Joy to the World…The Tablets Have Come!

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 11/24/2011)

As we move into this year’s holiday season, no doubt one of the biggest technology gifts will be the tablet.  Tablets have steadily grown in popularity over the past couple of years, evolving from a curiosity into a preferred medium for consuming cloud-based media.  The number of tablets currently on the market is almost overwhelming.  It would be impossible to provide a comprehensive review of all available tablets.  However, some common themes are beginning to emerge.  I hope a review of some of the more noteworthy products can help you sort things out as you start your holiday shopping.

Any review of tablets has to begin with the Apple iPad 2.  It is quite simply the best overall tablet on the market and sets the standard in virtually every performance category.  It is simple to use.  The library of applications and media content is huge.  The battery seems to last forever.  The recent iOS upgrade allows users to keep content in the Cloud versus local to the device or sync’d via tether to a desktop.  Does the iPad 2 have any flaws?  Only a couple.  First, the cameras on the iPad are not very good.  Not a big deal since taking pictures with a tablet is impossibly awkward.  You’ll only use the cameras for video conferencing, and well, how often does that really happen?  Secondly, and more importantly, many manufacturers have started reducing price, leaving Apple as one of the more expensive tablets.  Not a big concern, however, since the price performance is still the best of all tablets.  And let’s face it.  Consumers have demonstrated over and over again that they are willing to pay a premium to own Apple.

The next tablet is really a group of tablets – those devices that utilize the Android operating system developed by Google.  With only a couple of exceptions, Android powers every other tablet offering outside of Apple.  Several very good Android tablets exist in the market:  ASUS Eee Pad, HTC Flyer, Motorola Xoom, and Toshiba Thrive, to name a few.  All of these devices share the Plus +1 of Android, greater customization, Google native apps such as navigation with Google Maps, and the large selection from Google’s App Market.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 seems to consistently rank at the top of everyone’s Best Of list.  It is the lightest and thinnest of the Android tablets.  It also has the best performance, rivaling the performance of the iPad.  Unfortunately, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 price point is the same as the iPad.  Most of the folks that I have talked with say that if they are going to $500+ for a tablet, they might as well get an iPad.

Finally, the last couple of tablets represent the newest entries to the table market, the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and the Amazon Kindle Fire.  These tablets possess scaled down functionality to exploit the gap between what tablets are capable of doing, and how they are really used.  Most people use tablets to view downloaded or cloud-based media, whether the media is music, TV shows, movies or books.  Both Barnes & Nobles and Amazon have created their tablets as a front door into their media distribution.  This is especially true for Amazon as they challenge Apple and Netflix for dominance in the music and video markets.  The Kindle Fire also provides an enhanced web browser called Silk that utilizes the cloud-resources at Amazon to improve browser performance by caching web pages.  The beauty of these devices is their relatively inexpensive price points.  The Amazon Kindle Fire starts at $200.  The tablet doesn’t contain many of the features of the big boy tablets, but it has all the right stuff to completely satisfy most tablet users.

Of course, this is just a brief overview of the tablet market.  Much more information can be found online by Goolgling for product reviews.

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

The Better Half

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 11/10/2011)

Oh…Hi!  How’s everybody doing today?  Sorry, Greg is running a little bit late today.  I’m his wife, Kari.  It’s good to meet all of you.  Greg talks about you so much.  You are one of the highlights of his week.  I’m so happy to finally get to meet you in person.

Before Greg gets here, there a couple of secrets I’d like to share about him.  First of all, it is great to live with a technophile!  We always have all the coolest gadgets and computers and everything “wired together”.  Also, I volunteer with the Junior League, and it’s awesome to know we can always call him for a quick fix or explanation of what’s going on with our machines.  BTW – The JL Holiday Market is November 19th and 20th at the Marriott.  You need to be there…it’s such a great event!

Now, of course, being married to technophile has its downside as well.  For example, he will install something on our computer, like a 2TB NAS appliance or something to backup the one million pictures of our girls.  Then he’ll decide that it isn’t good enough and get something else.  Translation…I now have to spend weeks figuring out how the heck to make it work.  Another example…last week I needed to print out an attachment for a meeting.  I sit down at our computer, and my desktop is no where to be found!  It’s like I’ve been teleported through a hole in the space-time continuum!  After a couple of quick texts, I learn that Greg installed Linux (?) on our computer to test some cloud computing something another.  So much for the quick reply to that email marked Urgent!

Well, it looks like Greg is here.  It was so much fun to get to talk with all of you.  I can’t wait until we get together again!  Bye!

Thanks, Kari.  Sorry I’m late folks, but I’m happy you got to meet my wife.  Isn’t she wonderful?  Let me also share a secret about Kari.  Despite her affinity for reality shows like “Say Yes to the Dress”, she loves a good space alien movie as much as the next ϋber-geek.

I was late today because I was catching up on a topic that is new to me: Socialbots.  Socialbots are computer programs that mimic the actions of a typical user on Facebook or some other social network.  A Socialbot will randomly will post status updates and send friend requests to Facebook users in an attempt to obtain personal data.  A research group from Canada created a 102-member Socialbot Network (SbN) to measure user’s behavior in response to Socialbot attack.  Their findings show that about 20% of users will accept the friend request from a Socialbot.  Once accepted, the Socialbot will send friend requests to their mutual friends and will be accepted with a rate nearing 60%.  You’d think that a computer generated Facebook user sending friend requests at random would be fairly easy to spot.  However, the researchers were able to implement online services to break CAPTCHA’s and populate their profile pictures with images from  Status updates were generated using the API to  The Facebook Immune System (FIS), Facebook’s giant cybersecurity system, apparently was unable to detect the bogus accounts.  Over an 8-week periods, this collection of Socialbots friended 3,000 users, collected 46,500 email addresses, 14,500 physical addresses and over 250 Gigabytes of other personal data.  The researchers also warned of a larger danger.  A single user with a Socialbot army could shape opinion by spreading misinformation and propaganda.

The best defense against a Socialbot onslaught is to follow standard Facebook best practice: only connect with and friend people that you actually know.  Also, users should report suspicious behavior that is observed on Facebook or any other social network.

Another piece of advice I’d like to pass along.  Unless you’re the type that can’t live without constant humiliation, I would not recommend posting your picture on HotorNot.  (I mean, yes, I’m not in my twenties anymore, but a 4.6?  Really?)

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


Twenty Million and Counting

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, November 3, 2011)

“Long live the mouse and the keyboard!”

Yes, that is the mantra from those who dismiss the coming of Web 2.0 as a fad.  To them, smartphones are useless novelties that will never supplant the form and function of the desktop PC.  The story goes that any serious computer user cannot possibly populate forms or create documents without using a keyboard.  Given the state of technology existing today, I would have to (reluctantly) agree.  The Electronic Health Record packages we support all require a mouse to navigate the system and a keyboard to enter data.  The method is intuitive, and after all, it’s always been that way, right?

Well, actually, no.  The mouse and keyboard came into fashion about 30 years ago when Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) became popular.  Prior to that time, the Human-Machine Interface (HMI) consisted of what we commonly call a Command Prompt.  Personally, I find command line interaction and scripting still the fastest and most efficient method of working with a computer.  However, the average consumer seems to prefer the less efficient “Point and Click” method.  Hence, Windows and MacOS have dominated desktops for the last 3 decades.

Will “Touch and Swipe” eventually replace “Point and Click”?  Yes.  If you don’t believe me, ask anyone under 20 that has grown-up using both.  One caveat…application developers need to make the transition.  Most tablet applications I’ve seen are simply touch screen versions of programs written for keyboard and mouse.  Not optimal to say the least.  The short term solution is to get a keyboard attachment for your tablet.  The Apple iPad2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab seem to currently have the best support from third party keyboard vendors.  The next big transition to Touch and Swipe will probably come with Windows 8, so stay tuned.

Experiencing problems with the iPhone 4s battery life?  Apple engineers haven’t specifically identified the problem, but many iPhone users point to the “Setting Time Zone” feature which automatically sets the phone’s time zone a the probable culprit.  When you travel outside your time zone, the location-based feature constantly polls cell towers for the phones location.  Under normal operation, the feature polls only occasionally.  The result is a greatly reduced battery life, in some cases, just a few hours even with minimal use.  If you are experiencing problems with battery life, try disabling the service.  The “Setting Time Zone” function can be located within Settings, moving into “Location Services”, scrolling down to “System Services” and sliding the toggle on “Setting Time Zone”.

BTW – HP announced last week that it is officially out of TouchPads.  Literally.  These devices started selling like hot cakes when HP announced that it was discontinuing the product in Augusta and reduced price to liquidate inventory.  HP also changed its position from another announcement made in August.  HP CEO Meg Whitman stated that keeping the PC business within HP is “right for customers and partners, right for shareholders, and right for employees.”  Interesting developments since tablet computing will likely and the PC market will likely decline over time.   I expect that we will hear more from HP on both of these fronts.

Finally, there’s good news for all of you ladies that are looking for potent suitors.  Loes Segerink, a researcher at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, has developed a “fertility chip” that measures sperm concentration and motility (I’m not sure what motility is, but it sounds important).  The chip contains a channel designed to funnel fluid under specially-designed electrode bridges.  As the cells pass beneath these bridges, brief fluctuations of electrical resistance occur, providing a method to enumerate the little soldiers.  The magic number is 20 million per quarter teaspoon.  Fertility might be an issue with anything less.  Segerink is reportedly working toward creating a company that will commercialize her research into a home-use product where samples can be collected a bit more…(a-hem)…discretely.

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

Show Me the (Paper) Money

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, October 27, 2011)

In a grand example of technology going backwards, the recent slew of bank fees promise to take the entire consumer market back to paper transactions.  I’m not even going to pretend that I have a clue about how our national economy and financial system works.  I’m just a small-town shop manager.  That banking stuff is above my raisin’.  All I know is that this company’s economy depends on our ability to provide service in the most responsive manner and highest quality possible.  Paper slows us down.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Cash is still king; it just flows better electronically.  In all seriousness, I haven’t carried cash in 5 years, but I am starting to write checks again because of all these stupid fees.  What’s next?  Chickens and goats?  Well, why not!  Since deer season is starting, I’ll take10% off if you pay in venison.

And is there anything better to go with venison than an Android Ice Cream Sandwich?  Or how about an an Apple?  The Samsung Galaxy Nexus with the new Android operating system, “Ice Cream Sandwich”, was officially announced this week.  Has Google finally jumped up to the level of the iPhone and it’s recently released iOS5?  User interface – Android has flexible personalization, Apple goes for simplicity.  Maps – Android’s voice navigation over Apple’s integrated Google Maps.  Camera – Better editing on Android, but we’ll need to see how it performs in the wild.  NFC (Near-Field Communication) – Only in Android, but with the cost of electronic payments rising, will Google Wallet take off?  Music – Apple and iTunes.  No Contest.  App Store, iCloud, FaceTime – Apple, Apple, Apple.  And of course, how could I forget Siri?  Of course, each phone has a number of features that I haven’t discussed here.  The new Samsung is a nice looking device, and the feature gap is definitely closing.  The iPhone probably comes out slightly ahead, but ultimately, the consumer is going to decide which fits their personality the best.

Just because I know that all loyal Augusta Tek readers are waiting patiently to hear the results, it finally happened this week.  Shigeru Kondo of Japan finished his year-long effort to calculate the first 10 trillion digits of PI.  This feat was apparently done on a home-built, Windows Server with about 48 terabytes of hard drive space, 8 terabytes dedicated to simply storing the results.  The biggest obstacle in calculating PI?  Hard drive crashes.  Of the project’s 371 calendar days of elapsed time, 180 days were spent recovering from hardware failure.  So, what is the 10 trillionth digit of PI?  Hint: it’s the same as the 14th digit.

Finally, we all know that Google has the solution to everything.  But how good of a Googler are you?  Do you think you have what it takes to Google with the best of them?  Google’s new website asks visitors to answer a question using their ability to Google.  To prevent cheating, the search uses Deja Google – a wormhole inspired time machine that searches the Internet as it existed before the game began.  (No recent blog posts to spoil everyone’s fun.)  A new question is posted every day.  No hints posted here. You’ll have to go the website to begin your new addiction.

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