Thursday, February 22, 2018

Top Uses of the Internet

I had an interesting discussion with one of my friends at work about the top uses of the Internet. Would you care to guess what number one is? You would be right if you guessed, "communication" or "e-mail." It depends upon whose list you are reading as both are credited with the top spot.

Everyone uses the Internet for a number of different things. Some people use it for entertainment while others use it for research. However we all use it to send and receive e-mail. There are also a lot that use it for sending or reading tweets. Think about Facebook and isn't that just another form of e-mail/communication?

So what are some other categories of Internet usage? Looking at a number of "Top-10" lists show that it can be used for downloading files, playing games, looking for a job, or shopping. I think the great thing about the Internet is that there are so many uses and no one person uses it the same as another.

I remember doing a similar search when the World Wide Web first started becoming popular. There were as many ideas as there were companies trying to capitalize on the technology. Does anyone remember WebVan? They tried to deliver groceries before going under. It is probably no coincidence that they got folded into Amazon who is now trying to do something similar with their acquisition of Whole Foods.

It is nice to see that the Internet has matured to the point of where it is now. I think there is a lot more innovation we will see with it and is exciting to see what new ideas will arise from it in the future. I imagine that the majority of new ideas will be evolutionary instead of revolutionary. Don't be surprised by the revolutionary ideas though as they do come along every now and then. It is just a matter of time.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Electronic Bill Pay

I used to be a check guy. When it came time to pay bills, I would sit down with my checkbook, figure out what bills I could put off the longest, and pay bills until I started feeling uncomfortable with how much money I had left. Then I discovered electronic bill pay. My bank has it as a free service with my account. I have to say that I love it. Rather than mailing checks, I let the bank take care of that. The bills get paid within a few days of when I schedule them. That means if I know I will be out of town for a while, I can schedule bills to be paid in the distant future. My only responsibility is making sure something doesn't interrupt my direct deposit for my regular paychecks.

Tonight is bill-pay night but I have a slight problem: the bill pay application is temporarily unavailable. That is most unfortunate as I had hoped to get that taken care of this evening. I have had this happen before and the site generally comes back up rather quickly. I hope that is the case this evening as I want to get this done tonight and not have to worry about it in the morning.

If you are not using your bank's electronic bill pay application, I encourage you to start. If you bank does not offer this service for free, then I recommend you switch banks.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

On the Phone While Driving

In a number of states it is illegal to drive while talking on the phone unless you have a hands-free device. I understand this law as it is tough to hold your phone and steer the car at the same time. I think it is a good practice to never have your phone out while driving even if you are in one of the states that does allow you to talk on the phone and drive like Utah.

I am noticing a trend though. Last night I drove home from the airport with my wife and she noticed that the woman in the car next to us was simultaneously driving and watching a video on her phone. I'm sure this person thought she could multitask but her driving proved otherwise. She spent most of her time in the bike lane and looked like she wove a rug as she sped down the street. Needless to say I felt relief as she turned right while I continued straight.

Driving while you are playing with your phone is what is known as "distracted driving" and can result in citations and fines. The only problem is that the police have to catch you. Sure I could have followed the woman last night and called the police. Unfortunately that never works out very well. Eventually this person will cause an accident. It is not a question of "If" but "When."

Please don't drive and play with your phone at the same time. Last night nobody happened to be in the bike lane due to the late hour and cold weather. However I often use that bike lane on my daily rides and would hate to wind up being a hood ornament to a distracted driver.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Google's Visual Search

This afternoon I decided to play around with Google's visual search and decided I don't like it at all. The idea is that you can provide Google with a picture and it will search for similar ones. Furthermore it will classify your picture for you. If you go to Google and click on the "Images" link in the upper right corner, it will go to a new page that looks very similar to the standard search page. However there will be a camera icon in the search bar. Simply click on the camera and it will ask you to provide a picture or URL of a one. I pulled a picture of myself off my computer and sent it to the search engine. The picture was me wearing a blue shirt against a white background. Simple, right? Well Google classified the picture as a "Senior Citizen" and gave me a bunch of similar pictures of old bald guys wearing blue shirts standing against a white background.

First of all, I am not even 50. I think classifying me as a senior citizen is a bit harsh. This also indicates how the visual search engine works. It can't guess that I am looking for other pictures of myself on the Internet and assumes I want to see other bald guys in blue shirts in front of a very simple background. It just so happens that most of those also include senior citizens and so I got classified that way.

I did another search for someone a bit more famous than myself, Bruce Springsteen, and Google correctly identified him. Perhaps I am just not famous enough. I guess that is something else I should work on this year.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Great Courses

New Year's is a time were most people think about bettering themselves and so it makes sense that my wife and I received a catalog in the mail from The Great Courses. They had a sale going on where you could pick up 2 or 3 hundred dollar courses for less than $50. So my wife and I went through and found several classes that we thought would be interesting. We spent less than $100 and have our evenings planned for the next several months.

Every night we are home together, we watch one or two lessons from "Wonders of the National Parks." Each video lasts 30 minutes and includes all sorts of interesting facts about the National Parks in the United States. There are also some parks mentioned outside the US, like several in Mexico. We have finished the first of 5 DVD's and are thoroughly enjoying them.

I also picked up a beginning guitar course. Yes I have been playing guitar for about 2 years now and probably qualify as a solid intermediate. I learned from RockSmith but wanted to see how an instructor would teach vs. a video game. So far I have been through the first 2 30-minute lessons but have learned something from each one. It is interesting that a friend who plays the guitar gave me a warm-up exercise when I first started playing. The 2nd lesson from the DVD course gave a similar exercise. This is something I wouldn't have gotten from RockSmith. I have to confess that the course is well worth the $35 I paid for it. I just looked online and it is now $235. I need to run through a few more lessons before I can confirm if it is worth that price.

I like to learn new things and so having in-depth courses about topics I am interested in learning about is a lot of fun. Yes, I probably could just watch the Discovery channel every night. But then I am at the mercy of their programming and I don't really want to be a crab fisherman.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Downside of Staying on a Boat

People are amazed at how inexpensive it is for me to stay on my boat in the Bay Area. They think I have things figured out when it comes to beating the high cost of housing. What they don't know is that there are some sacrifices you make when you stay on a boat instead of in an apartment or house. Most of the time I am fine with those drawbacks. This week I came down with a mild cold and the illness made my life a bit more difficult.

While I have Internet, electricity, and water on the boat, I don't really have a toilet. I do, I just never use it. If I do, I have to empty the holding tank immediately or the boat starts to smell. Instead I just make a long walk to a restroom on shore. The round trip is only about a quarter of a mile but after drinking liquids all day long, that can get to be quite a walk every 20 minutes. It is just my personal observation but warm liquids run through you much faster than cold ones.

Another difference is heating the boat. Tuesday evening I had a serious case of the chills because of my mild fever. While I have 2 electric heaters on the boat that both work well, it still takes about 10 minutes or so to get the boat from below 50 degrees Fahrenheit up to a comfortable 70. I sat with my hands outstretched towards one heater like it was a warm fire. Then I shook uncontrollably as I made one last round trip to the restroom for the evening.

There are also some benefits to staying on a boat when you are sick. For instance, everything is really close at hand. I didn't have to reach very far to get my warm soup from the stove to the dinner table. In fact, I didn't even have to get up. I also could continue playing my video game while I ate the soup because my TV and PS4 both sit on my dinner table. I just have to eat carefully and not spill anything.

My wife always encourages me to check into a hotel when the nights are stormy or I am not feeling well. This week the thought crossed my mind but I opted to stay on the boat. I like my living space and it is very comfortable. I just need to not get sick.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Losing Track of Time

Tuesday night I completely lost track of time. It happens every once and a while. A week or so ago I started putting together a technical specification and became so engrossed in what I was doing that I needed to be reminded to go to lunch. However Tuesday night, 2 hours seemed to be only 5 minutes.

After work I headed back to my sailboat and started playing Horizon Zero Dawn. My wife called to talk a bit and so I paused my game to have a conversation with her. As she hung up the phone, she told me she would call me when she headed to bed. A seemingly 5 minutes later my phone rang again. I told my wife that she must be going to bed early. Then I looked at my watch. She didn't hesitate to correct me that it had been quite a while since I talked to her on the phone last. To me it seemed like such a brief moment in time.

It is too early for me to write a review of the game but I have to say it has my interest. I can tell that eventually it may start to feel like I am doing the same thing over and over, but it has my interest right now. Stay tuned for more.