Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth headset

Well, with my new red ’07 350Z convertible on its way, I knew I needed a Bluetooth headset that would work well with he top down. CNet had a review of the Aliph Jawbone headset ($119.99) and I rushed over to the Cingular right after I watched it. It supposedly has incredible noise canceling abilities due to that feature’s “military” heritage.

What’s REALLY cool about it is that you can charge it via USB. The downside to this is that you still need the proprietary charging cable. Why they couldn’t just have a standard mini-USB connection I don’t know. Oh well.

And “no,” I did no get a red one (shown here) to match my car. Actually, I didn’t have a choice. Gray was all they had. ;-)

The Jawbone rocks in real world use too. I had the window down in my terribly noisy 350Z coupe and my wife could hear me clearly with little background noise. I tuned the noise canceling off and she said it was an amazing difference. The demos on their site are pretty accurate. Check them out.

It is a little awkward to put on, but hopefully I can get used to that.�

The perfect podcast mp3 player, pt 2: The Palm T|X?

Yeah, yeah, I know I was previously touting the Rio Forge as the perfect podcast mp3 player, well i have changed my tune so to speak. I now find that my trusty Palm T|X is actually the best. There are two things that have just been nagging at me after using the Forge for several weeks: AAA battery and non-descript bookmark descriptions. For bookmarks, it just tells you that there is a bookmark, but not what is bookmarked. So if you have several, you just have to guess which one you really want.

I have been agonizing for weeks on getting the perfect podcast mp3 player and here are my “must-have” features:

  1. Rechargeable battery
  2. One-handed operation (no virtual on-screen interface…real buttons!). Need this for use in car while driving.
  3. Bright readable screen
  4. Bookmarks for saving your place in an mp3 AND a description of the bookmark so you know what it is. Few players have this. Creative has, but see #5 below. The iPod (the resume feature but its not true bookmarking), Sandisk, iRiver, etc. all seem to lack this, a major oversight IMHO.
  5. UMS mode so you can copy files using standard file copying apps like Windows Explorer. The Creative Zen V is nearly perfect except you have to copy files using Windows mediaplayer or their special software.
  6. Built-in speaker

I’ve really been looking forward to the upcoming Sandisk Connect with its WiFi capabilities and built-in speaker, but if its like their current line I doubt it will have bookmarking. The Palm T|X does everything the Sandisk does and more, including support for the Napster music subscription service and streaming music playback via WiFi.

Prior to using the Forge, I had been using my Palm T|X with Pocket Tunes (PTunes), but found the access to bookmarks required going into the menu–much too cumbersome for one-handed operation in the car. I had some success with the mOcean Palm app which had an iPod-like UI, but it just doesn’t work all that well.

Well, I was playing with some different UI skins for PTunes and noticed that some had a bookmark button on them. Unfortunately, the skin writers did not support the hard-button navigation that I had seen in other skins. This is a mode that you can navigate around the UI using the 5-way controller. Intrigued, I looked into the skin creation tools and found that I could mod the sample skin to add buttons to display and add bookmarks and also add hard-button nav around the UI. It took me the better part of an evening and it isn’t that pretty, but damn if it doesn’t work real well. It’s an XML-based language and I was able to cobble together the code I needed to get it to work. Perhaps someday I’ll do an entirely new skin, but hell this works and I’m not complaining.

The best part is that I don’t need to carry around another device. Woo Hoo!�

My “wipe” featured on DL.TV podcast!

OK, I’m watching episode 142 of the DL.TV video podcast and they start talking about the “wipes” (i.e., video transitions) that their NewTek Tricaster can do. They show a few and all of a sudden, the one I did in 2000 appears! It’s not “cheeseball” as they describe. It’s cool! HAHAHA

I was their Documentations Manager from 1997 to 2002 and wrote all of the user manuals among other things. I remember wanting to do a cool transition and perhaps I accomplished just that. You had to use a special plug-in for LightWave 3D to create it. Had some help with the motion from Jason Linhart.�

Mine is the “UFO” wipe that is second in this clip. (1.7MB AVI, DIVX format)

XM – Sirius merger may be too late

I’ve had two XM portable devices. I sold one and haven’t used the other in months. I also doubt I’ll renew my subscription. Initially, Years ago, I thought this was a wonderful service: hundreds of channels, weather, traffic, comedy, commercial free, etc. I soon found out that there were really only a handful of stations that I really liked and that many had commercials. Still, it was way better than terrestrial radio. Then, podcasts and Napster came into my life… Nearly unlimited choice of shows and tunes at my fingertips. Why would I want to lock myself into a pre-programmed service?

I’m just not ready to fork over a couple hundred bucks for service. I suppose XM was very happy when they hooked me into a long-term contract, but the truth is that they should have kept me on a monthly. Maybe it would have flown under the radar and I just wouldn’t have seen it. Sure, i prolly could go back, but it’s now on my mind that I should make a decision to keep or quit. It’s kinda like the gym membership that you haven’t used in a couple months…you might just want to use it next week… 

When the news of the XM-Sirius merger came into my inbox, you would think I would be ecstatic! However, I just thought it sounded desperate.

Satellite probably works for the older generation, but it might be too techy for them. The younger gen is used to having everything on-demand. If it was under $100/yr or even less than $10/mo, I “might” consider. For now, I’ll let my service lapse and prolly not even care. I’ve actually taken the unit out of my car and haven’t missed it. Satellite radio is in deep doo doo…

Nokia N800 First Impressions

My first unit had a defect in the screen and when I took it back, CompUSA didn’t have any more units. Initially, I took this as a sign that I didn’t really need one, but that didn’t last and I got a credit to my charge card and ordered another at a different store for in-store pickup.

I’ve been playing with it for a few hours so far. I is definitely much better than the 770 in both hardware and software. Much snappier and feels better thought out. This is not a full-blown review. There are plenty of those on the net.

The display is gorgeous. I was worried about the 225 dpi screen being difficult to read with my (unfortunately) poor eyesight, but it’s very readable. In fact, the crispness of the display is much easier to read than my Palm TX. I really don’t use the zoom feature very much.  

The Flash implementation is problematic and a sore spot for me. I sort of supports Flash, but obviously not 100%. Besides the frequently reported slow YouTube playback, it doesn’t work with the web-based Napster player. The page isn’t rendered right and the audio never plays either. Interestingly, the myspace Flash-based player works, so it would seem that Napster may work in the future. Playback has random choppiness however. 

“Web 2.0” web pages seem to give it fits as well. The Google reader doesn’t render properly, but if you use the Expanded mode, its works ok.  

The mail client doesn’t seem to work with IMAP4, at least for my mail server. POP3 works fine and I guess that’s not a huge deal. One thing I’ve never seen before is a connection-specific SMTP feature. This is very cool. I haven’t tested yet, but supposedly the app will change the smtp server if I’m connected with WiFi vs, say, Bluetooth. Incredibly smart for a portable device.

The media player is kinda weird. If you have a bunch of songs you can’t, say, play an album. The only way to play “a song” is to select one in the file manager. Fortunately, there is very cool media player called Canola. UI kinda reminds me of the Zune. It plays MP3 podcasts like a stream, but no bookmarking.

Xvid video playback is ok using built-in player. A few random stutters here and there, but definitely watchable. I have a whole bunch I made when I had the 770.

Battery life seems excellent. The unit power features work pretty well.

The stylus is much meatier than the 770’s. The stand is cool.

Well, it won’t be replacing my Palm TX unless Nokia gets the Flash compatibility improved. Very close though. I hear that and the Web 2.0 compatibility are high on their to-do list. That’s a good thing. 

Nokia N800 Internet Tablet…check!

OK, I finally bit the bullet and pulled the trigger on an Nokia N800 Internet Tablet. I’ll be honest; I was an owner of the prior version, the 770, but sold it after only a few months. Why? The main reason was the lack of Flash support. Supposedly, that deficiency has been fixed in the N800. My other two gripes, small memory and slow CPU, have also been fixed. So, today being my birthday, and wanting to satisfy my gadget fix, I pondered the device, read the many reviews, and will be picking one up at my local CompUSA around 11am.

I have also been looking at the Sony UX devices with their full Windows support. However, the form factor and price (nearly $2k) kept me from getting. For a few hundred more, I could get one of their sleek VAIO VGN-TXN15p/W laptops–which i have decided will eventually replace my barely acceptable Compaq V2000Z. I run my Compaq 24/7, but the dang thing keeps on ticking.

Why did I get the N800? Well, I looked at what I did most on my PC: e-mail, RSS feeds, surfing, and music. The N800 looks like it will handle all of these except for YouTube videos, but Nokia is apparently working on that. Sure, my laptop could handle, but there is something so nice about using a palm-sized device to handle things.

Speaking of palm-sized, what about my Palm TX? Well, I’ll still probably use that for contacts and calendar, etc., but I’m hoping I can get it to sync with Outlook. The TX’s weakness is web browsing–it’s is just too limited. The N800 is much closer to a full browser experience and it’s only a little longer than the TX and about the same width and thickness. Hope I can find a case to make it pocketable.�

Well, look for future postings on my new toy…er tool ;-)

Calif rejects Internet tax effort (and for good reason)

I have been predicting this for many years. In my opinion, California (or any of the largest states) would never join the group trying to standardize sales taxes and, thusly, begin to tax Internet sales. Looks like, for once, I was right.

On the face if it, it sounds stupid for CA to not want a piece of the huge untaxed Internet sales. What people do not understand is that there is already state laws for a “Use” tax which taxes out-of-state purchases based on the “use” of the item in the state. There is even a space for it on your personal California tax return, which no one fills out.

California already goes after businesses that purchase out-of-state goods and makes them pay this use tax. If they were to adopt this uniform multi-state standardization they would likely lose tax revenue. Think about it: California has an economy larger than most countries. CA is not about to give up the right to collect use tax on that huge amount of consumption which it would under any type of multi-state standardization.  

Don’t expect the feds to step in either. This is a state matter. 

State walks away from Internet tax effort

Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal – February 9, 2007

At a time when California is trying to find money to balance the
budget, fund a statewide health-care plan and build roads and schools,
lawmakers have backed away from one potential source of money: the
Internet.

Eliminating that possibility was, in the words of Board of
Equalization member Bill Leonard, “a non-decision” that occurred last
year when the Legislature declined to fund California’s involvement
with other states in an effort to synchronize state sales taxes.
Simplifying the taxes charged by the nation’s 7,500 tax jurisdictions
is the first step before asking Congress for the right to require
sellers on the Internet to collect sales tax for local jurisdictions.

Organizers of the tax effort say California’s absence doesn’t doom
the effort, but without the nation’s most populous state as well as the
absence of New York, Texas and Florida, it appears unlikely that the 15
smaller states can prevail with the idea, although they plan to lobby
Congress this year for the taxing legislation.

According to the Board of Equalization, California forfeits about $2
billion a year in taxes by not collecting on out-of-state sales made
over the Internet.

The state does require Internet retailers who have physical stores
in California to collect sales tax on sales made to Californians. The
state also requires its residents to report purchases made over the
Internet and pay taxes on them. Apparently few people do. (There’s a
line on the income tax form, in case you’ve missed it.)

In 1992, near the dawn of e-commerce, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
in a North Dakota case that states cannot impose their taxes on other
states. It would take Congress to overcome that barrier. Fifteen states
have joined a compact in which they agree to regularize their sales
taxes.

The number of states involved has varied over the six years that
they have been working on the issue. California got involved in 2003 at
the urging of then-state senator Debra Bowen, who is now Secretary of
State.

The number has dwindled, however, as the larger states began to
realize the changes they would have to make to conform to the wishes of
the smaller states. Each state has just one vote on the governing board
of the Streamlined Sales Tax Initiative.

At the moment, the largest states involved are New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.

Meanwhile, California, Texas, New York and Florida are on the outside, although Florida and New York are still looking in.

Washington, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Hawaii are considering
changes in their tax codes, says Harley Duncan, executive director of
the Federation of Tax Administrators, an organization of all the tax
agencies of all 50 states.

“It would be good to have all the states involved,” he says.

Some states may be reluctant to make a move until Congress has
actually authorized the states to require the sales tax collection,
Duncan says.

“Until we can mount a credible effort on the hill, it’s kind of easy for states to say, what’s in it for me?” he says.

Two bills were floated last year, but they differed in how they
defined the term “small business.” That was important because in both
bills small businesses were exempt from collecting the sales tax.
Congress wanted the states to decide the issue before taking up the
legislation, says Scott Peterson, executive director of the Streamlined
Sales Tax Governing Board.

This year, the states will need to agree on the small business
definition and make another push on Capitol Hill. So far, however, the
Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the matter, has
no hearing scheduled on the issue, and it has not caught the attention
of the House of Representatives either.

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who serves on the House Judiciary
Committee — which would consider the matter if it comes to Congress —
says the issue has many complications. For one, some taxing districts
could lose revenue, she says.

In a separate issue, Congress will consider renewing a moratorium on taxing Internet connections that expires in November.

“We need to enhance and accelerate the use of the Internet and broadband,” Lofgren says, “not tax it.”

California, which would have had only one vote among the smaller
states, would have had to give up power over much of its taxing
authority, and BOE members began to doubt the advisability of the move
when they began to realize just how out-of-sync the compact members
were with California.

The three big problems cited by Leonard were:

  • District taxes, like the one for BART to San Jose and Santa Clara, would have to be eliminated or made statewide.
  • Sales taxes would have to be uniform throughout the state.
  • The state would lose much of its authority to choose what is taxable
    and what is not. Under the compact among the 15 states, for instance,
    juice, water and soda would have to be considered as one. California
    doesn’t tax water and juice, but it does tax soda. That difference
    would not be permissible under the joint state agreement.

“I don’t like giving up my sovereignty to some interstate commission to decide if we tax soda or not,” Leonard says.

 

 

Silent mouse rocks…but quietly

Well after reading the rather poor reviews of the Thanko Silent Mouse
on the Net, I was a little leary about getting the Buffalo Silent
mouse
. However, after using it for most of the day, it seems to be a
quality product. It’s smaller than you might expect, prolly 3/4 size of
a std mouse. Very sensitive. (I had to turn down the pointer speed in
the mouse settings.) It is totally silent, but the buttons and
scrollwheel appear to be very good quality–even clicking the
scrollwheel is good. It’s a bit weird not hearing the “click” feedback,
but I’ll get used to that. Highly recommended unless you have large
hands in which case the size may be a problem.

Download movies from Walmart.com on DVD release day!

Wow! This is huge! According to an article in USA Today, you’ll soon be able to buy downloadable movies from walmart.com.

“New releases will be available at www.walmart.com/videodownloads on the same day they come out on DVD and will cost up to $19.88. Older films will go for up to $9.88.”

“TV episodes will be $1.96 the day after they air. Networks on board include Fox, CW and Viacom’s MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Logo and VH1.”

“The retailer that accounts for 40% of all U.S. DVD sales will offer about 3,000 movies and TV shows to buy and download”

OK, the price is a bit steep, but being the lazy a$$ I am, I might bite. This gives me hope though for future prices:

“Although download and DVD prices are similar, “In the end, consumers will determine pricing,” he says.”

It will be interesting to see what devices the movies will play on. It appears to use Microsoft WMP DRM since it’s PC only/Internet Explorer–no Mac/iPod support. “Some portable devices using Microsoft’s digital rights system” will work. Hmmm…Zune???. You can back up the files up to 3 times, but the backup is–not surprisingly–not playable.

The reason I’m really excited is that this is just the first step. I SO badly want downloadable movies available on their theatrical release date.

Supposedly it will take about 45 minutes to download, but the big negative is that it will not include any bonus material…you know outtakes, etc.

The perfect podcast MP3 player

I FINALLY found the (near) perfect MP3 player to listen to podcasts: The RIO Forge 512. The feature you really need is bookmarks. The podcasts I listen to range from 20 minutes to a couple hours. Some are weekly and some are daily. If you are bouncing between different ones, you don’t really want to scan thru it to find where you left off. Thus, the real need for good bookmarks.

I tried to use my Palm TX, but you can’t really fully operate it one-handed–necessary when driving. (Note: The closest Palm app I found with good bookmarks was mOcean.)

RIO seems to be lagging behind in MP3 player development, but their Forge is still a nice device. It shows up as a removable USB drive and you just copy the files over. No need to install iTunes-like applications. I can also plug a 2GB SD card in for additional storage, but since I’ll only use for podcasts, 512MB should be enuf. It has rubberized edges and seems pretty rugged. The RIO store had refurbs for only $49. The only cons I have are the non-color display and the AAA battery. I’m much rather have a lithium ion battery that recharged with USB.

If the AAA battery becomes an issue, I may upgrade to a Creative Zen V, but I’m kinda holding out for the upcoming Sandisk Sansa Connect. Not sure about it’s bookmarking capabilities, but its a WiFi Napster-supporting player that looks pretty cool. The Forge is just something to get me by until the Connect comes out. Of course, if the Connect has lame bookmarking, the Forge may be permanent.