Penguins: Spy in the Huddle

Penguins - Spy in the Huddle

PBS premiered a 3-part mini-series called Penguins: Spy in the Huddle on Wednesday night and OH MY GOODNESS IT WAS SO AMUSING! Researchers made animatronic penguin cameras and sent them out to mingle with real penguins to get a better sense of what penguin life is like. Here’s the description of the show from PBS’s website:

For nearly a year, 50 animatronic cameras disguised as realistic life-size penguins, eggs and rocks infiltrate penguin colonies to record the tough challenges penguins face from the moment they emerge from the sea to raising their chicks and finally returning to the water. The intimate, emotional, and sometimes amusing behavior of nature’s most devoted parents bringing up their young against the most extraordinary odds is revealed as never before.

If you missed the first episode, you can stream it online on PBS’s website. The next two parts will be available on PBS over the next two Wednesdays at 8pm.

Spritz: Reading Reimagined

Spritz: Reading Reimagined

As an avid reader and technology enthusiast, it obviously piqued my interest when I heard about a new method of reading, called Spritz, that is faster and easier than traditional reading. It works by showing the words, one at a time, in rapid succession. Since this dramatically reduces eye movement, you should be able to read at a much faster rate (quite a promising prospect when you’re a slow reader like me!).

Obviously, reading comprehension is a concern, but Spritz claims that “retention levels when spritzing are at least as good as with traditional reading and that, with just a little bit of experience, you will retain even more than you did before.”

There are similar speed reading services out there (like Spreeder), but there are some key differences that set Spritz apart. For example, Spritz pauses for punctuation and seems to take word length into consideration when determining how long to display the word. Spritz also keeps the “Optimal Recognition Point” of each word (highlighted in red) in the same spot, rather than merely center aligning every word. These minor differences make Spritz feel much more natural.

While I’m not sure if I would use Spritz for pleasure reading (though I would give it a try), I could definitely see myself using it for news articles, blog posts, websites, and email… and I know I would have loved to have been able to use Spritz when reading textbooks in college! 😉

New Nexus 7 Tablet (2013 Version)

Nexus 7 (2013 Version)I watched Google’s announcement of the new Nexus 7 live last Wednesday, eager to see what changes they were making to my favorite device. Most of them were leaked online beforehand (like the rear camera, notification light, and the 1920 x 1200 resolution that makes it the highest resolution tablet on the market). I wasn’t expecting the Chromecast, though, which I’ll save for a later post after mine arrives. 😉

So how does the new 2013 Nexus 7 compare to the old 2012 Nexus 7?

Size and appearance: The new version is noticeably thinner (8.65 mm instead of 10.45 mm). It’s also slightly less wide and slightly taller, which makes it not work with my old case while I wait for a new one. It’s also a bit lighter (290 g instead of 340 g), which makes it easier to hold with one hand. The side bezels are much smaller and the front camera has been moved from the center to off on the right side.

Screen: I was really interested to see what the 1920 x 1200 (323 ppi) screen would look like compared to the old 1280 x 800 (216 ppi) screen. To be honest, it wasn’t as big of a difference as I was expecting. The screen looked beautiful before and continues to look great now.

Hardware: The new Nexus 7 comes with a much nicer processor (according to reviews; I don’t know much about mobile processors) and twice as much RAM (2 GB instead 1 GB). For me, I also gain some storage space because I had the 8 GB 2012 model and the new 2013 model is either 16 GB or 32 GB (I got the 16 GB). The new tablet feels certainly faster than my old one, which is a very nice improvement.

Audio: There are some new stereo speakers in the 2013 Nexus 7, which sound much better than the old speakers. They’re also a lot louder, so even on the lowest setting, sound might be louder than you want it to be.

Camera: I haven’t played around with the new rear-facing camera much yet, because it’s not something I really care that much about. I took a photo last night in low light conditions and it turned out pretty grainy and awful. I took another photo today in good light conditions and it turned out okay. *Shrug* It’s obviously going to be better than nothing if you don’t have another camera with you.

I loved my old Nexus 7 tablet and the new 2013 version offers some nice improvements. Highly recommended for anyone in the market for a tablet!

Gigabit Internet, AOE, and Bike Parking

A collection of interesting tech-related news from yesterday:

Gigabit Internet coming to Seattle for $80/month

Gigabit Seattle announced its speed/price plans on Monday (source):

  • 5 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload free for 5 years (thereafter, 10 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload for $10/month)
  • 100 Mbps download/100 Mbps upload for $45/month
  • 1000 Mbps download/1000 Mbps upload for $80/month

Unfortunately, I’m not in one of the neighborhoods that will be getting initial coverage, but I’m hopeful that I’ll have access to gigabit Internet soon. 🙂

Age of Empires is coming to Android and iOS

Microsoft announced on Monday that it is working on a mobile version of “Age of Emprires” which will be released by March of next year (source). AOE is one of my favorite games of all time, so I’m excited to see how this turns out. Wololo!

Japan has an amazing underground bicycle parking system

Okay, maybe this isn’t news, but I found out about Japan’s incredible space-saving underground bicycle parking system yesterday. Just take your bike to a parking machine, which will read a chip on the bike and store it underground automatically. When you want your bike back, tap a card to the machine and it will retrieve your bike in seconds.

New Phone: Nexus 4

New Phone Plan

Before our 2-year contract with Sprint ended last month, we started looking into alternatives. We found that if we switched to T-Mobile, our phone bill would drop by half and since AT&T’s T-Mobile acquisition fell through, we were okay with switching back to T-Mobile.

Nexus 4 PhoneNew Phones

Switching carriers meant new phones, though, since our Nexus S 4G phones would only work on the Sprint network. The Nexus 4 was an obvious choice since we like the native Android experience and being the first to get updates. Besides, we would recoup the cost of buying the phones in less than a year due to the cheaper phone plan.

I’ve been using my new Nexus 4 for about a month and a half now and I love it. It’s about the same size as my old Nexus S, but the screen is 0.7″ larger and the resolution is much better. It has a quad core processor, 4x as much RAM, and a much-improved 8 MP camera that can record video in 1080p.

Phone Cases

As for cases, I picked out the dual layer (interior layer is silicone, exterior layer is a hard shell) Acase Superleggera Pro case, which had great reviews on Amazon. My main concern was that pressing the side buttons might be difficult (like it was in my Nexus S case), but the buttons are actually really nice and easy to press. The case does add a little bit of bulk to the phone, but that’s to be expected when you’re buying a protective case and I don’t even mind it.

Nick, on the other hand, wanted a super slim case, because he carries his phone around in his pocket. I picked out the Poetic Palette Slim case for him. The case is extremely light and thin and provides scratch resistance, but won’t do much to protect from fall damage, which Nick was fine with.

Acase Superleggera Pro
Acase Superleggera Pro
Poetic Palette Slim
Poetic Palette Slim

Selling the Old Phones

Then came the task of selling our old phones. I started to create a listing on eBay, but changed my mind when I heard about Swappa. Swappa is an easy-to-use site for buying and selling used phones. Rather than dealing with listing and seller feeds, listings are free and Swappa adds a flat $10 “sale fee” to the price of the phone, paid by the buyer. I listed my old phone on Swappa and it sold a week later. Now I just need to list Nick’s phone. 😛

Goodbye, Google Reader :(

Yesterday, Google announced that Google Reader will be retired on July 1, 2013. Like the rest of the internet, I’m super bummed. Someone even started a petition to keep Google Reader running.

What is Google Reader?

Google Reader is an RSS reader (it aggregates web content). I’ve been using it for years to follow blogs, webcomics, news, etc. Rather than having to check each of those individual websites everyday for new content, RSS readers pull all the new content into one location.

What alternatives are there?

I really hope Google changes its mind about Google Reader, but in the meantime, I’ve already started looking into alternatives. Some of the options I’ve come across are:

Any luck with the alternatives?

I’ve tried a few of these and Feedly is the most promising alternative for me so far. Feedly currently syncs with Google Reader (which makes switching to Feedly really easy) and they promise a seamless transition to their Google Reader clone once Google Reader goes offline. Their Android app seems sufficient, but I don’t like their web UI.

So for now, I’m going to keep using Google Reader, knowing that I can switch to Feedly in July if I don’t find anything better by then. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know! 🙂

Google Nexus 7

Nexus 7I just realized I haven’t blogged about my tablet yet! I got my Nexus 7 four months ago, after some peer pressure at work. 😉

Prior to getting my tablet, I didn’t really see the appeal. Between my phone (Nexus S 4G) and my desktop computer, I felt like I had all of my computing needs taken care of. My phone was nice for playing games, social media, etc. while on the couch or out and about and my desktop was where I did just about everything else. Sure, it would be nice to have a larger screen on my mobile device, but would an extra 3″ make that big of a difference? Maybe a 10″ tablet would be more worthwhile?

Silly me.

My Nexus 7 has become my primary computing device. I use it for browsing the internet, playing games, emailing, social media, chatting, Google Docs, eReading, and even texting thanks to Google Voice. 7″ is a great size while still being extremely portable. I can hold it comfortably in one hand, which might be difficult for a 10″ tablet. I only use my phone for making phone calls and when I’m away from home now (my tablet is WiFi only). My desktop computer really doesn’t get used as much anymore, because I can do almost everything on my tablet, but I still use it for PC gaming, programming, and anything typing-intensive (like blogging).

One of the other things that was keeping me from getting a tablet was that I wanted it to have multi-user support, so that Nick and I could both use it. Well, he ended up getting his own Nexus 7 two months ago after seeing how much I used mine. 😛 Android 4.2 introduced multi-user support for tablets, though, so you can now have multiple users, each with their own homescreen, widgets, apps, scores, etc.

Nexus 7 CaseI got a pretty decent case for it, too: the Supcase Slim Fit Leather Case (in purple, of course!), which is only $13.99 – $17.99 on Amazon. Don’t worry if you don’t like purple; it comes in about a dozen colors. It adds a little weight to the tablet (the case is 6 oz; the tablet is 12 oz), but it’s still fairly light. All of the buttons and inputs are accessible and the tablet slides out easily when you want to take it out. The tablet is held in place with velcro, but the tablet never touches the velcro, so you don’t need to worry about scratches. There is no see-through cover over the screen; you touch the screen directly. The stand feature is a bit flimsy, but it’s good enough to serve my purposes and I don’t use the stand much anyway. The cover uses magnets to keep it closed and the tablet automatically sleeps and wakes up when the cover is closed/open.

I love my Nexus 7 and it is consistently ranked as the best 7″ tablet, so if you’re looking for a good last minute Christmas present or something to spend your gift cards on, I’d recommend the Nexus 7 tablet. It starts at only $199!

What’s Up with Advertising?

Anti-virus HDMI cable
Photo by rsjac

Advertisers must think the general public is made up of idiots. Who knows, though; maybe they’re right.

“Anti-Virus” HDMI Cable

I saw a post on Reddit earlier this week called “Found this today at work…” (picture on the right). It’s an HDMI cable with the following feature:

“100% Mylar” double shield 1.3c grade cable with anti-virus protection to reduce virus noises and to obtain perfect image transmission.

Yes, an HDMI cable with “anti-virus protection” that also makes your viruses less noisy. I looked online and it appears to be a legitimate advertised feature of this product. o_O

Detergent Advertises Basic Math

I saw another instance of facepalm-worthy advertising on a box of detergent the other day. It was a box of 180 load laundry detergent that boldly advertised “50% more detergent.” Well, 50% more detergent than what? I looked at the fine print on the box and it said, “vs. 120 load size.” Uff da.

“Technology” Catch Word

If you’ve seen any commercials within the last few months, I’m sure you’ve heard the “technology” catch word. I got so overwhelmed by it recently that I started to make a list of the commercials I heard it in. Here is my partial list:

  • Nicoderm CQ – “smart control technology”
  • Mazda – “with revolutionary Skyactive technology”
  • One Touch – “double sure technology”
  • Bridgestone – “tire technologies” & “serenity technology”
  • Bounty – “trap and lock technology”
  • Degree – “with motion-sense technology”
  • Pronamel – “gel-to-foam technology”
  • Secret Outlast Deodorant – “odor-protection technology”
  • Well Tabs – “positive mood technology”
  • General Electric – “advanced cooking technology”

Here are a couple more that don’t use “technology,” but are amusing nonetheless:

  • Bayer Advanced Asprin – “re-engineered with micro particles”
  • Space Bags – “you must be at least 18 years old or older”

How I Keep My Email Organized

While studying for a job interview last week, I stumbled upon an interesting question someone was asked during an interview:

How do you keep your email organized?

My email organization strategy has been to get email out of my inbox so that only important email shows up there. I catch unimportant emails with filters and tag them with labels that I check at my leisure.

I have roughly 100 filters that tell incoming emails to apply labels, skip the inbox, forward, mark as read, etc. For example, I have all store mailing list emails skip the inbox and apply a special “Mailing” label. I then go through the unread “Mailing” emails whenever I feel like getting around to it.

Between Google’s spam detection and my filters, not much gets through to my inbox. I also archive email once I’m done with it, so my inbox stays pretty empty. The dozen or so emails I keep in my inbox are things that I am waiting for or need to attend to. They include things like receipts for Groupon, Google Offers, and Living Social purchases that I have not yet used, current freelance work correspondence, emails about upcoming events, and emails that I have not yet responded to.

I have found that keeping my email organized like this takes the hassle out of email. I’m not bombarded by tons of email that I have to sort through each day and I know that when I get an email notification (through Google Talk and/or my mobile phone), it is something that probably needs my attention.