Chapter 28: Putting Down The Rebellion

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“Ready?”

“Ready”

“Let’s do this”

When Jamie and Julie were little, the each had their own unique set of fears. For Jamie, it had been thunderstorms. Each time a front would move in, she’d run and hide somewhere she could block out the sound. Since it was possible, very, very rarely, that storms could be violent, her parents were a bit concerned that they might not be able to find their youngest daughter in case of emergency. So they looked for a solution. It turned out to be the same solution that had worked on their older daughter. Continue reading “Chapter 28: Putting Down The Rebellion”

Amazon Raises Prime Price to $99 a Year

Just got an email from Amazon – they’re raising Prime’s Price to $99 a year. A far cry from the $149 that people had feared might happen, and in general for the level of service, I think $99 a year is reasonable. Hate any increase in price though, however small!

Dear Jon Westfall,

We are writing to provide you advance notice that the price of your Prime membership will be increasing. The annual rate will be $99 when your membership renews on April 19, 2014.

Even as fuel and transportation costs have increased, the price of Prime has remained the same for nine years. Since 2005, the number of items eligible for unlimited free Two-Day Shipping has grown from one million to over 20 million. We also added unlimited access to over 40,000 movies and TV episodes with Prime Instant Video and a selection of over 500,000 books to borrow from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

For more information about your Prime membership, visit our Prime membership page.

Sincerely,

The Amazon Prime Team

Are Television Networks Cannibalizing Their Broadcast Revenues With Cliffhangers?

Karey is a big True Blood fan, and I watch it with her because it isn’t that bad of a drama / comedy / supernatural show (The vampires don’t sparkle, at least). Anyway, yesterday we watched 5 episodes in a row, due in part to the ‘hooks’ that each episode had to the next. Cliffhanger endings that lure you into watching the next installment. On a DVD this isn’t a big deal (Or on Netflix or Hulu, for that matter). But when originally broadcast, we’d be waiting a week or perhaps more. We both agreed that we wouldn’t watch the show on TV simply because it would annoy us to have to wait a week or more to see the (often) 10 seconds that is the ‘end’ of the scene or moment.

Photo By: Claire P.

Obviously network broadcast revenues aren’t as good as they used to be, and HBO is making money if I buy the DVD. However wouldn’t they make more if I enjoyed the show enough to watch it AND buy the DVDs? Syfy does this one better by having cliffhanger endings and then making you wait, sometimes over a year until the next season starts. And don’t even get me started on “mid-season breaks”. About 8 years ago Karey & I ditched a show on ABC that would tease “Tune in for the exciting conclusion on <3 weeks later>”.

So what do you think? Is this tactic of “drawing out” the resolution to a scene (not even a plot line, but a specific scene!) helping a struggling industry right the ship? Or is it showing just how disconnected executives are from what people want in an entertainment venue?

Ghost Hunters: Skepticism in Science

If you don’t know, and I wouldn’t doubt you if you said you didn’t, Ghost Hunters is a show on the SciFi channel that focuses on a group of individuals who seek to document evidence of paranormal activity. Karey enjoys watching the show religiously, and I enjoy watching it was well (I don’t particularly like the cast of the spin-off show, Ghost Hunters International, so I usually sit out for that show when it comes on). Anyway, the Ghost Hunters go about “hunting” a bit differently than other shows I’ve seen on the subject, which is why I’m posting on it. The investigators firmly believe a core tenant of good scientific investigation: The best way to prove the existence of something is to try your hardest to disprove it. The logic goes something like this: If you exhaust all “normal” explanations for what you observe, then your observations are likely to be paranormal. This type of thinking isn’t anything new, it’s actually derived from core tenants of the philosophy of science


I’m a ghost hunter – see, I found the picture of two real ghosts!

So here are some guys trying to prove the existence of something by working as hard as they can to disprove anything seemingly paranormal they find. If they capture something on film, they attempt to explain it or even replicate it. If they capture sounds which may be contaminated by still-living humans, they throw the evidence out. This is in stark contrast to many other paranormal advocates which do not use science at all in their investigations (fuzzy science doesn’t count).

Why Is Deadliest Catch So Popular?

Strawberry Land Hermit Crab (Coenobita perlatus), Maldives, Indian Ocean by jogorman

Deadliest Catch starts up again tonight, and again I’ll be watching it. Karey & I realized a few years ago that the show really is essentially the same thing year after year. They go out, they fish for crabs, things break (both ships and people), good times, bad times, etc… It’s not like I think this year God himself will make a special guest appearence as the Relief Captain of the Cornelia Marie or that Time Bandit’s sauna will catch fire. But for some reason the show is addictive, which is why I’ll be watching it again.

Why not take the poll below and tell me why you think Deadliest Catch is so popular! (if you’re reading this on Facebook, head over to my website and vote!)
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Turning a $1600 Tablet PC Into A Digital Picture Frame

In 2004 I purchased a Acer Travelmate C110 for around $1600 and used it up until 2007 when I bought a new Lenovo tablet. The Acer sat unused for quite a few months since I had a suspicion the wireless radio was screwed up (at least when connecting to WPA networks). Yesterday I finally got up the ambition to complete my Acer Digital Picture Frame project and figured I’d post a few pictures. Unlike most digital frames that require a bit of work to remove latches, hinges, etc.., a tablet PC lends itself to the task rather admirably – however the price is a smaller screen than most Laptop-turned-frames provides.

Here’s the finished product:

With a hole at the top for an antenna for a TV tuner that’s on order. This way my digital frame is one part frame, one part TV, and one part media center (I can easily connect up speakers to the rig. Here’s the back of it, with my geeky homage: Yes that’s an IDE cable keeping the computer inside the frame:

It may look unfinished, but therein lies some of the beauty: I can take the system out at any time to add peripherals. It has a PCMCIA slot and two USB slots that I can use for expansion. Plus you never know when all your other systems will die and you need to borrow your digital frame. So there’s my simple setup, not too difficult, but nice nonetheless.

Feel In Touch: The Samsung Omnia Reviewed

http://omnia.samsungmobile.com/

Product Category: Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional SmartphoneManufacturer: SamsungWhere to Buy: Expansys [Affiliate]Price: $689 USD (16 GB), $634 USD (8 GB)Specifications: 5 MP Camera, 3.2 TFT WQVGA Touch screen (240 x 400), Bluetooth 2.0, Wi-Fi 802.11g, Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, HSDPA 7.2 Mbits, TV-out, FM Radio, Integrated GPS, microSDHC, 1440mA battery

Pros:

  • Fun to use & responsive;
  • Sleek design;
  • Innovative value-added features (e.g. flashlight, haptic feedback).

Cons:

  • Widget Bar: full of promise, low on usability;
  • No multitouch ability;
  • Price and availability.

Summary: I’ve posted news on the Samsung Omnia over the last few months and found it to be interesting enough to purchase. What I found when I opened the box got me excited to be using Windows Mobile again, something I doubted could ever happen. Read on for my experience re-discovering the OS through Samsung’s vision of usability.Getting To Know The Omnia

The Omnia measures 113 x 49 x 15.1 mm (4.45 x 1.93 x .59 in) and weighs in at 140g (4.94 oz). It feels nice and light to the touch without feeling cheap. The first thing that a Windows Mobile user will notice is the absence of a normal D-Pad. The Omnia sports a call send, call end, and action button on the front, with the action button holding a surprise. Not only does it work like the normal center button on a D-Pad, it IS the D-Pad. Moving your finger from side to side or up and down will scroll as if using a normal D-Pad. And if that doesn’t float your boat, Samsung has also built in a mouse function that will let the little black action button control an on-screen mouse pointer. Functionality similar to a laptop’s touch pad is provided, with fairly good accuracy while mousing around the screen. Turning the device on shows Samsung’s unique homescreen, slightly customized below (I needed a time readout!).

Figure 1: Samsung’s widget bar, which is shown by clicking the arrow has widgets that can be dragged onto the home screen. The widgets, however, are not customizable (e.g. you cannot add new or remove existing).

For those of you not into Samsung’s new look, they also provide a more normal home screen layout sans widgets. Below is the layout I’ve been using.

Figure 2: Alternate home screen, pressing Settings slides the icons to the right and shows Figure 3.

Figure 3: The settings panel, allowing you to quickly toggle vibrate, Motion (the ability to detect orientation changes and adjust screen rotation), USB mode (Activesync vs. Mass Storage), on-screen mouse, and flashlight (activating the LED flash in continuous mode).

In addition to the funky home screen that is pretty usable, the device also has its own Main Menu, in a further attempt to prevent you from ever having to deal with Windows Mobile’s ugly Programs menu (well, ugly by some standards – I actually like it…)

Figure 4: Samsung’s Main Menu.

Figure 5: Modifying the Shortcuts.

The Omnia also includes Samsung’s “Touch Player”, a more finger centric and friendly interface to listen to music compared to regular old Windows Media Player that we’ve had since the stylus-intense days of old.

Which brings up an interesting point regarding a stylus and the Omnia – namely they don’t want you putting the thing anywhere near the screen. Sure, they include a stylus (a retractable one at that), but it doesn’t have a silo in the device to store it. In fact, the best they can do is put a loop on the end of it so you can hook it to a hook on the device. Why? Well, they want you using your fingers see – and they will not be deterred by us old timers who long for our styli!

Figure 6: Samsung’s Touch Player

Integrated Camera

The Omnia sports a 5mp camera, with LED flash as well as video recording support. The camera works very well under direct lighting, and in the dark thanks to the flash. It’s medium lighting situations where you may get some blurring (as in the third example shot below). Overall the Omnia’s 5mp means that I don’t have to carry around my pocket camera/camcorder, however I find myself still putting it in my bag – just to be on the safe side. For each of the sample shots below, click on the image to get the full, undoctored, picture.

Figure 7: Looks warmer than it really is…

Figure 8: Everyone needs a dressed-up Jamaican Head.

Figure 9: Notice how the medium light makes this picture the blurriest of the three.

“Wow Cool” Features

The Omnia shines in the areas that Samsung has taken the time to improve over a stock Windows Mobile 6.1 core. While WinMo 6.1 is extremely powerful, it’s not anything new or interesting for those of us who have been using these devices for quite some time, and it darn sure isn’t anything that would make you stop and go “Wow… Cool”. But here are some things I found somewhat innovative and “Wow… Cool”-ish about the Omnia.

  • The front camera that is actually useful for those without voice calling: it detects light level to increase or decrease screen brightness, and also (in conjunction with the accelerometer) can enter an “etiquette” mode. You turn the phone over on its face, and it automatically mutes all sounds.
  • The Finger Mouse. Toggle-able from the homescreen, it turns the D-Button (the black button that is sensitive to touch and can act like a D-Pad in one mode or control an on-screen mouse in another). Not useful in all situations, but in some it really shines. Hence the much appreciated toggle on the Samsung today screen for it.
  • The built-in Samsung SIP that’s actually surprisingly useful for someone with big fingers to enter text into. For the ultimate dream though, a third-party app like SPB’s Full-Screen Keyboard really makes one forget about a dedicated keyboard.
  • The flashlight feature that lets the light used for a “flash” actually serves some function. Hold the volume key down for 5 seconds and it turns on, letting you navigate your way through a dark room.
  • The haptic feedback (how did I get to bullet four without mentioning this already): it’s very nice to get some responsiveness after a keypress, a screen rotation, even a quick button press. The weird thing? This could have been implemented years ago – we all had “vibrate” motors!
  • The value added applications such as an RSS feed reader, world clock, reader, converter and even video editor. Nevermind the FM radio built in as well as TV-OUT capabilities.
  • The smoothness of integration. While some gaps are present, Samsung excels at providing one of the best integrations of OEM components and Windows Mobile that I’ve seen to date.

Head to Head: Omnia vs. Touch Pro

The Omnia came to me mid-October, and after playing with it for awhile, I realized that I needed to view it in comparison to another popular device of its generation, the Touch Pro (a.k.a. the AT&T Fuze). So, without another Windows Mobile Maven around me to bum a device off of, I did the only sensible thing – I bought a Fuze at my local AT&T store (WM Devices are my only real vice, I decided to forgo excessive drinking in my undergraduate days to have cash for them..;). Anyway, it is that purchase that was the genesis of this piece of the review: the head to head comparison. I’ll compare the two devices on four important qualities: Touch Responsiveness, Windows Mobile Customization, Daily Use, and Subjective Value (i.e. my own opinion).

Touch Responsiveness

Quick Response is something near and dear to most Windows Mobile Enthusiasts, and let’s face it, our beloved operating system can at times have the quick response of a party-loving college freshman on Saturday morning. Especially important is the fact that these devices need to respond quickly to touch as touch is really the only thing that you’re encouraged to do with them. The Omnia has a nice haptic feedback feature that I’ve already mentioned that lets you ‘feel’ when some touches are recorded, which is nice if the screen doesn’t draw quickly to let you know that you’re changing. But the Touch Pro will not be outdone – its screen draws in a side-by-side comparison were faster about 80% of the time for me. I know others out there have been critical of the Touch Pro and Touch Diamond’s graphics performance, but at least for the devices I’m using, it seemed to draw quicker. Finally, the last test is entering text. Samsung gives a nice finger-keyboard SIP they custom designed, as does the Touch Pro. I swapped Samsung’s out for a copy of SPB Keyboard 3.0 and was not disappointed. But as it comes stock, I do have to admit that the Omnia does a bit better keying in data, of course the Touch Pro has a real keyboard that can prevent finger-tap-keying in the first place. It’s a touch decision, but in the end I’ll have to go with the one that vibrates.

ADVANTAGE: Omnia

Windows Mobile Customization

Samsung certainly has made a bold statement with their widget bar, and the Touch Pro’s TouchFlo interface doesn’t much resemble the home screen we all known and love (loathe) either. If you’re after information, and a quick way to find it, you’ll like TouchFlo much better than the widget bar, or even Samsung’s alternate interface (See Figures 2 & 3). TouchFlo, however, can be a bit sluggish until you learn the tricks (e.g. that you can hold down your finger on each icon at the bottom and rapidly scroll to the other icons). In the useful category, I’m going to have to give HTC Props, but in the “cool” category, the widget bar does have a more impressive show to put on. Which wins out in the end?

ADVANTAGE: Touch Pro

Daily Use

I recently took a trip to Chicago for a conference and brought both the Touch Pro and the Omnia along with me. Over four days I used the Touch Pro for 2 and the Omnia for the other 2. Interestingly enough, I found that while the Touch Pro could be excellent to browse quick e-mails (e.g. by using the e-mail and text tabs in TouchFlo), it had some strange quirks. The version of Google Maps I’d loaded on it took forever to get a GPS lock, even with a fresh “hint” file download. Google Maps also had the strange habit of going zombie on me. It would minimize but refuse to re-open, even if I stopped it in memory and tried to open it again. Only a soft-reset would help, causing some rather embarrassing moments while trying to navigate my way around another city (But on another note, Thank goodness for Google’s new public transit routing in major US cities!). The Touch Pro, aside from its zombieness did do an admirable job and does have a beautiful VGA screen that puts Samsung’s WQVGA to shame. It is my go-to device when I know I’ll need to enter a lot of text. The Omnia, however, never zombied up on me, got quick GPS locks, was adequate to read my e-mail, and has remained my daily driver ever since the trip.

ADVANTAGE: Omnia

Subjective Value

Subjectively, I like both of these devices (after all, I bought both…). But the Omnia seems to have a certain sexiness that the boxiness and thickness of the Touch Pro lack. Now I know that the Touch Pro needs to be a bit more bloated since it has a keyboard, but why couldn’t it include some of the “sexy” features like a 5mp camera, or better use of the accelerometer like the Omnia does out of the box? But like I mentioned before, if I plan on doing a lot of work using text input, the built-in keyboard will always win over the graphical based one. So My recommendation: if you do a lot of text, grab a Touch pro. If you don’t, or you just really love finger tapping out letters, go with an Omnia.

ADVANTAGE: Draw

Conclusion

After using the Omnia for about a month, I can actually say something I’ve been wishing were true for awhile: this is a device that makes me excited to use Windows Mobile again! Samsung has done a good job on their first attempt to seriously tweak the OS, and may have even outdone modifying kingpin HTC in some areas. I didn’t even mention the fact that the Omnia has at least 8 GB of on-board storage to play with, and there are many other nuances that make the Omnia very attractive. The Omnia is my new daily driver, and I’m eager to see what the next generation hardware/software combo from Samsung will be.

Jon Westfall is a Microsoft MVP, frequent contributor to the Thoughts Media family of sites, avid City of Hero player, and most importantly a person adrift in the sea of a doctoral dissertation, looking for an island on which to rest. Track his journey and learn more than you really want to know at JonWestfall.Com

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Continue reading “Feel In Touch: The Samsung Omnia Reviewed”

Stupid News Executive Alert

TV Executive Arrested At Logan Now In Treatment
BOSTON (WBZ) WHDH Channel 7 announced Thursday that general manager Randi Goldklank is now undergoing medical treatment after an allegedly drunken tirade Sunday night that ended with her arrest at Logan Airport. “The unfortunate events of last Sunday night were unanticipated and Ms. Goldklank is deeply regretful,” said Ed Ansin, president of Sunbeam Television Corp. in a prepared statement. Mike Carson, the station’s previous general manager will take over on a temporary basis while Goldklank remains on administrative leave. According to a State Police report, Goldklank, 40, of Boston, threatened to put a trooper on TV and ruin his life, after screaming and creating a disturbance at the gate of her incoming flight Sunday night. According to the police report obtained by WBZ, “She began flailing her arms and stated ‘leave me alone, do you know who the (expletive) I am? I’ll have a news crew down here in minutes and you will lose your (expletive) jobs you (expletive).”
I can just see the new reality series: News Station Managers Gone Wild… Pretty funny how the mighty can fall, yet still feel mighty, under the presence of alcohol.

The Best Robot Chicken Sketches… Ever

OK, so maybe this is just in my opinion, but the list below are absolutely the best robot chicken sketches ever. Thank you Adult Swim for posting these gems online! I’m sure there are some I’ve missed, but at an initial glance, these are my favs!

Rank

Title

Why It’s Great

1

An Empire To Run

What isn’t there to like about this clip? It’s what every science fiction fan prays would happen!

2

Dance Your Cares Away

Karey didn’t get this one at first, until I explained where it came from. Just a great piece of imagination – and who liked that old guy anyway?

3

Alien Front Line

“There goes Gene in his UFO again… big help he is”

4

Villain Car Pool

“Note to self: Blow up Fancher Elementary School!”

5

Tivo Ruins Lives

Just reminds me way too much about T & H!

6

Lil’ Hitler 1
2 and 3

“Lil’ Hitler, where’s lil’ Polaski?”

7

No Power

“It makes me very very proud to speak the following sentence… I’m the only one who brought a gun”

8

Benny Jubilee

As a fan of british comedy, this just rocks.

9

Pokeball High Life

I knew Pikachu was a partier

10

Hogan’s Heros

Man, wouldn’t it have been interesting if this the way the TV show actually was…

11

Sesame Street Quarentine

1 vaccine… 2 vaccines..

12

Jedi in Chief

Tacos Rule

13

Not Fully Operational Battle Station

“Look Mr. Saltine… I don’t tell you how to threaten your blond kids”

14

Lord Of The Dance

No explanation Needed.