Advice about Facebook Messenger for Kids

Advice about Facebook Messenger for Kids

Facebook is rolling out a new version of Messenger aimed at kids.  Normally kids under the age of 13 are not allowed to sign up for a Facebook account, this is managed by the really hard to fool, birthday picker.

Is this a good idea, to give access to a powerful messaging app with their own logins and passwords?  Now parents will have to approve everyone that their child wants to communicate with, but this does open a couple other questions about safety and security.

According to Facebook, there is a high demand for kids who now are allowed by their parents to use tablets and smartphones to have access to Facebook Messenger.  I have to wonder, do our children, who are growing up steeped in non-traditional communication methods really need another avenue to avoid actual human interaction.  Nevermind the obvious safety and privacy concerns.

I feel that Facebook is rolling this out as a way to hook-em when they’re young.  The under 25 demo is leaving Facebook in droves for other platforms like Twitter and SnapChat.  Most kids don’t want to post their updates to a site that is shared with their grandparents.  Facebook isn’t as cool and unique as it used to be.

If Facebook can succeed in getting kids as young as 6 using their services, they will be the first social media platform these kids interact with, hopefully creating a user for life.  It’s the same strategy that Apple used in the 90’s by flooding the educational market with their computers.  Thinking that if kids got used to using their devices at a young age, they would continue using them as adults.

You can argue the success/failure of that approach for Apple.  Will this gamble work for Facebook, maybe, as long as they avoid any negative news that would be associated with this experiment going wrong.  Any news showing a child be exploited or there being anything untoward happening in their service will kill it before it has a chance.

So why would we need to give 6-year-olds an Instant Messaging service?  Why can’t they just us messenger on their parent’s device to have directly supervised conversations with grandparents, cousins, friends etc?  Are they so totally connected that they need to be reached all the time?  There is already so much research showing that the always-on connected life we lead now as adults is harmful, what will it do to our kids?

Kids need to have space to just be kids.  They also need to learn skills like talking on the phone, speaking to someone face to face, or even writing an email/letter.

The tendency of social media drives us to only present our more edited selves.  There is no space to be vulnerable or take a risk.  That’s why texting has become the most popular way to communicate with a cellphone than actually calling someone.  If you are speaking with someone you cannot take the time to craft the perfect responses or make sure you only come across a certain way.

This leads to a shallower level of communication.  Starting our kids at 6 or 7 years old to start operating in this form is bad for their still-developing brains.  Think I am crazy?  Try having a conversation with a 15-year-old and get them to look you in the eye.

So is there room for a messenger app for 6-13 year olds?  Maybe, I can’t think of one.  My kids (7 and 4) don’t even have their own “smart” devices let alone a Facebook account.  When my wife and I think they are ready we will have that discussion with them.  Until then, if they want to contact the grandparents, they can do with our supervision.

What do you think?  When is the right time to get your kid signed up for a Social Media/Messenger/Smart Device?  Let me know in the comments.

Vintage Camera Review: Olympus OM-1

Vintage Camera Review: Olympus OM-1

This post first appeared on my Photography blog: Zulu Fox Photo

I am just going to say it up front, this is a beautiful camera.  It is nice to look at, it is nice to hold, it is great to shoot, with a couple of caveats.  I fell in love with this camera the first time I saw it when it came in for repair (meter wasn’t working).  I usually focus on cleaning and repairing vintage Canon cameras, so having something different was also nice.  The lines on the camera, the colors, the way the knobs and buttons feel, feel like precision, which is great for something the size of a Pentax ME.

Before I even got the light meter working, I put a roll of film in it and set about to Sunny 16 my way through the backyard with the dogs.

That’s where things started to go a little wrong.  I had read a few reviews of the camera before I started shooting it and I was excited to get going, maybe a little too excited.  I am not a stranger to cameras from the early 70’s-early 80’s.  I have had a bunch of them come across my desk, thanks to a great partnership with a local camera shop, Southerland Photo.  They bring their vintage cameras for me to repair from time to time.  So if its a more budget-friendly level Nikon or Canon then I have probably held/fixed/shot it.

Back to the story, I look at a lot of these vintage cameras like vintage cars.  Some of them are really nice to look at, then you drive them.  No fault of the car, but state-of-the-art in 1970 is a far cry from where it is in the early 2010’s.  Go drive an old car sometimes, after the nostalgia wears off and you have to live with it awhile, the novelty wears off.  Things you take for granted in new models are missing from the older ones, this can be a good or a bad thing.  For the Olympus, it’s something you have to decide if you want to live with.

First things first.  The controls.  I will use the Canon AE-1 for example since it is my go-to vintage film camera.  The Olympus keeps only one control on the top, the ISO selector.  It is where the shutter speed selector is for the Canon (and Nikon).  Where is it on the Olympus?  At the base of the lens where it connects to the camera body, where you would normally select the aperture, in a manual shooting mode, on the Canon (and Nikon).  Where is the aperture ring?  Out at the end of the lens just past the focusing ring.  I kept missing it and unscrewing the lens filter.

Olympus OM-1

Inside, what is arguably one of the biggest and brightest viewfinders I have had the pleasure of using, is a little tiny, single needle, light meter.  It is the “get the needle in the middle” kind.  No other information.  No aperture, no exposure compensation, no speed indication, nothing.  You have to remove the camera from your eye to check your speed and aperture settings before taking the shot.  Now to be fair, the Canon doesn’t bring you much either, but at least you can see what aperture the camera is selecting in AE mode based on the speed you select, which you can’t see in the viewfinder.  The Nikon FE wins here. It has a small mirror that shows the current aperture on the lens ring. So there is a lot of unfamiliar fumbling around with the lens trying to get the needle to center.

Now if this is your first camera and it’s the only system you have ever known, then it’s probably great.  I had a tough time with it.  Not only are the nubs on the speed ring hard to feel for without looking, the DOF preview buttons feel about the same, so I kept trying to turn something that couldn’t turn.  Also, if you happened to pinch the lower button, past the speed ring, and twist, the lens would come off.  It’s like the designers wanted to put as much as possible in the control of your left hand.  I for one was not a fan and found the process really slow.  I don’t know how I would take pictures of faster moving objects without a lot of practice.

I didn’t get to try this process outside with a working light meter when I had film in the camera.  I later fixed the light meter (broken battery cable) and was able to test the camera indoors.  The needle is quick and responsive, but it’s better to pick what speed you want and then adjust the aperture to match.  That’s how I think when I am composing my pictures anyways.  I have a decent understanding of what the Depth of Field will be, so it’s about not getting a blurry picture with to slow a shutter speed.

This camera I think, would be really hard for the beginner.  There are a lot of good vintage film cameras out there, while nothing in the 70’s vintage is going to have a small learning curve, there are a few others that bring a few more conveniences to the shooter.  The all-mechanical nature of the Olympus is an advantage since the battery only runs the light meter.  The camera will operate perfectly fine without the battery.

A quick word about the battery, this camera was designed for a no longer available mercury battery.  Modern lithium and alkaline batteries will work, but their voltage is too high.  This causes poor readings in the light meter.  There is a fix that requires soldering a diode into the camera to reduce the voltage coming from the battery.  This is not an easy job.

Film loading is straightforward as far as film loading in these cameras goes.  Pull out the film leader, lay across the back of the camera, making sure not to touch the shutter curtains, feed a little bit into the takeup spool, wind, hit the shutter button, wind, shoot, do this till the counter says “1”.  To take the slack out of the film it is necessary to flip the “switch” in the front of the camera to “R” so you can rewind the film a little (or all the way when you are done shooting) make sure you flip it back off R before shooting or your film won’t advance.  You should see the crank wind as you advance the film.

So, I went out in the backyard, like I said to do some Sunny 16 shooting since I hadn’t repaired the battery wire yet.  I tried my best to get familiar with the different controls.  It’s hard to undo a lot of well-learned Canon muscle memory.  I kept trying to change the shutter speed by accidentally turning the ISO adjustment, which locks in place, and I kept turning the aperture selector instead of adjusting the focus.  I really wanted to like this camera, something so great looking, should not be so hard to use.  Kind of like a classic car.  They are great to look at and take for a spin on occasion but are really hard to use day-to-day.

Check out the creamy bokeh! And lens flare

Focus was a little off, it’s hard to get her to lay still

Sadly, once I finished the repair I had to take the camera back to the shop to be put on sale.  Not saying I couldn’t borrow it again in the future, but I think, for now, I will continue to appreciate it’s fine to design and sleek look across the counter.  I don’t know that it will ever make it back into my collection.  It’s a camera I enjoy, but I don’t think I would give it the use it deserves.

If you are in the market for a vintage camera, the Olympus OM-1 is a solid choice, as long as you understand what you are giving up.  This camera will not help you in any way.  I would recommend it to someone who has been taking pictures in manual modes for a while or is already familiar with the 35mm process.  If you are new to film, I would actually even recommend getting one of the much-maligned mid to late 80’s film SLRs.  They are closer in function to modern DSLRs and can usually be had for around $10 on eBay.  They take modern batteries and can even interchange with DSLR lenses.

If you have been shooting film for awhile and want to add a beautiful well-designed camera to your collection, you really can’t go wrong with the Olympus OM-1.  Just keep in mind the battery issue for the light meter.  Other than that, feel free to Sunny 16 all day long.

Did you like this review?  Please share it with your friends and on social media.  You can also leave a comment or email me via the Contact Us page.

Look for more reviews coming soon.

-Zulu Fox Photo

Tablets: Why do we need them

Tablets: Why do we need them

Really, why do people want or need what is basically a large smartphone that can’t make phone calls?  I have written about this before, but I figured it was time for an update.  Turns out there are a lot of reasons, many of which I am finding out since I have ditched the smartphone.  A tablet does really bridge the gap as a device between a smartphone and the laptop.

So where does the tablet fit, what are the advantages of the larger screen, faster processors and easier to see screens, due to there larger form factors.  The average smartphone screen is around 5.7 inches.  While small tablets are normally 7 inches.  That extra two inches of real estate can make a huge difference when viewing the screen for a long time.  The second advantage of the larger screen is that the chassis underneath can accommodate a larger battery for more use time between charges.

The tablet also offers more portability over a laptop.  The smaller slate design versus a laptops clamshell makes a tablet easier to slip into a large pocket or bag where a 13-inch laptop would not work.  So for reading or watching videos on the go, it’s hard to beat the size of the tablet.

So why is the tablet market so weak?  I think mostly it is that people are not wanting to spend $200-$500 for a bridge device.  The tablet was supposed to be the answer if not the replacement for the laptop for a lot of people, but that tide never really turned.  Even Apple has downsized their vaunted tablet lineup to just a couple of devices.  They position the iPad Pro as a full laptop replacement as long as you add the optional keyboard to it.  I have seen people out and about using the Pro in this way, I for one think typing on that keyboard feels a little unnatural.

Microsoft has also tried to be in the tablet as laptop space with the Surface Pro.  Jamming computer level hardware into a tablet form factor is no small feat.  They do manage to see a few of these devices but they also produced a Surface-branded laptop alongside it.  It seems if you are going to pay close to $900 for a tablet, you can get a really capable laptop for the same price and have about the same or better functionality.  Since a laptop does not have to hide all its internals behind the screen.

So that’s the high-end.  What about the flood of budget-friendly tablets?  Not really talking about the not-so-cheap iPad Mini 4.  That comes in at $350 but more like the Amazon Fire Tablets that are $50 for the 7-inch and $80 for the HD 8-inch.  Or the other off brand 7-inch tablets from various Chinese companies you have never heard of?

It’s in the sub $100 range that I think the tablet becomes a viable alternative to using your smartphone for media consumption, gaming, email and web browsing.  Now that I don’t have the smartphone to compete for my attention, I have really paid attention to the tablets that are out there.  I still have a great laptop for managing my website and writing these blog posts.  Since typing directly on a tablet/phone onscreen keyboard is a chore.  Still way better than trying to compose a text on my flip phone.

So what should you get in this cheapy range?  The undisputed king of the sub $100 tablet is the Amazon Fire line of tablets.  Well constructed, decent hardware and great support.  The drawbacks?  Well, they are plastic build, they don’t feel cheap.  The 7-inch tablet lacks an HD screen, but it still looks pretty good.  Has decent brightness.  Text from website looks a little fuzzy but not terrible.  At $50 with special offers (ads on the lock screen), you can buy 7 of these for every iPad mini.  Makes a great tablet for kids.  They are also way more durable than an iPad.

For a little bit more, about $30, you can get the Fire HD 8.  With an HD (720p) screen text is rendered really well and is easy to read.  Movies and shows look great from Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video.  Dual speakers also reproduce decent sound, some basic headphones or a Bluetooth speaker work nicely to fill the room with sound.   The screen is very responsive to touch inputs and the battery goes for about 12 hours in mixed use.

Amazon does run their own version of Android on these tablets and you technically can’t install apps from the Google Play store, there are ways around that.  The parental controls are second to none, which furthers the Fire as a great tablet to give to the kids.

So dollar for dollar when it comes to tablets unless you really want/need an iPad the Amazon tablets are the way to go.  They offer the best balance of performance and price.  If you can get over having an ad on the lock screen you can even save a couple of bucks.  The Fire HD 8 is probably your best bet.  The screen is not iPad Retina quality but works just fine for sending email, reading blog posts and watching videos.

What tablets do you think are worth the price?  Or do you think tablets are a waste of time and money?  Leave a comment below.  If you like this article please share it with your friends.


Going Back to the Flip Phone

Going Back to the Flip Phone

Why, in the age of the smartphone, would someone voluntarily go back to a flip phone?  I can hear you asking, “You run a Tech Blog, why would you do that!” Well, there are a few reasons why I have done it.  I will try to lay out a couple of them here for you.  Maybe it will convince you to give it a try, or make you clutch your smartphone that much tighter.  Let’s get one thing straight to start with, I am not going all Luddite.  This is just one area of my life I have chosen to take a simple approach too.

Can you even buy a flip phone anymore?

Turns out you can, you don’t even need to dig your old Motorola Razr out of the closet.  I was able to purchase a brand new Cingular Flip 2 from AT&T.  The phone is made by Alcatel and branded as a Cingular phone.  Cingular doesn’t really exist as a company anymore, it’s a brand name owned by AT&T.  This flip phone features a lot of not so backward features.  It operates in full 4G LTE mode, has Bluetooth connectivity, WiFi, and a built-in MP3 player.  For a “dumb phone” it’s pretty smart.  I can still check my email on the go if I want to.  Responding to the email, on the other hand, is a little more difficult.  The phone also allows you to listen to over the air FM radio if you have a pair of wired headphones plugged in to act as the antenna.  So not so bad and not your grandmother’s jitterbug either.

Since this is a tech site, let’s bring out the phone’s stats:


DESIGN

  • Size: 4.13in x 2.06in x 0.73in
  • Weight: 4.16oz
  • Color: Dark gray

MEMORY

  • ROM/RAM: 4GB/512MB
  • SD Support: Up to 32GB

FEATURES

  • Processor: MSM8909 Quad Core CPU 1.1GHz

OPERATING SYSTEM

  • KaiOS

DISPLAY SIZE

  • 2.8”

RESOLUTION

  • QVGA (320×240) TFT-TN

CONNECTIVITY

  • Network: GSM 850/900/1800/1900
  • 3G/4G/LTE
  • UMTS B2/4/5 FDD B2/4/5/7/12 MFBI
  • HD Voice: Yes
  • Wifi Specs: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth: 3.0
  • FM Radio
  • USB Type: Micro-USB
  • SIM Type: Nano
  • Others: A-GPS

BATTERY

  • Size: 1350mAh
  • Standby Time: 384 hours (16 days)
  • Talk Time: 8 hours (3G)

CAMERA

  • Main Megapixels: 2MP
  • Focus: FF
  • Angle: 60°
  • Main Camera Video: 720P @ 30fps

SOUND

  • Music Player
  • Supported Formats: PCM,MP3,AAC,AAC+,eAAC+
  • HAC Rating: M4/T4
  • Headset Jack Size: 3.5mm
  • Speaker Size (In Watts): 1 x 0.7W

IN BOX

  • Quick Start Guide
  • Charger
  • Battery
  • Safety and Warranty Information

*HD Voice is not available in all areas. HD Voice Requirements: To experience HD Voice,both parties on the call must be located in an AT&T HD Voice coverage area and have anAT&T HD Voice-capable device and SIM with HD Voice set up on their account. Incompatible Services or Features: The following services and features are currently incompatible with HD Voice: prepaid service, Smart Limits, Ringback Tones, andOfficeDirect and OfficeReach (for business customers). HD Voice is available at no additional cost; standard voice rates apply and are charged according to your wireless rate plan.


All of this flippy goodness was bought for the low price of $60 US, that’s right $60 bucks.  You can’t even get an iPhone’s screen repaired for that.  Buy two to have one as a backup for when you accidentally lose one.  These phones are not the bricks of old.  I have been using this phone for a couple of months and I don’t even notice it in my pocket.

So why did I switch to a flip?

Simple, simplicity.  A smartphone is designed to keep you engaged with it.  Call it FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), boredom, the need to be doing something with our hands, the fact we have forgotten how to be bored, or whatever, a smartphone keeps it all within reach.  Never before in human history has so much information been so easily available.  Try and think about the last time you were having a real in-person conversation with someone and one of you didn’t pull out a smartphone to fact check something on Google.  Does proving yourself instantly right or wrong bring anything better to the conversation?  Probably not.

I personally sit a desk all day with a computer in front of me.  A smartphone is an accessory to most of my day.  Why would I access the internet on its small screen when I have an awesome 24-inch monitor and a keyboard in front of me.  Same thing at home, I have a nice laptop and a tablet.  I was finding more and more I was limited by the smartphones smallish screen.  My smartphone was pretty awesome, it was no other than last years (2016) Google Pixel.

So it’s not like I had a crappy phone, I had a great one.  But I felt myself being more interested in it than what my kids were doing, or other things going on around me.  Sure a lot of it was my own self-discipline.  I wanted to not have the distraction of a smartphone around.  Just turning it off, of removing the apps, etc, wasn’t enough.  It’s like when I first tried to quit smoking a long time ago, I would keep a pack hidden in the house, “just in case” and I would always go back to them, maybe a little less.  The only way I was able to quit was just to remove them from my environment.  Same thing with the smartphone.  If I wanted to be better about not using it, I had to get rid of it.

These are just my reasons, if you are feeling the nagging that you need to do something about your smartphone use, or just want to have a good backup phone, the flip is the way to go.

What have I noticed?

Since I switched to the flip I find that I text people less.  Since it’s hard.  I never embraced T9 back when it was new, I was always the multi-button pusher.  I got pretty quick at it, and was kind of amazed how fast the muscle memory came back.  So now I call people.  It’s interesting how many people don’t like taking phone calls anymore.

I miss maps.  I have a horrible sense of direction (pull my man card now) and I used a smartphone and Google Maps as a crutch.  The only time I have found it would have been really helpful was when my older daughter came out to visit me in Washington DC.  We were wandering around seeing the sights, but we needed to find a Metro station.  I “knew” one was nearby, but not sure where exactly.  We had to *gasp* look at the many maps posted around the National Mall to figure out where to go.  We also double checked by asking someone.  Crisis averted.

I am more focused at work mostly in meetings, I usually only need small pieces of the overall meeting I am attending.  So it was easy to just pull out the smartphone and find something to distract myself till my part came up.  Now I am finding that being more present in the whole meeting has made me more productive since I am gathering more the contexted of the information I am collecting.

I also really notice other people on their phones.  Resturants are the biggest one, whole families sitting around staring at their phones and not talking to each other, or their conversations revolve around showing each other things they have found on their phones.  I am as guilty of this as anyone else.  I just don’t want a part of that right now.  My little kids tell great stories if I just really listen.

Will I ever go back to a Smartphone?

I won’t say I never will, the convenience of a smartphone does tend, to me, to outweigh the drawbacks.  Our culture is becoming more smartphone-centric, which is good and bad at the same time.  Since all the things that people use their phones for, don’t work once the power goes out.  Smartphones are great when they are working and have a good connection to the internet, not so much when they don’t.  It’s always a good idea to have a “back-up” communication system.

For now, I am enjoying the mental clarity that comes from not being constantly distracted.  Is it for everyone?  I don’t know, it works for me, but I am not everyone.  If you think you might be too involved with your smartphone, try turning it off, go to a flip phone for a couple of weeks, or months.  See how you feel.  Also, the lower data plans tend to be much cheaper.  As of this writing (late-2017), it looks like the unlimited plans are coming back, so it might not matter.

What do you think about giving up your smartphone?  Something you think you might try, or will they pry your iPhone from your cold dead hands?

Review: HP Chromebook 13 G1

Review: HP Chromebook 13 G1

I have been on a bit of a Chromebook kick lately.  I don’t make any apologies for it either.  I have been using as my primary device the HP Chromebook 13 G1.  Not the best name but it is what they call it.  This is one of the best Chromebooks, I think, you can get right now.  You don’t even need to spend the $999 on the new Pixelbook unless you want to, and that’s cool.

For the rest of us who like our Chromebooks in the sub-$1000 range, there are a few options for high-end machines that don’t break the bank.  For the price of a middle of the road Windows laptop and well below the usual asking price for a new MacBook there is the HP Chromebook 13 G1.  This is a quality built, aluminum chassis, 4k display, super thin, super light, task doing machine.

Stats


Let’s get the tech stats out of the way first, the G1 comes in either a 4gb RAM or 8gb RAM model.  There is also the choice of two processors, either the m3 or the m5.  My machine, that I use every day, is the m5 with 4gb RAM.  Both come with 32gb of onboard storage and the backing of Google Drive.  The other part that I think is great about the G1 is the MicroSD slot.  So if you need to quickly and easily expand the storage, you can put in up to a 128gb MicroSD.  I use the slot for importing the pictures from my Canon T3i.  The laptop is powered by a USB-C cable and includes two USB-C ports on the left side.  Also on that side is a USB 3.0 Type A (normal USB) and the headphone jack.  The MicroSD slot is by itself on the right side.

The laptop is powered by a USB-C cable and includes two USB-C ports on the left side.  Also on that side is a USB 3.0 Type A (normal USB) and the headphone jack.  The MicroSD slot is by itself on the right side.  On the deck is a top firing set of Bang and Olufsen speakers.  They aren’t the loudest speakers ever fitted to a laptop, but they sound good at full volume, again, laptop speakers in a device this thin are not going to be all the spectacular.

The screen is great!  I would put it up against my MacBook’s Retina any day.  True, the MacBook gets a little bit brighter but for where and when I am using this Chromebook, it suits me just fine.  There is also a webcam above the screen, should you need it.  The camera does fine for video chat on your favorite messaging service.

The hinge is quality and the screen does not flop around while you are typing or moving the laptop around.  This Chromebook doesn’t have a layflat screen nor is it a two-in-one or touchscreen.  If that is something you are looking for, I recommend the Samsung Plus or Pro.  The keyboard doesn’t flex under use and the keys are well spaced and have a nice muted “thunk” when you press them.  I find the travel to be just about perfect without feeling like I am bottoming out the keys.  I feel like the travel is more pronounced than the MacBook I use for work.

Using the Chromebook

I bought this Chromebook to take with me to a temporary duty assignment to Washington D.C.  I had been using my work MacBook as my primary computer for awhile, but since I would not be able to connect to my work network while I was away I needed something else.  I shopped for a used Mac and was not really happy with what I was finding.  I have had a string of Chromebooks so when I found the HP I was pretty excited.  Here was a Chromebook with a screen to rival the Mac, it’s in the 13-inch form factor which I think is about perfect, and a nice aluminum build.  It really checked all the boxes for me.  Also the fact that it is thinner than the MacBook Air was a nice plus.

I have talked at length on here about how the ChromeOS and Chromebooks fill in well for everything I need a computer for.  I send email, I update this blog, I edit my pictures in Lightroom.  Yes, Lightroom.  And since my Chromebook has access to the Google Play Store, I am able to use the App version of Lightroom, which I find to be better than the online version.

The Chromebook never misses a beat, just keeps humming along with whatever I ask of it.  The only two issues I have with the Chromebook are this: It gets hot!  Streaming video or even a long video chat makes the bottom get hot, not uncomfortable or painful, but noticeable if you have it on your lap.  The other thing I wish was a little better is the battery life.  Normal use I get about 8 hours out of a charge, thankfully, it recharges quickly.  I was used to the marathon battery life of the Acer Chromebook 14 that I had previously.  Neither of things are a dealbreaker for me.

Final Thoughts

The HP Chromebook 13 G1 is by far the best Chromebook I have been able to use so far.  Should I find a way to get a Pixelbook, I probably would.  But until then I am happy with the HP.  It looks good, it performs well and I can do everything I need to do.  Pick one up today, you won’t be disappointed.