Fallout Shelter on iOS

I bought an iPad Mini in December, and soon went in search of some great games to play on it. One of the first games that I downloaded was Fallout Shelter. It had excellent user ratings and best of all, it was free. I hadn’t played any of the traditional Fallout games, so the franchise was new to me.

The game is great! Beyond the simple enjoyment of the game play, I’m really impressed with how well the app itself is put together. It is solid. It runs smoothly without any glitches, and it has never crashed on me once. It is a bit slow to load, but it has a lot to think about, so I’ll give it a pass on that.

Fallout Shelter is described as a “mobile simulation” game. You build rooms in your vault and assign dwellers to perform different tasks in those rooms. At the basic level, you begin by building rooms that generate power, food, and water. You are encouraged to assign dwellers to particular rooms based on their skill set. After you’ve played the game for some time, rooms are unlocked that can be added to increase the skills of the dwellers.

You can add new dwellers to the vault in two ways. One is by building a radio room and staffing it with dwellers that have high charisma. Dwellers in the wasteland will detect the radio broadcast and arrive to join the vault. Note: The radio room is not available at the beginning of the game.

That leads me to the second way to add dwellers — making babies. Simply drag a man and a woman into the living quarters and sit back and wait a short while. They’ll begin exchanging small talk, and eventually the couple will run off together. The small talk is quite clever and funny, I might add. The game developers appear to have had some fun with that. After the couple returns from running off-screen, the woman emerges pregnant. There is a waiting period before the child arrives, who after that must grow up to become an adult before they can become productive in the vault. Dwellers that are related cannot do this, which is a clever addition.

Naturally, as dwellers are added to the vault, the need for power, food and water increase. Maintaining the balance of energy resources and keeping everyone happy and productive is the main element of the game. Raiders, attacks, fires, and other destructive forces act to slow down your progress.

There is no actual end to the game, except for the limitation that you cannot have more than 200 dwellers in the vault. It makes sense to impose a cap. It’s probably a limitation of the processing power required to calculate and display that much activity.

My vault currently has 89 dwellers. Once I reach 100, I will be able to unlock the final room, which appears to be a bottling facility of some type. At that point, I will reasonably be able to say that I’ve done pretty much everything you can do in the game. To continue adding dwellers beyond that would simply be a matter of having twice as much of everything that I already have in the vault now. I’m nearing the end of the line, but it’s been a lot of fun along the way.

I highly recommend Fallout Shelter. If you like mobile simulation games, you’ll love it. It’s available for iOS and Android. And it’s free! There are in-app purchases available, but I haven’t needed to use any of them, as the game generously allows you to advance painlessly.

I’ve posted a screenshot of my vault below.

Fallout Shelter vault

Worn iPhone Home Button Fix

Over last weekend, the home button on my iPhone started to become less responsive. By Sunday night, it had nearly stopped working entirely. To get it to work, I had to mash it hard with my thumb. The amount of pressure required was surely going to wear it out even faster. Double-tapping didn’t work at all. I was worried that my phone would soon be a goner. As it turns out, things aren’t so bad.

I still have an iPhone 5. I bought it 2 1/2 years ago. It has held up remarkably well over that time. It is in nearly flawless condition. I just entered my purchase date in an online date calculator, and it turns out that I have had the phone for a whopping 907 days. I’ve taken very good care of it. Fortunately, the battery also remains in great shape, despite years of usage.

Considering how well my phone as aged, I was disappointed when my home button began to flake out over the weekend. I went online and looked up potential home remedies to get it working again. I learned some interesting tricks.

If the home button is completely unusable, you can still use the phone by enabling AssistiveTouch, which is an Accessibility feature in iOS. You can find it in Settings > General > Accessibility. Once AssistiveTouch is turned on, a small circle will appear at the bottom right of the screen that allows you to use a virtual home button in place of the physical one. Cool!

Since my button was still working to some degree, I looked for a solution to repair it. I found a terrific page listing several such solutions. You can find that page here.

Last night I tried the solution of pressing and wiping around the home button with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. I didn’t seem to make any immediate difference. However, this morning, the home button was suddenly working perfectly again. It’s as good as new! Even the gentlest tap now elicits a response, and double-tapping works again as well. Problem solved!

If you are experiencing a similar problem, visit the link above and try one (or all) of those solutions. Hopefully one will get you up and running!

Third-Party Keyboards on iOS 8

I’ve been experimenting with two third-party keyboards on iOS 8: Swiftkey and Swype. I want to share my thoughts.

If you’re an Android user, you’ve had access to third-party keyboards for years. I know this. I’m not under any illusion that alternative keyboards are a sudden revolution. I’ve wanted to try Swype for a long time, and I’m glad that Apple has finally opened up the platform to allow third-party keyboards.

Swype is a great keyboard and it works incredibly well. I have not experienced a single mistake while using it. It is actually rather astounding. I applaud the work that the developers have put into Swype. The only downside for me is that I can’t use it easily with one hand. I have to hold my phone in one hand, and swipe they keys with the other. I don’t consider that to be a limitation, but the result is that I find myself rarely using it.

Swiftkey is my favorite of the third-party keyboard offerings. The best element is the upper and lowercase display of the keyboard letters, based on what mode I am in. That alone solves one of my biggest annoyances with Apple’s keyboard. On the Apple keyboard, the letters are displayed as uppercase all the time, so I often get confused if I am typing in caps or not. Swiftkey is also highly accurate with my two-thumb style of typing. The black display is an interesting look. It would be cool if they had an option for different colors, but that isn’t important.

Both of the aforementioned keyboards are solid, and are great in their own right. However, I don’t care for the somewhat clumsy way that iOS implements them. I have to go way out of my way to access another keyboard, each time, on the fly. Apple seems to want to inconvenience you into using their keyboard.

I want to be able to set a single keyboard as the default in the operating system settings. Without being able to do that, I end up with Apple’s keyboard time and time again. The standard Apple keyboard pops up the majority of the time.

A clear example of this annoying behavior is when I write a quick reply to a text notification. In iOS 8, a reply window appears immediately in front of whatever I am doing, without having to launch the Messages app. When the keyboard appears for that reply window, it is always the Apple keyboard. At least, this has been my experience.

The OS doesn’t seem to have any logical memory retention of my last keyboard selection. Sometimes when I am texting with someone using Swiftkey, for instance, it will remember that when I return to write that person again later. However, if I begin texting someone else, it reverts back to the Apple keyboard, for seemingly no reason, despite the fact that I am using the same Messages app to compose text that I’d used with the other person.

It is my understanding that when you are entering a password, Apple forces you to use their keyboard. I don’t see that as a problem, as they are attempting to protect users from their password entry being captured by the third-party keyboard developers. Sure, that’s a little paranoid on their part, but I can understand why they designed it that way.

If you like to use Emojis in your messages, you will find the extra keyboards to be very annoying. I like to swap between text and Emojis when I message my friends. Having four keyboards on the system makes that very difficult. If I am using Swiftkey, I have to tap the keyboard globe three or four times to get to the Emojis, then tap the globe another three or four times to get back to the keyboard I was using. Even more annoying, each keyboard doesn’t have the globe key in the exact same place. All of that unnecessary tapping just to insert a smiley face in a text message gets old fast.

Having done my experiments with Swype and Swiftkey, I’ve decided to disable them for the time being and continue to use the Apple keyboard, with a side of Emojis. I don’t have problem with the Apple keyboard, beyond the uppercase letter display that I mentioned earlier. The addition of predictive text in iOS 8 is a welcomed feature that I find to be very useful.

The alternative keyboards are great, but I find it to be too much work to constantly toggle between them. If the Apple keyboard is going to appear more than 50% of the time anyway, I don’t see a compelling reason to fight against the operating system to try to use another one.

The Annoying iOS Game Center Banner

I’d like to submit a complaint about the Game Center banner in iOS. When you load a game in iOS that works with Game Center, a banner slides down from the top of the screen that says, “Welcome back, [your username].” My argument is that it is too large and hangs around a little too long. Sure, this is a rather nit-picky thing to gripe about, but if you load games often enough, trust me, it will slowly chip away at your tolerance.

A great example of how the banner is super annoying is with one of my favorite games at the moment, called Kingdom Rush. Kingdom Rush has background game music that I prefer to turn off. (I turn off all in-game background music, actually.) The problem, particularly with Kingdom Rush is that the music is re-enabled every time I launch the game. The controls for turning it off are in the upper left corner of the launch screen. When I load the game, the music cranks up and I scramble to turn it off, except I can’t turn it off quickly because of the annoying Game Center banner that is lingering at the top of the screen.

I think that Apple should redesign the banner to take up less space in future versions of the operating system. Moreover, it would be nice to have an option to disable it entirely. I would disable it if I could.

Having said all that, I have an even greater idea for how to handle this. Perhaps they could reprogram it to only enable a (smaller) banner when the phone is silenced. When the phone is not silenced, how about a voice that simply whispers “Game Center” when you launch a game? It would be wispy and fun. Wouldn’t that be much better than the annoying banner? I think so.

iOS Game Center Banner

iOS Push Notification Permissions Are Not Always Honored

The first time you launch an app in iOS, you are usually asked if you want to allow the app to deliver push notifications. A box pops up asking your preference, and you can either tap “Don’t Allow” or “OK.” Half the time when I select “Don’t Allow,” notifications are enabled anyway. I am not exaggerating. In my experience over the years, I would say that this happens about 50% of the time.

When I install a new app, I almost always deny push notifications for it. After using an app for the first time, I’ve been in the habit of going to the iOS settings to look at the notification settings. Sure enough, I often have to go in and manually disable Badges, Sounds, and Banners for the app I just installed. This needs to stop.

I only allow notifications on apps that I use for communication. In total, I only have notifications enabled for about five apps, most of which are instant messengers. It simply isn’t necessary for other types of apps to use them, certainly not games and other such trivial nonsense. Notifications can get annoying and I imagine that they probably tax your battery if you have too many enabled.

I don’t understand why the initial permissions preference is broken half the time. Are app developers deliberately programming so that notifications for their app are allowed no matter what the user chooses when they launch it? I suspect that they are. I don’t have any other explanation for the behavior. It can’t be an iOS glitch because half of the apps I’ve encountered honor it correctly.

If developers are in fact doing this on purpose, I’d like to see Apple crack down on the practice. Evildoers should be rejected from the App Store. There just isn’t any sense in developers getting away with this, if this is what they’re doing.

I would advise that everyone check their iOS settings from time to time to see if any apps have sneakily turned on notifications without their knowledge. I think we should all collectively begin giving poor ratings to apps that don’t honor the preferences of the user.

iOS push notifications permission

Pocket Trains

Pocket Trains is a business simulation game from NimbleBit where you manage and grow railroads by transporting cargo around the world. The game was released on iOS and Android in September 2013. I’ve been playing it for a couple of months now. I enjoy the game sound effects and charming 8-bit graphics. I’m currently on level 17 and operating 14 railroads.

The ultimate goal in this game is to acquire a license to operate on every continent and then reach monopoly status on each one. This will take time. Despite playing for a while, I am operating on 4 continents, with 2 remaining to unlock. South America and Oceania are my last two lands to conquer.

Pocket Trains is free. However, you’re incentivized to make in-app purchases to buy extra crates, coins, and game currency called “Bux”. Paying for these items will significantly speed up your game progress, but it is not necessary to pay if you’re willing to be patient and not try to rush through the game. In time, the game will provide you with everything you need to expand your railroads and complete the game without having to spend any real money.

There are countless guides, walkthroughs, and cheat sheets available online for this game. I haven’t actually read any of them. I’ve just been playing through the game on my own, moving cargo about twice a day, and playing casually to build up my railroad operations. Having played it for a while, I have some game tips for you all.

It’s worth making it clear that you can rename your railroads. I didn’t realize this for a while, and as I began to manage new ones, it became hard to tell them apart. Naming the trains is part of the fun. I’ve made silly names that correlate to the color or region of the tracks that they operate on. For example, one of my purple lines is named “Purple Reign”. That amuses me.

If you deploy a train too soon after its last trip, you will get a warning that it needs to be refueled. The game will prompt you to refuel using your Bux, and charge you accordingly depending on the fuel supply that your train currently has remaining. My advice is to never use your Bux to refuel the trains. You need to save your Bux to open the crates that contain parts to make more trains and deploy new railroads. When your fuel is low, simply leave the game and come back later. The trains refuel over time on their own. Also, don’t use the boost feature to speed your train to its destination. Boosts cost Bux and it is a waste of your funds. Just wait it out.

Trains break down over time and require repairs. You can repair broken trains using spare parts you’ve unlocked from crates or by using your coins. In my opinion, the trains break down too frequently. It’s somewhat of a ploy by the developers to get you to waste more of your spare parts and coins so that you’ll be tempted to hurry to get more by using the in-app purchases. My suggestion to you is to simply ignore the train breakdowns. The trains will all still operate while being broken, but they can only move at the slow speed of 25 MPH. As long as you’re not in a hurry to blow through this game, the slow speed is fast enough to reasonably complete your missions. Don’t waste your loot on keeping the trains in perfect working order. It’s worth noting that the longer you run your trains without repairing them, the higher the cost of the repair, should you decide to finally fix them. Repair fees can quickly grow to massive numbers so be careful not to tap the wrong button when dismissing the warnings.

When laying new tracks and expanding your empire, I highly recommend that you avoid the temptation to build train tracks on long spans of bridges. The cost to deploy tracks over water is rather expensive and can eat up a lot of your profits. As you advance in the game and operate more railroads, the amount of profit you receive increases and it will be easier to afford those bridges later in the game.

You don’t have to unlock access to every major city on a continent to achieve monopoly status for that land, you only need to unlock most of them. Once you achieve monopoly status for that land, turn your attention to building up your coins to spend on buying a license to operate on another continent. Each license costs 50,000 coins. This is why I suggested holding off on building expensive bridges early in the game.

I have an annoyance. Every so often when I load the game, I’ll get a popup window that encourages me to download NimbleBit’s other game offerings, most notably Textropolis and Star Wars Tiny Death Star. I suppose that’s a minor inconvenience for an enjoyable game that they are essentially giving away for free, but the ads tend to get on my nerves. Fortunately, one doesn’t appear very often.

One benefit to playing this game that I didn’t expect when I started playing is that it has helped me learn more about geography. I didn’t realize the locations and distances of a lot of the cities in Asia and Africa until this game gave me the incentive to memorize the maps.

Overall, I have to say that Pocket Trains is a lot of fun. I’ve found it to be quite addictive. I’ve really enjoyed playing it. It sounds like I’ve spent a lot of time on it, but I really haven’t. Just five minutes here and there. I know that once I’ve monopolized the planet with my train empire, the game will be over and its luster will fade away. That is one reason why I’m glad I’ve taken it slow and enjoyed the journey.

If Pocket Trains sounds like fun to you then I definitely recommend downloading it and laying some tracks. Enjoy!

Pocket Trains

Siri Has Become Unreliable

Has anyone had problems with Siri lately? I’ve used it occasionally for the past year, but lately it has been very hit and miss. Mostly miss. I don’t know if it is iOS 7 related, network congestion, or what. Siri has become completely unreliable, whether I am accessing it on LTE data or my home WiFi.

For the past month or so, when I voice dictate text, it takes an unacceptable amount of time to complete. It regularly takes 20 seconds or more, much longer than it would take to type out the text by hand. And when I ask Siri a direct question, at least half the time she says she can’t take any requests at the moment. And when it does work, it regularly takes up to 30 seconds to respond. Unacceptable.

When I need directions on the go, I’ll ask Siri to navigate to a location or to a contact in my address book. That has always worked well for me in the past, but lately it just spins its wheels, often not responding at all. A few nights ago, I had to pull over and type in where I was trying to go.

I can’t be alone in this problem. It’s getting on my nerves. This has not been an issue for me until about a month ago. Siri has become nearly unusable. It’s a possibility that the millions of new iPhones sold since the release of the 5S are clogging up the pipes. Apple needs to address this immediately or risk alienating their users.

Wanted: iOS Music Skipping

Apple developed an iOS app for podcast lovers, simply called Podcasts. One handy feature of the app is the ability to skip 15 seconds ahead or 15 seconds behind with the tap of an icon. This has become indispensable for me, as I often like to skip back to hear something I either missed or want to hear again. These skip icons are essential for navigating close to the part of the recording your are listening to. It would be too difficult to use the scrub slider to back up a few seconds in what could be and hour or two of content.

I want the same skip feature to be built in to the iOS Music app as well. When I’m out walking and listening to music, I often find myself wanting to back up a few seconds to hear a particular part of a song again. I admit that the scrub slider is of more use for a single song in comparison to podcasts because the width of the slider represents only 3 or 4 minutes of audio. However, I keep around an old iPhone and use it as a mere iPod when I’m exercising. It’s old and the screen is cracked at the top, right along the area where the time and audio scrubber are displayed. It’s hard for me to be able to glance at the screen and find the head of the slider to navigate within a song. It would be far easier if there were skip icons that I could tap and go forward or back with ease. I don’t understand why they haven’t thought to add them. Make it so.

iOS skip buttons in Podcasts app