Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What’s next?

3-setting seat control: warm, hot, sear.
Products often tout “New!” and “Improved!” versions of themselves. It’s the nature of marketing and commerce to always look for the next new thing to bring in revenue.

My nature is to favor reliable go-to products—things I consider tried and true. Even so, I find myself smitten by things I never knew I wanted and now don’t want to be without.

My car is a prime example.
  • I once laughed at heated seats. “I don’t drive naked, so why would I need them?” Now I know. They feel wonderful, especially on chilly days.
  • Heads-up display? Brilliant! I didn’t know this existed until I test-drove my late-model car. The information I want to see is projected onto my windshield. I can keep my eyes on the road and still have in my line of sight info on speed, navigation directions, and radio station.
  • Mastering the stick shift is a badge of honor, but I’ll take hill hold assist every time. Now there's no reason not to drive a manual transmission car. Hill hold adds the few seconds needed to go from brake pedal to gas, without fear of rolling backward when stopped on an uphill.   
Less technically oriented innovations have also captured my loyalty. Take Greek yogurt, for example. I used to live on the regular kind, with lots of sweet fruit filling on the bottom. But one bite of the creamier, protein-packed, and tastier Greek variety, and I switched for good. Most mornings I share a spoonful with the cat, who also is hooked.

I’ll share one final discovery, this one mine. Like many eureka moments, it was accidental. I woke a little groggy one morning and began pouring a glass of vanilla soy milk when I really wanted orange juice. So I decided to top off the milk with OJ and, voilĂ , I now had a Creamsicle. What could be better than mixing two tried-and-true beverages to create something even better.

No one would ever accuse me of being an early adopter of New! Improved! things. But once I stumble upon the next thing I really like, I can be the most loyal of customers.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Save me

As the digital world advances, so do choices for how to backup all those selfies and videos—and, of course, work and personal files. For the brave and trusting, there’s always the cloud. But for those of us who want to keep things in-house, what’s the best option?

My early career dates back to the Age of Diskette. Specifically, the 8” IBM Displaywriter Diskette, or floppy disk. What innovation! Forget punch cards, this was the wave of the future. I could store 80 kilobytes of documents on a single diskette and, as long as I didn’t bend or crease it, gain access again with a few keystrokes. 

As diskette size shrank to 5-1/4” and then 3.5”, capacity grew to 1.44 megabytes. What would I do with all that space? I made backups of all my files all the time, and soon found myself awash in diskettes. At least these weren’t as fragile as the 8” kind—but they soon were superseded by CDs and then DVDs. With optical media, thin silver discs could store much, much more and do it more reliably.

When computer manufacturers began phasing out floppy disk drives, I said a final goodbye to diskettes and hello to discs, now able to save gigabytes of data. Then the next technology innovation came along. For my one-person office, that took the shape of USB flash drives. Easy to use, small in size, and growing ever larger in capacity.

But wait, there’s more. Last year I began using the cloud, with a twist. Now I’m backing up all my files, photos, and other digital tidbits to a cloud station that sits on my desk. Basically, it’s my own personal cloud, which can take me into terabyte territory if need be.

I expect backup technology to continue leapfrogging ahead, and I will follow along. While computers have become more reliable, I remember too vividly blue-screen-of-death crashes. Fearful of losing hours of work, I learned to save documents frequently, using the shortcut Ctrl+s. The habit is so ingrained, I once found my fingers doing Ctrl+s motions while writing longhand on a legal pad.

I guess I’m just programmed to save. And, because I’m a belt-and-suspenders kind of person, I save in duplicate, with redundant systems, in case one fails.

In the digital world, it's better to be saved than sorry.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Lighting up the night

Holiday lights illuminate more than nighttime neighborhoods. They honor as well as continue and reinvent the annual tradition.

In seasons long past, houses were outlined in single strings of large, multicolored bulbs. Then bulbs got smaller and started blinking.

Suddenly, white lights became all the monochromatic rage. Then came icicle lights, now available as LED strings with falling snow sequences.

This year, more houses have stepped into the digital age, with lighting and color changes programmed by computer and even synchronized to music.

There also has been rapid adoption of holiday projectors to supplement or supplant strings of bulbs. Instead of climbing on rooftops, homeowners just plug in and aim a laser to create a captivating light show of virtual reality decorations. No muss, no fuss, and no emergency trips to the hospital after falls from ladders.

By night, holiday displays are magical. By day, well, it depends on the house. Those with airblown inflatable lawn decorations can look pretty sad. After a night of colorful characters waving and bobbing, the deflated forms of morning are a stark contrast. It’s as if someone rampaged a polyester village and took no prisoners. Thankfully, a flick of the switch at nightfall brings everything back to life.

Years ago, I visited Colonial Williamsburg at Christmas. Everyone I told about my plans mentioned how wonderful the holiday decorations would be. It didn’t occur to me that 18th century celebrations would be everything but electric. Think candles and wreaths and, well, more candles.

Ironically, I have never decorated my home for the holidays. Lighting a menorah is about as close as I get. Still, I do enjoy the efforts of others—from candles in the window to big commercial displays. Seeing bright lights on cold, dark nights never fails to lift my spirits.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Can you be too secure on the internet?

I practice safe surfing on the web and good digital hygiene. Still, news of widespread hacks and security breaches at formerly rock-solid institutions had me wondering whether I was safe enough.

When my internet security provider offered a special deal on its SecureLine VPN, or virtual private network, I decided to give it a try.

Setting up the VPN on my computer and iPhone was easy. Understanding it wasn't. But I don't understand exactly how most technology works. I just know how to get it to work—or who to call.

Everything was going swell at first. Then strange things began to happen. I couldn't access my bank account online or through the mobile app. After a few calls to customer service and some false fixes, it occurred to me to disconnect the VPN. VoilĂ ! I was back in business.

A few days later my credit card provider called—twice, from headquarters and a local branch. There was an issue with my online login. Someone from Seattle was trying to gain access to my account. Actually it was my east coast computer being routed through a west coast VPN server that was the problem.

So...what's a cautious internet user to do? For now, I'm keeping the VPN on for most of my work. And I now know to turn it off when too much security gets in the way.