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John Blossom
United Methodist Church ministries, facilitating vision & execution, with deep experience in media and technology
United Methodist Church ministries, facilitating vision & execution, with deep experience in media and technology


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MKBHD, Life with a Pixelbook is not "Weird" It's Awesome.

My 2013 Chromebook Pixel from I/O13 finally died, probably due to battery or BIOS failure. Since it's been my "daily driver" for all that time - and by far the best one that I've had in more than 24 years of laptops - I was reluctant to give it up, but for my work as a Pastor, a convertible touch screen device is now a must - and nothing but the best Chromebook that I can afford with Android integration will be worth the trouble. So, $600 with free shipping later, a friendly eBay seller's re-boxed, band-new Pixelbook was just what I needed.

Whilst awaiting its arrival, I revisited the Pixelbook reviews of +Marques Brownlee. He called the Pixelbook "weird," and spun off a bunch of complaints that had little to do with what a Pixelbook is all about. Face it, MKBHD - you'd have to spend for both a Macbook Pro and an iPad Pro - in the neighborhood of $2300, all told - to get both a pen-enabled touchscreen with mobile apps, plus the productivity and flexibility of a high-quality laptop keyboard and screen. And, put together, neither would offer you the awesome of being able to turn one into the other at a moment's notice. Would 120mHz screen refresh rates help the Pixelbook? Sure, but you'd only complain about the silliness of the price even more, of course.

The Pixelbook is a marvel. to flip between laptop and tablet at a moment's notice is a joy. It functions admirably as a tablet, though some Android apps are, of course, not well optimised for a tablet experience - and there is also occasional crash/reboots due to Android app instability when you're doing things like attaching Bluetooth devices. Rather similar to Android phone teething pains with peripherals, of course. But, hey, only a couple of years after Android apps were introduced tentatively on Chromebooks, and only a decade since the CR-48's debut of the Chromebook experience, it's impressively smooth, overall.

Main minuses: the speakers are tragic, a victim of the battle for a thin and light-enough unit for both laptop and tablet use. I'll take rugged and thin for now, and settle for a wide array of Bluetooth-enabled audio devices that can pick up the heavy sound lifting. But in truth, they're OK enough. The screen is beautiful, but is a notch smaller than the old Chromebook Pixel's, probably due to supply issues and concerns for ruggedness. I am sure that the next-gen will do better. And though there is keyboard backlighting, the thin-is-in requirement makes the full backlighting of my former Chromebook Pixel a thing of the past - and the keys can be a bit hard to see in certain lighting conditions, even with the backlighting on. Haven't tied the pen, yet, but for a $600 unit, it will have far more awesome than not having a pen, even if it lacks Apple's smoothness.

But these are, overall, nits to pick on what is a hunk of awesome hardware, rugged, light, beautiful, simple, and chockablock with Chrome OS goodness. Tech reviewers always overlook the key CrOS pluses when doing comparisons with WIndows and MacOS units. One, NO security issues to speak of. No anti-virus software to foul up performance. NO worries about getting back to square one when firing up a new unit (five minutes, tops). And, thank heavens, NO need to pony up for expensive Windows Office installed or cloud software, or to deal with the totally unnecessary and annoying poor user interface design on Macbooks.

Thank you, Google, and thank you, eBay. Now, on to the next six years of "it just works" productivity and entertainment.
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Request for Clarifications from Google on the Google+ Shutdown

I have developed a backchannel for getting feedback to the Google+ development team and am working with an informal team of volunteers to improve the flow of communications on Google+ shutdown priorities. This is the first public post regarding that process.

Our first priority -- and the focus of this post -- is getting clarification on a number of open issues having to do with the shutdown. Next up will be a focus on specific feature requests to improve Takeout and the resulting exported Google+ data. After that, we will turn to specific bugs that people are experiencing with Google+ Takeout data.

Your Feedback:
The Google Doc document linked to at the bottom of this post outlines a number of open questions for Google on the Google+ shutdown process as well as Google+ Takeout data. Please review it. If, after reading it, you have additional questions that you believe would benefit the broader Google+ community, please feel free to add that in a comment here.

To help us assess priorities, please plus others' comments that you believe are important.

I will be strictly moderating comments to keep the feedback on topic. To help us with this process, please keep your feedback pragmatic and focused on just the most important issues. The Google+ team is no doubt overwhelmed balancing many priorities right now, so we increase the odds of fixing things if we try to stay focused on what matters most. In describing your issue, please be concise and clear with your description (try to use the bullets in the document below as a model format). This will make it easier for us to incorporate your feedback for the Google+ team.

Sharing this post:
If you decide to share this post, (which I encourage you to do to help get the word out) please disable comments on your share and direct people back to this original post for their comments. It's just too much work to monitor and track feedback on lots and lots of different shares of this post. We will also have a few people sharing this post on a handful of communities and monitoring and incorporating comments from there.

To be clear, there is no guarantee that Google will be able to resolve all the issues that this feedback process identifies. With that said, I have reason to believe that the team is listening and that this informal feedback process is a worthwhile expenditure of energy.

It takes a community...
This process has taken, and will continue to take, a bunch of work by me and people like +Julian Bond, +Luc Jallois, +Michael K Johnson, +John Lewis, +Edward Morbius, +Bernhard Suter, and +Filip H.F. Slagter. If you’re interested in helping, please let us know. We are particularly interested in people who have spent time digging into the Takeout data, but could also just use help getting the word out as we gather input from Google+ users.

The Document:
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Apparently for NDGT, "spiritual connection" = being horny. Oh, well.

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+General Motors

Do We Have to Say Farewell to the Chevy Volt?

I am at a loss, GM, as to how to get your attention in a sea of media, so on the odd chance that you still monitor Google+, here's a plea: please don't give up on the Chevy Volt - or, at least, its Voltec power train.

Yes, I am a total Volt phanboi - my newly used 2016 Chevy Volt Premier is a work of art. For 90-plus percent of my driving, I don't have to think about using gasoline. And then, when I have to go to the hinterlands on short notice, I don't have to worry about charging stations.

That still has to fit the profile of a LOT of people. But I guess that marketing both/and cars in the U.S. isn't that easy for an auto company that the average sedan buyer has a hard time trusting.

I get it, at least I hope that I get it. GM has to sell big, honkin' pickups that the rural and wannabe rural set see as their status symbols. Good money in those gas hogs, and they help to fund Electric Vehicle development.

But as much as flashy promos for Tesla and Rivian pickups would have us believing that an all-EV future is going to be a rural reality any day, it ain't. The charging stations are going in first where the traffic is. So, the Voltec power train in the Volt is perfect for folks like me who have to head off to the hinterlands on short notice - or folks who are there to start with.

My guess, and hope, is that with the probable demise of the U.S. federal tax credit for Volts, due to GM reaching its quota of subsidized EV and PHEV cars, GM will allow the Voltec power train to surface in more rural-oriented vehicles. As a sedan kinda guy, that's a sad, but it would at least be a plus for some folks.

We're about five to ten years out from the combination of fast-charging, lighter, less expensive EV batteries and a reasonable presence of truly fast-charging stations in the U.S. (200 miles in 10 minutes or less) making EV travel really realistic for the average driver. Maybe the batteries will come first, and people will make do with home charging and wait for the stations.

In the meantime, GM seems to be hoping to leverage its good creds from the intro of the Chevy Bolt all-EV car to capture the imagination of a new generation of sedan, CRV, and light truck ownders wanting to strut their stuff in new wheels. That's a good goal. But looking at the Hyundai Kona EV's strong intro, they're going to have a lot of competition really soon.

GM, please wrestle some arms in Washington to keep Volt production going via the tax credit, GM, or at least to make the Voltec train available on other vehicles with a credit. Seems to be a strategy that's working for Japanese and Korean auto makers - takes off some of the "weird" that alienates some folks from EVs and PHEVs. If not, at least I can say that I still have a wonderful vehicle, that makes me smile with every mile that doesn't use gas.
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Thoughts on Google+'s Consumer Shutdown

Well, eventually the "ghost town" meme stuck, I guess...

We have to take +Morgan Knutson's Twitter thread on his Google+ experience with a big grain of salt - wasn't there that long, and was as ambitious as any other person on the team looking for the next new-hotness - but he does highlight that a ton of money and executive power was thrown at code to make a product called Google+ that was just a stab in the dark as to what social media could be on Google platforms.

It's not that no one knew what they were doing when they made Google+. Smart people, and mostly good people, were working on it, as Knutson acknowledges. And there are a ton of good features that eventually got refined into a platform good enough to work in enterprise environments - a Sharepoint for virtual intranets.

But the very fact that Google+ lives on in secure enterprise environments with some good degree of success highlights how Google never, ever "got" how Google+ could distinguish itself from other social media platforms through a key ingredient: verifiable identities. On an intranet, physical or virtual, everyone knows who's a dog, and who's a person. And, in general, no dogs are allowed on intranets (sorry, dogs).

Culture wars fueled by online personalities who valued anonymity cowed Google into compromising early on in how they managed identities on Google+. The platform never recovered from this key mistake. in search of rapid scalability - yes, there was that brief moment when maybe, just maybe, they could have made a run at Facebook for scale - Google missed the opportunity to more gently scale based on a combination of managing verified and non-verified identities in distinctly different ways.

Had they had the courage to think this through more carefully, social media would have been in a very, very different place today. Instead of global gang warfare at the hands of 'bots and government/corporate agents with fake credentials being treated the same as real people with skin in the game, we'd have a sane alternative platform, safe for both families and public discussions, where people with real careers and real companies could make a difference.

Never happened, alas. Someone will do it eventually at scale. Google is one of the few who could do it, given their superb security infrastructure. It will take a mindset shift for some, but, for many, the time for that mindset shift on public discussions online is something that they've been waiting for a long, long time.

In the meantime, there remains a huge, huge void in social media that no one is filling, one in which a new platform could take shape. Google+ is dead for consumers. But, perhaps, now that Google has matured a bit, and is more intent on being both user-friendly and less reactive for the sake of reactiveness, there is hope for another chapter in social media sometime again.

I am not holding my breath. I still grieve for Wave, for heaven's sake. But maybe, just maybe, Google will learn how to launch an approach to social media that honors real people, and real relationships, above the blind pursuit of meaningless "scale" based on non-person metrics. We'll see. Or not.
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EMotorWerks App for JuiceBox Pro 40 Lite: Not Quite Plugged In

Driving my new/used 2016 Chevy Volt is a joy in so many ways. My "game" in driving now is not eking out a few more MPG from delicate driving habits. Instead, I get to see how high I can drive my MPGe score. 155? 178? Doable in hilly Connecticut back-road driving.

With the JuiceBox Pro 40 Lite charging station now installed in my garage, I can go from zero all-electric range to full range in about 4-1/2 hours. The Juicebox haa wifi, and so your JuiceBox can "talk" to you as it charges your vehicle. Note that it's a one-way conversation for the most part: you can trigger immediate charging from the app if desired, but other than that the app tries to interpret the charging data to give you an idea of what's happening during the charge.Alerts for starting and stopping charging cycles seems to be random, often, perhaps triggered by current dips that reset the charging process.

For data collection the app is fine - lots of stuff about amper4age, voltage frequency, and so on. However, the rest is not always so useful. The displays are a mixture of real-time and static data, and that can make if confusing and awkward to use the app. For example, the graphing page will not refresh within the app as far as I've been able to figure ou - you have to exit the app and restart it to get a fresh graph.

The estimates of range added are fiction - they don't correlate to much of anything, especially since the 53 miles of range that the estimate for the Volt are completely different once the Volt begins to learn your driving havits. By contrast, the My.Chevrolet app has complete data on range that always corresponds to what the car is "thinking" that you'll be able to do (more on tht app later, perhaps).

The main problem, though, is that the Juicebox is not very accurate in estimating when its charging cycle will complete. Mind you, electrical and climate conditions that affect charging vary, but it seems that the JuiceBox will complete charging 3-4 minutes after the requested completion time.

Generally it appears that the battery "conditioning" time at the end of a charge is not taken into account when the unit is triggered by the Volt to start charging. Since the Volt triggers this event, you can lay it at the feet of Chevy a bit more, perhaps. Chevy doesn't know how close to 240 volts my electrical supply can push electrons, so it's a bit of a "no-man's land" for solving this problem. I've adjusted my departure times back fifteen minutes, so that I won't risk interrupting the conditioning cycle.

So this JuiceBox app isn't very useful, ultimately. It looks flashy, but with the limitations in today's auto industry for communications between charging stations and autos, there's probably just a bit of polishing that they can do to make it a bit better, for now. I had limited expectations for this app, and those expectations have been met, it seems.
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Voltin' - Joining the EV Team

My wife's parents both died earlier this year, which is been a sad thing, but one of the things that has come from it is the opportunity to trade a vehicle to make room for a Chevy Volt. Like my smartphones, I tend to run my technology into the ground, and then take a Great Leap Forward. So, all things being equal, I guess the Volt will be my home on wheels for a long time to come.

We thank Christina Minet at +Healey Chevrolet Buick in Poughkeepsie her being an awesome sales representative, and for taking care of our trade in in the vehicle prep while my wife and I waited over lunch. Awesome team!

I am up to my butt in user manuals, new apps, and training videos, but mostly the learning is behind the wheel. On the way back home from Poughkeepsie, we were blasting the air conditioner stuck in traffic, and having to poke our way through the hilly backroads of Connecticut to make it home in decent time.

Even with all of that, the Volt was an amazing performer. We only got 47 miles of pure electric driving up front, due to the airco and my noobish driving, but over the 109 mile trip, the battery kept on supporting our driving via regenerative braking, and we got a combined 82 miles per gallon for the whole trip. many more adventures to come, as I start to play with the connected technology.
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Facebook: Dead Platform Walking

Facebook: The Yahoo of 2018. It's been a dead platform walking for a long time, and now it's headed towards MySpace legacy status. Mind you, it soared far higher and will glide far longer, so it may yet turn around, but most of its promise has been fluffed up by pseudo-journalists looking for clicks. Design-wise, it has to be one of the most outdated and awkward platforms to use in all of social media. Business-wise, it may not have dropped "Do no evil" as a corporate principle, but, then, again, when it seems that one of your founding principles is, "What's evil, anyway?" then you're likely to foul up your brand eventually.

And that's the key thing. Like MySpace, the platform may be alive, but as a brand, Facebook is dead. Those who still use it do so because they have to, and increasingly, they don't want to.

That's hardly a ringing endorsement of Google+ as an alternative, but at least from an "evil" standpoint, G+ has worked hard to stay in the iight. Within its core, it has a very positive brand. It's just a matter of how Google can extend it. My guess is that they're plenty happy with waiting out this situation, and moving definitively when Facebook reaches a tipping point.
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I took a couple of hours off on an almost day off to catch a matinee of the Han Solo movie. I thought that it was pretty good actually, a lot better than all the negative talk online has been suggesting.

I thought the characters were great, I thought the plot was actually pretty engaging, with a lot of twists that were interesting, which, when you come to think of it, is pretty hard to do when you know that the Kessel Run has been around for 50 years as a piece of movie legend.

I think that a lot of the noise about the movie relates to the hits culture that dominates online culture, which is weird, because in theory online is supposed to be about the long tail, that is, the ability to create value out of any number of niches.

This is one of the reasons that I find the obsession about many Tech products to be kind of silly. Does it really matter if we have the one thing that is a hit, when there are so many good things out there that fill so many needs for so many different people?

I just received two shirts from a friend of mine in Africa, beautifully made, handcrafted all the way. Wouldn't it be nice if we just gave up a little bit of our Obsession about having the one thing it conquers all things, and be grateful for the good things that we have?

Just sayin'.
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Life With the Pixel XL 2: Mostly Good, Often Awesome

After a decade of making smartphones, I am sure that new refinements will be ahead - I am especially waiting for non-lithium batteries to come along - but, overall, it's hard to imagine a phone more refined than what the Pixel XL 2 offers. This is not to say that there aren't other great flagship phones, and yes, the OnePlus series of phones gives you great value. If you doubt this, then check out +Marques Brownlee's recent blind comparison test of leading smartphone cameras - basically a dead-heat finish for all of the leaders, including the Pixel XL 2.

Battery life? Not having "range anxiety" on a daily basis for my phone battery certainly frees up a lot of worry and attention that would otherwise be frittered away on dying battery charging strategies - often with less-than-ideal chargers. Even on a day when I am using media and navigation apps like crazy, I can go sunup to bedtime without a charge, with no problem. That's awesome.

The camera just snaps, instantly, again and again. Period. Quality is indeed excellent, and although I am just beginning to muss with Portrait Mode, it looks like a winning new feature.

The fingerprint sensor is very similar to the Nexus 5X, and it is completely problem free in use so far. Programming in multiple fingers makes an easy grab from pretty much any angle easy-peasy - including in the car.

Night Light is an awesome feature, I've had individal apps with this before, but doing the whole phone in this mode does seem to improve my sleep patterns. Easy on/off from the settings icons, or from Google Assistant.

Squeeze for Google Assistant is great, and saves me the dueling "OK, Google" syndrome when in the room with a Google Home appliance. It's also a bit more socially polite, it seems. With my clamping phone mount in the auto, no problem - squeezing still works once mounted.

The only thing that I am not super-happy with so far are folder icons. Whereas before I was seeing at least one icon in a folder large enough to see it clearly, now you see four tiny icons, so all of the folders at a glance look pretty much the same. Not a painful thing, but annoying.

And Chrome browser icons saved to desktop seem to be sketchy at best in translating to useful icons. Facebook managed this easily enough, but other sites that used to have usable icons have none, so far.

That's pretty much it. Long story short, I look forward to a few years of mostly not thinking about my phone, and just using it. Thanks, Dad - nice graduation gift.
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