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.

The Hawaii State Library recently updated its website to a more dynamic format.  RSS feeds are available, as are .ics calendar imports.  I like it, it's a tad more intuitive than before, but it does require changing your bookmarks and relearning where to find your favorite links. 

Recently, I visited the library and couldn't find my library card.  I had the number however, so I was able to download their app, available for both Apple and Android devices.  Finding the app wasn't intuitive at all.  To get the app, type in the words "Chilifresh Hawaii."  The app isn't new.  It's been there for two years, but due to a lack of publicity -- even on the new site -- it's underused.

hspls chilifresh

On the left hand top, there's a menu.  Enter your account credentials, and you can use your phone as your library card.  It's nice.  Non-electronic resources are all catalogued and you can request and hold your books on the go.  You can also see what you've checked out and extend your due date if you need to.

On the subject of library apps, there are also digital collections that require different apps.  These lnclude Overdrive for ebooks and audiobooks, OneClickAudio for certain audiobooks, and Zinio for magazines.  You can find links to them on the READ dropdown menu on the library's homepage.

 

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.