a good alternative.
Submitted by Austin Adams

Moji Edit – Your Custom Emoji Avatar Face

This app allows you to express your personality and identity literally. It was founded by two twins. You can create a custom representation of yourself in the app, changing the look and outfit, and then send stickers to your friends.
Submitted by Luke Fitzpatrick

Clipper – Clipboard Manager

This app is a clipboard that saves the last 20 text clips you copied into your phone’s memory buffer. This app is available on Android; if you’re on iOS, Clips is a similar app.
Submitted by Alex Yong


Have an app suggestion, feedback, or just want to say Hi? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com.

Burn and Chill with Nike+

Nike+ Training Club – Free on the App Store

Like most people, I could definitely use more exercise. I’ve been taking a walk each morning lately, and I love doing that, but I rarely work out. In an attempt to change that, I downloaded the Nike+ Training app. This is Nike’s app specifically designed for strength training (as opposed to Nike+ Running Club).

I’ve been really impressed with the app’s design and functionality. It looks great and it’s easy to use. I especially like the voice prompts during the exercises; they’re better than other fitness apps I’ve used. At the start of each exercise, the voice tells me the basics of how to do the move. About 15 seconds in, it will then give an additional tip – usually about form. Something like, “Make sure to keep your core tight!” I really like that the app doesn’t just bombard me with all the details of a move at the beginning; it’d be too confusing. Instead, the app lets me start to get the hang of something, and then gives me tips on how to do it better. That’s nice.

I downloaded this app for strength training, but after a few workouts, my plan included a workout focused on stretching (or mobility, as Nike calls it). I found out I really enjoyed this. I used to do martial arts, and I always loved the stretching time we had at the beginning of each meeting. Intentional, guided stretching feels amazing. And that’s the great thing about Nike+ Training Club: whether I want to burn calories or chill out and calm myself down at the end of the day, there’s always a workout available! ••


Have an app suggestion, feedback, or just want to say Hi? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com.

Windows Down with VeloCity

VeloCity – Free on the App Store

One of my favorite parts of summer is driving with my windows down. The problem is, I’m constantly adjusting the volume. When I’m going fast, I have to turn it way up, but then I pull up to a stoplight and my music is blasting, so I turn it down. Then the light turns green and I have to crank the volume up again. Last summer I was riding somewhere with my girlfriend, and I decided that there had to be a better way. One Google search later, I found VeloCity.

VeloCity is a simple app that automatically adjusts your volume based on your speed. My girlfriend and I were blown away by how well VeloCity works. Honestly, at first I didn’t think it was working, because the volume matched the noise of the wind so well, I didn’t even notice it. It didn’t sound like anything special was happening; the volume of the music over the wind stayed about the same, exactly as it should. It’s like magic. Once you’ve used VeloCity, you’ll never go back to changing your volume constantly as you drive.

VeloCity’s automatic mode works pretty well, so you can be up and running immediately after opening the app. There’s also a custom settings option which allows a little more control (my settings are shown in the screenshot above). VeloCity is a fantastic little app that does exactly what it promises with zero hassle. And it’s free, so what do you possibly have to lose? Summer’s coming! ••


Have an app suggestion, feedback, or just want to say Hi? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com.

Blogging with Bob Lee

When I started writing again this year, the biggest goal I had for my blog was to build a community. I’ve been trying to connect with both readers and other bloggers with similar interests. Through this search, I met Bob Lee. Bob is an iOS Developer, and he’s sharing his journey learning Swift on the iOS Geek Community on Medium and the training course he’s working to release, The UIKit Fundamentals with Bob. Bob has really worked hard to create a community around his blog, and he was kind enough to let me interview him and ask him a few questions:


Me: Who are you and what do you do?

Bob: First of all I am from Korea. I went to middle school in Malaysia, and high school in Vietnam. I studied chemical engineering in the States. In high school, I had no idea what coding was. My first year in college, I took a course in C. C is hard! I didn’t learn a whole lot in that class. After spending some time in school, I decided to come back to Korea, not sure what I wanted to do. I dabbled in web development and iOS development. Web development is very broad and competitive, but I realized iOS is more stable. All iOS developers are on the same path.

Me: What made you want to start blogging?

Bob: When I came back to Korea, I thought about freelancing. But I’ve always wanted to teach people. So I started making YouTube tutorials and blogging about iOS development.

Me: Through what channels do you interact with your readers?

Bob: Medium is where everything really starts. This is where people find my other social media. I engage with people a lot on my personal email list. Right now I’m making a course called The UIKit Fundamentals with Bob. I started reaching out to people, just telling them that I was making the course and asking, “If you are interested, please contact me.” It started as slow progress, but I got to interact with those people who responded one by one. Lots of people just want a huge email list. I wanted to build a great relationship with each person. Every two weeks I send an email sharing updates on making the course. Taking the community slow helped me build relationships. I never try to sell anything; I’ve sold my authenticity over selling products.

Me: How do you pick topics that your readers find interesting?

Bob: I only talk about iOS; I want people to come back and see the same content. Not stuff about me personally, not other tech stuff. I knew I had to pick one thing. Swift is my first language. I write on the programming topics I struggle the most with. That’s how I’m confident that I’m providing value to people. I’m not a genius, I’m going through the same process as everyone else. This thing will be hard for other people, because I struggle with it.

Me: What’s your advice to build community in blogging?

Bob: Here’s what I want people to know: Sharing your story is the most important part. Many of the things I write about are really technical; I have to convince people why they should be interested in this. I always use “I,” not “you.” People are actually interested in other people’s stories. Why did I have this problem, how did I solve it? The story comes first.


I’m going to take a page out of Bob’s book here and reach out to all of you reading this. If you ever have any feedback about the blog, an app you’re interested in me writing about, or just want to say Hello, drop me a line! You can email me directly at staringatphones@icloud.com or tweet to me @NickFoster56. I’m looking forward to meeting you! ••

Link

Link: More Tools, Better Connections

Jason Snell, writing on Six Colors:

Because it turns out that while some fraction of my listenership follows me on Twitter, nearly 100% of my podcast listeners listen to my podcast. It was an important lesson—that as fun as interacting with people on social media can be, they represent a small subsection of the total audience.

Jason tells an interesting story in this piece about trying to contact a contest winner for one of his podcasts. Having no way to contact them directly, he tweeted out their name and waited for them to contact him. And waited. Nothing. Finally he announced the name on the show, and got a response almost immediately.

This is a fascinating story to me because it perfectly sums up the fact that we have an unbelievable number of tools to communicate. Texting, FaceTime, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, the list just keeps going. A lot of people (myself included), have all of these services. Some I use a lot, and some I don’t. But I like having all of them, because a service I don’t use a lot may be a new friend’s favorite way to communicate. And if using their favorite tool means I get to connect with them, then that’s a win for me. ••

One Week with the Pebble Smartwatch

I’ve always thought the Pebble looked interesting. A kickstarter sensation in 2012, the original Pebble was the first smartwatch to really catch on. It strikes a great balance between a fully featured smartwatch (like the Apple Watch) and a more basic activity tracker (like a Fitbit). It does notifications and fitness, but also has some basic apps. The E ink display can be on all the time and still allow the battery to last for days. All of this has earned the Pebble a loyal following. Unfortunately, that following is coming to an end. Fitbit has purchased Pebble, and has decided to end the product line. Fitbit had committed to supporting the Pebble through the end of the year, but after that there’s no promises. Fitbit offers its own smartwatch (The Fitbit Blaze), and apparently they weren’t too keen on Pebble’s competition. All of this led to a surprise for me last week.

The Pebble Time Steel

My girlfriend’s dad had a Pebble. After the company was bought, he switched to the Fitbit Blaze. Fortunately, I’m a good boyfriend, and he was kind enough to give his Pebble to me! So as of last week, I am now the owner of a Pebble Time Steel! I really like it. Like I said, it can’t do everything the Apple Watch can, but it doesn’t need to. I’ve had a week to play around with it, and I’ve found my three favorite use cases.

Notifications

The Pebble’s main purpose is to display notifications on your wrist, and it does a great job with this. If I get a text, reminder alert, or GroupMe, I can read the notification right on my wrist, which is seriously useful. The Pebble app lets me customize which notifications come to my watch (read: not Facebook, Twitter, or the like). There is a way to respond to text messages directly from the watch, using either your voice or a selection of pre-written replies. However, since other apps can’t send iMessages on iOS, this can only be done through a third-party service that accesses your phone account and sends SMS messages for you. I’m still not sure how comfortable I am with this, so I haven’t set it up yet.

Fitness

The Pebble also acts as a great activity and sleep tracker. Step counting is especially useful since the watchface I’m using shows my progress directly on the main screen (it’s the green circle in the above photo). More useful than that, however, is the sleep tracking. If you’re not using a smart alarm (an alarm that tracks your sleep cycles and wakes you up when you’re in a period of light sleep), you’re really missing out. There are some great apps that do this using your phone, but the Pebble is so much more convenient because it’s automatic.

“Siri”

By far the most fun I’ve had with the Pebble is attempting to recreate a voice assistant of some kind. All I really wanted to do was dictate reminders, which the Pebble is supposed to be able to do, but it never works for me. I was Googling around for another solution, and I found an amazing app for Pebble called “This Then That.” This app is not officially made by If This Then That, but it does allow the voice engine of the Pebble to connect to IFTTT. This opens up a huge world of possibilities. I’ve currently got two voice triggers set up. Starting a command with the words “Make a note…” sends all subsequent text to my Day One journal. I can also set a reminder by saying “Remind me…” Unfortunately, IFTTT can’t set iCloud reminders directly (without leaving the IFTTT app running), but I’ve rigged it up so that it sends me a text message, which contains a link to the Workflow app, which then sets a reminder. So all I have to do is hit that link next time I pull out my phone. It’s kind of ridiculous, but it does the job, and it’s super convenient.

So those are my thoughts on the Pebble. I wasn’t always a fan of smartwatches, but now I’m sold. A smartwatch can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything a smartphone can, but there are some things that really are easier on your wrist. I love the Pebble. Thanks again to my girlfriend’s dad! ••

Update 3.7.17: Yesterday I enabled the text replies feature and it’s incredibly convenient. Being able to shoot off a pre-written quick reply in just a few seconds, without pulling out my phone, is awesome. Dictating a message is less convenient, especially because the Pebble dictation engine can be finicky. Still, all things considered, it’s a great feature!