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gadgets

17 Sep

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Tools I Use (September 2012 edition)

September 17, 2012 | By |

objects

As a geek, it’s one of my duties and privileges to occasionally give tech & gadget advice. Sometimes to companies, more often to friends and family. I try to collect that stuff online under the tag Tools I Use. Here’s a snapshot of some of the gadgets and tools I’m currently using, and why:

Macbook Air

I’m still on a Macbook Air of about two years of age, about to be replaced. It’s my main & only computer, and I’m on it all day, every day. The Air has enough power for almost anything I encounter day to day, and its super lightweight design makes more than up for the occasionally over-powered processor. Of course, an external screen is nice and recommended. More screen real estate is good.

Nexus S v Galaxy S3

I loved my Nexus S phone, pure Android goodness. But it’s old now, and about to die. Time to let it go.

After years on various Android phones, I was (once more) just about ready to jump ship and switch over to iPhone. Initially I went to Android because it was more open than Apple’s iOS platform, then admittedly because I didn’t want to admit to myself that Google’s competitor isn’t as open as it set out to be. Both platforms by now try to lock you into their ecosystems, and both by now have pretty mature ecosystems, too.

While I consider the hardware design, by now, more eye candy than the software & platform aspects, on the design front the new iPhone kicks the Samsung Galaxy S3’s ass any day. (Same goes for naming conventions, as the last sentence easily demonstrates.)

That said, back to platforms and software: My mail and calendar live at Google. I don’t like iTunes. And I prefer Google Maps over Apple’s less mature mapping tools. (I hear very good things about Nokia maps, but hey, you can’t have it all.) So any promise the iPhone can give me about better integrating iCloud, iTunes or Apple’s calendar and email sounds to me more like a bug than a feature. I understand why many people opt for the Apple-verse, but when the road forked way back when, with one road leading to Apple lock-in and the other leading to (slightly less total) Google lock-in, I made a choice, and now it seems not worth switching.

My new phone is the Samsung Galaxy S3, the current top-of-the-line Android phone, the flagship model.

To get a better hands-on feeling for iOS, I guess I’ll just get an iPad. Using both platforms in parallel will both maximize friction and transaction costs, and give me a good side by side comparison. It’s the price I have to pay for geeking out.

Camera

I don’t really use any camera besides my phone. I’m on the market for a super compact model, but for almost any given context the phone camera should be good enough.

Headphones

For heavy duty, loud contexts (long plane rides, New York subway, etc) I use Audio Technica Quietpoint noise cancelling phones.

For the day to day, including sports and lots of conference calls, I’m quite happy with my Bose IE2 in-ears. Being in-ears, there’s lots of cable to get tangled up, but sound quality and fit are quite good. It’s not easy to find a good mix of headset and in-ears, and I’ve used them for the last nine months or so and am quite content with them.

Extra battery

On more intense days, my phone battery won’t make it through the day. So I frequently need some extra juice. A simple, if not particularly elegant solution is an external battery pack. I use one from TeckNet, which (like the name indicates) is a bit of a plasticky, cheap-ish affair. Yet, it works. And the current models actually look at least superficially like they might have improved in overall quality. Whichever brand you use, it’s good to have an extra charge of connectivity in your pocket.

Travel gear

  • Everyday backpack: Mission Workshop Rambler. Excellent, and just the right size and pocket layout for laptop & the necessary gadgets, extra jacket/sweatshirt, water bottle and all the cables, etc, that keep adding up.
  • Carry on: Rimowa IATA Cabin Trolley (two wheels). Hard to beat, and can take a beating. Heavy, but I like the aluminum finish. (The other materials are more light-weight.) Just big enough for 3-4 days of clothes and running shoes if you travel light.
  • Backpack for longer intense trips: Eagle Creek. Not sure which model, but I think it’s what they would now have updated to Rincon Vita. Light weight, huge volume, pretty much indestructible.

All of them are a bit on the pricy side, but are reliable, durable, feature a decent minimalistic design. I wouldn’t leave my home without them.

More recommendations

Helpful? If you’re into tool recommendations, I highly recommend Kevin Kelly’s fantastic Cool Tools.

01 Dec

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Crossing technology vectors & emerging humane technology

December 1, 2011 | By |

Where will it lead? This is where it gets interesting.

It’s where emerging technologies – tech vectors, really – cross that truly new stuff happens. It’s also where bits and pieces, building blocks of more or less well-established technologies can be combined into something new that might be bigger than the sum of its parts. Or into something that’s completely and utterly banal, but maybe playful or just nice.

In either case it’s these intersections that I find most interesting to watch.

Enter BERG’s Little Printer:

Little Printer by BERG Image: Little Printer by BERG

The Little Printer is many things: A device to output digital information on paper. The output end of a larger infrastructure, a cloud service that BERG has built, that on the input side extends to a set of smartphone apps. It’s a physical manifestation of a process that BERG has been working on for a long time, namely to also be able to design, produce and deliver physical goods. (The other physical manifestation was the recent comic book project SVK.) And it’s a little printer, of course.

Now what I find personally fascinating here is this.

The Little Printer isn’t really anything groundbreaking, anything truly new. It’s a glorified receipt printer. Many printers have been hooked up to the web, to Twitter, to data streams. (BERG openly acknowledges them, too.) Quite a few folks on Twitter have been poking fun at the LP for that.

Yet, there’s something different about this one, other forces at work, so to speak.

One, some very subtle design tweaks make the Little Printer quite adorable. BERG is very, very good at making things adorable that shouldn’t possibly be adorable. It’s a friggin’ receipt printer, yet I want to hug it. Of course that’s mostly done through the images they used in the announcements, with the little face inside the printer etc. I imagine it’s a few of the shapes and colors, too, but I wouldn’t be able to reliable say. (Designers, got any hints for me?) I’m not sure if making technology cute is the best, or only, way to go, but I have to say: It works for me.

Two, there’s a decent, solid set of initial launch partners that give you the kind of content to print out that makes it easy to imagine how you’d use the product. Weather report, tweets, shopping list, it all makes sense. Again, I’m not sure if you really need explicit launch partners for a printer, but they have them, and it seems to work.

Three, it’s entirely and utterly banal, anti-climactic. It’s an entirely unthreatening bit of networked technology that prints out mostly harmless pieces of paper, when you press a button on your phone. I can totally imagine this thing blending right in – in my kitchen, on my desk, in the living room. Anti-climactic technology is lovely. Shrug tech: Do you mind me putting the printer here? Nah. It’s ubicomp in human shape, or maybe rather in humane shape. It’s brilliant that way.

On a meta-level and big BERG fan, of course I’m also curious to watch go through the learning process of producing physical goods.

But as it stands, I can see myself getting two Little Printers, one for the office and one for my kitchen. I’m not sure what I’d use it for, but I’m pretty sure that I’d use it. In an entirely unthreatening way, to print mostly harmless pieces of paper.

16 May

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iPhone Killer Prototype

May 16, 2010 | By |

Says my friend and open design guru Ronen Kadushin:

Whenever a new hand held device, or new exciting smartphone hits the market, a questions roars through the internets, tech blogs and news: Is this the iPhone killer? The answer is always…well…not quite, not yet…. So I was thinking, maybe these guys who make these devices are not looking at the right place for that iPhone killer. Why don’t I scratch that dream product itch, and transform this buzzword into a real product that it’s soul purpose is to do what it claims to be….. I’d like to introduce you to the iPhonekiller….It’s amazing… It is an open design, you can download it from my website, produce and use it. It is 1.6 Kg , 25mm ( 3.5 lbs, 1 inch) of precision laser cut steel, with a fantastic 36 cm wood ax handle. You can just feel the awesome power of it when you hold it in your hand..It’s amazing…….

And here it is, the iPhone Killer:

iPhone Killer by Ronen Kadushin

iPhone Killer by Ronen Kadushin

Like all Open Design products, you can modify and improve on the design easily. All the CAD files are available for download under a Creative Commons license.

Ronen’s website has all the details for the iPhone Killer.

Images by Ronen Kadushin & Chanan Strauss, some rights reserved

07 Apr

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If Murdoch endorses the iPad, it’s bad

April 7, 2010 | By |

In the Guardian, soon-to-be-ex media mogul Rupert Murdoch continues to claim Google steals Murdoch’s journalistic content, while the iPad might save journalism. Faced with the statement that consumers are used to getting their news for free, he reacts as follows:

Murdoch dismissed this fear, saying consumers could be forced to change their habits. “When they have got nowhere else to go they will start paying. If it is reasonable. No one is going to ask for a lot of money,” he said.

Now we have this weird situation: users reading their news for free; the iPad trying to cater to publishers more than consumers by making ads hard to circumvent; and Murdoch protecting burying his own content behind a paywall.

So far, Murdoch has done pretty much everything wrong that could be done wrong online. Blocking out search engines and users is just one of the more obvious mistakes that prove just how little he understands the new paradigms of a digital world. It also shows he doesn’t remember that readers never really paid for news, but for all the rest in a newspaper:

In a notional town with two perfectly balanced newspapers, one paper would eventually generate some small advantage — a breaking story, a key interview — at which point both advertisers and readers would come to prefer it, however slightly. That paper would in turn find it easier to capture the next dollar of advertising, at lower expense, than the competition. (…) For a long time, longer than anyone in the newspaper business has been alive in fact, print journalism has been intertwined with these economics. The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau. This wasn’t because of any deep link between advertising and reporting, nor was it about any real desire on the part of Wal-Mart to have their marketing budget go to international correspondents. It was just an accident. Advertisers had little choice other than to have their money used that way, since they didn’t really have any other vehicle for display ads.

Now when he endorses the iPad, that’s almost certainly a bad sign. It’s a sign that he, as a publisher is catered to. The same guy who wants to force consumers to change their behavior. The same guy who is willing to practically kill his newspapers by hiding the content from the eyes of the world.

Let’s hope that the iPad won’t empower the likes of Murdoch & Co too much. I’d rather see a device saving the industry by making the content more appealing, or easy to consume, or some third way of monetizing content. Something that makes empowers and delights consumers, not makes them slaves to archaic media moguls like Murdoch. Let’s see which device that’s going to be.