Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Enough is Enough! We Need A Solution.


What do Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Madison, AL, Omaha, NE, Walpole, NH, Newtown, CT and Sparks, NV have in common? They are all small to middle sized cities in the United States? Yes. They are places that people like to live? Yes, if they weren't people wouldn't live there. I'm sure that you could come up with several more self-identifying characteristics of each of these communities that would place them in the center of one Venn Diagram or another. But one glaring thing that each and every one of these communities has in common is they have all suffered some sort of gun violence in a school in the last five years.This is only a partial list of gun violence that the media has reported on in the last five years. (For a more complete list click this link.)

I am not a person that has been affected by gun violence, other than the sadness that I feel with the loss of life and the promise of what might have been. I should also mention that I do not own a gun and that I don't really understand the mechanics of guns (other than you pull a trigger and something comes out the other end at a really high rate of velocity). This does not mean that I am a gun hater. I have friends and family who are advocates for guns and their proper use. I think they have their uses in self-defense, hunting and sport. They (guns) are also an important part of world history. In fact our country, for the most part, never would have been born if not for guns.

The time has come to take meaningful action. What we have accomplished so far is to further divide our country on this subject. And that is not something that we can afford with all of the other distractions and problems we are having. There are so many other constructive things for us to focus our energy on. We need a solution that employs all of the parties that are effected in coming up with a solution.

Here is what I propose:

  • Government - Instead of trying to make guns illegal and regulate the object (guns), regulate the actions (gun violence). The laws that you are creating are only alienating the portion of the population that are gun advocates. The majority of people are not rallying around laws like NY SAFE, they are only serving to polarize a certain amount of the population and give them something negative to focus on. Instead implement laws that institute mandatory minimum sentences for ANY crime in which a gun is involved. For example: if a petty larceny (definition) is committed the legal penalty is one year in prison. If a gun is involved in the same petty larceny the penalty would automatically increase to ten years in prison. No matter what psychologists say negative reinforcement is effective and people can do simple math. 
  • National Rifle Association - As near as I can tell all Wayne LaPierre and his organization are doing is standing back and saying "Guns aren't the problem, people are the problem." Well Wayne, I've go news for you: people with GUNS are the problem, and by that I don't mean ALL people with guns. Only a small subset of the group is giving the whole a bad name. Instead of advocating for everyone to have the right to own a gun, because, by your statements certain people shouldn't have access to guns (people who are mentally unstable for one reason or another) help the rest of us and respect and protect the rights of the rest of us who don't want to own guns. Step up education and policing of your own member. By some estimates the NRA has at least 5 million members. That is as many people as the population of Colorado and Alabama, and more than the states of Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota and Delaware COMBINED. Surely your membership can do more to protect the rights of those of us who don't want to own guns. Show us that you want to members of a community bigger than the NRA.
  • Media - This is big one, and please excuse my language for this one: STOP TELLING THE STORY OF THE FUCKING SHOOTER! Yes, it's part of the story. Yes, it is emotional and emotion draws ratings, which draws dollars. All you are really doing besides choking us all up is drawing attention to a KILLER. You are not drawing attention to a problem, you are drawing attention to a KILLER. If you have to tell the story focus on the victim. Focus on the promise that was lost. We don't need to understand why the victims were lost, just that they were. If, for some reason the killer goes on trial, don't cover the trial, that is giving attention to them. Don't say that this killer was bullied or was a recluse or got fired from his/her job, that only validates them in their mind. There is no valid reason for ANYONE to walk into a school with a gun and start extinguishing our future.
  • Public - The best I can ask for from "the rest of us" is empathy. The rest of us need to understand that there are at least two sides to every story. For some people there is a real fear surrounding guns. There is a fear of what people with guns can do and have done. Let's face it, people armed with guns kill other people every day. And conversely, there is a segment of the population that make guns a way of life. They may have been raised in a rural area where a Fall Saturday afternoon doesn't mean college football or a trip to the museum, it means going hunting with friends, family or clubs. That doesn't make them bad people, it just means that they enjoy different things than you do. Neither group is bad or good, just different, and that's what makes us individuals.
Whether anyone reads this or not is debatable. What is not debatable is that gun crimes are on the rise and all we can do in this country is argue about the right way to fix it. One of my former supervisors once told me "Don't come to me with a problem unless you have a solution. I have enough problems." Well this is my solution. It is a problem that effects or will eventually effect everyone, so everyone needs to pitch in to make it right.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Take-Aways From the Apple Keynote

I just finished watching the one and half hour keynote that was put on by Apple today. A couple of things struck me, as this is really the first keynote that I've watched in the Tim Cooke era. 
  1. Tim Cooke is not the presenter that Steve Jobs was. But I don't think that he needs to be. He, along with Craig Federighi, Eddy Cue and Phil Shiler did an awesome job of working through this daunting task
  2. I have a lot of work to do on my presentation skills.

But nobody really cares about my presentation skills; so what did I see? 

They started out with some statistics in typical Apple form. 
  • During the latest iPhone launch there were over 9 million iPhones sold, which is there biggest launch weekend ever. 
  • The latest version of iPhone (and iPad) software is installed on over 200 million devices just 5 days after launch; that is nearly 1/3 of all iOS devices
  • iTunes Radio has more than 20 million users, which is a little surprising to me with the prevelance of other services like Pandora, Rdio and Spotify.
  • The App Store has more than 1 million apps in it, and has had over 60 billion downloads.
  • Apple has paid out over $13 billion to developers, making it (they claim) to be the most profitable place for app development.
Next up was the start of what everyone is really wanting to hear about: new products. They started out with OSX Mavericks, which is the operating system for their Mac lineup. For that they brought our Craig Federighi, VP of Software Engineering. I will say that I am excited to give this one a test drive, some of the improvements sound pretty amazing.
  • Improved battery life by up to one hour with just a software upgrade.
  • New technology that allows them to compress 6GB of memory onto 4GB of RAM.
  • Respond within notifications. So if you receive a Tweet from someone you can respond within the notification instead of being redirected to the website.
  • You can now tag files so that you can search by the tag and not just file or folder name.
  • For those of you who are power users there is increased support of dual monitors. Now you can use multiple monitors in full screen.
  • New apps including: Maps and iBook. Both of these of course respond to multi-touch gestures. You would, of course, expect this in iBooks to turn a page, but in Maps you will be able to zoom, rotate, tilt and drag maps by touch. Maps will also be able to be sent to your iPhone (look up direction on the computer and send them to your iPhone).
  • This one went by pretty quick, and they didn't spend too much time on it, but keychain will now store your log in information and credit card information for you. It's understandable why they only touched on this with some of the security concerns.
  • The biggest part of the announcement was probably that OSX Mavericks will be free and available today. AND that you will be single-step upgradable to Mavericks no matter what version of OSX you are running all the way back to Snow Leopard, for free.
Next up was Phil Shiller, VP of World Wide Marketing to introduce the new MacBook Pros. This was your typical hardware announcement. It was mostly packed with numbers that really don't mean much to most of the public, because nobody really understands most of it. I will boil most of it down for you in that both the 13" and 15" models are thinner, more powerful, faster and have better battery life. These will start shipping immediately, as in today. What was really surprising, and "Apple-like" about this portion of the announcement is that they are dropping the price of the MacBooks by $200. This means that the 13" model will start at $1299 and the 15" model will start at $1999. The price tag is still a little hefty, but certainly much closer to a comparably priced PC, and you won't have to replace it every couple of years.

Phil stayed on stage for the announcement of the new Mac Pro. This is a product that tech professionals have been praying for. This is the point where I kind of zoned out, mostly because I don't think that I will ever have a need for a computer with that much horsepower or the $2999 that it will take to purchase the base unit (that doesn't include input or output devices). But there is a community that is super excited about them, and justifiably so. One thing that did catch my eye about this product is that it will be assembled in the United States. It is nice to see that manufacturing is not a lost skill in the good old US of A.

Eddy Cue, Senior VP of Internet Software and Services took the stage next to go over improvements to iLife and iWork. Now this probably won't interest most people until you get to the end, so you have to keep reading (or just skip the the end of the section and then come back to read the rest of the paragraph.) All six of these products (iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers and Keynote) have an updated user interface (UI). They are now more intuitive (which I for one am excited about) and user friendly. Where it gets exciting is that there is now going to be real-time collaboration available in the iWork apps through iWork for iCloud Beta. So now you will be able to send someone a link of a Pages document, they can open it in iWork for iCloud Beta (no they don't need to be a Mac user) and you can both make changes to a document in real time. Can you say more functional Google Docs competitor. But even that isn't quite as exciting as the price. Yup, you guessed it, they are all free (with the purchase of a OSX or iOS device).

The last catch kind of throws a monkey wrench in it for me, since I have already paid for most of these apps on both platforms, but where this has far reaching ramifications is in enterprise. When most big businesses buy a PC they also have to purchase a license for Microsoft Office, which adds about $250 to the cost of device. Once you throw in anti-virus license the total cost goes from $600 to around $1000. For $200 more you can get a Mac that will have all of the software included, and work seamlessly with company iPhones and iPads with almost no extra work. Suddenly Macs may be a little more attractive in the enterprise.

Speaking of iPads, Tim Cooke took the stage to talk briefly about iPad and it's iterations going through some of the numbers and showing a video. He then brought Phil Shiller back on stage for what everyone was really waiting for and Phil didn't disappoint. First he rolled out the all "new" iPad Air. Which is essentially the 4th Generation iPad that is thinner, lighter and more powerful. Here are some of the key take aways that I got:

  • It will have the same 9.7" retina display.
  • It is 43% slimmer, taking it down to an amazing 7.5mm thin. Amazingly that is thinner than a #2 pencil.
  • Thinner bezel (that's the area around the screen).
  • All of the size reductions reduce the weight from 1.4 pounds down to 1.0 pounds, which is a little crazy.
  • It will have the new A7, 64 Bit processor in it that comes in the current iPhone 5s. This means desktop-like power in a tablet.
  • New cameras, because apparently people still like to take pictures and video with the iPad and don't realize how ridiculous they look. The rear facing camera will have the capability to shoot video in 1080p.
  • The Air will have more LTE bands so that it can be used wirelessly in more places around the world. And it will have a new wifi technology built in called MIMO (multiple in multiple out), which should improve wifi performance (thank God).
  • It will come in two colors White/Silver and Space Gray/Black.
  • Pricing is going to start at $499 for wifi only and $629 for LTE equipped.
  • iPad 2 will still be available for the "price conscious".
  • iPad Air will be available on November 1st.
Phil then addressed the iPad Mini, which didn't really offer up any surprises:
  • It will come with a new retina display. The resolution is 2048x1536 on a 7.9" display. That is the same resolution as the current iPad models.
  • The Mini will have the same A7 chip in it that the iPhone and iPad Air have in them.
  • The same MIMO wifi antenea that is in the Air will be in the Mini.
  • The original iPad Mini will still be available and the price will drop to $299, which is very nice!
  • The price of the new iPad Mini will start at $399 for wifi only and $529 for LTE equipped.
  • I don't think I caught an exact release date for the new Mini, other than "later in November."
All-in-all I don't think that there were a whole lot of surprises here other than the price drop on the MacBook Pros. Most of this has been speculated on for a month now, and quite frankly sticks to what Apple does with these types of announcements. The thing that really makes me excited is the fact that there is now a clear path into the enterprise for Apple. The hard part about it is trying to get everyone to migrate to iLife and iWork because they are pretty radically different from the Office Suite.

What do you think? Anything surprising or interesting here? Is this the announcement that 5 years from now we will be able to say "That was the tipping point for Apple?"

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Six Uses For Your Camera Phone


Mobile phones and in particular, smartphones have taken the world by storm in the last six (or so) years. And they have certainly come a long way since my first Palm Treo 650. Now that Hershey Bar sized chunk of glass, plastic and aluminum is more powerful than the desktop computers of 10 years ago that were the size of a shoe box. They have more processing power, more memory and are able to connect to the internet at faster speeds without any wires.

Not only are you carrying a varitable computer in your pocket but you also have a camera that rivals point and shoot or pocket cameras of years past.  Yet this is one of the most under utilized and under appreciated features of nearly every mobile phone on the market today. Not everyone feels this way of course, but just in case you do, here is a list of some things that you can use that camera in your pocket for.

  1. Use it as reminder for gifts to buy. Think Christmas lists and birthday presents. Think of walking through a store with one of your children, or your significant other or even a good friend when they casually drop the hint "I really like that..." Simply find an appropriate time to go back and snap a picture of it. That way you have a picture of the exact thing that they want.
  2. Get exactly the part you need. Ever been to the hardware or auto parts store and forgotten which filter it was that you needed? How about to the office supply store and forgotten the model number of ink cartridge that you needed. You guessed it; snap a picture of the offending part or part number and you'll be in and out in a hurry.
  3. Always remember where you park. When you are out shopping with the person from tips #1 and #2 it's possible that you will be in a huge mall parking lot with thousands of cars around. How are you supposed to remember where you parked when you have all that shopping on your mind. Easy, most parking lots are organized with some sort of letter and number system (i.e. lot E row 6) simply snap a picture of the sign closest to your car and you will have that information committed to your second brain. Pro-tip: You can snap one more picture of the entrance that you are going to walk in from your car. This will give you orientation of where you parked in proximity to the entrance.
  4. Magnify very small objects or writing. This one my depend on the resolution of your camera, but can be very useful if your eyesight ain't what it used to be. Simply take a the best possible picture of what you can't see and then zoom in on the resulting image. Most of the time this is done with a pinch out motion of your thumb and fore finger. Viola, that object that was obviously not meant for human eyes to see has been magnified 20x or more.
  5. Remember what something looked like before you took it apart to "fix" it. In fact you can snap pictures at multiple points so that you have a reference to follow in reverse chronological order. This beats assembly instructions any day of the week. 
  6. Down periscope! Similar to #4, sometimes there are things that you just can't get close enough to for some reason. Maybe you can't fit under your car enough to see what that noise is; or there is a hole that you can't quite squeeze into; problem solved. If you can fit your hand and arm in said tight situation snap a picture or even a video and you can find out your car has a huge hole in the muffler from the pictures.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. When combined with other applications on your phone there is no telling what you can accomplish. There are planning apps and note taking apps, story telling apps and journals. How will you be thinking of your smartphone camera differently?

Photo from: http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/apple-debuts-iphone-5-camera/

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thoughts on the Shutdown

By now most of us are aware that the government shutdown is over. Although, even though tragedy has been averted until at least February 2014 (that's when we will in all likelihood go through this whole exercise again) the true damage has already been done.

Did Congress preserve our countries Triple A credit rating? Yes. Did Congress put millions of government employees back to work? Yes. Will our veterans and senior citizens continue to receive the benefits and services that they deserve? Yes. All of the "measurable" effects of the shutdown have been reasoned out, money (as it were) is flowing through the government coffers again and it's back to business as usual.

The damage that has been done though is not really measurable. The damage is to our countries reputation. The damage is to the sparkling image that my ancestors and your ancestors worked so hard to polish. Around the world the United States government is seen as bunch of teammates on some sort poorly scripted Survivor-like reality show.

Let's meet the cast. Shall we?

First you have the host: President Barrack Obama. He clearly favors one team, let's call them the Heros. He wants them to win no matter what and is pulling their strings to push his agenda. Which in all fairness to him was the platform that he ran on, was elected and accomplished. Not only did he accomplish his agenda, but it was validated with his re-election.

Next, you have the Democrats in Congress, clearly the Heroes. Don't take the term "Hero" as my endorsement of their agenda, that is material for another post. No, these idiots are pushing their own agendas and are not willing to see anyone else's point of view. They think that the only way to solve problems is to throw money at it. And none of them seem to understand that this is money that we as a nation don't necessarily have.

Then you have the Heals, or rather Republicans in Congress. Again, this is merely a term that I've assigned to them because they come off as the "bad guys" here. They were willing to ruin our countries credibility, credit and stability over something that can't be fixed overnight.

Finally you have the Villains, the Tea-Party Republicans. They were the negative influence on the whole process. They were trying to be a disruptive force, which isn't always a bad thing, but this wasn't the time or the place. They egged on the party-line Republicans into being less sensible then was reasonable. Witness head Villain Ted Cruz's 21 hour 19 minute speech on September 24th and 25th. All he REALLY accomplished was running his mouth for almost an entire day and delaying due process.

And that's not the worst part. The reason that I say that this reality show is poorly written is because there is no ending. We get to relive the whole thing again in three months. All that our government managed to accomplish was a three month commercial break.

But worst of all, our government that is elected by the people, for the people and of the the people will do relatively little about this debacle. Sure, social media is filled with signs of outrage and proclamations, but the reality is when it comes to brass tacks this whole scenario will be replayed over and over again, because we are country of second chances and we love to argue.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Really, Really Want Google Glass


I really want a set of Google Glasses, but I'm not exactly sure that they are worth $1500 to me. Google announced a contest for a chance to spend $1500 on Google's long awaited newest gadget. To win the "honor" of purchasing a pair of them all you need to do is share a short video of yourself saying what you would do with them to either Google+ or Twitter along with the hashtag #ifihadglass. You can find full details of the contest here.

What do you think? Is $1500 worth it?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Most Used Apps: Pandora


I get asked the question all the time, mostly because of my job, "What do you use your smartphone for?" The typical answer can be just about anything except doing the dishes. The following post is, and some of the posts to follow will outline, specifically, some of the most useful things that I use my smartphone for. I am going to try to keep them platform agnostic as possible, because I truly don't prefer one smartphone operating system to another, so everyone should receive some benefit from these posts. Currently, I am using an Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.2.1, but I have used and will use in the future (I'm sure), iPhones, Windows Phones and Blackberrys.

One app that is available across virtually every platform (except Windows Phone) is Pandora. I recently re-downloaded Pandora and started listening to music again. If there is one thing that people who know me well will tell you is that I don't sit in one place for too long. Whether it be on the couch or listening to one kind of music. Pandora has gotten me listening to music again because of the sheer variety and breadth of music that you can listen to. Some days I feel like listening to heavy metal, so my station is populated with Korn, Five Finger Death Punch, Tool and Rage Against the Machine. Other days I am more mellow so I want to listen to what I call modern hippy music, so I have a station that is Jack Johnson, Mumford and Son's and Dave Matthews Band.

It's free to download and free to use. Though the free to listen model is advertising supported, so be aware of that. You can sign up for a Pandora-One account for $3.99 a month which will eliminate the advertising. I subscribe to the Pandora-One account mostly because I find the ads non-relevant and annoying, and I think that it is a small price to pay for a service that I find so useful. The one thing that I wish Pandora would add is some talk radio stations, maybe a sports and news radio station.

The way that Pandora works is what makes it pretty cool. It uses something called the Music Genome Project. Basically, you select a song or artist that you like, say The Rolling Stones. Pandora will serve you up a song by The Rolling Stones, you tell it whether you like that song (thumbs up) or not (thumbs down). It will then play you a song by a different artist that has similar qualities to The Rolling Stones, maybe Aerosmith, and you either give that one a thumbs up or down. As you continue to rate whether or not you like songs and artists you are building your perfect radio station populated with only songs that you like.

One word of caution with this app: It does use your cellular data connection. And music files are some of the larger files, so you could potentially use up a bunch of your monthly data allotment, so you will want to monitor that until you figure out your usage.

There are several other services that are similar to Pandora out there: Slacker Radio, Spotify, LastFM and Rdio. I am not sure why I chose Pandora, but it seems to work very well for me. I have tried Slacker Radio and did like that service as well, although it was more expensive for the ad free version, but it did add the functionality of caching your stations so that if you lose your data connection your listening won't be interrupted. The same goes for Spotify, great service, more expensive, but it did add the ability to download music for off-line listening, but you also have to have that premium membership to utilize the service on mobile.

What online music service do you use and why? Is there something better that I should check out?




Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

For a long time I debated a as to whether I should post my resolutions for 2013. In the end I am going to do it just so that I have a record of what I want to accomplish. So without further ado:

1. I am bound and determined to lose weight. I want to get back to 200 pounds. Since April of 2012 I have gained nearly 25 pounds and at least one pants size. I will accomplish this by keeping track of my calorie intake and exercising more. Which leads me to...

2. I will take the dog for more walks. Each day that I am either on a day off or working a closing shift I will take Haley for a walk in the morning.

3. Take control of my internet presence. I will cut back on the number of places I share while at the same time increase the amount of sharing I do where I remain active. If I have to guess this means saying goodbye to Twitter, Foursquare and clean up any other outstanding accounts I may have. For note you will find me here, on my blog and on Google+. I will also maintain a presence on LinkedIn but that, as it has been in the past, will be a much less proactive participation.

In the months to come I will update my progress for the record. What are your resolutions? And how do you plan to attain your commitments to yourself?