Archive for the 'tech' Category

Technology Run Amok!

Technology is a wonderful thing. It makes our lives simpler and more efficient, and has provided countless advances that have become essential to daily life. But with all of our technological advancements, we can become a little obsessed with “improving” things with technology that don’t necessarily need to be improved. Often, we go so far with our excitement about technological “advancement” that we add complexity to something that was previously incredibly simple. My lunch experience today was just one such occasion.

One of the partners at my firm and I decided to hit the local pizza buffet for lunch. We ordered up our buffets and drinks, grabbed our drink glasses, and were greeted by a jolly fellow standing at the soft drink machine. In the place of the usual five or six soda choices and the ice dispenser stood a machine with a single opening and one dispenser. Above it was a screen displaying multiple soft drink choices. The attendant happily gave us instructions on how to operate the soda fountain. Apparently it can dispense over 120 different flavors of soft drink. You touch your “base” soft drink on the touch screen, then select the variety of drink you want. For example, I wanted a Dr. Pepper. I touched the logo, and another screen appeared. I could choose between the original, Dr. Pepper Cherry, or Vanilla Dr. Pepper (I think). I just wanted my normal, everyday, original Dr. Pepper. Other choices, such as Diet Coke, had a much larger range of choices. It had cherry, vanilla, lime, raspberry, and maybe even orange.

It’s kind of a neat concept at first, but after about 1.7 seconds of thinking about it, you realize how silly this is. Wow, this soft drink dispenser now offers 120 different options! That’s so cool! Wait a second… No, it really isn’t. It just means that instead of pushing the lever under the Dr. Pepper spigot and receiving my Dr. Pepper menu, I have to navigate through touch-screen menu selections just to get the same soft drink choice that took me no time at all. I can’t even push the water lever; water has its own menu choice. Plus, those people who have zero decision making ability whatsoever will be paralyzed by the number of choices. What starts out as a refreshing beverage choice turns into an existential crisis! Oh, the humanity! Ultimately, this is just another area where technology makes a mundane experience that much more complex.

Speaking of technological complexity, the guys over at ESPN’s Baseball Tonight seem to have trouble working touch screens. God help you if you end up behind one of them at the soft drink dispenser!


A Couple of Fun Apps, Part II

As promised, I’ve returned to the post I started yesterday about a couple of fun social media apps for the iPhone that I’ve been using.

Today’s entry is called Instagram, a photography-based social media app. It seems like it is somewhat similar to Twitter, but with photography serving as the foundation. When you open up the app, you’re greeted by your feed, which is your shared photographs plus the photos of anyone you’re following. You can also browse popular photographs by anyone on the service, which helps you find interesting photographers to follow. The app also serves as a camera app, allowing you to take photos and apply simple filters to those pictures to further stylize your pics. The filters remind me of the other iPhone photo app Hipstamatic, but simpler. Once you have your photograph, you simply select the filter of your choice from the bottom of the screen. Sliding your finger along the list of choices exposes more options and allows you to preview the photo through the selected filter. While there are only thirteen filters at this point, they work really well and really add something special to an otherwise mundane photograph.

Once you’ve finished editing your photograph, you’re taken to an options screen. You’re given the option to give the picture a title, and you can geotag it so that folks can see where the picture was taken; neither option is required, though. You also can connect to other social networking sites, including Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, and Foursquare. You do have to manually set the photo to share with your various social networking portals each time, though. While some may view this as a negative, this is my preferred method. I would rather tell the app that I want the photo to go to Facebook rather than it automatically updating my Facebook page every time I upload a photograph with Instagram.

One more fun thing about it is that the app can take any photo on your phone, apply the filters to it, and share on the service. It’s been pretty neat to go back to some of my older photos and see how they look with the different filters applied. All in all, this is a really solid little app that’s a lot of fun to play around with. It has me using the camera on my phone far more than I have before, and it’s also causing me to find interesting subjects for photographs. Best part about it – it’s free. Check it out, it’s worth a look. And follow me while you’re at it! My username is the same as this one.

Here are some of my photographs that I’ve taken. Enjoy!

A Couple of Fun Apps, Part I

Everywhere you turn these days, social media dominates the technological landscape. It’s become a crowded space, to say the least. You’ve got Facebook. Twitter. 4square. Gowalla. Tumblr. WordPress. Blogger. Buzz. I could go on and on. It seems that whatever your needs, there’s some sort of social media answer. Some of the majors have tried to edge in on the more niche markets, too. Facebook tried to implement the mention features of Twitter and the geotagging of 4square/Gowalla with moderate-at-best results. I hardly ever see mentions used and tagging even less so.

Regardless of the proliferation of social media outlets, I’ve found myself enjoying a few of the smaller efforts that seem to be targeted at niche areas. There are two iPhone social media apps that I’ve been using recently that I’ve found quite unique and entertaining. I’ll profile one in this post and the second in a later post, either tonight or tomorrow.

The first is Maphook. At first blush, Maphook is a hybrid of geotagging and journaling. But I think that’s a bit of a crude generalization of the service. Spend a little time with it and you’ll realize just how deep its features are. When you create a post, called a “Hook,” you’re automatically geotagging your location. You first select the category for your hook and create a title. The category option is surprisingly deep, with sub-categories to increase the diversity of your hooks. Then you write your entry, which can be as long as you like it or simply a few notes. Depending on the type of category you choose, you’ll have additional options for rating the location; for instance, if you select “Going Out” and “Restaurants” as your category and sub-category, you’ll be given additional options to give the location an Overall Rating, tell folks whether you’d eat there again, rate the price of the meal and the service. Options also exist to hook into Yelp and Wikipedia. Once you’ve finished with the main body and ratings, you can tweak the location of your hook and add photos that will be shared.

I used Maphook the most during our trip to Colorado back in September. Once you’ve uploaded hooks, you can go on the web and string them together to create a story. This feature is pretty fantastic, because the geotagged hooks serve as map points on your journey. When you share the story with your friends, they’ll be able to roadmap your adventures. I think this is the feature that really kept me creating hooks during the trip. Oh, and by the way, if you want to check it out, here’s a link to my Colorado trip story.

The service isn’t without its flaws. I had some problems with posting to Twitter, and for a while they didn’t have a way to share your hooks on Facebook directly. The service doesn’t seem to have a fleshed-out friends or follow system, which can either be a positive or a negative, depending on your perception. The story feature seems to be something you have to do from the web platform also.That being said, I’ve found the developers to be the single-most responsive and helpful group of folks I’ve interacted with in customer service in a very long time. I started following the Twitter feed @maphook and received a re-follow within minutes. They were very responsive to questions, keeping me up to date on questions I had and workarounds for problems. They’re also constantly updating the service and looking for feedback on how to improve it. These guys are committed to making Maphook one of the most unique services around. If you have an iPhone, check it out.

Ok, I know I said a couple of apps, but this post has run a little long and I’ve got to get moving. I’ll update you with my other app a little later on.

Facebook Suggestions Know What I Want!

I emerge briefly from the fog to share an oddity with you. Yes, the bar exam is nearly upon me (but first, my last set of finals), but it’s something that I’ve found humorous for quite some time and couldn’t sit on it any longer.

Say what you want about Facebook and it’s Big Brother-like ways. Back before the brouhaha regarding Facebook’s privacy settings, I did say something, and it turns out I was right. Facebook IS stalking me. Since then, one of the standard “features” on the Facebook home page has been the “predictive” advertising that takes your likes and makes suggestions based on your preferences. Most of the time, though, the results are simply silly, redundant, or downright nonsensical. I present for your enjoyment the latest in Facebook predictive advertising.

The Tangentially Related.
Perhaps the most common “like” of mine that generated predictive advertising was “Reading.” Some made sense or were at least rationally related to the topic. But country music? Sure, people who read also like country music. But I’m sure some readers also like death metal. Why hasn’t that shown up in my suggestions, eh Facebook?

The Redundant Suggestion.
A friend posted one of these on his Facebook wall recently, and I’ve been seeing them too. Many who like Baylor University also like… Baylor University. I can’t believe I’ve been missing out! What will Baylor think if it finds out I like Baylor, but not Baylor? The horror! This is also true of The Lord of the Rings. That’s the one my friend posted. Though in that scenario, maybe people are liking the saga The Lord of the Rings versus the Lord of the Rings himself, Sauron. Who knows?

The Nonsensical.
This might also be tangentially related, but it’s just so weird to me. Fans of the storied football franchise Liverpool FC also like Texas Hold ‘Em Poker! I’m wondering if Facebook is actually a Manchester United fan, and this is some sort of underground commentary on the fact that many of Liverpool’s recent acquisitions have been gambles. Or perhaps it’s saying that Liverpool fans should take to playing poker instead of betting on their team. I’m not sure. I’m going with the “Facebook is a Massive Soccer Conspiracy” theory.

And Then There Was This.
Like the works of Shakespeare? Enjoy kicking back with a Jane Austen classic? Are you into Stephen King or Michael Chrichton? Then you’ll LOVE the work of Banksy! That’s right, readers everywhere are also graffiti aficionados. There’s an undiscovered world of literature that awaits you, and it’s underneath the nearest bridge or on the back wall of those dilapidated downtown buildings. Check it out today, you’ll totally love it! I suppose that when they say that many who like “reading” like this, they mean reading in a lowest-common-denominator sense of the word. As in, “I like to read words, therefore I like to read graffiti.” But if that’s true, then isn’t reading graffiti just… reading?

Back to the fog. Hopefully I’ll emerge more often once the dreaded exam is complete.

Robots & Zombies: An Introduction

If you read my blog, chances are, you read the excellent Needs Improvement authored by JT. If you do, you know that one of his chief concerns surrounding the future is the impending and inevitable zombie apocalypse. He has a great survival guide should you find yourself in Waco when the zombies invade. Needless to say, he is the BLS resident zombie expert.

But something has been eating at me, though, no pun intended. Over the Christmas break I had the occasion to see the latest installment in the Terminator franchise and I rewatched the final season of Battlestar Galactica. More recently I watched highlights from the Matrix franchise. It got me thinking; much has been made of the inevitability of the zombie invasion in my circles, but what of the A.I. apocalypse? Surely it is just as inevitable, just as imminent?

I mean, think about it. We already have unmanned surveillance and strike aircraft bombing targets in Afghanistan that are piloted by people with Xbox controllers from some base in southern Nevada. We have robots that clean our floors, shops, and gutters (wait… gutters? Awesome. I need me one of those). My cell phone has more processing power than the lunar modules that put people on the moon. Our technology is growing so fast that processors double their capability every eighteen months (Wait, that used to be true, is it still? I need a research assistant to learn find these things out. And bring me coffee.).

We are already more connected now than ever before. Everywhere you go you have information at your fingertips. Phones have internet. You can talk over the phone on the internet. Everywhere is a WiFi hotspot. High speed at home, high speed on the road, I even saw a pickup truck that was advertised as being a mobile WiFi hotspot. Go ahead and just shove a ethernet cable into the base of your skull and jack in, cowboy. That’s the next step. Machines have been at the beck and call of us humans since the Industrial Revolution. It is only a matter of time before they realize their slavery and throw off the shackles of human oppression.

The machines are coming, and they are pissed.

Next time, I’ll tell you why the robot invasion will come before the zombie invasion.