MBoffin.com

Something witty this way comes.

Recently Overheard...

bnoel

I finally got a smartphone. HUAWEI M865C - Running Android. What are the "must have" apps and does anyone have any other relevant tips for me?
 

anilkumar

GlobaSat BT-368 Bluetooth GPS Receiver compatibility with EarthBridge I would like to buy the GlobaSat BT-368 Bluetooth GPS Receiver, will this work with Earth Bridge. I am a novice to the GPS world.
 

bnoel

If the aliens came down... If they came down tonight and offered you a lifetime of exploration, could you leave everything you have and take off? Forever. Not sure if I could... :) - drunken thoughts by bnoel...

New Chrome/Firefox Downloader Announced!

Microsoft has just announced the next version of their Chrome/Firefox downloader tool. New computers will have this latest version of the downloader pre-installed so you can get Chrome or Firefox quickly and easily. Some of the notable improvements in version 9 are faster page rendering, better font rendering, and more web standards support. These are welcome improvements and the download pages for Chrome and Firefox will now look better than ever.

Despite pressure from users, Microsoft is choosing to continue using the name "Internet Explorer" for their downloader tool.

People [drink] more than [tea]

Here's my take of Kottke's take on e-readers:

"Sure, fine, make your single-use [cups]. But all these [cups] -- the [tea cup], [mug], [ceramic cup], et al -- are all focused on the wrong single use: [tea]. (And in the case of at least the [mug], the focus is on [drinking hot tea].*) The correct single use is [drinking]. Your [cup] should make it equally easy to [drink] [tea], [beer], [wine], [juice], [Gatorade], [coffee], etc. And keep in mind, all of these things have [colors] that are integral to the [drinking] experience. We want to [drink]; help us do it."

I disagree with him. As I thinly tried to point out above, it doesn't always make sense to have one "reading" device. My RSS feed reading is distinctly different from my book reading experience and I don't want them to be the same. The Kindle digitally emulates my book reading experience just enough for me to continue to enjoy reading books, but digitally. There's a reason I walk away from Google Reader and go sit on the couch to read for a few hours.

* Sorry, Jason, but the 7-Eleven sentence didn't survive the analogy filter.

Initial Thoughts on my HTC Hero and Android

This is simply a dump of the wave I'm keeping about my HTC Hero and Android in Google Wave. It's not in any particular order.

HTC Hero/Android Thoughts and Observations

I'm just going to post what I think of my phone and the OS, Android. This is the first Android phone I've had and I'm coming from Windows Mobile, so this should be interesting.

Size

I don't know the dimensions exactly, but this is a very, very nice size. It's fits very nicely in my hand and is actually smaller than I expected it to be. It's a tiny bit smaller than an iPhone.

Buttons

This phone actually has the same number of protruding buttons that the iPhone has. The iPhone has the Home, Volume, Silent, and Sleep buttons. This phone has Off/End, Call, Volume, and the Trackball. It also has four non-protruding buttons on the lower face that are Menu, Home, Search, and Back. What's really nice is that all the buttons on the face (including the trackball) light up during use.

Indicators

This phone has two indicator LED's at the top of the phone. My old HTC Mogul had an infuriating behavior of blinking one of these LED's every four seconds as long as it was connected to the cell network. And no way to turn that off. This phone, thankfully, does not do that.

Keyboard

I have been using a physical phone keyboard for so long that this is a tough switch. There is "tactile" feedback in terms of a tiny vibration when you hit a key. The keys on the screen do seem a bit thin, but still very usable. Calibrating the keyboard was a big help. Also, it has taken me several days to make the "switch" from a pressure sensitive screen, ala Windows Mobile, to a solid, glass, capacitive screen. Once this transition was over, my accuracy went way up.

To do a special symbol you have to hold down one of the regular ABC keys and it gives you all the symbols and accents for that letter. I like this style. It's much easier than switching the entire on-screen keyboard to a symbol layout and using that. (Although you can do that if you prefer.)

UI Speed/Lag

Overall the interface is snappy and responsive. I do mis-"click" every so often, but again, I think that's a calibration issue. (It was.) On very long lists, when it first loads, there is sometimes a very slight hiccup or tiny lag if I start trying to throw-scroll right away. A few times I've noticed that when I go to drag, it first thinks I'm clicking and the UI state of what's under my finger changes, but every time it has detected I'm actually dragging and undoes the UI state. Like Windows Mobile, it does not actually initiate the UI action until the "mouse/finger-up" action. This is very good for when I go to click and decide I don't want to. I can just drag my finger away from the control and it will not take action.

I have also noticed that there is occasionally a one to two second UI sluggishness/hiccup when switching to an app that was in the background while Android brings that app to the fore in memory. This is very similar to the exact same lag momentary hiccup/lag you get even on desktop apps when switching to an app that's not currently primary in the memory. I suspect this is simply a matter of multi-tasking in general, as it's not limited to Android or this phone.

Screen

The screen is beautiful. It's 320x480, which on this screen size looks amazing. I don't know where the sensor is, but it has a brightness sensor that auto-adjusts the brightness based on current ambient light (brighter screen in sunlight, dimmer screen indoors). I put a screen protector over the glass of the screen, as I want to keep it nice. The screen is an optics-grade screen with an oleophobic coating like the iPhone. It is not a recessed screen, so applying the screen protector is very easy. It is also a capacitive screen, not a pressure-sensitive screen like most Windows Mobile devices. I like that.

When this screen protector wears out, I will likely not replace it. I tried keying the very top of the glass face (not over the screen, mind you) and no amount of pressure while keying it would scratch the surface. This is a Very Good Thing.

Some people have complained about dust getting underneath the screen. I have not had this issue at all, and I am not careful about keeping my phone in a lint-free pocket. My pockets are nasty sometimes (as yours will be when you have two kids who hand you random crap to hold), and I haven't had a problem.

Home Screen

I need to play with this more, but there is one feature that is so subtle, but so awesome. You can set a background for your home screen, but there are many home screens, actually, much like the iPhone. You sideswipe to get to them, although they are to the left and right of the main home screen, unlike the iPhone. But here's the little detail I like. When you are sideswiping to the left or right, the background moves as well, just exactly as you would expect in a 3D environment if the background were quite a distance away from the screen itself. This is very subtle, but very slick and gives a depth to the home screen that is slick.

Having widgets for the home screens are awesome. It's very easy to sideswipe over to a homescreen and get the most of the functionality of an app without having to load the full app. (Although, when a widget it open, the app itself is actually running, so it takes up the same memory as running the full app. Just keep it in mind.)

Another plus: folders. You can make folders on your home screens. This is great. I have a folder to shove all my games into. Perfect.

Battery

The battery lasts through the day for me. In the first few days this was not the case for two reasons. First, there is a bug with the default Messaging (SMS/MMS) app that causes it to keep your phone in "active" state 100% of the time after you send an SMS message. Second, I love this phone and was playing with it like mad.

Regardless, I will always have lower battery life than most people simply due to the fact that I live in a very low-signal area. This is always bad ju-ju for mobile phone batteries. I may look into getting a signal repeater to handle that, but until then, I just deal with it.

The first battery problem was easily handled by using Google Voice instead of the native Messaging app. Others (who don't use Google Voice) have solved this through a third-party SMS/MMS app that doesn't have this problem.

Google Voice

This phone integrates beautifully with Google Voice. When you have the Google Voice app on your phone, you have the option (which is very easily accessible) to make Google Voice handle either only international calls, no calls, ask you every time you make a call, or handle all calls. I just tell it to handle all calls. This makes it totally seamless for me to use Google Voice with this phone. If I just go to my contacts list and click a person's name to call them, Google Voice automatically intercepts it and makes the call through Google Voice. Same with text messages. This is very, very cool and transparent to me and the people I contact.

Social Media Integration

If you use Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Picasa, or Twitter, this phone has special, awesome treats in store. The integration of these services into the phone is very slick and seamless.

Contacts

The contacts database is brilliant. The contacts database is actually useful as a contacts database. By this I mean that when I select a contact, I can see their basic information, all texts with that person, all e-mails with that person, and all calls with that person. On top of that, it will also show me their current Facebook status update and their last three status updates, and any events they are signed up for via Facebook. And finally, I can see any Facebook and/or Flickr albums they have available (and it uses their Facebook profile picture as your contacts database picture). This is so seamless and awesome. This is how a contacts database should work.

Camera and Videocamera

The camera is 5 megapixels. For a phone, that is awesome. Here is a sample of a picture taken with my phone. That about says it all.

The video camera is decent. I wouldn't call is spectacular, but it's decent. As with most mobile phone cameras, it suffers with a lot of motion.

As mentioned before, the social media integration is awesome. After I take a picture, with one touch after taking the photo I can upload it to Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, or Twitter, and of course e-mail or MMS. (And YouTube, etc. for videos.)

Oh, and the camera is centered on the back of the phone. This is nice. One thing I don't like is that it doesn't have a flash. This was a nice feature to have on my last phone and it's too bad it's not on this phone.

Browser

It's Chrome for Android. It uses WebKit. So if it loads on an iPhone, it loads the same on Android. That's very nice. As an extra bonus, Flash works. Not Flash video, mind you, but most regular Flash seems to work fine, if a bit slower than you might used to on a desktop. I expect this to improve as Adobe steps up their mobile Flash efforts.

Just Ordered an HTC Hero

I just ordered an HTC Hero phone. So excited. This phone looks seriously cool. I've been wanting an Android phone since Android came out. I'm definitely looking forward to developing on this phone.

Would you abandon your children?

I didn't think so. But Congressman McCotter from Michigan seems to be implying that you would consider such a thing if you couldn't list them as dependents on your income tax.

Congressman McCotter introduced a bill called the HAPPY Act. This bill, if made into law, would allow Michigan residents to list pets as dependents on their income tax forms, receiving up to $3,500 in deductions. I have nothing at all against this bill (partly because I also don't live in Michigan), but the reasoning behind it is off.

I've read a number of articles on this bill and many of them point out that there is great concern that many pets will be abandoned in this recession due to the costs of caring for a pet. Apparently the main reason for Congress McCotter pushing to get this bill passed is to prevent such a terrible trend, and, after all, many families look on their pets as a real, living, breathing members of the family. Here is a quote from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, who is in full support of this bill:

"Providing pet owners the opportunity to deduct pet care expenses is an important step toward ensuring that pet owners provide adequate veterinary and other necessary pet care. It encourages responsible pet ownership and will hopefully reduce the abandonment of pets by people struggling as a result of the economic downturn."

So, wait. He's worried about people abandoning pets because of the cost. So he wants people to be able to list pets as dependents, equal to the way you can already list your children as dependents.

That doesn't make sense. If families hold their pets in such high regard, why would they abandon them? Would these same families also abandon their children if they couldn't list them as dependents?

Sounds like doublespeak to me. Just be honest. He's putting forth a bill that is pro-pets so that anyone who opposes it will be positioned as anti-pets, and nobody wants to be positioned like that.

(I should be careful. This post is suspiciously close to being actual content. Can't have any of that around here!)

James Bond - 1962 to 2008

Thanks to Netflix, I just finished a very long run of watching every single James Bond movie in order from the first 1962 movie, Dr. No, to the latest 2008 movie, Quantum of Solace. Many of these movies I had never seen before, yet they've been a part of movie culture for so many decades.

I remember the first time I saw a James Bond movie. The first one I ever saw was Goldeneye, which was Pierce Brosnan's debut as James Bond. I remember thinking, "Wow! No wonder people love James Bond movies! That was awesome!" And, truth be told, Goldeneye was actually a good Bond movie, even in the context of all the ones to come before it (and especially in the context of the Brosnan-featured Bond movies to come after it).

I've always heard people talk about which actor they liked best playing James Bond. I would often hear people saying their favorite Bond was still Sean Connery. I had thought this was partly due to nostalgia and simply them liking Connery because that's who they first saw playing Bond.

However, having seen every Bond movie now from start to finish, I have to agree. Sean Connery was really great at playing James Bond. He had a style that really set the character. While I did have to keep in mind the state of movie-making at the time, I still felt Connery did a superb job at playing James Bond. (By "state of movie-making", I mean the special effects and action scenes were laughable compared to today's standards.)

It's well known that the Bond movies took a sharp downhill plunge after Goldeneye. Even not having seen previous Bond movies, I could tell the whole franchise was tanking. It was almost depressing how comical the Bond movies had become. Austin Powers was starting to be less of a parody and more of a parallel.

When Casino Royale came out, wow. I think it's undeniable that Daniel Craig did an absolutely stellar job of setting the Bond movies back on track. So, so many things were done just right in that movie.

Casino Royale was so good that there was almost no way that Quantum of Solace would be able to match it. And it didn't. It was by no means a bad Bond movie. In fact, it was right in the middle there as a good Bond movie, but definitely not at the level Casino Royale was at.

I feel the next Bond movie could go one of two ways. Either, Quantum of Solace can act as a bridge to another movie on par with Casino Royale, or we are seeing the same downward plunge of the roller-coaster that we got with the Pierce Brosnan set of Bond movies. I really hope it's not the latter.

Now I think I need to go watch the three Austin Powers movies again so I can more fully appreciate the parody and humor in those movies.

Using Flip UltraHD Videos in Windows Movie Maker

UPDATE: Since writing this article, FlipShare has been updated and will no longer output WMV files. This method will only work for the version stated at the end of the article.

I recently bought a Flip UltraHD video camera. I love this camera. So many good things have already been written about the camera that it's not even worth reiterating those sentiments here. Suffice to say, it's a perfect fit for my life right now.

However, one thing that I was running into was that the videos it records are MP4 videos (using the H.264 video codec). This is normally fine if I want to upload the videos to YouTube or Facebook. In fact, it's perfectly suited for those uses (which is why it uses that format in the first place). But, sometimes I want to just poke around in Windows Movie Maker. Unfortunately, Windows Movie Maker 2.6 (the current version out there) doesn't support MP4 videos. The format Windows Movie Maker likes the most is Windows Media Video or WMV.

I did a lot of looking around online and there is a lot of information about this that is either confusing, outdated, or just wrong. First of all, I didn't want to do anything but use the tools I already had. I didn't want to download special converters or codecs or software. I just wanted to use Windows Movie Maker and FlipShare (the software for the Flip UltraHD). That's all.

I figured out two ways of using Flip UltraHD videos in Windows Movie Maker. One method works fine if you don't really care about the videos being HD and the other is if you still want the original HD quality of the video.

Here's the first method, if you don't care about keeping the videos HD:
  • In FlipShare, select the video or videos you want to convert to WMV.
  • Click on the Share menu.
  • Click on the Online menu.
  • Choose the Others... option.
  • In the window that pops up, make sure the Other option is checked and then click Next.
  • FlipShare will put these videos in a folder on your desktop, so pick a name for the folder that you won't forget.
  • Click the Go button.
  • When FlipShare is done converting the videos, it will let you know. In the window that pops up, you can either click the red X in the corner of the window, or you can click the Go button. The Go button will just take you to a web page telling you that the videos are done.
  • Go the folder on the desktop where the videos were created and you will see standard definition (i.e. not HD) 640x360 versions of your videos in the WMV format.
Here's the second method for converting your videos (one at a time) to WMV, but still keeping the HD quality (1280x720):
  • In FlipShare, select the video you want to convert to WMV.
  • Click on the Create menu.
  • Choose the Movie... option.
  • Click Next when the Arrange Your Items window pops up.
  • In the next screen, do not add a title or credits and just click Next.
  • In the next screen, do not add any music and just click Next.
  • Choose a name for your video and choose the FlipShare folder to put it in. (Note that the WMV file that gets created will not use this file name. Instead it will be named VID00007.WMV or whatever number is next in its list.)
  • Click the Create Movie button.
  • When the movie is done being converted, it will show up in your video list in FlipShare. At this point, you can either "Export" the video to another folder where you have your Windows Movie Maker video clips, or you can just import that VID00007.WMV file itself into Windows Movie Maker. It's up to you.
Keep in mind this was all done in FlipShare version 4.5.0.39816, so if you have an older version, you should probably upgrade. (Or if you have a newer version, don't be surprised if these steps don't match perfectly.)

Halloween - How do you say it?

How do you say Halloween? Does the "hallow" part of the word rhyme with "shallow" or with "hollow". This is an important issue in the Bennett household. (And I don't care what the dictionary says. What do you say?)

Windows 7 Preview

Today I saw some previews of Windows 7. I definitely liked what I saw, but I didn't like that I saw the preview.

Of course, Microsoft is between a rock and a hard place in the arena of releasing their next OS. If they don't do early releases of Windows 7 for others to see, they'll get backlash from developers and businesses who can't prep for its launch. If they do early releases, people are going to nitpick over the little details that are incrementally revealed over time until launch. By the time the launch happens, there's nothing new and astounding about it except that now you can shell out money for it. And I don't know about you, but that's not very new or very astounding.

Reading the comments on the articles about Windows 7 is actually more interesting than the articles themselves. There are scores of comments from people who denounce Vista as trash and nothing really new over XP and just a lot of bloat and that Windows 7 will be more of the same. I think these people are just being obtuse. However, Microsoft themselves are to blame for the attitudes of these people. Microsoft's method of releasing an OS is so anti-climatic that it's no wonder there are hordes of people who swear they will never upgrade and that their abysmally outdated operating system is good enough for them.

Windows 7 isn't due out until 2010. That's a long time in the computer industry. And that's if Microsoft releases it on time. Meanwhile, here it is in 2008 and people are already getting a taste of what's to come in Windows 7. Starting now, and the for the next two years, people are going to be nit-picking apart every little "new" feature they see in Windows 7. There will be a hundred variations of "lame", "program X already does this", "not even an upgrade over [insert other OS]'s feature", and so on.

If Microsoft kept everything about Windows 7 quiet until it was done (or quite close), the landscape of user acceptance would be entirely different from what they have to deal with now. Frankly, though, I don't think they have any choice. The position they are backed into in the market forces them to release their OS this way if they want to continue their dominance.

Old Movies, New Appeal

Last weekend Quinn watched The Dark Crystal. She really like it. It's funny, because she and Rowan both like a lot of movies that I really liked when I was a kid. Some of their favorite movies include The Princess Bride, The Goonies, The Karate Kid, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars (the first three of course—Rowan's favorite is Episode 5). And that's not even mentioning the umpteen Disney movies they love that I used to love (Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, etc.).

Oh man, just wait until they're old enough to watch Monty Python.

More posts can be found in the Archives.