Cinemagraph: The return of the animated GIF?

I took my first “cinemagraph” this past weekend with my Lumia 920 Windows Phone. Nokia provides an app that takes quick snapshots of movement that results in an animated .GIF file that can be shared. Many mobile phones have apps that take “cinemagraphs”.

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It’s kind of a neat concept but I can’t help but feel instantly transported back to 1997.

Thoughts on Nike+ FuelBand

In October, I hit the 200-day mark with my Nike+ FuelBand and as of today over 650,000 NikeFuel. A lot of folks have asked me about my Nike+ FuelBand and what I think about it.

The Nike+ FuelBand is a wrist-band that you wear everyday that calculates daily activity using it’s built in 3-axis accelerometer which measures your motion. Your everyday activity is measured by NikeFuel – you can read the definition of what NikeFuel is here. It also has an ambient light sensor that detects environmental light levels – the brighter your environment, the brighter your display. You then sync your Nike+ FuelBand to the Nike+ service where you can compare your NikeFuel with friends and set goals for yourself. [Note: you sync the FuelBand with the Nike+ service via USB through your PC or if you have an iOS device an iOS app via Bluetooth. For me, I simply sync through my PC.]

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What I like about my Nike+ FuelBand is the concepts Nike introduce for tracking everyday activity. I like how Nike has come up with a concept (NikeFuel) that measures that activity in a way that seems equal when compared to others. After setting a daily NikeFuel goal, its super easy to check how much NikeFuel you’ve earned throughout the day by simply pressing the single button on the FuelBand. The FuelBand also will show you estimated calories burned, estimated steps you’ve taken throughout the day, and the time. It’s also fun if you have friends who have FuelBands because you can compare with your friends through the Nike+ service and earn achievements you can share out to Facebook of Twitter. I like the actual design of the FuelBand which makes me feel like I am wearing some sort of futuristic watch.

But there are a few things I don’t like about the Nike+ FuelBand.

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For regular wear-and-tear on the FuelBand over the 7+ months of wearing it every day – the latch has essentially stopped working all that great. It still latches when I put it on. But movement of the wrist often forces the FuelBand to unlatch multiple times during the day and this behavior is increasing. I am becoming more and more concerned that my FuelBand will just fall off my wrist somewhere and I’ll lose it. Not good.

Also – the Nike+ service has a long ways to go. At times, the service won’t let me log in on multiple browsers. I’ve gone a few rounds with @NikeSupport on Twitter on trying to resolve and eventually the log in issues just disappear on their own. And the service is really hard to navigate and get around with multiple tabs (sections) that give you different information.

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For example – there are multiple ways you can earn NikeFuel. Nike has brought NikeFuel to other products too like the Nike+ SportWatch GPS. You can also earn NikeFuel through the Kinect on the Xbox 360 with Nike+ Kinect Training. But in the Nike+ service – these are calculated out separately in the dashboard (e.g. Nike+ FuelBand, Nike+ Running, etc.). It’s great to see data per product/device, don’t get me wrong. However, the service does not let you see total NikeFuel earned in a single day with all products/devices combined. There is no good “combined” view of everything and all activity. If you go on a run with your Nike+ SportWatch – you don’t want to wear your FuelBand at the same time. This is because the SportWatch calculates NikeFuel too. Wearing both the SportWatch and the FuelBand at the same time for a run will duplicate NikeFuel you earn for that run. So you wear your FuelBand all day, come home from work and put on your SportWatch and go for a run and then come back home and put your FuelBand back on – when all your activity is synced to the Nike+ service it adds to your total earned NikeFuel and you can see the data separated out but there is no daily combined view of what you’ve earned. It is super hard for me to see total earned NikeFuel between multiple devices using Nike+. This whole experience is a bit wonky – but only for folks looking to use multiple products/devices that earn NikeFuel.

The Nike+ service is Nike’s biggest opportunity to really improve the NikeFuel concept. Especially since Nike is pushing Nike+ with developers [also: see Nike+ Accelerator]. Imagine third party apps and devices being able to leverage NikeFuel in different activity-related or fitness-related ways? The Nike+ service needs to get more solid and designed in such a way that it gives a person a daily view at all combined activity and NikeFuel earned as well as allowing them to see things separately by product/device. The service definitely needs to be more reliable.

Despite the things I don’t like – I definitely think the Nike+ FuelBand is worth getting if you’re looking for something to track your every day activity and to have some fun with it.

I am really excited to see what Nike does next with Nike+. People are at looking at Google and their Project Glass as the revolutionary next-step in wearable technology. But Nike has already taken steps with Nike+ and the Nike+ FuelBand in terms of wearable technology and can be used today by anyone. But Nike needs to keep taking steps here. And I hope they do.

Why are people I don’t even know adding me as a friend on Foursquare?

What is the deal with people that don’t even know me trying to add me as a friend on Foursquare? I use Foursquare to check-in and share with my friends and family certain activities like dinner at a nice restaurant or visiting a Microsoft Store. When I check-in on Foursquare, those check-in’s can be seen by people I am friends with on Foursquare and also on Facebook as I share check-ins to Facebook as well. But I only want to share this with my friends and family – not at random with just anyone. Sharing my location isn’t like sending out a tweet that can be read by anyone anywhere on Twitter. I’m trying to understand the “why” behind getting random friend requests from people I don’t know on Foursquare. Why would a person feel the need to know where I am checking in – especially if they have never interacted with me ever online or in person? It just doesn’t make sense to me. Location-based social networking is meant, in my opinion, to be more refined and focused around close personal friends and family. It is not meant to be used in the same fashion as say Twitter is where something you tweet can be viewed so broadly. And if I ever were to want to publish a check-in and have it seen by just about anybody, I’d share it on Twitter. So… to all those random people trying to add me as a friend on Foursquare please stop. Your best bet for connect with me is by following me on Twitter. Your friend request on Foursquare will be ignored.

P.S. I wrote a blog post last year about staying safe while checking in online. The post is definitely worth a read for those of you diving into location-based social networking like Foursquare.

My first blog

I stumbled upon backup files of my first blog from 2004 this evening and had a good laugh. At the time, I had not found my “focus” yet in terms of blogging which of course eventually became Microsoft and Microsoft-related technologies (my first “real” blog was MSTechToday.com).

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I designed the website by hand using Microsoft FrontPage 2003 and a bunch of HTML coding. I wasn’t using any sort of blogging platform like WordPress. My “blog” was simply a collection of HTML webpages I linked together unsophisticatedly. Because there wasn’t any platform behind the website, whenever I wanted to add a update ( essentially what would be a “blog post”), I would create a new webpage, upload it, update the frontpage (index.html) with some sort of update linking back to the new webpage. Not really the most efficient way of doing things. I’m very thankful WordPress came along!

The content of my first blog was, as you can see in the above screenshot, a collection of just random life stuff. In 2004, I was a sophomore in college and worked at the local shopping center (a JCPenney store). The last “entry” or update I posted was 8 years and 2 days ago today and was an inside joke with a fellow co-worker.

The website was designed with my favorite colors at the time – I recall really liking greys and shades of blues. I also incorporated elements of my life into the design such as my family dogs, my bird, me and a banner ad for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon (new at the time). I did all the graphics work using Microsoft Image Composer 1.5. I loved this app. It originally shipped with Microsoft FrontPage 2000 which, if I remember correctly, was the only way to get the app.

It’s interesting looking back at this and remembering how much I enjoyed not just posting stuff to a website but working on the website itself. I had a lot of fun. In 2004 I was just beginning to realize how powerful a website and eventually a blog could be to reach people and share thoughts and opinions that would lead to discussions and engagement with people all around the world. Blogging is a powerful tool even today.

Of course, I look at my website from 2004 and my blog of today and really do think I need to update my blog’s lame design.

First Nerd Trivia Season of 2012 has begun!

A new season of Nerd Trivia has begun! Follow @NerdTrivia on Twitter and start answering questions!

This season will feature “theme days”. You can track your points and achievements on the Nerd Trivia website.

Nerd Trivia is a side project by work colleague and friend Laura Massey (@lauralollipop). Laura is regularly a co-host on Major Nelson’s Xbox podcast. Throughout the day, nerd-related trivia questions are asked via @NerdTrivia and followers have a certain amount of time to answer the question to earn points and achievements. Laura runs the show, I’m just a minion helping create some nerdy questions for people to answer.

ASUS’s P8Z68-V Motherboard and updating the UEFI BIOS

A couple of months ago, I purchased a P8Z68-V motherboard from ASUS to give my desktop PC here at home a much needed upgrade. This motherboard has built-in support for USB 3.0, SATA 6Gbps support, UEFI BIOS and a bunch of other super cool features. It also supports Intel’s second-generation Core processors so I picked up a second-generation Core i7.

After installing the new motherboard in my PC, I went out to grab the most updated drivers and BIOS updates from the manufacturer, etc.. The version of the UEFI BIOS that ships with the motherboard was a few months old so I naturally wanted to update it. I went to ASUS’s website, grabbed the latest BIOS ROM file, and put it on a USB thumb drive. To update the UEFI BIOS on this motherboard, you have to go in to the UEFI BIOS and fire up ASUS’s “EZ-Update” for the BIOS under “Advanced Mode”. “EZ-Update” will detect the ROM on the USB thumb drive and update the BIOS. Of course, this wasn’t happening for me. Every time I tried to install the update, it would throw an error telling that the update file (ROM file) is "is not a EFI BIOS". After scratching my head trying to figure out why I was getting this error, I stumbled upon this forum post on AnandTech. Apparently, if you try to update the BIOS using the update file provided from ASUS named with what they name it – it won’t work. You sort of have to rename the file (8 characters). Nice. It also can’t be in a folder on the USB thumb drive and the USB thumb drive needs to be formatted with FAT32. My problem though was simply the naming of the file. The real kicker is ASUS provides no guidance on this as far as I can see on their support website. Still, not entirely sure why ASUS simply just doesn’t provide the update files for the UEFI BIOS in the supported naming format right off-the-bat on their support website. So there you have it. If you have this motherboard and can’t update the UEFI BIOS, that’s why.

On a slightly different note, I am having a weird issue with this PC where unpredictably the PC will reboot by itself and be unable to find the hard drive in which Windows is installed on – leaving the PC at a weird blinking underscore state. Eventually, if I reboot and go into the UEFIO BIOS, look around, and reboot again – it’ll boot into Windows just fine. This issue happens at random and the PC can go weeks without incident. I had ran some diagnostics on the hard drive and as far as I can tell, the drive is fine. I thought updating the BIOS might solve the issue but no dice.

New season of Nerd Trivia has begun!

On August 9th last week, a new season of Nerd Trivia kicked off from @NerdTrivia.

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Nerd Trivia is an interactive trivia game that is played over Twitter. The questions specifically target nerd/geek content such as movies, TV shows, and games. Nerd Trivia is a side project by work colleague and friend Laura Massey (@lauralollipop). Throughout the day, trivia questions are asked via @NerdTrivia and followers have a certain amount of time to answer the question to earn points and achievements. You can find out more about Nerd Trivia at the Nerd Trivia website that recently launched with the current season. I think this is a really cool concept and I am helping Laura with supplying nerdy questions for people to answer which is exciting! I have endless amounts of Star Trek trivia and lot’s more of completely random nerdy movies and TV shows. Special thanks to Laura for letting me take part in this really cool project of hers.

So all you nerds and geeks out there – follow @NerdTrivia and start answering the trivia questions! Let’s see what you got!

Highway 12 Adventure

At the end of June, I took a drive down Highway 12 through the Cowlitz River Valley to Yakima here in Washington State. I discovered it had many amazing and beautiful sights. However, I neglected to charge the battery in my camera – missing out on the opportunity to take some awesome photos. Today’s nice weather provided me with the opportunity to head out that way again – this time with the battery in my camera fully charged! Of all the shots I took on my little road trip, these are my favorites.

I had to get to Highway 12 first which took a bit of some driving though which is fine by me! I love road trips and have my Zune HD filled with all my music (I recently had to purchase a 64GB Zune HD as my music collection no longer fit on my 32GB Zune HD). I have a bunch of playlists and what not and on road trips I turn the volume up and just drive.

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My car has Ford Sync (it’s a Focus) which has awesome integration with the Zune and I can use the steering wheel controls to do everything I need with my music – or use my voice. Anyway, back to the pictures….

I took Interstate 90 out to Ellensburg, WA then Highway 97 south to Yakima where I’d then hit Highway 12 going west.

Ellensburg, WA from a view-point off of Highway 97.

The above shot is a series of photos I “stitched” together with Windows Live Photo Gallery. This was from a view-point off Highway 97 heading toward Yakima outside Ellensburg. The shot is a panoramic view overlooking Ellensburg.

Fred G. Redmon Bridge (or Selah Creek Bridge) spanning over Selah Creek.

I like bridges. In the above photo is the Fred G. Redmon Bridge (or Selah Creek Bridge) spanning Selah Creek outside Selah, WA.

Panoramic shot near Fred G. Redmon Bridge overlooking Selah Creek.

And here is a panoramic shot with the bridge and Selah Creek. I also like canyons. This was a small one though.

Rimrock Lake. Rock formations on side of hill near Rimrock Lake off Highway 12.

These two shots are from Rimrock Lake. The first photo is looking out over Rimrock Lake (I was at the east end of the lake at the time). The second photo is of a rock face on a cliff just above the lake. I like taking photos of rock formations but this particular view was interesting to with because of the clouds above.

Looking down toward Rimrock Lake from Clear Creek Falls.

This photo was taken up the road a bit at Clear Creek Falls. This shot is looking east and down at Clear Lake or Rimrock Lake (I’m not entirely sure which is in view in the background).

Clear Creek Falls.

And of course I had to get a photo of Clear Creek Falls! The Falls were a bit obscured unfortunately but the sound was amazing of all that water running off the rocks. There might have been a trail that leads down further but I was in flip flops. Hiking in flip flops doesn’t quite work – I know from first-hand experience but that’s a long story for another day.

And my favorite shot of the day…

Mt. Rainier from Highway 12 passed White Pass.

Just outside of White Pass off Highway 12 is a awesome view-point of Mt. Rainier. In my blog post previously about Highway 12 I took this same shot with my Windows Phone. I’m glad I was able to get the shot with a better camera and with a better zoom.

I had an incredible day and wonderful road trip. I did come to the realization that because I had a late start today heading out – by the time I hit all the sights on Highway 12 the sun was heading down and the lighting was a bit different than what I was expecting.

I uploaded the above photos (except the photo of the Zune HD) to Flickr via Windows Live Photo Gallery and also tweaked the color in Photo Gallery as well.

Staying safe while checking into places online

Checking in to places you go can be fun such as with Foursquare earning badges and what not for where you check in. It’s also fun to let your friends know where you’re at, etc. However last week a good friend of mine told me that she experienced a super weird situation where after checking in on Foursquare someone she hadn’t previously met offline decided to show up unannounced where she was at to meet her. Luckily she was with friends but had she been alone, that might have been an even more weird situation – and possibly even unsafe. This got me to thinking about being safe while checking in to places online as well as proper etiquette from people online with regards to people’s check-in’s.

Here are a few tips for staying safe while checking into places you go which I think are extremely important to consider:

Make sure you set your privacy settings for both Foursquare and Facebook so that *only* your friends (people you choose) can see where you check in and your status updates. This prevents just anyone from being able see where you’re checking in at and seeing your status updates. This will significantly help prevent random people you don’t know from finding you and showing up where you have checked in to say hi. Make sure you’re “locked down”. I suggest specifically reading Foursquare’s privacy policy to understand how your location is shared. You can also check out Facebook’s privacy section of their Help Center.

NOTE: It is extremely good practice specifically with Facebook to double check your privacy settings and make sure only your friends and/or networks are the only ones who can see your stuff on Facebook. This includes your photos.

Be careful with what services you share your check-in’s on. Above, I mention properly “locking down” the services you check in on such as Foursquare and Facebook. However, with Foursquare (and other check-in services) – when you check in to a someplace you can share that check-in out to both Facebook and Twitter. You may have “locked down” Foursquare and Facebook but if you share your check-in out to Twitter which might be completely open so that everyone can read your tweets – guess what? You just let everyone know where you’re at. This opens you up to having unexpected visitors where ever you just checked in to.

Don’t check in to where you live. Some people might disagree with this, and if you do the above tip in properly securing your check-in’s it’s not as much of a problem. But I really think people shouldn’t check in to their homes or places where they live. Oh sure, it’s kind of neat to have Foursquare say you’re the “mayor” of your home but you’re potentially exposing a lot of random people to the location of where you live. Just assume you’re the mayor of your home by default. Foursquare doesn’t need to tell you that.

Don’t randomly accept friend requests. On Foursquare specifically, I get a lot of random requests to be friends. However, the majority of the people sending those requests I don’t even know. Why would they need to know where I’m checking in? Why would I need to know where they are checking in? I turn down a lot of requests. And it’s not because I don’t want to interact with these people – it’s just I don’t feel they need to know where I’m checking in to. If I don’t know you personally on some level, I will not accept a friend request on Foursquare or any location-based check-in service. I just recently went through and did an audit of people I have as friends in Foursquare. I wasn’t as careful accepting friend requests as I should have been. I got removed a bunch of folks who didn’t need to know where I was checking in to. It wasn’t anything personal – many of these people I follow on Twitter, etc.

If you must check in to someplace and want to let everyone know you’re there, at least do so if you have a bunch of friends around you. Checking in someplace being by yourself can be dangerous. Having friends around you can help keep you safer. You should also make sure you have quick access to your phone just in case.

I think the 5 above points are the major points to consider when sharing your location and checking in to places online.

If you are someone who has a particularly well-known online persona, the people who follow you and your activities online might be interested in where you go, etc. With Foursquare in particular, you can pick and choose which check-in’s you share out to Facebook and Twitter. I know for special events, people often like to share they are attending that event by checking in to that event and then sharing that out to their accounts on Twitter, Facebook, etc. But even checking in to public events you should be careful with. See my above point with regard to making sure you’re with friends when letting everyone know where you are at.

I also know of several folks who utilize Foursquare and Facebook differently than together. What I mean by this is they use Foursquare for more public check-in’s to places like events while they check in to Facebook (via Places) for more personal check-in’s as Facebook is a more personal place for them while Foursquare is used in a more public manor. I’m still struggling myself on how to use the two services together or whether to lean toward using one over the other.

So now to the second part of this post.

I also believe there is a certain type of etiquette when it comes to people’s check-in’s online. What I mean here is if you are following someone’s online activities, there are certain things that you should do to respect that person you are following and their privacy.

For example:

Don’t randomly show up to meet a person you are following at some place they check in to. If you are interested in meeting that person, send them a message via one of numerous online services and coordinate with them on whether it’s ok you stop by to say hi or if perhaps you could meet up at another time. Just showing up someplace randomly after someone checks in is absolutely creepy.

If you don’t know someone personally, you probably shouldn’t request to be a friend on a location-based check-in service. Whomever you are following will likely share where they check in to publicly when they want to. If you don’t know a person in some level personally there is no need for you to need to know where they are always checking in to (see my point above about randomly accepting friend requests).

Having etiquette translates to having respect and I think that’s important.

Hopefully some of this will prove useful in helping people do the right things to stay safe while checking in to locations on Foursquare and Facebook.