Monday, January 25, 2010

Your Grandkids Will Thank You Someday

OK, the holidays are over, the January-February grey skies and less than ideal Cincinnati weather have settled in. For many of us this is a period when we have some free time. I have a project that makes use of some of this free time and those electronic gizmos that you may have found under the tree this year. Not only will it be fun, it will have a lasting and increased value over time.

How about capturing the lives and stories of your family? I am not talking about sorting through that big box of photos and newspaper clippings that is gathering dust on the top shelf of the hall closet. I am talking about getting that new video camera or MP3 player with built in audio record feature and sitting down with some members of family and let them tell their stories.

I bet that during the holidays when you were sitting around the dinner table some of those stories came out. We all love to hear them but seldom make the effort to save them. Once Aunt Grace or Uncle Bob are gone the stories and your family history will be lost.

The technology today is inexpensive, easy to use and ideal for developing a record, both significant and trivial, of your family’s history. The “in” word for this is “oral history.”

Here are some suggestions. Start with the older folks in your relationship. In many cases they have stories and life experiences that are nothing short of extraordinary. Some may or may not be comfortable with a video camera or audio recording device so make it as unobtrusive as possible. Put the camera on a tri-pod and focus it on their face. Set this up around the kitchen table. Turn on the camera and begin asking questions. In a short time you both will forget the camera and you will be amazed what you can learn if you have patience. Try not to interrupt. Just let them talk.

If you don’t have a video camera, take a look at your kid’s MP3 player. Many have a record feature that captures hours of good quality audio. The audio is stored in a format that can be easily copied to any computer and then burned on to a CD disc. Of course, the video can be stored that way as well.

The value of your work may not be evident for decades, but it will be appreciated. Just think about a kid born in the year 2100 being able to see and hear their great grandfather talking about his life at the turn of the century. It will be nothing short of awesome.

These marvelous electronic devices we have access to today can offer us much more than “American Idol” on our smart phone. Give it a try.

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Your Grandkids Will Thank You Someday

OK, the holidays are over, the January-February grey skies and less than ideal Cincinnati weather have settled in. For many of us this is a period when we have some free time. I have a project that makes use of some of this free time and those electronic gizmos that you may have found under the tree this year. Not only will it be fun, it will have a lasting and increased value over time.

How about capturing the lives and stories of your family? I am not talking about sorting through that big box of photos and newspaper clippings that is gathering dust on the top shelf of the hall closet. I am talking about getting that new video camera or MP3 player with built in audio record feature and sitting down with some members of family and let them tell their stories.

I bet that during the holidays when you were sitting around the dinner table some of those stories came out. We all love to hear them but seldom make the effort to save them. Once Aunt Grace or Uncle Bob are gone the stories and your family history will be lost.

The technology today is inexpensive, easy to use and ideal for developing a record, both significant and trivial, of your family’s history. The “in” word for this is “oral history.”

Here are some suggestions. Start with the older folks in your relationship. In many cases they have stories and life experiences that are nothing short of extraordinary. Some may or may not be comfortable with a video camera or audio recording device so make it as unobtrusive as possible. Put the camera on a tri-pod and focus it on their face. Set this up around the kitchen table. Turn on the camera and begin asking questions. In a short time you both will forget the camera and you will be amazed what you can learn if you have patience. Try not to interrupt. Just let them talk.

If you don’t have a video camera, take a look at your kid’s MP3 player. Many have a record feature that captures hours of good quality audio. The audio is stored in a format that can be easily copied to any computer and then burned on to a CD disc. Of course, the video can be stored that way as well.

The value of your work may not be evident for decades, but it will be appreciated. Just think about a kid born in the year 2100 being able to see and hear their great grandfather talking about his life at the turn of the century. It will be nothing short of awesome.

These marvelous electronic devices we have access to today can offer us much more than “American Idol” on our smart phone. Give it a try.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

45 Years Later..."PicturePhones" Are Here...Almost

When I was a little kid I was fascinated with all things electronic. I remember, much to my parents chagrin, taking apart most anything with a plug on it. I also read everything I could find about new gadgets. I remember being fascinated by an article in Popular Science magazine about the first installation of a “Picturephone” kiosk in the lobby of the Prudential Building in Chicago. That was more than 45 years ago and the promise by AT&T that everyone would have a “picturephone” in just a few short years has not happened.

Well, the wait is over and the promise of an “inexpensive” video phone may still be elusive but “free” service is available. There are several options for video calls using a computer and the Internet. We will look at two of the most popular, one from Google and one from Skype. Both are similar and both provide a very good free service that is easy to set up and easy to use.

In order to use these services, beside needing a computer, you must have a high speed Internet connection, e.g., Road Runner or ZoomTown, and a webcam. Webcams attach to the USB port of your computer and serve to capture your image, and in most cases, your voice. Webcams can be purchased for less that $25 from most electronics stores. If you use a laptop or netbook computer, most come with webcams built in.

The free software can be downloaded from either Skype.com or Google.com. You will find it on the Skype home page. For Google, you need to look under the listing of all the Google offerings. This application is called “Google Talk”

While you can connect free with anyone in the world, both parties must be connected to the Internet and both must be using the same software. You can’t call a computer using Google Talk software using Skype software and visa versa.

The quality of the picture and sound are very good as long as your Internet connection is robust. In my tests locally with Road Runner, I was very pleased with the results.

As our families and friends seem to be increasingly on the move, using one of these services can help us stay in touch and you can’t beat the price.

45 Years Later..."PicturePhones" Are Here...Almost

When I was a little kid I was fascinated with all things electronic. I remember, much to my parents chagrin, taking apart most anything with a plug on it. I also read everything I could find about new gadgets. I remember being fascinated by an article in Popular Science magazine about the first installation of a “Picturephone” kiosk in the lobby of the Prudential Building in Chicago. That was more than 45 years ago and the promise by AT&T that everyone would have a “picturephone” in just a few short years has not happened.

Well, the wait is over and the promise of an “inexpensive” video phone may still be elusive but “free” service is available. There are several options for video calls using a computer and the Internet. We will look at two of the most popular, one from Google and one from Skype. Both are similar and both provide a very good free service that is easy to set up and easy to use.

In order to use these services, beside needing a computer, you must have a high speed Internet connection, e.g., Road Runner or ZoomTown, and a webcam. Webcams attach to the USB port of your computer and serve to capture your image, and in most cases, your voice. Webcams can be purchased for less that $25 from most electronics stores. If you use a laptop or netbook computer, most come with webcams built in.

The free software can be downloaded from either Skype.com or Google.com. You will find it on the Skype home page. For Google, you need to look under the listing of all the Google offerings. This application is called “Google Talk”

While you can connect free with anyone in the world, both parties must be connected to the Internet and both must be using the same software. You can’t call a computer using Google Talk software using Skype software and visa versa.

The quality of the picture and sound are very good as long as your Internet connection is robust. In my tests locally with Road Runner, I was very pleased with the results.

As our families and friends seem to be increasingly on the move, using one of these services can help us stay in touch and you can’t beat the price.

video

What To Look For in 2010

I have installed a few fresh Lithium Ion batteries in my digital crystal ball and am now ready to make some predictions about what products and issues will surface during 2010. It has been interesting to observe that the economic downturn may have slowed the introduction of new electronic devices and services, but for sure there seems to be a continued consumer interest and demand for all things digital.

Revenues of the traditional broadcast networks will continue to decline. Advertisers are becoming much more attentive to other forms of reaching potential customers. For example, rather than using the network the Nightly News, which has become an emporium for geriatric medicines for maladies ranging from arthritis to xenophobia ( I couldn’t think of a “z” disease) advertisers are using the Internet, mobile phones and even video games to sell products. With less revenue for the networks there is less money to produce audience grabbing programming. With weak programming there is a smaller audience. The downward cycle will continue.

This relates to the recent Fox vs. Time Warner spate played out over the New Year holiday. There will be more and more pressure for consumers to pay for TV. We have seen it with baseball and increasingly will see it with other programming. If you want to watch good stuff you will need a pay service. More and more of the best programming will be on HBO and Showtime and less and less on ABC and NBC.

Another trend to look for is the explosion in the capabilities and consumer adoption of smart phones. Once the province of the business community, Blackberries, iPhones and Droids will be as likely to be found in a teen’s backpack as they are now in the lawyer’s briefcase. The mobile phone is no longer primarily a device for ordering pizza or talking with friends, smart phones have become portable offices and mini computers capable of surfing the Internet, finding a good salsa restaurant or purchasing stocks and bonds while waiting in the car to pick up your kid from school. Look for applications that monitor your heart rate for your cardiologist or your Ford 150 for your mechanic.

For all this portable stuff to work, it requires bandwidth. There will be fights over who gets what and how much. Just like real estate, there is a finite amount of bandwidth available in the electromagnetic spectrum and it is filling up fast. The TV you watch, the Blue Tooth earpiece you wear and the garage door opener you use all require segments of the available bandwidth. There will be fights between the traditional radio and TV broadcasters and the upstart mobile phone carriers. The FCC has some very important decisions to make.

The products will get smaller, devices will increasingly be wireless and prices will drop. Let’s hope that the user instructions will be simplified. Oh well , three out of four isn’t too bad.

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What To Look For in 2010

I have installed a few fresh Lithium Ion batteries in my digital crystal ball and am now ready to make some predictions about what products and issues will surface during 2010. It has been interesting to observe that the economic downturn may have slowed the introduction of new electronic devices and services, but for sure there seems to be a continued consumer interest and demand for all things digital.

Revenues of the traditional broadcast networks will continue to decline. Advertisers are becoming much more attentive to other forms of reaching potential customers. For example, rather than using the network the Nightly News, which has become an emporium for geriatric medicines for maladies ranging from arthritis to xenophobia ( I couldn’t think of a “z” disease) advertisers are using the Internet, mobile phones and even video games to sell products. With less revenue for the networks there is less money to produce audience grabbing programming. With weak programming there is a smaller audience. The downward cycle will continue.

This relates to the recent Fox vs. Time Warner spate played out over the New Year holiday. There will be more and more pressure for consumers to pay for TV. We have seen it with baseball and increasingly will see it with other programming. If you want to watch good stuff you will need a pay service. More and more of the best programming will be on HBO and Showtime and less and less on ABC and NBC.

Another trend to look for is the explosion in the capabilities and consumer adoption of smart phones. Once the province of the business community, Blackberries, iPhones and Droids will be as likely to be found in a teen’s backpack as they are now in the lawyer’s briefcase. The mobile phone is no longer primarily a device for ordering pizza or talking with friends, smart phones have become portable offices and mini computers capable of surfing the Internet, finding a good salsa restaurant or purchasing stocks and bonds while waiting in the car to pick up your kid from school. Look for applications that monitor your heart rate for your cardiologist or your Ford 150 for your mechanic.

For all this portable stuff to work, it requires bandwidth. There will be fights over who gets what and how much. Just like real estate, there is a finite amount of bandwidth available in the electromagnetic spectrum and it is filling up fast. The TV you watch, the Blue Tooth earpiece you wear and the garage door opener you use all require segments of the available bandwidth. There will be fights between the traditional radio and TV broadcasters and the upstart mobile phone carriers. The FCC has some very important decisions to make.

The products will get smaller, devices will increasingly be wireless and prices will drop. Let’s hope that the user instructions will be simplified. Oh well , three out of four isn’t too bad.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

A Review of my 2009 Predictions...Not Bad

For the last couple years in early January, I have made some predictions about the electronic products and services that I thought would be popular during the coming year. I will do this again in next week’s column for 2010, but this week, as promised a year ago, we will review what I predicted for 2009. As you will read, I didn’t do too badly.

My first prediction was a no-brainer. Last January we were looking down the barrel of the analog broadcasting shut down, then scheduled for February. I said then that this was going to be a mess and it was. As you may remember, February came and went and we were still watching analog TV. After delays in the Converter Box Coupon Program and the FCC’s failed leadership, we delayed the shut down till June. Those extra months helped and after a week of viewers adjusting their antennas, programming their converter boxes and in some cases buying new TV sets, all seems to be well in family and living rooms throughout the land.

Another prediction that seemed to have been on target is the continued miniaturation of all things electronic. The once “cigarette-pack-size” original iPod MP3 player has now shrunk to the size of a postage stamp. As the physical size contracted, the capacities increased and the prices dropped. You can now buy a very nice MP3 that measures 1.5 x 1.5 inches, has space for 500 songs, a built in FM radio and audio recorder for about $30.

Small is not always better. Many of these devices use Micro SD memory cards. While they can hold lots of songs they are about the size of the fingernail on your pinky finger. The other morning as I was inserting one into my MP3 player it popped out and went flying to the floor of my kitchen. It took me about five minutes to find it. Thank heavens the carpet was light colored and the SD card was black.

The last prediction I made was less clairvoyant. I thought that mobile video services would expand once the digital TV transition was complete. While there are more mobile video services available with programming available on smart phones and other hand held devices, it is still in the early adopter phase. While the technology has developed, the lack of risk capital to fund these expensive networks has slowed progress.

Next week we will look ahead 12 months.

Labels: ,

A Review of my 2009 Predictions...Not Bad

For the last couple years in early January, I have made some predictions about the electronic products and services that I thought would be popular during the coming year. I will do this again in next week’s column for 2010, but this week, as promised a year ago, we will review what I predicted for 2009. As you will read, I didn’t do too badly.

My first prediction was a no-brainer. Last January we were looking down the barrel of the analog broadcasting shut down, then scheduled for February. I said then that this was going to be a mess and it was. As you may remember, February came and went and we were still watching analog TV. After delays in the Converter Box Coupon Program and the FCC’s failed leadership, we delayed the shut down till June. Those extra months helped and after a week of viewers adjusting their antennas, programming their converter boxes and in some cases buying new TV sets, all seems to be well in family and living rooms throughout the land.

Another prediction that seemed to have been on target is the continued miniaturation of all things electronic. The once “cigarette-pack-size” original iPod MP3 player has now shrunk to the size of a postage stamp. As the physical size contracted, the capacities increased and the prices dropped. You can now buy a very nice MP3 that measures 1.5 x 1.5 inches, has space for 500 songs, a built in FM radio and audio recorder for about $30.

Small is not always better. Many of these devices use Micro SD memory cards. While they can hold lots of songs they are about the size of the fingernail on your pinky finger. The other morning as I was inserting one into my MP3 player it popped out and went flying to the floor of my kitchen. It took me about five minutes to find it. Thank heavens the carpet was light colored and the SD card was black.

The last prediction I made was less clairvoyant. I thought that mobile video services would expand once the digital TV transition was complete. While there are more mobile video services available with programming available on smart phones and other hand held devices, it is still in the early adopter phase. While the technology has developed, the lack of risk capital to fund these expensive networks has slowed progress.

Next week we will look ahead 12 months.

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