Category Archives: Apps

3 Reasons Cloud Gaming Will Be Awesome

3 Reasons Cloud Gaming Will Be Awesome

The promise of Cloud Gaming seemed to be a false promise. But now it appears Electronic Arts (EA) can revive that dream.

Back in June 2018, EA demonstrated they were able to stream high-quality games via a high-speed connection. The person on the other end simply needed a controller to hook up to the television, computer, or laptop, and they could play the game.

Just like Netflix brings movies and shows straight to the consumer, EA is working to launch their own game streaming service.

All players will need is a controller, a high-speed internet connection on their device, and of course, a subscription. Then they’ll have access to a huge array of games to play with.

This would have been nice if they’d come out with this technology a lot sooner.Cloud Gaming

That One Roommate

Before Cloud Gaming, before even Netflix streaming, I was a college student sharing a house with five other guys.

The house, affectionately dubbed “The Shack,” should have been condemned. There were roaches living there, not to mention the squirrels and cats too. The squirrels left us alone, but the roaches were constantly inciting a turf war.

The cats just used the place to procreate, and loudly.

Rent was cheap though.

Which was the point, I guess.

To make the situation more livable, TV’s were brought in, DVD players, huge selections of DVDs, and games.Cloud Gaming

One guy had an Xbox. Let’s call him Rick.

While I did my fair share of movie watching, Rick played video games.

Non. Stop.

I shouldn’t judge, he turned out to be a great guy.

And I did spend a few nights trying to beat Gears of War. I wasn’t totally immune.

Yet, if you were to walk in there, 99 times out of ten, it wasn’t me on the Xbox trying to level up in the hottest game to come out that year- Halo 3. It would have been Rick.

So the soundtrack of the house was a constant stream of explosions, gunfire, Rick shouting into his headset, and vulgar putdowns from other people playing the game as well.

This was college.

Since Rick played hours upon hours of Halo, he was good at the game. I wasn’t.

I would be lucky to get five kills in a multi-player match. And Rick wouldn’t hesitate to point this out to me any time I picked up a controller.

As if living in that cesspool wasn’t enough, I couldn’t prove myself in the last arena of true battle- online gaming.

I graduated college, got married, and soon found online gaming really wasn’t the measure of a true man.

But I digress.

I didn’t own a game console. Thus, I wasn’t good at gaming. In hindsight, this wasn’t a bad thing. I did, after all, get into books. And I couldn’t be happier.

Gaming, however, is going to change.Cloud Gaming

As more and more games come out that only emphasize their online gaming mode and not their story mode, the video game companies will need a better way to market their games.

Enter Cloud Gaming.

It’s not all bad.

And here are three reasons why.

No Consoles to Pay For

Part of the reason I never bought an Xbox or a PlayStation was the expensive price tag. And I was a poor college kid.

My parents were also not big into gaming. So I can’t blame them for not shelling out the cash to buy me one that one time I put it on my Christmas list.

With a streaming service, there’s no need to buy the console, or even the game itself. Just hook up the internet, plug in the controller, and away you go.

A streaming game service was attempted back at the start of the 2010’s.

Two companies, GoLive and Gaikai, each showed cloud gaming was a viable possibility.

The only problem was the technology required to make it work was expensive and not as available as it was today. There was also the widely accepted belief that one buys games and does not stream them. Streaming was for movies and wasn’t seen as a stable method for delivering a high-quality gaming experience.

EA has cracked that.

Now all they need is enough subscribers to make it profitable.

Subscriptions

With Cloud Gaming, you’ll only pay once a month, or once for the whole year.

Paying once a month and getting games cheaper is better than having to pay for the console and the games too. At least, I would think so. I’m no expert here, but I do know what I like. And I’d much rather pay a little bit at a time than a lot all at once.

It’s unclear if other game production companies will create their own subscription services like EA’s. But who am I kidding? Of course they will.

Once EA proves this will work, other companies are going to launch their own subscription services to make it happen and compete.

Soon the entertainment world will be one big subscription service, with subscription services to manage subscription services.

At least the games will be cheaper.

Availability to More Players

Rick, though a good guy, was still hogging the Xbox most of the time.Cloud Gaming

With a subscription service, this opens the door for even more people to plug in and play…so long as the internet speed is fast enough. There’s a way around that, just get the best internet bundles and you’ll be able to have multiple players, on multiple devices, all streaming their games at. The. Same. Time!

If there are not enough ports for the controllers, then pull out a laptop, computer, or just another TV with an internet connection. Players would then be able to join in the game and no one would have to wait their turn to play.

Cloud Gaming would make gaming accessible to a much wider audience.

When Is The Future?

EA’s Origin Access Premiere is still in its infancy.

There will still be some kinks to work out, but as of right now, it seems to be working well. This is good news for EA as they continue their domination of the video game industry.

For those who don’t enjoy video games, or don’t object to EA on principle, there are always books to read.

As for me, I don’t see myself getting involved with video games beyond the few apps I have on my phone. Maybe when I’m older and my life slows down just a little bit I’ll have some time to just waste on a game. But I doubt that will happen any time soon.

Rick, my old roomie, did give up gaming. I’m not sure when, but it must have been some time after he got married and started working a real job. Then he had kids.

Last I spoke with him he was getting his masters and taking care of yet another baby. How he manages kids and masters level courses, I don’t know. I barely made it through my masters’ level course with one child.

A few weeks ago I was near my alma mater and thought, just briefly, if that god-forsaken Shack was still there.

Low and behold, it was.

Some other poor sap decided they’d live with the roaches, the squirrels, and the cats, in that confined space. Hopefully, they have fast, reliable internet, and a streaming service.

2 Good and 2 Bad Things About Google’s New Data Journalism Feature

2 Good and 2 Bad Things About Google’s New Data Journalism Feature

Researching for articles is an integral part of my job. Searching through data and data is key to providing quality content. If I skip and try to pass off my work as accurate, I’m opening myself up for a major headache.

And I could possibly lose my job.

Despite hating research, I’ve come to love it.

Which is why I grit my teeth when it comes to finding the right data, then identifying which datasets to focus on, and after all that is finally completed, digging into the data to analyze it.

Along with improving grammar in their Docs, Google’s going to make research easier too.

How Google’s Going To Help With Data Journalism

Growing up my father would wake up at 4 am to go out into the wilderness and conduct research studies.Data

He wasn’t researching wolves or bears or even something interesting.

He was researching elk…elk. Just let that sink in for a minute.

Majestic though they may be, these things don’t do much beyond graze and walk around. At least, they didn’t when I was looking at them. Since my dad was a wildlife biologist, I got the “opportunity” to go out on these trips. Sometimes if I misbehaved my dad decided I needed another “opportunity” to go out and help with the research.

After staring at these dumb animals for untold hours, we’d go home and he’d start calculating the data.

It took him more than twenty years to complete the research and analysis before he felt he had enough to present his findings.

Thank god we have Google now. With a decent ISP, Google’s at my beck and call. Make sure you have taken the time to look through the best cable and internet packages in your area to cut down on twenty years of research.

Without a reliable connection, I don’t think I’d be able to finish a single article. Thankfully, I do. And with it, I can easily type in a term and Google will return the relevant information.

At least, in theory, that’s what it should do.

Data1. Save Time

I still dig through the information available there and suddenly I’m back in the field with my dad staring at a dumb animal that’s just chewing.

What Google is proposing is to highlight relevant data within articles and list them above the title. A sort of preview.

Already, I can feel the weight of researching getting lighter.

By seeing what data is contained with an article or a report right there on the Google search page, I could save a significant amount of time. How much time I would save is still undefined. To figure that out would probably take a good twenty years anyway.

This wouldn’t make research a blissful experience, it would just ease some of the headaches of hunting for data. I’m okay with that.

Because there’s nothing more frustrating than opening an article and reading through a considerable chunk of it only to find it’s irrelevant. While the mistake of reading it was mine, it would have helped to get a better picture of the data contained within before I even started reading.

And data previews would be a huge help in accomplishing that.

2. Refine Search Criteria

I’ll be honest, I have no master’s degree and I didn’t excel in school when it came to research. I got by well enough though.

Now, when it comes to research for an article, I start by guessing at the search terms I need to use. There are the few times when I have a clear idea of where to look. Other times, and it happens more than I would like, I shoot in the dark until I find the right combination of words and terms.

This works well enough most of the time.

The other day, however, I had to dig through stuff from the FCC.

Never in my life have I been so frustrated trying to find the relevant datasets. There was plenty of data to look at, I just didn’t have a clue what most of it meant.

They use a lot of numbers.

Possible Drawbacks

Getting data previewed will be a huge help.

1. But humans will be looking at the previews

By reviewing the data alone, information can get missed.Data

When just the numbers and the related terms are pulled out, data can be misunderstood. With no context, sometimes we can read the data in the wrong way and draw the wrong conclusions.

This may not be as bad as it seems. Professionals do research and still misinterpret data from time to time.

2. Dense Reports

The real concern is when there is a huge report. You know, the academic kind with stuffy language. The type of report where the abstract alone hurts the brain while its being read.

These dense tomes of collected data and aggregated information may defeat the algorithm of Google’s search engine.

I doubt even artificial intelligence could make sense of them.

Get Ready For It Now

Google’s developers have already prepared for this.

And they are asking that published articles are prepared in such a way that data is easy to identify. As Google searches far and wide through the internet it’ll be able to pluck the right stuff out of the text if it’s been easily labeled.

There’s guidelines, source and provenance best practices listed in the developer’s announcement.

Before all that, there’s a list of examples for how authors and journalists can prepare their data so Google’s algorithms will recognize it.Data

  • A table or a CSV file with some data
  • An organized collection of tables
  • A file in a proprietary format that contains data
  • A collection of files that together constitute some meaningful dataset
  • A structured object with data in some other format that you might want to load into a special tool for processing
  • Images capturing data
  • Files relating to machine learning, such as trained parameters or neural network structure definitions
  • Anything that looks like a dataset.

That last one seems a little bit confusing. Or maybe that’s just me as I’m a not research-minded.

The feature is still in the pilot phase. No news on when it will officially roll out.

It All Works Out in the End

Conducting research, as daunting as it is, is part of my job.

I do get paid to do this, so I shouldn’t complain too much. And what’s a little research to make sure I’m taken seriously as a writer?

At least I’m not having to drive out to the middle of nowhere and stare at elk for every article. There are times when it feels that way though.

For those special people, like my dad, they look forward to that stuff. As weird as it sounds, they enjoy the hard labor of trekking out into the wilderness and collecting data. Then they head back home to crunch numbers without the help of Google to streamline the process. Instead, it’s spreadsheets upon spreadsheets. Which is almost worse than the job of collecting the data itself.

But these strange people enjoy it.

It has worked out for my dad though. He’s a published author now.

I did get a mention in the acknowledgments section, so it was worth something for me too.

Until I’m able to finish my next book, that will have to do.

Finding a Better Way with Apple Maps

Finding a Better Way with Apple Maps

There is nothing—nothing— more frustrating than ordering a pizza and having it arrive late. And cold.

The pizza delivery guy most likely has an iPhone. As of 2012, Apple dropped Google Maps as its default map app provider. iPhone users can still download a version of Google Maps. If your pizza arrived late, the Pizza Delivery Expert was most likely using Apple Maps and couldn’t find your home.

There’s another possibility- he wasn’t rushing to get you your pizza and was using Apple Maps as an excuse for not getting there on time.

The good news is Apple Maps is about to launch a new version.

Very soon Pizza Delivery Experts will have one less excuse for being late with your pizza.

Help On The Ground

Apple MapsAs of this writing, Google Maps is still the clear leader when it comes to accurate maps. Google has earned this distinction because they’ve sent around cars, analyzed satellite imagery, and compiled the necessary data themselves. It takes time to do this and it shows in Google’s functionality.

Due to this hard work, Google Maps enjoys top billing when it comes to navigation apps; 500 Smartphone users were surveyed by The Manifest and asked which navigation app they preferred.

67% named Google Maps.

To match, and surpass, Google’s position as top dog in the navigation business, Apple has gone out and started to collect their own raw data.

To get the actual, on-the-ground-data, they’ve sent out a fleet of vans with sophisticated cameras and sensors strapped to the top. These work with a MacBook inside the van connected to solid state drives and an iPad. An operator monitors the image capture and ensures the assigned area has been completely driven.

The images will be overlapped for 3D recreations. Routes and directions will be improved as well thanks to on-the-ground driving.

Help From iPhones

As the vans travel through neighborhoods, shooting images, the images are scrubbed of faces and any personal information. The pictures are uploaded to Apple’s databases afterward. This keeps the data “sanitized,” free from personal information.

Apple Maps will also tap its users in updating real-time data collection.

Apple does this by lifting only vectors and speed from iPhone Users who have their Apple Maps App open and operating during a commute. It’s small snippets of data they use to calculate traffic and route options. When users ask Siri a question regarding navigation, the query is handled by the iPhone itself and not through Apple’s database systems.

Only the snippets, free of personal identifiers, will be lifted and sent through Apple Maps. These are also randomized and pulled from all iPhone users to sanitize the data for navigation purposes.

Apple Maps also remembers common routes you take, helping you plan your trips better throughout the day. Again, this information is compiled and stored on the iPhone itself and not through iCloud.

The benefit of this is that the more you use your iPhone, the more accurate these routes will become. On the flipside, the less you use it, the less accurate it will be when it comes to the routes you normally take.

One more interesting item; thanks to this collection of snippets, Apple Maps will also be able to help map out indoor areas as well. Trying to catch a connecting flight in a new airport? Apple Maps will be able to help with that!

Help From Above

Apple MapsThe last piece of Apple Maps new update will come from the satellites above.

Data culled from the vans and the users will be incorporated into satellite imagery. Shapes of buildings will be clearer. Walkways established. Bike paths updated. Even recreating the leaves on the trees.

From here, 3D representations are created to help you find your way better. This may not seem important in the city that you live in, but it will be a huge help when it comes to traveling to new places. Apple Maps will even match the typeface, font, and number order on street signs!

Help From You

Apple MapsThe developers at Apple are creating a toolkit to let you edit Apple Maps yourself.

This will be helpful when it comes to finding what door is the right entry for a building. You’ll be able to mark where parking is. Even place a pin on which driveway is the correct driveway for your friend’s house.

The toolkit will allow you to edit this in Apple Maps yourself.

How Soon?

As of this writing, the newest version of Apple Maps will be available only in the San Francisco Bay Area. Northern California will follow in a couple of months. The goal is to have Apple Maps available to all iPhone users by the end of the year.

With any luck, pizza delivery drivers will be arriving quicker to your house with your hot and fresh pizza.

Remember to tip them well.


Find the best internet deals today to improve your navigation.

Which Virtual Assistant is the Smart Choice?

Which Virtual Assistant is the Smart Choice?

Virtual Assistants, run by AI, are displaying the very early phases of Jarvis. True, they are not to the level of Tony Stark’s trusty assistant Jarvis…yet. The good news is we are closer to realizing virtual assistants that could outperform even Jarvis. Soon everyone may have access to a highly competent and integrated virtual assistant…even if we’re not superheroes.

For now, we’ll have to continue taking care of our living spaces on our own. Sorry.

On the upside, there are smart home devices available now for you to install in your home. These require a virtual assistant to run, either by voice or through an app. There will be some work and costs required upfront, but with a little planning, you can have your smart home devices running the trivial to minor tasks of your house. This will save you time, and ultimately, some cash.

Finding the right virtual assistant to help you can be a difficult choice.

The Best Virtual Assistant

Virtual assistants act like a butler or a maid. The main difference is they’re automated and available to everyone. No longer do you need to pay a hefty annual salary in exchange for a “gentleman’s gentleman.” Instead, there’s Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa.

There will be more as the demand for better and better virtual assistants increases. As of this writing, Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and Alexa are the top four available. They may not be of the caliber of Jarvis, yet they do bear striking resemblance to the Marvel Comic’s character, as well as other highly qualified, though fictional, assistants.

Jeeves

Long before Downton Abby, PBS would broadcast the hilarious British comedy Jeeves and Wooster, based on characters created by PG Wodehouse. You may not recognize the names, but you’ll recognize the stars.

Hugh Laurie, playing the role of Berty Wooster, is better known for his role as the Vicodin-popping genius of diagnosis– House.

Comedy legend Stephen Fry took on the role of the ever-present, ever helpful- and ever clever- Jeeves.

“Clever and helpful” is a good description of Amazon’s Alexa.

When paired with the Echo and the Dot, Amazon’s smart speaker system, Alexa excels at answering questions and getting the answer right…most of the time. She can also help with finding directions, providing updates on traffic, and making calls.

Alfred Pennyworth

Bruce Wayne, the troubled but wealthy orphan, always has help from Alfred Pennyworth.

Alfred, though played by many actors over the years, is the epitome of jack-of-all-trades servant. Broke down car? Alfred knew how to do that. Computer code needs writing? Alfred knew how to do that. Multiple gunshot wounds that need bandaging? Alfred knew how to do that.

For the sake of this post, Michael Caine’s interpretation of the character is the most iconic. While Alfred Gough did step into the role more often, the gritty realism and paternal affection of Caine gave the character depth and elevated him to a serious part of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Saga.

Sadly, Jeremy Iron’s talents are wasted on the tiny role of Alfred Pennyworth in the newer incarnation of the Caped Crusader.

By setting Michael Caine as the Alfred Pennyworth, Microsoft’s Cortana most closely resembles this famed assistant.

Thanks to Microsoft’s heavy involvement in the development of the personal computer, a huge database of information is available to plug Cortana into. The result is a virtual assistant who can answer more questions and answer them correctly.

 Jarvis

Born on the pages of Iron Man, Jarvis was at first a person. For Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, however, Jarvis was turned into a true virtual assistant.

Integrating everything Tony Stark needed, Jarvis was every present and ready to help. All Tony had to say was “Jarvis…” and the awesome voice of Paul Bettany would pipe in with “Yes, sir.”

Of course, by the second Avengers movie, Paul Bettany finally gets to flex more than his vocal chops and takes on the role of The Vision.

Despite this vocational change for the character, Jarvis assisted Tony Stark through all three Iron Man films, even saving his life.

Google Assistant is the closest approximation we have today of Jarvis.

Scoring better than Alexa and Cortana in answering questions, and answering them correctly, Google Smart Home products are also cheaper than Amazon’s.

Janine Melnitz

Played by the stellar Annie Potts, Janine Melnitz was the, ahem, below average secretary to the Ghostbusters. Competent in her work, she really complained more than anything. Annie Potts, because she’s an awesome actress, made the character funny and held her own against Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, and Dan Aykroyd.

Apple Siri fits this description the best- not very helpful but can joke a lot.

Time to Get to Work

Virtual AssistantUnlike their fictional counterparts, these assistants are real and will help with tasks when asked.

How well they do it is up for debate.

Alexa

Echo has scored well when it comes to responding to voice commands and working with various third-party smart home devices. Couple this with the Dot and Alexa integrates easily into your home. Setting up smart lightbulbs, plugs, thermostats, and security devices can give you more influence when running your house.

After installation you can set up groups and routines. Through Alexa, you can turn off all the lights in a certain part of the house, program your thermostat while away, and monitor security. There is set up and costs involved, as well as trial and error. Once you’ve figured it out, you’ll be saving both time and money.

Assistant

Google Assistant is second in this category.

The Google products required to make your home a smart home have been rated lower than Amazon’s. On the upside, they are cheaper than Amazon, and Google Assistant has been shown to answer more questions accurately than Alexa.

Siri

Apple Siri, though there are some smart home devices, they are not as diverse as what Google and Amazon offer. And since Siri is pulling a Melnitz, it seems Siri isn’t a good choice as an assistant for your smart home.

Cortana

Microsoft Cortana, though brilliant, has no smart home devices it can integrate with. Cortana is going to be sticking with the computer for the foreseeable future.

“Is that all, sir?”

No matter your choice when it comes to picking a virtual assistant, remember that we are still very far away from our own Jarvis, Alfred, and Jeeves. There may already be a Melnitz out there though.

Another downside is that we’re still stuck with the task of taking out the garbage, changing the laundry, and cleaning the dishes. Unless we hit the lottery, these are still the everyday chores we’re tasked with.

Without Jeeves, Jarvis, Alfred, and even Melnitz, taking care of chores can be a superhero task.


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3 Reasons to Keep the Music Playing

3 Reasons to Keep the Music Playing

Silence is golden…good music is platinum.

This point was proven by Drake’s newest album Scorpion, which went out and racked up 130 million global streams in its first twenty-four hours. While that number—130,000,000— counts streams, it doesn’t count how many times the music was on repeat. Repeating the album keeps the music playing. This speaks to the force of Drake’s beats, lyrics, and style.

There are those inexplicable times when a song just speaks to you and you have to hit the repeat button. Maybe it’s the lyrics, maybe it’s the beat, maybe it’s the situation you find yourself in.

No matter the reason, we’ve all experienced a time filled with a single song or album that defines an emotion.

These unique times, when you keep the music playing, are doing more for you than you may realize.

Soothing Notes

keep the music playingHappy or sad, angry or joyful, there’s music that comes to mind to help us express these feelings. And it may not be solely music that we turn to when we’ve experienced a great loss or a profound victory. These moments, nonetheless, wouldn’t be as impactful if they did not have music.

When we recognize the benefits of music, we can begin to strategically incorporate it into our daily lives.

As opposed to listening to music to deal with negative emotions, we can instead play a song in anticipation of those situations we know to cause us stress. Jenny Hole, Martin Hirsch, Dr. Elizabeth Ball, and Dr. Catherine Meads conducted a review in 2015 on this very idea. They checked medical records of patients who’d undergone surgery. There were those who’d listened to music before, during, and after their surgery and reported feeling less stress in anticipation of the surgery, coupled with a speedier recovery time afterward. Patients who didn’t listen to music at all found their stress levels higher and their recovery time to be longer.

More interesting than that; listening to music while under anesthesia was shown to have a positive effect on recovery time.

The study was inconclusive as to whether these patients were listening to Drake or one of his haters.

Coming Up with New Ideas

Scorpion consisted of 25 tracks!

For Drake to produce that much music, he did more than mine his own experiences for material, he collaborated with a host of artists, both new and old, to create new music to fill out Scorpion.

Music was part of the process of creating new music.

Beyond creating tracks for albums, you can use music to boost your own creativity.

It’s been shown that listening to happy music does, in fact, boost divergent thinking—also known as being creative.

Don’t limit yourself to just Drake, however, as instrumental music does a better job of accessing the right side of the brain. The right side is where images are stored. By listening to music without words, we put the focus on the right side of the brain.

The left side is where words are stored, the logical side. When we listen to music with words, we’re pulling from both sides of the brain. This doesn’t take away our creativity, our brain’s focus is simply split between the two sides.

If Drake gets your creativity going, then keep listening to Drake. If you want to branch out into the more instrumental side of the music spectrum, there’s classical music. For those who wouldn’t go near classical music, don’t worry, there’s Epic Music.

Epic music is the stuff you hear on trailers for movies and games. Believe it or not, there are bands out there that create such music. Just check out Two Steps From Hell, Heavy Melody, Colossal Trailer Music, Phantom Power, Brian Delgado, and much more!

keep the music playing

Enhance Experiences

The greatest movies have spawned some of the greatest music ever.

Thanks to composers like John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Alan Silvestri, there are those tunes we hear and automatically think of Superman, Batman, The Avengers, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and many more movies.

While these movies tell a story, it’s the music that hints when we need to feel excitement, fear, betrayal, anger, happiness, and ultimately, success. Take the music away from these movies and the experience would feel significantly less.

Just try it and you’ll see.

Keep the Music Playing

keep the music playingWhile silence is golden, admit it, having music playing does give even the most mundane events a bit of a boost.

To ensure your experiences are never without a soundtrack, download a music streaming app today. There are plenty available; Apple Music, Prime Music, YouTube Music, Pandora, Slacker Radio, Spotify, and Tidal… to name a few.

Of course, which is better is an ongoing debate. Check out the reviews here, here, and here to help you decide which music streaming service is right for you.

If Scorpion has taught us anything about music is that it is not a one-time thing. Good songs, artists, and genres do so much more than just fill the void.

When we keep the music playing, we reduce stress, push our creative boundaries, and enhance experiences.


Keep the music playing with streaming apps. Check out internet bundles in your area with Bundle Your Internet

Who Killed Your Wi-Fi?

Who Killed Your Wi-Fi?

It’s Friday night and you’re simultaneously turning on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu to catch the most recent binge-worthy show. This week’s flavor is…crime dramas.

Yet, the TV is stuck on the loading screen. Someone has killed your Wi-Fi.

The screen will only show the spinning wheel that never stops. Instead of loading your show it simply taunts you.

Thanks to having watched a few police shows already, you’re confident in your detective skills to assess the evidence, round up suspects, and deliver the perpetrator to justice.

It’s the Internet Service Provider.

Plain and simple.

Cue the end credits, no need for further investigation.

Right?

Bring It Out Into the Open

Who Killed Your Wi-Fi?Your badge isn’t on the line, but admit it, you jumped straight to the conclusion that your ISP killed your Wi-Fi.

Stop and look around the room.

Locate the Wi-Fi router.

Is it tucked away in the corner? Set high up a shelf with books? Hidden behind your TV because you’re ashamed that it doesn’t fit with the overall aesthetic?

Now is the time to move it somewhere closer to the middle of your house or apartment. Wi-Fi, like a sprinkler, does its best when it’s in the middle of the space and can be seen from each corner easily.

An optimal location for it would be to install it on the ceiling. Obviously, this isn’t an option for everyone. There’s also the concern of having your Wi-Fi router hanging from the ceiling like a bat.

While this option may not be feasible for most, work to locate a spot near the middle of your living space. Be it an apartment or home, there should be a spot near the center that you can use to set your router. Also, try to get it up as high as you can. Going back to the sprinkler metaphor; sprinklers cast the water out and it falls to the earth. So the higher the sprinkler, the greater the coverage of the lawn. Same with a Wi-Fi router, though the signal doesn’t fall like water, you’ll notice better reception when it is placed higher.

Appliances Are An Accomplice

Your Wi-Fi router, while sitting still and unassuming, is constantly being accosted as it tries to do its job–send and receive signals.

Some of these suspects may be surprising to you.

Home appliances

This may seem obvious. Most appliances plug into the wall and are made out of metal. All that metal and electricity interfere with a Wi-Fi signal. In a way, they create their own little signals. They don’t mean to do it as they’re just doing a job as well.

The problem can be exacerbated further with appliances now coming with their own Wi-Fi signals in an attempt to make homes “smarter.” Think of the refrigerators with touch screens and cameras inside. While these are meant to work with your personal Wi-Fi network, they can also end up taking more of the bandwidth and leaving you sitting there staring at the pinwheel of boredom.

Blinds

Some blinds are made of plastic or compressed board. And a lot are made out of metal. Again, the metal is what will affect your Wi-Fi signal. On the flipside, there may be a new market here- “Interior Design that is both stylish and won’t kill your Wi-Fi!”

Mirrors

The reflective coating that gives mirrors their…mirror-ness, also bounce Wi-Fi signals off in haphazard directions.

Reinforced Concrete

The rebar inside of reinforced concrete will affect the Wi-Fi signal, as well as the dense nature of the concrete itself. This time it’s not just the metal, but the concrete too.

Fish Tanks

Yes, there are comprised of metal too, but also a lot of water. So while Nemo is taking laps and plotting his escape, the water he’s swimming in is also making it difficult for your Wi-Fi signal to get through.

Of course, you can’t take out all the metal in your home, nor can you leave the windows uncovered and tear down any walls. There will be obstacles to your Wi-Fi, but you can eliminate or lessen them by placing your router somewhere up high and near the center of your abode. There are also ways to extend your Wi-Fi signal.

The Butler Did It!

Who Killed Your Wi-Fi?Those smart home devices mentioned earlier?

Yeah, they could be the ones who killed your Wi-Fi, or they may be taking up a lot of the bandwidth.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that these smart home devices were actually bogging down your home’s Wi-Fi signals. A bug in the system caused a lot of data to be sent at once, impeding the Wi-Fi.

Most of the kinks are being resolved right now, but don’t be surprised if your Wi-Fi is slow after you plug in your newest smart home device. There is good news; patches have been sent out in updates to fix the problem. So if you haven’t updated yet, this may be the reason. Or maybe those little boxes just got tired of you shouting at it?

Maybe.

It’s an Open and Shut Case

Thanks to buddy cop movies and police procedural shows we can solve the case of “who killed your Wi-Fi?” with confidence. But do not, and this is important, start trying to solve murder/arson/robbery cases on your own. Leave that up to the professionals!

What it all boils down to is understanding the technology you use and how its affected by items in your home. This knowledge will ensure a proper solution to these “crimes.”

The next time you see the spinning wheel of doom, take a moment to assess the room and figure out if the router just needs to be moved or if you have an appliance in the way? 


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A Closer Look at the Amazon Fire TV Cube

A Closer Look at the Amazon Fire TV Cube

The Amazon Fire TV Cube allows users to control power, adjust volume, and even change channels on a cable box using voice commands.  That’s right; no more fumbling for a remote to switch channels while you’re busy making dinner in the kitchen.  Much has been written about the Fire TV Cube’s microphones, which are sophisticated enough to pick up your voice from far away.

Innovative microphone technology

How it works

Fire TV Cube

The microphone technology is called far-field, and there eight of them inside the device.  It’s innovative technology worth looking at more in-depth.  After all, it is one of the main selling points of the device.  The device itself, which functions as a fusion of the Echo smart speaker and the Fire TV media streamer, is aimed at providing users with a hands-free experience.  While the concept itself is hardly new, the integration here with two of the most popular devices in American living rooms feels fresh.

Amazon understands the importance of far-field microphone technology.  Most of the time, these devices will be placed right next to the TV set, which will be blaring audio while in use.  The microphone technology needs to be able to discern, or pickup, voice commands over this noise.  Voice-activated devices, like this one, utilize acoustic sensors and digital signal processing chips to achieve speech recognition

Arrangement and beamforming

Fire TV Cube

Echo microphones are arranged in a hexagonal layout.

The microphone array is there to reduce the impact of sound reverberation and noise.  The trend of modern devices, like the Fire TV Cube or the iPhone, is to increase the number of microphones within the device to better pickup and discern voice commands.  There is also a science behind the arrangement of the speakers within the device.  For instance, Echo microphones are arranged in a hexagonal layout, with one microphone at each vertex and one in the middle.  Beamforming, also known as spatial filtering, allows the microphones to identify the source of the voice command and simultaneously cancel out the noise coming from other directions.

The microphones in the Fire TV Cube are, which are not 360-degree microphones, all face forward towards the front of the device.  This arrangement serves two purposes: first, it allows your voice to be heard over the noise of the TV, which will likely be situated behind or above the device.  Second, it allows the device to be used in the same room as another Echo device.  The device can detect whether commands are intended for it or another device in the same room.

Echo Spatial Perception

Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) is used to determine which device is closest to the user and which device the user is facing.  The Fire TV Cube is designed to respond to voice commands issued while facing the device, regardless of how close you are to it.  If you are in a room with the Fire TV Cube and another Echo device, the Fire TV Cube will respond to your commands when you turn to face it.  You could be standing right next to the other device and the Fire TV Cube could be all the way across the room, but it will still respond to you.  Having all the microphones facing the front of the device allows the ESP to determine if you are facing the device or not, and consequently, whether to respond to the command or not.

Placement of the device becomes very important when using the Fire TV Cube.  The technology isn’t perfect.  Far-field voice pickup performance inevitably degrades the farther away you get from the device.  Captured audio quality is influenced by background noise, reflections and diffusions of audio against the walls of the room, and acoustic echoing inside the device.  These things result in the Fire TV Cube being unable to determine the direction of voice commands and a lower signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).

Troubleshooting: things to keep in mind

Product reviews indicate that sometimes there are issues with the device picking up voice commands.  Good rules of thumb for using the device include moving other Echo devices to different rooms and making sure the device is placed in an ideal location to pick up your voice when facing it.  These measures will ensure optimized performance of your Fire TV Cube.

Something else to be aware of is that “deeper” searches into TV programming and streaming content take longer when using voice commands.  A large part of the solution to this problem is making sure you are using the right commands, but there is something to be said for the speed and efficiency of using traditional remote controls for navigating channels.  That’s why the Fire TV Cube comes with a remote control.  Rather than shout commands frustratedly at your device, you can just pick up the remote and do it the old-fashioned way.  It’s good to have this flexibility.

Final Thoughts

There’s plenty to recommend the Fire TV Cube, despite a few technical issues.  The device offers a lot of content, including Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming apps.  It’s worth noting that, as with other Amazon Fire devices, Google’s apps simply aren’t there.  Apps like YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, and Google Music are only accessible through web browsers.

At its best, the Fire TV Cube, which retails for $119.99, provides a hands-free experience that controls your entire home theater.  You can watch content in superb 4K UHD, turn on and watch TV without having to touch the remote, and do the other things that Alexa offers, like pull up the weather and calendar information and control smart home devices like the lights and thermostat.  The device is a tantalizing glimpse of the future of home entertainment setups, where your vocalized wish is Alexa’s command.  Ask and you shall receive.

Find out more about how the Fire TV Cube can integrate with your home entertainment system.


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Top Mental Health Apps of 2018

Top Mental Health Apps of 2018

A personal story…

At the beginning of this year, my father passed away.  It was a devastating time.  I remember wondering how I would ever make it through those tumultuous days after his death, when the world seemed to move around me in a blur.  My mind went blank.  Thinking was an impossible task, much less functioning normally.  I lost my job, and on top of that, I broke up with my boyfriend at the time, who I found out had been cheating.  Fun times.  I knew I needed help.  Like professional help.  But, I found it difficult to get myself to a therapist’s office.  That’s when I started researching mental health apps and online resources.

Online mental health resources

There have been some interesting and, frankly, rather exciting technological developments in the mental health industry.  Things like digital diaries and mood trackers, therapy-over-text services, online discussion forums, and mediation and relaxation apps.  Not everyone will find these apps helpful, and none of these online resources should be used to substitute for clinical or therapeutic modalities.  In the wake of the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it is critical that we continue the cultural dialogue about depression and mental health to encourage people to seek help.

Suicide prevention

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). It’s always open for you to speak to a trained counselor.  In case of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

E-Therapy

Having said that, here are some of the best mental health apps on the market to help make finding mental health resources easier.  Online therapy, or e-therapy, is a key feature of some of these resources.  E-Therapy is mental health counseling provided via the Internet and is conducted over text, video chat, voice messaging, or audio messaging.  Some of the resources below proved instrumental in helping me cope with my own personal loss.  Hopefully, you find them useful as well.

The Apps

Calm

mental health apps

Calm, named the Best App of 2017 by the Apple App Store, is a meditation and sleep app that teaches you how to meditate and relax your mind and body using breathing exercises.  Additionally, the app features Sleep Stories, pre-recorded short stories for adults, to help users unwind and fall into a deep, natural sleep.  The app is free to download on Android and iPhone.

Headspace

mental health apps

Headspace offers themed meditation sessions, much like Calm, focusing on everything from stress to getting a better night’s sleep.  There are also short meditation sessions available for people on the go as well as emergency exercises in case of urgent needs.  The app teaches you how to meditate within the context of different life circumstances, including work, school, sports, and other situations.  The app is free to download on Android and iPhone.

SuperBetter

mental health apps

SuperBetter is a game aimed at helping you stay motivated and optimistic in the face of difficult life challenges.  The game challenges are fun and achievable and help you to adopt new habits, improve skills, strengthen relationships, finish projects, and achieve goals.  The app is even touted to be able to help deal with depression, anxiety, cope with chronic illness, and recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  It is free to download on Android and iPhone.

7 Cups

mental health apps

7 Cups is an online therapy app in which users connect with people for text chat and online therapy and counseling.  The service is free, anonymous, and confidential.  Trained listeners, online therapists, and counselors are available.  Users can seek out listeners based on life experience or affiliation (such as experience with bullying, panic attacks, eating disorders, breakups, etc.  They can find affordable therapy services, and they can chat with other supportive users in the community section.  The app is free to download on Android and iPhone.

Talkspace

Talkspace is an online therapy app that matches you up with a licensed therapist to help you with depression, anxiety, LGBT issues, and other life challenges.  Users communicate with their therapist on almost any device, including laptop, tablet, or smartphone.  Conversations can carry over across devices, and the app uses banking-grade encryption to protect your privacy and confidentiality.  Plans start at only $49 per week.  This is ideal for people who, for whatever reason, find it difficult to travel to a therapist’s office or to pay the costs associated with traditional therapy.  The app is free to download on Android and iPhone.

Final Thoughts

It’s important for people to understand that help is always available.  In this digital age, there is no shortage of resources out there for people to turn to for help.  These are just a few of the online resources that are out there.  There are plenty of others out there.  Again, hopefully, you find these helpful.  Take care of yourself.