17 Things I Love About Technology in 2017

June 3, 2017 1:30pm
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  • My home broadband speed today is 150x faster than the whopping 1 Mbps cable modem that I first got back in 2000.
  • The Internet has allowed me to become friends online with people from all over the world who I’ve never met in person.
  • I honestly don’t feel that guilty about letting my son play games on his iPad because the educational value and everything that he’s learned from them at only three years old is just incredible!
  • Smartphones have gradually evolved to allow a full Internet experience anywhere I go and not just “the mobile Internet” that we first had to deal with.
  • Publishing has become so simplified that pretty much anyone can write a blog or put out an ebook or even a print book with a reasonable amount of time and effort.
  • Access to information – both useful and mundane – is commonplace, whether you want to learn more about the Paris Climate Accord or when the first Wonder Woman comics were created.
  • The radio that I listen to in my car via Pandora now actually makes an effort at being customized to my personal tastes.
  • I can watch movies at home in my living room that rival the experience of going to a movie theater.
  • I don’t even have to take my keys out of my pocket to unlock my car door, or start my car for that matter!
  • I can do my job pretty much anywhere that I have a decent Internet connection.
  • Shopping is something that I can do at 2:30am in my underwear without ever having to leave the house, and the prices are usually cheaper to boot.
  • Writing checks and having stamps are no longer a necessity for paying bills.
  • It’s incredibly easy to learn about other cultures and ways of living that are different from my own.
  • I can book hotel and dining reservations for Disney World without ever picking up the phone.
  • It’s easy to share pictures and videos with family on the other side of the country, and also video chat with them, too.
  • Breaking news is truly breaking via mobile notifications and social media.
  • Being proficient in computers and technology is no longer something that gets you called a dork or a nerd.

Addiction, Schmadiction to Technology…

April 15, 2017 1:46pm
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Last night I stumbled across a relatively new invention that really struck a chord with me … anyone who’s lucky enough to follow me on Twitter might’ve seen my mini-rant about how I’d never let somebody lock my cell phone up on me as a condition for seeing their live performance, but now that I’ve had a chance to sleep on it … I still think that it’s a horrible idea, but I wanted to expand on my thoughts a bit more… 😉

I think the main reason why it seems like such an offensive idea to lock my cell phone up in a sock is simply because it’s quite undeniable how much in the last several years our phones have really transformed into an extension of ourselves.

For me, it started when I got my first iPhone back in 2011. Although I’m guessing that I probably got my first Nokia candy bar phone back in my early 20’s (circa 2000-2001 ish?), it wasn’t until Apple went and changed everything that carrying a cell phone really exploded for me from just being a device to call and text people from to really being a portable computer that put access to the Internet in my pocket wherever I went.

…because if we’re being honest here, being the introvert that I am, if I could have a cell phone that only allowed people to contact me via Twitter or email and not via call or text, I’d probably be all over that! 😛

Seriously, that was one of the points that I read in this Ars Technica article about Yondr’s cell phone locks from a few years ago that spooked me the most! Forced social interaction with no digital world to hide behind when my anxiety gets the best of me?! No thank you!

Anyways, I know that I rely on my phone a lot these days – most people, at least my age or younger do – but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a bad thing. Although admittedly Facebook and Twitter take up far more of my time than they probably should, I also regularly use my phone for…

  • taking notes for things I want to write later
  • writing things that can’t wait for later
  • checking up on website stats
  • posting pictures of my lunch
  • playing Angry Birds on the toilet
  • ordering last-minute things from Amazon that I just realized we need
  • streaming radio in the car on Pandora
  • taking and sharing pictures of my kids, or something weird that I just saw at the store
  • finding directions to the store
  • checking wait times for attractions at Walt Disney World
  • tweeting random nonsense to myself that’s likely only amusing to myself
  • reading the news
  • entertaining my kids with videos from Disney Junior and Sesame Street
  • ordering pizza
  • reviewing our family calendar
  • checking my bank account and investment balances
  • hell, even just checking what time it is!

And just to be clear, no – I don’t need to do all of those things while I’m in the middle of watching a concert, but that’s not the point. When you’ve got a device that has become so ingrained in your day to day life, the idea of giving it up voluntarily even for a couple of hours is even more terrifying than realizing your battery is at 2% and there isn’t a charger anywhere in sight!

I mean, I’ve had periods where I certainly need some time away from things as well, but when it comes to my phone it usually means just ignoring social media and other forms of contact for a while. I still very much want to use my phone to work on a new column or even just help me unwind a bit – it’s why the last time we went on a cruise, I still carried mine with me all day even though most of the time I couldn’t use the actual phone or data.

Sure, there are people who abuse being on their phones, and no doubt that’s at least part of what this silly lockable sock is meant to counter … though protecting IP rights for performers is also clearly a goal, too, even if they want to focus on “improving the live experience for the audience.” 

Thankfully, for the most part I’m kind of past the part of my life, as the last concert I saw was probably in 2003 and even with the handful of comedians I have watched since, it wouldn’t be much loss to just say that I’ll catch their latest special instead of they’re going to jump on the cell phone lock bandwagon because it’s just not worth it to me. I’ve never been a fan of punishing the entire group for the offenses of a small few, and if we really wanted to dig into the bigger issue, there’s a part of me that wonders if taking cell phones away with cause a bigger hit to these performers’ social currency in the long run.

A lot of the comments that I read arguing in its favor went along the lines of “we had emergencies back before cell phones and things worked out just fine,” but to me that just sounds like generational grumpiness escaped from reality. People were also just fine before regular telephones, and cars, and movable type, but life has definitely improved since their invention!

“Why don’t you just slow down and walk to the store – you kids, driving your cars everywhere you want to go…”

Technology is great, and it shouldn’t be penalized by the smaller percentage of people who can’t be responsible in its use. You can have my cell phone when you pry it from my cold, dead hands … or if the battery is completely dead … but if it means missing out on Chris Rock or Guns ‘n Roses the next time they come to town, so be it.

From the latest Plex newsletter…

October 29, 2015 4:53pm
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I thought this was pretty cool the way this was handled!

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I wish I could do the same to get my hands on the @justlaugh handle – it’s currently owned by either a teenage girl from Chile or a spammer posing as one. Either way, they haven’t posted in 3 years. I tried reaching out via the Facebook profile that’s liked to Twitter, but never got a response. Oh well.

IVR Dueling

October 9, 2015 1:07pm
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Ok, so this kind of amused me just now – calling my bank with a simple question about payments…

Me: *presses 0 for an operator*

IVR: I’ll connect you to a customer service representative, but first, please say a quick phrase to describe what you’re calling about…

Me: payment question

IVR: Ok, payments – I can help you with that! Would you like to…

Me: NO!!!

IVR: Ok, I’ll connect you to a representative…

Plex Streaming 101

October 6, 2015 4:56pm
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For Plex proponents like myself, this video is a nice, simple walkthrough of the ways that Plex Media Server streams media to different devices both in your home and abroad.

I’ve been lucky up to this point in that the main devices that we use Plex on at home are two Samsung TVs and Plex Home Theater on my computer, all of which support DirectPlay. So far this has been a good configuration for us because even adding my sister-in-law remotely who occasionally needs to transcode due to receiving Internet speed, it hasn’t really affected simultaneous playback here at home. Nonetheless, I can see beefier processing power in our future eventually to help from buffering if we add any more relatives connecting in the same manner who all want to watch at the same time.

But hopefully by then I’ll have justified the bump up to a swanky rack-mount server boasting a sexy RAID configuration and a new motherboard that supports multiple processors! 😉

So I stumbled across this website called the Library of Babel last night, and it’s kind of freaky.

Essentially they’ve created an algorithm that has created every combination of letters … ever. Or at least up to 3,200 characters, for starters. But it’s all indexed, so whatever you type, there’s a page in this vast library that already says whatever you were going to say…

Like – this last paragraph that I just wrote – it can be found here:

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.30.22 PM

Or even just completely made up nonsense that’s disappointingly not actually true:

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Apparently the site is based on a short story by an author from Argentina written in 1941, well before the Internet was ever a public notion, which is kind of crazy to think of the notion prior to the architecture being available to actually make it a reality … a futurist in the true sense of the word!

Now granted, despite having a computer that can literally generate any text that could ever be conceived, it still takes the creativity of humans to bring the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings to be consumable by mankind … the crux of having everything is that you’ve got the literary classics surrounded by an almost infinite amount of garbage unless you already know what you’re searching for.

Even looking at only samples of 3,200 characters, the library currently contains 104677 books of information, whereas there are estimated to be approx. 130 million books published in modern history today … to say that the meaningful texts available represent only a fraction of a fraction of the everything that this algorithm creates…

…but it’s still kind of a neat concept from a technical perspective, nonetheless.

The Technology Around Us

May 25, 2015 7:19pm
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I’ve found myself taking notice over the last couple of days – especially with the purchase of our new car – just how seamless some of my favorite technologies are becoming around us, and I kind of like it.

For example in the car – the brand new car that we got just before going on vacation last week is the first car I’ve had with Bluetooth, plus it came with those cool keyless entry key fobs so the car can be started with the push of a button as long as the key is present, meaning that all I have to do is toss my phone and keys in the center console and when I start the car, it automatically re-pairs my phone and connects to Pandora or whatever music I was playing before.

Or with my media collection, now spanning music, movies, and TV Shows – not only can everything play on any device around the house via a simple Plex app, even when we’re out and about I can placate the child with Fraggle Rock or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse that streams to my laptop from our media server back home – all with just a wifi connection.

Even simply with my working space on my computer – a decade ago I had my laptop, and then I had a separate desktop that had some of my beefier apps that wouldn’t run on my laptop, and I would keep my writing and other critical files on a flash drive that I’d shuffle between wherever I was working at the time. Now I just have a MacBook Air that serves as both, and for the first time in forever all of my stuff is properly backed up multiple times to the cloud and my own personal server automatically.

Despite occasional reminders of how dependent we’re becoming on connectivity – such as when I was sitting in iHOP just outside of Disney yesterday and Verizon couldn’t feed me a signal to tweet to save their skulls – I love to see the direction that some of my favorite tech is coming where it’s more and more a common, integrated part of our daily lives without the struggle that came from playing computers a decade ago … building servers that kind of worked, directories of mp3s being a media server, and who can forget those god awful CD-to-cassette adapters that we used to use to pump our brand new CDs into our cars on the go?!

It makes me feel more optimistic for something like NFC, which I didn’t really see the appeal of a few years ago, now that I’ve been using Apple Pay more actively to the point where I get frustrated with retailers that are stubbornly refusing to accept it. Back then when they talked about paying things with just my cell phone, it sounded like a stupid idea that would never take off, and then I got an iPhone and slowly our phones grew more and more from just personal communicators into the ultimate portable computer that we know today.

It makes me wonder if 10 years from now I’ll be ready to truly embrace the automated home that’s been preached at us for years to give us the ability to turn our lights on and off from anywhere in the world, if there was ever a reason that we might actually need to do that. I can already see the appeal for the same keyless entry that my car has extending to my front door, and you can buy a new doorknob that does that today! I think the next steps to continue bridging our devices – cameras, phones, tablets, PCs – are going to warm even more people up to the idea, so who knows what’ll be available in a few years when I’m ready to build my brand new dream house of my own – it’s starting to make that home of the future from the Carousel of Progress sound not just more attainable than ever, but more importantly more desirable than ever, too.

Hey, it’s a great big beautiful tomorrow! 😀

Kevin Rose and Leo Laporte

May 14, 2015 7:15pm
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I’ve had this episode of Foundation in which Kevin Rose interviews Leo Laporte earmarked for a while now, but I finally found some time this week to listen along and it was really enjoyable just listening to someone who’s as creatively passionate as Leo talking about his career at large and the road bumps that have slowed him down along the way, and even some of the challenges he faces today with trying to transform TWiT from The Leo Laporte Network into something that’ll actually give him a chance to take a vacation after a while!

I actually really respect both of these guys because like many, I was introduced to them when I switched to digital cable back at the turn of the millennium and suddenly this amazing channel called TechTV existed to embrace this geek culture which was only starting to really blossom as the Internet itself was beginning to take hold. I’ve always kind of considered TWiT to be my lifeline back into tech because even though I honestly don’t watch any of their shows very regularly, I know that whenever I’ve got a couple of hours to kill or need something to put on in the background while I’m pretending to be productive, TWiT just has this incredible wealth of tech content from all of these passionate hosts – Leo and the rest of the former Screen Savers crew included – and it’s always a good time to see what these guys are talking about and get my finger back on the pulse of what’s really going on in tech.

Ironically, one of my favorite TWiT memories still is a few years back now when Steve Jobs passed away and listening to TWiT’s live coverage and the sort of sense of community that it presented to help make sense of such a visionary’s passing as Steve’s happened to be…

After listening to this episode in its entirety, amusingly enough YouTube then recommended an episode of Triangulation (which is one of Leo’s shows) and in fact was one where the tables were turned and Leo pretty much did the same interview with Kevin in the hot seat! I mean, so much of TWiT sometimes is just listening to these guys reminisce about TechTV and their experiences from the other side of the camera, so both interviews are a lot of fun if you happen to be fans from The Screen Savers days or even just enjoy listening to passionate people talking about their craft! 😉

remembering the Power Glove…

February 11, 2015 1:51pm
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This video amused me when I came across it late last night because I totally had a Power Glove myself and like 100% of other Power Glove owners, unfortunately these teens’ experiences were pretty much par for the course!

I didn’t get mine when it first came out – in 1989 I had only had my Nintendo since the Christmas before, so I was much more interested in getting more games than a peripheral that costed nearly as much as the console itself did at the time. I want to say that my Power Glove was a birthday gift from one of my aunts 5-6 years later, mostly because they had found it on clearance at KB Toys back when they were still around, so for $20 it was worth a try…

And even though at the time the controller was pretty god-awful, it’s still kind of neat to look back and see where an attempt at motion controls first started because now here we are 25 years later and not only is the Wii pretty darned good at it, but you can even plug in a Kinect to your Xbox and use your whole body as a game controller! It doesn’t apply to all, or even most games, but the technology is still cool.

If only Lucas could see us now! 😉

Living in the Future, 2015 Edition

January 5, 2015 8:20pm
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I’m a nostalgic guy, and especially when it comes to tech, sometimes I honestly just find myself in awe when I stop and think of how far things have come just here in my own modest lifetime.

Case in point – above is a screenshot of This Week in Tech, Leo Laporte’s sequel to TechTV after it merged with Comcast’s gaming channel and subsequently went belly up about a decade-ish ago? The show started as a simple podcast in a bar with some friends and has since grown into an entire network of technology-based programming, arguably better than TechTV was at its best (and probably more profitable!).

But that’s not the amazing part, believe it or not … well, it’s one of them! What really amazes me though is simply that what you’re looking at there is streaming HD video that I’m pulling through Plex onto my new 4k TV, and it looks beautiful.

This is a big deal to me because I first started watching Leo & his friends on TechTV when digital cable first rolled out to my neighborhood up in Northern Michigan, and at the time we were excited to get a whopping 1 Mbps down and I’m sure some fraction of that up! The package was about $100 for digital cable and broadband – I remember because I paid for it out of my own money when I still lived in my Mom’s basement.

Timeframe was probably around 2000-2001.

So now here we are 15 years later, and in comparison to how things were at the time we really are living in the future!

  • In 2001, we had just shrugged off the chains of dial-up in favor of high-speed broadband Internet.
  • In 2015, I have a 75 Mbps fiber line connected to my home that facilitates HD streaming and can download the equivalent of one optical CD-ROM from 2001 in less than a minute and a half!
  • In 2001, cell phones were just starting to become a thing – I think my voice-only Nokia candy bar phone had 100-minutes a month of air time.
  • In 2015, nobody uses their cell phones for calling anymore, but 4G speeds connect to that same Internet to give me access almost anywhere at speeds rivaling my home connection!
  • In 2001, HD was the new, new thing and for the first couple of years, Discovery HD Theater was how many of us justified buying our brand new, gigantic HD TVs.
  • In 2015, I just upgraded to a new 4k TV that has four times the resolution of HD, and even though there’s only one movie available for it in true 4k today, even just watching the trailer makes me drool for a copy of the full-res film to really see what this thing is capable of!

Technology has always been an exciting part of my life and today I find myself surrounded by more gadgets than ever, from advanced video game systems to tablets and smart phones to a new streaming media server right here in my own home. In a way, it’s just kind of crazy to be able to pull up TWiT on this ginormous 4k screen in my living room because 15 years ago I used to watch the same guy teaching me about tech stuff on an old TV setup next to my computer while I was building the very first version of Just Laugh.

…and ethernet cables spanned the floor because I hadn’t quite gotten wifi figured out on my laptop just yet!

It makes me wonder what the whole landscape is going to be like when Christopher gets to be in his teens, but then again, just like how *I* grew up on 8-bit consoles and an Apple II clone, my son is going to grow up in a world where you’re never really not connected to all of those people and all of that information.

In fact, by the time he’s old enough to notice that kind of stuff…

  • 75 Mbps Internet is going to feel slow to him.
  • The Nintendo Wii will be considered a retro video game console.
  • And it’s really going to drive him nuts that the cable company still doesn’t take those stupid lower resolution channels out of their line-up when better options are available!

As a wise man once said, it’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, and I for one am kind of curious to see where the next 15-20 years actually takes us! 😉

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