November 10, 2019 - Episode 542 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Google gives away Cardboard, China takes away some gaming, and Netflix retires older device support.

Don't Get Overcharged on a New Computer - Episode 209 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch discusses the important things to look out for when purchasing a new computer. There are two ways to buy a new PC: pre-configured or self-configured. For the most part, pre-configured models are far less expensive than their custom configuration counterparts. For example, if you head to a manufacturer's website and look at their laptops, several of them offer the ability to customize the parts. If you go with the base model, you might have only 128GB of storage. However, you can upgrade that to 1TB for almost $600. However, if you were to purchase that same SSD yourself, it might only cost $100, meaning that you would be paying a $500 markup to have the drive pre-installed, and you don't get to keep the original 128GB drive.

A simple way to avoid the upcharge is by purchasing a pre-configured computer. Of course, this does mean that you might have to sacrifice something off of your ideal setup. Maybe you can't get the 1TB drive, but you can get a 512GB drive instead. Maybe you can't get 32GB of RAM, but you can get 16GB. For some, the compromise is okay, but for others, it would not be possible.

Another way to avoid the immense upcharge is by performing the upgrade yourself. In some cases, this is as easy as removing 2 screws. In other cases, it would require prying the body apart and repairing it with glue. For those models, it's generally not worth trying. But, there are tools to determine the upgradability of your model. You can use the Kingston Memory Configurator or the Corsair Memory Finder, both of which will tell you what can and can't be done with your computer.

No matter which way you decide to go, it is always important to know all of your options ahead of time.

The Dream is not over, Google open-sources Cardboard VR platform

I was just a few weeks ago that Google officially ended the experiment that was Google Daydream. With that, the era of phone-based virtual reality was officially dead. The two big companies in the space, Google and Samsung, were out, leaving the market void. However, consumers and developers were still interested in the concept - just not as intensely as several years ago.

This week, recognizing the interest in the concept, Google decided to re-release their former VR platform, Google Cardboard, as an open-source project. The move is not unusual for Google, which has frequently open-sourced former products and projects that had failed the marketplace (Google Wave, anyone). By releasing Cardboard into the wild, the Dream of phone-based VR could still live on.

The problem, however, is that a community of developers will have to want to take on the challenge of maintaining the project. Sure, Google Wave, later known as Apache Wave, lived on for 6 more years, it was eventually put out to sea because of lack of interest. That could also be the fate of Cardboard, as it was discontinued for a reason.

However, virtual reality is a far more attractive product than online collaboration to individual developers. VR is a space where individuals can make an impact, and an open-source framework could make it easier for developers to build their first VR apps because it would reduce the cost of learning and deploying. Plus, for those who want to participate inexpensively, Cardboard would still be a way to accomplish it.

If the open-source platform is going to be any more successful than Wave, however, it is going to need someone to build a headset for it that is better than homemade. The likelihood of that now that it is no longer commercial, is unlikely. So, as we said with Wave - goodbye.

October 27, 2019 - Episode 541 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, wireless carriers are working together, Fallout players are working in private, and Google is working to improve results.

Artie 3000 Drawing Robot - Episode 208 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch shows off the Artie 3000 drawing robot. Artie is a new entry in the growing list of kids STEM toys intended to help teach kids about computers, logic, and programming. These toys all take different forms, and Artie is unique in the field. This product is a robotic drawing product, which allows the user to program its movements to produce a drawing.

While Artie is cute, some aspects make it less than ideal. Most robotic toys connect to their host devices via Bluetooth, Artie connects via WiFi. Artie has a web server built-in which serves up the web interface to program the robot. This produces a couple of issues. The first is that because Artie connects through WiFi, the computer or tablet does not have internet access. This means that looking for help will be impossible on the connected computer. So, to be able to use a tutorial or follow instructions, you will need two devices.

The second problem is that the interface is designed for a larger screen, particularly a laptop. It works well on a laptop, but most younger kids have more experience with a tablet or phone than with a laptop. As such, using the block-based programming system is not as easy to use as it is with other products.

While Artie is billed as a toy to learn how to program, this robot is not going to be a great introductory programming toy. That's because the system is very limited in its scope. However, Artie is a truly great product to help kids learn the basics of geometry due to its drawing focus. Over time, kids can learn the finer points of how to program the robot to produce geometric shapes. The more intricate the shapes, the more detailed the drawings can be. One of the included programs produces a very cool Spirograph-like design.

Because of the price and the legitimate learning opportunities, Artie is a good buy for most young kids.

Tired of waiting for Google, wireless networks to upgrade texting

When Apple introduced iMessage, it seemed like a strange move. Today, however, it is the standard by which messaging services are judged. That is partially because it was responsible for eliminating text messaging caps across the board, but it's also because it adds features to texting that the SMS standard lacks. For those who live in the Android ecosystem, iMessage offers delivery receipts as well as read receipts. Its biggest downfall, however, is that it is not a standard, but instead an Apple brand. That means that it is an iPhone exclusive.

However, there is a texting standard in the wild called Rich Communications Service which transforms the SMS standard into a more modern platform, bringing it in line with iMessage. Despite the standard being introduced in 2016, it has been implemented by nearly no one. Google announced in 2017 that 27 carriers worldwide had agreed to adopt the system, it is still nowhere to be found. In 2018, Google doubled down on RCS, but here we are.

The major US carriers, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, have announced a partnership called the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative to bring RCS to the US market on Android devices in 2020. This would be an unprecedented move on the part of the carriers, who usually fight with one another on technological exclusivities. The carriers have finally realized, however, that the only way that RCS is useful to users is if it works everywhere with everyone. John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, said,

Efforts like CCMI help move the entire industry forward so we can give customers more of what they want and roll out new messaging capabilities that work the same across providers and even across countries.

Once the Big 4 get involved, the smaller carriers, including virtual carriers, would likely follow suit. In the end, they might even be able to shame Apple into implementing RCS into iMessage, another unprecedented move.

Is the addition of RCS messaging to Android and possibly iOS a move that would make texting a better experience for you? Let us know in the comments.

October 20, 2019 - Episode 540 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Google has given up its Daydream, Blizzard is giving up their loyalty, and tech companies may no longer give up your data.

Overclocking Your Computing Device - Episode 207 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch talks about how and why to overclock your computing device. So, what is overclocking? It is the process of changing the operating parameters of a component to increase its performance. While the main CPU is the most common to overclock, you can also overclock your graphics card, or GPU, and your RAM.

While not long ago the process of overclocking was difficult enough that only computer aficionados got involved, today it can be as easy as changing a setting in a text file or your system BIOS. It does require that your hardware be overclockable, better known as unlocked. For an Intel processor, just make sure that the model number ends in a K. Modern AMD processors are all unlocked, as are Raspberry Pi processors.

Why might you want to overclock your components, though? For some, it can just be a fun challenge. Some people take it to extremes. There are competitions and professional overclockers who can use liquid nitrogen to pull out every drop of performance. But, for normal computer users, overclocking could potentially add some life to older hardware. Maybe your PC is getting a little slow, you've done a full reset, but it's just not quite enough. By overclocking your processor, you might be able to bring that device back to life.

Many people wonder why overclocking is needed. Why not just run the component at its full potential out of the box? Because every device is unique, manufacturers cannot predict the maximum potential of each component. So, rather than trying to tune each processor or stick of RAM individually, the manufacturers find the least common denominator and tune for that. That does, however, leave some headroom that you can take advantage of. Overclocking can also affect the overall lifespan of your components.

Is phone-based VR finally dead? Google and Samsung think so.

At the resurgence of virtual reality in this decade, many companies saw using your phone and its screen as the basis for VR systems as the best solution. Samsung and Oculus built the Gear VR platform. Google created the Cardboard and then the Daydream platforms. A variety of other companies, including Monster, got into the game. All of these used your phone as the center of the VR experience, rather than creating dedicated VR hardware.

The problem with this approach is that consumers seemed unwilling to care. Outside of educational venues or corporate demos, I never saw a Google Daydream in the wild. Samsung was so desperate to make the platform work, they gave Gear VR headsets away with a Galaxy S8 purchase, and owners didn't request their free hardware. In response, Samsung didn't even make the 10 series, the Galaxy S10 and the Note 10, compatible with their Gear VR headsets.

Following suit, Google announced this week that the Google Daydream View hardware had taken the eternal nap. The dumb headset, as it were, was launched in 2016 and featured VR lenses and nothing more. Visually, it was probably the best recognized of the headset hardware, as it featured the strange grey fabric on the outside. However, being recognizable does not make you successful.

With this move, the era of dumb headsets and phone-based VR is all but dead. Sure, the existing hardware is still out there, both from Samsung and Google, but with no new hardware development, there is little chance that developers will put any effort into supporting these systems. So, during any software overhaul, you can expect Daydream and Gear VR support to be dropped. Hulu, as part of their UI overhaul last month, already dropped support for Daydream, beating Google to the punch.

So, with that, the failed experiment has completed. If you want to use VR going forward, you will need to use dedicated VR hardware. Fortunately, we have standalone platforms like Oculus Go, which will allow you to use VR without a computer, just like Daydream and Gear VR did.

September 29, 2019 - Episode 539 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Apple's phones can be broken, Microsoft's streaming can be tested, and Google's news results can't be previewed.

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