Sunday, May 26, 2013

Never Forget

It is Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S. Many Americans have a long weekend for the holiday and have made various plans ranging from backyard cookouts to attending local events. But what today is really about is remembering those who gave their lives while serving in one branch of the military or another so that we could have the freedom to have those cookouts, sales and events. So, today, instead of blogging about my new smartphone or reviewing a book or ranting about something, I pause to remember the men and women who gave their lives so I could live free. Never Forget!

~ JC

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Take Note

A few weeks ago in my blog “The Great Gadget Debate”, I wrote about the plethora of mobile devices and platforms on the market these days. I became eligible for upgrade through Verizon in April, but waited an extra month for budgetary concerns and to research devices before deciding on the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Actual retail price of this “phaplet” device is $700, but I can got it for $200 from Verizon; I could have gotten it for or $150 through but I was to impatient to wait on the shipping. Plus, I like having the option of simply going back to the store should I have any problems or change my mind (not that I'm likely to).

As you can see in the picture to the right, the Note II (on the right) is quite a bit larger than my previous smartphone, the HTC Incredible 2. The Incredible was a great phone, and served me well for the last couple of years; recently, though, it began having issues with the battery starting to go bad and running out of storage space. Despite running most of my apps from the micro-SD card, I still had a lot of apps that could no longer get updates because the phone itself was running low on space. The Note II has 16GB of onboard storage in addition to a micro-SD slot that supports up to 32GB (I transferred my 16GB micro-SD card from the Incredible to the Note already). Some may balk at the size of the Note, but since I’ve gotten to where I read mostly ebooks these days instead of printed books, I really wanted the larger screen the Note offers. I do still have my Nook Tablet, but I was tired of having to carry two devices around; plus, the Note is better at being a tablet than is the Nook, not to mention that with the Note I have access to both the Nook and Kindle apps, so I have more options for where I can purchase ebooks. Further adding to the bulk of the phone is the fact that I have it in an Otterbox Defender case; yes it adds to the size and weight, but not that much - certainly not as much as some reviewers of the case have asserted.

Speaking of reviewers, I naturally read a lot of reviews of the phone before making my decision. I have come to the conclusion that the bad reviews are mostly the result of people who are either too stupid or too lazy to figure out who to use technology; they fall into the same category of people who complain about Windows 8. Among the more ridiculous complaints about the Note that I read online were folks who gave it only one star because the screen broke (after they dropped it because, you know, it’s Samsung’s fault you’re a clumsy oaf) and another one that apparently went into a rage because Verizon had dared put their logo on the home button (as though no other carrier puts their branding on any phone that they sell). The only real complaint I read that I might be inclined to agree with is that the phone software apparently does not allow for apps to be installed to the micro-SD card; however, with 16GB of onboard storage, if this becomes a factor for you, then you’ve got to many apps, in my opinion (I mean, really, how many apps do you need that you would use up 16GB of storage to install them all?).

As to technical difficulties that some reviewers complained about, I have yet to experience any of those problems. The Kies Air app and functionality for connecting the phone to my PC via Wi-Fi worked fine (at least in terms of actually connecting - I haven’t delved into actually using it yet); my Bluetooth headset paired to the device right away (I don’t have Bluetooth built into my car, so I cannot confirm or deny if it has any issues with pairing up a built in car Bluetooth speakerphone). Another person stated that they couldn’t email pictures via the Gmail app - totally did this at least twice already. To the guy who complained about Flash content not displaying in their browser, that’s not Verizon’s nor Samsung’s fault; keep up with what’s going on in the tech world dude - Adobe dropped mobile support for Flash several months ago (as in, before this phone even came out). Most of the other complaints/critiques I read were more of a “this phone just isn’t to my liking” after having given it fair trial, which I can at least respect.

My review, after roughly three and a half days is that I love it. I love the larger screen, I like the large form factor (for me it’s easier to hold on, especially with the Otterbox case and its rubberized back cover). The quad-core processor along with having access to Verizon’s 4G network means that web pages load pretty damn quick (almost as quick was on my laptop) and apps take seconds to download and update instead of several minutes. And, I actually really like the S-pen stylus; my fat fingers have a tendency to tap the wrong place on the screen, so having a stylus helps and I like that I can do handwritten notes with the S-Note app that came built into the phone.

Admittedly, I haven’t had it but a few days, and I’ve yet to really dig into all of its features, but so far it is the best Android device I’ve owned.

Just for fun, and to demonstrate that the S-pen makes it super easy to get screenshots, here’s the current home screen line up I’m using. That’s another thing that I like about this phone - I can add and remove home screen pages. It had the default five screens, as you can see here, I currently have four, but at one point I had seven (primarily because I kept accidentally adding screens).

So, there you have it. My initial review of the Samsung Galaxy Note II. If you’re looking for a tablet - this probably isn’t for you. If you just need a smartphone, again, this may prove to large/bulky for you. If, however, like me, you’re looking for a device that can function as a tablet and a phone so that you only have to carry one device and you don’t need a full on 10” Tablet, then you may want to give this a look.

~ JC

Online Reviews:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Independent Reading

Recently I reviewed a book called Darker Things by an independent author named Rob Cornell. My discovery of that book and its (so far) two sequels (the fourth book in the series is due out this summer, I believe) was the result of a string of Twitter follows. I had started following E.E. Borton at the suggestion of a friend because I had said something on my Facebook page about wanting something different to read besides Science-Fiction and Fantasy. This lead to being followed by Ciara Ballintyne and Rob Cornell. I don’t typically re-follow people on Twitter, but this time I made an exception because their books and other Twitter posts seemed intriguing. At the time I was pretty engrossed in the Song of Ice & Fire novels (with The Hunger Games trilogy used as a mental palate cleanser between books four and five), so I didn’t immediately look at any of their writings, but I kept them on Twitter so I could find them again when I was ready.

All three of these authors are fairly independent; they self-publish or are published by smaller publishing houses with limited distribution. Case in point, Mr. Cornell’s books were all published exclusively as ebooks until very recently.1 To date, I’ve only read Rob Cornell’s Lockman Chronicles (I’m currently on book number three) and I downloaded his novel, Red Run for Kindle when it was on sale at the promo price for FREE a couple of weeks ago. I’ve not yet read E.E. Borton, but his novel, Abomination is on my Nook wishlist (I kind of feel bad that I didn’t read him first since he’s a fellow Atlanta-ian). As far as I can tell, Ciara Ballintyne hasn’t published anything yet, other than her blogs, but the novels she has listed on her website as in progress seem interesting enough and I believe she has some short stories publishing that I may check out.

The point of all of this is, prior to this, I had not given independent authors much consideration. I am guilty of relying on what’s on the shelves at the big bookstores. I’m really rethinking that stance though. First of all, the ebooks published independently tend to be less expensive and second, they are different. By different, I mean, they aren’t bound by the formulas that get books on the bestseller list. Let’s be honest, part of the reason I was struggling to find anything that could hold my interest beyond the first chapter or two is because so much of what is out there is just too damn similar. Rob Cornell’s Lockman series is, even while dealing with topics like vampires, werewolves, and the supernatural, is still a unique take on what has become dime a dozen types of novels in the last few years. His writing has inspired me to want to give other independent authors a look because maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a really great story that’s not only a easier on my budget, but also more entertaining than some of the cookie-cutter fluff that’s populating bookstore shelves these days.

If you are looking for something to read that’s different than your normal selections, consider an independent author; you might find that their stories are worth the read.

~ JC

1. Rob Cornell recently announced on his Facebook and Twitter feeds that Darker Things, book one of The Lockman Chronicles, is now available in print. -

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Real Love is Color Blind

Last weekend I had the honor and privilege of officiating my “baby” sister’s wedding (you can just see my bald head in the picture to the right over the groom’s shoulder). Speaking of the picture to the right, yes, my new brother-in-law is a little bit black.1 One of my favorite decorative items at the wedding was the sign posted where the guests entered to be seated, which read, “Today, two families become one. So please pick a seat not a side.”

You see, real love is color blind. When I look at my new brother-in-law, I don’t see a “black man” I just see a man; a man that obviously loves my sister and and my niece and wants to make them his family.

In this day and age when everyone is arguing about marriage rights for same-sex couples, we forget that as little as 46 years ago, it was illegal in some states for interracial couples to marry as well until the laws were changed.2

When I look and my sister and brother-in-law and our two joined, extended families, it gives me hope. Hope that maybe we as a nation have finally stopped giving a shit about what color someone’s skin is and finally started looking at the person they are; hope that if bullshit laws from before 1967 that would’ve kept my sister and her husband from getting married can be repealed, so can the dumbass, bigoted laws that keep two people from getting married just because they both happen to be the same gender.

What I really hope, is that I’ll get to see, in my lifetime, a world where ethnicity and gender cease to be a deciding factor in things like this.

~ JC

1. The “little bit black” comment is actually an inside family joke from a couple of years ago. My niece, being only around 4 or 5 years old at the time, announced to everyone at Thanksgiving Dinner, “When JJ gets here, try not to stare; he’s a little bit black.” Kids say the damnedest things sometimes, LOL.

2. African American Registry. “North Carolina Accepts Interracial Marriages!”. (accessed May 5, 2013).