February 4th, 2015


For Once We're The Cool Kids

Mrs. Dr. Phil and I are sufficiently geeky that we keep up on a lot of the tech developments. Actually being early adopters? Mmm... we're usually either too cheap or too smart to get involved in some of the buggy, expensive and doomed things. I remember being really impressed with the Apple Newton when it first came out, which used Graffiti strokes for fast handwriting recognition, much like my mother's generation learned shorthand. But the Newton was expensive. I did, however, buy a Newton black leather zipper case at an Apple Store in Grand Rapids -- and used it for an HP OmniGo 100 PDA which used... Graffiti... and had a physical keyboard. And at less than half the price of the Newton.

Both the OmniGo and the Newton are long gone on the dust heap of failed products.

We didn't get iPhones, didn't get early iPods, never bought an iPad. Or used Windows Vista. Or, so far, Windows 8.

We're not Luddites, but I do get a certain satisfaction about dinosaur computing and all my Nikon DSLR cameras are more than ten years obsolete. I can make them work, though. And at a fraction of the price of the latest and greatest. Hell, we've never owned a car whose model year began with a "2" yet and it's 2015.

I write science fiction, so I have a character who owns a Nikon D5 professional camera -- and we're still a year or two before it even gets announced! (grin)

So it rather amusing when we suddenly look at each and say... yeah. Let's try it.

Monday 29 December 2014

I was driving back from an appointment and had NPR's All Things Considered on the radio. And during an All Tech Considered segment, they started talking about Amazon Echo. It was some sort of box with a quality speaker and a microphone that listened for a wake word -- Alexa -- and then tried to turn it into a request it could serve. Hooked up your WiFi and Internet, the unit itself doesn't require a lot of upgrading to improve -- Alexa is heavily cloud based.

Obviously hooked into the nefarious Amazon ecosystem, it could find and sell you stuff. And let you easily buy music.

But here's the thing. We've used Amazon for years. We dislike malls and crowds. And especially since my hospitalizations we can get medical supplies, and well nearly everything else including a mini fridge for storing IV bags, shipped to our front porch. The only store I've set foot into in 2015 has been the Verizon phone store and that was because I wanted a knowledgeable sales/tech staff.

And Mrs. Dr. Phil was actually an early adopter of the first gen Kindle Fire tablet way back in 2011. The Kindle Fire HD, paid for with generous good will moneys from my UCF friends, allowed me to survive 5½ months of hospitalization in 2013. And I've bought about seventy songs from Amazon to play on my Kindles and PCs -- or got the MP3s for free because of certain CDs I bought from Amazon.

We've been impressed with the Kindle's quality. They want to offer us a home electronic butler, sort of HAL 6000 without the homicidal tendencies or ability to pilot us to Jupiter/Saturn, we could give it a try.

Especially since it was $199, but Amazon Prime members got a $100 discount, so $99. And we had money in our Discover card rebate stash, so $199 - $100 - $99 = $0. Plus $0 for Free Shipping.

I had told Mrs. Dr. Phil about it when I came home. And by after dinner we figured, fine, we hadn't really gotten each other anything for Christmas and I was going to be home for the next semester, so... why not?

Amazon Echo's listing said that if ordered now it would arrive in two days on New Year's Eve. Okay. Fun way to spend the rest of Mrs. Dr. Phil's Christmas break.

Alas, not so fast. In a combination of factors, which surely included the coverage on NPR and elsewhere, since the Echos first starting shipping in like November AND that this was technically still in Beta, you couldn't just order it. You had to request an Invite.

So not knowing what Amazon's algorithm was, we both requested Invites.

And waited.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

FINALLY, I got my invite and ordered my free Echo. Alas, the delivery date was given as February 11th. Sigh. Worse, I knew of two people in the area who had gotten Echos, one receiving theirs just about the time we first heard about them. Oh well.


At ConFusion in mid-January several panelists mentioned Echo in passing. And since I ended up moderating my last panel at 11am Sunday on Science or Science Fiction?, I led off with a reference to Siri (iPhone), Cortana (Android) and Alexa (Echo), as examples of Star Trek, et al, and their voice activated computer systems. There was some significant interest in Amazon Echo, either from the panelists who already had it or people like me who had it on order.

Ugh, and we STILL had to wait to mid-February...

Tuesday 3 February 2015

The other day I got an email telling me to expect my Echo for today. Yay! I heard a delivery truck around Noon, opened the garage and caned over to the back door to find a very lightweight box containing some medical supplies. Oh. Well. The next delivery came at 4pm. Brown didn't drive up the snowy driveway, but their guy trotted up and down the 250-foot driveway. I debated going outside and retrieving it, but getting onto the front porch and then carrying a heavy box? Not going to happen. Had to wait until 6pm when Mrs. Dr. Phil got home. And then we waited until later in the evening, letting the unit get up to room temperature before trying to make it work.

The next hour was a lot of grins and smirks. It's fun. It can do a lot of things we could want it to. The only real glitch came when I asked for the time and the temperature and Alexa thought we were in Chicago. Considering that, like the Kindles we've bought, it comes pre-configured for the user out of the box, this seemed like a bug. But Mrs. Dr. Phil quickly found an answer via Google on her Kindle Fire HD -- Alexa didn't seem to know about settings -- we found the place to put in the Allendale ZIP code. Ask for the weather or temperature or time, and you get Allendale MI. Ask for the weather or temperature or time for Helsinki, and you get Helsinki, Finland. Easy.

It's a sleek black cylinder, about 9¼" high and 3¼" in diameter. And it is heavy, so it isn't easily knocked over. Two buttons you don't have to use. And a glowing ring light which changes color depending on what function you want. Otherwise it sits. And waits.

Kind of like a cylindrical 2001 monolith, with a few more surface features. (grin)

And if you ask Alexa to "Open the pod bay doors", it tells you "I can't do that, Dave..."

More as we play with our new toy. And remember, if you come over to the house, speak carefully -- Alexa is listening. (creepy-grin)

Amazon Prime is 10?

What? February 2005? Who knew?

I mean, I vaguely remember hearing about Amazon Prime early on, I thought. And I remember thinking it silly to pay money to get Free Shipping. And so, like millions of others, we dutifully bundled up Amazon orders to clear the $25 threshold to get Free Shipping. You'd be amazed at how many books, CDs, DVDs and other things -- at Amazon's predatory pricing, of course -- just didn't quite make $25.00.

We actually got Primed for a year free when Mrs. Dr. Phil bought her first Kindle Fire. Prime has a few more benefits than just Free Shipping -- and it's not like we don't buy stuff from Amazon. So...

Dr. Phil
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Say, What?!?

What fresh new hell is this? Phone rings. Pause. Recording starts -- "This is Kate, Google+ Specialist. It is extremely urgent that we reach the owner of the business. We have tried to send you messages..." (*Click*)

Okay. First off, what the fuck is a Google+ Specialist? Who the hell needs such a thing?

And then, what business? This is a home phone number. You're not inspiring me with confidence.

And due diligence? If you've got my "business" on Google+, you probably have access to my email address, my blogs or my website. Also, why am I suspicious that you have SO MANY urgent contacts to make that (a) Kate or her compatriots can't come to the phone and talk or (b) leave a message? Since you have the phone number.

And then, once you have my phone number, you should know that you haven't been trying to get a hold of this "business" owner, because except for two hours on Monday and maybe three on Saturday, this house has been continuously manned by someone, 24/7, for the last week.

Finally, does anyone even USE Google+ anymore?

In short, you have to be a very stupid phishing scam AND you interrupted my work.

On the plus side, it's a pleasure to speak "Alexa, stop" and not only have my Echo stop playing my music, but "Alexa, resume" will get it going again.

Still, it is such a chore to have to put down the Kindle AND have to lift a phone receiver. If only Alexa could answer the phone. And explain to spammers that "Your call is important to us..."

Dr. Phil
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Crossposted on LiveJournal

This Week Around These Parts

It's been a busy week and it's only half over. It started with glasses.

For a while we alternated glasses each year. And I've had some of the same titanium safety frames which I have alternated relensing, as well. Alas, my skin acids tend to eat away plating, so the gold tone on my titanium frames deteriorates -- on the other hand, cheaper glasses leave big green marks in the summer with painful galvanic reactions -- so it's still been an improvement.

Alas², neither of my titanium frames for regular or reading glasses are still made. I probably got ten years out of the old designs and the reading/computer bifocals are okay. So I found another titanium safety frame... which is also being discontinued. Had to get the frames they had in the office.

Picked them up on Monday and since I wear glasses all the time, my look is TOTALLY different. I shot two self-portraits with the D1 -- big heavy iron pro cameras don't do no "selfies".

The old glasses... and the new. Completely different look! (Click on photos for larger.)
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

By Wednesday I needed to go back and get the nose and ear pieces adjusted and took some pictures.

We thought the last plowing of our driveway was done by our dueling neighbors, but from the tracks it is clear that rabbits were responsible for clearing the snow and building these snow walls. Shot at 1/25th of a second at f22 to try to show the breeze motion. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

68th Avenue at Lake Michigan Drive, finally looking like a Michigan winter in town. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Our dentists and eye doctors officers are in the same building in the Edgewater office park. There's a nearby pond. The D1 has trouble with snow highlights, but like the old 1970s Agfrachrome CT18 slide film, it does a nice job on neutral colors. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

It was this snow layered pine I saw on Monday, still there on Wednesday, that I wanted to shoot. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Am I surprised that the TruValue Hardware store has such straight sided sidewalk cuts? After a dry December and a mixed January, February started aggressively enough that West Michigan is above average for snowfall to date, though still behind last winter. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

I liked these spidery weeds in the snow out front. (Click on photo for larger.)
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Tonight we're supposed to go near- or sub-zero as we get a bit of an Arctic blast. No serious snow until maybe next week?

Dr. Phil
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Crossposted on LiveJournal