JRock3x8's Life Musings

Sunday, December 08, 2013

XBox One with no internet or bad internet

I bought an Xbox One this week, planning to hook it up next week when I get my internet installed but then I thought it would be an interesting exercise as I have not seen a whole lot of information on what functions are available to the user prior to the update.

The answer to that is zero.  The initial setup screen is immediately looking for an internet connection and if you don't have one and you don't have the update loaded on a USB key then this console does NOTHING.

I had planned to wait until Tuesday to hook it up because that's when my internet and TV is being installed but I got impatient and I hooked up the XBone up to my T-Mobile HSPA MiFi - if that sounds like a really bad idea to you, you're right.

It took two hours and two system restarts to get the update downloaded.  First it ran to about 50% and then restarted.  Then it started the update ALL over again when it restarted and completely locked the system at 7%, had to power off and power back on again.  Then it started downloading from 0% again, and at about 11% it all of a sudden figured out that it had that it had that earlier version and zipped forward to 50%.  It finally did finish but man, that was frustrating.  Wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

Then when the update finally downloaded, I went through a brief setup, timezone, gamertag account, just the basics.  Then we set up the Kinect.  Also not fun.  Every time the Kinect would start its setup, my dogs lost their minds at whatever noise it made and the setup failed.  Finally we got it on the third time.  The microphone commands are essential because navigating the menu is frankly awful with the controller.  Try finding settings from the main console in two clicks or less.  Go ahead, I'll wait.  Back?  Yah I thought so.  The problem is that the voice recognition only works about 50% of the time.  Hopefully it will get better with software updates.

Once I finally got control of the dashboard there wasn't a whole lot that I could do without internet.  All of the videos are internet sourced/streamed.  There are no native apps or any native content that I can see.

I downloaded Skype and was able to successfully complete a very short video call on my MiFi but there was very noticeable lag and the quality was really poor.

So if you're buying this for someone, make sure they have really solid broadband service and make sure that the system is updated before Christmas morning.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Wal-Mart vs Walgreens - an eye opening experience

I am not a price conscious shopper - a difference of a dollar on any given item doesn't bother me at all, but a sequence of those price differences led me to an eye opening experiment on New Year's Eve night.

My father and I have bad noses - we've always had problems and Chicago in the winter is not kind to people with bad noses.  My dad told me about this new product he'd been trying called "Ayr" gel for your nose.  It sounded like a specialty item so I looked it up and it was about $4 online so I added to a list of things I needed to pick up at Walgreens.

The shopping list is :

Whole Milk
Bathroom air freshener
3 tubes of Medicated Chap Stick
and the "Ayr" nasal gel

I expected to pay about $4 for the milk, $3 for the air freshener, about $3 for the chap stick (I had seen an online ad for the chap stick at $1 per earlier in the day, I thought at Walgreen's), and $4 for the nasal gel.

I went into Walgreens and the milk was on sale for $2.49 and I was pleasantly surprised.  I went to get the chap stick and it was marked $1.79 per but I figured it was mis-marked and would ring up 3/$3 at the register.  Next up was the nasal gel which was marked at an eye popping $6.49 but I was in the store and I assumed from the beginning that it was a specialty item and my dad had endorsed it so I swallowed hard and put it in my cart.  The last item was the air freshener - they didn't have what I wanted but they had a Lysol brand which was normally $4 but was on sale for $2 and change.  I felt bad about the $6.49 but ultimately felt like I was getting it back on the other items.

I got up to the registers and my checkout guy is clearly a trainee but the manager is clearly watching over his shoulder.  He rings up the 4 items, asks if I have a Walgreens card (I don't) and the total is over $20.  Again, normally I'm not a price shopper so I just shook my head and swiped my cart.  But on my way out to the car, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd been had so I checked the receipt and sure enough, the milk ran up at $4, the air freshener was $4, and the chap stick was $1.79 each.  Turns out the sale prices I saw were for "members only".  At this point I'm feeling more than a bit agitated.

I'm on my way home when I realize that Wal-Mart is right across the street so on a whim, I run in.  I know exactly where everything except for the nasal gel is.  The milk is $3.28.  The air freshener is $2.97.  The chap stick is $1.22 per.  And then the "piece de resistance", the nasal gel is available at Wal-Mart for $3.48 - a full THREE DOLLARS cheaper than Walgreens.  Again, if it was just that, I could have lived it with it but getting ripped off on all four items was too much to take.  I walked back into Walgreens, summoned the manager (who was very apologetic about the "sale" prices) and returned every item.  I was unusually polite (for me), pulling the manager to a quiet corner of the store and then smiling as much as I could during the return.

I went back across the street and purchased all four items at Wal-Mart and saved six dollars, nearly 43% over the Walgreens price.

Again, I'm not normally a price shopper but when you play price games with "sale" prices and mark up your specialty items by nearly 100%, I call foul.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Playing DOS games on your iPad

Space Quest 1
Wing Commander

These are the dominant games of my youth.  I may have played 100 other games, but these two sit in my conscious as games I will never be able to forget.

Twenty-plus years later, I find myself with a 40 minute train ride looking for things to fill the time.  I've never been a big TV watcher and today's mobile games just don't connect with me in the same way (even the newer remakes, like Civilization Revolution just don't scratch that same itch).  So I got to thinking - the iPad is a very nicely powerful device (at least in the context of twenty year old games) - why can't I play my favorite old DOS games on my iPad?

A couple years ago, Apple allowed (very briefly) a DOS emulator called "iDOS" onto the App Store and then promptly yanked it.  Another update followed and again, released and yanked.  So, within the "walled garden" of the App Store, there is currently no way to play these old DOS-based games.  Which means, if you want to do these kinds of things on your iPad, you're heading into the world of jailbreaking.

For whatever reason, I've always been afraid of jailbreaking my device.  I figured there's a chance I would "brick" the device and be out $500.  I also thought it was illegal.  Both of those, I am happy to report, are myths.

The process of jailbreaking your iPad is relatively painless.  I used the rather provacatively titled "Absinthe" program to jailbreak my iPad (http://www.iphonehacks.com/download-absinthe).  While it took a good 20 minutes and it ended up clearing off all my side-loaded content (movies, ebooks), it worked on my iPad (WiFi 16BG first generation) and flawlessly at that.  So good on them for having a nice tight process.

That's where the "clean and easy" part of the story stops.  The rest is quite frankly not for the faint of heart.  If you like the "no mess" aspect of Apple installs from the App Store, well buckle up that chin strap because this is going to be a rough ride.  I've had a fair amount of experience monkeying around with installs in the old DOS days and am glad that part of the user experience has been eliminated.  If you're totally new to this, my condolences - it can be unpleasant but it's worth it.

So theoretically, you go into Cydia on your iPad (this is a new app post jailbreak, basically an App Store for jailbreak apps), choose "Sections" along the bottom (Cydia is known for re-arranging its interface so these instructions may not work a year from now), choose "Games", and find "DosPad Beta 1.92".  Choose "Install" at top right.  If you're lucky, you now have a "DOSPad" icon on your home screen.  I was not.  I got a "size mismatch" error and after a couple of hours of googling through possible solves, I finally landed on the legacy DOSPad support page (yes there are two, just for funsies) : http://litchie.com/apps/dospad.html  The support page says that if you can't install via Cydia, you should "manually" install the "deb file".  If your head is spinning, so was mine.

In order to manually install the app, I used the following walkthrough : http://ipad-os.net/how-to-install-deb-file/  Just to make things a bit more fun, they include four (4!!) different ways to do a manual install.  I'll just save you the pain and tell you I used #3 (iFunBox) and it worked just fine.  I did end up installing "iFile" on my iPad but I never needed it.  Plus iFile starts down a path of opening your iPad's security and I did not want to deal with that.  So the short version of the install goes like this :

  1. Jailbreak your device
  2. Install iFunBox on your PC (http://www.i-funbox.com)
  3. Connect your iPad to your PC
  4. Open iFunBox and navigate to var/root/Media/Cydia/AutoInstall (create the folder if not there)
  5. Copy the DOSPad deb file (http://code.google.com/p/dospad/downloads/detail?name=DosPad-Beta-1.92.deb&can=2&q=) to AutoInstall 
  6. Reboot your iPad (hold top button, power off, press top button again)
You should now have a DOSPad icon somewhere on one of your iPad home screens.  If you've made it this far, congrats!  Because that's as hard as it gets although we do have to do more of this coming up.  Also, if you didn't need iFunBox to install, download it anyways because you will need it.

I can't remember whether DOSPad set up the folder or I did, but in iFunBox (again with iPad connected to PC and iFunBox downloaded, installed and open) you navigate to var\mobile\Documents and either there may be a folder called "Games" - again I can't remember if I set that up or not.  var\mobile\Documents is also the "C:" drive of DOSPad so keep that tucked away in the back of your head.

Copy your games from your PC to DOSPad's "Games" directory.  I had the Space Quest Collector's Edition already installed on my machine (that is it's own fun mess - see this link for more help : http://www.sierrahelp.com/Patches-Updates/NewSierraInstallers.html) so I just copied all of those already installed folders into var\mobile\Documents\Games in iFunBox.  As far as I can remember I think I just dragged the folders from Windows Explorer into iFunBox and it worked fine.  Space Quest 5 took a while to copy but whatever.  It worked.

For Civ, I just copied the "Civ1" folder in the same directory.

Here's where I hit another snag.  I disconnect the iPad (hit the eject button on iFunBox), I start up DOSPad, I enter "cd games\civ1" and then "civ".  The game loads up beautifully and I start playing but I can't save.  This is where Windows 7 drives me bananas.  For some crazy reason, when it copied the folder to the iPad, it marked it "read-only".  There are a couple of different ways described on various forums to fix this on the iPad (using iFile or iFunBox) - none of those worked for me.  I had to go back to Windows 7, right click on all the games folders, click properties, un-check "Read Only", click Apply and re-copy all the folders to the iPad.

Once I had done that, everything worked.  

One final note - iPad 1 is really short on memory.  If you use DOSPad and then try to access another app and try to get back to your game, you may find that DOSPad didn't save your game and you are back to the C: prompt.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

One more thing that is kind of fun to play with - once you've been playing Civ on your iPad away from your PC, you can use iFunBox to copy the save file back to your PC and pick up your game right where you left off.

I hope this write up is helpful for someone out there because I literally spent a week trying to figure all this out and I found that much of the support out there hadn't run into the same issues that I had.  It was a real pain and I nearly gave up on several occasions.  Hopefully you will have better luck.  But leave a comment if not and we'll figure it out together.

Friday, May 18, 2012

iPhone 3GS on T-Mobile for Beginners

I've been a fan of Apple mobile products for a long time but I never could get over the sticker shock of an iPhone until now.  As their portfolio has aged it has made it possible for people like me to own an iPhone at a more reasonable price.  What's missing, then, is the service to put it on and according to my research, T-Mobile is the only carrier who offers a plan closest to what I am used to as a former Tracfone user.

So let's start with the basics :

1) You need a factory unlocked iPhone that has a GSM radio.  All iPhones, iPhone 3G's and iPhone 3GS fit into this category.  Starting with iPhone 4 you have to be a bit more specific in your searches but if cost is part of your constraint in buying an iPhone, you're not looking at iPhone 4's in 2012.  Also, the phone must be unlocked and if you're buying one, my research says there is no real way to tell if it has been unlocked other than to trust your seller.  I have zero experience in unlocking phones so my commentary on it will end here.

2) You need a T-Mobile SIM card.  For iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, you're dealing with the old larger SIM cards,  Starting with iPhone 4, you're asking for a "micro-SIM".  You will need to know this going into the store because if your experience is like mine, the guy at the store had no clue and wasn't real keen on finding out the real answer.  Keep in mind that T-Mobile does not officially support the iPhone so they're going to tell you things like "we don't guarantee this will work" and other salesmanship award winning lines like that.

3) Installing the SIM is relatively simple - stick a paper clip into the hole at the top of the iPhone, the SIM tray pops out, you put the SIM in with the pink "T" facing you or facing up and the gold SIM facing down (or towards the back of the phone),  carefully slide that back in until it clicks in and you're done.  I had to work with the SIM card a bit to get it to sit in the tray just right.  Don't force it - it will slide nicely when it's in place.  There are great videos on youtube if you need help.  About 30 seconds later you will see the T-Mobile name in the top left of the iPhone screen and the signal bars.  About 30 seconds after that, I got a voicemail, inviting me to set that up.  I made a test phone call to my wife and it went great.

4a) Cell Phone Plans - Voice - For me, I wanted to have an iPhone but I never wanted the monthly bill that most iPhone users have.  I also do not make a lot of phone calls - I have just never enjoyed the experience of talking on the phone.  To put it into perspective for you, most people pay close to $100 a month for their smartphones - I have not typically paid more than $100 a year for my tracfone.  I was willing to move up the price scale a little bit but not a lot.  Lately, we've been paying $20 every three months for our tracfones, but if you don't already know - the quality of tracfone handsets and tracfone software is just awful, I mean really, really bad.  So fast forward to T-Mobile - they have a plan similar to tracfone's that costs $50 every three months for 400 minutes of voice and text messages only (no data) and of course you can always add more when needed.  

4b) Cell Phone Plans - Data - I have started carrying a mifi at the cost of $20-$25 a month so the no data thing doesn't bother me in the slightest.  Plus with the mifi I get data for all my other devices as well (laptop, iPad, wife's iPod, etc).  The 3GS can function as a mobile hotspot but it will only work through bluetooth, not wifi and the cost difference is significantly more than the $20-$25 monthly for the mifi.  A MiFi does cost about $100 and I have had one die on me after 15 months of daily use, but even with that said, I think it's the better option.  Important caveat on T-Mobile data - as of early 2012, even if you do pay for data, you will only get 2G or "Edge" speeds which are pretty brutally slow (remember dial-up?).  This is supposedly changing at some point in 2012 as T-Mobile is turning on 3G that is compatible with iPhones.

So my advice is be careful - this whole process was a lot of work for me to get it right and I didn't get much help along the way.  Apple isn't going to help me because I'm not giving them any money.  T-Mobile isn't going to help me because I'm not buying one of their phones and I'm not signing up for a contract.  The most important parts are Factory Unlocked GSM iPhone (1, 3G or 3GS is where the lowest cost models are), get your full size SIM from T-Mobile and have them activate it, install the SIM into the iPhone, and pick a voice and/or data plan that's right for you.

And enjoy what the rest of the world has been raving about for the past 5 years.

Postscript : November 2013 -

A year and a half has gone by and much has changed.  T-Mobile is now the "UNcarrier" complete with their CEO cursing out the competition on stage.  Two things have changed just enough since I wrote this article to change the economic viability of this strategy :

1) Mobile Broadband prices have gone up.  T-Mobile's cheapest monthly plan is now $30 a month and they effectively no longer discriminate between prepaid and postpaid plans.  I would never go back to Virgin Mobile after the experience I had with them and the price of data at other carriers has gone absolutely through the roof.  It's truly shocking how expensive Verizon and AT&T have become.

2) T-Mobile's monthly phone plan prices have gone down, rather attractively in fact.  I never had a desire to pay $50 a month for my cell phone until I realized that I was already spending $30 a month for the mifi. Additionally, I can use my iPhone as a hotspot in a pinch.  Finally, my wife started using the exact same setup as I did and she was having problems keeping her minutes "in stock", so adding her to my plan only cost another $30, the same price as her monthly mifi.  At that point, it became a no brianer for us to go post paid.

I still think it makes sense to buy your own device (used) and then put your own plan on it but I no longer think that prepaid + mifi is a particularly attractive option unless T-Mobile (or another carrier) changes their rates significantly.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Help me identify this song!

Track 4 - Electro House

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Moby Summer Remix

2009 03 Moby Summer Remix Rendered.mp3 - JRock3x8

Friday, April 03, 2009

I Want to Know You

2009 Apr I Want To Know You.mp3 -