What I’m Using – January 2019 Edition

I like to change up my setup and process on a regular basis. Android, iPhone, Windows, Mac, Apps & Services, etc. Here is what I am using, January 2019 Edition

Devices

Phone – iPhone Xs Max 256 Gb AT&T running iOS 12.1.2. Backup: OnePlus 2 running the latest Android OS it allows.

Work Machine – MacBook Pro 15 in 2015 Edition (no dongles required!) running macOS Mojave (Beta). Bonus: Windows 10 Enterprise Oct 2018 edition VM in Parallels.

Home Machine – Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10 Insider Edition. Have an OLD 2011 iMac that is on it’s deathbed.

Bonus: iPad Air 2 used for reading books to myself and the kids, and just playing with iPad stuff

Gaming

Nintendo Switch – playing Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Mario Tennis Aces, Mario Kart, Mario Party, as well as NES games on Nintendo Online. Looking forward to new Mario game and Metroid! I am Supernova on Nintendo Online

Playstation 4 – playing God of War, Last of Us. Just finished Red Dead Redemption 2 recently. Have Spider-man on queue for the winter! I am ScaleOvenStove on PS Network.

Xbox One – haven’t been playing much here. Unravel. Was doing the Telltale Walking Dead series, waiting for the last chapter to come out after the layoff drama. I might get Red Dead Redemption on Xbox as there is backward compatibility. I am ScaleOvenStove on Xbox live.

Other – SNES classic – been playing some SNES Zelda as well. on iOS played a little Fire Emblem Heroes but haven’t gotten much into it.

Entertainment

Apple TV 4 – this is my go to entertainment device. We have cable since we moved into our new house but I don’t watch cable, I just hook up all the apps on the Apple TV to stream. Mostly sports there.

YouTube is my main viewing channel though, I do have YouTube Premium as I hate ads!

MoviesAnywhere is also a great service as I have videos on Google Play, Amazon and iTunes, but can watch them anywhere.

Apps & Services

Home: iMessage, Gmail, Google Photos, Google Maps, Dark Sky, Nest, YouTube, Apollo (Reddit), Twitter, Apple Music. Lots more niche or specific apps, these are just the highlights.

Work: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Outlook, OneDrive and a few others.

Notables: Deactivated Facebook and Instagram. Deleted the apps, and Snapchat app. WeChat as well. Facebook has too many privacy issues. My phone battery life and my attention span thanks me. Maybe someday I will go back.

Wishlist: Apple Music on Google Home devices. I used Google Home devices around the house, and Google Play music is OK, but their implementation on iOS is bad.

Summary

There are a bunch of different devices and services out there, I like to move things around. Going full on Android might be something soon, with a Pixel 3 or something, but iMessage is such a pull back into iOS. A little cross device and platform compatibility would really make things easier for people that aren’t tied to any platform. We can only hope one day things are better for consumers!

The State of Parental Controls going into 2019

Kids are now growing up in a digital age. Screens are part of their lives from day one. As they grow, they want to use devices and play games and do whatever everyone else is doing. I am not going to debate if this is a good or bad thing – but it is a reality. 

Major tech companies have taken notice and they have been (and still are in progress) releasing ways for parents to keep tabs on their kids’ device and screen time usage. 

Of course, the big three – Apple, Google, Microsoft – have their solutions. Also other players like Facebook, Nintendo, Sony have solutions for their products as well.

Apple

Let’s start with Apple. There are few different things Apple has had and now just recently came out with to help parents. Up until iOS 12 they had “Family” groups you could create – not so much for managing screen time, but for creating a group where family members can share purchases, location, etc.

As a parent you can set up an Apple/iCloud account for a minor and then incorporate them into your “Family”. A parent also had to set up “restrictions” in iOS settings for each device for a kid. Kids can ask permission to install apps, and parents devices get an alert to allow or deny. 

What NOT to do: I have seen too many parents just sign in as themselves and give their kids a device. Please DON’T do this! Kids can really mess up your accounts. Another thing would be just giving kid unmanaged device with no account. You lose a lot of shared benefits of having an account for your kid under your family.

With the latest release Apple came out with “Screen Time” – for users to manage their own digital wellbeing on their own devices, but this also lets parents manage screen time on kids devices under the family group. 

Screen Time - Kid Device Management

You then get a weekly report of Screen Time for your kid and can change settings etc through Screen Time on what apps are allowed, etc. 

So, what’s missing? Well – for one – some devices have TouchId or FaceId – how does a parent set that up and still get into a device physically? Up to you. For now on my family devices, no passcodes or 2 factor auth – it is just too much overhead and messy to manage with kids. 

Google

Google has something similar for managing kids devices – it is called “Family Link” – but you need to install and configure it. Similarly to Apple screen time you can manage what apps and time spent and other settings on devices. It works on Android devices so if you are running a Google Android device but your kid has an old iPad or iPhone you are out of luck. 

Google Family Link App

Recently they announced you can run Family Link on Chromebooks (ChromeOS) as well – but I have yet to get this working. It is supposed to work similarly to Android where you can manage the apps and see usage, set screen time etc.

I have found that Google support around Family Link is more responsive than other Google support I have tried to reach out to, but I still cannot get it working on my daughters Chromebook.

One thing to note as well, and maybe I can follow up on this one after I get it working – but you need to create a google account for your kid (just like Apple). If you manage it, it should be okay. But – your kid might already have a Google Account through their school district. It starts getting tricky here. You as a parent cannot “manage” that account. I think there is a way to link them. So the kid would login to your Chromebook with their kid google account, and then still be able to get to google classroom or login to chrome (google docs, etc) with the school account. Time will tell. It is messy right now.

YouTube (owned by Google) is another story. YouTube is really a cesspool of crap if you get down the rabbit hole. There have been many articles and cries for help to Google/YouTube to let parents better regulate what their kids see. YouTube STILL doesn’t let you block entire channels. This is a big miss.

Also, if you have shared devices (like an Apple TV, etc) with YouTube and you login as the adult – the kids sees your recommendations. What kids watch screw up your recommendations. Switching between accounts is not easy (Netflix does this pretty well).

YouTube Kids is an app that is made for “kids” – and is supposed to filter out junk – but it isn’t foolproof. Parents are usually going to take the easy route, and YouTube website/main app etc are going to be the go to. In my opinion – the filtering on YouTube and parental control is one of the big problems Google needs to tackle, and soon.

Google also has a bunch of features, not so much parental controls, that they are coming out for around Google Home around reading books with your kids, stories, etc. Try them out sometime if you can, they are pretty cool. With four kids in the house, reading to one of them, while one reads themselves, while the other says “Hey google, tell me a story” is a lifesaver, especially when one parent is away for an evening.

Microsoft

Microsoft has very similar setups to Apple and Google – but of course a little different. With Microsoft, you can setup an account for your child and tie it to your “family” – but you can use an existing email (so if you have a gmail or icloud from Apple or Google you can use that).

Microsoft Family Home Page

The only real devices you can manage from Microsoft are Windows devices and Xbox.

You can allow a child to login to a Windows device and restrict time and apps. One big miss here though is that you can only manage web browsing with Edge, and not other browsers. My kid uses Chrome – because they are used to it with Google Chromebooks at school, but I cannot manage their browser usage, etc. Big bummer

Managing Screen Time for Microsoft Devices

With Xbox you can manage screen time and game limits and ratings, etc. Works pretty well

Nintendo

Nintendo has an app you can download and tie it to your Nintendo switch. You can use it as parental control and set time limits and game limits etc. I don’t use it for that as I manage that pretty close directly with my kids but a nice feature of the app is it tracks play time, and that is good even to see for myself!

Nintendo Parental Control App
Nintendo Switch – Play Time

Facebook

Facebook. Not sure on this one as I deactivated my account recently and I am about to jump ship due to their creepiness, scandals, privacy issues, etc.

I did try out Facebook Messenger for Kids this summer. It lets your kid sign up just for Messenger for Kids, not Facebook. They can add their friends, but both kids parents have to allow it. Also, parents can limit usage time and also install the app on their device and see all messages, etc.

This app works well if your kid wants to message their friend from their old iPhone using iMessage – but their friend has their parents old Android device and it won’t work.

Netflix & Hulu

I mentioned it earlier, but Netflix does have a way to create a “profile” that is deemed “kids” and is pre-filtered to kids specific shows. You can set it for “little kids” or “older kids and younger”. This works fairly well in practice.

It is easy enough for kids to just change profiles though. Maybe having non kid profiles pin controlled would be a good addition? Also, we have one for “Family” that has things we might all watch together vs just Paw Patrol episodes 🙂

Profile for Kids in Netflix
Edit Profile – Kids – Netflix

Hulu has a very similar setup. Profile for kids, can see kids shows.

Choose Profile Screen on Hulu – Web
Set Programming to “Kid Friendly” – Hulu

Sony

Sony has a way to set up parental controls on Playstation. You can set up a profile for your kid – but you need an email address. You can restrict games and screen time, etc.

I have a Playstation but haven’t set these up myself as my kids don’t play on it. Yet.

Amazon

Amazon has a way to set parental controls, I really can’t speak to them as I have no real Amazon devices where you set this up – but here is a link to assist if you’ve read this far.

Summary

Okay, so there is a lot going on here. Your mileage may vary. Your family is going to be different than mine. More or less kids, different ages. Also, your tech profile won’t be the same. Different devices, platforms and operating systems.

As you can see, for the big companies, you need to set up an email address for your children and manage their profiles, and connect them to your family. Then they offer you ways to restrict time on devices and also different types of content, etc.

There are also ways some of the smaller or ancillary players let you manage children use time and parental controls. I hope you found this useful, hit me up in the comments with any questions!

Setting up Mail/Calendar/Contacts on Windows 8.1

If you use Google/Gmail ..

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/use-google-windows-8-rt

“To sync your calendar”

Though you can’t sync your Google calendar with the Calendar app, you can see your Google calendar events by moving them to Outlook.com. For more info on how to do that, see How to see your Google events in the Calendar app.

This is a horrible solution. It is a shame that Microsoft can’t make things work, and at least Google/Microsoft get along enough to interop.  Annoying.

Why I No Longer Self Host WordPress

Well I finally did it. Cancelled my hosting account. This post you are reading was written on WordPress.com and not in my Self Hosting WordPress instance. MediaTemple had a good run, but I just didn’t need it anymore.

Looking at things a little deeper.. When I started blogging back in 2004 (it’s been over 10 years already?!?) I started on blogger, there weren’t a ton of choices. Then, a couple of years later I moved to my self-hosted WordPress. I wanted more control. Many things that you might have wanted to do, you could only do if you hosted it yourself. I moved that between hosting companies, hosted it myself on VM’s, windows, Linux, back to managed hosting, etc.. and now my blog (all 1000+ posts and 2000+ comments) are in WordPress.com

How times have changed… many of the features and functionality that at one time you had to meticulously edit PHP files to get working or find a supported plugin (and then watch it go unsupported), are now baked into the platform. Software as  a Service FTW.

I also had a good run with Google Adsense. While I particularly didn’t like running ads, it basically paid for the hosting. The “long tail” on my blog still gets enough hits that I could make $15-20 a month and cover MediaTemples cost. With MediaTemple, I got more than one site I could host (100 actually), but I was only using a handful, and I realized that most if not all of them could go.

With twin boys looming, coming any day now and at most within a couple of weeks, it is one less thing I have to worry about – hosting a site (oh, and one less bill monthly – I guess that can go towards diapers.. or beer)

So what did I have to do to get this going? Not a whole lot.

First, I looked at my self hosted instance, and the plugins. Which could I turn off, live without, do I care anymore, etc. Which are handled by WordPress.com now? etc. Pretty much if not all I was ok with (obviously, I moved my site).

Feedburner? It’s dead. Mobile theme? Built in. JetPack features – built-in. Backup, etc – built-in.

But, I had ads, you can’t do that in WordPress.com – no need, wasn’t making $1000’s of dollars a month.

So I ran a Tools->Export. And then in WordPress.com, Tools->Import. The beautiful thing here as well is that all the media (post images, etc) got pulled in.

I signed up for a custom domain redirect in WordPress.com ($13 a year) and changed my DNS.

Chose a new theme and done.

We will see how things go as time goes on, but I am happy so far. Little weight lifted from the shoulders is always a good thing.

Here’s to another 10 years.

Photo Credit: Me on July 30th 2014 riding my bike on the back roads of Wisconsin. 

Why I Still Need A Traditional Laptop or Desktop

Simple: other devices. Not everything syncs via Bluetooth, WIFI or ANT+, etc.

I have devices I need to connect to my computer to sync data from. My Garmin Edge, my Nike+ Watch.

Luckily my Nike Fuelband and Fitbit sync via Bluetooth now. But until I can get away with running an iPad, Chromebook or Surface RT .. I will need a traditional laptop or desktop. Macbook Pro or Air, iMac, Windows Desktop or Laptop, or Surface Pro…

Another reason, but not a complete dealbreaker, is software and services that I can’t use on non-traditional devices.

Excel 2013 with Power BI? Can’t really run that anywhere but on a traditional laptop or desktop. Yea, I know I can remote into a machine or server, but that is cheating. What else? Visual Studio, Management Studio, etc. Same thing, I could set up some IaaS VM and do things, but I would be taking way longer trying to create from an iPad or Surface RT, etc. The Surface at least as a sanctioned keyboard. iPad with a bluetooth keyboard works well. Chromebook works, but when it comes down to hard core work, these devices fall down.

I don’t even feel like typing up a blog post on these devices. I can pound out tons of content on a laptop or desktop. On a tablet/limited device, well, you are limited. Limited by entry speed, limited by having to be always connected, etc.

I am looking forward to a convergence of laptop/tablet along the lines of Surface. Surface Pro 2 is close. Probably the closest device. Unless you want to develop iPhone apps, then you need a Mac too 🙂

Hoping in the not to near future I can limit the number of devices I need to create or do the things I need to. Content creation, app development, syncing external devices, etc. If 2014 isn’t the year, guessing 2015 will be.

Search Google Drive and Gmail from Chrome Omnibox

If you are like me, and live in Google Chrome, you probably use other Google Services. I use Google Drive and Gmail extensively. I would love it if when I searched in the Google Chrome Address Bar Omnibox, that it could search other places.

Well, you kind of can. On the Omnibox..

Right click, Edit search engines..

The under “Other Search Engines”: add two entries..

Google Drive | drive.google.com | http://drive.google.com/?hl=en&tab=bo#search/%s

Gmail | gmail.com | https://mail.google.com/mail/ca/u/0/#apps/%s


then if you type drive.google.com and hit “tab” instead of enter, you can type in your search term, same with the gmail.com shortcut.



If you do all that, then you should be able to search Google Drive and Gmail straight from the Chrome Omnibox.

Cool Things I Have Been Doing On the Computer Lately

In the past couple of months, weeks, whatever (time flies) I have been doing some pretty cool things on the computer, in a wide range of areas. Just want to get them down on paper (you know what I mean)…

1. Yammer – working hard on growing Yammer community, external networks, just getting engagement and showing the benefits. It’s fun.

2. Kinect – did some Kinect hacking. On my own then with the group, got some cool stuff to show. It is crazy how easy it is to get something up and running with Kinect and the SDK. I see this stuff taking off in the coming months/years.

3. Azure – dorking around with Azure, looking at what it can and can’t do, what it could do well, how it would fit in with everything.

4. SQL 2012/Power View – been playing around with SQL 2012 since “Denali”, but now its got an official launch date (March 7th) and things are getting real. Power View demos online, trying to figure out how SQL 2012 is going to fit into our infrastructure and just learning as much as I can about it.

5. Ruby – been getting into Ruby and Ruby on Rails on my Mac, git, sqlite3, heroku, etc. Trying to learn more things that just the .NET ecosystem.

6. Ubuntu – same here, set up a VM, been trying to use it consistently, trying to get the other viewpoints from Windows and Mac and where things are at. Keep up with the joneses so to speak.

7. Android – I picked up a Samsung Galaxy (Verizon 4G) a few weeks ago and have been using it. I still love my iPhone, but getting more into Android. Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is a pretty good OS, there are still quirks, but its better. Verizon sucks around where I live btw.

8. Google+/Picasa Web Albums – been getting this into my photo workflow, for sharing and backup. Liking it so far.

9. SharePoint 2010/FAST – been researching and reading FAST server like crazy trying to see how it will fit in with a potential project. I think it could be amazing. more to come.

10. SMS – been playing around with different frameworks, and seeing how they compare, trying things out. Using Voice and SMS is all the rage these days. (Hall and Oates thing anyone?)

Bonus: Nothing with computers, but I have been really getting into brewing beer/homebrewing. I think we have made 5 batches now, and the ones I have tasted so far are really good. It is a fun hobby and breaks up the constant technology I am involved in. More to come here too.

And much much more. Time is limited, time to post is limited. Getting out there and doing cool things is fun, and sharing them is fun too. Gotta find the right balance. I hope everyone is having a cool 2012 so far.