The 10 Free Apps We’re Most Thankful For

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Image credit: William Hook/Flickr

The Lifehacker staff sifts through a ton of apps on a regular basis, but a few have stuck with us over the years. Some apps are simply nice to have, while others have become essential in our daily lives. To celebrate those that bring us the most joy, we’ve compiled a list of the ten free apps we’re most thankful for. From dealing with irate dragons to counting our mindfulness minutes, each app has a special place in our hearts (and our homescreens).

Overcast (iOS)

Need a podcast app that isn’t from Apple? Try Overcast, which features smart playlists, voice boosting, and podcast recommendations from the people you follow on Twitter.

Venmo (iOS, Android)

Venmo is the de facto way millennials send beer money to each other, and comes in handy when you need to split the dinner bill without trying to get the waiter to swipe six debit cards.

Clash Royale (iOS, Android)

Got a few minutes to kill? Why not kill some knights and dragons in Clash Royale, a competitive strategy game pitting your army against another player’s troops. Matches can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes—an eternity when your army’s being decimated by a platoon of angry skeletons.

Pocket (iOS, Android, Web)

If your morning commute doesn’t allow for much seated time, you can still get some morning reading done. Pocket works on iOS and Android devices, as well as your favorite web browser. It saves articles you find on the web for later consumption, even if you’re offline.

Nuzzel (iOS, Android)

If you’re mostly visiting Twitter for the latest news, try Nuzzel. It pulls the stories from all around the web that have been shared by your friends and followers. It’s a great way to stay up to date without sifting through tweets about dril.

Seamless (iOS, Android, Web)

Cooking is time-consuming. That’s why food delivery service Seamless has become one of the most important apps related to keeping you alive via food-based nutrient delivery.

Libby (iOS, Android, Windows)

Libby is like Amazon’s Kindle app, but specifically geared toward library books. It has a beautiful interface and connects to your public library’s e-book catalog.

Omo (iOS)

If you just need a meditation app without the (literal) bells and whistles, get Omo. It’s a simple meditation app that offers simple time presets, and automatically syncs to Apple’s HealthKit to record your mindfulness minutes.

MyFitnessPal (iOS, Android)

Paying attention to the food you eat is hard to do if you’re always forgetting what you had for breakfast. MyFitnessPal lets you catalog meals, exercises, and other health-related factors to help you get an understanding of what you’re putting into your body (and why your scale seems to be overreacting after Thanksgiving dinner).

Signal (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux)

You might think your text messages are secure, but you can’t be too careful. Download Signal, an encrypted VoIP and messaging app that protects your communications and lets you scrub your talks and texts from the record, for good.

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Smartphones are killing Black Friday

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black friday

  • Overall sales on Black Friday have been steadily declining for years.
  • This year, Black Friday spending was spread out through November with most sales starting Thanksgiving morning.
  • Mobile spending is drastically up on Thanksgiving, making Black Friday more of a season than a one-day event.

November 24 is only one day, but Black Friday’s season is a lot longer than that.

Bargains at America’s largest retailers all started on Thanksgiving, with deals online starting Thanksgiving morning. The deals are still labeled as Black Friday, but they start at least a half a day before November 24.

The move seems to be paying off for retailers. Spending online Thanksgiving was up 29% this year compared to last year, according to data from Salesforce. In 2016, Thanksgiving online sales only increased 17% over 2015, suggesting the rate of the holiday turning into a shopping event is quickening.

Data from Adobe as of Friday showed online sales at retailers on Thanksgiving day at nearly $2.9 billion. The average online order is also up more than 3% on Thanksgiving, Adobe says

Phones have understandably driven the growth of sales on Thanksgiving, counting for 46% of all retailer traffic according to Adobe — an increase of more than 15% over last year. At the same time, traffic decreased from both tablets and desktops, making mobile the most popular option for Thanksgiving shopping for the first time ever.

It’s likely due to a combination of a proliferation of shopping apps and the ease of using a phone to sneak some holiday shopping while at a relative’s house waiting for turkey.

Thanksgiving is now edging out the rest of the Black Friday weekend, making it the third biggest shopping day of the year according to Salesforce.

But it isn’t just Thanksgiving that is leading to Black Friday’s demise. Online sales from November 1 through 22 totaled almost $30.4 billion this year, counting for nearly 18% year over year growth according to Adobe.

Every single day in November so far saw over $1 billion in online sales, creating a new paradigm for both shoppers and retailers. Black Friday isn’t just a day anymore — it’s a whole season.

SEE ALSO: Everyone spent their Thanksgiving dinner shopping on their iPhones under the table — and it’s great news for retailers like Walmart and Target

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NOW WATCH: The dark story behind the term ‘Black Friday’

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A popular cryptocurrency exchange is hiring to build products for Wall Street’s fastest traders

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  • The exploding market for digital assets has caused headaches for some cryptocurrency exchanges. 
  • Customers of Kraken, one of the largest exchanges in the space, recently experienced connection problems caused by record-level trading volumes. 
  • Still, the firm is hiring across departments, including one to build products for high-frequency trading firms.

 

Kraken has not been immune to the problems facing cryptocurrency exchanges as money continues to pour into the scorching-hot market for digital coins such as bitcoin

Cryptocurrency exchanges, which don’t have the industrial infrastructure of traditional exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq, are under pressure to handle record trading volumes.

Just this month, customers of Kraken, one of the largest crypto-exchanges in the world, experienced delays and connection time-outs triggered by record-high volumes.

Here’s one crypto-trader who took to Twitter Friday to lament about server problems on the exchange.

Kraken is one of the four crypto-exchanges that is set to contribute to the index on which Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the exchange giant, will base its bitcoin futures markets. Bithumb, another exchange that’ll contribute to the index, also experienced a server outage in November.

In a Q&A with Business Insider earlier this week, Kraken CEO Jesse Powell outlined the exchange’s strategy in light of recent developments.

Powell said Kraken is actively hiring to build out a number of units, including one to build tools for high-frequency crypto-traders.

A number of high-frequency traders have dove into the cryptocurrency market. Business Insider previously reported that Chicago-based DRW, Hehmeyer Trading, and DV Trading are among the firms making markets in cryptocurrencies.

The following has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Frank Chaparro: You guys appear to be expanding your development team. Was that triggered by the explosive volume in crypto-trading we’ve seen? Has the recent server failure put more pressure on you guys to hire more people/build-out faster?

Jesse Powell: Development team growth has been part of our strategy all along. The increased volume has validated our hunch. The key to hiring though is to ensure we are preserving Kraken’s extremely high standards.

Chaparro: You’re looking to hire for an active traders product manager. What are some of the products you plan on rolling out in trading?

Powell: The active trader product manager will be focused on our professional cryptocurrency trading tool, Cryptowatch and associated APIs that high-frequency traders need. In addition to market and data depth; we are focused on scaling and performance, too. We are also working on aggregate views across any exchange the trader may be trading across. So, yes, the new product manager will certainly be helping us achieve our vision of the best all around digital asset exchange by working closely with our high-frequency traders to ensure we are bringing them the tools they need to be better traders.

Chaparro: The company acquired CryptoWatch, the charting site, recently. What are the next steps for that unit? How does that acquisition play into the broader strategy?

Powell: We see an amazing opportunity in the market for a tool that can aggregate market data, allow trading across any exchange and provide actionable content for traders.

Chaparro: What kind of talent are you guys looking for? Do you think Wall Streeters are better equipped to build out a mature cryptocurrency ecosystem?

Powell: We are seeking a variety of backgrounds and experience levels across our open positions. Where a Wall Street vet may not have the most relevant experience (i.e., cryptocurrency gateways), they could certainly help us with trading system technologies.

We are hiring in almost every function. In addition to developers, which we are always actively hiring, we are looking to bring on a VP of engineering, regulatory affairs counsel, trader, compliance manager, product manager, recruiter, and treasurer, just to name a few. 

Experienced folks from Wall Street bring tremendous value to certain roles such as traders, while other roles require expertise in crypto and financial technology, and many of these talents are outside of New York, so we keep our recruiting funnel as wide as possible given the various diverse roles that we have open. 

Chaparro: Have you recently brought anyone on from a traditional Wall Street firm?

Powell: Several talented individuals who used to work on Wall Street have become part of the Kraken trading desk team, crypto-analyst team, and corporate development team.

Chaparro: What relationships or partnerships are you engaged in with traditional Wall Street firms?

Powell: Kraken has several things going on but nothing that we are at liberty to disclose. We have always been and will continue to be open to strategic partnerships with traditional Wall Street firms. 

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The science is in — why gluten sensitivity is probably fake

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Unless you have Celiac Disease, your sensitivity to "gluten" probably has nothing to do with gluten at all. Following is the transcript of the video.

Your gluten sensitivity may not be caused by gluten. A recent study shows that the real culprit could be fructan. Fructan is a type of carbohydrate. You can find it in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. But it’s also in gluten-free foods like agave, artichokes, asparagus, garlic, leeks, and onion.

Researchers put fructan and gluten to the test with 59 people. The people weren’t allergic to gluten but they ate gluten-free due to digestion sensitivity.

Over 6 weeks, all participants tried 3 different muesli bars: Bar 1: Contained gluten, bar 2: Contained fructan, and bar 3: No gluten or fructan.

Participants rated how each bar affected their digestion. Here’s how the bars stacked up: 24 people experienced the most discomfort from the fructan bar. 22 people experience the most discomfort from the placebo. 13 people experienced the most discomfort from the gluten bar.

This was a small study, but it’s the latest in a growing body of research. The take-home message? We may have been wrong about gluten all along.

 

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Mapping The Highest And Lowest Incomes Of America’s City Slickers

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All throughout history, people have gone to cities to take advantage of the wealth and business. We wanted to know which metropolitan areas offered the best opportunities for Americans, so we looked at data for all 382 metros.

Want to know where to make the most money? The following map from HowMuch.net shows just where…

Source: HowMuch.net

This map shows the median household income of metropolitan populations. Measuring the median makes it a good standard for “normal people.”

High Incomes in the Usual Places

The green spots on this map indicate areas with the highest median household income, and they often appear in predictable places. San Francisco. Washington DC. The Northeast.

As we’ve established with other visualizations (like this one), certain regional economies just have more money in them. That means higher incomes.

Of course, other areas have high median incomes too. The Pacific Northwest has pockets of wealth, as do Hawaii and Alaska. Denver, Salt Lake City, and the Twin Cities also support respectable incomes.

Top 5 Highest Median Household Incomes in America

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (CA) | $110,040
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward (CA) | $96,677
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (VA) | $95,843
  • Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk (CT) | $90,123
  • Boston-Cambridge-Newton (MA) | $82,380

The Low-Income South

The Industrial Revolution created a major economic division between the northern and southern states. While the South stayed agrarian, the North adopted a booming manufacturing economy.

That division remains.

A quick glance at the map reveals consistently low incomes across the entire South. Households in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi are in particularly bad shape. These states don’t have a single metro area with median household income over $59,000 per year. They haven’t recovered from the Great Recession either, which probably doesn’t help matters.

If you’re looking to leave rural America for a prosperous life in the city, avoid southern Texas. Down there, you’ll find a cluster of metro areas with teeny, tiny median household incomes.

Bottom 5 Highest Median Household Incomes in America

  • Laredo (TX) | $35,659
  • McAllen-Edinburg-Mission (TX)| $36,176
  • Grants Pass (OR) | $36,472
  • Sebring (FL) | $36,490
  • Brownsville-Harlingen (TX) | $37,061

Three of them are found on Texas’ southern tip.

Fortune seekers with their heart set on Texas should stick to the big cities. They would have much better chances of securing higher incomes in the Austin-Round Rock ($71,000), Midland ($65,224), or Dallas-Fort Worth ($63,812) metro areas.

A Silver Lining

Although we all want a higher income, it’s important to remember this: income and cost of living go hand in hand. As your income rises, so do expenses. That means a high income can have low spending power while a low income doesn’t always prevent you from buying a home or saving money.

How much spending power does your income have? Try the True Cost of Living Tool to find out.

Source: HowMuch.net

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Why Decentralized Trade on the Blockchain is the Future

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Thanks to the buzz surrounding Bitcoin and blockchain, decentralization as an approach to services is now also being brought to mainstream discussions.

Bitcoin was built as a decentralized currency in the aftermath of the great recession. It was a reaction to the control centralized authorities such as banks have over people’s financial activities. When banks failed, so did the people who entrusted these institutions with their money. Today, Bitcoin continues to reach all-time highs in price. Its value is determined largely by the market and not by some central bank.


If bitcoin can disrupt the current model of currencies, then decentralization should also be applicable to other financial activities such as trade. In the context of trade, marketplaces and exchanges are also mainly controlled by centralized authorities. These companies act as intermediaries connecting buyers and sellers. Parties are allowed to exchange money and goods as long as they follow these companies’ terms and conditions. Critics of centralization point out that these companies aren’t essential to the process. These companies supposedly only assert relevance in order to profit from the fees they charge for facilitating transactions. Trade can simply happen among peers. There’s also the problem of security where a failure or breach of the centralized authority could mean the collapse of the whole system. Users could lose their properties and money.


Blockchain companies already seek to challenge centralized approaches and introduce decentralization to trading platforms and marketplaces. For example, Decentrex offers a fully decentralized crypto exchange for trading ether and ERC20 tokens. OpenBazaar takes a shot at the likes of eBay and Shopify by enabling merchants to create online stores and accept bitcoin for payments. Europe-based fintech group Naga is even envisioning a blockchain-based ecosystem that allows for decentralized means to trade financial products, virtual items, and cryptocurrencies. The emergence and growing acceptance of these decentralized services can truly change the way property and other items of value can be exchanged.


No More Middlemen

 

If one dissects what centralized services offer, they basically just serve functions such listing, escrowing, payments processing, or shipment booking. While these services provide convenience to users, these companies will often take a cut or a fee for each action they take. In payments, processors often require various fees to enable merchants to accept various payment methods. This stack of fees usually takes into consideration that the payments system relies on other intermediaries such as banks and clearing houses to work. Each of these intermediaries add to the fees. Trading platforms and exchanges also work similarly. Commissions and fees are charged for every transaction.


This continued involvement of various middlemen is an issue blockchain services seek to address. Merchant services like OpenBazaar allow merchants to accept bitcoin payments. Since crypto payments are transferred directly from the buyer’s wallet to the merchant’s, the process can be done without the need for other intermediaries. As an exchange, Decentrex uses Ethereum smart contracts to facilitate cryptocurrency trading. By letting the blockchain platform handle transactions, fees are often cheaper compared to those charged by centralized exchanges. Some transactions in decentralized exchanges even only get charged what the blockchain requires to process requests.


Convenience through Consolidation

A trend for many companies today is to consolidate related services within ecosystems. Facebook, for instance, has been investing heavily in its Messenger platform. Using chatbots, users are able to perform actions such as booking rides or ordering food within Messenger. The goal is for Facebook to become the definitive portal for both social interaction and transactions.

Decentralized services are also set to offer similar ecosystems that would help make transactions more convenient for customers. Naga aims to consolidate several of its own services by putting cryptocurrency at the core of its ecosystem. Naga’s existing services include SwipeStox – a trading app for stocks, foreign exchange, and indices – and Switex – a marketplace for trading virtual items.


To consolidate these services, Naga is set to have its token sale for its Naga Token. The Token will serve as the currency for the ecosystem and would allow users to make secure payments to any of Naga’s services. As an incentive, Naga provides discounts to those who will use the tokens for transactions over those who will use fiat currencies. Payment recipients would also be able to access funds quicker without having to wait for lengthy clearing periods common to traditional means.

 

Blockchain is Gaining Wider Acceptance

 

 

It may have taken a while but more organizations and users are finding value in blockchain’s capabilities. In business, it’s not only startups and ventures that are aggressively adopting the technology. Even traditional institutions have embraced blockchain for their own use. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies have also drawn the attention of even the average investor to diversify into crypto assets.

 

This increasing exposure of the average consumer to blockchain is crucial for the successful adoption of decentralized services. Most people take time to become comfortable with innovation especially those that do not follow the popular models of established businesses. If consumers see that blockchain services and crypto activities aren’t as complicated, then they will find transitioning to truly peer-to-peer transactions easier.

 

Trust in Transactions

Blockchain is designed to be transparent, and immutable record-keeping system. As such, transactions done on blockchain can be reviewed, audited, and tracked by anyone in the chain.

This can help ease the problem of disputes common in many trading and marketplace platforms since the blockchain records can show the true status of each transaction. This also helps thwart fraudsters who typically game centralized systems.


Chargebacks fraud is now a major problem for merchants where fraudsters use stolen credit cards to purchase goods. Card owners can perform chargebacks in order to recover the fraudulent charges made to their cards. Merchants, however, are often left shouldering cost of the goods if ever they successfully fulfill the order. Crypto payments do not allow chargebacks and mechanisms such as blockchain identity and smart contracts could help authenticate transacting parties.


Security breaches and cyber attacks have also become quite common these days. Many centralized services have been successfully targeted and victimized resulting in stolen customer data. Decentralized services run on distributed peer-to-peer infrastructure making it difficult for attackers to pick a single point of failure to exploit.


Fair Means to Trade

What decentralized services ultimately offer are means for people to trade in faster, fair, and less restrictive ways. By circumventing the need for intermediaries, buyers and sellers are free to price their items and conduct their transactions more flexibly. Users can also place trust on the mechanisms provided by the technology rather than be compelled to put faith in third-parties. As decentralized services also morph into ecosystems, users and consumers are bound to enjoy better usability and convenience.


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