CES 2015: Day 3 Report

January 8, 2015 Leave a comment

It. Is. Finished. I survived CES 2015 and walked the vast majority of the expo show floors. If you haven’t read my other posts about this year’s Consumer Electronics Expo, check them out…

Since on the last 2 days I meandered through Tech East at the Las Vegas Convention Center, today was Tech West at the Sands Expo Center and the Venetian. Major themes at Tech West include health and fitness tech, education/kids, 3D printing, and wearable’s. Lots of brands I recognized where there, as well as some really cool startups. Here are some of the products and companies that caught my attention.

DSCN0718 First off is the Girl Scouts of America – specifically their cookies, and not the browser tracking kind either. No free samples, but they were showing off their new online ordering system. Most importantly I registered to win a year’s supply of cookies … though I’m not sure 52 boxes of Thin Mints would quite be enough. ;-) I didn’t order any cookies yet, since I don’t know my local troop number to credit the purchase to (or get the delivery from), but I’m sure I’ll be placing an order REAL soon.

Next up was a startup called Switftpoint, and their modern take on theDSCN0720 computer mouse called the Swiftpoint GT. Retailing for $129, this sweet little device naturally fits in your fingers and prompts a hand posture that’s similar to holding a pen, with your hand more vertical than the traditional mouse orientation where your palm is flatter to the surface of the desk. I was skeptical before picking it up, but was pleasantly surprised at how nice the device felt. Now you’re not  paying that much for a mouse just because it’s small, you’re paying because it allows you to apply touch DSCN0721gestures to any computer, regardless of whether you have a touchscreen or not. Simply tilt the device slightly on it’s right edge and you invoke gesture mode, allowing you to scroll the screen and trigger swipe-in/up features in your OS and apps. The device runs on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, and the rechargeable battery (charges from the USB dongle/dock) lets you run for about a month. Check out their website for a video of how it works. They were offering a purchase onsite discount of $30, but I couldn’t quite talk myself into puling the trigger. That’s the Swiftpoint GT in my hand in the picture on the right. It’s right-handed only right now, though someone else did ask about a lefty model while I was standing there. Sounds like they’re wanting to get off the ground a bit more before they invest in “designing” a left-handed version (what’s to design? just flip/mirror the design in your app!).

DSCN0723 Next up to catch my eye was a set of toys to help teach kids about shapes, counting, and words. Tiggly combines 3 interactive apps plus shape kits that interact with those apps. For example, if the Chef asks for 4 strawberries your child can put down the “3” shape (the app senses it via your iPad or Android tablet’s touchscreen) and then the “1” shape. The shapes themselves simply conduct your bioelectric current to the screen – no batteries required. Think of the shapes as really fancy passive tablet pens. I could see our 3 year old at home really having fun with this, so I’m sure we’ll be getting these at home soon. The counting and shapes toys are available now, with the vowel toys coming this Spring. All the apps are free, so you’re just buying the toys. Counting toys work with 3 different apps: Tiggly Chef uses the counting toys to help make the Chef’s recipies, Tiggly Addventure teaches basic math like matching and counting. The shape toys work with Tiggly Safari, Tiggly Stamp, and Tiggly Draw.

There were a few vendors going after the kid market from a different angle, specifically through their parents who want to track where the heck their kids are. DSCN0742 HereO is a cool-looking watch designed for kids 3+ to wear. It has GPS and a GSM (cellular) radio to ping back to the service the location of your child. HereO’s service runs $5/month per device and includes a smartphone app so you can receive alerts when you child gets home from school or leaves the neighborhood (you can set up both safe zones where the watch stops pinging location (say at home or at school) as well as boundaries it shouldn’t leave. You can of course also see where they are on a map via their app. They’re also working on the ability to send voice messages to (and from?) the watch. Devices and services anyone? :-) The watches come in several different colors and are downscaled to not be too bulky on your little one.

Paxie ditches the watch face but grows substantially in size and features, letting you track not only your rug rat’s location out in the hood, but can also tell you how cold it is out side so you know to make sure they put their jacket back on and keeps track of their heartrate and step/activity metrics. The band comes with multiple wraps so you can change the look of the device to match their outfit, which is critical for the discerning 4 year old.

DSCN0760 There was even a baby tracker for paranoid parents who get scared during nap time. No GPS on this device though, so if baby crawls away from your neighborhood you’re screwed. ;-)

DSCN0727 If you want to turn the tables, you can have technology become your mother for you by using the Mother system. Effectively this is a combination of special tag devices that are sensed by the central control unity (i.e. Mother), who relays the data gathered to a series of apps. You can use this to remind yourself to take your pills (and where you left them), get a notice when your kids get home from school (just leave a tag in their backpack), know how warm each room in the house is, and how well you brush your teeth. I don’t get it, but the booth was packed and this won lots of awards at CES last year. Now where did I put my pills…?
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If you want to teach your kids coding basics with markers you can do that too with the Ozobot. This booth had a lot of interest – and it was a great little toy. Just draw a path with a marker on a clean sheet of paper and the little robot follows it. Use different colors to make the device do different things, from changing colors on the LED light to turning directions, spinning around, etc. At intersections it randomly decides which way to go. The company has instruction sheets online, as well as premade sheets you can print out and use. Even adults can use it to drive a drinking game. ;-) The robot will also work on tablets (they’ve got an app to make it easy, but any drawing app should do). Might have to add this one to family game night.
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DSCN0726 I saw a few different variations on this theme as well – an audio headset that doesn’t actually sit in your ears. Instead these products sit right in front of your ears, but still produce vibrations that your ears can sense and translate into your favorite tunes. This is actually a great idea and I could see this being helpful for people who want to listen to music while out running or biking but still be able to hear what’s going on in their environment.
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DSCN0732 If you want to freak out the cat, or perhaps replace your cat with something that doesn’t vomit hairballs all over the house, might I suggest WowWee’s Roboraptor. This little guy reacts to it’s surroundings, including your voice commands or an app on your smartphone. You can play fetch, scare it and have it shake in fear, have it chase you around the house, or go after the cat. Looks like fun … but not for the cat.

Speaking of fun, the Panono Ball Camera looks really cool, even if the DSCN0739name does make me giggle like a 12 year old. It’s a softball-sized sphere with 36 cameras embedded inside that automatically takes a snapshot of every angle at the apex of your throw above the action. What’s captured my attention was their app that lets you view the resulting 108 megapixel image on a tablet leveraging the tablet’s accelerometers to pivot around the image from the point of view of the ball. Want to look to the right, turn yourself to the right. It was really addicting to play with in their iPad at the booth. There’s also a web viewer. Their goal is to let you view a low-res version of a pic from your tablet to make sure it’s a good shot, then upload the full versions via USB later, rather then waiting for the full image to download over Bluetooth. Storage is 400 pics. I joked about not catching the ball … the engineer suggested that it would really be best if it was caught. ;-) Shipping this coming Spring, and there’s an optional tripod mount if throwing a $550 device up in the air sounds like a bad idea. They’ve got some samples up on their website.

I was impressed by the smart credit card solutions displayed by Dynamics. DSCN0737Essentially they have a programmable credit card format that can be custom-tailored to your needs. One model I got to play with is a pin-secured card that won’t work unless you put the right code in, and only then does it show the whole cc number and unlock the magnetic swipe *and* the contact chip *and* NFC tap-to-pay capability. There’s another option to have a dynamic CVC2 code generated for each online transaction. Pretty spiffy. Good demo video on their website.

DSCN0758 One of the little booths I stopped by had a prototype of a USB3-based network switch that allows TCP/IP Ethernet connectivity over USB3. $200 let’s you connect 2 machines at 5Gbps – not too shabby! Check out www.devellab.com if you’re interested. They won a CES Innovation Award and are looking to launch via a Kickstarter round in the next month or two. Nice guys too – they talked me up about how awesome and easy the Windows platform was to work with to develop their solution on, and their demo was with a Surface Pro 3!

For my mom I took a quick spin around Brother’s booth to see some really cool-looking fabric/sewing devices for cutting intricate patterns and embroidery. My mom has a long-arm quilting machine permanently sitting in my folks’ formal dining room, so it’s a good thing she wasn’t here with me – she’d still be talking the Brother reps ears off. ;-) And I just thought they made little label printers…
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DSCN0801Next up was another gadget that will likely make it home to my house at some point in the near future – the Grillbot. It’s effectively a Roomba for your grill. Just sent it for the desired run time (10, 20, 30 minutes), close the lid, and go play with the kids – or do whatever’s next on your chore list. 

Another really cool tech that drew me in was Quell. This is a medical device that, in CNet’s words, “hacks your brain to relieve chronic pain.” I had a partial left knee replacement 2 years ago, and while it’s way better than any point in the last 2 decades, I still get a lot of aches and pains in the joint – especially as I get more active now that my knee actually works well. The Quell pain relief system is based on TENS therapy that uses small electric currents to trigger a blocking response to pain wherever it originates from in your body. It’s going to be available this Spring, is FDA approved, and should retail for about $250. Color me VERY interested.
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One of the biggest trends at Tech West was 3D printing and scanning. I’ve head of MakerBot before, but that was about it. This is definitely a big trend for everything from home decor to DIY toys to industrial design/prototyping/production. There were even solutions to allow printing circuit paths in your creation, as demonstrated by a 3D printed drone. Effectively all of these 3D printers do the same thing – take plastic filament of various colors and textures (think of big weed whacker string spools) and then melt/extrude the substance into a pre-defined design. Some of the creations were simply amazing, including a full band (drums, guitar, and bass), a recliner, and lots more. There’s even edible medium that can be used to create deserts, cakes, etc. YUM! Here’s some of what I saw…
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Other cool pics from the show floor:
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No celebrity sightings today, but there was this guy who could hold his breath for along time. Didn’t stay to see how long, but saw him meditating to slow down his heart rate, etc. Tech tie-in was that they stuck a oxygen and heart rate monitor on his finger. ;-)DSCN0817

I’ll leave you tonight with a cool display wall for the OoVoo booth (they do IM, voice, video conferencing – evidently that’s a thing again. ;-) Not sure what this display had to do with the product, but the tech itself was mesmerizing to watch.

 

Daily miles walked: 6.1

Cumulative CES miles walked: 28.1 (more coming later tonight for dinner and the Beatles LOVE show over at the Mirage)

CES 2015: Day 2 Report

January 7, 2015 1 comment

If you’re just joining us, this is the 4th post in my CES 2015 series. You can see the others here…

    Today my goal was to complete my walkthrough of CES 2015’s Tech East at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Westgate. Yesterday I got through the South and Central Halls at LVCC, so today my goal was to hit the North Hall and the booths at Westgate … after I hit the BMW experience in the South parking lot.

The show floors opened an hour earlier today at 9a, but since I’ve decided that I’m swearing off alarm clocks for this trip I headed down to the LV Monorail station at my hotel about 9:15. The line this morning was WAY longer than yesterday morning, but I was on my way after about 20 minutes. Not too shabby, and way faster than the queues for the bus shuttles or taxies.

DSCN0682 Unlike yesterday, I knew exactly where I was going when I got to the convention center and made a B-line straight for the gigantic BMW tent next to the monorail station. And unlike the monorail, there really wasn’t a huge line. They had i8 concepts to show off and some pretty spiffy tech to help you manage your car and plan your day. Ze Germans were friendly and efficient in their demos and their queue management.

In no time I had signed up for a test drive and was escorted out to the lot where I got a briefing on BMW’s new i3 all-electric hatchback. I even got a demo of autonomous driving integration where you could summon your car to you with a smartwatch. This thing is like a mini Bat Mobile!

20150107_181928140_iOS The vehicle I was escorted to was a copper/brown i3 (not shown – obviously – I trust you to find a picture online if you’re really interested). I’m a big guy; it’s a small car. I was prepared for the worst. I remembered to at least slide the driver’s seat all the way back before trying to sit down, but once I did get it in I was shocked to discover I had plenty of room. I even scooted the seat up just a tad. The seat was comfortable and supportive in the right ways, and didn’t pinch my sides like some car brands like to do (I’m looking at you, Subaru). I wouldn’t want to sit in the i3 for several hours on a road trip, but then again that’s not the target for this car.

The vehicle is 100% electric – no gas engine for recharging or hybrid mode. You plug this puppy in and it provides ~80 miles of range on a full charge. You can charge it from a regular wall outlet or from a high-powered charging station. I’ve got a ~25 mile one-way commute so in theory I would do fine on my regular daily commutes. Days when I need to make multiple trips for kids’ activities or multiple services at church would be a stretch and would require making sure I had an outlet handy mid-day to top off. An annoyance, but hey – I’m more than happy to have Microsoft pay to charge my car while it’s in the parking deck. ;-) Note, according to BMW’s website there is an extended range model that gives you 150 miles. If I was buying one I’d spring for that one ($46K base versus $41K base MSRP).

20150107_175442604_iOS Unlike the original Prius, which confused me so much when I first got one as a rental down at LAX that I had to search the Hertz lot for an attendant to tell me how to start the damn car, the i3’s interface is very intuitive. A simple start/stop button and gear selector sits on the right-stalk area of the wheel column. The wheel itself is nice and open so visibility and accessibility to these critical controls is not a problem. The navigation interface is beautiful, as is the center display. The rest of the dash is minimalistic but smartly designed, made of composite and recycled materials.

20150107_180133652_iOS The whole care is actually made of composites and recycled stuff. The car feels properly firm and stiff when driven, but even with the batteries it weighs just 2700 pounds according to Jeff, my helpful BMW minder. The drive train also makes heavy use of regenerative braking to return as much kinetic energy into stored go-juice as it possibly can. I used to drive Ford’s Fusion Hybrid, which also used regenerative braking – but only when you actually pressed the brake pedal. With the i3 braking happens as soon as you take your foot off the gas. It’s noticeable and requires you to slightly modify your driving style to get used to it (i.e. keep your foot on the “gas” just a little bit if you want to coast). The cool thing is, though, that when you do lift off the go pedal the brake lights go on, so it’s not like you’re surprising the car behind you. In the stop-and-go traffic in the loop they let me drive around the LVCC complex on city streets I found myself rarely needing to actually step on the brake pedal.

I also found myself leaving significant distance between myself and the car ahead so I could drop the hammer on the i3’s powerhouse and see what happens. What happens is an instant response that throws you back in your seat. I didn’t have enough open road to go too fast, and to be sure we’re not talking about M-series acceleration, but it was FUN! As I told my wife, she’d love it – but probably nuke the battery after just a few miles. She loves putting her vehicle to the paces. I enjoyed being let loose with the car on my own and not having be chatted up by anyone. I guess BMW figures there’s not much risk of anyone getting too far with limited range. :-)

If you want some more info on the i3 here’s a great CNET article from here CES 2015 entitled “I tried and failed to crash a BMW i3 at CES”.

DSCN0680 After the drive I checked out BMW’s demo tent of their new Laserlight headlight system. Using friggin’ laser beams and OLED lights on a M4 concept vehicle, plus a fancy 3-sided projection space and a spinning platform for the car, BMW demonstrated how the Laserlight system automatically enables a high-beam mode once the vehicle reaches 45 mph (and it’s dark out, of course) that extends visibility out to nearly 2000 feet (600 meters for ze Germans in the audience). My first reaction was “I can’t wait to get blinded by that”, but then they demonstrated how the vehicle senses cars ahead and oncoming and dynamically reshapes the headlight beams to NOT blast your fellow drives off the road. COOL! It can also sense animals or pedestrians on the side of the road and “highlight” them so you know they’re there, and they know you can see them. There are a few other really nifty forward-looking features up front, and they spent some time to show off fancy OLED brake and turn signal units in the rear, making them dance and animate. Eh – that one seemed more gimmicky to me, but whatever. I’m sure some will love it, assuming the DOT approves it. For more info on the light demo read this.

Disclaimer – I got a free gift after the i3 test drive; an i8 concept wireless mouse. I would have written all this without it, but I want to be open about the “kick back” – even if the design isn’t quite ergonomic. ;-)

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Okay – BMW was cool, but there’s lots more to see, so let’s go…

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I have to call out the awesome traffic managers at LVCC. They put up with lots of stupid and angry drivers, and crazy amounts of pedestrians trying to get to the show from the monorail station. The line of the day goes to one of that crew after one driver decided to not proceed when directed and instead drop someone off in the middle of a driving lane. She decided to let pedestrians go instead and yelled at the driver, “No you have to wait … FOREVER.” The crowd cheered.

The North Hall was just as awesome as the Central hall. I wish I’d done North/Central on the first day rather than running through all of the South Hall. While the North Hall did have a ton if cases and connectors and battery chargers, etc. the booths were WAY nicer and the exhibitors much more interested in talking to people, etc. This was the CES experience I had in my mind (in combination with the big names from the Central Hall).

A few products really caught my eye. Among them was the WeeGo JS6 – a portable backup battery/charger that’s about the size of your smartphone, and doesn’t weigh too much more either. But that small package packs a bug punch. Not only does this 6000 mAh battery pack let you charge your phone or tablet a few times, but it can also JUMP START YOUR CAR. Woah. They’re available already – check out Amazon for this one and it’s big brothers.

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I got suckered into the Woosh! screen cleaner booth as well – who can pass up a free cleaning of your phone? A quick spritz and wipe and not only was my phone’s screen clean and disinfected (cool!), but it also had a thin coating of anti-static and anti-fingerprint goodness on it that made the screen not just easier to read throughout the day, but honestly my finger slid on my iPhone’s glass way easier. I’m seriously considering getting a kit from Amazon. Good on phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, glasses, whatever; and it’s non-toxic and ammonia-free so you can feel good about hugging a tree too.

The North Hall also was home to several auto manufacturers and automobile component suppliers looking to sell to both the aftermarket customizers and the big boys themselves. Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Ford, VW, Hyundai, and Chevrolet were among the big names, and of course all the speaker companies were luring people to their booths with modified cars and motorcycles.

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Yes, that’s a classic mid-60’s Cadillac with a modern V engine dropped in. :-)

I spent some quality time with Ford checking out their new offerings and giving feedback (PLEASE bring the globally-offered diesel engine option to the North American market Edge SUV!). Ford was pushing their new Sync 3 platform hard, which is great – I like in-car tech. Unfortunately Ford decided to move away from the Microsoft platform even though, in my personal opinion, the Sync 2’s issues were largely due to Ford’s decision to outsource the UI layer to a 3rd party (*cough* Sony *cough*). The new platform has WAY better hardware powering it and seems really snappy and intuitive. It allows you to pinch-zoom and swipe on maps and control apps on your smartphone, something Ford has been promising for quite some time. I talked to someone from the app sync team and he was lauding how they’ve open sourced their API and components to hopefully create a standard platform that developers can leverage across multiple auto platforms. I don’t see this being successful in the light of Apple’s new Car Play and similar tech coming on the Android platform too, so hopefully Ford will quickly work to support those technologies.

I left Ford with a good parting shot when the app sync guy was trying to say that the Microsoft OS was the core problem because it was too “full featured” and not optimized. I interjected a quip that Sony’s shitty UI layer certainly didn’t help either. He couldn’t refute that. I felt better.

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I headed over to Westgate but discovered it was really just international vendors selling to international markets. If you thought the edges of the South Hall were the same thing over and over with uninterested booth attendants, the Westgate sections took that to the next level. I did a quick scan but decided to bail after about 10 minutes.

 

Cool pic of the day … I need one of these for the office.

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Celebrity sighting of the day: Nick Cannon. Evidently he’s this years Entertainment Ambassador to CES, whatever that means. Nice suit. I had no idea who he was, and many others were in the same boat. I sent a pic to someone who told me. I inquired why he’s so special, the response was priceless: “He’s like the black Ryan Seacrest.” Got it.

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Mission accomplished for the day I decided to head out a bit early and take a bit of an afternoon break on the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel. It brings you to a respectable 550 feet above the strip. I did the London Eye when I was in the UK 7 years ago, and I’ve done the wheel in Seattle too – might as well keep the tradition alive. :-)

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Hey, there’s my hotel…
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Hey, there’s the convention center…
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Hey, there’s me…
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Daily miles walked: 8.8

Total CES 2015 miles so far: 22

Categories: travel Tags: , , , ,

CES 2015: Day 1 Report

January 6, 2015 2 comments

Today’s plan was to sleep in a bit and hit the Las Vegas Convention Center shortly after the doors opened at 10a. Well, I got a bit of a late start and didn’t make it out of my room at Harrah’s until about 10:30. The nice thing about staying here is that the Monorail has a stop right next door – a trip down the elevator and a short walk away. I don’t even have to go to street level. There was a short queue for the train and, 3-day pass acquired, I set off for LVCC.

When I got off the Monorail I was faced with my first big dilemma: South Hall or North Hall. I could have done some extensive planning via the CES website and/or their mobile app to plan out my attack, but since my goal is to effectively carpet bomb the whole show floor while I’m here I didn’t bother. I started heading North … then noticed the BMW driving experience where they’re showing off their new BMW i3 with test drives, etc. in the South-side parking lot and headed that way.

Oddly the security folks at the entrance for BMW were shooing some people away when I got there, even though the whole experience didn’t seem like it was VIP or Press only, nor very full (in fact I was excited that there didn’t seem to be much of a line). Whatever the reason, I skipped BMW and headed inside. I’ll try to hit BMW tomorrow morning first thing.

Getting in the South Hall was a bit of a feat in itself, and required dodging countless people in suits who were stopping in front of the entrance to take pictures of each other. I eventually got inside and quickly formulated a plan. The South Hall has 4 areas: 1-4 on two floors. I figured I’d walk everything in 1 then 2 on the first floor, then head upstairs to tackle 3 and 4.

I’ve been to a couple TechEd conferences before (30,000 people crammed into the Orlando Convention Center) and am used to throngs of people, regardless of how much I hate big crowds, so I was planning for the worst. What met me though, wasn’t so much of a crush of humanity as much as a daunting and never-ending array of vendor booths. There really wasn’t an opportunity to take a picture that showed the extent of everything, but trust me – there was a lot of stuff.

20150106_192013112_iOSThe South Hall has a lot of medium-sized firms with big display areas set up. What did surprise me is how many small Chinese manufacturing firms had booths on the fringes of the floor. On one row I walked down the company name on nearly every booth – probably 50 displays – had “Shenzhen” in the title (a major industrial city in China), and most were all displaying various versions of the same things: cell phone cases, USB and HDMI connector cables, portable chargers, and USB hubs. Oh and headphones. It used to be a contest to see who could make the smallest in-ear audio devices … no everyone’s going large. Some have taken things a bit too far. ;-)

Speakers were everywhere in the South Hall too. Some sounded amazing, some were crap, some were bigger than me. The ones on the right below were about 8 feet tall – perfect for my living room at home!

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Drones were huge too. Some figurative (the ones in the blue pic were maybe 2 inches across), and some literally.

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They dance too…

One of the few things that I honestly would consider buying personally is the new X7A Modular Computer from Xi3. These awesome little computers are a cube just a few inches in each side, but the pack a massive punch. If I was going to build a new home theater PC this would be the platform. Plus that have lots of colors to match any couch. ;-)

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At long last the South Hall was complete … after walking 4+ miles! I headed for the cross-over to what I thought was the North Hall but discovered there was an area called the Central Hall. This one looked to have all the big names: Intel, Nikon, Sony, LG, Samsung, Qualcom, etc. And it kept going and going and going. I liked the new 4K TVs and curved displays, but not enough to make me want to replace our TV at home (that’s a year or so old). I definitely wanted some free samples from Nikon though! They even had a 360 portrait rig where you could jump and have a “bullet time” portrait. Pretty spiffy.

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Don’t forget about more mundane tech…

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And then there’s the celebrity sightings, like Shaq O’Neil…

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…and Stevie Wonder (who snuck up behind me)…

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…and Marshawn Lynch. BEAST MODE! Go Hawks. (not really there, but I appreciated the Seahawks connection since I forgot to bring my jersey).

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I even got a caricature made, courtesy of RCA, plus a meta picture of a picture being take of a picture being printed. #meta

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Daily miles walked: 8.2

CES miles walked: 13.2

Daily reward for thrashing my titanium left knee: Blue Moon on draft in a mason jar

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Categories: travel Tags: , , , , ,

CES 2015: Day 0 Report

January 5, 2015 2 comments

Today (Monday 1/5/2015) started off a tad bit later than expected, most likely thanks to that second glass of wine from the last night’s dinner. Nonetheless, by 9:30 I was off and running from SLC on the final leg of my drive from Seattle to Las Vegas for CES. I’ve driven from SLC through to Moab before, and I can confirm that southwest Utah is just as amazing. Here’s a sample…

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While this is intended to be a series about CES itself, I have to share how completely AWE INSPIRING the drive on I-15 was as it pass through the Virgin River Gorge in northwest Arizona. To be honest, I didn’t really pay close attention to the map when planning the route and I didn’t even realize I’d be jutting into AZ at all, so the “Welcome to Arizona” sign caused me a slight bit of consternation at first. Shortly thereafter the scenery turned AMAZING as the highway transitions from the ~6000’ high basin of Utah down to the ~2000’ Mojave Desert. You must make this drive some time in your lifetime. There was some construction in the area, and I’ve never been so thankful for a rolling slowdown. This is just a small sample of why:

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A couple hours later this was my view at Harrah’s Las Vegas.

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And then I got what I’ve been after for years – my CES credentials!

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After getting settled I had a several hours before attending one of the opening keynote speeches. The Samsung presentation was alluring, but I didn’t think I’d have enough time to eat and get in line, so I opted for the Mercedes-Benz shindig over at the Cosmopolitan, grabbing dinner over there.

I had great seats right in the middle of the stage but in a raised section just beyond the tech desk and TV cameras. I’m pretty sure the guy to my left was running one of the MB Twitter accounts live-tweeting the event. M-B used the event to lay out a vision for autonomous cars and future technology. They also rolled out a brand new concept vehicle to the world right before our eyes. The geek inside me was overjoyed at being at a breaking tech news event; it was a great show too. You can watch it via this link.

Mercedes CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche is every bit the German businessman stereotype you’d want him to be. He even perfectly landed a joke in the opening video “Are you a robot?” he was asked? “No, I’m German.” There were a few other good zingers in the presentation as well, including a nice discussion of tech features already shipping on existing C, E, and S class models (we see what you did there). The future Mercedes proposed didn’t come off as much groundbreaking as “OMG this technology is real and could hit the road within the next decade, if not sooner.” The concept car’s design was HOT, but I was just as impressed with the massive display screen that served as the backdrop for the stage. Here are a few pics if you don’t want to watch the video.

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After a long day I enjoyed a nice stroll back to my hotel, including a couple shows of the Bellagio’s fountains.

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Total walking distance: 5 miles (most of it from Harrah’s to Cosmopolitan and back for the MB Keynote)

CES 2015: Travel Days 1-2

January 4, 2015 2 comments

This is my very first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) experience. I’ve wanted to come to this show for a very long time, and it’s the third year I’ve actually registered (my previous attempts were thwarted by either a new human joining our family or a new role at Microsoft on the near horizon). Unfortunately, and unlike my previous attempts, this year I don’t have any close contacts from Microsoft or elsewhere attending … that I know of … so I’m effectively going stag and figuring things out on my own.

I drove from Seattle, which is typically a two-day affair if it’s just me driving (18 hours), but with a big storm moving in to the Northwest I didn’t want to get stuck with the mountain passes closed or slow traveling through snow and ice so I left a day early broke the trip up into 3 days. I stayed the night in Ontario, OR and then Salt Lake City. Ontario didn’t really have much notable about it, other than being on the OR/ID border on I-84.

Salt Lake City, however, was really nice. I’ve driven through a couple times before and made a connection in the airport, but this was my first actual stop in the city itself. It’s very modern and new, quite clean, and seems well planned with wide boulevards and lots of trees, etc. It reminded me a LOT of Charlotte, NC actually – where my wife and I went to high school. Similar to Charlotte (at least back in the 90’s), SLC seems to close up in the evenings and on the weekend. It was dead – hardly any traffic, even on Monday morning when I left.

I took a nice walk from The Gateway area where my hotel was up a few long city blocks past the basketball arena (I wish Seattle still had a team) and up to Temple Square, effectively Mecca for the LDS Church. I’m not Mormon, but I can at least appreciate what they’re trying to do. There were a lot of people like me milling about. Although there are a few visitors centers I didn’t enter, preferring to walk around the gardens and take in the sculpture and architecture. The Tabernacle is open to the public, which surprised me. Assembly Hall and the big cathedral were not, however – but that’s okay. The Tabernacle is what you see on TV when you see a choir concert. The organ, orchestra stage, and choir lofts are huge, but what shocked me was how small the rest of the building felt. I would have pegged the seating capacity at around 2000 or 2500, but Wikipedia says it’s actually about 7K – and we all know the Internet is never wrong. ;-)

Here are a few pics from Temple Square.

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After my self-guided tour I strolled back down towards my hotel and had a fabulous dinner for 1 at Fleming’s Steakhouse. Highly recommended and it induced the necessary food coma I was after for a good night’s sleep. Off to Vegas in the morning!

Categories: travel Tags: ,

Passion vs Pride: Swapping my Windows Phone for an iPhone

December 19, 2014 Comments off

It’s been a month and a half since I made a dramatic change in my life, one that I would never have believed possible just 6 months prior: I started using an iPhone as my primary mobile device.

This is a big deal. I’ve worked at Microsoft for 6.5 years and have been a Microsoft-centric infrastructure professional my whole career (including a stint working for BillG). I have been a proud Windows Phone user and advocate, and I ate more than my share of "dogfood" (Redmond lingo for internal beta testing our products). I’ve owned multiple Nokia Microsoft Lumia devices and run every OS from Windows Phone 7 through yet-to-be-released builds of 8.1. I like the platform and still recommend it to people if it fits their needs.

But on November 11th I swapped my AT&T account over to an iPhone 6 and I haven’t regretted it one bit.

Before I go further I want to point out the disclaimer on my blog – you can see it over there on the right. I have an employer (Microsoft) and an opinion (my own). What follows is my opinion alone – in no way am representing Microsoft. I’ve been very careful to only discuss publically available information here, so don’t go hunting for insider nuggets – there aren’t any.

Now I know a Microsoftie jumping ship for a competitor’s platform comes off as sacrilegious to some, including me earlier this year. Hell, I grew up a Microsoft fan boy long before I ever worked for the company, and I still have a great deal of pride in what we’re trying to deliver to our customers. I take it personally when friends slam the company and/or our products, or we’re the butt of jokes. That’s not to say I have blinders on – in some ways I’m even more frustrated then an external customer/user because I can dogfood products and provide feedback … that in a number cases has been ignored. Trust me – I’ve felt the pain of crappy OS and app builds, and I’ve opened quite a few product bugs.

All that being said, things at the end of 2014 are vastly different than what I just described, and that includes – to a certain extent – the culture inside Microsoft. I have not been immune to those changes. Microsoft has, over the past year under new leadership from Satya Nadella, moved to embrace the multi-platform mobile-first world that is the reality of today’s smartphone ecosystem. It’s no longer tenable for Microsoft product groups to sit in the Redmond Bubble and create products with an "if you build it customers will come" attitude (yes that’s an old article – but I don’t think the point is outdated).

Today’s Microsoft has (finally) woken up to the fact that we’re one of many options consumers and businesses have – and that means that means our products probably won’t live in a homogeneous Microsoft-centric environment. We’ve launched versions of Office on iOS and Android that are far superior to their Windows Phone brethren (and largely don’t exist yet in the wild on Windows’ modern app platform for tablets). We’re making great headway with OneDrive offerings for Apple and Google platforms, and just recently we launched versions of the excellent Bing MSN apps for non-Windows mobile devices too.

These changes have shown up in the Microsoft culture as well. Previously some folks were hostile towards blue-badges who walked around with iPhones or Android smartphones. I don’t see that as much anymore, though I’m sure it still exists. I certainly don’t personally feel that way anymore (no, I didn’t smash anyone’s phone before my change of heart). And I can even meld both worlds together, helping break down the bubble by not just dogfooding our iOS apps, but also living in a competitor’s experience and having that help shape my feedback on our first-party offerings. To quote my old friend and coworker Dare,

“Learning about your competitor’s product is a great way to understand your target customer’s base expectations. So you can exceed them.”

Great advice to follow.

My background

A review is only as good as the source, so I thought I’d take a few paragraphs and outline my smartphone resume. I’ve used more than my fair share of mobile devices in the last 15 years. I’ve run enterprise mobile phone accounts and have a knack for being able to quickly find the pros and cons of a device and make recommendations on whether to deploy a fleet or pass.

rim_950I got my first mobile data device back in 2000 – a glorious RIM 950. It was AWESOME! I was able to get my email in real time, my calendar and contacts were sync’d too, and because it was one of the first devices to leverage the cellular data network instead of the analog voice network it kept working in natural disasters. My wife and I moved to Seattle the day before the Nisqually Earthquake in early 2001, and after it struck all of the cell phone lines were jammed. But my RIM 950 was rock solid and never faltered. I was even able to send a text-to-voice message out via a RIM service that called our families back in North Carolina to let them know we were okay.

When RIM-turned-BlackBerry introduced the 6210 model in 2003 that integrated the same data functionality with a phone I jumped onboard quickly. I was lucky enough to be in a position to actually speak with a couple representatives from RIM about their new phone right before it was announced, play with the device for a brief time, and give some feedback. I clearly remember asking them if you could change the ring tone (something my high-end Nokia “candy bar” phone at the time could do, and with polyphonic realistic sounds to boot). Their response was classic: “This isn’t a consumer device. Business users don’t want those kinds of features.” Remember, 2003 was long before the “bring your own device” revolution, but I politely pointed out that business users are consumers too and that they should reconsider. They didn’t, and RIM/BlackBerry was forever chasing the marketplace instead of leading it because of that very attitude. Sort of sounds like Microsoft’s attitude at the time too…

My point is that to be successful in today’s marketplace a smartphone has to be the best of both worlds: a powerful business device and a feature-rich consumer satisfier.

I was a BlackBerry user until I joined Microsoft in July 2008 when I lost access to a corporate BES server to link my device to Exchange. Windows Mobile, which was our offering at the time, was complete crap, so I dinked around on a couple (horrible) WinMo devices before I finally got an iPhone, then iPhone 3G. I didn’t flaunt it and was keenly aware of the Apple stigma inside the halls of Redmond. I was on an iPhone for a couple years inside Microsoft until Windows Phone 7 launched in October 2010 when I got a Samsung Focus, then a Nokia Lumia 900, and lastly a Lumia 920. Here’s a pic of my *partial* collection back in October 2011…

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Hi, my name is Nathan and I’m a mobile tech addict. From L to R that’s a RIM 950, BlackBerry 6210, BlackBerry 8700c, Cingular 3125 (aka HTC Startrek running WinMo 5.0), BlackBerry 8820, Dell Axim X51v (Windows PDA – remember those?), Samsung Blackjack II (WinMo 6.0), iPhone, iPhone 3G, and Samsung Focus. Missing are at least 4 BlackBerry models that I upgraded from (and by upgrade I mean I got a new model and someone else at my company got my 4 month old phone), and both my more recent Lumia 900 and Lumia 920 … and of course my current iPhone 6.

So anyway, I spent months weighing whether to make the jump from my trusty Lumia 920 to an iPhone 6, and I can honestly say that in the end I made the jump with a clean conscience. So without further ado, here’s my comparison and impressions of the iPhone 6.

 

Hardware

I’m not going to bore you with a in-depth dive into the specs of each device. If you want that check out Versus.com’s comparison page or a similar table on findthebest.com. Effectively they’re relatively similar phones. The iPhone 6 is notably thinner and lighter (about 30%) – and I really appreciate both differences on the iPhone. It just feels way more comfortable in my hand. It’s also nice to have a plethora of cases and other accessories available for my device, versus hunting for a cool case only to find it isn’t available for my phone.

Swapping out the Windows button for the Home button wasn’t a big deal, but I do miss the Windows Phone standard back button occasionally. The Home button almost seems gesture overloaded (single press, double press, hold down, touch and rest all do different things) and I wonder if having a single physical button take so much use will impact longevity. That said, on my Lumia 920 the power button is noticeably "softer" in click response than the other, less frequently used buttons … and it still works. Maybe a more broken-in click action on the Home button will be a good thing over time.

I also miss having a dedicated camera button to use as a trigger. Yes, you can use the volume buttons on the iPhone to trigger the camera but I honestly keep forgetting that – to do so requires a 90 degree rotation to the right, but on the Windows Phone it’s 90 left. Old dog; new tricks. ;-) My assumption is I just need to retrain my brain and I’ll be fine. Ironically I tried to use the volume buttons with my bank’s app last night to take a picture of a check to deposit it, and the app expected the left-rotation by default; it didn’t recognize the rotation to the right at all.

Camera

Speaking of the camera, much has been made of how great the Lumia cameras are. The older 920 is an 8.7 MP F2.0 lens, whereas the new iPhone is 8.0 MP and F2.2. Neither rival the Lumia 1020’s awesome camera (41 MP F2.2), but frankly I don’t think it matters. I certainly can’t tell much of a difference between the two. The iPhone’s HDR mode is substantially easier to engage (I’ve honestly never figured it out on the 920, even though there are settings for it), flash works just as well, and let’s face it – most people pump their smartphone pics through an app filter that makes them look like a shitty 1978 Polaroid snap anyway. I’ll let the bean counters argue this one – for me I’m just as happy with the iPhone 6’s camera as I was with my Lumia 920’s.

When viewing said pictures, and apps, and websites, and email, and whatnot the screen size is roughly the same between the devices as well, as is resolution. 4.7" at 1334×750 vs 4.5" at 1280×768 (iPhone/Lumia). Brightness and readability are fairly similar to me; I’ve used both devices in my car with a dashboard mount (maps – never texting and driving!) and readability in bright sunlight was never an issue on either.

Storage

My Lumia 920 is a 32GB device (there was also a 16GB flavor but I can’t remember if AT&T ever sold it) with no option for additional storage. While the iPhone can’t add additional storage either, there are at least a couple larger flavors: 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB. Apple want’s a hefty premium for the extra storage compared to micro SD card prices, but you’re going to want the 64GB flavor at least to avoid storage issues on iOS upgrades, etc. My wife had a 16GB HTC 8X Windows Phone and was forever complaining about running out of room. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Spend the extra $100 and avoid yelling at your device for running out of capacity for the next 2 years. Your blood pressure will thank you.

Cables

One of the biggest gripes I have with Apple is that they go off and do their own standard for just about everything. Where that pisses me off on the iPhone is the charging/sync cable. The Lightening connector is great – you don’t have to worry about it being reversed, etc. BUT EVERY OTHER DEVICE OUT THERE (including speakers, portable batteries, my Bose noise cancelling headphones, and just about everything else we own) uses the MicroUSB standard connector. Hell, the EU effectively required all manufacturers to adopt this as the standard to avoid the proliferation of chargers getting dumped in landfills as people upgrade. Apple isn’t playing ball … yet. Why they haven’t yet is simple – they want royalties for their own proprietary connector. $$$ Bastards. 2017 can’t come soon enough. Until then I’ve had to fork over a few bucks for a couple new cables and adapters.

Pro-tip: these little adapter caddies are awesome. Have one in each car since for now we’re a dual-connector-standard household.

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Still, it must be noted that even with the proprietary connector the accessory ecosystem for iPhone is alive and well. Windows Phone … not so much.

Other hardware notes

Here are a few other points on the hardware front I wanted to share…

  • I love having a physical switch to go to vibrate mode rather than having to toggle a switch in the UI. This was one of my "I really miss this" when I moved from my original iPhones to the Samsung Focus (Windows Phone 7) 4 years ago.
  • I miss having Qi wireless charging built into my phone. Yes I could get adapters and retrofit my iPhone to use my wireless chargers, but I’d be giving up easy accessibility to the Lightning connector port, and I use that every few weeks to upload songs for my practice playlist when I’m drumming at church. Yes I could set up wireless iTunes syncing on my home network, but I’d rather stay flexible.
  • I’m getting better battery life with my iPhone 6, and it charges faster too. This may have something to do with the age of my 920 and/or running dogfood phone bits on my Windows Phone, but I can’t deny I’m enjoying better battery performance.
  • Audio quality on the iPhone 6 is far superior to the Lumia 920 to my ears. Whether I’m streaming via Bluetooth from Spotify in the car or listening to something with my ear buds everything sounds amazing. I don’t think the Lumia 920 sounded horrible, but the difference made me take note the first time I fired up some tunes in my car (no pun intended). And while the Microsoft ads may make fun of Siri for sitting on her speaker, that speaker sounds a million times better than the built-in speaker on my Lumia.

Touch ID and Apple Pay

The last hardware feature I want to touch on is Touch ID (see what I did there?). I’ve been using a biometric fingerprint scanner to authenticate on my laptop and my work desktop for years. It’s super convenient and relatively secure (nothing is unhackable). Plus it’s fast – swipe (or in the iPhone’s case hold for 1 second) and you’re in. Combined with Apple Pay, the iPhone 6 is simply the most secure payment platform I carry around with me these days. It’s true two-factor authentication for every purchase I make with Apple Pay, versus handing your card over to a stranger and hoping for the best. How many times have you wonder what’s up when your server takes forever to charge your card? And when’s the last time someone validated your signature against the back of the card (and that’s to fake – you remembered to sign your new card, right)? Checking against a driver’s license doesn’t offer much of a barrier either. At least with Apple Pay plus Touch ID I have to have my device (i.e. the card) PLUS provide a private/secure auth token via my fingerprint (a signature that’s required and much harder to forge).

Rant: I still don’t know why the US hasn’t moved faster to how credit card payments worked in Europe 7+ years ago. When I was in the UK in 2008 I never handed over my card – even in restaurants they brought a mobile reader to me and I had to be the one to swipe it. Plus they had certificate + PIN authentication on their cards (we didn’t, and largely still don’t). Replace PIN code with fingerprint and you’ve got Apple Pay.

Wait – yes I do know why this hasn’t changed here, US financial institutions think it’s cheaper to eat fraudulent transactions than it would be to do the right thing. Behold the almighty dollar…. Anyway, Apple Pay (and similar tech) is the future. Now we just need retailers to stop blocking it for BS reasons.

Okay, I feel better now. ;-)

 

iOS Experience

In general I’ve been very pleased with iOS. There’s of course been a learning curve to remember/figure out how everything works, where various settings are squirreled away, etc. – but everything has functioned as expected. I haven’t really used any of the iCloud offerings (in fact I’ve disabled even photo backup in favor of using OneDrive via our iOS app [thanks Jason!]). I haven’t used Facetime either, but I have had a few shocked replies as my text messages to friends change from green (SMS) to blue (iMessage).

Most importantly in just the last 6 weeks I’ve received 2 incremental update packages from Apple for iOS. Microsoft has never released small incremental patches for Windows Phone to the best of my recollection, no matter how much that possibility was lauded when WinPhone 7 first came out. Even moderate “point” releases have come out on a 6-9 month time scale if you’re lucky (Verizon seemingly stopped approving all updates for the last year or so until very recently). This has been a very frustrating fail for Windows Phone from my perspective.

Dated UI

I’m not going to hold punches: I miss Live Tiles and the modern Windows Phone home screen look and feel. This is perhaps the biggest downside to my migration. The iOS interface was awesome if not revolutionary when it first came out … 7.5 years ago. It hasn’t really changed since other than a false 3D perspective effect of moving the background image slightly as you tilt the phone (that’s cool the first time you see it, but never ever registers again with your eye). How much processing power – and battery – is being eaten to do that? Waste of electrons IMHO.

Yes, I can move icons for apps around on the various pages, but I have to match a strict grid. What if I want all my icons on the right 2 columns? Or just the bottom? Nope. And on those app icons there’s no info besides the occasional badge that tells you there are so many new emails or podcasts or whatever. I loved having my calendar, weather, stock, headlines, etc. info at a glance without diving into the apps. It is a longer process to figure out what room my next meeting is in on the iPhone. I’m really hoping they make some big changes here in coming releases – and so do a lot of iPhone enthusiasts I’ve seen online.

The aging UI is actually the biggest gripe my wife has as well. That being said, I saw online somewhere in the last week (sorry, I can’t find the reference now) a very valid point: on today’s smartphones how much do you really care about the core interface when the vast majority of your time spent with the device is in apps? Even on Windows Phone with Live Tiles it’s not like I’d unlock my phone just to stare at the Start screen (other than to get that next conference room). For that reason I have to look at the last 2 paragraphs and say “Yup, I agree – so what?”

Stability

iOS is far more stable than Windows Phone in my experience. Yes this may be influenced by dogfooding OS updates, but even on retail builds I found myself having to reboot my Lumia at least once a week to fix some issue or another (usually a crippling battery drain from some unknown source). In the last 6 weeks I’ve had to do that on my iPhone once when network connectivity on WiFi and cellular just stopped working. Not perfect, but an 83% reduction.

Bluetooth connectivity on iOS is rock solid, much more so than on my Lumia 920. I have a Ford Edge with My Ford Touch that runs atop the Microsoft Auto platform (which I also dogfooded – I’m serious about testing software!). Even on final/retail/gold bits on my Windows Phone and car I still had random connection issues at the start of perhaps 10% of my drives (that’s one per week or so). In the last 6 weeks I’ve had 1 connection issue with my iPhone – and I’m pretty sure that was the car. Ironically Ford seems to have come to the same conclusion I have. :-/

Contact issues

The biggest pain point I’ve had was actually integrating my Microsoft accounts – both public (Hotmail Outlook.com) and corporate (O365), and specifically around contact sync. This is especially frustrating to me because I spent a year and a half running Microsoft’s consumer address book platform that powers contacts for Outlook.com and Messenger/Skype, and syncs contacts from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ve still got good friends running the service.

Anyway, from what I can tell on the user side of the service is that while there are some great features in the AB platform to present a unified view of your contacts when you’re on a Microsoft app platform (Outlook, modern Contacts, Windows Phone), all of that falls down pretty hard when you go to sync your account with 3rd party device. And don’t go through and delete all those duplicate contacts that magically appeared because then you start nuking your Messenger/Skype buddy relationships inadvertently. Thankfully there’s a deleted contacts recovery function available on http://people.live.com.

On top of all that there’s a Lync desktop client bug that under certain circumstances (which I evidentially hit on a regular basis) creates multiple duplicate contacts from your Lync buddy list in a special Exchange contacts folder, which is sync’d to your iPhone by default (you can hide these contacts, btw). You used to be able to disable this Lync contact create feature, but that option went away a couple years ago – I have no idea why, or even how this contact feature (without the dupe bug) is useful.

20141229_224258000_iOSThe result of all this isn’t fatal, but it’s a gigantic PAIN IN THE ASS! I had a TON of duplicate contacts that showed up on my iPhone when I first set up my accounts. Thankfully the iPhone lets you merge multiple contacts together so the end result is that I had to spend some quality time with my address book merging dupes, as shown to the right. Note, I only have 1 account each for Exchange, Facebook, iCloud, and Hotmail. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an issue caused by iOS; I have to lay blame for this squarely on Microsoft’s shoulders (including myself since I was on the feature team that helped create this mess). In fact, this is why having Microsofties dogfood experiences on other platforms is a GOOD thing! If I had been on an iPhone 2 years ago I could have helped prioritize getting this fixed; instead we didn’t really even know this was a problem at the time.

Continuing with the contacts theme, I do miss the excellent and deep contact integration from Facebook and LinkedIn that Windows Phone gives you. It was really nice to be able to search my contacts and have phone numbers and email addresses from people I know on those two networks included in the results, even if I don’t have them as a full-fledged contact in one of my address books.

I also wish the iPhone would “translate” the business phone numbers that Microsoft publishes via our internal global address book in Exchange. Your phone number gets stored as a 10 digit number (direct line) and then an “X+5” where the +5 are just your extension. For example, if my desk phone was 425-555-1234 my business phone number would get stored as “+1 4255551234X51234”. Windows Phone has the built in smarts to deal with this stupid convention and just dials the 10 digit number, but iPhone just sends the whole damn string to your wireless carrier and their phone switch legitimately replies with the technical equivalent of “WTF is that?”. Annoying, but not insurmountable – and likely a very Microsoft-specific feature that was built into Windows Phone to deal with our internal idiosyncrasies.

iTunes

I’ve never been a fan of iTunes, so frankly I try not to use it as much as possible. I know for a fact I have a lot of company in this camp so I wont belabor the point. Unfortunately I do have a use case that forces me to use the desktop iTunes app with my iPhone: I create rehearsal playlists from MP3s for upcoming set lists with my worship band (I’m a drummer for Bellevue Presbyterian Church). I listen to the playlist for the coming Sunday throughout the week to get the tunes into my head. On Windows Phone I could download the practice tracks to a computer (that’s any Windows computer, mind you – sometimes my laptop, sometimes my work desktop, sometimes my home desktop) and copy the folder for that week’s songs directly onto my Lumia by drag-and-dropping them just as if the phone was a portable hard drive. I can then create the playlist on the phone and reorder the songs as needed.

With my iPhone that’s not possible. For whatever reason Apple thinks that 1 person = 1 computer, so you can only copy songs onto your phone from a single installation of iTunes. Right now I’ve got that set up as my work desktop since about 60% of the time I do my playlist creation during lunch on Mondays. Further, there’s no way to get music onto your phone other than via the iTunes app, so I have to do the playlist creation and sync operation via iTunes. I’m getting used to these limitations, but IMHO Windows Phone makes this scenario a hell of a lot easier.

Other iOS notes

Like I said above, I’ve generally been very pleased with iOS versus Windows Phone 8.1, even though I think of all the topics I cover in this write-up this area is the one where I’ve had the most negative experience. It’s not bad enough to make me want to go back, especially with the superior hardware and app ecosystem, but herein lies the biggest opportunities for Apple to make enhancements and for Microsoft to better support our customers on iOS.

It should be noted that I also gave up the ability to VPN into the Microsoft network from my phone since Microsoft IT requires some pretty complex encryption configurations that the iPhone doesn’t support (it can to basic VPN, so odds are you’re covered as long as you don’t work for MS). Frankly I used this all of 3 times on my Windows Phone, and that was just to approve a trivial request in an internal web app. I’m not missing the ability to VPN at all.

One other feature I do genuinely miss is incoming text messages automatically triggering Cortana to read the message and let me respond via voice-to-text. That’s SUPER helpful when you’re driving. I can get nearly the same functionality by reaching for my phone and holding down the Home button to invoke Siri, then asking to read new texts, but it would be great to have a setting toggle somewhere to automatically jump into “You’ve got a new message from John Doe, do you want me to read it?” I for one would turn it on, and from my searching online a lot of other folks would too.

Apps

This is where I’m going to start sounding like an iOS fanboy a bit. I’ve got some criticisms to be sure, but the app ecosystem on iOS is so far ahead of Windows Phone it’s not even funny. This isn’t news to anyone either. Honestly this was the tipping point for me in deciding to move away from WinPhone to iPhone – I was tired of not having access to interesting and relevant apps. I’ve always been a gadget geek (see phone history above), and frankly being on Windows Phone meant that I was locking myself out of a flourishing ecosystem that I really wanted to play in. I also wanted to be able to deposit a check at my bank without leaving home – that’s just too damn cool!

The other part of the app equation is the realization that I’m a consumer when it comes to a smartphone, not a pure business user. Even though I was smart enough to point out that obvious combination to BlackBerry more than a decade ago, somewhere along the way I forgot. Or the Microsoft culture made me forgo cool shiny new toys to support our own offerings. Or more likely both. My point is I wanted to have access to the awesome apps everyone talks about, not the stale feature-stripped versions that get published to the Windows Phone marketplace – if at all. As one of my coworkers put it just this afternoon, “I put up with app my friends talking about this cool Instagram thing for over a year before it ever showed up on Windows Phone.” Lame.

I’m going to break down the apps I’ve been using by area to help organize my thoughts.

Business functionality (email, contacts, calendar)

The built-in apps for Mail, Calendar, and Contacts are actually quite good. The biggest issues I’ve had are with contacts (as noted above in the iOS Experience section). I’m using all 3 as my daily drivers and am quite please with each. The UI for calendar is especially nice and easy to read, but I’ve found the accept/decline flow confusing as to whether I’ve actually accepted or not. Contacts work smoothly and, as discussed above, let me overcome issues generated by my data sources (Outlook.com and Exchange). I do the vast majority of my email and calendar work on my desktop via the full Outlook client, but I’ve been very pleased with my ability to quickly triage email and check my calendar. I still wish Contacts would pull from my full Facebook and LinkedIn lists though.

I of course also have Microsoft’s OWA for iPhone app installed so I can access DRM-restricted emails. I thought at first I’d use this app as my regular email client for business email, but it’s far too clunky. The calendar and contact UI is complete crap, and contact sync doesn’t seem to reliably work to the phone’s main address feed. While the contacts list is supposed to be able to show up in the main contacts app, the calendar completely lacks that integration point – meaning that if you run multiple calendars (work, home, travel, birthdays…) you’d have to check multiple apps to see if you’re busy or not. Not functional. I ended up connecting my phone directly to Exchange for contacts … then calendar … and finally email. I really don’t use the OWA app unless I have to.

I’ve tried Acompli as well (Microsoft actually just bought them) and it’s a highly-functional app as well, though I found I can’t adapt to it’s “we’ll show you what we think is important and file other messages elsewhere” feature. That’s why I have inbox rules set up on my Exchange server for – to filter all that crap out. I do like their “hovering undo” UI that lets you quickly restore an email that you accidentally swiped into the trash and I wish the regular Mail app had that.

One note with all 3 of these mail apps: I’ve always had one complaint with emails sent from folks on iPhones – the mail app ruins formatting in email threads with text showing up as Times New Roman 12pt. I’m picky – and that font looks like crap in email. I always thought it was the default iOS mail app screwing up, but I discovered both the OWA app and Acompli do the same thing. After a little digging I found the problem isn’t necessarily these apps, but rather the Outlook desktop client itself. It figures – Outlook’s HTML rendering engine is notoriously horrid. If you’re like me and want to fix this check out this great post on how to do it.

Podcasts

On the average day my 1-way commute is about 45 minutes … less if I skip the morning rush and stop for breakfast instead. ;-) To pass the time I listen to a number of different podcasts, including The Nerdist, Radiolab, The Alton Browncast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and a few other one-offs. I started off using the built-in podcast app that comes with iOS and was pretty pleased. It downloads new episodes, let’s me easily manage subscriptions, read/unread, etc. I was also impressed with the cloud sync feature that lets me listen in the car and then pick up in the exact same spot from my iTunes desktop app, and vice versa. NEETO! I used it twice.

The pain came when I tried to listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed. My wife taught me this trick on Windows Phone – you can listen to people talking at 1.5x speed and still clearly understand what’s being said. Plus you get through an hour podcast episode in about 45 minutes. GENIUS! But the Podcast app that comes with iOS can’t handle producing a clear audio track at anything other than 1x. There’s some bug that generates a horrible “warble” in the playback that’s just on the edge of annoying at 1.5x, impossible to deal with at 2x, and downright laugh out loud funny at .5x speed. This was true via the internal speaker, headphone jack, and Bluetooth streaming.

I searched for this issue online and couldn’t find any discussion of it anywhere. I wondered if I had a bad device (perhaps something’s screwy in the processor or sound chip) so I stopped by my local Apple Store in Bellevue, WA. After a brief wait I got hooked up with their resident podcast expert who didn’t even know that feature existed. When I reproduced the issue he laughed and said, “oh you’re using the built in Podcast app – that thing is shit!” Heh. He was able to reproduce the problem on his device so he pointed me to http://apple.com/feedback (which I used) and then made some recommendations on alternative apps.

I’ve been using Overcast for the past week or so and love it. It has a cloud sync feature as well, though I haven’t tried the web playback function yet (not sure I will – I need music when I’m working – I tend to zone out voices and I subscribe to podcasts to actually hear them). The nice thing with Overcast is that cloud-based service is what’s checking for new episodes, not the app, so this should save battery life. Best yet it’s got a multi-speed playback feature with a granular slider bar that lets you hone in on exactly how fast you want to listen. I’ve settled in on 1.4x. The UI is a touch confusing at first without a clear option to mark an episode as listened to or not (something important when rebuilding your subscriptions), but I quickly figured it out. To get some of the advanced features there’s an in-app purchase of $5, but frankly I think the app is worth it. I’m more than willing to support great independent devs – that’s how I originally met Dare Obasanjo. I used his RSS Bandit desktop app way back when, provided feedback, struck up a relationship over email, privately reported a massive security hole in a newly-launched Microsoft online service, and eventually leveraged that into an interview and job at Microsoft. Networking at its finest.

Anyway, ditch the built-in Podcast app and use something else. My vote is for Overcast.

Microsoft Office

Word and Excel are good on iOS, and OneNote is especially fantastic (OneNote has a solid 5 star rating on the App Store!). WAY better than the versions provided on Windows Phone. That’s a shame, but it tells me that the Office group is investing in apps where the users are … just like other developers in the mobile app ecosystem. Catch 22 anyone?

I don’t use it on my mobile device much (on purpose), but even the Lync app is far easier on the eyes and highly functional on iOS.

I mentioned OneDrive earlier – it’s very similar to the Windows Phone version, but that’s a good thing. It can do most everything you want it to … well, there’s not much of a feature gap between platforms, though there are a number of OneDrive features I wish would launch (hi again Jason – you have my list!). I use the OneDrive app to back up my photos to my OneDrive account and then sync to my various PCs. iPhone pictures end up in the same folder my Windows Phone pictures so my workflow is exactly the same. The big bummer for picture backup is that I have to remember to launch the app every once in a while so it can upload those pictures. On WinPhone that happens in the background, but on iPhone the OneDrive app has to be in the foreground. This is obviously a first party vs. third party feature gap that likely won’t be closed; photos are uploaded in the background just fine on iPhone if you’re using iCloud. I can live with it, though.

Camera app

The iOS camera app really whips the llamas ass (that’s a good thing). It does the essentials, makes important settings easy to change (flash on/off, HDR on/off, front/rear lens) and has some really awesome features like easy high-quality panorama pictures (the Lumia panorama app always gave me fits) and allows you to do slow-mo or time lapse videos. I know there are some other, fancier camera apps out there that would let me do all sorts of other incredible things like mess with exposure and F stops, etc., but for me if I’m taking a pic with my phone I just want it to be quick and easy. If I want a pro-quality image I’m busting out my prosumer-grade Nikon DSLR.

By contrast, while most of the same features (and more) exist on the Lumia camera app, that UI is just too cluttered. By contrast I think it gives you too much control and can be overwhelming. It also lacks built-in support for panorama photos and slo-mo videos aren’t available at all. Interestingly the Lumia camera app, assuming you download it from the Store, is way better than the overly-spartan default WinPhone app. The iOS offering feels like a good middle ground.

I won’t rehash the camera hardware discussion above, but it’s relevant to read if you skipped it.

Social networking

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are all far superior experiences on iOS. Because of the much larger user base of the platform these apps are getting new features quite often. Facebook has a standing 2-week release cycle. On Windows Phone these apps are getting updated a handful of times per year and simply don’t have feature or quality parity. This is again the central catch 22 of the Windows Phone platform: developers have a tough time justifying the return on investment for a third platform (behind Android and iOS) when the user community is so small.

Other apps I frequent

These are some of the other apps I find myself using at least several times a week, if not daily.

  • Instagram – on par with the Windows Phone app, surprisingly, though it did take over 3 years from the service’s launch for even an official app to reach beta on Windows Phone. For the record, the app was last updated 9 months ago as of this writing (3/22/2014) and still isn’t out of beta mode. That’s just sad.
  • Spotify – my wife and I share a number of playlists between each other. As a 2-musician household, we love having access to all sorts of music from around the world. And no, we’re not missing Taylor Swift’s collection.
  • Waze – crowd-sourced mapping and traffic data. This is available on Windows Phone but lacks many of the social features, which is a shame (Google bought Waze and killed off development on WinPhone). It’s fun to earn points while you drive, fix the map yourself when you need to, and report traffic incidents or disabled vehicles to look out for. I’ve found it offers better traffic-based route suggestions than my car, which also gets traffic data sent to it. Waze also lets you share your drive with contacts so they can see where you are along the route and when you’ll get there. Oh, and you can look up destinations from your contacts, Facebook events, calendar entries, Waze’s own database, or the web.
  • MyRadar and Weather Underground – I’m a weather geek. These are great apps. The WU app’s user interface is a bit dated, but it provides access to the NOAA scientific forecast discussion which I love to read and can be quite funny at times. [pushes glass back up nose and adjusts suspenders]
  • MSN Apps: News, Money, Sports – these are great apps and I’m happy to see them launch recently on iOS. The News app especially curates articles from many different sources. I also use USA Today’s app as well as NBC News.
  • Flipboard – another late entrant to the Windows Phone ecosystem. I’m trying to work this into my app rotation more and haven’t used it as much as I’d like to. It’s another great news aggregator, but unlike the MSN app where “they” curate the feed for you, with Flipboard you tell it keywords, topics, and sources to track and then using that data it builds your feed.
  • LastPass – password management platform that stores your password library in the cloud as an encrypted blob (they don’t have the key and cannot decrypt). I use desktop browser plug-ins for LastPass as well. This is also on Windows Phone, but here on iOS you can authenticate to the app with Touch ID instead of your password if you so desire (way faster – you desire!).
  • ESPN SportsCenter – another app also on WinPhone, but somehow the UI on iOS just feels so much more polished and smooth.
  • Personal finance
    • Mint – great financial summary and reporting tool. Took forever to show up on WinPhone and isn’t nearly as polished or feature rich there. Have you heard that before?
    • Amex – account info and alerts, Apple Pay integration, Touch ID app authentication. Doesn’t exist on Windows Phone
    • my bank – no I’m not saying on the Internet where I bank, but suffice to say it’s one of many institutions that doesn’t have a Windows Phone app. I love depositing checks from my couch!
    • Starbucks – I live in the Seattle area. Duh.
  • Amazon Fresh – we use Amazon Fresh for grocery delivery. This app is actually easier to use than their website and makes putting our next order together super-easy. Not available on WinPhone.
  • UPS Mobile – links with my UPS My Choice account to show me what’s on the way to our house … most comes from Amazon. Not available on WinPhone.
  • TripIt – Great service if you travel a bunch (I don’t for work, but 2015 is shaping up to be a busy year on the personal travel front for our family). Technically there’s a WinPhone version of this app – last updated in March of 2012.
  • Skype – have it because before running the address book service I spent 4+ years running the Messenger service platform, and Messenger merged with was replaced by Skype (back-end service is still the same). The Messenger integration into Windows Phone 7 and 8 was awesome and blended into the same “messaging” app as SMS text messaging. Unfortunately Messenger was removed from the messaging app in Windows Phone 8.1 and not replaced with Skype. With Messenger my wife and I could seamlessly migrate a conversation between the Messenger app on a computer and Cortana voice/text interaction in the car; all that broke down with Skype. If I uninstalled the Skype app on my iPhone I probably wouldn’t miss it, and I probably need to replace it on my home screen dock with something I use more often. I’m not convinced this app always stays connected to the cloud and that I’d get notified if I got an IM or call if I hadn’t run the app recently. That probably corresponds to the horrible rating in the App Store.
  • Xfinity Home – pretty cool to be able to manage our home security system from anywhere. Not available on WinPhone.
  • Xfinity Connect – voicemail on the go and I can technically place/receive home phone calls from anywhere. Way better than Vonage’s crappy iOS app (and non-existent WinPhone app). We’re currently migrating our home phone back to Xfinity.

There are a few others I’ve installed and use from time to time, but they’re specialized and not broadly relevant so I’ll leave them out.

 

Conclusion

As you can tell I didn’t return my iPhone 6 within the 14 day return window. Please know I have done that before – most notably with a 2004 Windows Mobile device that didn’t even make it 8 hours in my possession before I packed it back up to return – the manufacturer and reseller weren’t happy. It was a piece of crap.

Like I opened with lo all those many words ago (8000 or so), I really want to support Windows Phone and see the platform succeed. Hell, I’m not just an Microsoft employee but a shareholder as well. But I have to face facts – Windows Phone isn’t where I should be right now. I’m not giving up on Windows Phone like Tim Warren did (great read over on The Verge by the way), but for me I have two bigger picture reasons for moving to, and staying with my new iPhone 6:

1. Microsoft is only going to be successful if we provide awesome experiences on every platform our users want to use. That’s not always going to be Windows. To help support that sea change I can use another platform but still use Microsoft apps and services. Not just use – test, debug, and provide constructive feedback to the product teams. Dogfood.

2. I’m a tech enthusiast and want to be on a platform that is “getting the love” from developers and services everywhere. After 4 years and slow, incremental, but of course meaningful, growth I just don’t see the Windows Phone platform as hitting that critical mass anytime soon. It’s a great platform if you just want to have solid essential functionality and have a “cover the bases” app ecosystem. There are a LOT of people in markets all over the world who that brand placement targets and who are okay with flagship devices effectively stagnating while low-end phones that skimp on features proliferate. I wish Windows Phone every success in that marketplace. I’m not in that target market.

What this guy is, for at least the next year if not longer, is a happy iPhone user in the heart of Redmond.

N2

BWme

PS – yes that’s a Lego caricature portrait on my wall. :-)

Panama Canal Time Lapse Video

May 24, 2013 2 comments

My wife Alicea and I just took one of the best vacations ever – 2 weeks on the Disney Wonder cruise ship from Miami to LA via the Panama Canal, with stops at Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas, Cartagena, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.  HIGHLY recommended if you get the chance!

The focus of the cruise was of course the transit of the Panama Canal from the Atlantic/Caribbean side to the Pacific.  We made the crossing on Sunday, May 12, 2013 and I rigged up a camera on our balcony to capture the event.  Check it out!

 

I’ve had a few folks ask how I did this, so here’s the rundown…

Hardware

  • Microsoft LifeCam Studio – I was hoping to take 1080p quality pictures, but ended up taking 720p pics due to processing power on the laptop I was using (more about that below); the biggest benefit of this camera over the LifeCam Cinema is it has a tripod mount receiver to screw it to a stand
  • Joby GorillaPod GP3 – flexible tripod that’s sized for our Nikon DSLR (way overkill for a webcam, but I didn’t want to buy a single-use device)
  • Joby BH1 Ball Head w/ Bubble Level for GP3 – allows you to adjust the angle of the camera independently from the flexible tripod, which is critical for fine-tuning the picture direction and level without compromising the security of the legs gripping the railing
  • USB 2.0 extension cable – I knew I didn’t want my laptop exposed to the elements, so I got a long cable to snake through the door to our veranda.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch Ultrabook – I was originally hoping to run the camera from my Microsoft Surface RT, but the LifeCam Studio isn’t supported on the Windows RT platform. So I brought my work laptop: Intel Core i5-3427U 1.8GHz, 4GB RAM, 180GB SSD
  • Disney Wonder – DCL’s second “Magic-Class” ship: 11 decks, 965 feet long, 106 feet wide, 83,338 gross tons, 5 main engines producing 78,000 horse power, max speed 23 knots (26.5 mph), launched in 1999
  • Panama Canal – infrastructure used to allow ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans without going around the southern tip of South America (saves ~8000 miles of travel); ~48 miles long channel (ocean to ocean), 3 locks up – 3 locks down, 85 feet above sea level

Software

  • Webcam Timelapse from TNL Enterprises – free app that can both capture the pictures from the camera over time and compile them into an AVI video file
  • Windows Movie Maker from Microsoft – free app part of the Essentials Suite used to add music and onscreen text to the video

Concept and Testing

There are effectively two levers you can “pull” for a time lapse video: picture capture rate and the final video’s frame rate.  The capture rate is probably the one you will want to play with the most (see discussion below).  I left the video frame rate at the Webcam Timelapse default of 15 frames/second.  It’s ever so slightly more choppy than Hollywood movies (24 fps), TV broadcasts (30 fps), or your computer screen (60 fps or better for gaming), but with time lapse video everything is choppy so I don’t think it matters.

The length of your movie is just math:
duration of event (minutes) / captures per minute = total number of frames
total number of frames / frames per second = seconds of video

So if you take 4 hours of an event and take a picture every 10 seconds, then render a video at 15 frames per second, your final movie will be 1 min 36 sec long.
4 hrs = 240 mins
captures per min = 6    (60 seconds in a minute / 10)
240 min * 6 cpm = 1,440 pictures
1,440 frames / 15 fps = 96 seconds of video

The biggest point of advice I can make is to do some test videos before you try to capture your big event.  Make sure your webcam drivers are installed and your app can see/use the device.  Figure out how big each picture will be and ensure you have enough hard drive space to save them all.  Make sure you have line power or enough battery to last the full event you want to capture and make sure you have a way to disable any sleep timers your computer or OS may have.

For your test videos, play with the frame capture rates (how many seconds between pictures) to get something that’s both smooth and not too slow.  If you’re watching flowers open taking a picture every second is too fast, but if you’re shooting boats moving in a harbor capturing a frame every minute is likely way too slow.  There’s also the frame rate you use for the playback of all those shots to factor in to how fast people will see time pass in your movie (and how long it is).

I hooked everything up at home before we even left Seattle to make sure the apps and drivers were all in order.  I discovered then that I couldn’t run the webcam at full resolution because it kept grabbing lots of garbled or black frames.  The specs for the camera say you’ve got to have a quad-core processor to do 1080p video and my laptop is a dual-core, but I thought I’d be okay since I was taking stills.  I’m not sure if it’s the time lapse software, drivers, or combination, but the 1080p was not working well.  Perhaps the camera is slower to initialize 1080p and ever picture captured is a fresh “initialization” since I’m taking stills and not video??? Either way, the 720p setting looked just fine and in the spirit of not freaking out during vacations I just rolled with the punches.
Winking smile

We had a port of call in Cartagena, Columbia (beautiful city by the way) a couple days before the Canal crossing and a cargo ship pulled in next to our berth so I decided to set up the camera right and play around.  I’m glad I did since for that video I captured a frame every 15 seconds, which turned out to be a bit too coarse as I evaluated the output.  I tweaked the capture settings down to every 5 seconds and that looked perfect – that’s what I used through the Canal.  You can see this test video below.  15 seconds was great for some stuff (clouds, the big cranes moving along the wharf, the incredibly slow opening of the cargo doors opening on the ship), but it largely missed the tugboat going in and out a few times. The last ~2 seconds of this movie are fames every 5 seconds, and you can noticeably see the motion get smoother.

That’s actually an interesting point with the rig and method I used here – I can’t change between time-lapse and real-time in the final movie unless I sit with the computer and tweak the capture rate on the fly.  Ideally I’d love to capture everything in real time and then speed it up for large swaths of time.  That would have let me have more time to annotate some things onscreen in the Canal video (like the Chagres river followed quickly by Noriega’s prison), or use real time video at the start/end of the video.  But hey, I did all this for <$150 in hardware and free software; you get what you pay for!

My Setup

DSC_0939I set up my camera the night before we started our Panama Canal crossing to make sure I could get the sight line and horizon adjusted properly with daylight (we started the crossing before sunup) and to make sure the camera was acclimated to the outside conditions.  If you haven’t cruised in warmer climates before you don’t know the “joy” of waiting 20 minutes for your camera lens to acclimate to the high heat and humidity of outside from your cool and dry inside stateroom (it instantly fogs up).  Here’s an attempt to take a picture of a tugboat at the entrance of the Canal with our DSLR before the lens had acclimated.

DSC_1267Our stateroom on The Wonder was 8080 – nice and high on the port (left) side towards the back.  It’s also a 1br Concierge Suite that we scored as an upgrade when we checked in, but that’s a different story.  The nice thing for our purposes was that it has a double-veranda (essentially it’s two rooms side by side) so we had plenty of room to hang out on the deck and take pictures with our regular camera and stay out of the way of our time lapse rig.

As you can see, I used the Joby GorillaPod to get a nice and secure hold on the railing and then leveraged both the Ball Head and the webcam’s own “foot” to adjust the picture angle.  I actually wish the webcam’s foot wasn’t adjustable – it would have been easier to just tweak the ball joint and not accidentally move the camera itself; it took me quite a few tries to get the horizon fairly flat (and it’s still just slightly off).  If I had to do it all over again I’d want to find some sort of extension pole that would have allowed me to get a bit more out over the railing to maybe see down to the water line (there’s only 2 feet of clearance on either side of the ship in the locks!).

I knew from my testing in Cartagena that I wanted to use 5 frames per second max quality; the Webcam Timelapse app has some sliders for compression and image quality – I just maxed everything out.  I got the software settings dialed in, put my laptop to sleep, and set my alarm for 5:00a (the captain said that was about the time we’d be hauling up the anchor and heading towards the first lock).  As soon as my alarm went off all I had to do was power up my laptop, run the USB cable outside, plug in the webcam, and click the “start capture” button.  If you do this make sure you carefully route the USB cable through the door jam to optimize getting as best a seal as possible to keep the cold air in and hot air out at the same time you don’t break your USB cable.  The Disney ships use sliding doors so it was pretty easy to do if you let the cable hang vertically as you close the door.

The Webcam Timelapse app has a nice video monitor window that opens during capture so I could validate what the camera was seeing.  Note: it’s not super obvious, but you can resize that window.  After everything was up and running I took our DSLR and went up on the top deck to take pictures of the locks, etc.  Alicea went back to sleep.  Smile  The app ran all day without a hitch and captured 8,431 frames from 5:09a through 5:03p, or about 3.6GB (350KB to 550KB per picture).

Before I did anything else I made a complete copy of the frame capture folder and marked it as read-only.  Call me paranoid.  Then, with the Webcam Timelapse app still open, I ran through the convert to video flow.  It only writes .AVI files; there’s another quality slider (again, full up) and a frame rate selector (15 fps is default).  Please note this app doesn’t prompt you if you use the same file name as an existing file – use extreme caution and make sure you don’t overwrite a video file!  It took about 20 minutes for my laptop to render the movie, but when it was done I had a 3.77GB AVI file.  I dumped that on a USB stick and brought it and my Surface to dinner to show off – big hit!

Once we got home from the cruise I created a project in Windows Movie Maker and imported the AVI file in along with a couple tracks from MUTEMATH (awesome band by the way, if you’ve never heard them).  I also annotated the video with onscreen text with content sourced from our fantastic onboard lectures during the cruise by Capt Ken Pucket, a docent/narrator who came onboard with the pilot and spoke through the day on the PA system on deck, and a few reference tidbits from Wikipedia.  The final movie was bounced down in .MP4 format (693MB) and uploaded to YouTube (where I finally learned how to unblock a movie that has licensed songs in it – though unfortunately Warner Brothers blocks mobile devices from accessing the video as a result … whatever).

Summary

I think that’s about it.  This project actually got me pretty interested in doing more time lapse movies.  I too another one on the cruise of a sunset as we sailed from Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas, but the auto-adjust features on the webcam software kind of killed a lot of the colors there.  It’s still pretty cool though – check it out!

We’ve got an older Nikon D40X DSLR that I want to see if I can can run directly from a computer so I can better control color, focus, etc.  We’ve got a great view of Mt. Si from our bedroom and some beautiful sunsets from time to time – looking forward to experimenting!

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments.

 

Final Stats

Panama Canal Transit video:

  • 8431 frames (3.59GB)
  • raw video length: 9:22 (3.77GB)
  • edited video length: 9:59 (693MB for YouTube 720p MP4, 1.6GB for 1080p)

Panama Canal traversal:

  • 04:53 – anchor aweigh (up)
  • 05:09 – video capture started
  • 06:10 – vessel entering Gatun Locks
  • 07:45 – vessel leaves Gatun Locks
  • 08:31 – let go anchor (we were “holding” for traffic to clear the Pacific side of the canal)
  • 09:38 – anchor aweigh, continue crossing
  • 13:53 – vessel entering Pedro Miguel Lock
  • 14:38 – vessel leaves Pedro Miguel Lock
  • 14:51 – vessel entering Miraflores Locks
  • 15:51 – vessel leaves Miraflores Locks
  • 16:55 – start of sea voyage (pilot departs the ship)
  • 17:03 – passed sea bouy marking end of channel (video capture stopped)

Cruise details:

  • Fuel oil consumed: 444,300 gallons (main engines)
  • Diesel oil consumed: 1,663 gallons (generators during shore days)
  • Fresh water consumed: 3,127,608 (created by onboard desalinization plant)
  • Total nautical miles: 4,479
  • Departure: 6 May 2013 16:58 – Miami, FL, USA
  • Day 1: Disney’s Castaway Cay, The Bahamas
  • Day 2: at sea
  • Day 3: at sea
  • Day 4: Cartagena, Columbia
  • Day 5: at sea
  • Day 6: Panama Canal crossing
  • Day 7: at sea
  • Day 8: at sea
  • Day 9: at sea
  • Day 10: at sea
  • Day 11: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Day 12: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Day 13: at sea
  • Day 14/Arrival: 20 May 2013 06:15 – Los Angeles, CA, USA
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