My Xbox is haunted.

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I had about the strangest experience ever last night.

I was turning in for the night, just around midnight, when my Xbox Kinect came to life.

There’s a little sound it makes when it believes you’re trying to get its attention. That sound happened. I was curious and looked up.

The Xbox Kinect shouldn’t turn on by itself. Usually in order to make it work, you need to holler “Xbox!” or wave your hand in the air. This time is just came on. And when you’re using Kinect to control your Xbox, you can see a little hand shape on the screen, moving around like a cursor. In the bottom right corner of the screen, you can see what the Kinect camera sees, and the hands it’s following are likewise highlighted to look like powerful, glowing hands.

As I sat on my sofa, I watched the cursor moved methodically around the screen, flipping through titles on Netflix. And in the bottom corner of my screen I saw the glowing light, just next to where I was sitting, moving methodically to match the cursor’s movements.

I’m not saying a ghost was controlling my Xbox, but I’m pretty sure it was a ghost controlling my Xbox.

I watched this ghost browse through Netflix for about five solid minutes. The whole time I was trying to figure out what could have done it. The remotes were sitting on the table, untouched. The only living things in the room were my dog Ketchup and me. Ketchup was asleep. I’d been staring at my computer. Nobody moved or spoke.

The ghost seemed to settle on “Wizards of Waverly Place.” It hovered there awhile before deciding against it and choosing, instead, “Hot Rod.”

I was curious what would happen next, so I sat and watched. That movie really can be funny.

Anyway, the disturbance ended. The ghost settle in and watched until I went to bed.

This isn’t a me issue. According to the Internet, this happens a bit. I don’t understand how or why. But it’s awfully creepy.

That’s my story.

Galaxy SIII: More than an also-ran.

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I’ve long considered it inevitable that I’ll someday have an iPhone. The realization makes me sad, because though I appreciate Apple’s design sensibility and marvel at its business acumen, I’ve always been uncomfortable with Apple’s tight control over every aspect of the user experience.

That’s why I’ve clung to my Blackberry Torch for more than two and half years. It was terribly dated, slow and clunky, but it still did what I absolutely needed: phone calls, text messaging, social media, photos and videos, excellent email. Even when things started to go wrong, I worked around them. In the last couple of weeks, it became obvious I wouldn’t be able to ignore the signs any longer. It was time to upgrade.

It didn’t take long to narrow down my choices: iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920, Samsung Galaxy SIII.

I’ve been living with my Galaxy SIII now for about a week, and I can say now that I’m very happy with my decision.

Why Android? First, the ability to skin and customize to my liking really appealed to me. If I want my interface to look like a series of icons a la iPhone, I can do that. If I want it riddled with active widgets, I can do that as well. Instead, I’ve opted for a slick time and weather widget. I’ve added only the essentials to my main home screen, so it looks simple and elegant.

This is flexibility neither iPhone nor Windows Phone provide. In my opinion, iPhone is the least attractive of the lot, and certainly the least personal. And while Windows Phone offers super slick live tiles and the ability to choose color schemes, it’s nowhere near as flexible as Android.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the selection of apps available. Despite what you may have heard, almost anything available for iPhone is available for Android. The camera on this thing? Brilliant. Not only does it take great pictures, it takes better than great pictures. And the built in technology — smile detection, face detection, burst shooting, macro settings — all mean I probably won’t need to spring for a new point and shoot any time soon. The display is nice and big, making it a pleasure to use. And while the size took some getting used to, it was really only a matter of a day or two before it seemed natural, and picking up the old Blackberry for comparison’s sake felt clumsy and uncomfortable.

Is an Android phone right for everyone? Not quite.

I’m a gadget nerd, and even so it took at least two days to set the phone up in a way that made sense and was comfortable for me. Inexplicably, the phone ships with several active home screens, and at least a couple of them were blank. deleting and adding screens is a breeze, but I had to google to figure out how to do it the first time. One frustration of the iPhone for me has always been scrolling through pages and pages of apps — a frustration somewhat assuaged by the ability to use folders. I’ve found, however, that Android’s handling of folders is more elegant. I’m down to just two home screens now: a main home screen with the most frequently used functions and a second screen where apps are neatly organized by function. I’m now happily zipping around the device. The effort was worth it, in my opinion. But some may not have the interest, and that’s really the downfall. I’ve seen a number of people running the phones exactly as they shipped, and the device can be so much simpler and prettier.

Another concern is battery life. I was alarmed the first couple of days to see how fast the battery drained. This was my fault, of course. In my rush to try all the cool things Android offers, I stuffed the phone with live wallpapers and persistent apps that just never stopped running. I’ve since uninstalled the biggest offenders, and have seen a marked improvement in performance.

One big bone of contention, from a design standpoint, is the apparent lack of design standards for widgets. Some widgets are nothing more than links to launch applications, and yet they don’t fit well with the design of the standard icons of other Android apps. Some can be resized, which helps, but not all. This gives the interface a really jumbled and confused feel. My solution? I just don’t use many widgets.

In the final analysis, the Samsung Galaxy SIII has allowed me to put off the inevitable for another year or so. This time, however, I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

More bad news for news.

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The hometown newspaper in the city I work in just announced it will cut home delivery to just three days per week. The reason, of course, is that it just isn’t making money off the print editions and must focus time and resources on its online product, along with mobile and tablet platforms.

It’s a sad state of affairs, when you consider the historic nature of the announcement: After nearly 200 years, this city no longer has a true daily newspaper.

Even sadder, in my estimation, is the fact that the leadership at the paper’s parent company continues to point fingers at the Internet for the demise of the printed product. And rather than figure out how to survive, they continue to hasten to rush toward extinction. To wit:

Readers have long clamored for a better news product. This particular newspaper cut its newsroom staff in half a few years back — from about 200 to about 100 — which, no matter how you slice it, means less news. I’ve never done a story count, but the decrease in quality over the past several years has been evident. I spent a dozen years competing against journalists from this newspaper, and always found them on top of the game. Recently, the paper is clearly scrambling just to put news on pages — and it’s often not compelling, important news, but news the paper believes will sell more papers.

Of course, the paper had to cut positions. It was bleeding money, both from wages and from a multi-million-dollar printing press installed to allow the paper the ability to print color on almost every page. The idea behind the press, of course, was to talk more advertisers into buying color ads. Color ads mean more expensive ads, which means more money for the paper. Didn’t work out that way.

So here we are.

The paper couldn’t afford the journalists, so it offered buyouts to get rid of as many as possible. The product suffered. Readers noticed. In response, the decision is to eliminate even more jobs, but concentrate on the electronic product.

Here’s the deal: The product is still crappy, whether it’s in print or online. Cutting costs by cutting journalists will never never never never never fix your dwindling readership.

Know what? I’m not sad.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as journalists eulogize the industry. And of course the claim is without proper, trained journalists, the nation will fall apart. Sure, bloggers are telling the news too. But they aren’t real journalists, are they?

This is hogwash.

Our notion of professional journalism and journalism ethics is relatively new, considering the age of newspapers themselves. One of America’s first newspapers, the New England Courant, was published by Ben Franklin’s older brother, James, and was filled with fictitious accounts from fictitious correspondents — satire and opinion pieces. The year was 1721, and until that time, news sheets were filled with news from overseas.

But “journalism” in America became something much different. It became a way to criticize, to needle the establishment, to raise awareness and whip up discontent. It was meant to inform and entertain. It was political, biting, and sometimes dangerous. It was the life’s blood of each community.

That didn’t change much through the 1900s — even through the 1950s. Newspapers were largely a reflection of their editors. But they’d lost something, even by then: They’d already become an industry, and men had already become very, very rich, just by selling information.

Over the past hundred years, the problem has only increased, to the point where huge corporations have dominated the news industry for decades, and they made a lot of money.

But information wants to be free. And we want it to be free.

The news industry has dumbed the news down, just to sell newspapers, to catch audiences. It is rarely the bastion of truth and justice it once was, yet it masquerades behind the ideals of objectivity. There is no objectivity in the news; the object is to make money.

The truth is, the common man is taking the news back. In our local communities, local bloggers are telling the news — with their own spin. And that spin leads others to tell the news from their side. There are debates online. There is conversation. There is, truly, a freedom to print anything. A real freedom of a real press.

The news industry will eventually die — at least in terms of being the leading information source. But the news itself will live on. Wherever there is injustice, there will be a voice to speak out against it. Wherever there is need, there will be a pen. Because this new breed of journalists realizes what the old guard forgot long ago: It’s not about money. It’s about doing what’s right.

I officially love the Kindle Fire

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I’ve been a gadget nerd for close to forever now. Most of the time, I’m carrying an iPod Touch in one pocket, a BlackBerry in another and my laptop in my bag. I actually own three laptops, an iPad and a desktop. I’ve got a DS, a Wii and an Xbox 360 (with Kinect, thank you).

My newest and most favorite gadget is the Kindle Fire. It has joined the elite group of gadgets I carry with me at all times, and I use it more than any other gadget in my collection.

If you’re wondering whether you should get one, the answer is yes.

Here’s what I love about it:

1. No Apple. My biggest frustration with the iPad and iPod Touch is Apple, and my inability to do what I want with my devices. I can’t understand Apple’s app approval process, either. While we’re told it is to ensure we get the best apps, the App Store is chock full of garbage. The Kindle has a different master — Amazon — but I’ve been in Apple land so long that it just feels good to get out.

2. Android. The Kindle Fire runs a heavily modified version of Google’s Android operating system. It’s easy to use, responsive, and generally makes lots of sense. The Kindle doesn’t seem to get bogged down and clunky the way early-gen Android phones did. After a few days of interacting with the Fire, iOS started to look its age — old and outdated, by tech standards.

3. Form. The Kindle Fire is the perfect size. I’ve spent quite a lot of time going from iPad to iPod, frustrated that one is too big and the other is too small. The iPad is just too heavy and bulky and slippery to be used comfortably as a reader. And playing games that require two hands in nearly impossible. The iPod Touch is nice for playing some games, but too small to be a reader. I use my devices often for Netflix and YouTube. While Netflix looks great on the iPad, you need to prop the iPad up or suffer carpal tunnel syndrome. The iPod Touch is so small that you’ll need to hold it fairly close in order to enjoy what you’re watching. The Kindle fire, however, can be comfortably held in one hand at a distance that isn’t awkward. In addition, the non-slip back on the Kindle Fire makes it easier and more comfortable to hold.

4. Amazon. If Apple’s iTunes and App Store have any competition, it’s Amazon. The Amazon Marketplace includes apps, music, movies, books — in short, all the media you care to consume is right there for the taking. And there’s plenty of free content as well, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member. The Kindle makes it easy to shop Amazon for non-digital items, too.

5. Price. Without a doubt, the Kindle is the best value on the market. Yes, it’s less powerful than the iPad. It’s smaller, it doesn’t have the fancy screen resolution, and it isn’t made by Apple. But at $200, you can get two Kindle Fires for the price of one low-end iPad, and still have $100 left over. Better yet, consider the annual updates Apple makes to the iPad. If you were to buy a new iPad each year for five years, you’d shell out $2,500. Five Kindle Fires? $1,000. Considering that this is the first edition of the Kindle Fire, I have to assume there are many improvements to come. Frankly, I don’t mind dropping a couple hundred dollars each year to get a new Fire. An iPad? It just isn’t worth the money.

 

It isn’t all roses, however. Here are a few things I dislike about the Fire:

1. Amazon. I really dislike being locked into any single ecosystem, which is why I’m one of the few dinosaurs who still carries a BlackBerry. I enjoy tinkering and playing with free apps found out in the wild. I’m smart enough to mess with my devices without messing them up. I don’t want to have to jailbreak a device in order to get it to do what I want. Amazon’s decision to lock the Kindle into its own ecosystem, for me, causes problems like….

2. Access. There’s no Facebook app for the Kindle Fire, but the Fire comes loaded with a nifty Facebook icon right on the home screen — cleverly added to your favorites — that links you to Facebook’s mobile site.┬áThere is, however, a Facebook app for Android. Unfortunately, you can’t get it, because it isn’t in the Amazon Marketplace. But there’s a Twitter app, which works quite well. The problem here is that Amazon obviously picked a favorite by including Facebook in the favorites, even though there’s no dedicated app available. And Facebook, thinking you’re running a regular Android device, prompts you regularly to download its Android app — which doesn’t exist on the Marketplace, and therefore can’t be installed. Amazon needs to fix such things. To me, this is clearly the biggest frustration.

3. Options. There really needs to be a 3G option here. I generally use my Kindle at home, but I’d love for it to be more portable. Unfortunately, when I’m on the go, I find myself forced to reach for my BlackBerry for Internet access, when I’d really like to grab the Fire. That being said, I could easily get around the problem with a mobile hotspot — which is likely what I’ll do.

4. Carousel. I don’t even know what it’s supposed to do. I thought at first that it was for negotiating through open programs. It seems, however, to be a running history of what you’ve recently had open. That’s okay, but I’d like the ability to change its function, so it doesn’t keep everything. If there’s already a dedicated link (like the web) or there’s already a favorite, why clutter up the carousel with those things? It looks neat, but functions…meh.

 

Anyone who is in the market for a tablet needs to understand an important point: Tablets are for consuming, not creating. A tablet is a great device to use if you’re watching video, surfing the net, reading a book, playing games. But it is a miserable device to use for actually working on. Typing on the iPad or Kindle is awful. Both have unfortunate autocorrect issues. Both are uncomfortable and inefficient. Both are terrible for editing text. But neither is truly meant for that. They’re meant to be used for consuming information, for flipping through photos, for reading. Apple markets the iPad otherwise, but I can’t imagine editing a book or writing anything longer than a short email on an iPad. Drawing? Maybe. Creating music? Perhaps. But most humans don’t work in creative fields; standard office work with a tablet is not a good time.

So that’s my take on it. If you want a tablet, go with the Kindle Fire. Simple as that.

 

 

You will never get my Facebook password. Never.

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A lot has been going around lately about employers asking job candidates for their Facebook passwords. Apparently they’d really like to be able to nose around a little, see what you’re into, who you’re friends with and such like that. I’ve never met anyone who has had this happen to them, but it doesn’t surprise me to hear that it is happening.

Employers have strange ideas about where their place is in relation to their employees. We’ve seen many cases where employers have attempted to gain access to employees’ LinkedIn profiles, their personal email accounts and more — all under the guise of protecting their business. And in nearly every case that’s been brought to court, judges have sided with employees.

See, there’s a fundamental expectation of privacy one has when using their own email, Twitter, Facebook…whatever. Yes, everything I do on any social network can be made private to the whole world. But that doesn’t mean it has to be. I choose who to share with, and when to share it.

To be honest, I have nothing on Facebook I’d be embarrassed of — and that isn’t the point. I don’t trust Facebook itself, and so I choose to refrain from sharing too much of a personal nature there. I don’t allow others to post on my wall, don’t overshare, and use it primarily for keeping track of old schoolmates. Even so, would I allow an employer to peek into it, even once?

Not a chance.

We don’t bring our personal mail in for our bosses’ perusal, do we? We don’t deliver our cellphone bills to them to look over who we’re calling. And we don’t give them audio recordings of our dinner tables at night. There’s a reason for that: It’s none of their business.

Sure, an employer may be worried about what types of things their employees post on Facebook, and if your job candidate is found to have blasted their ex-job repeatedly and publicly, it could give you pause. But courts have ruled several times that Facebook postings are protected under free-speech provisions — even if they are negative statements about the workplace.

The bottom line: If anyone asks for your password, the answer is no. Always.

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