Friday, January 07, 2011


What I Wish Would Come Out of CES

This time of year, I take a break from my higher-ed wonkery and indulge in gadget wonkery. It’s the Consumer Electronics Show! (Sadly, I’m not there. Just musing...)

Unfortunately, the folks at CES seem to be obsessed with the wrong problems. I’m not waiting with bated breath for the forty-seventh variation on an Android tablet. I don’t especially care about 3D tv, and all the cool 4G stuff just serves to remind me that my neck of the woods barely has 3G. Any time y’all would like to leave to cozy confines of New York City and San Francisco, feel free...

What I’d like to see come out of CES:

- A variation on a Roku box that has enough good content on it that I can finally drop cable tv. Right now there’s a plethora of stuff you can add to a tv, but not quite enough to cut the cord. (That’s especially true when you have kids who love SpongeBob and Chowder.) Based on my experience with Comcast, if you were to tell me that it was the second shooter on the grassy knoll, I’d believe it. The first company that issues a wifi-connected box with enough goodies that I can drop cable will get my business.

- Actual honest-to-goodness broadband competition. Right now my choices for home broadband are basically 1) Comcast or 2) suck it. Unregulated for-profit monopolies are not pretty. While we’re at it, let’s get some serious net neutrality rules in place so Comcast-as-ISP couldn’t kill the super-Roku box in the name of preserving its monopoly on video on demand. Because they would, the scum-sucking cretins.

- The following tweaks to the Ipad: a case with a foldout keyboard that folds out to full size and isn’t all spongy; a usb port; and a serious price cut.

- A printer that works consistently, and uses affordable ink. While we’re at it, an office-caliber photocopier that doesn’t know the meaning of “paper jam.” (I still think that someone will make a fortune with a laptop that has its own built-in printer, like a Polaroid camera. It will spit out documents on command. You heard it here first...)

- Cheaper solid-state drives. Hard drives are just not reliable enough, but a small laptop with an SSD immediately hits a thousand bucks. Let’s see something like the smallest current Macbook Air, but around three hundred bucks.

- Two words: battery life.

- Y’know, it wouldn’t actually physically kill app developers to write some stuff for WebOS. I’m just sayin’...

- A dog-to-English translator.

- A “car diagnostic” app. I’d love to know if something is on its last legs, or if the mechanic is lying to me.

Wise and worldly readers, what would you like to see?

AS far as good printers go, I can't recommend the HP LaserJet 2100 enough. In the 2+ years that I've had mine at work, I've only replaced the toner (roughly $80-90 online, depending on where you go) once - and I print a lot. It's only jammed MAYBE once or twice in all that time.
Rather than a simple 'dog to English' translator, I suggest a more generalised 'animal to English' translator. Dogs aren't too hard to read. Cats, on the other hand...
Re Printers, I second the general suggestion for a laser printer. In my particular case, my wife has used a Brother HL-2040 during her PhD program and now beyond, on which she has printed literally tens of thousands of sheets over four and a half years. An $80 toner cartridge lasts 2-3000 pages worth. Don't know if you can still get that model, but it only cost $150 at the time. Color lasers are just as high quality, although there are then four toner cartridges to worry about. But for quality, speed, and efficiency of printing, you can't beat laser.
I don't think you will ever see a USB port or Flash or a serious price cut on an iPad, so you need to look at devices like one I saw this morning on CNBC that merge phone and tablet and TV into one. I think it was on a Droid (c)Lucasfilm platform.

But you better think about 3D. I was getting ready to blog about a school in the UK that was using a 3D version of Ye Olde SmartBoard in an anatomy class. That will be the next thing your IT people will want to spend money on.
ditto on the car diagnostic. For the newer model cars it seems like all they do is plug in a usb to a port and get a read out. Why can't we do the same?
A dog-to-English translator isn't necessary. They aren't difficult to understand. For example...

DOG: Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!

TRANSLATION: Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

(Stolen from Gary Larson, but still good.)
I gotta say, you usually know as much as the dog does. The problem isn't that you can't communicate, it's that the dog isn't aware either.
Is not four seasons of Spongebob from Netflix streaming enough? You might look into getting an Apple TV, which adds the famous iTunes store to the streaming Netflix options. All the major gaming consoles also have Netflix streaming, and media stores of comparable quality to the iTunes one.

Ditto on the Brother printer. I got the Brother HL-2170w, which connects to the network either wired (no problems) or wireless (a huge hassle, just hardlined it). The best part about laser versus inkjet is that the toner doesn't dry out between print jobs. I tend to print a lot at the beginning of the semester, but also go for months without printing during the summer.
There are several OBD II app/hardware combos for the iPhone, but they aren't cheap.
I'll 3rd the laser printer. My entry level B&W Brother has seen me through a PhD program and beyond. I've replaced the cartridge once in about 6 years. It is always good quality. I love that it is possible to print out a handout really quick at home before class without breaking the bank.
You want a totally stylin' case for the iPad, complete with keyboard? Check out the ZaqqMate. (check it at zagg dot com)

One of my students got it recently and has nothing but glowing things to say about it.
Actually there is an app for car diagnostics, though it's probably not as fleshed out as you'd like:

I got this for my husband for Christmas this year.
You may never be able to achieve cable-free with little kids at home. Or if you are into particular sports. I can get a lot of sports for free with the ESPN3 on my Xbox 360, but it does not include NFL. I've been cable free about four years now, but my inlaws are never able to kick the habit. They cut back for a while to basic cable to save money, but couldn't handle it and had to go back up to the full. Really depends on how you structure your life. The Roku is not perfect, but a small, wireless box to run my netflix is pretty sweet to me.
Okay, a couple other "solutions" and you can be "cable free."

One: Get a nice computer with HDMI out, and hook it into your TV.

From there, you can then sign up for PlayOn which will stream much to your computer.

I also HIGHLY recommend XBMC (from and then adding the program to that called NAVI-X. A nice collection of streaming content from the networks and so forth.

You can also put "Hulu Desktop" directly on there, and you are "good to go" as they say.

We tend to talk about all this stuff over at our podcast Real Tech for Real People rtfrp dot com (and we occasionally argue academic stuff, and talk football)
I would love to drop cable. We end up downloading movies from Amazon anyway and the only tv we watch mostly is Countdown and Rachael Maddow, both available free via the web. Our oldest watches no tv and our youngest will watch whatever is on. If she had to watch through Hulu, that'd be fine.

I would also like to see a device/app that keeps track of what's in my cabinets and fridge and automatically generates a grocery list.
I would love to drop cable. We end up downloading movies from Amazon anyway and the only tv we watch mostly is Countdown and Rachael Maddow, both available free via the web.

The Roku was made for you - in addition to the Netflix content, you can get Pandora, Amazon and Hulu Plus. If you're willing to spend about $10-25 per month on Hulu Plus and Amazon content you can watch almost anything you'd want to see.

Between our Roku, purchased copies of DVDs, library copies of DVDs and hooking our computer to the TV, we've been happily cable free for over 2 years. You can buy a lot of DVDs for what cable costs each month. We have a music store nearby that sells used DVDs and use that to purchase things more cheaply (and to sell our stuff when we're done with it.)We connected a coaxial cable to our internal cable wires after they shut off service and discovered that they acted as a powerful antenna. We get all our local TV the old-fashioned way.
Where to Watch CES 2011 Live Streaming Video
Lexmark has two models that use $5 black ink. Color ink is still expensive, but it's a start.
Hey Dean Dad - a few of us over here at the University of Washington in Seattle are enjoying your blog very much - thank you & we hope you continue to share your insights and "think out loud"

As for your car diagnostic tech wish, I saw this announced at CES and thought of you:

Matt at CSDE
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