Archive for the ‘Nerdery’ Category

Your iPhone Is a Better Camera Than You Think

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The web has a famous cliché floating about in regards to photography. Hailing from photographer Chase Jarvis, the quote goes, “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” It’s also the title of his book on iPhone photography.

There’s a good deal of truth to this. As I write this, I have a Canon 5D MkIII sitting next to me, with the venerable Canon 70–200L f/2.8 USM IS II mated to it. All in all, about a $5K piece of kit, more than capable of making professional-quality video production output.

Problem is, it weighs as much as a sniper rifle, and looks just as imposing.

I don’t carry it with me unless I know I’m going out shooting. That means for most of my life, especially when I want to capture impromptu moments, my big-rig Canon is at home in its bag.

What do I always have with me? My smartphone (an iPhone in my case), and it’s far more capable to shooting quality photos than your Facebook feed filled with blurred cat pictures would have you believe. In fact, on our mantle sits a canvas-printed photo I took in Italy, blown up to about 20“ x 20”. The camera responsible for that pic? My iPhone. Smartphones break when people don’t take good care of them, if you need to repair your smartphone contact I Fix Phones of Denver.


Book Review: The Art of Learning

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art of learning

Tim Ferriss, as part of his book club featuring books that dramatically impacted his life, said Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning is one of the books hedge fund managers have on their bedside tables.

After reading it, I can see why.

Like Ferris, this book will go down as one of the best self-improvement books I have ever read. It’s completely free of woo (woo, noun, Ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers), and while Waitzkin has a technician’s mind, he details the learning process with concepts that are easy to understand and backed up with his own life experience.

If you just skimmed this book, you’d think this is a biography of Waitzkin himself, who at a very young age was a national chess champion. In fact, Waitzkin’s father wrote Searching for Bobby Fischer, a popular book that was made into an even more popular movie.


Spurious Correlations

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The cliché goes, ‘correlation does not equal causation.’ This means, of course, that just because Thing A correlates to Thing B, it does not mean Thing A caused Thing B. Tyler Vigen over at Spurious Correlations illustrates this in hilarious fashion. Here’s an example:

Spurious_CorrelationsClick to enlarge.

This is fantastic on so many levels. Be sure to check out Vigen’s other examples. Great stuff. This is an idea I wish I had.

Turns Out That Someone Actually Did Shadow Outsourcing

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I first heard about personal outsourcing in Tim Ferriss’ book The Four-Hour Workweek. The idea is simple: take certain parts of your life and outsource them to a digital assistant overseas at an almost negligible cost. This frees you up to learn something, start a side business, or travel.

This idea taken another notch further is called ‘personal shadow outsourcing.” This is essentially where someone takes their entire job, outsources it overseas, and collects a paycheck for doing essentially nothing except for the bare minimums to keep up appearances that they are in fact doing their job. Neat idea, but nobody actually did it. It’s all been the stuff of lunchtime rumors.

Until Bob. Kevin Kelly tells the story of a guy who shadow outsourced his job and got away with it — for a while:

“As it turns out, Bob had simply outsourced his own job to a Chinese consulting firm. Bob spent less that one fifth of his six-figure salary for a Chinese firm to do his job for him. Authentication was no problem, he physically FedExed his RSA token to China so that the third-party contractor could log-in under his credentials during the workday. It would appear that he was working an average 9 to 5 work day. Investigators checked his web browsing history, and that told the whole story.

A typical ‘work day’ for Bob looked like this:

9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos

11:30 a.m. – Take lunch

1:00 p.m. – Ebay time.

2:00 – ish p.m Facebook updates – LinkedIn

4:30 p.m. – End of day update e-mail to management.

5:00 p.m. – Go home

Evidence even suggested he had the same scam going across multiple companies in the area.

What busted Bob? Browser history.

Kevin Kelly, in his blog post, attaches a Dilbert strip from August 3, 2003, and it couldn’t be more apropos.


Impressions of Microsoft Office for iPad

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Paul Thurrott:

As for how powerful these apps are, consider this. I loaded up my 575 page Windows 8.1 Field Guide Word document, and while it took a while to download originally (it’s stored in OneDrive for Business as part of my Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription), the performance reading and editing the document was impressive. In fact, it was… amazing. This is the real deal.

As important, the fidelity of the document was perfect: Everything was formatted correctly, including images. I could actually write a book on this thing if I wanted to. (Relax, I don’t.) Microsoft claims that documents look as good on the iPad as they do on the PC. And I gotta say. They really do.

Ed Bott:

What’s fascinating about Office for the iPad is how it leapfrogs Microsoft’s Windows tablets. On Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, Office is still a desktop app with some grudging interface tweaks designed to ease the pain of using an app without a mouse. Anyone who owns a Surface RT is likely to look enviously at these iPad apps, which for now are the gold standard for Office on a modern tablet.

With the release of Office for iPad, the divide between laptop and tablet just got reduced to a negligible crack. These are truly outstanding apps, and you can do real work on them with no caveats. As far as I can tell, Office for iPad is to Office as Photoshop Elements is to Photoshop. Sure, you don’t get 100% feature coverage, but for the 70% of the stuff most people do every day with office documents, it’s there, it’s graphically beautiful, and it works flawlessly.

Oculus VR Joins Facebook. Why?

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Earlier this week, Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey took to Reddit to defend the sale of his company to Facebook for $2B. Oculus VR is mainly known for a product called Rift.

If you don’t know what Rift is, it’s essentially the most promising next-generation thing for gaming and interactive digital experiences. It’s the virtual reality (VR) goggles we’ve all seen in movies, but haven’t even sniffed here in the real world. TIME magazine has a great rundown on what it is and why its potential is so great.

Rift has many people excited. The early Kickstarter campaign was crazy successful, and the buzz that has been generated since then has been fantastic – especially as the hardware continued to iterate and improve.

But, sentiment quickly turned overwhelmingly negative after the deal was announced, so much so that Notch (the creator of the uber-popular Minecraft) won’t work with Facebook because “it creeps him out,” and Kickstarters are demanding refunds. It’s safe to say that Facebook is the LAST company Oculus backers wanted to see land the deal. The Reddit thread in which Luckey defended his company’s sale quickly filled with overwhelmingly negative comments.

I have two semi-disjointed thoughts about the deal.


At this point, are you stunned that Oculus, quite literally the future of gaming and an immersive VR device the world has never seen before, goes to Facebook for $2B while WhatsApp, a cross-platform messaging app, commands $19B from Facebook?

Well, don’t be. Stunned, that is. Facebook took a leap of faith here: it spent $2B (cash and stock combined) for a two-year old hardware company, led by a 21 year old, that has zero successful commercial products on the market. In other words, Facebook sees potential in Oculus VR, whereas in WhatsApp it sees real lifeblood: an ocean of active, engaged users.


Add-ons for Google Docs and Sheets

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Increasingly, I have taken to using Google Drive for document creation and collaboration. Last week, Google announced add-ons for Google Docs (text documents) and Sheets (spreadsheets).

Here’s Google’s Saurabh Gupta, Product Manager:

You use Google Docs and Sheets to get all sorts of stuff done—whether you’re staying up late to finish that final paper or just getting started on a new project at the office. But to help take some of that work off your shoulders, today we’re launching add-ons—new tools created by developer partners that give you even more features in your documents and spreadsheets.

And here’s an overview video:

What’s interesting to me is that we’re now at a point where web apps are more easily extensible and customizable than desktop apps. Way of the future.

Are We Close to a Cashless Society?

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I can remember my parents telling me that someday we would not use cash.  I can remember people telling me that pennies would be obsolete (I can also remember my accounting teacher telling me that every penny counts).  Yet these all seemed about as far away as some of the things I saw in an episode of the Jetsons.

But today, I think we are reaching that point, and I might be one of the first to hop aboard that train.  I remember the days of direct deposit.  Just let payroll put the money in your bank account? You still dont have Fitfth Third checking account?  Oh boy.  Then we encountered electronic bill payments.  You are going to trust the internet?  I don’t.  And of course the credit card changed how we did things.  I can use a credit card at the gas pump?  All by myself?  And now we have the debit card.  I can charge things directly against the same account that receives my paycheck and without writing anything.  Oh, and who can forget our new ability to scan and deposit a check from a smartphone?

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I bet you are.

All of these are great, and clear signs of technology changing our lives, but I found something new.  I routinely travel for work, so keeping separate credit cards so I can segregate my personal and professional life is just part of the routine…until now.

Watch this video from a company called Coin and tell me if you could not only sense your wallet getting thinner, but a revolution taking place.  I still think the cashless endgame will be apps for the smartphone that eventually take over the concept of swiping a card, after all, those same apps are the ones that can invoke advanced security (like a fingerprint), but for now, this may just be the next step. A digital credit card, massively expandable, that replaces every single magnetic-striped card you have in your wallet or purse.

Personally, I don’t think I can be totally cashless because I still feel obliged to tip the bellman, but who knows…maybe someday he’ll have a card reader for his smartphone like Square.

Now, when do I get the flying car, George?

Before You Buy a New Hard Drive, Don’t Miss These Excellent Stats From Backblaze

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blog-which-drive-to-buyIf you’re about to buy a new hard drive for whatever reason, Backblaze (the online backup company…which I highly recommend, by the way) has published an excellent roundup of hard drive deployment and reliability data. It attempts to answer the question, “What hard drive should I buy?” and succeeds spectacularly.

Because Backblaze has a history of openness, many readers expected more details in my previous posts. They asked what drive models work best and which last the longest. Given our experience with over 25,000 drives, they asked which ones are good enough that we would buy them again. In this post, I’ll answer those questions.

Don’t miss the whole article. Very well done, and super informative from a buying decision standpoint.

When people talk about operational transparency, this is a great example of what they mean.

Things I Like: The Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer

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A little while ago, I told you about a device that brought some super useful data to my health and fitness awareness: the Fitbit. I won’t go into it again, but suffice to say that nearly a year later, I still use the Fitbit every day, for nearly every activity.

Today, I’d like to tell you about something else I like that’s very much in the same category as the Fitbit.

I train with an online coach, and he requests body composition data from time to time. So to make that happen, I bought a Withings WS–50 Smart Body Analyzer, which is a very fancy way of saying WiFi-enabled scale. But it’s more than a scale: in addition to weight, it tracks bodyfat percentage (using bioelectrical impedance), heart rate, indoor temperature and air quality (measured in CO2 parts per million, or PPM).

For $150, you have the ability to collect data that five years ago would have cost you hundreds of dollars per month to obtain.