Apple Releases iOS 9.2.1 Update

Today Apple released iOS 9.2.1, marking the first update to iOS 9 since iOS 9.2 launched in December of 2015. iOS 9.2.1 has been in testing since December 16, with developers and public beta testers receiving a total of three betas before its public launch.

Today’s iOS 9.2.1 release is available as an over-the-air update to all iOS 9 users. A minor update, iOS 9.2.1 is the fifth update to iOS 9 in total, following the launches of iOS 9.0.1,iOS 9.0.2, iOS 9.1, and iOS 9.2.

iOS 9.2.1, as a 9.x.x update, is minor in scale, focusing mainly on under-the-hood performance improvements and bug fixes rather than outward-facing changes. According to Apple’s release notes, the update includes security improvements and bug fixes, including a fix for a significant Mobile Device Management issue that affected enterprise customers.

This update contains security updates and bug fixes including a fix for an issue that could prevent the completion of app installation when using an MDM server.

iOS 9.2.1 will be followed by iOS 9.3, which has also been seeded to developers for testing purposes. Set to be released in the spring, iOS 9.3 will be a major update that introduces a new Night Shift feature to cut down on blue light exposure during the evening for better sleep and brings new educational features.

iOS 9.3 also includes new Quick Actions for iPhone 6s users and it introduces updates for apps and features like Apple News, Notes, Health, Siri, CarPlay, and More.

Black Friday Tech Tips

This week the holiday season officially gets underway with Thanksgiving followed by “Black Friday”. During the past decade tech stuff has taken up a greater role in the offerings provided by retailers and this year is no different. Here are some things to look for this year.

Buyer Beware

Be warned that what you are purchasing is not discontinued because it has suffered from bad reviews in 2014 or that it has been discontinued.

Early Bird Shoppers

When you see big discounts make sure you get to the store, or the Web site early. This is because retailers are often so eager to lure shoppers, Black Friday many times starts at midnight or even on Thanksgiving Day. Be aware of this because if the retailer actually begins their sale on Thanksgiving and you show up on Friday you may be out of luck.

Very Inexpensive Laptops

Perhaps this holiday season you are in the market for another laptop for yourself or a family member but you don’t want to break the bank. There are several good options here from the high to low end. There are many choices but here are two of my recommendations.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3– If you are looking for an high end laptop/tablet hybrid this is a great deal at $799.

For about half the price of the Surface Pro you can grab the HP Pavilion 15.6″ Touch Screen at $399.

Use Your Smartphones, Tablets and Social Media

Stores are now offering dedicated shopping apps, in some cases offering discounts and coupon codes. Sometimes this adds will direct you to “like” their add on Twitter or Facebook which often provides you with another discounted “code”.

iPhone Accessories Fire Sale

With the iPhone 6 out iPhone 5 accessories like cases, battery chargers and more can be found many times discounted, especially during the holidays.

Tablets for Every Budget

iPads are not discounted, but I have seen the Surface Pro 3 on sale for $799 at the Microsoft Store which is about a $100 price drop. There are also now a number of smaller, less expensive tablets available in the $200-$300 range which is amazing. These will usually be Android and Windows tablets. Of the two available today I prefer the low end Windows tablets as compared to the Android tablets.

Dell Venue 8 – A great Windows tablet for $199.

For a little more cash you can check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 which runs Android at $249.

Be Aware of “Leaked” Ads

Retailers often alter their sales as they learn what competitors plan on doing or as their inventory changes. So understanding this check the retailer’s ads you are most-interested in periodically.

Happy shopping and don’t forget to pick up a gift for your favorite tech guy!

HBO Joins Fire TV

Earlier this month I picked up Amazon’s FireTV in hope that it would be the only streaming box I would need, replacing both my AppleTV and ChomeTV.

Although I was impressed with much of FireTV I was surprised and disappointed that HBO GO was not included.

Fast foreard to today when we learned that Amazon Prime Instant Video members will soon have access to HBO content. The two companies have apparently signed a multi-year licensing agreement.

The first wave of HBO shows and mini-series will be available starting on May 21, and content will continually be introduced in the coming years. The licensing deal includes access to “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Six Feet Under,” “Big Love,” “Deadwood,” “Family Tree,” “Enlightened,” “Eastbound & Down,” “True Blood,” and “Treme”. In addition previous series will be available as addition HBO shows roll out as the multi-year agreement progresses.

And in addition, and this is key to me, HBO GO will be available on Amazon’s Fire TV by end of the year. This is really good news to me because I need to clear some space in my entertainment center!

Improving Smartwatches

Ok here we are half way through the first month of the 2014 and one of the technology trends I am most looking forward to keeping my eye on is wearable technology.

I have been using, fairly regularly Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch since last October and I have some thoughts about what Samsung needs to do with this to find more success with consumers, and I will get to my ideas after the following quick overview.

The Samsung Galaxy Gear is one of the most popular smartwatches in the world right now thanks to Samsung’s extensive marketing. Despite only working the Galaxy Note 2 &3 and a few other Android devices, the Gear continues to be a strong seller. One of the biggest problems here is that it is priced a bit higher than it should be at $299.  The Galaxy Gear  comes in a variety of colors and features a color AMOLED display, built-in 1.9MP camera and allows for notifications from your phone as well as voice calls. The Galaxy Gear runs various applications for email, SMS and social networks while giving you access to S-Voice, camera functions, music control and more.

OK so Samsung if you are reading this – this is what you should do in the rumored upcoming next version.

  1. Remove the camera all together. This will allow the band to be smaller and more comfortable and will probably also allow you to make the watch itself slightly smaller.
  2. Reduce the cost of the smartwatch. Obviously removing the camera alone will allow for this.
  3. Social networking interrogation which was almost non-existent when the watch was first released in October 2012 has been improved with a couple firmware updates and third party apps but further seamless interrogation is needed here.

There you go Samsung, see it’s really not that hard. Most users do not need or want a camera on their smartwatch. At 1.9MP and the odd angle you must use it as a camera simply makes the additional size of both the band and price a serious hurdle to success.

The Future of Wearable Technology

It has been about 2 months now that I have been using the Galaxy Gear Smart Watch. For the most part my experience has been a good one and I enjoy using the watch. With the holidays approaching and everyone looking for great tech gifts I wanted to recap very clearly my impressions of this and then write a little bit about my thoughts on the future of wearable technology in general.

The Galaxy Gear

The pros of this device are that it is great way to keep up to date with email and text messages without needing to grab your phone constantly. You can of course customize the watch display in various modes to include the date, current weather conditions, steps walked and more.

There is also a camera on the wrist band which can take pictures and short video clips which are automatically sent to your phone as well. The quality of the images are low at about 2mp which is to be excepted.

Because it is connected to your phone through Bluetooth it also acts as an extension to your phone. Incoming calls can be viewed to see who is calling without reaching for your phone and you can even accept or reject the incoming the call from the watch, You can even carry on a conversation with the watch.

The cons include the watch band which I have found is bigger then is should be which is probably the result of the camera which is in the band. Also the battery needs to be charged about every 2 days and there is a dock/cradle which you must use. I mentioned the ability to talk (on the phone) through the watch, however this is very difficult if not impossible in crowded places or if you want to have a private conversation. The last negative point I will mention here is that the Galaxy Gear currently only works with the Samsung Galaxy S II and III and Note 2 and 3.

In conclusion if you have one of the supported phones and you like some of the benefits I mentioned here you might enjoy checking this out. There is some real good uses here and it is always a conversation piece when people see it.

 

Every time I sit at the pub people ask, “hey is that – that smart watch on TV” and just about everyone I have met is curious about what it does. This leads to my prediction which follows.

The Future of Wearable Technology

First is there a future here? The answer is yes and although we are in the very early stages of finding what works (the smart watch) and what does not (google glass). The “google glass” kind of freaked people out. Who wants to have a conversation with someone who’s attention is obviously somewhere else and who could be taking pictures of you and even recording the conversation. However wearable technology is actually a natural fit for watches and I believe that this is the area where we will see a successful evolution and acceptance by consumers.

The smart watch will be the first successful and profitable wearable technology and this will probably occur during the next two years. You will see this when the watches get a little smaller and can act independently from smartphones.

Mountains of Sorrow

About 2-3 weeks ago while shopping at my favorite LP store, Electric Avenue Music I asked for some reason when the next Amos Lee LP was scheduled for release and if it would be on available on vinyl. I was informed that Amos Lee indeed had a new release scheduled in a few weeks and yes it would be available on Vinyl. I had discovered Amos Lee, a retired Philadelphia school teacher a couple of years ago and his music with a mix of Philly soul, rock and folk has always made me feel good so I pre-ordered the LP, not knowing anything about it, including the release date.

I completely forgot I had ordered the LP.

Fast forward until 2 weeks ago when a drunk driver stole my little brother from me, his young family and anyone that ever knew him or those yet to know him. A couple days after the tragic accident I stood inside Sam’s Club picking out pictures for the funeral home slide show when Electric Avenue Music called me to report that my Amos Lee LP had arrived. I could not answer the call or the voice mail. I was too upset while creating the slideshow for the funeral home to answer the phone call. Later in the day I asked my son Kevin to pick up the LP for me. Kevin picked it up and it sat in my LP Browser until a couple days after the services.

Once I looked at the album cover I was surprised and shocked. The album title, “Mountains of Sorrow” surprised me. Then listening to the main title song I felt as if it was especially written from Amos Lee to me. From the opening line when you hear “when I awoke from my dream awaken by the darkness of the night, I was unprepared for the unseen …”

Although I love music so much, very few, if any have touched me in such a way as this song – with this tragic event. This album and it’s title track will always strike directly at my heart when I think of my little brother and how I will always miss him so.

Sadness has entrenched my soul and I have a feeling it will take a long long time for it to let go of me.

Vinyl 101

Technology sometimes, if rarely, does shift backward. This does not occur very often because in most cases technology changes improve on what has occurred before. There are a few examples of when looking backward can actually be a good thing.

Growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s was a wonderful time, especially if you had an ear for music, which I did. Classic Rock was all around me and consumed much of my time, both in listening, collecting and enjoying the sheer awesomeness of the artwork. Like most people in my age group, let’s just say the late 40’s most of my vinyl was eventually sold or given away when CDs burst onto the scene in the 90’s.

What a mistake that was! During the past couple of years I have rediscovered vinyl and a new hobby was born. And I am not the only one to rediscover vinyl. Vinyl sales have been steadily growing during the past few years and most artists are now actually releasing vinyl versions of their new material. Because of these factors vinyl is one of the few exceptions where technology takes a step into the past.

Why Buy Vinyl?

There are two basic reasons for this: You are an audiophile, and appreciate the sound of analog recordings, or you simply like the sound of vinyl records, packaging, and turntables. And it usually is both! But the aesthetics, the physical aspect of it, is pretty key to its appeal. These records are more beautiful and substantial than CDs, which mostly have the look of office supplies, and they are the best way to make purchasing music feel like something. Vinyl allows you to have a sentimentality about albums — there’s a tactile quality, a ritual to pulling a record out of a sleeve and putting it on and focusing your attention on the act of listening for one side at a time. Even if you still mainly listen to music on your computer or iPod, it gives you the option of having a more special experience with your favorite albums, and an object you can display in your home.

Is Buying Vinyl A Smart thing To Do?

In my opinion buying vinyl records today is the truly only way to purchase music that is likely to give you a return on your investment. You can’t resell a digital file, and in most cases, CDs have almost no value on the secondary market. Vinyl records — new or old — retain a lot of value, and so long as your copy is in decent condition and there is some demand for the title, you can often make a profit if you choose to sell. You probably shouldn’t get into buying vinyl as a way to make money — there are much easier ways to do that — but it’s definitely nice to know that if you had to, you could sell your collection.  But I of course have no intention of selling mine.

What Does Analog Mean?

Analog means that there is a continuous signal in which the varying part of the signal is a representation of another time-varying quantity. So, when it comes to sound recordings, the instantaneous voltage of the signal varies continuously with the pressure of the sound waves. Basically, the groove of a vinyl record is like a drawing of the sound wave in a single continuous line through the entire side. Your turntable essentially reads that and decodes it in real time, which results in the sound you hear from the speakers.

How Is Vinyl Different Then Digital?

Digital signals are not continuous. They are discrete, which means that they send a series of samples of an audio signal’s power at precise intervals. Sound does not naturally break down, so a digital system subdivides it into bits, the smallest possible form of information. This is binary code, so everything is broken down into one of two directives, which is typically described as 0 and 1. The benefit of binary code is that by breaking down information to its smallest possible form, it can represent virtually anything with only two elements.

Does Vinyl Actually Sound Better Then Digital?

Sometimes. It depends on a lot of factors, and most of them have to do with the quality of your turntable, amplifier, and speakers, and I will get to that in a future post. If you’re listening to a vinyl record, CD, or high-quality digital file of the same song on a good stereo system, you probably won’t notice a lot of difference between what you’re hearing unless there is a problem with the actual physical media — scratches, dust, defects. There have been many studies that show that the untrained ear can’t discern these differences, and that those who favor one format have a confirmation bias based on their preferences or values going into the test.

Why Do I Like Vinyl Sound So Much Better then Digital Sound?

There are aspects of vinyl records and analog recordings in general that you definitely can notice beyond the pops and crackles of surface noise. This sound is actually a result of analog’s limitations in capturing and reproducing sound, particularly on the low end of the mix. Digital recordings are far more accurate than analog recordings and can capture a much broader dynamic range. Analog recording is much less detailed, and the gaps in data result in a slight abstraction of sound that is often very pleasing to the ear. You get a very similar difference between images captured on film as opposed to digital cameras – purely digital recording can feel too precise, cold, and clinical, and lose the “warmth” and humanity many people associate with analog technology.

Do You Need a Stereo Receiver to Enjoy Vinyl?

Yes. If you are buying a stand-alone turntable, you will need the receiver – or just an amplifier – to process the signal from the turntable and line out to your speakers. This is where the volume and audio control knobs for your system will be. Some receivers will have a radio built in, and you can line other things into the receiver too, like CD players and televisions.

Setting Up the Receiver
If you have a turntable with a built-in pre-amp, it’s as simple as connecting everything with the appropriate RCA cables and stereo wire. If your turntable has no pre-amp, it will be a bit more complicated because you will need to “ground” the system so that electricity flows properly or you will hear a constant low-pitched hum through your speakers.
Buying Vinyl
Anywhere they sell it, really. If you don’t live near a record store, you can’t go wrong with Amazon since it stocks a wide range of new vinyl at reasonable prices and will ship anywhere. There are other good online shops such as my personal favorite Discogs. You can buy vinyl from the official websites of many artists and most independent labels. Buying used records this way, or at record fairs or garage sales, is a great way to build up a solid collection without spending a lot of money. Probably the most fun way to purchase vinyl is to find a local record shop, like the Electric Avenue Music at 323 East Gay Street in West Chester PA where you can simply browse until you find something that catches your eye… and ear. This is also the best way to meet really cool people who also have a love of vinyl.
What Is The deal with 180 Vinyl?
Most new albums will be very well made and sound great on even an average stereo system. A lot of new records will have some sticker announcing that it’s on “180 gram” vinyl, and that’s a good thing, especially if you’re an audiophile. The thicker, heavier vinyl will degrade more slowly than a thinner pressing and the records will stand up to repeat play a little better. That said, all vinyl degrades a tiny bit every time you play it. Not to worry though I still enjoy a lot of vinyl that was pressed in the 1950s and 1960s.
What About Old Albums Released on 180?
You should be cautious of new reissues of old albums on vinyl. In many cases, the master is made from the most recent CD of the title because the record label does not have access to the original analog master. If you are into the “warmth” factor, like me this totally defeats the point of having the recording in this format because you are basically just buying a lesser, imperfect version of a CD. If you’re unsure about whether a new reissue is sourced from CD, take the time to do some research beforehand. If you have the option of finding an original vinyl pressing of the album, you should just do that.
Buying Old Vinyl (My Favorite Part)
If you are planning to acquire vinyl copies of your favorite albums, you should know that many records either were never released in the format, or were released in very small numbers and are now out of print. The latter is especially true of vinyl produced in the ’90s through the early ’00s, when vinyl sales were at their lowest and CDs completely dominated the market. Vinyl pressings for major-label albums released in this era can be incredibly difficult to find and very expensive to buy on the secondary market. Searching sources like Discogs is probably your best bet here.

Storing Your Vinyl

You should always store your records in a cool, dry place, and have them standing up vertically. If you stack them on top of one another, you run a high risk of warping the vinyl. If your records are warped, they will never sound right again, and you can’t fix it. It can be a challenge to find just the right way to store your vinyl that works in your home. Customized “LP Browsers” like the one pictured above is the best way to go. You can learn more about the amazing “LP Browser” here.

Pink Floyd Invades Spotify

A month or so ago my son was praising the merits of the internet music service, Spotify. I checked it out and there is a lot to like about it but I had a couple of problems with it.

1. Although there is a free version of this – you can not listen to Spotify on mobile devices without paying $9.99 per month. That is too expensive for me, especially since I already am a subscriber to Sirius/XM Radio.
2. My son went on about the massive song selection, however I found that there was almost no Pink Floyd there. This was a big problem for me.
Meanwhile, shortly after I checked out and gave up on Spotify my favorite rock group Pink Floyd gave the green light to Spotify to host the band’s entire catalog. Why did the greatest rock band ever formed do this? Well apparently Pink Floyd announced earlier this month that it would resist releasing its music on Spotify until the 1975 classic “Wish You Were Here” hit 1 million streams.

Well, the song hit 1 million, and Spotify announced via Twitter that Pink Floyd’s tunes are now unlocked.

Gadgets in the Air – Under Review

One of the rules that has boggled me for years is why when traveling in the air we are forced to turn off our gadgets when landing and taking off. This never really made since to me. Although many of these gadgets do broadcast wireless signals, up again the power of a modern airplane their capability of “interfering” with flight operations to my knowledge has never been proven or explained to the traveling public.

The manufactures of these “gadgets” have tried to work around this crazy rule by adding an ‘airplane mode” option. This option when turned on turns off all wireless activity. However if you ever tried to explain this to a stewardess after being told to turn your Nook off you understand that it is a battle you will not win.

There finally is some hope for us who fly regularly. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reportedly putting together a group to re-examine current testing procedures and policies airlines have in place for gadgets. However this group will not be considering airborne use of cell phones for voice communication.

Baby steps are better than no steps at all. Especially considering that these policies and procedures are way behind the speed at which we adopt new technology. This newly formed group will look at how these devices are tested for use in the air. In addition the current standards for use of portable electronic devices on board an airplane will be closely looked at.

 

Gadget of the Month: Roku HD Player

Other than its ability to stream Netflix movies, I knew nothing about Roku when I received my first HD Roku almost 2 years ago. But you ask yourself if I have had a HD Roku player for almost 2 years why make it my gadget of the month. Well you see when I purchased one of these beauties they were new on the market and somewhat unproven. Anyway their popularity has continued to grow and a new improved lineup of Roku players hes been recently introduced. I still own one of the original models so my review is based on mine.

The thing is tiny! At less than 5 inches wide and only 1 inch tall, Roku is the size of my hand!

It’s so simple to set up. Just plug in the included red/white/yellow A/V cable from Roku to the TV. If you have an HDMI cable, that’s a better choice, but it has to be purchased separately. Then you follow the on-screen directions to add it to your home network. Don’t have wi-fi? No problem. You can plug an ethernet cable into it. And that was it! You control Roku with the included remote. It’s tiny and very basic, but that’s all you need. I was watching high definition content on Netflix in about 5 minutes

While Roku is best known for its partnership with Netflix, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it does so much MORE! Watch Amazon Video On Demand, listen to Pandora Internet Radio and stream your mp3s, watch MLB TV, NBA TV, NHL GameCenter, browse your Flickr photo albums, and even Facebook photos, too! Explore internet only channels such as Revision 3, MediaFly as well. Hulu Plus has been added this past month as well as NASA TV.So you can see there is plenty of great content on this little box.

Since it’s so tiny, Roku doesn’t consume much energy at all and always stays on (unless you unplug it, of course). In fact, it doesn’t even have an off button. No waiting for a device to start up. Just turn on the TV, click over to the Roku Channel you want, and you’re good to go! It’s an awespme device!

A couple of big differences between the original model I have and the new ones are an increase in HD video quality from 720p to 1080i and the inclusion of a USB port so local video can be viewed through the Roku player. I of course need to upgrade mine at some point soon and perhaps donate my old one to my son (Kevin) in college. It may be a hand-me-down but the kid will certainly accept such a cool gift!

Roku players start at just $59.99. The price is one of the most reasonbly price points in the technology world today. There’s a 30-day money back guarantee and a one-year warranty on the device. You just have to decide which Roku to get! The useful comparison chart on roku.com should help you choose which model is the best for you.

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