Category Archives: Technology

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I gave in, Trying Bluetooth Headphones again

I had a pair of bluetooth headphones ages ago… It’s hard to remember how long but It was around the time of the iPod Photo/color. That’s what I used them with in fact.

They sucked.

Comfort was not high on their list of things to be, they weren’t very comfortable, in fact they hurt to wear for more than 2 hours or so.

Knowing what’s going in it kind of a big deal to me, they were a PITA to charge, or rather to know when to charge. There was some combo of light color and blink rate that would tell you the status of them; connected, battery low, etc.

The finally fell apart about a year into owning them. I never replaced them.

2016

Well whether I want to or not Apple is forcing my jumping back into the bluetooth headset pool. I didn’t have to rush, they kindly offered what’s likely to be the first of many Lightning to 3.5mm adapters I’ll own (I’ve already nearly lost mine more than once). That said, while the adapter is nice, it’s already frustrating. “Where is it?”, “Did i leave it at the office?” etc.

I have some nice headphones a friend bought me, so those will likely warrant keeping the adapter around, but for runs, I’m convinced I’d rather not deal with the hassle of the adapter, and honestly no cords would be nice.

So, what did I get?

I picked up a pair of Plantronics Bluetooth Headphones, they had high marks on amazon, better than many more well known makers. Plus it’s Plantronics, while not a sexy brand, they’re no slouch in wired and wireless headsets market, so I figured they know what they’re doing. The long battery life they claimed was also a nice feature.

For regular workouts I’ve always used an iPod shuffle (I even found one in the street, when mine started to die, yay me!) but I think with a nice pair of Bluetooth Headphones I’ll likely just use my iPhone for workout music. One less device to sync, and charge.

So, the review

img_0095Ok so this morning was my first run with this headphones. Here’s my thoughts.

The packaging was lovely; very nicely done and easy to open.

Once you get the headphones connected (quite easy, paired on the first try) you’re asking to download an app. I’m not a huge fan of apps for single uses, etc but this one is well done for what it is.

There was a firmware update, which this app handled and got me up and running. It’s now in my “useless ?” folder for things I need for very limited purposes. I’ll probably never need this app unless they update it and it has a new firmware. Oh well.

Thought this was just a useless carrying case

Thought this was just a useless carrying case

The headphones come nicely bundled in what looks like a weird sorta pointless carrying case. It was just the headphones, and a USB cord for charging.

But then i noticed what looked like an armband INSIDE the case. A few minute of fiddling with it and BOOM!

Handy little phone holder

Handy little phone holder

An armband!

I don’t know if I’ll use it as I prefer my phone on my fore arm, and I prefer to see the screen, use the onscreen controls.

Though it could be a nice pouch for storing things, we’ll see, pretty sweet idea Plantronics.

 

In Use

My first run felt weird, I’m so used to a cord flapping around and getting tangled on my hand, it was a bit disconcerting at first. That said I got used to it fast, and it’s nice.

The headphones have plenty of volume, but you can hear cars coming and such, which is great obviously if you’re running somewhere with cars. I’m a fan of not losing situational awareness.

Sound quality is ok. I’m going to have to experiment with where my phone is (was on the inside of my fore arm this time). Other than the occassional burp of static, the audio was clear. On some songs it was hard to tell if it was the song or the headphones. Not a deal breaker and possibly just situational until i find the right arrangement. Certainly I wouldn’t want that while I work, but as these are for runs and work outs, it’s not really an issue.

Not that I expected to, but I was pleased I never once lost connectivity, and even with the random crackle, it was never more than a second, and never interrupted the music or anything.

The headphones themselves, have some nice features. The voice prompt is to be honest lovely! Power them up, “connected, X hours of listen time” is the first thing you hear. A tap of the power button gives you an update on expected listen time, and battery percentage. Very handy at the end of a work out so you don’t screw yourself the next day.

Oddly (unless I don’t know what I’m doing) the volume control is only up. Not really an issue as I like my phone accessible for skipping a track and volume anyway. The Siri integration is nice, i haven’t played a ton with that but suspect a hold of the “phone” button and i could just ask Siri to skip a track”

The buttons feel nice, it doesn’t take much pressure to trigger them, which is nice since it’s sitting in your ear and all, no need to hurt yourself.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my Plantronics Bluetooth Headphones and expect to enjoy these headphone for some time. At the price, they’re hard to beat!

My Apple Watch has rekindled my Love of Swatches

As a kid I love Swatch Watches. I only had one, but had many Swatch Guards to add some color.  As I got older I could afford a few more, and did. I have a thing for watches, I love them.img_0090

Eventually I moved from swatches to other watches. Lots and lots of other watches.

Then I got an Apple Watch and at first just had one or two bands. Apple sells theirs for honestly a ridiculous Apple price, however Amazon has plenty of non Apple bands to choose from, in far more colors than Apple offers. It went down hill quickly :)

On the weekends I have a nice leather cuff band I wear with my watch. It looks nice, and feels great. But during the week, especially with working out in the mornings or at lunch, I wear the sport bands.

img_0092Then it dawned on me, I have so many bands for my Apple Watch, why not mix and match them? From there I also found these nice little Protective Bumpers in awesome colors, and
boom, my love of Swatches and having a unique piece of kit was reborn!

I’ve gotten tons of compliments on the whimsy my watch bands show, which is fun.

Why I’m Moving Away from Dropbox

tl;dr; ditch Dropbox if you care about the security of your files and your privacy, get something else, I recommend Bittorent Sync

I’ve been in the process of moving from Dropbox for a while now, it started when they brought Condoleezza Rice on to the board. Nothing against her, exactly, but her stance on privacy wasn’t amazing to me. Not that she’d be in control, but still that choice said something to me about how Dropbox views user privacy.

Then Dropbox had some issues, hacks, breaches, etc. Then an outage or two.

Add to that, Dropbox download speeds are TERRIBLE. Customers have been complaining for years, and Dropbox does nothing. Few things are as aggravating as being held up doing your work, because Dropbox can’t deliver a file faster than 100-200kbps. When it’s a 30gb file, you start to question your life choices.

Enough was enough, especially when the result was usually “ooops, shit happens, so sorry” and complete silence on the speed issue. Dropbox clearly has the money, and has achieved “too big to give a shit about users” status.

So I started looking at alternatives. I found a few. I tried a few and the things for me were mostly: mobile client, reliability, and trustworthiness, all behind of course, security of my files.

SpiderOak, was my first choice, but their apps were terrible. The desktop app was confusing, the mobile apps only slightly less so. I struggled to use the apps for a few months and gave up.

Then I decided since the cloud is just someone else’s computer anyway, why not use one of mine? Enter Bittorrent sync (now resilio Sync), which uses the bittorrent protocol to find the fastest path between two devices to move files. No cloud.

bittorrent sync

Bittorrent sync on my media center

For me that was fine, my Media Center is connected to 16tb Drobo, and it’s set to sync all things (there’s selective, and all, as options per folder). So it’s essentially my “cloud” location for all files. Every other machine and mobile device just syncs/has access to the things I want it to.

The mobile client is straightforward and easy to use, the desktop app (Mac at least) is pretty straightforward as well. You can see which folders are synced, who’s got access and if things are moving around, all very easy to follow stuff if you’ve ever used bittorrent for anything else.

Pros

  • All files are on my machines, no one elses.
  • All files are on my machines, no one elses. (important enough to be said twice)
  • Faster than Dropbox, by margins that should embarrass Dropbox

Cons

  • Sharing. This doesn’t apply to me much, and is really why i keep dropbox around; sharing files with others. Dropbox is ubiquitous, so rather than explain bittorrent sync, help with install, go through the more secure invite system, etc. I simply share files via dropbox.

Not really a con, but a result.

  • I cancelled my Dropbox subscription so have only the basic amount of storage (saving me a ton of money), which sometimes causes issues when receiving big files, but oh well.

Set up is easy, install, get the pro (if you’re doing that) licensing set up, then set up each folder you’d like to sync. It’s a bit slow to start as you have to add each folder to each device, but once that’s done it’s pretty nice, and as you add devices they don’t all need the same folders.

 

Thoughts on the iPhone 7, so far

tl; dr; 

It’s nice, a great update to a great device, with a few things I’m not a fan of. Want more details go to the verge.

That said, yeah it’s a good phone so far. Mine came on iPhonemas day, and of course I rushed home from Denver Startup Week, grabbed the phone started the recovery process then went back to basecamp (amazing Wifi), to finish, because yeah, who can wait a few hours?!

Unboxing

Unboxing an iPhone is pretty much boring now, there’s plenty of youtube videos so I’m not adding to it, plus all the think pieces have been written already. The things that stuck out to me are these.

  • The EarPods don’t come in a plastic case now, I use that case all the time. I practiced re-wrapping mine so they fit just right. The case was a great way to transport EarPods. Now they come in a one time use cardboard thing, you’re on your own to carry them without tangling… WEAK. Come on Apple, really? Oh and no, the new ones don’t fit in the case, at least that I’ve found, and I’ve tried
  • The Lightning to headphone adapter is definitely one of those “buy a few to have everywhere” things if you’re like me and have lots of headphones all over the place (office, home, backpack, etc) It’s small, and I suspect we’ll see lots of “lost my fucking adapter” tweets in the coming weeks, but hey, only $9 so go give Apple more money :)

Beyond that, the packaging was very similar to every other iPhone in the last few years. I was impressed that now the outer clear wrap was like the stuff inside, a pull tab undoes the whole thing, no more cling wrap to cut through.

Device

I’m not super sold on the home button yet, but suspect it’ll grow on me. The fact it’s capacitive didn’t really occur to me, and I think now most of my gloves are “compatible” so short of touching it through my t-shirt it should work (and that’s not something I do).

Being waterproof is likely (based on all my previous iPhone ownership) something I’ll never test (knocking on wood now), but I’m sure it’s a nice feature.

My biggest complaint, is the camera. Well that’s actually two issues

  1. It moved from 6 to 7, so all my cases are useless. Not a major issue and I’ve had them since my 6 so they’ve served me well, but still a bummer.
  2. same as always, Apple opted to leave a camera bump. Drives me up the wall. I hate things that wobble, etc. so a case is a must. I just don’t don’t get (and never have) why we can’t have no bump and a few hours more battery, seems like a win for all, since I’ve still never met someone who says “You know I love that camera bump, and just don’t care how long my battery lasts” Oh well, like I said, not a biggie, but just one of those ongoing niggles.

Black Black. I didn’t go piano, jet, iPhone 3G black. I went matte black.. original black, I dunno, whatever Apple is calling it. I’ve always like the darker colors, space gray, etc. So was eager to get matte black, and since the glossy one seems to be popular, I’m sure that made waking up like normal to order my phone easy to get iPhonemas day delivery.

So that’s really it. I’ve not noticed much of a huge win on power or battery life but it’s only been a few days. It’s a nice upgrade from the 6(s), and all that. I’ve never been a bluetooth headphone person (or rather was, it sucked terribly and never tried again) so not sure what my thoughts are on the whole headphone jack other than the terrible DRM implications.

Conference Signage V3

IMG_2523So I wrote a while back about Conference signage, and what my “version 1” looked like, and where I wanted to see version 2 come in.

Turns out V2 came sooner than expected. The awesome team at Essemble, who built the conference app, were able to quickly work up. rough version 1 of a conference signage AppleTV app.

It wasn’t fancy to start, I have a few things I’d like to change for next year, but overall it was awesome. Of course training people to look at this vs. the crappy little monitors hotels install outside conference rooms might be a bigger challenge than I expected.

IMG_2542Each room had a large monitor out front, and an AppleTV. The app had a list of rooms, you selected the room the TV was in front of and that was it. The app polled the server that drives the conference app, so any changes I made to the schedule in the app, were reflected almost immediately on the screens. Certainly faster than I could update the website.

 

As a first cut of this, done in … I think 2-3 weeks at most, I’m thrilled. The information I wanted to present was presented. I didn’t have to print out session signs for every session in every room, and have volunteers running around to change them. I was able to quickly move sessions based on capacity, and everything I needed to reflect those changes, did so quickly.

IMG_2540There were a few hang ups, the way the app pulled data left the previous evenings listing until 15 minutes before the next mornings event, vs. starting wth the first thing that day. Not a big deal, and easily addressed.

I loved that general sessions were able to be called out as basically “Not in this room” so anyone walking in, not only knew it was a general session, but where it was, and that it wasn’t in the room they were standing at.

I’d love to have them run in portrait, mostly because hotels don’t have small screens, and nearly 50″ is a lot to have sitting there in landscape. Not a deal breaker.

I’d love to have a bit more styling on the display, maybe using the header image for the event along the top, or as a full background, again not a deal breaker.

Down the road, a bit down the road, I’d like to own my own displays (probably smaller, 46″ was nice, but I felt it was a bit overkill) so I have more control on size, and placement, etc. but even using hotel kit, it worked out great.

I’d love to make conference signage more valuable and realistically more trustworthy for attendees. Hotels have small monitors that they use, but those changes aren’t in my control, they’re scraped from the schedule and any changes require emails to be sent, delay, etc. Updating the website is something I do as we go, but it’s also not as fast as simply changing the data the app uses, and not just updating the app, but the room signs at the some time.

Keeping Conference Attendees Informed.

We moved to re-usable signage to save money. looks awesome!

We moved to re-usable signage to save money. looks awesome!

For years we invested in these really nice stand up banners for room signs. Each one listed the entire 4 day conference line up for that exact room.

Great in theory, not in practice.

Speaker backs out last minute, sharpie out their session, tape a folded piece of paper of that slot. Two speakers need to swap rooms, now you’re taping paper, WITH sharpie written information onto this nice standup vinyl banner. Now by the 4th day of the conference, the nice room signs look like shit.

Add to the overall shabbiness they now show, they aren’t the best at providing information. I’d watch people all day, each day, walk up to a sign, stand in front of it. I realized they were walking up, figuring out what time it was right now, then seeing if they wanted the current session, or maybe the next one.

I was presenting too much information.

Capture 2016-07-15 at 2.05.51 PMEnter room sign version one.

Several improvements:

  1. Not date specific, I can reuse these signs over years, WAY economical.
  2. Provide the exact amount of information someone needs, “What’s in this room now.” and “What’s in this room next”. Want more detail use the app to see the whole schedule
  3. WAY more green (see 1). no more annual vinyl banner cartridge replacement.
  4. Easy to manage. Volunteers swap out printed pages, and should something be moved, it’s easy to move the printed page. Canceled talk? Leave it blank, or quickly print up a “cancelled” sign. Easy Peasy.

Version One?

I run technology conferences. I want to leverage technology whenever I can. A lot of conference technology sucks, hotels usually under invest and over charge, hotel internet is well… we all know. While these poster boards are great and re-useable, my ideal Version Two is a monitor or TV, on it’s side. Either running an AppleTV or iPad. (Or something else)

I’d be able to (from my laptop or iPad) control what each monitor is showing, set up the schedule so the signs change without human intervention.

Definitely not a cheap solution, but very much a build once and reuse until the equipment dies solution, which i like. Also I like that it’s a technology solution, for a technology conference.

V 2 is a ways away probably, but it’s on the radar.

Amazon and the Kindle

I sort of love/hate Amazon. Mostly love, but still.

I have a Kindle Paperwhite, I’ve had a Kindle since the 2nd version was released. I’ve liked them all, loved really. They’re my go to reading devices, but most of the time it feels like Amazon is just pushing them out the door ( a new one just dropped last week!), without actually caring what anyone wants. Sure they add a new font here, and finally integrated goodreads a few firmware versions ago, now there’s a really expensive ‘luxury’ one, but look around the internet at an eReader or even Kindle specific forum, you’ll find lots and lots of discussion around the minor things that would vastly improve the kindle for many owners.

IMG_0982Content Management. When you end up with a library of hundreds or thousands of books, managing them on device is a bag of hurt. Especially if that device has an Epaper screen! Managing them on the amazon site isn’t even an option. So what works? Surely there’s something, oh no there’s nothing. The Kindle for mac (or PC I assume) seems like it’d be the right place, plenty of screen space, etc. to allow for easy sorting of books and managing of collections, generally managing your Kindle library. Nope, Collections are a mix of device and cloud, essentially making them useless on both, because what changes you make on your desktop, won’t reflect on the device, and vice versa. Side loaded books aren’t synced so the desktop and mobile app versions, don’t even know about them.

There used to be a nice view on the kindle that showed books and collections together so you could see books that weren’t assigned a place to live, making it easy to manage. Once your kindle screen was just collections, done. You’d sorted all your books. That view went away a few firmwares ago. You can see above that now there’s no telling. The three books at the bottom, are in the collection above, yet there’s no way to see just one. You can see only collections, but then books not in collections are gone. You can see everything but then collections are pretty pointless.

Screen savers. I admit this is a huge one for me (and anecdotally a huge group of owners). I don’t know why, but Amazon thinks we want to see some random ass images (previously it was dead authors) instead of the cover of the book we’re reading, or our own images. Why? beats me. Sure if you have the “special offers” version it makes sense you only see the offers. But if i’m not running that version, why wouldn’t I want to see what I’m reading? instead of one of like 6 rotating images. Why wouldn’t I want to customize that experience?

IMG_0981I know some folks don’t care one way or the other, I’d argue even not caring, none would object to seeing the book cover. It seems like such a low hanging fruit that Amazon could please a vocal subset of customers, please others who don’t care but wouldn’t oppose seeing the cover of their book, and in no way harm anything at all. In fact it’s not even like it’s not possible since one of the biggest reasons people jailbreak their kindles (myself included) is to gain access to book covers as screen saver.

Even if a book doesn’t have a cover, the system that renders it could make a generic one. I know this because the creators of the Screensaver hack have done it. The Side loading app Calibre, has also done it.

To my knowledge Amazon has never said why they don’t offer this, the jailbreak works so well, doing it officially seems like it’d be easier/cleaner.

Unlike Apple who seems to at least pay attention to the jailbreak community to see what’s popular, Amazon seems to ignore it completely, focusing on other things. Other things that no one is asking for (at least based on the last few firmwares, and subsequent roll backs).

None of this keeps me from owning a Kindle, or enjoying mine, but I’ve never understood when businesses seem to ignore their user base so completely as to be seen as hostile towards what are the most active and vocal of their supporters.

¯\_(?)_/¯