Disarming My Smartphone.

The Backstory

(Probably more than you need or want to know…but hey, I’m writing and you are reading – you can skip this section and I’ll never know)

I have a rough time sleeping (I go to see a sleep specialist on Monday and have been through a sleep study previously). I oftentimes can’t sleep through the night (waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning and unable to fall asleep till 5 or 6) and oftentimes struggle with excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).

I’m in pretty good physical shape at this point – which is pretty amazing, especially considering all that I went through over the last few years with my health…sure there are still aches and pains and various nuisances…but I can live with them – the only one that really still frustrates me is this sleep issue – particularly the EDS.

I use my smartphone as my alarm clock – and I use Sleepbot to monitor my sleep – so I want to have my smartphone near me while I sleep…but this can sometimes be counterproductive. If someone sends me a SMS or FB message in the middle of the night I may hear it. If some stupid app I’ve recently installed and haven’t turned off notifications on (b/c I didn’t think they would have any!) decides the best time to notify me of something is at 2  or 3 am I may be woken.

The Recommendations

So I began searching for an application that would allow me to selectively mute my phone while still maintaining my availability. This would be simple enough if I didn’t need to be available for emergencies pretty much 24/7 (being in the pastorate and IT, where work oftentimes occurs off-schedule and with some urgency).

I did a little search around but didn’t come up with anything great. I find Google’s app store abysmal in its search functionality…even more inferior than its web search (which I use but loathe).[1] So, where does one turn when a google doesn’t turn up the answer? No, not Bing (sorry Microsoft!), Quora. You can see the question and answers here.

The main options offered where (a) CynagoenMOD’s ROM (but this would require placing the stock ROM – essentially the OS of the phone), (b) IFTTT (the programmability is nice, but it lacks, at least easily, all the features I need), (c) Locale (but it is fairly expensive for an app), (d) Tasker (but involves more programming than I was interested in), (e) Agent, (f) Do Not Disturb, and (g) Dindy (this is the app I’ve settled on).

My Choice: Dindy

An Android, open source application that can block phone calls and text messages at night.
An Android, open source application that can block phone calls and text messages at night.

I chose Dindy first because I’m a sucker for open source. If I have to choose between two products with the same featureset and one is open source and the other closed – I’ll go with the open source app almost every time.[2]

The killer feature I was looking for is the ability to let calls through if it is an emergency. In essence, if a phone call is made repeatedly (over a short period of time), it will be allowed through even if the app is set to reject calls. This way if someone really needs to get a hold of me, they can.

A secondary crucial feature is its ability to send text message responses to calls and texts I receive informing the person that I am unavailable and what they should do if it is an absolute emergency (e.g. call several times in a short span of time).

The one bummer is if the phone call comes from a land line you can’t send back a text message – so the person doesn’t know they need to keep calling…but honestly, whenever folks have an emergency (and oftentimes when they don’t :P) they blow up my phone with repeated calls…so I don’t think this will be a huge issue.

There are other features like the ability to whitelist and the ability to create different contexts with different messages – like if I am “away” from the phone, in a meeting, driving, or so on.

But there were two other apps that were close contenders with Dindy, lets talk about what I liked about them (that Dindy doesn’t have ::cough:: hint to developer 😉 ::cough::) and what they lacked that led me to utilize Dindy instead.

Do Not Disturb

An Android app which can selectively block calls, available in free and premium editions.
An Android app which can selectively block calls, available in free and premium editions.

This application comes at a free level, but really you’ll want the premium level. The cost is reasonable for an app. – $2.50. You can try the premium features in the free edition for two weeks for free.

Do Not Disturb lost a few points for not being open source (I don’t hold this against closed source projects, I have no beef with folks making closed source apps…but I trust that open source apps will be around longer, b/c someone else can pick up development if the original developer drops out…whereas closed source projects oftentimes are acquihired or simply shuttered)…

where DND really took a hit was in its lack of multiple modes besides day and night. Dindy provides me with the ability to create an infinite number of contexts – each with their own settings – with DND I’m restricted to two.

That said, DND does offer the ability to disable WiFi and data at night (saves battery) and to automatically (if desired) go mute during meetings (based on my calendar). Pretty sweet features.

Agent

Agent offers several automated "agents" that perform different functions - one being selective call blocking. It is closed source but free.
Agent offers several automated “agents” that perform different functions – one being selective call blocking. It is closed source but free.

The other application – which is quite the slick operator – is called Agent. It does quite a bit more than muting – it also takes action when your battery gets low, automatically remembers where you parked, and automatically goes into mute mode when you are driving (and, of course, all of these are configurable).

It also provides reporting capabilities which tell you what agent has been up to – when it has turned on and off certain functionality. Pretty sweet.

In addition it allows (unlike either DND or Dindy) disabling of auto-sync and of bluetooth (to save battery life).

Where it lost out to Dindy was in its lack of full customizability. It is limited to three contexts (meeting, driving, sleeping) and doesn’t allow for customizing how many calls the individual has to make before they are let through (I have it setup to allow through on the second call – which is what Agent has as the default, but Dindy’s customizability is really nice…and I like having options).

Dear Dindy

So, to recap, here is what I’m hoping Dindy might add in the near future:

  • Integrate with my calendar to allow automatic muting for meetings (bonus points for allowing keyword based filtering of which meetings like DND offers).
  • Include the ability to turn off wifi, data, bluetooth, and data sync as part of “going silent.”
  • Auto detect when I am driving and go silent.
  • Allow me to schedule the days/times I want Dindy to go silent at night (I forgot to mention that Dindy lacks and both DND and Agent offer this feature), so I don’t need to remember to start Dindy’s mute mode manually each night.

Dear DND and Agent

You both have great projects. Should you implement the features I mention that Dindy is currently missing, let me know. 😉

PS Google, Microsoft & WordPress

  • Google: I know you want to move to the new WebP project, but it makes my life difficult when you have your images in WebP format.
  • Microsoft: I am pretty unhappy you aren’t integrating WebP into IE.
  • WordPress: Please add WebP as a default allowed file format for uploading.
  1. [1]I’ve written several times on the past on alternative search engines as well as on my belief that social search engines could provide a way to give much better results.
  2. [2]Though if it is not under active development and the closed source app is, I’ll go with closed source…I’m interested not only in what the app can offer today but also what it will offer in the future.

Smartphone on the Road: Five Apps That Can Make Your Teen a Better Driver

Guest Post by Cynthia Tyson. Cynthia is a stay-at-home mom with a background in social media and public relations.

You don’t often see the words “smartphone,” “teen,” and “driving” all in the same sentence. At least, not in a positive way. As much as smartphones can be detrimental to safety on the road, they can also help teens become better and safer drivers in the long run. So, if you want to bribe your teen into safer driving, make sure he or she downloads the following apps before you even think about looking at used cars for the holidays.Photo for Apps

1. Drive Safe.ly (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows – Free)

This handy mobile app helps prevent distracted driving by reading text messages and emails aloud in real time. Drive Safe.ly even responds automatically to these messages without drivers having to even touch the phone. These automated messages can be customized according to different needs, so teens can write messages like “On the way!” for specific text senders. One-touch activation makes setup a breeze, while a flexible design ensures compatibility with Bluetooth and radio transmitters.

2. Drive Safe Mode (iOS, Android – Free)

Using special sensory technology to detect the movement of the car, Drive Safe Mode turns off all alerts to eliminate distractions completely. No more reminding your teen to turn off her phone or put it in the backseat. Drive Safe Mode literally puts his phone on lockdown and even sends out alerts and reports if the user tries to disable the lock. Now you can be sure your rules are enforced even after he pulls out of the driveway. Even while driving, the app allows emergency calls to 911 and Mom and Dad just in case.

3. DriveScribe (iOS, Android – Free)

Perfect for new drivers, DriveScribe can be your teen’s personal driving instructor when you’re not in the car. The app monitors speed, blocks texts and calls, and delivers real-time voice feedback to improve your teen’s driving. The driver will not only receive an alert about driving mistakes but also designated friends or family members via text message and/or email. Mistakes can include excessive speed, running a stop sign and hard braking. After each driving session, data is stored, monitored and analyzed in comprehensive metrics that make it easier to gauge progress.

4. CarSafe (Android – Free)

Developed by researchers from Dartmouth’s Smartphone Sensing Group, CarSafe is a high-tech app that uses dual-camera, motion-sensing power to detect risky driving behaviors like distraction and drowsiness. The front camera records data about the driver, while the back camera keeps track of environmental conditions. After analyzing this data, the app will alert the driver about these risks with screen icons and audible warnings. Risky behavior ranges from tired eyes to a too-close proximity to the car ahead.

5. Steer Clear (iOS, Android – Free)

State Farm created the Steer Clear mobile app as part of a program for reinforcing positive driving behavior for young drivers. Drivers under age 25 can complete the Steer Clear Safe Driver Discount Program to earn discounts on State Farm auto insurance, so safe driving can literally pay off. The app logs driving experiences and offers tips for safer driving in varying weather conditions. Teens can even use the app to watch videos and learn from the experiences of other drivers. A built-in Find an Agent feature also makes it easy to contact your State Farm Agent for general questions or to make a claim.

OhDontForget: Useful, But Not Perfect.

Oh Don't Forget SMS Remind Service logo.
Oh Don’t Forget SMS Remind Service logo.

Trying to keep track of what I’m supposed to be doing and when is complicated. I’ve gotten much better at it over the years – but I still manage to miss a meeting here or there, forget to pay a bill, or so on. I use Asana, Google Keep, and Google Calendar, along with their integrations into my Galaxy S3 smartphone to keep me going.

But now the question is – how do I keep other people going? I’m in the position of assigning responsibilities to folks – if it is something with an impending deadline, how do I remind them that the deadline is impending without wasting my time? And how do I remind someone if something needs to be done on a certain day or at a certain time of day? These are more difficult questions.

Right now I use a combination of Boomerang and Ohdontforget – neither of which is a perfect tool and both of which I wish would have their functionality integrated into Asana.

So what is On Don’t Forget? Its an SMS reminder service that allows you to schedule an SMS message to be sent to a specified phone number at a specified time and can include the ability to repeat the message on a specified basis.

So, lets say Isaac needs to do something for me tomorrow night at 7 pm, but I know he might forget –  I can use ohdontforget to schedule a SMS reminder to go out to him at 7 pm. This won’t help if he is out of the area, but as long as he is in the area – it is a lifesaver.

The service does cost $5/mo., but I’ve bit the bullet and signed up and have been using it for a few weeks. The biggest feature it doesn’t have that I would like it to have is the ability for individuals to reply back to my initial message with a status update: e.g. CANT, COMPLETED, POSTPONED, etc. Then I should get notified by email or text regarding this update. This way I not only know someone has been reminded, but I can also relax knowing that the task has been done (or make alternative arrangements if it isn’t getting done).

Besides that, I’d also like to see them add the ability to search sent SMS messages, to delete SMS messages en masse (especially sent ones), and to create templated messages. But all of these are fairly minor compared to the ability to receive status updates regarding tasks (and also to auto-kick off a snooze/delete of the reminder once the task is completed).