Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


Leave a comment

Huawei Honor 8 and Kobo Aura One

Because Canada is backward in terms of cell phone service, I experience the wonders of unlimited data only when I travel. (Within Canada, even if I were willing to pay for unlimited data, no one would sell it to me. Not in my province, Canada’s most populous.) So while in New York, back in October, we wandered the streets with my Nexus and a Roam mobility SIM card, confident we could Google Map, museum-narrate, and Open Table to our heart’s plan.

And indeed, the cell service phone service was fine. The phone itself, however, was not. It was a bit of an aged device, and it kept doing Weird Stuff. Mysteriously battery draining. Locking. Randomly rebooting.

Enter Huawei

So when I saw the Huawai Honor 8 on sale ($50 US off) at B&H in New York, I could not resist. And I did not even know, when I made that decision, that when shopping in person at B&H, they thrown in a bunch of other stuff free. So I left the store not only with my new phone, but a case for it, an SD card, premium over-the-ear headphones and a leather case for those, and some mini photography accessories (those, I handed over to Jean).

The Honor 8 is a generally well-reviewed phone, with specs that, apparently, put it nearly up there with iPhones and Google Pixels that cost twice as much (or more). The only real criticism I’ve read is that of Android purists, who object to Huawei’s practice of modifying the interface to make it look more like an iPhone. (They do this to please customers in their main market, China.) That doesn’t overly bother me, since it still basically acts like an Android—including the ability to customize it yourself to make it more Android-like.

huawei-honor-8-660x330

As a light cell phone user, it’s more phone than I need, really, and some of its features—such as the apparently great camera (Jean was amazed that it came with an aperture setting)—are somewhat wasted on me. Still, I’m quite happy with it overall.

The good

The size and look. While it has a somewhat bigger screen than the Nexus 4, it’s still very slim, very light, and so fits quite nicely in the hand. It also has this attractive glass backing (so glad my free case was transparent) and a beautiful collection of photos that appear on the lock screen.

huawei-honor-8-phone-28_1

Until I got an Honor 8, I thought I didn’t care how my cell phone looked. Turns out I do.

Battery life. It charges quickly, and holds a charge well. As a light user, all I do is plug it in for about 10 to 15 minutes each morning for more than enough juice for the day. While I haven’t tested this, I suspect I could go three, four days on a single charge.

Performance. Responsive, responsive. Every app I’ve tried loads quickly, smoothly—unless there’s some problem with the app itself.

Gorgeous screen. So sharp and clear. Text is easy to read, despite the screen size. Pictures look fantastic.

Fingerprint sensor. Easy to set up, and now I can unlock it with my finger. And get the notification bar down by sliding my finger the sensor. (I can’t quite get the hang of the double-tap to launch my calendar, though.)

Maintenance notifications. It warns me if an app is consuming a lot of resources, which is particularly appreciated when on data. It weekly (you can adjust timing) prompts me to clean up cache, to keep things humming. And although this was annoying at first, you must individually allow app notifications. I now realize the benefits of not being bothered by apps I don’t care so much about.

Storage: It has a lot (32 GB), even without the extra SD card. I’m using only a small fraction now, but nice to know that much more is available.

The bad

Too tempting. It’s new, and it’s fun, and now I’m going slightly over my small data allocation just about every month. (Once because I clicked a YouTube link without realizing what it was, which—even though I shut it down as quickly as I could—was immediately followed by a text from my cell phone provider that I’d already reached 50% usage. That’s the downside of responsiveness!)

Yet another connector. It requires a USB-C, which isn’t all bad: It’s two-sided, and has therefore put an end to my struggles to get the mini-USB inserted right side up. But it does mean that full collection of devices requires not one, not two, not three, but six different types of connectors!

P1320359

Connectors for, respectively, cell phone, eReader, small tablet, foot pedal, large tablet, iPod classic #maybeIhaveTooManyDevices

Kobo Aura One

Unlike with the cell phone, I wasn’t a smart shopper of this device at all. Instead, I was one of those silly “early adopters” who tried to get my hands on it as quickly as possible, and therefore (of course) at full price.

And it wasn’t easy. This eReader also generated many good reviews, and at launch, simply didn’t produce enough devices to meet the demand. Stores had no stock, so I ordered online, but it was back-ordered, then delayed from that. I ended up getting it just days before the New York trip, at which point a search for a case proved equally fruitless. It’s not a standard size, so only the “official” one would do. I went most of the trip without one, and managed to avoid dropping it. On the last day in Montreal, I found and bought a case at Best Buy.

At full price. Of course.

And how is it? It’s fine. It’s an eReader, so it doesn’t do anything more exciting than let you load and read books. But it is a step up from my previous Kobo (which Jean has inherited).

auraone_

The good

Screen. It’s slightly bigger than the usual eReader, but not so big that it’s awkward. It’s still a thin, light device you can manage with one hand. And the bigger size means less frequent page turning. And it’s definitely sharper than the old eReader.

Back-lighting. It automatically adjusts to the amount of light in the room, and also to the time of day, screening out more and more blue light as it gets later. You can override anything of this if you want, but I find it works well. And since I do read a lot in bed, I appreciate anything that potentially aids in good sleep.

Waterproof. Though I have yet to immerse in the tub, apparently I can.

Speed. It’s truly amazing how quickly new books are downloaded onto this device.

Library ebook borrowing integration. My local library is part of the Overdrive ebook borrowing program (most North American libraries are), and now that I’ve set up my Kobo with my library card number and separate Overdrive login, I can very easily load library books onto the device. No more having to do that on the PC using Adobe Book Manager.

When “shopping” for ebooks on this device, I get the Kobo store buying option of course, but if my library does have it available, I can borrow it right then, or put it on hold. The book loads like any other, but expires at the end of the loan period, leaving a preview version behind. I used this, for example, to borrow a Montreal travel book for the trip.

Storage: It also has a lot (and I’m also using only a small fraction of it at this time).

The bad

Typing. It’s just no fun typing on this thing. No auto-correct. Not that responsive. Fortunately, being an eReader, typing is definitely a secondary activity. But still, hate when I have to do it.

Battery life. Honestly, it’s still excellent, far exceeding any cell phone or tablet. It will last weeks. Just not quite as many weeks as the old eReader. You have to pay for that extra processing power somehow.

Pocket integration. I do use Pocket, but I log in via Google, and that simply doesn’t work on the Kobo. I apparently need a dedicated Pocket account, but how do I do that without losing all the articles already saved? So I’ve yet to figure out how I might access my Pocket articles on this device.

Huawei Honor 8 at B&H

Kobo Aura One at Indigo


Leave a comment

Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex is an hour-long drama that airs on Showtime in the US and The Movie Network (TMN) in Canada. It is about sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson.

I’ll admit that it was pure prurience that made me check it out. And the opening credits—which someone had way too much fun putting together—seemed to bear that out.

Opening credits

The actual program, however, turned out to be remarkly un-sexy, particularly for something with so much sex in it. The encounters were often clinical, or awkward, or clinical and awkward. And ultimately, the show wasn’t really about that.

Much like Mad Men, it’s about complicated people living in the US at a time of rapid social change: The late 1950s and into the 1960s. Unlike Mad Men, though, these characters are based on actual people.

Mind you, it’s not aspiring to documentary-like realism. It is a drama, so the facts of history are enhanced with made-up stories and side characters to make them dramatic. Bill Masters did start his work with prostitutes, and one of them did suggest it would go better if he had a female partner. Did that woman then go on to change her life and become Masters and Johnson’s office manager? Not that we know of, but it did make for good TV.

Masters of Sex image

And as can be the case, the parts that seem most implausible in the drama are the ones based in reality. As a doctor, Bill Masters is presented as wonderful to his patients, and incredibly progressive. You cheer him as he advocates for them against the ignorance of the times. But as a husband, friend, partner, colleague, Bill Masters can be so cold, and often behaves appallingly (though he is evolving, and we’re getting to understand better why that is). And that is apparently what the historical records: His patients loved him. His colleagues… Eh.

As for Virginia Johnson, Bill Master’s partner (in more ways that one)—her character is much easier to like: She’s charming, warm, beautiful. So her almost pathological need to prevent anyone from getting too close to her are an ongoing puzzle. But again, this is grounded in reality, including the fact that the actual Virginia Johnson insisted she never loved Bill Masters—despite being married to him for 20 years. (A time period the show has not yet reached.)

And the other characters, including Bill’s wife, Libby, are generally given equal attention, presented as true and not stock characters.

Masters of Sex has little violence, no crimes to solve, no underlying conspiracy theories, and not even that much sexy sex. Furthermore, you somewhat know where this is going: Masters and Johnson will publish a book, it will be very popular, they will be recognized as pioneers in their field.

What holds the interest are the characters: Both the ones based on real people and the fictionalized ones surrounding them. Trying to guess these people’s motivation, who will interact with whom next and how that will go, is just incredibly compelling. Even my husband, who will often complain of character-based movies that the plot itself is lacking (“but nothing happened!”), is caught up in it.

Part of that intrigue might also be how the show plays with time. Not only are the characters an ongoing mystery to discover and understand, but we can never be sure how much time will have passed between episodes. Or even during one episode. The next episode may start the day after the last we saw, or it might start four weeks or eight months later. Two episodes this season covered a single day; another single episode took us through three years.

So, being based on some history doesn’t mean that this program is particularly predictable. Still, it’s probably not for everyone. But it is for me. Happy it’s renewed for another season.


Leave a comment

Me and JT

So here’s a back story: I signed up to be a Supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada so that I could vote in their leadership campaign. It was a ranked ballot, meaning you number the candidates in order of preference, and I did not put Justin Trudeau as my number 1. I went with Joyce Murray (who? I know) as my first choice, because I liked her proposal on electoral reform.

But when Justin Trudeau was announced as the winner by a large margin (Joyce Murray came second, for the record—because I wasn’t the only one who liked her electoral reform platform), I was… totally good with it.

The victory was completely expected, of course, but it wasn’t just that I’d expected it and figured he would do. I felt really happy and excited about his election.

And when he gave his victory speech, I only became more so. And honestly, I was surprised by that.

Justin Trudeau and Candian flag

Photo by Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

But Justin Trudeau speaks well. And yes, he looks good. And he looks good speaking well. He most definitely has that sort of charm and charisma that draws people in. I am not immune to it.

But that does not mean that he would be a good Prime Minister. And him taking that post is certainly a possibility, given that his party’s polling numbers have risen, and have stayed high, ever since he assumed the leadership.

So when he came for a Waterloo region visit, I had to go. The local public meeting was at 5:30 in Cambridge, which is two cities away from me. But in the afternoon, he stopped in on the university campus that was just down the street from my office. That was way easier for me to get to, though it meant mingling with the young ‘uns.

UW is a very math-and-engineering–focused school, and voter turnout among that those age 18–25 is dire, but nevertheless, the “Great Hall” was packed awaiting his arrival. (Which was precisely on time, by the way.)

The world-weary, cynical students behind me predicted his speech would be full of promises that would appeal to students, such as lower tuition (and that he’d then go on to an age old home and promise them better mentions). But it wasn’t that at all. He just talked about the importance of harnessing the passion for the world that youth feel, but do not find expression for in partisan politics. That it’s not that they are apathetic, but that they are turned off by all the negativity. Which is why he’s trying to be positive, to listen, to change the tone.

It was a short talk, maybe 10 minutes (no notes, no teleprompter), and then he took questions.

While I won’t try to recap everything (in fact, I didn’t stay til the end, since it was the middle of the work day), a few moments did stand out.

Electoral reform

This was first question to draw applause, and Mr. Trudeau’s response that he wasn’t entirely in favor of proportional representation was the closest he got to being booed. So don’t tell me people don’t care about that issue. Trudeau said his problem  with proportional representation systems is that they often involve selecting members of a parliament, rather than to represent a particular riding. And he did win some people over with his support of ranked ballots.

Ranked ballots might be an interesting change, but it likely wouldn’t change that much, in the end, and it certainly doesn’t give you proportional representation in a party system. Furthermore, I remain a bit frustrated that he doesn’t fully address:

a) That members of parliament don’t really represent their constituents now, at least not in terms of voting in the House of Commons, because all parties demand that all of their members vote along party lines almost all the time, whether their constituents like it or not.

b) Not every type of proportional representation requires picking members from a list who don’t represent anyone. One of the most interesting forms, in fact, wouldn’t require electing any more MPs; it would just weight their confidence votes based on the constituency’s party votes.

(Maybe I should write to Justin about this.)

Israel / Palestine conflict

I couldn’t quite hear the question, but I know it was very critical, and I thought Mr. Trudeau’s response was good. He said that it was needed, ultimately, is a two-state solution, and that speaking in a polarizing way on this issue doesn’t help achieve that. But then he pointed out, quite sensibly, that this is not an issue that Canada can solve. We’re destined to just be background players in this.

Better access for people with disabilities

A prime example of how, sometimes, his responses were just vague platitudes. Those world-weary students behind me grew pretty snarky as he just went on about the ideal about giving everyone an opportunity to succeed, without ever saying what he might do specifically to achieve that. “Just make something up, even if you won’t do it!” was the students’ spectacularly bad advice.

I have better advice: Look into the US regulations for people with disabilities, and look to adopting some of those. Believe it or not, the US has some of the best standards in the world—much better than Canada’s.

(Maybe I should write to Justin about that, too.)

Childcare

But here’s an example where he had a pretty good response, even though there is no solid Liberal platform on this issue. He reminded everything that Liberals had a plan in place for this, but it was never implemented after the defeat of the Paul Martin government. But that it was a complicated thing to negotiate with the provinces, and he couldn’t promise that he could just revive it if elected. “I just don’t know what fiscal situation we’ll be facing then,” he said.

Legalizing marijuana

A moment of humor, as the person asking the question really seemed to be high as a kite. “You wouldn’t have vested interest in legalization, would you?” Trudeau quipped. I like to remind people, “It’s not legal yet!” But then he went on to the solid argument that Canada’s current prohibition approach simply isn’t working. Marijuana is not good for the developing brain, but Canada is #1 in youth pot smoking. But with regulations, that would be easier to control, as we’ve seen with tobacco and alcohol. And that the extra funding, instead of going to organized crime, could be used for better drug rehabilitation services.

Canada is currently being led by a man who cannot deliver a speech without a teleprompter, who never takes unscripted questions from the public, who rarely even takes any from the media, and who shields himself behind a wall of security. Who was once advised: “You don’t have to like people to be in politics. But you can’t hate them.”

Justin Trudeau has proven he’s different on all these counts. How much that matters is for the Canadian public to decide.

But I like it.

Trudeaumania floods SLC (article from UW’s Imprint, including a video interview with Mr. Trudeau)

Trudeau impresses students during whirlwind tour of region (from Waterloo Region Record)

Video montage of Trudeau meeting people across the country, including in Waterloo:


Leave a comment

Les tablettes et le Tep

We both acquired new tablets not long before this vacation. I had been managing with a 10″ Motorola Xoom. (A what? Exactly!) The Xoom wasn’t a success in the marketplace, but it still served my needs just fine for many years. It was starting to seem rather slow, however, and had recently become a bit flaky, randomly losing connection to the wireless and needing a reboot.

Compared with my first tablet purchase, I didn’t give the new one that much thought or research. I was basically figuring I would stick with Android. And I was thinking it might be nice to have a slightly bigger screen.

So when Jean pointed out that the Samsung tablet demo I was playing with at Staples actually was bigger than a 10″ tablet, I thought maybe the time had come!

I did do a little research at that point. Apart from some snarky commentary about who on earth would want a tablet that big (me!!!), and pointing out that it did cost more than most tablets (more than some laptops, in fact), it was well reviewed. A bonus payment at work made the price more palatable, so after a bit more experimenting with the demo model, I made the purchase.

Samsung 12.2 tabletAnd I’ve been happy with it so far. It is much faster, the screen quality is much higher, and it’s actually lighter than the old one. The bigger screen means I no longer have to zoom magazines to read them and it’s also great for the digital sheet music. (The tablet display is about the same size as office paper.) I had to get used some Samsung-isms that still trip me up on occasion, but mostly it’s still Android and familiar. And to my surprise I didn’t have to reinstall any apps; based on Google account, it just set all that up for me, and rather quickly as well. (I just had to sign into everything again.)

This was all making Jean, who’d been managing with a Blackberry playbook, a little bit jealous. But the same device wouldn’t do for him. He wanted something that would allow him to upload and process photos while on vacation, requiring a bit more juice than you get with an Android tablet.

So he bought what was essentially a Windows 8 laptop, but in tablet form. His screen is even bigger than mine. (And he paid more money for his device than I did.) But it’s still a lot lighter and has better battery life than a laptop would.

Setup wasn’t quite so easy for him as for me, either, but it wasn’t that bad. Once he got past the typical feeling of loss and alienation that all new Windows 8 users experience (Where are my programs? What are these useless tiles for? How do I shut this thing down?), he was pretty happy with his purchase as well.

So we were kind of disappointed to find out that the free wireless at our France hotel was available only in the lobby, not in our rooms. Not good enough! [Yes, it’s a bit sad.]

Fortunately, I had come across a solution for that: Portable, rentable, wifi hotspots, courtesy Tep Wireless. I had read some good reviews of this service, so decided to sign up for it.

Tep wireless deviceFor $7 a day (10-20% discounts coupons rather easy to come by), you get 150 MB of internet access. They ship the device to you a couple days before you leave (yes, there is an extra shipping charge). It’s a very small device with a charger, set to work with the network of the particular country you’re travelling to.

We set it up in our hotel room, and it was very easy. It has a password on the back that you sign into the wireless with, and supports up to five devices (we had three, with my cell phone).

It was an excellent connection. Fast, reliable, and presumably more secure than open wifi network. I would also take the Tep with me when I brought my cell phone, and that way we could, anywhere, check email or Google maps (or Twitter!) without using data (no roaming charges!). The Tep had about five hours of battery life, which proved enough for us.

And, the 150 MB per day (which carries forward if you don’t use it all), was sufficient until almost the last of vacation, when Jean’s photo uploading brought us to the limit. They told us that by email, we were able to add more data at a reasonable fee to get us through the last couple days, and all was good.

We were sad to see the Tep go by vacation end. They had included a return envelope with the device, and we bought sufficient French postage to mail it back to them.

Of course, we noted that we get highly offended when hotels ask us to pay for wifi access, yet here we were all delighted about a gizmo that cost us 50 some dollars plus shipping for one week of Internet.

But hey. If it appeals to you, and you can afford it, we would definitely recommend Tep portable wifi. Good device, good customer service. (And definitely cheaper than foreign roaming charges.)

 


2 Comments

The pedantic corner

No idea why, but it just got to bugging me this past weekend that the media kept referring to us “losing an hour of sleep” this weekend due to daylight savings time.

Because, no we didn’t. Not necessarily.

Sure the lost hour occurs overnight, and sure most people are sleeping then. But it doesn’t have to follow that they therefore lose an hour of sleep.

You can, after all, go to bed an hour early that day. Or, you can sleep in to an hour later than usual. (It happens on a weekend, after all. Many people don‘t work, or at least start later on the Sunday.) You can even go to bed and get up at your usual times (according the clock), then have an unusual one-hour afternoon nap.

So media, we do not lose an hour of sleep due to daylight savings. We lose an hour of the day. Whether that means one less hour spent awake or asleep is really up to each individual’s circumstances and preferences.

Got it? Because I really don’t want to have to go over this with you again next year…


Leave a comment

They made me tweet the promo, but I actually do like Unroll.me

Are you one of those “zero inbox” people?

Or someone wise enough to have some “junk” email address that you reserve for corresponding with corporations and organizations, keeping your “real” email account in a pristine state for communicating with actual friends and family?

Or someone who quickly and ruthlessly unsubscribes or trashes any unsolicited email that you receive from corporations and organizations?

If so, then this post is not for you.

But if you’re somewhat daunted by the amount of email you’re receiving; noting that even as you unsubscribe from three mail lists, ten more seem to pop up; even finding yourself setting aside time each weekend to try to plow through the mountain of unread email that has accumulated during the week… You might be interested in Unroll.me.

Unroll.Me

It’s a free service. If you sign up and allow access to your email account, it will scan through and list all the “digest” emails—all those mass mailings you get. You can then go through the list and, for each, decide whether to:

  1. Unsubscribe
  2. Keep in Inbox
  3. Add to RollUp

And what is a RollUp? Well, that is a single email message you receive daily, tidily compiling in one spot all those “digest” emails that you are actually interested in, but no longer want clogging up your inbox as individual mail messages.

As new digests arrive, Unroll.Me will continue to detect them and give you the option to categorize those, also. And you can always go in and manually tweak things.

The unsubscribing option has a limit of five: Once you reach that, you have to agree to promote Unroll.me somehow to do more unsubscribing. I went with tweeting, as I have few Twitter followers anyway, so I figured that would annoy least people. The other options are a Facebook post or sending an email to five friends (making you something of an email spammer yourself, of course).

Other than that, I haven’t found too many catches with it. No idea how they plan to make money from this, but the RollUps are not cluttered with ads.

And yes, it’s helping. Maybe not quite as much as I’d like, due to some digest emails being sent from varieties of email addresses (I’m talking to you, Liberals) and possibly a need to move a few more items from Inbox to RollUp. But yes, my Inbox is already a somewhat calmer place.

I use it with Gmail, but it apparently works with many other email clients as well. In Gmail, “under the hood”, it’s using an Unroll.me label, marking roll-up email as read when it arrives, and having it skip your inbox. So if you ever want to see or delete the original emails, you can just pop up into that Unroll.me folder.


2 Comments

Living life online

A poll that got some play last week said that Canadian smart phone owners spend about 86% of their free time looking at a screen.

I’m sure my numbers are ranging up around there as well. And that sounds terrible, as though I’m frittering my life away as a couch potato, playing violent games, reading Facebook posts, and watching mindless television.

When really, for me, I believe it’s not so much a change of activity as just a change of medium. I used to read books, magazines, and newspaper exclusively on paper. Now, more and more, I read them on screens. But regardless, it’s still a good activity for my brain.

And, I used to write letters with pen and paper. Now I communicate via some kind of screen, mostly. Which is a relief to my recipients, as my handwriting is terrible. (And sometimes, I will still print the results on paper and mail them out, just to be retro.) Nevertheless, I’m still keeping up social ties.

What about exercise? It’s not new that I do that in front of screens. First with VHS, now with DVDs, and I imagine I’ll move on to streaming options in the future, but regardless, I’m a long-time fan of following along with video workouts. And my collection of music DVDs are a big help in getting through treadmill and free weight workouts. Inside or out, with screens or nature, it’s still good for the body.

Thanks to digital sheet music, I even use screens when making music. I now have this Bluetooth foot pedal so I can change pages without lifting hand from keyboard. It’s very cool.

[And the article has “listening to radio” as a non-digital activity. Who in the world ever just sits and listens to the radio, without also doing something else at the same time—driving, cooking, brushing your teeth, paying your bills? And aren’t most radio stations accessible online? To list “listening to radio” as an activity in itself is just peculiar.]

But all that defensiveness aside… I do believe it’s good to get out into the real world and interact with it directly, sans screens. And, I’ll admit, I sometimes I suspect my balance there is off.

A real symptom of this is my, frankly, incredibly low usage of my smart phone. Per the poll, average smart phone usage is 1.5 hours a day. Here I am way below average, at maybe 3 minutes per day?

Because basically, most of what I can do on a phone I can also do on a tablet or computer. And given a choice, I’d rather use those, because the screens are bigger. The phone’s advantage is great portability + not requiring an Internet connection. So it’s fantastic when you’re out and about; often it’s the the only option there.

I’m having to conclude I’m just not “out and about” that much.

(On the plus side, my cell phone bill is only $30 a month, including data! For those not from Canada: That’s pretty good.)

Nevertheless, I did recently upgrade my cell phone. The old one had the world’s tiniest amount of storage, and that was making it incredibly difficult to update the few phone apps I do consider critical: Evernote, Twitter, Swiftkey, Gmail, GPS. Weary of its constant “Out of space” warnings, I paid it off the old and am now the proud owner of an unlocked, 16 GB, Google Nexus 4.

Photo of Google Nexus 4

I am stunned at the speed of this thing, I must say; couldn’t believe how fast everything downs (on the same wifi connection as before). It also has a nice, sharp screen and the very latest version of the Android OS. My older Android tablet seems rather stodgy by comparison.

So given that nice design, I’d actually like to use it more, but that just isn’t going to happen unless I actually get out, away from home and office, more often. Ironic?