Apr 142014

I was a bit surprised to learn that Amazon has purchased digital comics purveyor Comixology. I now purchase most of my comics via Comixology and I hope this takeover leads to some much-needed improvements for the site, such as a more refined search function and a more intuitive way to organize the comics I have already purchased. Amazon has a reputation for not mucking up the companies it purchases (see Audible and Zappos), which could be good news for Comixology and its customers.

I’d like to see more competitors enter the market, but few companies will be eager to contend with a behemoth like Amazon. Publisher Dark Horse has its own digital storefront, but it’s a bit of a mess and I think I would prefer that they simply make their titles available through Comixology.

Mar 282014

Switzerland is planning to host the first “Cybathlon”, an athletic competition for people using prosthetics or other augmentive aids. It will include a wheelchair race, an exoskeleton race, and a (gasp!) brain-computer interface race. A better name for this event might be “Meet Your Future Gimp Overlords”. I’m curious to see what kind competition this attracts and whether it will be broadcast on-line. The organizers don’t seem interested in placing any restrictions on the kinds of technology that can be used, so the Cybathlon could be a showcase for the truly cutting-edge.

Attention corporate sponsors: I will gladly wear a sensor cap emblazoned with your product logo as I compete in the BCI races. All I require is a well-appointed training facility and a personal masseuse (whom I interview and hire, of course).

Feb 182014

The blog has suffered a few technical issues over the last week, rendering it inaccessible for large chunks of time. The problems seem to be related to server transfers at my hosting company, which hopefully are now resolved. Since I’m no longer posting every day and I don’t always notice problems when they arise, feel free to e-mail or tweet me if the blog is misbehaving (thanks, Rose!).

And a pop culture update: I’m really enjoying HBO’s True Detective series. It’s a successful mashup of Southern Gothic and existential noir that has kept me interested since the first episode. Sure, it’s another serial killer tale in a television landscape littered with such tales, but the character studies give this pulpy material some heft. The show is further evidence of Matthew McConaughey’s transformation from shirtless goofball to Serious Actor. And Woody Harrelson must have cut way back on the bud to imbue his alpha male detective with just the right amount of swagger.

Like American Horror StoryTrue Detective also represents a resurgence of anthologized storytelling on TV. A new story every season should keep the series fresh and keep people like me paying for HBO subscriptions.

Feb 132014

Comcast’s proposed deal to purchase Time Warner Cable is being met with plenty of skepticism from consumer rights advocates. Given the current state of the U.S. broadband and pay TV market, those concerns are not easily dismissed. Comcast, already the largest cable provider, would gain even more control over the national broadband infrastructure and the market influence that comes with that control. This deal wouldn’t do anything to hold down ever-increasing consumer broadband rates and it may encourage Comcast to hike prices further simply because it can. Absent any further FCC efforts to regulate net neutrality, Comcast could also decide to leverage its increased market share into charging the likes of Amazon and Netflix for “preferred” access to its network.

As a Comcast customer, I don’t have many issues with the services I receive. Unlike a lot of other providers, Comcast has steadily increased its broadband capacity and speeds. But it charges exorbitant prices for that speed that are well above the rates charged in other developed nations for similar or even faster broadband access. Allowing Comcast to further consolidate its power doesn’t seem likely to result in a more consumer-friendly marketplace for such an essential service.

Perhaps the FCC will use this merger as an opportunity to push for meaningful regulations that will preserve the open Internet and granting increased access to competitors. Of course, this assumes that the FCC will find its backbone and not cower in a corner while Comcast steals its lunch money.

Feb 032014

Yesterday’s Super Bowl was a dull affair, as were most of the ads. But this Microsoft ad featuring a former NFL player living with ALS caught my attention:

Two things: First, people actually use Surface tablets? Second, when did the Surface get eye-tracking functionality? Because that seems like something Microsoft might want to start incorporating in other products, like the Kinect.

I did get a little misty watching the hearing-impaired woman cry when she heard the words spoken to her. Don’t hate me, deaf community.

Jan 102014

The annual Consumer Electronics Show just wrapped up in Vegas and the tech press seemed determined to convince us that 4K televisions will soon be replacing our current HD TVs. I can’t help but think that 4K is a desperate push by the electronics industry to revive flat TV sales. Such high resolution detail can only be appreciated on screens that are 70 inches or larger. Some people might have room to accommodate such a monstrosity in their living rooms, but my 46″ TV still seems gargantuan to me. I’m sure my next television will be both thinner and larger, but only because that’s where the market is heading. Hopefully, I won’t need to knock out a wall to enjoy season 10 of Game of Thrones.

Nov 122013

I recently blogged that I wasn’t much interested in the new iPad Air. But then I started to think that it might be nice to have more storage than my current 16 GB. And I started to think that the additional processing power might be nice for the occasional game. And one of my nurses offered me a reasonable sum for my 3rd-gen iPad.

Which is a long way of saying that I bought an iPad Air over the weekend. It really is just as sexy and svelte as it is in the pictures. A few apps are noticeably snappier and I won’t have to worry storage space anytime soon. An unnecessary purchase? Possibly. But when it comes to most of my tech upgrades, “necessary” isn’t at the top of my criteria list.

Oct 252013

The new iPad Air is certainly a svelte and sleek device, but I’m not sure it’s a worthwhile upgrade from my third-generation iPad. A faster processor won’t make a much of a difference when I’m reading or scanning my Twitter feed. The slimmer profile is eye-catching, but my iPad always sits on a stand and is easily portable as is. I’d happily pay for a version with a larger screen, which may come in another generation or two. Apple already convinced me to upgrade my phone to the 5S, so I doubt the ghost of Steve Jobs will be offended if I sit out this product cycle.

Oct 212013

After using the iOS 7 switch interface for a couple weeks, I’ve gotten pretty adept at navigating various apps. But one element of app design really frustrates me. Some apps include a menu that can be brought up with a tap on the screen. Unfortunately, the menu disappears after a few seconds. Those of us who use switches don’t have enough time to activate menu items before the menu vanishes. This design flaw is prevalent in magazine and reading apps like the New Yorker and Instapaper.

From an accessibility standpoint, it would be better if menus remain visible until dismissed with another tap (the Amazon Kindle app does it right). As app designers become more cognizant of basic accessibility principles, problems like this should disappear. Komodo OpenLab, the maker of my TECLA Shield, has great resources on how to make apps more accessible.

Oct 082013

I ordered the new Tecla Shield DOS last week so that I could access my iPad using the switch control function in iOS 7. It arrived yesterday and I used it for a couple hours last night. Here are my initial thoughts.

Setting up the Shield couldn’t be easier. Developer Komodo OpenLabs deserves huge kudos for developing a truly plug-and-play device. It only took me a few minutes to select the proper mode on the Shield, connect my switch, and pair the Shield with my iPad. After a little fiddling with the Switch Control settings in iOS 7, I was up and running.

Apple has done an excellent job creating a switch interface that provides comprehensive control, regardless of how many switches are being used. Even with a single switch, I could open apps, scroll, flick, and perform other gestures. I could also type, albeit slowly, using the on-screen keyboard. The scanning rate and mode can be adjusted on the fly using an intuitive menu. The interface is also surprisingly smart. If I select a volume slider, the pop-up menu gives me the option to increase or decrease the volume. Well done, Apple!

The interface isn’t perfect. Some apps don’t play well with switches, particularly those with pop-up menus that don’t remain on-screen long enough to be activated by a switch. Developers will need to do a better job of designing apps that are accessible to everyone. Apple also really needs to add a word prediction function to its keyboard. I won’t be blogging from my iPad anytime soon.

I’ll post a video of me using the Shield in the next few days. Apple and Komodo OpenLabs have done a tremendous service to people with disabilities who, until now, have been excluded from the mobile computing revolution. Together, the Tecla Shield DOS and iOS 7 are a revolution in accessibility.