Initial Thoughts on the HP G7 and the Toshiba Satellite P855

I found myself with a sudden need for new laptop last week.  Not something I was really looking forward too, as I had a perfectly fine Dell MP4500 in my grasp up until last Friday afternoon.

Initially I thought I might make do with the HP G7 – exactly the same machine I picked up for my mother last month.  17.3″ screen, AMD A6 processor, 4 meg of ram and a nice price tag at $429.00 on special at BestBuy.

I forgot that I’m not like other users.  I do development work and I hit my processor rather hard most of the time.  This isn’t simply a media delivery machine for me, it’s my livelihood. I have a need for speed, and it’s not just so I can dodge zombies in Call of Duty.

So as I started setting the machine up, I was beginning to notice software like Eclipse was REALLY slow.  It became apparent almost immediately that I wasn’t going to be able to live with it.  So I started doing research.  I knew I didn’t have a boatload of drachmas to sweeten the pot with.  I was really going to need 8mb of ram, and the fastest processor I could get.

That processor issue became the central point.  I was really interested in the new AMD A10 which the hardware sites were saying was almost as good as the Intel 3rd gen I7 processor.  Lenovo had a machine in the wild with the thing in it, but I couldn’t find one, and after a little searching I can back to the operative words in the hardware assessment: almost as good as an Intel 3rd Gen I7.

“Almost as good” is kissing your sister – its a euphemism for not good enough.  I started searching for the 3rd Gen I7 and found luckily it had just hit the market and BestBuy had a Toshiba P855 with the beast on sale right in my price range.

I had to give up on the big screen, which comes in handy for members of the bifocal set such as myself.  What I got for my money was an etched aluminum case that is seriously rugged, a nice Harmon Kardon audio system (they bill this thing as a media machine, so audio is de rigeur), and the memory/processor combination I needed.

I haven’t run any hardcore tests on it yet, but I can tell you Eclipse loads at least three times faster than it did on the Dell.

A few general observations:

  • Added bonus, and frankly the biggest surprise: no bloatware.  Not a bit, unless you include the Norton Anti-virus they preloaded, but really, they’ve got to provide some form of anti-virus. The HP would have taken me an hour to uninstall the bloatware – if I hadn’t out of the gate decided on a full clean install of Windows 7.
  • Chiclet keys – not as much of a problem as I was expecting.  I tend to bank the board hard and this was a huge concern.
  • HDMI output to an HD monitor rocks
  • The power brick gets hot.  REALLY hot…to the point that I will most likely replace it someday soon.
  • The machine itself doesn’t seem to throw that much heat.  The Dell was hot enough to make popcorn, and it pump the air out on the left side, which is where I keep my external mouse.  In the winter, nice and warm on the hand.  In the summer, not so much fun.
  • They ship it with the battery in – and the reviews I read attribute this to a number of battery failures in new machines. Seems like a rather foolish mistake.

The lowdown: if you need a media delivery machine, to handle some emails and maybe manage your checkbook, go with the HP G7 (and do a fresh install of Win7).  If you want kick ass processing power and a laptop case you can bang nails with, go with the Toshiba P855-S5200.


The Last of the Old Time Newsmen

We are all a little less today, for the loss of a great newsman, Mike Wallace, formerly of 60 Minutes.  He was a slave to the story; where it lead and who it lead to be damned.

But this isn’t a memorial for a man I didn’t know.  It’s a memorial for a profession and ethos that is gone.  I’d honestly love to hear what he’d have to say about today’s world of media bias.

There it is, media bias. For those of you on the left you’re thinking of the the folks at Fox News, whereas those on the right are thinking of the Trayvon Martin 911 tape selectively edited by NBC News.

I’m not sure I’d want to associate my name with an industry in which the only institution that had the guts to hop on the story of presidential candidate John Edward’s epic 2008 zipper problem was that bastion of journalistic integrity, The National Enquirer.

Put aside your predilection towards one side or the other, let’s think about that one.  The stories were whispered on the campaign trail in 2008, but no one would touch them. Some  would say because he conveniently siphoned votes off of the at that time nominee apparent, Hillary Clinton.  No matter, the fact is that a candidate for President of the United States went without media scrutiny throughout the 2008 primary season.  Would that have happened this time around, say if it was someone like Rick Perry?  Read more here.

The John Edwards extramarital affair refers to the extramarital affair admitted to in August 2008 by John Edwards, a former United States Senator from North Carolina and Democratic Party presidential candidate. The affair was initially reported by The National Enquirer, a US supermarket tabloid newspaper, but was given little or no coverage by many sources in the US mainstream media.[1][2][3] The Enquirer cited claims by an anonymous source that Edwards had engaged in the affair with Rielle Hunter, a filmmaker hired to work for his presidential campaign, and that the relationship had produced a child.

Then last month we find there is video that WGBH in Boston, a PBS station, had of then Law Professor Barack Obama supporting Derrick  Bell, PHD, an academic professing radical race theory. Again, if Rick Santorum had introduced similar fire brand, it would have been immediate news.  Read about it here…

“The bombshell is the revelation of the relationship between Obama and Derrick Bell,” Pollack said. “Derrick Bell is the Jeremiah Wright of academia. He passed away last year but during his lifetime he developed a theory called critical race theory, which holds that the Civil Rights movement was a sham and that White Supremacy is the order and it must be overthrown.”

It’s not just on the left.  Fox News is perennially accused of bias.  Again, citing Wikipedia…

Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Republican and conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg indicated his belief that Fox News was rightward-leaning: “Look, I think liberals have reasonable gripes with Fox News. It does lean to the right, primarily in its opinion programming but also in its story selection (which is fine by me) and elsewhere. But it’s worth remembering that Fox is less a bastion of ideological conservatism and more a populist, tabloid-like network.”[13]

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has stated that “Fox does tilt right,” (although he states this in specific reference to the coverage of the Iraq war, not FNC’s coverage in general), but that the network does not “actively campaign or try to help Bush-Cheney.”[14][15]

So on to the thing we have lost: honest, unbiased journalism, the kind that Wallace did; follow the story where it leads and pull back every curtain.  Unfortunately our media now seems to have a hotline to the party they support.

Newsflash: NBC, NY Times, Fox – if you’re taking your directions from a political party, you’re not in news, you’re in public relations.  The people of the United States deserve better, and you should show a little pride.  Now go find a REAL story and stop carrying water!

The 2012 New England Boat Show – Video Edition

This year, we pretty much only shot video, using my Evo 4g with an 8 mp onboard camera.  It’s really  the first time I’ve edited one of my videos down for release, and I can see a few obvious problems, such as the horizontal vs. vertical issue which has got to be as rookie as you get.  Still, I think it came together well enough to share.

So without further ado, the 2012 New England Boat Show in 4 minutes…

Boat dealers, you’ll remember where the comments section is below from the past couple years…  Everyone else, I look forward to your thoughts on this video effort vs. the print reviews of the past few years.

Other Links…

The 2011 Boat Show
The 2010 Boat Show
The 2009 Boat Show


The One Thing Newspapers Do Well…

Over the past decade, we’ve heard a lot of prognostications on newspaper’s place in the digital world, or perhaps their lack of said place.  Inevitably someone comes up with the statement “local newspapers do one thing well: covering local news you can’t get anywhere else.”

Over the past year or so, I can think of numerous occasions where I saw something, such as a car accident that tied up Route 146 for hours, which I’d have expected to find under the heading of “local coverage” only to find nothing.

Case in point, the other day I had to drive to Worcester after work, and along the eastbound side of Rt. 290 there were numerous small brush fires for about 5 miles, with police and fire personnel working them, along with major traffic jams.This was no small thing, and it was seen by thousands of Worcester residents, most of whom, like myself, would be wondering what happened?  Was it a peat fire?  Did a gas tanker spew gas along the road then burst into flames?  A bad prank by kids?

The Worcester Telegram website offered no answer. Plenty of AP stories from around the globe, but nothing on what was for many of us a major event for the day.  Great work, guys!

Here’s the thing: with all the cutbacks in newsrooms around the world, newspapers are now hard pressed to do the thing everyone says they do well, local news.  They’re short on bodies.  We forget that covering local news is actually very expensive versus running some puff off the wire.  What with having to actually get a reporter and a photographer in a car and all the way out to where the news is.  Wire service happens in the newsroom, making it quite convenient.

I have a news flash: if local papers don’t do local news, they’re valueless to the people they supposedly serve.

Home Printers – Box O’Nightmare

Over the time, we expect that technology will improve.  The general notion is that gadgets become cheaper, with richer feature sets, and finely tuned reliability as they mature.  We see this throughout tech, in computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.  Everywhere, except printers.  Let’s face it, home printing technology has become harder to use, less reliable and has generally been on a downward spiral since the invention of the ink jet printer.

Back in the 80’s, I could run thousands of sheets through my tractor feed dot matrix printer  (I think it was an Epson LQ 590 or similar) a day.  The thing might as well have had a hopper into which whole trees could be fed, it was that good at processing paper into printed material. Ribbons for the thing lasted forever,  but at $5-10 you could keep a few extras in your desk drawer, just in case.

Then in the 90’s the laser jet became the thing.  My experience with these was that you either got a good one or a bad one.  I had one I liked a lot, an HP Laserjet 5L, that was capable of printing large manuscripts without jamming, so long as I kept feeding it paper.  I bought the same model for a friend, and it was nothing but problems.

Now we’ve got a Lexmark Pro 205 wireless printer, which is mostly used for the kids homework, and it honestly couldn’t be a bigger piece of crap.  Literally, every time one of the kids needs to print a report, I end up spending a minimum of 2 hours doing tech support trying to get the damned thing to produce a handful of pages.  Fun stuff like:

  • The thing loses it’s ip, and doesn’t get a new one.  So you can’t connect to it via wireless.  Negating that whole “wireless printer” thing…
  • If you don’t use it for a couple weeks, you can count on a trip to the store to replace a cartridge.
  • If you need to replace one cartridge, you’re going to end up replacing them all.  You just don’t know it yet.
  • The cartridges cost something like $25 for the black one, and $50-70 total for the colored ones.  If you need them late at night, because SOMEONE didn’t tell you they needed to print a doc early in the evening, Walmart carries them.
  • I am now replacing cartridges monthly.  Or more…
  • It has an annoying habit of burning through print heads.
  • A bad print head will turn your daughter’s science experiment write up into a Jackson Pollock-like presentation, as if the printer barfed random colors all over the document.
The short version: my experiences with both this printer, and it’s predecessor, a Canon All In One Pixma, are that Ink Jets are seriously bad technology.  Neither one ever gave me even the slightest hint of reliability.  I have a failure rate when I hit the print button of nearly 95% and run through reams of paper, gallons of ink, and too many hours of my time to count before I can cajole either into producing an even slightly passable printed product.
The long and the short of this is that I’ve gone over to requesting my daughters email me anything that needs to be printed before 5pm everyday so I can print it on the office printer. Eventually, I’ll go over to Staples and buy myself a nice, new dot matrix printer.  Maybe there are still a few Epson LQ 590s around somewhere…

Taking Control of Your EVO 4G

Simple Tips for the Cyanogen Mod of the EVO 4G

The problem: My Evo 4g Android phone ran out of space constantly due to the limited “on phone” memory (428 mb total).  Most of this space was eaten up by apps my mobile carrier, Sprint, had added to the phone which couldn’t be moved to my SD card.  Things like “Sprint NFL”, “Sprint NASCAR” and “Sprint TV” as well as a host of apps like Blockbuster, which I’d never, ever use.

With Android, your apps need to first be loaded to the phone, before you can move them to the SD card, so I literally had tons of SD space, but couldn’t move anything there.  Over the past year, this became worse and worse, to the point where it was a real issue.

So, as suggested by David Churbuck and Alexei Vidmich, I decided it was time to root my Evo 4g and take back control.  I was shocked by how easy it was to do.

For Evo 4g users, there are full instructions here. Here are a few tips from my experience (it took about 30 minutes, then about another hour of customizing and installing the apps I wanted).

    • You probably want to disable your screen password and make sure you’re fully charged before you start.
    • I did a full backup with HTC Sync before starting.  I found I had to go to HTC and download the latest version to get it to recognize my phone.  The one on the phone didn’t work with Windows 7.
    • No matter what the doc says, assume you will lose your voicemails and sms messages.
    • First, create a new folder on you computer.  Call it “Cyanogen” or something.
    • In that folder, create a text document and call it “phone info”.  Save the file.  Use this to copy in your phone’s serial number, the hboot version, your revolution beta key, etc.
    • Since you’re going to be pulling your battery out, I suggest it’s a good time to upgrade to the Seido Extended Life Battery (this WILL make your phone much thicker…).
    • I also suggest using the Seido Innocase Extended Rugged Hybrid Case – aside from it’s “Eastern Bloc” style, the thing makes your phone basically bullet proof.  The iPhone crowd may laugh at you, but your phone is utterly protected and infinitely better than theirs are…
    • Instead of using Astro File Manager, use ES File Explorer.  It’s much better.
    • When downloading Revolutionary, be sure to download AND generate your key at the same time.  Otherwise, it won’t work.  If you mess up, you’ll get the infamous “invalid beta key” error.  If this happens, download it again and generate the key at the same time.
    • Definitely install the Google Apps at the same time.  You will need them.  After you have installed Cyanogen, you will need to use Google Voice for your voicemail.
    • In the instructions, there are three different recovery methods.  I used the Clockwork Mod method via Recovery.  It was simple.

Overall, the process is fairly simple.  If you can access the drive on your phone to download pictures and know how to unzip files on a computer, you can probably handle it without issue.  If you’re concerned, call your favorite geek and ask him to help.  Be sure to provide a 12 pack of his favorite barley pops, or perhaps dinner, to ensure future tech support service.

It is VERY important that you re-calibrate your battery.  To do this, go to the Android Market, and download Battery Calibration.  You will need to fully charge your battery, then use this plugin to delete the battery stats file on the phone and then fully discharge your phone and charge again to 100%.  While this seems like a fairly silly step, it is utterly crucial to getting the most out of your battery.

Okay, so now you have your phone rooted.  It looks pretty bland with the default theme, and no apps on it.

    • You can grab themes here that will work with the ADW Theme Launcher that is installed in your system manager.
    • I personally went with the MacOS theme, not because I like the MacOS, but because it was clean and most fit the idea of what I wanted.  Forget about the pink color…I use a background image anyways.
    • In system manager, turn off the animations.  They use up battery and I consider them distracting.
    • In either you own photo albums or on Google Images, find a nice horizontal image at high res you can use as a background.  The phone will scroll it across your screens…so a highwidth to height ration would be much better. I just like fly fishing at Monomoy…
    • Download and install the 3d Digital Weather Clock . Then install it’s widget on your main page.  4 columns by 2 rows is the proper setting.
    • Grab the Battery Indicator App, and the Green Power App (I have the free version, but am still testing battery management apps).
    • Install Elixir – it will give you an app that helps to see what’s really going on with your phone, but also provides a widget that will make it easy to turn on and off major services like Wireless, 4g, GPS, screen brightness (a big battery saver), etc. from your phone screen with a click.
    • Before you start pulling your apps onto your screens, think about how you organize them.  I like to put system stuff all together, information apps like news sites, magazines, etc., and then my social stuff all on screens together.  I also devote on page to work stuff, like my calendar, my Salesforce Chatter app, etc.  I anxiously await the soon to release Rally Agile Development app.

A few apps I strongly suggest

      • Dropbox  – it lets you move files from one machine to another via the cloud.
      • ES File Manager – A great way to manage files on your phone.
      • ES Task Manager – Manage what’s running on your phone.
      • Evernote – Files, pics, spreadsheets, everything on any machine.
      • WordPress for Android – unlike the iPhone app, this one really works well.
      • Currents – Yeah, I’m a fisherman and boater.  Why wouldn’t I want all the Eldridge Tide and Pilot content on my phone?
      • Navionics Marine & Lakes USA – same reason as above, why wouldn’t I want all the marine navigational charts for the US on my phone?  Honestly, this one is better on a tablet though.
      • Weatherbug – my favorite weather app, simple and easy to use.
      • BigOven – Recipes – I’m surprised how much I use this.
      • Google Translate – you may not need it, but if you do, it’s a life saver.
      • Google Goggles – lots of promise for visual search.  I haven’t really had cause to use it much, but this is the app to watch.
      • Google Maps – with this, you have no need of a traditional GPS for your car again.  Find anything and get directions, with turn by turn nav.

Social Media Apps (if you’re into it, you’ve already got your favorite apps, but here are mine):

      • Tweetdeck – The app I love to hate.  Nothing comes close, but it’s got some truly annoying issues.  Such as it’s need to load everything chronologically, esp. when I haven’t used it in a fewdays.  Why would I want to view 3 days worth of tweets?
      • Facebook for Android – a former weak sister of Facebook apps, but lately it’s become as good or better than the iPhone counterpart.
      • Foursquare – Enabling my cyberstalkers, one latte at a time…
      • Google + – Meh, a decent-ish app, but you absolutely must turn off auto-image upload, lest every picture you take end up in the clutches of Google.

Apps I haven’t yet installed but need:

      • A podcast player that works.  I’ve tried a few and been less than thrilled.  Suggestions welcome here.
      • Audible – I spend a lot of time in the truck and need to catch up on my reading.
      • Flickr, Picasa, or some decent cloud based image service.

Okay, let’s hear your suggestions in the comments.


You Want Fries With That? Journalism in a Changing World

<This article was written in early September, and I can’t remember why I didn’t publish it then.  Must have had more to say, but I can’t remember it now…>

A look through my archives here will show you that I used to cover a lot of the downward slide of the newspaper industry.  It’s been a long time since I even bothered to write about Journalism and the not-so-slow downward spiral.

This morning a few things sparked my interest.  I picked up a copy of the Worcester Telegram, the rag I used to write for, and I have to admit I was shocked…in the way one is shocked when one sees an old friend riddled with cancer, gaunt, and hollow, and barely clinging on.  The weight of the newsprint, the general thinness, it was the mere shell of my once proud and noble friend.

Then I had my attention drawn to this article from Forbes the other day, in which Jeff Bercovici discusses layoffs from the other day.  Normally I don’t even waste my time pontificating on journalism layoffs anymore.  This is different…this is an online flagship dismissing some of their top names.  The statement it makes is truly horrifying…

So I’m bummed about this. And I also found something Shafer said to the Washington Post rationalizing his layoff to be telling. He said:

The Washington Post has done this. The New York Times has done this. It doesn’t necessarily mean a huge, unsolvable crisis. It just means we have to economize. Many publications have to right-size themselves in this current economic environment.

Shafer could just as easily have said “Gawker Media has done this” and that would have been true. But the comparison to newspapers was more apt. With an editorial staff of 40, Slate (which is owned by the Washington Post Co.) is a fraction the size of those papers, but it’s built on the same model: a general-interest publication that tries to hit all the news people are interested in every day.

The thing is, this isn’t a boring broadsheet laying off, it’s an online property, the kind that were supposed to be eating the lunch of the newspapers, magazines and any old media that happened to get in their way.

We’re proving that online doesn’t exactly pay either.  If can’t make quality journalism pay, then who can?

Have we conditioned readers to expect free content at the expense of quality journalism?  I hate to think so, but the case is clear.


Reflections of a Train Wreck

Perhaps Mike Lupica summed up the last 30 days of Red Sox baseball best:

“It was like Mookie’s hit took 30 days to roll between Buckner’s legs.”

Any Red Sox fan with half a brain could not have been shocked by Wednesday’s epic failure.  With the exception of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Aceves and Scoutaro, this was a team that either gave up in early September, or flat out never really cared to begin with.

I could get into the numbers, such as the 6-18 from Sept. 3, $160,257,476 team salary, the anemic OBP of some of the players, etc.  In my mind, the real problem doesn’t come through in the numbers.  We had guys who were seemingly incapable of making anything happen when it mattered.  Adrian Gonzalez, for one, seemed to pile on the personal numbers at the times when we really didn’t need them.  When we needed that hit, with the game on the line, his bat went silent.  He was not the only one who was AWOL in the clutch.

There is no tomorrow for this team, and rightfully so.  They wrote their own story, with multi-millionaires whining about their travel accomodations, unable to play when they were needed due to “discomfort”, and with plain old fashion piss poor performance.  This team requires radical surgery if for no other reason than to redeem some shred of dignity in the eyes of the fans.  We need to put a few of these curs down!  Throw some heads on pikes! Geld those horses!

The mantra for the season, starting in April, was always “This was just one game. We’ll do better tomorrow.” It excused every loss.  In the end, they got what they deserved: any one of those losses would have sent them to Tampa for a tie breaker.  Two would have had them playing in October.

Perhaps the Red Sox should consider adding a special patch to the uniform of every single player who was on this club, to be worn until they retire, or until the expunge their shame with a World Series.  Brand the bastards so that we might recognize them more clearly in the future.

Heads will roll, and rightfully so.  I don’t for a second believe this was the fault of Terry Francona.  The issue starts with management, and is reflected in the bloated payroll of the club.  We’ve now got a massive payroll, aging players of suspect  durability, and no clear vision going forward.

Find the problems and fix them now. We, the fans have a limited tolerance of multi-millionaires who fail.  We made you guys, and you damn well owe us better than you gave this year.

Here’s a hint: stop with the excuses and own your shame guys.



Widgets – The Special Sauce for Android

Since January I’ve been rockin’ the HTC Evo 4g after being a long term iPhone user thanks to a ludicrous encounter with AT&T’s braindead customer service team.  In that time, I’ve found the Android experience to be a great one, and in many ways, it’s an improvement over the old iPhone.  I finally pinned down the primary reason the other day:  widgets.

You see widgets on the Android phone allow me to put the information I want to see right there on my phone’s display.  I don’t need to load an app to get at the info.  I can get a feed of what’s happening with my friends on Facebook, or from Twitter, or from all my social media.  Or perhaps I want to see, at a glance, what’s happening with the Red Sox.  My MLB At Bat app has a widget that lets me see the score of the game without loading the app.

That’s it: the information I want where I want it, vs. having to load an app to get at it.  Instead of looking like every other phone, my phone now has the information I want, where I want it, vs. having it locked up inside an app.  The information comes to me rather than me having to go and get it…

Strange that Apple hasn’t seen fit to provide this level of customization for it’s users…