I miss being a spectacle

image

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.)

image

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.

image

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!

image

Advertisements

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.

IMG_20140618_145738124_HDR

 

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!

How to get the most heat out of your Kindle Fire HD

I had the first generation Kindle Fire and have used the Kindle Fire HD 7 for a few months. Both served me well and the increase in speed and flexibility afforded by the HD version made the upgrade investment worthwhile. I’ve had a few friends and colleagues ask Kindle Fire HD 7me about the Fire and the “must-have” apps I would recommend, so I thought a blog post was in order.

I’m not going to discuss the Kindle vs. iPad vs. Nexus debate here; there are plenty of other places to find those rants online. It’s a debate that may never end because, like many tech issues, the answer often lies in your subjective view of the world. What works best for anyone given their wants and needs for a tablet and the budget they have available differs greatly. I will say that I leaned toward the Kindle initially because I’m deeply invested in the Amazon and Amazon Prime universe. The seamless integration of these services with a Kindle made it the right choice for me.

This post is about what to do with the Kindle Fire HD after you’ve moved past the decision and have the tablet in hand. Suggesting any apps are “must have” also is a sticky wicket, because that’s a very subjective list. Nevertheless, here are my favorites, so far, broken down by category. This is not the complete list of apps on my Fire. Also, note that a few require “sideloading,” which is an easy and safe undertaking. It is not the same thing as “rooting” your Fire. I’ve included a quick tutorial on sideloading at the end of this post. If I remember sideloading an app, I’ve noted that in the description. If it’s not noted, that means the app is available for download directly from the Amazon App Store, or I simply forgot that I sideloaded it! (Tech tip: Many of the apps listed here also work well on the first generation Kindle Fire.)

Internet

Amazon improved the built-in Silk browser with the HD version of the Fire, and its integration with Amazon’s online store makes it a good choice when you’re doing Amazon-centric web activities. But it still seems to lag a bit when compared to two other options you have and it won’t play Flash on websites that use it. I have Dolphin and Chrome installed on my KFHD. Both are available via sideloading. Dolphin has some neat features, including the ability to use gesture shortcuts to reach bookmarked sites. I’m a big fan of Google Chrome and use it on all of my devices. The biggest advantage is its speed and its ability to sync your bookmarks across all your devices. No matter what I’m using, I know I can open Chrome and find my bookmarks arranged the same way everywhere. (Tech tip: Some people find that turning off the “Accelerate page loading” option in Silk’s settings speeds up the browser. I found no noticeable difference and turned it back on.) (Tech tip: No matter what browser you use, sometimes links are hard to select on a small screen. Don’t forget about the pinch and zoom feature. Also, double-tapping on the screen zooms a page in. Just be careful not to hit a link while tapping. Double-tap again to zoom out.)

News

Because of my day job as a press secretary, I’m a bit of  a news junkie. My morning routine includes using apps from USA Today, AP, NPR and BBC News. To access my  Google Reader account, and more, I use Flipboard. I really like Flipboard’s ability to send news stories via email, post them to social media outlets, and share them to many other installed apps. (Tech tip: The screen layout and access to features sometimes changes on the news apps depending on whether your screen is in portrait or landscape mode. Be sure to turn the Fire and see which layout works best for you.)

I suppose weather falls under news, too. I use AccuWeather’s app. The Weather Channel app works well enough but I’ve gravitated toward AccuWeather more for its interface. The accuracy is comparable, so find the one you’re most comfortable with.

Productivity

Having access to files throughout the day regardless of where I am or what device I have handy has proven incredibly useful. So, I’ve started to use “the cloud” for a lot of my file storage. That means that Dropbox is front and center on my list of productivity apps. I believe it’s a sideloaded app. You also can download the Evernote app from Amazon. If you aren’t using Dropbox or Evernote yet, you’re missing out on two of the best online, cloud-based products out there today.

No matter how much I love being paperless these days, I still find the need to jot down the random thought or phone number on a sticky note. The ColorNote app is what I use to bring the concept of sticky notes to my Fire.

I also recommend downloading the free Calculator Plus app. It turns your Fire into a great calculator, taking advantage of all the screen real estate to offer up giant buttons and a list of current calculations.

While you probably don’t want to write a thesis on a tablet, there are times when being able to read, edit and even draft documents on your Fire is a handy thing. OfficeSuite is a great app for that. There is a free version but I grabbed the pay version when it was on sale and it is a valuable app to have around. (Tech tip: the Fire HD has Bluetooth capabilities. That means you can sync up a wireless keyboard if you tire of using the on-screen one. I’ve yet to find one I liked well enough or increased my typing speed enough that it was worth keeping though.)

The Fire HD has a front-facing camera that’s designed for use with Skype, but you can do still photos with it, too. The trouble is the built-in way to handle still photography is a bit clunky. That’s where an app like Photo Editor has proven useful from time to time.

If you’re a blogger in the WordPress ecosystem, the WordPress app is a useful addition to your Fire, as well.

As for email, which is the core of productivity for many of us, the Fire’s built-in mail program does a pretty job handling multiple accounts from multiple sources. I still have my office email on that app, but I found out I could sideload the Gmail app and I never looked back for that part of my email life.

Finally, think about downloading Skitch, a drawing app that is now brought to us by the good people at Evernote. The big advantage with using Skitch as your drawing and sketching app is its integration with Evernote.

Social Media

The Fire does a great job helping me keep up with the social media side of my life. You should have the Facebook and Twitter apps on your Fire; I have found both to be more useful than the computer versions. I also use Hootsuite as my social media aggregator and the Kindle Fire edition is well done. There is no app yet for Google+; I’m generally accessing it via my Dolphin browser. Make sure you connect your Google+ account to your Flipboard account — then you can compose posts through that app. (Tech tip: The Google+ .apk is available for download, but after I sideloaded it I couldn’t get it to work properly. Perhaps, in time…which seems to be the story of the life of Google+ anyway.)

Entertainment

If you like movies and books, you’re going to love Amazon’s integrated system, especially if you’re a Prime member. And why not? Sure, it’s $80 a year, but besides streaming movies and TV shows, you can borrow one book a month instead of buying it and you get 2-day free shipping on a lot of products.

For other sources of TV, movies and music, the Roku app does a good job controlling your streaming player. Pandora’s app for the Fire is fantastic, too. A couple of apps that, combined, can help you find most of the radio stations and shows you might like to stream, are iHeart Radio and Tunein Radio. Both have free editions that work well; the paid version of Tunein Radio includes the ability to record what you’re listening to.

No matter how you get your movies, make sure it’s something you want to see before you stream or rent it by checking it out on the IMDB app for the Fire. It works very well.

Games

angry-birds-star-wars-review-0I’m not sure if there is any area more subjective than games. After all, one man’s relaxing fun is another man’s annoying waste of time, right? Still, I thought I ‘d share a couple of games that have entertained me and my teenage kids for a while. These include a few of the Angry Birds versions, especially Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Star Wars and Bad Piggies. For something a little more impressive for your high IQ friends, download the Scrabble app. You also might consider the Game of Life app if you want to bring family night games to the tablet instead of the table. (Tech tip: You can pinch and zoom on the Angry Birds screens to get a better view for aiming your weapons of fowl destruction.)

Reading

Of course it’s odd to talk about reading apps on an e-reader, but I do have one more suggestion that isn’t so much about the books but how to read them at night. With the Fire being a backlit reader, there are times that the screen is simply too bright to read with the lights off. (Those married folks among you will appreciate the need to read with the lights off as your spouse tries to sleep while you insist on “just finishing this chapter.”) A great solution to this problem is the ScreenDim app. It allows you to drop the screen’s brightness lower than the standard brightness setting does. You can save presets for quick access to different settings throughout the day, but I find that somewhat unnecessary. Plus, if it ‘s off, it’s not using your Fire’s computing power or battery. That’s why I usually just turn it on at night for bedtime book snacking. (Tech tip: You can try Auto Brightness on the Fire but it doesn’t seem to really keep up. I’ve found the same thing on my iPhone. That technology seems to lack true functionality on most devices. If you know the secret to making Auto Brightness work better, please share it with everyone in the comments section!)

Apps, Apps, Everywhere

There are many more apps available in all the categories listed above; I mentioned earlier that I was only highlighting some of my favorites. The list of all the apps on my Fire is too long to list in one blog post. Look for what you need and give it a try. If you don’t like it you can always delete it from your Fire. It’s no loss if it was a free app. If you shelled out a few bucks for an app and don’t like it, well, next time do what I do and research things thoroughly through the user reviews and outside sources on the Internet.

If you find some apps you consider a favorite, please share that information in the comments section. By working together, we’ll soon build an awesome compilation from many favorite lists.

Sideloading

You can sideload by downloading a file to your computer and then moving it to your Kindle via a USB cable. But it’s much simpler to sideload directly to your Kindle. To do so, download a file explorer app from the Amazon App Store. I use and recommend ES File Explorer. Once that’s installed, you need to head to your settings under “More,” then “Device.” Once there, change Allow Installation of Applications from the default of “off” to “on.” I tend to leave mine in the off position for security when I’m done sideloading, but that’s a personal preference. If you want to sideload an app, you then need to find the .apk file for it, which often is available at many sites online. After downloading the .apk file to your Kindle, you can find it in the Downloads folder by using ES File Explorer. Tapping on the file usually opens the installer and, voilà, you’re sideloading! (Tech tip: once you’ve installed the app, you don’t need the .apk file anymore. I move them to my Dropbox account so they’re quickly available if I need them, but they aren’t taking up space on my Fire.)

A “simple life” depends on how you define it

Montgomery Ward 1872 Catalog

Montgomery Ward 1872 Catalog

I recently posted a fun history update to Facebook about how the Montgomery Ward catalog was first released in 1872, and it was only one page. I commented, “No wonder life was simpler back then!”

My colleague Alan Stamm replied with a disagreement, acknowledging that I was having fun and he was “being a pooper.” But he raised a good point nonetheless:

Life wasn’t simpler when people had to make their own clothes, furniture, curtains, bedding, tools and other necessities or find a nearby craftsman to do so. Our transactions are impersonal and our creative pride transfers to other tasks, but life is much, much simpler now, as I define it.

And that’s really the heart of the matter, isn’t it?  Define “simple life” for yourself, and you’ll likely find others who think your life is much too complicated. I’m sure to the folks Alan mentioned, those who had to make everything for themselves, keeping up with the multitasking on laptops, smartphones, iPads and other gizmos would seem overwhelming. Certainly, they wouldn’t view my current life as “simple.”

However, as Alan pointed out, having to make my own clothes and furniture would be incredibly difficult for me and if I were transported back in time, I’d long for the “simple life” I led when all of that was offered for sale at a local store.

Reaching that store is simple for me, compared to folks in the 1800s who didn’t have automobiles. But those folks transported forward in time would probably find our chaotic and often-dangerous streets to be anything but simple.

Certainly, technology has made our lives easier in many ways, but I can’t say it has kept them simple. Fighting regularly to keep computer systems up and running, maintaining automobiles, servicing whole-house furnaces and air conditioning units is not simple. On the other hand, being able to have ice on demand from our freezer door sure makes things simpler. And that whole refrigeration concept does make fresh and healthy food simpler for all of us.

Perhaps the old saying about “the grass is always greener” really is true. Perhaps “a simple life” is defined by the longing for things you don’t have. People in the 1800s didn’t have the ability to sit down at a laptop computer and share their thoughts with the world after just a few simple keystrokes. I, on the other hand, don’t have the opportunity to enjoy a peaceful summer evening surrounded by a family that isn’t being pulled in six different directions because of commitments to work, school or volunteer and professional organizations.

Is it simply impossible for humans to recognize what a simple life really is? Are we always going to long for what we don’t have rather than enjoy what we do?

What does “a simple life” mean to you? Is it having technology and machinery available to do things for you so you don’t have to? Or is it having the ability to do things for yourself without the need for technology, and accepting that your limits are what they are and when you’ve reached them, that’s simply good enough?

I certainly don’t have a solid answer to that yet, but for now I have to stop wondering about it. I have to get to work, so I can earn money, so I can buy commodities that I cannot make for myself but which I can easily order online thanks to the simplicity of the Internet — one of the most complex technological advancements in human history.

Simple life, indeed.

Try being bored, it’s quite entertaining

The next time you go out for a walk, focus on being bored for a while. It can be quite entertaining. I rediscovered that nugget of truth today when I took a walk around our company’s campus during my lunch hour.

Earlier today, I read a story about a journalism professor challenging her students to not use technology as much in their daily lives for five days. Fewer than 10 percent of her 43 students lasted longer than two full days. So the concept of how technology has infiltrated our lives was already on my mind when I went to go on my walk and discovered I’d left my iPod at home. Usually when I take these walks, it’s with my music playing, as a way to escape and relieve some stress. It was so beautiful outside and I needed the exercise, so I pushed ahead without my iPod, allowing myself to be bored during my walk, for lack of a better term. In truth, I wasn’t being fed lyrics to process, which allowed my mind to wander a bit.

It was enlightening to hear birds chirping and the wind rustle the leaves in the trees — and fun trying to figure out how many different kinds of birds and trees we must have on our 57 acres. I also noticed a few new things involving the current expansion and landscape rejuvenation project we have going on — things I probably would have simply overlooked before because the noises in the area of those changes wouldn’t have caught my attention.

I also took a moment to stop and stare at the “old barn” that sits on the property but that I’ve heard is being torn down as part of the landscape project. I snapped a photo and daydreamed a minute about the history behind the building and the entire campus in general. After that, I started formulating this blog post in my head.

I think the professor’s idea to have people realize how dependent we’ve become on technology for more than just productivity is a valuable lesson for students. I’m certainly not about to abandon technology and I think our lives are better because of it. Even while I was out enjoying my nature walk, I used my mobile phone to snap some pictures and send them to myself via email for use in this blog post.

Technology is a wonderful thing and we should use it to our full advantage for work and play. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t allow ourselves a little freedom from time to time. The old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” That may be true, but I also like my new saying, “Boredom is the father of entertainment.” Or at least a blog post.  🙂