Category: technology

Giving Tile a Chance

I’ve heard about Tile for quite some time. Maybe you have, as well. These little metal squares you attach to things. They’re connected to an app on your phone, and you can open the app and press a button, and the metal squares make a loud noise, and keep making that noise until you tell it to stop via the app.

I’d never really seen the need to get one. Yes, I misplace my keys now and then, but it’s very rare. I have a spot where I put them when I get home from work each day, and they hang there until I need to leave the house again. True, every now and then someone will borrow my keys and not return them, but it doesn’t happen often enough to really warrant attaching a metal square thing to the key ring.

Except then I was offered the chance to get a Tile square for free. My mom had one she wasn’t using any more, and if you know me at all, you know I’m a sucker for technology, even technology that doesn’t appear to be useful to me at first glance. (Just ask Denisa. I’m sure she’ll tell you all about my penchant and the amount of doo-dads I’ve accumulated over the years.)

So I took the Tile.

And now that I’ve poked around on the app some with it, I actually think I’m going to end up using it. Why? Because the metal square doesn’t just make a noise when you use the app on your phone to find it. No–it works in the other direction as well. It can make your phone start ringing, even when the phone is set to silent.

While I might not misplace my keys very often, I lose track of my phone on a regular basis. I almost never lose both my keys and my phone at the same time. (I take my phone all over the house in many wanderings, and so it’s much harder to remember where I might have left it on any particular wander.) So I could see that functionality coming in quite handy now and then. Often enough to warrant attaching a little metal square to my keys.

Who knows? Maybe this is just the beginning. I lose my backpack sometimes. Or I could attach one to each of my kids. Maybe I could put one in a diamond setting for Denisa. The possibilities are endless!

But for now, I’ll start with just the one and see how it goes. Any of you already use Tile? What are your thoughts on it?

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Putting Home Videos on YouTube

8 years ago or so, I took all the old VHS home videos I could find and transferred them to DVD, thinking I was saving them and making it so they’d be much more watchable in the future. (The process at the time involved the purchase of a VHS/DVD player that was specifically made to make those transfers. It took a long time–it would literally play the VHS and record it on a DVD as it went.)

Of course, at the time, YouTube looked like this. The thought of just taking all those movies and turning them into digital files and then uploading those files to the internet didn’t even occur to me. We’d be talking about gigabytes of information. The average internet download speed then was 4mbps. Upload would have been much worse.

Of course, technology has come a long way since then, and in the intervening years, I discovered that I’ve mostly stopped watching movies on disc. I prefer streaming. (Don’t we all?) And DVDs can get scratched and stop playing. So . . .

This year I decided to take all those DVDs and put them on YouTube. (I made them unlisted, so that people with the link can see them, but they won’t show up in just anyone’s feed. I could have made them private, which would mean only I could see them, but I wanted other family members to be able to see them.)

The process itself was about as problematic as getting them off VHS. I used Handbrake, a free program for transferring movies from one format to another. (At least I didn’t have to deal with any privacy locks on the videos.) Basically, you open Handbrake and have it scan the DVD, then have it transfer it to mp4 format. Once that’s done, you upload it to YouTube. Your main limiters are internet speed and the speed of your DVD drive. I did it all in small sessions, because I didn’t have time to do it all at once.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the end result. I can watch those movies anytime, anywhere I can view YouTube. So I’d definitely recommend it to others. (Of course, the question remains as to whether or not I actually WILL watch the movies. As I posted back when I first did the VHS to DVD project, home movies often depress me . . .)

But if you’re looking to make your movies more accessible, this is a process I can give my stamp of approval to. Just make sure you have plenty of time.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

First Steps in 3D Printing

We opened up a new 3D printing lab in my library a month or so ago. It’s nothing elaborate at this point: just two MakerBot Replicator+ printers and a computer to go along with them. But it’s a first effort in branching out into the area for us, and I’m glad we were able to do it.

The space is right outside my office, so I’ve been able to watch people come in and out to use the printers. (Access is for university-related people only, so no public 3D printing just yet.) To be able to use the printer, people just need to take a brief 15 minute class that goes over the basics, like what not to touch, how to start a job, how to stop a job, what to do when things go wrong, and basic etiquette for the area. Once they’ve got that done, we put a note on their library card, and they can check in with us to have us go unlock the room for them. Printing is free, for the time being.

It’s been a lot of fun to watch people’s reactions to the area. Some have come by and just been disappointed that the room is no longer an open study room. (A reaction I can certainly understand, as study rooms are often at a premium at my campus. Though in my defense, I just opened a new study room on the second floor, so the space ended up being study room neutral . . .) Some stare in confusion at the boxy printers, wondering what they are. (For this reason, I’m trying to always have something printing in there. It’s much easier to tell what the things do when you see them in action.)

Some people recognize the 3D printers and are very excited. I had one student talking on the phone outside my office, gushing about how awesome this was. (This made me very happy, of course.)

But my favorite reactions are the ones of the people who come and take the class and then start actually printing things. When 3D printing first popped up on my radar, it was generally as a “gee whiz” sort of technology. Something that was cool, but which I didn’t know if it would ever really be useful or not. But as I’ve used it more and more since then, I’ve come to appreciate just what a game changer it can be. The ability to think of an idea and then turn that idea into a tangible object, without any real need of tons of experience, is pretty incredible.

I’ll compare it to drawing on my iPad. I have an Apple Pencil now, and I bought a cool drawing app that I’ve loved to use in what spare time I have. I like to doodle, but I’m always messing up when I draw. I’ll have a line go astray, or get something wrong along the way. Yes, I could always erase before, but there’s a limit to how much of that you can do before the paper begins to disintegrate. Drawing electronically lets me get just the right light. It lets me do exactly what I want, and if I don’t like it, I can undo it.

3D printing brings that some concept to the real world. Better yet, you can see something someone else made, and then print it and have it for your own. Right now a faculty member is printing a small printing press that she’s going to use to print tiny manuscripts. Talk about meta.

So it’s been a fun experiment, and I really hope it continues to blossom. It’s bringing something to the area that is quite cutting edge for western Maine. Yes, it’s more common elsewhere, but I only know of two other places that do 3D printing within 30 minutes in any direction. If we can add etching and engraving and other technologies in the future . . .

That would be great.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Technology: Harder than It Looks

I love me some technology. Whether it’s editing movies on my iPad, playing games on my PC, or tinkering with webpages online, I’m a self-confessed technogeek. But for as much as I love technology, it’s easy to start to take it for granted. To just assume it’s always going to be simple to use.

Until it isn’t.

The thing is, you never quite know when it’s going to bite you. When you’ll be trying to do something straightforward, only to have to stare in confusion at a screen for a few hours. Sometimes it happens with my A/V system at home. Something goes wrong, and the next thing I know I’m up to my eyeballs in Google searches as I try to figure out why the sound has stopped working. Or something might break on a webpage, and so it’s off to the internet to look for solutions.

Typically these things happen with areas of technology that I’m only generally familiar with. I can get through them on my own, but it takes a long time of research and study to figure out how to do just what I want. Of course, at the end of all that study, I’m good to go, but then I set it and forget all about it . . . until it breaks again, and I’ve forgotten all about how I set it up in the first place.

This also happens when I try to do something I’ve never done before. I’ll approach a new task with an “I’m sure it can’t be that difficult” attitude, only to discover just how difficult it is. Sometimes it’s the very nature of technology that makes it seem straightforward. For example, say you have a VHS copy of a movie, and you want to get that copy onto YouTube. They’re both videos, right? Moving pictures and audio? Isn’t there some sort of . . . cable that could connect your old VHS player to your computer and . . .

Off you go to Google.

(For the record, the way I’ve done it in the past is transfer the VHS to DVD, and then the DVD to mp4, and then upload the mp4 files to YouTube. But all of that takes a lot of time. For a half hour movie, expect it to take you an hour or so, and that’s once you’re familiar with the process.)

That said, I’ll still take technology any day over the old fashioned way of doing things. Because 90% of the time it’s easy peasy, and that’s worth 10% of pain in the rear.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On the Social Media Fast

This past General Conference, the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson, challenged women during the women’s session to go on a 10 day “fast” from social media. Basically, step away from the online world for those days. Specifically, he said

I invite you to participate in a 10-day fast from social media and from any other media that bring negative and impure thoughts to your mind. Pray to know which influences to remove during your fast. The effect of your 10-day fast may surprise you. What do you notice after taking a break from perspectives of the world that have been wounding your spirit? Is there a change in where you now want to spend your time and energy? Have any of your priorities shifted—even just a little? I urge you to record and follow through with each impression.

As a result of that challenge, many of my female Latter-day Saint friends have disappeared from Facebook for the past 10 days. I’ve very much noticed their absence. People who I regularly hear from and interact with, and who regularly comment and interact with me online, just vanished.

I have mixed feelings about the challenge, though I’ll lead off by saying that this is just my personal reaction, and (not being a woman) I’m not going to get into how it would affect women. Mainly, I’ve been thinking about the purpose of the fast and whether such a thing would be a good idea for me to do myself, and what I would do if/when I were issued such a challenge.

My first observation is that the first two sentences of the challenge don’t quite seem to be asking the same thing. There’s a big difference in my mind between “media” and “social media.” I’m always in favor of taking a quote in context, and it seems to me to walk away from that challenge thinking what’s intended is to give up Facebook and Instagram for 10 days is kind of missing the mark.

To me, it’s a request to prayerfully consider what media elements you should personally include in that media fast, and to specifically try to avoid ones that invite negative/impure thoughts for 10 days. That list will be different for each person. If I were to do such a thing, I would likely include most of the films and television shows I watch, and many of the regular books I read, and perhaps most of my video games. I don’t know that I’d give up Facebook and Twitter, since I already curate that list a fair bit. (I cull out people who consistently are negative or confrontational, as I don’t have the emotional capital to blow on those interactions.) I would likely use the “snooze” function liberally for those of my friends who still were posting things that were bringing me down for those 10 days. (You can temporarily hide a friend for 30 days on Facebook.)

I would continue blogging, but I would likely not engage in any negative conversations for that time frame. Not sure what I’d pick for topics.

It’s an interesting challenge, one which I’d probably compare to my giving up sugar for stretches at a time. I would imagine it would result in some retuning of priorities, and so perhaps I should give it a shot at some point. (At the same time, much of what I do with writing depends on me being current on media trends and approaches, and so I’m doubtful I’d end up going whole hog and giving all of it up. And I already am selective on what I do and don’t watch, believe it or not. It’s just my definition of “selective” might be a fair bit different than many other Latter-day Saints’.)

But as for the strict shuttering of Facebook accounts for a 10 day stretch? I can’t help but think that might have more negative effects for some than positive. (Again, it all depends on the person.) I know when we first moved to Maine, Denisa felt very cut off from the rest of the world and her friends. The advent of Facebook really helped with that. And personally, it’s felt bad to suddenly lose so many of my regular friends online. I miss their input and their perspective. (Though I suppose it’s good to see how valued and missed that perspective can be.)

In any case, I’m glad it’s winding down now, and I look forward to seeing them all come back.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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