Winter Solstice 2014

December 21 2014 23:03 GMT

HTC Touch Pro

I’ve admired HTC cellular (PDA) phones for a very long time… their cost, though, has always made me choose an alternate.

With the release of the very popular Touch Diamond and Touch Pro (Windows Mobile 6.1) phones has come the opportunity to buy one at an aggressive price ($200 with no contract if you shop wisely on Craigslist).

Most all of the HTC phones are hackable, and there’s a large community preparing custom ROM sets for them.

You’ve never seen a HTC phone?  Well, you may not have seen HTC’s phones, but you’ve probably seen a derivative of their Touch Flow 3D interface… whether they’d like to admit it on not a company in Cupertino popularized that type of interface on a phone they sell in the US through AT&T.

You can check out HTC’s site (URL below) for a list of all the various handsets they make (and not all of them are Windows Mobile — you might notice they also make the Android based G1).

I purchased the Touch Pro because it has both a touch screen and a keyboard… it’s a little thicker than the Diamond Touch, but I’m just not willing to give up on the keyboard yet — but I wanted a touch screen to make browsing the web a little less tedious.  And with Windows Mobile 6.1 you can internet connection sharing built in (so you can tether you notebook very easily without paying any additional fees).

One of the first things you’ll want to do (even if you’re not changing phone carries on the handset you get) is unlock your phone… primarily so that you can flash a custom ROM in that matches your own tastes (you can even customize many of the ROMs yourself).

Touch Flow 3D is wizzy and cool… and will amaze your friends, but let’s face it — isn’t battery life and functionality more important?  And simplicity goes a long way in making the phone more practical for everyday use (after all, you’re probably going to use it as a phone most of the time… or not).

At the moment I’ve got Mighty ROM loaded in my handset; it’s fairly clean, fairly light-weight; and works… I’ll consider upgrading to a Mobile 6.5 versions once those are more stable, and I might consider customizing my own ROM to remove a lot of the apps I don’t every intend to use.

By-the-way, one of the things you may find you no longer need if you go to this phone is a GPS… you can run Google Maps on it, but that requires you have an active internet connection (and that doesn’t always happen in many places), I also loaded Garmin XT on my handset, so I basically have a Garmin GPS with access to Garmin Live (weather and gas prices, I think you can pay a monthly fee for traffic, but there’s no traffic in my area).

All I can say is it’s a GREAT phone, and a wonderful PDA… and my feeling is HTC has gone a long way towards providing us with a convergent device.  Microsoft is rumored to be working on their own handset; let’s hope they’ve studies HTC and will leverage off their design.

The only negatives are battery life (always an issue with a PDA phone, but far less of an issue when you can Touchflow 3D), and radio quality (I suspect that has to do with the way they designed the radio — it’s certainly adequate when cell coverage is reasonable, but you might not get good reception in fringe areas).

http://www.htc.com/us/

Originally posted 2009-06-10 11:00:22.

Citibank World Dividends Master Card

I got home Friday evening and had an alert from Citibank that a statement was ready on my Citibank World Dividends Master Card account… this is an account they’d converted from their Dividends reward card that had a really nice cash back program to a card that really didn’t have a very good program at all, so I really didn’t use the card much; but I’d done a small charge on it a couple months ago, and then paid it off when the bill was issued.

So, the alert was notifying me that I had a statement ready that would have a zero balance, and would only be showing a posted payment.

The problem was… there wasn’t a PDF of the statement available.  And the same thing had happened to me about eight months previously; so I actually knew exactly what it was.

The bottom line was some programmer at Citi decided (or was instructed to) not produce PDF statements for account with zero balances period… ignoring the fact that federal law requires a credit card company to issue out a statement with a zero balance should there be any transactions in the period the statement covers.

Certainly the supervisor I was transferred understood the requirement that a statement be issued when there was transactions during that period…

But, once again, I was sent over to a on-line technical support agent; who insisted the problem was my browser… Firefox 8; so we tried it in Internet Explorer 9… same thing, no PDF statement… then we tried it in Internet Explorer 8, Internet Explorer 7, and Firefox 5… guess what, still no PDF statement (she of course wouldn’t have it that I’d gone through all of this before — she had to make sure she wasted the maximum amount of my time that she could); then the technical support representative decide that maybe she should actually ask someone about this issue… and –SURPRISE– she was told that there was an issue in the system and in fact PDF statements were not issued out on account that had a zero balance, that they had to be requested to be generated.

While normally I believe in the three strikes you’re out paradigm, for a financial institution as well run as Citibank I made an exception… I decided because they managed to waste 50 minutes of my life today; and another about 90 minutes of my life several months ago on the exact same issue, that they were OUT!

I requested a return to a supervisor and canceled my account.

As always, I wished her the best of luck finding another job when the financial institution she worked for went out of business, and assured her that I would do everything in my power to encourage everyone I knew to dump Citibank.

The only unfortunate thing about cancelling the account was losing the $13.56 in Dividend reward points, but I certainly wasn’t going to keep the card until I had accumulated the $50.00 in reward points necessary to request a check.

I still have a two other Citibank credit cards (one VISA and one Master Card)… and while I may keep those cards for the moment (since Citibank and Bank of America are the only two financial institutions in this country that provide virtual credit card numbers)… but I will guarantee you I’ll make sure as little money as possible is charged through Citibank, and should one of my credit unions add virtual credit cards Citibank will be history for me.


UPDATE:

On Sunday I received an email from Citibank telling me that there was a PDF of my statement available for download.  Guess what — no statement.  I called up the clueless people at Citibank (again) to waste (more) of my time…

I guess maybe they’ll just have to change the spelling of their company to Shittybank.

Originally posted 2011-11-20 02:00:27.

Joomla Review

Joomla is one of the most popular open source Content Management Systems (CMSs) around.

The core of Joomla is open source and free to use; however, there are many add-ons and themes for Joomla that are commercial.  In fact, what I found is particularly with themes, almost none of the free themes are what I would consider “professional”.

Joomla has an extraordinarily steep learning curve.  You can do almost nothing with the CMS right after installing it without reading a fairly significant amount of documentation.

Even after reading the documentation, it is fairly involved to differentiate a Joomla site from every other Joomla site (which is why generally it’s so easy to identify a site that uses Joomla).  Don’t get me wrong, you can build a very customized site using Joomla — however, mere mortals might have to hire a consultant.

Joomla to me is unnecessarily complex technology looking for problems to solve in a way that creates job security.  Did I say that? LOL

If Joomla does what you want, and Joomla will create the look-and-feel that you like, and you can understand (and are comfortable with) the paradigm — then have at it.  It certainly works, and it’s very solid.  However, you should consider the total cost of Joomla before you dive head on into it (and while the core system is free, you may find that themes, modules, and consulting adds up quickly).

http://joomla.org/

Originally posted 2010-04-04 02:00:27.

Earth’s Biggest Selection

That’s, of course, Amazon.com‘s catch phrase…

I’m always quick to say what I think about a company or service; and I’m sure you’ve noticed that the vast majority of times that not very flattering.

I am, however, just as quick to praise as to criticize… the problem being is that there just aren’t that many instances where I find praise is warranted; and there seems to be an almost unending list of things to criticize.

Amazon.com impresses me as a company that tries very hard to “do the right thing”; and a company that empowers it’s customer service representatives to resolve issues in a timely and equitable manner.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Amazon.com isn’t without fault — but unlike many companies they seem to be working to move forward and make improvements rather than simply ensnare their customers and force the to put up with their short comings.

Generally speaking, Amazon.com’s prices are fair, their shipping costs are reasonable (free on many orders if you’re willing to wait for the order processing delay), their polices are clear (and concise), and their customer service people are helpful (and efficient).

The biggest thing I can criticize Amazon.com for is that they have the right to impose a life-time limit on their “A-Z Guarantee” — and while I think that it makes sense to have limits; it doesn’t make sense to me that a person who orders once a year from Amazon.com should be subject to the same potential limits as a person that orders once a day — or a person that has only placed three orders in their life has full protection, but a person who has placed three hundred has far less protection (as a percentage of orders).

The other thing I wish Amazon.com would improve on is consistency of product listings (like putting the manufacturer’s link and warranty information in the same location on each page).

Is that enough to make me shy away from doing business with Amazon.com???  ABSOLUTELY NOT…

In all the time I’ve done business with Amazon.com only once have I needed to use the A-Z Guarantee, and it was with an Amazon Marketplace Merchant (which isn’t the same as Amazon.com — and I certainly do not give Amazon Marketplace Merchants the same endorsement as Amazon.com).

The only other “negatives” about Amazon.com is that they do not price match; which also includes researching incorrect pricing (for instance, if a manufacturer changes the suggested retail price, and likely distribution cost Amazon.com has no mechanism to update that if the manufacturer doesn’t constantly provide updates).

Additionally, Amazon.com has made great strides to reduce packing waste for products they sell; and while I can’t say they can claim to be “green”, they are moving in the right direction.

If you’ve never tried Amazon.com — check them out and compare their products and prices the next time you’re going to place an order — from technology to toasters, shaving to shovels… you might be surprised at how big their selection is and how low their prices can be!

Originally posted 2010-05-23 02:00:07.

Tax Day

The tax man cometh… and probably won’t leave you with much.

Income tax — a horrible thing; and the Sixteenth Amendment should be repealed.

Why this country hasn’t moved to a more equitable and more easily administered tax system is beyond me — just another failing of our government.

Originally posted 2010-04-15 01:00:34.

Father’s Day

Father’s Day grew from a celebration of Mother’s Days.

In 1909 Sonora Smart Dodd (of Spokane Washington) felt that a day should be set aside for honoring fathers (her father was a Civil War veteran and had raised six children after the passing of his wife).

While a bill had been introduced in the US Congress as early as 1913, and President Woodrow Wilson spoke in Spokane at a local celebration in 1916, and President Calvin Coolidge encouraged a celebration in 1924 it would not be until President Richard Nixon issued a proclamation in 1972 declaring the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day that it became a national day of honoring not only our paternal father’s, but our fore father’s as well.

Originally posted 2010-06-20 02:00:59.

m4s0n501

Making a list and checking it twice…

Irregardless of what star, moon, or heavenly body you look to for inspiration, or what deity or faith guides your life… may this season bring peace and happiness to all, and to all a good night!.

Originally posted 2008-12-24 12:00:44.

Stonewall

President Obama declared June 2009 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgenders Pride Month, citing the rights that began at Stonewall Inn, 51 &53 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, United States of America on 29 June 1969.

Forty years since the event that is generally considered to be the beginning of the gay civil rights movement (though there were previous efforts at gay civil rights) President Obama makes a token gesture of recognition of the inequity individuals who are not part of the heterosexual majority suffer on a daily basis, but fails to mention that their is still no protection of sexual orientation in the United States and that many states have on the books laws which effectively attempt to make illegal same sex relationships (or at least sexual activities between same sex — and some anything considered deviant sexual activities even between legally married individuals).

Simply put, it is time for the United States of America to recognize and provided equality to each and every American regardless of their age, sex, creed, national origin, ancestry, race, color, sexual orientation, political affiliations, religion, beliefs, physical limitations, or marital status.

Plain and simple, all Americans are Americans and they deserve to be treated equally.

NOTE: June 1999 the US Department of the Interior designated 51 and 53 Christopher Street, the street itself, and the surrounding streets as a National Historic Landmark.

Let it forever be remembered that here—on this spot—men and women stood proud, they stood fast, so that we may be who we are, we may work where we will, live where we choose and love whom our hearts desire.
· John Berry, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior

Originally posted 2009-06-01 02:00:39.

Panasonic HDC-SD10 High Definition Camcorder

I purchased a Panasonic HDC-SD10K High Definition Camcorder from B&H Photo Video a little over a week ago for $299.00 delivered.  The K suffix means black; which is I believe the only color available in the US.

I had originally found this model camcorder on Amazon for the same price as a customer return, but I was a little hesitant to purchase it, and by the time I decided it was worth the asking price it was no longer available; but as luck would have it a few days later B&H was offering brand new units for the same price.  The B&H price is good through 16 January 2010 while supplies last.

First, let’s keep in mind that $299 is less than half as much as the nearest comparable camcorder; so if it doesn’t seem like this is a Rolls Royce, perhaps that’s because you’re paying Yugo prices.

The HDC-SD10 was announced last year at CES, but didn’t ship in the US until this past Summer, and it was never really a very popular model since Panasonic offered an almost identical model with 8GB of internal memory (the HDC-SD10 has no internal memory) for $50 more.  Other than the internal memory, these models are identical.

A quick overview of the HDC-SD10 (for those who don’t want to just look up the specifications for themselves).

1920x1080i MPEG4-AVC/H.264 video, 2.1MP JPEG stills, 1/6″ CMOS, 16x optical zoom, 2.7″ touchscreen LCD, image stabilization, auto focus, built in light and flash.

When the unit arrived, I opened the box and allowed the battery to charge for a couple hours before trying it out.

While the batter was charging I looked over the unit.  It seemed reasonably well constructed, and it looked like a good deal of though had been put into positioning the controls.  The only thing I don’t care for is how the cover on the SD slot opens — I’m very partial to how Nikon did the SD cover on my D40, and this just seems far less well done.

I popped a 2GB SD card into the camcorder (I expected it to complain about the slow speed rating, Panasonic recommend Class 6 SDHC cards); but to my surprise it worked.  I would recommend that you use at least Class 4, and that you use at least a 4GB SDHC card.  But if you have other cards around, try them.

Unfortunately, by the time the battery had charged, the sky was cloudy and I was robbed of my opportunity to get some bright daylight shots — but I figured taking shots in overcast would give me an idea of how the camcorder worked.

I took two videos outside at the second highest quality setting (that’s the default); and I snapped about a dozen still images.  Then I went inside and did pretty much the same test.

The two video tests were:

  • walk back and forth with the camera
  • stand stationary and rotate around

Both tests involved using the zoom in and out (both moving and stationary).

I should note here that I did all of my initial testing without reading the documentation — this should be considered a testament to how easy this camcorder is to use for anyone who’s used a camcorder (or digital camera) before.  The controls were easy to find and use and there was simply no confusion about how to accomplish my task (which is good; my old JVC camcorder always seemed awkward to use, even after having it for several years).

With my test data collected I sat down and the computer.

I didn’t bother installing any software on my computer, I just popped out the SDHC and slipped it into the computer.

The digital stills were easy to find; same directory structure as most digital cameras.  The images are JPEG files, and contains EXIF data.

The video sequences took a little more looking to find, and they are standard AVCHD (MTS) files.  Both Windows Media Player and Live Movie Maker are able to deal with these files.

Let me pause here and remind you that what follows is my first impressions of the HDC-SD10; not a complete review.  My personal feeling is you need to use a camera or camcorder for several shoots before you’ve got a good feel for what it does and how well it does it.

The outside stills were good.  Certainly they don’t compare with either of my DSLRs or my high-end point-and-shoot… but then again, this is a camcorder, not a camera.  The only weakness I found with the digital still was that focus cycle requires a few seconds and the shutter release is not locked out during the focus cycle.  Which means you can snap a picture that is out of focus fairly easily if you’re not patient.  You can snap a still image when the camcorder is recording or when it isn’t.

The outside video was amazingly clear.  The color was very good, and the motion was acceptable.  Quickly panning produced some motion artifacts, but normal movement was far clearer than on my JVC miniDV camcorder.  I will have to say that my feeling is that the zoom is too fast; but I guess it’s better to be too fast than too slow; and for most people I would expect they want a fast zoom.

The inside still images were fine.  The flash works very well.  The colors were about what you expect from a mid-range point-and-shoot.  Nothing to write home about, but acceptable if you need to snap a still and you have the camcorder in your hands.

The inside video was actually quite impressive.  The reviews I had read of the camcorder indicated that low light performance wasn’t very good.  From what I saw low light performance was quite good.  In rooms with no lights on the camcorder was able to register a moderate amount of detail just using its built in light.  In reasonably well lite rooms the level of detail was quite good.  However, the color under LED lights or CF lights was definitely off (I don’t have any incandescent lights in my house, I suspect the color balance would have been better).  Comparing the performance of this camcorder to my JVC miniDV it is definitely better.  Better detail in low light, and equal or better color.  Obviously if I wanted to shoot any video that I was going to show someone I’d turn on some incandescent lights (bounced off the ceiling).

The sound quality on the recordings were fine.  There was quite a bit of wind outside, but the camcorder didn’t seem to be able to deal with it.  Obviously the stereo separation on any camcorder without external microphones is poor — and not a metric I’d concern myself with.

At this price point, the HDC-SD10 seems like a keeper.  You’d pay as much for a standard definition digital camcorder, and half this much for a standard definition miniDV camcorder; or twice as much for a camcorder with substantially better specifications.

I’m hoping the weather here warms up some so I can get out on a sunny day and really shoot some footage to fully evaluate how the camcorder works; and I’d like to do some shoots on the river and at the beach as well.  My expectation is that this camcorder will be fine for me, and I’ll be looking to purchase a few accessories in the near future.

If you want a really high end camcorder; this isn’t for you.  If you want a good quality high definition digital camcorder for hobby use and your not foolish about throwing your money away, perhaps it is worth consideration.


Optics

Sensor
1.47 Megapixel 1/6″ CMOS
Lens
2.95-47.2mm f/1.8-2.8
Zoom
Optical: 16x
Digital: 1000x
Filter Size
30.5mm
Recording
System
NTSC
Recording Media
SD/SDHC
Recording Time
Not Specified By Manufacturer
Video Format
High Definition
MPEG AVC/H.264
1920 x 1080, 1440 x 1080
Still Image Resolution
JPEG: 2.1 Megapixel
Audio Format
2-Channel Stereo
Display
Display Type
LCD
Screen Size
2.7″
Touchscreen
Yes
Features
Image Stabilization
Optical
Lux
1400Standard illumination
91/30 low light mode
1Magic Pix
Built-in Mic
Yes
Built-in Speaker
Yes
Built-in Light/Flash
Light – Yes
Flash – Yes
Accessory Shoe
None
Tripod Mount
1/4″
Input/Output Connectors
Inputs
None
Outputs
1x A/V
1x USB 2.0
1x Mini HDMI
1x Component Video (out)
Microphone Input
No
Headphone Jack
No
General
System Requirements
Windows System

  • XP, Vista, Windows 7
Battery
Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
Power Adapter
Battery Charger / Battery Eliminator
Dimensions (WxHxD)
1.87 x 2.48 x 4.51″ / 47.50 x 62.99 x 114.55mm
Weight
0.5 lbs / 226.80g

HDC-SD10

HDC-SD10K Product Information

HDC-SD-10K Support Information

Originally posted 2010-01-09 01:00:28.