iPhone X, the Power in Your Pocket

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I recently attended a conference in Atlantic City on the future of technology. Topics included self-driving cars, virtual and augmented reality, designer babies, nanobots, the implications of artificial intelligence, and more.

One session in particular really stayed with me: The Smart Phone.

Assuming you own one, have you thought much about your smart phone and how ridiculously powerful it is? It’s an equalizer for access to information. It’s an instant connection to the whole wide world.

Exactly 10 years ago, the first iPhone was released. Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone as a combination of three devices: a music player with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough Internet communicator. The days of duck-hunting on a flip-phone keypad were over. Do you remember typing “222” for the letter C? Not very convenient! The first iPhone boasted a big responsive touch screen, a proper keyboard, and nimble navigation.

Fast-forward 10 years later: The new iPhone X has facial recognition and you can shop online using your FACE to make payment. It has photography and film capabilities that rival a professional studio. It can instantly connect you to millions around the globe and shoot stunning HDR video in 4k resolution. It’s trained to know your voice and only respond to you. Just think about it. Imagine everything you can actually do with your smart phone right now and it will boggle the mind. At first the microphone was dumb, and then we taught it to understand us. The camera just took photos and then we taught it to recognize us. Imagine what’s in store for the iPhone 2027! It’s both exciting and scary.

The iPhone X starts at $1,000, and many are complaining that this is much too expensive. Consider for a moment this revelation from esteemed economist, Brad De Long. He ran some numbers on the iPhone X’s 256 GB of memory and 4.3 billion transistors in its A-11 processor and discovered that building an iPhone X in 1957 would have literally taken all of the money in the world.

Specifically, it would have cost 150 trillion of today’s dollars, which is one and a half times today’s global annual product. The CPU would have taken up a hundred-story square building 100 feet high and 2 miles long and wide. And to power the CPU, it would have drawn 150 terawatts of power—that is 30 times the world’s current generating capacity!

Meanwhile, in 2017, we’re carrying this device in our pockets. Pretty wild, isn’t it? $1,000 doesn’t seem so astronomical when you think about it in those terms.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the iPhone, check out these awesome books below. And as always, if you have any questions on your devices whatsoever, come to CPL’s Drop-in Tech Help! We hold it every week.

Jacket.aspx The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant

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Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

ECHOs of the Season

Every year there’s some tech gadget that seems to be the “in” gift, whether it’s an iPod, a Kindle or cousin, or, with the prices continuing to fall, it could very well be an Amazon Echo, also known as Alexa – available for as little as $99.

What is an Echo? It’s an artificial intelligence billed as a virtual personal assistant, and overall it can do some pretty entertaining things. One thing to understand – an Amazon Echo Dot, and the Amazon Echo, are THE SAME THING. The difference (besides $50) is that the Echo comes with its own speakers; the Echo Dot has to use bluetooth technology to feed off a blue-tooth capable speaker you provide, whether your phone or boombox or clock, etc. That’s it. So treat them interchangeably, because they are.

Inspired by the Enterprise computer on Star Trek and built on the Android platform, Echo sits in your house and by request can immediately tell you the weather forecast, the news, the time, the sports report, play games with you, set an alarm, play an audiobook, play a perfect mix of music as a personal radio, power smart devices like the Nest thermostat, stream podcasts, make you a list, provide recipes, find your phone, call an Uber, tune your guitar, order take-out, and even send messages and email to other Echos. There are currently more than 1500 downloadable apps to allow it to do quite an array of useful things for you, hands-free. The programmers have thought up just about any way an Echo could be abused – swear at it, and it will correct you. Ask it if the CIA is listening, it will give you a wise-crack answer. Ask it to Beam Me Up and it will give one of several replies. Ask it to do the fandango, and it will reply appropriately.

Of course, nothing is without controversy. Unless you hit mute, rendering it “deaf” and unable to function, the Alexa/Echo sits in your house listening 24/7 for its wake-up word (“Alexa, …”) and a command. Those commands are recorded so that the Echo “learns” what you ask most and can process your commands quicker. It learns how to interpret your personal pronunciation. Amazon swears it is not recording what happens around your house, only the commands that follow the word “Alexa.” Sometimes it will “hear” something on a TV that sounds like a command, and respond. There was an incident of a child asking Alexa for a dollhouse, and a $170 dollhouse was sent by Amazon (moral: don’t leave one-click ordering engaged).

In another incident, a woman asked Alexa to dial 911 in the middle of a domestic dispute; the police arrived in time to save her life. Problem is, Alexa isn’t supposed to do that. Not only is it not connected to any call system (unless it’s another Echo), but communication rules prevent it from being able to call out unless it’s also able to receive calls in. Nonetheless, somehow, somewhere, something in the home called 911, because in the 911 recording, the woman is screaming for Alexa to call 911. It remains a mystery. In my own case, we’ve had the Echo suddenly awake for no reason and give the news or weather or just “I didn’t hear that,” as if it forgot it was supposed to be seen and not heard unless spoken to. Just a little creepy.

If a slim possibility of wiretapping freaks you out, then simply hit the “mute” button when you don’t want the Echo “hearing,” effectively turning it off. Unmute it when you want to use it.

While there are outside apps (like Ask My Buddy) that can connect your Alexa/Echo to a phone, I think it’s silly to put regulations on any capable device from calling 911. A cellphone will call 911 without a paid plan; why can’t a virtual assistant? How many elderly fall while their help button is sitting on the bathroom sink? Having a voice-activated 911 in the home for a disabled or elderly person can be lifesaving. Period.

Still don’t like your commands being recorded? Go into your Amazon account and erase them. Is it possible to hack the Echo? Not easily – the entire system would have to be hacked. But as we know with hacking, nothing is impossible, so it’s best not to chain sensitive accounts to your Echo, and again, if you’re worried, turn the Echo off (mute) when not in planned use. Yes, you can unplug it, too, but then you have to wait a minute for it to reboot and get its bearings again.

In my family, 99.8% of the Alexa/Echo use is for a commercial-free personal radio, with great playlists from Rush to Raffi. By far, we under-utilize its capabilities. As a gadget it has a multitude of uses, especially for any physically disabled person or shut-in. Does it do anything you can’t do with a computer or a radio? No. But it’s easy to move from room to room or take with you if you go somewhere (with wifi. It must have wifi to work.) It’s easy enough for Aunt Betty to learn to use. If it’s for someone who is tech-savvy, they’ll discover a world of things they can do with it.

As far as sale-priced gadget gifts go, yeah, this one is probably worth it.

For more on Artificial Intelligence, check out these titles, and more:

Breakpoint: Why the Web Will Implode, Search will be Obsolete, and Everything Else You Need to Know abour Technology is in Your Brain by Jeff Stibel

Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy by David Mindell

Final Jeopardy: The Story of Watson, the Computer that Will Transform Our World by Stephen Baker

Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence and Where It’s Taking Us Next by Luke Dormehl

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark

Where Did My Games Go?!

Solitaire Screenshot

Solitaire Screenshot

The Windows 10 upgrade removes the classic Windows games we’ve all enjoyed for decades. It replaces games like Solitaire and Minesweeper with new versions that are marred by advertising. Anyone who wants to remove the intrusive ads needs to buy a “Premium” subscription for $10 per year.

In other words, Windows 10 gets rid of beloved and free classic games in an attempt to monetize them. Not cool!

But don’t despair.  You can get your classic games back. A quick Google search reveals numerous sites where you can download the games again. I’ll even give you a link to my favorite option, Winaero, which also provides a tutorial for installing them.

One caveat: if Windows 10 updates, the games are deleted again! You have two options for protecting your Minesweeper habit: (1) Disable Windows Automatic Updates, or (2) Keep the classic games install file, and reinstall when necessary. Your choice!


Technology Help – Need device advice? Schedule a one-on-one lesson in the basics of computers, laptops, tablets, and eReaders. Click here to request an appointment online or call the library at 203-272-2245 to make an appointment. The library also offers a monthly Drop-in Tech Help program.

4K is Coming

blu-ray-discTechnology changes faster than most of us can keep up. Almost all of us are familiar with regular DVD technology even if we can’t set the clock on it. Blu Ray, the next step up in DVD technology, is now thirteen years old, and not enough people have moved along with it. But you should, especially with Blu-Ray players, fully decked out, costing as little as $49. If you don’t have one, this should be on your Holiday list.

I already have a DVD player. There’s nothing wrong with it. Why would I need a Blu-Ray? I’m not replacing all my DVDs.

Honestly, I never saw a need either, until I got one. I had just upgraded my extensive VCR collection to DVDs, and I didn’t want to start again either.  If you grew up with the old hump-backed TVs and now have an HDTV (the flat kind), if you remember those wiggly VCR pictures, the picture quality of a blu-ray will astound you. But remember: technology often works backward. Your Blu-ray player DOES still play all your regular DVDs, doubling what you can view. It won’t make them miraculously clear like a blu-ray disc, but it will play them just fine. You won’t have to upgrade that DVD of Aunt Bertha’s third wedding.

Thing is, a blu-ray player is SO much more than a lowly DVD player, which is slowly dying away. Not only is the netflix-logopicture clarity far superior, but with the right equipment (cameras, wifi, high-speed cables) you can Skype through it (make video phone calls), surf the internet (yes, order from Amazon right off your TV), access Netflix and other video programs, play music CDs, and flip items from your iPad or phone right onto your Smart TV for large-screen viewing. The downfall: your TV must already accommodate this. If you still have a hump-backed 100-lb picture-tube TV, you’re out of luck for almost everything.

To make it even fancier, there are blu-ray players that can play in 3-D. If you have a 3-D blu-ray player, AND a 3-D TV (AND a 3-D blu-ray movie), yes, you can watch 3-D movies just like in the theater, BUT YOU MUST HAVE ALL THREE. I can’t emphasize that enough. If you don’t have the matching 3-D TV and player, 3-D will not work. But yes, a regular blu-ray disc WILL work in a 3-D blu-ray player; it just won’t be in 3-D. If you think you may ever want to watch a 3-D video, and you have a 3-D capable TV, then get the 3-D blu-ray player. It will play your regular DVDs, your regular blu-rays, AND those fancy 3-D discs.

Now, blu-ray is a double-edged sword. Should you be using it? Yes, if you’re the least bit progressive. The prices are low enough to be a steal, and there’s less of a waiting list for the library’s blu-rays. However, if you’re totally tech and can’t wait for the latest impossible upgrades, 4K Ultra technology is here, and if you’re not building a personal theater room, it’s absolutely affordable.

And the groans begin.  What? 4K what? What the daylights is that?

lg-curved-4k-tv-790x44414K Ultra is the next step in television and DVD technology. 4K Ultra-High-Def (UHD) is mind-blowingly clear television – clearer than looking out your window. If you thought your high-definition TV was amazing, imagine something twice as fantastic – because it truly is working with twice the capacity (1080 pixels for the standard HDTV vs. 2160 for 4K). The picture is mind-blowing, and allows for monstrously larger screen sizes without losing clarity. Next time you’re out shopping, stop by Costco or Best Buy and take a look. If you thought blu-ray was amazing, just wait.

Although your DVD player and your blu-ray DVD player (that one you just went out andindex bought) cannot play the 4K DVDs, a 4K DVD machine will play your regular blu-ray discs (no, they can’t play them as clear as 4K because the discs aren’t coded that way, but they can upscale them so it’s very close). They are absolutely affordable (you can pick up a 3-D 4K UHD disc player with wifi capacity for as little as $119; a 43” TV goes for as little as $379).

Remember though – nothing works in a vacuum. 4K is fabulous, but if you don’t have all the parts, you’re not going to get the right picture. You must have the 4K TV, the 4K DVD player, AND high-speed 2.0 USB cables connecting the two to get the super-quality picture, otherwise it will just revert to regular HD quality. If your cable company isn’t broadcasting in Ultra High Def, you won’t get the super picture on your TV programs. More importantly, 4K DVDs are already available for purchase, so be careful with what you buy. If you buy a DVD that says 4K, and you don’t have a 4K DVD player, it will not be able to read the disc (I’ve tried it, just as a test).

The holiday season often has good sales on TVs and DVD players; this is the perfect time to make that upgrade. While the library isn’t currently offering 4K discs, we’re getting ready for the eventual upgrade. Will you be ready?

Consider A Chromebook

HP Chromebook

A Chromebook is a laptop of a different breed. Instead of Windows 10 or Mac OS X, Chromebooks run Google Chrome OS. Chromebooks are often criticized as “glorified web browsing machines” or disparaged for their lack of functionality. It is true that their functionality is limited, but I think the negative comments are unfair.

A Chromebook is designed to be used while connected to the internet, with most applications and documents living in the cloud. You can’t really “install” any applications. If you want to download iTunes, you’re out of luck. But you can listen to your music collection by moving it to the cloud in Google Play Music, a free alternative service. If you want to install Microsoft Office, you’re also out of luck. But you can use Microsoft Office Online, Microsoft’s new (and free!) cloud version of its popular office software. You can also use Google Docs and Slides.

And that is the theme of the Chromebook: if you think you can’t do something, you’re not thinking outside of the box, or outside of the OS! (That was a joke. You don’t have to laugh.)

Think of the last time you used your computer. I bet you were doing something online, and if not, I bet you could have been doing it online through a free cloud-based alternative. The software you use on your computer is more and more likely to be available in cloud-form as the days go by. Even Adobe Photoshop now has free cloud-based alternatives like Pixlr Editor.

On average, Chromebooks cost less than $200, and they have a boot time that’s well under 5 seconds. The Google Chrome operating system (OS) takes up about 4GB of space, compared to 11GB for Windows 10 and 15GB for OS X. This small footprint allows Chromebooks to affordably utilize lightning fast solid state drives (SSDs). They also have a long battery life.

So is a Chromebook right for you?

If you spend the majority of your computer time on the web, whether it’s surfing social media, reading the news, or using web-based services like Gmail and Google Docs, then Chrome OS would meet your needs just fine.

Take a moment and think about the programs locally installed on your computer, like word processors, email apps, image and video editing software. If these can be replaced with web-based alternatives, a Chromebook can work for you.

In fact, there’s a good chance a Chromebook will actually make things easier than what you’re used to with a traditional PC setup. Virus protection is built-in, and you never need to update your apps or your operating system. You never need to download drivers or “optimize” your PC to make it faster. You turn on your Chromebook, and 5 seconds later, you’re on the web.

To learn more, visit Google’s Chromebook site: http://www.google.com/chromebook


Technology Help – Need device advice? Schedule a one-on-one lesson in the basics of computers, laptops, tablets, and eReaders. Call the library at 203-272-2245 to make an appointment or come to our monthly Drop-in Tech Help program.