Tired. Literally.

Last week was very busy. Wednesday, on my way to work I had a blowout. My right front tire blew as I was driving to work. I was in Kenosha county, so at least the tow wasn’t too bad. I couldn’t get the trunk open to get to the spare and the jack (darn it, I was SO looking forward to changing a tire, too!) so I called my insurance company’s roadside assistance hotline. They give you the option to locate you via GPS, so I went that route. As it turned out, they pinpointed me on the wrong road, sending the tow truck somewhere else. But the towing service call me back and I provided them with a mailbox number nearby, then they were able to find me.

My car was fixed by late that evening, and only took that long because they found other issues that also needed tending to, so I opted to have those done as well, as long as it was already in the shop. I ended up with new 4 new tires, new brakes, and some other undercarriage equipment that’s apparently important, but I don’t even know the terms or what they do. All I know is that my car rides much smoother and I no longer have “slicks” that sqeal when I turn corners, even at slow speeds. Nice and quiet.

Then, late Saturday evening, as I was leaving the house, I notice I had a FLAT TIRE! A brand new tire, and it’s almost completely flat. It looked like it still had SOME air in it, so I drove to the gas station a few blocks away and filled it up, then ran my errands and came back home. Sunday morning I checked it again and it was flat, this time completely. Ah, good times. I found a small electric air compressor in the garage–I think it was from my dad’s estate–it worked nicely, plugged into the cigarette lighter in the car. Once I started the car, the pump came on, and the tire was filled in a few minutes. The garage opened in a couple hours, so I figured it would still have enough air in it to get me to the garage by the time they opened. The garage found a two-inch sheetmetal screw embedded in the tire and showed it to me. Man, was it sharp! That car went fine on it’s original tires for 7 years with no problems at all (they were pretty bald though), then when I get new ones, within 3 days I run over a screw and puncture one! That’s my luck I guess. The shop just said “Yeah, that’s about how it goes.” Arrgh. It was covered though, so no big deal. Maybe I should have asked if I could have the four quarters back that I used to fill the tire back up…

Camera & Eye-Fi Review – Sony DSC-HX20V with Eye-Fi Pro X2 16GB

I got this camera for my 50th birthday this month. So far, it’s nothing short of great. And after reading about the Eye-Fi card, and how it works, I immediately ordered one to use with the new camera. The 18.2 MP photos are great, and the 20x (40x digital) really is nice too. I’ve been using the “i+ Superior Auto” mode, which is new for me. What it does is pretty nice: When you take a picture in this mode, depending on the lighting and the image contents, you might hear multiple clicks as the shutter snaps multiple times using various settings. Then it combines all of the images and blends them automatically into one photo, much like HDR. This allows you to take excellent low-light photos that are still crisp and clear with little or no graininess in them. The camera also has built-in GPS tagging (and logging, for recording your journey on a map!) It takes the camera a couple minutes to grab the GPS signal once you turn it on, but from that point on it works great.

Another excellent feature is “iSweep Panorama” mode. This mode allows you to simply click the shutter button and sweep the camera from left to right in one clean motion, either slow or fast. Once you’ve rotated it 180 degrees, your panorama is completed and it displays as a nice, long photo on the screen, at a resolution of 4912×1080 (5mp) in STD mode, 7152×1080 (7.7mp) in WIDE mode, or a whopping 10480×4096 (42.9mp) in HR mode! This is tons better than many other panorama methods I’ve seen cameras (and apps) use, involving stitching of multiple separate photos together, or doing virtually the same thing, but by having you click for each photo, then overlapping them in-camera as you rotate to the next spot, line it up, and click again.

The camera also shoots very nice, full 1080p video, while using image stabilization (optional) and optional zooming, so it’s great for home movie-making as well. It will also shoot 3D photos and 3D panoramas as well as 3D multi-angle images viewable in-camera and on 3D TVs.

The final kicker, which makes this pretty much my “dream” camera, is the addition of a Eye-Fi Pro X2 16GB SDHC card! This is a memory card, used just like a standard SDHC memory card–with one major difference: It has built-in Wifi! When configured (initially, on a PC, with the included SDHC card reader), it will automatically sync all of your photos and videos–as you take them–with your home PC, laptop, or your Android or iPhone! And it can optionally auto-upload to your favorite photo-sharing service like Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, and many others! I will never have to worry about losing any of my photos, because they’re automatically backed up–both on my PC and in my Flickr account in the cloud!

Once I take a photo or two, after about a minute (as long as I keep the camera’s power on) the photos start streaming into my Android phone. It will also optionally GPS-tag the photos from your cell phone. I actually set this option, even though the camera has GPS, because I like to turn the camera on and snap photos quickly, and sometimes I’m done shooting before the GPS ever gets a lock. So with this option on, the GPS from my phone (which is on all the time) is used to tag the photos instead, and it’s fairly accurate all of the time. Once the photos are uploaded to my phone, my phone then uploads them to my preferred backup destination–which is Flickr. You can choose to make them automatically public or private, or only viewable by certain people. I have mine set to private, then later on I can sort through them on Flickr and publish those that I want to share, and delete or keep the rest as I want. This will be great for vacations! I can setup the photo album ahead of time, make it public, then snap all the photos as we travel and everyone gets a live photo feed of our trip! Hopefully it’ll work out much better than EveryTrail, which has pretty much been a flop for our vacations thus far. I can understand having some “dead spots” in very rural places at times, when crossing the country, but for it to just stop working completely when we take just a few photos and never pick up again until we’re at our destination two days later, is simply unacceptable. That’s EveryTrail though, and has nothing to do with Eye-Fi or the camera.

I tried the camera today for a new Ingress Portal Submission, and it worked great. Took a minute to get to my phone, and once the photo was there, I shared it to NIA Super-Ops, gave it a title, and submitted the new portal. The Eye-Fi Pro X2 Android app also has the ability to simply auto-upload photos taken with just your cell phone camera as well, so all of the photos taken with just my cell phone are also automatically uploaded to Flickr and/or my PC just as the camera’s photos are. This is a great bonus because it fully backs up EVERY photo I take, not just those taken with the camera containing the Eye-Fi card.

The only issue I have with using the Eye-Fi card is how I have to leave the camera power on after shooting photos. I have the habit of powering it off immediately after I’m done to save battery. When I do this, it can’t establish a connection to my phone and send the photos to it. Granted it does transfer the photos just fine the next time the power is turned on again, but that makes backups a little less instant, making my photos a little more vulnerable. Once I leave the camera on and the photos finish transferring to the phone, then the camera power shuts itself off automatically. Though, how an Eye-Fi card (which can be used in ANY camera) can control THIS camera like this, I have no idea. Don’t question the magic Jim, just go with it…

App Crap

What’s with all of the Android app issues all of a sudden?? First, Google Navigation–the absolute best (and totally free) navigation app available for Android–pretty much threw in the towel recently by removing the ability to control the voice volume for the navigation while integrating a very natural and human-sounding internal speech engine.  Now, whenever I use it I can’t hear any of the navigation announcements because my music volume is apparently louder than the new voice engine!  And since the eliminated the separate volume control for the navigation, there’s no way to control it!  Turning down the volume turns down both the Navigation volume as well as the music, so I end up having to choose a no-music (or audiobook) drive or a music-only drive without navigation at all.  Unacceptable, Google!!  I’m trying to work with Waze right now, which has made some big improvements lately, from what I’m seeing.  It does pretty good navigation and includes “crowdsourcing” features, constantly including traffic, accident and other updates instantly as you drive, from all of the “Wazers”.  You even earn points for everything to report in the app, to increase your Waze score and earn better ranks.  It has it’s issues, doesn’t look as “Pro” as Google Navigation, and the voice navigation is a bit muffled…but at least it has a separate voice navigation VOLUME CONTROL!!! Are you listening, Google?!?!?!? It works ok for me for now, until something better comes along (or Google fixes theirs).

Then today I find out that Dropbox acquired Audiogalaxy!!  Now Audiogalaxy isn’t accepting any new accounts, and their “Mixes” subscription service is ending on 12/31/12.  Yikes!! They go on to say “previous users with accounts can continue to stream their music collections”… but for how long?!?!  Audiogalaxy is the best Android music streaming server I have ever found, and nothing compares to it!! I sure hope they eventually decide to keep streaming and start accepting new accounts again, even if it becomes branded as a Dropbox Music Streaming app–as long as they DON’T start requiring everyone to upload their music collection to Dropbox though–THAT would suck!  I have such a huge collection of music, it would cost me quite a bit of money each month for a dropbox account big enough to hold my entire music collection.  Hmmph.  Time to start looking for something better anyway, I guess.

Doggie down!

Lakefront WalkTy, Kevin, Socks and I walked around the lakefront this morning.  It was close to 3 miles, but I missed the first chunk of it on my map, because I didn’t realize my GPS was turned off at first.  We got close to where the 2-mile marker is on my map, when socks walked up to a tree and collapsed!  He just flopped over onto his side, panting heavily.  Ty tried to pick him up to carry him the rest of the way, but he got angry and started snapping.  So we waited for a few minutes and then he got up and was ok for the rest of the walk.  Poor dog just walked himself out.  He’s getting old though, we’ll have to ease up on him a bit, especially in the heat we’ve had lately.  He’d never survive in Arizona!

Big “I”

Big "I"I drew a big “I” today, walking at lunch. It’s a little crooked in spots, due to me having to walk around obstacles and trying not to fall down when walking through the lumpy grass in Victory Park. Wearing Shape-Ups (curved, instead of standard flat shoes) makes walking on bumpy terrain pretty dangerous. Anyway, with those factors and the usual inaccuracies of GPS, I’m left with a “drunken I”. But just imagine what I could write out in the desert with a lot of space and very few obstacles to get in my way! Some day I’ll find out. It’ll be kinda like one of those hidden things found in Google Earth.

Walking the line

CardioTrainerI try to walk every chance I get during lunchtime at work (30 minutes), and I use Cardiotrainer.  It keeps me informed every few minutes by announcing my distance, speed and calories, and it also records my walk on a map, allowing me to see exactly where I walked. Over time I’ve noticed that these maps result in some rather interesting shapes, and I could see how it would be very easy for someone to actually draw things during their walks, much like those who leave giant messages that only something like Google Maps can actually see. I uploaded few of my recent walks, most of them 30-minute periods over lunch at work.  Take a look.

I find it interesting how some of them make me look drunk, zig-zagging back and forth a lot.  I think GPS measurements vary a bit more depending on cloud and/or wind  conditions… in ADDITION to my usually trippy walking style, that is…

Cell phone bliss

I started typing this post on 9/12/10.  I finally decided it’s time to post it.  Looking back, I guess I should have posted it as I wrote it, and just posted updates after that, so it was always current.  Oh well.  Anyway, here goes:

I’ve done a lot of research on smartphones recently, on a quest for getting my first one.  Yeah, I know, a geek without a smartphone?!? What took me so long?? Well, money, of course, is the first consideration.  It costs more money, both monthly and upfront, for a smartphone, so there’s that.  Then there’s the Operating System.  Do I want Apple (iPhone), Android (all providers other than apple), or something else?  I quickly narrowed my choices down to iPhone or Android.  Both are excellent operating systems, and Android is available on many different phones and carriers. And besides, since I’m now a card-carrying member of Appleholics Anonymous, one of their 12 steps is to own, and loyally use daily, a non-Apple device.  So here I go.

My choices of phones were quickly narrowed down to one phone after I checked with my current cellular provider.  It turns out I’m only a few months into a 2-year contract, and there’s a hefty “early termination” fee if I leave my contract.  They’re willing to work with me though, if I want to re-up my contract for 2 more years and get a smartphone.  Thay have two Android phones to choose from, the best being the HTC Desire.  I reviewed the specs and they looked pretty nice, with a few exceptions.  The primary reason I leaned toward Android over an iPod at first, was the openness of the system and the fact that the new Android version (2.2 Frozen Yogurt–aka FroYo) offered wifi tethering and the ability to install apps on a MicroSD card.  I was excited about these two options.  Wifi tethering would cure another problem we keep having.  We get to a remote location–either Kevin and I, Sandy and I, or all three of us–then discover that there’s no wifi available, so we can’t check in anywhere, check our mail, or play a round of Words With Friends, so what to do except twiddle our thumbs???  But Android version 2.1, which my provider’s HTC Desire comes with, doesn’t have those features yet.  So I called my provider.  My first call to them resulted in them agreeing to make an exception to renew my contract and allow me to upgrade my phone again.  They couldn’t tell me much about the Android version, so I explained what I had read.  They still didn’t know what, if any, upgrade options were possible on the Desire.

‘, ‘

I thought about it a bit and decided to stop in at one of their stores in town the next day.  I played around with the phone for a few minutes to get a feel for it and look at the menus and features.  I asked the salesperson about Android 2.1 and asked if I could upgrade to 2.2.  She wasn’t sure so she checked with her manager.  He said “no no no, you can’t upgrade it, you have to use the operating system it comes with.”  Now, I’m not sure if he misunderstood what I was asking, but I didn’t appreciate the way he said this.  I told her I wasn’t going to upgrade at all if this was the case, and I left the store.

Further research on the Internet that evening didn’t help much.  A few postings by other users mentioned that the upgrade to 2.2 for my carrier hasn’t been released, but was expected in the near future, though no definite date was quoted and no source of this information was provided.  My carrier has nothing posted on their website, even in their FAQs about Android.  So today, very frustrated and torn as to whether I should take the plunge or not, I called my carrier’s tech support again.  I explained the situation and asked if there was anyone there who could provided some technical information on Android for this specific carrier.  I was placed on hold for about 20 minutes and then a support tech picked up.  He seemed very knowledgeable about Android and the HTC Desire, but said basically the same thing I was told before–the Android 2.2 upgrade hasn’t been approved yet for this carrier, and he’s not sure if the wifi tethering feature will be supported or not.  I explained that someone else–the lady I talked to before him–said that wifi tethering is definitely not supported by them and they are not responsible for any additional charges resulting from attempting to use this feature.  He couldn’t elaborate, only repeated that they wouldn’t know more until the release is actually approved by the carrier.  I explained that wifi tethering is a pretty big tipping point for me upgrading to this phone, and he explained that the phone has a ton of excellent features even as it is now, without the wifi tethering, and it does have USB tethering right now, but if wifi tethering is that much of a factor for me, he suggests I hold off until I can get more information on the upgrade after it is approved for this phone.  I thanked him for his time and help and let him go.  It was nice to finally talk to someone who understands what I’m looking for, even though he couldn’t really provide any additional information for me.

So here I sit, wondering what my provider is going to do regarding the Android 2.2 upgrade on this phone.  It’s Sunday September 12, 2010.  It should be very interesting to see what happens.  I’ll complete this post when I either know more or have a smartphone in my hands.

9/25/10 – I now own an Android phone.  I went with the HTC Desire.  It’s not the best Android phone out there (Jay has that–the HTC Evo 4G), but it’s pretty close.  I’ve had it about a week, and I’m quite impressed.  I think I’ll stick with it.  And I’ll keep my iPod too.  Just like the XBox 360 and the PS3, it’s fun to be able to play on “both sides of the fence”.  I get to learn all of the differences of each platform, all the advantages and disadvantages of them, and maybe I can even help someone in cyberspace keep better informed.  So here’s my impressions so far:

1. The touch screen is far more sensitive than the iPod Touch. Just holding the phone tightly seems to be able to heat up a few screen edge areas (where my flesh is just above it) enough to trigger a selection sometimes.  It’s not a problem now that I know I’m doing it and I can back off a little, but it was pretty confusing at first.

2. It’s Android 2.1, which isn’t so bad, but I’ll be upgrading to 2.2 as soon as it’s available from my carrier. The ability to install apps to the SD Card is extremely critical.  This phone came with so many pre-installed (and good) apps that the internal memory was nearly full before I installed anything myself!  I have to juggle apps now, uninstalling those I’m not currently using, just to install what I want to use.  I have tons of space left on my SD Card, so this makes little sense.  Android 2.2 should solve this problem completely.  And wifi tethering is just that much more of a bonus coming with 2.2

3. AT&T (not my carrier) disables the ability to download apps from outside the Android Market on all of its Android phones.  This is disappointing, because one of the main Android benefits is it’s “openness”.  It’s an open source operating system, and everyone is free to develop for it and publish software for it, either in the Android Market store or outside, via their own website or others.  Locking it to just the Market, however, seems like a pretty big restriction, pushing it close to the Apple model.  I think one big reason a lot of people go with Android is to get away from that model, even if it’s just to be different, and even if you don’t necessarily download apps from outside the Market, it’s the principal of the thing.  I would think this would discourage a lot of potential AT&T customers and drive them away from the AT&T cellular service.  Then again, already having the entire exclusive iPhone market (for the moment), I guess if any company was going to take this risk it would be AT&T.

4. Android has TRUE multitasking.  Not the fake “application in suspended-state” multitasking that the iPod and iPhone have, this is the real thing.  You can start something in an app (like Slacker’s station caching) that takes awhile to process, then just move on to another app and the processing still continues in the background.  In fact, the top “notification bar” displays an icon for that app, just so remind you that it’s still running.  Yes, it does slow down your other tasks, but that’s real multitasking.

5. Ringtones are unbelievable.  And free.  There’s no need to pay for a ringtone ever again, thanks to abundant apps that let you record any sound and use it as your ringtone, and other free apps that let you download millions (literally) of ringtones that others have already made.  I could spend years just trying to listen to all of them one by one.  Search for anything that interests you and you instantly find hundreds of ringtones to choose from.

6. Live Wallpapers.  Android wallpapers can move.  I must admit, I’ve never been a fan of animated wallpapers since Microsoft added Live Video Wallpaper to Windows and offered it as part of the “Ultimate” version of their operating system.  It slowed down the PC tremendously on many occasions and could often render it unusable, performing so slow.  I never use it any more.  But on Android it doesn’t seem to slow anything down.  Perhaps it’s just done right from the ground up this time…?  You can get Live Wallpaper in just about any flavor, just like ringtones, and there are many included on the phone.

7. GPS Rules! – Having only had the iPod Touch and not an iPhone before, GPS on a phone is new to me.  So far, it’s been a very fun, eye-opening experience.  For one thing, I think Google has really done some amazing things.  For one thing, Google Navigator (totally free) is the best navigation app I’ve seen so far, and I’ve tried several of them already, including the exclusive Navigator Plus (included with the HTC Desire) others.  You can type or speak your destination and it instantly locates it (very accurate!) and starts navigating. Google speaks your directions (even much more clearly than all the others), maps flow very smoothly as you travel, and you even get a streetview of your destination as you arrive. Another must-have app–for me, anyway–is My Tracks.  It’s another Google app that actually RECORDS your journey on Google Maps and lets you save and share those maps as well as provide you with detailed trip information, including distance, time, max speed, etc.. Amazing stuff.

8. Camera. Ah, the things you can do with a camera in your phone!  Taking pictures and videos is just the beginning.  Try Google Goggles.  Take a picture of ANYTHING and Goggles goes out to the web and finds it.  If it can’t find it, it will display images very similar to yours.  It reacognizes any logos, text, products, etc., in the photo very nicely.  I have heard that it has the capability to also recognize people, but this functionality has been disabled due to privacy concerns.

9. More Camera.  There are an abundance of applications that allow you to scan barcodes out there. Most of them do a great job of identifying the product scanned, but the awesome ones will even show you the cheapest place to buy it!  This is great for shopping!  I’ll have to go with Sandy sometime.  Another neat camera feature is face recognition.  As an example of a good use for this, Photofunia is a great free app that lets you choose from hundreds of fake “cutouts”, for example a very muscular bodybuilder, a magazine cover with an executive on it, etc., then take a photo of someone, and it detects the person’s face in the photo and places it into the cutout image as best it can.  The results are often very amusing and sometimes convincing!  It does a nice job with it, especially considering its price!

10. Widgets.  The Android has widgets.  These are tiny applications that are presented in small areas of your screen that always stay open and running, just like Windows Gadgets.  For example, Weather, music and photo widgets are very popular.  All are available in various sizes and styles, and dozens of widgets are included with the HTC Desire.  These can eat up screen space though, space otherwise used for your application icons.  The HTC Desire has 7 screens though, so you have plenty of space, considering how many (or few) apps you can have on your screens.

11. All Apps.  Even with 7 virtual screens–scrollable much like the iPod and iPhone–the Android still has an “All Apps” screen that displays every application installed on the phone, sorted A-to-Z.  This is great, and makes it easy to find any application, even if you’ve forgotten it’s name.  You also have the ability to search, as the iPod and iPhone can, by name, and it searches your phone instantly as well as optionally searching Google automatically.  You can also search by voice whenever you want, with a “microphone” key right on the keyboard.  You can even call someone, compose & send an e-mail, listen to music, etc. etc. etc… all with this same search function.

12. Lastly, Google Skymap is simply amazing.  Using GPS, it provides a live skymap of the exact stars in the area of the sky it is pointed at.  You can see all of the constellations, planets, and even the horizon, right there in front of you.  This is quite fascinating, and certainly a must-have for any astronomy buffs.  Totally free, of course.  I’m pretty sure any app with nearly the same capabilities in the Apple Store will cost your a few dollars or more.

13. Ok, I lied. THIS is the last point.  One final app to brag about. Tasker.  This is a really cool app, and it’s a tinkerer’s (aka geek’s) dream.  It’s used to perform tasks on your phone, triggers by events.  The tasks and the events that can trigger them number in the hundreds.  You can automate just about every function of the phone you can think of.  For example, you can make a task as simple as opening an application automatically at 7:00am, or a task as complicated as automatically switching off your GPS, Wifi, Cell data, and muting your phone when you get to work.  Actually they can get quite a bit more complicated that than even, but you get the idea.  It’s amazing, to say the least, and it really has the potential to turn your “Smart” phone into a “Super” phone. As an example of a practical application of it, I recently discovered an embarrassing side-effect of using an Android with my iPod speaker dock at work.  When I disconnect the headphone cable connected to the aux jack on the dock after I power off the dock, my playing music blasts loudly through the phone’s speaker for a few seconds as I panic to turn down the volume and/or pause the music, whichever I can get to quicker.  Tasker to the rescue! After this happened a few times I realized Tasker can fix this.  So I created a task to detect when the headphones are unplugged and, at that point turn the volume down and close the music application.  It works perfectly.

Android RULES!

Christmas 2008

We had a wonderful Christmas this year. It was full of family get-togethers, gifting, and TONS OF SNOW. We could have done without so much of the snow though, my back is killing me! All in all though, it was pretty nice to see everyone again and have them all over for another amazing grilled-ham Christmas dinner. All of the photo highlights are posted, of course, so you can click on the thumbnail to take a look. Kevin got some great games for the Wii and PS3, so he’s (we’re) bust playing all of those every chance we get. Sandy’s loving her new GPS–the first one she’s ever had– and I’m amazed at how simple they really are to use. I was expecting them to require some sort of elaborate antenna hookup in the car, or at least a monthly subscription to access the satellite system, but no, it’s really that simple. A one-time purchase and that’s it. The antenna is built-in and works quite well, receiving contant updates every second or two, telling her how fast she’s going, exactly when to turn, and even displaying the little car icon of her choosing and selecting the voice of her choosing! It was very amusing to hear “Elfred” the Christmas Elf give her directions. His mid-trip commentary is quite entertaining.

Update: 12/30/08 – I just finished posting all of our Christmas and New Years photos for 2008! There’s nearly 200 photos in all, so there’s plenty to sift through! Take a look. Highlights include: Christmas Eve at Beth & Tom’s, Christmas Day at Home, and Our Lil New Year’s Eve Celebration at Home with Tyler, Jayson’s son, who spent about a week with us over the holiday break. The photos are sorted chronologically, so they start a few weeks before Christmas when we put up and decorated our tree, and end with our New Year’s Eve celebration and Ty and Kev opening their presents from Jay & Shell. Enjoy!