The Llama Whipping is Over

The Llama Whipping is Over (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 11-28-13)

Aningaaq – Do you remember the point in the movie “Gravity where Ryan Stone makes a distress call from the Soyuz capsule?  She makes contact, but the person on the other side of the call doesn’t speak English.  The writers of “Gravity” have released a short film that shows the other side of that call.  The film is called Aningaaq.  Aningaaq is an Inuit fisherman stationed on a remote ford in Greenland.   He’s fishing near his camp when Dr. Stone’s call comes on the radio.  To check out the rest of the story, you can find the short via Google.

Geek Gifts – Let’s face it.  This world contains a lot of nerds, and it seems that more nerd villages spring up everyday.  That’s the good news.  Unfortunately, non-nerds are still prevalent in society, and we still have to interact with them.  To be honest, I kind of feel sorry for the non-nerds.  To them, the world of nerd-dom must seem utterly pointless and nutty.  Likewise, non-nerds place little to no value on the items that we treasure.  As a result, a feeling of desperation sometimes besets normal folk as they try to shop for geeky friends and family members.  The blog io9.com presents a great article on wall art for nerds.  Several collections are featured:  the Ladies of Battlestar Galactica, a starship postage stamp series, travel posters to fictitious worlds, and more.  All are sure-fire hits!  Go to Google and search “io9 wall art for the geek in your life.”

First Selfie – Oxford Dictionary recently announced that their Word of the Year for 2013 is “Selfie.”  According to their blog, the frequency of the use of the word has increased by over 17,000% in the past year.  Pop quiz…when was the first recorded selfie taken and by whom?  According to the Public Domain Review, the first selfie was taken by amateur chemist and photographer Robert Cornelius in 1839.  The Library of Congress says this is one of the earliest photographs of a person ever.  I’m just a little concerned that he looks like Doctor Who #7.

Free Hours – We were rifling through some old junk at the store and ran across an unopened package for 1000 free hours on AOL.  I have to be honest; we all got a good kick out of it.  After going online to verify that AOL still existed, we reminisced about the some of the early Internet companies that have faded away.  Alta Vista and Winamp are a couple of the latest projects to join that list.

Alta Vista was one of the earliest search engines with a launch traced back to 1995.  Immensely popular in the late 1990s, Atla Vista grew to 80 million daily hits.  Ultimately, it bet wrong on portal technology and lost its search business to Google.  Alta Vista was acquired by Yahoo! in 2003 and merged with Yahoo! search in 2011.  The Alta Vista web site was closed in July 2013.

Winamp was the premiere media player of the late 1990s.  The player was widely popular from its first release with 15 million downloads in its first year.  Winamp became more than a media player.  Users created and shared different skins for Winamp.  An active community formed around this product and the developers that created it.  Winamp was purchased by AOL in 1999, and it’s decline stated shortly thereafter.  Many reports of culture clashes reside in the blogosphere, and ultimately a media player could not complete with inclusive environment created by iTunes.  The final day possible to download the latest Winamp player is December 20, 2013.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Until next time, I’m off the grid@gregory_a_baker

AAA SSS DDD FFF JJJ KKK LLL ;;;

AAA SSS DDD FFF JJJ KKK LLL ;;; (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 11-21-13)

I learned to type way back in the day at Evans High School.  The typing class was a one semester elective, and I have no clue why I took it.  If it was to meet girls, it must have been an unqualified disaster.  I remember being one of only a few guys in a 30-person class, but I can’t remember a single date with any of the girls from that class.

I’d like to believe that because my memory is fading, it’s no longer possible to keep track of all the girls that have come and gone.  However, I’m reasonably certain my memory hasn’t deteriorated to the point of delusion.  And besides, saying something that stupid would keep my wife laughing at me for weeks.

As it turns out, that typing class taught me a valuable skill.  I believe that I am one of the very few computer professionals that actually know how to type.  You would think that everyone in the computer business would be functionally literate with a keyboard.  You would be wrong.  Now some are better than others.  Most folks have progressed past the classic two-finger hunt ‘n’ peck.  Some even use an occasional pinky finger from time to time.  For the most part, however, we should all be very thankful for the development of a graphical user interface.

BTW – Here’s a side observation.  In my experience, the worst typists are the younger, entry-level folks.  At first, I found this odd since this is the generation that grew up with computers!  Then as my kids got into elementary school, I began to figure it out.  While the schools are very insisting that kids need to learn how to use a computer at a very young age, they seem to skip over the whole human-machine interface part.  Here’s a question:  If the kids don’t learn to type, how can they possibly learn to use a computer!?!  As ubiquitous as computers are in our life, why isn’t typing introduced in elementary school?  A strong argument can be made that typing is a more valuable skill for this generation than writing cursive.  Think about it.

So why all this ranting about typing?  Because I can no longer continue to propel the myth that tablets will one day completely replace the desktop.

Yes, I understand why everyone wants tablets to work for everything.  Tablets are cool!  They are thin and light, and they are very convenient to use.  Tablets bring out the visionary and futurist in all of us.  They make you feel like you are using a tricorder from Star Trek.  All the boring people use desktops.  All the cool people use tablets.  And all the really cool people use iPads!

One small problem exists.  Every Internet site doesn’t have it’s own Metro icon.  Excel worksheets don’t respond well to voice recognition.  To actually use the computer, you need a keyboard, and you have to type! 

Many of you might suggest using the on-screen keyboard on the tablet to type.  Let’s be clear about this.  On-screen keyboards stink.  Serious data input requires the tactile feel of a button being pressed.  Remember the old IBM keyboards with the “click.”  Perfection.

Now please don’t think that I am opposed to tablets.  That’s not true.  Tablets are not entirely useless.  Many applications do just fine without a keyboard.  If that’s the way you swing, go with it!  As time goes on, more and more applications will be written with tablets in mind.  Maybe someone will figure out how to bridge the data input gap without using a keyboard.  In the meantime, if you are looking for a solid, future-proof device, a convertible laptop or keyboard attachments would be a great addition to your personal IT department.

Until next time, I’m off the grid @gregory_a_baker

More Data Please

More Data Please (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 11-14-13)

One of my co-workers is blessed to have three kids of prime Internet age.  That means, of course, a constant river of TCP/IP packets streams into his household.  Online gaming, HD movies, social networking, video chat…if the media can be digitized, it’s being consumed.  For these kids, however, limits exist.  A total disappearance into virtual reality is simply not possible.  Is this due to a responsible father ensuring his family doesn’t sink into cyber-psychosis?  Well, of course, but something more fundamental is also at work.  You see, all these electronic mediums compete for one of the most quickly diminishing resources available in cyberspace:  Bandwidth.

Earlier this month, Comcast released the details of its new data usage plan.  Bottom line: the first 300 GB is free.  Anything over that will cost you.

First of all, I would suspect that most of us have absolutely no idea how much bandwidth we consume.  (I consider myself fairly savy on technical stuff, and I didn’t have a clue.)  Comcast customer’s can find the monthly usage for their account at comcast.net.  As a general rule, streaming Internet usage (online games and low resolution video) burns about 1-2 GB per hour.  High definition video is the real killer, burning about 5 GB per hour.

Under Comcast’s new plan, streaming Internet usage would effectively be capped at somewhere between 2 and 10 hours of use per day, depending on the mix of HD video.  (Note that if four people were each playing a different online game for two hours, a grand total of 8 hours of bandwidth usage would be accumulated.)  Needless to say, significant strategizing will be required to stay under the cap during the holidays.

As much as I don’t like the Comcast plan, I fully support their prerogative as a freely operating business to limit usage.  Certain aspects of the plan are smart business.  For instance, bandwidth limits encourage consumption of Comcast Pay Per View products over competing media services such as Netflix and iTunes.  And no doubt that Comcast’s infrastructure costs continue to grow as more and more bandwidth is demanded.  Imposing limits is a very effective method at keeping costs under control while maintaining quality of service for the resources provided.  Otherwise, everyone on the network will suffer.  Ultimately, Comcast customers will decide whether this is a good plan or move on to a better option.

So, what might a better plan look like?  While it’s not going to happen tomorrow, it’s a reasonable bet that a copper-based infrastructure such as cable will not support future demands for bandwidth.  Google is rolling out one of the most likely replacement.  The Google Fiber project provides Gigabit data (approximately 100 times faster than cable) and HD television directly to residential homes.  With this amount of bandwidth, a HD video can be downloaded in as little as 7 seconds and HD teleconferencing applications such as telemedicine are easily supported.  While Google Fiber has only been announced in three cities (Kansas City, MO; Austin, TX; and Provo, UT), several other companies across the country have also announced plans to explore residential gigabit services.

I just have one question.  Where do I sign up?

Until then, I’m off the grid@gregory_a_baker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steamed

Steamed (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 11-7-13)

My wife doesn’t know this yet, but we’re getting a Playstation for Christmas.  Or maybe an Xbox.  I haven’t decided.  Either way, this gift is a purely altruistic offering to my daughters.  They’ve been so good about playing Minecraft on their hand-me-down original iPad and iPhone 3s.  (Yes, they play Minecraft on an iPhone 3s – don’t ask me how.)  Our family is due for an equipment upgrade, and it’s time for my daughters to take another step into the larger gaming world.

And if that means that Daddy gets to play Call of Duty every once in a while, that’s just something we’ll have to suffer.

I hope that I’m not giving the wrong impression.  We’re not gaming nerds by any stretch of the imagination.  In the last 20 years, we’ve owned exactly three gaming consoles:  the Nintendo Entertainment System (which we still have), a PlayStation 2 (which we never used) and the Nintendo Wii.  Of the three, we enjoy the Wii the most.  Just Dance 4 notwithstanding, Wii Resort is the hands-down favorite.  The sword fight battles are epic.  The areal combat is vicious.   And who can’t resist a 100-pin bowling family throw down!

The next couple of weeks will witness the release of the next generation of gaming consoles.  Both Microsoft and Sony are upgrading their products.  Both new consoles come with improved specs – Xbox One ships with Connect 2.0 and Playstation 4 ships with a new Dualshock 4 contoller.  Both systems improve upon the social side of their gaming environment and online services.  A couple of spec mismatches have appeared – Xbox One is capable of playing MP3’s, Playstation 4 doesn’t;  Playstation 4 presents Call of Duty Ghosts at native 1080p, Xbox One translates from 720p, for example.  I don’t think we know enough at this point to definitively say one system is better than the other.

We do know that it is going to be hard to get one.  If you are planning on purchasing either the Xbox One or the PS4, be advised that pre-ordering has already closed.  If you have to have one this year, plan on camping out.

Recently, many folks are embracing an alternative to the traditional gaming console.  The alternative is not so much a replacement as it is a revival of PC gaming.  Over the past year, Valve Corporation released a series of products focused on bringing PC gaming into the living room.  The central product is its SteamOS operating system.  The Linux-based operating system is optimized to meet the needs of gaming.  In addition, the software is based on an open architecture model, allowing users to select the best hardware for their needs.  Hardware running SteamOS download games directly from Valve’s online library for over 3,000 titles.  Also, Valve has developed a new controller that promises to be an improvement over traditional controllers.

As with other application environments, the success of SteamOS hinge on the developers.  Will developers port existing software and create new applications to this Linux-based variant?  Time will tell, but for now, the momentum is in Valve’s favor.

Until next time, I’m off the grid@gregory_a_baker