Tech & Stuff (2016 Edition)

Some of the coolest and most useful items that I came across in 2016. Enjoy!
(in no particular order)

ELECTRONICS HARDWARE

MacBook Pro Touch Bar 💻
Why: There is no reason to have a touchscreen on a MacBook. Touch makes sense for an OS designed for touch (iOS). Adding touch to a ‘point and click” OS (macOS) is a mistake. Enter Touch Bar, the proper way to advance a traditionally static input mechanism. I find new ways every day that Touch Bar delights me. It is just really damn useful!
Link: Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro

Snap Spectacles 😎
Why: Every so often a product is launched that seems silly, but upon closer inspection is actually quite amazing. Snap Spectacles came out of nowhere, and took much of the tech world by storm. Every piece of the puzzle was new and unique. This is definitely a case of don’t judge a book by its cover. The way in which they have implemented the circular video within Snapchat is very cool! Find a Bot near you!
Link: Spectacles by Snap Inc.

iPhone 7 Plus Camera 📱
Why: Every year we get a new iPhone, and every year there is one little extra bit that pushes it over the top. This year it was the camera on the 7 Plus for sure. The dual lens system gave you so much bang for your buck. You got a wider angle lens and a more telephoto lens, allowing you to have 2 distinct focal lengths optically, rather than having to resort to the lesser digital zoom. This system also gave you Portrait Mode, which yields beautifully blurred backgrounds that no standalone app on your single lens phone can touch. It kills me that the larger phone causes me pain in my hand.
Link: iPhone 7 Plus

Apple Watch 2 Edition ⌚️
Why: Since Apple Watch launched, I have not taken it off. This time we got updated software and hardware that really gave us a killer digital watch. Top that with the new ceramic material on the Edition and it’s bliss. I absolutely love my Apple Watch and truly enjoy wearing this series 2 every single day.
Link: Apple Watch Edition

AirPods 🎧
Why: Simply the best overall set of headphones I have used. Not just this year, but ever. You cannot really understand AirPods until you have used them. SO GOOD!
Link: AirPods

Apple TV 4 📺
Why: The Apple TV is the hub of our living room. We are an Apple household so this of course makes sense. I am finding more reasons to love the Apple TV, and the newly launched TV app is yet another. Such a great and versatile living room device.
Link: Apple TV

Osmo Mobile 🎥
Why: I have been taking photos in one form or another for many years, but video has always been in my peripheral. No one likes watching shaky cam footage, so hopefully the Osmo will help with that. It turns any mobile phone into a super stable video rig. It’s going to take some practice, but so far the results are very impressive.
Link: Osmo Mobile

UE Boom 2 🔊
Why: It sounds great and it’s waterproof! I keep this speaker in the shower for music and podcasts. It is really portable as well, so I can throw it in a suitcase when traveling for quality sound in a hotel room. It comes in a wide variety of fun color schemes too.
Link: UEBOOM2

Anker 60W 10-Port USB Wall Charger 🔌
Why: We all have a ton of stuff to charge nowadays. Stick one of these in a central location and CHARGE ALL THE THINGS!
Link: Anker PowerPort 10

SOFTWARE

CarPlay 🚙
Why: First time using it this year, and I instantly fell in love. No car maker on the planet makes a good (or even decent) in-car entertainment interface / system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fix this so well; why don’t automakers understand?
Link: Apple CarPlay

Spark ⚡️
Why: Email apps come and go, but this one feels like it could be here for a while on all my devices. One strict requirement I have for email apps is that they are on all my devices so I have a seamless transition between those platforms. This year Spark was launched for macOS, completing the triangle!
Link: Spark email for macOS and iOS

Bear 🐻
Why: Notes are tough, and I have used pretty much every app and system there is when it comes to capturing and storing note data. Bear came out late in the year and I have been giving it a go. It has a lot going for it with its 1.0 release. I am still using it, and in fact I am writing this post in it. Bear has a ton of thoughtful features and fits with my note taking really well. Like email, this kind of app needs to be across all my devices and have the same functionality, and Bear has it!
Link: Bear – Notes for iPhone, iPad and Mac

Setapp 🖥
Why: Although not officially launched yet, Setapp is an intriguing way to get and use Mac apps. It’s a subscription of sorts that allows you use any and all apps in the Setapp directory for a flat monthly cost. It’s an innovative idea for sure, and I would like to see it exist as an option, providing it works out for the developers involved. New apps have been added pretty regularly since I started using it. It is a really cool alternative to the more standard App Store model.
Link: Setapp | Your shortcut to get the best apps for Mac

GAMES

Pokémon Go
Why: I don’t think I have ever witnessed a game of any kind create the kind of mass joy that Pokemon Go has. To see so many people outside roaming around with each other searching for Pokemon is absolutely the reason technology should exist.
Link: Pokémon Go

Blackbox Puzzles ◼️
Why: When so much of the App Store is copycat apps that mostly play off the same themes and ideas, this game comes out of left field and crushes you with awesome! Words cannot explain the creativity and genius that went into making this game. Pause right now and go get this game. Now!
Link: Blackbox

PlayStation VR
Why: My first go at ‘modern VR’. I went in blind and purchased it without trying it first, and I was not disappointed! I am sure there are more immersive systems, or systems with better specs, but having a PS4 already, the PSVR system is an awesome entry point.
Link: PlayStation VR

Overwatch
Why: I have been playing this game all year (well, since it came out in May) and I still love playing it. Think of it as a new twist on Team Fortress. It’s a heck of a lot of fun and definitely worth trying if you aren’t playing already. I am on the PS4 as ‘grepjason’.
Link: Overwatch

Stardew Valley
Why: Sometime you just need to escape to a more simple life. Stardew Valley is a game that does just that for me. It’s a low stress game where you live in a town and interact with people, while taking on various tasks. It’s a fun game to play over a long period of time and jump in at any time for a little escape.
Link: Stardew Valley

Left Center Right Game
Why: This simple game was found by somewhat of an accident at a local Target. It’s a super small game that can travel with you anywhere, and is very easy to pick up. It has all the necessary game pieces in a small tube; just add people!
Link: Left Center Right Dice Game

Ticket to Ride
Why: A classic board game for all ages. This game comes in several varieties, spanning across different countries. Building railroad tracks across the country may not sound immediately fun, but once you get into the mechanics of the game you will be hooked. It’s a great group game.
Link: Ticket to Ride

Yoshi’s Wooly World
Why: When you think about game consoles, the Wii U isn’t usually first on your list, but Nintendo always has some great first party titles, and Wooly World is one of them. It’s a a great co-op game with a fun and new artistic style. I wouldn’t buy a Wii U just for this game, but if you have one sitting around, it’s a definite play.
Link: Yoshi’s Woolly World for Wii U

Super Mario Run
Why: A first party Nintendo title on the iPhone? Sign me up! Super Mario Run is exactly what a Mario title should be on the iPhone. It is a thoughtful and very well executed design that will give you joy to play.
Link: SUPER MARIO RUN | Nintendo

HOME

Vacuvita
Why: Wasting food sucks. This handy item helps you keep a wide variety of food for longer periods!
Link: Vacuvita | Vacuum Storage

Microtech Ultratech Knife
Why: No one really needs this, but it’s a really neat automatic deployment knife AND it’s Boba Fett themed! Quick video I made of it .
Link: Microtech Ultratech Bounty Hunter OTF Automatic Knife

GameFrame
Why: Sometimes you just need super cool visuals, and the GameFrame delivers! Awesome pixel art display to amp up the cool in any room you put it in.
Link: Game Frame

URB-E
Why: I researched all over the web when looking for a “last mile” vehicle, and the URB-E looked to be the best quality and provided a great set of features. I use this electric scooter to get from my house to the train station, and then from the train station to work. It’s a great little electric scooter and the build quality is fantastic.
Link: URB-E Foldable Electric Scooter

Simplehuman Soap Dispenser
Why: Your desk is organized, why not your shower? I found this thing on Amazon, and it has been a shower game changer. Keeps your shampoos and soaps organized and you always know exactly how much is left.
Link: simplehuman Triple Wall Mount Shower Pump

FOOD & BEVERAGE

La Croix
Why: I need to be consuming more water, heck we all probably do. From the second I tried one of these tasty beverages, I was hooked! For the first time in my life (except for maybe military basic training), I am now drinking the proper amount of water, and loving it.
Link: LaCroix Sparkling Water

Philz Coffee ☕️
Why: It continues to be my favorite coffee joint on the 🌎!
Link: Philz Coffee

CLOTHING

Reebok Men’s Zprint Run 👟
Why: You shouldn’t wear shoes if they aren’t comfortable. These Reeboks are the most comfortable shoes I have worn in a long time. So much so that I bought 4 pairs in various colors. They are available in Men’s and Women’s.
Link: Reebok Men’s Zprint Run

Hickies Lacing System
Why: Life is short, stop tying your shoes. Turn any shoe into a slip on, and add fun colors while you’re at it.
Link: HICKIES – No Tie Elastic Shoelaces

Stance Men’s Boba Fett Crew Socks
Why: They are Star Wars socks, what more do you need to know!?
Link: Stance Mens Boba Fett Socks

RSiPhone 7 Plus

I ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ the 7 Plus dual camera setup, the portrait mode is so lovely, and the large screen is gorgeous! So why am I typing this on my iPhone 7 rather than my 7 Plus?? While it hurts me to not being using the 7 Plus anymore, it hurts me more to keep using it. I was getting some really bad RSI type pain in my right hand from using the ginormous 7 Plus phone. Even though it meant losing all the great things about the 7 Plus, I made the smart decision and downsized to the 4.7” iPhone 7. After about three days, my hand began to feel SO MUCH BETTER! Dual camera setup in the iPhone 7S? Please! 😘

If your hands are a-ok with the larger plus phone and would like to purchase mine, let me know!
Perfect Condition, Box + All Unused Accessories Black – 128GB – AppleCare+ ($900)

Banning The Note 7

Regardless of your personal feelings about Samsung, this current "ban" is all show and needs to be taken more seriously.

First of all, it took far too long to get the ban in place. Secondly, it 100% relies on the user to be honest, and let's be real, a lot of people only care about themselves and think 'they know better'. Hell, some people quite literally don't even know what make and model of phone they have!

A major issue with this ban is that I would bet the majority of airline, TSA, and airport employees couldn't tell the difference between a Note 7 and an S5. So how can it even be enforced. The fact that there are announcements all the way up to being seated on the plane tells me that the ban is not effective.

TSA checks the shit out of our toothpaste container size but phones go right through with no further inspection.

It is a federal crime now to bring a Note 7 on a plane, which carries steep fines. The problem however is that it most likely wouldn't be found out until it was catching fire.

Watch

Roughly two years ago, the ‘new category’ for Apple was the Watch. Until this point, Apple users were accustomed to interacting with iOS only on their iPhone or iPad, both of which have fairly large screens. With the introduction of the Watch, our interactions with iOS were about to get much smaller. The watch looked to break us free from our iPhone, if for even just a few small tasks, and I think it has been delivering steadily on that through the software and hardware updates. I got the first Watch on release day, and have not missed a day of wearing it since then, and I am sure that will continue with the release of the next generation hardware.

My first Watch
Watch
– Series: 0
– Case Size: 42mm
– Case Material: Stainless Steel

My second Watch
Watch Edition
– Series: 2
– Case Size: 42mm
– Case Material: Ceramic

BANDS

The bands are one of the best features of the Watch. This is the best way to customize your watch and make it yours. There were a lot of bands released when the first Watch came out, and there have been more released since on a fairly regular cycle. Changing the band is amazingly elegant, and the bands work across generations of watch and model. With the iPhone, cases are a way to personalize your phone, but once a case is on your iPhone, you lose much of the beauty and design of the phone (and whatever color you picked for that matter). With bands though, they enhance the design and color of the watch. All the more reason to add bands to your collection to match your mood, activity, clothing, etc. Be careful though, once you start adding bands, you may not be able to stop! 😉

My Band Collection
– Stainless Steel Link
– Sport (Green)
– Sport (Apricot)
– Sport (Orange)
– Sport (Cloud)
– Woven Nylon (Pink)
– Woven Nylon (Gold)
– Leather Loop (Blue)

CHARGING AND BATTERY

With a device this small, battery life was a concern. When announced, it was stated to have ‘all day battery life’. In my extensive use, I found this to be absolutely true. The battery life increased over time as well with software improvements. With my series 0 watch, I would generally have somewhere around 10-20% remaining after a full day of use. With the Series 2, I am finding that I have well over 50% of my battery remaining at the end of the day. Regardless of how much battery I have at the end of the day, I don’t find it to be a negative that you charge the watch every day. I charge my phone over night, so charing my watch overnight right next to it is a non issue. If anything, charing the watch is even easier than my phone, given the inductive charging that the watch uses. Pop it over the charger, it connects with a magnet and that’s it.

DURABILITY

Depending on the materials you choose, the Watch can have handle wear and tear differently. With my first one, the stainless steel, it has a sapphire crystal screen, so it never showed any wear and tear on the screen. This was even after direct contact with objects quite a few times over the time I used it daily. The stainless steel casing showed more wear, but nothing out of the ordinary for stainless steel.

My new one, made entirely of ceramic, is said to be even more scratch resistant than stainless steel. Time will tell how it holds up. Fingers crossed that is stays as beautiful as it is a couple of weeks in!

WHAT DO I DO WITH IT?

Remote Control – Aside from being a great standalone device, the Watch is a great remote control for other Apple products. From controlling music playback, to turning your home lights on, to using it as as a remote shutter for your iPhone camera, it does a ton of neat remote operations.

Hey, Siri! – Having the ability to use Siri with the simple raise of a wrist and without needing to physically press any buttons is pretty great. I have found that the speed increase of Series 2 has made Siri even more useful in day to day tasks, as it is able to process speech faster.

Time – It is a watch after all.. 😉

Fitness – This is one of those most compelling uses of the Watch. The ability to track many important aspects of your health passively is a big win for anyone looking to improve their health. You can gather a lot of great stats about yourself to help track trends over time.

Notifications – The Watch is awesome for handling notifications. You can setup exactly what you want to see, and check them more quickly and more effectively. With the addition of Scribble, you can now reply to messages directly without ever looking at your phone.

I will continue wearing my Watch every day for the foreseeable future and look forward to the further integration of wearables into our daily lives. I continue to be very happy with the Watch and can’t wait to see what features get added in the future.

Watch Series 0
Watch Series 0
Watch Series 2 Edition
Watch Series 2 Edition

Problem: Live Stream Three Inputs

FOREWARD

Recently I had a problem come up that needed to be solved with a hardware & software solution.
Heads Up Warning: This happened to be a work problem, so I will intentionally be somewhat vague about the content. This may make some of the choices seem weird, but at the end of the day, trust me, it worked for the particular need.

PROBLEM

There are three independent video sources that exist in a room. Each of these video sources is a different combination of signal type and resolution (fortunately they are all digital signals). The three video sources need to be composited together into a single feed that can then be streamed live to an undetermined amount of users spread across the globe (10 years ago that would have been scary and really costly, but in 2016, not so much, thankfully). There are a number of different ways this can be accomplished depending on budget, system complexity, and system footprint. I went in with a moderate budget in mind, and a footprint of a single Pelican Case for transport. I wasn’t too concerned about complexity since I would be the only person operating the system; it just needed to be repeatable.

DIGITAL VIDEO SIGNALS
– VIDEO SIGNAL 1: 1920x1080p@60 via HDMI
– VIDEO SIGNAL 2: 1920x1080i@30 via HDMI
– VIDEO SIGNAL 3: 1680×1050@60 via DVI

SOLUTION

Ok, so here is what I did! First let’s talk about hardware and how I connected it all.

HARDWARE
– 15″ MacBook Pro (2016 – Max Specs): Serves as the hub of the entire setup. This system has 4 ports for I/O and I used them all! (2) USB 3.0 Ports and (2) Thunderbolt Ports.
UltraStudio Mini Recorder: Captures ‘1920x1080p@60’ video signal from HDMI and feeds into MacBook pro via Thunderbolt.
UltraStudio Mini Recorder: Captures ‘1920x1080i@30’ video signal from HDMI and feeds into MacBook pro via Thunderbolt.
AV.io HD: Captures ‘1680×1050@60’ video signal from DVI and feeds into MacBook pro via USB 3.0.
– USB to Ethernet adapter. All network traffic is going over ethernet to ensure maximum throughput for stream output.
– GoPro Type Camera: This camera is for capturing a general ‘room feed’. It is a very small battery operated camera which means I can put it almost anywhere without being intrusive to the people it is recording. Nice wide angle to really get the whole room.
Pocket Cinema Camera w/ lens: This allows me to capture screen feeds of lower resolution equipment without needing a scaler with every conceivable input and output. Set everything up correctly and you would never know it’s a camera pointed at a screen. Since I never know what sources I will be up against in a given environment, this is a foolproof way to ensure I can get the feed.

Streaming Hardware Configuration Diagram
Streaming Hardware Configuration Diagram

SOFTWARE
– For the actual distribution of the stream, I am using http://Ustream.tv. There are an almost limitless number of streaming services available today, and there may be one more appropriate for me, but Ustream offered exactly what I needed for a reasonable price, and most importantly allowed me to lock down the stream with a password so I can manage who is viewing. (Yes that is not super secure, but for this purpose it was good enough)
– In order to effectively composite 3 feeds into a single feed, I needed some kind of software component. Since the events that would be streaming were live, it made sense to have the ability for ‘live event extras’ like switching, lower thirds, and title cards. I decided to go with Wirecast from Telestream. (When I was testing this whole solution out, it was on version 6. This worked ok, but was hitting the CPU really hard and the system ran at about 75% utilized consistently. Good news is that Wirecast is now on version 7, and enables the use of the GPU so CPU load is WAY LESS!)

Viewer Interface Mockup
Viewer Interface Mockup

There you have it, live streaming 3 video feeds It was a fun exercise and the result was really great! As always, I hope this was in some way helpful for someone out there looking to do something similar. Feel free to reach out with any questions!