Monday, February 16, 2015

Help may not be on the way

Raise your hand if you've ever ask a nephew, neighbor or colleague for help with your computer - maybe trying to change a page margin or turn off the bold setting in MS Word. That's what I thought, put your hands down. There are really a small number of "experts" like your nephew - maybe 5% of users. Everyone else just tries to get by and learn as little about technology as possible - "I don't want to study it, I just want it to work" you say - and life goes on. Now, imagine the future Internet of Things where "they" want to connect everything you own to the Internet.

"Everything" includes your washing machine, your thermostat, your blood pressure cuff, your garage door opener and your mother's heart monitor. Now imagine what happens if you really don't understand how it all works. It's one thing to have a not so pretty Word document but what if you decide when you wake up that you don't want the coffee maker to start right away and turn it off with your everpresent smartphone - but accidentally disable grannie's pacemaker. Those darned icons look a lot alike without your glasses. The bigger point is that if you think using a handful of PC programs is hard, what will it be like when dozens of other "things with computers" are "upgraded" with a host of features and commands - just like MS Office. "I need to call Philbert 'cause I can't figure out how to make toast"! I'll continue this topic next month with "Because we can - the curse of modern software".

The Wayback machine

You might think that information on the web stays on the web - but sadly it does not. Quite often embarrassing or incriminating pages just disappear as fast as you can say "delete". Since web resources are routinely quoted for much of our work, what happens when those links are no longer available. Whether it's a class report, a research study or a legal document, the veracity of our work often depends on the sources. This New Yorker report goes into great detail on this very critical topic and the Wayback web archive that hopes to solve the problem.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The future of tablets

It's likely tablets will continue to grow in power, storage and size. If they hope to replace laptops, they will need to be bigger and rumors abound that Apple will introduce a 12 inch model this year. This could be related to the recent agreement between Apple and IBM which is beginning to bear fruit - including their first roll out of business apps.
Speaking of replacing laptops, a good keyboard is a must companion for your tablet and the latest models by Logitech are astounding. I do most of my typing - including this newsletter - on the one shown above at a coffee shop recently. If you want to use a tablet as a productivity tool, you really should get a keyboard. 

What can Samsung learn from Downton Abbey?

My apologies if you are one of the three people not yet hooked on Downton Abbey but there really are striking similarities between the two. DA features the owners of a large English estate governed by a descendant of previous owners. Likewise Samsung is ruled by the grandson of the original founder like many other SE Asian companies.
DA and Samsung are both struggling to find a new business model. In the case of DA they decided to raise pigs! Samsung has lost significant ground in the the smartphone market in the last year due to competition from Xiaomi at the low end and Apple at the top. Their focus at last week's Consumer Electronics extravaganza was not on phones (or pigs) but all the things they could connect to the Internet - the Internet of Things. Samsung still sells more smartphones than anyone - they just don't make much money doing it.
Please forgive me - I never imagined I'd be writing my tech column about a soap opera!

Picture This: Have you tried video/still photography?

For kids, sports and wildlife photography, it's very difficult to press the shutter at exactly the right time for that "special" image. As smartphone cameras improve, you should consider taking action shots in video mode and then extracting the best stills.
Professionals who spend thousands of dollars on a single lens for cameras that can snap ten frames per second and weigh five pounds have the perfect solution - but I only know six professional photographers. For the rest of us a good quality smartphone, a little time to get the best video possible and an app such as SnapStill to locate and save special images is all it takes. The picture at the right was taken on my iPhone originally as a video.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Read this if you're thinking about connecting your TV to the Internet

You can connect a TV to the Internet in two ways. Higher priced new TV sets come with connection circuitry installed and the TV becomes another WiFi device on your home network. The alternative - buying a separate set top box - has the advantage of more flexibility. As this field evolves, you can replace the box - typically less than $100 - and not the TV. Since Amazon announced their new set top box recently, a reporter studied the reviews Amazon members gave to the devices they owned including Apple TV, Roku 3, Google Chromecast, and the new Amazon Fire TV. Here's the report.
To make things even more confusing Google just announced their third approach to connecting your TV - 2010 Google TV that was too much like a computer - keyboard required - 2013 Chromecast is an inexpensive "dongle" that attaches to the TV and has received good reviews and now - 2014 Android TV considered a more direct competitor of Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.

(first published in May 2014 Newsletter)

What do you think of Facebook's psychological experiment?

If you're big in social media, you really should read what Facebook just revealed and decide whether you approve or disapprove. In summary, they manipulated the information users received to see if it would influence their behavior - i.e. what they posted. This article gives a good summary that is well worth reading and here's what ComputerWorld had to say. This situation is unfolding just as Google is starting to censor some of its searches! You can read much more about the "right to be forgotten" here - a landmark legal ruling.

(first published in July 2014 Newsletter)

Samsung tablets? have we got a deal for you - a lot of deals actually

I'm always shocked by the number of people who shoot in the dark when they make mobile tech purchases (remember people, these are real computers and not just $400 toys). They go out to buy a Samsung tablet since a friend had one - with no idea there are 22 different models of Samsung tablets available today. They end up buying one of the four models on the shelf of the local electronics store. What kind of decision process is that?

Here’s what Android fan and guru JR Raphael says about the current bumper crop of Samsung tablets. I'm sure there are many fine tablets on the list but they are not all created equal so just buying any old Samsung tablet is not the answer.

(first published in July 2014 Newsletter)

Camera comparison chart now available

Click to view camera comparison chart
As part of a new presentation on photography I've prepared a chart to compare prices and features of the seven common digital camera types - from smartphones and point and shoot cameras at one end to top of the line digital SLRs at the other end. Click here.
It is important to note that sensor size is more important than megapixel count when rating image quality. Unfortunately, virtually all smartphones, point and shoot cameras and long zoom compacts have very small sensors. If you want really high quality images that can be cropped and enlarged you should consider the new category of Interchangeable Lens Compacts or Consumer DSLRs with large sensors. And remember if you want a ton of great information on cameras, make sure you check out - everything you need to know about every available camera including prices, reviews and detailed specs.  

Looking for great and free apps? (5/14)

Finding good apps can be a daunting task with millions available. To help you sort through this overwhelming selection, you should visit - a web site that lets you filter and search for Apple, Android and Windows apps by category, price and other criteria.
There are even apps that let you search for apps. One of my favorites for Apple apps is AppsGoneFree; every day it lists 5-7 apps that are free for a short time. I check it frequently and have found many great bargains.