Downtown Walk

Yesterday, Kevin, Socks and I walked through downtown.  Kevin found a new toy store he’s excited to re-visit.  It’s called “Inner Child Collectables and Comics”.  They have a lot of comics, toys, old video games and old magazines.  It’s a nice place the geeks on Big Bang Theory would really treasure.  The own says it’ll only be open on weekends though, probably through next year.  He has a full-time job in addition to this store, so he can’t run it full time.  I’m sure we’ll be stopping in again.  It must be a new store though–I couldn’t find it anywhere on the web, and I had to add it to Foursquare.  It’s on 6th Avenue A, at the red dot on this walking map.  We parked right in front of it at the start of our walk.

At the other end of our walk we visited some new sculptures on the lakefront that we hadn’t seen before.  We found 4 new ones – Allegra, Emergence #11, sea saw, and Water.  Click on the links to check them out.  They’re in my Kenosha Art section.

Xoom & Honeycomb Tips

Having had my Motorola Xoom for awhile, I recently sent Jay a bunch of tips and suggestions for his new tablet (also a Xoom).  I thought I’d post those tips here so they might benefit others as well.  Here they are:

  • My Movies Pro is awesome for cataloging your DVDs and Blu-Rays, and it’s designed for Honeycomb!
  • The Xoom takes 48-55 seconds to boot cold, if powered all the way off.
  • Hold the power button down for a couple seconds to power it all the way down or to power it on.
  • To force-reboot instantly, press the Volume-Up and Power buttons together.  Do this only as a last resort when frozen.
  • Download the free app “NVIDIA Tegra Zone”, it includes all the great games designed specifically for your chip.
  • The “Earthquake!” app is great on the Xoom, install it and set a nice, scary, notification sound as the alert.  15-20 times a day it will scare the crap out of you.
  • The Motorola Portfolio case was a let-down for me.  I ended up dropping it and getting a blue gel cover for it.  I use many different apps that are optimized for portrait orientation and others that look best in landscape on the Xoom, and also play several games (like Burn the Rope) that require you to rotate the tablet as you’re playing as part of the gameplay.  The portfolio case (at least Motorola’s version) drove me nuts trying to do all these things.  The prop was nice, but not worth the trouble for me.  It just didn’t feel right in my hands with the case being larger and the lid flopping loosely behind the tablet. So I went with the gel (feels great in the hand!) and also got a Casecrown Suede Xoom Sleeve for storage when I take it with me.  It’s cushioned, zippered, fits the Xoom perfectly, and has an additional zippered pocket for other things.  I keep a microcloth in there to clean the screen and a stylus for notes and drawing apps.
  • “HD Widgets” are a must if you like Weather and Clock widgets.  This one is specifically designed for tablets, and the “HD Tablet Header” widget is my absolute favorite, though there are several others included, all very customizable.
  • Reminder – make sure you’re checking the Amazon Appstore daily on your Xoom for the daily free paid app – now you can install ALL of them and try them out and never have to worry about space issues.
  • Act 1 is a video player that works great on the Xoom, and is the only video player I’ve found that lets you custom Zoom to the size you want when you’re watching any video.
  • Make sure you check out the “Staff Picks for Tablets” section in the Android Market.  You’ll see the edge of the title in the upper right corner of the Market’s home page in the Apps section.  Slide left to bring it on-screen.  They update it frequently, and all of these apps work great on the Xoom.
  • All of the apps by “GLU MOBILE” are a rip.  They’re free, and some of them even look really neat and visually stunning, but they’re the type of games like Zynga’s games that get you hooked, then make you install OTHER apps or “do other tasks” like purchase something from another vendor, to earn “credits” or “Coins” to progress further in the game.  Of course, as an option they always allow you to skip the tasks completely by paying real money for credits or coins!  GAWD what a racket they got going!
  • Beware of scams.  Someone actually recently put up “Angry Birds HD”, “Angry Birds Seasons HD”, and many others, made them look authentic and set the price at 99 cents and made a lot of money.  Turns out they were selling SCREENSHOTS of the actual games!  Just a single screenshot was all you got, but it promoted itself as being the new HD version of the game!  They also had the letters LWP in them, which should have been a clue—this means “Live WallPaper”.  I guess we’re supposed to know that if it says that, it just wallpaper and not a real app. 🙁
  • When you’re ready to try a new launcher on your Xoom, the best one I’ve found for it (so far) is ADW Launcher EX.  They’ve done a lot to it to make it fully compatible with Honeycomb, including adding the top right and left homescreen links (which are changeable  too!) and an awesome scrolling app bar along the bottom (optional)!  I’m always trying out different launchers as well as apps, and this is by far the most Honeycomb-compatible to date.  You gain the following abilities with it, just to name a few:
  • Rearrange your homescreens
  • Add or remove entire homescreens
  • Plenty of effects to choose from for homescreen animations
  • Tons of configuration options, including custom grid sizes for your homescreens
  • Plenty of basic icon options like “rename”, edit, etc., that you’d think would have been built into Android already.
  • If you switch to ADW Launcher EX as your homescreen, before putting a lot of work into redesigning your homescreens, be sure to set the default launcher to ADW, then do a full shutdown and restart.  The first time you use it, if you don’t reboot after setting it as your default launcher, you can lose all of your widgets.
  • Also, switching  between multiple launchers on the fly isn’t a good idea.  I tried it, thinking I could gain the benefit of having double the homescreens that way using 2 launchers, but it doesn’t work that way.  I think it basically uses up all of the system memory and is unable to toggle back and forth quickly.  It resulted in everything just crawling and being very very sluggish.  This is another reason why you need to fully reboot after setting a new launcher as default.
  • There is a small bug in Honeycomb that you might run into occasionally.  I have 3.2.1 and it still happens once in awhile, so they haven’t fixed it yet.  Sometimes when a popup is supposed to appear  on-screen, the screen will dim, but nothing appears, as if it’s frozen.  It was very frustrating when this started happening and I didn’t know what was going on.  I scoured the web though, and eventually learned what was happening:  Sometimes Honeycomb can’t draw the popup properly, so it appears to freeze.  Easy workaround instead of rebooting or panicking: rotate the screen 90 degrees.  Once the screen rotates and redraws itself, the popup will then appear and you can continue normally.  Sheesh.  Yes, it’s annoying, but I guess no OS is 100% perfect.
  • As of last week, Netflix is now available for the Xoom (and all Android 3 tablets) in the market, and it works nicely.  I’ve been waiting for it since I got my Xoom, and even cancelled my Netflix account temporarily until it finally came out for the Xoom.
  • I actually like Google Books a little better than Kindle on the Xoom.  The way the pages turn (like a real book) is neat.  It’s pretty minor I guess, but the experience just seems nicer.  You sure can spend a lot of money on books though–I wish Google or Amazon would switch to the subscription method that Audible uses.  That would be awesome.  With Audible you pay a flat monthly fee and you get 2 credits a month.  A credit is worth 1 book–any book–no matter what the price is.  There’s also a lower-priced plan that gives you 1 credit a month.  You can still buy books at good discount prices as well, but I really like the credit model.  I can budget for it, and 2 books a month is a pretty good pace for me.
  • A tiny video

    Kevin and I made a short stop-motion video tonight.  I wanted to show Kevin how easy it is to do a little video magic with the camcorder, so we made this short video.  It took a total of about 1/2 hr of time–which was perfect for his short attention span–going from auto-recording 1 frame every 3 seconds, to transferring to his computer, adding some music, and rendering it out in H.264 video, then uploading to YouTube.  It has a few bad frames where it caught me touching, but otherwise I think it turned out pretty neat for what is definitely the shortest video I’ve ever made.  Take a look.

    Miscellaneous Weekend

    Breaking in the new fire pitWe finally got a new fire pit after our old one fell apart last year.  Dennis had given it to us, and we gave it many good feedings until the fencing around it just crumbled and fell apart.  We love to cook hot dogs and marshmallows (burnt & crunchy is best for both) and just sit around the fire and keep warm.  It also allows us to quickly get rid of all of our excess cardboard boxes.  Kevin and I assembled it this morning and we were very proud to see how he handled the work.  He didn’t complain or whine about it, did what he was told to do, and I think he enjoyed the whole experience.  I know he especially enjoyed the “breaking in”, when he got to tear up the cardboard box and packing for the fire pit itself, put it inside, and watch it go up in flames.

    Kevin’s had more free time to do other things lately, now that the Playstation Network is down and he can’t play with his friends in Little Big Planet.   He was pretty disappointed the first week, but now that we’re entering the third week of it, he’s been moving on to other things.  So I guess it’s not a completely bad thing, at least for us.  I can’t help but think there are millions of other people out there experiencing something similar with PSN down, so I have some concerns that this is going to impact Sony and the PS3 in a huge way moving forward.  It was our favorite gaming platform before, but I’m not so sure any more.  Kevin’s still playing other games on it now–mostly Portal 2–but we’re just not as into it with such a huge part of it disabled.  No updates for anything, no communicating with anyone in any game, Kevin tries on dad's glassesand the worst part is no video chatting.  We especially enjoy the latter when Tyler comes over for a weekend… He has virtual visits with the AZ half of his family every time he comes, and we all enjoy that.  I heard yesterday that hackers actually attacked PSN twice in the past two weeks, and they were planning a third attack this weekend, so who knows when it’ll be back up again.  Kevin dutifully checks it once or twice a day and keeps me posted.

    Kevin also tried on my glasses this morning and had to pose for pictures.  Take a look.

    Sometimes things work out

    Dual Monitors (sorta)This week one of our monitors died.  No big surprise—EVERYTHING has been dying or breaking lately… Over the past couple weeks, Sandy’s cell phone broke, our laptop died, the PS3 died, and our expensive Harmony Remote died.   It’s like Karma knows we got our tax refund checks and wants to just eat that money up as fast as possible.  The thing is, we need that money to fix up the house in the spring so the city doesn’t fine us!  Yes, the neighborhood inspectors nailed us last season, and we have a big list of things to fix on our house and property now.

    Anyway, back to the dead monitor.  I can’t stand seriously working on a PC with just one monitor.  There’s just so much I do at once, I can’t fit it onto a single monitor, or, even if I could, it gets too confusing switching back and forth between open applications and windows.  With 2 screens (minimum) I can separate things enough to work smoothly and get things done efficiently.  Just ask Randy Pausch from Carnegy-Mellon University.   Once monitor on a PC just doesn’t cut it.

    So anyway, it died.  The backlight constantly flickers and repeatedly goes black, rendering it useless.  Yes, it was very old, so it’s not worth fixing.  It was just a standard, cheap 17” LCD monitor that I had broken the base off of so it would fit into the little right nitch on my desk to use as my right monitor.   So I scrapped it.  Not sure what to do next, I took some measurements and checked many vendors for monitors that would fit in that spot.  It’s not an easy task to find the FULL dimensions of a monitor (including the stand) when you need it.  Some sites provide it, but most don’t.   What to do?  I found a few monitors that came with removable stands, which would be perfect, but their size without the stand attached was then questionable.  Arrggh.

    Well, another completely unrelated task that Sandy had during this whole dilemma was with a client of hers.  She needed an inexpensive TV and wanted to know if it was possible to get a new flatscreen LCD TV for as little as $100.  So I looked around and found a couple at Best Buy—one for $89.99 and one for $99.99.  She ended up choosing the $99 one, which was on sale from $150, so Sandy had to pick it up for her.

    Yesterday, while the TV was sitting at home waiting for Sandy to deliver it to her client, I got an idea.  I wondered how something like this would fit into our desk cubby.  So I carefully removed it from it’s box and did some measuring.  It looked pretty close!  So I attached the stand and set it in place.  It fit PERFECTLY!  All of Best Buy’s smallest monitors (18”-19”) were around the same price, but none of them would fit in this space on our desk.  This TV was on sale, $50 off, so it was normally $150.  It was a 15” screen, so it was a bit smaller, but it had all the right ports—a VGA port, HDMI, and all the others.  I even had an extra AT&T box I could use on it that I haven’t used since 3 PCs ago, because I didn’t have a TV antenna or HDMI input on any of our replacement PCs.  The only other issue I could foresee would be with its resolution.  I know TVs are not quite up to the specs of monitors, so I expected the resolution to be lacking.

    I went ahead and unboxed the rest of the package and set everything up.  I connected the cable box to the HDMI, and the PC to the VGA input.  Everything worked perfectly, and it has quite a nice image!  Yes, the quality is a bit less than a monitor, but I was expecting as much.  Surprisingly, however, the specs say it has a maximum resolution of 1366×768, but when I set that resolution in Windows 7 it told me that it’s not optimum and recommends 1920×1080 as the optimum resolution, and when setting the TV’s resolution to 1366×768, the monitor went black and displayed a “Not Supported” message!  I tried other resolutions, but only 1920×1080 and 1600×900 would work, so I compared the two with a standard web page displayed.  1600×900 is what my main monitor is at as optimum, and it turned out that looks exactly the same on the TV, but leaves about a 1” border around the edge of the picture area, resulting in a LOT of wasted screen space and simply eliminates the extra pixels from the 1920×1080 resolution instead of “stretching” to use the full screen.  So 1920×1080 it was.  It’s kind of bizarre that this TV is actually smaller than my main monitor, yet I have to use a higher resolution on it.  It worked well enough though, fit perfectly in its spot, and I can now optionally watch cable (or our DVR recordings) on it by simply switching from the VGA port to the HDMI port on the remote.  That’s awesome, especially since a lot of the time I will drag a Netflix browser window over to my right screen to watch a movie while I work anyway.   And 15” isn’t as small as it sounds sitting next to my 20” main display.  In fact, there’s only about a 2” height difference in the actual screen displays.    So it really goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that I then had to return to Best Buy and pick up another of these TVs for Sandy’s client.  Sometimes things work out in strange ways.  But after having so many things die unexpectedly, this seems like little consolation.

    Tombstone

    Well, today we went on a Wild West Adventure! We went to Tombstone! We had a great time! Tons of little shops and still some of the original Saloons! We even had a famous Bloody Mary at the Crystal Palace! That was where the “Cowboys” and the Earp’s had many encouters. It was right across the street from the Oriental Saloon (the Earps were partial owners of the saloon). We saw a reinactment of the famous O.K. Corral gunfight (the video is in the pictures)! It was alot of fun and very interesting. Boot Hill (the famous graveyard of Tombstone) was also another infamous spot to see. If anyone wants to see more, we have the map of the town and a book on Boot Hill. Just let us know.