Cell phone quandary

By | Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Ok, here comes another one of those cell phone & tech complaints. Matt’s been trying to get me to switch to his provider, which offers unlimited everything for cheap. It sounds like a great plan, and I could probably even get a good deal on new phones for Sandy, Kevin and I, but there are a few hurdles I’m very concerned about. For one thing, since Kevin recently upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S6, he’s still making payments on it, and will be for another year or so.

Another issue is with switching to new phones. Sandy and Kevin probably wouldn’t mind, but I only see Android phones with up to 32GB of space on them. These days I need at least 64GB just so I have enough space for everything I use and a little breathing room for music and videos. I looked into the 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7, and Samsung disabled Android’s ability to install apps on the SD card for some reason, which limits app installs to just the internal 32GB space. I would have to root my phone in order to be able to do this, and that would void the warranty. Why they added this limitation, I have no idea, but it renders the phone useless to me, that’s for sure. They even added the SD card slot back to the S7 model too–the S6 doesn’t have an SD slot at all–so to me, it makes absolutely no sense. You give the users back the SD slot you took away in your previous model, then you cripple it by only disabling the ability for users to install apps on it. Brilliant.

Apple’s iPhone comes in 64GB and 128GB versions, sure, but don’t even get me started on why I won’t switch to an iPhone again. Those roots are buried deep…much too deep for me to even think about trying to dig up at this point in time. I’d rather wait for a decent Android phone to come out with more memory. I even have a few hundred dollars worth of apps I had purchased back when we were an iPod family with flip phones and each carried TWO devices around with us–one as a phone and one as a media device.

So here I sit with a higher-paying plan on a different provider with a 14GB-per-month data limit for 3 phones, two of which are 64GB Samsung Galaxy S6’s. Matt argues that if I have the unlimited data plan, maybe I wouldn’t need 64GB of space. I can stream music and video all I want, any time. That’s true. Maybe I’m old-school, but I still think it’s better–and much faster–to have as much data that you use as possible stored locally for the most efficient use of that data. This is where I’m at right now, not sure what to do next, if anything. We have managed to go over the 14GB limit a couple times, which became a big headache, but the first time the extra charges were forgiven after a lot of begging to support. These days I try to monitor our usage pretty closely so I can catch it before it gets out of hand each month. Of course, the time wasted on checking this once a day is probably worth something as well, so I need to keep that in mind as well, as I sit and wait for a better Android phone to hit the market.

Playstation Now

By | Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 5:04 am

Sony offers a new service for PS4 users called “Playstation Now”.  What it does is offer a free “streaming” library of classic PS3 games that you can run on your PS4, much like how Hulu and Netflix offer streaming movies.  You pay a monthly fee for full access, and in return you get open access to their entire library of Playstation Now titles (currently over 400 games).

Kevin and I are trying it out right now with a free 1-week trial.  So far, it seems to be pretty decent.  Another big benefit is that with this membership you also get the ability to play all of these games on a PC.  This doesn’t come without it’s own little hitches though–your PC must meet the minimum specs to run the Playstation Now software and you must connect a PS4 controller to your PC, either with a USB cable or with an adapter available for an additional fee from Sony.

I’ve been on a 7-day free trial for several days now, and I’ve tried most features as well as dozens of games.  The pricing is currently $19.99/month or $44.99 for 3 months (about $15/month).  Somehow the games really are “streamed” too.  This means they’re not installed on your PS4 or your PC, the data they use is streamed over the internet while you’re playing the game.  There may be some temporary storage on your local drive, but this appears to be removed once you exit the game you’re playing.  I have played over 40 games from Playstation Now so far, and have noticed no decrease in the free space on my PS4.

Gladly, each time you play a new game from the service, an icon for it is added to your PS4, just like any other installed game icon.  This means that in order to play that game again, you only need to open that icon and don’t have to re-open the Playstation Now application each time (unlike Hulu or Netflix).  I love this feature!  This way, I only see my favorite games on my PS4 and I can organize them any way I wish.  I chose not to mix these titles with my installed and purchased PS4 games, so I created a folder called “Playstation Now” and I put all of those games in that folder (along with an icon for Playstation Now itself, for easy access when I need it).

Sony has been pretty active with adding new games to the service, and I believe 20+ games were added just this past month.  This is quite a few more than Playstation Plus, which is currently offering 2 games per month for PS4, 2 games for PS3, and 2 games for PS Vita–their handheld game system.

When you start a game from Playstation Now, it downloads what it needs from the server, so naturally it takes a little longer to start a game.  But with today’s internet speeds, and Sony’s Internet speed requirements for subscribers to actually be able to use the service, this isn’t very long at all.  At least not for me.  I must admit, however, that I do have the top speed tier with Time Warner Cable, so I’m not sure how much of a difference that would actually make compared to other Internet Service Providers.

I do have a few concerns about the service at this point though:

  1. What will Sony do when they run out of old PS3 games to offer?  And when will this happen?  I’m not too sure developers are still developing games for the PS3, and if they are, it has to be much less than when it was Sony’s top gaming platform.
  2. One time, when trying to start a Playstation Now game, I was told that all of the servers were busy and I had to wait in a queue.  The wait time was currently 1-2 minutes.  After that wait time, the game launched.  As the service gets more and more popular, will this happen more and more and will wait times get longer and longer just to play?  Or will Sony reliably add more and more servers as needed to keep up with the volume?
  3. Did Sony choose to not allow backward compatibility on the PS4 just so they could make more money with this subscription service?  X-Box One has backward compatibility, though not 100%, but they’re improving it more all the time.  We still have our old PS3, and plan to keep it, now that we know we can’t play any of our old games on our PS4–unless we keep paying for Playstation Now–which offers many of those games, but still not all of them, though it does include many other good games we hadn’t ever played on PS3.  I guess I’d have to add up the possible cost of the entire Playstation Now library (which continues to grow all the time) and compare that with the monthly fee times how long we’ll potentially keep our PS4 to see which would save us the most money in the long run.  That’s a tough one.

Life is but a stream…So it seems like you’re actually running your game on a PS3 server somewhere at Sony, and your PS4 (or your PC) is simply serving up the screens it’s fed.  If this is the case, I don’t know how it can keep up without severe lag, but somehow it does…most of the time.  Several times during gameplay I have noticed the announced warning icon appearing in the corner of the screen.  They explain this icon each time a game is started, explaining that this means your internet connection quality (speed) has decreased, and you should save any progress you’ve made, if possible, just in case you lose your connection to the server.  Nearly every time this appeared, it disappeared again a short time later and I noticed little to no effect.  There may have been some frame loss resulting in a little jittering in image quality, but nothing else.  In one case, however, I’ve lost connection completely and the game exited on me.  A few minutes later I was able to re-launch it and pretty much picked up where I left off pretty easily.  Basically, before you subscribe, you definitely want to go with the free 1-week trial and make sure your own internet connection is reliable enough to play the games without issue.

Another key question I had with the service was whether it worked just like purchased game licenses work on the PS4.  This is where you can purchase one license for a game, install it on two PS4’s in your household, and two players (the players set a “primary” users on each other’s PS4’s) and both play that game together or separately.  I was hoping that this functionality also applied to Playstation Now, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It worked fine for Kevin and I, and we both played a long session of “ibb and obb” together (a simple, yet very interesting mind-bending puzzle game–something, it turns out, Kevin is actually better at than me!).

But so far, overall, I’m impressed.  I had no idea at all that you could stream games this way, using virtually no local hard drive space.  I had assumed this service would end up maxing out my hard drive and I’d be constantly swapping games out and installing others just to play everything.  The price seems a bit steep, but since the entire library of 400+ titles and growing weekly or monthly, I think it beats to 2-titles-per-month that Playstation Plus gives you…even though Plus gives you genuine PS4 titles that you then own a license for and have to install locally (but on the other hand, you own that license to the game, even if you stop subscribing to Playstation Plus, unlike Playstation Now where you lose access to its entire library if you stop subscribing.  At $15 per month (paying 3 months at a time) it would work for both Kevin and I on one account, so we could split the cost.  That brings it down to just $7.50 per month for each of us, which isn’t bad, in my opinion.

That’s about it.  Now let me go play some Red Dead Redemption, which I see was just added to the PSNow library…

Giving thanks

By | Thursday, November 24, 2016 at 8:20 am

I kept thinking about this post, over and over, wondering just what to write, knowing I’d probably leave out something or someone important, and that would bug me.  Do I just thank everyone and everything I can?  Just the “really” important stuff, or go on and on, giving a sermon about what Thanksgiving is supposed to be compared to what it has become today?

Let’s just get that out of the way right now:  I am thankful for my family, my friends, my job, and just the ability to have one more day to enjoy it all.  The older I get, the more I realize just how precious our time is on this planet.  It can be taken away in a flash, be it an accident, disease, or on purpose.  One day you’re here, the next, maybe not.

Many people say “Live each day as if it were your last.” We can try, but human nature causes us to revert back to our regular behavior quickly, and we soon forget that “golden rule,” and drop back into our old routines,  And depending on exactly how you interpret that golden rule, it could be as simple as being happy and enjoying every moment, or you could be overdoing it and risking everything to make sure you complete everything on your bucket list before the inevitable happens.

Just try to enjoy the time you have, whichever way you have to, and be thankful, especially today, that you’re able to.

Drone

By | Monday, November 21, 2016 at 5:01 pm

home-from-droneThis weekend Matt stopped by with his new drone!  Wow, what a piece of technology!  I was a little curious at the start, but much more so once he was flying it and showing us the features.  He bought a rather expensive model (at least in my book), and it has some pretty sweet features and specs, including a nice gimble & camera.  The gimble allows for beautifully smooth movement of the camera while shooting up to 4K video or 12-megapixel snapshots.

He started it up in the driveway, got up between 200 and 300 feet to clear everything tall in the neighborhood, then flew it around.  I must say, it scared me a bit knowing how much that little toy costed, and watching it zoom out of sight over the neighborhood.  It has a decent range, but I still found it scary.  It probably would have felt even worse, had I been the one who paid for it!  He mentioned getting to a certain point where the video starts to cut out…sheesh, now THAT could give me heart issues… but there’s a nifty little “Go Home” feature and calls it back and it comes right back to your location.

After some flying around and recording (both from my cell phone and from the 4K camera on the drone) until the drone’s battery was nearly dead and getting pretty chilly in the 32-degree weather, we came back inside to warm up and figure out how to view the footage as quickly as possible.

I transferred the videos to my PC and could view them there, but we wanted to watch them on the big TV.  It’s 1080p though, so we couldn’t actually view them in full 4K quality.  I used my laptop, which already has a dock connected to the TV, and the video looked awesome!

The video on a MicroSD card is limited to 4GB file sizes, so our footage was split into two files – one about 8 minutes (4GB in size), and the other about 6 minutes (about 3GB in size).  I wanted to use ShareStudio, an app on the PS4, to edit the video, but unfortunately, the PS4 didn’t recognize the video file format that the drone used.

After we finished ogling the fine footage, I dropped the videos into my YouTube channel to start uploading them to the internet.  After a few hours they completed, and the footage still looks quite impressive there, and now we can share them with everyone easily.  Take a look if you want.  Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 from the drone, and my cell phone footage.

I want to be able to edit those three videos into one nice one, complete with cuts back and forth between be shooting the drone, and the drone shooting me, when we were playing with the “Follow Me” feature of the drone, but I tried doing so in Corel VideoStudio, but it didn’t work out so well.  The resulting video, which I wanted to save as a 4K video, was horrible with dropped frames throughout and full choppiness, rendering it unwatchable.  I might try it again at 1080p, just to see if it’s the 4K it can’t handle, or if my PC’s just not powerful enough to handle the job.

 

Geeks, TWiTs, and Tech, oh my!

By | Saturday, November 19, 2016 at 7:32 am

Anybody else remember TechTV?  Ah, the good old days of having a channel just for us geeks… I remember it very fondly, especially The ScreenSavers with Leo LaPorte and Patrick Norton.  I used to watch that channel quite a bit until it disappeared.  I learned a lot from those guys…and still do. Today the content that was that single channel is spread across everything.  Maybe geeks are finally becoming mainstream.  Yikes! We’re multiplying at an alarming rate, somebody stop the madness!

Seriously, tech and those that know how to use it, is everywhere now, and you have to know it (or at least enough bits of it) to get by.  Is your microwave still flashing “12:00” at you?  If it is, you might not be a geek…And I’m no Jeff Foxworthy, so I won’t continue with that joke.  But with today’s smartphones, small computers, tablets, smartwatches, internet everywhere, etc., etc., it’s clear the world is getting more and more tech-based all the time.

I began in IT in 1981.  It’s still hard to believe it’s been that long ago (36 years. You’re welcome, Kev), but then I look at how far the tech has come and it’s mind-boggling.  My first computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 – a “Trash Eighty” as it was known as, with a whopping 4K of RAM (that’s 4,000 “characters” or “typed letters” it could hold in memory).  It came as a somewhat-small black * white CRT monitor, which–and I can’t even remember this part clearly enough–also contained the computer components–or at least “some” of them.  Need a visual? Here, have a flashback.  The rest of it was a big, bulky keyboard, which I believe held the rest of the components to round out the entire computer.  But with just these two small pieces, you had an entire computer and you could actually DO things with it!  SAVING what you did on it was an entirely different animal–just as it is today.  Back then you had to buy a cassette tape drive if you were on a budget, and you’d save and load your programs and data from cassette tapes (yes, just like those old music cassettes you heard of, and might have actually seen or used on occasion,from the olden days) that were high-quality, fragile little storage units.  Read and write errors–even with the highest-quality, most-expensive tapes–were frequent, and the loss of dozens or even hundreds of hours of work was almost common.  And God forbid if you had a magnet in your house!  Those who weren’t on such a budget could splurge and pay thousands of dollars for a newfangled “floppy drive”.  They offered a ton more space, were much much faster, and with them you were much less likely to have all of your hair gone (pulled out) by the time you turned 25.  I won’t even go into hard drives.  Those didn’t even appear on the map for some time later on.

But looking at those details you can see how far we’ve come.  As a comparison, the power in that huge, very heavy computer from back then is now fully contained in just a small chip in your smartwatch.  Not even the whole watch, just a chip inside it. Mind-boggling, as I said.  But our society is fast becoming more and more tech-savvy as all of these gadgets continue to spread, evolve, and shrink.  So we’re ALL pretty much becoming “geeks” to one extent or another.  Maybe only in certain areas, but geeks nonetheless.

Where I am going with this, I have no idea.  I just woke up this morning, this was running through my head, and I needed to write.  Like most things in this blog, it’s just random thoughts and memories that come to me.  (he says, as he straps on his Moto 360 while listening to his Windows 10 PC connected to his 55″ LG TV, streaming classic 80’s songs from a Amazon Music…) Geek on.