The Bleeding Edge

Posted by TechyDad on April 30, 2014 under Technology
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tech-scalesWith a name like TechyDad, you would think that I’m always getting the latest and greatest technological toys to play with.  At one point, this was true.  Years back, before I was married and had children, I loved getting new technology.  I obtained the first MP3 CD players (mistakenly backing them over their more limited-at-the-time flash-based rivals).  I got a DVD player when they were fairly new.  I loved upgrading my own computer.

As time passed, however, I fell behind.  I began to realize that my money needed to be spent elsewhere.  Providing for my family meant using money that might have otherwise gone to technological toys.  I still loved technology, but I became a bit more conservative in my purchases.

Today, I find myself falling behind the curve.  My laptop is over five years old and the screen flickers so much that I can’t see anything unless it is angled just right.  (Where "just right" is at an angle that I can barely read it.)  It is a serious strain on my productivity, but I find myself hesitating over buying a new one.  After all, money spent on a new piece of technology is money that could be spent on other things my family needs.  (Even though I earned more than enough for a new laptop from a recent freelance project.)

Furthermore, our TV in our living room is a standard definition set.  While everyone else watches high definition programs, we are keeping our standard definition set until it dies.  We have an HD set in our bedroom only because the standard definition one there died a couple of years ago.

It can be hard at times.  That old love of technology still runs strong in me.  Part of me longs to get every piece of shiny new tech to play with.  The other part of me realizes that doing so would cost more money than we can afford.  So I must get my technological fix in small doses and find innovative ways of spreading my "tech dollars" such as focusing on cool freeware.

How do you balance budget and a love of technology?

NOTE: The "tech scales" image above is made of "Scales of Justice" by johnny_automatic, "Dollar Symbol in 3D" by vijayrajesh, "Cartoon Computer and Desktop" by DTRave, "HDTV" by jgm104, and "Smartphone (English Version)" by zorro.  All of these images are available via OpenClipArt.org.

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A Holiday Shopping Trip To Radio Shack

Posted by TechyDad on December 11, 2013 under Review, Shopping, Technology

Disclosure: I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting (#MC) for RadioShack. I received a gift card to facilitate a shopping trip and promotional item as a thank you for participating.

The holiday season means that, for millions of people, the rush to purchase holiday presents is on.  Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, many people have yet to buy their loved ones gifts.  Shoppers going to RadioShack might be in for a surprise, though.  RadioShack has made improvements to nearly all of its 4,300 stores throughout the nation, including a merchandise update, to ensure a better shopping experience and to stock new products.

The Shopping Trip

Recently, I was given the chance to shop at RadioShack and write about my experiences.  I actually went to local RadioShack stores on four separate occasions.  Each time I went, the staff were very friendly, offering to help but not pressing their help on me if I declined.  When they saw that I was juggling a mix of big and small boxes, they politely offered to hold them behind the counter for me while I continued to shop.  This made the shopping experience very pleasant.

In the end, I purchased some products that highly intrigued me.

final-purchase

How did these products pan out?

Recovering From Failure

key-finderLet’s start with two products that I had high hopes for, but which just didn’t work out.  The first of these was a Bluetooth Key Finder.  I was really anticipating this one.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been ready to head out only to realize that our keys had gone missing.  A frantic hunt ensues and precious time is lost (not to mention nerves being rattled).  The Key Finder promised to alert us to the key’s presence via a smartphone app.  It would attach to your key ring and would emit a noise when the app was launched.

What’s more, according to a Radio Shack clerk, the process worked in reverse as well.  You could press a button on the Key Finder and have your smartphone alert you to its position.

Sadly, when I got this home, I noticed that the Key Finder is limited to selected Apple and Android products.  Our phones were not compatible.  I plan to keep an eye on this product, though.  If new versions are released with wider compatibility, I’ll be first in line to buy it.

ifido

The second product was the Silverlit i-Fido.  I got this robot dog toy for JSL to play with as it boasted of having a voice-changer, the ability to interact via an app, and the ability to dance to music.  Unfortunately, when I set it up, I realized that you needed to go into the settings area every time you turned the dog on.  As I’ve locked the boys out of the settings areas of their tablet computers (to keep them from messing something up or installing apps they shouldn’t), this wouldn’t work.

Thankfully, the folks at Radio Shack made the return process easy.  I simply brought the items back and I was offered the credit on a Radio Shack gift card.  (A gift card was offered because I had used one to purchase them in the first place.  Had I used a credit card, a refund would have been put on my card.)  Any store will sell you items, but all too often stores will give you a hard time returning items that just don’t work out.

Big Wins

With those near misses out of the way, what about the rest of my purchases?  How did we fare with them?

snap-circuits

The first one we opened was a 100 piece Snap Circuits set.  This set consists of snap-together circuitry that kids can use to build their own simple devices.  There is an instruction book with circuit maps that the children then replicate to build a night light, alarm, flying saucer, and more.  This was more than a win.  Soon after NHL began playing with it, JSL got jealous and wanted to play with it as well.  However, NHL was having too much fun and wouldn’t relinquish it.  When I returned the i-Fido and the Key Finders, I used some of the store credit to buy another set.  So now we have two identical Snap Circuit sets and my boys are having a blast figuring out how to assemble various types of electronics.

rc-moonwalker

After this came the RC Moonwalker.  This is a remote controlled vehicle that you assemble yourself.  I’ll admit to a bit of trepidation as we opened it up.  Would this be a low-quality kit that would break as we put it together?  Would the RC controls be so weak that you needed to be within 2 feet of it to work?  Would the boys never want to play with it?

The answer to all of these is a resounding no!  The kit is made (mostly) of plastic, but it seems pretty sturdy and snapped together firmly and easily (with one minor exception which was easily addressed with minimal gluing).  Once the batteries were in and the vehicle was turned on, we tried it out.  We quickly found out that it responded quite well to the remote control.  At one point I even tried to see how far it would work away from the remote.  I came up with a distance of over 20 feet.  Not bad for a $15 build-it-yourself RC kit!

Just like with the Snap Circuits, the boys began to fight over this.  Therefore, we’ve added an RC Dinosaur to the mix.  Now they can take turns being a Moon rover or robot dinosaur rolling across the landscape of our house.

rc-dinosaur rc-pals

Finally, there was the smartphone mini-tripod.  How many times have you wished you could be in the shot you were taking with your camera phone?  Assuming there is a flat surface, this is just the answer.  Simply position your camera in the grip of the mount, extend the legs to stabilize, and line up the shot.  Then, making sure your camera is on a timer delay, press the shutter button and get into the shot.  Your camera will be held in place by the tripod and mount and the photo will be exactly as you framed it.

tripod-1 tripod-2

This setup can also be used to take stop motion videos.  Simply use the tripod and mount to keep your camera steady while you take photos or short videos.  Then, string them together into a movie.

There were plenty of other items at Radio Shack that I passed up – for now – but that got me thinking about maker possibilities.  I’ve wanted to get into making things for awhile, but always held back.  Items like a 30 second audio recorder module (powered by a 9 volt battery) and enclosure boxes, have led me to think about the possibilities for putting things together.  I definitely envision more trips to Radio Shack in my future.

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Radio Shack – Name Your Deal

Posted by TechyDad on November 21, 2013 under Shopping, Technology
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dollar_smallDisclosure: I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting (#MC) for RadioShack. I received a gift card to facilitate a shopping trip and promotional item as a thank you for participating.

The approaching holiday season means that a lot of stores will be offering deals to entice you to buy from them.  In addition, next Friday is Black Friday – a time when even more deals are offered.  Radio Shack is no exception and – being an electronics store – is one that I’m definitely interested in.

Radio Shack is taking a slightly different approach to Black Friday.  In addition to their regular Black Friday deals (with deals of up to 80% off starting on Friday, November 29th at 8am) and Cyber Monday deals (December 2nd beginning at 12am), Radio Shack has a Name Your Price deal.

Here’s how it works.  First, go to Radio Shack’s Holiday Hub and click on the Name Your Deal Now button.  Next, select one of twenty-nine products.  There’s everything from phones to speakers to tablets to RC cars to a microcontroller kit to headphones to a 3D printer.  One you select your product, you will be presented with a series of deals to choose from.

Each vote will push that deal higher in the rankings.  On November 27th, the top five deals will be announced and will be available.  If you want to increase the odds that a particular deal will be selected, you can share the deal via social media.  If your friends vote for the deal, it might just help push that deal into the top 5.  But you need to vote quickly.  Voting ends on November 22nd!

Having looked over the Name Your Price deals, I’m most interested in the Google Nexus 32GB tablet (after all my kids and wife have tablets, why can’t I?), a couple of the RC cars or even RC helicopter (for some outdoor fun), or possibly one of the over-the-ear headphones (as I’ve found that the in-ear ones that I have hurt my ears).

What are you hoping to buy during Black Friday or Cyber Monday?  Do you have your eye on any particular piece of technology?

NOTE: The "dollar sign" icon above is by vijayrajesh and is available via OpenClipArt.org.

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My Phone The Hacker

Posted by TechyDad on October 16, 2013 under Games, Smartphones/Tablets, Technology
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On Saturday, we realized that Where’s My Water 2 was released for Android.  The boys had been looking forward to this for awhile, so we download it for them.  While I was at it, I got it for my phone also.  I played a couple of levels, but bed time was fast approaching so I put it aside for the evening.

The next morning, I decided to play another level or two.  Except, when I started the game, I wasn’t where I left off.  I was at the end of the game.  All the levels were not only unlocked, but completed with all of the hidden items found as well.  NHL got upset with me for not unlocking all of his levels, so I explained to him (many times) that I didn’t know how this happened.  The best I can tell, my phone is secretly a hacker and hacked the game as I slept.  (B was up during the night and said I wasn’t sleep-gaming so that explanation’s out.)

Here’s some screenshot proof.  I only played the first few levels, the rest of this was phone-hacked:

Screenshot_2013-10-13-11-42-39 Screenshot_2013-10-13-11-42-50Screenshot_2013-10-13-11-43-03 Screenshot_2013-10-13-11-43-07Screenshot_2013-10-13-11-43-18 Screenshot_2013-10-13-11-43-50

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Overwhelmed By A Hurricane Of Content

Posted by TechyDad on October 9, 2013 under Blogging, Internet, Technology

content-stormThere are about a billion of websites on the Internet.  Of those, millions are blogs.  Those blogs produce between a dozen and a few thousand new posts every year.  Then there are the thousands of movies, TV shows, games, songs, books, and other forms of media released every year.  Just for good measure, mix into this the millions – if not billions – of status updates, photos, and videos published to social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.  It’s easy to see how we are drowning in content nowadays.

On this blog alone, I have over 1,200 posts published.  Many of them – I’m sure – are updates that would interest almost nobody.  Some might interest a small group.  A couple might actually interest many, many people.  If only people knew about them. 

The problem is that a good post can easily be lost within the swarm of other status updates, videos, and thousands of other posts.  It’s like trying to hear a cricket chirping… from across town… while a category 5 content hurricane is blowing.

There are many people who know many good ways of amplifying your volume.  The problem is that these take time and effort.  My problem is that I’ve got a day job.  This isn’t a "problem" per se – I really like my day job and in this economy there are lots of people who would love to have one.  The problem is that many hours of my day are dedicated to "doing the day job thing."  Subtract time to pay attention to the kids, do chores around the house, cook, etc, and I barely have time to write my blog posts – much less spend hours promoting them.  So I just keep chirping into that content hurricane hoping that someone hears me and likes what they read.

On the flip side, as a content consumer rather than content producer, it almost seems like there are never enough hours in the day to see everything I want to see.  My feed reader is hardly packed with hundreds of thousands of blogs and yet I rarely seem to be able to knock the number of unread items below triple digits.  When I started out on Twitter and was following only a few people, I would read every status update that was made.  Even when I took a day off of social media for Shabbat, I would go back in my timeline to where I left off and would spend some time catching up.  This just isn’t possible anymore.

If I spent my entire day reading blog posts, watching TV shows, looking at Instagram photos, reading status updates, and watching YouTube videos, I wouldn’t even scratch the surface of what I’d like to see.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Short Circuit.  In this movie, a military robot accidentally becomes alive and sentient.  Instead of wanting to destroy, however, Number 5 decides that all he wants is to live in peace and consume information.  In the sequel, Short Circuit 2, this is expanded upon when Number 5 – now called Johnny Five goes to the city and discovers a book store.  He goes from book to book flipping through them absorbing their contents in seconds.  Though it is a big bookstore (for the 80’s), he is able to absorb all of the information rapidly.

I wonder what would happen if Johnny Five were to be released in the present day, however.  No matter how quickly he could flip through a 700 page novel, consume an RSS feed, watch a TV show or movie at extreme fast forward, or listen to music songs, there would still be more to see.

The Internet brings what often seems to be unlimited content to you and this can be a blessing or a curse.  It is nearly impossible to be bored – boredom merely means that it is time to seek out new and interesting feeds/games/videos/etc.  On the flip side, you can feel left out when you are unable to keep up with all of the content that all of your friends are watching (even if said content is spread over your friends and they each aren’t watching it all).  Going back to the hurricane analogy, you are a fly buzzing about as the category 5 content hurricane blows.  Every time you think you have found some stability, another blog post or YouTube video or app comes out of nowhere to strike you.

Whether you are a cricket chirping or a fly buzzing – a creator trying to get your work viewed or a consumer trying to keep up with the latest content – it’s a dangerous and information packed world out there.  Stay safe.

Note: The "content storm" image above was created by combining the following images from OpenClipArt.org: Hurricane Symbol by TheByteMan, Generic Book by dniezby, Movie Camera by schoolfreeware, Music Icon by Minduka, Iphone 4 by Ts-Pc, Cutie Bird by Luen, and Cartoon TV by rg1024.

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