Posts from the “Software” Category

Oura Ring Review, Biohacking at it’s finest

An Intro

This is the definitive Oura Ring review.

Starting with what an Oura Ring is. The Oura Ring is an overall health and wellness tracker focusing on sleep, that works remarkably well because it’s something that’s designed to be worn 24/7, and be directly on your person in the form of a ring. This allows for data collection of sleep (it’s primary and most touted function), HRV (heart rate variability) and more to determine your overall “Readiness” score for a given day. The key is to use all of the data points that compose your readiness score to improve it day by day, whether that is going to sleep earlier, not drinking alcohol before bed or trying to lower stress levels — all of which contribute to you being more in control of your day and making your overall life better.

We are all creatures of habit and in the year 2018, we have a habit of creating lots of data, whether it is traces of our location, shared with Google, all over the interwebs, health and fitness or list after list or pin after pin — we create data. Sometimes that data is seamlessly collected, such as fitness data from your favorite smartwatch; yet, at times, it can be difficult, such as logging each meal.

Every piece of data is valuable, especially when it’s aggregated, and presented to the user in a concise manner that is easily interpreted and can be utilized for deep analytics. That is where biohacking comes in. What exactly is this word? Isn’t hacking usually associated with computers? The answer to that question is yes, usually.

Biohacking is “the process of making changes to your lifestyle in order to hack your body’s biology and feel your best.” (Source: Dr.Axe)

Oura Ring, version 2.

The Oura Ring is the perfect companion for a biohacker because it focuses on it’s niche and hones in on what it does really well.

  • Sleep tracking
  • Readiness tracking
  • Heart rate variability
  • Activity
  • (anything in between)

The Oura Ring is designed to be worn 24/7 to help provide these statistics, the number that users all know, associate with and love is your daily “Readiness” score, which is a compilation of a number of factors including sleep, heart rate and more from your previous day that is an overall measure of how ready you are for the upcoming day.


Initial Impressions

The experience of Oura begins from the moment that it arrives in a very well designed box. This entire review is based off of the second iteration of the ring, which is more streamlined than that of the first version.

As soon as the box is lifted off, you are greeted by the ring and it’s beautifully crafted inductive charger, which tops the ring off to 100% in about an hour with a battery that lasts for at least a week, easily being that smart device that lasts and lasts. Thank you Oura, thank you.


Day to Day Use

Once the ring is on your finger, it’s off to the races! Before placing your final order with Oura, part of the process is to get a sizing kit, in which the company sends a variety of sizes so that you can practice wearing the ring on any finger you’d like. This is very important because while you may be a certain size in a traditional ring, the Oura contains a set of sensors inside of the band that may throw that size off. In short, get the sizing kit or else you would’ve wished that you had.

The ring is very light and a pleasure to wear, so much so that it’s a bit unnerving of it’s lack of significant weight; however, that helps the device get out of the way so that it can collect valuable data for you. Throughout the day, the Oura app will buzz you in order to promote movement, asking if “it’s time to stretch your legs a bit?” when you’ve been sedentary for too long — which is a jolt that all of us need from time to time. This may be a feature that if you’re an Apple Watch user can become a bit redundant, but I found it welcoming as I’m a firm believer in overall wellness and movement.

The true magic of Oura comes at night, as this is when all of your sleep data is tracked, which is the largest selling point of the ring as a whole and it does not disappoint. As noted earlier, the big daily number is your Readiness score, which is a compilation of a variety of measures that are taken during your sleep time to determine how “ready” you are for the day. All of your statistics are stored inside of the Oura app and once opened, you’re greeted by your readiness score, then once clicked — you’re hit with a multitude of values to help you “hack” your way to better readiness.

Home screen of the Oura app for iOS. (I didn’t get the best night sleep the prior night — which is excellent to see all of the factors, as this is why I purchased the ring to begin with.)

Tapping on your Readiness score will give you a breakdown of all of the factors that contributed to that score:

Readiness score comprise.

Once tapped, each item can be expanded upon giving the user a detailed definition of what is being tracked, along with graphs which go back over the lifetime of the ring, which allow for deep analysis into trends of how your body responds to certain stimuli such as lack of sleep, alcohol before bed, increased heart rate due to a late meal or workout — the range of factors are endless, yet the data speaks for itself and is backed up quite well. Read over this study (Source: NCBI, PubMed which contains biomedical literature), which measured the performance of the Oura ring against polysomnography, which is used for the study of sleep and as a diagnostic tool in sleep medicine (Source: Wikipedia).


King of Sleep

The Oura Ring has made a name for itself because of it’s ability to track sleep like no other wearable on the market and provide deep dives into all of the sleep cycles that our body goes through on a nightly basis.

The Oura Ring notably measures REM, light and deep sleep, providing the amount of time that what spent in each, as well as an intensive breakdown of what percentage of your sleep it should be along with a definition of what defines it. Take a look below at a previous day’s sleep breakdown and an example of REM sleep defined:

Screenshots inside of the Oura App, pertaining to the Sleep section.

This definition and overview is seen after tapping one of the sleep stages from the previous screen above.

Overall, the information on your sleep data that can be garnered by simply swiping and tapping your way through the app is extremely valuable, rich and extensive, truly making this wearable the King of Sleep.


Wrapping Up

After having the Oura Ring for a little bit over 2 weeks, it has changed how I view my sleep (lack thereof) and I am consistently working to make my readiness score better.  Whether that is being mindful of a late drink, workout or cup of coffee — anything and everything can help — isn’t that the purpose of biohacking?  Using the data you have to make your life better going forward.

Starting off at $299, for the amount of data that you get is simply invaluable, so if you’re interested head on over to the Oura site and check out what they have to offer.  (No, I am not sponsored and do not have any codes I can give you to get money off; however, try watching the review view from Alex Furgus, which will give more information on the ring itself and show the discount code ALEXFERGUS)

If you’re even thinking about it, this device is worth every penny.

Google Assistant Continued Conversations

“Hey Google, What’s the weather?”

–Answered

“Can you add an umbrella to my shopping list?”

This is beautiful.  Not only is it useful to continue your conversations because we usually have more than one command to issue, now — as promised at Google I/O 2018, but it brings to life the realization of a more “present” assistant.


How it works?

What happens when you say the “Ok Google” or “Hey Google” wake phrase, the user will see the lights on their Google Home device light up, indicating that Google Assistant is listening.  From there, a question is asked followed up by a succinct and hopefully, correct response.  With Continued Conversations, this changes to an abrupt ending to Assistant continuing to listen for 8 seconds for additional commands, which it will respond to if issues or delete the audio if no commands are issued.  When the user is done issuing commands, simply say “Thank you” and Assistant will reply, “No problem” letting you know that the conversation is over.

With Google arguably having the smartest assistant, the brings this digital assistant to the next level.

YouTube: Tech With Brett


Get out there and give it a try!

A Google I/O smothered with Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Google I/O 2018 has been in the record books for over a week, as it happened on May 8, 2018 — yet people are still talking about the latest in Android P, Google Duplex, Google Assistant, Google News and more — along with a healthy helping of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt, that’s to loudmouths from the Apple community, more on that later).


If you had no idea what Artificial Intelligence (AI) was before this keynote, it was literally said thousands of times — I hope you know what AI is now after this 2 hour dose of Google.  If you’d like the TLDR of Google I/O 2018, you’ll find it below along with my full analysis:

Source: The Verge, YouTube

Google Assistant

Currently able to work with over 5000 smart devices, getting 30 languages in 80 countries by the end of the year, Google Assistant is shaping up to be one of the best, if not best digital assistants when compared to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa offerings.  Additionally, Assistant is working to be more conversational by negating the need for the requesting person to constant say the trigger phrase, “OK Google” to trigger more subsequent actions, Assistant literally will wait for a second or two, while waiting for additional input.  Multiple Actions are introduced, which work with an “and” thrown in between the commands such as, “Turn off the office lights and set a rice timer for 10 minutes“.

Next came the unveiling of Google Duplex, AI at it’s finest.  Google Duplex is a technology that utilizes Google Assistant to call restaurants and other places to book services for you and potentially more.  Imagine the utility that this can have for those with speech difficulties and more.  Additionally, with Assistant sounding so lifelike with implementations of “mmhhmm” and “ummm” — the conversation can be much easier.  See a demo and reaction from MKBHD, here:

Source: MKBHD, YouTube

This where the FUD (translation: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) come in, usually from pundits on the Apple side such as Rene Ritchie (just Google Rene Ritchie biased, if you don’t believe me), who has a tendency to be extremely biased against any company not named Apple.

Let’s lay a couple of things out so that they can be easily understood:

  • For Google to parse through real time communication, the call must be recorded.  With that being said, this will likely be unavailable in certain states due to law.  At the end of the day, as a human, we usually can discern if we are talking to a human or not.
  • Assistant will announce itself when it places a call for you, read more here.

So what does the above mean for privacy?  If you receive one of these calls, as a business, and you do not want to engage — hang up and move on.  Google has been addressing privacy and security in many realms. Let’s note that they have one of the most comprehensive and easy to understand privacy statements of any tech company. However, this tech is coming, whether you like it or not and the usefulness of this will be huge, especially for accessibility — all the while companies like Google and others need to help ensure that privacy and security remain at the forefront.

Google News

With Google, there is constant re-branding among many of it’s products and services.  Remember Nexus?  Remember Google Reader?  Remember the Android Market?  All of these either got axed by Google or renamed.  From Nexus to Pixel, Google Reader is just gone and the Android Market is now called Google Play, with Google even working to remove “Play” from many of the names of it’s apps and services.

With that being said, Google Play Newsstand is no more, in comes Google News and oh, is it great.

IMG_2108

In app screenshot from Google News.

For You is all about your briefing — what topics have you added and are following, such as Apple, Android, NBA — the list goes on.  What’s excellent about it is that it is a timeline of what’s happening in your world, but that isn’t where Google News stops.

Headlines takes you outside of your comfort zone.  Headlines gives you the latest world, business, tech, entertainment, sports, science and health news without any bearings on your preferences, which truly brings you up to date in what is going on around you while removing you from the bubble that you’ve created with your topics.

Favorites lists out all topics and sources that you’ve added into Google News that you follow.  Additionally, saved stories and magazines find their home here.

Newsstand is all about sources, you can add sources by searching or coming here.

Overall, Google News is a major win and I suggest you try it, unless you believe that everything Google does is of the devil.

Android

Android P is coming, folks and it’s going to bring some incremental changes on top of Oreo, let’s break it down!

This update aims to focus on 3 pillars: Intelligence, Simplicity and Digital Well-Being.

First up, Adaptive Battery (Intelligence), focuses on reducing the number of CPU wake-ups for apps — when these become more and more infrequent, this will reduce the amount of battery drain.

Next, we learned about Predictive Actions (Intelligence), which is all about understanding how you utilize your device so that it doesn’t take you as long to complete certain tasks.  Before we go forward, all of this user data is stored locally on the device and is encrypted.  Ever open your app drawer to scroll down to your favorite workout app…..everyday….at 5 PM — this is one of the things that Predictive Actions will help with.  Android will learn the apps that you use and under which circumstances and group them together at the top of the drawer so that they will be easier for you to get to.

Source: The Verge, YouTube

Followed up by a beta “Nav bar”, which is eerily similar to the bar on iPhone X, just not as graceful in implementation — note that Android P is in beta and while this first implemtation includes a bit of “jank”, I’m expecting this to grow into a good design choice, hopefully.

We all deal with a bit of device addiction to a certain degree.  Under that sentiment, Google will all you to gray-scale your phone after a certain time so that apps and the UI are not as intriguing to you, thus leading you to put it down (Digital Well-Being).

Maps and Waymo

Google Maps leads the way in digital mapping and updates keep making it get better and better.  This years IO showed us a VPS or Visual Positioning System in which the user can hold up their phone to the world and directions will overlay on the real world.

Source: TWiT, YouTube

Maps is good for us and it’s even more vital for self-driving cars.

In comes Waymo (Google’s self-driving car project).

Waymo has been testing it’s software with an early-rider project and users are loving the tech in its initial city, Phoenix.  With 6 million miles driven on public roads, this technology is only going to get better and better with the data being collected, such as “unusual behavior”, which allows the car to detect bad drivers and avoid accidents.

Source: ExpovistaTV, YouTube

Wrapping Up

Google I/O 2018 was long, fun, unneeded fear-mongering and full of excitement, which has been outlined above .  However, there are some things that I didn’t mention, so feel free to watch this wrap up video, from Google Developers:

Source: Google Developers, YouTube

Protecting Your Digital Life, 2017

It’s 2017 people, ads are everywhere, malicious software is everywhere, eyes are everywhere and they don’t necessarily want your money.

Data.

Data is one of the most important things that many give to so many companies so freely; however, it can have some of the most dire consequences.  A simple first name, last name and email address can be used to figure out what state you live in, your address, telephone number, voting statistics and more.  The horrible part is that we agree to it!  Have you ever really sat down and read a ToS (Terms of Service) or Privacy Agreement for an online service that you sign up for?  There are no truly free things on the internet — when you don’t pay, you and your data are the fees.

In the below, I’ll break down the common attack surfaces in which you need to protect yourself by describing in detail what they are and giving you ammunition in your fight for your RIGHT to online and digital privacy.  (Remember, contrary to popular belief by friends, family, and employers — you have a right to your privacy.)


Apps & Software

Why start with apps first?  Simple.  We are on our phones from the moment we wake up checking Facebook (I’ll make you terrified of them later) until we lay it down at night.  What a better way to protect yourself from malicious apps than not installing them at all?

When you are browsing your App Store of choice for that next big thing there are 4 things to consider:

  1. Who made the app?
  2. Are there common issues which are seen in the ratings/about section that you should be aware of?  (Such as update date, constant bad reviews, etc)
  3. When agreeing to the Terms of Service, what do they actually say?
  4. Upon installation what permissions does it need? (Location, Camera, Microphone)
    1. Note that denying access to one or more of these permissions could cause the app to not work properly, but that is a cost we can pay for increased privacy and security.  My recommendation is to give apps the least amount of permissions at first, then add when necessary while never giving access to Location Services unless you fully trust the app, most apps simply do not need that level of access

I do not expect you to read the Terms of Service or Privacy Agreement in full for every app, some are simply too long.  However, there are keywords to look for that I advise you to check (use the Find command, if you are at a computer Ctrl + F brings up this search) before agreeing to use a free app again:

  • Data
  • Personal
  • Privacy
  • Usage
  • Share
  • Third-Party(ies)

If you do keyword searches on these and they comeback with hits, read the selected sentences and agree to those terms only if you are satisfied and agree with the potential risks, if any.


Service Providers & Snoops

Your internet service provider (ISP) might be one of your biggest foes, little did you know.  Whether you are on wifi at home utilizing Comcast’s services or on the go with a blazing fast LTE connection from MetroPCS, Verizon or another cellular carrier — your ISP can track your every move and they want to sell your data.  Additionally, there are malicious actors on the internet that can act in the middle of the router you are connected to and the internet itself (which is why it’s never good to join wireless networks you are unfamiliar with) and can see your data while it is being sent and can even manipulate data and images that you see — this is called a “Man in the Middle Attack“.

It may seem that there is nothing you can do, but there is and it’s fairly simple to implement and will cover most of the security risks above.

VPN. (I’ve talked about this in depth previously, please read all about it)

A VPN connection creates a secure tunnel between your computer and whatever item you are accessing on the internet and your machine uses the remote computer to do it’s online surfing.  What does your ISP see?  They see absolutely nothing.  They can tell that you are connected to “private host A”; however, they cannot see the contents of the data being transmitted — they see a garbled, encrypted mess, which is exactly what we want!  You can even use a VPN to alter your location, in many cases, media providers like Netflix and others do not like users to utilize a VPN or proxy to connect.

IMG_1235

Example of how a VPN connection appears in the system status of iOS and showing the user’s location is altered. (You just have to trust me when I state that I don’t live in Florida)


Ad Companies

Facebook, Equifax, Google and others  have developed a bad wrap for their potential data selling in the marketplace.  (Let it be known, as I’ve stated before Google doesn’t sell your data or “follow” you around the internet, they primarily sell access to you in the form of ads that you see based on information that you provide — remember those Terms of Service agreements that you likely didn’t read?  It’s documented there.)  Google may not be squeaky clean, but they are leaps and bounds better than people give them credit for in terms of security and privacy.  The company offers dashboards for the end user and allows you to customize every piece of your experience and what types of data (if any) are collected.  Read their privacy policy here as well as a previous DexJohn’s PC post about their privacy stance.

On the other hand, companies like Facebook are a little more nefarious.  Ever heard of Facebook Pixel!?  Of course you haven’t, because it’s designed to sit in the background, installed on your favorite websites, and watch your every move on the internet and serve you “relevant” ads whether you are a Facebook user or not.


Hardware Protection

We walk around carrying priceless data on our devices, from friends and family information including notes, phone numbers and addresses, not to mention personal passwords and more, which should all be kept in encrypted form either on device or in the cloud.  There is absolutely no reason to not have a passcode on your device, whether it is a mobile device or laptop.  Protecting your hardware is one of your first defenses.  Take this example, you have no password protections on any app on your device; however, you have a lock-screen password — at least you’re somewhat safe.  Create a password that has a combination of letters (upper-case and lower-case), numbers and a symbol (my iPhone password is over 20 characters long).  Your password doesn’t have to be as long, as long as it is complex and something that you can remember.  If you need help creating a secure, complex, lengthy password visit here, shown below:

Screenshot from 2017-11-08 12-48-30

Screenshot from http://passwordsgenerator.net/, showing the complexities that can be programmed.


Recommendations for Security

To be private and secure one cannot simply utilize the tools that are available on his or her mobile device or machine.  Only through a set of secure apps and protocol can one travel down the road to increased privacy.

  • Password Manager — A password manager is essentially for your privacy and security.  There are several options where you password database are stored in the cloud such as LastPass and 1Password, while there are offline options, which are considered more secure, such as KeePass.
  • VPN — A VPN is necessary for masking your online activities (just because you’re masking because of privacy DOES NOT mean that you are doing nefarious activities) from your ISP, attackers and services online.  Some options that are prasied are PrivateInternetAccess, Proton VPN, IPVanish and more.
  • Terms of Service Help — Ever heard of “tldr” or too long didn’t read?  There is also tosdr for Terms of Service Didn’t Read and this website can help you understand what it is that you’re signing up for.  Additionally, while reading and agreeing to privacy statements, be sure to use my Find and search technique, outlined above.
  • Chrome/Browser Extensions — We all use one of big browsers as our gateway to the internet.  Add these extensions to hamper tracking by Facebook and eradicate insecure connections.
    • HTTPs Everywhere — an extension created by the EFF and Tor Project and it switches sites from http to https, which is secure.
    • Privacy Badger — Blocks ads and invisible trackers
    • Ghostery — Protects you from trackers and optimizes the web
    • Facebook Disconnect — Blocks Facebook ads from Pixel and its potential tracking of your traffic all over the web
    • AdBlock — Blocks obtrusive ads on Facebook, Youtube and multiple place

Wrapping Up

Remember, these are all tools to add to your privacy and security arsenal and is in no way a complete list or a complete listing of products I use — just ones that I consider essential.

Samsung Galaxy S8 — Quick Look

Android fans, Samsung fans, everywhere unite!  The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are two fantastic devices that will have you saying “take my money”.  What are some of the main draws to this device?  Is it the curved display?  Is it the thinness of the design?  Is it the camera?  It’s actually all of these characteristics and more.

Design

Galaxy S8 takes on an incremental approach in it’s design scheme and is fully embracing its edge display, Samsung touts this as the “Infinity Display”, which leaves little bezel at the top and bottom of the device.  Essentially, you’re either looking at a 5.8 or 6.2″ massive screen.  But what is truly different about this?  These large devices fit inside of other smartphones with larger bezels like the Google Pixel or iPhone 7 Plus; however, the Galaxy S8 devices are a bit narrower making them potentially easier to pocket and hold.

IMG_0101

Front of Galaxy S8.


Hardware

What’s the best camera that money can buy?  That’s right, the one that’s with you.  A camera that is always with you is the one built into your smartphone and the Galaxy S8 camera will not disappoint in one bit.  During my hands-on time with the device (in a local Best Buy) pictures turned out crystal clear and vibrant, which is a usual of most Samsung devices — very pleasant to look at although not the most true to life.  The stock Samsung camera app had absolutely no shutter lag and captured images within an instant of touching the button.  Speaking of buttons, there is no more home button on the latest flagship device with Samsung finally switching to on screen buttons marking a big step forward and aligning the company more with the modern Google design language for devices.  Although the home button is no longer physical, the user will receive haptic feedback when it is pressed on the screen.  (Cool note about the button is that the square that triggers the home action moves around on the screen slightly, unbeknownst to users, to avoid burn in on the screen, nice huh?)

IMG_0102.jpg

Rear of the Galaxy S8, highlighting the camera and the fingerprint sensor.

Since the home button is virtualized, that means that the fingerprint sensor needed to move and in this iteration of the device, it lands itself next to the camera.  This was not the best design decision, as even someone with larger hands has a difficult time reaching the correct spot on the back of the device to activate it.  A giveaway at this fact is because Samsung built technology into the camera to understand when there are extra smudges on it (likely because users are trying to access the fingerprint scanner).  Most Android OEMs either keep the home button on the front or move the sensor altogether to the back middle of the device, which is simply more ergonomic and looks a lot better.

View the complete specifications of these new devices here.


Software & Interface

Samsung has done an excellent job fine tuning the software that comes loaded on their latest flagship device.  The S8 and S8+ come with your standard set of Google apps and Samsung preloaded goodies, and this year the software and interface is it’s lightest yet.  No, I didn’t go into the settings and check how many non-stock apps were installed; their ROM is still not the lightest, but overall feel is much improved from previous years.  From the settings app, to the notification shade the overall user-experience is much lighter and closer to stock, as Samsung has seemed to have taken cues from the complaints of many users over the years.


Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is in elite company here and is certainly one the best built, looking and performing smartphones currently on the market.  Featuring an all new “infinity” display that offers more view-able real estate (although, this new display curves around the edges, it’s still unclear what actual function it serves in other circumstances in the OS) than most other devices on the market.  If you’re up for an upgrade and you’re interested in a new thin, light device with excellent performance — check out the latest offerings from Samsung with it’s S8 and S8+.