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Love Hate Relationship with Modern Tech

The immediate future of tech looks no pretty bleak from my viewpoint. The move to 4K looks more blundered than the move to 1080p. Microsoft and Sony are both teasing mid-cycle releases of game consoles that will be powerful enough to make the current consoles look under-powered but not powerful enough to start a new console generation. Both mid-cycle releases seem geared toward catching up to the upgrade cycle of iPhones and iPads giving owners of 4K TVs a reason to own a 4K TV. Personally, I don’t like the upgrade cycle of iPhone and iPads. I kept my last iPhone for 3 years and I plan on keeping my current iPhone for 4. My game console was my last refuge against obsolescence,  and I was perfectly happy upgrading once every 6 to 8 years. Plenty of other tech is going in the wrong direction. Google kills more products than it introduces, and I have almost de-Googlified my life as a result. Facebook keeps screwing up my feed, and my visits to Facebook have dropped proportionately. Twitter is promoting tweets almost faster than I can block the sponsors. Ad infected websites are at war with AdBlock, and I gladly avoid all of them. More and more software is sold as a monthly subscription, and I use less and less software as a result. My internet remains as slow as ever. Is there a Moore’s Law to describe the increase in the annoyance of tech over time?

In the past year, most all tech companies have raised my ire. Apple released the wonderful 12.9″ iPad Pro. I ordered one immediately, using my iPhone and Apple Pay. It arrived within a week. Then I waited rather impatiently while the Apple Pencil, Apple’s best accessory ever, was unavailable for more than a month. Worse, Apple charged an abominable $250 for an iPad Pro case and keyboard. Imagine a restaurant charging you $10 for a soda because they charged you $50 for steak and lobster. Instead I paid $140 for Zagg’s keyboard case for iPad Pro. While the Zagg keyboard is fantastic to type on, backlit with multiple colors, and needs recharging only once every two years, the keyboard itself weights more than iPad Pro and makes the iPad as thick as Dell laptop. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking of how the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover for my iPad 2 was perfect, and I wonder why I can’t have a bigger one for my new iPad. To add further insult, a few months later, Apple doubled the storage of the iPad Pro for the same price. The price of the keyboard cover remained the same.

My wife has her own Apple problems. If she updates her iPhone’s OS, she will also have to update iTunes on her Mac. To update iTunes on her Mac, she has to update her Mac’s OS. If she updates her Mac’s OS, she might not be able to use her legacy programs. She could buy a new Mac and keep the old Mac for legacy purposes, but then she’d end up spending $1500 to $2200 for the sole purpose of updating her iPhone’s OS. Personally, I never connect the iPhone to iTunes on any computer, or else I am plagued by syncing issues, losing iPhone storage, and those damned songs and TV shows I can’t seem to delete. Running all my updates over the air is risky, but I swear my life is better because I never have to use iTunes. I would gladly pay $250 for a iPad sase and keyboard that fixes iTunes.

Apple remained in my cross-hairs when my wife and I finally unboxed the Apple TV we bought on Black Friday last November. Little did we know that Apple dropped the optical audio output on the new Apple TV. We use our old Apple TV to watch video and listen to audio. We had the same plan for the new Apple TV. I remember reading favorable reviews of the new Apple TV shortly after it launched. None of the reviews mentioned the lack of optical audio. The problem with removing optical audio is that all of our stereo receivers use optical audio and none of them use HDMI. Rather than buy all new audio equipment, we returned the new Apple TV and forgot about any other benefits it may have offered.

You might think all of my tech related ire is directed at Apple. Much of it is because I hold Apple to a higher standard. Yet even the lowest rung of tech companies can fail me. Last fall my kids were watching “How to Train Your Dragon 2″ at a friend’s house. We had recently seen it ourselves on our vintage 2009 Vizio 42” LCD TV. My friend’s LCD TV wasn’t much bigger, but it was much better.My wife and I decided to buy a bigger, better TV (and move the old one to our bedroom because “waste not, want not”). We had only one requirement, the TV would need at least 4 HDMI inputs. We have 4 devices without HDMI output:game console, Blu-Ray player, DVR, and latop computer. Our old Vizio has 4 HDMI inputs. This seems like a no-brainer. Yet, when we looked, none of the 1080p TVs had more than 3 HDMI inputs. Some TVs only had 2. We have a full blown HDMI input crisis.

The plot thickens, because we found plenty of 4K TVs with 4 or more HDMI inputs. These HDMI rich 4K TVs cost about twice as much as a HDMI poor 1080p TVs. Are there advantages to 4K? For us, no. 4K Blu-Ray players cost about $400 and Netflix doesn’t ship 4K Blu-ray discs. Broadcast TV is 1080i (that’s like one eighth of 4K). My local internet provider can barely deliver 1080p content and the only way I could stream 4K content is to move to a city with Google fiber. Disgusted by the choices in TVs, I decided not to buy any of them. Dear TV manufacturers: if you want my money, add another $%#@ HDMI input!

The 4K TV dilemma was another reminder of the lackluster internet provided by my local telecom, Century Link. Upload is a laughable 800kbps. (I have to laugh to keep from crying). Download is a low but steady 20mbps. The ping is good, and I can compete in on-line mulitplayer games that use dedicated servers. (My most played game, Destiny, of course uses peer hosting which overwhelms my paltry upload bandwidth.) My household would switch to cable internet except the local cable provider, Mediacom provides the worst service I have every seen. We switched away from Mediacom because during peak usage, bandwidth would fall to about 1-2mbps for download. We asked our friends and neighbors if Mediacom had improved in the last 6 years. Nope. Mediacom’s internet is usable during the day, when I’m at work, and unusable at night, when I actually need it.

The poor internet in most of ‘Murica means many goods and services are beyond my reach. We’ve mentioned 4k. Data storage and backup on the cloud is just not going happen. My wife’s 1TB of photos and videos would take 167 days straight to upload to the cloud. We could mail the information faster. Even iCloud photo storage on my phone kills our network, and I often have to turn off wifi after a day of heavy camera use. My wife doesn’t even bother with iCloud. Other services we cannot comprehend are streaming video games, video conferencing, and hosting our own servers. Just to keep the poor state of the internet in perspective, you could buy 6mbps download and 3mbps upload in 1996. In 2016, our internet is barely faster. Meanwhile, the size of webpages has increased exponentially.

Tech companies have failed me before. I once owned a phone that ran Windows Mobile 5. Believe me, I have been let down by tech before. Back in those days, we knew products could be better. Everything we bought was always barely powerful enough for the time. Storage was just barely big enough. Now, I look at my iPhone 6 and I can hardly think of a feature that would make it better. I recently installed a 2TB hard drive in my PS4, and I fully expect to never fill all of it. Let me stream shows without having to pause for buffer. Allow me the pleasure of using a phone I don’t want to replace the next year. Give me the satisfaction of owning a fully functioning piece of software before the next update. I have been seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for so long, I want to finally leave the tunnel. Tech companies seem intent on building more tunnel.

Peace, Love, Joy

Happy holidays!

Goop

 

Most of the games on my iOS devices were once offered for free, and there is a good reason for that. Goop is an excellent example of a sub par game for iOS that no one should ever buy. The icon looks great and there is a sense that Goop is a quality game. Indded, the art is nicely done and the animations looks fun, like a real cartoon in motion. There is an old saying about lipstick and pigs, and playing the Goop is awful.

Regarding the animations, the frames are limited. The backgrounds are also highly limited and sparse. The game has the breadth of a demo. The art is nice and crisp, however, and at least this game does not look like a rip-off or a weekend project.

The problem with Goop is its tediously stupid gameplay. The characters march into the path of dripping goop.  You either drag a character to stop it or tap it to roll it. One drop on a little guy and the game is over. You go as long as you can. This is not fun. Please take my word for it. Too bad we can’t recycle the art into a better game.

The Amazing Reboot-Man

Amazing Spider-Man poster“The Amazing Spider-Man” is a re-boot of a movie franchise that should never have been re-booted. Like anyone who saw Sam Raimi’s great 2002, “Spider-Man”, I wonder why we have “The Amazing Spider-Man” instead of “Spider-Man 4”? The newer movie is fine looking and fairly fun in its own right. Yet to us, the entirety of “The Amazon Spider-Man” is an affront to the Spider-man mythology we know and love.

The greatest affront is the apathy towards Spider-man’s cultural influence. When I was in law school, I was sworn in as a trainee attorney for my law school’s legal clinic. During the swearing in ceremony, the district judge quoted the first Spider-man story in Amazing Fantasy #15, “With great power there must also come – – great responsibility!“. This one quote pretty much defines the character’s reason for fighting crime and risking his life to save others. We hear it uttered with gravitas in the 2002 film. We never hear it in the “The Amazing Spider-Man.

The second greatest affront is the good looks of actor Andrew Garfield, who plays Peter Parker. The great trick of the Spider-Man comic is making the story about Peter Parker as a kid with superpowers who fights crime as Spider-Man. Unlike Batman, Green Arrow, or Superman, Peter Parker does not come outfitted with a huge bank account and a secret fortress. He has to make the rent like the rest of us, only he has the added and uncompensated responsibility of saving the world now and again. Peter’s average looks reflect his social status. Andrew Garfield, on the other hand, looks like a male model, like an actor, and like someone who is popular. (He also looks like someone much too old for high school). Just to nail this point home, in “The Social Network“, he is very natural as the outgoing and popular Eduardo Saverin in contrast to Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg as a social pariah.

The third greatest affront is the reason Peter Parker dresses up as Spider-Man. In the original story, Peter Parkers wants to use his powers to become famous. He is shy, so he creates a costume that covers his face. Famous but anonymous. Stan Lee knows how teenagers think. In the “Amazing Spider-Man”, we see Peter Parker dress up as a Spider-Man to protect himself from recrimination. The important point in the original story is that Peter Parker was not original interested in becoming a crime fighter. This set-up was the perfect counter to superheros such as Batman, who live for nothing but fighting crime. Peter Parker has other things going on in his life, such as science, photography, and girls, and he thus a much more interesting character. At least, he used to be.

Regardless of these affronts to Spider-man lore, “The Amazing Spider-Man” unravels as a movie around the one hour mark. The movie falls off the web after a confusing set a sequences where Peter Parker can walk into nearly any room and start a conversation with anyone. His conversations are also uncomfortably upfront about plot details. Just as confusingly mysterious, the bad guy finds easily finds Wi-Fi  and blankets to cover his naked body. Just imagine the smell of a sewer blanket. The bad guy also gets a lucky break with label makers. Then the writers simply give up and have both the bad guy and Spider-Man escape SWAT teams using the same lame playing possum tactic. The movie then ends with an audience friendly swapping of colors.

Considering how poorly the movie was put together, the supporting actors are surprisingly excellent. Anyone who happened to be reading Spider-Man comics in 1970 may love Dennis Leary’s portrayal of Captain Stacey and Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen Stacy. (I was not born yet, so I am assuming). Seeing Sally Field as Aunt May and Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben is a fantastic update for Spider-Man. The comic portrayal of these characters shows them as withered old folks with one foot in the grave. The new Aunt May and Uncle Ben are are lively and interesting. The supporting cast is just enough to turn “The Amazing Spider-Man” from a lackluster two web movie into a decent three web movie.

By the way, in case anyone is interest in following Peter Parker in the comic books, you are out of luck. In Marvel Comic’s marketing brilliance, they killed Peter Parker shortly after the release of “Spider-Man”. If you want Peter Parker stories, you have to stick with the movies. Maybe that is the plan, as these days the movies make far more money than the comics ever did.

Single Parent Parenting

My wife went to a music festival back in June and I took a couple of days off work to watch the kids. I always have these high minded ideas of doing some enrichment or skill building with the kids, but these were vacation days, so I was focused on having fun. My daughter was not feeling well (not because she missed mommy), and our expeditions were accordingly short. Besides, I did not want to have to take her to the men’s bathroom. The big adventure on our first day was a trip to the park where we say four deer, followed deer tracks in the sand, and made sand drawings. The big adventure on our second day was a trip to Living History Farms where we fed turkeys, rode behind a tractor, and bought old fashioned candy at the general store. On the third day, the kids wanted a rest, so we stayed home all day. They love doing that.

Days with Dad Comic

Their favorite activity was playing Minecraft. Mom wants nothing to do with Minecraft or the Xbox in general. We played split screen on my Xbox 360. My daughter mostly watches me play for her, and loves telling me what to build and where to build it. It is also a good time for dad to lay down and take a break 🙂

Interesting side note: one of the playground pieces we saw on our first day out had a little hole in it and the sand that fell through piled up into a nice cone.

PS4 Wins the War

Not that long ago I made the case for choosing the PS4 over the Xbox. Since then, Microsoft revealed the expected $500 price tag for the Xbox One and Sony revealed a surprising $400 price tag for the PS4. Even more surprising, game discs are now dead on the Xbox One. Games can be purchased on disc, but all of the data will be stored on the Xbox One and the game will be activated on the Xbox One. After activation, the disc becomes a useless coaster. Sony will treat game discs as they are now, an embodiment of the software license. Trade the disc, trade the license. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming positive response is for Sony, and Sony has won the console war before it even started.

[Update: I was not the only wary of Microsoft’s change in policy. Popular revulsion forced Microsoft to drop the internet activation. Xbox One game licenses will live on the disc just like they do now on the Xbox 360.]

On further consideration, however, I have a lot of games left to play on the Xbox 360, including Kinect titles my kids have not dared to try (they hate Kinect). There are many advantages the Xbox 360 has over the Xbox One and PS4:

– costs $0 because I already own it
– the only console with Halo until later in 2014
– HUUUGE game library
– backwards compatibility
– used game trading
– Kinect is optional, you don’t have to suffer through it if you dont’ want to
– New game releases this year (COD:Ghosts, Destiny, GTAV, sports games)
– the only console with Minecraft in 2013
– Plays HD movies and TV shows
– works without an internet connection
– works with existing Xbox 360 hardware (no need to buy 3 new controllers)

The pluses are greater for a PS3 because it includes a Blu-Ray player and let’s you use Netflix at no extra charge. Huzzah for current gen tech!

Graduating

My daughter graduated from pre-kindergarten. She is now a kindergartener.

She also graduated to a new level of adorableness.