my xmas story

Last night (Xmas Eve), I was settling down to bed at my daughter’s house, where we were spending the night. I got out my Nexus 7 to look for something to listen to … I’ve had noise going while I slept since I was a kid, nowadays I use a “pillow speaker” (a small foam earphone) so Robin isn’t bothered by the sound. I found the app for the Internet radio I have at home. It’s a Squeezebox Radio, but Logitech has discontinued the line in favor of … well, I’m not sure, but they gave me the opportunity to upgrade the software on my Squeezebox to match the new thingie, which I did, about a week ago. I haven’t figured it all out, but I have an Android app for it on the Nexus and on my phone. I thought I’d use that app to access something to listen to, but when I started it up, I couldn’t hear anything.

When I was a kid, we’d take trips to Santa Cruz, a couple of hours from our house, and I never understood why we couldn’t hear the little AM station near our home … it always came in loud and clear, and I didn’t understand about how radio worked, I just assumed that particular channel came in wherever you were. I had a similar thought about the Internet radio, and laughed to myself. Of course I couldn’t hear anything … I was in Sacramento, trying to access the router in my attic in Berkeley.

So I switched to something that worked better, and forgot all about it.

We got home to Berkeley around 11:30 on Xmas morning. When we opened the door, we could hear voices talking very loud. It gave us a bit of a fright, but I quickly identified the noise as coming from … the Internet radio.

Turns out the app on my Nexus is actually a remote control for the radio. I was indeed able to get to the router in my attic. When I booted the app on my Nexus, and no sound came out, I cranked up the volume as high as it would go. Meanwhile, back in Berkeley, my actions had turned the radio on full blast, where it stayed for half a day, entertaining the cats, until we came home and shut it off.

Just more adventures in modern technology.


a week or so with windows 8

I suppose it’s time for an update. Early last week, our new computer arrived, a Dell XPS One 27 Touch. It’s our first all-in-one, runs Windows 8, and has a 27” touch-screen monitor.

To get the hardware out of the way, it’s pretty impressive in that way new things are when compared to what they replaced. Our old screen was a perfectly acceptable 21” 1680x1050 model. The new one, besides being a touch screen, is 27” and 2560x1440, meaning it has a higher resolution than our big-screen TV. It’s not perfect … the glare is pretty significant … but pictures look beautiful on it, and while I worried that it would be too big, I’m already used to the larger size. The audio is actually a bit of a drop from what we had previously, since it has 2.1 sound while the old computer was 5.1. The vast majority of what is played on the computer is plain stereo, though, so the extra 3 speakers aren’t really missed.

Windows 8? Despite what you have heard, it is very easy to get used to, if you accept that some things have changed. The idea of running two different UIs at the same time is disconcerting when you hear about it, but the truth is, I got accustomed to it quite quickly. Legacy programs run in desktop mode, which Windows users will recognize … Windows 8 in desktop mode is like Windows 7, only improved. Other software is matched with Windows 8’s “metro” mode (they call it something else now, but I’m sticking with Metro). This is what you’ve seen in the advertisements. It looks like a giant tablet or smart phone screen, which is purposeful, since Microsoft’s idea is to create an OS that runs on computers and mobile hardware. It’s fun to use the touch screen, although I have a feeling there’ll be a new version of carpal tunnel syndrome down the road, when enough people get sore forearms from reaching out to the screen.

What needs to be emphasized, though, is how easily you can control even the Metro apps using just a keyboard and mouse. It’s seems counterintuitive to say this, since what makes Windows 8 so new is the use of touch, but if you are a keyboard-mouse person, you’ll be fine right from the start. In other words, when I write this blog post, I’m not touching my screen, I’m using my keyboard within Windows Live Writer, just as I’ve done in the past with other OS.

So there is the essential paradox: Windows 8 is the most different Windows ever, yet users of previous versions of Windows will be able to get along just fine.

I’d mention one other thing Windows 8 offers that is terrific. I had a problem with the touch screen not swiping properly, and I couldn’t find any help online. So I did a “refresh”, which basically re-installed Windows while leaving my files and programs intact. It’s not perfect … the only programs it keeps around are the “Metro” apps. But a helpful html file shows up on the desktop, explaining what software didn’t get re-installed, in many cases including a link to the download site for the program. And it took maybe 20 minutes, tops.

What’s the verdict? Too soon to tell. But it’s fun, and I’m already up to speed on productivity and gaming and video chatting and everything else a computer is good for. When you are ready for a new Windows machine, don’t believe the anti-hype. Windows 8 is OK. If that seems like damning with faint praise, well, a lot of what I’ve read makes it sound like Windows 8 is a disaster. You need to know that is simply not true.


blast from the past: vic-20

Blast from the Past day on Google+:

Our first computer, c.1983:

vic-20

We got this near the end of its run, the Commodore 64 having already appeared. As I have mentioned before, we can thanks a salesperson at Macy’s, where we bought the machine … I wanted a Timex Sinclair 1000, which would have quickly become a doorstop. He recommended the VIC-20 because it had a real keyboard. The two most important things, personally, to come from the VIC-20 were that we went online for the first time with the addition of a VIC modem, and I was published for the first time when a BASIC program I wrote showed up in COMPUTE!'s Gazette. The day after I quit working in the factory, a check arrived for something like $1500 for that little program.


boys and their toys: samsung galaxy s iii

It’s a bit awkward when the thing you most want for your birthday doesn’t become available until the following month. But when the present arrives, it’s just as nice! And so, today, my new Samsung Galaxy S III came.

I guess we’ve become a Samsung Galaxy family. I’ve had the first edition for a couple of years (called the Epic 4G in the Sprint version), and recently, Robin got a Galaxy S II. The latest and greatest (at least for a week or two), the S III runs … well, if you understand smart phone crap, you’ve probably already heard of the phone, and if you don’t care about that crap, there’s no use wasting time here. Suffice to say that it has a bigger screen than my previous phone, and is longer and wider, but it doesn’t seem to weigh any more, because there is no pullout keyboard.

It’s funny, one reason I got that Epic 4G was because I wanted a “real” keyboard. But I rarely used it … Android phones have something called Swype that works very well on the “pretend” keyboard, so I no longer want the extra weight of the real. One result is that, within minutes of taking the new phone out of the box, my old phone looked like an old rock, thick, short, kinda ugly. Of course, when I got the 4G, it replaced my Palm Pre, and that Pre, which was the pride of my techie life at the time, instantly looked like an old rock, so there you go.

I need more than a few hours to have any sort of opinion about the Galaxy S III, outside of it looks nice, and it’s way cooler than my last phone (which was cool itself just a couple of years ago). Eventually, I’ll have time to enjoy the added power of the phone, the improved camera, the better screen resolution, and the newer version of the Android software (Ice Cream Sandwich … isn’t Google precious with their names?).

If anything, this is an advertisement for Sprint. I don’t think they have the best coverage, but the truth is, I rarely use my phone to actually talk to someone. And Sprint is the only carrier left that offers real unlimited data plans, which means I’m not changing carriers anytime soon.


when twitter breaks down

Twitter has become the place we look to when breaking news hits. It’s silly to complain, as some do, that the reduction of great events to 140-character posts makes it impossible to convey what is happening in any meaningful way. Twitter doesn’t replace the work of historians, or even of journalists. Their job is to evaluate what happened and give us context for those events. But while we’re waiting, Twitter is here.

You’ve probably seen examples of how this works, like when there was that rare earthquake on the East Coast and you could follow the path of the quake by seeing when people tweeted about it. And there are the so-called “Twitter Revolutions” in Moldova, Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt.

Today offered a different kind of breaking news, though. Twitter itself had what they called a “cascading bug”, resulting in a period of about two hours when Twitter was mostly unusable. And, obviously, this isn’t the kind of breaking news you can check out on Twitter. I noticed because I was following like-minded soccer fans during the Euro 2012 match between Portugal and the Czech Republic, and I realized my Kindle Fire wasn’t updating tweets.

You don’t miss your water, ‘til your well runs dry.

This was a minor annoyance to me, and a lesson in how ubiquitous twitter has become in my life (I don’t tweet often, but I’m always checking in during live public events like Euro 2012). What was especially interesting to me was Twitter’s own comments, in the blog post mentioned above about the cascading bug:

We know how critical Twitter has become for you — for many of us. Every day, we bring people closer to their heroes, causes, political movements, and much more. One user, Arghya Roychowdhury, put it this way: “OMG..twitter was down....closest thing to living without oxygen for most of us....” It’s imperative that we remain available around the world, and today we stumbled. For that we offer our most sincere apologies and hope you’ll be able to breathe easier now.

I don’t know whether to nod my head in agreement, or laugh at the self-important feel of their apology.


marketing

G+ aficionados like to talk about the depth of their conversations, and the point is often made that a judicious use of circles means you don’t necessarily know everyone you follow on G+, but you likely share interests, since that is the reason you place people in circles to begin with. I have 19 circles at present (if I was diligent, I could clean them up a bit and end up with around 15). Several are included in “Your Circles”, a concept I only recently understood. (I often post things meant for family and friends, rather than the public, and I would painstakingly add each family/friend circle, six of the nineteen, to those posts. But I can define “Your Circles” to mean those six family/friend circles, making my life easier.) Then there are the many circles devoted to a particular topic: technology, music, film, TV, and so on.

Lately, though, I’ve begun adding entire circles from other users. This is a quick-and-easy way to find new perspectives, and I’ve gotten a lot of good reading from these circles, although there is a tendency to quickly fill up the primary stream of posts. In the process, I’ve found that many posts concern marketing.

It is common to promote your work on G+. Hell, I do it myself, every time I cross-post something from my blog. And those aren’t the things I mean here. I’m talking about people talking about marketing: how to do it, how to maximize the online social presence of your business, where the next money is to be made. All viable topics for discussion, but not what I expect to see.

I can just selectively un-circle folks whose main interest is marketing. But, as I add more people I don’t know to my circles via circle sharing, I find more and more “marketers” in my news stream. I guess I’m just drawing attention to my own naiveté, but I’m surprised that this is true. It appears I am idealistic about Google Plus, and, of course, by “idealistic” I mean “my ideals”, not anyone else’s. I just forget sometimes that among many things, the Internet is a place where people market themselves for ultimate profit. It’s like realizing there’s an entire subculture going on underneath the surface that you know nothing about, except in this case, I am the one under the surface, while marketing exists happily above ground.


google account activity

Google has introduced “Account Activity”, “a new feature in your Google Account. If you sign up, each month we’ll send you a link to a password-protected report with insights into your signed-in use of Google services.” People who are freaked out about how deeply Google has insinuated itself into our lives surely hate the very idea of Account Activity (at least the default setting is opt-out). Me, I love learning what abstract data calculations tell me about myself, so of course, I opted in, and soon afterwards, I got my first report. The highlights:

Over the past month, I have sent 110 emails to 33 contacts from my primary Gmail account, and received 760 from 206 contacts. The #1 recipient of my emails is my wife, who got more than 1/3 of my emails (the four people who reached double-digits in emails received: my wife, my nephew, and my friends Doug and Jillian).

I made 585 Google searches for the month. The most common query was “best movie under 90 minutes” (clearly, I’m looking for the next Booty Call). More embarrassing, although unsurprising, was my third-most common search: “steven rubio”. Yes, I search my own name on a regular basis, despite the fact I also have a Google Alert setup for anytime my name shows up. 84% of my searches were for the web as a whole, 9% for images. I don’t know what the other 7% could be.

And this is the most popular video I uploaded to YouTube, over the past month:


adventures in customer service

My Internet connection went down before midnight last night. When I woke up this morning, it was still down. I called Comcast’s customer support number. After going through the usual array of menu items, a recorded voice told me my call was being transferred to a customer support agent.

Before the agent got back to me about my inability to connect to the Internet, I got another recorded message:

“We are experiencing higher than normal support calls at the moment. There may be a longer than usual delay. For faster service, you can go to comcast.net.”


last post of 2011: kindle fire thoughts

Was just reading something about the Kindle Fire, and thought I’d end 2011 with a few thoughts, a couple of months into my Fire experience.

It won’t take long, actually. Here’s the simplest review imaginable:

$199.

Honestly, quit worrying about what it doesn’t do. Quit expecting it to do as many things as the tablets that cost two or three times as much. Yes, it’s a portal to spending money at Amazon. No, it doesn’t have a camera or GPS.

But I use my Fire everyday to read books and magazines, watch movies and television, play games, read email, check Facebook and Twitter, look stuff up on Wikipedia, check the weather, and see how my various sports teams are doing.

For $199.

When the inevitable Kindle Fire 2.0 comes along, with a larger screen and a more open architecture and a higher price tag, I’ll think about upgrading. All that matters for now is that I have a machine that does all of the above-listed items, for $199.

Did I mention it cost $199?

Have a happy New Year!