Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves” – Albert Einstein.

Paying attention.  It is the most important thing to practice while driving, and often times hard to do, especially on a long drive, or an overly familiar one where your mind tends to wander.  The laws are trying to encourage it, and enforce it, but we all need to ignore the distractions around us, even the pretty girls.  Sorry Albert.

Technology can help with this, if used properly.

I drive a lot for work, going to new places all the time is one of the perks of the business, (if you like driving and exploring this vast country we live in) and quite often I forget to put the address into my car’s Nav system before leaving the office.  It is still a new-ish toy to me and I forget you can’t add an address once the vehicle is moving, so sometimes I rely on my phone to let me know where to go.  Other times I pull over and key in the address and use the Navigation system.
Today was one of those times I figured I’d just use my iPhone, and as it turns out also my Apple Watch, which I didn’t even know was a feature.  Driving along, I stopped long enough to click on the notification on my phone telling me of the meeting and the address and it launched “Maps” showing me where to go and how long, etc. and headed on my merry way.  Not too far along I felt the now familiar tapping on my wrist from my watch.  Assuming it was just a text message or my watch telling me it was time to stand up I didn’t think much of it.  Then again, as I neared my next turn, same thing.

I glanced over at my watch to see a very simple notification telling me of my upcoming turn, and ETA.  Cool.  The interface is simple enough a glance is all you need.  That is not to say the latest update to the Maps App for iOS is not well laid out itself,  but having the info on your wrist is pretty sweet, and less distracting.

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Watch screen capture

iPhone screen capture

As I said, the watch lets you know when a change in direction is coming up, or as may be, a choice in direction is coming up and the app tells you to keep going the direction you are going.  Sometimes those notifications can be extremely annoying when traveling along a highway and constantly being told to keep going where you were heading like some sort of robotic backseat driver “continue on highway for 3 kms”, but I digress.
When I first thought of getting a smartwatch, honestly I did wonder how much I would use it, and how much I was getting one just because it was cool tech and I didn’t have it.  (seeing the keynote about the Apple Watch Series 2 pretty much hooked me)

I had stopped wearing a regular watch around the same time I started carrying a cell phone in my pocket.  Seemed silly to me to wear something that really only provided one purpose.  Well, two if you include the date function, which by the way, if I ever forget what day it is and I’m not retired already or on vacation, put me out to pasture.  But anyway, having a smartwatch actually makes sense for me, since there are many times my phone is either not in my pocket (at the office for one, around the house for another) or it is in my pocket but not convenient to access, for instance when driving, working outside, or on a job site.  Often the notifications are all that is needed, and no or minimal interaction is required.  Driving is a perfect example of this, and anything that can be done to keep attention on the road is a good thing.  The watch OS does a good job of this, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves, along with how many other ways the minimalistic approach of working with a smaller screen changes how we interact with technology.

Not to mention it is just cool tech, and in my opinion, smartwatches will become as standard as the iPhone has become.  Integrated into our lives so completely that in a couple of years we will wonder how we ever got along without them.

Getting back to good old Albert Einstein, who knew he was such a player.

barkerp

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img_7298I like to peruse the blogs, ads, links, and Kickstarter for new products, and have come across a few over the years where I got in early and got a good deal.  My Thermodo for instance.  (if you are not sure what a Thermodo is check it out here.) I was hoping this little charge cable would be one of those things…. sadly, it fell short.  No pun intended.

The HandyCharger is basically a really short lightning cable for charging my iPhone/iPad.  It is meant to be kept on a keyring so you always have one handy in a jam, as long as you have your keys with you.  Sound great in theory.  But in practice, not quite ready for primetime as the saying goes.

I should have known something was off when I ordered back in april and got an email saying it could be 3 to 4 weeks to arrive due to “massive global demand” which turned into 6 weeks, with no explanation, or even a response from the manufacturer until after I had sent a few emails, and got told I would be informed when it shipped.  Gee, thanks, not even an ETA.

Fast forward to beginning of august, now almost 4 months after ordering, and I get notified it had shipped.  Apparently via rowboat from china it would seem since it took over  2 weeks after that notification for it to finally show up, and when it did, it was not as expected.

As in the email above, It should be noted, it didn’t come with a keyring, and the packaging as I noted was terrible, basically non-existent.  I showed it on a keyring to give scale to the photo and to show its intended use.  Another issue is the size of the connector that plugs into the iPhone/iPad.  Its too wide for most cases, so you either have to charge your device caseless or cut the opening in the case to allow the oversized connecto.  Yuck.

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This photo shows the packaging for it, a bubble wrap bag, not even a plastic bag inside it, or a piece of cardboard for rigidity and a little protection.  I emailed the manufacturer as you can see above, and did get a reply saying they were sorry, and to send photos of the damaged charge cable to them, but unfortunately I had already thrown out the faulty cable since it had to be held in place to actually work, and as luck would have it, the magnet on the ends of the cable that are supposed to keep it together are too weak and the darn thing fell off my keychain within a couple of days of receiving it.

Strangely, in searching around for info on the HandyCharger, I found a very similar looking product – like exactly the same looking product, by another manufacturer, InCharge.  (http://incharge.rocks/) Not sure which came first, but it makes me think the one I got is the poor rip-off version. Or maybe it did come first, but if so, the other company took the idea and did it better it seems.   At least it had packaging.  They even made a thin connector option.

handycharger-youtube incharge cable

Another thing to note is the look of the advertised product versus the actual received item.  The multi-colour cable, the actual name silkscreened onto it, etc.  Bait and switch anyone? Or just another example of a US company allowing their product to be manufactured in China and shipped direct to customer, and hoping it is done right without taking the time to inspect.

As I said, great in theory, terrible in practice.  That is my feeling on this one.  Waiting 4 months for a charge cable is ridiculous to begin with, but getting a faulty one after all that, as well as one that in my opinion is poorly constructed with respect to how it is supposed to stay together via the all-too-weak magnet, is enough for me to say stay away from this product until at least version 2.  If there is one.

PS:  I haven’t ordered an inCharge one yet, but probably will.  For one, it is cheaper, and says 2 day shipping with 6 to 10 days delivery.  So at least I won’t be waiting months to be disappointed.

barkerp

I get a lot of email. A LOT. Between work and personal emails it is a wonder I find time to do anything other than answer or deal with emails.  All I know is, that on those days when something goes wrong with our email server, there is a lot more work getting done, although the urge to keep checking to see if it is back up and running does cause some stress.

Part of the curse that is email, is dealing with spam and junk emails. If you set your filter too strict you end up missing important emails, and if you don’t use any filtering you end up with so much crap to deal with you will be pulling your hair out.  Of late I’ve noticed an increased amount of utter crap coming in again.  Not sure why, seems to be a cyclical thing every few months, and I have to laugh at the horrific spelling and grammatical errors in the emails and wonder if they ever catch anyone in their webs with these?  Below is a perfect example of what i mean…

greencard

The nice thing is that the spelling and grammar mistakes usually make it easier to spot the spam. (‘appliance’ used when they meant ‘application’ for instance)

Another dead giveaway is the “actual” email address that the email is coming from or directing you to reply to (dontreply@perfectinput.org in the example).  More often than not, you will see a link that when you hover over it you can see the address which rarely matches the supposed subject (witoptions in this case does, but if you google it it doesn’t exist as a company and is fishy enough not to clink the link) and takes you to some ad website that will get you stuck in an endless loop of trying to close popups and pop-unders.  A good idea is to use a domain lookup site like “Whois” and check the domain name to see if it is even valid.  If it’s a real site, there will be info on it.  That doesn’t mean it is a valid website or email, just a better chance that it might be legit.

When spotting spam in the wild, there are tons of common phrases to look for.  Offering pills is big one of late, and I’m sure we’ve all seen at least one from some President of some foreign country offering to send us money if we give our banking info.  Many make vague statements about you and your previous involvement with their company, or offering you something for nothing.  Typically I find it best to toss any suspicious emails without even opening them just by previewing the subject line.  It used to be you could create a list of words to block, but even that is getting tougher since many bots or people substitute other letters or characters for some letters in words to sneak thru.  A bracket ‘(‘ for a capital ‘C’ for instance, or using the number ‘0’ for the letter ‘o’.

Remember, no bank is going to contact you via email and request info, or confirmation of any interactions you’ve had with them, so anything you get from any bank it is best to assume is fraudulent and follow-up with your bank directly.  I’ve even forwarded a few emails to my bank so they are aware and can warn others.

The old adage, “when in doubt throw it out” is never more on point than when dealing with email nowadays.  Thankfully the scammers and spammers are attacking in bulk and hoping they get one response out of the thousands they send out, and as such their attacks are easily spotted with a little vigilance.  Keep your eyes open and be careful what you click on or reply to.

“He is most free from danger, who, even when safe, is on his guard”. (Publilius Syrus)

-barkerp

ipad proWhenever I get a new toy, I like to see how it works and try to find the flaws so there are no surprises later on. Whether it is a tech toy, or some new tool, or vehicle even, the need to see inside and figure out how it works and what its deficiencies are is always high on my priority list.

My latest toy, my iPad Pro is no exception.  As soon as the Apple Store started taking orders for it, I was logged on credit card in hand since i’d already poured over the specs, watched the keynote when it was announced, and determined I would be buying one.  Delivered to my office on Friday the 13th without having to fight the line ups or crowds in an actual store – to quote an overused TV ad – priceless.  I got to spend the morning on my bike en route to Port Dover as all friday the 13ths should be.

Speaking of fighting, I’ve fought off the urge to physically open it up (so far), but getting under the virtual hood is another thing.  Putting it thru its paces and seeing how it compares to my previous iPad is job one.

Its been a week and so far, the one thing that annoys me most is the lack of the on-screen split keyboard on the iPad Pro.  This is the one device that would really benefit from having a split keyboard, since it’s too wide to try and type on it without first sitting it down on something in order to use the full-size on-screen keyboard. The people who say it’s not necessary because it’s too large to use two-handed and type with your thumbs haven’t tried to do it obviously.  I used my iPad in landscape mode with a split keyboard all the time and this Pro version is narrower in portrait mode than the landscape mode of the iPad.  I don’t find it unwieldy at all, I just can’t reach all the keys using my thumbs and I think it would be easier to have a split keyboard than to get surgery and have my thumbs extended.  And less painful too.

From a hardware perspective, Audio on the Pro surprised me.  I expected it to be better than the mono iPad I had previously, but didn’t realize how good until I was listening to music on it without plugging in speakers like I usually do.  I’ve actually taken to just listening to music on it without external speakers.  Both volume and quality are quite good.  The new audio system in the iPad Pro has four speakers that can be cranked up reportedly three times louder than the max volume of an iPad Air, and I can believe it, but not only that, it adjusts the orientation of the high frequencies according to how you’re holding it.  Sweet.

Speedwise, this thing is noticeably quicker than my old iPad and right on par with my iPhone6 if not quicker I would say.  Hardware has a big effect on speed, but also some of that is probably the latest iOS which seems perfectly at home on here, and I finally get to use some of the great features they built into the latest iOS.

ipad pro split screen

Slide-over (shown opposite), or Split-screen mode (shown below) for instance.  Making multitasking actually work the way it should.  Depending upon the app of course, some still just pause it seems, while others continue to remain live while slide-over is active.

Slide-over lets you respond to texts easily, while showing you more of the history and not just the last message.  Very handy, and easy to use.  Just slide a finger over from the right side of the screen and you will see all the apps you have installed (that work with slide-over), and can select which one to use.  Once selected you can use it in the slide-over window, or continue to drag it towards the center of the screen and split the screen making both apps usable at the same time.

Software wise, MS Office was one group of apps I was looking forward to using on the larger screen.  As it turns out, without a valid subscription to Office 365, I’m not able to do any editing on my iPad Pro.  (notice the “read-only” on the right side of the split screen image.  That was Word letting me know that it is not going to work on the Pro for free.)  I took the time to let the people over at blogs.office.com know, but I’d bet that falls on deaf ears…

ipad pro office blogThis annoyed me, and I suppose I should have looked into this further prior to getting my Pro.  The writing was on the wall, er, well, website…

Word is ready for iPad Pro and looks amazing on the 12.9-inch screen. Read Word documents on iPad Pro for free. To create and edit docs, you need a qualifying Office 365 subscription. Try it for free for 30 days.  On iPhone, iPad Air, and iPad mini, the core Word experience, including viewing, creating and editing documents, is free. Or unlock the full Word experience with a qualifying Office 365 subscription. On iPad Pro, you need Office 365 to create and edit documents.”

 Argh.  It is annoying, but not “this-is-going-back-to-the-store” annoying.
The size is something you need to get used to, but once you do, its tough to go back to a smaller version of the iPad without feeling cramped.  I got the back cover and smart cover for it since it travels with me back and forth to the office, and they don’t add much weight or bulk to the Pro, which is good since it barely fits in my messenger bag as it is.
I ordered the Smart Keyboard when I placed my order for the Pro, but for whatever reason it is not available for 3 weeks, which seems like poor planning on Apple’s part… “You should see this, it works great, its made for it, you’ll definitely want one…. but you can’t have it for 3 weeks” – doh!  I think that accessory will change the way I use the iPad Pro, but will have to wait to see how much.  Right now I’m getting used to using it sans keyboard and have gotten pretty proficient using the onscreen keyboard while it rests in an inclined position on my desk.
With the larger screen and multi-tasking possibilities, the dust on my laptop (my trusty but getting long in the tooth MacBook Air) gets thicker and thicker as I find myself only using my iPad and iPhone of late.  The MBA rarely gets opened, and usually only to back up my idevices.  As much as I’d love to see a big update to the MBA, with the functionality and capabilities of the iPad Pro I’m not sure I’d be getting one even if they did.
This may not be the death knell for the laptop, but the bell is definitely swinging.
-barkerp

IMG_0376Well, we knew it was coming, although not for long due to Bell’s incompetence and the shitty way they are handling this “discontinuation of service”.  I was going to title this post “Bell, you suck“, but that title has been used way too often. (even in some variations by me, see here, and here.)

We’ve had the Portable internet or Unplugged service for quite some time now.  They’ve renamed it a few times over the years since Rogers bought up the Inukshuk internet service as part of the Microcell buy out, which ended up becoming a joint venture with Bell back in 2005.  It has never been great as far as speeds go, but at least it was available.  That is, up until now.  About a month back I found out purely by accident that the service was being discontinued at the end of March.  The story behind the shutting down seems different depending who you talk to, but in the end, it wasn’t making enough money is probably the real reason despite all the talk of the CRTC wanting that particular bandwidth back, or that the equipment was dated and in need of replacement, major repair, etc.

It seems this particular internet service has been in the process of being discontinued for some time now, depending upon your area.  I think the intention was to cancel the service once a reasonable replacement was in place.  Sadly, for those like me, that still hasn’t happened.  We are one of the lucky few not included in the government promises to bring high-speed to rural communities, seems we are too close to the city, and yet not far enough away to get coverage from the rural providers.

The worst part of the whole ordeal is the fact Bell really dropped the ball repeatedly in letting its customers know.  I found out while talking to a Bell tech about my slow internet, that the service was actually being discontinued.  I immediately got in touch with Bell internet customer service, and was informed that letters had been sent out to let people know, but strangely many people did not receive them.  WTF?  I was informed again later during another phone call that yes, in fact letters had been sent out a couple of times because there was an issue the first time.  But still, again, many people never got informed.  In this day and age how is it possible to screw up sending a letter to customers?  They would never miss making sure you get your bill, so why not just add it in there.

I got in touch with all the major players, Bell and Rogers, and long list of ISPs that I had never heard of or had little knowledge of.  Xplornet, Execulink, ISP Canada, Teksavvy, Canada Online, Falcon Internet, Allcore, and Terago to name just a few.  None of which could get a signal to my house, with the exception of Terago and they are just way too expensive to be considered a residential provider.  Wind mobile is available, but at a data cap of 10 gig per month, after which they throttle the speed down to 256kbs it is not a viable solution for a household internet service.  Especially one with teenagers that enjoy instagram, youtube, Facebook and netflix way too much.  10 gig would last about a weekend.

As it stands, we are awaiting our new turbo hub modem from Bell to start up our overpriced and data limited mobile internet service, since it is the only service anyone is offering that can reach my house.  I can physically see the city limits from my property, close enough I can read the population sign, but not close enough that any landline services have been upgraded in my area.  So for now, we are struggling by with our cell phones, trying to limit our data usage, and will be sitting in coffee shops and burger joints to do our updating of apps and OSes until such time that the powers that be finally bring real high-speed internet to ALL of the rural customers, and not just some.

barkerp