• I'm notorious for buying myself presents that really aren't presents -- stuff like mops and storage containers.  I did it again, this time with something a tad more exciting.  I bought myself Corel's VideoStudio Ultimate X9 (Windows) for Christmas.  It's on sale until December 1, 2016 for $39.99.  The Pro version is on sale for $29.99.  (I have a previous version of VideoStudio, so I opted for the upgrade. I presume one can upgrade from any type of video editing software, including Movie Maker included with Windows.  In any case, the upgrade software is the same as the full version.)  If you miss this sale, just keep your eyes open and check the Corel website from time to time.  The price fluctuates to just about this level as a low point.  You'll just have to act when you see a discount.

    If you're on the fence over which version to buy, get the cheaper one for $29.99.  On the other hand, if you can afford the extra $10, some video editing afficionados think it's worth the price.  The Corel site has a table for comparison.  As for me, I've been video editing on early versions of this product prior to it being acquired by Corel.  That in itself is a story.  It's hard to imagine that back then, the Ulead software cost $500 and had to run overnight just to render a five-minute clip.  So, in other words, I'm not flnching over the extra $10.

    But, let's get to what you get for your money.

     1.  The software package itself, which contains a number of standalone modules in addition to the editing package itself.  One is called FastFlick X9 and out of the box, without reading any instructions, I was able to put together this video in less 8 minutes, including rendering (processing).

    FastFlick is a quick and easy add-on solution to the otherwise longer learning curve that main module of VideoStudio software requires.  

    Another standalone module of VideoStudio X9 is the screen capture module.  This does exactly what it sounds like, capturing what is on your screen and turning it into a silent video.  This is an excellent tool for creating technical how-to videos.

    As for the main module, the user manual is pretty straightforward and there's also a complimentary 30-day tutorial subscription.  When I buy a new piece of software, I expect to put in at least six hours of intensive learning effort.  With six hours of effort on VideoStudio X9, a first-time user should be able to create a nice video: removing the parts they don't want, doing voiceover or music where needed, and enabling fancy transitions between clips.

    For comparison, I've also used Adobe Premiere which was less intuitive.  I've also tried free options such as Chrome add-ons.  Ultimately, I deem Corel's product well worth the price.

    As part of this year's CyberMonday deal, Corel is also throwing in Corel AfterShot 3 and WinZip 20.5.

    AfterShot is a post-production RAW image editor that additionally works on lossy formats like .jpeg.  I found it both intuitive and the easiest way to do a quick crop, exposure correct and sharpen.  Unlike most consumer products, it also comes with batch processing; something usually reserved for professional level editing.  

    WinZip is a file compression program.  These days, simple extraction and zipping is included with the WIndows OS.  WinZip is a fancier version of compression software that also allows users to encrypt and password-encode their files.  It's a good middle ground for anyone considering storing their sensitive files on the cloud.

    I really don't buy software much anymore.  Most products are available without charge, and I'm more inclined to use open source options.  Still, after taking this newest version of VideoStudio for a run, I'm walking away happy. I'm our family's in-house tech person, so this will save me quite a bit of time when helping the kids with video presentations.  It's at least as useful as a mop and far more fun than storage containers.

     

  •  

    netflix download for iOS and AndroidIt's here, It was rumored that Netflix was going to allow downloading of its video files for offline viewing, but they've delivered an early Christmas gift to Stranger Things lovers everywhere. Not all videos are available, but all of the Netflix series are, as well as select others.  This new feature is available on both Netflix's Android and iPad apps and I just tested it out.  

    For the past week, I had been bingewatching Mischievous Kiss, a Fuji TV Japanese drama series.  One of the best features of Netflix is its subtitles. You can choose the language on a number of them.  On some series, you can even choose the audio language too.

    In any case, I had been watching it first in Japanese, then in English to see how well I actually understood the story.  I'm now going back and rewatching it again in Japanese to commit more words and sentences to memory.  Now that I can take my movies on the go I'll be able to squeeze in even more study time -- although the series is so addictive I doubt I'll think of it as study at all.

    In any case, Netflix lovers, your offline prayers are here.  Check your Netflix tablet app to see if your series is available for download.

  • For our family, the great phone shuffle began a few weeks ago, just after Apple's Iphone 7 announcement on September 7.  We rarely buy new phones, yet the release of Apple's newest Iphone usually starts us thinking about upgrading to someone's hand-me-down.

    As luck would have it, we made several good trades and now we have two SEs, a 5S and the lone Android -- mine -- a Galaxy Note 5, in service.

    Phones Are The New Laptops

    As Verge has so astutely noted, "The single-core performance of Apple’s latest generation of smartphone processors has basically caught up with Intel’s laptops CPUs. The A10 chip inside the iPhone 7 comfortably outpaces its predecessors and Android rivals, and even outdoes a wide catalog of relatively recent Mac computers."  Verge then goes on to argue that perhaps it is iOS and not OS X that should be the new Operating System (OS) standard.

    Which is yet another reason that every so often our household has to go through the major overhaul phone shuffle.  I cringed when I shelled out over $300 for a used Android phone.  When I did it again with a used iPhone, my senses had already been numbed.  Yet, I'm slowly learning to think of the smartphone as a standard computer replacement.  Case in point, we have just one desktop system left, a handful of laptops and enough tablets for everyone.  We are changing the way we compute, with mobility being the most useful feature a device can offer.

    Add to that, it doesn't matter what kind of device you have, you'll still pay your phone company the same amount for service.  It doesn't make a lot of sense to shell out hundreds of dollars a month for service on slow hardware.

    Used Goods: Finding the Market Price

    After several rounds of buying and selling, I've established the following rule for myself: If I can get a desired technology product less than two years old for half of its original street price, it's a good deal.  Conversely, if I can get half of my money back when selling a relatively new good to others, that too is a good deal.

    ebay advanced search

    There is actually a better way to find the real market price however, and I employ it regularly.  First, go to Ebay and search for the product using advanced features.  The advanced features button is tricky to find, printed in small font just to the right of the search button.  Using the advanced screen, type in your search terms and be sure to check off the selection for completed listings.  

     

     

    ebay iphone 6s plus search

     

     

    As you can see in this example picture, the going rate for a Sprint Iphone 6S Plus with 64GB on September 16, 2016 was around $425. 

    As for whether you can get one for around that price, check Craigslist.  What you'll usually find is that most people want more than what the Ebay market would suggest.  Prices are negotiable, so I usually start at or just below the Ebay price.  Quite often the offer is accepted.  If not, there may be a counteroffer.  For phones, I meet the seller at the carrier to make the exchange and to be sure the phone works correctly.  So far, this process has worked out well.  Some phones are in far better condition than I expected, some not so much.  All of them so far though, have worked fine.

    A good reason to buy from someone whose phone was on the same carrier as yours

    I've been on Sprint for nearly a decade now.  I have no intention of switching: service is great and they've always kept their word.  I know this statement will elicit disagreement with some people, but I came from Verizon and my experience with them was horrendous.  Verizon transmission speeds and coverage were good, but I was constantly on the phone trying to fix false billing.  At least I didn't wait until Verizon created a $9,100 charge like they did with this woman.

    In any case, sticking with the same carrier has several advantages.  The first advantage is that you'll have compatibility.  One of the downsides of Sprint service is that Sprint uses slightly different communication bands than other carriers; some devices are specifically designed for Sprint.  The other advantage is that -- at least at Sprint -- you won't get charged for activating the device on your carrier's network.

    Final Thoughts

    I'm beginning to think of this process as somewhat more cumbersome than preparing tax return documents.  It's necessary, but the amount of time and detail that goes into it is substantial.  My other thought is that the amount spent on communication services has increased for most families.  According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the price of Communication Services has dropped six percent over the last 10 years.  However, we demand so much more than we did ten years ago.  That is, we no longer have just one flip phone for the entire family.  Rather, we have high end devices for everyone. I've even seen families including kids as young as six years old.

  • Every once in a while, a gem crosses your desk: one of those "how could I have lived without out this for so long" tools.  For me, that's XODO PDF reader and annotator.  Several years ago our family licensed the ridiculously-priced but-feature-packed Adobe PDF Professional XI; XODO competes quite nicely, either as a complement, or as a stand-alone in place of Adobe.  If XODO was available back then, I wouldn't have bought the Adobe version.

    PDF editor, form filler, xodo

    Here's the quick take on what makes XODO a real winner.  You can draw or type on it on major platforms (Windows, iOS, Chrome, Android, as well as an online application launcher) then save it.  You don't even need to sign in to make it work. You can also add and remove pages from your PDF.  Other than esoteric legal functions like Bates numbering, XODO does most of what everyday households need.  In fact, the latest version also includes encryption. Think about how revolutionary this is.  You open the form on your iPad, fill it in as you would a piece of paper, save it, then send it. 

    Here's the mystery: why is it free, and how does the company make money?  Having tried it, I would certainly pay to have this product thrive.

    To get your copy, go to your respective phone or tablet operating system: Apple App Store, Google Play, or the company website, www.xodo.com

  • In the first week of his freshman year, my kid's high school math instructor presented him with one of two graphing calculator suggestions.  The choices were the Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX and the Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX CAS.  For a detailed breakdown, visit Texas Instruments' webpage on exam acceptability.  

    ti calculators approved for ap ib act sat

    I presume that the CX is supposed to be the more expensive model, but street prices for either of the two models is about the same, somewhere between $125 and $160 dollars.  Texas Instruments even has a webpage that gives retail price comparisons.

    As for other brands of calculator, they are accepted.  Be sure to check out each test's webpage for details.  In general, (excerpted from the PSAT/NMSQT site)

    Bring One of These Calculators

    • Graphing calculator (most models permitted; see Official Student Guide for list)
    • Scientific calculator
    • Four-function calculator (not recommended)

    Leave These Devices at Home

    • Anything that can connect to the Internet
    • Anything that makes noise or “talks”
    • Calculators that use electrical outlets
    • Calculators with QWERTY keypads
    • Tablets or cellphones
    • Laptops or handheld computers
    • Paper-tape calculators
    • Calculators with a pen-input device or stylus

    Because both the TI Nspire CX and CAS appear to be well-supported, and because my son's math teacher is familiar with either of the two, we went with the CX.  That way he can use it with any of the upcoming tests he may be taking.

  • I'm going to call my first attempt at livestreaming a flop:  A disaster:  A good idea whose time has not yet come.

    Livestreaming has been in the news quite a bit lately, from the House Democrats' sit-in to the Minnesota police shooting of Philando Castile.  In the first example, on June 22, 2016, House of Representative Democrats staged a sit-in to force a vote on gun control.  CSPAN would normally have broadcast it, but  -- CSPAN directives are given by House staffers: that is, the controlling Republican majority.  They ordered the cameras turned off.  Democrats responded by livestreaming video through Periscope while posting updates through Facebook.  In the second example, Philando Castile, an unarmed black man, was shot dead at a traffic stop.  His girlfriend had the livestream video running the whole time, from the confrontation to his death.  The video added additional evidence to U.S. outrage over black deaths at the hands of law enforcement and sparked yet more protests and calls for action.

    My own experience pales in comparison.

    First, I thought I'd shoot the opening before the start of the ESSA Town Hall meeting at Kalani.  That left me walking with the phone in front of me, talking to myself.  I grabbed a quick glimpse of a what was still a nearly empty school cafeteria.  Then, I moved to a corner of the courtyard to continue to talk to myself.  No one.  No one joined the stream. . .then one. . .he/she said "Hi."  This was my highlight.  I was about to reply.  Then the phone rang.  It was my husband.  I purposely hung up on him, not knowing if this was being caught live. He called again.  I answered. "Yes." He said, "I'm at Costco.  Need anything?"  To this day, I have not yet reviewed what was captured on the livestream.  I guess the world can know we have stocked up on milk.

    Next, on to the live notetaking during the meeting.  I would call that a measured success.  I rigged up a clipboard with a makeshift phone holder, connected a bluetooth keyboard and typed as the meeting went on.  I'd say they're among the better notes I've taken and best of all, they're done and posted all in one step.  You can review the first draft at EastOahu96825.com/gpublic, where I keep all of the Google Drive public documents related to this site.  The [direct link] is here.  I'll use those notes to write a short review of the meeting soon.

    I had promised a follow-up livestream through Periscope, but alas, I had problems connecting at the coffee shop my friend and I stopped at.  Truthfully, I was pretty much done with the humbling experience of livestreaming, at least for now.

  • This is the second time this year I've mentioned to a friend that Oceanic Cable / Time Warner has a service desk at Koko Marina Center.  I thought perhaps it also merited a mention here on the blog.

    The desk will accept payments, exchange set boxes and set up service calls.  It is located in the lobby of the same building as Bank of Hawaii, right across from Zippys.

     

    From the Koko Marina website, hours are 8:30-5pm, except Wednesdays when it is open until 6pm.  They take a lunch break from 1-2pm.

  • mini maker faire honolulu 2016

    Mini Maker Faire 2016 at Iolani School: A recap 

    Mini Maker Faire in Honolulu wrapped up on June 25, 2016 and I finally made it to the event in their third year.  It was all I expected and more.  I had also signed up for a soldering lesson.  Soldering, pronounced as sautering, is a process in which two or more metal items are joined together by melting and then flowing a filler metal into the joint.  It's what holds your components to your computer circuit boards while still allowing electrical current to flow.

     The volunteer instructor was patient and thorough, and here's a picture of what we made.  They bought most of the parts from an electronics supplier, but they also had the front designed especially for the event.  It's a little badge that lights up an LED when the switch is turned on. 

    It was free.  The event was free and the soldering lesson and materials were free too.  I'm always amazed at how small turnout can be at these events in Hawaii.  Maybe it's the constant allure of our also free beaches? 

    The event was held at Iolani School, which is a beautiful campus and venue for the fair.  Parking was readily available for all 1,000 attendees.  The event also attracted two dozen or so vendors ranging from the predictable coding schools and afterschool programs to the more ecclectic, like a yarn vendor with materials ranging from alpaca to angora. 

    My favorite vendor?  The up-and-coming HNL Tool Library, a project in progress.  It's a lending library for tools and equipment.  From their website, they describe it as "Tool libraries are just like traditional libraries, but with tools instead of books."

     

    The Maker Movement 

     The Maker Movement started in 2005 with the release of MAKE Magazine.  According to the Maker Faire website

    "With the launch of MAKE Magazine in 2005, Dougherty and his team provided the catalyst for a tech-influenced DIY community that has come to be identified as the Maker Movement."

     I read MAKE Magazine once.  I think I picked the exact volume that could turn me off for years to come.  While there were many interesting articles highlighting individuals' projects and the schematics to make the projects work, the one that stood out in my mind was one where someone thought it was a great idea to do self-surgery and insert a RFID reader under his skin -- because how cool would it be to walk up to your front door and have it immediately unlock for you? 

    Since having read that article, I've searched high and low for it again.  No one in Hawaii believes me when I say that MAKE story exists.  In any case, I was living in Silicon Valley at the time, and having met the eccentric individuals that live there, I believe that the idea of RFID self-surgery is less strange there than it is here. 

    If you would like to read a copy of MAKE Magazine for yourself, you can sign up at this link

    In any case, Maker Faire Bay Area (San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara) started growing around 2007.  They still relied on volunteers to run the event and charged a small nominal entrance fee to recoup the cost of renting the San Mateo Convention Center.

    makezine watermelon centerpiece

    Today, Maker Faires are huge and they take place across the country in various forms and sizes.  The Bay Area event has grown to hundreds of booths and the price of entry is now $30.  It has even become a travel destination, not unlike the way in which San Diego Comic-con is.

    If you would like more information, visit Makezine.com. Maybe with detailed instructions from the site, you'll be impressing guests at your next get-together with this handmade watermelon bowl.

     

     

  • Imagine waking up at 4 am to see your pre-teen kids walking in the door.  That's the new Pokémon GO game.

    What it is: Pokémon Go is a free-to-play augmented reality mobile game developed for iOS and Android devices.  The game allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual Pokémon who appear throughout the real world.  

    Huh?

    In simple English, it's a app that sends people to different physical locations to capture imaginary characters.  It released this week here in Hawaii.  By 7am on Sunday, there were people standing in front of places like Sea Life Park staring into their phones and deeply engrossed in their own fantasy world.  By people, I mean people, and not just kids.  The guy we saw at Makapuu was probably in his 30s.  The woman we saw at Heeia Kea Pier was probably in her 50s.

    While some were casting physical lures into the water, one of the locals was casting virtual lures.  Boy did my kids go crazy.  Lures are in-app purchases that bring Pokémon to the area.

    As for what I think?  Definitely mixed reviews.  I really wish the developer would turn off accessibility during certain hours -- similar to the way some states prohibit the sale of alcohol?  Say, midnight to 5am?  Nationwide, there have been reports of IRL (in real life) robberies at Poké Spots, specified places where players replenish supplies for their game.  Driving?  Yeah, scary.  People collecting imaginary characters and creating genuine hazards?  What could go wrong?

    On the other hand, my kids have seen more daylight in the past day than the rest of summer combined.  They want to go places.  They even love traffic (if you go slow enough, the game thinks you're walking and gives you credit for "egg hatching").  My son even expressed a desire for more strenuous exercise this morning when some skateboarder beat him to his destination. (Side note: skateboarding and playing Pokémon GO?  Ditto: What could possibly go wrong?)

    So, if you're out and about Honolulu and see your local vicar aimlessly meandering the streets with his smartphone?  Give credit to Pokémon GO.

  • Have you ever wanted to get around a pesky paywall limit -- the one that says you've reached your maximum free reading?  Just use the incognito function on your browser.  Here's how:

    On Chrome, for Windows, right-click the link and select "open link in incognito window."  For AppleOS, Ctrl-click and select "open link in incognito window."   That's it.  If you don't use Chrome browser, read on. . .

    ==================

    On Safari or Firefox,  copy the link URL (the address at the top of the browser), go to "tools" on the menu bar and select private browsing or private browsing mode. Paste the URL into your new private browser window.

    (Internet Explorer also has an InPrivate browsing mode that does the same.  However, with the repeated alerts on Internet Explorer security, I recommend not using Internet Explorer if at all possible.)

     

     

  • I find the Hawaii State Library's website logic about as good as it gets when it comes to libraries -- that is, not at all intuitive. I, however, am of the belief that more is always better. You just need to be able to find what you need. The following instructions are for anyone who has ever wanted to be alerted on just the parts of the Honolulu Star Advertiser that interests them. And, for what it's worth, you can ONLY do that through the library system. Even the newspaper's own website doesn't allow you to do what Newspaper Source Plus does.

     

    These tips are also extremely useful to my mainland transplant friends that only want bits and pieces of local news. For non-residents, all you have to do is request a library card when you're back home visiting family, then pay the incredibly small fee of $25 for five years.

     

     

    How to create an automated search of the Star Advertiser

    (requires Hawaii State Library card)

     

    First, have your library card and PIN handy. Then, access this list of databases.

    http://www.librarieshawaii.org/serials/databases.html

     

    Although it may be tempting to use the database that says “Star Advertiser,”

    starbulletin-not2.PNG

    resist the urge.  Instead, access Newspaper Source Plus by EBSCO.  The site comes with the ability to create customized email or RSS feeds.  The ProSource version does not.

    starbulletinnewspapersource.PNG

    From here, it’s more simple.  Enter your library card number and PIN, then create an EBSCO account within the database.  Now, do a search for the item you’re interested in, and click the button that says “Create Alert.”  You’ll be given options for creating automated email alerts as well as an accompanying RSS feed if you use those.  Here are a few screen shots to help you out.

    starbulletinstep2b.PNG

    In the example above, I pre-selected the “SO Journal Name” from a dropdown and entered “Honolulu Star Advertiser.” I also typed “Hawaii Kai” in quotations for the next field, and from the dropdown selected “TX All Text”  The quotations around Hawaii Kai helps the computer know that those two terms need to be next to each other and are part of a phrase.  Depending on your research you may also choose not to select the journal name.  If you skip that field, you’ll get all of the results for “Hawaii Kai” from every source in this database. Or, if you're a glutton for all the data you can gather, go to databases and select all of them. This includes all EBSCO data ,Newspaper Source Plus and others.

    You can’t miss the giant button that says “Create Alert.”  Click it and you’ll get results like the one below:

    starbulletinstep3.PNG

     See the line about Email?  If you want to be alerted when new material comes in, click the "sign in" link next to the Email instructions. Select your options. Your alert is good for up to one year, then you need to re-create it.

    Google Chrome users may need to install an extension to read the feed link that is sent, or use feedly.com or other online RSS reader. Other browsers read RSS by default.

     

  • Twice this week I've been affected by new IATA battery shipping restrictions.  First,  I was unable to buy a camera on Amazon; then I was unable to buy replacement batteries for another camera.  Beginning April 1, 2016 lithium batteries have been mostly prohibited from air shipment, except as accessories to a device or as hand-carry by passengers.

     It's a problem for most of us, but clearly not for Amazon, which has probably been itching to limit the types of items that get shipped to Hawaii.  To be sure, lately Amazon has restricted more and more items from Hawaii shipment.  For instance, just yesterday I was unable to ship the dangerous -- yet incredibly useful -- Post-It flag.

     Clearly, when one reads the IATA guidelines, shippers are able to send cameras as part of a package.  Further, non-lithium batteries are still allowed air freight.  Still that doesn't change that Amazon has blocked shipment of all cameras to Hawaii.  That really changes the economic landscape here.  Most certainly it affects product choice as well as product price, with the first going down as the second rises.  I think this may just be the tip of the iceberg for rapid price increases in the isles.

    ===========

    Update: I was able to find that elusive camera battery at Battery Bill's.  The price was reasonable and the customer service was fantastic.  Check there first.  Other likely sources such as Radio Shack and various camera stores either didn't have the battery or the price was astronomically high. 

  • In order to type Japanese characters on an English keyboard, you'll need to install language packs.  The link below will guide you through the steps for either a Macintosh (Apple Computer) or Windows PC.

     Japanese Typing Practice for Beginners (Windows and Mac installation instructions included)

    for those who use Linux, you can use the following instruction set to install fonts, then use the keyboarding guidelines for Windows.

    Adding Japanese Fonts and Typing on Linux

     

    The first link will also take you to a practice site where you can test your ability to type in Japanese.  I'm excerpting the important shortcuts you'll need to know here.  These are tips I wish I had taken the time to learn earlier.

    1.  If you need to create a small character such as the っ in あさって, hit "x" or "l" before the letter that you would like to make small.  You can also do double letters, such as asatte, if that's easier for you. 

    2.  To toggle between modes for Hiragana, Katakana and English, on a Windows PC you can use:

    • Alt-Caps Lock for カタカナ (Katakana)
    • Ctrl-Caps Lock for ひらがな (Hiragana)
    • Either Shift-Caps Lock or Alt-[tilde] toggles AlphaNumeric English and Hiragana
    • Alt-Shift will toggle between language packs, e.g. Japanese Microsoft IME and English

    On an Apple PC you can use:

    • CTRL+SHIFT+j switch to hiragana input
    • CTRL+SHIFT+k switch to katakana input
    • CTRL+SHIFT+; switch to romaji (standard English) input 
    • APPLE + SPACE switch between English/hiragana/katakana

    3.  If you hit the space bar, the computer will suggest a series of different Kanji for your typing.  To avoid using Kanji (I'm at the stage where if I use it, I have to look it up to make sure it hasn't changed into something else), don't use the space bar.  Use [enter] instead. Or, you can hit F6 to accept the typing entirely in hiragana or F7 to accept the typing entirely in katakana. F8 will also toggle between Kanji choices.

    4.  “Reconverting” is essentially calling back the kanji selection list for a word that has already been entered. Select the word you want to change, right click and choose “Reconversion.” On a Mac you can use two fingers on the touchpad to simulate a right click.

    4.  If you make a mistake, don't worry.  In Windows you can still use Ctrl-Z to undo your work.  On the Mac, use Command-Z.