ERGO Bluetooth Earbud: The Perfect Podcast Listening Companion?

"Why don't we make wireless earbuds?" I said.

I think it was the the third or fourth time that my headphone cords had gotten caught on my push mower's handles while mowing the yard that I asked that question to myself the other day. "At this point," I told myself, "we really should have the means to create something like wireless earbuds."

I know what you're saying right now too - "But Chad, we already have wireless headphones!" Yes, you're right, we do. But not truly cordless or wireless.

99% of the "wireless" headphones these days actually have a wire that connects them. They are Bluetooth and therefore not physically connected to your device, but they still have those wires that get in the way.

So over the last week or so, I've been on a crusade to find a true, wireless earbud. And no joke, I found a decent one for thirteen dollars.

You read that correctly. While not without cons, this earbud has sparked my imagination for what the future could hold.

It all started when I read Jon Li's excellent article entitled The Future of Technology is in Your Ear. He did the same experiment with the $13 wireless earbud named the ERGO Invisible Bluetooth Earbud. I invite you to read his excellent article, because he and I agree on a lot. Here's my observations.

Freedom without wires (of any kind) is awesome. If the ERGO did one thing well, it was that it casted audio to my ear wirelessly from my phone in my pocket without problems. There are no wires to speak of, just a small earbud with one button that fit into my ear and didn't jostle out with moderate activity. Getting in and out of the car without hassling with wires was great. Walking around my office talking on the phone with it was wonderful.

It might be perfect for those who listen to podcasts. It was great for listening to podcasts, which is what I'm listening to most of the time. Spoken word doesn't need a lot of bass or range, it just needs to be clear. I did find that the treble was a little high on some shows, i.e. people's "S's" would sound harsh. But the earbud got plenty loud for me at only 50% volume while driving in the car.

Not so great is listening to music. This is an earbud that's not designed for a lot of range or fidelity, and with it only being in one ear, it's not ideal for music. To me, listening to a podcast in one ear while being able to hear what's around me was kind of great. So if you're a music lover and listener, you better pass on this.

Receiving calls is fine. In the few phone calls I used this earbud for, it did a pretty good job considering it's only $13. My person on the other end said it always sounded as if I was talking on speakerphone, but they could still hear me just fine. So, maybe not ideal for long conversations, but short ones would probably work.

Battery life is pretty terrible. The first day I got the earbud, I didn't charge it at all and got almost two hours of listening to a podcast through it before it gave me a low battery warning. Ever since, two hours seems to be the most it can get. And for a tiny earbud that's only $13, you can't expect much. The Batteries widget on the iPhone is helpful as well, but even leaving the earbud on charge for several hours, it never registered above 70%. Again, thirteen dollars.

I think about all the implications of this kind of device. There are other true wireless bluetooth headphones out there, but none this cheap. This little device made me really start thinking that if someone like Apple with Beats really put the wood behind the arrow on something like this, how awesome could the future be - in your ear?

Great Changes to The Site

Sometimes I feel as if I may have neglected my site here. With the amount of content I've produced over the last 3 years here, I make no changes to the site at all and do not write any articles and I still average over 200 views a week. That's not bad considering I'm not offering up regular content.

But what if I did? I decided this week to change that. No, this isn't an April Fool's joke. No, I'm not going to try to write an article every day, and no, I'm not looking to "expand my brand" or make any money - I just want to share my knowledge and thoughts with you, for free. I hope to bring you 2-3 high quality posts a week from now on.

I have so many people that ask me about tech stuff on a daily basis, and I love it. Not because it makes me feel popular, but because I'm hopefully helping people and making their lives easier.

That's what I hope this personal site of mine has been and what it will become more of in the future. A place for people to make their lives easier. So it was time for renewal. A revamp.

You'll notice the slight redesign. I wanted the content to be king - I wanted you to be able to find what you need when you need it. There's a Search bar for this site right on the sidebar now for that very purpose. There's lots of content already on my site - so take another look around if you haven't recently.

You'll also notice some new sections and pages. Some are super-nerdy like Taskpaper, and others are more practical like some of my Resource pages. I hope you can find what you need, no matter what you're looking for.

You'll find something else really cool: my Reading List. I've hacked together a Pinboard + Instapaper + IFTTT workflow to allow you to essentially see a real-time feed of what I'm reading. Anytime I save an article to read, it will pop up on the top of that page. Pretty neat, huh?

UPDATE: Now you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter, a summary of posts throughout the week, plus some extra goodies.

I hope that my site will become even more of a destination to read
some great things about technology, ministry, and spirituality. I hope that it will help people. Most importantly, I hope it's just one more way that I can glorify God With my talents.

Effective Apps & Resources for Youth Ministry

Below are the notes for my lecture I gave at Faulkner at their Youth & Family Summit on February 29, 2016. 

A few notes before we begin:

  • Isaiah 44.9–20 – don’t make your tech an idol
  • People shouldn’t say “Wow that was a great presentation” - they should say “He or she really brought that passage to life”
  • Don’t ever let your tech speak louder than the Word.
  • God used people - Moses and Joshua and Jesus and Paul - he didn’t use an app to spread the Gospel
  • If your focus is on your PowerPoint and not pointing kids to the Gospel, you need to reevaluate your preparation
  • My process: [1] Look at the Word, [2] Write my lesson, [3] Add in any technology.

Bible Study / Apps

  • TheBible.org app / greattreasures.org (it ain’t pretty but it works!)
  • Logos Bible Software
  • YouVersion (YouVersion Live interactive notes)
  • Faithlife Study Bible
  • Accordance
  • ESV Bible

Resources

  • AdventuresInMinistry.com
  • AIM Series
  • Ministry Bits podcast
  • Active Digital Parenting
  • Start2Finish
  • Wes McAdams
  • The Bible Project on YouTube
  • The Youth Cartel
  • YFC.net
  • Download Youth Ministry
  • The Source for YM
  • Youth Ministry 360
  • The Clues Brothers (escape games from Andrew and Philip Jenkins)
  • Open.Lifechurch.tv

Reasearch and Writing

  • Editorial for iOS
  • Byword for iOS
  • Apple Notes for iOS
  • Copied for iOS
  • Simplenote
  • Evernote (good app but not recommended)
  • Microsoft OneNote

Social Media

  • Instagram (fastest growing social network in the world)
  • Flow for Instagram (nice UI, multiple accounts, iPad app)
  • Tweetbot for Mac / iOS (great Twitter client, multiple accts)
  • Fenix for Twitter for Android
  • Tweetdeck for Mac (multiple accts)
  • Buffer (time-deliver posts, multiple accts)
  • SaveFrom.net
  • Adobe Post
  • Adobe Clip

Graphics

  • Canva for iOS
  • Gimp
  • Photoshop + Lightroom subscription (9.99/mo)
  • Pixelmator for Mac

Organization

  • MinHub Youth for iOS
  • Microsoft Excel or OneNote
  • Dropbox
  • Postagram
  • Ink Cards
  • Wunderlist
  • 2Do
  • Omnifocus

Websites / Mobile Apps

  • Squarespace
  • Hover
  • Clover sites
  • Subsplash

Organization

  • MinHub Youth for iOS
  • Microsoft Excel or OneNote
  • Dropbox
  • Postagram
  • Ink Cards
  • Wunderlist
  • 2Do
  • Omnifocus

How Quickly We Forget »

A luxury once tried becomes a neccessity.

In the case of the mobile web and its status in 2015, we have forgotten what it was like just a decade ago.

In 2005, Windows Mobile, Motorola and Blackberry ruled the mobile browsing world with horrible WAP (Web Access Protocol) browsers, or what they liked to call browsers. The web experience, for the most part, was terrible and confusing. Which is why no one used it.

So this week when The Verge published their article attesting to how bad the mobile web is, I had to take a look back.

How quickly we forget.

It all changed with the iPhone. Suddenly you could view entire websites on Safari, and pinch to zoom on those sites to see in greater detail. Then, years later, circa 2012-ish, the mobile web started to take form. No longer did you have to build different websites for mobile and the desktop (even though, to this day, many websites still do just that), but you could build once and deploy everywhere. Squarespace is a great example of this - the very website you're reading right now was built on Squarespace, and I didn't have to write one bit of code for my mobile website, which always looks fantastic.

So for a blogger on a prominent internet tech website to write an article criticizing the mobile web when their very own site is part of the problem greatly irritates me.

The problem is not the mobile web. The problem is monetizing the mobile web. The Verge loads no less than twenty ads, trackers, and services that no doubt make them money for every page view but slow down the web experience on mobile terribly. iMore dealt with this criticisim a week or two ago.

And all this comes into the discussion because of one thing: Safari Content Blockers.

You see, in iOS 9, Apple is providing users a way to block all those ads and trackers (which take the form of various scripts in the webpages that you don't see), and that's not making some many websites who depend on these trackers for revenue very happy. I couldn't put it better than Marco Arment:

I’m interested in running a content blocker not because I don’t want to see ads, but because I feel the need to fight back against being opted in, without my knowledge or consent, to third-party collecting, tracking, and selling of my personal data just by following a link.

And if such blocking becomes a big problem for publishers, it’s up to them to switch to ad delivery methods without these privacy invasions.

And there's your big concern. Have you ever been browsing websites and then see ads on Facebook or Amazon for something you looked at recently? That's an invasion of your internet privacy. While some websites argue that just you visiting their site allows them to legally track you and catalog your data, that doesn't mean it's right.

Websites and the companies that monetize them are going to have to get better at the experience and better at not invading your internet privacy. Up until this point, it hasn't been an issue because people have largely ignored it.

The Sermon Podcasting Toolbox

Since this week marks 10 years of podcasting on the iTunes Store, I thought it was great to share this from ChurchMag:

According to Edison Research, 15% of Americans (39 million people) listen to podcasts at least monthly, with 13 million people tuning in to podcasts on any given day.

Chances are good that your church members are subscribing to, downloading, and listening to podcasts throughout the week. Are they listening to your message?

Some great tips for ministry podcasting, including hardware, software, where to host, and how to distribute. If your congregation isn't podcasting, they should be. Take a look at the full article over at ChurchMag.

12 Things You Should Know About the Apple Watch

Having just gotten an Apple Watch, I disagree with about 75% of this article, especially this:

Don’t buy the Apple Watch (yet) unless you are a developer/designer who needs to develop for it. I’ve tasked myself to fully integrate the Apple Watch into my every day in order to understand it’s full potential. To my surprise, the process of doing so felt a little bit like a burden since I had to constantly remind myself to actually USE it in order to form my opinion.

Read Tobias van Schneider's entire article over at Medium.

Markdown Cheat Sheet

If you've listened to Ministry Bits for any amount of time and you have read anything about how I like to handle text, you'll know that I love to write in Markdown. And Beegit has an excellent little cheat sheet I saw today for help in writing simpler and better.

Markdown is a simple way of styling plain text. So instead of having a .txt file, you will have a .md file that can be styled yet still be opened with any app, virtually forever. The short story is that I write in plain text/markdown because I can open the same files ten years from now. All the things I've written in MS Word in high school are completely inaccessible now, and I don't like that.

Markdwon is easy. For example, putting a single hashtag (#) before a heading makes it an H1 heading, the biggest heading. Putting two hashtags makes it an H2, a slightly smaller heading that can be used as a subheading. One asterisk indicates italics while two asterisks tells you it's bold.

Go ahead and check out Beegit's Markdown Cheat Sheet and fire up your favorite text editor (I love Brackets for Mac) and get started with Markdown today. Write simpler, write better.

The Headphone Enigma

Recently I've been on a quest for the perfect headphones. I've been traveling a little bit more in the last year and didn't want to spring $300+ for a stereo system in my car, and I've realized that I could just headphones and be just fine and be able to use them in my office as well. As a minister, I'm sure that some of you would like to know my thoughts and opinions on this as you may be in the market for some new headphones as well. My results were...surpising.

I wanted wireless headphones, ones that connected to my iPhone (and othe devices) via Bluetooth. And as it turns out, wireless headphones aren't cheap.

For the longest time, I've used the Apple earbuds as my primary way of listening to my music and podcasts. I don't need lots of bass, but I do sometimes listen to heavy bass music like chiptune and techno music. 80% of the time though, I'm listening to spoken-word podcasts and sermons. So my needs aren't too dynamic.

The first pair I tried was the Beats Powerbeats 2, the wireless version. I found the quality of the hardware to be outstanding. The over-the-ear pieces give you a firm anchor for your earbuds - once set correctly, they're not going anywhere. However, I found wearing sunglasses painful when worn long-term. Because of the over-the-ear design, sunglasses or even regular glasses were a problem. You can mold and move the earpeices around, but it still creates a bump that you can't get over with glasses. As someone who wears sunglasses and headphones while driving, I could tell quickly that these weren't going to work for me.

The sound quality on the Powerbeats 2 was pretty great - on par with my standard Apple Earpods to which I have set the sound quality bar (more on that in a bit). Bass was deep, treble was just as it should be. I could switch seamlessly from a spoken-word podcast to music with deep bass.

The next headphones I tried were the wireless Jaybird Bluebuds X. These had come reccomended by many sources, namely my brother-in-law who is much more experienced with headphones than I am, and MKBHD on Youtube, whom I trust with virtually any product reccommendation. So I had high hopes for these earbuds.

I was dissappointed, though. They were uncomfortable and did not have the greatest sound. Music sounded good but a bit tinny. Podcast voices weren't as rich as they should have sounded. The system with which Jaybird wants you to wear the headphones was uncomfortable in that there was a plastic/silicone piece that was supposed to fit inside your ear. Mine didn't. At least not very well. Granted, I've never had good luck with earpieces of any type, so it may just be me. But I could have gotten used to that if the sound was outstanding - which it wasn't.

My last pair of headphones I tried were the Bose QuietComfort 20i's, which I actually got by happy accident. Long story short, I've made a new tech friend here at Graymere who bought me a set. Wonderful, I know. Bless him.

The QC20i's aren't wireless, but at this point I was willing to try anything, especially for a free set of headphones. I found that out of the whole bunch, the Bose earbuds were defintely the most comfortable. No over-the-earpiece and the inner silicone piece was much more comfortable than that of the Jaybirds Bluebuds X.

The best part about the Bose earbuds was the noise cancelling. Although the tiny little block that's attached to the base of the connecting jack is a bit cumbersome, it allows you to switch on the powered headphones and then go to another level with noise cancelling, which is superb. Can't wait to use this on a plane when I head to Texas in August and mowing my yard with it.

The sound quality, as stated before is pretty great. Podcast voices sound full and rich and music is full with just enough treble to make other sounds pop. I'll be keeping these for two reasons: 1) Because they're good for certain purposes, but not all, and 2) they were a gift from a friend.

So what's my conclusion? What headphones do I reccommend?

I'll stick with my Apple Earpods. Here's why.

I don't know if my ears are just used to the sound or what, but they are really the best headphones out there, not just for the iPhone, but for any listening on any device. They are comfortable (sometimes I forget they're in my ears), light, and most importantly, they produce great sound. I'm still perplexed that Apple ships these standard headphones and they are the best out of all the headphones I've tried. They're wired, which makes me want to try these out just for kicks, but they really are, in my opinion, the best earbuds you can buy right now. And they're only $30 - if you didn't already have a set lying around that came with your iDevice.

So like it or not, sometimes the cheapest is the best. After all the reading and researching and trying out, I found that the best headphones were the ones I already had.

As A Minister: Why You Should Care About What Apple Said This Week

Monday in San Francisco, Apple kicked off WWDC, their Worldwide Developers Conference. As a minister, why should you care about such things? I'll give you few reasons why. 

The iPad is Changing. There may be some new products on the horizon, i.e. the rumored 12-inch iPad Pro, but even without that announcement yesterday (Apple has since stopped making major product announcements at WWDC and stuck to developer stuff), the iPad is changing. 

There was some stuff demoed that we will see with iOS 9 in the Fall that is amazing - it's what the iPad should have been all along. If you're a minister and you use the iPad on a daily basis, you're going to be impressed with what Apple is doing. 

Two of the biggest things on the iPad - working with text and multitasking - have been completely redone. Now you can have two apps running side-by-side in tandem and resize the windows. This isn't a revolutionary thing - Samsung has been doing it with tablets and even phones for a while now - but it's wonderful to have on the iPad. Now you can have two Bible apps open at the same time, or an internet site open in Safari on the left and a writing app on the right. Pretty sweet stuff. 

The other is text selection. We preachers live in text. At least I do. And Apple has designed an intuitive form of text selection that nearly looks like a trackpad. You can depress two fingers on the keyboard and zip around to highlight text and move your cursor. Very cool. Much faster than dragging your finger in just the right spot and getting frustrated when it goes below the line you wanted it to. 

The Mac isn't changing. I say that because Yosemite was a complete redesign of OSX, and yes, it has more bugs than an abandoned hotel. But this release, named OSX El Capitan (named for a rock face in Yosemite National Park...Leopard > Snow Leopard, Lion > Mountain Lion, Yosemite > El Capitan). El Capitan is focusing on performance and stablity, so in effect, Apple is slowing down the on new features in order to make the current ones work much better. 

Search on iOS is getting better. Universal search on iOS is going to be much better thanks to deeper integration. What does this mean? It means you can find more stuff that you need quicker. Siri will be lots more useful, a la Google Now on Android devices. Siri is more intelligent too - you can say "Show me photos from Florida last October" and it can fetch those photos, provided you have them synced in the new Photos app. 

 The new Notes app. 

The new Notes app. 

Notes I can now finally recommend. The built-in Notes is an app that lots of ministers I know use a lot just to jot down things they come across. Notes wasn't very functional or useful in my opinio. You couldn't style text or insert pictures. Now you can. Not only that, the app has been redesigned for all platforms - iPhone, iPad, and the Mac. And it syncs via iCloud so you don't have to worry about it. I still think there are better note-taking apps for your phone and tablet - Drafts, Editorial, and Simplenote to name a few - but Apple is really making strides with the app that 75% of their users use because it's just there

This was only a few things that Apple announced of many, but these things will continue to improve my experience on iOS and the Mac and I know as ministers it will benefit you as well. 

Spark by Readdle Wins the Battle for iOS Email

Let's just face it: email stinks. But Spark by Readdle hopes to make you like your email again. 

Ever since Apple opened up iOS a few years ago to include third-party email clients, there have been no shortage of good and sometimes great email apps. Mailbox was pretty great and promised to help you blaze through your email. Dispatch offered nerd and customization options and hoped to triage your email. Entirely new email services like Google Inbox took a slightly different approach to email - categorizing by type and offering a super-simplified interface. Other email clients such as Cloudmagic offered to help you manage many email accounts easily while offering an outstanding UI. 

Spark by Readdle offers all that, and more. 

This is not Readdle's first rodeo into productivity on iOS, not by a long shot. Readdle is one of the first (if not the first) with productivity apps for iOS. They were making productivity apps for iOS before it was even called iOS. They have an impressive catalog of apps that help you manage notes, documents and calendars. In fact, if you follow me you'll know that Calendars 5 has been my default calendar app of choice for over a year now on iOS. 

So when Merlin Mann began talking about "an impressive email app by Readdle" in some of his recent podcasts, I immediately contacted Readdle PR to see if I could get a sneak peek. And to my pleasant surprise, they obliged. 

I've only had a few extra days with Spark, now publicly available as of this morning, but it is a truly great iOS email app. Here's some reasons why. 

Swipe to delete, snooze, and pin for quick email triage. If you do email of any kind, you probably get a lot of stuff you don't want and just a few things a day that you do. Spark doesn't vary much from other clients like Cloudmagic, Inbox, or Mailbox in that it lets you swipe quickly to get through your email in a flash. Other mail clients offer this, sure, but Spark has implemented lessons learned from other apps very well. 

Most important stuff at the top. New emails, emails you've deemed important by pinning them stay at the top until you move them. Read emails automatically go to another section once you've tapped out of them. 

Multiple inbox support is wonderful. Managing multiple email accounts, even getting them to display inline in your inbox is no problem for Spark. Adding new accounts is easy, and you can set individual settings and notifications for each account. 

Nicely formatted message threads. Hate getting those emails back and forth from the same person and seeing all that nasty formatting? Me too. That's a thing of the past with Spark. The app is very innovative by cleaning up all the junk and letting you see your message thread in a nicely formatted way. 

Game-changing searching. I'm a big Gmail archiver, and I want to be able to get info from an email anytime I want. Spark's search is really great. But here's the kicker - it's not just search, it's smart search, based on your natural language. For instance, if I wanted to find all the attachments from grayer.com email addresses, that's what I would type - "all emails with attachments from grayer.com emails" - and Spark finds it. This is incredible to me and a game-changer. I'm always needing to find what I need but don't know exactly where to find it, so this natural language and fuzzy search is fantastic. 

These are just a few of the reasons why Spark by Readdle will be my default email app for the forseeable future. This was, by no means, a comprehensive review - for that, you need to hit up Federico Viticci's review at MacStories - but I hope I've given you enough to just go try this free email app on the iPhone. It's a fantastic 1.0 product, and with Readdle's track record, it will only get better and better.