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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Farewell to the Galaxy Note 7

After nearly 4 years with a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, I upgraded to the Note 7.

I pre-ordered the device and had it the very first day it was available. It never ran hot, or even warm. The warmest it ever was is after leaving it on the charger well after it was charged to 100%. Even then, when I took it off the charger, it still ran cooler than every other smartphone that my entire family has ever owned in normal operating condition in the middle of winter. Aside from the gimmicky curved edge screen, which makes the device look pretty but functions as a completely unreliable writing surface (so true, I have to question Samsung's decision to not allow consumers the choice it has previously, between getting a flat screen model and a curved glass model, as the Note has always been equipped with a hypersensitive S Pen and it is intended as an unrivaled creative's platform), and the smaller usable screen size of the Note 7 (which increases typo occurrence incidences exponentially), it has otherwise never given me an ounce of trouble.

While the smaller curved edge glass screen is a considerable design flaw, the Note 7 ran impressively quickly despite all the different and varied applications that I ran on the device. I honestly can't believe that there was an electronic engineering issue. Remember, the Note 7 was reportedly exploding into a small fireball when completely powered down. This seems to speak to either sabotage by someone during assembly in the clean room (perhaps a disgruntled employee adding a pinch of metal dust into the battery compartment, or someone whos careless and sweat fell directly into it and pooled in the battery as they worked on it - then the watertight and airtight device didn't allow for the perspiration to evaporate or otherwise escape) or an engineering flaw where some barometric sensitive sensor shorted-out the device.

The very fact that I had to turn-in my Note 7 once, after waiting years to find an upgrade device that I would not only settle for, but also be stuck with for the next couple of years, shows how loyal I was to the Note platform. But frankly, the end of the true Note line of phablets ended with version 4, when Samsung decided to stop supporting microSDcards with the Note 5, which is exactly why most smartphone users chose Google's Android smartphone platform over Apple's iOS platform iPhone.

Quite honestly, I cannot believe that Apple does not even come-up with their own proprietary removable storage card solution.  If I go out and record my son's ball game, I am going to be consuming 4 GB of space in full High-Definition. Now that 4K UHD (Ultra High Definition) is available at nearly quad the resolution of Full HD, the same recording would consume 8 to 12 GB of storage (depending on detail capture settings and video compression settings).

Relying on the cloud for UHD video recording and high resolution photo storage is not only a means of embezzling from their own customers and requiring (usually overpriced) subscriptions, but it also adds significantly to the noise and load of the cellular data networks, as well as internet junk traffic. And mobile data networks are not so reliable, especially in rural and developing areas. Quite honestly, pushing everyone to the cloud is bullying and the result of this is data air-time spam, because it is neither necessary, convenient nor secure. How many times do we have reports that the internet is down (not only locally, but nationally under significant attack by foreign agents)? And no matter how secure the cloud is reported to be, the idea that we should trust anyone with our personal photos and videos is sinful for anything but back-up purposes.

The issue is not that the cloud may or may not be secure, it is that humans are fallible. The very fact that we are relying on the cloud as a storage solution for anything but incremental backups puts us at a specific disadvantage in securing our own data, and opens us up to ransomware, exploitation, blackmail and even the authorized snooping and sharing of our private lives and documents by anal governmental scrutiny. Although hacking the cloud may seem a hard task, the rewards of doing so, and the payoff so tremendous, I can pledge to you that great risks will be taken and over the course of time, it will be done.

All of this is the result of engineering stupidity. The whole system is designed this way not out of convenience (because it is not), not out of security (because the cloud will not only be hacked, but the NSA is constantly cataloging anything and everything that transpires over the air and on the internet), but only as a marketing tool in order to sell you more services (the cloud) which everyone will eventually have to charge for in order to keep it safe... and yet everything is shared with the NSA and nothing (not one iotta of data or voice) transmitted is ever secure.

As a few examples, I will mention that... Yahoo has admittedly been sharing everything with the government since asked, without even questioning it. Google's unrivaled data is considered a national security issue, and it has very close documented ties to Homeland Security (its Director was a former Google security liason) and not only complies with, but provides professional assistance to the NSA.  In fact, the NSA's data collection facilities are growing at unbelievable rates.

I know that that is a long side-trip, but it is an important one.  AI has been entering the marketplace and itself can become a security risk if not developed and handled properly (see the warnings from Steven Hawkings, Elon Musk and Bill Gates).  The fact is that we are not only voluntarily giving our data over to our communication and internet providers, but purchasing our most personal and private equipment from foreign powers.  Some of these foreign powers, especially China, has obvious alternative state sponsored corporate spying on behalf of the government, has a documented track record of spying, malicious hacking and other dubious activities that threaten not only national security, but even individuals' security, savings, pensions, privacy, data and reputation.

These decisions are considerable mistakes, made directly and knowingly to positively impact sales through marketing, expand their market reach and/or their espionage capabilities.

Now, you may be thinking that I am a nut because I am so security anal.  Actually, I am not.  What I am talking about deals mainly with what is to come.  But the fact that major corporations are making poor selfish and insecure decisions that affect us all based on increasing their ability to expand their marketing or market reach at the detriment of their own brand name is actually the perfect example of how the drive for sales improperly effects decision making.  And because this is our history, we are doomed to repeat it unless we wake up.

This has everything to do with why I enjoyed the Note platform, believe it or not.  Because South Korea is a US ally, whom my father fought for in the Korean war, I do give them some credit.  The microSDcard helps me stay secure while keeping my phone usable as a good and reliable snapshot and video camera.  Even the S Pen (hypersensitive scribe) allows me to deal with the reduced screen size in the Note 7 and avoid typos (now that it is no longer a member of the beloved phablet platform I have come to enjoy).  I also have huge reservations about my carrier, Verizon, who now owns Yahoo that has so easily shared so much with my way-too-nosey government, and has its own intimate relationship with that same US government.  But here in the rural upper midwest US, there isn't much choice for good, reliable cellular coverage.

That said, I used the Note 2 and Note7 to take photos and video of wildlife on a daily basis while riding my trail bike.  I have amounted quite a few photos and videos of deer, fawns, turkey, geese, ducks and turtles, as well as amassed a wide variety of landscape scenes.  And that hobby helps keep me fit by riding around the city bike trails on my bicycle.

Samsung officially calls it the 'Note7', I suppose to differentiate it from the common generic word, and a possible brand evolution to assist in differentiating the Note8 from their 8 inch Note?

I thought I was in the clear when my replacement Galaxy Note7 went through a mandatory update and the white battery icon turned green in the notification bar and the 'always on' display, but clearly I was not.  It was out of pure reluctance when I weighed my options as to whether or not to give-up my upgraded phone, and I went back to the Verizon store without an acceptable, decent phone solution so many times before the Google pixel phone photos were leaked.

Quite honestly, no one competes with the Note platform.  There is an option to get a third party multi-pressure sensitive pen that can be used with an older Apple iPhone, but the 6S Plus and the 7 are not yet supported.

Despite my love/hate relationship with Google, and despite everything I wrote above (that I know Google is spying on me and everyone else for the government), I do want a good camera with my phone.  I've already had to make the conscious compromises with Google over Gmail, Android, Adwords, AdSense, as well as with Verizon, who used to be WorldCom and already has shaken my confidence many times since joining their network.  But, at least these are the evil demons I know.

Though I will never trust either of them, I have no choice but to use them if I want a mobile communication device.  Verizon is the only reliable network in my area, especially in rural communities.  Google's Android platform is the only one that offers its code as an open source platform.

But the Google Pixel comes with its own set of headaches.  You can only get it with no more than 128 GB (ever), as there is no microSDcard support.  Google markets it with an unlimited photos & video drive account in the cloud for as long as you own the phone, but you can bet that they will be showing ads there and require a paid subscription ransom in order to remove them.  But how do I dare trust them with all of my photos when they are a known government collaborator?

Unfortunately, I have to make these compromises all the time in order to stay in the industry I am in.  But it still pains me.  Just because I'm not a criminal or radical doesn't mean that my privacy won't be violated constantly by these corporate giants on behalf of the government.  But it is what it is, and the only safe computer is one that no one can access and I live on the internet, so I will never be safe.

It's a calculated risk, but I pre-ordered the Google Pixel XL.  Yesterday, I sent my Note7 back to Samsung in their fireproof box (it took forever to arrive here).  I really did want to keep it, but I didn't want to be a liability for owning one.  I sure as heck didn't want to burn down my house or never ride in an airplane ever again (though I can't afford to go much at all, I rarely want to fly anywhere now that I have to get to the airport 2 hours ahead of time and risk my privacy being violated all over again by any kind of search).

The truth is that our privacy is now violated constantly in the name of national security and we have to come to terms with that.  Perhaps trusting Google to build a phone on their own platform that will work and take the best smartphone pictures ever is my only possibility.

I wanted to go back to Motorola and use their optical zoom snap-on camera mod, but there is no microSDcard support on the Z.  To top that off, there is no headphone jack, and I need that for PayPal Here and Square Register.

Whether or not the Pixel camera is any good is hard to tell.  The reports are good so far, but the Note7 had a bad-ass camera that shined, too.

Damn, I'm going to miss that phone.

So, I wound-up grabbing a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, as well.  This allows me to have the old reliable Note platform that I knew, is an upgrade to my old Note 2 that I relied on for so many years.  It's only 3 years old, and functions with the old OS I liked.  Because I have the built-in IR Blaster with it, when I retire it, it can function as my remote control.  If it dies like my Note 2 did, I will write-off Samsung forever because I still have a Motorola Droid X that I use as a desk clock.
  
But the Note7 was still the best compromise I have ever found in a phone.  Damn!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Samsung Series 5 32" Smart TV

I grabbed a Samsung Series 5 Model 5203 last Thanksgiving.  It's a 32 inch LED backlit LCD High-Definition Smart TV.  I was lucky, Best Buy was selling this TV at a great price all week long.

Why would I review a large 32" LCD smart HDTV in a blog about hand held mobile devices?  Because it can be a great tool for your smart phone or other smart device.  Think of all those portable projectors, why get one when you can use your TV?

It really does come in handy, not just as a TV, but I use my tablet as a remote for it.  I check out NetFlix on my phone or tablet and when I find what I want to watch, I stream it and watch it on the big screen.  It works well.

There are some issues with the 2014 Samsung Series 5 Model 5203 SmartTV, though.  Quite a few that need a bit of attention, actually.  But before criticizing it too badly, I would like to say that I am otherwise pretty impressed.

Although it took Me a long time to get the picture just right for the cable TV as well as for my HDMI connected computer and the Chromecast, the Samsung 5203 smart HDTV really does have a decent picture if you work hard to find it.   However, if you don't you will see hot whites and dark muddy black gradients.  I was surprised that I would have to work so hard to get a decent picture as I am used to a Vizio that had an extremely impressive picture in comparison.

I am otherwise very impressed with the Model 5203 Smart HDTV, with a very few concerns.  Although I am overall pleased with the product, there are some performance shortcomings which have me planning to give this product to my wife and purchasing a Vizio.

I have to say that I do especially like the remote control unit (the 'remote pilot' or 'remote commander', here in America we just refer to it as the 'remote').  It is very well thought-out except in a few instances.

The good points are that there is a distinct braille pattern of dots on the outside edge next to the volume and channel (up and down toggle) buttons.  The pattern is clearly different, even for a sighted person, though I still hit the channel button when I intend to hit the volume button.  Because this TV isn't smart enough to maintain a constant volume, it does not try to lower the the blare of commercials in my bedroom as my family sleeps when I am working late at night.

This is a particular pet peeve of mine, why would I want to blare commercials in my bedroom?  Why do we allow this at all?  Why doesn't the FCC shove these disgusting noisy crappy commercials where the sun doesn't shine?

I see the TVs with the stabilized sound volumes feature on sale, but then they don't even have any other decent features.  That's like trying to get a videophile to buy an HDTV and DVD combo set, the two don't go together, you need to sell us the Smart HDTV with 3D equipped with a full-fledged Blu-ray 3D player combo, not combo'ed with a stupid DVD player!  Sheeeeeeesh.  Why don't these companies get this very simple stuff?  And by the time they do we will need to upgrade everything to 4k 3D ultraHD displays and they will be selling combos based on yesteryear technology yet again.

Unfortunately, in order to get the best premium experience, its gonna cost you in this day and age.  I can't even afford all the stuff I would like.  And some of it gets hard to do without (especially for a video and digital artist).  But, I digress...

How I tend to use this Samsung 32" Smart HDTV is just how I am doing it now, working on my computer using the HDMI connection from my PC to utilize my 'Smart' HDTV as the monitor while using PIP (Picture in Picture) to watch broadcast, cable or streaming television in a little window in a corner window on my work screen.

Even though I am using the TV in my bedroom, I use it as a computer monitor most often.  I do watch TV on it, but since I only get basic cable most of my channels suck because they aren't even in High Definition.  Plus I often want to get some work done.  So I am perfectly entertained with viewing television using the PIP feature while blogging or tending to one of my website ventures.

But that presents a particular problem that the Samsung remote control pilot/commander gurus completely overlooked.  Because this is how I use my TV, even once I have turned the set on and am sitting at my Windows work screen, it takes me 14 clicks on the remote to drill down through the menu just to access and activate the PIP mode.  WTF?  14 clicks!

Why on earth wasn't the PIP submenu included in the easy to access tools menu?  This is such a huge oversight that it is hard for me to get over it.

The rest of the functions on the remote and their placement seem to be well thought out, though in the dark, it is hard to tell one end from the other.  In other words, if you are holding the remote upside down, you are probably hitting the wrong button with jarring results.  Each end of the remote holds the same curve.  There is no easy distinction through the feel of the form of the remote in the hand.  And I am surprised that this is still a simple user interface design problem that engineers refuse to address.  DUH!  Talk about another stupid oversight that would be so simple to address.

One other thing that the remote does have going for it is that it is fairly plastic solid.  That is, when I drop my Vizio remote, My wife's Apex remote, my mother's Sony remote, the battery cover door usually pops off and sometimes even the batteries spill out.  I've dropped this one quite a bit as I fall asleep and yet it still stays together.  That's a very good thing.

I often use my tablet or my phone to control the TV.  Usually I am streaming NetFlix video through Chromecast when I want to enjoy some Hi-Def entertainment.  I can do this easily and reliably with my Samsung Galaxy Note II.  But for some reason, the NetFlix app on my Samsung Galaxy 7" Tab 4 does not connect to Chromecast.  I can get around this by simply streaming NetFlix to the Smart TV itself, but not always as reliably.  Sometimes there is a slight hiccup when I resume watching a show after pausing it to get a snack or break for the bathroom, and NetFlix can't show the movie from there... but only when I use the tablet.  It seems that NetFlix through Chromecast is much more reliable.

That presents an issue with me.  I have the Samsung app, 'Watch On' installed on my Samsung 7 inch 'Galaxy Tab 4' tablet.  But that same app won't run on my Samsung Galaxy Note II 'smart' phone.  So when I sit down to watch the facsimile of a HD resolution movie (it is a facsimile of a High-Def resolution because NetFlix and internet streaming video is even more compressed and of even lower quality than cable/satellite) I am using the remote or my tablet to switch between the sources and set the sound, etc... while using the phone to stream, pause and play the NetFlix movie because the Samsung Smart TV isn't smart enough to keep a reliable stream on its own, or even with the direction of the Tablet or Phone.

And for some reason, the Samsung Tablet won't stream to the Chromecast at all, but the Note II will do it all day and tomorrow, too.  Technology is still so bonkers that we really can't rely on it, yet. I just got the tablet when I picked-up this TV, but I've had the old trusty reliable Note II for well over 2 years.

I often stream photos to the 32" HDTV because I have a screen saver that shows my photos, but I like doing it with the Chromecast and checking out my poor smart phone/camera snap-shooting skills in a decent resolution.  It's also pretty easy to use the Smart TV's 'Screen Mirroring' to do it once you get figured out how to do it.

Sometimes I capture video at our Indoor Football League, NBA D-League or USHL games and post a few highlights on YouTube, so its fun to watch them on the large screen, as well.  It's getting to the point that I find my High-Def video more entertaining than the crap standard resolution video broacasts that cable spews out.  I wish I didn't have to ever leave my house without my trusty phone camera,  Unfortunately, if I bring it to work I might wind-up in trouble because customers could really use some internet access.  ;)

I was planning on using a roku stick for streaming media with this television, as well.  Unfortunately, My Windows PC takes up one HDMI port and the Chromecast takes up the only other HDMI port.  So the Roku went downstairs.  Now, I know thjat I could have spent $50.00 more to get another Samsung Smart TV with an extra HDMI port, but I thought that spending $50.00 for a singular HDMI port was a bit outrageous, as the sales people I drilled all claimed that this Samsung Smart TV used the exact same quad core processor as the $50.00 upgrade model.  Guess what?  If this Samsung model 5203 32" LED backlit LCD HDTV uses any sort of quad core processor at all, it is the slowest and doggiest quad core processor in the known universe.  Believe me, I do wish I upgraded!

The problem is that when accessing the Smart TV's user interface, as you click on things, the response rate is in light years.  This isn't a problem once you are watching your TV, whether you are streaming HDTV on the internet, watching video from your phone, or catching the local television broadcast, but accessing the menu and the smart hub takes patience.  It's as if the menu itself, and all of the apps are all compressed so tightly and never are unpacked until an item is clicked.  The 'Smart Hub' itself just plain sucks.  It is the hardest to maneuver and the slowest to respond.  To top that off, it is the worst thought-out worthless piece of UIX a human could ever experience in his entire lifetime.  It is absolute garbage as a menu, but then really doesn't offer much that is free.  It seems that Samsung is only presenting subscription services and services that show advertising, as if it is getting some sort of kickback for the content it showcases.  Because there is plenty of good free stuff that isn't showing up at all in the Smartt Hub apps (NASA, MIT, TED, FOX, History, A&E, AMC, etc...).  It seems that Samsung is only offering certain apps and video programming that it can cash in on.

I was so excited about HDTV when it was promised, when it was coming, when it was almost here, when it finally showed up, when I could finally afford it.  But we don't see anything in High-Def much.  All the good programs are on FX, AMC and History (..etc...) which aren't available in HD to me, while the major networks' broadcast programming has gone to crap.  The news is disgraceful, everyone bullying an opinion of their own and everyone avoiding the facts altogether.  The Daily show is the only real show that tells it like it is, and its hilarious only because of how stupid the news has become because they actually think that we are going to swallow their bullshit.

So HDTV has become a divide between the haves and have-nots.  If you don't have HDTV channels, you are poor, inferior.  But look what we gave up when we made the move to HDTV... now our broadcast, cable and satellite signals are so compressed that we can't simply flip through the channels at break-neck speed, we have to wait for each channel to decompress before we get to see what is there, and this ads a second to every channel flip.  High Definition can be accessed through the internet more cheaply than through cable or satellite, but broadcast doesn't offer near as many channels.

I should be happy as I am a videographer, a digital photographer, a digital artist, a publisher, a producer, this should be a great thing, but it has all been commercialized for every last penny.  I think it has gone too far, has become too outrageous, too lack lustre, too boring and expensive, too much and way too little all at the same time.

I was looking to enjoy this move from my old 32" Vizio HDTV to this new Samsung Smart TV, but as a guy that deals with technology all the time, designs UIX for websites and such, I look at this endevour as an updrade for my wife's pathetic Apex HDTV (never buy an Apex brand HDTV, ever).

I have to hope for something better.  I can't have it be anything less or more than another Smart LED backlit LCD HDTV, as I will still use it as my monitor and I need one TV that will finally accomplish that for me before I can move on to a larger one for the TV room.  But I can only give Samsung's Series 5 model 5203 Smart TV a simple 3 stars out of five.  It takes way too much work to get a decent picture out of it.  It is way too slow to be considered responsive.  The UIX isn't just slow, it isn't well designed, very thoughtless.  More care was given to the layout of the remote than the user's experience using it.   The apps available are few and worthless unless require a subscription.

But, on the positive side, my wife will love it as soon as I can afford a Vizio.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Username & Password Pairs: Understanding the Significance of HeartBleed and How to Prevent Becoming a Victim

The Heartbleed bug allows hackers to access username and password data through a programming fault (vulnerability) on OpenSSL systems which power over 2/3 of the internet online security.  It's a huge mistake and an extremely significant problem.  If you need to understand the Heartbleed bug, see my other article:
http://domainating.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/the-internets-broken-heart/

This article discusses why this is such a big security issue and why, as well as how to prevent becoming a victim to these malicious hackers...

This post was originally posted on my WordPress blog at:
http://domainating.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/the-heartbleed-password-dilema/

Because this bug is so bad, and the implications of its abuse so broad, so dangerous and so extremely important, I am cross-posting that blog article in many of my blogs.  Please do not hesitate to fix this issue for yourself, your family and loved ones.  Tell your friends about this problem, as well (or point them to this article).

For your convenience, that article is reprinted below:

OK, the fall-out from the 'heartbleed' bug is worse than I thought.  The problem is with how we, as humans, don't manage a ton of passwords well.  It isn't so much that we are lazy, but to avoid clutter in our mind, we re-use passwords across the internet to log-in to different websites.

But with the heartbleed vulnerability, the problem becomes worse because of our conservation of brain cells and the repeated username and password combination becomes yet another vulnerability.

You see, most people don't come-up with a unique username and password for each site they have become a member of.  Most people reuse the same username over and over so that they can be identified as themselves by friends and acquaintances across networks.  Now, that would still be OK if the password used was unique for each and every website that user logged into using that username.  But because we are trying to make things simpler we usually only use a small index of passwords from which we draw our passwords, so that we don't have to remember so many, because we know what it feels like to be locked-out.

It all has to do with username and password pairs.

So if a user logs in as "Gibraltor5" with a password of "1Ydd/R247" on a forum website that is compromised, the problem then becomes that the username and password pair are entered into a database and some malicious hacker will eventually try to use that username & password pair at other places, such as Yahoo, Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, Chase, CapitalOne, Amex, etc...

So eventually, someone will make a program that will actually try to login to all sorts of websites using "Gibraltor5" as the username and "1Ydd/R247" as the password, possibly even on a global scale.  Once more, they may not stop at one attempt.  They might wait a year or so and try again, just to check if the user had protected his accounts, but then gone back to his lazy ways.

So from now on, you have to create a unique password for every single site that you have ever accessed.

Even though Google may say that your Gmail and Google+ accounts are safe, they aren't if you have ever used the same username and password combination ever before or afterwards on any site.  You can't be sure that any certain site was or wasn't compromised.   The username and password pair could have come from a site you don't even remember joining.  So if you have a tendency, like most humans, to use the same password over and over, you have to stop that right now, go back to all the sites that you have ever been a member of, and change your password to something unique.

Now, if you are like me, you have lots of places that you frequent.  That means you will require so many passwords you won't know how to keep them all straight without writing them down.  But if you write them on plain paper, or in a little black book of passwords like I used to do, you open yourself to having them ripped off and hacked that way, by your very own hand.

The best way to do it then, is use a password program that will keep all your passwords safe and handy.  Since I don't always have my PC with me, but I try to always have my phone on me, I have to recommend Kuff's Password Safe for the Android.  It allows you to generate unique jibberish style passwords on the fly, comes with 128 or 256 bit encryption to protect your entire catalog of passwords, categorize them, and more.  The one thing is that you must remember the password you will use to access the application, because there is no back door and without that one password, you will not be able to access the application again.  The good news is that you only have one password to remember, again.

Now, to top that off, you can also get another version for Windows, so that you can update and access your password data across platforms, as well as backup your data to remote servers such as Dropbox, SkyDrive & Google Drive, or to your local Windows machine.


The developer's website for Kuffs Password Safe (Android & Windows):
http://www.kuffs.co.uk/

If you do not have an Android based smartphone and/or tablet, or you do not expect to upgrade to an Android smartphone/tablet, or if you prefer a Macintosh supported version, you will have to shop around.  But this little utility, a password safe, to secure all of your username and password pairs and other private information, encrypt the data to protect it from malicious hacker idiots, is now an important and vital component in the life of anyone who has or had an online lifestyle (meaning anyone who ever has done anything online).   

I even keep my server details and all sorts of vital info there, I trust it that much.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Google now only does evil?

With all the fuss over how badly the NSA is data mining us (our searches, social posts, sharings, photos, videos, email and even our phone conversations are now being compiled into archives (no matter how private you have marked them), just in case the government might need to investigate us later... as long as the data doesn't trip any flags and alarm when it's sent through the filters as it is stored.

Of course,  there are all sorts of ways to trip the filters with keywords, yes... but also code words, which a terrorist might use when communicating with cells, etc. And you can believe that these code words are the normal kind that we use every day, and are surely non-threatening, designed so that they won't trip the filters and set off alarms. 

Of course, the government spies on all this crap and some is found - out one way or another and then what will happen?  Americans rounded - up for mentioning that they bought a new 'stove'?

And of course, Google is so closely tied - in with homeland security that they just hand this data over.  Did you know that?  Yup, my understanding of it is, is that they share everything, private or not, as a default, with no legal request of any kind required.  They don't even have to tap your phone, they simply record it all in case they need it, later.

So, as Google cannot and will not stand against the government pressure to violate our rights to privacy, it just hands everything over.  And the NSA just keeps building facilities to store all the data it mines.

This is pure evil, started by Bush and continued by Obama, so also very bipartisan.  But Google doesn't even stand against it or protect our rights to privacy 1  bit. 

WTF?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chromecast

If you are still looking for that perfect Christmas gift, Chromecast just may fit the bill.

Although Chromecast is still in beta, it is a very nice little tool.  But I should probably point out why I bought my Chromecast, as it will not be the perfect gift for all...

1)  I do not have a smartTV.  I do have a nice, older 32" VIZIO HDTV.
2)  I do not have a smartTV add-on box such as a SamsungTV, GoogleTV, AppleTV, or Roku streaming device box.
3)  I am kind of thrifty for an early adopter.

That said, I also believe that Chromecast might offer something that the smartTVs and add-on smartTV boxes do not, eventually.  And that is, streaming photos, video and music directly from your phone through WiFi.

As mentioned, although Google Chromecast is still in beta, it is pretty good.  However, the truth be told, I did have to exchange my first one for a new one.  The first one I bought on "Black Friday" was only $30.00 at Best Buy and was supposed to come with a $6.00 credit at the Google Play store.  I did get the deal on the price, but was snubbed on the Google Play store $6.00 credit.  According to Google's own instructions, there should have been instructions on how to collect (or redeem) the well advertised $6.00 credit at the Play store on my Best Buy receipt, and there was none.  So again, we run into the truth in advertising dilemna.  I absolutely hate promoting stuff that, whether useful or not, does not include truth in advertising.  As an advertising guy myself, to outright lie to the consumer is absolutely sinful and invites disdain and boycotting.  However, this was a one-day promotion that will be extremely limited to those of us that purchased the Chromecast unit on Black Friday only, so I do think that this product is still worthy despite the promotional problems at Best Buy (and possibly other outlets).

I did purchase the product in-store at Best Buy.  The first one worked for a day.  As I had worked all night at Kohl's starting on Thanksgiving (which I consider an anti-family decision made by Kohl's corporate, as my Thanksgiving was completely disturbed by being required to work that very holiday and not being able to spend it dining and celebrating with my family as most enjoyed), I was very tired but still got out to do a little Black Friday shopping of My own.  After grabbing my selected Black Friday specials at Kohl's, I went to Best Buy specifically to check out the deals there and yet somehow only walked away with the Chromecast.  Upon returning home I set it up easily and had no real issues, though there were a few points inbetween updates that flashed static that looked a little strange.  Still, I watched a couple of YouTube videos and fell asleep watching a movie on NetFlix with it.  The streamed internet video signal I was watching was even much better than when I hooked-up and watched NetFlix video on my (now non-funtioning) dual-core 1 GHz NVIDIA Tegra processor powered Asus Transformer Eee Pad (TF101) via its miniHDMI port.

Unfortunately, the next day that Chromecast stopped working.  I contacted Google Chromecast support through online webmail and followed-up with an email (the only way you can contact Chromecast support) and told them that although the device had worked great the previous morning, it was delivering no signal at all today.  Then, all of their support instructions indicated that I should get to a certain screen, apparently not reading that I have no signal from the Chromecast device at all.

Luckily, a couple of weeks later, I was finally able to manage getting all the little pieces, document, box and receipts together and returning the Chromecast to Best Buy at an even exchange and the new device performs flawlessly.  On top of that, I have never experienced a flash of static and point in this unit's young life, so far.  The signal is always rock solid and the device streams video and music (through Pandora) flawlessly.  There hasn't even been one glitch or hiccup in the quality of the playback.

I am still miffed as to why Best Buy failed to support the Black Friday $6.00 Google Play store credit, though.  This was the very promotion that the Google representative pointed out to me, and it was clearly displayed and advertised in the store.  And although this does help to further sour me on Best Buy and even though I did discuss the fact that I didn't get the $6.00 advertised credit, nor did I have any way to do so as shown by the receipt I used to exchange the non-fuctioning Chromecast, but they directed me to take up the issue with the Google lady, who works the same limited hours as I do.  I mean, this was a Best Buy promotion and they are apparently refusing to stand-by their own promotion.  C'MON, MAN!

So, for anyone without a smart HDTV that can already stream stuff, someone who also doesn't have a smart TV streaming device, Google Chrome is a really good choice.  Setup is easy and quick.  The software update doesn't take too long, either.  And you can use your network connected Windows, Linux or Android based desktop, laptop, tablet or smart-phone to control it.

I would like to see more application support, though.  Particularly, I would like to see support for Gallery, so that you can stream photos and video directly from your smart hand-held device without having to first upload things to YouTube or VEO, etc.

Currently, Chromecast supports casting Chrome tabs as well as the following Chromcast enabled apps:


  • YouTube app & YouTube.com
  • Netflix app and Netflix.com
  • Google Play Movies & TV
  • Google Play Music
  • Hulu Plus
  • Pandora
  • HBOGo
  • Vevo
  • Red Bull.TV
  • Songza
  • Plex
  • PostTV
  • Viki
  • RealPlayer Cloud
  • aVia
  • Revision3
  • BeyondPod
(...the above list was pulled directly from the Chromcast apps support page on Dec. 22nd, 2013)

Above all, this product is still in beta and is improving a great deal fast with added support for many apps.  I just don't think that anyone will be displeased with a Chromecast unless they already have a smartTV or smart HDTV device.

Of course, you do need an HDTV and some sort of broadband internet connected computerized device to use this, and it is best used, and I think more conveniently, with hand-held devices (phones & tablets).  But my second Chromecast works flawlessly.  If you are on a busier or stressed load network it might not stream as well, as a great deal will have to do with your available internet bandwidth.  But with most home networks, that shouldn't be an issue.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Polaroid S8 by Southern Telecom: Back to a Cheap Tablet (Again)

First, let Me be honest and clear... This is a review for the model S8 tablet that is designed and manufactured by Southern Telecom and licensed and marketed under the now otherwise defunct Polaroid brand name.

But you in order for you to understand my predicament, you have to know the whole story. I am a web designer. I have been trying to move into the mobile app development market for years, now. The mobile app development game will become bigger than the website game has ever been, and it will do so in short order. Websites will remain necessary, but will neither be as convenient nor be as handy as an app on your phone, tablet or other hand held device. Websites will just become backup presentations, and they will start doing so within the next year.

So as a web design freelancer trying to expand my reach and offerings, it is a simple decision, it is mandatory that I learn to support mobile devices. So I have been trying to accomplish just that. I have bought smart phones and tablets, books on the subject. Because I have to, to survive.

Originally, I purchased a Pandigital Planet tablet. That was over 2 years ago. The stupid thing was so slow and unresponsive that I had to return it to Kohl's. It was a perfect example of bad engineering.

When I took it back, I still wanted a tablet, so I exchanged it for Southern Telecom's "Polaroid" T7 Internet Tablet. But, that thing was also a piece of crap. In fact, to this day I am absolutely amazed at what terrible garbage that Kohl's, the place where I work, was passing off to consumers as technology. These tablets were beyond pathetic, they were unresponsive, non-functional, unusable and completely worthless. I tried everything I could think of in order to get them to work, and never had any success. I was so disturbed with the cheapness of these unusable products that I was greatly alarmed and had to rethink whether or not I should stay with the company. I thought that I had been working at a quality retailer that cared, but I was not getting that feeling.

But when I had discussed these tablets with others, I was always given the impression that I am picky, that they were proud of their tablets, and that we were the early adopters that would have to suffer this technology and make it better by pointing out its strengths and weaknesses. So I did just that.

My main concerns about device un-usability were addressed in public forums in the hopes that the feedback I provided would be put to good use to make these products better.

One of the biggest misconceptions about these hand held devices were that they had easy-to-use touch screens. They don't. They really do require a stylus, and even then they are not reliable. My Droid X is much more reliable (even to this day) than these devices ever were. The Droid X touchscreen puts them to shame even though it is 3 years old, compared to when these tablets were brand spanking new. They simply aren't responsive and are very unreliable.

The other biggest problem with device usability stems from the lack of decent wireless reception. You can't use a device that is wi-fi concentric if you can't stay connected in a wi-fi enabled environment. Even though every computerized device in the house (2 desktops, 3 laptops, 1 iPad, 5 Samsung smart phones, 1 Droid X, 1 Blu-ray player & 1 Chromecast) all can get our wireless N signal anywhere in the house, the Planet and the T7 Internet Tablet could not get the signal from my couch (which is not even close to being the furthest point in our living quarters). If a device is going to rely on wi-fi for functionality (internet, web, email, apps, updates, streaming audio & video, network games, socialization, etc...), the wireless reception needs to work.

There were all sorts of other issues. These devices were manufactured with too small of a ROM, very little RAM, too little storage memory, slow processors, no bluetooth capabilities, very little battery life and no access to the Google Play store or apps. The list went on, but all of these things needed to be addressed before cheap tablets would even amount to anything.

But I decided to keep my Polaroid T7 because maybe some day someone would develop a decent remote that I could control my TVs with (Maybe, eventually, anyway). But I did feel that the T7 7" Internet Tablet had an edge over the Planet because if I held it just right I could sometimes get a wireless N signal while the Pandigital Planet never did.

Unfortunately, I just ain't ballsy enough to hold my arm outstretched while sitting on the couch, I whimp out after about 5 minutes. And the signal is too weak for it to be quick about anything network related. So I never used the T7. I still have it here on my desk. It still is hard to use and often I have to poke one button or link multiple times in order to do something just once. But I ca't use my finger, I have to use a stylus or it will never work right. I deleted all the extra apps and it still sucks. It's just useless.

So a year went by before I tried getting another tablet. I grabbed a refurbished Asus Eee Pad TF101 Transformer with dock bundle. This thing actually worked pretty great, I was impressed and happy. The dual core Nvidia Tegra processor wasn't real speedy, but it wasn't incredibly and painfully slow, either. The battery went a good portion of the day and if I had the keyboard dock plugged into it using it like a laptop, it would go all day long on the extra battery in the keyboard.

The TF101 Transformer was actually a good little tablet and I was glad that I bought it. This wasn't real cheap either, I had enough invested here to buy my mom another brand new full service Windows 8 touchscreen laptop. But I wanted to develop on the Windows Android platform, the cheap tablets were cheap crap, and I needed something that would work. Unfortunately, it didn't.

One day inside of six months of owning the contraption, I plugged it into a hotel outlet and the red light went on and then out. The keyboard dock wouldn't charge. Within a week, the tablet itself wouldn't charge, either. I sent off for a new Asus stock charger at Amazon, along with new longer cords and a a car charger. But the new stock charger wouldn't charge anything, either.

So on Black Friday I resisted getting any cheap tablets, even though they went on sale and we had some left at the end of my shift. I concentrated on getting the gifts I could since I had been laid-up due to arthroscopic hip surgery. But with nothing worthy of my $60.00 Kohl's cash the next week, I grabbed the Polaroid S8 (8") Internet Tablet this weekend.

I've only had it a couple of days so far... but here's what I wound-up with:

Southern Telecom's "Polaroid" S8 (8 inch) Internet Tablet

The Polaroid S8 Internet Tablet now has a dual-core processor, bluetooth, dual cameras, supports the Google Play store, and offers a microUSB port, a microSDCard slot, a miniHDMI port, a headphone jack, a dedicated power jack for its AC/DC adapter. The battery is a rechargeable Li-ion Polymer. It runs on Jelly Bean, which is Android OS version 4.2. It is supposed to feature an 8" capactive multi-touch touch screen display with a 1024 x 768 resolution (offering the traditional 4 x 3 aspect ratio). It is supposed to support 802.11 b/g/n wireless wi-fi networking. There is a front mounted speaker. It comes with 1 GB of DDR RAM and 4 GB of internal storage memory.

So, it sounds pretty good. It sounded good enough for me to at least give it a shot. But am I happy?

Well, there are two pretty important things that I learned from the old T7 Internet Tablet. First: It needs to be able to be responsive. Second: It needs to be able to network with my wi-fi (802.11 n) system. Well, one out of two hardly hits the mark.

As far as being responsive, it isn't. You still need a stylus in order to coax it along. But the good news is that with a stylus, the thing can actually work quite well. As long as I used a stylus, I was pretty much clicking everything the first time, with a few exceptions. This alone is much better than the T7, I can actually get somewhere with the S8!

But alas, I cannot use my S8 downstairs on the couch. Not even if I hold it up with my arm outstretched will I ever get a signal down there. So if you only have one wi-fi source, and a decent sized home, the S8 Internet Tablet will probably be useless unless it is very close to the source wi-fi router.

However, I did come-up with a work-around. I can put my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 into mobile hotspot mode and use it as my router. The S8 was easy to setup for this, but I also have to remember that I can't be downloading apps and streaming audio and video in this setup because when my Galaxy Note 2 is in its mobile hotspot configuration, the internet is accessed through my mobile 4g data plan, and that is very finite. I sure don't want to go over my data limit at Verizon.

There probably is another work-around, as well. There are some new routers which support a wider signal using the 802.11 ac. But it is still unclear to me if the older n wi-fi signal that these routers also support is broadened along with the wider ac signal. So I still have to check-up on that part of it. But that still requires shelling out another $150.00 for a new router that unless you didn't have a cheap tablet, you wouldn't even need. So I'm not so sure that work-around is so good when if you spend the money on a better tablet, you will get much better wireless and a much more responsive tablet.

Another possible work-around might be to allow the Galaxy Note 2 to host the S8 Internet Tablet through Bluetooth as an internet access point. This will allow the Note 2 to access the net through our traditional high-speed cable network, but Bluetooth is awfully slow in comparison, too.

Part of the reason I bought the S8 is that all the other issues I mentioned seemed as if they were addressed. The new S8 came with a dual core processor. There was Bluetooth, more RAM, more storage memory, and it supports Google Play. It does seem more responsive than the old T7, although it is a far cry and a long way from being as responsive as my TF101 Transformer tablet or my Droid X smart phone. But it is better.

But there are some wonky things about this tablet, as well. For one thing, the screen doesn't rotate with its orientation, at all. Even though there is an option to disable the rotation orientation, it doesn't rotate at all. The camera has to be positioned at the top in a landscape orientation. This seems to be the same for all the apps that it came with, I am curious to see if downloaded apps will work similarly.

One thing that I did right away was update literally everything quickly so that all the apps were up-to-date. However, Google Play Store and the Google Play Music & Audio apps do not produce any sound. I couldn't figure out how to get the sound recorder to play anything back either (as it seemed to lack that option). But YouTube and Pandora both worked without any real issues (unless the tablet was also busy downloading while producing video or sound, then there would be a hesitant glitch now and again).

As far as the sound goes, use ear buds. The single front facing speaker doesn't do music justice, though it is clear and useful for alerts, alarms and game feedback.

There is only one physical navigation button, for getting back to the home screen. Then there is a volume up/down toggle and a power button. A set of white icons are always available at the bottom of the tablet screen for volume down, show the running apps, capture a screen snapshot, home, back and volume up. I am always accidentally hitting these with the stylus when navigating around, but it isn't that big of a deal, it is easy enough to get back or undo what I just did.

All that said, it would seem like I am happy. But the battery sucks, too. It doesn't last very long at all. I think that technology should have improved a ton more than what this device is showing. I'm also perplexed as to why it can't run apps such as TV Guide or My Coke Rewards.

Then again, this is just a little test bed for my apps, and it looks to be a good standard for the minimum of technology I will support. And this one does at least have a shot at becoming a decent TV remote, as well. Anyone want an old T7? ;)

UPDATE: Dec 17th, 2013...

Polaroid Stays Extremely Stingy with the Memory (Still)
My version of the Southern Telecom Polaroid AS8 Internet Tablet only came with 800 MB of RAM and about 1 GB of internal "SDCard" storage memory.  And even though it does seem to see all of my 64 GBs of (external) ExtSDCard storage memory, it refuses to install apps to this microSDCard.  I am not a happy camper, at all.    I thought for sure that the new Polaroid tablets had enough memory.  The specs on the S8 box indicates that it has 4GB internal storage memory on the box and there aren't very many apps installed.  Even though there is an asterisk footnote paragraph that says, "Actual internal memory may vary depending on the operating system of the device and the preloaded apps.", I did the math and even if you include the supposed (and rounded-up) 1 GB of internal DDR3 memory as a part of that "internal memory", this stupid S8 internet tablet should have at least another 3 GB of internal storage memory to use for all the apps (including the android operating sytem).  But no, it does not.  Southern Telecom has pulled another bait and switch.

What has happened to truth in advertising? We used to require it!

Still, I don't want to return the stupid peice of crap.  Not because it is a good buy, but I only paid about 27.00 for it after all my Kohl's Cash coupons, and my employee discount.  And what could I get for $27.00?  Nothing.

On a positive note, it works really well at playing Netflix or You Tube and controlling the video playback (pausing, restarting at a certain point, etc.) through Chromecast.

To my amazement, the tablet did start adapting to landscape/portrait orientations after I installed the microSDCard.  I don't understand why it would require the external microSDCard in order to start working as described, though.

I also started using it for DuoLingo and have been using it for reading a couple things.  I do kind of like it as a reader, and the stereo earbuds I have sound good with it, so Pandora is also fun.

But in the end, I am still having to use a stylus all the time, I have to reboot it once in a while (about once daily, though you might be able to rectify that issue by killing your running apps or running an app killer).  But it is genuinely lacking in usable memory for apps, and I honestly can not endorse any product that uses false advertising in its spec sheet.

I will have to see if there is an app that will allow my microSDCard to be used for apps.  This will be its only saving grace.

In the long term, I won't be using this tablet much, though, and I am already looking for another that will do as it is required.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Yahoo!’s Domainapalooza

Yahoo has decided to release some of its premium domain names to the public through an auction at Sedo…
Yahoo!’s Domainapalooza (hyperlink updated Nov. 16th)
This premium domain name portfolio auction started today, November 14th, and runs through November 21st, 2013.  It is an impressive collection of some premium domain names, that is for sure.  Although there are quite a few names that I feel are not very good (especially for the reserve price indicated), there are some great domains in the bunch…
  • AV.com
  • WebServer.com
  • Sandwich.com
  • Sled.com
  • VoiceMail.com
  • Crackers.com
  • Freeby.com/.net
  • BlogsPort.com (or brand it as BlogSport.com)
Please note that the above is merely a sampling of some of the best domain names in the Yahoo Domainapalooza premium domain portfolio auction.  But that portfolio is listing over 500 names on its first day, and Yahoo! also indicates that it will also be adding even more domain names throughout the auction.  
This is a big opportunity to get a name that can be built into a dominant brand within its industry, not only for players collecting names, but also for entrepreneurs such as myself that develop the names into brands and fully-functional websites, as well as those looking for a great name with which to launch their company.

That said, there is nothing better to allow a great app to take off, by marketing a highly brandable name.  Mobile designers and developers and start-ups may really want to take a gander at the names available here.  As an example, if you are working on an audio/visual app, what better domain than that of AV.com?  I men, some of these names are no-brainers.  I wish I could afford some.
It is quite possible that you walk away with a great brandable domain name which you could develop into a profitable website or business?  Very likely, considering the quality of some of these names.  Especially with names that have an excellent second meaning.

Remember that some of these names have a uniquely Yahoo perspective.  For instance, I would not want MYM.com, but very possibly it may have been intended for My Yahoo Mail, or My Yahoo Messenger.  And as a 3 letter dot com, it could be quite valuable to the right party.  
As of this writing, there are 517 domain names available for auction and with Yahoo planning to add even more this may become the most watched premium domain name portfolio auction in history.  As a domainer and developer, my interest is aroused.  As a businessman, it is maxed.  I wish I didn't have so much tied-up in other endeavors at the moment.  But I will definitely study this list thoroughly.
Happy domaining!  I hope there will be many domainers taking advantage of this opportunity to add to their portfolio and domainate the market with such great and industry domainating names.  ;)
Yahoo!’s Domainapalooza (hyperlink updated Nov. 16th)
-Doug
…”Domainating
(I’m going back to check out that list!)