48 Hours With Google Glass

Photo on 12-16-13 at 5.10 PM #2I got an invitation late last week to become a Google Glass Explorer.  Google Glass is probably best described as a pair of “glasses” you can wear with a video display and hands-free computer functionality.  It’s still in Beta, and you have to receive an invitation in order to be able to purchase one of these headsets, for the steep price of $1500.  The invitation itself reads a bit like a Mafia offer- You have seven days from the receipt of the email to make a purchase, and if you decide not to, they also want to know why.  Since it is not a trivial amount of money, the prospect was a bit daunting, so I turned to friends and people on Cinch to see what others thought.

People who are part of the Explorers program generally say that if you are a technophile or a developer, Glass is definitely worth it.  If you are looking for a regular consumer product, helping Google work out the bugs while paying handsomely for the privilege may not be what you have in mind, was the general consensus.

I decided to bite the bullet, thinking that having an early adopter advantage on this technology was worth it, and hoping it would turn out to be more than Siri with Video.

So far, Glass is intriguing in ways I’m only starting to understand.  It feels like a paradigm shift.  Unlike the other wearables like the Pebble Watch or the Galaxy gear, you really can use Google Glass while walking around with your hands in your pocket.  A simple tilt up of your head turns glass on, and voice commands or a simple swipe on the template can  allow you to take photos or videos and share them out to friends or on social networks, make a video call, and with Glass apps, even get cooking directions or YouTube videos streamed to you.

Glass does require a robust internet connection beyond just bluetooth to work best.  I have iOS devices, so additional support is supposed to be coming this week to make the connectivity and customization of Glass even better, but it’s been pretty easy so far.  When walking around University City in Philadelphia yesterday, I took a number of pictures and shared them out and found out I accidentally made a video call or two while showing someone else how to use them- but the feedback from the inadvertent callers was that the video was crystal clear.  The pictures didn’t upload to my networks until I reached home, since connecting to additional networks requires taking a picture of QR code through Glass generated by the MyGlass website or app, and I don’t yet have that for my iphone.

Glass itself is easy and comfortable to wear.  It took a day or so to adjust to seeing the screen with and without my normal prescription eyeglasses, and I understand it will be possible in the next year to get prescription lens support, which will be great for those of us who are *cough* north of forty.  The battery life is pretty good and lasted the better part of the day, but I could see running the battery down quickly if you were shooting a lot of video.

Walking around “in the wild” with Glass, only one person asked me specifically if I was wearing Google Glass, and a fun conversation started with customers at our lunch stop.   I did get a bunch of curious looks and second glances, but it wasn’t too weird.  My kid did, however, forbid me from wearing them into the music shop for his Guitar lesson, so I guess that says something as well.

I’m intrigued by Glass and the things that it may be able to do.  Clearly, Point of View cameras like Gopro are much better suited for outdoor sports than Glass.  But if you ever wanted to scout a location for a business or video, view real estate when a spouse was out looking at homes miles away, take kids on a virtual field trip or see how they were solving a problem, Glass puts you in that other person’s shoes quite effectively.  It might be great for secret shoppers, or seeing how users really interact with your website beyond just the clicks.   Marketers and product testers might love it, to find out how consumers are really experiencing their products or stores, just by watching the video from the person’s POV.

From a legal perspective, there’s been talk how something like Glass would give a more accurate representation of an Officer’s encounter with a suspect, or view a building’s layout before going in during a dangerous situation.  Or what would happen if you could, as an EMT, get immediate access to a patient’s electronic medical record, or be coached through CPR or emergency procedures if you are a civilian in touch with 911.  However, all of these intriguing possibilities depend on really having easy and continuous dependable access to broadband capability wherever you are, without having to sign into new networks, which is not the case right now.

Glass makes the concept of Augmented Reality more real than ever before.  I always thought AR and seeing embedded information about your neighborhood through your phone was intriguing, but I don’t often want to hold up my phone at arm’s length, worrying about the lighting, in the middle of a busy street corner.  With Glass, that information is simply streamed to the screen above your right eye.  Apps that automatically can translate signs from one language to another are available, bringing up loads of possibilities not only with travel, but for people working in the field- NGO’s, researchers, the military.

While there are options to overlap maps on the screen while you’re running or skiing, I can’t recommend using Glass while driving- it is very distracting.  If you are a passenger- no problem- but if you are a driver- not a good option, and there’s no good reason to have it on while driving.

Glass is the first piece of tech since the iPad/iPhone that feels like it has the potential to change the paradigm.  The iPad gave us mobile screens and computing we could carry everywhere and also share with others, making computers both more social and portable than they were with laptops.  Glass takes you back to a private world that only you see, but one that you can also share quickly through social networks – G+, Twitter, Facebook and Path.  I think Glass may be the lever that tips me towards using Google Plus more, because its integration is so simple.

I’m eager to continue exploring the possibilities Glass holds, and sharing that with you.

What do you think of Glass?  What would you like to explore?  What do you think of its potential?

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Comcast Service Problems

XFINITY Speed TestI’ve been with Comcast for almost 15 years at this point, from back in the day when we still had dial up service.  I’ve been through good time and bad times, and right now, we’re having another one of those bad times.

About six years ago, Comcast started using Twitter for customer support.  I started using Twitter instead of customer support by phone, because it was always faster and more reliable.  Lately, I’ve reverted to using phone based customer support for problems, and it’s been fine.  While I expect occasional problems, the service has been largely terrific.  Until this past week.

Starting on December 3rd, I began to notice significantly slower internet speeds.  Our bill is paid up, and everything else seemed fine, so I called, anticipating a regional outage.  I was assured everything was fine and they sent out a very nice technician who tested my system and tightened some connections, which seemed to improve the service a bit.  Then it went back downhill, prompting a second call and a second service visit from a more advanced technician, who changed out some of the filters at the main modem.

During this process I became aware of two sites you should know about.  The first is Downdetector.com that will tell you where there’s Comcast problems across the country.  The second is how to test the speed of your service through Comcast’s Speed test site.

The technician who came out said initially that we should test speed to and from the DC server, while the New Castle DE server is much closer to our home.  I am now testing speeds from both servers.  When service is working well, and we can effectively watch video streamed over the net, we’re getting 40+ mbps download speed.  However, a good portion of the time, I’m getting 20 mbps or less.  Despite checking out everything locally, I’m forced to conclude this is really not a local equipment problem, but Comcast is either throttling internet speeds everywhere or is simply not providing the service I’m paying for, and is hoping I don’t notice too often.  Either way, the problem is getting untenable.

A brief look at Comcast service forums shows me this problem is far from unique.  It’s happening here and in other pars of the Country as well.  So the question that remains is whether or not Comcast is REALLY providing the service it promises, or is it intentionally dropping service speeds and hoping it’s at times no one will notice.

If you are having similar problems, check your local speeds and report them here.  Let’s try to document this problem and figure out what the underlying problem is and how to get Comcast to deliver the service that they promise.



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STEM, Girls and The Beastie Boys

UPDATE: Goldiblox has written an open letter and taken the video down.  I’m actually sort of sorry about that, because it was a STEM great video, and even more, has started a real and serious conversation about girls and science, engineering and math. The replaced video, embedded below, shows the same device without the girlpowered lyrics.

So the latest viral Youtube Video features a Rube Goldberg Device and song lyrics sung to the tune of the Beastie Boys Song “Girls” (see Below).  The original lyrics to “Girls”, includes such gems as :

“Girls, to do the dishes,
Girls, to clean up my room,
Girls, to do the laundry,
Girls, and in the bathroom,
Girls, that’s all I really want is girls.”

which I think we can all agree was sexist in its initial incarnation. Goldiblox, the maker of engineering toys (actually, a bit more like Tinker Toys meets Legos in Lady-friendly colors) changed the instrumentation to sound like a kid’s piano and changed the lyrics to include:

“Girls, to build a spaceship
Girls, to code a new app
To grow up knowing
That they can engineer that
Girls, that’s all we really need is girls”

As a result, there’s a legal dustup brewing, with Goldiblox, the video creator and the maker of engineering toys geared towards girls, asking the Court to view their use of the song as falling within the parody and Fair Use exemption, and the Beastie Boys are not happy about any of this.  While this won’t end very well for anyone involved, with people choosing sides about positive messaging for women over sexist band lyrics and marketing based on authorized use of someone else’s intellectual property… the more interesting question to me is the actual toy that’s being promoted.

Goldiblox was developed as a startup by a Stanford Trained woman engineer.  Along with all the push for training more scientists and engineers in the Country, there’s been an equal push to see more women in those roles as well.  The idea of more girl friendly building toys isn’t new, Lego has been doing this for a while now. (In fact, their popularity was well above what was expected.) Goldiblox just takes this same idea to different projects geared around stories for the six year old set, with a set of pieces very much like Tinker Toys in pinks and purples, and other “girly” colors.  Ok, it worked for Legos, what about Goldiblox?
I think you need to see the reviews.  While there are some parents who think that STEM toys for girls are just the “bestest thing ever”, other reviews seem to say that the market is actually for girls much younger than six, and that the six and seven year olds find Goldiblox and the stories that come with it, horribly boring.  As one reviewer put it:

“The first assembly of spools, axles, washers, the band and the lever were fun, and the first project seemed satisfying enough. But she was bored by the second pass at putting the same parts together in different configurations, and never picked up the toy again for several weeks. I held off on this review until I felt she had a fair chance to play with it without the distraction of the birthday party. I opened up the Spinning Machine one day, put it together in a different configuration, and left it out with other toys and puzzles that she often plays with. She was interested enough to take it apart and reassemble it again that day, but that was the last time she has shown any interest in it on her own.

It’s not the surface issues here that we’re all getting so upset about- whether we’re pushing girls into STEM, or trying to co-opt them into it by “pinkwashing” the toy and making it more attractive by adding animals and girly colors.  It’s really that it’s a mediocre engineering toy that’s probably geared towards the wrong age group overall.  No amount of pink and kittens will get your over the problem that the stories are being seen as lame and uninteresting to the target market.

What we have to do, to get kids, boys and girls, more interested in STEM is to show them how really cool science, engineering and math are to everyone.  Let them design jewelry or action figures in AutoCAD and print it out on a 3D printer.  Let them build robots and play with LEGOs of every color, shape and size.  Let’s show kids how you apply the learning in the classroom to real life and real projects, including ones they design themselves.

I’d much rather see kids like Super Awesome Silvia and her Maker Show having a go at helping girls and kids in general try more maker and STEM projects.  Silvia has been doing her show for a long time with her dad and now is apparently working with Make magazine, which is great.    I would much rather see what Silvia is up to than just Goldiblox.

I am a mom of sons, but I was also the girl who learned to play around with low and hires graphics on the first Apple II in our school and built a digitizer for a science fair project back in the early 80’s.  I want women to feel empowered to pursue ANY career, and explore any option, whether that’s tech or fashion design- it doesn’t matter so much to me.  But we do need to show EVERY kid, regardless of their demographics, that STEM and when you involve the arts, STEAM, is fun, period.

You don’t need to make it pink or put flowers on it to make it happen.

It just needs to be engaging, and worth doing in the first place.  Most of all, we shouldn’t be patronizing kids of any age with very controlled and prescribed “kits” and brainwashing their parents into thinking its a great thing because its educational.  Let’s give our kids the most important message- that science is great- without trying to hide it like vegetables in their fruit juice.

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10 Holiday Spending Truths and the No Duh Moment

I was flipping through the news today, and came across an article entitled “Americans Not Willing To Spend Without Deals.”  My first thought was “You’re surprised by this? ” and then “And whose fault is that?”

Retailers are starting Christmas earlier and earlier every year- this year, it seemed to back right up on Back to School Shopping. (Lewis Black rant included below- beware- it’s not safe for work- with the key phrase here being “How long does it take you people to shop?!?!?!?!?”)  I’m all for the holiday spirit, but around Thanksgiving works for me, not the middle of September.  I’m not going to magically open my wallet just because you want me to- I need a good compelling reason to part with my cash sooner rather than later.

The retail sector has also trained us for an all out shopping Armageddon of “blockbuster deals” for the day after Thanksgiving, and now retailers are doing the same thing on Thanksgiving itself.  Still others are trying to start their “specials” early in November, trying to entice us to buy ever more, as early as possible.  I don’t know about you, but Christmas ads in October just make me angry, not any more inclined to start the Season of Acquisition and Procurement.

As a result, what have customers learned?  I would argue we have learned the following:

1.  Your “Best deal of the season” is just a tease.  If no one is buying enough, there will always be one better deal to come, and sometimes, we can even wait until right after Christmas to score.  I have NO confidence that your Early Bird Special Pricing is true, because you keep changing the offer so frequently, I almost don’t care any more, because I can no loner remember what the “real” price should be.

2.  We don’t always need to shop more.  In fact, many of us have figured out we have to shop better, or even less, so it’s more about things we will use, and less about filling the need to have some sort of box under a tree.  Quality is outpacing quantity, and with quality easier to research than ever before, there’s little incentive for going for the quantity approach for anyone over the age of seven or so.

3.  I even have more and more friends deciding that experience is better than stuff, so we’ll go out to lunch, make each other something, or otherwise spend time versus money on each other- and we’re much happier for it.

4.  I’m tired of everything in my life having pricing and value that fluctuates as much as the price of airline tickets.  The thing will always be more or less, every day, taking predictability out of the equation.  Unless it’s a super big ticket item where I know how much I want to spend, and I’m watching the prices carefully, I’ve given up on the “best deal” in favor of getting what I need, when I need it.

5.  You have trained us all year long to know your pricing is dynamic and there’s always another sale just around the corner.  Therefore, there’s always going to be some coupon or deal available, so why should I pay retail price?  JC Penny had trained its customers to the coupon so well, that when they went to “everyday low pricing”, their customers still thought a coupon would be coming to get a deal.  They got us addicted to the deal, even if the end price wasn’t any different, with or without the coupon.  So no coupon means no customers…. and they only have themselves to blame.

6.  I am just about sick to death of watching people go crazy for a retail experience on Thanksgiving, and seeing people almost trample others in search of “The Spirit of Giving.”  This is a level of crazy you won’t see me participate in- I’ll be at the movies with my family and getting chinese food.

7.  With “Cyber Monday” and Amazon willing to deliver on Sundays, why should I risk the Mall during the holidays at all?  It’s all available online, often with free shipping.  Sloth will rule the day.

8.  I really have the same number of people to shop for each year, not too many more or less.  The tastes of my kids have changed, so I’m no longer beholden to whatever Toys R Us has in stock, and I tend to start looking for the “cool stuff” on sites like Think Geek, well in advance of the holidays.  But that doesn’t mean you should start pushing holiday spending in July- it means you should have great stuff all year long.  And by making Christmas merely a seasonal excuse for excess, you are actually sucking the joy out of the whole experience of shopping in the first place.

9.  Someone has to stop the madness.  I will not only be trying to “shop local” more this year, but do whatever I can to minimize the spend with places like Walmart that encourage the “Trample Your Community for a Deal” mentality.  (It also doesn’t help that more than one friend has had an experience where those “early bird deals” are actually a “Bait and Switch” to get you to buy something with a higher profit margin for the retailer, making me skeptical of the deal value to begin with.)  I’m also more likely to actually send gifts to distant relatives along the lines of Lobster-gram or Quarterly.co packages- at least this sort of gift is a real surprise.

10.  Yes, retailers, you can get my attention on every media channel alive, but think about how and why you’re spending your ad dollars.  If I am a loyal customer, treat me like a loyal customer.  Discounts are okay, but if I love you, I’m ready to pay what you ask because the value is clear to me.  How about making the experience of shopping more peaceful?  Add Service?  Treat me well all year long, not just at the holidays?  – that would make me a much happier customer, and more likely to do business with you more than once a year.

Thank you for reading this rant- back to your regularly scheduled blog posts later this week.


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The Personal User’s Manual

I was reading a great blog post over on Edutopia about writing a Student’s User Guide. The title was a bit dull, but on reading it, a teacher talks about developing a “personal User’s Guide” not only for herself, but having each of her students do the same thing. I think this is about the best idea I have heard of recently.

We all know those people who have their own quirks and things that work best with handling them.  Lord knows just about every family relationship has an element of  this built in, as we categorize people’s likes and dislikes and how to talk to them so they will listen.  For example, here’s one of my favorite clips from The Big Bang Theory, where Howard informs Penny Sheldon came with a manual…

Now think how much better your business relationships would be, or students in a classroom, for that matter, if you gave them a brief user’s manual to you.  Instead of guessing how best to communicate, people could get it right from the very beginning.  For example, I try to tell clients up front what to expect from us and timetables of work.  This might work much better as a “manual” or document rather than a passing email.  I tell clients that I will keep them informed at least once a week by email about progress on the work, and then will schedule calls or meetings at regular intervals so we can talk and exchange information as needed.  While we can certainly talk informally in between, the regularly scheduled calls give everyone assurances about the progress and where things stand, rather than worrying about completion, etc.

Why shouldn’t I just reduce this to a Manual/Operating System guide for working with us?  While each client has individual needs, I work in a pretty predictable way, and this might give them added confidence in knowing how to “work my system” without getting needlessly frustrated along the way.  The “User’s Guide” idea could work even at the outset of presentations, letting everyone know that I’d like them to ask questions and participate along the way, rather than waiting until the end, if that’s appropriate.

This is such a simple and elegant idea. and it’s particularly brilliant for teachers.  I can’t tell you how many times as a student I asked other kids for tips on teachers- in fact, most colleges have guides to classes that sometimes give these sort of tips.  But why should it be underground whispers, rather than overt?  I can’t count how many times I’ve had conversations with my kids about how to “figure out” what the teacher wants, or what questions to ask to clarify assignments, when we’re all just guessing and the true source is the teacher themselves.

Now I understand we all like to be mysterious, but how much more learning could get done if we stopped spending so much time in trying to guess what everyone else wanted or needed, but instead, had them give us a hint, even if it resembles a Christmas List more than a User’s Manual?  What would happen if a teacher really knew what a student was sensitive about, or what their passions were and could use that to help engage the students better in class?

There are often small attempts made at this with “get to know you” sessions, but having a written User’s Guide, even with bullet points would be fantastic, in school or in business.

How would you use this idea to make your business or personal relationships work better?  I know I’m excited to give it a whirl, and leave less to perception and guessing.  I’ll let you know how it goes, if you can do the same!

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