Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Back to the BackBeat

Hey guys,

Before I get started, kind of a major milestone coming up...This blog is about 120 views shy of 20000! In just over 2 years total of writing, I consider that a heck of an accomplishment! Thank you all so much for reading what I have to say, I couldn't possibly find everybody that has found my work here and enjoyed it, but I wish that I could.

I have taken to this forum several times in the past to review a product or service I'm particularly fond of. When I find something I like, I really tend to stick with it for as long as I can, so with that in mind, I'd like to take a look back at one of my favorite things, which I use every day, sometimes for multiple hours a day.

Plantronics BackBeat GO Bluetooth headphones
I originally extolled the virtues of the BackBeat GO headphones from Plantronics in this post, so I won't go too far into a review here. Back then, I was only starting to really appreciate the wonder that is wireless headphones, and my love has only continued to grow the more I use them. I've now owned these headphones for a little under 18 months, and they are starting to require a little more attention from me.

When they first arrived, I would charge them about once a week, and I was good to go. If I wanted to use them for a whole day, I would probably have to charge them at lunch, and continue in the afternoon, but for walks and commute, they were (and are) a dream. I still don't think there's really anything I would change about these headphones, the most they have ever tangled is in the photo to the left, where as you can see they have looped around themselves one time, forming a VERY loose knot. This, in addition to the incredible battery life, ease of use and insertion/removal, and how well they stay in your ears, are more than enough for me to recommend you buy these headphones right now!

That being said, now that the battery on this particular pair is showing its age, I'm starting to wonder what the next step is. Plantronics have released an updated version of the BackBeat's, called the GO 2. Since these are available in Canada (though not in major retailers that I've seen so far), I'm definitely thinking about moving up to the new generation when these guys do finally die. The improvements to the new generation are iterative, but you are making adjustments to an already excellent product, so not much is needed.

If my next pair of headphones is anything like the current one, I will be the happiest person alive!

Thanks Plantronics!

You can find specs and info about these headphones here (in Canada).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Can you go a day without change?

There is a saying that only two things in life are certain: death, and taxes. While there is a certain amount of truth to that, I can simplify things even further. I say only one thing is for certain on any given day: life is going to surprise you. I have spent almost my entire life living with that knowledge, and that is why I have been so adaptable to new environments and changing circumstances.

On any given day, for any number of reasons, you may suddenly find yourself in a completely unfamiliar situation, absolutely without warning. This has happened to me on many occasions, and I’m sure it has happened to you quite recently. Sometimes, these surprises will be small, and will be dealt with and digested in a matter of seconds. Other times, more serious and larger surprises can take days, or even weeks to process.

The best thing I ever came up with to deal with these daily occurrences is to remind myself constantly that I cannot take anything for granted. The second you get comfortable with something in the world, it can be yanked away from you, and you will be stuck wondering what you could have done to avoid the surprise, or to see it coming.

The fact is, you can see surprises coming. If you keep that simple fact in mind, the only thing that will catch you briefly off-guard on a given day will be what particular fact you took for granted will be changing on that specific day.

This is the very specific reason that I choose to live my life knowing that by the end of that day, I might lose something or someone that is very important to me. I have lost jobs, friends, family, opportunity, you name it. I lost a whole year of physical activity to a knee injury that took less than a second to occur, and three years later I still worry every day about what I would do if that happened again.

When you find something that you know is right, you absolutely need to chase that for all it’s worth, and do everything you can to keep it in your life. You need to trust your instincts, and believe that what is best for you isn’t necessarily what you have right now.

If you are with somebody you love right now, hold them tight and tell them just how much they mean to you. Life means a constant flux, nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. The second you stop resisting surprise, and accept that the world will never get to perfect, the better your life will be for it, and the happier you’ll become.

Don’t try to prevent surprises from coming up, try to accept they will happen, and learn to ride the waves of change.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Internet Math

Today, I'd like to talk about something that is affecting me right now as a Teksavvy customer without Internet, caused by the strained relationship that Teksavvy has with its internet vendor (Rogers). My livelihood depends more and more on the internet by the day, and not having internet is extremely stressful to me.

I have been without internet for 3 days now, after trying to pay more to have my internet speed increased. After calling to change my plan (which took about 4 days longer than necessary because of a clerical error), I waited a total of about 8 days for my Internet speed to increase. On the last day it was due to change, my Internet promptly disconnected (Monday August 5 in the afternoon) and hasn't been back online, going on 3 days.

After spending several hours on Twitter and on the phone with Teksavvy agents over the last week and a half, and continuing to hear that we are waiting for Rogers because they are very backed up dealing with requests, I have finally settled in to a pattern where every 24-48 hours I call to see what the issue is. Teksavvy has excellent customer service, and engages their clients in ways that I have not seen from any other company. However, their dealings with Rogers are getting extremely convoluted, and Rogers does not seem to have the capacity to handle service requests for all of their clients. I do not know if this is greed or just a reflection of poor infrastructure that is causing it, and it's not really important if it's one of those, or something else.

Anyhow, the last conversation I had with Teksavvy, I was told that after waiting 48 hours for Rogers to respond to my service request, I was told that that meant Rogers now only had 24 hours to respond to my support ticket, and to eventually get my internet connected. This kind of delay is really inexcusable for a major telecommunications company, and it is downright ridiculous to be handicapping customers like this.

Anyhow, since it has been a LOT more than 48 hours since my initial issue, which was never really addressed, I am a little bit confused about this new 24 hour timeframe to respond to my issue. I was told that if they did not respond to my new 24 hour request, it would be escalated again to a 12 hour response window, and on and on. After a few seconds of reflection, not only is this policy ridiculous on Rogers' part, but it is absolutely an unhelpful and unsustainable way to deal with service requests. I have made a table to illustrate this point.



As you can see, with an interval that decreases by half at each request, within a total of 24 hours from now (ending at 4 PM tomorrow), I (or Teksavvy on my behalf) will be sending infinite requests to Rogers. I am sure that I am not the only person in this situation, as Rogers seems to be very behind on this kind of request.

I am REALLY hoping that my request will be dealt with when I call this afternoon, otherwise my phone bill will be huge, I will not be able to get any work done, and there's a good chance the universe will explode.

Teksavvy, you are excellent, but you really need to make Rogers treat you and your customers better, or people will not stay patient for very long. I am a good example of someone who is a very loyal customer, and a patient one at that, and even I am getting a little tired of this.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Free Reading

Hello everybody,

An idea has come to me in the last few days that I'd really like to bring up with you. I'm just going to leave it here, and if you are interested in participating/partaking, please leave me a comment, either here, or on a social network.

I have MANY ideas for blog posts/essays that I would really love to write, but they always end up getting bogged down in worries that they are not appropriate for the medium they are being written in (ie. my blog). I love to write, and there are a lot of important issues we as a society are dealing with every day that I do not think we should be idly watching happen. I really want to get these thoughts out in the open, but I hesitate to publish them in an open, public forum where anybody could just stumble upon them, and I can't really have much of a chance to give context or make sure my message is really heard.

I am proposing to all of you reading this a private reading group, where I can distribute stories and essays to a small group of people I trust and whose opinions I value. There, these stories would be open to proposed comments, corrections, contributions, counters and criticisms, in a safe, judgment free zone. Basically it is a spot where you can read and enjoy things I have been wanting to write for a very long time, but might not be appropriate for public forum in their current form.

If anybody reading this would like to participate in this pilot project, please let me know (if for whatever reason you would prefer, feel free to send me a private message, either by email or via another message service, or bring it up to me in person. I can also foresee this as being a forum where multiple people can contribute written pieces, if they feel the same as me and are looking for a more private place to voice thoughts to people they trust.

I will be using Google Drive to house this forum, although I am open to other distribution systems.

I look forward to hearing from interested parties.

Thanks friends!
Rob

Friday, August 2, 2013

10 Things you didn't know about ________

I'm thinking about starting a series of posts entitled "10 Things you didn't know about ________" covering different technology and services. I know I often find myself trying to explain the virtues of various services, and there is a TON of stuff around these services that many people simply don't know about.

I am all about trying to simplify my own life, and most of that stems from understanding the world around me and enabling group communication.

I don't actually intend to go the Buzzfeed route and necessarily always create lists of things, but it is a handy format for keeping things short and concise. We shall see.

Anyhow, I would love to hear your thoughts, if there is a certain topic you would like to hear more about, or have heard about and are considering trying, I would love to explain how the services I use every day work, and how I make them do work for me. If you contribute an "Other" idea that I think would be interesting I will definitely add it to this list. Feel free to choose more than one if you would like!

Results are available here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why I Share

Hello all,

For those of you who don't know, I'm a pretty prolific reader of the Internet. I tend to read an average of ~100 or so pieces of writing on a given day. Most of this is articles which are a few hundred words, but often I will find longer essays of a few thousand words, and I do enjoy reading books, although I have much less time and patience for those as I used to (although I will always enjoy Dan Brown). Sometimes the things I read on the Internet aren't actually stories, but also video (I subscribe to some really cool YouTube channels (here)).

Because of the vastness of the Internet, and my own relative insignificance, when I see or read something cool on the Internet, I always think about whether there is anybody I know who would really find this interesting. In most cases, where I share to takes me asking a couple of different questions:



1. How important is it that people see what I'm posting?
2. Is what I'm sharing timely such that I would prefer it be seen right now, at the risk of it becoming irrelevant?
3. How am I connected to the Internet, and what is the easiest way to share on that medium?
4. Do I want this to be a 1 on 1 share; something that I specifically want one person to see? Is it something I want all of my friends to see, perhaps share only with a specific group of people, or maybe something that I want to share with the whole world? Alternately, is it just something personal that I am just trying to put out there to as many people as possible, like my blog posts?

My social interaction is not limited to a single network of people, nor is it limited to a single website/service. The services I use, ranked in how frequently I use them:

a. Google
b. Facebook
c. Twitter
d. Tumblr

I would say this is the large majority of sites I use to share things, although I have many other sources and sites where I find stories. You will notice that Google is at the top of my list, sorted by frequency. Though long-time readers will know that I have a special fondness for Google+, that actually is not the reason I put Google at the top of my list.

Essentially, Google is up there because I use a variety of their products. Between Blogger, YouTube, Google+, Google Drive, Gmail, etc., I am almost constantly using at least one Google product. While their products don't tie together perfectly, I am convinced it's on the way.

Google+ isn't a perfect product for many people, primarily because of a stigma associated with using it as a social network. For me, it's not so much a social network as it is a social aspect of Google. While social networks such as Facebook will come and go (search "Facebook Not Cool" for a view of that), I will undoubtedly continue to use Google services for a long time, simply because they work the best for me. Already, as I find my Facebook use declining, I am pushed towards other networks which are more than just old and soon-to-be-old friends. I already talk to my friends as much as I want to, and when I do that, I have mostly moved to Facebook Groups, if I'm communicating with people who are stuck on Facebook.

I like to keep Tweets for short thoughts or 1-on-1 sharing of interesting stories, for people I know who use it.

Tumblr is reserved for something that is a wider audience than Facebook or Twitter, but isn't quite meaty enough for a full blog post. It happens less frequently than I'd like, the Tumbling does...

All of this to say, writing off Google+ (or other social networks) because it's not good, or because it's not Facebook, is naive at best, and at worst, just ignorant. You're missing out!

I will certainly keep sharing things, but if you don't see them on Facebook, don't be offended, but you're probably not my target audience.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Why is Facebook special?

Hey guys, (I need to start making these into videos...)

It's been a long time since I sat down to write anything, but this has been bothering me more and more lately. I am hoping if I can get some comments (though readers and commenters on my blog will almost certainly unequivocally see it my way) to try to understand this phenomenon.

Basically, new technology and internet services are coming out all the time. Being the technology fanatic that I am, I am generally the first person signing up to try the latest features in Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Maps, Windows, etc. I want to try these things out before they're commonplace, to see if they really are going to make my life better. And yes, I realize that even though most people aren't like this, Facebook seems to be the one exception.

I'll give you the fact that most people HATE changes to Facebook, but people who are resistant to change will always be that way, even if that change is for the better. What I don't understand is why my generation (20 somethings) will always be reluctant to try anything that has changed on the internet since they started University. I can advocate all I want for the virtues of services like RSS, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, etc., etc., but nothing ever really takes like Facebook did (for me this happened around 2005-2006). Facebook's stranglehold on the "general" population as the go-to social network always makes my head spin, because it's not the first social network, it's not really the best social network. All I can think of is that it started off the simplest, (making the friction to signing up extremely low), but all the while giving people something they loved, but didn't know they needed. Facebook has now grown to fit over a billion people in it, and even your grandmother is on the network.

I understand (and perhaps this is the reason why Facebook is special) that most people can't be bothered to keep setting up accounts to new services, much less take the time to figure out how they work and what you can do with them. Still others have privacy concerns, although in my opinion those are overblown, and if you're using an open-source, public network, maybe the fact that you're giving them access to your private photos, and information you don't want people to know, was your first mistake.

Maybe my generation were just in the right place at the right time for Facebook to take off. Personally, I am a huge advocate of Google's services. I'm using one right now to write this blog, and any concerns I might have about privacy are public domain, as is everything I do on all social networks (at the very least if I'm sharing something privately, its just because other people wouldn't CARE to see what I'm saying). My Facebook page is completely public, though I do have a few groups to communicate with smaller subsets of people, but again this is only because it is related to a specific topic that people don't care about. I have actually gone so far as to allow any member of Facebook to specifically subscribe to my updates (something everyday users don't even know about), so that even though I use Facebook in a different way than everybody else (and I take offence to their use of the word "friends" to describe everybody you know, and also I really don't care about what many, many people have to say on the network), people can still see what I have to say, even if we're not friends. The average user requesting my friendship wouldn't even notice that I haven't accepted it unless they looked for it, as my updates start showing up on their news feed right away.

My Twitter account is public, and, as I've said before, I don't really get the point of a private Twitter feed, not to mention that it completely defeats the idea of Twitter (but you can use it however you want, which I guess is actually kind of awesome). Twitter, as with any social network, is only as useful as you make it, and it is extremely useful to me (feel free to ask me why).

Sorry, I got distracted. Back to Google. I love Google. I haven't made that a secret in any way. I use Gmail, Google Drive, Google+, Google Maps, Google Translate, Google Now, Google Chrome, YouTube, Google Calendar, Google Apps, Google App Engine, Blogger, etc. I love all of them, and while none are perfect, they are all very excellent services in their own way.

This is my constant struggle. The difference between Facebook and Google+ (and the whole suite of Google's services) is that Facebook started off as a plain Jane social network. The association that people make with Google+ is that it is a brazen attempt by Google to show up late to the party and steal all your data, to sell on the black market (tell me if I'm wrong that people think that). Google+ is a ghost town, you only know 3-4 people who have it, and they're all massive nerds who write blog posts about Google. What you fail to realize though, is that (again), a SOCIAL network is entirely what you make of it. Just as with Facebook, if you start to actually use Google+, you will see that it is really tying all of their services together. With the new Google Hangouts chat functionality, you can talk to people in ways that no other network comes close to matching, AND it is powered by Google, a company which bought the rights to the book on open communication. You can read that book for free on Google Books. Google+ is a vibrant community, where you can meet new people who share your interests, and still keep up with old friends all in the same place. It's also the fabric that holds all Google services together, and it's getting tighter and more connected every day. If you get a notification from Google+ that has my name in it, along with the word "circles" perhaps, don't be afraid, Google is not spamming you...that is just me poking you in the face, telling you that you should come check out this awesome place I've been hanging out in for 18 months. The water is just great, and I'll bring you a cool drink when you come. +Mike Attrell will be your butler, right Mike?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Long Live Google Reader!


There is no easy way to explain RSS to those who don't use it, but here's my take on why the end of Google Reader is particularly bad for those of us who depend on it.

For a needlessly complex explanation, you can go here RSS(Wikipedia), but basically what it does is collect stories that a site posts under one web address, which allows you to subscribe to ANYTHING new that website posts.

I can use this blog as an example:

This blog lives at blog.robattrell.com. There are two common ways of getting to a story on this site, and then there is RSS. I will let you decide which way you like best. Keep in mind, this works best if you think of my blog as something that you want to be sure you don't miss updates from, which it OBVIOUSLY is.

Common tactics:

1. I share this story on Facebook and Twitter. You see it (Facebook: if News Feed decides that you probably want to see it, and you happen to check your feed while it's near the top) (Twitter: If you happen to check your feed when I post it). If you don't see it in the feed, you have to go to my pages on those networks and search for my stories. This is really tiresome, which brings me to...

2. You can bookmark my website with your browser, or type in blog.robattrell.com and visit it frequently to see if there is anything new. Keep in mind, my blog is just a baby and barely has anything posted, any bigger sites will be blasting you with ads and have magical algorithms which decide what you see on the homepage and when. The best example I have for this is Cracked.com. Every day between 8:30 and 9 AM they publish their stories, which either require you to hunt around to read all of them, or find the site archive to see all of the articles they've posted in chronological order.

Now, if there are 10-30 sites you visit that you like to keep up on every day (or in some cases many more) this is an absolutely terrible way to keep up with the news you want to read. It's also incredibly time consuming, and for me personally, really frustrating.

There has to be a better way! Luckily, there is!

RSS:

What I would much rather do, leading into exactly what RSS does, is keep a list of all the sites I visit, which I can access on any computer I sit at (or phone/tablet, etc.).

A website, as it publishes these new stories, could send the link and associated article information to a website (RSS feed), where you end up seeing a sorted list of all of the articles you want to read, like an email inbox for your news. The RSS Feed for this blog lives at http://blog.robattrell.com/feeds/posts/default The best part about Google Reader is that is also features an email-like feature wherein you can mark anything you have scrolled past as read, where it stays indexed for later perusal. It can also be used by other sites or apps, so you can read stories on your phone, or tablet, or through any number of other online services (NewsBlur, Feedly, Pulse, Flipboard).
This way, you don't miss any of your news, and you don't have to visit any of the websites you frequent to get all the information they post. If you visit their website, it is only because you want to read one of their stories. There are many sites I frequent whose homepages I never visit. 

I use Google Reader (and associated services) for multiple hours every day, and I read almost all of my news (from about 30 sources) through one website which brings me exactly what I want every day. You can also search sites like the JobBank and Craigslist by RSS, which is extremely useful when apartment or job hunting. The news of the death of Google Reader on July 1st will leave a gaping hole in my online life, and I'm sure millions of other people are feeling exactly the same as me.

I hope I have conveyed why RSS is the best way to read news, and I really hope Google changes course and rolls back the order to kill Reader. It's not the ONLY way to read RSS, it's just the best by far. It doesn't even need updating, just leave the service running for the millions of people like me who want to read their news efficiently.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cause for Concern: Social Media and Photos

I just discovered something kind of disquieting about social networks and photos.

So basically, Facebook and Google have features where all the photos on your phone are automatically (if you allow it) uploaded to their websites, to make it easier to share the photos if you decide to do so. However, in doing that, they have made it possible to see literally any photo I’ve taken, just by going to the right web link.

For example, on Facebook: 


Your photos are described as being private, until such a time that you choose to share them. However, directing yourself to this link (copied from Facebook), you will find the photo below I just took, which I have never shared.

You are promised that your photos are private, until such a time that you choose to publish them. However, once again, a link to the "private" photo (from the Google+ website) is all that is required to view it.

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-wrXZsTZa51g/UTisKnz8EkI/AAAAAAAAGks/Ey0N4kzK_z8/s791/61748584-85D1-49AC-A1C6-47A7BADAE759.JPG


This link works the exact same way, for the same photo. I never authorized anybody to make this photo public, I just took the photo with my phone and continued on with my day.


A file sharing company, Dropbox, has a similar feature which uploads all your photos to its site, but watch what happens when I go to the link for the same photo:

https://photos-5.dropbox.com/t/0/AADDyomyHbSJHsrq9wlbNdLLk8T_N1b0ZxUzUevOCQrYIg/12/11464386/jpeg/154x154/3/_/1/2/2013-03-07%2010.01.23.jpg/mkfTmIRtVTf7Eu-AG6Oq3o290E0KGA5I0HDvByIxja0?size=1280x960


This is what should happen, you get a link saying you shouldn’t be here, and asking you to log in to see the photo. The photo is private, and is treated as such.

This is a huge privacy issue, and though I don't really take any sensitive photos, if I did this would really set me off. It REALLY shouldn’t happen; millions of photos per day are being published for anybody with time and the internet to see…

You should absolutely think twice about allowing this if you are someone who regularly takes photos on your phone that you might not want just anybody to see.

By the way, to turn off these features, there are instructions here:

for Facebook:


and Google+:



Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Love of Reason

Hey guys,

It's really nice to be back in the writer's chair (it's just my regular chair) after a brief sojourn from blogging, we simply MUST do this more often!

I come to you today, of all days, with a call for a sanity check. February 14th is Valentine's Day, more commonly known as the day that (presumably) causes more fights between couples than any other day. And if it doesn't cause fights, at least it generally breeds discontentment. I hope to give my views on the day, as well as to show a glimmer of hope, as long as we all can keep composed and not lose our minds (I'm looking at you, girls).

Anyhow, if you have entered almost any retail establishment today, or even in the weeks leading up to today, you have no doubt been bombarded with a visual assault of hearts, flowers, and chocolate, guilting you into splurging on something for that special someone in your life. Single people, here it would be most helpful if you didn't complain how today is stupid, it defeats the whole purpose of this exercise, pretend instead that you are picturing a day in a year when you did have a romantic partner in your life. Another option is to imagine the person you WOULD be showering with gifts and love, if you had the balls to tell them you like them (you know who you are!).

Personally, I have never been big on the spirit of the "holiday" itself. I see it mainly for what it is, a commercialization of an historic character marketed to convince people that they should determine their emotional connection with another person based on the worth and thought put in to gifts for that person. This seems like a huge issue to me, as a person who is (generally) caring 365.25 days of the year. Suddenly I feel external pressure to spend large amounts of my hard-earned money showing somebody I care deeply about them, specifically out of the blue on this one day per year.

My beautiful girlfriend (who I don't need to name, because if you're reading this, odds are you know me) is a very private person who doesn't like grand, public displays of affection. She, like me, thinks that flowers are a silly purchase for ~$50/dozen on the days leading up to Feb. 14th. However, I still feel compelled to get as many as I can afford for her, just as I'm sure she will feel a little thorn when I see her today and I don't have a big bouquet of flowers waiting for her. Even if either of us puts any worth into this day, we still expect SOMETHING just because that is how the human brain works.

Unfortunately, marketers know this, and so advertisers play this card at every single opportunity. That being said, I would like to take the thought and effort that would otherwise go into an elaborate, bountiful arrangement of delicious chocolate and flowering roses, and put it into a note, addressed publicly to my favourite person in the whole wide world. You tell me which is worth more.

You are a spectacular, perfect angel in human form.

Your beauty transcends space and time, because I can see and feel it everywhere I am.

I love every single thing about you, even your flaws, small as they are, make my heart's pace quicken.

When you enter a room, my entire person is completely entranced by you, and remains so until you leave it.

I could spend every single day with you, and my only wish would be for more. My love for you grows stronger each day, and will continue to grow tomorrow.

I am ready to care for you when you are sick, to celebrate and mourn the good and the bad with you, for as long as it takes until you are completely mine, and I am yours.

Hearing your voice is enough to make all of my cares disappear like in a cool spring breeze.

I am so lucky to be with a smart, quick, funny, beautiful, witty, caring, purpose-driven, loving, sexy woman like you, and I cannot imagine what life without you would be like.

I hope you can forgive me for not getting you flowers :)


Happy Valentines Day, my love!
Sincerely,
Robert