Elizabeth Warren: “You Didn’t Build That”

May 5th, 2015 at 4:26 pm

I’m a believer in capitalism and working hard to make profit and succeed – but I find myself feeling almost like a left-wing socialist when put in the context of the American political system. The raw, unchecked power American corporations have over the political process – and thus over the laws the regulate their behaviour – is truly terrifying. Things are just broken, and they’ve largely remained broken since the financial meltdown of 2008. Not much has changed.

Elizabeth Warren is playing a vital role in power-checking the big banks and corporations that have, for the most part, completely abdicated their socially-responsible role in our society. Here’s a great article about Warren, and a great quote that sums up part of the problem:

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.” – Elizabeth Warren

Chromecast Randomly Rebooting? Check Your USB Power Source

April 12th, 2015 at 12:00 pm

chromecast

 

When Google’s Chromecast first came out, like many a geek, I ordered one right away because it was ridiculously cheap, and seemed like the long overdue bridge we were waiting for to connect our Android phones and tablets to our TVs. With all due respect to HTC, the MediaLink HD just wasn’t a solid product and never got the development work and improvements it needed.

Back to the Chromecast: when I was connecting it to the TV on my main floor, I had two options for power. I could connect it to the USB port on my LG 50 inch plasma TV, and not surprisingly it didn’t power up (the TV is older and pre-date all these gadgets that run off USB power). USB 1.x is supposed to provide a minimum of 500mAH of power, but it’s not unusual for TVs to cut corners on power output. My next option for power was the USB port on the incredible sounding AudioEngine A5+ speakers I have on either side of the TV. The specs of the speakers are 500mAH of power, so I was hoping it would be enough.

The Chromecast powered up, and everything seemed fine for a while – until after using it for a bit, I watched it reboot seemingly at random. Over the next few weeks, as I used it off and on I again saw random reboots. I had a hunch it was due to insufficient power, and once I connected it to an HTC 1000 mAH power adapter, the random reboots stop.

The lesson? USB might be a universal connector, but when it comes to power, be careful about assuming the device booting up means it truly has sufficient power. Using the adapter that comes in the box is always a wise choice!

Magazine Subscriptions: How Much Cheaper Can They Get?

April 11th, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Popular-Photography-Magazine-Discount

It’s been interesting – and depressing if you’re in the magazine industry – to watch as many magazines have become less and less costly to subscribe to over the past few years. As more people do their reading online, subscription bases have shrunk, and many magazines are rapidly sliding toward become free and purely ad-supported vs. subscriber supported. I find this quite sad, as quality journalism is worth supporting, but it’s hard to be upset with incredibly cheap prices as a consumer. I know what this means for the future of the magazine though…

I subscribed to Popular Photography a few years back, but let my subscription lapse because I wasn’t reading all the issues. I was surprised when I received an offer in the mail to get the magazine for only $7 for the whole year. SEVEN DOLLARS. At that price even if I only read a few issues a year, that would be worth it. I’ve seen similar, though not quite as deep, discounts from Maximum PC, the only magazine I’ve maintained a subscription to for over a decade.

I truly will mourn the day when most magazines fold and things are purely digital…I enjoy the non-distracted, deep reading that magazines can bring a reader.

Advertising With Radio Metadata: Just When I Thought I’d Seen Everything…

March 11th, 2015 at 6:00 pm

radio-ads-on-car-console

Like most people, I’m accustomed to seeing advertising across nearly every facet of my life. I truly did not expect to see advertising on the console screen in my Mazda 3. It seems this particular radio station in the Seattle area uses the tiny bit of data that can be pumped on FM frequencies (or maybe it’s only on HD radio, I’m not sure) to display an ad for Western Washington Honda Dealers. How utterly tacky and desperate of them…and of the Honda dealership to participate in such a thing. Who thought this was a good idea?

Asus UX305 Noisy Clicking Trackpad Problem

March 10th, 2015 at 10:08 am

One of the issues I noted in my first day with the Asus UX305 was the weird trackpad that had a clunk/click sound when tapped on. I couldn’t understand if it was normal or not; I assumed it was just a poor design decision on Asus’ part. When I posted my first impression review on the Amazon product page, one of the commenters shared that he too had the clicking trackpad issue. When he contacted Asus tech support they told him it wasn’t normal and that he should return the product.

Curious about this, and having the personality type that doesn’t keep a product if I think it’s defective and would need to be returned anyway, I ordered a Microsoft Signature Edition (the UX305FA-USM1). I’d gotten into a somewhat heated discussion over in the Amazon product review comments with someone who insisted that the Signature Edition was a superior product due to the software build Microsoft put on it (bloatware-free). Oh, also some guy who was mocking me for not lying and using the student discount like he did.

Figuring I now had the opportunity to see for myself, I ordered the Microsoft Store version. And, somewhat to my surprise, there was a big difference in the trackpad. Watch the video to see why.

Shortly after doing this video, I returned the Amazon version.

Mylio: A Cool, But Costly, Photo Organizing Solution

March 8th, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Mylio-photo-solution

I stumbled across a cool photo organizing/sharing solution called Mylio today. I wanted to check it out because it’s quite clear Google has abandoned Picasa (it’s been at version 3.x for years now) and I’ve been hunting for a more modern solution for photo syncing and sharing. Here’s the rundown of Mylio:

The Good

  • It’s Fast: it scanned photos quickly, works great on Windows 8.1 and my iPad Air 2. Fluid scrolling, no slowdowns. Not sure if that will persist with 30K+ photos, but it seems solid.
  • Lots of editing & sorting features: the tool offers a lot of options when it comes to how to display your images, how to search through them (the calendar functionality seems cribbed from HTC’s Gallery app, but it works well), and to edit them (including raw files they say).
  • Easily Understood Protection & Device Settings: they use a very visual approach to telling you which devices are set to take on which level of photos (thumbnail, preview, original). You can easily see if your photos are protected from loss if the device they’re on fails.
  • Local LAN sync: when I told it to take my 282 photos and put the originals on my iPad Air, I saw it moving files at 12+ MB/s. That’s faster than an upload/download could occur with my home Internet, so it’s doing a peer to peer local LAN sync. That’s fantastic and very clever!

The Bad

  • App sync limitations: it’s not Mylio’s fault, but the way Apple denies background process function to other apps, EXCEPT their own apps of course, means your iOS device needs to remain on and the apps needs to be running for the sync to occur. I always find that a bit irritating, though you’d think I’d be used to it by now. Every time I want to sync a video using Amazon’s Video app or Plex I get mad at Apple for the fact that I have to leave my iPad turned on until the sync is over.
  • No Android support yet: they say it’s coming in 2015, but come on, how can you launch a product without Android support?

The Ugly

  • Price and Cloud Storage Limitations: I’m not sure who Mylio is aimed at – maybe it’s just for professional photographers – but it’s too expensive for me at the level I’d want it. Their $50 a year package is the right price ($4.17 a month), but it only supports three devices and 5 GB of cloud storage. 50K photos is OK, but the entire reason I’d want to use Mylio is to leverage the cloud piece. I have cloud storage coming out my ears, between 167 GB on Google Drive and 48 GB on Dropbox, so paying another fee to have only a small piece of my photo collection on my device is a no-go. Even at their $250 a year price, they only give you 25 GB of cloud storage. I’m not going to pay for a monthly service unless it’s going to give me a full collection cloud sync (that’s what I have with Picasa today). Couldn’t they have leveraged Google Drive or Dropbox on the back end? Let users point at whatever online storage blob they have and Mylio just pushes to it? Hell, they could make a Synology NAS app and let me use my always-on Synology NAS drive as the cloud endpoint. Their approach to “buy more cloud storage from us” seems old and inflexible.

The verdict: Mylio is a promising, powerful tool that may succeed with pro photographers, but is a miss for me personally. Here’s another review of Mylio.

Facebook: Finally Doing Privacy Right

March 3rd, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Facebook is often slammed for their poor handling of privacy, and most of the time they deserve it. They’ve historically played fast and loose with the privacy of user’s data, not unlike most other young silicon valley start-ups. It’s not surprising when you think about it – if you grew up in a computing era where both privacy and intellectual property are largely irrelevant (sometimes called “The Napster Generation”), when those same people form companies they’ll take those assumptions with them into defining how their products work.

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The Best Value in Ultrabooks Ever: The Asus UX305F

February 27th, 2015 at 11:09 pm

asus-UX305F

After I returned the Dell XPS 13, I expected to wait until the Windows 10 time frame to try and find another product. I’m also keeping my eye on what Apple does with the MacBook Air, just in case I feel desperate enough to make THAT giant leap (can you tell I’m reluctant?). I’m hideously uncomfortable and slow using OS X because I’ve never done more than dabble on my Mac Mini – the OS makes little sense to me, I know virtually no shortcuts, and I find it utterly non-intuitive. But enough about that, back to the world of Windows laptops…

I was reading a very detailed review of the Dell XPS 13 – I’m always curious to read what reviewers say about hardware that I own(ed) – and I saw a review of the Asus UX305F. I frankly hadn’t paid much attention to Asus laptops since I bought their first Zenbook back in 2011 and the key travel was so short it missed 50% of what I typed. And their model naming scheme is so confusing (UX301LA, T1000TA, etc.) it’s hard to know what’s what. Seeing the specs on the UX305F, and the price, my jaw dropped.

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Sorry Dell, I Sent The XPS 13 Back To You

February 23rd, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Dell-XPS-13-Welcome-Mail

This was not an easy decision, but I sent the XPS 13 back to Dell for a refund. I won’t be repetitive – all my reasons are in this previous blog post. The bottom line was that I felt it had too many compromises for a product cost over $1900. When I splash out that much money, I want to feel like my purchase is an improvement in all the important ways. That reasoning is why I bought, then returned both a Nikon D7100 and a Nikon D600. Both cameras had a lot going for them, but ultimately were not a full upgrade from my well-use D300. I had to wait for the D750 before the true successor was found.

The point being that when I’m upgrading a cornerstone of my technological world, I have high standards and will wait for the right product. The XPS 13 was so close in most ways; I may revisit a Core i5/256 GB PCIe SSD version late in the year after Windows 10 launches. Maybe Windows 10 will bring with it some battery life gains, and Dell will have a few months to mature their drivers. Back to my HP Envy Spectre 14 for now, though that may be short-lived as I have my eye on something else…something quite different from the XPS 13, but something that may tick the most important boxes (but not all of them).

Side note: the photo above is of a really cool owner’s welcome booklet that Dell sends you after you buy the XPS 13. It was customized with the model of my laptop, and even the service tag and specs of the product. It welcomed me to the Dell family, and was a nice touch. It felt personal and welcoming. Nice job whomever at Dell is responsible for it!

CCleaner Enhancer: Storage Reclamation on Steroids

February 21st, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Any self-respecting geek knows all about CCleaner, a handy (and free!) tool for reclaiming gigabytes of hard drive storage space. I use it all the time, and it’s great. What I didn’t know about until recently though was an add-on called CCEnhancer. Created by a third party, this tool expands the list of apps that can be purged by CCleaner. I wasn’t sure what it would find, as I don’t install many apps on my systems, but I was surprised to see it find an additional 1.2 GB or so of  files – I hardly use Quicktime, who knew it was chewing up 400 MB of storage? And Windows was keeping 811 MB of memory dumps – what on earth for?

CCleaner-Enhanced