Tag: Technology

Why I Bought an iPad

vinny's ipadAnyone who knows me, knows I am a huge fan of Android devices. My last five smartphones and two tablets were all running under Google’s green bot. My first tablet, however, was an iPad and while I liked it, I never felt like it was more than a device to play games and media on. One problem was it had to constantly be connected to a computer running iTunes to add anything to it. Call me lazy but I just don’t like plugging my stuff into computers. Fast forward to a weekend ago.

My current tablet, a Galaxy Note 2104 edition was beginning to show it’s age. I could not fit any more apps on it and it was needing daily charges. My wife and I stopped into a Best Buy to look at the new Samsung S3. I was anticipating the release of this latest slab and liked the look of it, the screen was gorgeous, and things responded with a zip my old tablet could not match. The only problem was the price. It was $600. My feeling is that a tablet should be under $500. Anything more than that and I can buy a laptop. I understand that premium tablets like the S3 carry a premium price but for me I am not comfortable paying $600 for a tablet. My wife then suggested I go look at the iPads, or as she put it, “the dark side.”

Turns out that I was able to get a brand new 2017 version iPad for $430. That’s $130 less than the S3 and even $30 less than Amazon was selling those iPads for. It has 128GB of storage which is twice what the S3 offers and is just a quick to bring up apps or load web sites. Best of all I can do everything I need to without plugging the iPad into iTunes. It even wirelessly transferred over stuff from my Galaxy Note. Naturally, I spent the first night with it loading all of Google’s apps, which work perfectly. Several games I had been playing on the Note came over as well and I could continue right where I was and with the new screen they look even better. I synced up all my cloud storage apps and loaded Microsoft Word so I’m able to continue on with my writing, which I do mostly on my tablet. While Android tablets tend to be looked on as cheaper than and almost iPads, something which I think is unfair, when Android tablets begin out pricing iPads with the same performance manufacturers have a problem. I still think the best tablet is the one that does everything you need at the price you are comfortable with. For me in this current generation that happened to be the iPad, now perhaps in 2 or 4 years down the road I will switch back to an Android powered slab.

Scalpers Suck

Nintendo SwitchTypically when you mention scalpers images of $500 Guns and Roses tickets come to mind. As much as that pains me there is also a new type of scalper that really sets me off. Last week Nintendo released their 7th home console in the US, The Nintendo Switch. Almost immediately, and as little surprise to anyone who hoped to get one of their Classic NES consoles this Christmas, the pre-orders disappeared as soon as they posted. When release day came, lists of Switches for sale filled eBay and even Amazon.com with one minor difference. They all ran at least $70 more than the suggested retail price. To the bystander, it looked as though every one of those pre-ordered systems was now being cashed in for a quick 100 bucks. Unlike with concert tickets, it is all free and legal.

On the one hand it makes sense for sites like eBay to welcome these sales as they get a commission on each one. The harder question is why a site like Amazon would allow it. Well, that isn’t to hard to figure out either because they also get a cut of the sale. So it makes sense for them. Hell they probably made 8 or 10% on the original sale so if that person turns around and puts it up they stand to make another 15% on that sale as well. As an adult it’s easy for me to say no thank you and wait for the item to return to stock at its original price. An adult with a kid will have to figure out how much their incessant whining is worth compared to the hit on their wallet. I urge you, resist. As long as people are willing to pay inflated prices for the convenience of being the first to own this practice will only continue, and dare I say worsen.

War of the Word

ebooks on deviceLibraries are in the midst of their own version of the War of the Roses as they try to adapt to their patrons needs and juggle print and digital resources. It is a costly and time consuming endeavor but one whose importance shouldn’t be understated.

On one side is the trusted book. Our minds are imprinted with the book from our earliest stages of learning, remember, “A is for apple, B is for book.” We know what it feels like, what the pages smell like, and the sound the binding makes when you crack it open. Books are ubiquitous now where once they were the privilege of the wealthy. What a sign of wealth it was to have a library of your own. Books can be heavy and it is challenging to store a lot of them.

Digital content covers everything from online magazines, video, music, photos and of course eBooks. You can pile whole libraries of this content into your smartphone, tablet, or reader. The catch is you need a device. Where a book only required your eyes, (or finger), eBooks, as all digital content, need a device to be read from. One you must purchase or lease. Speaking of which, you don’t technically own eBooks. You license them like a piece of software. Publishers have finally come up with a way to thwart libraries lending of books for free. Hence eBooks will always be a more costly solution and present unique challenges for the library patron.

Right now the smart money is on eBooks. New technology always replaces old. Just don’t tell that to the vinyl record. So books offer simplicity and zero barriers for entry. eBooks offer convenience and portability, so long as your device holds up. So you can see, declaring one over the other is not so easy. Going all digital does not solve the problems of managing a modern library’s collection, nor does clinging to print books.

Currently libraries lease most of their digital resources as a stop gap to give their patrons what they want. This works for now but really does not present much of a future for the library. As prices for this content rise and more of their budgets get syphoned off libraries will find little to nothing to show for all the money they invested in their digital collections, to say nothing of products that no longer get support or disappear from the marketplace. For libraries to have any future they must secure digital content that they own. After all you cannot build a collection of purchase orders and license agreements.

A Thought For Today

While perusing Google News I happened upon this little story. If Music Executives Have Their Way Music Streaming Could Come To An End In 2016.

I, like many people, have to wonder what is wrong with the minds of these people. It isn’t just music, as book publishers and movie studios have railed against digital technology. The thing to remember is all of these entities are the middle men and women. True thier checkbooks enable some artists to create the content we will eventually consume. But as we have seen, great content can be had for a fraction of the costs and new technology has brought the means for artists to go directly to thier audience.

The DIY movement, enabled by the growth of digital technology, isn’t just a new fad but represents the biggest threat to publishers who fail to provide the content that people want in the form of thier choice. This really is an exciting time for all, as there is a wealth of great content available and new channels to it are opening all the time. I know I, as well as some truly great works I’ve read, would still be trapped under the slush pile if it wasn’t for digital technology.

So let the Jay Z’s and Taylor Swift’s rant on about steaming music. Despite what the record execs may wish for we are not all going back to buying CD’s. I have to wonder, didn’t Napster teach them anything?

Throttled By My Cable Company

cutting the cordAn alternate title for this post would also be, How the Cable Companies Punish You For Cutting the Cord. A few years ago my wife and I said goodbye to our DirectTv service and began relying on the internet services Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime for our TV habit. For the most part this has been a great success. We also purchased an unobtrusive indoor antenna, living as we do only 25 miles from Phoenix, over the air (OTA) is a viable option. Our Cox Communications provided internet was speedy enough to enable excellent streaming of our most watched TV shows and movies.

That was until our data cap reared its ugly head. The internet is full of arguments for and against data caps. As for myself, I have yet found an argument supported on a technical basis that data caps alleviate network congestion, their intended use. At best data caps are useful means to keep internet pirates from leaving their bit-torrent streams going 24/7 and at worst case just another revenue stream for the cable company. The latter came to fruition after the first couple of almost polite emails from Cox arrived telling us we had exceeded our plan’s data cap. We decided to move to a more expensive plan. We didn’t need the speed as much as the extra chunk of data.

My wife and I are not heavy bit-torrent users. We have used it to download an occasional movie or show not available via streaming, but most of our internet use comes from watching our favorite shows in Netflix. Our usage reflects that. Our upload use is very low compared to download, this was confirmed by a representative from Cox. A heavy bit-torrenter would have similar usage for both down and upload, while ours shows a heaver download usage indicating the use of streaming services. The curious part came when we asked some of our friends who were also heavy Netflix users if they get the same warnings. We found friends with similar habits but who kept Cox TV service never hit their data cap.

Things really became interesting when we contacted Cox. Before getting into that I should mention we subscribe to the second from the top service, Internet Premier, it features a 300 GB data limit and speed up to 100 mbps. Broadband speed is always a relative term and you are only promised a maximum possible speed that goes beyond what you typically will see. In this case our plan calls for downloads up to 100 mbs. After running some speed tests the best we could manage was 22 mbs. Many things effect broadband speed that are both out of the cable company’s and our control so speed figures should always be taken with a grain of salt. You can imagine our surprise when we spoke with a Cox sales rep who told us that something was wrong and they would be sending a technician out because their advertised rate is the rate we should be getting. We chuckled but said, “oh really.” Perhaps there was something wrong at the street or maybe even in our house. It was worth a shot. In addition they also gave us a discount for the next year on our service because we had not been receiving the posted speeds. It was a nice touch and gave us some hope.

The technician arrived at our home on time, and on Labor Day no less. It was a short visit. He began by telling us he looked at our history and noticed we had gone over our data cap a few times. Then in a tone that both my wife and I picked up on as accusatory told us to contact Cox because we obviously were being throttled. This was an unexpected revelation. The Cox website boldly states, “Cox does not throttle speeds.” We had asked about throttling over our previous two phone conversations with Cox representatives who both said that Cox does not throttle their customers yet in our living room was a Cox technician telling us that, you guessed it, we’ve been throttled. There was nothing that he could find wrong with our connections and our modem and routers were all current technology. So he left urging us to find out who we need to talk to at Cox to get throttled.

Will we? Probably not. The issue isn’t so much about going over an arbitrary line chosen by the cable company but it is about what happens when the same company offers two competing services, Internet and TV. They love bundling them together, as you can see from the ads. This starts out cheap but becomes very expensive. As you might expect the data used by Cox’s own services does not count against their data cap. Why would they crap where they eat, I guess?

We have since turned down our Netflix stream to a more conservative quality. The top Netflix stream will consume up to 7 GB of data an hour. At a data limit of 300 GB per month that stream will chew through that in just under 43 hours or about an hour and a half of TV a day in any given month. Now we were told by Cox representatives that if we had their TV service we would be watching more TV and not streaming as much so naturally the data cap would not be an issue, but we don’t want their TV service. Turning down the quality of Netflix results in a much smaller stream closer to .7 GB and hour. That 300 GB limit then allows for 429 hours of TV or just over 14 hours a day. That is a lot of TV watching but we still had to make the concession of accepting a lower quality picture. Such is life in this modern age I guess, instead of not being able to fight city hall the new adage should be you can’t fight corporate monopolies. 

30 Years Since the Betamax Became Legal

So it’s been 30 years since the collapse of the movie industry, uh I mean the Supreme Court ruled that time shifting of shows using video recorders was legal. Torrent Freak has an interesting article looking back at the MPAA’s four arguments against allowing video recorders in peoples’ homes. They all look kind of silly now but in many ways they cropped up again with MP3 players and are still cropping up, but you can read them for yourself here.

Copyright, Piracy and the Troubled Waters We Tread

pirate_flagAll of our laws begin with a noble idea seeking to right a wrong or protect the innocent. Copyright law is no different. No one would ever say that an artist does not deserve to be compensated for his or her work. That is the noble idea that copyright law came into being to protect. I agree with that 100%. The only one who should profit from my brain regurgitation is me or my family. But what happens when copyright veers from that noble goal? Is copyright a guarantee if profit?

Ever try borrowing a current bestseller from the library? Well you can’t. How about lending your eBook copy of Hunger Games to your sister, not going to happen. Current eBooks are swaddled in DRM that severely limits what users can do with them all in the name of thwarting piracy. What does piracy have to do with copyright? Well in our modern age if you aren’t paying for your digital content you’re probably pirating it. Funny I am giving away copies of my works all the time to build my audience and for reviews, not piracy. Borrowing a book from the library and reading it also not piracy, now try to convince publishers of that.

One other area of copyright that some run a foul of concerns movies and television shows. Buy a blu-ray of The Avengers and want to watch it on your phone or tablet? Well get yourself an eye patch and three corner hat. Oh you can pay for a copy to run on your device in addition to the disc you just bought. If you are fortunate to have a device that will play then files in that come with some releases even better. Television is an other matter. Over a year ago we dropped our satellite service and instead rely on streaming. We have subscriptions with Netflix, Hulk + and Amazon Prime. We also have a digital antenna for local broadcasts but there are a few shows that are cable only. The streaming services are great for older shows but current ones are not so lucky. In truth it is quicker and easier to torrent the show than it is to find it on one of the streaming services that we pay for. That noble idea of copyright is starting to become a real pain in my digital ass. All I am saying is I am willing to pay for the content I enjoy but I can’t even do that. So churns the waters.

One last area that stokes my fire concerns emulators. An emulator is a piece of software that tricks a computer into acting like another. Emulators are not illegal to create own or even buy. The programs, called roms, that run on the emulator are a different matter. By all interpretations of current copyright law these files are illegal. Own them amounts to theft but let’s look at this. Suppose you want to rekindle your adolescence with some rounds of Mario Kart but you have long since parted ways with your SNES. In one scenario you could download an emulator and the rom for Mario Kart and enjoy. You would be a pirate, breaking the law and Nintendo doesn’t get a dime. In scenario two you could hunt down an old system from a garage sale or eBay and the game cartridge.  You would be completely within the legal confines of the law but Nintendo still doesn’t get a dime. Are you starting to see a flaw in this?

No technology can arrive without causing some disruption in the status quo. Just think what the printing press did for all those medieval scriptoriums. It would be foolish to think technology can enable a wild west mentality at least until the laws catch up. The danger we face is in not recognizing when the mechanisms of protecting business models no longer relevant are allowed to slip into the codification of law.  At that point we are all adrift. Arrrgh maties.

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