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October 29, 2006

Palm TX

After waiting through much of October to see what new products Palm might introduce and seeing only updated Treos (which include phones), I decided to buy a new Palm T|X, which originally came out last year. Amazon had them for $260 instead of the usual $299. Since I couldn't get a commission on my own purchase, I bought it after visiting The Opossum Society of the United States which I noticed was an Amazon Associate after doing research there for my post on finding an opossum in the back yard.

Naturally, Amazon was very slow so after ordering it two weeks ago it took 8 days to arrive, by which time I was out of town. So I didn't actually get it until Dad's birthday on Wednesday. The TX has many advantages over my old m515. It has a faster processor, larger high resolution screen (the graffiti area is usable screen space now), can accept up to 4 GB SD cards, and best of all has WiFi capability, allowing it to tap in to wireless networks.


There are disadvantages too. It is a little larger than the m515 and has a plastic case and a cheap synthetic flip cover instead of the m515's aluminum case and leather cover, but that's a small price to pay for a far superior screen and features. A big problem is that with Palm OS 5, a lot of older programs stopped working, or worse, cause the TX to crash. Palm has fixed this somewhat by preventing programs with known conflicts from loading, but because the Palm has been an open development platform, there are too many programs to keep up with. Unfortunately, the Vertical Curve Program I wrote is bad (I compiled it using CASLSoft which had a lite version that would let you write a small program without buying the software, but now puts an UNAUTHORIZED warning up instead). For some more popular programs I was able to download a new version that would still work fine, like BigClock. Some programs that you used to have to pay for, like the Noah Pro dictionary, are now free. My favorite doc reader, CSpotRun, does not seem to work, so now I am using eReader. Some of my SmartList databases didn't migrate over, but I beamed them over from my old Palm and they were fine.

So that was certainly a time-consuming process. The other big disadvantage is that Palm lost their lawsuit against Xerox and had to discontinue the Graffiti handwriting recognition program. They now have Graffiti 2 which is more natural to use, but is slower and I have to retrain myself to use it. I found a hack where you can load the old Graffiti software and override Graffiti 2, but once installed the Palm wouldn't boot up and I had to erase it completely to make it work again.

I had to wait until this weekend to try the WiFi capabilities since I couldn't get on to the protected system at work. But I was able to get on pretty easily to the networks at Mom and Dad's house and at Susan's house. The built-in web browser, Blazer, crashed a couple of times, but is okay. For some reason the white background of my blog entries is overwritten by the dark brown background and I can't make out links which appear as the same color, a real problem on my archives page which is all links. Also the banner artwork doubles up for some reason (I see two pictures tiled vertically in the banner). I download the blog on AvantGo, so it isn't a big deal. AvantGo looks a lot better with the new device and software. Single and double quotes had stopped showing up on the New York Times feed with the old Palm (sometimes that could be confusing) and now they are back. With WiFi access I can update AvantGo and it is faster than doing so over dialup at home. One problem with web pages in general are that they are very complicated and there is a lot of script and graphics that need to load. Even my Yahoo home page has 155k of data to download. Some sites have simplified versions of their sites available for PDA and mobile phone users, but I haven't gotten that far into it yet.

Another big part of my plan was to get a great big SD card and load tons of songs on it. Since I always carry my Palm, this would be like having a MP3 player that was infintesimally small, but still had 320x480 screen. The 2 GB nano is $149, but I was able to get a 2 GB SD card at Fry's for only $20 after a $20 rebate. I figured I could put about 500 songs on it which would be about 40 CD's. But instead I just took a couple of my favorite songs from each of my CD's and loaded those onto the card. That way I can set the Pocket Tunes software on shuffle. As long as I have headphones I can listen to music (it has a built-in speaker but it sounds terrible). I can also plug it into my car which I already outfitted with a mini cable for the iPod. So that's pretty nice and beats carrying around an iPod. The problem is that I have bought nearly 200 songs from iTunes which I would love to have on the Palm but can't because of copy protection software (or I could burn them to CD and convert them to MP3, with some loss in quality).

Anyway, so far I am pretty happy with the TX.

October 16, 2006

Advertising Dilemma

I just checked my advertising stats and saw that I had gotten 21 ad clicks today. That's a huge number of clicks, maybe the most ever. I checked further and found that 18 of them came from the DeJumbler page. I thought there must be a really good ad on that page, so I paid it a visit. Interestingly enough, there was an ad for Word Unscrambler web sites, or at least a site that would show you the "top eight" word unscramblers (the ad only seems to show up if you search for word unscramblers on Google and then follow Google's search results to my page). Competitors! It's like Honda advertising on Ford's web site. I thought about writing and asking for this advertiser not to be listed on my web page.

Then I snapped out of my competition mentality and thought that, in terms of money anyway, I make nothing if they use my DeJumbler, but I do make money when people click on ads. So really the point of the web page is to get people to click ads, not unscramble words. Of course I would rather they use the DeJumbler, which is free, but it may not work for everyone (you have to have Word and you have to be able to enable macros).

October 15, 2006

Remote Control Computer

A while back I was trying to convert an old Powerbook to a digital picture frame. After I burned a delicate cable, I pretty much gave up. Plus the price of thin monitors was coming way down, to the point that I could get a 17-inch monitor supporting millions of colors (vs. the Powerbook's 12-inch screen supporting thousands of colors) for only $150. The other part of that was that when I bought my desktop computer I had gotten a card that supported dual monitors, so I could also use it for that if I wanted. (I have two monitors at work and love it, but I tried two monitors at home and just didn't feel like it was all that beneficial. I have more applications open at once at work.)

To make a slide show, the first thing I had to do was convert a bunch of pictures to the correct dimensions. The bad part was that if I wanted to use the full screen I couldn't use vertical pictures. My idea with the picture frame was that I would set up two folders, one with landscape pictures and one with portrait pictures. Then I could rotate the picture frame when I wanted to switch between the two.

The monitor I bought had speakers built in which brought up the possibility of running iTunes on the computer that would support the monitor and having music accompany the slide show (really just a screensaver that automatically starts after a minute of no activity). I would want to hide the computer, keyboard and mouse someplace (very close by since my cables are only six feet long) but maybe I could control the computer via a remote control.

I found several remotes that would do this. Some were meant to control slideshow presentations and were very expensive. I also wanted to use infra-red so that I could have my universal remote operate it. Really I didn't even want the remote itself, just the IR pickup and software, but I couldn't find that anywhere.

I hid the computer behind my TV and put the monitor on my DVD player for now. I ran sound to the monitor, but, as expected, it sounded horrible over the tiny cheap speakers built in to the cheap monitor. Since I have a receiver for the surround sound system, it made sense that I would use that instead and it sounded a lot better over some normal speakers.

I had to download an upgrade for my remote that would emulate the Streamzap remote. And that meant downloading all the latest JP1 programs so that I could transfer the upgrade to the remote (I hadn't messed around with that since I got my computer last year). Even though Streamzap required a new protocol to be put on the remote as well as its own settings, I got it to work on the first try.

I love my remote. Unfortunately they don't make them anymore and Walmart doesn't sell the latest models. Now they have a much fancier remote that has an LCD screen to walk you through setting up the remote (for learning commands, setting up macros, etc.) and it can download upgrades by holding the remote up to the phone when technical support tells you to. I'm still amazed that a $20 remote can do that (but it is even bigger than the already huge remote I have now, plus it takes six AAA batteries). Today I saw a universal remote advertised for $350. I don't know why anyone would pay that much.

Anyway, it worked great. I have a button on the remote that can be used to start iTunes and then I can change the volume, skip songs, etc. from the couch. I can actually navigate iTunes as well, but not easily and I can't read the screen from the couch anyway. I have it play random songs from the 4,000+ song libarary and skipping songs via the remote doesn't cause the screensaver to stop.

Eventually I'd like to put this monitor on the wall in a frame like I originally intended. Then I could run power and a monitor cable through the wall so that it would appear cordless. Computers are kind of noisy so I might put the computer itself in the kitchen (attic is probably too hot) so the monitor could play without hearing a fan and hard drive.

Eventually I hope Apple will make all of this a lot easier, but clearly I'm not there yet.

October 11, 2006

Missing E-mail

About a week ago I got a phone call about a problem on one of my bridges that was under construction. I took down the information and sent an e-mail to the consultant who designed the bridge asking them to analyze it and come up with a solution, keeping track of their labor so we could assess the contractor for the time they spent on the problem. I never heard anything back, so I asked again yesterday morning (thinking I should just call, but e-mail is just so easy, plus I copied his boss and the DOT project manager). The DOT guy was mad that a week had gone by with no answer, so he replied to even more people and said he wanted an answer right away. Still nothing. I called the consultant that afternoon and asked if he had gotten my e-mail. "What e-mail?" he said. I had problems in the past with their company blocking my e-mail so I asked him if he had a personal e-mail address I could send it to. He still didn't get it. I told him I would just print it out and fax it to him.

After I faxed it, I went over the e-mail to see if I could find anything that might have flagged the mail as spam (one time I used the word "free" in a subject line and it was blocked). In the very last sentence I found the problem: I had left the "s" off of "assess". An automatic courtesy censor had prevented my e-mails from ever leaving the building.

October 8, 2006

Mmmmmm Pie

I've been taking MARTA to and from work forever. And for maybe all of that time MARTA has run two-car trains that go from Bankhead Station on a short spur northwest of downtown to King Memorial just east of my destination station, Georgia State. Sometimes the trains run two stations further, going to Candler Park station. I would never take those short trains though since I would just have to get off later and wait.


But a month or so ago, there was an electrical fire or something that caused MARTA to shut down at the Inman Park station. A woman at work was on her way home in her car and called us to say she had seen hundreds of people outside the Georgia State MARTA station and be aware there were problems. We have a window that looks out towards the MARTA tracks and it didn't appear there were any trains running. Eventually I was able to snag a ride with someone so that I didn't have to get stuck at MARTA or wait forever for a bus bridge like last year. On the way we saw all of these people walking home. It was like something out of a movie (or a New York blackout). It would probably take me over an hour, but I could walk home if I really had to. By the time we left work, our car was full of other stranded MARTA riders.

Anyway, after that I started thinking that even if the train only went a few stations towards home, that if there was a problem, at least I would be that much closer to home and have to walk less. So if the train goes to Candler Park, now I go ahead and get on it. This has turned out to be pretty good. The short trains seem more likely to be refurbished and have fewer people on them. And one nice advantage is the Candler Park station is right next to the Edwards Pie Company bakery. So if the wind is blowing right and the factory is operating, the whole station smells like pie.

October 2, 2006

Netflix Recap

Today I cancelled my Netflix membership after 4 months. In that time I saw 45 movies, so the average was 11 movies per month under the 2 movie at a time plan. That's a lot of movies to watch and I also wrote reviews of the recent ones on my website. This is about the same as I was able to watch the first time around when I could get three movies at a time.

Movies that I really enjoyed included Wedding Crashers, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Munich, Proof, The Last Samurai, Koyaanisqatsi, Garden State, Creature Comforts, Mystic River, Spellbound, United 93, Suicide Kings, and Riding Giants. So that's 14 really good movies.

Disappointments included Fog of War, Kill Bill Vols 1 and 2, Hotel Rwanda, Better Off Dead, Beyond the Sea, 24 Season 1, History of the World - Part 1, Secondhand Lions, Indiscreet, and Tombstone. Even so, I am glad I saw most of those.

Because Netflix doesn't allow you to cancel effective the end of the month, you have to wait until the end of the monthly period (mine is on the 4th of each month) or else they'll stop sending you things. I sent back movies Thursday and Saturday which they received today, so I waited for them to send out my next selections before cancelling. That way I got two more movies out of it. I don't feel bad because I think they were trying to slow me down. They only sent two movies from out-of-state distribution centers, but one recently came from Worcester, Massachusetts and took 9 days to arrive. In fact, I reported it lost after a week and they sent me another movie the following day. One of the movies arrived broken and that was the only unplayable one. And the dogs didn't eat any (last time they ate two DVD's as they were shoved through the mail slot).

The service was decent, but everything depends on the turnaround time. If you could count on one-day shipping every time then you could potentially watch 4 movies per week, even though Netflix is closed on weekends. While I came close to doing that early on, later on the shipping times were typically 2 days. I think they would wait to process movies they received from me and would wait until late in the day to ship movies so that I wouldn't get them the next day. I don't think the out-of-state ones were intentionally malicious, but I do think they should let you know in advance if they know they don't have a movie on hand locally. Apparently there was a class action lawsuit on them slowing things down, even though they claim "unlimited" movies in a month. In my case "unlimited" was 13, the number of movies I watched the first month. Subsequent months, the total went down to 11, 11, and 10.

I would definitely consider doing this again next summer. Since you can rent seasons of TV shows (one disk at a time) you can get caught up on shows like The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, which would beat most of whatever else is on TV in the summer.

Here are all of the movies that I watched:

6-6: Wedding Crashers
6-7: March of the Penguins
6-10: Sin City
6-11: Enron: Smartest Guys
6-14: Dodgeball
6-15: Kill Bill, Vol 1
6-18: Seven Samurai
6-20: Fog of War
6-22: Kill Bill, Vol 2
6-24: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
6-27: Hotel Rwanda
7-1: Constant Gardener
7-2: Better Off Dead
7-6: History of Violence
7-8: Munich
7-13: Proof
7-14: Beyond the Sea
7-19: Last Samurai
7-22: Koyaanisqatsi
7-23: 24 Season 1 Disk 1
7-26: Garden State
7-28: Syriana
8-1: Munich (bonus mat'l)
8-5: Creature Comforts
8-8: 24 Season 1 Disk 2
8-10: Tristram Shandy
8-12: City of God
8-16: Alien Saga (documentary)
8-20: History of the World Pt. 1
8-21: Mystic River
8-25: Spellbound (documentary)
8-27: Laura
8-30: Matchstick Men
9-2: Secondhand Lions
9-3: Dogtown and Z-Boys
9-9: Young Frankenstein
9-10: United 93
9-12: Suicide Kings
9-16: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
9-18: Riding Giants
9-27: Three Days of the Condor
9-30: Indiscreet
10-2: The Thing
10-5: Tombstone
10-6: Cinderella Man

This was my queue at as of the time of cancelling. Seven of these were in my original queue of 25 movies I wanted to watch and kept getting bumped down in priority (marked with a *):

  1. The Cooler
  2. Lord of War
  3. The Royal Tenenbaums*
  4. All the President's Men
  5. Dirty Pretty Things
  6. Mulholland Drive
  7. American Splendor
  8. Seven Up / 7 Plus Seven*
  9. My Dog Skip
  10. Maria Full of Grace
  11. I, Robot*
  12. Bloody Sunday
  13. Brokeback Mountain*
  14. Mr. and Mrs. Smith*
  15. Charade
  16. The Producers
  17. Bubble Boy*
  18. Chariots of Fire
  19. New York Doll
  20. Pitch Black
  21. The Arrival / The Arrival 2
  22. Tears of the Sun
  23. The Sum of All Fears*
  24. Empire of the Sun
  25. Tuesdays with Morrie
  26. Diamond Men
  27. CSA: Confederate States of America
  28. BASEketball
  29. Baraka
  30. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid
  31. The Rookie
  32. The Parallax View
  33. The Notorious Bettie Page
  34. Brick

October 1, 2006

Amazon Q3 Results

I didn't do as well as last quarter with Amazon, but still was able to earn $168.41 on sales of 148 items worth $3,825.51. August was a particularly bad month for sales and, for the first time, my Google AdSense revenue exceeded the Amazon commissions (AdSense has been doing really well lately with revenue of $40-$50 a month). So traffic was strong, there just weren't that many people buying stuff. August probably isn't a big sales month anyway, plus Apple hadn't released anything new in a long time. But they did introduce some new iPods in September and sales started doing better.

The Belkin battery pack continues to be the best seller, with 58 sales of that one model (it continues to fluctuate in price between $20 when I make a lot of sales and $24 or $30 when sales drop way off). Second was the Griffin TuneJuice with 5, and the EZGear Powerstick and Maxell Battery Pack with 4 each. My iPod to Sony car stereo page has links to some products including some new adapters at reasonable prices. I sold several of those this quarter. The most expensive item was a Swiss watch. But someone bought 9 computer mice which added up to a lot too. The lowest priced item was a used book that sold for $0.50. I made three cents on that one. Some of the associates who sell a lot of books complain about that because those sellers are practically giving away the product and making their money on shipping, for which there is no commission. Amazon has started selling groceries and I registered a sale of a couple of cases of macaroni and cheese, along with a case of cookies.

Even though Apple introduced a new version of the 5G iPod, I will still hold off until January if necessary waiting for a widescreen video iPod. If they don't introduce anything by then I might get a 5G anyway. Also, I am hoping Palm will release an upgraded wifi Palm in October, but if they don't I will probably get the Palm TX and a 2GB SD card to put MP3's on.

Of course, if you buy anything from Amazon, please follow one of my links, like this one: