CES 2012

(Reprinted from The Metro Spirit, 1/19/2012)

When most people think of January, thoughts generally turn to cold weather and football championships.  The college basketball season is heading into conference play.  Those that rent their house during Master’s week are finalizing arrangements.  But the true geeks among us are listening for different news.  January is the month of International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  This show is the tech industry’s premier event to show-off the latest and coolest gadgets on the planet.  Past CES events introduced products and technologies such as the camcorder, the DVD, HDTV, Plasma TV, Blu-ray, and more recently, 3D HDTV at CES 2009.  This year’s CES finished up last week, and by all indications, televisions are the big winners.

This year, LG and Samsung both premiered ready-for-prime-time 55” Organic LED (OLED) televisions.  OLED technology has been around for a few years.  An OLED display works without a backlight, so it can display deep black levels and can be thinner and lighter than a LCD.  In low ambient light conditions an OLED screen can achieve a higher contrast ratio than an LCD.  Translations, OLEDs are widely recognized as being capable of producing one tremendous, kick butt picture.  The problem has been scale.  OLEDs are regularly used in handheld devices, but no one has been able to create a large screen display.  Until now.  Look for the general release of these products later this year with a price point around $10,000.

Also this year, Smart TVs have established their position in the marketplace.  Many of the featured TVs contained dual-core processors providing equivalent computer power to the typical desktop PC.  Why is all this compute power needed?  Televisions have become scaled-up smart phones with their own network connectivity and application ecosystem.  TV manufacturers are positioning for a market where viewers will select programming by clicking Apps instead of surfing channels.  In addition, television makers are integrating video cameras and microphones, allowing for consumers to do anything from video conferencing to changing channel through a Kinect-style interface.   Televisions will no longer be dumb devices, but rather, they are active participants on the Internet providing the consumer a richer experience, whether watching live content, downloaded media or interacting with others.

In another example of how apps dominate our technology experience, a company called BlueStacks demonstrated software that allows Android apps to run on Windows 8.  In all seriousness, this should boost the adoption of Windows 8.  The Metro UI is widely regarded as a great interface, but Windows lacks the app support of Android or Apple.  BlueStacks accomplishes the integration by creating tiles for Android apps that look and feel like they’re Metro apps.  The software effectively brings the entire Android library into the Windows 8 ecosystem.

3D printing was a hot item at CES.  I have only recently become familiar with 3D printing, mostly through my fledgling robot army from MyRobotNation.com.  However, I might need to readjust by plans given the demonstration of MakerBot’s Replicator.  The Replicator prints 3D objects as large as 8.9 inches by 5.7 inches by 5.9 inches.  My own in-house manufacturing facility for world domination…

And there was so much more this year.  For example, there are several new Ultrabooks (think MacBook Air for Windows), new concepts in gaming controllers like the Razer Concept Fiona, home theater devices such as Simple.TV, and some very cool automobile tech by QNX and others.  Check out your regular tech sites for a more complete run down of the products at CES.  Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet!  @gregory_a_baker  L8R.



Words for Friends

(Reprinted from The Metro Spirit, 1/12/2012)

While going along in our day-to-day lives, whether you are into technology or not, sometimes you come across something that isn’t mind blowing.  It’s not revolutionary.  It’s nothing that is going to change your life.  It’s just fun.

And so it happened this past week while my wife and I were watching TV.  Well, I was watching…my wife was glued to her iPhone.

To be honest, this is not an atypical occurrence.  My wife will often spend much of her evening participating in the perpetual Junior League meeting-by-email that has been going on since 2002.  Tonight, however, she seemed to be doing something different, so I threw out a catch phrase from our family’s favorite Phenius & Ferb character.

“What ‘cha doing?”

It turns out her family had discovered Zynga’s Words For Friends.  It’s a knock off of Scrabble game that’s played on Apple and Android mobile devices.   Each player sees a copy of the board on their device and plays letters just as you would in regular Scrabble.  On this evening, my wife had three games going simultaneously.  The first being against her sister in Austin (which she was winning handily); the second against her sister in Raleigh (in which she was getting killed…more on that later); and the third against my grandmother in Evans (all square).  So of course, I load the app on my phone, and my wife and I spend the rest of the evening sitting on the couch staring at our phones.

One of the benefits of a smartphone is the ability to connect to the internet and the wealth of information that’s out there.  So while engaged in a heated match down by 27 points and staring at the letters “AEREUZA”, it occurs to me that I might be able to Google some help.  Did you know that there are multiple websites dedicated to finding Scrabble words?  (Neither did I.)  And just like that my pathetic draw of letters turned into a 48-point play.  At first, my wife was very complementary of my improvement.  But after several 6-letter words in a row, I could tell that she was starting to get a little frustrated.

“How do you and my sister keep getting all these great words?”

It’s interesting, the little relationship tests that pop-up from time to time.  Of course I knew the right thing to say.  After all, she’s the love of my life.  The mother of my children.  The woman who has been with me through good and bad.  The one with whom I want to spend the rest of my life.  And so I responded appropriately.

“Just lucky I guess.”

Well, you know how long that lasted.  We’ve been together long enough for her to know that I’m just not that good at Scrabble.  But, really, is what I did so wrong?  After all, we allow technology to improve performance in other activities.  How is using a resource like ScrabbleFinder.com any different than using graphite shafts or metal woods?  Isn’t it good to open up the game to those that don’t possess a high alphabetic aptitude?

Plus, Kari beat her sister by 40 points in their last game.

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

Happy New Year!

(Reprinted from The Metro Spirit, 1/5/2012)

Happy New Year!  It’s a wonderful opportunity to take Augusta Tek into our second year, and I am excited about 2012.  As always, changes in the tech world this year will continue to impact our daily routines.  Here’s a list of some of the topics we’ll be watching over the next year.

Health Information Technology will continue to impact Augusta’s medical institutions.  During 2011, most of the area’s health organizations decided whether or not to upgrade their health record software in an effort to seek incentive funds doled out by the angel investors in Washington D.C., otherwise known as the United States Congress.  For practices that decided to pursue the incentive funds (the maximum incentive was about $60,000 per physician), last year was spent upgrading their software and hardware infrastructure to comply with the new regulations.  The largest and most public of the organizations performing an upgrade is University Hospital.  The first set of practices utilizing their new Epic software installation will Go Live in early 2012.  Stand by to hear about the results.

While this more of a national story, it is likely that a new iPad and a new iPhone will be released in the coming year.  No firm details exist regarding the new features or capabilities.  My guess is that the new devices will continue to support Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies and the other popular applications that our children have grown to love.  From a personal perspective, I hope these new devices will finally start to root out the Blackberry holdouts in the Augusta area.  (For the life of me, I do not know why so many folks in Augusta continue to use Blackberries!)

In a related note, Windows 8 and a Windows phone should be out this year as well.  Both operating systems have received good reviews.  Since Nokia will be featuring the software on its hardware and with Research In Motion in the final throes of its death spiral, look for a Windows Phone to sneak into a reasonable number of your friends pocketbooks.

As far as cloud computing goes, Facebook will continue to be the social platform of choice, and Amazon, Google and Apple will fight it out for dominance in content delivery.  For those involved with developing custom websites, HTML5 should be on your radar.  In short, HTML5 should provide a browser- independent protocol capable of interfacing with web services and providing media rich applications.  Some believe HTML5-enabled web apps will take the place of apps currently distributed via the App Stores.  Late last year, Adobe announced that it was dropping support for Flash in favor of the HTML5 architecture, so hopefully, we will begin to see some accelerated movement on the standard.

(BTW, just an aside…anybody in town that develops websites, for goodness sake, please don’t put Flash on your client’s home page.  For that matter, think twice before you put any animation on the primary landing site, especially if you are developing a business site.  Animation is awesome if your viewer has a conventional PC setup, but the most forward leaning businesses that we support use mobile devices and virtual desktops.  They get frustrated as heck when they hit a website that causes their endpoint to freeze because some B-head put a half-dozen animations on the homepage.  Ugh!)

And of course, we’re going to be keeping an eye on the bonehead Stop Online Piracy Act, the continuing evolution of Android, and the coming apocalypse in December.  (I’m still thinking zombies.)  It’s just a short 350 days until the end of the world, so I’m looking forward to an awesome 2012 while it lasts!

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

The SOPA Debate Continues

(Reprinted from The Metro Spirit, 12/29/2011)

A couple of events regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) occurred during the past week.  As a reminder, this bill seeks to provide the government the ability to shut down foreign internet access to destinations that are suspected of engaging in copyright infringement activities.  While the objective is commendable, this bill provides broad power to the government to regulate internet access and censor content.  The final committee vote on this bill was originally scheduled to occur before the end of the year; however, House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith decided to postpone further committee action on the bill until after the holidays.

Also this week, we learned that the SOPA bill contains language to ban any “product or service” that “circumvents” internet blockades erected against alleged infringing websites.  The definition of “product or service” is very broad and could conceivably include anything from a dedicated software package to the simple /etc/hosts file such as found on every Linux, Mac or Microsoft operating system.  Ironically, many experts agree that the Tor Project would be banned.  Here’s the irony…Tor was formed by the U.S. Naval Research Lab and continues to be partially funded by multiple federal agencies in the hope that users in China and other repressive regimes can by-pass their countries respective  censorship firewalls.

The fate of this bill will likely be determined within the first couple of months of next year.  The Senate version of the bill (“Protect IP”) has already passed, and a floor vote is scheduled for January 24th.  House Judiciary hearings will continue next month, and as seen during the last round of meetings, the bill enjoys considerable support on the committee. Stand by for more…

Last week, an over-the-air update for Kindle Fire was released to address some of the swipe performance and browser speed issues.  So far, the results I’ve seen have been marginal.  A bigger item for Amazon is the software update for the iPad Kindle app.  The update provides a major upgrade to the viewing of magazines and newspapers on the iPad.  Overall, the 7-inch display of the Fire and the Nook seems to be a winner with the public over the holiday season.  Of course, the price point is a major consideration for these devices.  The iPad 3 is likely to be announced soon.  We’ll see what happens then.

So how many folks out there remember Rebecca Black?  Or what about Maria Aragon?  Both of these young performers hit it big earlier in 2011 when their videos went viral.  Still scratching your head trying to figure out who the heck I’m talking about?  Pop over to youtube.com/rewind and take a look at the videos that defined this past year.  YouTube presents all the popular videos of the past year in a timeline format.  Catch up with Charlie Sheen’s rants, enjoy all the K-Pop performances, and see if you can finally figure out what the whole Nyan Cat thing is all about.  My top 3 three from last year are: 3) Ultimate Dog Tease, 2) The Force Volkswagen commercial and 1) Talking Twin Babies.   Due to popular request from the rest of my family, an honorable mention goes out to Cat Mom Hugs Baby Kitten.

Fear Factor is back!  Monday @ 9pm!  Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet!