Racing around…and around and around…with Google Glass

Michigan International Speedway Pit Road

I had the privilege this past weekend of being a guest at the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race held at Michigan International Speedway. The track was interested in seeing what I could do with Google Glass as a fan, and I also kept thinking about what the track could do with the device if they owned one.

As you can see from my Google Plus photo album of my day, there is no end of fun things to capture at a race track. I shot pictures and video of race cars and track facilities before and during the race. I used Glass to track rain on a radar app and I looked up information about drivers by Googling information without ever taking my phone from my pocket. Google Glass vignette

One thing to note is that while I believe Glass’ microphone and voice recognition are excellent, they cannot compete with the noise from a revving race car engine! My wife and I had to go around the corner a few times when trying to do something with Glass while I was in the garage area. Glass could hear me and would try to interpret what I was searching for, but just couldn’t do it. In Glass’ defense, I doubt my smartphone would either. It was amusing to see what it would come up with though. My favorite was when I attempted to search for “Jeff Gordon,” and Glass responded that it was searching for “Yahoo Porn.”Google Glass photo vignette

Overall, Glass did very well with the photos and videos I was shooting, both indoor and out. Of course, as always, the super-wide angle of the camera lens means you can lose some details if you aren’t close to your subject. On the other hand, being able to take a photo in tight quarters is a nice feature, and wide-angle shots makes it ideal for some expansive locations. I suppose the answer would be for a digital zoom feature to be built into Glass’ camera. As one of the track employees noted when discussing this “shortfall,” though, Glass sees what you see, so the wide-angle view didn’t surprise them in the least.

MIS garage inspectionBecause I had a special level of access to the facility, I was able to get to places that not everyone gets to go. This made me think of my trip with Glass in two ways: What could a fan do with them and what could an employee do with them. My access included the Media Center, which fans can’t get into but employees can, plus a Cold Garage pass, which gave me access to the garage area prior to the race. I also could get out on the track for the pre-race festivities. The Cold Garage and Pre-Race passes are available to a small number of fans and all employees.

From a fan standpoint, besides the easy navigation, weather and Google access, Glass was a great way to capture photos and videos. I took a shot while driving to a parking area in the track infield, which means you have to cross the track. It was raining when we arrived so I wanted to capture a shot of the wet track. I glanced to the left while driving and shot a picture in a split second, hoping for the best. My wife commented later that it was better than the one she shot on her smartphone even though she had the advantage of being able to concentrate on taking the picture from the passenger seat.

Michigan International Speedway track

In the garage area, I shot pictures to share on social media as well as a few to capture some memories. I also did a few videos to capture the experience in ways a still photo can’t, particularly in an environment where the noise and commotion convey as much as the image.

 

During the race, pictures and videos of the action were easy enough to do. The lag time on the picture being shot is very short. And the access I had to various areas of the track made for some good vantage points for pit stop videos. I still was a bit far from the finish line, so the pictures and videos of the actual race don’t have the zoom factor I would like, but they’re reasonably good overall.

From a staff standpoint, I could see the track putting Glass to some phenomenal uses.

As I wrote earlier, I had access to the Media Center, which means I could take pictures and video during the press conference with this year’s winner, Jeff Gordon. If I was an MIS employee, I would have been more comfortable sitting closer and making the most of Glass’ recording capabilities without feeling like I was an intrusive outsider. I did get a kick out of Gordon pointing at my Glass and saying, “Hey, cool!” when he walked by me on his way out of the Media Center.

 

The track also could do a lot more “behind the scenes” type of work with Glass through pictures and video than I had the ability to. Imagine being able to see areas as a fan that we just can’t get to. There’s the stage where drivers are introduced to the fans, but what about a little of what goes on behind the wall before they are announced and come out? Pace car rides are always a big hit with fans, so what about a video showing what it’s like to go fast around the track — or maybe a trip around in one of the actual race cars to see what it’s like to go really fast?

Roger Curtis, president of MIS, and his team have made a great commitment to putting fans first. At every race I’ve been to at the track, I’ve seen Roger out working the crowd — talking to fans, getting their comments, handing out special passes — anything to make them feel welcome and appreciated. You know he’s a good leader for the track when fans are often reaching out to him for an autograph, not just to the drivers. I think Roger wearing Glass during events, sharing pictures of fans and video of working rope lines, could be a big hit on social media.

#99 race carAnd then there are the drivers, the pit crew, the team managers and owners, and the many staff that make things happen at the track seamlessly — or at least make it seem that way. Letting them wear Glass and share a first-person perspective either through a live feed or through pictures and videos shared later could be one more way for the track to expand a fan’s experience.

NASCAR fans and visitors to MIS are a committed bunch. They are, in many cases, the epitome of the word fan, which is derived from the word fanatic. And I say that with respect, not as a slight. I wish there were more events and venues where people really cared as deeply for their team as race fans care about their drivers.

Who knows, maybe if Google Glass were available and put to good use at venues and for the right activities, more fans might find a connection to people and events they never knew they would like. There’s an old saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Imagine if you could do so virtually, thanks to the power of Google Glass. That’s something worthy of a trophy.

2014 Pure Michigan 400 trophy

Rain makes my Glass half empty

If you read this blog regularly or follow me on Google+, you know I’m a big fan of Google Glass even with its beta-product flaws. I’m wearing it regularly and have found the more I use it the more reasons I find to use it. 

Sunglasses and Google GlassUnfortunately, I’ve become so accustomed to wearing Glass that I sometimes reach up to do something on a regular pair of sunglasses only to find that they don’t do anything but block the sun. How old-school!

This happened again yesterday evening when I went out for an exercise walk. The sun was coming and going from behind rainclouds and my weather app said to expect rain within 20 to 30 minutes. Knowing I’d be gone longer than that, and not willing to risk getting caught in the rain while wearing the water-intolerant Glass, I left them at home.

Sure enough, several times during my walk, I went to do something on Glass only to discover I was just wearing glasses. That meant I couldn’t check the radar to keep an eye on the incoming storm or text my wife to give her an update on my walk status. Oh sure, I could have pulled my phone out of my pocket, but that seems sooo 2013, plus it would have turned me into a distracted walker because I would have been forced to look down while doing those tasks. 

I’ve worn Glass so much at work that people now tend to comment when I’m not wearing them, which is a reversal from people noticing them immediately when I walked into an office. These days, if I leave them on my desk to charge, for example, I tend to get double-takes and the common quip about “not recognizing you without your Glass.”

So as soon as Google fixes its fatal design flaw caused by foil bubbling, I have another challenge for them: make Glass waterproof. Sure, most phones and other electronics haven’t achieved that yet, but this is Google. They’re like the modern-day NASA of the moonshot era. So shoot for the moon again Google gang, or maybe even Mars. Let’s see what you can do when you really stretch!

Until their room full of geniuses comes up with a plan, though, I guess rain will continue to make my Glass half empty. My plain sunglasses can block out harmful UV rays but fall incredibly short when I tap them and say, “OK, Glass…”

 

Foiled again by a fantastic traveling companion

snidely whiplash

 

I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the past few days for work and then a couple of days of vacation. I found Google Glass to be a fantastic traveling companion. But then, on the drive home, I suddenly discovered my new unit that is less than a month old has already developed the fatal design flaw known as foil bubbling.

This is the second time I’ve had this happen, although my first unit lasted 6 months without any problems with the foil. Last time, it made Glass unusable immediately. This time, just the corner has bubbled, although I believe it will continue advancing its way to unusable quickly so I’m working with Google to get another replacement unit.

The “optics pod,” as Google refers to it, is the video screen you see everything with on Glass. The apparently ridiculously fragile foil covering one end prevents light from entering the end of the prism. Without it, you wouldn’t see anything. When it bubbles, you end up with magnified bubbles all over the video screen, which makes it progressively worthless. I still haven’t heard if Google has figured out to how address this fatal design flaw. I don’t envy them, because it can’t be easy to engineer a solid end to a single piece of glass cube. But c’mon, you’re Google!

Google Glass foilAs I mentioned, the foil seems to be Glass’ Achilles heel, so I am very protective of it. No liquids have come into contact with it. I’ve heard humidity is a problem, but that’s pretty hard to avoid in Michigan during the summer. Google cannot keep producing a product that only works in the environments of certain parts of the U.S. without self-destructing. I’ve also heard extreme temperature shifts may be a problem, but Glass experienced none of those the past few days.

Until this problem developed, Glass was a fantastic travel companion. Along with my Droid Maxx, it helped me put together a great photo album of our trip. It served as a wonderful navigational aid and it helped me keep track of appointments and locations via my calendar. It also worked very well as a way to chat with my kids and coworkers while we were on the road for many hours at a time and to share messages and photos with them while we were working or being tourists.

Despite all the media hype suggesting Google Glass is evil, the more I use Glass the more I see it becoming a natural extension of our mobile phones that helps us stay connected without dropping our eyes to a phone screen and becoming physically disconnected.

But until Google can address this flaw, I see a future where more people are saying they were foiled by a fantastic traveling companion or simply choose to leave that companion behind. And that would be a damn shame.

 

 

 

Help yourself help your customers

Kroger app screenshot

 

Once a company has made things easier for its customers, there are few things as frustrating as having them turn around and make things difficult again.

I experienced this recently at my local Kroger grocery store when they had a sign advertising a coupon for a free item.

Kroger has one of the better shopping apps available for your mobile phone. It offers more than you really need, but it builds upon the company’s shopper’s card, which helps you get discounts at the store. I find the app most helpful for “clipping” coupons to my shopper’s card. It easily replaces the old paper coupons and actually has me using more coupons than I ever did the old-fashioned way.

Back to my recent experience, I spotted a sign in the store for a Free Friday Download, which is a relatively new marketing promotion Kroger is trying. The idea is that you can download a coupon for a free item — in this most recent case, it was for a bottle of pop. So, I decided to try to take advantage of the freebie. That’s when frustration reigned supreme.

My first thought was, “I’ll just open my Kroger app on my phone and grab it from there.” I don’t remember seeing the Free Friday option the last time I was on my app, but since it’s a new thing I figured maybe I just hadn’t noticed it yet. So, I opened the app and searched while following my wife through the store. I searched. And searched. There was no Free Friday download or related coupon. I made my way back to the sign to see if I had missed some direction.

Kroger Free Friday download signWhat I found was a website address. Fine, it’s not as convenient as the app, but if it was mobile-optimized maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. While the site was mobile-optimized, it was not the doorway to a convenient experience. I could see the Free Friday coupon, but I couldn’t download it to anything. The reason is that it required me to log in to my Kroger account via my email address and password.

The reason I have an app, and use it, is because of its convenience and the fact that I don’t have to constantly remember my log-in information. It just opens and works.

I couldn’t remember my log-in and I wasn’t going to waste time standing in a grocery store aisle to try to figure it out. So, I gave up. That means instead of getting a free pop and expressing appreciation for it to anyone who would listen, I am now writing a negative blog post about a customer service and marketing screw-up by a company that does well normally.

If your company an app, then use it, drive people to it, promote more downloads; never abandon it. The marketing sign should have promoted the app. If Kroger wants customers to download something, they should have them download the app, then make the Free Friday coupon available on it.

Kroger has figured out how to help its customers in many ways. Now, it needs to learn how to help itself help its customers even more.

I’m doing the 2-gig jig with Glass

 

After having my Google Glass replaced due to the fatal foil flaw, I was excited to learn that I had not just a new piece of hardware, but the new hardware. The latest version of Glass is shipping with 2 gigs of memory on board instead of the 1 gig found on the original second-generation units. (Google has yet to call the 2GB versions the “third generation,” but some Glass Explorers have dubbed it that.)

Tim the Toolman TaylorExplorers have gone through update after update on the software side as Google has tried to fix problems caused by moving Glass to the KitKat operating system. I believe they have now found the solution: give it more power!

As with any computing device, if you dump an operating system and more programs on it that will do more that doesn’t mean your computer can do more. KitKat clearly chews up most of the memory available on the 1GB Glass and any sort of multitasking with apps kills it.

Instead of constant crashes, freezes and random reboots while trying to multitask with 1GB, the new 2GB version running the latest software (XE 18.3) resulted in my recent post to Google+:

I did a short bike ride tonight while listening to some music on +Google Glass and a undertook a mission on Zombies, Run! (It’s still entertaining, even on a bike, because you still have to sprint periodically to stay ahead of the brain eaters!) Anyway, it performed very well and operated smoothly.

I listened to some music for about 10 minutes while getting ready. I even took a picture of a backyard visitor while listening to music and there was no lag in the picture being taken and no stuttering of the music being played.

Once on the bike, I listened to the first mission of Zombies, Run! for about 30 minutes or so, then listened to music again for about 10 minutes. (News and email alerts kept flowing in, too, but I didn’t open them.)

Upon arriving home, I sent and received a few text messages and made a four-minute phone call using Glass as my headset.

All of that chewed up 35% of my battery.

The new 2GB model running XE18.3 is what I always imagined Glass should be like.

There are also subtle design differences with the new unit, with some as mundane as where they put the design and build text, which is now located under the battery housing. The attachment screws are black instead of silver now, too.

Google Glass

The nose pads are different now, as well, with the ability to swivel more, much like you often see on regular eyeglass frames.

Google Glass nose pads

The “optics pod,” or what people who aren’t Google Glass Guides would call “the screen,” seems different, too, but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s almost like it’s brighter, and sometimes that means I’m getting more of a ghosting/glare effect on what I’m viewing than I did on the first unit.

The only unfortunate thing for me so far is that I cannot get the Notification Glance option to work on this new unit. It was super easy to calibrate on my old Glass, and I found it to be a far superior method to checking what the notification ding means compared to bobbing my head to do what some of my coworkers have dubbed, “Ari’s Glass twitch.”

I need to mess around with it some more, but if that’s the only negative thing about upgrading, I won’t complain.

I’ll just keep doing the 2-gig jig and multitasking on Glass like there’s no tomorrow.

 

Elaine Benes dancing

Google offers good customer service in spite of itself

 

If you follow this blog, you know that recently my Google Glass had a serious hardware breakdown and I sought to get it replaced under the 1-year warranty.

Overall, the experience has been a positive one, but it there were times when I questioned whether a massive technology conglomerate like Google will ever figure out how to handle customer service. At this point I’d have to say they are getting close.

Interacting with Glass Guides, as they are called, has been great as they are very friendly when you talk to them. And Google Glass handles their account on Google Plus well. After noting my foil flaw on Google Plus, the Google Glass team jumped into the thread, apologized for the problem and provided me the link I needed to reach their Guides.

glass helpWhen you go to that link, you can opt to “call” Google, which really means you enter your phone number and press the call me button. It then tells you how long it will probably take for a Guide to call you. I called three times during this incident and each time it told me to expect a call back within 1 minute. All three calls actually came in within about 15 seconds, which is impressive.

The first Guide, Michael, was apologetic for my problems, verified my account info and then said he would send me an email with a questionnaire. He wanted to me to reply to the email with answers to questions about what was going on and include three high-quality photos showing the optics pod foil was in fact damaged. He said that would arrive within about 30 minutes. About 2 hours later I still hadn’t received an email. Given how responsive all the Google Glass interactions have been since I first became an Explorer, I worried there was miscommunication about my email address. Plus, once you start missing your Glass, you are anxious to get it replaced.

My follow-up call with a Glass Guide confirmed that they did indeed have my address, that someone was working on the case file, but that this second guide would jump in and push another email out to me right away. About 15 minutes later I received the email, but from the original Glass Guide.

I didn’t mind having to wait a few hours to receive the email; I would have not worried about it at all if the first guy hadn’t told me “30 minutes” when he meant “a few hours.” In customer service, under-promising and over-delivering tends to bring a smile to a client’s face.

The other disconcerting part of my first call was that Michael said he couldn’t guarantee a replacement but that they would look into the matter thoroughly for me. When you have a $1,500 paperweight in your hand — one that’s too light to really hold down much paper — with a known design problem affecting it you immediately become irritated when someone doesn’t say, “Of course we’ll take care of it!” But I realize that perhaps Google does not authorize every frontline person to make such commitments, even though they should be at every company. 

The email questionnaire was simple and straight-forward; it asked about half a dozen questions that all made sense to me in terms of Google Glass needing it for research purposes on a failed unit.

What happened before issue / breakage?

Any solutions come into contact with Glass?

What was the environment like?

How is the device stored or carried?

How is the device charged (only relevant for power issues)?

After sending my answers with three photos attached, I heard back within 4 days that Google was replacing my Glass and I would be notified when it shipped. Also, they had updated their advance replacement process, so they would send me the new unit without putting a hold on my credit card for the value, and provided me with a return shipping label for the busted unit. Hooray!

I made my third call during those four days, being an anxious customer and wanting to know what the resolution to my problem was going to be. The third Glass Guide I talked to verified that the Glass was going to be replaced. He said it unfortunately can take a week or so to get through the process, but that the good news was once it shipped, it would come by overnight air delivery.

Later that day, I received an email telling me my new Glass had shipped, but that it would take 3-5 business days and that they appreciated my patience. Here again, Google stumbled by providing mixed messages. The entire process took less than a week, but now the shipping would be by standard post, apparently, with a 3 to 5 day delivery period. Why did Glass Guides keep telling me different information? The last misstep by Google in this process was that they then shipped the new unit to me via overnight air delivery.

20140702-184840-67720482.jpgI had asked via email for the UPS tracking number so I could be available to sign for it. (I’m not sure why they didn’t just include the number in the first email; it’s better customer service and more efficient for their team than having to deal with another email or phone call from a customer.) I immediately typed it in and was told the package wasn’t in the system yet. Since they said it would take days to arrive, I figured I would just check 24 hours or so later and start tracking it.

Well, imagine my surprise when I received a notice from UPS via email the next morning that they had tried to deliver a package to me but no one was home to sign for it. That was on the Thursday before Independence Day, so they would try to deliver it again on Monday. No way! I contacted UPS, as I have before, and asked them to hold the package at the customer care center after the driver returned and I would pick it up from them Thursday night. That system always works very well and I’m pleased to say it did this time, too.

This worked out well in the end for me, but it could have been an infuriating situation. If you’re going to ship something overnight, don’t tell me it will take 3 to 5 days. This is one of those times where “under-promise and over-deliver” doesn’t work.

All is well that ends well, and I thoroughly enjoyed having Google Glass available for a July 4th party at my nephew’s house. I also have found the new unit to be incredibly responsive and smooth, details of which I’ll cover in a subsequent post.

But back to my earlier question: can a tech behemoth become a customer service powerhouse, as well? The answer is yes, and Google almost has it figured out. At this point, it’s offering good customer service in spite of itself. All the components are there now: friendly representatives (Glass Guides), an efficient replacement process, and a commitment to fast shipping.

Google HQWhat they need to do now is create a better guide for their Guides. It should include what information should be provided to customers about the units, the replacement process and shipping details. I’ve heard from other Explorers that the way to get the best customer service from Google Glass is to always work with the same Guide. But that shouldn’t be necessary, and other than what turned out to be relatively minor hiccups in my case, working with four different Glass Guides seemed to be fine. Consistency is key. Even if you’re telling your customers that something will take longer than they want to hear, if you’re up front and consistent with them no matter who they talk to, they should still be satisfied.

I have heard about research that shows customers with a problem that is resolved satisfactorily are more likely to say positive things about your company than people who have never had a problem. I don’t know where I read that initially, but I can probably find it on Google.

“OK, Glass…”

 

 

 

I miss being a spectacle

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I’ve been living without Google Glass for a week now and I miss it.

Could I continue to live without Glass? Sure, but I also don’t want to and thankfully I won’t have to. The replacement process is well underway and a new unit is en route to my home. I’m told it will arrive in just a few days, so that’s good news. Working with Google on this problem has been a mixture of ups and downs, but mostly a positive experience overall. Once I actually have my new Glass and am up and running correctly again, I’ll do a post about the replacement process.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts on why I miss being a fully equipped Google Glass Explorer:

There’s no easier way to…

I’ve been keeping a list of things I would have normally done on Glass because they are just easier than on my phone, not that it’s all that difficult to begin with. But text messages/Google Hangouts, turn-by-turn navigation, taking pictures, checking the weather, keeping up with flight info while traveling and Google searches are just simpler and faster on Glass. They also are available to me hands-free and heads-up. In the case of messaging and navigation, that is incredibly important while driving. (I don’t text and drive, which means I am pulling over more during my travels to check text messages if my phone starts going off a lot, which has been known to happen.)

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Also, when you own a Jeep Wrangler and like to drive without a top and doors, having a quick way to double-check the weather while driving around through a heads-up device is faster and safer than if you have to use your phone.

I admit I’m a distracted walker…

I find myself looking down a lot more, and that means looking away from my surroundings. That makes me a “distracted walker,” and also means I’m missing out on what’s going on around me. Sure, I could put my phone down and walk somewhere before seeking out information. But so could you, and how many of you really do that? It’s just not realistic anymore. When I have Glass on, I am looking through the information I need, not at it.

I’m really an introvert…

People who meet me in real life often think I’m an outspoken, nutty person who can be loud and is not afraid of interacting with anyone. I also do a lot of presentations, some to large audiences, which freaks some people out but gives me an adrenalin rush. But I’d rather talk to a room full of 100 strangers than talk face-to-face with one or two of them. That’s because even though I’m outgoing and can project well in front of a crowd, I’m really an introvert who is terrible at small talk and will often retreat into my phone or some other device to avoid talking to people.

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Here I am with some MSU Spartan football players. They wanted to meet me because I was wearing Glass.

But if you are a Google Glass Explorer, you cannot be a shrinking violet. People will stare, people will talk about you and people will talk to you. And, honestly, I do sort of miss the interactions driven by Google Glass. If nothing else, it gives me a nearly endless supply of content to feed any small-talk conversation. And it’s a great catalyst for someone you’ve never met to strike up a conversation, which often means they get to learn about Google Glass and I get to learn about some aspects of their life I never knew I would be interested in until I heard about it. Cell phones and social media are, in many ways, making us less social. Google Glass is restoring interaction among people, not just feeding interaction between machines.

I’m finally OK with giving up my privacy…

I am still a very private person in many ways, often fueled by my current job, which opens me up to vulgar personal attacks from time to time. And while many ridiculous tech articles would have you believe that Google Glass is the end of privacy as we know it, they actually have it all backwards. Google Glass isn’t a threat to your privacy unless you are wearing Google Glass.

As I mentioned above, being a Glass Explorer means being willing and able to have conversations with complete strangers. There is no such thing as a personal space barrier when people decide they want to learn about Glass. They are going to talk to you whether you want to or have time to or not. I have to admit, there have been a few outings where I have left Glass at home because I simply didn’t want to be an ambassador that day. Those moments are few and far between, probably because I’m finally OK with being a Google Glass Explorer first and a private person who values his “me time” second.

And that’s not all…

I’m certain there are many more ways not having Glass has impacted my life, but I made a point of only jotting down the things that I kept bumping into regularly. Other Explorers may have a completely different list of what they missed when they had to wait for a Glass replacement, which is a more common occurrence than it should be but I suppose that comes with being a beta tester.

So I am anxiously awaiting my new Glass to arrive. I just hope it doesn’t show up when I’m not home to sign for it!

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Technology rocks, just don’t let it roll over you

20140617_111045_754_xA recent family vacation helped prove once again that modern technology rocks, but if you’re not careful, it can roll over you.

Aside from my Google Glass developing the dreaded foil bubble design flaw  during the trip, things went nearly without a hitch. Unfortunately, the one hitch I had could have been a major problem. To be fair, modern technology helped it from becoming one. OK, now I’m starting to write in circles, so let’s just get to it using the old format of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Jessi, the kids and I headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a week with four mobile phones and Google Glass in hand, plus a Kindle Touch, a Kindle Fire and a GoPro camera. We took no laptops or iPads, opting for the smaller screens and less chance for potential distractions. I knew cellular service on the island we were headed to would be spotty at best, but we did have WiFi in the house we rented.

20140619_080739_725_xThe Good

Google Glass — until it broke — worked great as a camera, video camera and travel aid.

The mobile phones (an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S and Motorola Droid Maxx) all performed admirably. They served as phones, messaging and email units, travel aids (via a Delta Airlines app and Google Maps) and cooking timers, as well as cameras, gaming devices, news readers and social media conduits. The ability to take pictures, including panoramas and photospheres (Google Camera on the Maxx) is becoming increasingly easy and impressive. The fact that the list above is as long as it is while talking about a single device you can hold in the palm of your hand or put in your pocket is still astounding to me.

The Delta app has proven more useful over time and if you fly with Delta, you should use their app. You can learn about your current flight’s status, check seating locations, carry a digital version of your boarding pass and even track your checked bags to make sure they’re headed to the same vacation spot you are.

The Kindle Touch served as Jessi’s book reader for the trip, from the plane to the beach — always ready due to it stellar battery life and always readable thanks to its e-ink technology and anti-glare screen. Its small size made it portable and easy no matter where she went.

The Kindle Fire served as my book reader, as well as video player so I could catch up on a TV show I’ve started streaming through Amazon Prime, as well as a magazine reader and a gaming device. (On a side note, did you know Prime members can download TV episodes to store on your device to watch when WiFi isn’t available? I didn’t — but I’m glad I learned about it before my 5 hours of flight time one way!) One of the fondest memories I think all four of us will have is the laughs we shared while playing The Game of Life on my Kindle Fire around the kitchen table for several nights.

20140620_100914_201The GoPro camera was a loaner from my brother-in-law and I’m glad we had it to capture some underwater pictures and videos to add to our collection of memories. Because he also has the WiFi attachment for his 2nd version GoPro, it meant we could watch the videos each night by streaming them to an app on my phone. Besides again causing me to stare in wonder at how technology has changed and improved, it also meant we could critique our video shoots before we headed out snorkeling again so we knew how to adjust our shooting techniques.

The Bad

There are not a lot of items to list in the bad category. Certainly, traveling with devices means having to take care of them, and we made sure everyone had solid cases protecting their mobile phones. Battery drain is always a concern, except on the Droid Maxx, but since we turned off the cellular and data services during the day, the phones all performed well as cameras without giving us much worry about battery life.

When traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, you must be careful not to suddenly trigger a cell tower on the British Virgin Islands. The signal is better, but also a lot more expensive!

Of course, having technology with you means having the world with you, which in some ways is an unfortunate interference when you’re on vacation. But that’s not really the fault of the technology, but rather of our inability as human beings to let go of the daily rat race and just enjoy wandering the maze slowly while seeking the cheese.

The Ugly

For some reason, when you return to the U.S. mainland from the U.S. Virgin Islands, you need to go through U.S. Customs. This happens at the airport in St. Thomas, which means it’s more laid back than say the Customs unit in Atlanta. But it also means you are in a building where your cellular signal is weak at best.

While still at our rental house, I used the Delta app to check in all four passengers and load boarding passes onto my phone via the WiFi connection — or so I thought. Technically, you’re just loading the passes into the app, not downloading them to your phone. What this means is that you need a WiFi or cellular connection while opening the app to use it if you want to see your boarding passes. Unfortunately, this was not going to happen for me in the U.S. Customs area of the airport in St. Thomas!

The customs officer was extremely friendly and forgiving of the technology snafu. He let Jessi and the kids wait to the side with all of our luggage while I went back outside to try to find a signal and open our boarding passes. He even gave me permission to bypass the long line and come right back to him once I had our boarding passes.

IMG_20140624_070017477_HDROutside, the signal was still weak and the app refused to sign me in and grant me access to our boarding passes. So, after a couple of attempts, I went to find paper boarding passes. Ironically, it was technology that again made things easy even though it was technology that made things more difficult to begin with. Delta has self-serve kiosks at the St. Thomas airport. I just had to log into one of them and since I had already checked us in, it simply asked if I wanted to reprint our boarding passes. I did and within minutes we were through Customs and headed to the security checkpoints, paper boarding passes flapping in our hands. (Just one more reason you never wait until the last minute to try to catch your flight!)

I’ve used the electronic boarding passes before without any issues, but it has always been in areas with strong cellular service. This was the first time I had tried going sans paper, and on the way down, the system worked flawlessly. I’m nearly certain it will again when I travel next week, so I’ll try going all-digital again, especially since I know the Delta kiosks have my back in case of failure. (Also note the update I posted below!)

Sharing the memories

As I wrote earlier, I think technology rocks. Sure, there are flaws and there are times when it can be maddening, but most of the time it’s beneficial and it still makes me shake my head in wonder at how far things have come.

Just last night I used technology again to help share our memories. Using Google Plus, I created an event and then invited Jessi and the kids. We now can each upload our photos from the trip to this event, granting access to all four of us to see the trip from different perspectives. It also eliminates the need for, “Hey, remember that picture you took of X? Can you email it to me?” I could, but that’s sooo 2012.

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UPDATE: Here’s an idea to address the issue of having a boarding pass on your phone but no cell phone signal to open the app and view the pass. When you first load the boarding pass after checking in (which means you had a signal at that point), take a screen shot on your phone. That way, you’ll have a usable facsimile of your boarding pass available in your phone’s camera roll whether you have a network signal or not!

Foiled by a design flaw

Google Glass has a fatal design flaw that is resulting in a growing number of complaints and replacements — and now I’ve become the victim, as well.

The end of the optics prism is covered in a silver foil that blocks the light from entering at the end of the prism, which would distort the view at best and make it impossible to see at worst. Trouble happens when the foil bubbles up and sometimes seems to peel away from Glass.

IMG_20140626_133832218 (1)In my case, the foil developed bubbles, which has resulted in a distorted view inside the Glass prism, rendering it almost unusable.

The most unfortunate thing for me — beyond the device becoming a $1,5000 novelty item — is the timing. I was traveling with my family  on vacation and the foil bubbled on the next to last night of our trip. While I had not been using it much due to the nature of our daytime activities, which included a lot of snorkeling, I was planning on breaking out Glass to use during our travels home. I also have another trip planned for this coming week where I was hoping to use Glass and its travel aids.

Upon returning home, I contacted Google Glass to report the issue and determine the next steps. I’m on Day 3 of working with Google to get through the process of getting it replaced. I wasn’t happy that the Glass Guide initially said, “I can’t guarantee you a replacement will be made, but we definitely will look into this.” That’s not what an unhappy customer with a device still under warranty that is suffering from a fatal design flaw wants to hear! Still, I’m reserving judgment until final disposition.

The people involved have been friendly and the process is rather straightforward so far. I had to speak to a Glass Guide about my problem and they emailed me a questionnaire for me to respond to via email and asked for three clear pictures showing the Glass from different angles.  The only glitch in that process so far has been that the Guide told me I’d receive an email from him within 30 minutes. After 2 hours, I called back to make sure they didn’t have my email address wrong. Another Guide opened the file and said she’d take care of getting me an email right away. About 45 minutes later I had an email from the original Guide with my questionnaire.

The delay perturbed me, but mainly because the original Guide was not up front with me about timing. If it’s busy at Glass HQ and it’s going to take a few hours to send me something, then say so. Don’t promise 30 minutes and then leave me hanging.

So, now it’s Saturday and I don’t expect I’ll hear anything until Monday, but perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’ve heard Glass Explorers who get warranty replacements have mixed results — with some getting a replacement sent first and the defective unit returned afterward, and others having to return the bad unit first, which delays the process. Can I live without Glass for a couple of weeks? Sure. Do I want to? Not really. I’ll cover why in an upcoming blog post.

For now, I’ll just become another person with my head down, looking at my mobile phone instead of my surroundings. It’s less Star Trek, but more distracting.

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