All explorers eventually become settlers

wagon train oklahomaIt was officially announced today that the Google Glass Explorer program is shutting down as Google moves the project out of its X-labs phase and into, reportedly, a consumer division. News reports indicate it’s moving into the same division as the Nest thermostat group.

Seeing Glass move on from ultra beta to something more consumer focused is exciting, albeit a little disconcerting since it seems the current hardware that Explorers are wearing won’t be receiving any new software updates. Plus, it has been reported that Google is moving to a different chip and, possibly, a sleeker design.

I don’t mind that Google is shifting gears away from the Glass Explorer program. I do think they could have handled the public relations on the announcement better though. They could have, for example, sent the announcement directly to Explorers instead of letting many of us read about it in the news. (I did receive an email from Google Glass, but it arrived several hours after the news broke publicly.) I actually first caught wind of the report when a writer contacted me for my thoughts on the Explorer program shutting down. I and many other Explorers shared our thoughts with him and you can read that report here.

resourceFrom day one, the public relations, marketing and government lobbying aspects of the Glass program have been questionable at best. I’m sure Google learned a ton about the technology behind Glass and have many ideas on how to improve it. I can only hope that they have learned as much about the humanity behind Glass, as well.

One of the questions I was asked for the report linked above was what I thought Google needed to do next to get the program into full consumer production mode. What I said was that they have to do three things to make this successful beyond a beta product. Those three things include a lower price, a less-intrusive design and a smaller battery that provides more time on a single charge. That’s a lot to ask for from any new technology so it wouldn’t surprise me if this takes a while to develop. It seems to me that they probably captured all they could from the Explorer program and are ready to move into the next phase, which is a good sign in many ways. Wearables are going to become commonplace someday, and we Explorers will look back and laugh at how we chose to walk around with the brick-style cell phones of wearable tech.

Ari B. Adler with GlassThe Explorer Edition of Glass provided me with some amazing opportunities in the 13 months I have owned it. I have met people from many places and walks of life, some online and some in real life. I have been featured in news articles, resurrected my blog, and been drawn out of my introverted shell at public gatherings because of Glass.

I lost track a long time ago of the number of times people have stopped me to ask about Glass and the number of people who got excited when I explained what it can do. And seeing someone’s reaction when they try on Glass and experience firsthand what it’s capable of is always a treat.

Yes, it’s still clunky and it screams “nerd,” but it is the first step to the future of wearables and those first steps are always fraught with complications. It is unfortunate that negative media attention became a sure thing to raise click rates. There has been a lot of misinformation and downright hyperbole extolled by the media that should not have happened.

All-in-all though, I’d say being an Explorer has been great and I hope the device lasts me a good long while yet. It would be really difficult to get used to not having easy texting, turn-by-turn navigation and hands-free photos and videos available the way they are with Glass.

So, sorry, Steve Jobs, but as the Google Glass Explorer program comes to a close, I’m reminded of one Apple’s most inspiring quotes:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.

And, I would add, the ones who don’t need a little “i” in front of a device to think it might stand a chance at changing the world.

It has been a fun ride being one of those crazy explorers. But eventually every explorer becomes a settler. Well, at least until the next great gadget comes along that we simply must try no matter how much of a crazy misfit it makes us appear to be.

androidify Ari

It’s time to redefine the redefining of friends

golden retriever puppiesNearly four years ago, in February of 2011, I wrote a blog post about social networking and redefining the word “friend.” Since then, that post has consistently been near the top of my stats page for number of views. I just read it again and while the basic premise is still sound, some of what I talk about doing there has changed for me. The staying power of that post seems to show how much people are still struggling with social networking vs. interacting with people in real life. So I thought it was time to update the post with how I handle accounts now.

As I said back then, you don’t have to follow my lead. I don’t believe in social media rules but rather best practices. There are some people who are better at it than others, not because they are gurus or follow a strict code, but more because they have found a way to exist online that works for them and the people with whom they interact.

In 2011, my four main social networks were Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. In four years, how I handle my interactions on those accounts has changed a bit, and I no longer use Foursquare after their disastrous break up into Foursquare and Swarm. That move by the developers led me and many others to abandon them as quickly as they had abandoned the core function and attraction of their original app.

Instead, I find myself spending more time on a network that didn’t even exist in early 2011: Google Plus. I’m still on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but some things have changed, and I’ll go into those after I talk about G+.

Google HQGoogle Plus (+AriAdler)

Anyone who interacts with me regularly knows I’m a big fan of Google products. I like they way they are integrated in an effort to make my life simpler through interconnected apps. Some folks like to malign Google Plus as “the Facebook killer that failed.” But here’s the problem with that statement: G+ was never intended to kill Facebook. It is a very different network. I’m on there multiple times every day, either sharing information in my own posts, sharing what others have posted, or visiting one of the many communities I have joined that bring together aficionados of just about anything you can be interested in talking about. I use G+ as the main repository for photos that I shoot, which is now done entirely via my Android phone or my Google Glass (and backed up automatically). And I will follow anyone who seems interesting and doesn’t seem to be a spammer. Their system of Circles that allows me to categorize people and decide who receives all or just some of the posts I share is easier for me to use than Facebook’s system, but that may be a personal preference. Circles also are integrated with Google Contacts and the network is integrated with Gmail, Google Calendar and other Google apps. It’s a way to keep my finger on the pulse of the universe while traveling aboard the Starship Google.

I find I interact with people who have shared interests more than anyone else. Most of my family and friends aren’t using G+ because many of them didn’t see the need to check it out once they settled in on Facebook. I don’t think many of them know what they’re missing, but I’m not one to judge. You should find the network you like, you understand and can work within well. Then enjoy yourself and don’t worry about what others are doing or telling you to do.

— Followers in 2011: 0 —

— Followers today: 1,330 (plus 1.1 million views of my profile pages) — Following today: 3,513

facebook hqFacebook

Back in 2011, I was much more open about becoming “friends” with people. I used to accept invitations from just about everyone and then kept them sorted by lists. I don’t do any of that anymore. Instead, I’m more cautious about who I allow to become a “friend.” I purged a lot of people from my account. I still have “friends” who aren’t friends and so I’m always aware of what I’m saying and sharing, as everyone should be on every Internet-connected system.

I find that I spend more time interacting with family on Facebook than any other social network, with coworkers and people I went to high school with a close second and third. As I mentioned earlier, many of them were on Facebook first and haven’t found a compelling reason to keep up two different types of accounts.

I do find Facebook’s systems frustrating and have honestly spent most of my time on there only because of work needs, then while I’m there I take up shared conversations with friends and family. I visit it, generally, only twice a day but could easily abandon Facebook faster than any other network I use. For some reason, I find Facebook to be a bigger useless time-suck than Google Plus. That’s not to say G+ won’t have you spending a lot of time online that you should be spending doing other things, but when I’m done that time spent just feels more useful on Google+ than on Facebook. Tip: If you haven’t figured out how to turn off auto-play videos on Facebook, go do it now. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to get back. It will change your life.

— Friends in 2011: 800 —

— Friends today: 904, but different people make up that list now. — 

twitter hqTwitter (@aribadler)

Things haven’t changed a lot in terms of how I use Twitter. I have a lot more followers than I did in 2011 and am following a lot more accounts. Back then I noted it was a free-for-all, a “hodgepodge,” even. That remains true today. It’s an eclectic group that I interact with on Twitter, and I tend to interact with brands and companies more there than anywhere else online. I am on there multiple times per day and it has become the number one place that I schedule posts with news or interesting links via my Hootsuite account. (Google Plus’ API doesn’t allow scheduling things through Hootsuite for personal pages yet, but there are times when I’ll share things on Twitter and won’t share them anywhere else even when I can. I’m not sure the API change will alter that pattern.)

One thing that has changed significantly is how much Twitter has affected my professional life. Many journalists use Twitter now to break news or report on events. I have interacted with more journalists about and for news stories on Twitter in the past year than I probably did in the previous three. That type of interaction is expanding exponentially and I suspect it will continue to for a while.

— Followers in 2011: 4,339 — Following in 2011: 3,876 —

— Followers today: 7,502 — Following today: 8,220 — 

linkedin hqLinkedIn (Ari B. Adler)

I used to think of LinkedIn as “the Rolodex of social networking,” and I think it still is to some extent. I have more business-related and professional interactions on LinkedIn than anywhere else, and what I share there via posts reflects that. I’m on it a few times each week as notifications come in from people who want to connect with me. I don’t use it to its full potential, I’m sure, but it’s just not something I find compelling enough to spend time on. I find its interface clunky and counter-intuitive. Still, the connections you might have on LinkedIn could prove invaluable for a career some day, so I still recommend you check it out if you haven’t. Just remember that sometimes people want to connect with you not because of who you are but because of whom you know. Be careful not to be used as nothing more than a connection to someone else. Even heeding my warning, of course, I still tend to be pretty loose with my requirements for connecting. If I can find a shred of a reason to accept your connection request, I’ll do it.

— Connections in 2011: 500 — Connections today: 1,825 —

I’d be interested in hearing how your use of social media has changed over the years. It wasn’t that long ago that I was jumping on Twitter to figure out what the heck it was all about, because a younger professional in my office was making waves with it and I wasn’t about to get swamped and left behind. Now, it has become so much more routine to be on social media. And yet, years later, it’s still one of the most misunderstood, misused and undervalued opportunities for spreading a message than anything I’ve seen in my many years as a communications professional. I’m still learning and plan to do so for years to come. I would urge you to do the same, “friend.”

 kitten best friends

In the battle of streaming devices, the viewer wins

Through various deals I couldn’t refuse, I’ve ended up with three different streaming media players. A family member asked me to choose the “best one” and, honestly, I can’t really say for certain, but I’m leaning toward the Roku system. They all have pluses and minuses and it really comes down to what ecosystem you prefer to be in.

apple tvFirst, let me point out the one major player I don’t own is Apple TV, although I’ve been around when family members have used it. If you want something simple that you can hook up to a TV to sling the content from your iPhone or iPad to the big screen, it seems like a slick system. And, since Apple doesn’t play all that well with Google or Amazon, it may be your best choice for an iHousehold, although it is by far the most expensive option at around $100.

Second, let me note that I am probably biased in my criticism because as I mentioned, I landed all three devices with good deals that cut my final cost down. Certainly, if you pay the full price for anything you’re going to be a little more harsh in your analysis than if you find it at a great discount.

Now, for the reviews:

Roku LT ~ $55

Roku LTI’ve owned and used this Roku for several years now. It was the first streaming device I purchased and I’ve been happy with it since day one. It was the entry-level box but I’ve never found a reason to upgrade. It does what I want and the number of “channels” available is constantly increasing. I use it for a variety of streaming options, including: Amazon Prime Instant Video, Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, PBS, NASA TV, Google Play Movies and, finally HBO GO. (I say finally because for a long time, Comcast had its customer service head buried in the sand and wouldn’t let its paying subscribers use HBO GO.) There is now a stick version available and there are fancier models that do more, but for basic connect and go usability at a reasonable cost you can’t beat the Roku LT.

Google Chromecast ~ $35

Google ChromecastI purchased the Chromecast when I found it on sale, and recently bought a second one when I was able to get it for a significantly reduced price during a holiday promotion. Set up is reasonably simple, although it seems to be a little wonkier in finding and maintaining a wi-fi signal than the Roku. I use it for slinging stuff wirelessly from my phone and Chromebook up to the TV screen. That “stuff” generally involves HBO GO, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies, YouTube and Google+ Photos. The ability to cast my Android phone’s screen up to a TV is a huge plus, as well. (That will come in handy when I want to screencast my Google Glass to my phone and then cast my phone screen to a larger monitor when doing demonstrations.) I also have found the screensaver you can post to your TV via the Chromecast when not streaming something is great.

Amazon fireTV Stick ~ $39

fireTV stickI wrote a blog post about the fireTV stick when I first bought it so you can read more details there. I’ve used it a lot for Amazon Prime Video and a weather app. We’ve used it to view pictures and it will even play some games that you can download. I suspect I would use if more if it was on our main TV in the house and not a secondary one. But it’s very handy having it in the family room where the workout bike sits. It seems to hold a wi-fi signal very well, although in all fairness to the Chromecast, the fireTV stick resides a lot closer to the router than the Google CC does. If you’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber, however, I see no point in owning this device. The majority of benefits come from its ability to stream Prime movies and music.

My Recommendations

As I wrote early on in this post, what ecosystem you live in is probably going to be the best determiner for you when considering whether to go with Amazon or Google for your streaming sticks. If you dabble in all of them, I’d recommend a Roku device. You can access nearly everything that the Amazon and Google sticks can — and certainly the bulk of what you would want to stream in terms of videos and music. (I will give the nod to the Google CC if you have all-access music on Google Play. Casting that to an Amazon stick isn’t possible and on Roku it requires a third-party app that isn’t great.)

If you’re heavily invested in the walled Apple garden, of course, then you’ll probably want to take a closer look at Apple TV. But for the rest of us “free-range streamers,” start with the Roku, then add a Google Chromecast or an Amazon fireTV stick depending on whether you’re a more frequent visitor to the Google or Amazon universe. I’d argue that with the costs ranging from only $35 to $55 — if you pay full price — you can’t really go all that wrong with any of them.

Or be like me — buy all three and establish a beachhead for the day when you finally convince your spouse you don’t need to pay for 500 cable channels when we only watch half a dozen of them. I’ve heard HBO is looking at offering a standalone subscription service, which means my wife and I could catch Game of Thrones without paying a monthly cable bill. I can’t wait…

winter comcast meme

Chrome books it to the cloud and never looks back

Acer Chromebook 11.6I recently purchased an Acer 11.6-inch Chromebook computer as what I thought was going to be a part-time device to help me speed through a lot of the web-based work and social media activities I do. Little did I know a few weeks ago that I would be reaching for it more than anything else. I’m writing this post on it now, although honestly, I’ve written blog posts on a mobile phone before, so basically the best device you can use for writing is the one you have available when inspiration strikes. 🙂

I had thought about such a purchase recently as the job I have was ending and, with it, my access to an iPad. Also, my MacBook from 2009 has been showing its age. So I started thinking about what device to get next that wasn’t a laptop (because I wanted better portability, despite how 2014 that sounds), and I didn’t want to spend a small fortune like I would to get my own personal iPad.

To each his own, that’s what I generally say when people ask me about “the best device for doing x.” I’ve used Apple and Android phones, Kindles, Kindle Fires, iPads, PCs, Macs and, now, a Chromebook. I’ve also used the major devices available for streaming video and music content, but those should be in a separate blog post all their own (coming soon).

I also was recently contacted by SingleHop, a private cloud-hosting company, about sharing my experiences with cloud computing. Full disclosure: I was not compensated in any way to mention them, other than their providing the cloud computer graphic posted at the end of this post for reference. It was just a nicely worded email that asked me to write something and, sometimes, niceness and professionalism pay off.

So, anyway…cloud computing has become a big part of my life and it’s only getting bigger, as I suspect it will for many people. Chromebooks are nearly as powerful as many laptops now. Think about your computer use for a minute. Many things that you do are actually being done on the Internet, not on your local hard drive. Think about the social media activities, photo editing and storage, file storage and — if you’re a Google Drive user instead of a Microsoft slave — your writing, spreadsheets and presentations. All of that is done via your browser instead of your computer’s operating system. In my case, the browser of choice is Google Chrome.

The folks at SingleHop sent me a list of questions to prompt some ideas for this blog post, but I thought they were more useful for me to tweak and let others use as a checklist for determining how much you actually do online:

  • Do you stream music or videos?

  • Do you coordinate with coworkers or associates to collaborate on documents and presentations?

  • Do you use social media, email or instant messaging to stay in touch with friends and family?

  • Do you use apps on your mobile phone or tablet that are synced across devices?

If you answer yes to most or all of those, you’re spending a lot of time in the computing cloud whether you knew it or not.

When I looked at my computer use, I realized at least 90 percent of my activities were on the Chrome browser, so it made a lot of sense for me to make Chrome my operating system, which is what happens when you run a Chromebook. With a solid state drive and no true operating system, a Chromebook starts almost instantly.

I can open and close the lid all day to take it from wake to sleep and back again in a couple blinks of an eye. There is no fan, so there’s no noise, and it’s incredibly lightweight. I can rotate the screen vertically and hold it sideways to read a magazine article or book with no fatigue. (Essentially, it’s like holding a lightweight hardcover book, with the screen on one side and the keyboard on the other. It works a lot better than it probably sounds.)

My books are almost entirely in the cloud now, as are my documents, my photos, my music, my movies and most everything else I interact with. The advantage is that I have them all available on whatever device I’m using at the moment, from laptop to Chromebook, from Kindle Fire to mobile phone. The downside, of course, is that if wireless goes down or the Internet goes dark for any reason, I lose the ability to stream things. I can, however, work with items I have stored for offline use — books, movies, music, documents — pretty much anything I have room to store on my Chromebook or an SD memory card. Even Google Drive is now built so that you can work on things offline and then let them update to the cloud later when you have an Internet connection.

Cloud computing and the epitome of such — Chromebooks — may not be for everyone. But the ease of use and access, plus the ability for others to interact with what you have in the cloud when invited is incredibly appealing to and useful for me. I’m certain the gang over at Single Hop would agree since that’s how they’re making a living.

I’m thrilled with my Chromebook purchase and the way it took me to the cloud and never looked back.

There is a lot I could have written about cloud computing, Chromebooks or my new Acer in particular, but I didn’t want this post to become exceedingly long. So if you have any questions about anything mentioned here, just post them in the comments section and I’ll reply with an answer for you ASAP.

Life_in_the_Cloud

Burn your ships, Inbox by Gmail is here

hernado cortesThere’s an oft-debated historical reference made about Hernado Cortes burning his ships after they landed in the New World to encourage his men to fight and survive there rather than giving in too easily and sailing home. It’s how I’ve handled the conversion to Inbox by Gmail and, if you receive an invite, it’s what you should do, too, if you want to be successful with it.

The reason the Cortes story is debated is because now historians believe he didn’t order the ships burned but rather run aground and stripped of materials. Potato, pot-ah-to — either way there wasn’t an easy escape route when things got tough.

Those who follow me on social media or read this blog know that I’m a big fan of Google. It’s not a blind infatuation, I actually like their products and their methods, even when they destroy products I enjoyed using, like Google Reader. I have long enjoyed living deep within the Google universe because of the ways they find to integrate everything. Automation or at least quick manual access to my online life through various programs and apps usually makes my life easier and simpler. And I’m all for that, as I suspect most people are. But at times there are things with promise that come along that attract my attention, even if they aren’t within the Google universe.

The latest example of this was Mailbox, a self-standing startup that was eventually acquired by Dropbox. The beauty of the app, which started as mobile and then became a beta desktop app, was that it allowed you to swipe through, deal with or snooze email very efficiently. There were many times when I longed for GMail’s integration with attaching files from Google Drive or interacting directly with Google+ posts from within the email notification. But when I had a stack of emails flooding in, I went to Mailbox to quickly sort, swipe, snooze and delete them to get my head above water again. I should note here that the concept of Inbox Zero is paramount to me. I see my email inbox as a running to do list and as long as an email is sitting in there – read or unread – I have something I need to do. So by the end of each day, and sometimes by early evening, I have achieved Inbox Zero. That doesn’t mean everything is done, but it has at least been addressed, even if that means scheduling it to handle tomorrow.

Oh, how I longed for the functionality of Gmail and the efficiency of Mailbox to become one. I often wondered why Dropbox had to acquire Mailbox before Google could. I needed the two apps to marry so I could enjoy their companionship.

inboxSo, along comes Inbox by Gmail. It’s odd that it’s not Inbox by Google, but maybe they’re trying to show commitment to potential users, those of us who have been there done that with Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google Reader, etc. If they say it’s “by Gmail,” maybe we will believe that this time they won’t abandon it just as it’s starting to get good.

But I digress. Let’s focus on Inbox. Aside from its silly name (couldn’t they have come up with something less confusing than making us yet again use a common word as proper noun?) it’s a winner in my book, albeit in need of some tweaking. I suppose I should be happy that Google didn’t follow the other naming trend these days of obliterating random vowels and call it “Inbx.”

inbox feedbackI’ve been taking notes for this blog post as I’ve provided feedback to Google, or Gmail, or whomever is on the other end of the line. Sending feedback is easy, and they’ve even set it up so that it can automatically include a screen shot, highlight what you’re referring to, and black out personal information. It’s a feedback system that instills confidence.

So here are my notes so far, after having used Inbox on mobile and desktop for about three days now:

  • As I said earlier, you need to go all in. I’ve seen complaints from early adopters saying that what they do on the Inbox mobile app doesn’t transfer well to their Gmail inbox on the web. Well, duh, then go to your Inbox inbox (sigh) on the web and everything will be right with the world. Yes, many of us have invested time and energy in Gmail labels and folders, and those are still available to you under Inbox. But you now have a system of “bundling” available that seems to work well, so find a way to merge the two concepts and you’ll be singing a happy tune.
  • Speaking of bundling, one of the things you have to do is be a little patient with the technology. The initial bundles for Promos, Travel, Updates, etc. are pretty good. After all, Google has scanned your email surreptitiously for years, so they should have a handle on sorting it by now. But you can make your own “bundles,” and you can adjust which emails go into the standard ones or your personal ones on the fly. I say be patient because it may take a few days for Inbox to learn what you like and how you like it. But it seems to be picking up on my changes quickly and accurately.
  • One of the key features of Inbox is swiping and snoozing. That means you can select an email, or a group of emails, to go away and magically reappear at a later time or date or, because Google has this advantage over Dropbox as the mother ship, you can have them appear when you reach a certain location. That’s handy if you want to snooze an email until you get home after work, for example. One tweak that needs to be made to Inbox is the ability to adjust the default snoozes. On Mailbox, I could adjust what “later today” meant or what time “tomorrow” the reappearance would trigger. While you can manually select a custom date and time in Inbox, your defaults are their defaults, at least for now.
  • I also have discovered that when a snoozed item reappears, it is automatically unbundled and pinned. Unbundled means it just appears in your inbox, and not returning to the bundled group you had it in originally. Just because I want to look at something later doesn’t mean I want the category removed. And the concept of pinning emails by sticking a virtual stick pin in it is handy. It protects those emails by saving them to your inbox no matter what you try to do to it. That helps protect you from mistakes as you start to swipe, snooze and trash things with speed. But snoozed items don’t necessarily have to be pinned. If Google is listening to my feedback, they’ll know that I just want my email to pop back up, in the place I had it, and without a pin.
  • As for trashing items, Google has again opted to focus on archiving emails instead of deleting them. This happened with the Gmail mobile app initially until enough people hollered and they gave us the option of “trashing” meaning delete instead of archive. It’s an important difference and one that users should be allowed to toggle. Hopefully, that will happen soon. I’ve started using keyboard shortcuts in Inbox a lot more than in Gmail because I discovered the one for delete that actually means “delete.”
  • Formatting can still be a little tricky at times, too, as sometimes I’m finding things I’m cutting and pasting from the web into the body of the email being smashed together instead of formatted with paragraphs. I’m hoping that’s just a glitch that Google will address soon. I do like that there is a “speed dial” function hidden under the compose button. It populates with a few of your most-used recipients so you can address an email with two clicks and no typing.
  • The biggest letdown I’ve run into so far is the lack of proper integration. Sometimes it’s more efficient for me to reply to a Google+ post via the email notification instead of actually going to G+. In Gmail, I can do that and you’d never be able to tell I did it. With Inbox, my reply shows up, but so does a truncated header about who sent the response that I’m replying to. That’s unnecessary clutter and needs to be addressed. And, Inbox is not yet fully integrated with Google Drive as Gmail is. That means there is no easy way to attach or embed files and pictures from Drive. Sure, you can easily attach files that are on your computer, but unless they’re in a Drive folder you sync to your hard drive, that means you have to go get it first. That is soooo 2013! Google owns all of this, so it might be in the next iteration without much coding needed (says the guy who knows nothing about coding).
  • One thing that is integrated is Google Reminders, which is going to take some getting used to but may be something worthwhile. I use Reminders through Google Now, and having them populate in my inbox may be a nice time saver. It’s weird to see them there, but since I use my inbox as a to do list, maybe Google knows something about me that I don’t?

All-in-all, I’m happy with it. Is it perfect? Of course not, and maybe it never will be because we always want more than we can have when it comes to apps and software. Oh, and we want it free. And we want it handed to us for free with no ads, and without giving up any privacy, and we want it to never go down, never let us down and never make us wish we hadn’t switched email programs. But, that’s not real life and eventually all of us as consumers will need to start learning that.

Of course, we all have one major advantage Cortes and his men didn’t. If we decide to “unburn the ships,” all we have to do is make a few keystrokes and, voilà, we’re sailing home. But for now, I’ve deleted Mailbox because this New World inbox has a lot of promise.

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Image courtesy of http://kurtkoontz.com/

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.

 

 

 

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…”