Cultureguru's Weblog

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


Costs and benefits of reading Wired magazine

Wired magazine itself isn’t premium priced. Plus, they post most of their articles on their website for free. They get a little antsy about ad blockers, but that’s fair.

I started following Wired on Twitter during the last Canadian election. I thought that a little more science and tech news would be a nice break from all the politics in my feed. And I was right; it was welcome content. With the far worse US election on now, I can hardly give up on it.

But I hadn’t realized to what extent I was personally susceptible to constant promotion of the latest and greatest tech. I should have suspected, given that a single Wired article led me to spend I don’t know how much on a three-room Sonos system. I do love it, admittedly, but maybe there are other, cheaper wireless speakers that would have satisfied?


Mmm, shiny new tech. (Image: Shutterstock)

Now I’m constantly drooling over new cell phones. Not iPhones, mind—I am simply not of the Apple world, and not even Wired can convince me to join it. (Possibly because I take such perverse amusement in reading about iWorld troubles; to wit the hilarious Don’t update your f-ing iphone!

nsoonaecxhen0kibllqmEnd of digression.)

But in “my” world of unlocked Android phones, look what they said about the Nexus 6P (the later iteration of my current phone):

There is absolutely no reason not to buy this phone. None. Zero. The Nexus 6P is the closest thing there’s ever been to a perfect Android device.

The perfect Android device! Why wouldn’t I want that? There’s no reason!

Except that, you know, it is a $700 (Can.) phone. Wired’s answer to that  point (in US dollars) [bolding mine]:

The Nexus 6P is absolutely the best Nexus phone ever. Hell, it’s the best Android phone ever. And at $499 unlocked, it’s even cheaper than nearly all its competitors. Everything Google could do, it did. It proved how good Android can be—that an Android phone can be better than the iPhone.

So it’s a deal! $700 is a deal, because it’s the best phone ever!

Only while I was pondering that, it basically went out of production, because there are new Nexus’s (Nexi?) coming out soon, and Wired hasn’t reviewed those yet.

But they did review the Huawei Honor 8!

Huawei’s new device, the Honor 8 (there have been many other Honors before), is every bit the spec monster smartphone. Glassy, colorful design; 12-megapixel camera, plus a second sensor just for good measure; ultra-fast processor and four gigs of RAM; fingerprint sensor that doubles as a clickable shortcut key; latest version of Android; lots of storage, with room to add more. In most practical ways, it’s not that far off from Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 7, or other Android phones like the new Moto Z. The only thing the Honor 8 is missing is the absurdly high (and VR-friendly) screen resolution, but you know what else it’s missing? $400 on the price tag.

Which translates to $520 Canadian. So look, by dawdling I’ve just saved $180! And, the Nexus is clearly too big (plus, out of production). I was about ready to order my new Huawei.

…Ignoring the fact that’s nothing really that wrong with my current phone, and the the little detail I don’t really use my phone that much, anyway. I’m much more the tablet girl, and Wired is kind of down on tablets these days (particularly of the Android variety).

I was also feeling some e-waste guilt. I started to ponder what could I do with the old phone, should I in fact get a new one. There are articles about that (you can guess where). It seemed it might serve as a sort of tablet extension for cases where the small screen isn’t so much an issue—for Chromecasting, Twitter reading, playlist display, and such. And yes, I can do that with the phone now, only that always risks me leaving the house without it—which doesn’t happen if I just keep the phone safely in my purse.

As I was justifying all that in my head, I won a 10″ tablet in a draw.


The prize

Now, this is not the sort device Wired would rave about. It’s a bit slow and clunky. It has only 8 GB storage and limited ability to use the SD storage. The screen looks acceptable only from direct angles. It’s not sporting the very latest version of Android.

But as an extension to my “good” Samsung Pro tablet, it’s fine! There are even a few things it does better.

It’s proven enough of a distraction that I’m willing to put off the phone purchase again.

Well, that, and the fact that I’m also… Awaiting shipment my new Kobo Aura One ereader!

The new Kobo Aura One is literally big, a 7.8-inch behemoth in a world of standard 6-inch displays. But its features are also outsized, whether it’s robust waterproofing, a clever new nighttime lighting system, or a way to help you read as many top-shelf books as you please without paying a cent. More importantly, they’re all enhancements you won’t find on an Amazon Kindle.

It was a mere $250 Canadian, and Jean thinks he will use my old Kobo. (Which is good, cause it’s still perfectly fine.)

Umm, how long now til the election?

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Welcome 2016 dinner

I vaguely wanted to do our New Year’s gourmet-ish, cooking together dinner again this year, but I was completely uninspired as to what to make.

But I had the week off before Christmas and New Year’s, and I had three-month trial subscription to Texture (formerly Next Issue) magazine app, with its multiple food magazines. So I decided to go through those virtual pages for ideas.

I hit pay dirt almost right away, in a Food and Wine magazine from December 2015. They had recipes for all these different theme parties. But instead of sticking with one theme, I picked and choosed among different ones. Preferred criteria were that they sound good, of course, but not require me to run all over town looking for obscure ingredients. And not having us slaving in the kitchen all day.

The one course not covered by this one Food and Wine issue was dessert. And I wasn’t finding much inspiration in other magazines, either. But that weekend’s Globe and Mail happened to feature a New Year’s Eve menu for two people—including a cake that made just two servings! We had a winner.

We did this on January 2. We started working around 4:00, and were dining by about 6:30.

Theoretically first up (really, most everything was ready at the same time) were marinated olives with oranges, which, at Jean’s suggestion, were served with almonds and walnuts.

Olive Apetizer

This involved frying up some garlic, orange zest, and hot pepper, to which olives were added. Then everything marinated in orange juice. So pretty simple.

I don’t how much that treatment enhanced the olives? But I was pleased to find that the Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc we’d selected went nicely with them.

The main course was a smoky mussel stew. For this one, potatoes and Brussels sprouts were roasted, while fresh mussels cooked in a mix of white wine, butter, shallots, and herbs. The mussels were then removed from the broth, and cream added. Everything then came together: potatoes, Brussels sprouts, mussels (shelled), with the addition of smoked mussels.

Smoked Mussel Stew!

This isn’t the prettiest dish ever, but it was some good! The slight smoky with the creamy and the butter and the roast veg… Even the fact that we had to use frozen Brussels sprouts (fresh unavailable!) couldn’t wreck this. Yum.

The side dish was brown basmati rice with coconut and turmeric; basically, rice cooked in coconut mik with turmeric and salt. And served with mint on top. It was fine, but nothing outstanding. Rice does turns a nice yellow colour, though.

The wine we had with was an Ontario Gewurtz. Great wine; not sure if it was the best possible match, however.

The salad was spinach with orange and goat wine, with a red wine vinaigrette. I wasn’t able to find blood oranges, so Jean suggested adding cranberries to make the pictures prettier. 🙂

Goat Cheese and Orange Salad

The dessert, finally, was a gâteau Basque. You make it a bit like a pie crust, mixing together flour, egg, sugar, and butter, then forming it into a disk and putting it in the fridge. When ready to bake later, you roll it out to cake pan size.

Gateaux Basque with Warm Cream!

It was served with a simple cream sauce of whipping cream, sherry, and sugar, and topped with raspberries.

It was yummy, yummy this. As was the sparkling Moscato D’Asti we had with. Though supposedly only two servings, we had enough left to enjoy the next day, also.

Happy start to 2016.

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#Elxn42: This shit’s making me crazy

This shit’s making me crazy
The way you nullify what’s in my head
You say one thing, do another
And argue that’s not what you did
Your way’s making me mental
How you filter as skewed interpret
I swear you won’t be happy til
I am bound in a straight jacket

— Alanis Morissette, “Straightjacket”

So, it’s that part of the Canadian federal election where everything seems stupid and awful, we semi-hate everyone now, and when will it be over?!!

At least, I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.

Fortunately, I was able to decide who to vote for in the early and considerably less awful part of this extra-long campaign. And I’m not even primarily voting against something.

On balance, I just found that I like the Liberal platform the best. Things like, banning taxpayer-paid government ads (much as we’ll all miss those “Canada Action Plan” ads). And making the Senate non-partisan (one they’ve already walked the talk on). And, amending the Access to Information Act so it actually provides access to information. Ending omnibus bills. Trying to make Question Period better (it can hardly be worse). And yes, legalizing marijuana.

I also found Trudeau the most appealing leader overall. He’s shown more passion and boldness than the others. And I’m not concerned about his competence to govern.

As well, I am really impressed with the Waterloo Liberal candidate, Bardish Chagger. She’s smart, well-spoken, experienced in working in federal government. And she’s bound and determined to vote for Waterloo interests first, her party second. “I’d like to meet the person who succeeds in telling me what to do”, she said, credibly, at the debate I attended.

So good luck Ms. Chagger!

But I hope you’ll excuse while I now do my best to ignore the rest of the campaign. Because it’s not that I’m not interested. It’s just that me being interested has the unfortunate side-effect of me starting really care what happens. And I have no control over what happens—what politicians do and say, how the media reports it, and ultimately, how everyone else votes.

And that shit makes me crazy (then angry, scared, and finally kind of depressed and hopeless). I need off this emotional roller-coaster.

So bye-bye news radio, hello iTunes. See ya Macleans; the new Entertainment Weekly is in. Watch a leader’s debate? Are you kidding me? It’s the fall TV season! (Plus, I just discovered iZombie and Mozart in the Jungle on Shomi. Seriously, so fun.) Political bios? Not when I have a fresh copy of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance.

Now, Twitter remains a minefield. And I’m not ready to give that up, but I guess I can mute / unfollow a few politicos until November or so, eh?

By then, hopefully this will no longer be my anthem:

Straightjacket on YouTube

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Rogers’ Next Issue e-magazine interface is pretty nice (dammit)

Rogers recently launched Next Issue, yet another e-magazine option. The big difference between it and the ones I already use, Zinio and Google Play, is that you pay a monthly fee, and then you can download and read as many of their magazines as you want. That fee is $10 month for access to monthly magazines, $15 to also access weeklies.

Obviously that’s $120 to $180 a year (though yes, you can cancel at any time). As I already subscribe to a number of magazines individually, either on paper or digital, I thought it might be worthwhile if those were included.

Alas, it currently includes only one of my current subscriptions: Wired. So no Walrus, Maisonneuve, Pacific Standard, Bitch (Feminist response to popular culture), Nutrition Action Newsletter, or This Magazine. (The full list of what they do offer is here.) But despite already concluding it wouldn’t be worth the money, I decided to try their free two-month trial (one-month trial if you’re not a Rogers customer).

So I have to grant this: It’s a really nicely designed app. Once you download it and sign in (you can use your Rogers online account, if you have one), you get a list of the all the magazines they carry. You then tap on the ones you think you’ll be most interested in reading. (You can, of course, always change your list.) On future logins, just those magazines appear for selection, initially.

Next issue interface

You then tap on any of those to get a view of available current and past issues (seems to be up to a year’s worth, or so). You “long-press” any issues you want to read and they downloaded, as indicated by a pin icon. In the same way, you can unpin when you’re done.

It’s all very easy—you get text guidance through this process—and admittedly more fun, as you don’t have the checkout process at as the end, as you would with individual purchases in Zinio or the Google Play store.

As for actual reading, that’s pretty nice, too. How nice depends on the publisher. For example:

  • Entertainment Weekly—not available on Zinio or Play—was the best. They scale each page to fit nicely on a 10-inch tablet; no zooming required. When there is more content than can practically fit, you get little scroll up and down icons on the page you can use to see more. They also have links to videos with star interviews and fun things like that.
  • Cooking Light takes a similar “no-zoom, just scroll” approach to presenting pages, with little arrows making it clear that’s what you need to do. They also have easy links to their website with more recipes and food information.
  • Maclean’s is pretty basic, just presenting the pages at actual size, so you have to scroll down to the bottom if you want.
  • Rolling Stone still requires zooming, and doesn’t seem to include any neat interactive stuff.

For navigating through, the app offers a bar at the bottom, and if you click it correctly, you get a interactive mini-view of all the pages of the magazine that you can “flip” through for the one you want. That’s also kind of fun. (Though purely in practical terms, Zinio’s tile view of pages and popup table of contents might actually be easier to select from.)

Next Issue also use on up to five devices, and is supported on Android, iOs, and Windows 8. That’s less useful for my husband, who has a Blackberry tablet and a Windows 7 PC. So we’re not able to practically share an account in this household, until some upgrading happens.

Would also note that Rogers has now removed the magazines it publishes—such as Maclean’s, Chatelaine, and MoneySense—from Zinio (though they still seem to be in Google Play Store, at this point). That’s a bummer because that also removes them from the library version of Zinio, which made them free!

Even with those omissions, Zinio still has the bigger selection of magazines, with some libraries (like mine) making many of them free. It’s also the only one with a bookmark and share feature, both of which can be pretty handy. And it works on Blackberry, and has a desktop version (which I rarely use, but Jean does).

But just on the fun factor, gotta say Next Issue wins. Just not sure it’s worth $120+ more to Rogers from me, just yet.

Another post I found on this, comparing Zinio, Next Issue, and Apple’s Newstand.

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Magazines go “e”

I’m a magazine fan. News has its place, books have their place, but in a nice niche in between there lies the magazine: Current but not daily, engrossing but readable in a couple hours, and often possessing a more beautiful design than either of the other two.

I find out things from magazines that just don’t hear about anywhere else. Did you know that the tiny town of Montague in PEI is currently hosting thousands of new Buddhist monks (as residents)? If you read the latest Maisonneuve magazine, you would. Or from Utne Reader, the benefits of a zero-growth economy based on negative-interest dollars, which actually have existed in history. And, OK, I did know that Windows 8 was unpopular, but had never heard that analyzed as being because its tablet / PC design made it “the mullet of operating systems”, as Wired did.


Maisonneuve, I subscribe to on paper, along with The Walrus, Nutrition Action Newsletter, and Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Utne Reader, Wired, and several others, though, I read electronically, on my tablet.

To do so, I use one of two apps: Zinio or Google Play Magazines. Both give you pretty much the same layout as you’d get on paper, only in scrollable, zoom-able form. The apps are free, but the magazines themselves, in most cases, are not. [Although more on that later…]

Zinio, Digital MagazinesZinio’s been around longer and has a bigger catalog, including a lot of back issues, which can be nice sometimes. Subscriptions are almost always a better deal than single issues, but single issues can be a relative bargain compared to paper, particularly with foreign magazine. Uncut  (which is British) is around $15 on the newsstand, and about $5 at Zinio. For magazines that don’t have to travel so far, though, savings are usually a lot more modest. (And some major magazines, it should be noted, are only available for Apple iPads.)

Update to below paragraph: This week, Zinio on Android offered an update that solves the zoom problem! I can now change pages while zoomed. I have to say, given their other features, this now gives them the overall technical advantage over Google Play. Stay tuned..

[ The main advantage I’ve found with the Google Play magazines is that I can swipe to the next page while pages are zoomed. With Zinio, I have to scrunch the page back to “normal” size before I can swipe. Given that I have to zoom pretty much every page (anything less than a 10″ tablet, I think, wouldn’t really work at all for magazines), the Google Play ones are a time-saver. Google Play does lack some of the features of Zinio that are on occasion useful, however, such as the ability to bookmark pages, and to print (with watermark) them or send them to email, EverNote, DropBox, or whatever. ]

Neither, it seems to me, really takes advantage of the possibilities offered by being on a web-enabled medium, such as embedding video or streaming music. (The paper version of Uncut, for example, typically comes with a CD, but in the E version, you just don’t get the songs.) Only the text links are enabled. On the other hand, you aren’t web-dependent. Once downloaded, you can read the magazine while your device is offline.

Recently, Waterloo Public Library (WPL) announced the availability of Zinio magazines through them. I tried it out last weekend. It requires three logins: The expected one with your library card number (which I already had), a new one that grants access to the WPL catalog of magazines in particular, then a Zinio account (which I already had).

Once in, though, it’s quite a large catalog of magazines they have. And, unlike eBooks, which stop working on your device after the loan period of 1 to 3 weeks, the selected magazines don’t appear to have expiry dates. Guess I’ll know for sure in a couple weeks, but the library advertises “no holds and no returns!” So I’m not sure I get the business model here, on behalf of Zinio or the magazine publishers.

But let’s just say, to me, it’s well worth the triple login. Happy reading!