At Home with Tech

Don’t let your gadgets kill your Zen. Byte back with your inner geek!

SnapFix Promises to Do All Your Dirty Work

Do you need to do some repairs around your house?  Angie’s List can make the process easier, and its mobile app SnapFix can find a service provider for your job, complete with cost estimate.  All you’ve got to do is sign on the dotted line.  But that last step may be harder than you’d think…

Do you need to do some repairs around your house? Angie’s List can make the process easier, and its mobile app SnapFix can find a service provider for your job, complete with cost estimate. All you’ve got to do is sign on the dotted line. But that last step may be harder than you’d think…

Lately, I’ve been spending some time on Angie’s List, the consumer review site, to try to get some maintenance done around the house.

The idea of finding a highly rated, local carpenter or plumber via one website is really appealing. Sure, there’s a subscription fee of $10/year, but if that is what it takes to access valuable crowd-sourced opinions, I’ll gladly contribute an Alexander Hamilton.

SnapFix to the Rescue?
Last month, Angie’s List let me know about their new mobile app, SnapFix.
(Because every company needs an app, right?)

SnapFix is designed to uber-simplify the entire process of hiring a local service provider.

  • First you open up the app on your smartphone and log in as an Angie’s List member
  • Then, you take a picture (or video) of the work that needs to be done
    (while still in the app)
  • Write a short description of the job
  • Provide three convenient service times
  • And you’re done!

SnapFix does the rest of the work for you…

  • Angie’s List finds a highly rated service provider
  • A concierge team representative is assigned to your job
  • The representative texts with you via the app
  • And provides you with the company info and a cost estimate

How easy is that?

Well, frankly… it was a little too easy.

Not Enough Room for the Details
I had some follow-up questions regarding how the service provider was going to do the job, and my representative shared a somewhat generic response from the company. It pointed to the likely reality that a technician would figure things out when he got to my house…

Then, there was the cost estimate… it had a pretty wide range.

And that pointed to the real problem here.
The ‘bidding’ company was partially blind, because all the service provider had to work with was one picture and my written description.
(I later wanted to send additional photos and a video, but the app didn’t seem to allow for that.)

And I was also kind of in the dark, because I couldn’t talk to the company directly.

A Leap of Faith
All that was really in front of me was a big button on the app to click and accept the proposal.

It really was such a snap.
But I just couldn’t pull the trigger.

What made this app so wonderfully easy to use was exactly the problem that was preventing me from doing the job… So much of the human element had been stripped away, I felt too disconnected.

I didn’t trust that the work would be done properly for the right price, because I had zero connection to the service provider.

So I sat there and stared at the app.
And then I closed it.

My concierge texted me if there was anything else I wanted to know.
(That’s a pleasantry for “Why are you stalling?”)

A week later, I received an emailed satisfaction survey from Angie’s List.
What could I say?

SnapFix did everything it promised.

But I just couldn’t move forward with the job…

My Lack of Commitment
Relationship building takes time.
And that key ingredient shouldn’t be entirely extracted out of the equation with a convenient app designed to do all the heavy lifting for you…

It doesn’t satisfy my need to develop some level of trust before letting someone through the front door.

I think Angie’s List is great, because its crowd-sourced opinions can narrow down the field significantly.

But at the end of the day, don’t you also want to talk with someone or look him in the eye… before signing on the dotted line in a convenient… but cold and silent app?

Sure, you’ve got a ‘concierge’ on your side, but when there’s dirty work to be done, you’ve probably got to roll up your sleeves a little bit too.

Otherwise, the destiny of the ‘job’ is in someone else’s hands…

Apple Returned My Movie Trailers

My love/sometimes-hate relationship with Apple has taken a recent happy twist. It’s not a universe-changing event, but for those of you who like to maintain your own personal collection of movie trailers, I’ve got some good news for you buried in iTunes…

My love/sometimes-hate relationship with Apple has taken a recent happy twist. It’s not a universe-changing event, but for those of you who like to maintain your own personal collection of movie trailers, I’ve got some good news for you buried in iTunes…

A year ago, I bemoaned the loss of downloadable movie trailers on Apple’s iTunes. Without explanation, newly posted QuickTime trailers became streaming-only. And only at a resolution of 720P.

Nothing in 1080P!
And no more downloading!!
(gulp)

I really enjoyed watching my movie trailers on demand and having them live on my iPhone to be summoned wherever and whenever I had two minutes to kill.
(Without a strong wireless or Wi-Fi connection, a streaming solution just isn’t going to hold up.)

I experienced this new stark reality as a slow, cruel, excruciating loss.
And this geek was really sad.

I publicly pleaded with Apple to reconsider this decision.
“Please…. Restore my little joy,” I posted on my mighty, tiny blog.
(as if I had some inside track)

And then… I moved on with the rest of my life.
(Because what else can you really do?)

But I did not forget…

In a World Without Downloadable Movie Trailers…
Over the past year, I think I’ve adjusted quite nicely, thank you very much.
Ironically, Apple’s iTunes Movie Trailers website is still the best game in town to watch trailers for the season’s upcoming movies. So despite it all, I’ve remained a frequent visitor.

But deep down, the disappointment… it hadn’t entirely dissipated.

Every so often, I still Googled “Download Movie Trailers” to see if anyone else had picked up this particular torch. Sure, there are a few homegrown efforts out there, but I’ve always felt more comfortable downloading content from a known commodity.

A couple of days back, I found myself randomly running the Google search before hitting the sack, as if some ‘Q-based’ life force in the universe would simply ‘will’ there to be different answer.
And guess what…?

Just before I was about to power down, I glanced over some of the wording under Apple’s standard link to iTunes Movie Trailers.

I almost missed it, but there they were… “Download” and…”1080P”

What?

I quickly navigated to Apple’s movie trailers homepage.
No. Nothing had changed.

Hmmmm…

There Lived One Man Who Almost Lost His Faith…
Then it hit me!

  • I opened up iTunes as a program and immediately clicked on the iTunes Store.
  • Then, I navigated to the Movies section.
  • Buried at the bottom of the ‘Movies Quick Link’ section on the right is ‘Theatrical Trailers.’
    (I rarely go there, because of the extra steps it takes to open up the same inventory you can more quickly access on the website.)
  • Click

At that moment, I think I noticed the wind pick up outside.
And was that some distant thunder I heard?

I focused my gaze from the myriad of trailer choices down to the thumbnail photo for this winter’s final “The Hobbit.”

I hovered my mouse over “The Battle of the Five Armies.”
(A chill ran down my spine.)

Click.

OMG.

He Would Wait a Near Eternity for the ‘Return…’
There it was.
A download icon right under ‘Play.’
And when you click on ‘Download,’ you can choose between 720P and 1080P.

I sat there stunned.

It was back. All of it.

For the Fate of the Universal Movie-Trailer Experience was Finally at Hand
On the edge of the next month’s anticipated Apple announcement where the world is salivating over the upcoming iPhone 6 and who knows what else…

I am already satisfied.

My movie trailers have been returned… securely positioned within the iTunes ecosystem.
My faith is restored.

I don’t know how long these downloadable trailers have been back.
And I don’t care.

Oh yes, it’s the little things in life…

Is the TrueNorth Chip the Next Step Towards ‘the Singularity?’

If you’re thinking the future isn’t going to look anything like the fantastical scripts of your favorite sci-fi films, don’t be so sure.  Maybe all it takes is a little tech breakthrough buried in today’s headlines…

If you’re thinking the future isn’t going to look anything like the fantastical scripts of your favorite sci-fi films, don’t be so sure. Maybe all it takes is a little tech breakthrough buried in today’s headlines…

Have you heard about TrueNorth?
It’s a new computer chip developed by IBM, that’s designed like the neural pathways of the human brain and is intended to mimic the way your noggin recognizes patterns.

Its power requirements are super low, and the one million ‘neurons’ in this revolutionary, ‘neuromorphic’ chip are about as complex as the brain of a bee.

No, it’s not the fastest game in town.
But remember… its sting is just the first generation.

The Pentagon has been funding IBM’s research with the goal of creating ultralow-power biological processors to automate some of the surveillance done by military drones.

There’s a Storm Coming
So I stumbled across all this while scanning the news headlines and sat back to digest this development:

  • There’s now a computer chip out there already about as smart as a bee.
  • It uses the ‘same wiring rules and architecture’ of the human brain.
  • The design is a breakthrough in computing technology.
  • It’s funded by the Pentagon.
  • And one day, our military drones will be using them.

I’m not quite sure how to feel…
It’s both exciting and a little scary.

And there’s something else-
A sense of déjà vu.

Like this was all part of a story I had already read… or seen.

Are you getting it too?

Come on…

Let me give you a hint:

“I’LL BE BACK.”

Rise of the Machines
Yes, doesn’t this whole story read like a discarded pre-credit sequence from 1984’s “The Terminator?”

This cautionary tale doesn’t specifically address how the technology of the government-funded, self-aware Skynet was originally created.
Although “Terminator 2” does spend some time with the scientist who reverse engineered the CPU remaining from the first Terminator’s damaged arm.
(too much geeky detail?)

Now take today’s headlines about TrueNorth, and I think this reality-based plot addition would fit seamlessly into the fictional history of “The Terminator” movie series.

And if anyone out there is thinking of making a Terminator prequel, the first page of your script is already written for you…

Pop Quiz: Fact or Fiction?
Look, I’m not saying that TrueNorth is the first step towards the evil Skynet or the murderous HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Maybe TrueNorth will evolve into the heroic cybernetic brain that “Star Trek’s” ‘Data’ uses. There are lots of possible positive directions for TrueNorth to improve our society.

I just find it so intriguing to witness another blending of fact and fiction involving today’s technology. There are already so many examples of yesterday’s sci-fi becoming today’s science fact.
(Just walk into any Apple Store.)

I think we’re becoming so accustomed to this merging of realities, that we’re less inclined to recognize it, even if it’s front and center in a news headline.

Stay Tuned for the Singularity
And the pace of tech innovation isn’t slowing down…

Ultimately, in the not so distant future, you’ll likely have to adjust to the birth of ‘the singularity,’ when artificial intelligence leaves the best human brains in the dust.

Some scientists say that’s the day computers will take over the world.

You are Obsolete
No, a robotic Terminator is probably not going to be knocking on your door any time soon.

All I’m saying is…
You should pay close attention to innovations like TrueNorth.
(Incremental as they may seem…)

Otherwise, you might wake up one day and find a giant bee in your kitchen… with a higher IQ than you, sipping your favorite coffee, and surfing Amazon to buy some handy ‘human-be-gone’ spray.

Ouch… now that really stings!

Evolution can be a rude awakening.

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