Category Archives: Random Musings

Android Wars

This post was originally called Tablet Wars. Then I forgot to post it before I ended up with a third tablet. Now I’m on my fourth Android, and the latest isn’t a tablet.

Three Tablets and a Small Android

My first Android was the ViewSonic gTablet that I bought from woot for about $280. When that died, I graduated to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7″ from Best Buy, on sale for $300.  When I returned that, I couldn’t bear to leave the store without another Android and bought the Asus Transformer for $400. Then woot, usually the ones to get rid of old stock, had an exclusive sale for the Samsung Galaxy S Wifi 5.0 for about $180, which isn’t yet released officially in the US. (I’ll refer to this later as the S5 for brevity.) So here is my comparison, what went wrong with the first two, why the last two are the best, and why I can’t stop buying these things.

Hungry for an OS?

The Asus is the only one running the Honeycomb OS, version 3.2, made specifically for tablets (3.x is for tablets). All the others have Froyo 2.2, which I discovered is shorthand for frozen yogurt. (Who already knew that?) All the OS versions have food names: cupcake, donut, eclair, gingerbread, and the future ice cream sandwich.

Size Matters

The gTablet and the Asus are both about 10″. These are measured on the diagonal, so the 7″ Tab seems about half the size of the 10″, and the 5″ is possibly a quarter of the size.

I bought a bag for the gTablet, which also suits the Asus. The Tab fits in my purse. (Not that I use a purse, but I do own a couple. So I used one for a couple weeks for that.) The S5 slides easily into my back pocket. It is the same width as my Palm TX and a little taller. I was not the only person to notice that someone had finally created an Android replacement for the PDA. Palm OS is unfortunately obsolete, but I still rely on my PDA. Once I get all my data out of that and into the S5, I’ll be sad to retire it.

Because the S5 is not a phone, some people are calling it a tablet. I prefer not to, after having three others. I consider a tablet to be much bigger. It’s, you know, tablet sized.

Monitor Matters

The biggest complaint from everyone about the gTablet is it’s viewing angle. As one person put it, for something that is entirely a screen, and from a monitor manufacturer, it should have been better. I really only noticed it while playing games in bed, propped up on my elbow, with the gTab lying flat on the bed.  It did offer more privacy where my neighbors couldn’t see it so well, like on a plane. Other than that, I think they all have beautiful displays.

Charging Matters

The gTablet died just as I started traveling with it. I really wanted to use it all week at a genealogy conference. (I wanted to not bring my laptop, but didn’t feel confident that the gTablet would suit all my needs. Of course, if I didn’t have the laptop, I might not have dropped and killed the gTab…) It was charging, fell off the chair, and the AC plug just disconnected itself from the circuit board. (I dissected it later.) It never charged again. Very sad. But it uses a standard plug and if it was the charger itself that had broken (like I initially thought), I could’ve gotten a replacement at Radio Shack.

The Asus has a proprietary connector for charging. The wire just beyond the connector feels a little flimsy to me. I saw a few complaints online that it stopped working for other people, and a replacement is expensive.

The Galaxy Tab has an apparently very rare but not proprietary plug. The S5 has a standard micro USB.

Market Matters

The gTablet has to be hacked to get to the Google Market, where too many Android apps can only be found. Even then, I still didn’t have access to many apps. The other three come with the Market. I read that the Tab had limited access, and I noticed a couple things missing. The Asus probably has slightly different access also, because it’s a different OS version. The S5 seems to have almost everything.

There are a few apps I’ve found that Market says are incompatible with all of my Androids. The requirements match, so I have no idea what they’re doing.

Typing Matters

All three tablets, even the 7″, are easy enough to use with the on-screen keyboards. The gTablet needs an app to use the bluetooth keyboard that I purchased specifically to use with it. Even then, it has some trouble.

The wifi Tab has the bluetooth keyboard support deliberately deactivated by Samsung. This really bothered me, especially after avoiding the Verizon 3G version (for $100 less) because of the same problem. The 3G has better hardware than the wifi version. I was ready to live with the lesser hardware, but not when I discovered the keyboard issue, which was the reason I returned it.

So when I returned the Tab, I brought my keyboard to the store. I was really there to check out the Acer Iconia because I’d just read there was a 7″ version and I was loving the size of the Tab. I knew the store didn’t have it, but they had the 10″. I ended up turning on the bluetooth on both the Asus and the Acer, and both paired up flawlessly. I decided not to leave the store without another Android and bought the Asus. (The two were virtually identical with only a couple of differences.)

I was incredibly pleased when the keyboard also paired right up with my S5. I learned quickly how to type with the on-screen keyboard, but can’t fathom how people with even smaller screens can type so much.

The Asus does have one advantage when it comes to the bluetooth keyboard. When the keyboard is paired, the on-screen keyboard is hidden. I don’t know if there’s a setting for that on the S5, but I’m sure there’s a hack somewhere. Especially with a smaller device, on-screen real estate is more precious.

Hardware Matters

The hardware inside the gTablet was compared to the Motorola Xoom, which I assumed was good given the higher price of that one and the other geeks who raved about it. The wifi Tab has lesser hardware than its 3G siblings. It lags on its home screen with the included launcher. Once I installed LauncherPro, it worked better. The other two are wonderful. The S5 has the same processor of the 3G Tab. I’m skipping the technical details, so I won’t look up the processor GHz and such for each. (But the S5 has the 1GHz Hummingbird processor, if you know what that means. It’s the only one I know about without looking it up.)

Differences

The gTablet is the only one with a regular USB port so I could plug in a flash drive or just about anything. (The Acer Iconia has one also.)

The Asus is often reviewed with its keyboard, which practically doubles the battery life and includes an SD card slot and two USB ports. But I had no plans to buy their keyboard since I already have one.

When my gTablet died, I considered buying an identical replacement. However, since I was already started with Android, I realized why I shouldn’t. There are numerous apps that require a camera or GPS. I want to use them and the gTab doesn’t have them. (I had a couple of GPS-faking apps, but when I hacked it for the Market, they stopped working for me.) Specifically for genealogy purposes, both the BillionGraves and RestingSpot apps require GPS, BG requires the camera, any scanning of QR codes needs the camera, etc.

All of my Androids since the gTablet have had GPS and camera.

No Cell Phones

None of my Android devices has been a cell phone or received 3G or 4G signals. They each require a wifi signal to connect to the Internet. This does put a damper on things sometimes, like apps where you check-in wherever you go or if you want to be in constant contact with people via Twitter or instant messaging.

I bought a 4G wifi hotspot for my trip (the one when the gTablet died) but did not buy a long-term plan. I can activate it whenever I want and have done so. It has a very short battery life, compared to the Androids, but it will allow any of these devices to connect online wherever I can get the 4G signal (in all major US cities). Also, it allows five devices to connect at once. Many Androids allow tethering (using the cell phone signal to connect another computer to the Internet), but sometimes the cell plans do not allow it.

The Winners

I definitely improved on my device with each purchase. The gTablet was my introduction to Android. The Galaxy Tab was my introduction to what an Android should be able to do. The Asus Transformer is what an Android can do. And the Galaxy S Wifi is the replacement for my Palm.

I loved the Tab, and especially the size of it. It’s similar to the Kindle and the Nook, smaller, easier to hold. It was the lesser hardware than the 3G version and especially the lack of keyboard support that made me return it.

I loved the Asus. It is a little bigger than the gTablet. But it has the newest version of the Android OS and does not need to be hacked to work. I almost kept it, but I anticipate a drop in price when the next version comes out. I’ve already seen some early evidence of that. If it wasn’t for buying the S5, I have no doubt that I would have kept it.

I love the S5. I also love that I have a device that hasn’t been released in the US yet. Several other purchasers tried to research it; one person determined that we have the Central American and Caribbean version. For once, I’m actually ahead of the technology, sort of.

I Keep Coming Back

Once I had my first Android, I was hooked. When it died, I was crushed. I almost couldn’t replace it fast enough; I just needed to have another. I was hoping to transfer my affection and my data from Palm OS to Android. My affection is certainly there, but I haven’t finished with all of the data quite yet.

I don’t remember when I bought my first PDA, but it was a Visor Handspring and the 1990s. When that died, I replaced it with a Sony Clie, and then the Palm TX in 2006. The Palm is still going strong. When I leave the house and make sure I have everything in my pockets (wallet, phone, keys, etc.), I always check my back pocket for my Palm. Well, now it will be my S5 instead.

When you hear advice that you should always have pen and paper or a smartphone to record people’s phone numbers or other information, that back pocket is what I reach for.

I might have been happy with the Palm forever had I not tried Android. But the TX would have eventually died and the only replacement would be someone else’s 5+ year old used PDA. It was time for something new and I’m thrilled to find that Android is an excellent successor.

I’m not the only one who instantly fell in love with their Android, am I?
(Well, OK, iPhone users can comment too.)

Google+ – What’s Missing

Not long after my last blog about Google+, I realized I missed a few things. While it takes hints from Facebook and Twitter, and lessons learned from Wave and Buzz (though I never used Buzz), it’s missing a lot of things. Hopefully some will be added; we know that some things are in the works already.

In no particular order, except that the Twitter comparisons are first…

1. Verified accounts. There are a lot of celebrities on Twitter. There are even more fake celebrities. I’ve seen posts questioning Mark Zuckerberg and Nancy Pelosi profiles on Google+. How will we know if they’re real or fake? Mark was verified via Twitter. Felicia Day posted her own G+ profile on her verified Twitter account. Twitter seems to have stopped verifying, but enough celebs are around to let us know about the newer joiners. G+ needs to get a handle on this.

2. Muting. This is kind of a feature in Twitter, but G+ needs it. Sometimes I may want to mute one person for a while without removing them from my circles or blocking them. Another option that would be great is even more selective muting. When Felicia Day posts something to Twitter and gets 200 comments, I don’t see them unless I deliberately search for them. She has 30k following her on G+ already. I would like to see her posts but not see any of the comments unless I choose to view them.

3. Events. Google already has a Calendar, so they need to integrate it into G+. I noticed that my Calendar doesn’t show the +You link or the notifications in the toolbar, but someone said that his does. Maybe they’re still working on it.

4. Businesses. G+ accounts are specifically for individual people. There are no fan pages like FB and no business pages. They say this is in the works, though many business have already created accounts. Will they make it easy for them to switch to business accounts?

5. Photo Uniformity. Adding a photo album is easy; adding more photos to an existing album looks like it will be simple too. A few people have needed help finding where to upload their profile photo (under Edit Profile). Adding photos onto your profile page is kind of a nightmare compared to uploading to an album. There was no drag and drop and the “manage” option took me to Picasa, which I’ve never used, and even when I put photos in the Scrapbook album, they still didn’t show up until I fought with G+ some more. It needs a little more consistency with the various ways of uploading photos.

Also, when I uploaded an album, in one view, they appear in the correct order while in another view, they appear in the order they finished uploading, which is out of order.

Felicia Day uploaded an album in a way that posted each one to the stream separately and she had to apologize for spamming everyone. But that might have been entirely due to the third party app that she used.

6. Exclusions. This is something that FB has. If I post something and want to share it with all circles except one, or hide it from one person, I have to individually choose every other circle or every other person instead of just specifying not to that one.

7. Games. Currently. I understand these are coming so enjoy it while it lasts. Hopefully G+ will have a way to block games better than FB, where you have to block every game and every quiz separately. I think I have hundreds if not thousands blocked. If G+ can do a block all games option, that would be nice.

8. Edit, delete, disable comments. This is not missing. When you leave a comment anywhere, you can easily find the “Edit” option. But if it’s your post, the problem is finding the edit option because it’s a tiny, light gray button on the right of the post. People keep asking how to edit. There are more options in there too. Maybe they should make it a blue arrow?

9. Instructions and Updates. Wil Wheaton asked how to show who is in some of his circles and not others. He probably has about 100 replies, many with instructions to do exactly what he wants. Instead of following all the Google employees, maybe they should have set up one account to announce as they changed things. I didn’t remember seeing that functionality, but I know I have seen some changes the past two weeks. Maybe they’ve changed something I was looking for but I haven’t gone back to look for it. If they announced all updates somewhere, that would be nice. Or is there a blog with all of it? Does anyone know? I need instructions to find the updates.

So far, I have only noticed one person complain about privacy issues. G+ suggested friends to him and he kind of freaked out that it would know who he knows. But Facebook does the same thing based on who your friends know; I think he’s never seen that on FB. I have been invited to a Huddle, so I got to use that. It’s a slow, quiet huddle, but cool nonetheless. I’ve used the Hangout a couple times and used the chat function because a friend’s computer is in the dark ages with no microphone or camera. (The chat function was basically Gtalk in the browser. My Gmail tab picked up some of the conversation, Pidgin connected to it also.)

Now, if someone would just teach Google to open up their market to ALL Android devices so I could easily upgrade the app they just upgraded. (Both Twitter and Facebook recently updated their apps and I can’t get those either.)

Google+ vs Facebook vs Twitter – 10 Things

People have been asking what’s the difference and why should they switch to Google+ if they’re already on one or both of Facebook and Twitter. I have also read several other blog posts noting the differences and comparisons, and some of them tend to annoy me when they’re wrong (brand new pet peeve). So if you want a reason to switch, I will try to convince you.

This has turned into a really long blog post. Sorry. I try not to do that too often.

1. Organize your friends. We organize our friends in real life, so we should be able to do that online. I have genealogy friends, writer friends, random friends, relative friends, etc. All services allow you to organize.

  • On Twitter, it’s with lists, and if you use an app, you can usually access your lists or make other groups of them. (I use TweetDeck.)
  • On Facebook, it’s friend lists. No, it is not Groups, it is friend lists. Stop getting that wrong bloggers.
  • On Google+, it’s Circles.

I have seen several blogs comparing G+ Circles to Facebook Groups, which is wrong. Circles are exactly like FB friend lists. Except that G+ has put Circles front and center where FB has shunted the friend lists so far into the background that a lot of people have completely forgotten about them. People are raving about Circles on G+ because they can send their status updates to just those who would be interested. I can do that on FB with my friend lists, but apparently I’m one of the very few who have remembered they even exist and I have kept up my lists.

Also, why would I want to limit most of my postings? Some, sure, but not most. For example, I like sharing my blog posts with everyone. I have family and friends who aren’t genealogists who read them. Another example, I posted a photo on G+ that was relevant to my writer friends, but I posted it to all my Circles. My first two comments were from a friend/genealogist (he’s in two lists) and a relative. If I’d limited who saw that to just the writers, I’d have no comments and my friend and cousin wouldn’t know more about me.

However, G+ definitely excels in this aspect. Already in G+ as in FB, I have friends that I don’t really know. In G+, they’re all genealogists at the moment, but in FB, I’ve added some people for different games. Some of those people change their names. When I see them randomly show up in my news feed, I have no idea who they are. In G+, I can hover over their name and see which Circle they are in. In FB, it’s a convoluted mess to find what friend list they are in. (Not really, but it’s far more effort.)

2. Chat. All three have this feature.

  • Twitter has direct messages (DMs) and @mentions. Whole conversations can happen publicly.
  • Facebook has their chat, which they’ve integrated into messages (ugh). More recently, they’ve introduced Skype video chat integration.
  • Google+ wins this one. First, there is Gtalk, the old chat function which exists in Gmail and shows up the same in G+. (Actually, that still just shows my old friend list for chat plus a couple others, and it’s different in Gmail and G+ at the same time. I guess it still needs work.) Second is the Huddle. You might not have seen this as it’s only in the mobile app. It’s a group chat. Other instant messengers have it too, but I don’t think Gtalk has had it before. But the real winner is the Hangout, group video chat. This is totally cool. I don’t usually use video on Skype, but when I saw an almost total stranger Twitter friend in a Hangout today, I joined him and we tried it out, soon to be joined by two more of his friends. (Apparently, all my friends were taking the afternoon offline and nobody joined.)

3. Messages.

  • Twitter is all messages via DMs and @mentions.
  • Facebook integrated chat and messages and makes them into one long chain of chats and messages. Ugh.
  • Google+ has a way to send a message via email right from someone’s profile page. Another option is to post a status and then only share it with one person (just like you can share with just one Circle). This is available on FB also, if you post a status and click the lock icon and customize, but again, G+ makes it simpler, more obvious, and with slightly fewer steps.

4. Walls. On Facebook, any friend can post stuff or spam to your wall and your other friends can see it before you can delete it.

  • Twitter has no such thing. The closest you can get is to search for someone by their @name and see what others are saying to them.
  • Facebook walls can also be filled with game statuses. Even if you tell the game not to post, it will constantly ask if it can and eventually you’ll click ahead and hit yes when you didn’t mean to, then you have to go in and delete it.
  • Google+ has no walls. If someone wants to post something so your friends see it, they have to leave a comment to one of your posts. Deleting someone else’s comment can be done via the little arrow at the top right. You can also disable comments on anything you post from that same menu.

5. More about Circles. Google+ is very much like Facebook, but it’s also a cross between FB and Twitter. On Facebook, both people have to confirm their friendship. On Twitter, you can follow anyone (who doesn’t block you) and anyone can follow you (that you don’t block, or if you don’t privatize your account). In G+, you can put people in your Circles and not be in theirs and vice versa, although I imagine most will reciprocate, as they have so far. But that’s also true in Twitter. What’s different in G+ is that if someone has you in their Circle, you can see what they’re sending out to you by going to your Incoming stream. You don’t get that in Twitter.

6. Edits. Twitter and Facebook are both failures at this. How many of us have sent a tweet or posted a status only to immediately see a typo in it? Yeah, just try to deny you’ve done that. Google+ has an edit function. Hopefully people won’t use it to completely change their comments which could make the rest of a conversation look odd, but every time you send out a typo, you can fix it.

7. Ads.

  • Twitter has some sponsored ads. I’ve never seen them, but apparently they’re going to be coming through like regular tweets soon, especially with them buying TweetDeck.
  • We all know about Facebook ads. A relatively recent update makes the ads refresh while you’re playing games so you see more of them. And they’re putting them on more pages.
  • Google+ has no ads. Are they going to add them? I have no idea. But I think Google makes a lot of money with ads on their search engine and on everyone else’s web sites. Maybe they’ll keep G+ clean, but probably not, since they’ve just added more ads into Gmail.

I guess nobody wins that one. But if you want the service for free, sometimes this is how you have to pay for it: by seeing annoying ads.

8. Games.

  • Twitter used to have some. I haven’t seen them in a long time.
  • Facebook games are constantly clouding up my news feed. I have so many blocked, it’s pretty stupid. The few that I play are not blocked, but they get annoying too.
  • It looks like there is room in the Google+ code to add games. We’ll have to wait and see.

9. Mobile Devices.

  • Twitter is available in a multitude of apps. On PC, I use TweetDeck. In Android, I’m leaning towards Tweetcaster now.
  • Facebook has many apps also.. Many apps will integrate both FB and Twitter, plus LinkedIn, MySpace, and possibly others.
  • It’s Google, so it’s already got an app in Android. This includes the Huddle, which is not on the web site. I understand the iOS app is still awaiting approval. The API isn’t available yet, so the other apps can’t integrate it yet. Maybe G+ will offer the integration and cross-posting themselves? There’s also a Nearby stream option. Some people were having issues with it sharing their location, but my gTablet doesn’t have a GPS and it wouldn’t let me define my location, so I can’t report anything about that.

10. Trust Issues.

  • While Twitpic changed their terms of service claiming ownership of your pictures, Twitter now has it’s own picture service that people prefer the terms to. I don’t know much about either as I’ve never used them.
  • Facebook has had issues with privacy and changing the TOS many times.
  • People seem to trust Google with their information. (Most do; I had one friend who was wary of sharing her birth date at sign-up.) After all, we’re already letting them handle our email, documents, blogs, calendar, news reader, videos (YouTube), searches, etc. Google already knows everything about us anyway.

I read one paranoid blog post about how Google wanted even more information from us so they could serve up ads, thus G+. That same blog had multiple Google ads in addition to giving information to Facebook, Twitter, DoubleClick and a few other sites I’ve never heard of. So he’s paranoid about giving G+ his info but he’s happy to tell Google about all his blog visitors? Can we say sensational journalism?

Conclusion

It looks to me like Google+ has the upper hand, especially once they get out of field testing and let everyone sign up. They have turned on “proper” invites, so we don’t have to sneak out those messages, and they seem to allow sign-ups a little more often as time keeps passing. And once they release the API so TweetDeck, Hootsuite, and all the others can integrate the service, I think more people will cross-post to it. Sometimes I see people posting on Facebook and Twitter about how there’s not much is on G+, and then I suggest that they post the comment in G+ also. They usually do.

While the other services have a lot more members already, and people are used to using them, people are flocking to Google+. I just invited someone who specifically stayed away from Facebook, but she signed up for G+. After all, she was already using Gmail. Another person tweeted yesterday that he’d be using G+ more often and Twitter less; he’s already converted, and I’ve seen mention of others reacting the same. Even my Mom signed up for G+ after I sent her an invite. (She probably has no idea what it is; I’ll have to explain it to her.)

So, are you using Google+ yet? Come join me! https://profiles.google.com/banai47

Google+ – My First Thoughts

I woke yesterday to a pleasant surprise, an invite to Google+. It came from someone in the same group that helped me get into Google Wave. I jumped on the bandwagon again!

According to other Twitterers, there is no limit to invites like with Wave, so anyone I added to a circle should get an invite. I went ahead and added some people who were suggested because I had emailed them from gmail at some time. The first person who asked me for one didn’t get an invite, so I told her to wait, that maybe they were sent out in batches when Google was ready. We’ll see.

Google+ looks much like Facebook in how it works. There are friends and there is the Stream — that’s like Facebook’s News Feed. So far, the main differences (besides that hardly anyone is on G+ yet) is the Circles and the Hangout. Circles are exactly like friend lists in Facebook, but instead of shunting them to the background, G+ puts them front and center, which I like. No more seeing someone in my news feed and wondering who they are because I added them for a game on Facebook and they’ve changed their name. Hopefully G+ will stay away from the game connections, but it’s hysterically easier to find what Circle someone is in — just hover over their name in the stream. There’s also a list of who’s in my Circles at the top right and I can hover there too.

The other big difference is the Hangout. On Twitter, Paul B. Allen mentioned that Hangout would be the killer app of G+. Once I investigated and traded a few tweets, I saw what he was saying. Hangout is video chat. I thought Skype could do that, but apparently it’s not free for group chats, which I didn’t know. I don’t usually use the video in Skype, but I can turn off video in Hangout too.

So, I’ve added some people to my Circles and hopefully some will sign up so I can see what this can do, and if it’s different than Facebook. Part of the trouble with Wave was that we didn’t have invites and the whole purpose was to collaborate. Google seems to have learned it’s lesson. G+ is social networking, and it takes being able to invite people you know to network with them.

Another problem I pretty much expected was getting Google+ on my Android. Google Market says a lot of things are “incompatible” just because it doesn’t like the gTablet. I was able to find the APK (installation) file and side load it. It seems to work. It doesn’t come with Hangout, but it has Huddle, which is not on the web site. Huddle is group chat. I need some people on G+ to actually try it. So much for being incompatible; when will Google learn to stop trying to lock out compatible devices to their market?

There is no hover in Android, so finding someone’s Circle requires clicking (well, touching), but then it’s right there for me to see. Also, looking at the list of who’s in my Circles shows their email address, where the web site requires a hover.

Another bonus of G+ over Wave is Gmail integration. I posted something to my Stream and got responses — they showed up in a Gmail thread. That could get redundant, but it can be shut off in settings.

Update: I also like how Photos are easy to get to. Every time I try to post pictures on Facebook, or especially to add to an existing album, it’s buried deeper and deeper. G+ appears easier to find them. But the way it uploads multiple photos at a time, if the first photo isn’t the quickest, then they end up out of order and I can’t see how to change the order. Although, with the G+ upload, I can add comments once the photo is uploaded and while the rest are still going.

What I don’t see in G+ is a list of who’s online. The chat in G+ appears to just do regular Gtalk chat and it showed my usual list of suspects, but the Gmail tab shows some online where the G+ tab doesn’t. (Update: They are both showing the same list of people online now; must’ve caught a glitch earlier.) But for the Hangout or the Huddle, it would help to know who’s online to chat with them.

Do we really need another social network? Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Google Buzz (it’s still around), MySpace, Friendster, Hi5, Bebo, Ning (including GenealogyWise), etc. I never signed up to some of those, or barely used them if I signed up. Will video chat really make G+ stand out? Or the group chat? Or is there something else in there that people will prefer over the others?

And whatever happened to Diaspora? Didn’t a lot of people donate money so a few college students could program that last summer?

I <3 My gTablet -or- Adventures of a New Android OS User, The gTablet

This blog post is overdue to the point where it is probably going to be very long. I purchased my gTablet several months ago and this could probably have been a series of blog posts if I’d been keeping up my blog. I may yet have follow-ups.

I’d been wanting a more portable computer, smaller and lighter, like a tablet or a netbook. After seeing an old TED talk showing a multi touch screen (from before they were released), I knew I needed one.

Woot put the ViewSonic gTablet on sale for under $300. That beats an iPad for price, it works with Flash, and it’s the Android OS. I was worried they would sell out and I jumped on it. They sold over 10,000. It turns out that Amazon was just opening up an Android app store, and Amazon had not too long ago bought woot. Coincidence? You decide. (Woot has since sold the gTablet twice more. Keep watching and they’ll probably do it again.)

When I first started it up, things went a little wrong. The pre-installed apps didn’t work and everything crashed. Restarting brought up the EULA and the set-up screens like it was supposed to do. And the apps worked.

First, I tested the battery by playing Angry Birds all day. I think it lasted about 10 hours like it was supposed to.

I decided to use the stock OS for a while, though most people insisted you had to root and mod it for it to be any good. There were a couple who said to just try using it as it was, so I did, although apparently I rooted and modded without knowing it (I just downloaded and installed as I was told) to get access to Google Market. Some would argue it’s called Android Market, but if Google has to approve the device (and the gTablet is not approved), then it’s not “Android” Market

For those who don’t understand the previous paragraph, rooting the device gives you superuser access to do extra things and modding it means replacing the stock OS (what it came with) with a modified version that someone else has programmed. Doing this usually voids your warranty.

Coming from Palm OS for at least a decade, I had some issues with Android. First, it syncs to Google (and other web sites) and not to my computer. I like having the local copy and not letting Google know everything about me. Some of the basic Palm apps were missing. The calendar kind of sucked, my contacts didn’t transfer without repeated errors, and there was no built-in memo or notepad app.

I found an app that converted my Palm calendar to Google, so at least there was that, but the Android only syncs to the last few months and forward, so I don’t have all the old stuff on the tablet. Amazon has a free paid app every day. Early on, they offered Business Calendar that beats the built-in one by miles.

One of my goals with the gTablet was to go paperless for genealogy work. I had tried with my Palm TX, but the screen was too small and my neatly listed record look-ups word wrapped. Looking for a good notepad, I read about Evernote and Springpad, opting for the latter first. Everything seemed to go well, until my updates on the gTab didn’t sync up to the web site, then the web site synced down and deleted all my new notes. It was a “known issue”. I searched carefully about Evernote and found mention of the same. So I switched to Dropbox and plain text files; it’s never let me down.

Also for work, I tried a few apps for timesheets; I settled for one but have a couple others I’m still trying. I also found a simple expense manager, which was something else I used periodically on Palm.

Once I got started, I can’t ever remember now what happened, but I bricked my gTab. Technically, I didn’t brick it, as that’s about 99% impossible to do with this particular device, so I’ve read. I was stuck in a boot loop. So I followed instructions to go back to the factory settings and started over, this time deliberately modding. When I went back to Google Market, it thought I was using a different device and my download options changed. Some apps I already had wouldn’t download, but I could get others. Amazon worked much better with the “new” tablet. Many other apps are also missing from my options because Google doesn’t think they’re compatible. I get them from Amazon or find them elsewhere when I really want them. I haven’t paid for an app yet.

In the hopes of traveling with the gTab instead of the laptop, a keyboard was essential. While people fought over the iGo on eBay, I bought the Palm bluetooth keyboard. The Palm has the numeric row at the top which is handy for dates and FHL film numbers. It usually works well, but sometimes, I think when it’s idle a bit, it disconnects itself and doesn’t like to reconnect.

The gTablet has a microSD and a USB slot, so I can save data externally if I ever run out of memory; it has 16GB built-in. I haven’t loaded it up with music or video files, though I’ve tested both, so plenty more storage space is left. There’s no GPS or forward facing camera. Now that I’ve seen some of the apps, I understand why both are important. There are USB GPSes that I’ve read will work but I haven’t looked for them.

I am loving my gTablet, despite the setbacks and that I hate the contacts app that came with the mod. I haven’t lost any research notes since switching to Dropbox. I’ve got PDFs of things like genealogy word lists in Dropbox so I can access them at the FHL, where I used to bring them on paper. I have too many games (loving a version of Sudoku right now), but many I can “finish” and move on. The mod removed Angry Birds and I haven’t put it back, which has probably saved me from wasting a lot more time. Did I mention I love my gTablet?

What Sploggers Think

Early this morning, Tamura Jones tweeted a link to a new splog called Family Tree Gazette. I went and checked and immediately recognized two blog posts that I’d just read in the past few days. This person was simply copying other people’s blog posts onto his blog without permission or attribution. He did have a link back to the original blog, or back to a Google feed of it in one case, but that doesn’t make it much better. A couple posts had the author’s name at the bottom, but only because they were actually included in the blog post. How many bloggers sign their own posts? Well, I guess I’ve seen a few who do.

Among all of his various advertisements that completely fill up the left sidebar, he included a link to a Facebook page. It has one fan, no doubt just the owner. So I left a message on the page.

His response was:

The purpose of this site is to aggregate news from a lot of different sources. Each post has a link back to the original story. We are not claiming that these posts are ours. Also, on the sidebars we have links to many other blogs and other resources.

Such a quick reply from someone who just steals other content. I commented again and the next response was:

This is a news feed, I don’t “copy” anything. If you subscribe to a Google news feed, you automatically receive each story in the feed, and Google doesn’t ask permission to feed any of the stories. Same with a Google blog feed (which is where these posts come from), Google doesn’t get permission to feed these stories. It would be plagiarism if I was claiming that these posts were mine, but that’s not the case, there’s a link to the original story at the end of each post. The bloggers that I’ve talked to about this like it because it gets new people to visit their blog.

So, he thinks he’s a Google news feed? No, Google doesn’t ask permission, but the blog owner gives permission for news readers by turning on the RSS functionality. Funny how there isn’t an RSS feed link anywhere on his page, including in the footer, where WordPress usually has a link by default, even though he’s claiming to just be a news feed. I guess he wants you to visit his site to load up all the ads instead.

Also, I wonder which bloggers he’s “talked to”. I’ve never known a blogger, or the NY Times, that wanted their story printed in its entirety, without permission, without attribution, on someone else’s blog that was full of advertisements.

Looking a little more into the site, the domain is registered to Roger McClannen, so I would assume the comments are from him, but there is no way to be sure. Facebook pages don’t tell you who administers them. I don’t see the conversation on the page now. His top menu, besides the Google ads, has options for Pages and Categories. There are no categories, but the pages just link to more affiliate links on Google, Amazon, and eBay. There is no About or Contact page, so the only apparent way to contact him is to go to the Facebook page or look up his domain registration for his email.

When I searched for his email, I found that he also runs a site called Froomb, which apparently is just another coupon site.

Also, when I first commented on his Facebook page, I accused him of plagiarism. I never actually mentioned copyright infringement. It was early in the morning. I wonder if his responses would have been different?

Tips for Professionals – Don’t Procrastinate

And by that I mean, don’t put off your genealogy research.

When I began my life as a professional genealogist, I was told by my first mentor that I wouldn’t be doing my own research anymore; I wouldn’t have time.

I have a message to any other professionals who have heard such “advice” and basically stopped doing their own research.

Get Back To Work On Your Own Family

I’ve made it a goal to finally work on my own family research this year, after many years of just doing tiny bits, and though I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished so far, I have so much more to do. Mostly, I’m catching up on years of information collected and not organized into my database. I’m rescanning old documents because I did pretty wimpy scans in the past. I’m rescanning photos in my possession that I didn’t bother to make good scans of before, because I owned them. And I’m sifting through everything that isn’t completely OCD-approved organized.

I got it in my head this evening to work on a certain family again and went looking for records that I knew I already had somewhere. I spent a couple hours going through folders, figuring out what was in them, getting worried if I’d thoroughly copied all of the data I was seeing into my database, until I finally searched enough folders to find the documents.

Along the way, I found a couple of nice yet unscanned photos tucked into a file, paper documents that were half re-organized but never completed, one folder that was newly scanned but not marked so I had to double check it, and a newsletter from a distant alleged cousin that I believe I finally have the documents to prove we are related.

I haven’t finished translating the documents, but it was on my list of things to do sooner rather than later in this getting-back-to-my-own-family-research kick. So I skimmed through his old newsletter again and decided to look him up so I could contact him. I found two things. In 2005, he moved from Queens to Orlando, and in 2009, he died.

I guess he wasn’t working very hard on the research either; I’m sure he had my contact information. The good news is that his surname is really rare, there are only three people on Facebook with the name, and they all know each other. Hopefully they’re in touch with the cousins that he had contact with 15 years earlier.

I have three main genealogy goals right now: do my clients’ research, do my own research, and write to my blog. The blogging I’ve been doing pretty well. My client work is moving ahead. My own research was stalled for a couple weeks but is moving once again.

Sometimes we need an extra reminder of the reason to keep working. This was my wake-up call. Have you gotten yours?

My Two Cents – Granger Medical Center

I previously posted about IHC. I had decent enough treatment from the doctor, but the company treatment, well, it left a lot to be desired.

I recently had a follow-up visit to Dr. Aoki at Granger Medical Center in West Valley City. This was a old annoyance that I’d finally grown tired of dealing with. After going to a few other doctors over the years and not getting treated, I finally sprang for the specialist and tried Granger.

I had to wait three weeks for my appointment.

I had no idea where in the building to find my doctor. Asking at the front desk, it took the receptionist at least a minute to find out. If she had asked the type of doctor instead of the doctor’s name, which I didn’t know, it would have saved some time.

Filling out the forms and such, I was asked for the same amount I was quoted over the phone. This is important as I detest billing surprises, like I’d had previously. I am a cash patient without insurance, and I expect to not be treated like an insurance company with charges as afterthoughts. The paperwork included mention of two discounts: for paying cash and for paying at the time of treatment.

I didn’t time the wait or the appointment. The doctor gave me an initial exam and then treated the problem. He wrote me two prescriptions and I made a follow-up appointment for three weeks later.

A web site had conveniently just signed me up for a free trial of discount health services, and buying my meds at Walmart, that membership reduced the price by about 50%. These were not the cheap $4 meds.

I started getting better that day and I felt almost cured in a week. Amazing the difference it makes to go to a decent doctor and get the right meds as opposed to all the others I’d seen.

Two weeks later, I got a bill in the mail. After IHC, I was actually expecting this, but given how much better I was, I was willing to pay it.

My follow-up appointment was a week later, so I didn’t pay right away. At reception, I asked about the bill, wondering if those discounts had been applied — it wasn’t my fault they didn’t bill me on the treatment date, after all.

The doctor was running late, but I read a magazine from the pile in the exam room. He finally showed up, took a look at me, and gave me a quick industrial-strength treatment of what I had been using at home. He said since it was Valentine’s Day and I was the 1 millionth customer, the visit was no charge. This visit was much simpler and quicker than the original because what he did had worked.

On my way out, I collected my check and visited the next office over from reception to ask about the bill. In that office, it was quickly determined that I had been billed for the full amount, not accounting for the discounts. She said she’d take care of it and I left.

OK, so there was a little glitch in the billing, but the doctor did a good job, everyone was friendly, the follow-up was free (instead of $68), and I feel much better now.

I intend to make another appointment soon at Granger Medical Center in another department. Kudos to a good medical clinic that doesn’t overcharge and treats you well! It’s about time I found one around here.

Unexpected Mail

I arrived home after the second night of RootsTech to find a FedEx envelope stuck halfway under my front door. I found the label so interesting, I brought it to RootsTech the next day to share with my friends and fellow geneabloggers. I even had permission from someone at Ancestry to post it — not that I needed permission, but I still had it.

Can you see it even in that one? You can if you look closely. But here’s the label zoomed in. (At least one of the bloggers said I should crop out my address, but it’s in my footer…)

You noticed who that was sent from, right?

My Two Cents – Genealogy and Privacy Restrictions

I just received an email from a “new” cousin after another cousin directed her to my web site. She was not yet in my database; only her father, with the latest information from the 1930 census.

It got me thinking — again — about genealogy and privacy restrictions on records.

Why are there such ridiculous restrictions on records?! Because people are scared of identity theft even more than privacy, I suspect. From any article I’ve ever read, not one single case of identity theft has ever been traced to a genealogy web site. I guess for some, it’s privacy, but seriously, 90 years of privacy?

Really, if someone died in 1974, why do I have to wait 50 years to order his death certificate? He’s dead. He doesn’t need the privacy anymore. And it’s not like I’m going to try to pass myself off as a man born in 1919 in Odessa.

Hungary has apparently just instigated a new restriction for all vital records newer than 90 years. It goes into effect in 2012 (but the Family History Library is already restricting the films and won’t order them from the vault).

Maybe all these archives should cater more to genealogists. Why is it that at every county clerk or health department, I have to order certified copies for $30? Genealogists are perfectly happy with cheap photocopies. We want the data, not the fancy paper and the raised relief of the state seal.

I remember when SS-5s went from $7 to $27. Right before the deadline of the price change, I ordered at least a dozen SS-5s, probably more. I ordered for anyone I could think of at the time whose I didn’t already have; related to me or married into the family, it didn’t matter. Why can I order a document created during a person’s lifetime (with more accurate information of their birth and parents) but not their death certificate? Of course, this isn’t the best example because we can still order them, they just cost more now.

So let’s take Los Angeles, for a better example. The last time I went to the County Court, instead of stopping at the main desk and shelling out money for certified copies, I went down to the basement where they let me see cheap photocopies of up to five records. I was not allowed to keep these copies (although I once brought my scanner). So they’re willing to make me these viewable copies for FREE, but they’re not willing to sell them to me for $5? They’ve already used the paper and the ink to print them, taken up an employee’s time, but they insist I give them back. It’s not like I can take a cheap photocopy and use it to steal someone’s identity. And if I could use the data without a certified copy, they’ve just let me see it for free anyway, so I have all the information on it.

So seriously, when will these places come to their senses? Ever? Probably not. I still have to wait 50 years for a copy of a death certificate so that when I finally get it to try to track down the informant, they’ll probably be dead already too and I may never find a living cousin in that family. Instead, I have to rely on my distant cousins (especially with the common surnames) to search for their family tree online, to know far back enough to overlap my information, to find my web site, and to fill me in on the last 50, 70, or 100 years of our mutual family history.