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The Future Arrived While I was Napping

Dear Readers:
I went on vacation at the end of May and never came back mentally. Trying to think of new things to write about for Tech Sunday was wearing me down but I know that this is a vital feature of the Dear Author blog. Therefore, I reached out to the community for help and JSON responded. JSON is not only a romance reader, but a technological expert along with having a wealth of knowledge about publishing. Sunday’s feature isn’t changing with JSON at the helm; it’s only getting better.
Best,
Jane

Are you Wired?

I dithered about what my first tech post here would be about. I started and abandoned a couple of topics. But now I think I have it. I’d like to expand on The Internet of Things, a subject Jane wrote about in this post, which touched on wearable technologies and the Internet connected house.

It’s the future right now. As long as the devices are actually usable–that is, designed thoughtfully and carefully–consumers will find them useful in ways they did not expect.

Frictionless Design

Here is an example of what I mean by thoughtfully designed: Some years ago, my job supplied me with a BlackBerry phone because my tech position required me to be on call 24/7. Email was pretty easy on the phone, and I got texts and phone calls. The phone did what it was required to do, and it did it well. That was pretty much all it did. There was internet, but it was a pain to get there and do anything.

Enter the iPhone. I bought one for my personal use. Once, though, I handed a young teen my BlackBerry and asked him how he would get to the internet on the phone. He was unable to figure it out.

My next work phone was a Motorola smart phone that I could barely use. I could usually answer the phone but email and texts were a nightmare. Every single feature that was an effortless swipe on my iPhone was buried in a confusing hierarchy on the Motorola. I gave a silent cheer when that phone died. My current work phone is a Samsung Galaxy 4S which is a joy to use. It’s no accident that Apple sued them for patent infringement.

The point is this: the iPhone is near frictionless. Functionally speaking, there is almost no barrier to using its features. Since I am fully abled, I can only represent that my understanding is that the iPhone is also a device with fewer barriers to those who require adaptive technologies.

The iPhone did what no Internet capable phone before it did: spawn a billion dollar industry in apps and undreamed of uses for connected devices. Previous phones were not thoughtfully designed; they were engineered. A user interface was imposed over the engineering: a veneer that did not resolve the fundamental un-usability of the device.

The design that went into the iPhone created an environment that changed our interactions with everything else, too. Need to deposit a paper check? You no longer need to find an ATM or go to the bank. If you have a smart phone or tablet, you can deposit the check right where you are.

We’re Here!!

I own two of the connected systems mentioned in Jane’s article. I read the comments to that post with great interest, and I found myself thinking that some of the lack of enthusiasm had to do with the friction of our current experience, either because of a fault in the device itself or because the technology is presented through the lens of current knowledge.

I have a Pebble watch. The Pebble is an eInk device. (Funded, by the way, via a Kickstarter.) The watch runs software that requires updates. You can download different watch faces, and you can download apps. It needs to be charged every few days. It connects to a smart phone via Bluetooth. There is no keyboard. Navigation is through buttons on the watch, a system that is functionally the same as navigating through any non-smart, non-connected, digital watch.

My expectations of the watch in no way matched my actual experience of it. I bought it because I needed a new watch, and I’m a technology geek who had the $150.00 on hand.

With the Pebble, I can change how the watch displays the time. (I get bored easily.) If I don’t happen to have my phone in hand and someone calls me, I can glance at my watch to see who is calling me. This is astonishingly useful when the boss is standing at your desk, or if you have stepped away but remain in range. I can decide whether to let a call go to voice mail or pick up my phone and answer it. Breaking news? On the watch. Someone retweeted you? On the watch. Sports results? On the watch.

Yes, you can set which notifications you want to get: lots, some, or none.

The Pebble, as shipped to me, did not have a countdown timer, which meant I still used my old Casio to set timers. Six weeks later, there were several very nice timer apps. My Casio is not updateable. It still has the exact same functionality it had when I bought it five years ago.

The Pebble can connect to iPhone apps. Runkeeper (a workout app) became far more useful to me when I could glance at my watch to see my time and pace instead of breaking the concentration of my workout because let’s face it, sweaty hands can drop an iPhone.

In short, the Pebble is convenient and useful in ways I could not imagine at the time I ordered it. This technology will only get better, too.

Fiat Lux

On a whim I bought the starter kit for the Phillips Hue light system. (It contains a hub and three lights.) These lights connect to a hub that connects to your home wireless network. The lights form a mesh network– they connect to the hub and to each other. You can still use the light switch to turn them on or off (if you’re old fashioned). Through a tablet, smartphone or, yes, a Pebble watch, you can control the lights individually or in groups that you create. Lights can be grouped in any combination you find useful. A group of all the lights in the living room. A group consisting of one light in every room. Just the left side of a room. All the lights.

At the time of my purchase, I believed my primary use of the lights would be to play with changing the colors. Because yes, you can make the lights just about any color or combination of colors you like. You can also adjust the intensity of the lights. How fun is that? Pretty fun, it turns out. But is all the fun and entertainment worth the money? The starter kit is $200. Bulbs are $60 each. On the face of it, that’s some pretty expensive fun.

Give up my mesh-networked lights? You will pry my Hue lights out of my cold dead hands. Not because I can turn the lights orange if I want, or the colors of the rainbow, or various intensities of white.

Before long, I had replaced most, but not all of the lights in the house. The lights can be put on timers. You can turn them on or off even if you are not in the room. Or home. If I am in bed and can’t recall if I turned off the lights in another room, I can check without getting out of bed and turn them off if need be. The lights wake me up in the morning. When I’m working from home, the lights in my office are set to fade in and slowly become brighter.

They are fun. They amuse the kids. You can prank other people in the house. (Wow, who could have turned the lights in your room jellybean colors?) The ability to set timers and fade in and out on a schedule is useful and beneficial in ways I could not and did not imagine. There are other devices that can talk to your lights and allow you to turn them on or off via motion.

I did some arithmetic. The lights last seven years. Based on their energy efficiency and compared to what other light bulbs cost to operate, the lights I have purchased so far pay for themselves in three years.

These technologies will only get better. The ones that are so thoughtfully designed as to be frictionless will be useful in ways we cannot presently imagine. But, like our smart phones, we may find we can’t imagine life without them.

And now, A favor?

I would love to know what you’d like to see discussed and covered here. Product/Gadget reviews are a definite Can Do! What gadgets would you like to see reviewed?

As to topics, I can broadly cover subjects such as Information Security, from principles to why your password is probably terrible (and why it’s not really your fault but you are still at risk so you need to do something); cryptography concepts; how technology has radically changed how we store, think about, and deliver data. Computers, servers, software I love, software I hate. New and interesting ways to consume stories. Technology for readers. Technology for writers.

Any comments and suggestions you have would be much appreciated.

IAM JSON

Json is a longtime technology geek who has been, more or less in order, desktop support, Netware Admin, Network Administrator, web developer, lead web developer, data architect, database administrator. Json has a strong interest in network and computer security and currently works on the database end of software development. On the side, Json has set up a DocBooks workflow and would be done with the Hadoop install if Mongo db weren't so shiny.

28 Comments

  1. library addict
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 05:34:26

    Looking forward to your tech posts.

    I try to have different passwords for just about everywhere and stronger ones for financial sites, but I have issues now where I remember my older passwords and not the new ones. Same with my new bank PINs after the Target fiasco. I think my brain just doesn’t want to remember new things anymore, yet I can still recall my work and home phone numbers from twenty plus years ago. A post(s) about passwords and information security sounds interesting.

    I would also like to see an updated “must have” apps post. I know I got Out of Milk and Evernote because of DA. But I don’t tend to browse the Play store very much so I am no doubt missing out on stuff.

    ReplyReply

  2. nasanta
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 08:50:59

    I enjoyed the post today. I recently switched to the iPhone from using an Android, and to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the iPhone. I dearly miss the back button, the shortcut button, and the customization of the Androids. The Fiat Lux and the Pebble sound so fun and interesting! And expensive. Just curious but do they work with Androids?

    Password, servers, software, etc. All sound good and interesting to me.

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  3. Dabney Grinnan
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 08:57:02

    @library addict: I have been using Dashlane for the past two years and have found it worth the investment. I don’t let the program make up the passwords for me–I have a system that I use that generates somewhat rememberable hard to crack passwords for each site. I update passwords every year–I’m moving to every six months–and routinely don’t know what stage a site is in. Dashlane works across devices and is easy to use. It’s the best password app/help I’ve found.

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  4. Dabney Grinnan
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 08:58:23

    I am a Sonos user and am ready to take the next plunge to an all home server. Is that something you’ve installed in your home? If so, how did you configure it and with what software?

    Great column. The Pebble sounds so tempting.

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  5. Darlene Marshall
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 09:25:29

    I’m a huge fan of password protection programs, specifically mSecure. It was a pain for the first hour I had to enter all my information, but now I don’t know how I managed without it. I only need to remember a couple passwords instead of 50, it syncs with my iPad and iPhone, and it stores all my information. I can click and paste passwords to enter them, and I can group my passwords by usage (travel, personal, business, etc.)

    I’m waiting on the iWatch, which I expect will be on the market by the end of 2015.

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  6. Christina
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 09:32:48

    I would love to see discussions about getting/staying organized digitally. I’ve noticed that a lot of apps are great if you’re starting out on something or don’t have a backlog to slog through and update. For example, I would love to make myself an inventory of all my books but I’ve got four formats (paper, nook, Kindle, and Google) and no good way to integrate what’s already digital with what I need to physically input. (Calibre is somewhat useful, but I often forget to start it up and update it since I’m usually not actually at my computer when I purchase digital books, and then don’t think about it for months at a time.)

    I’m always happy to see another person who loves their pebble! I honestly don’t know what I’d do without mine… it tells me everything I need to know unobtrusively – including when to take my pills all day. I got mine at Best Buy for $120.

    @nasanta – yes the pebble works with android as well as iPhone. https://getpebble.com/

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  7. Eliza Evans
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 09:33:23

    I use 1Password to manage my passwords and I recommend it wholeheartedly. When that Heartbleed mess went down I changed dozens of passwords in less than an hour. I have the desktop app plus the iPhone/iPad version and they all sync together.

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  8. Darlynne
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 10:45:16

    I enjoyed your article very much. Although I don’t see myself with a Pebble or light system, I can certainly appreciate how technology is changing and developing. Since you asked:

    We run Linux Mint on our computers and while Calibre, the lifeline for managing digital books, supports that platform, not much else book-related does. Information on Wine for Kindle is confusing and I don’t think there’s anything for Digital Editions.

    Also, AT&T has finally admitted that we’re never going to be in range for hi-speed Internet. We’d like to create our own wifi hotspot, a mifi, but can’t find a device that can be (a) unlocked and (b) has at least two Ethernet ports. Portability doesn’t really matter, although it would be a benefit. All suggestions welcome.

    I look forward to your future tech posts. Thanks.

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  9. jessP
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 11:05:38

    I can’t wait to see what you’ll talk about. Anything, everything – even if I’ll never use it, I’d like to hear about it. I, too, use mSecure (@Darlene Marshall!) and I love it, but I worry that I won’t remember the dropbox code to sync it if I lose my phone – I just tend to worry about Bad Things happening as I’ve become more reliant on devices that help manage my life, but require me to pay attention to how I manage them.

    I read somewhere that one of the strongest passwords you can generate is four random words – not the first letters of a phrase, but random words. Is that true? If it is, that would be great, because I can remember those words a lot more easily than I can the random symbols/numbers/letters/caps/not caps of my current range of passwords. I remember my very first Visa card number – it’s not like I can’t remember things, but I’ve exceeded my capacity with so many passwords, and if I could just rely on 4 consistent random words I’d be thrilled.

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  10. Janine
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 11:22:13

    Welcome to DA, Json. It’s great to have you join us.

    Technology for readers. Technology for writers.

    I’m definitely interested in the above two topics!

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  11. Statch
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 11:26:48

    Yes, anything about passwords would be great. I’ve just started using KeepPass. Right now I’m just gathering all the various account information I have in it, using the existing passwords, then plan to start changing them regularly. I’d love to hear about other methods/apps, though. Anything about new technology (loved the Pebble review – I’ve been thinking about getting one), especially gadgets, and software/apps. I have a Samsung S3 Android phone and it can do so much more than I know how to do. Also, I’d love to hear how people are doing computer backups. I know I’m not doing what I need to be doing but I get so overwhelmed when I try to read up on the possibilities. I’m especially interested in how people keep Calibre backed up. Right now I have the library on my laptop, and I copy it over to Dropbox every so often. I worry about keeping it on Dropbox because of the DMCA flap they had a while back (I buy all my books, but some may no longer be in the original format). I had the library only on Dropbox for a while but worried about losing it to a sync issue.

    Maybe also a review/summary of the options out there now for people who are in the market for a new laptop?

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  12. Janine
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 12:25:30

    @Statch:

    Maybe also a review/summary of the options out there now for people who are in the market for a new laptop?

    Yes, please!

    ReplyReply

  13. Lada
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 12:31:09

    Great start, IAM JSON. I’ve been wanting a Pebble and you’ve just increased my lust. Maybe you could do a comparative between different smart watches closer to xmas? Not sure I’ll be able to hold out until then but I can try!

    And I always like articles about underused phone apps/tech that help me discover things to do with my phone that I’m currently missing out on. Things change or get updated so often that I think a regular feature would be helpful.

    This tech spot is one of the things I love about DA. So much more than great books! I’m guessing you’ll be doing something about passwords sooner rather than later based on comments so far but I’m interested in everything you mentioned. Software you love and hate would be interesting as well and tech for readers/writers. Look forward to your future posts!

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  14. DS
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 12:35:01

    I went from iPhone to Samsung and frankly I love my new Samsung. It’s a note and find it great to be able to pop the stylus out and write directly on the screen. However, I kept my old iPhone. First because the trade in value was something like $7– yes, it was old but it is also in excellent condition. I now use it as a universal remote for my television, Roku and WD Media player. For some reason I am less likely to mislay it than the itty bitty remotes that came with these boxes.

    However, maybe there is a topic in what to do with outdated tech or things that may have just lost their shine. I’m a bit of a tech hoarder I’m afraid.

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  15. Statch
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 12:54:18

    I forgot to mention that I’m also interested in anything to do with discovery. For example, how do you keep up with what’s new in consumer tech? The other thing I’ve been struggling with is discovery of TV. We’re late to the party and just finding out that there are a ton of great drama series on TV. We’re catching up on past seasons, but I keep finding new-to-us series, watching the old ones and then finding out that the new season just started and I’ve missed episodes that now I’ll have to pay for to watch anytime soon. And the shows are spread out over lots of networks. How do people figure out what to watch and when to watch it, other than word of mouth? (I realize this may not be the right site for this topic, but just in case anyone else out there is interested in this.)

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  16. Liz H.
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 13:15:33

    I’m curious about the Pebble- Can it be synched to a computer, rather than a phone? How useable is it for someone with limited dexterity in their hands (bad arthritis)? Are there any other smart-watches you’d recommend- variations along the functionality/price spectrum? (I.e. Something cheaper even if it doesn’t do quite as much?)

    I must admit the tech column is one of my favorites at DA. It is accessible, well written, and often provides a better written more relevant reviews than many tech sites, and you seem to be continuing that trend. I’d love to read more about hardware and software that you love and hate, tech for readers, passwords, other practical day to day technology things, etc. I’m particularly interested in the current and future e-reader market- my Nook seems to be dying, and I don’t want a kindle. What are my options?

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  17. Amy Kathryn
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 14:18:19

    I think this is going to be great.

    When we run out of reading things to talk about I have a few other entertainment/lifestyle gadgets that I would love to hear about.

    I know many have fitbits, the new iWatch, the Pebble mentioned above, or even the new iPhone 5s used as an exercise gadget. Who loves what and why? I need to move more and this seems to motivate others.

    For when I need to change eye focus and keep up with those shows mentioned above, I am a little intimidated by the differences/advantages of smart TV, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, etc. Right now I use my Prime streaming on the mini Ipad but I would love to get it on a bigger screen.

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  18. Janine
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 18:34:38

    I just thought of another tech topic that interests me — the collection of data by technology companies. What can consumers do to protect themselves from data collection while still enjoying new gadgets and apps? Is there anything to be done about it, or not?

    ReplyReply

  19. Lindsay
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 20:27:02

    Lovely article Json and super helpful for me! I own a smartphone but admittedly use it for maybe 1% of its entire potential — mostly phonecalls or texting, or looking up directions if I’m lost and on foot (and yet, when I need it for anything else, does it ever come through!). I’ll admit I still wanted a Pebble and covet a Fitbit for no reasons other than they are cool and tech is fun. I love hearing about how tech affects quality of life in unexpected ways for people! I really look forward to this being a regular feature again, Jane did an awesome job but I can understand it’s pretty much an entirely separate job at this point, trying to stay abreast.

    I love hearing about new tech, especially home stuff like the lights that you talked about and reading/writing technology. I’m also super interested in the psychology of a lot of apps and games, from Candy Crush’s arguably negative-for-the-user formula to turn people into whales to habitRPG’s arguably-positive gamification of real-life responsibilities and habits (the latter has made me more productive in so many small ways).

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  20. cleo
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 21:18:24

    I second @Amy Kathryn – I’d love more info on tv alternatives. And @Janine – more on data collection please.

    ReplyReply

  21. IAM JSON
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 23:17:13

    @library addict:

    The password situation is fundamentally broken. It’s impossible for anyone to have a different password for every site, and if you use a pattern for your passwords, then it is vulnerable to guessing. About the only thing we have that helps, is applications that remember your passwords for you and generate very strong passwords.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

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  22. IAM JSON
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 23:36:00

    @nasanta:

    Nasanta:

    Yes, there are some things I really really love about the Samsung. The S4 is a larger size which I like, and the back button is nice.

    Dabney and others who mentioned similar apps:

    Yes, password programs that synch across devices are, currently, one of least painful ways to go. I use one myself for my personal life. With servers … I can only shake my head … because you’d think server passwords would be industrial strength and very often, they are not. But that’s a whole other post, what happens with servers and weak passwords, or non-unique passwords.

    Somewhere, there is surely some very smart people who are working on this issue, right? Right?

    Now, regarding what makes a password secure, currently, any password containing dictionary words is vulnerable to some extent. However, again, currently, passwords that are long, say, greater than 12 or 16 characters, as they are likely to be if they contain 4 words, are secure-ish, but that is mostly because the password cracking programs stop at a length of 8 to 12. As people switch to longer passwords, the scripts will adapt. Besides, I routinely run into sites that will not accept passwords longer than 6 or 8 characters. That is a database limitation, I’m afraid, and schema changes, such as increasing the length of the field, are quite expensive because you must update the database — which is easy enough, but also update all the application code — and that is a lot of work.

    So, longer passwords are better than shorter ones, but a given application may not allow a password long enough to be secure.

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  23. IAM JSON
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 23:49:52

    @Darlynne:

    Oh, believe me, I understand the pain of not having broadband — which in much of the US, isn’t very broad and or very fast. And if you can’t get even that?

    There are two possible solutions, one of which is getting harder as myfi devices change. Cost, by the way, is quickly prohibitive.

    Cradlepoint (and some others) make a router that accepts a dongle. Assuming you can find a myFi device that has a USB male plug, then you plug that into the router, which will have several ethernet ports, and voila. You have a wireless network in the house as well as available ethernet ports.

    The complications come in depending on where you live and what the cellular coverage is like. Virgin Mobile and some independent companies such a Blue Mountain Internet, sublet, essentially, from Sprint. And they sell/re-sell dongles that will work in a router. AT&T’s similar myfi, in my testing, simply did not work. Verizon also sells such devices. Unfortunately, you will find that either the data caps are unacceptably low for household use (5GB is a joke in this case) or prohibitively expensive for the amount of data required when you have to do software updates.

    The other option, which I assume is likely widely offered between the major carriers, is a shared mobile data plan via one or more myfi devices. The same problems with data caps and cost quickly arise. Alas.

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  24. IAM JSON
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 23:59:53

    Thanks for all the great comments and suggestions, by the way. I appreciate everyone letting me know what they’d like to see discussed here.

    I have plenty of things to get in line!

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  25. IAM JSON
    Jul 14, 2014 @ 00:14:21

    @Liz H.:

    The pebble does not synch to a computer. It’s essentially 1-direction. (BOY BAND JOKE!!!!) In that, you can receive communications from your phone (iOS or Android) on the watch. I must amend that somewhat, in that the Pebble, or certain Pebble apps, can communicate back to your phone, for example, to play or select music.

    @Janine:
    I think we are in a consumer-hostile environment when it comes to data-collection. There are a few apps/services where you can run inside a VPN (virtual private network) that can help you avoid some of this. I’ve been using one that I like, though it does seem to have an effect on battery life.

    Eventually, some company, with Facebook being a pretty good candidate right now, is going to step so egregiously wrong that there will be legislation that might ramp back some of the excesses.

    I can talk about some of these issues in a future post.

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  26. Kaetrin
    Jul 14, 2014 @ 01:34:51

    Welcome to Dear Author JSON.

    I’ve been using Lastpass to store and create passwords and I find it words really well to make unique and strong passwords that I’d have no hope of remembering otherwise. It makes it so much easier to have just the one master password.

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  27. MaryK
    Jul 14, 2014 @ 16:39:26

    I’d like to hear about security topics. That’s my biggest objection to the Internet of Things. I can just see some jerk hacking in and turning off all the fridges in the neighborhood or even tampering with somebody’s pacemaker.

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  28. IAM JSON
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 22:23:50

    @MaryK:

    @MaryK One of the networked light systems, though not the bulbs I use, was recently found to be vulnerable to a hack. That’s just one that was found. There will be vulnerability in any such system.

    ReplyReply

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