Life, Sans-Wallet

For the last month I haven’t carried my wallet. Here’s how I’ve fared.

The backstory:

Most folks in my generation remember learning their times tables with a loving but firm teacher saying, “You need to learn this because you’re not going to carry a calculator in your pocket everywhere you go.”

Oh, how times have changed! I not only have a calculator in my pocket, but I have what would have been the equivalent of a military grade super computer with me at all times.

There are some things you always carry with you. When you drive you carry your license. When you need to spend money you carry either a cash or a card. Most people would combine all of these things and put them in their wallet or purse, and for generations that’s what we’d been doing. But now that we carry our phones with us everywhere do we really need to carry around our license, cash, and cards?

There are good reasons to still use cash. It’s widely accepted, has no network fee, and carries with it a certain level of anonymity (for those sensitive to that sort of thing). There’s probably not much debate on carrying any of these items, except the wallet. I didn’t like carrying a wallet and a cell phone. I wanted to combine the two of them.

Thankfully there’s a wide swath of wallet/phone combinations some of which I find cumbersome and hilarious. There are others that are elegant and work well. I went with the elegant version. My iPhone is now wrapped in a Silk iPhone case. The case is thin, protective, durable and holds up to three cards and a couple of bills. It’s the perfect size for my lifestyle. Ah, but let’s see how I’ve fared.

Life, Sans-Wallet

To support the sans-wallet lifestyle doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes a system various elements working together to make it functional. There are some stores that have full fledged apps that let me pay with an image of a QR code at the register combined with a thumb print for security. Getting dialed in to each shopping experience’s ecosystem does take a bit of time, but it’s not a terribly cumbersome process to set up. Self checkout lets you practice without feeling that you’re holding up the line.

I carry fewer cards. One of the ones I leave at home is my big-box club card. Why? Because I may have a membership, but I rarely go there. In contrast, my wife uses that store for much of her shopping for kids lunches. At this point in time I’m note aware if they have a digital membership feature on their app or not, but minus that it’s been reasonably smooth sailing.

One thing that has been really nice in all of this is the feeling of shedding the institutionalization that I was a part of in the military for so many years. It’s also been really neat to see how technology is enabling faster and more efficient transactions in the economy. I’m sure our great-grand parents would have thought self-checkout was frivolous because regular checkout was already faster than making one’s own bread, killing and butchering some animals, and frying up some potato chips. I rather enjoy not having a paper receipt at the end of the transaction and having the ability to view my purchase history via my phone.

Life, Sans-Wallet is pretty good right now and when we can solve the problem of having to carry licenses around we’ll be doing even better.

Snore Detection

A few months ago I wrote about how smoke detectors desperately need a button for when you accidentally set them off burning something on the stove. That idea hasn’t gained wide-spread adoption yet and I can totally understand why. The idea would require a software and hardware change for a highly regulated product. So, no big deal. Let’s try something that only requires a software change–Our Phones.

Several phones on the market have voice recognition. I can say “hey, google or hey, siri and get a polite ding and the device is ready to do my bidding. This means that our devices are constantly listening to us. I also have a few apps that have snooze timers. My audible app for instance will let me listen to 30 minutes of a book as I a fall asleep. The problem is that I might fall asleep before those 30 minutes are up. It’s very rare to fall asleep at precisely the estimated time of the timer.

So, this brings up another idea. Why not add snore detection?

Seriously. If it hears me snoring it should stop the app and rewind my spot by 5 minutes. That would be a great way to go.

I’m not sure why no one has thought of this yet, but now that someone has and it only requires a software upgrade let’s see how long it takes to make this a reality.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Staying Connected Overseas

While moving to a foreign country and drinking in the all the experiences it offers is exciting it can also be unnerving to move so far away from friends and family and still find ways to keep in touch.  Leveraging today’s technology can help shrink the distances and make things more manageable.  In this article I’d like to share a few insights about cell phone companies and apps to help inform those looking to stay a little more connected while they’re a lot further away.

Cell phone plans can be a bit tricky over here.  Bills are best paid with automatic bank withdrawals.  Inside the PX one can sign up for a phone plan with the convenience of talking to someone who speaks English and German and is willing to call the phone company auf Deutsch in your behalf.  Off post this language barrier can be more daunting.  It’s a good idea to research all the plans before signing up.  You might want to pay for a shopping experience that works for you even if it doesn’t make financial sense on the surface.

Cell phone companies over here have less competition than they do in the states so some of the features from the stateside carriers like T-Mobile aren’t championed over here to provide competition to the market.  Among the carriers off post to investigate include Vodafone.de and 1und1.de.  While some of the smaller communities such as Graf and Vilseck may not have stores for these carriers, they do offer competitive deals that make them worth looking into.  For example, 1und1.de offers a €30 per device monthly plan that includes roaming in other countries and 4GB of high speed data.  Most other carriers work on a contract basis that can be difficult to get out of especially if PCSing early.

Once you’ve decided which carrier to choose, you can quickly find your phone bill going through the roof calling back to the states.  Today’s app ecosystem makes it easy to stay connected to friends and family by switching the conversation from minutes to data.  Sometimes the number of apps people use can be a bit confusing.  I’d like to do a quick rundown of some of the most popular.  

WhatsApp:  This app is extremely popular.  This easy to use application is owned by Facebook and makes secure calling, chatting & group chats reasonably easy.  Once each person adds the other to their contacts and installs the app WhatsApp will enable a secure communication.  Since only phone numbers are exchanged this app reduces the amount of private information used to create the account.  Because it’s owned by Facebook though the privacy settings and user agreement are subject to change.  Right now Facebook only captures the metadata of the conversation (to include phone numbers) and there’s some kerfuffle over recent changes to the EULA.  After getting your stateside friends to add the app to their phone you’ll be able to call using your phone’s data plan without a hitch.  There is a blackberry app available.

Telegram:  This app is less popular among Americans than WhatsApp, but has similar security features.  It was designed for use by Russian journalists to keep the prying eyes of one of the most intrusive governments away from their communications.  It allows one of the easiest interfaces to share documents of all types and has desktop and web applications that allow you to communicate using your full keyboard in addition to the one on your phone.  The current version does not allow you to make voice calls.  Adding people to telegram is as easy as adding the app and adding them to your contacts.  This app contains more robust group chat features and search which can be very helpful for large group conversations.  Tags can help you easily sort and manage conversations.

Facebook Messenger:  This app makes it easy to do voice, video, and group chats with people you select as friends on facebook.  That can be a huge convenience for some people.  There are some features of this app that cause concern.  Every conversation is secure to Facebook’s servers, but they have full access to the conversation and will use the information according to their EULA.  Earlier versions of the app itself were known to drain battery life.  Keeping in touch with some friends will naturally lead you to keeping this app on your device, but having to make everyone you want to talk with your Facebook friend will limit your ability to make this the one app to rule them all.

Google Hangouts:  This app is free, allows group voice and video chats and is browser compatible with most modern browsers.  The app uses email addresses to be able to connect people and so folks reluctant to share their personal email address will be off-put by using this communication method.  In addition there are parts of the app that feel less polished.  For example you can’t remove people from a group once the group has been created.  There’s no distinction between a group admin and group member like there is with WhatsApp or Telegram.  Like Facebook Messenger all of the data is secured back to Google’s servers where it remains completely searchable to the company to use the information in accordance with the EULA.  Folks with a google voice number will find the app helpful as they can use it to make voice calls to regular US land lines.  Despite being designed for Android there is also a iOS application that works equally as well.

iMessage:  This application secure and robust.  Apple has taken great care to ensure that its users’ information is protected.  The drawback of this application is that there is no Android equivalent.  iMessage is only available to iOS users who have added other iOS users to their contact list.  There is a desktop app available for the mac.

SMS:  This messaging service is basic and functional.  It provides no security or searchability.  It also subjects you to all types of carrier fees from your cell phone provider.  Roaming text messages may apply a hefty fee depending on which countries you choose to visit.

In the end you’re not going to get one app on your phone to rule them all.  Some of the people you stay in contact are going to stick with what they know no matter how insecure or costly that method is.  Knowing the above should help you select the right blend of applications that work for you and the network of people you want to stay in contact with.  

Did I miss something?  Let me know in the comments below.