Thursday, February 24, 2011

Portable Power

I admit it. I travel with a lot of gadgets on a daily basis, but it's even worse when I'm jetting off somewhere. It doesn't matter if it's business or pleasure, in addition to my phone and Kindle, I usually have my Nintendo DS stashed away, and my laptop is always near at hand. But the catch is that while I usually try to make sure everything is charged before I leave to go anywhere, sometimes I forget, or sometimes it's a long enough trip with no plug-in access that I find myself with tech that's starting to die.

For my phone and my Kindle, in particular, this has been a problem. On the phone, when I'm traveling it gets constant use, from checking emails to making calls to checking my schedule and confirmation numbers. My battery is pretty good and lasts all day with normal use. When traveling, however, I'm lucky to still be on and in use by the end of the work day. For the Kindle, it's usually more that I forget to plug it in, or thing it has more charge than it does. The worst was getting on a 12-hour international flight, pulling out the Kindle, and discovering it was completely dead.

However, some of my worries about power on the go are gone now. At a recent trade show, I came across a small company called Chargeology selling portable power packs. I admit, I walked by the booth a few times, tried plugging in my phone to see it if would actually work, and looked for reasons to walk by just one more time. Finally, on the last day of the show, I decided the $100 was an investment I really needed to make.

I haven't regretted it since.

The power packs come in two sizes. The small one is good for pretty much everything except laptops. The larger one will charge laptops as well. Since the bulk of what I wanted to plug in were small electronics like my phone, and I wanted to be able to carry it with me easily, I decided on the smaller version, although at some point I would like to get the bigger one to keep in with my travel gear for use mainly on long flights.

The small charger is about the size of a deck of cards, maybe slightly larger. It weighs about the same as my phone, and it came in a pouch for storage. It also came with a charging cable for the device, and a 10-in-one cable for plugging devices into it. The 10-in-one actually has plugs for pretty much all my gadgets except my DS, which is sad, but they had told me when I bought it that they actually do sell a 12-in-one that has the correct connection for a DS, but they were sold out of them at the show. It's a minor issue, but I'll probably eventually see about getting the 12-in-one. The cable itself is short, which is good since the biggest use for it is to plug in the phone while you're still using it. I just set my phone on top while it's charging and continue to use it as normal.

The unit has one input port for charging itself, and two USB ports for plugging in and charging devices. This makes it nice, since even if you don't want to use the cable it comes with, or you have a device that uses a different type of connection, as long as it's USB you're good to go. I also like that it has two ports, so you can have multiple things plugged in at the same time, such as my phone and Kindle.

It takes roughly 8 hours to go from completely dead to a full charge on the power pack itself. I've never run completely out of power on the thing, however, so I'll usually plug it in to top it off before a trip, which varies based on how much I used it since the last charge. The company says it will last a few days as the primary power source for a device, and I believe them. From what I've seen, I could probably run my phone off of it for close to a week without any issues. I have noticed, though, that it doesn't give as much power as you could get plugged into a standard type of charging port. Unless the phone is off, I find it tends to hold my current charge steady rather than refill it. I would like to see even a slow increase in the phone's charge over time, but it's a minor issue, since I use it as emergency power when something dies rather than a primary charging source.

All in all, this little device has become something I don't leave home without. There's a great deal of peace of mind knowing I won't be stranded somewhere with a dead cell phone, or on another long flight with no Kindle, ever again. It lets me work and play how I want, without constantly having to adjust my behaviors for a battery. If you do any kind of traveling, and you carry any kind of gadgets, this is an investment you need to make.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jetblue Update

I am happy to report Jetblue did the right thing. I got a letter in the mail yesterday that they're going to settle my claim for pretty much what I said the laptop was worth. It was a little lower, but not enough to make me scream. It was actually about $20 more than I thought they would give me, honestly. So I signed the agreement form, and it's going back out to them today so they'll cut me the check. Once it comes in, I'll use it to pay off the new laptop I had to put on the credit card. The new one is about $200 more than what they're reimbursing me, but that's okay. It wasn't a huge upgrade, but I did get the best I could afford when I replaced it, and I'm willing to put the little bit of extra into it. I'm just glad they didn't try to deny the claim, or offer me an insulting amount. Jetblue, you have just earned another chance! You'll continue to be one of my top two airline choices because you did the right thing by me!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Brand New Car!

Okay, other than my horrible Price is Right impression, it's been a good day overall. Last night, I got a new car! I upgraded my 2008 Hyundai Tuscon to the 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe. The Tuscon was still working great, but Hyundai had some great trade-in incentives, and the Santa Fe had some great upgrades.

I won't go into all the "car stuff" here, since that's not what this blog is about. I'll just say it's rides great, and I really do like having that little bit of extra space upgrading models got me. But why I'm posting about it here is the tech upgrades.

First of all, the new models come with Bluetooth integration, which is amazing. I live in NY where it's now not just a fine, but points on your license if you get caught talking on the phone while driving without a headset. I have a headset, but it's dead more often than not. So this is a huge one for me. I have to say, the integration with my phone address book isn't as strong as I would have liked, though. In Gmail, I have all my contacts sorted by last name first, although it's sorted first name first (don't ask me why, ask Google). When the listings transferred to the car, they went last name first, and require you to say it that way. Which is really, really weird. I switched how Gmail sorts my contacts this afternoon, and I'll re-sync it tonight before I drive home, so we'll see if it's as simple a fix as that. If not, my OCD over data organization will probably require me to just program the numbers I use regularly directly into the car so I can avoid having to find people backward.

The second major upgrade for me was the actual iPod integration. I was one of those people still using an FM transmitter to use my iPod in the car, and, especially here in NY, finding a clear station was a challenge. I actually unscrewed the antenna off the Tuscon to cut down on the number of stations I could get, which drove my husband crazy when he took the car. It helped, but I still got a lot of snap, crackle and pop, and it wasn't in my breakfast cereal. So major, major points to Hyundai for that option, which wasn't available on any of the models when I got the Tuscon three years ago. My only real beef with it is that the ability to shuffle songs resets every time you do something like take a call or turn the car off. I always have my playlists on shuffle, so it's a minor annoyance to have to constantly turn it back on, but it's not big enough to make me want to hurt anything.

In addition to the iPod connection, I am digging the steering wheel controls. The car came with Hyundai's iPod cable, so I didn't have to buy it separate, and by using theirs, I can take full advantage of the steering wheel buttons, including changing tracks on my iPod and volume control. It also has all he Bluetooth buttons and cruise control, all right there in reach. Again, this wasn't available on any of the models I looked at in 2008, so I was pretty excited to find them in my new car.

The car also has more power plugs than the Tuscon did, which is always nice. I not only have my iPod, but I also charge my phone whenever I'm in the car (I have the phone set up to automatically turn on bluetooth when it's plugged in there, so it makes it convenient). In the Tuscon, that required having a splitter for the one power/lighter port I had in the front dash. Now, I have the usb/aux port for the iPod, a dedicated power plug for the phone, and a lighter/power plug there if I need it. Plus a few others scattered around the car. So next year, when I go on that long road trip to Florida, I can bring my laptop and watch movies! I already have the car charger for it, I just didn't have any spare plugs when I tried to use it. I still have my splitter, too, so if my husband decided to use his GPS on that long trip, we still have plugs for all.

There are other things I love about the new car, but I wanted to share my thoughts about the new tech here. I sat in the car too late last night playing, and I was out there again at lunch today messing with settings. Lets just hope I don't find a way to root the car, since I'm pretty sure bricking that would have far greater consequences than it would if I break my phone or computer....

So far so good with CM 7RC1

Well, there are a few small hiccups, but overall, I'm still really liking CM 7.0RC1. I did have to find and flash the newest radio for my phone to fix a wifi and gps connectivity issue, but that's been the biggest bug. I am also experiencing a bug that has supposedly been fixed in a later nightly version where my rotary lock screen and the gingerbread buttons both appear over one another on my call screen. Not a big deal since it hasn't caused any problems yet, but it's not enough to make me want to flash a nightly to fix it. I'll be content to wait for RC2.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cyanogenmod 7 - First Impressions

With the release of the official RC version of Cyanogenmod 7 this week, I figured I would post my initial impressions of the new Android ROM for those of us who eschew carrier ROMs for those of our own choosing.

First of all, installation wasn't as smooth as I would have liked. I first tried ROM Manager (I have the premium version) to apply the update like I did to go to other versions of CM6. I found it installed CM7, but not the latest Google Apps (gapps) package. After a few tries and restores to a backup I had made before starting anything (always do a Nandroid backup before mucking about with anything!) I finally decided to stop trying to use ROM Manager. I downloaded the files for CM7 and gapps, and put them on my SD card before booting into Clockworkmod's Recovery mode. From there, I applied the ROM, and then gapps, then rebooted.

Still not working.

So after a fresh restore, I tried it again, this time clearing the cache and factory wiping the data before applying the updates. This time I got everything installed, but my wireless was flaky. I was getting an error that, if you do a little poking around, comes up from time to time, where WiFi goes into a Scanning > Connecting > Disconnecting > Scanning loop. I rely heavily on my Wifi, so that was a problem.

Getting frustrated, I restored back to CM 6.1.1, and set it aside for a bit. Of course, I couldn't leave it there, though, so I went looking for solutions, and found a suggestion for a previous version of CM with this problem to try restoring the WiFi Access points from the TItanium Backup version, since it could just be the file getting corrupted somewhere along the line. So I made sure my Titanium Backup (again, I use the pro - I like to support the devs of apps I use a lot) was up to date for that file, then did the manual wipe and install version again.

I have no idea if the Titanium fix might work - because of course, my WiFi worked perfectly fine this time.

So on to my actual impressions. First of all, whether it's a point for Gingerbread or CM7, I LOVE that everything, absolutely everything, can be moved to the SD card now. Even the Google Apps. Before, anything deemed a "system" app would return an error if you tried to move it. Now, there are no problems at all, and I just freed up a TON of space on my phone hard drive. Yay! I also like that some of the things I don't use, like QuickOffice, that were part of CM6, are no longer part of the install. Overall, it's a much more streamlined package, so you can just install the things you want, rather than having to deal with extraneous stuff hogging the drive space.

Second, I love the new overall look of CM7. I use LauncherPro as my home replacement, which I like over ADW because One: I paid for it; and Two: I live and die by my calendar, and LauncherPro's agenda widget rocks. So some of the look and feel is the same on my phone simply because I'm using the same skin over the top. Where I notice the biggest difference is in the notifications bar. It's now black with white text instead of the reverse, which actually makes it easier to read. I've never been a big fan of darker themes, so I was skeptical about that, but it really does make the little icons stand out much more, making them easier to see at a glance. The bar has also tweaked the icons themselves, making them smaller, with a uniform grey/green color scheme that I actually like.

The overall performance so far on CM7 definitely feels much more responsive and zippier. I never had much lag to begin with, but now it just feels like it's flying. I'm looking forward to playing more with some of my more processor-intensive apps to see how they work, but just basic performance boosts is a nice little treat.

I'm a Tmobile customer, so part of the ROM for my phone (MyTouch 3G Slide) is the ability to very easily enable/disable WiFi Calling. I get pretty much no reception at my desk at my day job, but I have a full WiFi signal, so the fact that I can now, with one toggle, tell my phone to use the WiFi network to route calls means I won't have to worry about missing important calls at work ever again. It's a small thing, but a big one, for it to be so seamlessly built in to ROM.

Another nice upgrade is the overall look and feel of the UI. The fonts are cleaner and crisper, and the whole thing just feels more slick and polished. I'm a font junkie to begin with, so seeing them make what to most would probably be a minor or unnoticeable change makes me very happy. I don't think people always realize how big a different fonts make to how you perceive a UI.

That's all for now, but as I play with it more, I'll update here about the pros and cons of CM7. I have to say, right now, I can't see any cons to upgrading other than a few installation hiccups. If you're a root user and/or a Cyanogenmod lover, this is definitely going to be an upgrade that makes you happy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Still no update on the laptop...

Jetblue is telling me that they have 45 days to resolve my claim. They have all my documentation, so now it's just a waiting game, which is annoying. I had to use the credit card to buy a new laptop for work, since I couldn't wait that long. I'm really hoping they wrap this up more quickly than a month and a half so I can pay off that bill. Grrr.

And as an update on the Android situation, I've figured out what I did! I just can't leave well enough alone, so one of the applications I'm trying to uninstall to make more space is what's causing the boot loop. I've figured out it's not a completely broken root, however, and I now have automatic ROM backups once a week so when I inevitably do something stupid again, I'll be able to restore a fairly recent version of an OS that worked, along with three-times-weekly updates of all my apps and data. So at most, I'll only have a week-old ROM with data that's a few days outdated. Not too bad, and the piece of mind was worth paying for the premium version of ROM Manager. That's the version that comes with automated backups, as well as easier finding and installing of new ROMs. Whoo hoo for phone tweaking with confidence of a restore when you mess it up!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I haven't meant to neglect you!

Okay, things have been absolutely crazy the last few weeks, both in my regular life, as well as in my tech life.

First of all, my FitBit got lost. I was wearing it at an event I was attending in the Dominican Republic, covering the grand opening of the new Hard Rock resort for my day job. I had it in the afternoon, but when I got back to my room that night, it was gone. Given how I gush over it here, it's no surprise that I was pretty upset. I went to lost & found on the off chance someone might have turned it in, but no dice. There was a happy ending, however. I wrote to FitBit, and, while it's not normally their policy to replace missing units, in exchange for some detailed feedback on everything from the device to the Web site to the mobile login, they agreed to send me a new one! Just another reason to seriously love not only the product, but the company as well. I won't say they're perfect, but they are seriously good people who seem to love their product and believe in it, and they want to make it better and make people happy.

Seriously, go buy one. Now.

Now, the second major tech malfunction was on this same trip. Getting on the plane to head home, I dutifully turned off my phone. Understand, I have a tendency to just put it in airplane mode and forget it, but my battery was low, so I decided to shut it off this time. I carry a portable power pack for just such an emergency, so I plugged it in to charge, stuck it in my bag, and forgot about it until about an hour out from landing. I had been reading my Kindle, and I finished my book, so I thought I'd turn my phone back on to check the charge and maybe play a little angry birds before it went back into airplane mode for landing. Instead of booting up as expected, though, it hung on the loading screen. And hung. And hung. About 10 minutes later, I pulled the battery, and thus started a frantic effort to get my phone back up and running. I even went so far as to try and put it into recovery, but got nothing. Nada. Zip. Just a black screen with a little red triangle and exclamation point. When I landed, I couldn't call anyone to let them know I was safe, I couldn't even get to my GPS to tell me how to get home from the airport. Fortunately, I remembered sort of how to get home, and the road signs got me the rest of the way, but it was a lot more nerve wracking than it needed to be.

So, I get home, no phone, FitBit gone, a frantic husband and mother both worried since I had promised to call them when I landed but they hadn't heard from me. I reassure everyone, get sympathy for my sad phone, and decide to pull out my laptop and do some research to see if I can figure out what might be causing my phone to be fubar, and better yet, how to fix it from the basic recovery menu which is all I could get to. I open my suitcase and... no laptop.

It had been stolen.

I just wanted to bang my head against a wall at that point. I pretty much never check my laptop when I fly because I'm a paranoid person when it comes to stuff like that. However, in this particular instance, I had been warned that getting through security in the Dominican Republic was a pain without electronic toys, and having them would just make it worse. So I decided, just this once, to let my laptop out of my sight.

Yeah, big mistake. Won't do that again.

So now I'm on the phone with Jetblue and JFK airport, who are bouncing me back and forth between them, for half the night trying to get someone to take responsibility and reimburse me for my laptop that wasn't even a year old yet. Whether it was stupidity on my part for checking it or not (it was) the fact remains that their security was so lax somewhere along the line, someone was able to just help him or herself to my bags. What's to say they couldn't slip something in while they were at it? Why am I forced to practically disrobe and submit to a full body search every time I get on a plane if the baggage people are getting free reign to do whatever they want? Yeah, no.

Finally, I get passed along the line in Jetblue to a case worker in their lost baggage department. I had to file a lot of paperwork and provide receipts and proof that I actually did own a laptop and proof of how much it cost me when I bought it. As of writing this, the last I heard it was in processing, and I'm still waiting to hear back as to when they're going to reimburse me for what they allowed to be stolen, and for how much. Once I have a resolution there, you can believe I will post about it here.

Now, I found myself with basically no technology whatsoever. I really didn't sleep well that night and woke up twitching.

At work, where there is a computer and blessed Internet access, I came in a little early and was able to run some Google searches to determine that, for some reason, I was missing a file in my boot sequence. Once I got that put back on the SD card, I was able to actually get the recovery to work, and booted back into the phone. As a stock Tmobile, unrooted Android. Somewhere in fixing it, the stupid thing had lost root.


So, then I had to go find instructions on how to re-root my phone, this time from a Mac, since that's what I use at work (I'm a staunch PC girl. And don't tell me it's because I don't know any better. I use a Mac all day at work, and most days I want to throw it through a window before all is said and done.) It took a few tries, but I finally managed to get it re-rooted, and then get my Cyanogenmod 6.1 reinstalled as my ROM. Fortunately, I also run Titanium Backup on a regular automatic schedule, so other than some lost Angry Birds save game files that didn't get backed up for some reason, everything else was restored. At least I had a phone again.

That was all several weeks ago, and I'm still waiting to hear back from Jetblue. I really can't afford to buy a new computer without compensation for the one I had stolen, but this week, something came up that I had to be able to type out a document from home. Not to mention, I just picked up a new blogging freelance job this week that sort of also requires me to have a computer at home. So off to Best Buy and more money on my credit card that I really shouldn't spend. With luck, Jetblue will do the right thing and send me a check for the cost of the laptop I lost. If that happens, I'll pay off the credit card balance and praise them forever. If not, they're going to have one very angry journalist on their hands....

So that has been my journey over the last few weeks. It's been something of a surreal Murphy's Law of a time, and I really hope nothing like this happens again. I can't begin to describe how horrible it feels to realize you are completely cut off with no computer or cell phone. I'll update here once I get some final resolution from Jetblue!