Monday, December 14, 2015

Fitness trackers are no good if you don't use them

I was listening to Tech News Today from December 11, 2015. One of the topics they covered was fitness tech. As I had just included some of those in my recent blog post, I was interested to hear what they had to say. The major point I came away with was, they're not going to do any good, if you don't use them. So, I think it's worth spending a few minutes looking at what might motivate you or a potential fitness tracker as gift recipient to actually use any given tech device to set and meet exercise/fitness goals. This seems important as Americans as a whole seem to be becoming more sedentary and more prone to subsequent health issues. How do we get and stay moving?

So, here are some potential questions to ask:

What would it take for you to add a fitness tracker or other device to your life on a daily basis?

  • Comfort? Some of the guests on Tech News Today complained about the first version of the Microsoft Band feeling like a shackle. That's probably not going to be something you're going to want to wear on a regular basis.
  • Where do you want to wear it? Clip on? Wrist band? Clip ons can be difficult for women who wear a lot of dresses. Where do you clip it? If you clip it on the waist band of jeans, it can fall off. But some people don't like things on their wrists or they work at jobs where a wrist band could get in the way.
  • If you are considering a wrist band, does it work with what you're wearing? That's a nice thing about smart watches with interchangeable watch bands or fitness trackers that can fit into different bands.
  • What kind of information do you want from the device? Just an idea of progress toward your goal? Do you want additional functionality? Heart rate? Time? Notifications? The more info you want or need, the more you're headed into smart watch functionality. Basics can be handled by fitness trackers.
What motivates you?
  • Do you set your own goals and stick to them? Are you self motivated?
  • Do you like awards or celebrations for meeting your goals? One of the things I really liked about Nike Fuel Band was the multi colored lights that would dance across the black band when I reached my goal. I also liked the little guy on the app who would cheer me. Fitness Tracker on Apple Watch gives you awards for meeting your weekly goals. These little motivators are enough to get me to go a little bit further than I would otherwise.
  • Do you do better with social motivation? Fitbit has a lot of users so it's generally pretty easy to put together a group where you can track each other's progress. That can be useful whether you're competitive by nature or just like to know there are others working out too.
Do you use a fitness tracker? If so, which one(s)? What do you like and/or dislike? Any thoughts or recommendations for someone looking to get started or try something different?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Holiday 2015 Gadget Guide

Okay, it's December. Time for our annual roundup of tech gadgets. I'm only highlighting the ones that I find particularly interesting. There are countless other options. You can find many of these in the review and best of links I've included.

Cell Phones

The Apple iOS vs. Google Android war continues. Some people have changed sides this past year. The Blackberry and Windows competitors have faded even more from the scene.

Apple iPhone

The latest iPhones are the 6s (starts at $649 for 16 GB) and 6s Plus ($749 for 16 GB). Yes, they come with new features. What was particularly interesting to me this year was Apple's upgrade program and attempt to distance the hardware from the carriers by offering financing directly from Apple. The prices quoted above do not require contracts with mobile carriers.You can get good deals on the previous year's models the 6 and 6 Plus.
Apple Store iPhones

Android Phones

While Samsung, LG, HTC and others continue to put out models of Android phones, this is the year when some of the most interesting models were not available in stores or from carriers. A number of these phones have customizable cases. These are all prices for unlocked phones that do not require contracts with carriers.
  • OnePlus 2 ($389 for 64 GB) may not be the flagship killer it touts itself as but it is a nice piece of hardware at a reasonable price.
  • Google Nexus 5x (starts at $329 for 16 GB) smaller model made by LG
  • Google Nexus 6p (starts at $499 for 32 GB) 6 inch phone made by Huawei. The only negative I've heard is the battery life does not measure up against iPhone 6s Plus. Other than that, it has great specs.
  • Motorola has a number of Android smartphones on the market:


2015 was the year of the Apple watch but there were also new models and updates in Android wear and fitness bands.

Apple Watch comes in three basic flavors - Watch Sport, Watch and Watch Edition. It starts at $349 for the Sport and can go as high as $12,000. It's a watch, fitness band, notification center and can even allow you to send and receive calls and texts. You need to have an iPhone to pair with it.

Google Store seems to have a nice assortment of Android Wear. As is often the case in the Android world, I find the breadth of choices somewhat overwhelming so I couldn't presume to pick which would be the best option. Most are round which many people find preferable to square. It's hard to tell just how bulky they are from photos. I did notice that Moto G has a model for women. The nice thing about Android is that apart from hardware differences, if they're running Android wear, the software and apps should be similar across devices. These also need to be paired with a smart phone running Android 4.3 or higher but can perform many of their functions on wifi. I was interested to see that some will apparently work with iPhones as well. There is a website you can go to on your smart phone (Android or iPhone) to check and see if it's compatible with Android Wear - Reportedly my iPhone 6 Plus will work with a number of Android Wear watches.

PCMag's The Best Smart Watches of 2015

Fitbit now makes a wide range of devices ranging in price from $59.95 for a wireless activity tracker to $249.95 for a fitness super watch. They connect to mobile apps that run on Apple iOS, Android and Windows Phone as well as a Dashboard that runs on Windows and Mac OS. 
I had a Fitbit Force that I had to give up because it gave me a horrible rash. There are reports of similar problems with the Charge and Surge. But I used a Flex for quite some time with no ill effects. My only complaint was that the device itself offered very little information on steps or distance progress. It needs to sync with a smart phone or computer for data. Once I got the Apple Watch, it was no longer needed. But I think it can be an inexpensive way to motivate one to exercise.

Jawbone UP is the other major fitness tracker. It ranges in price from $49.99 to $129.99. The bracelets are fairly attractive. You can see the UP2 on the left. The higher priced ones include heart rate monitoring and one even pairs with Amex for payments.UP pairs with a number of different apps you can run on your Android or iOS smart phone. 
Apple iPads - Apple came out with a new iPad model this fall the iPad Pro, a 12 inch tablet that starts at $799 for 32 GB. Like the name, this is arguably meant for professionals - for artists who will enjoy the new Apple pencil at $99, those who will use it as a laptop replacement with keyboard at $169. You're easily looking at $1000. For that price you can get a Macbook. 
The iPad Air wasn't updated this year. The current iPad Air 2 starts at $499 for 16 GB. You'll want more memory than that. The iPad Mini was updated. iPad Mini 4 starts at $399 for 16 GB. You can get the earlier iPad Air at that same price.

Google Pixel C is the new top of the line Google addition to the Android tablet line. It's gotten rave reviews for the hardware. The only criticisms I've heard are about the dearth of great Android productivity apps for tablets. I've personally always found Android tablets to be less useful as laptop replacements than iPads or Google Chromebooks that start at $169. But Google Pixel C is a beautiful 10 inch tablet that starts at $499 for 32 GB. The full size keyboard sells for $149.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the current top of the line tablet from Microsoft. It starts at $899 for 128GB / Intel Core m3 with 4 GB of RAM. They tend to talk in more conventional computer specs. You'll also want a keyboard starting at $129.99. It runs Windows 10.

Amazon Fire Tablets - Amazon offers 4 basic versions of tablets ranging from the Amazon Fire starting at $49.99 to the Fire HD 10 starting at $229.99 for 16 GB (on sale as of this writing for $179.99). There are pros and cons to Amazon's tablets particularly in comparison to its flagship rivals. You're probably not going to be able to use Amazon Fire as a desktop replacement or even as much of a content creation device. But they're great for consuming Amazon content. They do run a number of apps available from the Amazon app store so you can do email and other tasks on them. As long as your needs and expectations aren't high, you may find them a good value.


Tablets and smart phones have indeed supplanted e-readers for most as the devices of choice for reading e-books. But for those who want a dedicated e-reader there are still some out there from the usual suspects. There will no doubt be sales during and after the holidays.
  • Amazon Kindle - Amazon has 3 basic Kindle models: Kindle starting at $79.99, Kindle Paperwhite starting at $119.99 and Kindle Voyager starting at $199.99. It also sells a Kindle for Kids bundle at $99.99 which includes a cover, accident protection, no ads and some other features.
  • Barnes & Noble Nook is down to one e-reader with Android tablets occupying the rest of the line. The Nook GlowLight Plus is available at $129.99.
  • Kobo still makes EPUB e-readers. They continue to work with independent bookstores to provide alternatives. But the readers are not easy to use with library e-books as they require tethering. Still, if you're looking for options the Kobo Glo HD gets good reviews, is similar to the Paperwhite and GlowLight Plus and sells for $119.99

Streaming Devices

Amazon, Apple, Google and Roku all put out new versions of their streaming devices in 2015. Amazon and Roku offer either sticks or boxes. Amazon and Apple added voice searching to their devices this year - Alexa and Siri respectively. Google still offers the cheapest options - Google Chromecast or Google Chromecast Audio for $35/each. For that price, you don't get a remote, you use a tablet or smart phone to control your audio or video. Apple offers the most expensive, Apple TV at $149. Which device you choose will probably be determined by where you buy your content. 

Virtual Reality

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depends on how you look at it), most of the highly anticipated Virtual Reality headsets people have been talking about and eagerly anticipating over the last year or more are still in development. Some have planned release dates for early 2016. These are primarily of interest to gamers but will no doubt have other uses as well. Try not to look hopelessly geeky in any of these contraptions.

  • Oculus Rift - this is the device that has created the most buzz and excitement. It has a planned release date of Q1 2016 with no information on price.
  • Sony Playstation VR is supposed to arrive sometime in 2016. No price has been set. It will work presumably with Sony Playstation 4.
  • HTC Vive was set to come out by the end of 2015. It's now been delayed until 2016 with preorders in February and commercial availability in April.
  • Microsoft Hololens is possibly more augmented than virtual reality. Right now they're gearing strictly toward developers and taking applications for the Development Edition at $3K each. Not likely to be a toy for the masses any time soon.
  • Samsung Gear VR is available for purchase now for $99. It can only be used with current Samsung Galaxy phones: Galaxy Note5, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge, Galaxy S6 edge+. If you have any of those phones and are interested in VR, it can be yours.
  • Google Cardboard is my VR device. The New York Times sent me one free as a subscriber. Here's some information about NYTimes' foray into VR.  It will be interesting to see what kinds of content and uses there are for this technology in the future. It's still early days.

Personal Favorite Gadget of 2015

Amazon Echo has become one of my most used devices. You simply wake it up and ask a question: Alexa, what time is it? Alexa, what's the weather like? You get the current temperature and forecast. Alexa, what's new? You get the NPR news brief and/or any others you've set up on the app. Alexa, who won the Seahawks game? You get who played and the final score. Much better than Siri usually who just sends me on a web search. I also like that I can ask for music: Alexa, play Dave Matthews Band. I get shuffled songs from my music collection as well as anything else from Prime Music. I can also ask for genres: Alexa, play classical music. If I have books that I'm currently reading from Audible, I can pick up where I left off: Alexa, read my book. You can use it with other Internet of Things devices in your home such as WeMo to turn lights on and off. I find I use the Echo far more than I would have thought. It is more useful if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber and/or a regular Amazon customer as it has more content to access. Regularly priced at $179.99 on Amazon. It does go on sale fairly frequently.

Also Rans 

On the tech gadget list for many this Christmas: Hoverboards and Drones. I can't say I know enough about them to have any opinion other than, I wouldn't buy one. But here are some articles so you can read up if you're interested.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Windows 10: When to Update and When Not

Since Windows 10 officially launched at the end of July, I've been getting questions about updating library computers to the new operating system. My general suggestion is, wait. But let's break it down to some common situations.

Microsoft's Windows 10 Specifications

You can check and see if your computer meets these minimums by Computer - System Properties. If your computer doesn't meet these, you can stop right there. If it does, you have some decisions to make on whether or not it's worth the cost and/or will be an improvement.

Windows XP - most of the questions I'm getting are from people who are continuing to use Windows XP computers despite admonitions to upgrade or recycle when Microsoft ended Windows XP support on April 8, 2014. These are probably older machines. You're really going to want to check on hardware specifications for these. And you're going to want to consider cost. There is no free upgrade from Windows XP to 10. You're going to have to pay for it along with other new software. Chances are most of your existing Windows XP programs are not going to run on Windows 10. Generally, the choice is between sinking a considerable amount of money into old hardware that's probably nearing the end of its lifespan or just buying some new or newer computers with all new OS and other software. Most of the time, going new is going to be your better option.

Windows 7 - most of the tech pundits say that if you have Windows 7 era software and computers and they're running fine, leave them be. There's no reason to upgrade. Windows 7 is a stable platform. It's the one used by most enterprises. Why fix something that isn't broken?

Windows 8 or 8.1 - this is where most of the upgrades will most likely take place. Many users were not happy with Windows 8. Windows 10 promises to be an improvement. And this is most likely running on newer computers that you're planning on keeping for a while. So, you probably want to have the best software options to make the experience better.

So, if you have Windows 7 computers that you want to upgrade despite suggestions to the contrary and/or Windows 8.1 computers that probably should be upgraded, when should you do so? I'd wait for a while anyway for library computers.

  • First, you want to make sure that the necessary software you use on a regular basis, e.g., Workflows will run on the new OS. Also check into other software that your library patrons depend on. 
  • Second, the Windows 10 version currently in circulation does not appear to be the final product but more of a beta version. That makes it fine to use if you want to try it out on one computer so that you can see what it's like and become comfortable with it. It could pose challenges if you were to load it on all the library computers and/or an essential work computer. Some interesting bugs are being reported on a regular basis. It's best to let others work those out. Often in the past, it's been suggested that libraries wait to upgrade to a new Windows version until Service Pack 1 or 2 is released. In this rollout, they seem to be using the term Threshold for significant updates. Reportedly Threshold 2 is due to come out in November. I would certainly wait until then before considering upgrading public access computers. Hopefully, many of the bugs will be worked out and features will be functional.
Here are some of my favorite sources for Windows information:
For Montana public librarians, I, or one of the other consultants would be happy to discuss your options with you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pintroduction to Pinterest - BayNet 2015 at the San Francisco Public Library

Wondering how to use Pinterest in your library? Here are some great tips from a presentation at San Francisco Public Library.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Apple Watch - Early Days

In answer to all of those who wondered whether or not I was getting the latest gadget - Of Course! I get these things so you don't have to.

I got my Apple Watch on Tuesday evening. It was back ordered but delivered about a week before Apple's original projection.

Having lived with it for a few days now, I'd have to agree that it's not something everyone needs. It's tied to the iPhone so it's definitely not for the Android faithful or for those people who still insist that they just want a cell phone.

It's the first iteration of a first gen product. I expect it will look and act quite a bit differently in the future. For now, it seems a bit busy and over complicated. Does anyone really want to replicate everything they can do on their smart phone on a tiny square on their wrist? Probably not. It may be up to the users to pare it down to just what we need and what it does well.

It's a very nice, if pricey, fitness app. Not only does it keep track of steps, it also monitors your heart rate, reminds you to get up and move around once an hour (great for those of us who are desk/computer bound for most of the day), keeps track of exercise events, and integrates with the iOS health kit. I'm not sure what that means for now but I expect this will be even more of a focus in the future.

The collection of health data is likely to give many of us pause. And it is one of those times when you may want to consider which large faceless corporation you're willing to entrust with this, if any. Apple is promising to keep user data anonymous and secure. They remind us that they don't make any money off selling personal information and data. They make it off the hardware and software. And they're rolling in it, so it seems to be working for them. I probably feel more comfortable using their apps than I would Google's or perhaps even companies about which I know very little, e.g., Fitbit. I'd like to see more attention paid to data collection and privacy in this area.

It enables you to get text, email and phone notifications on your wrist without having to find and pull out your phone. You can see whether or not it's something you need to deal with right away. You can make a call from your watch. I just tried it in a restaurant last night with a friend across the table so I'm not sure how well it really works. But Dick Tracy eat your heart out. I really like the text notifications, however. A friend has been texting me this morning. I can look and see what it's about. The reply options from my wrist are somewhat limited which is no doubt good if you're going to be mucking around with this while driving or walking in a crowd or anywhere you should be paying attention to your surroundings. You can choose a stock reply message from a few options, send a creepy animated 3D emoji or use voice. You might need to be near the phone to use voice. It seemed to lag for me.

You also get glimpses from apps you set up. I get NYTNow for news updates and emails from Gmail. It's all pretty brief. You're not going to want to read much on such a tiny screen but you can see what might be important and require closer attention. Most of it can be quickly and easily deleted or dismissed.

I have yet to use it with Apple Pay but I did buy my coffee with my watch and Starbucks card via Passbook the other day. That was pretty cool.

Those are pretty much the useful features I've discovered thus far. As far as design goes, it's Apple, they know how to make pretty products. The navigation, however, is far from intuitive. Interesting how they could go from the simple one button design of the iPhone and iPad to a a dial, side button, touch and haptic (pressure sensitive clicking) combination of navigation tools. It's unclear whether you swipe up, down, across or press once or twice to get to where you want to be. Yes, technology has made all of our lives so much simpler that we now spend countless minutes clicking and swiping to find the weather. We used to just stick our heads out the door. :)

Siri is also on the watch. We'll see if he proves more useful there than he has on my iPhone. But I imagine voice activation would make some of the navigation issues less annoying. I'll have to play around with that. I'll also be eager to try it with maps for navigation. Let's see if it helps me get around San Francisco in June without having to pull my phone out all the time to see if I should be going left or right at which corner.

My overall review - fun and interesting if you are an Apple person and have at least $349 you don't need. For the rest of the world, don't worry, you can wait. It's far from life changing.

Monday, February 23, 2015

OS choices in 2015

I've had some interesting discussions of late about phone and computer Operating Systems. Some time back, I pulled out my BHi (Big Hunking iPhone) at a table in a bar and the guy next to me asked if it was an iPhone and proceeded to tell me about his daughter's problems with backing up to iCloud. We won't mention my assumptions about anyone who would trust their backups to iCloud. He then went on with a monologue about the superiority of Android and Linux. Basically I just let him talk. And then there was Ron White's Point - Counterpoint at Offline a few weeks ago.

These exchanges do bring to mind some of the differing expectations people bring to their devices and computing experiences. As I've spent some time in just about all the camps, I feel qualified to make some generalizations.

I now consider myself more an Apple person because I've come to the point where I just want my devices to work. Yes, I've rooted and jailbroken phones, and installed 3rd party ROMs on them. I've also installed and used Linux on laptops. There is that feeling of control and jubilation when you actually get these things to work and are customized to your specifications. There are also hours of frustration where you spend time on various forums looking for answers as to why it's not working. So, for people who like to hack and customize, I can see the appeal of Android and Linux. For the rest of us, we may have other ways we like to spend our time.

With Apple, most of the big decisions are made for you and you just agree to them. They do know what's best after all. It's probably the most locked down of all the hardware and software platforms. But by and large it works. And if you're willing and able to afford to drink the KoolAid, it all works pretty well together in the Apple universe. My iMac and iPad and iPhone should sync pretty well with the new updates to Mac OSX Yosemite and iOS 8.1. With outside control, comes the promise of seamless integration. And also fairly high expectations. So when they don't pull it off, you hear a lot of screaming.

I think that Apple also makes the most user friendly devices. You do pay a premium for that. But it's what I would choose for mom or grandma if I didn't want to have to do a lot of tech support. And if you do need tech support, Apple support is excellent. If you're lucky enough to live in an area with Apple Stores, you'll also have access to classes and support there.

I don't think that a lot of laptop or desktop computer buyers are likely to buy a Linux machine by mistake so I'm not too concerned about that. But I think there are a lot of people who buy cheap Android phones and/or tablets strictly based on price and often come to regret their decisions. Don't get me wrong, the high end Android phones: Samsung Galaxy S and Notes series, Motorola Moto X, Nexus 6, etc. are all excellent hardware and software wise. But while some people love to argue about the relative merits of Android vs. Apple as well as the relative merits of those who choose one or the other, it's kind of a silly distinction for most. If you're in the Apple ecosystem, you'll probably go with iPhone. If you're not, you have a choice to make, whose ecosystem do you want to buy into? Google and its hardware partners? If so, which hardware partner? Other than that, the products are pretty similar. But you may well reach a point with Android where your device is not working exactly as you want it to and it may be difficult to find help. Perhaps your cellular carrier or the box store where you bought it can help. But because of the insanely large number of Android devices and OSs out in the wild at any one time, it may be difficult to find someone with expertise with your exact device to help you through your problem. This is great for hackers who view this as a challenge, but not so great for people who just want Apple-style reliability.

And I have to offer a huge caveat about the cheap Android devices! You're usually buying an older Android OS that may be buggy and will never be updated. You have to deal with phone manufacturer and carrier user interface decisions and apps. If grandma doesn't understand that she's starting off with an inferior product, she's probably not going to be hacking it to make it work better. If you're comfortable playing that role, so be it. If not, spend a little more at the outset and at least get her a flagship device.

One message Apple is trying to get out now is that they're more respectful of your privacy. This started right after the iCloud photo debacle. But the main point is a valid one. Apple wants to sell you their hardware and software. They also want to take a cut of apps, music and movies you purchase through iTunes. But other than that, they're not interested in collecting your personal data or selling it to others. With Google, that's how they make their money - collecting your personal data via search and free apps and then selling it for advertising. I may be in the Apple camp but I use a lot of Google products so they're both making money off of me. Obviously, this is not an issue for me but it may be for some of you.

Another message Apple is pushing at the moment is the desirability of their products for creatives. You can create art using their devices - music, film, design, etc. I think this is also an interesting strategy and seems appropriate. A lot of the anti-Apple arguments I hear seem to come from people I would designate as more left-brained analytical types. Apple is pitching to the right-brained creatives. These are the people who would most likely appreciate the design and style of the device itself and appreciate the fact that the Apple approach would seem to be helping them bring their creative visions to fruition without having to struggle with the technology.

I will include a brief note about the often maligned Windows. Most of us who've been in technology for a while have worked with Windows. It wasn't necessarily by choice. It's what was out there. I started with it in the MS-DOS days and moved into Windows 3.1 and all along the line. I've had my share of blue screens of death. But by and large it and the Office suite of applications has enabled me to do what I've needed to do personally and professionally. In fact, I have an Office 365 subscription for my iMac and iPad. Microsoft is not particularly concerned about the hardware you use, and they're even willing to accommodate different OSs. I do wish they had a more compelling entrant in the phone market. I think it might have offered a good alternative to Android and iOS for the majority of Windows computer users. I got Nokia Windows phone for my work phone. While I like the design, I find updates buggy and the lack of apps frustrating. Consequently, it's difficult for me to recommend it.

Of course, there isn't one answer for everyone. I'm glad there are choices out there.

Would love to hear comments on your choices and why? How do you help people in your communities navigate through all of these technology choices?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Faster, smaller, connected: Web 3.0 challenges for libraries by Danny Choriki


Resources and References

  • Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet by Katie Hafner
  • The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
  • What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff
  • From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner
  • Technics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford
  • The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan
  • The Global Village: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan and Terrence Gordon
  • Future Shock by Alvin Toffler
  • When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter
  • The Mature Mind by Harry Allen Overstreet
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Downloaded Documents