Review: Chromecast

Saturday, August 3rd 2013

130730122817-google-chromecast-620xa[1]The Chromecast is the device I never knew I wanted. Google’s new hardware provides a dead simple way to stream Netflix, Youtube, and other content on your TV.

Roughly the size of a USB flash drive, the Chromecast simply plugs into your TV’s HDMI port. Your Android or iOS device serves as the remote control, and this is where the Chromecast really shines. Content apps like Youtube, Netflix, and Google Music have a Chromecast button built in. If you’re watching or listening to content on your phone, that button switches it to display on your TV instead. And if your TV is of a a recent vintage, Chromecast is even smart enough to turn it on and switch to the right input. I’m heavily invested in using Google Music, and now finally have a way to play my music back on the best sound system in the house!

It took me a little while to wrap my head around the idea of using my phone to send media to the TV and then control it afterward. If I have one complaint, it’s that pausing music or video now requires switching my phone on to get to the button. That might be the very definition of a First World Problem, but in this case it’s the tradeoff for an otherwise amazing device.

For now, app support is a little limited. It’s up to developers to add Chromecast to their apps and expand the device’s usefulness. But with Google Music and Youtube, it already does about 80% of what I’d want my ideal list to cover. I’ve read that Hulu will add support soon, and Plex is exploring their options too. If I can get those and Pocketcasts included, I will be a very happy customer. As a workaround for some of this other content, there’s a way to display a tab from your PC’s Chrome browser. I’ve found that to be a little buggy (and with an annoying 2 second delay), but I expect the feature will improve with time.

At $35, the Chromecast feels like a must buy for anyone who wants to put web content on their TV. I plan on eventually outfitting each TV in the house with one. I’ve had zero problems, and so far it’s one of those rare devices that Just Works.

03. August 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Reviews, Tech | 3 comments

Review: Plex Media Server

Thursday, June 13th 2013

iconOSX2_support.png.pagespeed.ce.gvsHBVMKhi[1]

I’m trying to regather some posting momentum with a series of short reviews about stuff I like.  Look for one every couple of days.  I’m not paid for any of this, I just like reviewing things.

Using Plex Media Server to manage my movies makes me very happy.  It capably serves up video files to every TV in my house, and is a rare product that just works.  I recently took every DVD I own and copied them to a hard drive.  Plex sits on that computer and automatically organizes those files with correct metadata and thumbnail images (be still my librarian heart).

So that’s great, but how do they get to the TV?  Plex has straightforward apps for just about any platform you can think of.  Every TV in my house has either a Roku or an Android device (see previous review of the iMito MX1) attached, so those devices function as a front end to the server.

As an added bonus I boxed up the DVDs, put them in the closet, and reclaimed a ton of living room space.

Plex is completely free, though I gladly paid for a lifetime plexpass membership (which includes early access to new features) to support future development.

13. June 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Reviews, Tech | Leave a comment

Review: iMito MX1

Wednesday, June 12th 2013

imitoI’m trying to regather some posting momentum with a series of short reviews about stuff I like.  Look for one every couple of days.  I’m not paid for any of this, I just like reviewing things.

The iMito MX1 is one of those pieces of technology that feels like it shouldn’t exist.  This is a full computer packed into a super tiny case.  If it helps with scale in that picture, the thing sticking out the top is an HDMI plug.  Connect it to a TV and you’ve got Android running on the screen.

It sounds a little odd to want to run a phone and tablet operating system on your TV, and admittedly the interface is a little wonky at times when using a keyboard an mouse.  Still, having access to the Android app store means a dead simple way to get Hulu, Netflix, my podcasts, Google Music, Youtube, and Plex (more on this in another post) onto the big screen.  All for less than $60!

12. June 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: General, Reviews, Tech | Leave a comment

Review: 1Password

Wednesday, June 5th 2013

1password_logo[1]I’m trying to regather some posting momentum with a series of short reviews about stuff I like.  Look for one every couple of days.  I’m not paid for any of this, I just like reviewing things.

1Password has changed my digital workflows more than any other product or service since Dropbox.  As a password manager, 1password encrypts all of your passwords behind one master password.  That seems a bit counter-intuitive, but the end result is that I only have to remember that one master password.  It alone gets me access to all my passwords for various sites & programs.  Built-in browser extensions make the process pretty seamless.

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that in a previous job I maintained a spreadsheet full of passwords.  But no more!  1password also lets me use stronger and unique passwords for each service, since I don’t need to commit them all to memory.  It feels odd to say that I honestly don’t know what my facebook or gmail passwords are (not to mention my bank), but that’s where I stand today.

With versions for PC, mac, android, and ios I have pretty reliable access to my password list wherever I am.  It’s not free, but it is on sale!  The 5-pack of licenses for $50 is a steal.  (There’s also educational pricing!)

 

05. June 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Reviews, Tech | Leave a comment

Webinar: Learn how to learn to program

Friday, March 15th 2013

I’m doing a webinar next Wednesday for NCLA all about how you can learn to do a bit of programming.  Here’s the official info – note that it’s free and you don’t have to be an NCLA member to drop in:

 

Please join the NCLA Technology and Trends Round Table for the next webinar in our series, coming up soon!

Wednesday, March 20, 3-4pm
Teach Yourself How to Program
Leader: Chad Haefele, UNC-Chapel Hill

Programming skills are in demand, but it often seems like an intimidating topic to learn. When we surveyed roundtable members, the number one thing we heard was that you wanted to learn to program. While we can’t quite do that in one short session, we can do the next best thing: teach you how to teach yourself. Many programmers have little or no formal training, and picked it up as they went along instead. You can do that too! We’ll talk about what it’s like to learn to program, provide some guidance on what language to learn, and look at a number of free web-based teaching tools and resources. No prior experience is necessary.

Please RSVP by Wednesday, March 20 at 8am using this link: http://tinyurl.com/tntwebinar2

All webinars will be conducted using Blackboard Collaborate. A link will be sent out to all participants on the morning of March 20.

If you have any questions, email Kathy Shields at kshields[at]highpoint.edu or Jenny Dale at jedale2[at]uncg.edu.

15. March 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: HowTo, Libraries/Info Sci, Presentations, Tech | Leave a comment

Where I’ve been

Friday, March 15th 2013

After finally regaining a bit of posting momentum, I disappeared from blogging back in January.  Here’s my excuse:

2013-02-23 13.21.05

Meet Nora!  If you’d like to see more of her (and why wouldn’t you?), she’s featured regularly in my 2013 photos project.

15. March 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: HP Updates, Ramblings | Leave a comment

Yet another year in photos

Tuesday, January 1st 2013

I’m taking a photo every day this year, as I did in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011.  I’m nothing if not consistent!

Our daughter is due in 9 days.  I’ll try to occasionally post something that isn’t her.

2013 started with breakfast at Rise, an amazing biscuit & donut place near our house:

13.01.01

Here’s this year’s set on Flickr.

 

(I’ve disabled comments on this post due to the amount of spam it attracted.)

01. January 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Links, Ramblings | Leave a comment

Things I liked in 2012

Tuesday, January 1st 2013

I had plans to write a big extensive wrapup review of things I really enjoyed in 2012.  The specific plan was to write that before the end of 2012.  Oops.  In the interest of getting it posted in a somewhat relevant timeframe, here’s an abbreviated version.  Note that not everything here was released in 2012, but it was the year I encountered them:

Reading:

The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi, is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read.  Listed as a young adult title, there’s deep insights here for adults too.  It’s got deep insights  into the nature of war and the cycle of violence it involves.  Bacigalupi excels at writing about terrible things in an extremely compelling manner.

The Magician King lets the characters from The Magicians grow up a bit, and the result is characters I found much less frustrating than in the series’ previous book.

Saga is my new favorite comic book series.  It’s space opera and fantasy and a whole lotta (sometimes graphic) weirdness in one package.  Brian K. Vaughan continues to be a must-read writer for me.

Hawkeye is a bunch of fun too, though more focused on small contained story arcs.  As the book describes itself, these are the adventures Hawkeye gets into when he’s not being an Avenger.  The minimalist covers push some nice buttons for me too.

Music:

The new Ben Folds Five album is everything I hoped it would be!  I also spent a bunch of time listening to Gotye and Of Monsters and Men.

Games:

I didn’t play as many video games this year as I have in the past, but the best two were Mass Effect 3 and The Walking Dead.  ME3 was an excellent capstone to the trilogy, and The Walking Dead gets a gold star for forcing some truly intense player decisions while building one of the best-written stories I’ve seen in a game.

TV:

I think about the cliffhanger at the end of Sherlock season 2 at least once a week, while for comedy nothing beats Parks & Recreation.

 

01. January 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Gaming, General, Reviews, Year's Best | Leave a comment

Three line menu

Thursday, December 27th 2012

I try to keep an eye out for standards in mobile UI. With limited screen space available for the interface, I spend a ton of time thinking about how best to represent actions to our users. Are there standards of how users have come to expect mobile interfaces to behave? Lately I’ve seen this one popping up in a number of places:

lines

The box of three horizontal lines is everywhere. Not too long ago Chrome ditched their wrench icon in favor of the lines:

chrome

It’s also in the Facebook app (twice):

facebook

And Feedly:

feedly

And on Youtube’s desktop site:

youtube

and even on my Kindle:

kindle

The standard for this icon seems to be that it opens a menu or navigation of some kind. Google Music’s Android app is a notable exception, where the icon opens the current playlist instead. But in the majority of cases, when users see three horizontal lines it leads to a menu.

Smashing Magazine spotted it before I did, and has a great analysis of how this icon can be used.   Personally I think using it is a win/win.  It makes it easier for me to design a page, and as an emerging standard helps users know what behavior to expect.

27. December 2012 by Chad Haefele
Categories: General, Mobile, Tech | Leave a comment

Web services I use, 2012 edition

Friday, December 21st 2012

Since I last posted this list, a few things have changed. First, here’s the things I used last year but don’t anymore:

simplenote-logo[1]Simplenote
For two weeks in October, Simplenote’s syncing service stopped working entirely. None of my notes propogated across devices, making it entirely useless to me. Even worse, their support was entirely silent on the issue. Syncing eventually returned, but I’m sufficiently spooked and don’t trust the service anymore. I spent some time exporting my notes, and moved on to greener pastures.

icon100x100[1]Spool
Spool’s killer feature was the ability to cache youtube videos for offline viewing. That put it above all other text-saving services for me. But in February, Youtube asked Spool to disable that feature. Then Spool shut down entirely in July. But by that time I’d already moved to another service.

Flickr-logo[1]Flickr
Last year I questioned Flickr’s future usefulness for me. And when it came time for me to renew my Pro account in March, I let it lapse for the first time since 2005. It hurt my soul a little bit to do that, but the community I once valued so much on Flickr is dead silent now.

Other things have stayed the same. I still use Pinboard, Tripit, Dropbox, ifttt and Google Reader extensively. I still don’t really like Google Reader now that the social features are gone, but I haven’t found a better replacement yet either. Dropbox added an automatic photo upload feature in their mobile app that makes me feel much more secure about my phone’s photos. Ifttt was forced to remove some of their twitter-related features, but it’s still a ton of fun to play with.

Lastly, there’s a few new tools I’ve picked up:

Evernote-logo[1]Evernote
This has entirely replaced Simplenote for me. While I sometimes still miss Simplenote’s, well, simplicity, Evernote is undeniably powerful. I splurged on a one year pro subscription and haven’t looked back. It’s become a crucial part of my day to day workflow, keeping all my project notes and brainstorming in one place.

Pocket-logo[1]Pocket
Formerly known as ReadItLater, the now better-named Pocket is my text time-shifter of choice. Whenever I find an interesting article during the day I add it to my Pocket queue for later reading. I load up the Android app when I’ve got time and catch up. My queue is never-ending, but I get to a bunch more articles this way than I would have otherwise.

05f28e0c60206b6045f4ed2189aee5ab42745458_m[1]Picasa
I’m of two minds here. Picasa’s desktop version is an amazing photo manager & organizer, but I just can’t make their online photo sharing component work for me. It’s confusing, buggy, and has even less of a community than Flickr. With a baby on the way, I need to find a good way to share photos with distant family. Picasa isn’t it, and I still don’t know what service I’ll end up using for it. But back to the positive: Thanks to the desktop version of Picasa my photos are better organized than ever before.

feedly-logo[1]Feedly
While I don’t technically use Feedly as a service of it’s own, the Feedly Android app has become the way I most frequently access Google Reader. It has a wonderful gesture-based interface that makes it easy to quickly flip through articles and mark them as read.

21. December 2012 by Chad Haefele
Categories: General, Mobile, Ramblings, Reviews, Tech, Year's Best | 1 comment

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