Friday, December 25, 2015

A holiday gift from Microsoft? Depends on your point of view...

If you are using Windows 10, you may have received a gift from Microsoft sometime during the holiday season in the form of the first major update to Windows 10. Skype and Skype Messenger are a part of Windows 10; you can change the colors of the title bars of active windows (yaay); the Start menu may include advertisements (boo); and there's a "find my device" feature similar to Apple's popular "find my iPhone/iPad" feature. GPS location services must be turned on in Windows settings and the device has to be turned on and Windows 10 loaded at least as far as the login screen in the background for this to work, although you can set an option to periodically send the device location to Microsoft's servers so if it's lost, you can retrieve that location. There's an excellent article with specifics at the howtogeek.com website; see


Samsung's new Galaxy View tablet is a carry-around television set...

Millenials may call this a tablet, but those of us that are of the baby boomer set will think of this as a tv set you can drag all over the house.  With its mammoth 18.4 inch screen and power-on one touch access to Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Showtime, Crackle, and more, this is one tablet that's clearly designed for entertainment. You can add more services to the startup menu, setup of your services is as simple as with any Android tablet (this one is running Android lollipop) and the Galaxy View runs smoothly with Comcast's xFinity app and with the DirecTV app.

(The drawback is the $600 price tags; for that kind of cash, you could pick up two 32-inch flat screens, set both to start up loading a Roku stick or a Fire TV Stick, and get similar choices in entertainment.)  If you are curious, you'll find the Samsung View here on Amazon.com-

Samsung View

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that in some ways, we are letting our tech get out of hand???

I’m an acknowledged lover of most things tech (the geekier, the better, that’s my motto much of the time), but I can admit to being somewhat resistant to certain new trends. I’m referring to the increasing amounts of social media interfacing that’s being packed into the newest cars coming off the production lines, both stateside and abroad. Excuse me, but personally, I do NOT want my car telling all of my Facebook friends exactly where on the Interstate I happen to be at a given point in time, and I most certainly do not want it telling the local authorities how fast I am driving around the Charlotte Motor Speedway… uh, I mean I-485. (Some of us here clearly think that these are one and the same, but I suppose that is irrelevant to this rant.) Nor do I want my spouse’s Volvo placing itself in a Google+ circle with every other car in the condo parking lot, or tweeting to strange 18-wheelers that are on our tail. Call me old-fashioned here, but I will settle for the fact that my Chevy truck starts every time I turn the key, and does an admirable job in the western Carolina mountain snow if I happen to be in the area during the winter and kick the trans into 4WD. I do NOT want it talking to Facebook. EVER.  The trend just seems rampant of the kind of technology that we’ll someday regret. Perhaps it’s due to the flashbacks of the out-of-control NX-5s chasing Will Smith in the tunnel in the movie, “I, Robot.” Although I will admit, when I first saw that film, I sooooo wanted the Audi that Smith was driving. Still do…

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NASA will pay you $5,000 to eat really bad food, and you get to spend 4 months in Hawaii! (seriously)…

NASA will pay you to eat really bad food, and you get to spend 4 months in Hawaii!  (Seriously, I’m NOT making this up, and it’s all in the name of scientific research.) As part of its four-month simulated mission to Mars, NASA is looking for volunteers. And no, you won’t be spun around in a gravity simulator until you throw up, nor will they confine you to a tin can the size of your kitchen for weeks to see if you lose your sanity (they’ve already done that sort of testing, and it’s called the International Space Station). No, NASA wants to fly you to Hawaii to study the human limitations of really bad food.

According to a story at Mashable.com, NASA is looking for paid volunteers that can put up with space food for a simulated four-month trip to Mars. Study participants will get to sample a wide variety of dried packaged foods that probably taste like cardboard, while NASA researchers record the participants’ reactions. The goal of your tax dollars at work here is to measure whether the participants can avoid “menu fatigue.” Apparently, menu fatigue is a NASA technical term meaning, “if I have to eat these crackers and processed cheese for one more lunch, I am going to whup sombody’s…” well, you get the idea.

Now before you begin packing for Hawaii, you should know about the qualifications. You must have a bachelor’s degree, either in math, engineering, biological or physical science, or computer science. You can’t be a smoker, and (if selected) you must be prepared to live astronaut-style in tiny rooms with limited bathing and shower facilities alongside total strangers who are likely to work your last nerves.

On the plus side, you get an expenses-paid four-month stay in Hawaii, with airfare, lodging, and meals (if you can go so far as to call them “meals”) included, along with the $5,000 stipend. There’s also R&R time built into the study, so you could take up surfing while your friends back in the continental US are helping pay for all this with their taxes. Still interested? You can apply at http://manoa.hawaii.edu/hi-seas

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Large ship strikes large sharp object, tears hole in hull, sinks. In a hundred years, we’ve learned… what???

It’s been slightly over one hundred years since the R.M.S. Titanic tore a gash in her hull by hitting an iceberg in the cold North Atlantic, sank in a matter of hours, and went to a watery grave, taking 1,514 souls along for the ride. (Titanic sank on April 15 1912, and there is something bizarre about the ship going down on income tax day, but I haven’t figured out just what that is yet.) I’m morbidly aware of the anniversary of this event for two reasons. One, as an e-book author, I’m always looking at what’s in the top 100 list at the Kindle store, and this month, there are two or three Titanic-related e-books that are doing well on the charts. The other reason is that the circumstances described in my own maritime disaster book are strangely familiar, even if they did occur nearly a hundred years after the Titanic went under. As my book “Reckless Abandon: The Costa Concordia Disaster” describes, here’s the scenario:  “Large ship strikes large sharp object, tears hole in hull, sinks.”

So at the risk of sounding boringly repetitive, in a hundred years, just what have we learned?  I’m hoping the answer to that question is ‘we’ve learned something.’ Titanic taught us that ships needed sufficient lifeboats to hold all the passengers on board (well, D’UH…). Now, our modern ships have so many lifeboats that there’s space in one for a ship’s captain to accidentally fall into a lifeboat ahead of a few hundred of the passengers. (Yes, cheap shot at Costa Concordia's Captain Coward, but hey, I couldn’t resist.) And with all our increasingly geeky technology which I love, I’m sure we’ve learned from the Costa Concordia tragedy as well. I suspect all the big cruise lines have learned to program the following subroutine somewhere in the headquarters’ mainframe (you could write this one in Visual Basic if you were so inclined)-

    ship’s computers send signal that [AUTOPILOT = DISENGAGED]
               ship is anywhere near land THEN
                                             CALL SHIPS BRIDGE ON CELLULAR
                                             ASK “WHAT THE !##$>>!?!#$! ARE YOU DOING???
           END IF

Enough said!!!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The certified 'geeks of the day' award goes to...

I built go-karts as a kid, and a moon rocket that, on launch, caught fire and burned in the Jamaica, New York driveway of my childhood home. (When Dad got home from a hard day of bolting wings onto Navy jets out at Grumman Aerospace, he was not amused by the burn stains my little imitation of Saturn-V had left in the driveway, but I digress). Anyway, a group of San Francisco Bay area high school students have used the cockpit of an old piper Cherokee, a pile of computer hardware, a bunch of LCD screens and some fierce programming skills to build a simulator of, of all things, a Battlestar Galactica Viper of the 1970s-era TV show “Battlestar Galactica.”

The basic idea is, they mounted the cockpit section of a small plane, a Piper PA-28 Cherokee, to a platform that can rotate 360° across two axes. They added flight controls driving motors that spin the cockpit, along with LCD screens to simulate what you would see from a Viper’s cockpit (if a Viper existed). This has got to be one of the geekiest things ever constructed in the history of man, and yes, I’m envious- wish I’d had this in my driveway at age 15. Check it out on mashable at http://mashable.com/2012/03/22/battlestar-galactica-viper-simulator/.

Birds is the Wurdz...

“Flippin the Bird” is the slogan emblazoned across one of my favorite T-shirts, and it refers not to an obscene gesture, but to a bird aimed at a pig by a slingshot.  Not just any pig, but a a bunch of evil pigs that stole the birds’ eggs. And not just any bird, but an angry bird.  Yes, I am an admitted diehard fan of Angry Birds, and I’ve been playing the latest installment, Angry Birds in Space.

What I like about Angry Birds is that it is so bloody intuitive.  Even in the latest installment, Angry Birds in Space, you don’t have to read the manual.  With Angry Birds, you play, and you learn.  And Angry Birds in Space uses some neat tricks by the way, features like the ability to use a neighboring planet’s gravitational force to slingshot the birds to take out the pigs. My other favorite, Angry Birds in Rio, I like not just for the intuitiveness of it but also for the scenery, for the catchy calypso beat added to the Angry Birds’ theme song, and for the fact that the game is just a lot of fun.