Monday, December 11, 2017

Time to Replace a Phone

Once again it is time to replace my old Android Smartphone. The old one had this funny problem where it would turn itself off and I could not turn it back on unless I plugged it into the charger. It didn't happen very often but I finally got tired of it and asked for a new phone. After all, it is the phone provided by my place of employment and I don't have to pay for a new one.

I had the option of an iPhone or an Android phone. As my personal phone is an iPhone, I opted to get the Android phone. I like the flexibility of having both an Apple and an Android. My new phone is very similar to my old one in features and is waterproof. While I don't really plan to ever test that feature, it is good to know about it in case something bad happens.

Any time you need to replace an electronic device like a laptop or phone, you will need some time to set up the new device. Fortunately I didn't opt for the iPhone as it would have been very difficult to get all of my applications and data moved to the new phone. Ultimately I just ended up moving the SIM card from my old phone to the new one and turned them both on. They were both connected to the WiFi network and recognized that one needed to be backed up and restored to the new one. That made everything convenient. I didn't need to transfer contacts as that happened the moment I entered my Google login information on the new phone. It is also important to remember that the process was not instantaneous. It took a few minutes and required me to enter some information on the new phone.

Today I finished pairing up my exercise headphones to the new phone. That is something I forgot when I got the new phone last week. There are a number of speaker systems I have at home that are also not paired to my new device. Fortunately it comes with NFC pairing so I just have to touch the phone to speakers and they will pair automatically. That is not something you can do on an iPhone but is a very convenient feature.

It is nice to have a smartphone without little problems. It is also nice that moving to a new one has gotten to be so seamless. Now if we can make upgrading computers this easy, I might think about replacing my laptop computers more frequently.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mixed Reality or MR

Yesterday I participated in a Mixed Reality demo. What is Mixed Reality? It is the intersection of virtual reality and the real world. In Disney's "Mary Poppins" there is a scene where a live human (Dick Van Dyke) dances with animated penguins. That is sort of an example of Mixed Reality.

I can't go into too much detail about the demo I saw yesterday because of non-disclosure agreements but it consisted of a virtual reality headset like the PlayStation VR or Oculus Rift with external cameras added. The demo started in the virtual world where players could interact with simple objects like wooden blocks or bouncing balls. The demo then shifted to mixed reality where the player could see their surroundings with some of the elements of the virtual world included. My favorite part of the demo is when one of the characters from the virtual world interacted with a lamp in the real world and turned it on.

I enjoyed the demo and found the idea of Mixed Reality to be very interesting. Now I wonder what uses it will have in the future. A few days ago I mentioned that it is best to meet work colleagues in person for collaboration. I wonder if mixed reality can be used as a good substitute. Perhaps I should create my own demo and see.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Inventions in Japan

I am in Japan this week and it is probably the only time I ever read Time magazine as there is a copy in my hotel room. This week's cover story is about the 25 greatest inventions of 2017. I have glanced through the list and have to wonder how many of the devices will continue to be great in 5 years. I know that predicting what will be great is a bit difficult and nobody ever gets it right but that doesn't keep us from trying.

If you were to ask me my thoughts on the greatest inventions in the past half-century, personal computers would definitely make the list. There is one invention that has yet to really make its way from Japan back to the United States that I would like to highlight instead: the heated toilet seat. I don't know why I continue to forget about this modern marvel until I return to Japan each time, but I do. I constantly tell my wife that we need to redo the master bathroom so that it has a heated toilet seat but there is a lot of work that goes into it. It is not something you can just bolt on to your existing toilet. Why? Well it needs electricity to keep it warm and power outlets are not something you generally put next to water-filled objects that occasionally have the tendency to overflow.

In the middle of summer, I don't mind a cool toilet seat. It can be somewhat refreshing on a scorching-hot day. In the middle of winter a cold toilet seat can be quite a shock and downright uncomfortable. It may sound funny but a heated throne adds significantly to your personal comfort. In a world of uncomfortable situations, who doesn't need more personal comfort. I therefore nominate heated toilet seats to be one of the greatest inventions of that past 50 years and encourage you to give one a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sharing Information

Yesterday I hosted a conference for my company. It is the 9th one and it turned out better than expected. In the week leading up to yesterday I didn't think enough people would attend to make the conference worthwhile. It turned out that we had some last-minute registrations and I am thankful for them.

Yesterday morning I really questioned the efficiency of getting a bunch of people from around the world to meet in the same room. I wondered if the same people might be served better by a newsletter or some other form of collaboration. At the end of the conference, I asked everyone the question that had been on my mind while planning the event: Should the conference continue? I then tossed around some ideas I had on how to replace it.

While I expected everyone to say that they wanted the conference to continue, I was not prepared for the answers given as to why. Everyone agreed that nothing beats meeting colleagues in person. I could try sending out a monthly newsletter but people would just glance at it before throwing it away. I could set up a video or teleconference but then the important side conversations wouldn't happen. Ultimately having everyone in the same room for a day allowed for collaboration that wouldn't take place otherwise. I also had managers tell me that they are working to increase their travel budget so more people can attend next year's conferences. So it looks like I need to keep planning them.

This should not sound too surprising. Think about your own family. Would you rather talk to a loved family member through e-mail, on the phone, using a video conferencing tool, or be together in the same room? All the money spent traveling during November and December shows that there is value being physically together.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Chromebook Update

About a month ago I wrote about a new Chromebook that a company sent me for free. Since then it has been in my family room, next to the kitchen. I have to say that it has been used non-stop by the family. It really only has one purpose: a web browser and it does it very well.

I came home from California before Thanksgiving and needed to look something up. I opened the screen and saw that my wife had used the Chromebook to look up a recipe for Polenta. I found that fitting as that is what I said it would get used for last month. The family also uses it for a number of other things as well. I used it to help figure out what tires to put on my wife's Jeep Wrangler. Throughout the Thanksgiving break, we used the device whenever anyone had a question that nobody else could answer. Need to know how late a store is open? Just do a quick Internet search and look it up.

Yesterday my youngest son grabbed the Chromebook and did some quick Christmas shopping. When he finished, he remarked that the device makes a great addition to the family room and thinks it makes a great family computer. Of course he wouldn't want to give up his laptop with all its capabilities but having a device for everyone to use to do quick look ups is very convenient.

I closed last month's review of the device stating that I probably wouldn't spend money on one because I prefer my laptop. After having used it for a while, I have changed my opinion and think the device is well worth the $200 price. I would also suggest that if you are looking for an inexpensive family gift to consider one. Especially if you need to replace the family computer that is really only used to search the web.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Be Careful What You Like

This morning I got up early and thought I would play Rocksmith on my PS4 to help me get in some guitar practice before work. Imagine my surprise when I turned on my PS4  and saw that I had liked the movie "Let's Talk About Sex." I've never even seen the movie but the title might make some question my taste in movies.

So how did I "Like" a movie I have never seen? Well it is quite a funny story. Someone turned on a PlayStation 4 that I have logged into before (there are a lot of them), signed in as me, found a movie with a shocking name, and selected the thumbs-up icon indicating that I liked the movie. It is a funny practical joke and I know who did it. Yes, I will be sure to get back at the person in an equally harmless way. However it brings up an important point: how do you un-like something on social media?

When I saw my movie recommendation on the What's New part of the PS4 interface, I immediately jumped in and un-liked the movie. Unfortunately that didn't do anything and the What's New section on the PS4 still registered that I liked the movie. Next I figured I would like another movie. Keeping with the theme of liking movies I haven't seen, I liked "Rogue Elements." It is a skiing movie I have yet to see but contains some skiers my kids grew up skiing with on the Snowbird Ski Team. Now the What's New section says that I like 2 movies and lists them both. I hoped that the new like would overshadow the old one but that didn't happen.

Rather than waste any more time on it, I figured I would let it stand. Now I wonder what the recommendation engine is going to do with the 2 likes for movies I have never seen. Perhaps the next time I log into my PlayStation I will be inundated with ads for ski porn (the link goes to Urban Dictionary . . . not a website that would be unsafe for work).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Dreary Bay-Area Day

Last night I rode back to my sailboat from my office just before the rain started. I managed to put my bike away and then the sky opened slightly with a heavy mist coating everything. I just buttoned up the boat and pulled out my guitar for several hours of practice.

The rain falling on the boat deck has a very comforting sound, making it easy to fall asleep. This morning I woke up to the same sounds of rain around me. I altered my usual routine to make sure I stayed as dry as possible by staying inside the boat. Then at the last minute, I got my bike out of the boat, vacuumed the cabin, and rode off to work. I arrived less than 15 minutes later and very pleased with the high-quality rain gear I purchased several years ago.

Once at the office, I spent more time on an exercise bike looking out the window at the rain soaking everything outside. Fortunately I could look at the miserable weather from the comfort of the company gym and didn't have to try and go anywhere on my bicycle.

Now I am at the San Francisco airport getting ready to catch my flight back to Salt Lake and am pleasantly surprised that my projected departure is still on time. I also find myself in front of a large window looking out at the poor baggage handlers having to do duty in the elements outside. It does not look pleasant.

It is days like this that make you want to curl up with a good book or jot down your thoughts on a computer. When I look at the technology involved in keeping me from having to live in the outside elements I have found something to be thankful for. That is important during this time of the year.