I finally mastered my reading list!

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of ways to plow through the never ending suggestions of books that I “need to read”. I’ve kept lists in paper notebooks, Facebook books, Goodreads, my iOS Notepad, and even as a Reminders list. The list keeps getting longer. I buy books I don’t end up liking or reading, or just forget to place one in the barrel next time a get some free time to read.

Recently I discovered a way to automatically manage my list and get the book in my hands in almost any format or device — for free! Here’s how:

First, download the Libby app.

Libby is an app by Overdrive that helps make checking out books from the library easy. No, don’t worry, it’s not a way to checkout paper books. Libby is focused on helping you download audiobooks and digital books and allows you to push them to your Kindle, iBooks or whatever works for you.

Now, before you disregard the power of your local library (the institution your tax dollars pay for) let’s flip the script. Libby allows you to grab books you’re interested in.

So, think of how it plays out: You hear about a book that “you need to read.” You search for it on your Libby app, and you place a hold on it. Yes, there is a wait list for your book, and popular ones often have longer wait lists. But, guess what? You don’t care!

This is your reading list!

When books are available, they pop onto you phone or Kindle. If you don’t have time to read it, just put it back into the hold lists for the next go around. If you want to read a few chapters and put it away, that works too. The hold queue isn’t just some arbitrary list you keep that is disconnected from the act of reading — they are one and the same.

I have been doing this for the past year and love the fact that I don’t need to feel bad about falling behind on my reading. I know I’ll just read the next book that becomes available, and not think twice about my queue.

It took a while to get to “reading zen”, so I thought I’d share it. Hope it works for you too!

How this Google Home app helped my father after his stroke

About a year ago my father had a stroke. After 70 years of work as a salesman, 6 days-a-week for 12 hours-a-day, this deficiency forced him into retirement. Hoping to get back to work, he received speech therapy but never fully recovered.

Now in retirement, his typical quiet demeanor at home has kept him from exercising his neural network to reroute his audio connections. He is not tech savvy, so my attempts to get him using games on Luminosity have been unsuccessful.  

This Thanksgiving, during my visit to my parents house, I decided to see how he would fair with a Google Home. So far it has been great! Even practicing the wake word “Hey, Google” was a challenge at first, but he is improving dramatically.

Excited, I went through all the games I could find. I quickly realized just how unintuitive and disorganized the App side of Google Home still is. Some apps worked, and some didn’t. Either an app was “Not Found” or “Not Responding” when I tried to activate it. Sometimes an app would unexpectedly quit mid use. Even more frustrating were the multiple steps needed to try the above search for a working app over and over again after hitting a dead end. For example:

Me: “Hey Google” (Google Lights up)

Me: “Talk to X Game” (Wait)

Google: “Sorry, I could not find X Game” (wait for light to go off)

….Start over with another game name”

Navigation through the voice-UI was frustrating as well, and for my Dad it was impossible. To work around the issue, I went through all the games I could find online, and wrote down the ones that worked from the ones that did not. Then, I wrote our an old-school paper cheat-sheet that listed each game and its commands.

“Hey Google, – Let’s play a game”

“Hey Google, – Play 1-2-3 game”

….

What made it more complicated was that some trigger words required the user to say “Play” while others required the words “Talk to”. There is no reasoning I could find as to why there was a differences. What I realized is that these nuances were terrible difficult to retain for my non-tech savvy Dad. So, listing them out distinctly, on paper, and placing the paper next to the Google Home Device, was the best way I could provide the info to him.

One thing my Dad has retained since coming to the US is his keen memory of the US Presidents. I imagine he studied american history proudly and tirelessly when he moved here and sought his citizenship. Unfortunately, the Presidents Quiz, which I found listed in Google Home’s marketplace, and one I was sure he would like, was one of the games that was “Not Responding”.

At first I was disappointed, but then realized this was the perfect opportunity to try and build a Home App! I set out to create a US Presidents Quiz on Google Home for my Dad. 🙂

There are many ways to build a Google Home app. The two I explored were DialogFlow (https://console.dialogflow.com – formerly app.ai) and the “Actions” console (https://console.actions.google.com/u/0/). Dialog Flow had a great UI that made it seems like it would be simple to set up an interaction, but the concept of Intents, Events, Entities, Training Phrases and Responses was complex. What fed into what, and where I was suppose to handle requests from users and deliver responses did not come easily.

Google Actions is amazingly simple and perfect for those looking to build a game or quiz. WhileDialogFlow has many samples (https://developers.google.com/actions/samples/github) and plenty of docs, I decided Actions made the most sense, and I would leave DioalogFlow for another project; by using Actions, I could spin up an entire game in a single night. Interested in creating your own? Just follow this extremly simpley one-pager: https://developers.google.com/actions/templates/trivia. No code required!

The more labor intensive part of this project was listing out the hundreds of questions, correct answers, and purposefully wrong answers for multiple choice, I needed to seed the game.

You can check it our yourself, by saying:

“Hey Google, Talk to US Presidents Quiz”
Or by opening it in the directory here.

UPDATE:

Here is a print out for commands if you have a similar situation.

Firebase is 🔥

I’ve had the pleasure to watch the Firebase product grow from an idea our office buddies had as a startup, into a formidable product, and then to a suite of products at Google. I’ve been really impressed with what the founders have done. Hats off to them.

This is not a fluff piece for a friend though. To be honest, and for whatever reason, I never really used the platform until about a year ago; just didn’t have a need.

That has all changed, and, today, I see firebase as more than just a cool product, but one that I truly love and have received tremendous value from. Here is how I got there and why I feel that way.

Remember Parse? Facebook acquired the DB as a service in April 2013, and shut them down in Jan 2017. If I remember correctly, Firebase served as Google’s way to address that chasm and provide a novel, cloud-based, data platform that was especially friendly to mobile developers.

A lot  has changed since, on the Firebase platform. Their systems is more than just a websocket based, real-time, hash database. It is a veneer to the plethora of services that sit locked away in Google’s not-so-friendly-to-use ecosystem.

It was very unlikely that I move from what I know in AWS, to what I do not know, and can not easily navigate, Google Cloud Platform. My initial need for a database that handled live-reloads on data update, grew into me using their storage, auth, hosting, serverless/functions, and logging services. In fact, it didn’t hit me that they were just tapping into GCP until I had to edit some auth/keys in the system; that’s just how seamless it is.

Out of curiosity, I tried to copy the same functionality of my Firebase system by setting up a GCP-only clone. It was a crappy experience! One I would never have taken the time to ramp up  on otherwise.

With firebase, if you want storage, boom you got it. Want to right some serverless functions, easy. Checkout logs and crash analytics, yup you’re covered. Create a key to allow access to your system? No problem. In just a few click or a few lines of code, you can get up and running easily, and have the power of Google (without the admin overhead) behind you.

When it comes to filler features to help keep moving quickly, Firebase is there for you. Whether it is a beautiful auth flow (without a bias to only using Google auth), an invite system, or “who is logged in now”, Firebase does not say “that is not core – go some place else or build it yourself”. I have found myself coming back to them, even when a live-db is not a requirement for the ease in implementing those filler features alone.

If there was a critique, it would be that their use of storage for video is not top notch. They lag behind AWS for their ability to pull content seamlessly. Not much else.

GitLab and My Transition from GitHub

I was a heavy Github user. That is to say, I used them exclusively for my code projects. For a long time, there was no question in my mind of who to give my projects to. Even when Gitlab entered the market, my first thought was, these guys are just copying GH, why would I convert? Not to mention, hearing the rumors  that the CEO is was a jerk didn’t entice me to rush to adopt.

A few crucial moments, and Gitlab releases, changed that way of thinking within a year. 

The Conversion

Initially, it was sheer curiosity that got me clicking around on their product.  That and the very low barrier to entertain that curiosity.

I had reached my “private repo” limit on Github, and of my private repos few were businesses and mostly projects that I experimented ideas with and/or coded up prototypes. So, I had reached that limit right when I had another idea I wanted to flesh out, and upgrading for a cost didn’t seem worth it. Out of curiosity, I went to GitLab and logged in.

As the name implies, GitLab did not shy away from their copy-cat beginnings as a GH clone. Because of that, I was able to login using GH credentials and import all my private repos for free. The conversions was instant and easy, and my access to an unlimited store of private repos sure did help. The copy-cat look and feel played to my advantage since there was no ramp-up required. What was different about the site were things I hated about GH. Like the wording on PRs (“MRs” in GitLab), or how I could create new files from within the UI.

All in all, an unexpectedly pleasurable experience.

Top of the Hill

My first experience was my gateway drug. Each new idea/project I started, I started in GitLab. It wasn’t too long after that I used them almost exclusively. Gradually, feature after feature, GitLab took that initial win with me and solidified it with feature I really loved having all in once place, like CI and CD.

Successful startups typically take one of two approaches: innovating on one thing and the rest is copy and paste, or, finding innovation as a combination of many non-innovations and putting them together in a beautiful way. For example, the first utensil was not a spork, and sliced bread did nothing more than combine bread and a knife in a novel, simple, and less expensive way.

GitLab is like sliced bread in that, they took a few things I already used (docker, git, CI/CD), and combined them seemlesless, and cost effectively,  as their innovation.

I can very easily go from a concept-project, into a full blown production sized deployment suite in a matter of minutes. In its most basic form, GitLab is very easy to use and can be entirely free.

What keeps me happy is that they keep pumping useful improvements out; and I emphasize useful. It is not getting cluttered with features that get in the way, or as a way to prove they are hard at work. Rather, they seem to have a pulse on the dev community.

Where are they Still Losing?

One thing that has yet to change is the stronghold GitHub has on the community driven aspects of development. Their attention to open-source, from links to NPM package repos, to issues for projects, all keep me returning to GH on my google searches.

 

Will GitLab take that on next? We will have to wait and see!

 

 

Digging into the Monte Carlo Algorithm

After hearing about the Monte Carlo Algorithm over beers with friends one night, I decided to get a better understanding of how it works and learn a bit more about poker along the way. For me, there is no better way to understand a problem than coding up  and launching a product around it.

Have you ever watched a Texas Hold ’em Poker Champion on T.V.? Every time a set of cards are laid out on the table the odds of each player’s hands is provided to the audience (for example, Lindh has a 75% chance of winning with his K and 9 of clubs above). Advanced poker players have become quite good at predicting the odds as a gut instinct and is partly why mathematicians enjoy the game so much.

In order to practice my ability to develop a second-sense for poker odds, I figured repetition was the key. The game I set out to create would lay out a set of cards and allow the user to predict the percentage probability of converting that to a winning hand, quickly, over and over again.

Of couse, there are far fewer total combinations of game-plays for a poker game as compared to a game of chess; so it isn’t rocket science. However, the variation in the number of players combined with a 52 card deck does create enough variation to make things interesting.

In order to make the solution robust, I used a Monte Carlo algorithm to generate thousands of possible outcomes randomly and recorded the statistical output for “player 1” to win.  Once the algorithm was completed in Python, I built a Google Polymer app to present the probability guessing game.

You can test your ability to guess your probability of winning a text hold ’em hand in the  game here.

pokerodds

GoGong: An open-source, non-SaaS, screen capture & share platform

There are many awesome Saas-based screen capture & share services in the market today. Typically they offer a client-app that, when installed, listens in the background for all your screen captures. Once a screen capture is taken, the app seamlessly uploads the image to the cloud and provides the user with a URL (added to their clipboard) that they can easily share with others. (For example, you can checkout two captures I’ve taken with Sketch and CloudApp.)

I love those apps! 99% of the time they fill my use cases perfectly. However, recently I was working on an intranet with hundreds of users and no access to a public internet. Of all the capture & share services I knew of, none could accommodate a closed network system. Do to that environment, I was forced to manually upload my screenshots as attachments when massaging my peers – which was a real PIA!

Enter GoGong.

I created GoGong as an open-source project to provide those working on a closed network access to a screen captire & share system; without concern of having any copied material exposed to the outside world. You can read more about the project, download the server and mac DMG, and contribute to the effort here:

https://sshadmand.github.io/GoGong/

In short, GoGong provides:

  • An installable DMG OSX client
  • A server to receive and host your uploaded captures
  • A completly open-sourced project
  • A platform that do not require a public internet connection

Hope you find it useful!

TuneTime: This Game App Takes Music Trivia to the Next Level

Now that I’ve learned how to natively develop for iOS, I’m starting to have some fun with it! In this case I’ve built a piano based music trivia game.

appstore-button

How it Works:
Each team attempts to play a secret song on the provided keyboard (via a simple play-by-numbers music score). The player gets no indication towards the timing or rhythm of the song, just the notes. The team must figure out what the name of the song is before the 30 second timer runs out.

TuneTime-homescreen

game-screen-TuneTime

 

Updates/Feedback

  1. First time use of app user is very confused as to what to do next. Usually they click solo first, and skip over instructions.
    1. Potential Solutions: A intro screen and walk through of the game would be helpful. Though that could be skipped too. So offering an “easy” version of the game that grows in complexity over time may be more helpful. e.g. less keys, keys to play light up etc
    2. Note: Users wanted to keep the keyboard as the point of interaction.
  2. Even when the instruction are read there is a lot of confusion on how the workflow of the game works. This was expected as Jackie and I even got confused playing it ourselves. Just didn’t have ideas yet.
    1. Potential Solutions: One user used the game in a way that gave me an idea. Before I thought the lack of providing a rhythm would make the game fun, ergot I set it up so the player didn’t know the song name before playing (this add to a very complex workflow).
      This user wanted to know the song name they played ahead of time and seemed to have a lot more fun trying to communicate the song name through the keyboard, to the other players. This workflow would be MUCH easier to present and understand. I’m just not sure if it would be too easy. Maybe there are other ways to add complexity over time (per #1)
  3. People who have never played the piano have no idea what “#” means. Though I suspected it wouldn’t matter since all the keys are labeled, it was to much information to digest on a first time use.
    1. Potential Solutions: per #1. A “how to use the kayboard and music sheet” before presenting the keyboard would help. As well as lighting up the keyboard for first time game use.
  4. Keyboard was a bit too small
    1. Potential Solutions: Not sure how I can have many song with few keys. The original keyboard had bigger keys but couldnt get much out of it. This could again play into harder level, more songs and smaller keyboard.
  5. When the game got going people had some laughs and fun, so the potential is there, just needs a much smoother and well informed experience.

BitLang: My First iOS App

You may have read how I recently learned to develop in Swift for iOS. Well, here’s a link to the app (BitLang) I set out to build during that learning process; now available on the iTunes AppStore.

appstore-button

More About the Inspiration and Background for Why I Chose to Build BitLang:

Duolingo_logoWhile on our “year long trip around the world” I found myself going back and forth between Duolingo (a language learning app) and Google Translate (a phrase translation app). While I love both products, they had a few shortfallings when it came to a couple of specific needs I had.

First, I wanted to learn from a pre-organized set of phrases that pertained to my immediate needs. I would then want to build upon that set of phrases with custom phrases of my choice.

Although I enjoy the general Duolingo-made learning process, it is built with a long-term lesson plan in mind. I am required to learn phrases like “Your horse ate my apples” to get familiar with the grammar of a language. What I want, however, is to learn phrases I can use for my one week tour through France. For example, due to travel plans this weekend I may just want to prepare myself to say, “May I have a local beer on tap?”, “Check please”, or “Two more red wines.”

unnamedOf course, I can accomplish my phrase-by-phrase translation needs using  Google Translate, but it doesn’t do a great job organizing the translations by category or language. Also, it isn’t built to help me practice the phrases once I’ve looked them up.

I was frustrated by those gaps left between my favorite products. So, I posted feature requests to both product’s sites and got a “[not in our roadmap]” answer. (Which I completely understand and respect.) At first I was disappointed, but then I realized, “Hey, wait a sec, I know how to build things. Maybe I should just create a solution myself.” And so, BitLang was born.

The app is still a work in progress and is growing from its humble MVP beginnings. Here are the designs I mocked up for the first few iterations. Currently it just looks up phrases and allows the users to bookmark them into a single folder. It currently only translates for three languages: French, Spanish and German.

In the next few versions users will be able to login, view pre-made translation packages, and bookmark those packages. Beyond that I will start digging into deeper learning based workflows (quizzes and tests) as well as some community based features.

BitLangv4_ai___14_31___RGB_Preview_

You can read more about the iterations I took in fleshing out the BitLang concept below.

Phase I

At first, I focused heavily on the learning part of the concept. Trying to simplify the lessons into premade (but pertinent) Q&A with very simple phrases. Users would translate a phrase one word at a time.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 6.11.04 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 6.10.53 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 6.10.44 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 6.10.35 AM

Phase II

Phase I became very complex, and the questions ended up getting pretty redundant. Also, I was missing the whole aspect of being able to generate a list of phrases that interest the user the most. For it all to work, the system would have to be made up of a custom lesson, not UGC. So for the next iteration I focused more on the “looking up of phrases” side of things. To make things even more challenging decided to build it while learning Polymer 1.0.

 Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 6.46.33 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 6.46.21 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 6.46.01 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 6.46.10 AM

It was starting to come together, but as I mentioned in my key learnings for iOS development, I was forcing a web app model in what was obviously better suited for a native app.  My lack of skills to develop in iOS has annoyed me for years so I figured it was time to make the move. That is when the BitLang app became to be.

 

Updates/Feedback

  1. Is really looking for a tool that provides gender along with translations. e.g. spanish: Cup -> Taza … should be … La Taza
  2. Is looking forward to the helpful learning side. One users suggests getting notifications for any words looked up. The interesting thing he asked here is: why should I organize things – If i’m looking it up I want to learn it so assume it.
  3. Big win: Tons of people find the same holes in language learning tools. I’m not the only one. People urn for crash course mixed with lookup.

Key links to finally learning iOS development

If you haven’t picked up any iOS development skills yet, now is the time. It’s never been easier. Below are my reasons to finally take the plunge (successfully), followed by some helpful links to help you learn to create your first app too.

Contrary to popular belief, I’ve never coded up an iOS app myself. My excuse? For one, hiring great iOS developers gave me more time to focus on building great teams and products for my startups.  In addition, Objective-C has a unique syntax and requires a deeper understanding of handling memory, which demanded even more learning time. Finally, there was an immense level of complexity involved in testing, certifying and delivering native iOS apps to market. As a matter of fact, those higher than normal learning curves inspired many startups (including a few that I launched) to focus on making developing apps easier.

Since I already had a strong web development background, I always found it easier to build prototypes for my ideas using the latest web-based, app-building, technologies. Year-after-year a new product claimed to have “the right stuff” needed to create an iOS app that felt fully native, without needing to learn to code directly in Objective-C. Year-after-year I found those claims to be more wishful thinking than reality. Although quicker to develop, those technologies always left the final product feeling hacky, unresponsive or limited, and, in order to go full steam ahead with a project, a fully native version would be necessary.

Earlier this year I took another shot at using a new piece of web tech to build out a mobile app idea I had. This time I learned Polymer 1.0. I loved it as a web framework, but my hopes that Google had managed to finally develop an SPA framework that translated into a smooth functioning mobile app was, yet again, overly optimistic.

It isn’t really the technology’s fault though. The rendering mechanisms for HTML/Web (et al.) just weren’t made to process smooth app-like features. It renders top to bottom, grabs all its assets remotely, makes a lot of inferences, is based on standards that try and work across an array of products made by a variety of companies, and manages general security measures that must be spread across every site. In the web world, the browser is the ad-hoc gatekeeper, and its fighting to keep up. The mission of a browser is critically different to that of apps: to allow a user to serendipitously browse a large breadth of sites in a single view, all the while protecting the user from exposure to malicious pages that are inherently sprinkled into a user’s browsing session. Native apps are different. Both the user and the developer have a strong working agreement between what the developer would like you to see and how the user would like to see it. With that level of trust the developer is able to confidently create an experience specifically tailored to the goal of the app and the interest of the user; the OS can focus on greasing the wheels.

Sorry, I digress. Point is, yet again I was disappointed in what the web (and web wrappers) could offer, and, almost as a yearly tradition, I took a stab at learning how to develop directly in iOS again. This time, I’m glad I did!

Maybe it was due to all the free time I had while on our year long trip, but I doubt it; it came rather easily this time around. No, I think the main contributor to my smooth transition is that Apple has done a stellar job incrementally improving the life of an iOS developer over the years. I think the real turn was the release of Swift in 2014. The language is a natural leap from other common languages, as compared to its Objective-C counterpart. Also, there is no longer a heavy requirement to understand how to manage an app’s memory and delegations. The other power ally in creating ease for iOS developers is XCode’s more powerful yet simplified environment, along with interactive interfaces like Storyboards, segues,  IB Designables and more. In addition, now that TestFlight is fully integrated with iTunes Connect and Xcode, testing an app on a device, releasing it to external testers, and pushing it to the App Store is only a few clicks worth of effort; fairly brainless really.

All this added up to a surprisingly easily made V1 of my very first fully native iOS app! Yay! This will be fun 😀

Links to Learning iOS

Here are some key links I bookmarked while learning Swift in Xcode 9.0, including: vides, Q&As on StackOverflow, and tutorials. I strongly recommend learning the language by working toward implementing an idea you want to bring to life. Not only does it give you an inherent direction in what needs to be learned, but it also helps you push through the tough parts of learning that would otherwise spell defeat. The app I built used APIs, JSON, CoreData, Table Views (for listing data), Audio, and more. Hope this list helps!

 

UI Table View Controller

Prototyping a Custom Cell

http://www.ioscreator.com/tutorials/prototype-cells-tableview-tutorial-ios8-swift

View at Medium.com

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/25541786/custom-uitableviewcell-from-nib-in-swift

Adding Animated Effects to iOS App Using UIKit Dynamics

How to Create A Dribbble Client in Swift

https://grokswift.com/uitableview-updates/

Async Calls

Search Bar

http://shrikar.com/swift-ios-tutorial-uisearchbar-and-uisearchbardelegate/

Storyboards Navigation and Segues

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/26207846/pass-data-through-segue

http://www.raywenderlich.com/113394/storyboards-tutorial-in-ios-9-part-2

http://makeapppie.com/2014/09/15/swift-swift-programmatic-navigation-view-controllers-in-swift/

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/12561735/what-are-unwind-segues-for-and-how-do-you-use-them

http://sree.cc/uncategorized/creating-add-target-for-a-uibutton-object-programmatically-in-xcode-6-using-swift-language

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/25167458/changing-navigation-title-programmatically

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/29218345/multiple-segues-to-the-same-view-controllerhttp://stackoverflow.com/questions/24584364/how-to-create-an-alert-in-a-subview-class-in-swift

Reusable Xibs

Core Data

https://www.andrewcbancroft.com/2015/02/18/core-data-cheat-sheet-for-swift-ios-developers/#querying

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/28754959/swift-how-to-filter-in-core-data

http://jamesonquave.com/blog/developing-ios-apps-using-swift-part-3-best-practices/

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1108076/where-does-the-iphone-simulator-store-its-data/3495426#3495426

Network and Observers

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/24049020/nsnotificationcenter-addobserver-in-swift

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/25398664/check-for-internet-connection-availability-in-swift

https://www.andrewcbancroft.com/2015/03/17/basics-of-pull-to-refresh-for-swift-developers/

http://www.jackrabbitmobile.com/design/ios-custom-pull-to-refresh-control/

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/24466907/passing-optional-callback-into-swift-function

Gestures

http://www.raywenderlich.com/77974/making-a-gesture-driven-to-do-list-app-like-clear-in-swift-part-1

http://useyourloaf.com/blog/creating-gesture-recognizers-with-interface-builder.html

Designables

http://iphonedev.tv/blog/2014/12/15/create-an-ibdesignable-uiview-subclass-with-code-from-an-xib-file-in-xcode-6

Page View Controller (Pages on swipe control)

 

Top 8 Apps and Sites of a Nomad

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 11.55.47 PMTrusted house sitter (Founded 2010) This is probably the most valuable site we’ve used on this trip. The idea is simple, people have houses  with pets and when they go on a trip they need someone they can trust to watch them. The trade is almost always even-steven. We got matched up with a wonderful family and a dog we love (Dexter) in a posh area of London for two weeks.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 11.58.34 PMRome2Rio (Founded 2010 in Melbourne AUS) Trains, planes and automobiles, getting from point “A” to point “B” can end up using them all. This site does a great job of giving you all of the options for your trip and includes options you may not have thought of.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.01.47 AMXE Currency (Founded 1995) The objective is simple: Show how much you can get for $1USD in another country. The live updates, ease of use, and inline calculator makes it a solid app. What I especially like is the feature that tells the difference between what you got and what you should have got.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.04.38 AMHotels .com (Founded 1991) This isn’t a new site but we have become loyal users ever since our incident in Kyoto.  Their phone support has been the nicest we’ve ever used for a product (and we have used it on more than one occasion). Their coupons, discounts, and one night free after 10 nights of stays makes it the kind of product that gives you no reason to search for others.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.06.58 AMGoogle Photos (Released 2015) We take tons of photos and movies on our trip and finding a place to store them use to be expensive. I was ecstatic when Google released this new tool. Unlimited storage FREE and it is a better photo management tool than most paid ones likes Amazon. I go into detail on how Google Photos is better than Amazon here.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.18.56 AMOokla Speed Tester (Founded 1994) This app doesn’t do any miracles by any means. That being said, internet is terribly inconsistent from country to country. With gigs of photos to upload it is a nice way to get an idea whether or not you have a shot of getting any of them to the cloud.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.20.32 AMUber (Founded 2009) By now everyone is familiar with Uber, even internationally. The reason why it deserves a place on this top travel products list is the peace of mind it has given us in foreign countries. Getting ripped off by cabs is an international phenomenon. With uber we will not only get a fair price, but a less expensive one too – and in a nicer car.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.21.30 AMFitbit (Founded 2007) It takes a great deal of steps to tour a country. The actual number of steps would be a mystery without this app. There is a sort of satisfaction in justifying your aching feet when you see that you’ve hit 20K+ steps in a single day.

Some Honorable Mentions

Startup Travels (Founded 2014) If you are interested in getting to know entrepreneurs and startups on your next visit check out this site. I have made some great connections that have turned into amazing stays from this site.

Bla Bla Car (Founded 2006) We haven’t ended up using this app yet, but we can see where it may come in handy. For far less than a train or plane ride this ride sharing site is available all over europe.

AirBnB (Founded 2008) Just about everyone in the world knows about AirBnB by now. The reason this didn’t make the top 8 is that we have had a few unsavory stays using them and when you are dropping in on a country for a few days not getting what you expect isn’t easy to deal with. That being said it is an awesome product and we intend to give it another chance in the coming weeks now that we know what to look out for.

Duolingo (Founded 2011) If you are planning on making your way to another country it may help to learn the language. Duolingo is the best way to learn a language I’ve come across so far – and it’s free. The only thing its missing is a crash course version for people who aren’t trying to be fluent. Since I couldn’t find one I started building one for myself. Check out my casual language learning app Bitlang.com for a crash course.

Hangouts/Voice (Launched 2009) The best thing about this app vs Viber and Skpe is the ability to make or receive free calls home using a real phone number. You can learn more about how to set up a free home phone number here.

Google Authenticator  – In order to keep your data safe these days 2-factor-authentication is the way to go. However, when you’re traveling you don’t have a home number to complete the text verification part of the login process. That’s where authenticator comes in. It provides your verify passkey without the need for an internet connection or phone number. Be sure to set this up before you go!

Tripadvisor (Founded 2000) A trusted brand, we saw the Tripadvisor sticker placed on every store window we came across around world.
iMovie – The iPhone app lets you merge and annotate your video directly on your phone.
Hyperlapse – There is a lot of video you’d like to share, with Hyperlapse you can share more in less time. Videos shot include video stabilizers to make your videos even smoother.
Units Plus – This app has every possibly conversion type you can think of.