Saturday, June 27, 2020

Review: The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great stories on Churchill’s first year as War PM

Erik Larson knows how to spin a tale, and I was delighted to have The Splendid and the Vile to read during these times (2020 coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis and social unrest). The backdrop of people in London carrying on, during the sometimes nightly Nazi bombing raids, is truly inspiring.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Welcome Apple Glass - seriously

One of a number of press coverage - this one from Apple Insider

My choice of this post's title ("Welcome...seriously") reflects a bit of an homage to the famous 1981 Apple advertisement, welcoming IBM to the personal computer market. This time, it's not an upstart company having the nerve to "welcome" the seemingly insurmountable computer giant into their backyard, the nascent "personal computer" market (and I credit IBM with popularizing the "PC" nomenclature). Instead, it's me welcoming Apple into the #smartglasses market. And like 1981, at this stage of the wearable-computing-eyewear market, it's early, with bona fide success for any or all players very much up in the air.

I just posted last month about Amazon's Echo Frames efforts, a product which include many things in common with the rumored Apple product. The big one, it would seem, is that both have the capability to be fitted with prescription lenses, meaning they can be full-time replacements for users' existing glasses.

The speculation about the Apple product's AR/VR functionality may end up winning the day, but to me, the main point of differentiation (at least as anticipated when Apple's product comes to fruition), is their assumed dependence on the companies' different "assistants", Amazon Echo (Alexa) and Apple Siri. It's accurate to say I use both of these technologies on a daily basis, and I view Amazon as having a very large advantage. While Siri manages to use my voice commands make a call or open an app on my iPhone, and Alexa does quite well with managing my home lighting and controlling a few (so far) other smart home functions, when they meet on the same playing field, like requesting information (just for fun, say, "who's birthday is it today?"), it seems Alexa is far more likely to speak back something pleasing ("today is Miles Davis's birthday", followed by a short bio of the late, great jazz great), whereas Siri seems to put the burden back on me ("Sorry, I don't see any matches in your contacts"). 

Like with Amazon Echo Frames, I am happy to keep an eye on this development from Apple. I just don't anticipate beating down the doors for a pair - or is it singular, as in "Glass". That nomenclature did not work so well for Google (with the quickly-coined term "Glasshole" gaining widespread buzz) - we will see for Apple!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Another "Smartglasses" opportunity with Amazon Echo Glasses - guess I will be missing some moments

My chance for a third experience owning a "smartglasses" product has come and gone, for now at least
When Amazon Echo Frames were announced in September 2019, with limited availability, I couldn't resist getting on the waiting list with hopes of being "invited" to buy them sometime in the hopefully near future. I was teeing up a third experience for me with so-called "smartglasses", and with their built-in Alexa capabilities, the promise of Frames seemed to also play well with my ever-growing usage of Amazon's digital assistant/smart speaker technology around home. I was hoping to give these a try by pulling the trigger on the invitation when it came in March of this year.

In terms of my high interest in wearable computing and specifically eyeware, nothing has changed much since the day I tweeted out my Google Glass "application" in 2012. Then, I ended up getting back a qualifying tweet in the Spring and picking them up in August 2013 at Google offices in San Francisco. With fitting and a little training session thrown in, I was out $1500, plus travel expenses, but I fully enjoyed experimenting and being part of the legion of "Glass Explorers". I should add that as a professor of marketing, I was very impressed with Google's ability to craft a beta test program with so much cachet that it could be a money-maker on its own!

I wrote about my Google Glass experiences in a post to this blog back in 2017, and overall, it was worthwhile and enlightening being a #GlassExplorer (that's the hashtag we were encouraged to use as we shared Glass experiences on social media). Their novelty did eventually wear off though, so I resold the gadget on eBay for a reasonable price, and waited for my next wearable opportunity.

Me in my Snapchat Spectacles
That came in the form of Snapchat Spectacles, which I gave a try a few years later. They were an interesting product that offered another memorable marketing rollout, sharing that with Google Glass. Their product's usage model diverged, with Glass being more of an always-on information application with its imaging capability only part of the feature set. Snapchat's product was based on sunglasses, and could be simply described as "sunglasses that take photos". This simplified concept was matched by a much lower price (in the single-digit hundreds rather than the single-digit thousands). I jumped in, but the novelty wore off almost before it began,  for me especially as a  normally infrequent wearer of sunglasses,and I was in and out of Spectacles ownership quite quickly, again with some help from eBay.

It seemed I might be ready for another run at this category, and as already mentioned, my invitation for Echo Frames came through a few weeks ago. Now it was on me to decide if I would take the $180 plunge, in a somewhat urgent fashion - the invitation would expire soon. Part of the decision meant thinking back on my wearables "legacy", which I have briefly recounted here, and that much inspired me to move forward.

But...Echo Frames clearly are aimed at full-time glasses wearers which I am not. I already mentioned that my high interest in this category of products had not changed over the years, but one thing that had changed was a normal, slow downward trend in my eyes' "uncorrected" seeing abilities. I still remain a part-time glasses wearer, though, with off-the-shelf readers supplemented by prescription lenses for intermediate distances, i.e. desktop and laptop screens. 

Also...they are aimed at, and work with, Android phones, with no iOS (iPhone) compatibility. Show stopper for me!

Plus...messing around with getting the frames and then getting prescription lenses elsewhere, which would need more fiddling, and no doubt cost, for getting them installed, just wasn't sounding like a great prospect for me. Echo Frames would set me back $179.99 plus tax, to start, with who knows how much to follow.

I ended up spending under $100 and ordering a new pair of Warby Parkers with my "intermediate/computer" prescription, all "installed" and ready to go! Not "smartglasses", but no muss, no fuss, and very little learning curve!

And those missed moments in the post's title? That is just a play on Amazon's marketing tagline for Echo Frames. Actually, I think I am just fine missing a few, if it comes down to that!

Seems like something we're saying this a lot these days, but my whole little investigation here has led to more questions than answers. For example, what has my full history with Amazon Echo/Alexa and related technologies entailed? Can I find photo examples, specifically how do I search, effectively, for "camera of origin" in Google Photos? What about that "lifelogging" bodycam I tried - does that count? This is just a start, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

2020 Oscars and Super Bowl - one week apart!

Screenshot from my recent Google Search, confirming the Super Bowl was played in late January in 1995 
With some of the year's biggest (and my favorite) TV events coming up, I find myself curious about the dates - and the memory of some old benchmarks I once counted on. Is the calendar compressing? Like most things, it depends on who you ask (or more accurately, where you look).

First, the Super Bowl? I remember watching just about all the games, way back to the very first one (Packers won, of course) and even the fourth - with the Chiefs extending the AFL's winning streak to two. It started as an afternoon game in early January, but the date began to slip. It's now (seemingly) firmly lodged in early February. 

And the Oscars? I remember one night in the early '80s being at a gathering for young adults on a Spring evening (Monday), when the NCAA men's basketball finals and the Academy Awards were conflicting, on the same night! That would have been in late March.

In 2020, the two of the biggest TV nights in America are ONE WEEK apart. The NFL will be helping us celebrate Ground Hog's Day this year, with kickoff at 6:30pm EST on February 2nd. The Oscars will air the following week in the same time slot. (Evening of February 9th.)

So I arbitrarily went back 25 years, and did a Google search for the dates of the 1995 game and ceremony. And I am feeling I can trust my memory! That year, the big game was played on January 29th. And the Academy Awards that year? Still in the late March timeframe I remembered.

In conclusion, it's the film awards that have moved, the most anyway. In both cases, trophies are awarded based (mostly) on achievements in the prior year, so getting the ceremony closer to year in question seems sensible. I will be watching both - and yes, paying attention to the commercials as well.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Review: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had never heard of Teddy Roosevelt's post-presidential expedition to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil until the recently-aired Ken Burns series ("The Roosevelts"). The perilous nature of the trip intrigued me and so when I saw this book, authored by a National Geographic reporter Candice Miller, I knew I had to read it. And I am happy that I did - even if it took what must be a year or more to finish (thanks to our public library for seemingly endless renewals).

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