Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My New Home Rig

My laptop setup: open on stand, wireless keyboardWhen I lost my job in 2009, I needed a computer to call my own for the times when Jessie was home (three days out of five during typical work week). She had pretty much taken over the downstairs desktop PC, so it was pretty serendipitous that Alex had gone out and purchased a new laptop leaving his old one available. Other than the fact that its internal disk drive was fried and it needed to have its OS restored, it was a potent 17-inch Toshiba on which he had played World of Warcraft and other video-intensive games. More than I needed for job searching, but it ran SL decently. (SL was a much-needed place to escape for me during that period.) You get used to a screen that's been marred by the sands of Bagdad. It was a heavy machine to carry around but the price, even with needed repairs and updates to OS, was still better than shelling out for a new one.
(I had to get an external drive and pay about $150 to get a PC shop to install Windows 7 on the laptop. It's interesting that the installation process asked me to delete the driver for the external drive, which made installation using same drive untenable. I needed a wizard that wasn't running from the disk.)
Frue Frue keyboard by Logitech
Two years later, with the advent of the mesh-enabled viewers and other advancements, I was having a tough time getting SL to run without crashing. A five-year old laptop, alas, is pretty much ancient these days.

I didn't need the laptop for job searching anymore. I had a job. But we've gotten used to having our own computers, so we agreed that I could shop for a new laptop with a limited budget. The old Toshiba would go back to Alex.

Another of the great benefits of working for the ABA is their advantage program with discounts from HP, Toshiba, and Lenovo, the latter of which I hadn't heard of save for the ThinkCentre on my desk at work. I was most interested in video handling and found a great deal on a 15.6-inch Lenovo Ideapad, which had 6GB of RAM and AMD Radeon 6840 video card. I just haven't read anything very positive about game-handling by MS-based video memory handlers, so while it was tempting to look at some high-end Intel chip-based lappies from the other two makers, I went with Lenovo. It's not the equivalent of Alex's nVidia-equipped Toshiba in its prime, but it runs Second Life like a dream.

Lenovo allows you to customize the laptop, which is cool and tempting, with a multitude of warranty plans. Its reasonably priced accidental coverage plan was definitely a factor in choosing it over the other manufacturers' offerings. I saved about $360 with the member discount!

Fellowes computer standI went with 15-inch screen because I knew I'd eventually be using this thing on business trips and wanted to cut down on weight. After a week of it breaking me in, I knew I was going to need to get a stand for the laptop as well as a separate keyboard (see pix). No stand was going to be quite enough to get the screen as eye-level as I wanted it so I grabbed some large books to achieve a better ergonomic solution. The price point on a standard, wired keyboard was such that I could afford the Logitech wireless keyboard. For some reason, the guy at Office Deport didn't think I would like the frue-frue designs adorning the keyboard (see above pic on left) but from the amount of those keyboards they had on hand, I could see why they were on sale. I have no problem with frue-frue, although I do wish I had the USB port back for adding a Bluetooth reader on it but I figure I can switch that out with my external hard drive. I love the keyboard on the laptop when I have it on my lap, but the wireless keyboard mean I'm not reaching over the mousepad, but resting my wrist on my wrist pad. On the above picture on the far right you can see a portion of my old, reliable Logitech Marble Mouse. The built-in laptop pointing device has yet to be built that I would endorse.

Speaking of USB ports, the Fellowes support stand is great in providing me with four more USB ports. Even though I use a 650GB external HD, I like to dedicate flashdrives to my SL and profession-related saves, so I definitely appreciate having the extra ports, with the laptop's four USBs taken up by HD (look for label B lower middle of the photo), mouse, and keyboard, the fourth (A) one is used to add four more (C--follow the blue lanyard to the row of flashdrives on the right). One of which occasionally is home to my smart phone's USB cable.

With a full-fledged version of Windows 7 to match the one downstairs, I can now network our PCs and use the printer downstairs as well as share pix and dox. Like my phone, I gave the computer a name rather than my name, which is being used on my partition of the downstairs PC anyway.  I confess the smaller screen has taken some getting used to but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

And that's why it's called a smart phone

The Calendar app that came with my Windows smart phone is pulling up event dates from my Facebook account. I know that I need to be more pro-active with my use of the calendar. This functionality is great. I may not have put some of these events on my calendar but since it took no effort on my part, I'm quite happy to pick and choose which of these events I'll ignore. It made me realize why it's called a smart phone.

Too bad the humans behind the phones aren't so smart. As mentioned in my previous post about the phone, it doesn't appear to actually run Windows 7.5 even thought both AT&T and Samsung have text stating that it comes loaded with 7.5. Here's my chat with Samsung:

Chat Information Please wait for a Samsung Agent to respond.
Chat Information You are now chatting with 'Simpson'. There will be a brief survey at the end of our chat to share feedback on my performance today.
Chat Information Your Issue ID for this chat is LTK56401088025X
Simpson: Hi, thank you for contacting Samsung Technical Support. How may I help you today?
Visitor: I'm having trouble updating my phone to Windows 7.5. When I use Zune, and update it, it says I don't need an update. It say I have Windows 7.1.
Simpson: I understand that you facing problem in updating your phone. Is that correct?
Visitor: Yes.
Simpson: Thank you for confirming.
Simpson: May I know the model number of your phone ? You can find the model number beneath the phone's battery which generally starts with SGH, SCH or SPH .
Visitor: SGH-i1677
Simpson: Thank you.
Simpson: Would you mind in holding for a few minutes while I check the information for the updates?
Visitor: Go ahead. NP.
Simpson: Thank you.
Simpson: Thank you for holding. I appreciate your time and patience.
Simpson: To check the current version of this phone, follow the following steps:
Simpson: Press ##634# Call - This will open the Diagnostic Application.
Simpson: Press *#1234#
Simpson: Please note the PDA and Phone versions.
Visitor: In process
Simpson: Okay.
Visitor: i677uckj1 for pda and phone
Simpson: Thank you.
Simpson: After completion please uninstall the Diagnosis application.
Simpson: From the home screen touch Arrow key.
Simpson: Touch and Hold Diagnosis.
Simpson: Touch uninstall.
Visitor: couldn't get that to work ... will try again
Simpson: I will be right with you.
Simpson: Sure.
Simpson: I see that the versions you provided is the latest version released for this phone.
Simpson: There are no updates available right now for your phone.
Visitor: So it doesn't run 7.5?
Simpson: I am sorry as of now for your phone it doesn't have.  [Talking to Homer Simpson?]
Visitor: Why? It is described as having Windows 7.5 loaded.
Simpson: I am sorry. I have double checked and there are no updates for your phone.

Let's be clear that I really like this phone! The more I use it, the more I cannot believe I waited so long to work with one. OTOH, maybe an earlier version of WinPhone would not have been such a pleasure. I only took this investigation so far because if I like 7.1 so much and all the buzz is that 7.5 is a step up.

I have a feeling some of the apps I am trying to use require 7.5 and that is disappointing.

Monday, May 14, 2012

More Observations on My Samsung Smartie

What am I learning as I become acquainted with my Samsung Focus Flash (SFF)? I mentioned in my personal blog that people hunched over their phones as they walk to and from the train remind me to keep my head up. I understand now the obsession with the object in their hands! I found myself crossing Wacker Drive checking on the progress of a download and realized this was totally unsafe behavior. I can wait.


I am happy I bought the hard case and screen protector for my phone. The matte look on screen and case is pleasing. Sooner or later I'm going to drop the damn thing, so maybe it will survive! I can remember dropping my Flight into my bike's handlebar bag and the screen rubbed against the mini tire pump. Those scratches on the screen were there for the two-plus years I had the thing.

So, obviously with great power comes more elaborate maintenance duties. The merging of my Facebook and Gmail with my old phone's data has made my "contact list" complicated, although the ability to get a screen of alphabetized tiles to maneuver all my contacts is nice. I can also create groups to make the navigation personalized. All good. The built-in calendar is terrific, a major improvement over the pathetic thing I found on my Samsung Flight. I am not well-organized to begin with, so the better the app, the more likely I am to use it and get myself organized. There may be even better apps out there, but for now, I am quite content.

The tiles concept of the Window phone UI is pretty good. I can scan it with a thumb flick up and down or swipe to the left and bring up a column of smaller icons with a long (and growing) list of apps. I would like to say I used the phone to Google what the best free apps for the Windows Phone are, but I did not. The list makes sense though: Adobe Reader, ESPN Score Center, Facebook, Flixster, IMDb, Shazam, SkyMap Free, Spotify, and YouTube. I really don't want to get loaded up with games but I like Mah Jong and am testing several freebies. I am also testing several radio apps: and Slacker Radio as well as the built-in AT&T Radio, accessing Pandora via the IE app.

Shazam is the app that lets you tag music off of the radio or other sources. SkyMap lets you aim your phone at the sky and get a starmap of what is out there. ESPN can be programed to provide scores and news about my particular sports interests. Between Flixter and IMDb, I should be able to sate my movie interests--the former also knows my favorite theaters so I can quickly check showtimes. While Facebook messages run nicely from a tile on the opening page of the phone, the app puts it into the familiar blue-and-white trim format with photos. The YouTube app enhances immediate access to my favorites and other features if I used them.

Spotify would be perfect but it's $10/mo. and will very likely push my data loading perilously if I am not careful.

Photostudio works in conjunction with the camera for setting up modes of shooting: portrait,  panorama, etc. Then it has an editing mode and a sending mode, letting you preset Facebook and photosharing sites. I believe it came with the phone and looks intriguing. Obviously, the camera is great and has been very easy to send photos to FB and contacts.

I like the idea of starting my day with a spiritual focus. I already subscribe to Richard Rohr's Meditations, so I can check my email and open it to a Web page to read it. It's great being able to pinch the screen to enlarge it to fit. I also downloaded a Mars Hill Church app and can view video sermons and other devotional type material. A Daily Devotions app provides a menu for Christian, This is Today, Our Daily Bread, Worthy Devotion, and Photos. To complete, for now, the spiritual tools, I have a free NIV Bible app. (It is just the New Testament, so does that mean I have to pay for the Old Testament?)

I had bought a few ringtones for the previous phone with the understanding that I'd be able to transfer them to a new phone. I was mislead as far as I can tell since I have not been able to unlock them, nor find any history of purchase on the AT&T account by which to get them redelivered. Therefore, I will buy no more tones from AT&T. I was only able to recover "Layla," which I assign to my older son's number. I really loved hearing U2's "It's a Beautiful Day" when my old phone rang. I don't like being interrupted by the phone but that tone reminded me, yes, it's a beautiful day, behave yourself! I'll get over not having it.

Myxer has done alright in terms of getting free ringtones. Since I named my phone Sgt. Pepper, I have as my general ringtone, the song of the same name. It may or may not be The Beatles, but it's a very good imitation, if not. I have still to find the best ones for family friends but I am in no rush now that I have covered my essentials. I had downloaded an app that claimed to provide Myxer tones as well as others but the interface was not worth the time to learn compared to the ease of Myxer. SkyMusic also has downloads for ringtones, but the "Beautiful Day" clip leads up to the chorus when it really ought to start with it.

I have plugged into my laptop and synced accounts with Zune and Windows Live. The AT&T site says the SFF comes with 7.5 but according to Zune I have 7.1 and cannot update it further. That's too bad but also, being my first smartphone, not worth $300 or whatever the Nokia 900 costs. (Interestingly, I just took a survey from AT&T about my purchase and it segued from my satisfaction with sales and service into questions about the Nokia, asking if I could do it over would I pay $99 for it in trade.) I would be curious to see how the metro IE interface works, but the price point was too high.

While I was at a guitar workshop, I downloaded a nifty metronome app (Klick!) and a guitar tuner app (Accurate Tuner Free). I have a tuner/metronome device in my guitar case but the apps were free and I can imagine scenarios where the phone might be all I have at hand.

It does sound like the least little rationale sends me off to the App store, so I guess the world of smartphones has sucked me in most thoroughly. So far, however, the free stuff looks sufficient to my perceived needs.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Look at the Nook

Last year, my wife Jessie graduated with her masters degree, as well as celebrated her birthday and Mother's Day in the same week. (Obviously, the latter two always coincide on a regular basis.) The boys and I thought this was a very significant occasion. On a cue she'd given me a couple of months earlier, I suggested we pool together and get her an eReader. At the time, the Kindle's tablet and the Nook Color were fairly close in price. Barnes & Noble (B&N) was just on the verge of updating the OS to making the Nook Color a true tablet, so I again ignored the mass popularity aspect of a product (see previous post on smartphones) and bought her the Nook.

For the next few months, we shared oohs and aahhs over the capabilities. Not the least of its features was a free class on how to use it, held in the evening at one of the nearby stores. It works with our U-verse wifi at home, so we can check email with it out on the screen porch. We can download eLibrary books! The availability of such books we like is fairly limited but it was still pretty cool. Jessie's Scottish heritage will not indulge in spending needlessly even if she has a Barnes&Noble money card with which to charge, but I've seen great applications that would make it a very useful tool as well as toy. Here's the latest listing from the B&N Website:
  •     Movies & TV Shows from Netflix
  •     NOOK Comics™ including the largest collection of Marvel graphic novels
  •     World's most advanced VividView™ 7" touchscreen
  •     Over 2.5 million books, magazines, interactive kids' books
  •     Must-have apps like Angry Birds, top music services, & more
  •     Tablet essentials–email & Web w/video
  •     Expandable memory- add up to 32 GB w/ microSD™ card
  •     Always free NOOK support in-store
I will say this: the Nook's Android OS is not very intuitive and had some influence on my decision to test out the Windows Phone. Hmm, what would happen if the Nook came with Windows? Nah! Never happen!

We've both been surprised to see the Nook on TV ads lately, but are pleased that it's being shown off for the good value it is.

And now there's news that Microsoft is investing in the Nook. The financial experts aren't sure it's going to be enough for the Nook to survive in a market that iPads and Kindles are crushing. But here's an interesting wrinkle that MS needs to follow up on: those 641 B&N college bookstores could be reinvented as "education solution centers." The liabilities the financial critics are pointing at in this transaction could be turned into assets. As the article suggests, Microsoft also needs to shop for coursepack companies and companies that know how to package content for the Nook.

It's all a very interesting development. It's a great tablet and I wouldn't count it out just yet.The price point between a Nook and an iPad for a college student is considerable. Put Windows 8 on a Nook and keep that price point ... Ooh, doggies!