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.

 

The State of Chromebooks – 2017

The State of Chromebooks – 2017

Google Chromebook Logo

 

It is not a secret that I am a huge fan of the Chromebook.  When it comes to a day-to-day laptop it is the best device for my needs.  The low cost and low power requirements of the ChromeOS means I can get high dollar like performance from a laptop with stats that would choke when trying to run Windows 10.

As we move more and more online the need for high horsepower laptops and desktop machines are dwindling.  Is there a market for those computers, yes, very much so.  I would say that for 99% of computer users a Chromebook would be a perfect fit.  I am talking about people who normally use their smartphone as their primary computing device, to do things like email, social media, and online shopping.  I am not talking about those who need to run applications like Photoshop or Microsoft Access.  If you need to run those kinds of applications, then you probably have a computer that can do that.

If you are the kind of person who likes to wander down to the local coffee shop or library and want to have the ease of creation that comes from a laptop form factor, then look to the Chromebooks.  They have come a long way from the “ugly” cheap looking plastic clamshells that they started as.

Major manufacturers, that you have actually heard of, are starting to put some serious design behind the Chromebook platform.  Samsung currently has two very good looking laptops, the Chromebook Plus and the Chromebook Pro.  There are not cheap machines in the original Chromebook sense of the word.  These are premium devices with aluminum construction and touchscreens.  The Pro even comes with a Pen interface so you can use the tablet function like a piece of paper.  Something the Galaxy Note users would be right at home with.

I personally use an HP Chromebook 13 G1.  I actually use it as my go to, day to day laptop, over my 13 inch MacBook Pro.  The Chromebook is lighter, faster and handles all the tasks I can currently think to use it for.  It has two USB-C ports, a USB 3.0 and MicroSD card reader.  While it only has 32gb of storage on board, the seamless connection to my 100gb Google Drive storage means I never run out of space.

Running Android apps on my Chromebook is something that adds another layer of usefulness.  I can take pictures with my Canon SLR and transfer them to my Chromebook, then edit the pictures in Adobe Lightroom and then upload them to my Instagram.  All from the same device.  Can’t do that with my Mac.

While the heft of my Mac makes it seem more substantial and the retina 5k screen is gorgeous, the HP I run has a 4k resolution that looks almost as good, if not quite as bright, but then, I paid $350 for my HP, not $1,300 for the Mac.  So some compromises are made, but nothing that is a deal breaker.

With the announcement of the Google Pixelbook last week, we are seeing a new page in the Chromebook evolution.  This Chromebook will be the first purpose-built laptop to take advantage of the Chromebook/Android Apps ecosystem.  The inclusion of the dedicated Google Assistant button also is a sign that Google is committed to continuing to improve the Chromebook experience.

The Pixelbook comes in at an eye-watering $999 for the basic model.  Is this price crazy?  Not really, when you compare it to most peoples other main computing devices, their phones.  The iPhone X is going to base retail for $999 and the iPad Pro with a keyboard comes in pretty close to the $1,000 mark also.  This should put the Pixelbook in the running for a lot of people looking for a powerful/futureproof laptop that can handle the day-to-day tasks they expect.  And the Pixelbook looks great also.

So, where are we in the state of Chromebooks?  Bright.  Chromebooks are starting to shake off the perception as cheap, throwaway devices, and are starting to be taken seriously as a viable alternative to Windows or Apple based laptops.  Now there are some cheap Chromebooks out there, and they are a value especially when compared to an Android tablet at the same price point.  I think the sweet spot for a Chromebook is around $400.  At that range, you can usually get one that is either a standard laptop or a 2-in-1 (you can fold it over to use like a tablet).  Touchscreens are becoming more the standard than the exception.  Backlit keyboards are also becoming more common also.

When shopping for a Chromebook I would say, as a baseline, look for at least 4gb of RAM and a 32gb Hard Drive, which will be in the form of eMMC or SSD.  The processors should be the latest in Intel Mobile chips Core m5 or Core m7, the 7 will drive the price up a little more, but if you tend to have a lot of tabs open or want to do some Photoshop type work, the faster processor will come in handy.

No matter what you are looking for in a laptop, there is sure to be a Chromebook out there to fit your need.  I use a laptop every day and I do not ever find myself really needing one of the “mainstream” operating systems.  The Chromebook fits perfectly into my life, and I think the ChromeOS system will only get better from here.

 

Get the latest Chromebooks from Amazon

The latest from #madebygoogle

The latest from #madebygoogle

Google no longer wants to be seen as strictly a search engine and house for all the worlds information.  They want to also be seen as a hardware company.  Stop me if you have heard this before *cough* Microsoft *cough* but maybe Google can do what the big M failed to do.

With the announcement of several new and updated devices on the 4th of October, Google is really looking for new ways to get people an exclusive path to the information and services Google provides.  At the forefront, again this year, is the Google Assistant.  Google answer to Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa services.  While in my experience the Google Assistant is the most helpful/useful, we are a far cry from the easy natural language searches and queries like they have on Star Trek.

That is where I would like to see this “AI” services get to, not just taking the words I say and turning them into a search query, but actually acting on what I am asking.  While Google Assistant does handle simple tasks, like setting timers or pulling up videos on Youtube, it does lack in other items that I would like. For example, I would like for it to be able to open an app and perform a task without me needing to actually interact with my device.  That will require 3rd party developers to integrate the service with their apps.  This is a big ask for a lot of developers.

So what is Assistant getting baked into?  Well for the home it is being integrated into the new version of Google Home, and the new Google Home Mini and Google Home Max.  Smart speakers that work a lot like Amazon Alexa speakers.  The assistant works with these devices to allow you to set timers, look up information, play your music and control your smart home devices, like the Nest Thermostat.  There is not a lot of shopping integration like Alexa, but then, Google doesn’t really have a storefront behind its device.  Alexa’s sole purpose is to make it easy for you to buy things on Amazon.

The highlights of the show were the Google Pixel 2 set of phones, in 5 inch and 5.8 inch (XL) flavors, just like last year.  The phone sport new screen designs and materials.  The camera has been improved and the processors are the latest from Qualcomm.  The phones still respond to the “Ok, Google” wake command but you can now also squeeze the phone to start an Assistant session.

The product they announced that I am most excited about is the new Google Pixelbook, which is a Chromebook with a dedicated button on the keyboard for the Assistant.  Think of it like the Window’s key we are all pretty used to by now.  The Pixelbook will also be the most powerful Chromebook ever built.  Packing quality materials like Aluminum and Glass for the chassis and a UHD screen.  Coming in at 12.8 inches it is in line with a MacBook Pro.  Even in price.  The base model Pixelbook will set you back $999 for a Core i5 processor with 8gb of RAM and a 128gb Solid State Hard Drive.  That’s a lot of overkill for a Chromebook.  Those stats do make the laptop future proof.

I personally run a Chromebook with 4gb of RAM and a 32gb drive and I don’t ever run into any performance issues, except, when I am editing a large number of my digital photos in the Lightroom app.  This new Pixelbook should be able to hand those kinds of tasks with relative ease.  For the average Chromebook buyer, or someone looking for an alternative to Windows or Mac laptops, the Pixelbook might be more than what’s needed.  For $1000 you can buy a well spec’d Windows laptop or a low-end Mac Laptop and not have to deal with the few limitations that Chromebooks do have.

All in all, I liked what Google put out as far as new products and I am looking forward to maybe getting a chance to try them out soon.  This tech right now is getting more and more ubiquitous so it is really hard to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.  I don’t really see anything really groundbreaking on the horizon.  I think it will be a few more years before we see another iPhone like product release that will completely change how we interact with our tech.

Getting Your Message Out

In the current world, we live in, there are several avenues in which to get your message out to the audiences you hope to address.  With that, there are several challenges that are created in order to elevate your message above the noise.  The old models and metrics of market share and audience reach do not really work anymore.  New metrics are needed to really bring to light how effective a media channel is.  This paper will cover some of what shortcomings are in the market space around metrics to judge how a specific media channel is doing.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Blogs, Traditional News Outlets, Face-to-Face, and other personal interactions.  Each of these channels and their various offshoots present their own challenges are require a tailored media/message approach.  It is the basics of knowing your audience and how to reach them.  A long post on Facebook does not translate to Twitter, which is limited to 140 characters.  Instagram is visual where a blog can have more words and ideas than a picture can convey.  Traditional News Outlets are restricted to what they can say or what stories they will run based on how the message will be received by their viewers and advertisers.  Face-to-Face is expensive and time consuming.  So how do we manage each of these channels?

Let us look at social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al) each service tries to do basically the same thing in a different way.  Never before in human history can a group or even lone person have access to such a large audience, relativity unfettered.  No longer is the story controlled by those who own the network.  Facebook alone has almost 4.8 billion pieces of content posted daily, according to Zephoria.com. That makes it that much harder for the message you are trying to put out has to compete with billions of other pictures, news stories, videos, status updates, and ads.  Instagram sees 95 million photos and videos per day according to Hootsuite.com again, saturation will cause your message to get lost in the noise.

So how do you measure a successful social media post?  Is it the number of likes or views?  I don’t think so.  The goal of a social media post should be user interaction.  It really shows engagement beyond just a click.  Some users click like on everything that pops up in their newsfeed, whether they read it or not.  To counter that, someone who takes the time to share a social media post, to their own followers, curating if you will, something they felt was important is a much better gauge on the success of a post.  Even better is the number of times a post caused a user to click a link through to the source material.  If you can convert a social media user over to interact with your website, you have them and can almost guarantee that they are truly interested in the content you are providing.  Conversion is the goal in social media.

Blogs, on the other hand, provide a way for an organization to present more long form news and information articles.  The goal of a blog is beyond simple page views, again you are looking for interaction.  You want someone who is reading your blog to continue beyond the article that was linked from the viewer’s original source, usually social media, and then you want them to share the article to their friends.  One of the worst statistics you can see on a blog is a high bounce rate.  This would mean people are coming to your article, reading it and leaving.  Or not even reading the article, due to any number of reason, normally slow page loading.  The goal for a blog is to also create engagement, page views are not enough.  The metric to check is comments and shares.  It shows that your articles connected with readers in a way that caused them to want to be part of the conversation, not just a consumer.

Traditional Media presents several new challenges that have been created by social media.  The pressure is on to provide worthwhile content that delivers ears/eyeballs to the advertisers.  In this case, the content is not the commodity but the consumer is.  Your message will not be carried if the media outlet doesn’t think it will bring enough value to their advertisers that are paying for the airtime your story occupies.  With so many avenues open to the message generator the future of traditional media is quickly becoming outmoded, just no one has told them yet.  It is expensive and does not create a ton of ROI.

Face-to-Face is a great way to get your message out on a more personal level.  Humans still enjoy and connect more with a face to face conversation, in whatever format, then they do an online interaction.  Forums like TEDTalks and South-by-Southwest that bring several experts together for short talks are very popular and easy for a large audience to digest.  Long form lectures and presentations attract a very narrow scope of people who are generally in a core group of people who are truly interested in the content.  It is hard to attract the casual observer into something like this.

Today people expect to receive their news and information in small digestible quick bites.  Media consumption has gone to the buffet model and less the meal model.  People today will read dozens of news stories and watch a couple of videos and gain more information on a subject in 30 minutes than someone would have reviewed in a whole day not 10 years ago.  Without changing your model away from long form snippets to a quick bite format your message will be lost.

Why do lithium-ion batteries catch fire

Why do lithium-ion batteries catch fire

www.avgguytech.com - Exploding Batteries

 

It’s a matter of chemistry

Lithium-ion batteries are in everything nowadays.  Their lightweight and high capacity make them great for all kinds of mobile applications.  They can be found in wireless headphones, laptops, cell phones, kids toys and portable speakers.  If it needs a battery and has a large power draw, chances are the Lithium-ion battery is inside.  These batteries can be safely charged over and over again without issues or developing a cell memory.  Cell memory happens in older batteries when they are not charged and discharged properly.  I have discussed it before in an article about keeping your batteries in top shape.

So what happens that can cause these batteries, or really any battery to explode?  Let’s look at a couple of factors.

What is a Lithium-Ion Battery?

A lithium battery is a small cell that uses lithium compound that allows for the movement of electrons from one pole to the other.  I am really oversimplifying it.  Long story short, the Lithium is the medium used for power generation.  If you want to read more, here is the Wikipedia article about it.  It goes deeper into the chemistry than I can.  These batteries, or more accurately, power cells, provide a lot of the characteristics of a power source that is great for small scale applications.

What goes wrong?

The simplest explanation is that the battery/cell contains a flammable material.  Now, this is housed is a protective case that makes up the exterior of the battery.  The problem comes from when the battery is either overcharged or allowed to drain completely.  The chargers for these batteries and the batteries themselves are supposed to have circuits built in to prevent an overcharge/discharge situation.  Without a charge in the cell, the lithium gets hot and the gasses expand and explode.

While most battery manufacturers follow strict quality control to ensure the cells they produce are safe, some cut corners to lower the cost of their cells, i.e. the batteries sold to Samsung for the Galaxy Note 7.  These batteries were allowed to overcharge and that caused the explosion.  This is also what was happening with the “hoverboards”  cheap batteries in cheap toys, not the best mix.

What can you do?

First thing is to check the battery once in awhile, now this is harder with some of the newer smartphones that the battery is not removable.  But for your easier to access devices, it’s a good idea to pull the battery out once in awhile and make sure it is not damaged in any way.  If you see cracks or bulging stop using it right away.  Don’t throw the battery away but take it to an electronics recycler.

If you are using something and it starts to smoke and get hot, the best thing to do is dump it in sand.  Do not put water on it.  If you do not have any sand, just throw the item far from you and allow it to explode.  Then take care of the resulting fire.  Once the gas escapes from the cell the fire should put itself out.  If the fire catches other items on fire, that is a problem, and the fire you should fight if you can.

Also, make sure you check with the consumer safety groups in your country.  They usually maintain a list of items with known issues.  If there is a recall, make sure you stop using the item and return it as directed.

Bottom Line

These batteries are safe but need to be respected, like anything else.  They power our modern lives and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  Some general awareness of the explosives you are carrying in your pocket or on your head is something to be aware of, but not afraid of.

Film Friday – Nikon FE

Film Friday – Nikon FE

www.avgguytech.com - Nikon FE Review

 

Welcome to the first of I hope many, Film Friday reviews

Nikon FE 35MM Film SLR

As I talked about in a previous post, I have been looking for ways to slow down and go analog once in awhile.  I stumbled back into film photography about a month ago when I picked up some film cameras for my daughter.  After checking out the cameras and feeling the action of advancing the film winder and listening to the mirror slap when opening the shutter, just stirred something inside of me.  I thought I should check it out for myself.  So rather than just using one of the two cameras she got, I went out and picked up one of my own from Craigslist.

That camera was a very nice condition Pentax ME.  It even came with the receipt from its original purchase in March 1978.  That’s a year and month before I was even born.  There is something that touches your soul a little when you handle something that predates yourself.  For me, it’s a connection to a simpler time.  Before our digital selves started overrunning our analog brains.

So that camera sent me off on a shopping spree of sorts.  I started looking on eBay for other examples of the Pentax ME.  I found one for $.99, and bought it.  Now I had two.  Then I read some more reviews about the Pentax ME and I found out about the black one, mine is chrome, so I had to find one of those.  I was able to get it as part of a lot of three cameras, the black ME, a Pentax P30t and a Pentax MV1.

One day after work I checked a local thrift shop, the Downtown Rescue Mission here in Huntsville.  In the case, they had a Pentax ME Super, which is the next model after the ME I was currently using.  It was complete with a lens, which honestly is worth more than the camera body, but was in rough shape.  They wanted $49 for it, which was way more than I was willing to pay for a camera in the condition it was in.  While chatting with the manager about a lower price he mentioned he had an old Nikon FE in the back.  I didn’t know much about the Nikon’s at the time, but I knew it’s a great name, and always has been.  The manager brought it out and mentioned he thought it was broken since it wouldn’t wind and the back wouldn’t open.  It also was lacking a lens.

I told him how I was getting into film and was interested in both cameras.  He let me have them both for $24.  Pretty good deal.  So take make short story long, I ended up with a great black Nikon FE.  I had purchased a Nikon EM a few days before so I had a lens for it at the house.

A brief history of the Nikon FE

From Wikipedia: “The Nikon FE is an advanced semi-professional level, interchangeable lens, 35 mm film, single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. It was manufactured by Nikon in Japan from 1978 to 1983 and was available new from dealer stock until c. 1984. The FE uses a metal-bladed, vertical-travel focal plane shutter with a speed range of 8 to 1/1000 second, plus Bulb, and flash X-sync of 1/125th second. It had dimensions of 89.5 millimeters (3.52 in) height, 142 mm (5.6 in) width, 57.5 mm (2.26 in) depth and 590 grams (21 oz) weight. It was available in two colors: black with chrome trim and all black. As on the FM, its model designation did not appear on the front of the camera, but was engraved as a small “FE” preceding the serial number on the rear of the housing.”

Look and Feel

In the hand, this is a hefty camera.  It’s heavy by today’s DSLR (Digital) standards but not uncomfortable to hold.  Really the weight and heft is reassuring to a novice photographer like me.  I don’t think the occasional bump is going to break anything on this camera.  The weight is a throwback to a bygone era of things being overbuilt in a way.  The more lightweight materials and processes were not available to the engineers of the mid 70’s.  The fact this camera still works 30+ years later is a testament to their abilities.

The camera is comfortable to hold and operate.  Speaking of operation, this camera will not work without the batteries installed.  The batteries really only run the light meter, but the lack of power does prevent the winder from operating, hence the problem in the store.  This camera takes 2 “357” style batteries, or LR44 these should last about a year unless you leave the light meter on.  There is an on-off switch on the left side of the camera, also the light meter stays off if the winder is pushed all the way into the body of the camera.  If you want the meter to work, you have to put the winder in the “ready” position.  Which is just off the back of the camera.  I found this to be a little annoying since the winder handle hits you in the forehead while looking through the viewfinder.

Using the camera

Loading the film is easy, it works like every other 35mm SLR of the time, open the back by pulling up on the rewind knob.  The trick with this camera is you have to push in the lock button in order to pull the rewinder all the way up to release the back.  This is the other thing I couldn’t get to work in the store.  Put the film in the left side, pull out on the leader, feed into the spool on the right side, work the winder, waste a frame, repeat one more time and your off and running.  The manual does state to repeat this process until the film counter shows 0.  I did this and got exactly 36 frames from my roll.

Here is a great intro to shooting 35mm film, it shows the loading process and gives you a couple of great tips to get started, if you are new to this hobby also.

 

 

www.avgguytech.comThe Nikon FE does allow for automatic or manual operation.  If you put into an automatic mode,  the camera will select the correct shutter speed for you based on the light available.  This system is called aperture-priority autoexposure.  Basically, the camera knows what aperture (the opening in the lens) you have selected, the amount of light coming in, and then when you press the shutter release, the camera uses the correct speed to expose the picture.  Sounds complicated I know.  But it takes some of the guess work out of the picture taking experience.
If you want to go manual, then both needles in the viewfinder work together.  You select your aperture on the lens and the shutter time on the knob above your right index finger.  When the green and black needles line up, you should have a perfectly exposed picture.  If you want to experiment or get a different look, you can over or under expose by a stop with either shutter speed or aperture.  This is beyond my skills right now.  I am still working to get pictures that are well exposed and framed correctly.  One thing I found with the viewfinder is that is only illuminated by the ambient light, so if you are shooting in low light or in a shadow, it’s hard to see the needles.

You can also set the camera to do a double exposure, that is, exposing the same frame of film twice.  How you do that is, take a picture, then before you wind for the next shot, hold the button under the winder while you advance the winder.  This resets the shutter without advancing the frame.  You can get some cool effects with this.

www.avgguytech.com Double Exposure

The FE is also setup for flash photography, but I am not quite there yet.  I found it handled low light indoor shots well, but did let some shadows creep in.  Again, I am still learning the photography process, so most of the picture taking issues are mine, not the camera.

Taking Pictures

To try out the camera I took it to downtown Montgomery, AL to take pictures around the Alabama State capital.  It was a bright and sunny afternoon, so I felt the light would be good to not challenge my feeble skills to much.  Here are a couple of the shots I captured:

 

Bottom Line

www.avgguytech.comThe Nikon FE is a great camera if you are looking to get back into, or start with film photography, it is a camera that will grow with your skills for sure.  It is easy enough to be approached by a beginner and advanced enough to offer the features you need to take more control over your pictures in the future.  You can usually find them on eBay for under $100.  I will also be starting to sell them also via a new page I will be setting up in the near future.  I have taken to film photography and I am excited to get others involved also.  So grab a camera and some film and get shooting.

The Nikon FE also can use almost any lens Nikon ever made in their F mount connection.  So you could even take the lens off a brand new Nikon Digital SLR and put it on this camera, and shoot it in manual.  It’s really kinda amazing.  Try and find that kind of compatablity anywhere else.

 

 

One tip, you can still buy film at Walmart, I recommend 400 ISO to start, it’s a good all purpose film.  You can also have Walmart develop, but I would recommend trying to find a local film lab or use a couple of the mail order ones instead.  Just personal experience.

Good luck and good shooting!  Remember, the best camera is the one you have with you.

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