An iPhone for Every Soul

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, October 20, 2011)

Last week we bid farewell to Steve Jobs.  Another titan of the Internet also passed away last week, but he’s likely someone of which you never heard.  Dennis Ritchie was one of the original developers of the Unix operating system and the creator of the C programming language.  Originally written to make operating systems and programs run on different hardware, virtually all modern languages can trace a relationship to the original C and Unix baselines.  Linux, Android, Mac OS, iOS, JavaScript and C++ are some of the many descendants.  Personally, I spent about 15 years developing applications in C that ranged from text processing to RF signal analysis to models of the Earth’s gravity field.  Only a true geek (like me) can understand the grace, elegance, power and simplicity of C.  The reality that Dennis Ritchie’s creation evolved to power the internet is no surprise at all.

A quick heads-up to all of the Occupy Augusta participants (if there are any left by the time this issue hits the street)…check out the Android market for a new app called I’m Getting Arrested.  You pre-load a custom message and texting recipients in the event that your peaceful demonstration goes awry.  If it looks like one of Augusta’s finest is going to haul you off, kick off the app and long press the bulls-eye.  No phone call needed.  Technological efficiency at its awesomeness.

(BTW – Isn’t the Occupy Augusta movement an oxymoron?  Honestly, “Occupy Augusta” sounds more like a marketing pitch for the DDA.)

This week, CTIA-The Wireless Association announced that the United States has more subscribers to wireless services than people.  Think about that for a minute…327.6 million wireless service subscribers compared to 315.5 million people.  I’m no brain surgeon, but it seems to indicate that every man, woman and child in the U.S. is using a cell phone of some kind.  My wife and I had decided not to get our girls a phone until they were at least in high school.  (How many e-Trade babies are there really?)  Is it being too old fashioned to cheat our girls out of their fair share of wireless service through elementary school?  Let’s face it, our society has moved from a chicken in every pot to an iPhone for every soul.  Does anyone have some good thoughts on the subject?

Jenny, have you gotten a smartphone for the Boy and the Girl yet?  (Just curious…)

So does anyone want to talk about the Blackberry outages?  From what I’ve seen, Blackberry users are still too ticked to discuss it.  Everyone else is wondering why they are still using a Blackberry.

Finally, technology recycling is a growing industry in the local area.  Several recycling centers exist in the area and rumors of others pop up from time-to-time.  However, based on what was recently reported in Japan, Augusta entrepreneurs have absolutely missed the mark on a recyclable that is plentiful (bountiful, actually) in the local area.  Lingerie makers Triumph International and Wacoal are recycling used brassieres into a solid fuel called RFP (Refuse Paper and Plastic Fuel).  Since 2009, 380,000 bras have been converted into approximately 32 tons of a fuel that has combustion efficiency comparable to coal but one-third the cost.

So, if you are a non-profit looking for a fund raising idea…

Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet…tweet me @gregory_a_baker.  L8R.

Good-Bye, Steve

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, October 13, 2011)

Last week as I sat down to write this column, I kept thinking to myself, “It doesn’t matter what I talk about… Apple’s iPhone announcement will blow it out of the water.”  The iPhone 4S announcement turned out to be anti-climactic, but we all know by now that the world of Apple is forever changed.

Steve Jobs, Chairman and co-founder of Apple, died on October 5.  It is no understatement to say that Steve Jobs created the consumer technology market that exists today.  The personal computer was his first genius, partnering with Steve Wozniak to create the Apple II in 1977.  Apple Computer is largely credited for shaping the early PC market and demonstrating that the average person wanted a computer.  (Remember that this is before the Internet…yes, there are things you can do on a computer without the Internet.)

So what did Steve Jobs get in return for creating the personal computer market?  In 1985, he was ousted from Apple by a CEO and Board that wanted to go in a different direction.  You don’t hear much about it, but I suspect Steve learned a number of lessons about corporate politics from that episode.  It’s probably no small surprise that, in terms of market capitalization, Apple was the biggest company in the world when he died.

Of course, we all know Steve eventually returned to Apple, but personally, I’m glad he had the time away.  First of all, it gave Steve the chance to revolutionize the computer animation industry.  Jobs bought the Graphics Group division of Lucasfilm from George Lucas in 1986.  In 1995, Pixar released its first movie, Toy Story and conducted an IPO.  (No coincidence, I’m sure.)  Secondly, it allowed Steve to start NeXT Software.  While NeXT wasn’t the commercial success of his other endeavors, technologies developed at NeXT eventually evolve into Mac OS.

In 1997, Steve Jobs returns to Apple, and the rest is history.  But what a history it is!  The release of the iMac in 1998 re-establishes Apple’s innovative role in the desktop market.  A truly revolutionary break-through came with the release of iTunes and the iPod in 2001.  At the time, Napster was in the process of destroying the music business.  Through iTunes, Apple was able to update the distribution model for content providers without taking away the convenience of file sharing.  It’s quite likely the iTunes model will form the basis of all media distribution (print, music, video) for years to come.

And, finally, we arrive at the iPhone release in 2007.  This product changed the consumer electronics market perhaps as much as the original Apple II did 30 years earlier.  The iPhone enabled truly portable computing and demonstrated how cloud services would work before we even knew to call them cloud services.  Along the same lines, the iPad, released in 2010, proved that a full-sized, touchscreen interface can replace the traditional keyboard and mouse.

Where would Steve go from here?   If we only had the brilliance to speculate!  It’s only after he’s gone do we pause and recognize the magnitude of his accomplishments.  How many other individuals have impacted the way people live in such a significant way?  Thomas Edison, perhaps?  History will have to be the judge.

All I know is that I’ve been a PC my entire life.  I only hope that one day when I grow-up, I’ll be good enough to be a Mac.

Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet…tweet me @gregory_a_baker.  L8R.


The Most Interesting Person in Technology

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, October 6, 2011)

Every once in a while I get a question about computer support.  That’s a good thing really.  It’s always nice for someone to be interested in what you do for a living.  It gives you something to talk about at chamber events, non-profit receptions, etc.  Most anyone that’s suffered through small talk with me will probably attest that in topics other than technology, I’m mildly amusing at best.  But when computer topics come up, I have heard some refer to me as the most interesting person in Augusta technology.  (I don’t always write technology columns, but when I do, I prefer the Metro Spirit.)

Anyway…back to computer support.  This past week one of our fellow Tek-heads described an incident that illustrates how tech support really works.  His Blackberry was experiencing sluggish performance and the camera app wouldn’t open.  After hours on the phone with tech support and reviewing the manual, nothing he tried resolved the issue.  So he took the Blackberry back to the store ready to exchange it for an iPhone or Droid.  However, after explaining the situation to a teenage-looking service rep, the service rep simply asked, “Have you cleared the event log yet?”  The log?  What log?  There’s a log?  The service rep calmly took the phone, pressed a magical series of buttons (Alt-LGLG for those keeping score), and, viola, there’s a log.  After selecting “Delete Log” from the menu, our Tek-head now has a fully functional and responsive Blackberry.  After listening to this story, I thought to myself, this is a perfect example of the 3rd Rule of Tech Support:  Everything is easy if you know which box to check.

In case you are wondering, the 1st Rule of Tech Support: Reboot.  Need I say more?

Going back to making small talk, everybody this week seems to be discussing the new Amazon Kindle Fire.  (Well…at least with me).  Here’s my take on the Fire.  First of all, it has about half the functionality of the iPad.  No camera.  Front or back.  Half the memory.  No 3G.  No GPS.  No Bluetooth.  The screen is smaller.  And while it’s Android-based, it won’t have access to the full library of Android apps.  Even so, the Fire represents the single largest threat to iPad marketshare, and I expect it to sell like hotcakes.  The Kindle Fire creates a direct portal into the Amazon media distribution pipeline.  With the original Kindle, Amazon’s dominance over the e-book market is comparable to the position Apple and iTunes has over the e-music market.  With Netflix going through a transition, the timing of the Kindle Fire release could not be better.  Amazon now has all the tools to become the dominant player in the TV and movie subscription market.

That’s not the reason the Kindle Fire will sell big.  It’s about the consumer, and the average consumer will use a tablet to check email, surf the web, play the occasional game of Angry Birds, read a book or watch a movie.  Given the choice, why pay $500 for an iPad when you can pay $200 for the Kindle Fire and still do all the things you want to do?

Not into tablets.  Next week is the iPhone 5 announcement!  I can’t wait!

Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet…tweet me @gregory_a_baker.  L8R.

Bye-Bye Netflix…It Was Fun!

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, September 29, 2011)

I love my Netflix.  My wife and I have always enjoyed seeing movies together.  Netflix provides that perfect experience for us since we’ve transitioned our date night from dinner and a movie at Augusta Exchange to Little Caesars and Fat Tire at Chez Baker.  It’s true that many of the big name movies aren’t available for streaming.  I understand you can get DVD’s cheaper through other sources.  However, Netflix always seemed to have something that we both could agree upon and enjoy.  (No small feat.)  Streaming is always the easiest, whether on the flat screen in the living room stretched out on the couch or on the iPad curled up in the bed.  An occasional DVD to hit the blockbusters, and we are set.

Honestly, I didn’t even mind the price increase a few months ago when they split the streaming and DVDs.  Compared to the $50+ we spend taking our family out to a movie…an extra $8 a month?  Not a problem.

Now there is this Qwikster thing that totally separates the Netflix queues.  Do I need to sign up for both?  How am I going to keep track of my selections?  Oh, Netflix, you had such a good thing going.  Why in the world would do you want to mess it up?

The reality is that video content producers are FINALLY making the shift to the internet.  High bandwidth services such as Comcast Xfinity and Knology Edge services enable on-demand streaming as a practical distribution choice.  On-demand service providers are heavily marketing content producers.  Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal and Netflix’s recent deal with Dreamworks are examples of the positioning that is occurring in the streaming market.  Content producers are choosing different streaming providers to distribute their products and providing serious competition to Netflix.

  • Hulu and Hulu Plus is probably the best place to find just-ran television show from Fox, NBC, ABC, Comedy Central, MTV and other cable outlets.  Hulu Plus is the paid service which allows mobile access and expanded listings.  The movie selection on Hulu is weak, but improving.
  • You Tube Movies facilitates movie rental over the internet and is now available through the Android Market.  It’s a User Friendly service, but it’s still working on its library.
  • Apple TV (iTunes) may be a good choice if you’ve bought into Apple’s ecosystem.  Good selections and you can purchase titles versus renting.  The direction of Apple TV is somewhat in flux, but we should know very shortly which way Apple will go.
  • Amazon Instant Video has very quickly become a player in the streaming space.  Free streaming is available to all Amazon Prime members ($79/year) in addition to the free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases.  Amazon has been aggressive in acquiring content, and Amazon is expected to be one of Netflix’s strongest challengers.
  • Blockbuster was recently purchased by Disk Networks and is expected to unveil a streaming service later this year.  While the streaming market is growing, in an interesting twist, Blockbuster will have one of the few DVD-by-mail services to compete with Qwikster.
  • And don’t forget CinemaNow, Vudu, Redbox, Xbox360, PlayStation Network, etc.

I still love my Netflix.  I wish it wouldn’t change.  But alas, like big band jazz, 8-track tapes, and Hannah Montana, all good things must come to an end.

Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet…tweet me @gregory_a_baker.  L8R.