just one more geek in a sea of austin techies

February 14, 2018

Facebook's crippled "fake news" feature #SocialMediaGeek

This week Wired ran a very interesting story peeking behind the curtain of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.  The story tracks the past two years' turmoil of Facebook being increasingly leveraged as a tool to deliver intentionally-divisive content and how Russian agents garnered hundreds of millions of likes and shares for fake articles by simply using Facebook's standard advertising features.

One of Facebook's responses has been to partner with a number of fact-checking entities and provide users with a feature to flag Facebook posts as "fake news". The more times a post is flagged as "fake news", the more likely it will get reviewed by a fact-checking partner.

Unfortunately, the "report fake news" feature is a lot less useful than you might think.  Read on to see why...

January 23, 2018

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tech #GearGeek

When I recognize an off-the-shelf electronic item in TV or film, I like to verify I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing. When I happen to be able to ID an item I feel like I've somehow validated myself in some small way though I know, in reality, it's all just more useless geeky knowledge crowding my brain.

Why keep that useless knowledge to myself?  Read on to crowd your own brain with some useless tech trivia...

January 12, 2018

WAVE Web Tool results vary by browser #WebDevGeek

One-line summary:  The WAVE tool from WebAIM is inconsistent across different web browsers.

My website work often depends on ensuring web accessibility requirements are met.  These were typically referred to as "508 requirements" but the US government has finally moved on from the old 508 rules and has now embraced the newer WCAG specifications.  Specifically, if you're earning money from the US government to provide any kind of web content, as of 1/18/2018 you're required to meet WCAG 2.0 "AA" web accessibility standards.

Recently I found an issue with one tool, WAVE, which is widely used by some federal government entities to scan websites for accessibility issues...

October 5, 2017

The Verge Overlooks the Beats Angle #HeadphoneGeek

In a post earlier today, The Verge's Vlad Savov argues that Google's dropping of headphone jacks from the upcoming round of Pixel phones "proves Apple was right".  Vlad is a prolific contributor of tech-related reports and opinions and, in my opinion, is often right on the money in his assessments.  However, I take exception to today's article and wonder how Mr. Savov could have possibly forgotten to mention the huge elephant-in-the-room that is "Apple/Beats".

Steady yourself, because I'm about to delve into some tech conspiracy theory I think is borne out by Apple buying a company that produces wired headphones and then electing to drop the wired headphone jack from future iPhones.  Read on for the full story...

June 12, 2017

Finally... an accurate cellular plan review #PhoneGeek

I've spent more time than I care to admit analyzing cellular services. Today I finally read a "Best Low, Medium & High Cellular Plans" article that I actually agree with.  Normally such articles focus only on the "big four" US carries and so overlook too many alternative carriers and plans.  For instance, my wife's phone service is from Republic Wireless while mine is from Google Fi.  I'll forgive you if these options don't sound familiar -- you can read more about them in my previous posts here and here. My son's *free* plan (yes -- it's really free) is on FreedomPop which you can read about here.

Yes, you read that previous paragraph right: our family uses three different cellular plans from three different carriers.  The end result is we spend a total of about $50 a month for cellular service.  Refer back to, "I've spent more time than I care to admit analyzing cellular services..."

Getting back to the point, though:  the article I read did a fine job boiling down current cellular plan offerings to the best "low-medium-high" options.  Read on to see the results...

January 26, 2017

"Mission One" PC is a BRIX #PCGeek

Gigabyte BRIX 2807
The new year started with news of Endless Mobile's expansion of its low-cost PCs into the US market.  The company's premise is that low-cost solutions can still embrace alluring design.  To be sure, the company's brand new "Mission Mini" is likely the best-looking $130 PC I've seen to date (more on that, below).  The company's brand new step-up system, the $249 "Mission One", is bigger and boxy-er but still attractive.

The new Mission One
is a Gigabyte BRIX wrapped
in a warmer-looking package
Good news:  
I have photos of the "Mission One" internal components... or the equivalents thereof, to be exact.

Surprising (maybe) news:  

The "Mission One" is... a re-branded Gigabyte "BRIX 2807" (circa 2014), a PC small enough to be mounted on the back of a computer monitor.

Interesting news:
You can build your own "Mission One" clone PC using a Gigabyte BRIX $99 kit -- just add a DIMM and an SSD and install the free Endless operating system.  Oh, did I forget to mention the OS and 100 accompanying apps are free?  Read on...

November 29, 2016

Monoprice mini DJ mixer revealed #AudioGeek represents one of those vendors that "in-the-know" people seem to gravitate to.  Much like PC geeks seem to have on speed dial, wire and cable geeks (yes, that's a thing) know all about Monoprice's basic-but-good offerings.

Over the last several years Monoprice has diversified by slowly expanding beyond wire and cables.  Now you can order up a variety of wire-interconnected gear such as Monoprice-branded speakers, microphones, guitars (!) and audio mixers.

On the point of mixers, I recently happened upon the actual brand behind Monoprice's current "baby" DJ mixer model #614305.  Notably, Monoprice only charges 2/3 the normal retail price...

September 24, 2016

TIP: Anti-anti-AdBlock #WebGeek

If, like me, you use an "ad blocker" in your web browser to improve your web experience then you've likely run across so-called anti-ad blocker measures on sites like Forbes, Wired, and other big-name news websites.  Over the past year many of these sites instituted measures that prevent you from viewing content unless you turn off your ad blocker.

Tip if you use AdBlock
Click the AdBlock icon that appears near the top of your web browser and select the "Don't run on this page" option from the pop-up menu.  Done!  This step will deactivate many site's "anti-ad block" content blockers on all of a site's pages, not just the single page you allowed ads on.

(Don't have AdBlock?  Check it out here: )

Allowing ads only on the initial page can help skirt ad walls.
Here we see the AdBlock plugin blocked 16 ads on the home page of "".

Why This Works (for now)
Many of the current anti-ad blocker solutions interpret this action as you having deactivated ad block for the entire site and so will allow you to browse all pages without issue.  On a site like you won't even have to see ads on the page you "allowed ads" on since Forbes' solution uses an intermediary page to shield content.  In other words, all you'll have done is to "allow ads" on the intermediary page which Forbes will no longer show you since the site believes you've deactivated your ad blocker for the entire site.

September 1, 2016

Give your kid a phone...cheaply! #PhoneGeek

My kids are growing up and getting into more and more activities.  A cell phone has become an item my wife and I *need* the kids to have.  Not for social use, mind you, but as a tool for necessary family communication.  And for taking photos.  And maybe a few games.

Notorious penny-pincher that I am, I've settled on a rather excellent combination of phone capabilities and value.  Our first "kid phone" includes:

  • Android 6.0; 2GB RAM; 48GB storage; HD display (1280x720)
  • Location service + remote lock/wipe so I can pinpoint phone and secure it if needed
  • Limited monthly talk (200 minutes), texts (500) and data (500MB) to force responsible phone use
  • Ability to increase/decrease monthly limits as needed
The kicker?  I paid a one-time price of $71 with no monthly cellular service charges (free cellular service!)  That's $71 and done.  I can harp at my kids for hours on the need to be "phone-responsible" but the truth is that I'm only out $71 if the phone is ever lost/broken/stolen.

Read on to see what I've put together...

August 29, 2016

Republic Wireless now less of a value #PhoneGeek

Republic Wireless:
Now with more phones, less savings
Over the past year I geeked out a bit over alternative cellular services.  Since the late 1990's I've had cellular service with some of the largest US providers including Sprint, Verizon and AT&T.  This past year I moved my family from a shared AT&T plan to three alternative cellular services:  Google Fi, FreedomPop and Republic Wireless.  Each service has its pros and cons but, in the past few months, Republic Wireless has enacted some radical changes that redefines my own value assessment for that service.  If you were considering a switch to Republic Wireless, this post is for you...

August 22, 2016

Get Android 7 (Nougat) immediately with Nexus device #AndroidGeek

Android 7.0 is available immediately
for Nexus owners via beta signup.
Got a Nexus device?  If so, you can get Android 7.0 (Nougat) immediately without waiting for the over-the-air (OTA) roll out by opting your device "in" to the Android beta program.  As of today (8/22/2016) the opt-in option results in a wait time of less than 1 minute for the download notification to appear on your device.

Go to the beta opt-in page to see if your device qualifies.  If so, "opt in" to get an alert that the new Android version is ready for download.  The 7.0 release is 1,171.5 MB so make sure you're not already pressed for download and installation space.

Beta opt-in:

One big caveat
If you later decide to "opt-out" while running a "beta" copy of Android your device could be wiped in the reversion process so choose wisely...

Android 7.0
Not familiar with what 7.0 is adding?  The big new feature is multitasking -- two apps at once side-by-side -- which has already been available in limited fashion in certain enhanced (non-stock) iterations of Android.  There are also security enhancements and optimizations aimed at longer battery life.

See the Android 7.0 feature page here:

Reviews for 7.0 have been relatively positive so far.  I'm now updating my Nexus 5X and will post details of any major issues I encounter.

June 2, 2016

Fix Google Play app's music preview #AndroidGeek

Google Play App can't preview songs
following software update.
A recent round of Google Android software updates have broken the music preview capability of the Google Play Store app.  This is a bit of bad news as I like to peruse unfamiliar (to me) free and $0.99 albums routinely offered through the Play store.

A number of "try this fix" suggestions have been tossed around the net including clearing Play Store app cache, resetting the app, dropping the registered account and then adding it back, etc.  These are, at best, only temporary fixes for the music preview problem.

The REAL fix is to update your Google Play Store app to a more recent version.  The most recent version(s) must be manually downloaded and installed.  I have several Nexus devices (you know -- the line of devices that always get Android updates first?) and they have *not* gotten over-the-air (OTA) updates to the latest Play Store app version, yet.

Thankfully it's easy to get your hands on a fixed version from APKMirror, a trusted host of verified (and legal) APK files.  Note that the following link is to an official Google release, not some app variant someone cooked up at home.

Here's Play Store version 6.7.13 released on 6/1/2016:

To install this you'll need to go into Android system settings and temporarily allow installation of APK files from unknown sources.  I've now tested this update on two different Android devices and have verified it corrects the music preview issue.