Category Archives: Tech

Wake Up & Smell The Bacon: The Unboxing

So after diligently waiting the full 8 weeks for the delivery of Oscar Mayer’s bacon-scented alarm device, it has finally arrived.  Upon opening the package, there is a generic congratulation note from Oscar Mayer’s bacon cut and design chief (whatever that means) reminding me to download their app before using the device.  Also included is a quick start guide and a nondescript black box that houses the actual device.

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Distinctively lacking in any bacon-ness

Inside the black box is the dongle that produces the smell of bacon, along with a USB charging cable (didn’t expect that), and a bacon scent dropper to refill the device when it runs out.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was furiously trying to win this thing and didn’t give much thought as to how it would work, but I guess this makes the most sense.  Surprisingly the device needs to be charged before use but given that the only point of contact it has with the phone is via the headphone jack, it needs to get juiced up somehow.

Now we're baconing
Now we’re baconing

I’ll be testing just how bacon-y this modern marvel is and posting my thoughts this coming week.  I foresee myself stocking up on bacon the next time I go grocery shopping…

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Drones: The Next Step in Dog Walking?

A fellow blogger pointed me in the direction of this quite fascinating video involving a man and his dog.  And his drone.  Well, more specifically, a man’s drone and his dog.  Drones have recently exploded onto the consumer scene and are now equipped with high resolution cameras and fancy GPS tracking software.  So it makes perfect sense for people to start finding more practical uses with these expensive and high tech gadgets.

Enter dog walking.  The video below depicts an idyllic future where we are free from the burden of having to actually physically walk and interact with our pets.  Because that is just so burdensome.  I can’t imagine how a drone would be able to control a large dog that decides to chase one thing or another.  Or what about how to avoid obstacles like oncoming cars or children?  Have we gotten to a point in society where even the act of walking our pets, who oftentimes are considered a family member, is to be relegated to an autonomous unit?

As mentioned by my fellow blogger who made me aware of this video (Poseidon’s Scribe – a great resource for writers in general), he’d much rather see drone pooper scoopers.  Much more practical and useful.  Still, an interesting video, but somehow I doubt it’ll catch on.

NASA’s New Z-2 Suit Is… Tron?

NASA held a public vote on the design of their new prototype Z-2 spacesuit and the results are in!  With an overwhelming 63% of the votes, the winner is… this.

Named “technology”, this suit beat out two other designs (“biomimicry” and “trends in society”) to become the latest in space wear that NASA will perform tests on.  It is slated to be complete in November of this year and more information on the many “firsts” achieved while making it can be found here.

Personally, I dislike the look of all three choices.  Maybe my perception of cool and functional spacesuits is skewed by years of sci-fi movies and cartoons, but these designs just don’t get my heart racing for space travel.  The winning suit looks like a cross between a TRON costume that was left on the cutting room floor and a Volus from the Mass Effect series.  Glow-in-the-dark TRON-blue on a short, stubby suit with no neck.  Not exactly screaming human superiority when we finally meet up with extraterrestrial life.

It is just a prototype so it most likely will never see actual field use.  But I hope whatever final design NASA ends up with for future manned-flights don’t make us look like hunchbacks from planet Earth.

First Impressions: Amazon Fire TV

With the relocation of our older TV into the bedroom, we realized that it is currently nothing more than a receptacle for the XBox 360, sans XBox Live.  Our grand plan was to attach a Google Chromecast so we could access Netflix and Amazon Prime videos.  Alas, the two HDMI ports on the back of the TV are spaced in a way that makes it physically impossible for this arrangement to occur.  With the recent release of the Amazon Fire TV, we decided to attempt our first, and extremely delayed, foray into the set-top box market.

firetv1

Unboxing
The Amazon Fire TV comes in a simple and compact black box with logos of the various supported apps on the front.  Like most set-top devices (Apple TV, Roku), this list includes Netflix and Hulu Plus.  Inside, you’ll find the relatively small device that is a 4.5″ square and 0.7″ thick.  Also included is an elegant and streamlined remote, a power cord, 2 AA batteries, and a quick start guide.  Note, you will have to supply your own HDMI cable.

Setup
The quick start guide’s boast of a three step setup was no lie, but as with seemingly any device released nowadays, the first thing it did was to download the inevitable initial update.  It took a good 10 to 15 minutes for what I imagine is the latest firmware to be installed and running before I was greeted with the informative intro cartoon on key features.

Initial Impressions
I can say that even in the limited time I’ve had with the device, the voice search on the remote works as advertised.  I hate how inefficient and frustrating manually searching on smart TVs with the remote control is so I was really hoping this feature would be a worthy replacement.  And it truly is.  Time will tell if I maintain this stance, but for now, it understands what I say in no more than 2 tries (although for whatever reason it had a tough time comprehending the word “air” when my wife searched for “air disasters”).

The UI is clean with a focus on large tiles that can scrolled left and right, similar to Netflix.  That familiarity aided in how quick and easy it was to access all the Fire TV has to offer.  I wasn’t able to figure out how to “upvote” or indicate that a review was helpful, which has become a standard for all things Amazon.

Another positive is how speedy this device is whether it is during navigation of the menu system or loading up movies and shows.  Compared to Netflix on the living room TV or the Kindle Fire, there was hardly any loading or buffering after selecting something to watch.  Extended time with the Fire TV will show whether it is affected by the dreaded Netflix bottleneck by ISPs but the quad core processor definitely helps things zip along.

A gripe I do have so far is that when the results of a search are displayed, there is an option for playing the selected media on another app (such as Hulu Plus) instead of Amazon Video.  But I have not come across the option to launch the show/movie from Netflix even if it is available on Netflix.  It would save some steps rather than having to launch the Netflix app and then search from there for the same show.

Some features I haven’t gotten to try out yet include how gaming performs (which is a big part of their marketing push), the music apps, displaying photos and videos from the Amazon Cloud, and the FreeTime feature which is aimed at limiting screen time and content for kids while also letting them have a unique profile.  I look forward to exploring more of what this set-top is capable of so look for a review in the near future.

For now, I leave you with the immortal Gary Busey and his (paid)take on the Amazon Fire TV.

The Bacon Dongle Will Be Mine… In 6-8 Weeks!

Oscar Mayer’s ingenious bacon promotion, or “bacomotion”, has finally paid dividends for me!  After several weeks of trying, I’m proud to say that one of their delicious bacon-scented devices will be waking me up in 6-8 weeks.  I haven’t been this excited for an alarm clock and waking up in the morning sinceNinja Turtles were on early Saturdays back in the 90’s.

Look for a full report on this landmark device once it is in my possession.  Until then, I guess the sound and smell of real bacon will have to suffice.

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s Superman with a GoPro!

This is probably the best use of a GoPro I have come across.  Who hasn’t imagined themselves with Superman’s powers and saving the day?  Even if the thought of wearing spandex to fight crime hasn’t crossed your mind, I bet you’ve at least wondered what it would be like to fly like a bird.  If not, what’s wrong with you and what have you done with your inner child?

The fine folks who conjured up this video ingeniously attached a GoPro to a drone and flew it around Los Angeles.  Then with the magic of digital effects, they created a delightful short film centered around Superman returning the said camera to its rightful owner and the hijinks that ensued along the way.  Drones are the wave of the future and if it leads to more incredible point of view videos like this one, then I am all for it!

Wake Up To The Smell of Bacon… From Your iPhone

Bacon.  Synonymous with mornings and hearty breakfasts, man’s desire for this delicious food to be integrated in our everyday life knows no bounds.  From bacon gumballs to talking bacon plushies, there is a bacon product out there for anybody.  Now comes the next evolution of bacon-ification: an alarm clock.  No, it’s not a clock made out of bacon (note to self: great idea), but instead it’s an alarm that not only wakes you up to the sizzling sound of frying bacon, but also the smell!  Life is complete.

Oscar Mayer has developed a new iPhone only alarm app that does just that.  The smell part of the equation comes from an attachable dongle that is not available in stores.  Instead, it has to be won through a random sweepstakes on the Oscar Mayer website.  The contest runs from March 3rd to April 4th and is limited to one entry per day, per email address.  4,700 lucky bacon aficionados will be waking up with bacon on their mind and in their nostrils.

Worst of Consoles + Worst of PCs = Alienware’s Steam Machine

Alienware has released more info on their Steam Machine that will be released in September of this year.  It will not be upgradeable or customizeable and a new version will be released every year.  If this news caused you to swear off all Steam Machines, I would not be surprised.

Alienware’s decision is seemingly a hybrid of the worst aspects of console and pc gaming.  Having a closed system follows what Microsoft and Sony have done with their machines, and in doing so, ensures that all games during the current generation will run well on a single spec.  The problem is that a typical console cycle is at least 4-5 years, with the most recent jump a 7-8 year gap.  Instead, Alienware wants to sell gamers basically a new console annually and at a “competitive price point” to XBox One and PS4.  If that means $400-$500, it is a steep price to expect people to pay at that frequency.

On the other hand, PC gamers are used to regular updates to key components of their machines such as the GPU and CPU.  Part of the fun of the platform is the ability to gradually upgrade certain aspects of the machine at your own financial pace.  The downside to this is that some high end hardware can be quite expensive, especially video cards.  Alienware’s Steam Machine realizes this desire for upgrades but goes about it wrong with forcing you to upgrade the entire system instead of individual aspects.  It is hard to imagine anyone buying a complete new box every year just to keep up with the Joneses.

Even with the trepidation this news brings, I think Alienware can still regain the trust of gamers.  They need to price the system very competitively initially and allow people to trade in older models for the newest one at a modest upgrade fee.  This would make the business model more attractive to  the console and PC audience alike, giving the former up-to-the-minute tech every year, and the latter a cheaper and easier option to regular upgrades.

Sacramento Kings + Bitcoins + Google Glass = Win?

The Sacramento Kings made history yesterday after announcing they will  be accepting bitcoins for buying merchandise and tickets.  This positions the Kings as the only professional sports team to currently accept this popular online currency.  All transactions will be processed through BitPay, an electronic payment processing company with over 20,000 merchants.

Since its introduction in 2009, Bitcoin has been the subject of controversy.  On the one hand, this form of currency makes it easier for consumers and merchants to exchange payment for goods and services.  But there have also been cases of theft, black market ties, and criminal activities associated with it.  The value of one Bitcoin fluctuates, and currently one Bitcoin is worth $781 US dollars.  If the security and legality of this innovative currency can be ironed out, the Kings may just be the first of many professional sports teams to accept it.

The more exciting news in my opinion coming from the Kings is that on January 24, certain players, staff, mascots, announcers, and cheerleaders will be wearing Google Glasses for their game against the Indiana Pacers.  This initial foray into integrating the Glass at a sporting event will be more for the novelty.  Since it isn’t practical to actually play the game while wearing the device, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of on-court action from the perspective of people on the bench and sidelines.  I’m also expecting more of the pre-game hijinks akin to the promo video the Kings released.

I envision a future where Google Glass or equivalent technology becomes more easily integrated into sports gear, allowing us first person views of athletes while competing.  Having such a powerful tool can enhance the fan experience, letting us see what a player sees on the court or field.  In addition, stat geeks can utilize it for analytical purposes, with possible advanced metrics derived from the data letting us measure player and team performances like never before.  Plus, this lets us armchair athletes step in the shoes of a LeBron throwdown or a Megatron touchdown catch.  Who wouldn’t want that best seat in the house?

Google’s Smart Contact Lens Project

Google officially introduced the development of a new wearable technology that might one day help the more than 350 million people who have diabetes worldwide.  The smart contact lens they are currently testing utilizes tears instead of blood to measure glucose levels at a rate of once per second.  This would eliminate the need for intrusive finger pricking that diabetic sufferers have to endure on a daily basis to check their levels.

This innovative lens has a wireless chip and a glucose sensor in between two layers of soft contact material.  Google is considering adding LED lights to warn the user of potential fluctuations in their glucose levels.  This prototype is still several years away from being a reality as there are federal hoops to jump through and clinical trials to conduct.  But, this could be the start of a future where small wearables constantly monitor our health, leading to earlier detection and better management of diseases.

Official Google announcement