Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Drive a REAL Train

Have you ever wanted to drive a real train? That's what I did while volunteering on the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority (MATA) trolley line in Dallas, Texas.

MATA trolley cars are operated by full-time and volunteer motormen and women and offers free rides in Dallas' Uptown. They run several cars from the early 1900s. Two of my favorites are the huge Australian "Matilda" and "The Green Dragon", pictured here. "Rosie" and "Winnie" are the other trolleys running on the line. There is even a little speeder, "Miss Daisy", that is used when track inspection and repair is needed.

I found out about the motorman opportunity in a model railroading magazine. The ad said something like "mine is bigger than yours". Instead of just operating a model train, you could be a part of a real railroad.

I filled out a volunteer application at MATA's Website (http://www.mata.org/volunteer.shtml) and their training coordinator contacted me with training details. He coordinated the times that were good for me with who was available to be my on-the-job instructor. I took the video training and it was absolutely awesome when my instructor let me take over the trolley controls - totally supervised in case I messed up.

ZenFone 2 Great Features at Great Price

My iPhone 4 was getting a bit long in the tooth, so I started looking at an upgrade. All the ads for the iPhone 6 had me heading that direction, but I just couldn't justify almost $800 with a two-year contract for the 64 GB version, and the cheaper 16 GB like my old 4S just doesn't have enough storage for all my music, videos, photos, and apps. 

But then I saw the Asus ZenFone. I've liked the Asus products ever since I used their motherboards for modding computers years ago. My wife swears by her Asus tablets, unlike her Samsung tablet which she swears at.

The ZenFone 2 had the right price and features. At $299 for an unlocked phone without a contract and with 64 GB internal storage, a fast graphics processor and an Intel chip, they knew how to get my interest. Plus you can add a 64 GB microSD card to really boost your storage.

It is Android-based, so no porting of my hundreds of iPhone apps. But they did have Android versions in the Google PlayStore of most of the apps I use on a regular basis. It also came with the latest version of the operating system, which you couldn't say about most of the other Android phones. And like the new Apple campaign says, if it's not an iPhone, it's not an iPhone. (Somewhat less than stellar creativity in an ad campaign.) 

But on the plus side, it wasn't an iPhone. I have grown weary of the glitches introduced by several of the iOS updates. Find my iPhone stopped working because an update stopped the GPS from working properly. This also wreaked havoc with some other location based apps including navigation and searches. And don't forget about Apple booting Google Maps off and replacing it with their own fiasco of a map app. They received plenty of free press for that one. 

The inefficiency of our local Apple Store helped drive the final nail in the new iPhone coffin for me as well. I was told that no one could see me today about the problems on my iPhone and iPad, and the earliest they could make an appointment for me was in two weeks. No working you in for a couple of minutes. Sheesh.

A great price on the Android-based Moto360 smartwatch at $150, as opposed to the iWatch Sport's ugly rubber look at $400, the ZenFone 2 was a Go.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Photon Flash for iPad / iPhone

Last time I reported on a Flash browser for iPad called iSwifter. However, Photon has replaced it as the best Flash browser for iOS devices.

iSwifter continues to have problems with slow connections and timeouts. This is probably due to overloaded cloud servers.

While Photon also uses a cloud browser infrastructure, response time is short and reliable. Another great benefit is that Photon is available for the iPhone, providing full-screen viewing pleasure.

One of the websites I tested this browser on was CBS.com.I played several Flash clips from "Big Bang Theory" and "Mike & Molly". They played smooth and seamless with no buffering.

The great performance and reliability of the Photon browser really makes it the browser of choice for iOS devices.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tablets: Flash, Storage and More

I have an iPad Classic, but I'm not an Apple purist. I am practical. If the iPad 3 doesn't deliver then I'm switching to a smarter tablet like the Android Transformer.

Why? Several reasons: flexible storage, camera quality, Apple's exorbitant charges to developers and booksellers and other Apple Big Brother rules, and Flash.

A disappointing iPad 2 once again had no capability for memory expansion. Many of the latest androids let you add external drives or other storage devices. Some have built-in card readers and USB support.

iPad 2 added cameras front and back. Yea! Both cameras have very low picture quality. Boo! While you want to keep the front camera pixels low for bandwidth, you want a higher quality rear-facing camera for better pictures. Next generation Androids typically have 5 MP or better for the rear camera.

Apple is really putting the screws to developers and ebook sellers like Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. This lunacy is passed on to the iPad owners. Often you'll see apps and ebooks cheaper on Android and higher on the IPad. One recent magazine I was looking to purchase was $3.99 on Android and $6.99 on iPad.

Don't want to surf the most popular sites and your favorite products and retailers on the web? Then iPad is probably OK for you. The problem here is the lack of Flash support on the iPad thanks to their tiff with Adobe. Yes, HTML5 offers site developers opportunities to redo everything they already did in Flash, but there still aren't that many takers. It's too expensive for them to do it. iPad users lose again.

One third-party Web browser that allows iPad users to surf Flash sites, play Flash games, enter Flash-enabled contests, and do other Flashy things is iSwifter. This is an essential app in any iPad user's kit. It works by feeding your site to their Flash cloud server to process and return to you. Sometimes their servers get overloaded or become unavailable and so does the site you are trying to access. It's still the best alternative on the iPad.

So while iPad was the first to successfully make the tablet market viable, they have a lot of catching up to do with Android. Quite frankly, they've moved so far away from their grass-roots user-centered business model and closer to the classic Microsoft-style profit above all else business model to pull it off.

If iPad 3 doesn't deliver, I'll get a superior product like the Asus Transformer, and keep the iPad classic around for the occasional app that's only available for them.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tablet Printing Tip

Tablets and smartphones are great ways to surf the web, read email, and get social. But sometimes in the wealth of viewable information you just need to simply print.

Printing should be easy, but until smartphone and tablet makers improve the process, you can follow this process to make it happen.

First download a printing app. One excellent print app for Android and iOS is Print n Share. Next, start the Print app and then open the app you want to print from like your browser or photo album.

Tap the print button when you find what you want to print. For example, in the iPad Safari browser you tap a rectangular box with an arrow pointing to the right at the top of the tool bar. Then tap Print.

The Printer Options window pops up. If the Printer selection says Print via Print n Share then tap the Print button. If it doesn't then you'll have to go back and open Print n Share and come back to your browser to try again.

When the "ready to print" window pops up, tap the View button. If your printer shows up in the next Print window, tap Print. Hopefully, you will get a Now Printing window and hear your printer printing.

That's all there is to it! If anyone finds a shorter process please let me know.

Have a fun day!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Choosing a Tablet

Are all tablets equal? The media blitz tells you they're not, and they are right.

So what should you look for when choosing a tablet? First you have to pick your operating system. The key players are iOS on iPad and a variety of Android OS tablets. Blackberry has been trying to break into the tablet battle as well, but they don't have enough of the market share to be considered seriously.

If you want the largest variety of applications (apps) for your tablet, iPad and Android are good choices. The problem that has surfaced for Android, however, is that not all of these tablets have the full Android app Market collection available. Two Androids that come out on top in this arena are the Galaxy Tab and the Asus Transformer.

If an app linked to your favorite retailer, restaurant, media outlet, or hobby is important to you, then you may want to go with the iPad. An iPad app is usually the first these companies launch. It may also be the only one they develop.

That's it for now. We'll address Flash in the next blog entry. Have a fun day!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Find

Here is the old silver trailer we finally found. It is a 1959 Avion R-23 travel trailer! So, we have a new project (like we need another one!) We are just thrilled.

We spotted this one in Bryson, Texas. Although it is livable right now, you have to be hooked up to electric power. All the batteries, propane and associated wiring and lines were removed before we purchased it. We'd like to put all this back in and add solar power so we can use it anywhere and in case of power outages. 

We haven't decided if we want to restore it to factory original, or just to a 1950s or early 1960s style. In any case, it makes a great little guest room right now. We found the pink flamingo at a local resale shop, so we are ready to go!