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Summer Doldrums

Author: Michael E. Duffy
September, 2016 Issue
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Michael E. Duffy
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Columnist's Blog
Author: Michael E. Duffy
September, 2016 Issue

It’s nice to see an application that takes people outdoors and gets them walking.

Last month I said I’d be writing about “continuous integration” (a software development technique), but it’s July as I write this, and it’s hard to generate energy to write with summer in full swing. Instead, as I’ve often done during the past 15 summers, I’m going to offer up a potpourri of interesting/informative/useful tech-related stuff.

Windows 10: People have been asking me whether to upgrade to Windows 10, and my response has generally been yes. The upgrade was free through July 29, and if you have reasonably new hardware (your machine came with Windows 7 or Windows 8 installed), it made good sense to take advantage of the free option. As it’s done with Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft is moving in the direction of subscription software. With Office 365 Home for $99 per year you can have the current version of Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote) installed on your hard drive for up to five separate users along with 1TB of cloud storage for each. It’s a pretty sweet deal (and it’s what we do at my house). I suspect Microsoft is moving in the direction of subscriptions for Windows as well, but for now, Windows 10 is priced at either $199 (Pro) or $119 (Home). I sincerely apologize for being a little late with this advice—why didn’t you ask me sooner?

Robot Stingray: A Harvard researcher took muscle tissue from the heart of a embryonic rat, added a little genetic engineering and produced a nickle-sized “robot stingray.” The device is basically a piece of clear silicone plastic, molded in the shape of a stingray, with the embyonic heart muscles “attached” to it (actually, they grow on a protein substrate which radiates into the “flaps” of the stingray shape). The whole thing is bathed in a salt-sugar mix to keep the cells alive. As if this wasn’t amazing enough, the muscle cells are genetically modified by a virus that makes them contract in response to blue light. Presto, a light-activated robot stingray! It’s an engineering tour de force, and this excellent article explains it in greater detail: tinyurl.com/hdtquyv.

Pokémon Go: This augmented-reality (AR) app, which is free for iOS and Android devices, lets you explore the real world to find and capture imaginary Pokémon (“pocket monsters”). It’s taken the United States by storm. I was walking through Vasona Lake Park in Los Gatos and saw groups of kids, young adults and families walking around looking at the park through their phone cameras (which are augmented with the elusive Pokémon). The app is free, but to actually catch and battle others with your Pokémon, you need PokéCoins. These can be earned (slowly) just by playing the game, but you can also buy them with real cash, paying from 99 cents for 100 PokéCoins to $0.99 for 14,500 coins. This is how Niantic, makers of the game, plan to make money.

It’s nice to see an application that takes people outdoors and gets them walking, although there have already been Pokémon Go-related injuries caused by people becoming a bit too immersed in the game and walking into (or off of) things. There was even the grisly discovery of a dead body by a 19-year-old playing the game in Riverton, Wyo. Still, it points to the gradual merging of the world of data (albeit in the form of digital monsters) with the real world, and how addictive augmented and virtual realities may become. Even if you’re not into catching pocket monsters, I recommend trying the app just to experience AR for yourself, and perhaps imagine how it might affect your business or company at some point in the not-too-distant future. Download it from the official site (www.pokemongo.com) or the app store.

 

Skyview: Last night, I was out in my backyard. The moon hadn’t risen yet, so the stars were quite visible. I know a few of the constellations (Scorpio is very prominent in the southern sky during the summer months) and can usually pick out a bright planet (Jupiter and Mars are pretty easy). As I was standing there, I could see what I thought was a satellite. Alas, I’d left my phone in the house, so I couldn’t fire up Skyview, an(other) AR-application that overlays your phone-camera-view of the night sky with information. If you’ve ever wondered what you’re looking at in the heavens, this application is a must for your iOS or Android device.

The Skyview Free version has information on 15 constellations, a number of stars, the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope, and of course, the sun and moon. It’s the perfect application for summertime. There’s also a full version of the application ($1.99) that adds the remaining 73 constellations, many more stars and galaxies, all the planets and brightest satellites, along with more information about each object. It’s what I have on my iPhone, and it’s well worth the price. Finally, there’s the Skyview Satellite Guide ($3.99) for people who want to focus specifically on the many man-made objects orbiting the Earth. Find out more at www.terminaleleven.com.

In these uncertain times, filled with bad news I hope these little tech nuggets help you remember that, if you’re reading this, you’re living in the best of times in the best of places. Alas, technology can’t solve the problems of the human spirit.

 

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