Sunday, July 29, 2012

Technology and Me: The Future is Now!

My poor, dead Samsung Epic 4G
This has been an unusual weekend for me. I am--for the first time in 8 years--without a cell phone for a stretch of days. I have learned that it is a bad idea to set your phone on the hood of your car while unloading the trunk. A really bad idea. Actually, I think the phone may have survived the fall to the street. I've dropped it on the tile twice with no ill effects. But the fact that I didn't realize it was even missing for a couple of hours. . .and then the fact that someone ran over it, is probably what killed it.

I had one of those big brick Motorola phones back in the mid-90s, for the job I had then. But from 1997 to 2004, I just didn't see the need for a mobile phone. We finally decided--with The Other Half being a flight attendant--that it would be a good idea. We started with little Samsung flip-phones. Two years later we upgraded to slimmer Samsung flip-phones. We graduated to semi-smart phones in 2008, with the Samsung Rant, a QWERTY keyboard slider that could (theoretically) access the internet. It was with those phones that we discovered the uses of texting; a mystery to us before. And in 2010 (after a two-week trial with a lesser smart phone) we finally took the plunge into the smart phone pool, with the Samsung Epic 4G, the next best thing to the iPhone, at least when it came out.

State of the art, um, never.
Since then, I've been frustrated by my phone. I like everything about it, except that mine seemed to be a lemon. The Other Half's was great, but mine was beset with several annoying glitches. And now it's dead. Prior to its death though, I got very accustomed to having it. I walk 4 miles per day, most days of the week. And I use my Epic to listen to either Pandora, or, which lets me record The Stephanie Miller Show, and play it back. If I go walking alone, it is a slog without something to listen to. So, when my phone died, I was bereft. What do I do?

Then I remembered that I have two off-brand MP3 players, given to me as gifts from my mother at various times. They weren't iPods, far from it (and ironically, I gave my sister my iPod after I got my phone). But they work. I can't find the one that had the built-in camera, and the cumbersome menus. But I did know where my Philips GoGear was! It's a nifty little player, about the size of a pack of gum. It has a very small memory, only 512K. . .but how much do you need for a 4-mile walk? Before my walk, I deleted some crappy songs, and loaded it up with some newer ones. Only up-tempo! And, I made sure it was charged, which didn't take long.
'member these?

I don't know how old the GoGear is, but I suspect at least seven years. So, I'm impressed that it still works. I'm impressed that it works with my newish computer so well, which treated it like any other removable drive. I'm impressed that the sound was so good, and. . .I discovered something new.

I should probably mention that I'm a techie from way back to almost infancy. I've been stringing wires and cobbling together electronic things for nearly as long as I can remember. I'm a bit of a bumbler, but I end up at the right place. And I often wonder how non-techies even manage to set things up. Of course, most people have a techie friend, so I guess I understand. But even with my background, I can be surprised by what I don't know.

A year and a half ago or so, I replaced most of our home entertainment system with things made in this century (and mostly, this decade!). I held on to the late-90s CD jukebox (which they still make, by the way), and the Blu-ray player we'd gotten for Christmas weeks before. The player had wi-fi, and my mother was clueless as to why I'd want that. I said, "because we can." I truly didn't know. Other than Blu-ray Live "special features" only available online, I had no idea.

This is from my blog post after fixing a problem with
my big Mitsubishi DLP HDTV.
It wasn't long before I took Netflix up on their constant offer to subscribe. And, I've dabbled in other services. I tooled around with the menus a little in the early days, but then settled into what I know. I have the big cable package with On-Demand, I have Netflix, Blu-ray and DVDs, what else could I need? Well, what I needed was to replace my old Logitech transmitter, which would send my music from my computer to my stereo. I ultimately opted for the CreativeBlaster model. It works, but barely. I can't seem to find a sweet spot, with my wi-fi at the front of the house, and my TV room at the back of the house. Why couldn't I get either my quad-core PC or my dual-core MacBook Pro to reliably receive and send Pandora to the stereo? I was losing my mind when we'd have friends over!

I'm so dumb. I hadn't explored the Sony Blu-ray player sufficiently. Not only could I access the music that is saved on my computer through the wi-fi, it has built-in Pandora!  And it isn't just there, it's easy to access. All of that time and effort (and even money) wasted. Thanks to my friend Jeff for showing me how. Jeff and I have managed--both by coincidence and by design--to end up with a lot of the same entertainment equipment, so we really ought to compare notes more often.
See that little USB port there? Yeah, it's useful!

My most recent discovery was Saturday with my old GoGear. Have you ever noticed that USB ports--usually seen on computers--are on some other things these days? My Sony Blu-ray player has one right on the front. My GoGear has one that slides out to plug into the computer. What would happen if I plugged that into the Blu-ray? Well, it plays like a dream through the entertainment center, that's what! I know it's simple, but I was amazed.

I'm a child of the 70s, and I've watched while Radio Shack and other made adapters for everything. When 8-track tape players were replaced by cassette tapes, they made an adapter that would play a cassette in an 8-track player. When they came out with CDs, they made adapters that would let you hook your DiscMan to your car's cassette player.  They started making CD players that could play MP3 CDs. And now, just about everything has a USB jack, a flash memory card slot, and/or blue tooth. Recently, I bought a 32GB USB stick not much bigger than a quarter for The Other Half's new car. It holds about half of our CD collection.
That holds 3,000 songs. Cataloged.

So, stop and think about that. When I upgrade my car's stereo, I'll probably buy a 64GB or 128GB USB stick. It will hold all of our music, probably with plenty to spare. I could take it, and pop it into his car, my car, any computer, our Blu-ray player. . . I used to wonder what my grandfather--who was born in 1900--must have thought of all the things that changed during his lifetime. But Grandpa died in 1992. Since 1992, we have things that seem like magic. We have flat panel TVs and monitors on our desks and in our living rooms that were science fiction in 1992. We have iPads that are smaller and more impressive than the PADDs used on Star Trek: The Next Generation. My Logitech Harmony universal remote knows how to turn off and turn on each piece of equipment in my entertainment center, depending upon what I want to do. Our Scion xB's stereo can play the music stored on my phone with a simple press of a button, and silence the music to answer that phone, wirelessly.

We can stream a movie through the internet to our 60" flat-panel HDTV, pause it, and pick up where we left off in a different location on our Android phone or tablet. Almost anywhere. We have high resolution still and audio cameras in our phone that can capture history as it unfolds, and upload it to the internet, almost instantly and effortlessly. We're getting to a time where we'll always have everything at our fingertips. And there is a whole generation of people who will have never known anything else.

So, my encyclopedic knowledge of trivial minutiae has become obsolete. But they're always going to need a tech guy. Even one who managed to get his phone run over by a car.

PS. Incidentally, since I'm 8 months shy of my re-up date at Sprint, I would have to pay $500-$600 for a replacement. . .unless I want a crappy used POS. So, I've ordered the same exact phone I crushed through eBay for $99. It will be here mid-week, used. . .probably a little scuffed. But it will do until the contract can be renewed. I highly recommend looking around before forking over so much money. It's worth the 4 or 5 days being Amish. :)

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