Category Archives: Technology

Payback Time

Parents: how much money do you think you’ve spent on video games?

Consoles, cartridges, disks, online subscriptions, wireless controllers, memory modules… and how much of hardware is in a shoebox in the basement, replaced by the latest system?

Yeah, I know.

That’s why I’m so happy to report that I’ve finally gotten some of that money back! Yes, after shelling out untold piles of cash — particularly around birthdays and Christmas — the video game industry is now paying me. Ha!

checkJust last week, I received this check in the mail for the whopping sum of $24!
Woo-hoo! Windfall! The $24 is my share of the settlement of a class action suit, Pecover vs. Electronic Arts. My purchase of a copy of Madden NFL makes me one of the aggrieved consumers. Power to the people!

I’m not sure how many more lawsuits it will take for me to put a dent in my video game expenses, but it’s a start.

Thinning the Herd

As of this morning I had 283 Facebook friends. Next week at this time I’ll have fewer.

Facebook has value and provides some good things. I’m genuinely interested in much of what my Friends post, but lately I’ve noticed there are lot of people on there that I was never really friends with — and honestly, I can’t imagine they’re very interested in what I post there.

So, one by one I’m picking people who have to go. It’s not personal, just that I don’t care much about them and they seem not to care much about me, so why not?

For the others, I make it a habit to hit the Like button  a few times a day. It’s important for people to know that you’re interested in what they’re posting, especially is you want to carry the title Friend.

If not, it’s like that guy you meet for coffee who can’t stop talking about himself. You say something interesting and they act as if they didn’t even hear you. That’s what Facebook can be like, as hundreds of people go on about their favorite subject: themselves.

This century’s existential crisis is posting things online and wondering if anyone has bothered to read it. If you’re going to take the time to fool around with Twitter and Facebook, spend a moment to let people know that you’re not just talking, you’re listening.

Time Warner Can Byte Me

Here’s an excerpt from the email I got from Time Warner this week:

We want to inform you of upcoming changes to your Internet service price beginning with your next bill. The Internet Modem Lease will be $5.99.

What? It used to be that the cable giant provided a modem for free, but less than a year ago they started charging $3.99 per month. Now, inexplicably, they’ve added two bucks more. Very nice.

Time Warner already nickel and dimes you death on everything, so this is no surprise, but you don’t have to take it lying down: buy your own modem and tell them where they can put theirs.

There’s a list of acceptable models on their website; after a bit of shopping, I found that while a modem isn’t cheap, it will pay for itself in under a year. The Netgear CMD31T seems to be about the best bargain at $79.99, but you can also find used refurbished modems cheaper, or for a real bargain, buy one on eBay.

Maybe you think this is no big deal, but it’s a symptom of the ongoing arrogance of an industry that thinks it’s the only game in town.

But if you ask me, big cable companies should be worried. They are in the same position as newspapers were ten years ago: rapidly nearing the edge of a cliff that they seem not to notice. Some will change direction and others will plunge to the bottom.

Spacing Out

I Googled “Italian astronaut jokes” early this morning after hearing how NASA cancelled the EVA of Luca Parmitano after an EMU malfunction. Space geeks know that an EVA is a spacewalk and an EMU a spacesuit.

It seems that Parmitano, the first Italian astronaut to walk in space, was having a little trouble with his helmet: it was filling with water. Yes, that’s a little trouble.

Speaking of space, I just read two terrific books about space travel, Packing for Mars by Mary Roach and Riding Rockets  by former Space Shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane.

Roach’s book, which examines the science behind putting humans in space, is laugh out loud funny as it closely examines things like zero gravity pooping and the hazards of vomitting in your helmet. The most minute detail of everything astronauts do has been studied to death — often in bizarre ways.

Mullane writes about life as one of the original Space Shuttle astronauts. It’s a frank and hilarious (and mildly profane) glimpse of what it’s like to prepare for and fly in space. It’s also pretty heavy, too. Mullane worked closely with the crew aboard the Challenger — and early in his book he discusses the worries over the disasterously ill fated o-rings on the solid rocket boosters.

Anyway, the only Italian astronaut joke I could find goes like this:

Q: What do you call an Italian astronaut?

A: A specimen.

Please accept my apologies.

Google Summer

I was looking up an address in the Bronx and stumbled across this Google Street View image that really says summer. Cooling off in the spray of a hydrant seems like something from the distant past, but here it is!

Keeping Score

When my father took us to ball games at Shea Stadium we always had pretty good seats, but the ultimate was the time we sat on the press level.

This was before the age of luxury boxes, so the accomodations were not plush, but it certainly felt special. We rode up the elevator and stepped out into and exclusive hidden corridor where we nearly walked right into Mets announcer Lindsey Nelson. I’d have asked for an autograph, but I must have been blinded by his plaid sportcoat.

As it happens, we were not far from the broadcast booth where Nelson and Ralph Kiner sat, so for much of the game I was distracted by what was going on down there with the cameras and all. I’d recently been bitten by the TV bug, so all that was more fascinating than the action on the field.

My father? He was a big fan and religiously kept score in his program. He followed the action with great concentration, and fortunately, always found time to keep me primed with hot dogs and peanuts.

These days there are apps for those who wish to keep score and they tap it out on their phone — but some people still do it the old fashioned way, scratching away with a pencil and program. This from a recent story in the New York Times:

On July 4 at Citi Field, Kevin Hogan, 54, of Richmond, Va., said keeping score by hand “helps fuel my anal retentiveness.” But he also thought the system, venerable as it is, could be better.

“I just asked the vendor, how come there’s no eraser on the pencil?” he said.

The vendor replied, “Don’t make any mistakes.”

I tried keeping score a few times, but it always got in the way of my eating and drinking, so I never made it through an inning or two.

Data Cleansing II

sdcardMy policy at home is if I find money in the wash, it’s mine. But the kids aren’t the only ones who don’t empty the pockets of their dirty clothes.

A while back I washed and dried a USB stick, and to my surprise, it worked just fine afterward. This week, I conducted another accidental experiment and ran an SD card through the laundry.

This one had me worried, because there were some important pictures on the card — and when I realized it was missing I knew exactly what had happened and raced for the basement.

It was in my shirt pocket, a very stupid place for an SD card, so it would have served me right to lose it or ruin it — but thank God it still worked. Somebody up there likes me.

I worry about digital media constantly and I’m trying to figure out the foolproof solution to keeping it safe. Sure, these little cards are precarious, but so are the hard drives where we keep things permanently. Do we trust cloud storage? Should we have a copy online and keep a hard copy? Who knows.

Nothing is is forever. Do what you can to protect things, to keep them from being washed away, but try not to let it make you crazy.

Earth Day

Technology that you once read about in science fiction is now disposable.

Look at this RFID device I saw on the sidewalk. It wasn’t long ago that this would blow people’s minds: a small device that could fit nearly anywhere and track almost anything.

To quote Oscar Madison, “Now it’s garbage.”

rfid

And that RFID is a just a small thing. You probably have old computers, cell phones, game systems and things kicking aroung in your house – all miraculous stuff that’s now obsolete. Our trash is now better than any technology of twenty years ago.

When something as interesting as that RFID thingy is stuck to the sidewalk like an old piece of chewing gum, then we must really be going places.

Slippery Slopes

Yes, ski areas are one of those places where you wish everyone would act more like you, for then the world would be a better place.

Jiminy PeakThe majority of the folks you find on the ski slopes are pleasant, normal people — but for some reason the sport seems to attract a fair number of d-bags. Fortunately, it’s easier to spot them these days because they are all talking loudly on their cell phones in the lift line or, god help me, on the ski lift.

One of my pet peeves  has always been people who fail to remove the old lift tickets from their jacket, wearing them like badges of honor of their exploits. That may soon be a thing of the past as places like Jiminy Peak replace the ubiquitous paper tickets with RFID cards that you keep in your pocket. Now you move up to a gate that reads your card and allows you access to the lift.

You might think that some people would resist this, and maybe punch a hole in their RFID card so they can dangle it from their jacket; according to the FAQ, this is a bad idea:

Holes must never be punched in the Axess Jiminy Cards. The card has an antenna inside that surrounds the RFID tag. Any damage to the surrounding antenna will render the card inactive and the card must be replaced. A replacement fee may be required.

Not to worry; these cards and electronic readers are very safe for people with pacemakers — but just in case:

Guests with pacemakers must not wear their lift access media cards near the heart when passing through the gate and a distance of 8 to 12 inches should be observed in the case of queues and while passing through the gate.   If vertigo or sickness is experienced, get out of the direct vicinity of the gate or device.

Oh, if only we could figure out a way to make these cards jam cell phone signals. Then we’d be making some progress.