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.