Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Smartwatches Pebble and Gear 2

I purchased a Pebble smartwatch as it fell under the $100 point at which I don't feel particularly guilty trying out things.  Soon thereafter, I found a new Gear 2 selling for $89, which I purchased as well (I think this might have been mis-tagged, but they honoured the price).

My first experience was that both are difficult to set up - I have a BlackBerry, which isn't the best tool for linking to either device.  Without the link to an external device, you can't even set the TIME on the watch, so they are basically bricked right out of the box.

I did buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4, again somewhere around $100 (though on the higher end) and found that I actually like it a lot.  I was reluctant to get into the smaller tablets, but found that I can carry this one in my pocket, and that I like the Android OS quite a bit.  This device runs both the Gear 2 (which is also Samsung) and the Pebble without problem.

The pebble was easily set up from the iPad, has an easy to use online store for apps, and a variety of apps to choose from.

  • The Pebble only allows 9 apps to be loaded at any time, though the desktop software does keep a library of other software that you've chosen, so you can swap easily into the 9 virtual slots on the device.
  • There were a range of choices - I pulled in a compass, as I thought that was cool, a few different watchfaces, and sleep trackers and activity trackers.  Still looking for the "ultimate" tracker (I want a watch with time in addition to the tracking info)
    • My best app so far is using Map My Ride on the android tablet (Samsung Galaxy Tab 4), which gets picked up by the Pebble to show live time, distance and pace stats.
  • Not sure if the on-board accellerometer accurately counts steps - haven't run the study yet.  I use my fitbit for that info and would like an app on the watch to provide the fitbit info (I have the FitBit flex, which does not have a screen, so you have no live updates of steps etc.).
  • The battery runs about a week - I take it off sometime on the weekend and charge overnight.  It does take getting used to the need to re-charge a watch
  • I like the "e-reader" screen - keeps battery life acceptable, but isn't particularly flashy
  • The Pebble comes with several watchface options - the one "problem" I have with the Pebble is that adding additional watchfaces tends to take one of the precious 9 slots.  I was hoping to keep a bunch of watchfaces to show the versatility of the device
  • the charger for the Pebble is a USB, but is unique and held to the watch by magnets.  Kinda cool, but somewhat prone to falling off if the charging station is jostled ("charging station" is typically the bedside table, so it gets "jostled" at lot).  As with the Gear 2 (and the FitBit) I am concerned with unique chargers as losing them is a real possibility, and finding new ones quickly will be a problem
The Gear 2 is much more like the over-hyped Apple watch in that it has a high resolution (though small) LCD screen. 
  • Battery life is a problem - wouldn't count on more than 1 day, you might stretch to 2 days, but you'd probably worry on the 2nd.
  • Don't like the need for a specific charger, though it works fine.  It has a dongle which you attach to the back of the watch, and connect to a standard USB for charging.  My fear is that the dongle will get lost, and thus, a bricked device.
  • There are a variety of apps available (for free) for this device and many different watchfaces, which are fun to play around with (I have a "hulk face" and a "Matrix" face which I like right now).  Lots of "standard", though attractive options, and some hybrids (e.g. weather updates and time, steps and activity and time...)
  • The Gear 2 also has a camera - kinda fun to take Dick Tracy pictures (note: not "Dick" pictures) from the watch.
  • As I can't easily link to my phone, I haven't used the other "killer app" of talking into my wrist.

I can't say that either watch has changed my life.  I do wear a wristwatch, and do find the battery life to be a problem (my "standard" wristwatch has battery life measured in years, not days or hours), though I am getting used to it.

I am not a texter, so the key feature - getting messages to the watch, is somewhat diluted for me.  I do check when the watch notifies me of contacts, and do prefer that to checking a tablet or phone, as it is one step less intrusive.  However, for me personally, I don't always carry my phone (in fact, rarely carry my phone) so the linkage only really works when I'm at work or home with devices online.  I do think this feature is great, though you have to be careful - many apps default to sending you notices - you want to limit them (I don't really care that there is an update pending for app X, and don't want that buzzed to my watch like a Pearl Harbour headline).  Once you tone down the unwanted notices, you get summary e-mail text, texts and appointments, all of which are useful.

There is a remote function (available on both, but I've set up on the Gear) which allows you to turn the TV on and off.  I kinda like that, and would like more if the Gear was "available" to be worn more frequently (not being charged).  

All in all, I'm glad I didn't pay a lot for the watches - not sure if I'd be positive with a $400 or $500 purchase, but quite happy at the sub $100 range - I'm not counting the connecting Tablet in the cost, as virtually everyone else will have an iPhone or Android to make the connections..  The Pebble is my day to day watch, but on a recent out of town trip, I forgot the charger, so it was dead - not great.  I have to pack an older-style watch to keep covered, so lesson learned.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Created a website using Wix - lotsa' pics from the England trip in September 2012

In September 2012 I had the opportunity, with my wife Hollie, to go to England and visit with a member of my dad's WWII crew - Douglas Petty.  My dad was the pilot of a bomber crew for the 429th squadron, and Douglas was his navigator, and the only Englishman on a crew of Canadians.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Received BB10 from work

Changed cell providers at work, so ended up upgrading phones as well.

Had choice of Samsung Galaxy, iPhone 5 and BB10.

Online research really didn't show much difference between the products - all had significant pros, not much in the way of cons for any of them.

My decision factors:

  • iPhone - I really like the iPad I have (also from work), and the various iPods I've purchased for self and family.  However, I'm not really willing to "drink the Apple kool-aid".  I don't like some smaller aspects of the Apple line that seem to indicate the stubborn side, not the innovative side of the company.
    • don't like not having flash support - some websites are thus unavailable on iPhones/iPads - irritating.
    • don't like iTunes.  Not bad for organizing music, though it seems to be resource hog, and has an irritating problem in Window 7, as it opens on attach for any one of the users, meaning that the remaining users get a "can' open, already open" error.  Less of an issue on connect, as you have control, but sometimes it just loads to do an update, making it locked for actual use until you identify which "user" has it open and kill that instance.
    • don't like the "always open" apps on the iPad (and thus, I suppose, on other i-Devices).  I was shocked to find out that everything I've run since first opening the box was running, which required a specific "shut down" for each app.  (BB10 has a "close app" button that you can choose to execute, or not, when you switch applications - very civilized).
    • Would really love to be able to attach additional memory (e.g. SD card) and to load apps, music etc. directly to the device, avoiding iTunes and the associated headaches
    • I love the iPad for reading comics - I have several apps to do so.  However, in Apple's world, when I install a comic, I have to pick the app, which is fine, however, occassionally a comic is unable to open in app X, can't easily open the same comic in app Y.  Purchase of File Browser has made this a little easier, but a direct drag-and-drop would be infinitely superior, and then open with any of several appropriate apps.
    • Apple has been genius at playing the "user friendly" card, but I really don't see it.  All tablets I've played with are fine, none have the "lockdown" irritations of the iPad/iPhone.  This is part of my Kool-Aid aversion to Apple.
    • All said, if I wasn't given a choice, I would likely have been fine with the iPhone 5.
  • Samsung Galaxy - haven't actually played with this phone, however, it would probably be my choice for a "my own purchase".
    • like the larger screensize - though as the "feel" comes mainly form using it for a while, not sure if the larger size would be a problem in pockets etc.
    • like the openness of Android.  Take all the iPhone issues above, add "not" to the front, and apply to any android device.
    • The tradeoffs for the Samsung and the Blackberry seemed pretty even - no significant advantage either way.
  • Blackberry 10
    • I've used Blackberries at all the places I've worked that provided phones (which would be everywhere since 2001 or so - Intuit, in 1999-2001 I had a cell phone and a palm pilot, at some point we moved to BlackBerries when working for the Government of Alberta)
    • the BB10 reviews indicated favourable comparisons to Samsung and Apple
    • the tie-breaker was the location of RIM in Waterloo, ON - why not support Canadian when the device is as good or better?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Prepping for loss of Google Reader and iGoogle

I used both Google Reader and set up a whole page with iGoogle (my page was functional, not particularly attractive) which was of great use when moving across the country and switching jobs.  iGoogle made it very easy to keep my calendar and common links etc. available on any browser, and with the addition of some widgets (like maps, bookmarks and Google Reader) allowed me to stay in touch.

Not sure what online reader I'll use, but have set up an account with NetVibes (, which allows me to replace iGoogle.

Similar to iGoogle, NetVibes creates a skeleton page, and allows you to drop widgets onto that page.  I was immediately able to pull in some RSS feeds, link to my Gmail account and set up a few pictures and apps (calendar and maps).  I also was able to set up additional tabbed pages, one of which I linked to my set of online storage applications, one for links to social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN), and one I'm setting up for news.  Right now, I've set up several RSS widgets to capture individual news sources, but will eventually re-organize and set up a multi-service reader option.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Virtual Box (Oracle) and VMware

Fell in love, again, with virtual machines.  Became familiar with VMware working for the school board (free VMPlayer available on net).  Recently, I came across VirtualBox from Oracle, which mimics VMWare, but open source (= free).

Playing with VMs, I found some reasonable uses for them.  If you are installing trial software, why not put it in a VM, as it often clogs up your "real" system.  Similarly, if you don't use large packages, such as Microsoft Office, very frequently, create a VM for the full install, and maybe install only Word or Excel in your main system?  As you install more and more on your main system, everything slows down - keep the main system relatively open, and take the few extra minutes to load and execute a VM when you need access to infrequently used programs.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Started Petition re. NHL Lockout

Started a petition at (NHL Lockout) to protest the lockout.

I'm basically annoyed that the last lockout, where the owners won 100% of what they were looking for didn't result in peace for any significant duration.  With a salary cap tied to the prior year revenue of the league, the owners still couldn't get along and stop signing players to $100,000,000 113 year contracts.

I understood the last lockout - players didn't want a cap, owners felt it was necessary.  That level of mismatch is likely to cause a lockout or strike.

I don't understand this one, particularly as the owners are "negotiating" whether or not they have to honour the contracts they signed since the last lockout!!!  What the heck does that mean?  We'll sign a contract to lure you to our team, but have no intentions of actually paying you???

I understand the players make a lot of money, but they gave up 24% of their salary monies last time and accepted the cap.  I think they gave their two cents for the league.  This time the owners are just showing an absolutely terrible level of greed - they are throwing away an entire season to re-split the profits in a more favourable manner (for them).

Remember - the fight is over how to split the PROFITS.  All the arguments about how difficult it is to run a team and all the risks they take go out the window - the league is (was) PROFITABLE.

What I'd really like to see is one home game in each arena that is empty - play and NHL game to crickets and beer vendors - let the league understand that there is a finite amount of patience the fans have, and how dangerously close they are to losing the fan base entirely.

Baseball had a strike in the '90's - as the Detroit Tigers (my team) weren't doing very well at that time, it took me until the 2006 season to care again about baseball.  Before the strike, I was always aware of the game and watched the play-offs every year.  After the strike, my attachment was noticeably reduced, and I think my son isn't as attached as a result - there are significant long-term costs to this foolishness.

Let's let the NHL see the type of damage they are doing before we all get too sick of the idiocy to even care enough to protest.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

England - Day 1 - Sept 21/22 2012

The English Journey - Steve and Hollie's Trip to England

Day 1: Left Chatham, ON for Detroit Michigan.  No problems with the border - fortunately the border guard's mother was over in England for the Olympics - we ran through quickly.  Arrived at about 12:30pm for our 3:30pm fight.  The flight boarded on time, but sat on the runway for over an hour while crews repaired some electronic systems (exactly what you want before flying - new, untested system installation).

Once airborne  both Hollie and I watched several movies on the flight as watching movies is one of the few things you can do when your knees are directly placed in front of your face for up to 8 hours.  The TV on the plane is hosted on the seat of the passenger in front of you.  The passenger in front of me was a "touch-o-phobe" and my attempts to change channels on the touch-screen TV caused her great agony which she shared with me by making it very clear that poking her seat was unacceptable.  She apparently was not a psychic, however, as there was not any indication of agony from the thoughts her "condition" precipitated.

Behind me lived a 14 month old, on his first flight, immersed into a car seat that took several members of the ground crew to install onto the lavish existing economy-class seat.  As the little prince likes to "stretch out", his cute, little, royal toes were pressed against my seat back.  The prince's mother, the Queen,  graciously said that she'd try to accommodate an attempt to increase my cell size through a release of my seat back, by gently moving the prince, assuming I gave her an appropriately long interval to prepare.  As the flight was only 7 or 8 hours, there never seemed to be an appropriate duration for preparing the prince.

However, Madame "Touch-A-Phobic" did not feel the need to inform nor allow a preparation interval, as she invaded from the north without warning.  My cell size was now below what PETA would consider appropriate for a chipmunk.

True to his word, the pilot made up the late departure time in the air, and we began one of several thousand circles of Heathrow Airport (London) relatively on time.  I had never realized, but like a car in a parking garage, planes from high altitudes need to slowly spiral down, level by level, to a landing site.

Immigration was relatively uneventful, the line was very long, but moved regularly, as there were at least 20 booths open.  The multitude of nationalities represented was a tribute to British multiculturalism.

We arrived in the main terminal, with luggage (all of our luggage) about an hour after our scheduled landing time.  Not sure if that is typical or atypical for international travel, as I am a novice.

My brother-in-law Paul met us, and drove us into London at a speed that can only be considered inappropriate for a land vehicle, though seemed to be business as usual for our pilot.  The lack of wings proved not to be a problem as we made amazing time through traffic into London.

I learned lots of interesting tidbits about driving in England:

1) they drive on the left (it is very good to remember this, as it seems to affect everything).

2)  the have lane markers, but these are pretty much for show only - the actual London drivers tend to ignore them if they are in the way.

3) the have zebra crossings ("zed-bra" not "zee-bra"), which is really a killing pen for pedestrians.  The pedestrians have the "right of way" which means they get to die knowing they were "right" and "in the way" - perhaps "Martyr crossing" would be a more appropriate term.

4) at certain points the lane markers along the curbs go all zig-zaggy, which, I think, means "do whatever the hell you want for the next few feet", as that seems to be what occurs.  However, I checked with Paul and he says that it means it is a "no stopping zone", which I interpreted to mean that you can legally flee from police when you hit something.

5) in North America, the traffic lights signal order is "green", "yellow" and then "red", warning drivers that their green, free passage time, is ending, which allows them to clear the intersection for other travellers.  In England, the traffic signal order is "Red", "Yellow" and "Green", which, roughly translated is: "On your Mark", "Get Set", "Go".

Paul showed us the key sights at a twisting 100 miles per hour and drove us to our east-end hotel (the Radisson). We paid close attention, though it might not have appeared so, given most, if not all, of our comments were along the lines of "my, what neato buses you have".  Apparently this is a Mitchell family trait, as my sister Lori has a world-class collection of double-decker bus pictures from various trips to England....buses near the Tower of London......buses near Buckingham Palace......buses on Oxford.......buses near Trafalgar Square.  Perhaps on subsequent trips she'll have pictures of the Tower of London......Buckingham Palace.....Oxford.....Trafalgar Square accompany her bus pics.

We checked in, which was very nice, as it was still only 10am or so in the morning, and check-in time is not guaranteed until 2pm or so.  We dropped off our bags, and did the normal things required after sitting on a plane, and a "land-plane" for several hours.  We convinced Paul to provide us with more tour guide services back into the city.

We then walked about 1km to the Excel Centre, where we boarded the Docklands Light Rail line for a trip into London.  We got off the line at Tower station (near the Tower of London) and walked over the Tower Bridge, and along the Thames to Millennium Bridge (a pedestrian bridge) re-crossing the river.  In between, we had our first pub experience, though the drinks were coffees to stay alert.  The weather was sunny and warm so it was an excellent time for an introduction to London (excellent, though atypical).

Paul showed us many of the key London landmarks:  The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Globe theatre, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament with, of course, Big Ben.  We visited St. Paul's Cathedral, which is truly massive.  We climbed a circular stairway up to a Whispering Hall, a ledge about 40 feet high, allowing a view of the cathedral floor below.  Paul and I ascended further up the dome, first to an outdoor platform a million feet over ground level, where we were able to get outside and take a look around on a reasonably sized viewing deck.  Being idiots, we ascended further to a platform only slightly lower than the Babel Tower which caused so much havoc in the past.  The stairway to ascend to this next-to-Babel level required a conscious effort to shed the evidence of years of poor nutrition and less-than-appropriate levels of activity.  Even still, forceps were required to pry my sorry butt from the last landing onto the upper deck.  All of the decorative gargoyles at this level seemed to be saying "I'm afraid of heights" with the appropriate facial expressions of someone with agoraphobia who is permanently affixed to the outside of a Cathedral two million feet over the ground level, being held fast to the outside of the dome by your buttocks.  The spacious walkway of the lower level was replaced with a curb 3" wide to accommodate two-way travel of the fellow idiots who ascended to this height.  Remarkably, the lack of oxygen at this height, combined with the fact that you were no longer following somebody's ass up a flight of stairs for an hour, made this curb a welcome harbour.

As interesting as climbing up St. Paul's cathedral was, going down was worse - gravity is not your friend when your feet are approximately one foot long, and the stairs are approximately a nanometer.  All that Newton predicted happens as your body tries desperately to surf down the circular stairs over the obstacles, which in other circumstances, would be considered people.  Having mentioned Newton, I should point out that you don't need to ask if he is interred at St. Paul's - I've done so, and as everyone else apparently knows, he hangs out at nearby Westminster Abbey.  Admiral Nelson, however, does make St. Paul's a permanent home, as does Lawrence of Arabia and the Duke of Wellington.

From St. Pauls we walked down on shaky limbs to Trafalgar square, which has a very high tribute to Nelson, a gigantic column.  The square was very populated, with some street performers, some protesters and lots of general hangers on.  We began a search for dinner, trying several establishments which had private functions so weren't yet open to serve hungry, hungry Canadians.  We ended up at a very nice pub which Paul was familiar with, the location of which I can safely narrow down to England.

Thank goodness for Paul - being novices, we were awaiting the serving staff to take our food and beer orders.  However, in pubs, this is one of the top few ways to die (#1, of course, is football hooligan beating, normal starvation is somewhere in the top 5).  Hollie and I ordered fish and chips, which in England they call "Fish and Chips".  I magnified my ignorance by trying to order a beer.  Apparently in England they make distinctions between "Draught" beer and "Bitters" - in Canada, last I checked, all beer in taps was "Draft", otherwise you chose from the other types "Bottle" and "Can".  It makes the English laugh uproarishly when you ask for "the least bitter draught", which apparently crosses some serious psychological barriers.

Oh, and don't ask "Why is the beer warm?", as they'll coolly tell you it is "cellar temperature".  I've never had the guts to ask the obvious follow-up question "then why is your cellar so warm?".

After dinner we saw the Parliament buildings, and Buckingham Palace, which has gold decorations.  Real gold is very bright and golden, and it really stands out and looks amazing.  By seeing how phenomenal golden decorations look, I suspect I've only seen crappy decorations in the past.

We went then though Green park, past Canada Gate (also with golden decorations) toward the subway (no....the "tube", also called the "underground").  Later, without Paul, Hollie and I frantically searched for the "Subway" in the rain, and ended up with a meatball on whole wheat, but that is another day.  With Paul, we had a reasonably quiet tube/LRT trip, though Hollie suddenly realized that the people in the "tube" here looked the same as people in the "subway" in Toronto, and observation that can be explained by the lengthy interval between that point in time and the last sleep experienced.

Back at the hotel, Paul bid us adieu (though likely not in those exact words, as the English really don't particularly like the French).  He predicted we would likely be asleep in about 40 minutes, as we'd been awake for approximately 34 straight hours, if you don't count the time Hollie was snoring on the plane, which doesn't seem to "count" as sleep.  He was really wrong.  We managed to fall asleep on the reception desk in the Radisson, awaking several hours later in really cute matching drool puddles.  We quickly jumped up and said, in unison, "That's OK, it's a Canadian Tradition, eh?".