Hello, The Maze of Games

My Kickstarter reward for backing The Maze of Games arrived this morning and I have to say… it’s a impressive looking book cover-to-cover with lots of content to boot! Here’s a short preview:

The front cover has a “soft-touch” feel, similar to the black Nexus 5 and has a unique “vertebrae” spine which I have never seen before. [see gallery at the end of this post].

The inside cover has a pocket containing an Upper Wolverhampton Bibliothèque card that has names such as Young Master Dickens and Young Miss Webb” as patrons that have checked-out The Maze of Games before at the library.

The introduction to the story is short and sweet and you dive right into the challenging puzzles quite quickly. One of the first puzzles is called The Castle Maze which determines the order of puzzles you complete in the chapter.

The solution for The Castle Maze order is as follows:

  1. Three of Diamonds
  2. Queen of Diamonds
  3. Eight of Diamonds
  4. Nine of Diamonds
  5. Jack of Diamonds
  6. Four of Diamonds
  7. Seven of Diamonds
  8. Two of Diamonds
  9. Ten of Diamonds
  10. Five of Diamonds
  11. Ace of Diamonds
  12. Six of Diamonds

I’ll update this post with more solutions as I solve them, but I wanted to give a quick first impression of the book itself and the puzzles contained within. Enjoy!

Hello, Top 5 Apps for Android Wear [July 2014]

Here are my Top 5 Apps currently available for Android Wear:

Wear Aware – [Google Play Link]:

  • First, you can say “Okay Google, Start Phone Finder” to have your phone sing a tune even if it’s on silent. Second, if you walk away from your phone, your Android Wear watch will start vibrating to let you know you’ve left it behind. Done and done!

 

Level Money - [Google Play Link]:

  • The watch notifies you of the most recent transaction on your Checking account. It’s quite useful to know if your credit card was just stolen (or used in excess by your spouse or child).

 

Awesome Clock Widget Watchface – [Google Play Link]:

  • This app will install a selectable watchface on your Wear device. It looks great and is an example of things to come. Just long-tap the homescreen to select the watchface as normal.

 

LevelUp - [Google Play Link]:

  • If you’re unaware, LevelUp is a payment system for loads of restaurants around major cities. The best part is, you typically save 10-20% whenever you pay using LevelUp instead of your credit card. This app puts the QR code on your watch so you don’t even have to take your phone out of your pocket. Genius!

 

Stay Awake - [Google Play Link]:

  • This app will BUZZ every 1-5 minutes in an effort to keep you awake while driving, coding, watching a movie, etc. Simple execution and works as expected!

 

Honorable Mentions:

Hello, Android Wear

I just received both the Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Android Wear watches that were released last week. I wanted to take a moment to explain my first impressions of the hardware, packaging, and features of each of the watches. Scroll to the bottom of this page for a gallery of photos…

Packaging:

  • The Samsung watch comes in a larger box compared to the LG watch, and it was packaged in a unique way. The box itself has a wood grain texture as seen in the gallery at the bottom of this post.

Inside the Box:

  • The LG G watch came with a Micro USB charging cable, while the Samsung watch did not.
  • Instead, the Samsung Gear Live watch came with an attached AC Adapter to Micro USB cable. The LG watch also came with an AC Adapter with a slot for a USB cable (similar to what Apple provides with their iPhones).

Charging Hardware:

  • The charging hardware for the Samsung watch “snaps” into place, but it was confusing at first. It requires two hands to remove the watch from the charger.
  • The LG G watch has sticky pads which keep the charging hardware grounded to your desk and the locking mechanism is magnetic. The watch pulls away from the charger with one hand. The LG charger is absolutely a better experience than the Samsung charger.

Screen Protection:

  • The LG watch came with a plastic screen protector that you peel off after you set everything up. The Samsung watch did not have anything protecting its’ screen during transport.

Watch Bands:

  • Both watches have replaceable watch bands that use a standard 22mm connector.
  • The default Samsung band is super easy to remove as there is a knob on the pin that you can use with your fingernail, while the LG band might require a small household tool or push back the spring loaded pin.
  • The Samsung watch has less room for a “thick” band due to the way the edge of the watch is formed, but on the upside, the pins that connect the band to the watch are hidden behind that edge, which gives it a nice appearance.
  • The LG watch is pretty straight forward when it comes to replacing the default watch band, but you can clearly see where the band is attached to the watch, which you may or may not like.
  • The factory watch bands are not that great at all (very plastic-y), I recommend you switch them out with something nicer ASAP.

Screen Brightness:

  • The default brightness on the Samsung watch is brighter and more vivid, however both watches support changing the default brightness level once Android Wear is fully installed.
  • The Samsung screen gets washed out in photos, as you can see below. The LG screen appears much better in photos.

Wrist Fit:

  • The Samsung watch fits my wrist better than the LG watch due to the slightly curved back. It feels quite nice and secure. Once I sized the watchband, it fit like a charm… and is the primary reason why I decided to keep the Samsung Gear Live watch over the LG G watch.
  • The LG watch has a flat back, like the Pebble… it works just like most watches you might pick up at Macy’s, for better or worse.

Screen Size:

  • While the screen width and height is exactly the same, due to the higher resolution of the Samsung Gear Live watch, it appears to be larger when comparing them side-by-side.

Battery Life:

  • The LG G watch has a slightly larger battery, and from what I’ve read… will last about 6 hours longer than the Samsung Gear Live watch. (24 hours vs. 30 hours).

Physical Buttons:

  • The Samsung watch has a home button on the right side while the LG watch has no buttons at all.
  • You can hold down the home button to turn the Samsung watch off, but there’s no way to turn the LG watch off without going through the Android Wear software menu.

Additional Hardware Features:

  • The Samsung Gear Live watch has a heart-rate monitor built into the back. The LG G watch does not. I’ve read that the monitor does not work well (if at all) when your skin is wet (due to sweat), so it’s a toss-up if that feature is that useful.

Alright, well that’s all I can think of to tell you right now without diving into the software… enjoy the gallery of photos below!

Hello, Android

I recently switched from an Apple iPhone 5S to a Google Nexus 5. Here is my experience for better or worse…

Android KitKat 4.4

Initial Concerns:

  1. The default calendar app always showed “31st” as the date in Android, while in iOS it dynamically changed.
  2. There are no notification icons on individual apps in Android, meaning that if I swipe away the notification an app gives me about a new email, I have no visual reminder that my email client still has an unread message.
  3. I can’t seem to “Tap-to-Scroll” to the top of the page anywhere in Android; contacts, really long blog posts, settings, etc.
  4. The Cut/Copy/Paste options are icons only in Android, so unless you know what they represent it can be confusing initially.
  5. If you set up an Exchange account on Android that requires a PIN lock with a minimum of 4 characters, when you unlock your device and type in your PIN, you must then also press the Enter key to unlock your device, while in iOS it unlocks immediately after you finish typing in your PIN.
  6. The icons for apps in Android are not uniform in any sense of the word. While it varies from developer to developer, looking at the default YouTube icon next to the default Google Voice icon is… odd at best. If you then throw the Google Play Books icon next to them, it makes them both look super tiny.
  7. When you open the Camera app in Android, there’s no text explaining what the icons do and there’s no apparent way to access previously taken photos without going into the Photos app (of which there are two installed by default for some reason, Galleries and Google+ Photos).
  8. Because the Power button is on one side of the device and the Volume button is on the opposite side in nearly the same position, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hit the Power button while at the same also turning down the volume. While this is a Google Nexus 5 hardware design decision, it does not make it any less annoying.
  9. Another hardware concern: You simply can’t use this Android phone with one hand. Some apps make you tap the four corners of the screen to accomplish certain tasks (I’m looking at you, Blue Mail), which can frustrate and make using the device more aggravating than necessary.
  10. My biggest concern: When in an active phone call, if you go back to the homescreen or another app, the Phone call is NOT listed in the Recent Apps view. Nor is there a banner allowing easy “one-tap” access to return to the call, like we see in iOS. Why?

App Notifications

Screenshot_2014-01-27-10-57-55~01

Here are my solutions to the above concerns:

  1. This can be solved using widgets but after a few days I decided that I really didn’t care if the icon dynamically updated or not.
  2. This was solved with the help of two apps, Nova Launcher and Missed It!
    • Nova Launcher allowed me to solve this concern and concern #6 by supporting “Icon Packs” which sometimes contain over 1,000 uniform app icons.
    • Missed It! will read the notifications various apps send to your Notification Bar and will add a small icon to the app that shows how many notifications are currently in the Notification Bar for that app. This works great most of the time but for email (I use Gmail) I found a little trick that is immensely useful. Here’s how it works:
      • Set up a Missed It! notification for your “Gmail Account” and choose “Inbox” as the label to monitor.
      • Go into Nova Launcher settings and long press Volume Down until you see a notification that “Labs” has been enabled.
      • Go into the Labs menu and scroll to the very bottom and click the “Gmail Unread Count” option.
      • Finally, choose the App you would like the Gmail notification icon to appear on (CloudMagic, for example).
      • Voila, you’re done and have essentially replicated how notifications work on iOS by default.
  3. This is not easily solvable and I have yet to find a solid solution. The technical reason is discussed here.
  4. Turns out you can tap and HOLD to make text appear beneath the icons. Also, trial and error helped.
  5. This was surprisingly easy to circumvent, not by rooting or jailbreaking, but instead by installing an app called MailWise. One of their flaunted features is the ability to bypass Microsoft Exchange Security. I installed the app, set up my Exchange account, synced my contacts and calendars and was all set. The setup was extremely easy and I don’t have to use a PIN to unlock my phone anymore. Problem solved (at least for me).
  6. This was solved using Nova Launcher and a really nice icon pack I found called Click UI. The icon pack updates all the icons automatically, but Nova Launcher gives you the additional ability to choose from any icon in a list of 1,000. It’s also very easy to change the name of an icon to anything you’d like (e.g., “Google Keep” to “Notes”).
  7. This took me over a week to accidentally discover:
    • You can swipe right-to-left to see previously taken photos one at a time from the Camera app, then by tapping the icon on the top left, you’re taken to the Google+ Photos app with a grid-view of everything.
  8. This concern will only be solved by muscle memory. Personally, I think it’s a poor design choice, but that could be because I’m so used to having the power button on the top of my iPhone devices.
  9. This concern also is not easily solved. I can’t make my hands bigger or my fingers longer, and I have really large hands. One interesting side-effect of using the Google Nexus 5 for a few weeks is when I do go back and pick up my iPhone 5S, my first thought it, “aww… look at how small it is!” (for better or worse).
  10. I have not yet found an easy solution to get back to the phone call. You can pull down the notification bar and scan to find the On-going call and tap to return, or you can click the Phone app icon again, which should return me to the call, but instead takes me a screen that asks if I want to add someone else to the call. No thanks, just want to get back to my keypad. Annoying to say the least.

Screenshot_2014-01-27-10-59-23~01

Final Thoughts:

  1. The customizability of Android through the use of Apps like Nova Launcher and Lux far exceeds anything you could find on iOS.
  2. The ability to purchase an app in the Google Play store, test it out for 15 minutes, then return it for a full refund if you aren’t satisfied RIGHT ON YOUR DEVICE is also something Apple needs to investigate. It’s super useful and I’ve used it multiple times when looking for the perfect Star Gazing app (which I have still yet to find after being spoiled by Sky Guide on iOS). Rating apps in the Google Play store is also much easier (and more prominently located) than in the iOS App Store.
  3. I really miss the Tap-to-Scroll to the top function on iOS. I hope Google gets their act together in regards to the SDK as discussed in this article.
  4. Google needs to put the clamp down on App Submissions so they have uniform icons and allow more options to the end-user when installing apps that require access to 15 different device API’s. For example, why would an off-line game need access to my GPS location and Contacts? In iOS, those options must each be explicitly approved the first time the app attempts to access that specific API. It’s definitely a privacy concern.
  5. Browsers are actually browsers in Android, not just reskins of Apple Safari. For example, in Google Chrome for Android, I can enable a setting that allows me to override the “No-Zoom” feature that some websites have set which prevent you from double-tapping to zoom.
  6. uTorrent just works on Android.
  7. I enjoy the look of the stock Android Keyboard, but I miss the awesomeness of the iOS auto-correct engine. I’ve tried SwiftKey, but don’t like any of the skins. The Swype functionality built into both keyboards is quite useful and I find myself typing by swiping most days.
  8. Finally, iOS needs widgets on the homescreen. Immediately

Hello, Kickstarter rewards

I love Kickstarter, but the rewards are often extremely delayed. Here’s my experience since 2009 with a fun graph at the bottom of this post with my findings…

Kickstarter

Allison Weiss’s Full Length Record (Funded Aug. 2009)

  • Pledged: $30
  • Delivery Estimate: N/A (this was before shipping estimates were required)
  • Received Reward: Nov. 2009 (on-time)

WALdok – Plug-In Speaker for iPhone/iPod (Funded Feb. 2011)

  • Pledged: $59
  • Delivery Estimate: N/A (this was before shipping estimates were required)
  • Received Reward: NOT YET RECEIVED, 34 MONTHS BEHIND SCHEDULE

Elevation Dock for iPhone (Funded Feb. 2012)

  • Pledged: $59
  • Delivery Estimate: Apr. 2012
  • Received Reward: Oct. 2012 (6 months late)

Double Fine Adventure (PC Game) (Funded Feb. 2012)

  • Pledged: $15
  • Delivery Estimate: Oct. 2012
  • Received Reward: NOT YET RECEIVED, 13 MONTHS BEHIND SCHEDULE

Elevation Dock for iPhone (Funded Feb. 2012)

  • Pledged: $59
  • Delivery Estimate: Apr. 2012
  • Received Reward: Oct. 2012 (6 months late)

Slim: The Thinnest Wallet Ever (Funded Aug. 2012)

  • Pledged: $25
  • Delivery Estimate: Sept. 2012
  • Received Reward: Jan. 2013 (4 months late)

Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary (Funded Sept. 2012)

  • Pledged: $65
  • Delivery Estimate: May. 2014
  • Received Reward: STILL TIME TO MEET ESTIMATE

Sprout: A Pencil with a Seed (Funded Sept. 2012)

  • Pledged: $5
  • Delivery Estimate: Oct. 2012
  • Received Reward: Oct. 2012 (on-time)

Kerfluffles Marshmallows (Funded Oct. 2012)

  • Pledged: $5
  • Delivery Estimate: Nov. 2012
  • Received Reward: Feb. 2012 (3 months late)

Project Eternity (PC Game) (Funded Oct. 2012)

  • Pledged: $25
  • Delivery Estimate: Apr. 2014
  • Received Reward: STILL TIME TO MEET ESTIMATE

The World of Steam (Funded Nov. 2012)

  • Pledged: $25
  • Delivery Estimate: Oct. 2013
  • Received Reward: Nov. 2013 (1 month late)

Guilds of Cadwallon (Board Game) (Funded Dec. 2012)

  • Pledged: $25
  • Delivery Estimate: Mar. 2013
  • Received Reward: Apr. 2013 (1 month late)

The Maze of Games: An Interactive Puzzle Novel (Funded Mar. 2013)

  • Pledged: $125
  • Delivery Estimate: Nov. 2013
  • Received Reward: NOT YET RECEIVED, 1 MONTH BEHIND SCHEDULE

The Lockout: A Musical (Funded Feb. 2013)

  • Pledged: $10
  • Delivery Estimate: Aug. 2013
  • Received Reward: Aug. 2013 (on-time)

Simple Bracket: A March Madness iPhone App (Funded Mar. 2013)

  • Pledged: $1
  • Delivery Estimate: Mar. 2013
  • Received Reward: Mar. 2013 (on-time)

Lumio: A Modern Lamp (Funded Mar. 2013)

  • Pledged: $125
  • Delivery Estimate: Jul. 2013
  • Received Reward: Sept. 2013 (2 months late)

Shift: The Single Card CCG (Funded Mar. 2013)

  • Pledged: $15
  • Delivery Estimate: Jul. 2013
  • Received Reward: Aug. 2013 (1 month late)

Operation Milky Way (Funded Apr. 2013)

  • Pledged: $50
  • Delivery Estimate: Aug. 2013
  • Received Reward: Nov. 2013 (3 months late)

Thermodo: The Tiny Thermometer for iPhone (Funded Apr. 2013)

  • Pledged: $39
  • Delivery Estimate: Aug. 2013
  • Received Reward: NOT YET RECEIVED, 3 MONTHS BEHIND

Moby Dick: The Card Game (Funded May. 2013)

  • Pledged: $30
  • Delivery Estimate: Sept. 2013
  • Received Reward: NOT YET RECEIVED, 2 MONTHS BEHIND

Penny Arcade’s DLC Podcast (Funded May. 2013)

  • Pledged: $55
  • Delivery Estimate: Jun. 2013
  • Received Reward: Jul. 2013 (1 month late)

TYPE: A Letterpress Desk Calendar (Funded Jun. 2013)

  • Pledged: $30
  • Delivery Estimate: Jul. 2013
  • Received Reward: Aug. 2013 (1 month late)

TRAKLINE Belt (Funded Jun. 2013)

  • Pledged: $59
  • Delivery Estimate: Jul. 2013
  • Received Reward: Oct. 2013 (2 months late)

Mutator: Mute your iPhone (Funded Jun. 2013)

  • Pledged: $13
  • Delivery Estimate: Oct. 2013
  • Received Reward: NOT YET RECEIVED, 1 MONTH BEHIND SCHEDULE

Double Fine’s MASSIVE CHALICE (Funded Jun. 2013)

  • Pledged: $20
  • Delivery Estimate: Sept. 2014
  • Received Reward: STILL TIME TO MEET ESTIMATE

Boss Fight: A Card Game (Funded Jul. 2013)

  • Pledged: $25
  • Delivery Estimate: Aug. 2014
  • Received Reward: NOT YET RECEIVED, 3 MONTHS BEHIND SCHEDULE

Garlic & Chile Pepper Salts (Funded Sept. 2013)

  • Pledged: $35
  • Delivery Estimate: Sept. 2014
  • Received Reward: Nov. 2014 (2 months late)

Neat Ice Kit (Funded Sept. 2013)

  • Pledged: $70
  • Delivery Estimate: Apr. 2014
  • Received Reward: STILL TIME TO MEET ESTIMATE

EverDock for iPhone (Funded Oct. 2013)

  • Pledged: $49
  • Delivery Estimate: Dec. 2013
  • Received Reward: STILL TIME TO MEET ESTIMATE

Tracy Hickman’s Sojourner Tales (Board Game) (Funded Oct. 2013)

  • Pledged: $50
  • Delivery Estimate: Mar. 2014
  • Received Reward: STILL TIME TO MEET ESTIMATE

Beer Press Coasters (Funded Nov. 2013)

  • Pledged: $29
  • Delivery Estimate: Dec. 2013
  • Received Reward: STILL TIME TO MEET ESTIMATE

Astronomy Diary 2014 (Funded Nov. 2013)

  • Pledged: $15
  • Delivery Estimate: Dec. 2013
  • Received Reward: STILL TIME TO MEET ESTIMATE

So in summary, I recommend every Kickstarter project creator add a minimum of 3 months to their “Delivery Estimate” no matter what the project or how fast you think you can deliver it to your backers… also, apparently I’ve spent $1,124 backing projects over the years.

Summary

Hello, Skylanders: Swap Force

Image

Here are 10 things to note about the new Skylanders: Swap Force console game, released on October 13, 2013:

  1. The graphics are VERY much updated from Skylanders: Giants. The environments are more detailed and the UI is cleaner. The game looks slick on the PS3.
  2. The Portal of Power that’s included in Swap Force is REQUIRED to utilize Swap Force characters (the ones that separate from the Top and Bottom), although you can use the previous game’s portal if you only want to play with non-Swap Force characters.
  3. The new Portal of Power is about half the height of previous generations, so it actually takes up less room and has more space for Skylanders on the portal itself and generally looks cooler.
  4. You’ll come across locked areas that now require TWO different types of Skylanders to open. In previous games, to open a Fire area, you’d need a Fire Skylander, but now you’ll come across a Fire and Water area, so you’ll either need two players each using a Fire and Water character, or one player that has a Swap Force character with a Fire top and Water bottom, or vice versa.A Swap Force Character...
  5. There are also new locked areas that are based on solely the Swap Force characters. If you notice in the photo above, there is a small ROCKET icon on the base of that character… you’ll need that icon to access certain areas during the game. There are 8 icons on the Swap Force characters, including: Bounce, Climb, Sneak, Teleport, Speed, Spin, Rocket, and Dig.Swap Force IconsElemental Icons
  6. Assuming you already have all the Elemental character types from the previous games (Earth, Tech, Undead, Life, Fire, Magic, Air, and Water) and also that you purchased the Starter Pack that contains both Wash Buckler and Blast Zone (see below), expect to spend another $90 to pick up the remaining Swap Force to access all of the locked content within the game.Starter Pack Swap Force characters
  7. The game is fully voiced, as expected, with new and familiar characters returning… and the cut scenes are just as impressive as ever.
  8. All the Skylanders can now jump… which adds a new dimension to the puzzles within the game. It’s very cool seeing the older Skylanders from Spyro’s Adventure and Giants leap into the air on command.
  9. Whenever you attack an enemy, the elemental TYPE of damage is displayed next to the damage. So instead of just saying “15″ it will have a FIRE icon that appears next to the “15″.
  10. Finally, in the village hub (where you rest in-between chapters), there is a Target Dummy practice area right next to where you purchase upgrades for your Skylanders, which makes testing out new abilities and effects that much easier. It’s something that was sorely missed in the previous games.

All-in-all, Skylanders: Swap Force is an excellent game and I can’t recommend it enough… just be willing to shell out some cash for the new Swap Force characters and you’ll be set to experience the 40+ hours of everything the game has to offer. A worthy investment, in my humble opinion.