Tuesday, March 29, 2016

One of the Earliest TV Writer/Fan Interactions on the Internet

Earlier tonight, I hung up a framed quote on my wall, next to the door... Which reminded me of the peephole frame in Monica's apartment on Friends. Which then, in turn, reminded me of the magna doodle gag in Chandler & Joey's apartment, and how it was used by a writer on the show in an online debate that he was, indeed, a writer on the show.
The episode in question was season 5's, "The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS." You can see a screencap of the magna doodle in the above picture. It aired on Oct. 15, 1998.

1998 was still relatively early in terms of the Internet where the general public was concerned. AOL was still big, people were still using dial-up, and online forums were mostly on Usenet. You could find a "newsgroup" for just about anything on Usenet. A popular sitcom was no exception.

In the newsgroup alt.tv.friends, a debate had begun between regular posters "EvilJo" and "MayNotLast" (MNL for short), which ended up with MayNotLast stating that he was one of the writers on the show, thus nullifying the argument from EvilJo regarding something related to Chandler (for the curious, you can find out what the debate was in a search).

Of course, EvilJo would not simply take MNL at his word, so he promised that he would prove it with the next episode that he was involved with, which turned out to be "TOW Phoebe Hates PBS." He had worked it into the plot of the episode, where Phoebe would call Joey an "evil genius" on the show, so that anyone watching who noticed the "Evil Joe" scribble on the magna doodle would not think the message was odd or out of place, but also prove to the regulars on alt.tv.friends and EvilJo, that he was indeed a writer on the show.

Since Michael Curtis is credited as the writer of this episode, it's pretty logical to infer that he was the one posting as MNL on the newsgroup. This, in addition to the fact that, after he left Friends to work on another sitcom, MNL stopped posting to alt.tv.friends, makes those who were regulars in the newsgroup pretty confident that he was MNL.

Why am I posting about this? Because I was one of the regulars in that newsgroup, and a quick Google search turned up nothing about this little piece of Friends trivia, so that I thought I would put it out there on the web (even though this blog sees almost no traffic).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

12 Monkeys: TV vs. Movie

SyFy's new series, 12 Monkeys, premiered this week, and they made the second episode available through Video-On-Demand. It's apparent, very quickly, that the showrunners decided to make several things quite different from the movie on which it was based. Not that it's hurt the series any, though some things do change the tone.

I loved the film, and have found the series to be good so far. I just wanted to make some notes about things I've noticed to be different thus far.

  • In the film, there was a certain amount of ambiguouty that allowed for the characters and the audience to wonder if James Cole really was a time traveller, or if he was insane, until at least halfway through the movie. The series very quickly established that James Cole he had to be a time traveller.
  • In the film, the timeline is static--Cole could not make any changes to prevent the plague that nearly wiped out the human race, he was sent back to collect a sample of the original, pure virus, before it mutated; it's hoped that this would allow the survivors to go back to living on the surface of the earth. In the TV series, the timeline is fluid. While certain things seem to be preordained, it's been shown clearly that Cole can do things that would affect the future outcome, so his mission to the past is to stop the outbreak from happening.
  • The virus was still very much active in the film's future from which Cole came from. Anyone going above ground needed to wear a protective suit, and had to go through decontamination going back below the surface. Cole and his friend walked on the surface without need of any protection in the TV series.
  • In the film, Cole had constant flashbacks (dreams) of something he saw as a child, before the plague happened. This element appears to be missing in the series.
  • For very obvious reasons, the film's "primary past" is 1996, while the "primary past" of the TV series is 2015.
  • In the film, time travelling seemed to have some effect on a person's psyche, which was one of the reasons why Cole was chosen--it was implied that he could endure the process better than his predecessors. It also made it easier for him to doubt his own sanity. Thus far in the series, time travelling does not seem to have had any adverse effects on him. Cole was chosen not because of his perceived/tested abilities, but because his name was mentioned in a recovered recording made by Dr. Railly, which supposedly pinpointed the cause of the plague.
  • In the film, the Army of the Twelve Monkeys was thought to have caused the plague since before Cole was chosen to go back in time. In the series, it went unnoticed until a person in the past (Leland Goines) mentioned it.
  • It's implied in the film that there were others who had been sent back in time before Cole, and there were certainly others after him. It's not yet know if there were or will be others in the series.
  • In the film, no one saw Cole vanish before their eyes, lending credence to the possibility that he might not be a time traveller. In the series, Dr. Railly regularly sees him vanish before her eyes.
  • Dr. Railly was a psychiatrist in the film, and a virologist in the TV series.
  • In the film, Dr. Railly treated Cole as a patient when he was initially sent to the wrong year. In the TV series, he goes to find her intentionally.
  • Dr. Railly's name was Kathryn, and Cassandra in the TV series. The change was most likely an homage to the Cassandra Complex, which Kathryn talked about in the film.
  • Leland Goines' child was Jeffrey in the film. In the series, it's Jennifer.
  • Jeffrey was the leader of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys in the film. In the TV series, it appears that she was a victim of it.
  • It remains to be seen if the red herring in the film will be a red herring in the series, as well.
There are a few other differences that I think are too minor to mention, or perhaps a bit too spoiler-ish. And I'm sure there will be more as the series goes on.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Philips Hue - Initial Thoughts

Last weekend, I bought a Philips Hue starter kit, which currently retails for roughly $200. Philips Hue has been out for about two years, and is one of the easier "smart lighting" solutions currently available--It gives you the ability to turn on your lights, change their color/brightness through your smart phone, tablet, or computer, as well as set up automation.

The starter kit comes with a Hue bridge (used to control up to 50 Hue bulbs wirelessly through ZigBee) and three Hue bulbs.

After using the system for a few days, and having researched some of my questions online beforehand, my initial thoughts? Great system, lots of potential. Still lacks simplicity and more functionality, not to mention needing to be more affordable, for the general population to be able to use it.

Its biggest problem? The light switch. To make full use of Hue's "smart" capabilities, you basically need to keep all the lights on all the time--if they're physically switched off, the bridge can't talk to the bulbs to turn them on. There are ways around this, such as the Hue Tap, but it's expensive if you want to get one for each room, and so far I have not found a good motion-sensor solution (which would be good if Philips can offer up an easy, working solution, instead of trying to create our own workarounds). Now, you could just use the light switch as if they're normal bulbs, and things will work like regular warm-light bulbs, but none of the scheduled/automated functionality will work.

That brings us to the automated functionality...


Geofencing is the ability to turn off your lights when your smart phone moves out of the designated area, and on when it moves back within range. It does this by using your phone's cell signals, and comparing the geolocation with your predesignated "home" location.

By choosing one of your "scenes," you can designate which of your bulbs should be turned on, to what color, and at what light intensity. There's also an option to use your selected geofencing scene "Only after sunset."

Unfortunately, what I've found is that the "Only after sunset" setting does not work. Regardless of when I get home, geofencing turns on my lights--I've been back at 11:00AM, at 4:55PM (right before sunset for the day), and after sunset. The lights always turn on.

Though not a big deal, as I can always turn them back off if it's still too bright outside, it would be nice if the given functionality in the official app actually works.

The "off" function works fine. No complaints.

Please note that geofencing is meant to be used for leaving (or returning to) your home, not for individual rooms.

If This, Then That (IFTTT)

Outside of the official app, one of the biggest things that can be used is IFTTT. And one of the most recommended settings is to use this to turn on (at least one of) your lights at sunset.

IFTTT will connect to Weather.com, using your local forecast to obtain the sunset time, and turn on the lights of your choosing. Sounds great, right?

Well, not exactly. IFTTT will only poll for the trigger conditions every 15 minutes, and unfortunately, the connection actions do not allow you to choose X number of minutes before/after sunset/sunrise.
In my apartment, where not a lot of light comes through around dusk, I would actually prefer for the lights to come on at least 30 minutes before sunset. However, since I can't choose such settings, the lights end up turning on automatically much later than I would prefer.
Certainly, if I were home, I could do this manually, but the idea is to make it automatic so that it seems like I'm always home. And it could be argued that, as IFTTT is not created by Philips, it's not really a shortcoming of the Philips Hue system, but couldn't Philips include this a one of the default available functionality in its app? There are probably other third-party apps that can achieve this better (such as Hue Pro or Tasker, both of which are pay apps), but at the entry level price of at least $100 (for the Hue Lux starter kit), consumers shouldn't need to pay more to achieve the more basic "smart" functions.

Overall, I do think Philips Hue is a very good system, and I love the added functionality it brings, as well as lower energy use compared to the CFL bulbs I was using before. And while Philips has certainly made improvments to the system over the course of two years, there are still a few more touches that are needed to make it really useful. Hopefully Philips will update their software to bring these functionality in sooner, rather than later.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

On Net Neutrality

You may or may not have heard, net neutrality has been an issue of debate for several years now. Recently, I heard (courtesy of John Oliver's new HBO show, This Week Tonight) that the FCC is taking comments on its website.

My own experience in trying to post a comment culminated in the screenshots above. Hmm...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Apple's new ads are stupid

Compared to my previous phone (HTC Evo 4G), my new phone (HTC Evo 4G LTE) is both bigger (4.7" screen vs. 4.3" screen) and smaller (8.9mm thick vs. 12.7mm thick). In fact, the same is true of almost all new smartphones with bigger screens--They've pretty much all gotten bigger screens, became thinner in profile, as well as gotten lighter. Do they all defy the laws of physics?

In one of Apple's recent ads for the iPhone 5, the following statement was made:

"There are laws to physics, right? So, explain this--How can something get bigger, and smaller? There's more of it. And... less of it...? Well, I guess the Laws of Physics are, more like, general guidelines."

I think anyone with a basic understanding of science and physics should feel insulted by this ad. What they're talking about has absolutely nothing to do with physics. If they think anyone should truly buy into their idea that what they've done to the new iPhone, which they're implying breaks the Laws of Physics, they must be assuming these people lack the intelligence to know the difference.

Ten years ago, I had a 27" CRT TV. Today, I have a 50" LCD TV. The CRT was probably around 4' deep, and weighed a lot more than my 50" HDTV, which is less than an inch thick. There's definitely "more" of my new TV, not only does it have a larger display screen, it also has much higher resolution. And there's definitely less of it, because it is not only significantly thinner, it is loads lighter, as well.

But then, even before the advent of high definition television, you could have gotten a bigger display from something smaller and lighter. It's called a projector.

Another one of their ads posits that because "your [left] thumb" goes from the bottom right corner of the iPhone 5's new 4" screen to the top left corner, it's "either (A) an amazing coincidence, or (B) a dazzling display of common sense."

Now, my thumb does the exact same thing, except I can reach both corners on my phone's 4.7" screen. Imagine that!

Common sense tells me that, just because my hands are big enough for me to reach both corners with my thumb, doesn't mean that everyone else has hands the same size. Some people will no doubt struggle to do the same thing and have no choice but to use both hands, while others will have bigger hands than mine. At six feet tall, my hands might be slightly bigger than your average male.

Their other two ads are barely worth mentioning. The ear buds ad suffers from the same lack of common sense as the thumbs ad--It basically assumes that everyone's ears are shaped the same. If they were really trying to make sure the ear buds fit comfortably in everyone's ears, they should have included multiple ear bud options, like Jawbone does with their bluetooth headsets.

As for the panorama pictures ad, that functionality has been available elsewhere for quite some time now...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Say hello to my little friend

"Only" 60Hz. More than enough, I say.
"That man is playing Galaga. Thought we wouldn't notice. But we did."
Twisted fun.

Finally, I've upgraded the 32" TV I had in my living room to a larger 50"; it's working well, and I've moved the 32" to my room, and will retire the CRT that's been sitting in its stead, collecting dust. Gonna have to take it to a recycling place.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

iPhone 5 - "Blah"

The "big" tech news of the day is Apple's introduction of its latest iteration of the iPhone... which isn't really news, since they've pretty much all been leaked already, but Apple basically confirmed what the official changes are, over the previous iPhone 4S.

Let's take a look at these changes, shall we?

  • Bigger screen - 4 inches 16:9 vs 3.5 inches 3:2
    Two years ago, Steve Jobs ridiculed all the Android phones with bigger screens, saying that "3.5 inch handset size is the 'sweet spot' for mobile phone design; big enough to produce detailed, legible graphics, but small enough to fit comfortably in the hand and pocket." And what do we see now? A bigger screen. But Apple has a history of dismissing products it currently doesn't own a piece of, only to release a new product in that market later, and proclaim itself the innovator of that space, and rumors were already flying around last year that Apple would introduce an iPhone with a larger screen. It simply didn't arrive until this year.

    In this case, Apple is playing catch-up with the competition, where consumers are buying phones with larger and larger screens in excess of 4.5+ inches. My old phone from two years ago was 4.3 inches, with a 15:9 widescreen aspect ratio.
  • Thinner and lighter - "World's thinnest smartphone" at 7.6mm
    Not really anything innovative here, just your usual "spec bump"; smartphones seem to constantly be getting thinner and lighter, so it makes sense that a new phone being released is thinner and lighter. It does help in making a phone with a larger screen more pocketable, so the thinner design is welcomed.

    However, iPhone 5 will not be the "world's thinnest smartphone" - I'm not saying that by the time it is released, another phone will come along and be thinner. I'm saying that a thinner smartphone already exists. Chinese phone maker Huawei has a phone that's 6.8mm thin. Not that it's going to stop the hoards of Apple fanatics from taking Apple's claim as gospel. Who knows, maybe Apple will sue Huawei for keeping Apple from taking that title.
  • New CPU - Apple A6
    Supposedly twice as fast as its predecessor, the A5, Apple was mum about much of the details of the new processor. This, like the previous point, is your usual spec bump. One would hope that they've upgraded the chip to a 28nm fabrication process, which is the size of all the current Android flagship phones.

    The important thing here, though, is not really the technical specs. As long as it actually performs well, numbers don't really matter.
  • New Antenna - 4G LTE
    Did I mention that my two-year-old phone already had 4G? Granted, it was WiMAX instead of LTE, but Verizon also launched their own LTE phone more than 1.5 years ago. Talk about being behind the curve...

    My guess is that Apple probably didn't want to release a phone with LTE until after there's enough LTE coverage, and/or had a better way to manage the battery life when the LTE antenna is on. Which is understandable. But even now, there are many regions in the US not covered by any LTE network, so maybe it's strictly a battery thing.
  • New Connector - "Lightning"
    Probably the worst "upgrade" of all time. If you're going to change your connector and force all your existing customers to upgrade their accessories, why not make it a standards-compliant connector, instead of a proprietary one? And charging people $29 for an adapter that likely costs you less than $5 to manufacture is just the epitome of greed.
  • New earbuds
  • Updated Camera - Better low-light performance, panorama stitch mode
    As far as low light performance goes, won't know how it actually performs until the phone is released, but would be better if the actual image sensor is larger. Panorama mode has been available on Android for a while now.
  • New Map/Navigation
    This is more of an iOS 6 upgrade than an iPhone 5 upgrade--You don't necessarily have to have an iPhone 5 to get iOS 6, and maps/navigation should be part of the OS upgrade. Finally with built-in turn-by-turn navigation. Which Android has had for about 4 years... and the Android version has navigation with mass transit, a function lacking in the new iOS navigation. How innovative!
That seems to be mostly it. Looks like the iPhone is mostly playing catch-up with Android, and in some instances aren't even able to match some of the top-of-the-line Android phones. So, in short, blah.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

US Carrier Smartphone Prices

With the recent AT&T announcement that they're going to have similar data share plans as Verizon, I've decided to take some time to figure out how much each of the four national carriers would cost for family share plans.

Some things to note:
  • Even though AT&T will retain their current family share plans prices and not force you to this new data sharing plan when you sign a new contract, I have not included their current pricing in this comparison chart.
  • T-Mobile's data plan is actually "unlimited"; that is to say, you can use more than the 2GB limit in your billing period and won't be charged extra, however, your data beyond 2GB will be throttled (slow).
  • T-Mobile's non-contract prices should be lower. I did not check what they would be, however.
  • Under the new data share plans for both Verizon and AT&T, text and talk are both unlimited. So technically, the equivalent plans for T-Mobile and Sprint are their "unlimited talk" plans. However, Sprint offers "any mobile"--That is to say, with Sprint, you can call any cell phone number in the US (or receive calls), and talk for however long you want, and those minutes will be free and not part of your allotted "any time" minutes. So unless you make a lot of calls to landlines, you won't need that many minutes, making it almost the same as unlimited talk. YMMV.
  • These prices are for smartphones only. Since we're mainly concerned about the cost of data, non-smartphones need not apply. I'm also not taking tablets into account.
  • Verizon's data share plan also includes "free hotspots"; I don't know if AT&T's new plan does the same, but Sprint and T-Mobile both charge extra if you wish to turn your phone into a mobile hotspot.

P.S. I don't know why the header has "pHones" instead of "Phones"; I swear they were fine when I created the file in Excel. Somehow in the conversion to Google Docs, they decided to change which letter to turn into upper case. Don't know how that happened.

Friday, May 25, 2012

HTC's next flagship phone

After almost two weeks of being stuck in customs, it's finally here. And not a moment too soon. My original HTC Evo 4G is running low on space, so I pretty much can't install new apps, or even keep some of them updated.

The new HTC Evo 4G LTE boasts a 4.7" Super LCD2 screen with 16:9 aspect ratio at 1280x720 resolution, compared to the original Evo 4G's 4.3" LCD screen with 15:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 800x480.

The rear camera still protrudes, just like the original Evo. However, there's no glass (clear plastic?) that can be scratched like with the original Evo. You'd have to really go out of your way to try and scratch the camera lens on this one.

The new kickstand, missing from the Evo 3D and Evo Shift 4G, returns for this true successor to the original Evo, is much sturdier, and can be used three-ways.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Prices are coming down...

Ordered and received a 32 gig MicroSD card and adapter. Expected a Class 2 (picture shown online was a Class 2, and the one that came with the Evo was also a Class 2) and got a Class 4, so good news for me.

The price was higher than I would have liked, but low enough that I took the plunge. Just wish the adapter would have arrived earlier, then I probably wouldn't have had to reset my ringtones and notification sounds.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Completely reset the Jawbone Prime

Press the buttons in this sequence: Noise Assassin, Talk, Talk, Noise Assassin, Talk, Talk.

The above sequence will reset the Jawbone Prime to its factory settings. Why would you need to do that, you ask? Well, the reset procedure found on Jawbone's website doesn't unpair the Jawbone from your previously paired device... at least, not as far as the Jawbone is concerned.

That creates a problem because the Jawbone Prime supports multipoint--that is, the ability to pair to more than one device at the same time. So even if you remove the Jawbone Prime from your previously paired device, the Jawbone will still try to connect to it. And when it does that to a device that's no longer on, it wastes a lot of battery.

The reset procedure on Jawbone's website might unpair all but the first device the Jawbone paired with, but what happens when the first device you paired it with is no longer in use? Your new device becomes the second device to the Jawbone, and in my case, the battery life became halved from what it used to be.

By resetting it to the factory setting, all devices become unpaired, which should eliminate the multipoint/battery problem.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Download this from your iTunes Store

Oh, right, new phone

So two weeks ago, the new cell phone that I ordered from Radio Shack's website arrived via FedEx. It wasn't activated until Friday night (hence the posting of 4G speed test that night), and I didn't take any size comparison pics until now. I did take a picture of it earlier, a few days after I got the official Android 2.2 update (codename: "Froyo").

Anyway, it's a pretty "big" phone. The screen size is 4.3", which is actually the same size as the original PSP, although the resolution is a lot higher, making for a much crisper display. It is pretty thin, however, about the same as my previous phone, the Sony Ericsson W580i. The phone's camera protrudes a bit, so to be on the safe side, I bought a silicone case to make sure that the lens wouldn't touch anything when laid down on a flat surface.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sprint 4G

So, apparently, I do get Sprint's WiMAX network in my area, although just barely. And as Sprint has yet to announce service in my area, that means they're still in the testing phase.

Nevertheless, I've run some speed tests, and after 15 tests, the average download/upload speed is 2905.6Kbps/630.9Kbps. That's not too bad, but there were also several times where it could not connect to the test servers at all--in fact, that happened during my first three tests. It seems that during those tests, it tried to connect to some very far away servers, perhaps the GPS could not properly locate the location... So when I made the video, I was fully expecting the same terrible result, and to my surprise, it got the highest download speed (4493Kbps) of all my 4G tests--I haven't been able to replicate that speed at all. (The fastest upload speed in my tests was 988Kbps, by the way.)

Compared to Sprint's 3G, the average after 10 tests is 1785.1Kbps/795Kbps, with the fastest being 2598Kbps/922Kbps, and the slowest at 661Kbps/637Kbps.

It is also interesting to note that, when Wi-Fi is enabled, while the speed tests consistently showed around 9.xMbps/0.9xMbps at the same test server, the phone only showed up to around 6Mbps for download, though it did get around 1Mbps for upload. So perhaps the actual download speeds when not on Wi-Fi could be faster. When I get the Froyo update next week, I'll try the USB tether and test it from the laptop, and see if it makes any difference.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

So-called "Retina Display" is nothing new

Much has been made about Apple's "new" Retina Display that they're using in the iPhone 4. People are saying how amazing it is to look at, etc. Of course, shortly after Jobs announced this new achievement in technological wonders, experts have come out to take him down a notch. But that's not what this blog posting is about.

There's no question that a display with higher pixel density, or pixels-per-inch, will help make the display crisper. When I noticed that my sister's Panasonic DMC-TZ5 had a sharper display than my DMC-TZ3, the benefits were known to me immediately. I have since gotten the DMC-ZS3, which retains the same 3" LCD, 460K pixels display.

Out of pure curiosity, I decided to crunch some numbers to find out how many pixels-per-inch (or ppi) my more than one-year-old camera's LCD has (which is the same as the more than two-year-old camera my sister has). Before that, I did a quick measurement of my 17" laptop, which has a native resolution of 1440x900... the display measured 9" from top to bottom, so it's only displaying at 100ppi. Not very impressive, but to be honest, it works well enough for my day-to-day use.

Anyway, knowing the my camera's display uses the 4:3 aspect ratio, it was not difficult to figure out, without using a ruler, what the length and width of the display is, since the 3" number is for the diagonal length. (It's 2.4" x 1.8", by the way.)

The next step was to figure out approximately how many pixels run through the width and height of the display, as the 460K count is for the total number of pixels in the entire area. The count may not be exactly 460,000 pixels, but should pretty close. Employing some simple algebra, it appears that the display on the 3" LCD is roughly 783x587. (If you do the math, you'll see that brings the total pixel count to just under 460,000 pixels; if you increase the pixels by just one to each side, you'll get just over that count.)

That's enough for us to figure out how many dots (or pixels, in this case) there are per inch of the LCD display. Divide the number of pixels by its respective length in inches (783/2.4 or 587/1.8), and you'll get a few decimal points above 326ppi.

Now, what's that magic number which Apple has dubbed as the "Retina Display"? 326ppi.
(To be fair, using the same formulas, the iPhone 4 would have around 329.65ppi.)

I also vaguely remember a commercial for, I think, a Nikon digital camera, which boasts a higher resolution display than my camera, which was from a few months ago, so there's definitely no shortage of consumer displays that are better than what Apple is touting as their Retina Display. Further, I found through Google search that the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1, which was released in 2007, has a 3.5" display with 921,000 pixels. Working out the math, that puts it at 2.4" x 2.1", with a resolution of approximately 1108x831, and 395.7ppi.

Wow, technology that's at least 3 years old is so revolutionary.