Friday, December 25, 2009

2009 Christmas Booty (and thoughts)

So, here's my haul for 2009

As tradition dictates, a pint of Jack Daniel's from my Mom

a replica of the infamous leg lamp from “A Christmas Story”

Old Spice gift set

Casino” on DVD

Tropic Thunder” on DVD

Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment” CD boxed set

Hershey's Extra Dark Chocolate Assortment

Picture frame with a picture of my niece and Santa

A fancy picture frame

GreenAir Scented Reed Diffuser

Tankard O' Terror replica stein

$35 worth of BestBuy gift cards

Jelly Belly jelly beans

a pack of Handkerchiefs

a 4-Seasonings Sampler Pack (popcorn seasonings)

Heel Tastic (because I have very dry, crusty skin on my heels)

(note: some of the above were tagged as being to both my wife and myself)

Now, every year I post the list of what I got for Christmas on my blog. I don't do it so much so say “Hey, look at what I got!” but more to help me remember what I received and to remember to be thankful for it. I have to admit, this year I wasn't in a very Christmas-sy mood. At the beginning of Christmas week, I was really just ready for it to be over with so I could go back to my regularly scheduled routine. After last night's annual family gathering, and watching all the kids get excited about Christmas and Santa Clause, I have to admit, I'm very glad I overcame my Grinchy outlook. But let us not forget what Christmas, and the holiday season is about. For Christians it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. For Pagans, it's the Winter Solstice. For Jews it is the commemoration of the re rededication of the Holy Temple. But, whatever your religious persuasion (or even lack thereof), the season itself is about peace, goodwill, generosity – in other words, all that is good about humanity. Instead, what we get is rudeness, selfishness and greed as everyone clamors for gifts and the retailers gladly take your hard earned money without a care. I guess that's why I wanted Christmas to be over this year – it just wasn't seeming very jolly with all the stress. Why have we let what is supposed to be the best time of the year become one of the worst? Think about that for the next 365 days, and maybe next year Christmas can be a lot less stressful and a whole lot more peaceful!

Merry Christmas!

~ JC

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Droid Part 2

About a month ago I wrote a blog about my new Motorola Droid, which I had only had for a day. I've now had it for about thirty days, so I'm here to give you an update on how it's performed. Hope you find it helpful. If nothing else, I've updated my blog as promised :-) (again, sorry this is a week late).

Battery Life

I'll begin with the battery life, because that's usually a sticking point for a lot of people on their mobile devices. Let's just call it like it is: the battery life could be much better. However, this is true of all modern mobile devices and cellphones, most especially with smartphones. To put it simply, my take is that the technology available for mobile phones has reached a point that they are surpassing the battery technology available to them. The first couple of days I had the Droid, the battery life just plain sucked. The device would be down to 20% of battery life by the end of the day, almost without exception. Keep in mind, though, that I was spending a lot more time using and playing with the phone that first few days than would be considered normal usage for me as I familiarized myself with how it worked and downloaded various apps for it. By the end of the second week my usage had become a bit more normal, and now the battery is down to only about 50% by the end of the day (by end of the day, I mean by the time I'm plugging it in to charge and heading to bed).

Smartphones in general have shorter battery lives than the average, standard cellphone mainly due to the fact that they are performing lots of tasks in the background even when they are not actively in use for a phone call, surfing the web or text messaging, etc. So, the lesser battery life isn't a deal breaker, it just means you'll want to make sure you have a way to charge it often (vehicle charger for example) even if you are away from home.

Bluetooth Functionality

I've been using Bluetooth enabled headsets for years. I've always used a headset while driving, and I loved when Bluetooth came out so I could have a wireless headset and not have to worry about getting things tangled up while in the car. The Bluetooth functionality on the Droid leaves a little be desired, however. The sound quality is just fine; it's really neither any better nor worse than the sound quality I've had with other phones. The issue I have with Bluetooth on the Droid is that there appears to be no support for the headsets multifunction button. I cannot answer a call with the headset, control call waiting with the headset, or activate voice dial with the headset. This is rather annoying to be honest. One of the things I've always loved about Bluetooth is being able to tap the button on the headset and say something like “Call Rob” and the phone would call my friend Rob without me having to touch the phone itself. With the Droid, I have to tap the voice dial icon on the touchscreen, then say “Call Rob” then select it from the list of items the Droid thinks I meant. Not really very safe if you're driving at 75mph on the interstate, y'know? So, I'd like to see Google fix that in future patches of the Android OS. Those of you who don't use Bluetooth, of course, probably won't care about this though.

Music Player

This is the one where I take some umbrage with some of the reviews I read about the Droid prior to buying it. The music player works exactly as it should; it plays music. What else do you want? Some reviews panned how the music player's UI looked or functioned. I see no issue with it. It lists your music by artist, song, album or by playlists. I fail to see how a music player could really do anymore than that. Do you want it to display album covers too? Why? You're not really going to be looking down at the thing while lisetnig to music, it's going to be in your pocket or holster. In short, it functions as a music player and that's all that is really needed – moving on.


Without going into a long diatribe on this, I'll just say that the volume on the Droid is beyond impressive. I actually have to turn the volume down when I'm at home and the phone is sitting on my desk. At full volume (actually, not even quite full volume) I can hear my phone ring when I'm at work, and I work in a leather shop where we have some pretty loud equipment running at times (air compressor, belt sanders). I even was able to use the music player in my car one day when I was unable to find a suitable radio station and the generic cradle I have basically covers up the phone's external speaker.


The touchscreen is very responsive and very easy to see, even when standing outdoors. In fact, it's almost to good. I've found myself tapping icons by just hovering my finger over the screen to close. My only real beef with the screen is that it is very prone to smudges and I have to clean it fairly often.


Ok, let's get down to the nitty gritty here, the Apps for Android. The real reason anyone would get a smartphone like the Droid (or the iPhone) is the ability to customize it with apps, right? Ok, maybe that's not the driving reason for getting a phone like this, but it's definitely a big factor in how this phone functions for its individual owners. When I got the phone, there were an estimated 10,000 apps available in the Android Market; there are now around 20,000. So, there are lots of things to choose from, some bad, some good, some great, and some just downright stupid/useless. In the last thirty or so days, I've downloaded dozens of apps. Some I still use, but I've also deleted several. In fact, I'd say I've deleted more apps than I've kept. I don't want to drag this out, because I realize that I've probably lost a few readers by now, and, let's be honest, I've already written one blog on this topic, and this one is getting a little long winded itself. So, I'll give you my list of what I'm currently using and let you deicide for yourself.

  • Dolphin Browser – the stock Android browser appears to be Safari Mobile. It works, but I really like Dolphin better since it has tabbed browsing and supports the ability to use dual touch for zooming in and out like the iPhone does. It also has shortcuts to various Google services built into it.

  • Documents to Go – available in both a free and paid version. The free version allows you to view Word and Excel documents. The paid version allows you to not only view, but also edit Word, Excel and Power Point documents as well as view PDF documents. It normally sells for $29.99 USD, but I managed to catch it on sale for only $9.99 so I bought the full version.

  • Astro – this is almost a must have app. The one thing about the Android OS that falls short is that it has no built in way to manage files on either the device or the micro-SD card without plugging it into you computer via the USB cable. Astro gives you that ability.

  • Astrid – simply put, it's a to do list app, but the reason I chose this one over others is because it has built in sync capabilities with the very popular Remember the Milk web based to do list without having to subscribe to the full version of RtM in order to use RtM's own app (if you subscribe to RtM, then you'll probably want to use their app as I would think the sync and integration would be better).

  • MySpace Mobile – self explanatory I think. I actually almost like using this better than the actual MySpace (to bad Facebook mobile isn't as well done).

  • Yellowbook – basically an app for using

  • Assistant Free – for those of you who use Page Once, you'll want this one as it is there mobile app for Android. It is also available in a paid version. I went with the free version because, while I like Page Once, I don't use it extensively.

  • Pandora – free Internet radio. You do have to create an account, but then you can log into at home or work via any web browser in addition to on your phone (caution, this is one of those apps that will drain the battery over time because it is streaming music over either a 3G or Wi-Fi Internet connection)

  • Aldiko – one of dozens of eBook readers available in the Android Market – if you especially love classic literature, this a good thing to have.

  • Bible – there are tons of Bible apps in the Marketplace. The one I chose simply calls itself “Bible” and contains pretty much every English translation of the Bible that I've ever heard of, plus I few I didn't know about. Has a daily reading feature for those of you who try to read through the entire Bible in a year, bookmarks, and adjustable font size. For those of you who are Catholic, however, it does not include the Apocryphal Old Testament Books. In fact, I'm not sure if I remembered seeing one that did.

  • Games – I've downloaded three games; two different chess apps and one solitaire app that has four different versions of solitaire (standard, spider, free cell and one called “forty thieves”)

  • Barcode Scanner – allows you to scan a barcode on an item and then searches Google for the items so you can do price comparison shopping while standing in the store

  • Zedge – a great app for free wallpapers and ringtones to customize your phone

  • Key Ring – eliminates all those little cards on your keyring by allowing you to scan them and store them in your phone instead.

  • Twidroid – syncs with Twitter for those of you who like to Tweet

  • Weather Channel – an app by The Weather Channel – need I say more? (it will use the phone's built in GPS to give you weather for your current location, or you can manually enter a city or zip code)

  • Quick Tip Calculator – enter the amount of your restaurant/bar bill, the percentage of tip you want to leave, and how many ways to split it, and voila! It tells you how much each person needs to leave to cover the tab and tip

  • United States Constitution – like the Bible app, there are dozens. The one I have also includes The Declaration of Independence as well as other historical documents (I just think everyone should have a copy of the US Constitution)

  • NFL and NHL – both of these “apps” basically are shortcuts to those league's respective mobile sites for scores, standings and news

And that pretty much covers what I'm currently using. Note, this is just the list of apps I've downloaded; it does not include the apps that came pre-installed in the device. If you compare this list to the list in part one of this series, then you'll see that there were some that I no longer have listed. As I mentioned above, I've had a lot of apps that didn't make the cut, some didn't even stay on my phone more than five or ten mintues (like the virtual bubble wrap – fun for a minute or two, but then just useless).

So, there it is, the final in my two part series on the Motorola Droid. I hope you enjoyed it and that it helps you make your own informed decision on next cellphone upgrade.

~ JC

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My Appologies

I realize I had promised a detailed review of the Motorola Droid for this week's blog. Alas, I was quite overcome by an extreme feeling of fatigue and spent the entire day in bed. In fact, I'm still feeling pretty icky. So, I will try to either have that for you next week, or I'll work on it throughout the week and get it posted asap.

~ JC

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Goin' Old School

Sometimes it is the simpler things in life that give the most enjoyment. I have often blogged about my experiences with playing Massively Multilayer Online (MMO) Role Playing Games (RPGs), namely World of Warcraft (WoW). Within the last two to three weeks, however, I have logged into WoW only a few times, finding myself getting very bored, very fast. I started playing WoW over a year ago as a way of being able to game with my friends who are now scattered all over the U.S. with whom I would have been playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) or some other similar “paper & ink” RPG. The problem with computer based games, whether online or not, is that once maximum level is obtained, there generally becomes a limited amount of content to experience, at least until the next patch or expansion is released. It is this fact that lead my best friend and I to seek a way to play D&D despite the fact that he lives in Atlanta, GA, and I live in Fayetteville, NC (to spare you having to find a map, that's roughly a 6-8 hour drive or about 370 miles; not exactly conducive to being able to sit at each other's kitchen tables once a week. To further exacerbate the situation, everyone else in our gaming group was just as far away or farther from both of us (one in Charlotte, NC and another in Michigan!). So, this is about how we found a way to go old school RPG in the information super-highway age.

Goin' Old School in New Ways

As I mentioned before, we were beginning to get bored with WoW; no new content had been added in a couple of months nor was scheduled to be released until weeks later. We also found ourselves in a guild that seemed to be unable to move forward on high level raiding content due to scheduling conflicts, and our efforts to find a guild to raid resulted in basically finding people who were, shall we say, less than friendly (i.e., they were douche bags). So, we decided to check out Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO), mainly because it had just changed to being a “free to play” MMORPG. Playing DDO made me feel nostalgic for the old days, and I began mentioning to both Rob and Jere that I wished we could find a way to play D&D via a chat room or something (yeah, I know, chat rooms are so 90s). Our search netted us to pieces of software to aid us, Ventrilo (which we had been using with WoW anyway) and OpenRPG. “Vent” would give us the ability to talk to each other, while OpenRPG would give us a virtual table top on which to place (digital) miniatures and roll our dice. Perfect! Some additional hunting on my part turned up a program called Redblade, that not only is a D&D character creation program, but allows for export to a standard HTML document, making it very easy to share character sheets via email. Now we just had to get the group together.

We're Rollin' Now

I'm not going to drag out all the details of the few weeks it took us to put it all together learning how to use Redblade and OpenRPG to our satisfaction, Rob getting his server setup for us to be able to use Ventrilo without having to buy server space, relearning the 3.5 edition D&D rules, finding people to play, etc., etc. Suffice it to say, it eventually went off without a much of a hitch. Last night was the first time in years I've been able to play D&D or anything else like it, and I have to say, it was pretty awesome. Sure, it lacked some of the nuance of sitting around a kitchen table in someone's house where we could all drink beer, eat mass quantities of chips and just enjoy each others company as we enjoyed the game, but still, being able to get together with old friends who share the hobby of gaming is fun no matter how it's accomplished. We figure from here the sky's the limit. OpenRPG isn't D&D specific; it's just a virtual table top with virtual dice rollers. There are a plethora of RPGs out there that we used to play. It's just a matter of pulling them all out of storage and refreshing our memories and our imaginations. It's not high tech. It's not all noise and lights and endless questing for better gear. It's simple, old school gaming like we used to do before there was Internet and gaming consoles. And you know what? I love it!

~ JC

Next week: My second review of the Motorola Droid; it will have been almost a month since I bought, so I'll let you know how it's performing and what apps I like and don't like.