Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Black Friday!

One of the best things about the Thanksgiving holiday for me is Black Friday, but not for the reasons you’d think.

I love it because it’s one of the few days each year when we have the day off and nothing pressing on our agendas. The day is usually ours to squander as we see fit, and that is a very rare commodity these days.

Our ideal Black Friday involves sleeping in, followed by lounging in our PJ’s, consuming mass quantities of coffee, and pondering the eternal question; “Is it too early to start on those leftover desserts?” The answer, my friends, is that it’s never too early.

What I don’t like about Black Friday is fighting the crowds at the malls and the big box stores in search of bargains. Been there, done that, have the T-shirt. Although there are some great bargains out there, the really good ones (like $179 laptops) are always in short supply, and you need to be in line on Thanksgiving Day just to be a contender when the store opens on Friday. No thanks.

It’s not worth it to me to miss out on Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family and the annual after Thanksgiving slouch fest, just to get a good deal on some material item. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I can afford to pass up any bargains, it’s just that we’ve found out that: A) The downtime is more important to us, and B) A lot of the deals are available online.

Last year we were in need of some Apple products for the holidays, so I thought I'd check out their Black Friday sale and maybe save a little coin. Apple loves to shroud their events in secrecy, and this one was no different. They sent out an email a few days before the holiday that said to check out their website on Friday morning for great deals, so when we awoke, fashionably late, we got on line and found that there was indeed a substantial savings on quite a few items.

Being as it was already late, I called our local Apple retail store to see if the lines were out the door. I found out that they weren’t, but I also found out that the Apple store won't give you a corporate discount along with the Black Friday sale price. That was a bit of a bummer, but the sale prices were still good enough to make us want to saddle up and head down there. That’s when the very helpful sales associate suggested that we log in to the Apple site through our discount program and see if we could get our discount and the sale price that way.

Guess what? We could!

I should have tried to purchase it online right from the get go, but I had some preconceived notion that the best deals could only be had in person. Boy, was I wrong. We ended up getting some great deals, plus the shipping was free. Major items coming directly from Apple (like Macs and iPods) arrive very quickly, usually in just 2-3 days, even if they need to be engraved. By the way, my iPod has “Stayed home on Black Friday and still got this cheaper than you!” on the back.

So, it seems that in this weakened economy Cyber Monday has now become Cyber Weekend for most online merchants, and that’s good with me. Don’t spread it around too much though, I still like to see those shots on the news of the people in line outside of the malls, wrapped up in parkas and trash bags, waiting for the hunt to begin. Now that’s entertainment.

Ooh, gotta go. The news is coming on again!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pats Whomp Jets 31-14!

Rex and Sanchise cry all the way home. Film at 11.

Full game recap here on BDC.

Problems Creating Clips In Google Reader

Clips are little “boxes of info” you can create in Google Reader that neatly display your most recent news feeds on your website, blog or Facebook page. You select the feed folder you want to display the content of, click “create clip”, and then customize it to your liking. When you’re satisfied with the look and content, you simply copy the HTML code Reader has created for you and embed it on your web page. The result is a neat little box containing the “x” most recent posts from any given feed. You can see the results over in my right hand border (Tech News, Patriots News, etc.).

Recently I started having problems creating clips. I’d click on create a clip, and nothing would happen except for an “errors on page” message at the bottom of my Explorer window. What’s supposed to happen is that Reader pops a small window that allows you to configure your clip. This was extremely frustrating for me, as I had a clip that had stopped updating. It either contained some bad code, or the source of the feed had stopped sending updates, and I wanted to replace it. There’s not much entertainment value for my readers when the same 5 headlines have been in my Celtics News clip for close to a month.

I did some searching through the Google Reader help files and came up empty, although I did find that people were having a similar issue with the “email a link” function, which is part of the same tool set as “create a clip”. The answer there was to create an exception for Google in your pop up blocker settings, and after reading it, the light went on inside my head.

I remembered that there had been quite a few security fixes pushed down for Explorer recently, and I also remembered that links in my received Gmail documents had started requiring me to “temporarily allow pop ups” too work. Hmmm, a pattern perhaps?


I went into pop up blocker settings, added Google to my allowed sites, and Viola… create a clip was working again!

The screen shot above shows my blocker settings now. To access the settings window, go to “Tools”, “Pop up blocker”, “Pop up blocker settings”, then add the address

As you can see in the screen shot (click to enlarge) this isn’t the first time I’ve had to do this. You can also add wildcards as I did with Verizon. Some of their pages use www22 instead of plain old www, tricky devils, so I entered *

So, my Celtics news clip is working again, I’m happy, and maybe I’ve just made you happy too!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gigaware In-line Control With HD Radio For iPhone

As soon as I pull the trigger on the Griffin Navigate I talked about in the previous post, I find this: the Gigaware In-line Control with HD radio for iPhone. It allows remote control of your iPhone or Touch, and when used in conjunction with the Gigaware HD Radio app it doubles as an HD tuner.

Sounds great in theory, but I’m cool with the Navigate for now. The Gigaware costs a whopping $79.99 and it doesn’t have an LCD screen like the lower priced Navigate. The app only works on devices running iPhone OS 3 to boot, and I still haven’t made that jump on my Touch. That also means that it wouldn’t work with my 3rd gen Nano, and that’s the device I like to carry around when I’m traveling light. Plus the few user reviews available list poor HD reception and noise distortion as major issues.

So, as nice as it would be to have HD Radio on my iPod, this isn’t the device for me, at least not yet. I’ll wait ‘til the reviews and the price get better.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

To Add An FM Tuner, Or Not To Add An FM Tuner…

That is the question.

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to wait, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and add one now?

The device I speaketh of is my iPod Touch, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that I suffer is that when I’m out and about, like today, and the Pats (insert your favorite team here) are on, I need to carry my little micro AM/FM radio with me. Apple didn’t see fit to bestow upon my Touch an FM tuner, so I have little choice in the matter. They added one to the latest generation Nano and iPhone, but sadly, not to the Touch.

Luckily, there’s an FM tuner that works with the Touch, iPhone and 3rd gen and up Nanos, The Griffin Navigate. It’s a slick little inline remote with an OLED screen, and it doubles as an FM tuner. It can also be used with Griffin’s free iFM Radio Browser app that will look up all the available stations in your area and auto program them into your Touch or iPhone. Pretty cool!

Ay, but here’s the rub; 9to5Mac and other sources are reporting that there’s a dormant chip in the 3rd gen Touch, that when activated will allow both Wireless N and FM receive and transmit. Hmmm, sounds a little like their Bluetooth chip that an upgrade, for a price, to OS 3 gave greater functionality to. It’s been hypothesized that Apple may unveil this little on board extra as soon as this January.

So, is it worth shelling out 50 bucks for FM tuner functionality today, when the device may be unnecessary in a couple of months?

For me, yes. I have a 2nd gen Touch and a 3rd gen Nano. The Navigate works with both devices and neither has the dormant onboard capability, but if you own a new 3rd gen Touch, nuh-uh. Wait awhile, and you may save yourself some money. 50 bucks will buy you a pretty decent dinner, or a couple of my T-shirts!

By the way, the Patriots bested those knaves from Miami today, and I would have missed our plucky knight's great moment of victory, were it not for the lowly FM broadcast.

What say you now, Master Porter?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Windows 7

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’re probably aware that Microsoft has released a new version of their operating system, Windows 7. According to early reports it’s a vast improvement over their Vista experiment, and it’s generating quite the buzz. Before you run out and buy a copy though, you should read this very comprehensive article on CNNTech, after you've read this one, of course.

The long and short of it is, it’s a cakewalk to upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7, but a bit more difficult to upgrade from XP.

With XP you'll need to back up all of your files, wipe the system, and then reload with 7. Microsoft has an Easy-Transfer Tool to help you, but before you make the move you need to download and run Microsoft’s Upgrade Advisor. It will check out your system and peripherals to see if they’re compatible with the new operating system. Be sure to have ALL of your peripherals plugged in and powered up before you scan your system (flash drives and memory cards included), as the software will query the devices and advise you of their compatibility. This is very important, as it’s good to know if you’ll still be able to use your printers, etc., before you drop any coin on 7.

My take is this; if you’ve got a new system that came with Vista, then it’s worth upgrading. If you’ve just bought a new system with a legacy copy of XP on it, it’s probably worth upgrading, providing the system and peripherals pass the upgrade tool’s sniff test. If you’re running XP on an older system, don’t even think about it. Wait until your next system swap out and get a machine that has it preloaded.

Remember, there are no magic bullets in life, or computing. A new operating system will not fix what’s wrong with your computer if it’s old, tired and slow. From the perspective of changing technologies, the average lifespan of a desktop is 3 to 5 years. I’m not saying you need to throw your PC away every 3 to 5 years, but I would not recommend tricking out a system of that vintage with the latest and greatest OS. Wipe it, add some memory and load a fresh copy of whatever OS came with it, and you’ll have a very serviceable PC that will last you until you have some sort of catastrophic hardware failure.

Getting back to Windows 7, there’s also the question of what version to buy. I found a very good article on the differences between the versions here on the digital inspiration site. As with both XP and Vista before it, you’ll probably want to go with the Windows 7 Professional edition if you use your PC for anything more than email and browsing. Professional also has an XP mode, that will allow you to run a virtual copy of XP for apps you have that won’t run on 7. The good thing is, with 7 you’re able to upgrade any version, for a small fee, if you find out later you need more functionality.

And speaking of fees, if you’re buying a copy of 7 for a computer you already have, you’re eligible for the upgrade pricing as long as you already own a genuine version of Windows 2000, XP or Vista. You’ll save a c-note over the full version price, and that ain’t bad.