Netflix Streaming – First Impressions

4 12 2010

Netflix are offering 31 day ‘free trials’ to their Movie and TV Show offerings via real-time internet streaming versus their traditional model of getting movies in the mail.

31 Day ‘Free’ Trial:

I say ‘free trial’ carefully, you have to provide some form payment such as credit card or paypal account to get this free trial. Really what they are offering is the first month for free if you sign-up and  join.

For me Movies are just OK and I’ve often considered a Netflix account, but always shied away, Recently however they have added TV shows to their offerings as well as the real-time streaming. This time I bit and signed up.

Quality of Streaming Content:

Don’t know what streaming is/means? If you seen a YouTube video that’s streaming, but there the comparison ends. NetFlix have done well.

I think the quality is great! Not quite as clear as the 1080i TV broadcasts I’m accustomed to, but definitely 720p quality! Considering my modest setup I am quite frankly amazed at the Read the rest of this entry »

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Pareto Logic Anti-Spyware – First Impressions

3 11 2010

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Pareto Logic have had some good press regarding their security products recently so I decided to check their anti-spyware product out.

They only provide a ‘tease-ware’ version that detects spyware threats but will not clean unless you pay. There are other products that will do a similar job for free, such as SuperAntiSpayware which is my current favorite tool for sanitizing infected computers.

The most impressive feature of the Pareto product is the phenomenal speed of its scan. It’s quick scan took 17 seconds to scan 1/3 million items. SuperAntiSpyware quick scan took 6 minutes and 3 seconds to do a similar scan. The Pareto tool detected 7 adware cookies on my test system versus 10 adware cookies detected by SuperAntiSpyware. So SuperAntiSpyware still remains my favorite for cleaning systems, it is very thourough – and free. However I may well use the Pareto product on slow and/or heavily loaded systems as a diagnostic tool – doing a spyware scan can take hours on such systems and sometimes reveals nothing but nuisance items like cookies.

Pareto Logic have 10 different security products, 2 of which are anti-spyware. I don’t favor one-size-fits-all ‘suite products’ due to their heavy demands on systems, but really, 10 separate products? A little consolidation would be nice.

The bottom line is that the Pareto Logic anti-spyware tool is worth it for troubleshooting a system quickly due to its very fast scanning ability. For mitigation or ongoing protection it’s a bit pricey at $30 per pc.

For mitigating spyware, use SuperAntiSpyware. SuperAntiSpyware is a beast of a program, and I don’t recommend it for ongoing protection. The real-time protection costs $20 per pc, but can be picked up for $10 through special offers.

For ongoing spyware protection use Microsoft Security Essentials, it is totally free for both mitigation and ongoing protection.





Amazons first paid Kindle game – Scrabble – tops the charts

26 09 2010

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The latest Kindle game, scrabble costs $4.99 and was released on Thursday 23rd September 2010. It shot straight to the top of the best selling Kindle titles besting out the latest ‘bestseller’  Freedom, by Johnathon Franzen which is featured in the Oprah Book Club.

Amazon don’t release numbers, but to very quickly outsell an item endorsed by Oprah is no small feat. To see what all the fuss is about I obtained a copy and found the game to be easier to use and navigate than I had anticipated. I beat the medium difficulty level readily, so will try my luck at the advanced level. It may not be very challenging for a Scrabble enthusiast. The game plays its turn within 2-3 seconds so one is not left waiting for your turn as with a human opponent.

There are several different scrabble rules variants programmed, Classic, 75 Points, 150 Points, 8 round, 12 round. The game will ‘help’ you with the ‘Best Word’ feature, it shows you the highest scoring word given the letters you have available, you only get a few turns using this feature :-) The game uses the ‘Official Players Scrabble Dictionary’. In our ever increasing politically correct world, ‘offensive words’ have been removed from this dictionary, which amounts to just over 800 otherwise valid words.  It would be nice if you could specify which dictionary to use to overcome the political correctness or for the game to be played in foreign languages. Maybe in the updated version.

I found the ‘blank’ tile to be confusing, for several turns I thought I had been jipped out of my seven tiles, the blank tile looks like a tile is missing, they need to make it a little more obvious, maybe by putting a point value of zero on the tile. I accidentally played one of my blanks, the game chooses the blank if you spell a word which includes a letter that is not in your rack, I’d prefer if it asked you if it was OK to do that.

The obvious missing feature is online play. With on-board 3g the ability to play scrabble anywhere against real opponents would be a major addition to the game. Wonder if they will ever add this feature.

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It is quite odd to think of a dedicated e-book reader to be used for gaming, however if one looks at the top selling free titles on Amazon, two of the top three titles are games.

Personally I’m waiting for a Backgammon title to be released.





New Kindle Owner – Week 1

19 09 2010

I placed my order for the latest Kindle 3 with Wifi + 3g on September 3rd 2010 and it arrived a few weeks later on September 16th. I’ve used it for a few days now and here are my first impressions :-

The Unexpected

Being sold out and on back order I resigned myself to having to wait 2 weeks to get the device before I could use it. However as I read up on the Kindle I quickly discovered you don’t actually need a Kindle at all to read Kindle books. Amazon have released Kindle applications for computers and smart phones. Visit this web page for more details.

I was able to install the Kindle app on my Android phone and start downloading and reading Kindle books immediately.  You don’t need to have ordered a Kindle to do this, the software is freely available.

I read HG Wells War of the Worlds. I had seen the TV reenactment of the famous radio version of this story. The book however was both different and delightful. Quite a satisfying read. I was amazed how readable the book was on an Android phone. I had read the entire book while waiting on the Kindle to arrive in the mail. I found the ‘Sepia’ theme to be the easiest on the eyes. I also experimented with the Desktop application on both Windows XP and Windows 7. It worked great and synchronized my reading place between devices across the internet. Amazon refer to this sync feature as WhisperSync. It works remarkably well.

I also discovered that many classic books are free, and some books are offered for free on short term promotions. Many books offer the first chapter for free.

By the end of the first week I had purchased 17 books. 15 free, 2 paid for, for a grand total of $10. I had registered 2 mobile devices and 4 computers to my Amazon account in addition to the yet to be received Kindle.

The Good

The Kindle arrived and I found the reading experience to be much better than anticipated, even given the positive reviews I had already read on the web. The text is very sharp thanks to great contrast. This is my first time to experience ‘e-ink’ and it is quite phenomenal. In bright light I find the readability to be superior to physical books.

Not only were all my purchases available directly upon opening of the box, but all my Audible titles were also available for download. The automatic synchronization between my Kindle and Audible accounts was seamless and the audio books sound great on the Kindle. I was able to pick up reading Stieg Larssons, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ where I had left off on my android device.

Free 3g wireless for the life of the service/device. What a deal!! No contracts, no fees just download content from anywhere with 3g data. It even works with Edge if 3g isn’t available.

The Bad

The price of e-books. You’ll notice I ‘purchased’ a lot of books at no cost, this sounds great, what can I complain about? The reason I selected free books is that current books are in my opinion over priced, as a rule of thumb, e-books are priced the same as paperbacks, or a smidgen less. Don’t blame Amazon, they wanted to price most e-books at $9.99 or less, but the publishers lead by Macmillan were successful in strong arming Amazon into charging more. Read more here . It is dismaying to see Apple at the center of the price hike as a result introducing the iPad earlier this year. More competition leads to higher prices!?! Am I missing something? I refer to higher e-Book prices that is, thanks to Apple the Kindle price is cut in half, hence my purchase :-)

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Amazon advertise the latest Kindle as having 4GB of storage. Well actually its more like 3GB usable storage. I’m accustomed to GB inflation from hard drive manufacturers, but 25% difference? Hmmm….

The Ugly

‘Experimental Features’ such as the MP3 player and Web Browser are not easy to use on the Kindle. The MP3 player is simply a jukebox that plays your MP3’s in the order they were loaded on the device. No controls.

The Web Browser is slow and very difficult to use without a pointing device. Using up/down/right/left arrows to navigate is very frustrating. One good note however, the browser scores 100 on the acid3 browser test and renders sites such as Gmail very well. Why offer a browser at all? To sell books of course.

Summary

I like it. I like it a lot. I recommend you get one even if you already have a laptop/notebook/iPad. This dedicated reading device is very compelling.





Official Audible App for Android – Beta now available!

5 06 2010

Audible have been slow to support Android devices, not sure why but the wait is over. Google and Audible have teamed up and there is now an official beta app available that works with your Audible account/library. To get it visit the Audible for Android (Beta) group at Google Groups.  At the time of writing (June 5th 2010) there are 3231 members of this group, so there are not many folks out there aware of this beta application. Hopefully I can spread the word via this blog :-)

Installation

The download is not available on the Android market so you need to setup your phone to allow downloads from ‘unknown sources’. To do so enter the settings on your android phone, select applications and check ‘Unknown Sources’. Now visit the download page on a desktop PC scan the QR code using your android device. Once the download is complete click on the .apk file and follow the installation prompts.

How Good is It?

I have found the beta to be stable on the Motorola Droid (Version 0.136b). As soon as you authenticate the application to your Audible account it updates the items you have in your Audible library, presents them in a list that can be sorted several useful ways and allows one to select the items for download.

One ‘drawback’ of this application is that it can only download and play Audible’s enhanced audio format. This means the downloads are quite big, 28MB per hour of audio. Not all titles are available in the enhanced format, out of my library of 24 titles, 2 are not available in enhanced audio format, so I can’t play them using this android app. This level of audio fidelity is wasted on a mobile device one will use while exercising, driving the car etc. As a result it is best to download the files while attached to a WiFi network for speed and to ensure you don’t hit any download caps your provider may have set. This means you really need to download files prior to heading out the door. In the discussion forum the developers have mentioned they will support lower fidelity file types in the future. The only way to download enhanced audio format using the app is to first ensure that your audible media is setup as enhanced using your account on the web, you can’t change format via the phone.

If you already have the enhanced audio files downloaded to your PC/Mac it is possible to simply copy the .aax files to the Audible folder on your android phone and the application will automatically detect them when it is launched. The application gives one a simple way to remove old audio files from your phone to free up space, long hold the title and chose remove.

The application fully supports chapters and bookmarks as with other audible players on other devices and on your desktop. One feature that appears to b missing is the ability for it to synchronize the place in any audio file to allow one to pick-up where you left off if you resume on another device. This feature is present with some supported audible devices, so this is a disappointment.

At this time it is not possible to search for or add books to your library via the app, you have to visit the website to do that, after which one can refresh your library on the phone and download the ebook. I am certain they will add this feature soon, it will encourage book purchases so should be high on the feature list for the app.

One feature of all audible players I dislike is the inability to manually advance to any point in the current file and therefore skip over uninteresting parts of the audio track. This application is no exception. Book chapters can be an hour or more each so I don’t find the ability to jump to/from chapters meets all of my needs. Android media player is much better in this respect. If you really need this ability then convert your audible files to mp3’s and play using the Android media player using the procedure I detailed in this other post. However the convenience to download directly to your android device instead of going through a multi-step process on your computer somewhat makes up for this drawback.

Summary

This is a must download for anyone who has an Audible account and an Android device.





Solid State Hard Drives – Performance Boost worth the money?

25 04 2010

Short answer – No.

Long answer follows.

I recently compared the performance of a good quality Solid State Hard drive compared to a traditional magnetic hard drive in use in most computers today.

My tests were restricted to start-up and shutdown times on a new Acer Netbook. Here is what I recorded.

Windows 7 Starter Edition – 32 Bit

Conventional Hard Drive – 160GB 5400 rpm Hitachi

  • Start-up time – 31 seconds
  • Shutdown Time – 11 Seconds

Solid State Hard Drive – 80GB Intel Mainstream

  • Start-up Time – 21 Seconds
  • Shutdown Time – 8 Seconds

This shows about a 1/3 reduction in time to start-up or shutdown the same computer with an identical installed image of Windows 7 Starter Edition. The solid state ‘mainstream’ hard drive from Intel costs around $200 and is only half the capacity of the original drive shipped with the Netbook. So it only makes sense if you really need to have every piece of extra speed or durability from your computer. (The Netbook only cost $225 to purchase in the first place). To buy a 160GB Intel Solid State drive to match the 160GB traditional drive would cost $400.

The start-up and shutdown times were averaged over three operations. Start-up was measured as the time it takes from the power button being pressed to a password prompt being presented. Shutdown was measured from the time shutdown was selected until the computer turned itself off.

By Comparison Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix on the same Intel SSD took 14 Seconds to start-up and 5 Seconds to shutdown.

The drivers for investing in a Solid State Drive should be

  • The need for every bit of speed one can muster
  • The need for a drive that is very durable and can absorb shock and impact of up to 1500G’s without failing.

Use cases that come to mind are

  • Server System Drives, where speed and not capacity is most important.
  • Laptops that are subject to considerable vibration/impact. Either in an industrial environment, or subject to constant vibration in a moving vehicle.

List of Equipment used in this quick test





VTel Video Conferencing Presentation

31 03 2010

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Click to Enlarge

On March 31st 2010 I attended a presentation hosted by Sprint and VTel showcasing a video conferencing system (and Sprint wireless connectivity for the device). The lunch and learn was held at Maggiano’s in Nashville TN.

VTel CEO Richard Ford lead the presentation and was joined by Ken Hall the South East Regional Sales Manager.

They showcased their iPanel Room video conference system. It comprised of an HDTV,  High Def SVideo Camera, a customized slimline PC (that was attached of the rear of the Flat Panel TV) and a paired wireless keyboard. A Sprint wireless device was tethered to the system to provide 3G connectivity. (Sprint mobile 4g is not available in Nashville currently – Sprint 4g is currently limited to WiMAX via their relationship with Clearwire). Read the rest of this entry »