Made in China

April 13, 2018 8:14pm
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The last couple of days I’ve been kind of fascinated by videos of people buying things in the gigantic, multi-story super malls in China. It started from revisiting this video of a guy who built his own iPhone from parts that he bought in Shenzhen!

Of course, it’s not so much about the economics, but more so just one of those things because he could that’s impressive to me. I’ve built plenty of my own computers in my days, but small enough to fit in your pocket is a whole new ballgame that I don’t think my own soldering ability is up for the task! 😉

But from there I started watching these videos from another guy shopping the same market – primarily for counterfeit goods because apparently they’re everywhere…

Although he’s shopping mostly for clothes instead of electronics, which I don’t really care about, it intrigues me nonetheless for so many reasons…

  • Despite everyone selling knockoffs of major brands, the brands themselves don’t really mean much in China simply because counterfeiting is so widespread that everyone knows that what everybody else is wearing is fake.
  • The price flexibility is ridiculous – to start at something like 4,000 Chinese Yen ($632 USD) and work your way down to 150 YEN ($24) … it’s always interesting to me to see where the margin that products sell for falls, but it’s particularly apparent when you have products here that they’re trying to sell for name brand prices that realistically cost pennies to make.
  • …or do they? Consider that how a lot of counterfeiting of clothing takes place is simply by the factory making it to leak the plans, or for all we know it could be happening in the exact same factory! If it looks just like the original, and it’s made in the same place as the original, how fake is it?
  • And of course, salesmanship continues to astound me because you have to be so persistent to do that kind of thing amid eye rolls and people walking away. It’s always surprised me when we go on a cruise and you have those kinds of sellers in Caribbean countries – no matter how good of a deal you think you’re getting, they’re no doubt still making money off of you.

It makes me wonder the extent of this same kind of counterfeiting in the electronics area – some things like full devices and iPhone backs make sense, but looking at the parts the guy bought in the first video, it begs the question of how many were counterfeits and how many were parts out of recycled phones and whatnot. I mean, I know that it exists to some extent – probably quite a bit, considering that there are entire counterfeit Apple stores that pop up around China, but to what level do they take it?

And then the ethical question to end on – when the west exploits so much of their cheap labor to make these devices and shoes and purses, can you really blame them for finding a way to get a leg up in this commerce game when otherwise their numbers are being bought and sold for next to nothing???

So I just posted the essay that I’ve been working on about taking a break from social media – go check it out over at Scott’s Guide to Life and then come back here for a few of my expanded thoughts…

The Social Media Cleanse

I’m not really sure what I want to do at this point because I do miss things like sharing goofy links and random parenting observations, but not at the expense of making myself feel awful when I get into fights over politics or just allow myself to get wound up by the immediacy of a news cycle that reacts first and asks relevant questions later, if ever.

Very briefly I pulled up both Twitter and Facebook to make sure that the links to my post showed up correctly, and I’m not exaggerating that after only a few minutes of scrolling, I felt my anxiety building until I finally just gave up and closed out each of the tabs. They were the same as I had left them a week and a half ago – like the shit cyclone has just been spinning this entire time, new Trump issues, same Trump channel.

And yet, there’s still great, hilarious stuff like this…

Part of me wonders if it’s worth trying to trim up my friend and follow lists to get them to a more manageable level, again because there are a (relatively small) handful of people who I genuinely want to keep up with either because they’re fellow writers, they make me laugh, or they’re just really good friends. 

Still, I think part of the charm of being away from social media has been not having that never-ending feed of updates to suck at my every waking idle moment. In a way, it’s been kind of nice to sit there watching TV at night and not have my phone in my hand, blindly scrolling through posts just as quickly as my social media master can serve them to me!

Sara says that maybe I should try using Facebook like she does – she rarely logs in, and when I say rarely I just mean weekly instead of hourly, and when she does, she tends to read messages in a few specific interest groups and keeps scanning her regular news feed from friends for last.

To be honest, I actually prefer Twitter to Facebook because I follow more like-minded people there, so maybe I need to do something like that, just on Twitter instead.

I recall exchanging a few emails trying to learn more about social media with fellow humorist Erik Deckers a few years ago and he recommended using it like a stream to dip into from time to time rather than a giant pool that I felt obligated to read every post from every person who I followed – that’s probably another good idea to help calm that feeling of being overwhelmed whenever I pull up my feed!

Combined with my mountainous concerns about Facebook oversharing personal data, being ravenous bastards with regards to their advertising program, and harboring the same walled garden principles that have turned me away from other networks in the past, I need to find a better way to make social media work for me so that the positive aspects outweigh the garbage.

I’m not sure if that means starting new accounts altogether or pruning the hell out of existing ones. Or possibly figuring out how to filter very limited versions of my friends lists so that I really only have to read those few that I genuinely enjoy.

It’s kind of funny because more than once I’ve actively noticed on Instagram where I’m clearly checking my feed too often because there might only be a half a dozen new pictures and the rest I’ve already seen before!

So if I’m concerned about Facebook and Twitter being a time suck again, maybe that’s a part of it – trimming down my lists until reviewing them becomes a once a day activity instead of all day, every day.

Still, Facebook and Twitter are a lot easier to post on than Instagram…

It’s so complicated, and it shouldn’t have to be!!!

It really makes me wonder how many other people struggle with using social media effectively versus letting it run/ruin their lives because I know I can’t be the only one who is driven crazy by the ever-spinning shit show.


Digital Frustrations

June 26, 2017 9:01pm
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So I got this message saying that the YouTube app won’t work on the TV in our bedroom after the end of this month, and in a way it’s kind of frustrating and at the same time I kind of get it… 😕

It bugs me that this is supposed to be a Smart TV, and it’s not that old – I bought it in 2013 – and yet a good number of the apps that it used to support have already been discontinued. I didn’t really care about the Twitter app because who uses Twitter from their tv?!, but I use the YouTube app quite a bit, actually!

On the other hand, I know that in this case the specific reason why the YouTube app is being discontinued is because YouTube is finally dropping support for their Flash-based apps and requiring HTML5 only, which is a significant change, and apparently one that Samsung is saying this model of TV simply can’t support. Not a huge surprise considering that the TV only has a single-core processor, whereas my first iPhone (an iPhone 4) came with a dual-core processor and the latest iPhone 7 models are now up to quad-core processors…

…in fact, I’m pretty sure that the curved, 4k tv that I bought the following year for our living room has a quad-core processor…

In a way, it’s the same frustration that I have with the handful of apps on my iPhone that no longer work with the current version of iOS. Knowing how app producers seem to come and go like the wind, it’s not really a huge shocker that these companies knocking out apps for $0.99, or even $4.99 – $9.99, aren’t making much effort to keep them compatible with future versions of iOS and Android. In many cases, I’m sure that some of them have already gone out of business by the time these newer versions come along!

And so just like I can’t very well expect my old NES cartridges to play on my Wii or Wii U, I get that companies want to focus on the latest and greatest. But I think it’s aggravating when the media remains the same across generations – like DVDs for PS2 – PS4 or digital for iOS – because at least when we used cartridges it was obvious that the old carts just wouldn’t fit in the new systems. 😛

It’s just tough because in an increasingly digital world as we purchase more and more digital content, we’re faced with this virtual tug-of-war where we have to keep purchasing either hardware or software over and over again to continue enjoying our original purchases. At least with my old Nintendo, I can still plug my NES into the TV and try blowing into those cartridges until they finally work, but I’m not necessarily going to keep an old iPhone handy just so that I can play the Oregon Trail app that I bought a few years ago and now can’t handle Apple’s latest release.

The same goes for my TV – I wouldn’t go out and buy a whole new TV just because one channel stopped being compatible with it, yet that’s kind of what I’m faced now if I want to watch YouTube videos in bed anymore.

Sure, I could get a Roku box or even dig out my AppleTV … if that supports the app update … but the native app on the TV itself was so much easier.

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:

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.33.57 PM

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! 😀

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