The Geek Report

Cool uses for technology.

Adam Darack

Adam Darack

Adam Darack is the IT guy for the town of Edgartown. He’ll be writing The Geek Report every other week, addressing the technological troubles and traumas we all share. Got a question for the Geek? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Technology comes at us from every direction, at a confusing and sometimes overwhelming pace. We are introduced to new innovations through friends, advertisements, and even geeks who decide to blog. How do we process it all? What do we really need? What’s hype and what’s useful? I’ll single out three uses of technology that might come in handy for you this summer. In a simple phrase, it’s all about content: sharing and streaming.

My grandparents are 95 years old. They are among my favorite people in the world, but unfortunately they live off Island. My kids (their great grandchildren) play baseball, tennis, hockey, soccer, and are obsessed with the fishing derby.

For one of their recent birthdays, I was struggling with what to get them when my inner geek shone through. I bought them a digital photo frame made by Pix-Star that was able to connect to their wireless network. I can manage the frame’s pictures over the Internet and send new ones to it by simply emailing them to the frame’s email address. My son laughing with his baseball teammates — it’s on that frame 10 minutes after I take the picture. My 6-year-old daughter proudly holding up a derby pin-winning fish — the picture can be on their frame before the smell is washed off her hands. This functionality can be accomplished with different frames from other manufacturers, tablets, and smartphones. No matter how you utilize it, it’s one of the coolest uses of technology since a programmer turned the concept of a yellow circle (the female version with her red bow) eating white dots into something that became iconic for a generation. This is one of those “aha” technology ideas that works brilliantly for both tech-savvy and technophobic individuals. So much technology out there attempts to invent a societal need, but this one actually fills one that many of us have.

I am quick to admit that televisions suck productivity from our lives at an alarming pace. Regardless, my next segment of technology centers around them. At one point our TV options were simple; color or black and white and only a handful of stations unless you were the lucky one in the neighbor with this new “cable TV” thing. I vividly recall getting the rabbit ears in just the right position to be able to watch George “The Animal” Steele eating turnbuckles and Creature Double Features. Nowadays, the external antenna is long gone and all you need is a set-top box to stream almost any show, movies, and other content to a TV. Content providers such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have apps that can stream content to these devices. We are beyond Bruce Springsteen’s 57 channels and nothing on: now we have hundreds of channels and nothing on. Island Entertainment in Vineyard Haven will rent you a movie, and I love that they are here. Part of summer vacation tradition includes occasionally sitting around, eating popcorn and watching a family film. If you aren’t going to go to the video rental store, one of these streaming devices allows any TV to function as a “smart TV” providing content from the Internet for you to watch. Some popular examples of set top boxes are made by Apple TV and Roku.

Bluetooth technology allows devices to communicate with each other wirelessly. Speakers with this functionality are becoming favorites at summer barbecues and beach parties. Streaming music to cell phones is fairly standard these days using services like iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify. Most cell phones can “pair” with a bluetooth speaker to play this music. A quick search on Amazon resulted in a wide range of bluetooth speakers priced anywhere from $30 to $600. I currently use a $30 unit made by HDMX, and it held up great at a little league end-of-season party last Saturday.

I hope this article helps clear up a bit of the cluttered technology landscape for you this summer. I’ve tried to focus on a slice of the technology pie that has the potential to be relevant.

Commenters: What’s your favorite tech gadget and how does it come in handy?