Mar 032012
 

Android logoRecently, I’ve been using a new app for my Android smartphone, the simply-named “Stopwatch & Timer.”

Stopwatch & Timer does what its name states, act as a stopwatch or as a timer. The app gives some options, including setting several preset timers, changing the colors of the fonts, and setting alerts for when the timer reaches zero.

There’s also a paid version of the app (named “Stopwatch & Timer Plus”), available for $2.99 (US). The paid version provides more support for multiple timers, renaming the timers, etc. However, I’ve found the free version to work well enough for me so far. Unlike some (OK, many) other similar free/paid apps, there’s no ads in the free version.

I mostly use a timer for cooking and doing laundry, and this app is working out nicely for that so far. Before this, I used an Xfce timer applet that also works fine, but has harder-to-use controls. (And before that, I used a timer applet under GNOME/Ubuntu that has easier controls.)

Jan 222012
 
Stop SOPA & PIPA

Flickr Creative Commons image by DonkeyHotey.

Several days ago, the Web, including big name sites like Wikipedia, Google, and Reddit, managed to get together and protest SOPA (and PIPA).

Fortunately, it seems to have had some success so far, with both bills (for now) dead in t.he water. Also importantly, the mainstream media, whose corporate owners are backing SOPA/PIPA, were finally forced to acknowledge their existence. Until now, they’d pretended that SOPA didn’t exist, apparently hoping it’d be like when the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) was passed a dozen years ago: TV not reporting on it + assumption people won’t get news anywhere else (Internet, etc.) = easy passage. Unfortunately for them, way more people now then back around 2000 get news from other sources than TV (though in my opinion, not enough people). That, and SOPA threatening even the likes of cat videos on YouTube would make even the biggest Homer Simpson-like TV viewer/non-techie take notice, if SOPA’s worst came to pass. Of course, TV news’ coverage portrayed SOPA in a one-sided fashion, with little to no acknowledgment why people were protesting against the bill.

While I know the RIAA/MPAA/etc. will still try to push SOPA/PIPA through (or revised future versions), I hope the future sees people continue to fight back like they did last week. That, and get news from a bigger variety of sources (not just CNN/the 6 o’clock evening news).

Dec 242011
 

Santa Claus (from "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town")A stretch on the “tech” side of things, but I thought something seasonal might be nice for this week’s “tech thoughts” installment. Since the 1950s, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) each Christmas Eve tracks Santa’s trip through the skies. Over the years, they’ve upped the tech used for said program, with recent years making use of Twitter and its own website. (There’s also pages for Facebook and Google+.)

Well, not so much of a stretch tech-wise, after all: NORAD Tracks Santa also offers apps for one’s mobile phone (either iOS or Android).

Of particular interest and amusement is the FAQ for the page, which gives various answers on commonly asked questions (“is Santa real?,” etc.), but the technical information is particularly fun (“how can Santa deliver gifts around the world in 24 hours?,” etc.).

 

Dec 172011
 

Xbox 360The last few posts on my new Xbox 360 have noted how hard a time I’ve had getting streaming videos from my laptop to the Xbox working. However, I’ve finally gotten it done.

The instructions on Ubuntu’s wiki show how to set up streaming from an Ubuntu-based laptop (or Xubuntu, in my case), using the command-line program ushare:

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Xbox360Media

The main issue I had (which I suspect is why it didn’t work before) was finding the correct IP address for my Xbox, which online instructions were vague or erroneous about. To find the IP address, under the Xbox’s System Settings (accessed either via the center controller button or in the Dashboard), choose “Network Settings,” then select “Configure Network.” The Xbox’s connection information will be displayed under the “Basic Settings” tab, including the IP address. Write down the IP address number, and use that for the Xbox’s IP address in the wiki’s instructions.

Hmm, I might consider updating the wiki itself with this information (or to correct a few typos on the page)…

Dec 102011
 

Xbox 360It’s been about a week and a half since I’ve gotten my Xbox 360, and so far, I’ve been enjoying the experience.

The main games I’ve been playing have been “Marvel vs. Capcom 3″ and “Fable III,” though more the former in the last few days, particularly for its online game-playing options (via Xbox Live). Playing online, however, has proven to be extremely tough—either I’ve gotten rusty (from not playing the Marvel/Capcom games much since the 90s), my mediocre video game playing skills are to blame, or the online players have way more practice. That, or they’re using some turbo/cheat codes feature. I still haven’t downloaded Halo: Reach yet, but I’ll get around to it.

Speaking of downloads, I’ve also decided to give Netflix’s streaming feature a try. The Xbox 360 supports streaming Netflix, so thought it might be worth trying. I’m disappointed that Netflix’s website doesn’t seem to offer a way to see what films/TV shows are available via the streaming side without registering for it first. Maybe part of the reason why I’ve also considered just dropping Netflix altogether. Either way, there’s still RedBox/the public library for DVDs, for less than what I’m paying for Netflix’s two-DVDs-at-a-time plan now.

Microsoft has also released an update a few days ago for the Xbox, updating its dashboard with its tile-based Metro interface, per its current push at cross-platform UI unity. While I’m not a big fan of Microsoft’s GUIs, the update does have some advantages over the old one (which, only having used it for a week, I didn’t have time to get attached to unlike some disgruntled Xbox users online): Bing is now offered as a search engine, while the various items are categorized by “video,” “music,” etc. I still don’t have streaming video from my laptop set up, but I’m still doing research.

On an unrelated note to the above comes news that HP plans to open up WebOS as open-source, hoping others might take advantage of using the now-dead mobile OS. While HP should’ve considered this a lot sooner, I hope that WebOS being freely available means its best parts will be taken advantage of by other mobile OSes (Android particularly). Or even better, that WebOS itself gets a second shot at life, and at app developer support.

Nov 122011
 
Black Friday

Flickr Creative Commons photo by tshein.

Yes, it’s time once again here in the US for “Black Friday.” Black Friday, as we recall, is nickname retailers have given to the Friday after Thanksgiving, when they supposedly earn a profit (“in the black”) for the year. It’s also the biggest shopping day of the year, and usually has bargains on various things, including electronics. (I wrote more about previous Black Friday experiences in last year’s post).

This year’s electronics are the usual low-to-mid-end items, of course: laptops, desktops, video game systems, Blu-Ray and DVD players, etc. Of particular interest to me this year is video game systems. I’m thinking of buying one for myself (as a “gift to myself”), having grown a bit bored with playing 90s-era “Mario Kart” in emulation on my computer (or Solitaire). I’m trying to decide between the Nintendo Wii or Microsoft’s Xbox 360 (not interested in the Playstation 3, especially after Sony’s security breach ineptness).

I haven’t bought a video game system before, since I admittedly don’t have the strongest game playing skills (especially given how complicated some of the most popular video games seem to be these days). Still, some newer games are of interest to me: the newest Mario Kart (Wii only, I know) and some superhero/fighting games. There’s also the possibility of playing games online, though not sure if my Internet connection’s sufficient for that. The Xbox strikes my interest for its ability to play streaming media, as well as one’s own videos (via its DVD player or from one’s computer/a hard drive). I’d been considering buying a box (like the Roku) for streaming media to my TV, but if a video game system could do the same thing *and* the benefit of, well, playing video games…

Wal-Mart’s Black Friday sales flyer shows the Wii will be on sale for $100, while the Xbox 360 (the 4GB model) is on sale for $200 (and comes with a $50 Wal-Mart gift card).

For everything that’s on sale from stores on Black Friday this year, I’d suggest these two sites: Black Friday 2011 and blackfriday.info (yes, .info…).

 

Oct 222011
 

Laptop screenshot (10/22/11)

Last week, I installed the newest version of Xubuntu, 11.10 (or “Oneiric Ocelot”…and yes, I had to look up how the heck “oneiric” is spelled). As long-time readers know, I’ve been using the Xfce-based distro since 11.04 (“Natty Narwhal”) last spring, which I switched to after disliking both GNOME 3 and Unity. So far, 11.04 has worked fairly well, and I’m pleased to report that 11.10 also works just as well.

Ocelot hasn’t changed much from Narwhal in terms of features, so if you enjoyed Narwhal, Ocelot should go smoothly. I’ll note the major changes and usage observations below:

gThumb

gThumb

gThumb screenshot.

gThumb is now installed by default. The GNOME image viewing program (which also offers some simple image manipulation features) was once a preinstalled part of Ubuntu, until it was replaced by F-Spot. While I use Shotwell for my photos, gThumb looks like a good alternative to Shotwell or the still-included default photo viewer, Ristretto.

LightDM

The display manager has changed from GDM to LightDM. A display manager is the software that handles the login screen when first booting up. In this case, the switch to LightDM was made in Xubuntu (and its sibling Ubuntu) since GDM relies on GNOME libraries. Logging in works as well as it did in 11.04.

Pastebinit

Pastebinit is now included by default. Wikipedia’s definition of a pastebin:

A pastebin is a type of web application that allows its users to upload snippets of text, usually samples of source code, for public viewing. It is very popular in IRC channels where pasting large amounts of text is considered bad etiquette. A vast number of pastebins exist on the Internet, suiting a number of different needs and providing features tailored towards the crowd they focus on most.

IRC users should find this useful. While I use IRC, I haven’t used a pastebin before, so I can’t offer much input here. I usually just give an article’s URL if I don’t want to paste something lengthy in the channel.

Onboard

Onboard

Onboard virtual keyboard screenshot.

Onboard is an on-screen virtual keyboard, which may be useful for those who can’t use a regular keyboard for various reasons (mobility impairments, etc.).

Leafpad

Leafpad is the new default text editor for Xubuntu, replacing the previous text editor, Mousepad. The switch was made due to Mousepad not having been updated in quite awhile. If you’ve used Notepad in Windows, you’ll find Leafpad familiar. I usually use the GNOME-based gEdit as a text editor.

General usage

Use of Xubuntu 11.10 is similar to 11.04. The default install still includes an OSX-like Dock at the bottom of the screen (which I removed in favor of just one menu bar), and the familiar Xfce features (Thunar file manager, etc.) are all still present. Gmusicbrowser is still installed as the default music player, but as I noted in my 11.04 review, I prefer Banshee or Rhythmbox.

I haven’t had any major show-stopping incidents so far on my laptop (a two-year-old HP Pavilion DV6-1230US with a Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB RAM). Unlike in my initial use of 11.04, shutting down the laptop in 11.10 works properly out of the box. Xfce, of course, is lighter than GNOME or Unity in terms of features, but it works fine for my use, especially since it supports GNOME software fairly well. Anyone used to the classic version of GNOME should feel at home in Xfce.

Overall, I’d recommend Xubuntu (or another Xfce distro such as Linux Mint Xfce) for anyone who dislikes GNOME 3 and Unity, and seeks an alternative.

Oct 152011
 
Netflix

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar.

Earlier this week, Netflix announced that it was reversing course on spinning off the DVD division of its business. Instead, DVDs will stay under the Netflix name, alongside the streaming video side of things that Netflix is betting its future on, despite the lackluster streaming selection. Along with this, Netflix is also ditching the proposed “Qwikster” branding for its DVD rentals.

Nice to see Netflix was willing to reverse course, even if to put a stop to the nonstop negative publicity this move generated. Not helping of course is this came on top of a recent price hike, which a lot of people were already upset about. And, of course, the name “Qwikster” was a pretty awful choice. Netflix didn’t even check to see if the Twitter username was available, as it was already taken by some pot smoker.

I wonder how many of those that canceled their accounts (fed up by all of Netflix’s actions) will be persuaded to return to Netflix. As I noted in a previous post, I’m still considering axing Netflix myself, in favor of some mix of Redbox/the public library. Still, Netflix’s home delivery does have appeal—not having to go to a kiosk or the library to return DVDs for one, especially during a typical midwestern winter. And Netflix’s DVD side does offer some more obscure options the library won’t have (smaller company films, etc.).

Oct 052011
 
Apple logo

Flickr Creative Commons photo by markhillary.

On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave Apple’s first post-Steve Jobs keynote address, announcing the new updates for Apple’s portable media/mobile phone products. However, the announcements were less than exciting, being mostly incremental upgrades and some emphasis on the new cloud-based features. A full summary of today’s announcements are on Engadget.

My observations:

  • The iPhone 4S (the newest iPhone model’s name) mostly features a general spec bump, a price drop on its predecessor models (with contracts, the 3GS is now free, while the 4 is US$99; both only in 8GB models), a nicer 8 megapixel camera, and being built with CDMA and GSM compatibility (instead of separate models). There’s also integration with a voice activation/command phone-wide system, Siri. Unless one’s phone contract is up, this isn’t worth paying an early termination fee to buy.
  • The iPod line has gotten similar spec bumps, but is largely¬† unchanged. The Touch now starts at 16GB for US$199, and goes up to 64GB at US$399. The Touch, like the iPhone, is now also available in white. Meanwhile, the Nano’s main makeover is gaining better touchscreen controls, with larger sliding icons and various watch skins (per its popular use as a wristwatch), including a Mickey Mouse one. Unlike the rumors, the Shuffle and the Classic have been given stays of execution, which should thrill large capacity iPod fans, though they’re both being de-emphasized by Apple (no price or spec changes; the Classic is still 160GB for US$249).
  • The newest version of iOS, iOS 5, will be available as a free upgrade for iPhone 3GS and 4 owners.
  • Sprint is gaining the iPhone, which completes all of the major national US carriers. T-Mobile won’t have the iPhone, but I assume they’re counting on their ill-considered merger with AT&T going through.

And that’s about it. Guess Apple will have everyone’s attention in January for their revised hardware announcements…

Oct 012011
 

Kindle FireThis week, Amazon.com announced that they’re coming out with a revamped Kindle line. The revamped Kindle line consists of:

  • A new $79 Kindle. This revamped entry-level model has no keyboard, relying on a square navigation button to type on an onscreen keyboard.
  • A $99 Kindle Touch. Like the previous Touch model, this one has a touchscreen e-ink screen.
  • A $149 Kindle Touch 3G. Same as the $99 model, but with free-for-life 3G Internet access.
  • And finally, the new $199 Kindle Fire, the model that’s gotten the most talk. It’s a 7″ tablet with a color LCD touchscreen, and comes with lots of integration with Amazon’s multimedia features (videos, music store, and even announcement of an exclusive line of DC Comics graphic novels). The Fire goes on sale November 15.

I’m quite sure the Kindle line will see plenty of sales this holiday season. Indeed, the Fire’s hardware is based on the Blackberry Playbook, done by Amazon as a way to get it out by Christmas (versus coming up with a totally new model from scratch). Since it’s using Amazon’s services, the Amazon Music store and cloud-storage services will be available.

The biggest ereader competitor to the Fire, of course, will be the Nook Color, Barnes and Noble’s color LCD ereader. (iPad owners won’t want to jump ship to the Fire, especially since there’s a Kindle app available.) The Fire is $50 cheaper than the Nook Color (as of this writing), but I imagine B&N will drop the price soon. There’s also rumors about a Nook Color 2 coming out at some point, which given the Fire had better be sooner rather than later. Like the Nook Color, the Fire is also based on Android, albeit heavily customized, and only uses Amazon’s app store rather than Android Market. I wonder if, like the Nook, the Fire will be easily rootable, allowing it to have access to the full Market.

As for the old Kindles, they’re now on sale at a discount, with the keyboard Kindle now renamed “the Kindle Keyboard.”

I own the Nook Color, and enjoy using it to read ebooks and comic books. Given there’s no sign if Amazon will do away with one of the Kindle’s main faults (using a proprietary Kindle format for ebooks instead of epub like literally every other digital ebook venue), I’m not the audience for the Fire. Yes, there’s conversion software to convert between epub and Kindle’s format (such as Calibre), but I don’t see why I should have to do that just to use a Kindle. Of course, since price and convenience trumps future-proofing/compatibility for the general public, I imagine this won’t be a hindrance saleswise for the Kindle.

I’ll have more to say once the new Kindles go on sale in physical stores, where I can look at them in person.