Saturday, December 31, 2011

My favorite gadget of 2011: Logitech Portable Speaker S135i

It’s the last day of 2011! Instead of going back through the blog archives and trying to find something exciting out of all of my boring moments, I decided that I would continue the tech theme from yesterday (which was a nice break from my two day magazine rant) and look over all of the stuff I ended up with this year and would pick out the one gadget that was the best value. For me, that is the Logitech Portable Speaker S135i.

Here it is, on the bathroom counter. I was listening to WGN in Chicago this morning while getting ready to take on another exciting day.

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Yes, this speaker would be completely useless without the iPod Touch. But the value it adds is that it turns the iPod Touch into a fully functional and nice sounding internet radio. There are plenty of dedicated internet radios (such as the $150 Squeezebox, also by Logitech) out there and most of them are almost as expensive as the iPod Touch itself. An iPod Touch can do an awful lot so why would I want a dedicated internet radio when I can just add a speaker to a device that I can also check my email on, read books on, and play games on?

The speaker is right around $49 (as of today) at Amazon.com but I found mine on clearance at Walmart for $25!

It runs off of an AC Adapter or batteries. It also charges when plugged into AC. We use it all over the house. We also had it in the garage earlier this week playing an iHeart Radio station out of San Diego. It was nice listening to a station where the weather is so much nicer than it is here.

As for New Year’s Eve, the plan is to watch Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin ring in 2012 in New York at 11PM our time and then go straight to bed. There is no point in staying up until midnight just to see it again on tape delay. Watching Dick Clark always makes me feel sad for him so I try to avoid that also.

Here’s hoping we all have a great 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

New to Me Gadget: Dell Streak 7

My “new” refurbished Dell Streak 7 arrived today. The Streak 7 is a replacement for my Acer netbook that developed a weird short in the screen. The brightness just starts going up and down by itself any time the netbook is barely touched. Typing could have triggered epileptic seizures. It got so frustrating that I finally just shelved it.

I thought my iPod Touch was going to replace my netbook but the screen is just painfully small at times. With my eyes, this is not a good thing.

I really went back and forth on this purchase. I had read so many bad reviews that I didn’t know what to expect. People complain about the battery life (3 to 4 hours). My laptop battery barely gets two so this is an improvement. The screen is supposedly too “low resolution”. My eyes are old and tired so I can barely tell the difference. Also, I paid the refurbished price which is way less than an iPad and even cheaper than a Nook Color. All of these things considered, I am very pleased.

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I do have two complaints and they are not about the hardware. #1 – Dell Outlet barely even packaged this in the box. All of the accessories were loose (no packing) underneath a piece of cardboard with the tablet shrinkwrapped to the cardboard with zero padding or protection. I was amazed that the screen was not broken when I opened the box. I think FedEx deserves the credit for it surviving. My FedEx guy is not throwing anything!

#2 – The Dell Outlet description said it already had Honeycomb (Android 3.2) but it actually had Froyo (Android 2.2). So, I didn’t want to install anything until I got the upgrade done. Well, tapping on Menu > Settings > About > System updates did nothing so I had to look all over the internet until I found out that I could download the update by navigating the browser to http://mobileupdate.dell.com/?version=GLUNB1A334430 and tapping on Download and Install. You can also just navigate to http://mobileupdate.dell.com/PackageProductionLocations/LG7-WiFi_506_19534_30.pkg.

Once I finally figured out how to download it, the Honeycomb update took about 15 minutes and it came up with a bunch of built-in apps and the Android Market works great. Every app I have downloaded so far has worked with no problems.

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So, why didn’t I want a Nook Color or Nook Tablet? I really wanted the Kobo app for reading and I also wanted all of the social networking and email apps (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). And, I wanted the freedom to set up all of the screens in the order I wanted without being “locked in” like on the Nook Color or Kindle Fire. I was really leaning toward the Kobo Vox but this was just $10 more and is so much more flexible.

Here is my wife’s Nook Color next to the Streak 7. You can tell that the screen resolution on the Nook Color is a lot better but I’ll deal with that since there are so many other positives.:

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I barely sneaked this purchase in before 2012 which I have declared “The Year of Buying No Gadgets”. I am spread out between a work laptop, a home laptop, an iPod Touch (apps / internet radio), a Zune (music/podcasts), and the new tablet. I have considered eliminating the Zunes from the mix but the iPod Touch music navigation stinks. It’s a shame that the iPod software (and iTunes) is not more user friendly. I guess one thing is certain - having too much tech is a good problem to have. It’s also helpful to learn more about Android when we have so many Android phones being used at work.

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I think that the Streak 7 is going to be a lot of fun and quite useful for me in 2012. It better be since there will be no gadget purchases for at least a year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

More Magazine Mischief! Orbital Publishing Group sends a renewal invoice look-a-like

Another day, another magazine renewal letter that gets my britches in a bunch.

I got a very-bill looking slip in the mail today that someone who doesn’t pay attention might have fallen for. It’s from Orbital Publishing Group in Reno, Nevada. It looks just like an invoice but there is print at the bottom that says NOT A BILL. Can you find those words with just a quick glance? They are hoping that you can’t!

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They want to charge you $59.95 but you can go to Magazines.com and get a one year renewal for $15. I actually pay less than that each year.

What is especially disheartening is that Entertainment Weekly obviously sold my information either directly or indirectly to this company.

Here is the back of the slip:

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My favorite part is “As an agent, we do not necessarily have a direct relationship with the publishers or publications that we offer. With your purchase you authorize us and our suppliers to process and clear your order with the publishers directly or by whatever means available.” I think this means that they will pay the $15 (or less) and pocket the $44 difference. That’s quite a profit.

If you look at the “bill” above, you’ll notice that this company refers to themselves as Subscription Business Center and Publishers Billing Center. On the envelope, they call themselves Orbital Publishing Group. If you look at their Better Business Bureau page (they have a Grade F with over 500 complaints in the last three years), you’ll see that they have quite a database of names that they use:

Alternate Business Names
Orbital Publishing Group, Inc., Allied Publishing Services, American Consumers Publishers Association, Associated Publishers Services, Associated Publishers Subscription Services, Billing Services Association, Billing Services of America, Bradford Publishing Service, Circulation Billing Center, Circulation Billing Services, Global Publication Service, Global Publishers Center, Innovative Data Services, Lake Shore Publishers Service, Lakeshore Publication Service, Magazine Billing Network, Magazine Billing Services, Magazine Distribution Service, Magazine Payment Services, Magazine Subscriber Services, Magazine Subscriptions Center, National Magazine Services, Periodical Billing Center, Periodical Billing Services, Platinum Subscription Service, Publication Service Networks, Publishers Access Services, Publishers Billing Center, Publishers Billing Services, Publishers Consolidated Subscription Services, Publishers Distribution Center, Publishers Education Services, Publishers Magazine Billing, Publishers Magazine Payment, Publishers Marketplace Services, Publishers Network Exchange, Publishers Payment Services, Publishers Periodical Service, Publishers Processing Service, Publishers Services Exchange, Readers Billing Network, Readers Billing Service, Readers Billing Services, Readers Payment Center, Readers Payment Service, Seascape Publishers Network, Slo Call Center, Subscription Billing Service, Subscription Payment Exchange, Subscription Payment Services, United Publishers Services, Subscription Business Center, Seascape Publications Service, SPS, Publishers Billing Association, Seascape Publishing Services

Can you imagine going to Walmart every Saturday to get groceries and finding out that they are changing the name of the store every week?

These guys sound incredibly dodgy. I feel bad for all of the people who have fallen for crap like this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Better Homes and Gardens mag tries to use the environment to guilt us into renewing 8 months early

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I have always been annoyed with the newspaper throwing out a weekly “free” version when we don’t subscribe and the local Avon lady sticking a catalog on our mailbox and every mailbox in the neighborhood. It’s littering and it’s a huge waste of paper.

Even with all of that, I’ve never had a company try to use “environmental guilt” to force me into buying a product.

You’ve got to hand it to the marketing team of Better Homes and Gardens. They want us to renew now (our subscription is good until August 2012) and they urge us to do so by reminding us about the trees that will be cut down for the paper needed to print the renewal reminders. Never mind all of the trees cut down to print their magazine every month (even though their magazine is printed on paper so thin that you could use it as a coffee filter).

If we don’t renew, this letter gives me the impression that they will continue to destroy trees and will continue to harass us with reminders.

We got our subscription for free. They can annoy us all they want with their “renewal reminders”. They can cut down an entire forest trying to get us to renew. It won’t do any good.

The only good that their letter did was making us feel “environmentally guilty” for getting their magazine every month so we’ll have to let it go come August. Then, they can save a few trees on our behalf.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Christmas Tower of Trash

Another Christmas has ended and that means it’s time for one of my favorite traditions – creating the tower of trash. As I explained last year, the city we live in won’t pick up any trash that is not in a city owned trashcan. You either leave a pile of bags or you “make it work’. I choose to make it work by building cardboard walls to turn my can from regular to super.

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I think we went even higher this year. I took this picture before I added a layer of cardboard on each side and threw one more bag of stinky leftovers on top. The best part is the rain that started about an hour ago and will keep on all night. Happy Holidays to whichever city employee came up with this exciting rule.

Christmas went off without a hitch. We’re becoming pros after all of these years of pulling off the family get-togethers. Also, the kids want less and less toys which means less and less annoying packaging to try to break into. I wonder how many people end up at the ER with scissors through there hands because of all of that crap.

Here they are about to tear it up.

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Here they are opening stuff under the watchful eyes of Ralphie, his mom, his brother, and the ‘major award’.

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I think they cleaned up pretty good this year. The Nerf guns were my idea. Clothes are fine and they love clothes but you really need to have something a bit dangerous or it’s just not Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve 2011

It feels like it took forever for Christmas to actually get here and now I find myself surprised that it is almost here and almost over.

The Elf took over the record player yesterday.

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He made his final appearance of the year watching over all of the gifts that took over the living room.

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This is what it looks like when you have a house full of people and 5 kids over on Christmas Eve.

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I went ahead and broke the Santa code by giving Sara her big gift a day early. It was 55 degrees so we had to take advantage of that while we could. If it wasn’t for my brother-in-law being here to assist, I might still be outside trying to put this thing together.

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It was a good day and I think the kids will be pleased with Santa’s deliveries for tomorrow.

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Have a very Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's a Festivus Miracle!

It’s December 23rd again and that means that today is Festivus. I’ll soon be going to our Festivus dinner and afterwards we’ll have our annual “Airing of Grievances” where I will be letting everyone know how they have disappointed me in the last year. Then, we will move on to the “Feats of Strength” in which someone will have to pin me in a living room wrestling match in order to end Festivus. I’ve moved up a weight class this year so Festivus might go on a bit longer than it usually does.

festivus-pole

It’s not too late to whip up your own Festivus celebration. Just click here to study up on the Festivus traditions and don’t forget to end dinner by standing up and saying, “I got a lot of problems with you people! And now, you're gonna hear about it!!!”

Also, we have another special Christmas tradition this evening – the annual Late Show with David Letterman Christmas show. Not only will Darlene Love be singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home” but we’ll also hear the retelling of the Lone Ranger story by Jay Thomas (Tonight, they will do a live reenactment of the story for the first time) and watch Dave and Jay compete in the Holiday Quarterback Challenge.

My December 23rd is all planned out!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Relapse Wednesday and Bad Christmas Songs!

We ended up back at the doctors office last night to get Sara’s positive (again!) strep test. She finished antibiotics on Tuesday and ends up back on antibiotics yesterday. It’s the Christmas gift that just won’t go away! It appears to be very minor so we should all be back to normal and waiting for the next surprise infection soon.

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Christmas continues to approach and there is no slowing it down. Work is finally slowing down just a little bit and that is a good thing. I thought this would be a quiet week and I was very, very wrong. It’s also pouring down rain here so we continue to be trapped in this odd spring-like weather cycle. The grass continues to grow and the weather is staying fairly warm. It may be Christmas but it feels like March!

In the important category of Christmas music news, MSNBC has posted 11 Christmas Songs We Hope Never to Hear Again.

I agree with most of them. I don’t see the offense in “Last Christmas” by Wham! We should give mad props to George Michael for writing a new (at the time) Christmas song that has actually become a modern Christmas classic. I think the Taylor Swift version is pretty cool and it’s always good for George to keep getting nickels piled into his legal defense fund.

I also don’t understand “Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney being on the Christmas poo-poo list. “Overproduced, strangled-by-synthesizer mess”? It was 1979!!!! Just about everything sounded like this in 1979! At least it’s not Christmas disco. And, just like George, Paul wrote a new (at the time) Christmas classic! That’s pretty hard to pull off since most Christmas artists are still competing with the ghosts of Christmas past like Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby.

I guess we all can’t record classics like Gayla Peevey did.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Monday

lamp

The pre-Christmas prep is in high gear now. And, all of the people at work are scurrying to fill up my 2012 calendar with conference calls before they head out on vacation. I never take vacation at Christmas. I enjoy all of the peace and quite that occurs when everyone else is off.

I de-cluttered the living room today. I had let all kinds of junk creep back in over the last month. Once the Christmas stuff goes up, clutter seems to covertly follow. In the last 4 days I have “reset” the living room and both of the kids rooms and I ended up filling the garbage can to the brim and making an unplanned trip to the thrift store. It feels good to get rid of stuff and I’m trying to not think about the new stuff that will be unwrapped this weekend.

We’re at the verge of another two days of pouring rain. We’ve been having a second spring here for the last week or so and the grass is growing out of control. I keep thinking about mowing it but I know that the 10 and 15 degree nights will sneak up on us and kill all of that grass anyway. Mother Nature is helping me stay lazy.

Just three more days until my four day weekend……

Friday, December 16, 2011

Two more elf pics

I’d write about my week and the movies I’ve seen recently and all of the work we’re doing around here to get ready for Christmas but I’m just too lazy to do that tonight. All I’ve got for tonight are these two creepy elf pics.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Zicam Sunday

Birthday Friday morphed into Birthday Party Saturday.

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We had her party at the movies and we saw “The Muppets”. It was pretty good – it was a nice tribute to the original show that was on television when I was much younger. There were tons of cameos in the movie also.

They also showed a new “Toy Story” short before the movie. It was hilarious. The last “Toy Story” movie was such a downer. The new short was just plain funny and makes me hope that there will be another movie. In this one, we meet all sorts of abandoned fast food kids meal toys including T-Bone the Transforming Steak. A short clip is below:

It’s worth seeing just for the horrible chicken fast food creations that are shown during the ending credits. There are some crazy people at Pixar.

So, we got through most of the day before the world’s worst restaurant experience. We waited FOREVER for food. The place was freezing. My toes were numb when we left. Then, we went to Target at 9PM like nuts. It was at Target that Sara started complaining about a sore throat and being hot. We went home and she had no fever but still the sore throat.

That leads us to Zicam Sunday. Sara and Lindsay both woke up puny this morning and we went right to the clinic and they both won the prize of positive strep tests! So, they are on the antibiotics.

And, my lousy headache and congestion and random sneezing fits have continued so I am taking Zicam hoping that I am not the next one being swabbed.

I guess only time will tell.

Here’s the most recent Elf on the Shelf mischief to close this one out.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Lindsay’s Birthday

Lindsay is another year older and she ripped through her gifts like a rabid wolverine. Among all of the stuff she got, we finally replaced the karaoke machine that died earlier this year.

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Karaoke machines are for sale everywhere this year and I blame Glee.

The elf and his weird group of friends commandeered the Wii last night so that means no video games tonight.

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Note that they are all wearing their Wiimote safety straps.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Indigestion, a bad elf, a silly video

I’m getting really tired of random indigestion. It seems like I can’t each much of anything these days without needing an antacid at some point not long afterwards. Some days I want to blame the coffee. Today I visited the Taco Bell at lunch. I used to be able to eat Taco Bell without having to run for the Maalox afterwards. This ‘getting older’ thing really stinks sometimes.

I walked into the kitchen to discover another elf made mess this morning. I can honestly say that I have zero involvement in the latest elf crime spree we are seeing here.

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I’m going to close with a video that I keep bookmarked in case I have an emergency need for laughter.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday

Here is a short video before I declare incoming snow/ice insanity. Chances are pretty good that the snow and ice will miss us or will not stick but you never really know around here until it actually happens. At this point it’s just too close for comfort. If the kids are out of school tomorrow or even get out early tomorrow and then they are home for two weeks for the holidays….hmmm…it’s really too depressing to consider.

I had to deal with AT&T today thanks to my parents switching from DSL to Cable internet. This video pretty well sums up that experience:

This is why I dropped AT&T a while back. Unfortunately, I am stuck with them on my work owned cell phone. It is horrible.

In other news, our Elf is back and he just gets weirder and weirder each year.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

The Monday that I reluctantly invested in two dog prisons

Last night will be remembered as “Poopfest 2011”. Our two dogs decided to throw their own dookie party all over the bedroom. Last night will also be remembered as “The Last Straw” in my war against dog whiz and dog logs.

We’ve been fighting this war ever since our newest dog, Devil Sadie, became a member of our home. Alex was always pretty good about going out. Sadie is also trained but will randomly decided to go against her training and then Alex must instinctively mark her territory. This typically happens in our bedroom where they are gated in with us at night. They love to use my home office area as their personal commode. Oddly this only happens every 4 weeks or so. We’ll go through with no accidents at all until all of a sudden the carpet cleaner has to come back out for some action.

The dogs have also taken over our bed. They must stay warm and we are huge human pillows that they love to lay on.

Enough is enough.

I finally invested in two dog prisons. These are where they will now be sleeping at night.

dogprison

I am hugely reluctant to do this. I really don’t like it but I see no choice anymore. I really don’t like the idea of having to cage our dogs at night but they also love to get me up at different times half the night and I can’t keep getting up at 12AM and 2AM and 4AM when each one has a whim to finally wake me up.

Of course, maybe the accidents are happening when they can’t (or won’t) wake me up. I don’t know. We discussed a dog door but Sadie is a digger and she loves rolling around in wet grass and mud for some reason. I can’t have Pigpen the dog coming back and forth in and out of the house at will.

I guess only time will tell how long until I can’t handle the guilt anymore and finally give the dogs parole.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fog!

Yesterday, one day after the 170+ car accident in my hometown, I had to drive there also. The fog was just plain insane. We had none where I live about 45 miles away. There is nothing smarter to do when driving in fog than to whip out the phone and take some pics.

Way out in the distance you can see the fog settled in.

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Once you were in there, visibility dropped pretty fast.

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And it just kept getting worse.

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It was just a bit warmer so there was no ice. The ice was a huge factor in the big pile up. By the evening drive home, things were nice and clear again.

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I’m not going to go into what my day was like Friday. I had to deal with two utility companies and a bank. That should explain everything you need to know. It was a lesson in frustration. I have less stressful days at work and that’s saying something.

The good news is that my anger-induced headache is finally starting to go away.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I write about a lamp and a vacuum because I am sadly domesticated

I recently acquired two pretty good items so I am going to dedicate this entry to sharing my good buys.

First, I finally found a decent light for my impromptu home laptop nook which is actually “hiding” in a corner of my living room behind our recliner. It is the V-Light Architect Clamp Lamp. I got it at Office Max for $15.99. For some reason you can buy it at their website here for $1 cheaper but you will pay shipping on top of the tax.

It also comes with one of those new Al Gore lightbulbs. These are the only ones we’ll legally be allowed to buy soon. Surprisingly, this one comes right on and is plenty bright. It’s not like the ones in our bathroom where they act like old gym lights warming up.

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I had to move my home laptop over here since the Christmas tree is now up in my “spot” in the living room. I know it seems silly to have two computers set up in different parts of the house but I try to avoid my work desk at night so I keep my blog and all my stuff on my trusty old Gateway laptop.

Second, I acquired a Dirt Devil Extreme Power Hand Vac. It’s available at Amazon.com for $40.54. It’s the best hand vac I have ever had and I’ve had quite a few Dustbusters over the years. They don’t seem to last more than a couple of years and they are not nearly as good as this Dirt Devil.

The best feature, since I am sadly totally domesticated at this point in my life, is the flip down nozzle. They call it the “crevice tool”.

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I use it to get the corners of the carpet and when I sweep the kitchen and bathrooms. And, it has a three year warranty! That’s pretty amazing in the world of 90 day warranties that we live in.

Finally, I’m glad I didn’t drive to my hometown this morning (I am actually going over there tomorrow morning for my day off). They had a wreck in the ice fog this morning that involved 170 cars and one fatality. I’m amazed more people weren’t killed after seeing the video from the scene.

The worse part of winter around here is the ice and ice season has definitely started early this year.