Friday, December 31, 2010

Getting Fit

This is the resolution for just about everyone, every year, isn't it? Get healthier, loose weight, etc. And it's mine again this year, but the difference is that I'm using geeky tools to try and help me get there.

I've been using to track, off and on, what I eat. There's a wealth of information there, and I love the site, but staying motivated to keep it up has been an issue for me. Last night, I bought a brand new Fitbit. This is basically like a pedometer on steroids, that tracks everything from your steps to estimating calories burned, to tracking your sleep patterns. In short, it is the geek's pedometer! I have been wanting one for a while, and I'm really excited that I finally got one. I have it on now, and over the next few weeks, I plan to cross-track on both sparkpeople and the fitbit site.

I'll post updates here as I go on how I like it, how it works, and how close I'm sticking to my goals of doing 5-10 minutes per day of some kind of exercise, along with trying to get up and walk around more in general. Here's hoping for a healthier 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The No-CES-For-Me Blues

As CES draws ever closer, I'm really bummed I'm not going. I've never been to CES, but I trade shows for my day job pretty regularly, and this is one I've always wanted to attend. This year, seeing as I'm the technology editor for my magazine, I even applied for, and recieved, press credentials. However, sadly, I couldn't convince my editor that this is something he needed to pay for airfare and hotel for me to go to.

My magazine is a trade for the hospitality industry, and my arguements that technology introduced at CES will impact hotels down the line just wasn't enough to sway him. So I sit here getting all the releases about new products I can't check out yet, and briefings I can't attend, while my shiny badge sits on my desk and mocks me.

One of these years, I WILL make it to CES. I will find a way.

My Android app list

App List on AppBrain

For anyone curious about what I'm currently playing with on my phone.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Road Trip From Hell

Okay, I'm going to preface this by noting that we make this drive every year. We know how long it takes, and we know to leave a few hours of flex time for traffic. We've also done it in bad weather, so that wasn't new either.

Tampa to Long Island. In a car. With a teenager. For Christmas.

The drive down couldn't have been any more perfect. Good weather, not much traffic. We beat our previous best time. The visit itself was amazing. I love seeing the family, and it was just nice to be back home for a few days. I've lived on Long Island for 6 years now, and I still hate the cold and snow, and I still consider myself a Floridian. I was born and bred there, and I'll probably always be a native. So getting home for the holidays is always nice, and even more so now that I have a husband and step-son who love it as much as I do, and whom my family loves too.

But the trip back home was bad. Hellishly bad. So bad, that both my husband and I were on the brink of synchronized nervous breakdowns by the time we finally got home.

First of all, the traffic. I think the whole world has gone insane. It's like people get behind the wheel, and immediately start trying to play bumper cars. We were in more near-miss accidents than I have ever been in before. People not paying attention, people cutting people off, people weaving between lanes... And while, by some minor miracle, we managed to avoid being in an accident ourselves, there were many others who weren't so lucky. It felt like we were hitting another dead stop because of an accident every few miles. Seriously. It took us SIX HOURS LONGER to get home than it has ever taken us before.

Second, was the weather. Now, in the southern states, it was beautiful. There was a blizzard that had gone through the whole east coast the day before, but in the south, whatever snow they got was either melted or meticulously cleaned off the highways. So people don't have that excuse for all the accidents. However, once we hit NJ and NY, all bets were off. Yes, they got more snow, but seriously, it's like they've never heard of something called a snow plow. I've never seen a plow job this bad. On major highways, there was barely one lane cleared out of three, and even that was so slick with black ice, we didn't dare get above about 30 mph. My car has 4-wheel drive, so that helped, but we hit quite a few patches of ice and started to skid. My husband was driving and recovered us, but we saw probably 20 cars who weren't so lucky and were stranded in snowbanks along the highways. One one exit, it hadn't even been plowed at all, and there were 4 cars all stuck there, with people standing around outside staring at each other. Keep in mind, this is at around 1am, after a full DAY had gone by since the snow fell.

So we finally get home, frazzled but in one piece. It's about 1:30am at that point, and all we want to do is sleep. We had been up for a little more than 30 hours at that point. My husband was driving because he hates being the passenger, and I can't sleep in cars. The plan was to bring the luggage upstairs, drop it in the kitchen, and everyone go pass out.

It didn't work out that way.

We live in a building owned by my husband's father. He has a real estate office downstairs, and we live upstairs. It works out nice, because we pay less in rent that we could anywhere else on the Island, and he has someone always there to keep an eye on things. When it snows, usually we're home, so my husband will shovel not only our section, but he'll walk around and shovel the office as well, even though their entrance is on the other side of the building. It's common courtesy. So, silly us, we assumed they would do the same since we weren't home for this one. Not so much. We get home to discover no one had told the men hired to shovel to do anything with our area. Our gate was completely blocked, and of course the snow shovel is in the house by the front door, since that's usually where it's needed. We had to dig out the gate with hands and feet to get it open. Once it's open, we find the snow has piled up almost to my waist. We had to wade through it, and then, of course, dig again to get the stairs going up to the door and the door itself clear enough to get in the house. At this point, it's about 2am.

Emptying the car is out of the question, so it's decided we'll actually dig out and do all that after everyone gets some sleep. My husband had taken the day off to recover from the drive, but I was supposed to be in to work in a few hours. I had a personal day I wasn't planning to use, but at that point, I knew even if I did make it in, I would be useless, so I called and left a voicemail that I would see everyone the following day.

We finally make it upstairs, and the apartment is FREEZING. The heat is connected to the downstairs, so I'm pretty sure it was just knocked out at some point, and since we weren't there to notice it, it wasn't discovered until later. Fortunately, all four cats were all okay. That fur comes in handy. We have a little electric space heater we plugged in, so things started to heat up a bit. We strip out of the clothes we had been in for 30+ hours and all we want at that point is to fall asleep. But no. The mattress was frozen solid. I didn't even know a mattress could freeze. It's one of those foam styles, and it was hard as a board. We had to sit around and wait for the space heater to warm things up enough to at least start to get it soft again before we could go to sleep. We ended up laying down when it was still hard, but at that point, being uncomfortable was less important than just laying our bodies down.

We finally get some sleep, but I wake up far earlier the next morning than I had planned because all the stress and wading through snow let the bug I had been fighting off for weeks finally take hold. I had a fever, I couldn't breathe, and my throat was sore. By the end of the day, I had no voice. But that didn't mean I cold rest, because the car was still packed. The boys dug us out, with my step-son doing a lot of the work. Ahh, to be 15 again. And we all pitched in getting everything upstairs, but then we had to unpack and get everything put away. And of course, there's really no food in the house since we hadn't wanted to leave a bunch of stuff to go bad while we were gone. I finally made some soup last night because I was starving, and sat on the couch sipping theraflu until about 8pm. At that point, I was still exhausted and feeling so bad, that I went back to bed. Unfortunately, this cold kept me up since I wasn't all that comfortable and couldn't breathe, but I did manage to get a little sleep.

Everyone is back to work today, but I have a feeling it will take us through the weekend to completely recover. We're all still frazzled and sore and tired from that long, stressful drive. Next year, we're already talking about starting to look for a flight early enough to actually get something we can afford, and barring that, we might just go with Amtrak.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Old Console Emulators

I've been playing video games since the original NES console. In fact, I still have the cartridges for several of my favorite SNES games stashed away somewhere to this day. I just couldn't bring myself to get rid of them every time I've come across them in a bout of cleaning. So today I decided to try dowloading the free version of SNesdroid and ROM Gripper to find and try out one of the SMES games I remember most fondly to this day (and yes, it is one of the cartridges I still have.) Secret of Mana.

I won't get into the actual game or story, since while the graphics and gameplay were a big deal at the time, they've long since been eclipsed by modern technology. I still think the story itself is a good one, and I enjoy the classic RPGs, so for me, it was worth checking out.

I have discovered that I really hate on-screen D-pads. This might be a deal breaker for me, unfortunately. Because the D-pad and attack buttons are on opposite sides of the screen, it requires a certain amount of coordination. New, again, I've been playing consoles with controllers for a long time, but trying to use a virtual version of them is just weird. For one thing, the D-pad is in the upper left corner. Which means I have to use my thumb to navigate, and the controls aren't really precise. I spent more time trying to get my character to go where I wanted him to than actually playing. I would rather see the D-pad on the right, and my attack buttons on the left, if I have to use them. I know these are ports of old games, but I would love to see someone figure out how to make them touch-ssensitive so I could just tap where I want to go. Not an easy feat, I know, so I won't hold my breath for that one. A girl can dream.

The Rom Gripper app works incredibly well, making it easy to find games, download them, and then it automatically launches the emulator to play. It stores all the data on the SD card, which is a must for this type of data-intensive type of application.

Overall, honestly, as much as I love the old SNES games, and the opportunity to play them again is a big draw, I'll probably uninstall it from my phone. The clunky controls, through no fault of the emulator's developer, are just too awkward to make playing fun. If I have to really concentrate on just moving forward, while I'm getting hammered by enemies I can't get turned around to fight correctly, it just takes the enoyment out of it. This is a category of app I'll definetely revisit as developers find new and better ways to bring old games to new technology, but for now, I'll just stick with games like Pocket Legends, which are designed for touch-screen controls.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Android Apps & Apple Censorship

I'm an Android girl. I tell everyone I meet who dares to start a conversation with me about phones that Android is the superior platform. Mostly because I have major problems with Apple's "gatekeeper" mentality.

By day, I'm a professional writer and editor, and free speech is something I'm passionate about. I take to heart the classic Voltaire quote "I might not like what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." I firmly believe that apps on mobile platforms should not be censored based on an obscure set of beliefs. Not only are they not clear on what will get your application banned at Apple, I think, in general, that people should be allowed to make up their own minds about what they want. I don't need someone else telling me what's appropriate for me to view on the phone I spent my own money on.

A better system, I think, is the Android market. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but instead of someone telling the market what they can have, the market decides for itself what's good and what's not. Apps that are offensive or defective are rated as such by the community of users, and I, as a consumer, can choose to bypass it or download it at my own discretion. I'd like to see a ratings systems, perhaps, where instead of just commenting, users could give an app ratings, to make it even easier to search based on your comfort level, but that's a discussion for another day.

The reason for this little rant is that app developers, the good ones, have been slow to jump on the Android platform. I understand their concerns - Apple has one piece of hardware that they control, so development is fairly easy. Android, on the other hand, has more handsets and versions in the market than I care to go through here. The specs can vary widely between low- and high-end units, and that makes it challenging for developers. I get it. I do.

However, the Android community is growing faster than any other mobile platform. People are flocking to it because of some of the points I've mentioned above. Choice is not a bad thing, and while I personally won't own an iPhone unless someone gives it to me and agrees to pay the monthly bill (Heck, who wouldn't?) that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the choice and the competition that creates. But come on, developers!

Angry Birds from Rovio, the first major polished iPhone game to make the jump, proved how much the market is craving this type of application. Android users want access to the amazing games, utilities and apps iPhone users have access to. My personal list of apps I can't wait to see ported over include the official Starbucks app (I'm a junkie, I admit it), Plants vs Zombies, and Cut the Rope. I was very excited when Angry Birds came over, and I have both the original and Seasons versions on my phone right now. I was also glad to see Chase bank bring it's app to Android, with the incredibly cool ability to deposit checks with the camera. I want to see more of this type of innovation and creativity come to Android.

My wish for the New Year is to see just that. I'll be anxiously awaiting the few points my iPhone-loving friends can hold over my Android heart to slowly dissipate. I hope developers will embrace the platform sooner, rather than later, and bring to Android all of their amazing applications the market is begging for.

The Cutting Edge

We got the 3D system up and running last night, and can I say, seriously cool! We have a Mitsubishi 60" television that was 3D ready, and we had been talking about getting the transmitter and glasses for a while, but just hadn't gotten to it. My husband decided to surprise us for the holidays by getting the whole setup as a family Xmas gift. Seriously cool.

We have a PS3 that doubles as our bluray player, so we are lucky in that regard that we get firmware updates and didn't have to buy a new player to support 3D.

He got the Mitsubishi transmitter, but all the research showed that the Mitsubishi branded glasses were really bad. So instead, we went with the Viewsonic glasses. They are rigid and don't fold, so storage is an issue, but that's the only one.

We put in Despicable Me last night to test it out once we had the whole system set up. It was amazingly crisp and clear, and the 3D is better, I think, than it is in the movie theatres. The colors are vibrant and we didn't have any ghosting problems at all with the Viewsonic glasses. The movie itself did 3D perfectly. Overall, it's used to enhance the experience and create a depth of field that just makes the whole thing feel more alive. I love the movie anyway, and watching it this way just made it even better. For the proverbial cherry on top, there were a few scenes where the picture just seemed to pop out at you and make you say "wow!", but they were sprinkled throughout, and never felt like a copout, or thrown in just to have "something 3D".

I can't wait to go through the rest of the movies in our collection that are 3D, bought knowing we'd eventually have a system to play them. I foresee many movie nights in our household in the next few months...

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Few Random Things

1. I installed Wireless Tether for Root Users on my phone today, and I can't wait to get home and try it out. I've got a road trip coming up, and while I've used my phone in the past to keep in touch with everyone on the drive, being able to surf the Internt in a moving car is seriously cool. Plus, I travel for work quite a bit, and airports are fickle with their WiFi.

2. I'm a long-time Big Fish Games enthusiast. I love Hidden Object games. (BFG, you SERIOUSLY need to come out with some Android games!) In fact, I'm a member of their monthly club, where I agree to buy a game a month for $7. I usually buy 1-3 anyway, so that works out just fine. And, today, I fianlly got the ultimate BFG nirvana - I got the email with instructions on how to get my very own Felix the Fish plushie. It will be here in 2-3 weeks. I will post pictures.

3. My husband rocks. As a family Xmas gift, he surprised us with the setup to have a home 3D theatre. Our TV is 3D-ready, but we needed the transmitter and glasses. They came in today, and by tonight, I hope, we will be watching Despicable Me in a gorgeous three dimensions.

Rooting my Android Phone

So, this past week, I rediscovered how much I love the Android platform. I've been a believer since the G1 was first released, and this year, the poor thing was starting to die. So I needed a new phone, and decided to go with the Tmobile MyTouch 3G Slide. I wanted the hard keyboard, but I've found with SwiftKey I never use it. But that's a post for another day.

I had been running the stock OS on the G1, and since it was basically as pure Android as you could get, I never really felt the need to root. The MyTouch Slide, however, is another story. I had been frustrated with the sheer volume of bloatware on this phone that couldn't be uninstalled, and to make matters worse, Tmobile has been promising an update to Android 2.2 Froyo - with the ability to move applications to the SD card and free up some space - since last summer. Guess what hasn't happened yet.

This week, I finally got fed up with the whole thing. I couldn't run all the apps I wanted to, and I was annoyed with various other things, such as the really horrible contact manager Tmobile was forcing on users of the phone. I did my research on the Web, and ultimately decided to go with CyanogenMod 6.1.1, which had released a root version for the Slide.

As a side note, "root" is a deceptive term. Every phone is a little bit different. The basic process of rooting is the same across pretty much all of them, but the ROMs with all the OS information is different for each phone. Please, please, if you're going to root, make sure you find a ROM that is specifically configured for your phone.

Anyway, I decided to root, and got myself all ready. I can tell you, it was not without trepidation that I began the process, since, frankly, it's not impossible to completely brick your phone doing this. The various developers have created methods that are pretty idiot-proof, but still, you're messing around with things that weren't, strictly speaking, supposed to be messed around with.

I won't go into all the steps I took, since there are some great guides out there (I linked to the ones I used at the bottom of this post). I will say that even having a general idea of coding and what I was doing, I still had some major heart-stopping moments. It also took me the better part of three hours to get it right, since it only takes one mistake to render the process moot and have to start over. (incidentally, those were the times I was terrified I had bricked the phone. It is a horrible feeling to be staring at your phone and not know whether it will boot, or if you've done something irrevocably wrong to it.)

The end result, however, was totally worth the late night of worry. As I mentioning in the beginning of this post, I have rediscovered how much I love Android. The CyanogenMod ROM gives me about as pure a 2.2 experience as you can get, while also offering some fantastic features. For instance, I think I am in love with whomever coded the power widget into the notification bar. Genius! It has also given me access to applications and functions that are impossible without root. My favorite is Titanium Backup, which I got a premium license for. It backs up all the apps AND their data, which is a great feeling for a tech tinkerer like me. I also like that you can link it to dropbox and keep a backup there as well, for some extra insurance.

I also now have access to Apps2SD, which, while not really a root program, does require Froyo, and so was unavailable to me until I took matters into my own hands. I am absolutely loving that I can now keep all the apps I use, even the ones I pull up infrequently, on my phone. It was really a pain to have to constantly uninstall and reinstall applications based on what I needed at the time.

I can't say enough happy things about my phone now. I'm spending more time futzing with it now than I ever did before. If you're on the fence about rooting, I have to say, just go for it. You won't regret it!

Resources I Used:

Hello, and a little about me

Hello, and welcome to my blog, A Geek Girl's Guide to Everything. I decided to start ths blog because I am a female who happens to be a tech geek, and frankly, I get a little frustrated that information about technoogy for women seems to fall into two general categories: pink and bedazzled with absolutely no substance, or taking the approach that you have to be "hard core" and hate all things pink and bedazzled to be a true tech geek.

I hate to break it to the world, but the two are not mutually exclusive.

I happen to like pink. And kittens. And other cute and adorable things. I also happen to like technology. I rooted my Android phone so I could play with the settings. I've fried more than one laptop because I couldn't leave "working as intented" alone. Sometimes I like to be girly and wear dresses, but I always have my trusty technology stashed away in my purse for a moment's notice.

It is possible to like pink and kittens, and have a passion for technology at the same time. It's possible to grin and buy the pink bedazzled item - when it's up to spec - and not loose all credibility as a tech geek. There are a lot of us girls out there who happen to know what we're talking about and who aren't willing to give up our femininity to enjoy being a tech geek.

So that's what this blog is about and who it's for. All my fellow Geek Girls who believe they can have the best of both worlds. I plan to write reviews, comment on trends and what's up and coming, and chronicle my various adventures with technology. I welcome everyone to join in the conversation and be proud to be a Geek Girl!