Thermostats

A couple of companies are trying to re-invent the thermostat. There’s lots of good reasons to fix it. It’s not connected to your home and life in a way that it feels like it should be. It’s frequently accessed by lots of people, of all ages and technology levels. It has significant influence over your annual home costs and energy usage.

None of these new fancy pants solutions will work for me. I really wish they would, but they don’t. To me, they screw it up fundamentally.

First, no one needs to understand degrees. I shouldn’t need to know or appreciate the difference between 70 degrees and 71 degrees. Chances are, I can’t tell the difference. When I approach my thermostat, I’m not looking to know a fine level of temperature detail. I go to the thermostat because I want it to be warmer or colder, period. So, first, the main thing it needs to have is a quick way to adjust warmer or cooler.

Second, ideally, I shouldn’t need to tell it whether I want heat or AC or even just fan functions. It should be able to, using my home’s internet connection, figure out where it is and get the local weather. That should be enough to tell it whether it should be on heat or AC, or perhaps whether it should suggest to me that I leave a window open and turn the fan on.

Third, there does need to be programming and automation but these thermostats are all doing it wrong. It doesn’t need to be based on time; it needs to be based on who is home. Ideally, you create a means of knowing who is home (an NFC check-in at the doorways would work, but there’s other ways) and automatically respond to it. Less ideally, you give me a quick way to tell the thermostat whether I’m “home” or “away”. Some people will be able to set home vs. away on a schedule, and that can be an option, but several times a year at least (and almost all the time for us), that schedule will be *wrong*, so no matter what, you need to give a quick way to set home or away. And even more so, if you provide a remote access app for smartphones or PCs, I need to be able to tell it that I’ll be home at X time and to prep the house accordingly. That is the most frequent thing I will do, so it should be up front and easy. Really, once you figure out “home” and “away”, everything else is advanced settings for scheduling and automation. I can envision conditions like “If living room lights are on, I am home” or “If fridge is opened, I am home” that would help automate the system. With smartphones thrown into the mix, you could add checks like “if I’m in my car and in motion on a weekday, I’m on my way home” or “if I have a calendar notice where location is not home, I’m not home”. The point being that the thermostats out there today screw it up by assuming that people follow a standard pattern in a week, when people don’t really work that way. They follow a schedule that they’ve set on some calendar somewhere which may or may not cycle weekly, monthly, or at all. So…back to my point, your first step is home or away. Second step is a way to figure out which of those is true, which could be any one of a number of ways.

Finally, there should be a simple setup system at the beginning of use (which can be re-done later somehow if needed) that asks or figures out:

  • Do you tend to prefer warmer rooms or colder rooms?
  • Would you rather be very energy efficient or very comfortable?
  • Do you have a family member (such as a pet) that is in the house most or all of the time, even when you’re away? (and potentially some drill-down based on this answer)

The first item helps it figure out a baseline to start with (that later learns and is tweaked by tapping warmer or cooler). The second item determines how responsive it should be to requests. The last item tells it how inhospitable it can make your environment when you’re away. Someone with pets, particularly amphibians, reptiles, or fish, needs the house to be kept at a certain temperature no matter what. The same is true of someone with a bedridden or house-confined family member.

You can get super-fancy with this, with smartphone integration, sensors, per-user settings, etc., or you can get super-simple with just a warmer/cooler button. Either way, giving more individually programmable days and bigger fancier screens just complicates things. And automatically trying to guess a schedule doesn’t help either. They need to step back and think about what the user does with a thermostat rather than looking at what thermostats do right now.

Jawbone refuses to honor their warranty

On 8 Oct 2011, I received a Jawbone Jambox Bluetooth speaker as a gift, which DH purchased for me on 6 Oct 2011. On 29 Nov 2011, I contacted Jawbone because the Jambox was not holding a charge, and attempts to update the software to resolve the issue were failing as a result. Throughout the support process, I want to note that I was very pleased with the speed and attentiveness of the support personnel at Jawbone. The exchange, while disappointing in results, was professional and expedient. Unlike many other support services, their agent seemed to be truly reading my e-mails and not just scanning for keywords and sending form responses. However, once we got to the point that an RMA was in order, support informed me that they were “out of stock” and couldn’t promise when they’d have a replacement unit in stock. They said I could send my unit in but they couldn’t tell me when I’d get a replacement. They could not even give me a range, e.g., 4-6 weeks, 2-3 months, less than a year.

However, they’re selling my exact model on their website right now with indication that they are “in stock”, so the claims of being out of stock ring false. Additionally, per Jawbone’s One Year Limited warranty, “If Jawbone, in its sole discretion, determines it is not reasonable to replace the defective Product, Jawbone may refund to Consumer the purchase price paid for the Product.” However, not surprisingly, they don’t seem to be interested in pursuing that option either. Basically, Jawbone is telling me that I can either ship my unit back and wait an indeterminate amount of time for a replacement, or I can “check back with [Jawbone] periodically” to see if a replacement is available and ship it back at that point.

This feels very much like an attempt to get out of honoring the warranty by putting the consumer off and/or making it so unappealing as to discourage pursuit of the warranty. At best, I suspect that they’re simply “out of stock” of replacement units, i.e., re-furbished units, even though the warranty says replacement will be either new or re-furb and not limited to re-furbished units. I don’t think that it’s honoring the spirit of the warranty to delay replacement on that basis. I further think it’s against the spirit if not the actual wording of the warranty to refuse to replace a faulty unit in any way when the unit failed in less than 60 days from the point of purchase. Finally, I think it’s beyond the sense of reason to tell a customer with a ~$200 product that is now little more than a paperweight that it’s up to them to keep contacting you periodically to find out when the warranty will be honored. Admittedly, I’ve been lucky enough to not have very many issues requiring warranty service for my electronics, but when I have, I have never run into this sort of shenanigan. (For all of people’s complaints about Microsoft and XBox support, their support called me personally when the repair was in process and provided periodic e-mail status updates as well as an ETA that was accurate and reasonable.)

I informed Jawbone that they lost a customer over this. There is no way I will spend money with them again, and I advise others to do the same. It may be within Jawbone’s legal right to handle warranty requests in this way, but I think it shows an unwillingness to stand behind the quality of the product as well as a lack of caring about their customers once the sale is complete. As for my specific situation, I’m basically out of luck. I’m past the return window to return it to Amazon (though I will ask to see if they’ll make an exception, considering the circumstances). I’m posting the story here as well as in an Amazon review. I also sent it in to a few consumer interest blogs, for what it’s worth.

My first WDW solo trip (long post)

About three weeks before graduation, I was stressing. I had family coming from all over the place. I’d had to change the menu for my graduation picnic twice. The weather alternated between predictions of thunderstorms all weekend to predictions of blistering heat. Work was frantic, and some of the people I really enjoyed working with were leaving the company. Then, to add to my troubles, DH discovered he’d have to work over the Independence Day weekend and the week following, so I’d be stuck at home alone with a pile of housework to do. In the midst of all of this, I was listening to Len Testa on WDW Today do a review of the bars of WDW, and I just decided…fuck it, I’m going to Disney World. By myself. Because I can.

Planning my post-grad celebration, despite being additional work, actually made the rest of my tasks seem easier. (Don’t get me wrong…I was so thrilled to have everyone come to visit me up at the Milwaukee Zoo, and the food and weather turned out to be faboo. It really just felt like that celebration was a happy blur with the WDW trip, but the weeks beforehand would have turned me into a frazzled mess had I not had this WDW trip in the back of my mind.) Touring Plans was predicting 9’s and 10’s for that whole weekend, but the best part about touring plans is that, when executed well, a touring plan makes you immune to crowds. I decided to run my trip the way I’d always wanted to do WDW: early morning in the park, afternoon disco nap and pool time, and then back to the park in the evening. That way, I avoided the heat and the worst of the crowds, mostly. I also got to enjoy my resort more.

Speaking of, I decided to stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort. Since the renovations, I’d wanted to stay in one of the Nemo rooms at CBR. DH had little interest, being the sort of person who goes by what The Unofficial Guide says as if it is gospel. 🙂 I managed to get a really great rate on the room thanks to my annual pass (and the help of my agent, Leslie, at Mouse Fan Travel!).

The flight to WDW was largely uneventful. I did find and nab some Chick-Fil-A at the Atlanta airport. I even bought up some spare sandwiches to use as breakfasts in my room! Mostly, I napped on the plane to podcasts as I had a late evening planned. From the point that I got off the plane, it took around 2 hours to get to the resort, which is not too bad. I had done the online check-in, so my check-in process was quite fast. I ended up in building 46 of Jamaica. I had heard that CBR was a less desirable resort because of the size and consequently slow bus service. I have to say that I had no problems with the bus service or the size of the resort. It felt smaller than Port Orleans Riverside in terms of walking distance. I will allow that my building was nicely placed for proximity to all of the things you’d want to do, but, looking around, I had a hard time picking out a building that would have been truly bad. Honestly, the only ones I’d have been sad about would have been Martinique and Trinidad, and, as it happens, those are mostly premium rooms because (ironically) their location is considered better. Martinique and Trinidad sit right next to the feature pool and restaurant building, but they’re also smack in the middle of the bus routes. Jamaica, OTOH, was always in a desirable position on the bus routes. At the end of the evening, it’s often the first stop. In the morning, it’s usually the last stop before heading to the park. This can vary widely, but my experience was that Jamaica and Barbados are probably the best buildings to be in for bus time optimization.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. During check-in, I was gifted my “I’m celebrating a personal triumph!” pins as well as a Pirates of the Caribbean temporary tattoo. CBR has an internal shuttle, so I hopped on that to go to my room. As my cellphone was nearly dead (my own stupidity in not bringing a spare battery and not taking advantage of places to charge at ATL), I took as much time as I could in the room before heading out to Magic Kingdom. I brewed myself some coffee and munched on one of my CFA sandwiches. As some of y’all know from my tweets, I trotted over to the bus stop, and a Magic Kingdom bus was there. The bus driver was in the process of loading a wheelchair-bound passenger, so, after making eye contact with him (I thought), I waited for him to finish by the front door of the bus. I could have been all loud and annoying while he was busy, but I opted for being quiet and respectful. In the interim, a bus returning from DHS came by and dropped a bunch of people off, and I ended up almost spraining my ankle and spilling my remaining (hot!) coffee all over myself trying to get out of the way of a stroller herd in motion. The Magic Kingdom bus pulled away just as I walked back up to the door. D’oh!

But, less than five minutes later, another MK bus pulled up, and this one was practically empty. I got a private ride to the Kingdom, and my driver kept me company along the way with his suggestions of things to do. (It was all stuff I knew about already, but I let him tell me things anyways.) Magic Kingdom was open until 2am that night, and I arrived at the entrance just before the beginning of Wishes. One lovely thing about being a solo/single person: you can salmon your way through crowds easier! I worked my way up Main Street, around the hub, and then back in to watch Wishes from the side of the castle. I got to my spot just before Tink flew. Then, as the crowd dissipated, I worked my way up to just in front of the castle to sit and watch the Magic, Memories, and You show. (If you’re not likely to get to see it in person, go watch this video, cry, and get back to me. If you think you might see it in person, just wait…stay spoiler free, because it’s breathtaking in person.) I did all of the rides I wanted to do that evening, including my first-ever ride on Space Mountain! I have to say that I don’t know that I want to ride SM again. I might try it one more time just in case it was adrenaline at play, but I found SM to be jerky-feeling. Because I couldn’t see where the track was turning, I couldn’t anticipate with my body how to lean. That plus the normal fear-tension led me to feel sore and stiff afterward. As for *how* I did Space Mountain, it was a matter of timing. SM had a 15 minute wait, and Thunder Mountain had a 45 minute wait. (Thank you, Lines app!) So, I decided to at least go through SM’s queue, and by the time I got to the front, the cast members urging me along convinced me to hop in.

I was back at the hotel and in bed by 3am, only to wake up and head out to DHS 3.5 hours later. I was at the front of the rope drop crowd and raced along to the back of the park for a Toy Story fastpass. After a first ride of Toy Story, I headed to Star Tours. I was worried that Star Tours’ line would build up, too, but it was practically walk-on all morning. After my second Star Tours ride, I met up with a DIS-er, and we rode a few more times together. Then, we went to Great Movie Ride and Animation Academy before having lunch at Mama Melrose. It was great fun meeting up with her and having a bit of company. After lunch, we went over to Toy Story, but the wait had (predictably) skyrocketed to 90+ minutes, and she had not gotten a fastpass. Thus, I ended up doing the Star Trek ride dick move of hugging her bye as I happily trotted onto the ride with my fastpass. I did manage to get my best score ever on the ride, though:

After that, I headed back to the hotel for a nap and swim. I wasn’t hungry when I woke up (Mama Melrose is quite filling), so I had a soda in the room and headed over to Downtown Disney. There, I found permanent straws with a mickey pattern! Bonus! It’s like they made it just for me! I also picked up a Mickey plaid mini-backpack to use as a park bag, as my park purse turned out to have a magnet closure that was screwing up my annual pass. They were doing a dance party by the lake, so I joined in that for awhile to work up an appetite. I decided to head over to the Wilderness Lodge and visit the Territory bar for dinner. Len had recommended it for the food and atmosphere, and I definitely enjoyed it. The bar offers a selection of wines from the Northwest US (Washington and Oregon, mainly) as well as some standard bar fare. I had the honey ginger wings, which were delectable. I also sampled a few different wines and found a Cabernet that, despite being kind of dry, really agreed with me. It tasted like smoked hickory. I’d mention the wine by name, but I didn’t note it and none of my Disney info sites seem to have the full bar menu for Territory Lounge posted (possibly because they change out the wines fairly often?). I also took this opportunity to write thank you postcards to all of the people that had come out for graduation and/or sent things. Unfortunately, that meant I was a bit toasted while writing…so some of my cards were a bit, hmm, unusually happy and affectionate. 🙂

I got a good night’s sleep before my EPCOT day.
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I actually ended up with three fastpasses for Soarin by the time I left after lunch. I also did the Behind the Seeds tour. One of the coolest parts of the Behind the Seeds tour was interacting with a hypersensitive plant.
This is what it looks like before it’s touched or shaken:
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And this is what it looks like after it’s been touched or shaken:
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And here’s a video of me touching the leaves so you can see them retract:

We also got to feed the tilapia and release some beneficial ladybugs on the plants of our choice. I chose to release mine on some pumpkin plants being grown hydroponically.
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After the tour, I rode Soarin’ one more time and had lunch at Sunshine Seasons before heading back to the resort. At the resort, there were cranes, just kinda hanging out, right next to the path. It was a bit scary!
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I went back to EPCOT in the evening for Illuminations and dinner, as well as a stop by the pavilions for shopping. I had dinner at Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco. The dinner was good and unique, but it’s not something I feel a need to do again. I liked the belly dancers, though! For Illuminations, I staked out a good spot a little over an hour in advance. Duffy kept me company while waiting. He also got 2 new outfits on this trip, including the Canada outfit he’s sporting here!
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Fireworks shows were really the only time I felt the crowds during my trip. I thought I was going to have to cut a bitch to defend my spot at one point. And one woman, about twenty minutes before the show, specifically directed her daughter to go stand in front of me (without asking or anything) and then *yelled* at the girl when she felt understandably uncomfortable with the idea and headed back to her mom. I mean, if someone asks me, I’m totally polite, but if you shove your way in front of me, or try to squeeze me out of the way, I’m going to do a great impression of a stone column. After all, I specifically got there very early and picked the spot out, sat down, and didn’t leave. Coming a half hour in advance and trying to shove your way in front of me is not cool, no matter how old you are. But, regardless, I got some great pictures of the show.
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Monday was my last day at WDW for this trip. There were early magic hours at Animal Kingdom, but I also needed to get out of my hotel room before I left, as checkout was at 11am but I didn’t have to be back at the hotel for Magical Express until 2:30pm. I was kind of panicking on what the process would be. I knew the resort would hold my bags, but how would I get my bags over to the Customs House? Did I need to figure on a bus ride each way (and potentially waiting 15-20 minutes for the bus)? I called bell services, and the castmember there explained it all to me.

So, what ended up happening made Caribbean Beach get lots of bonus points in my book. It turns out that, if you’re checking out of Caribbean Beach Resort and are using Disney’s (free!) airport checkin service with your bags, all you have to do is call and make an appointment with the bell desk the night before your checkout, for any time (though the earlier you call, the less chance that you’ll have to take a different appointment time than you prefer). My appointment was at 6:40am. At that time, the bellhop knocked on my door, handed over a packet with my room charge receipt and bag check fee receipt, and collected me and my luggage. He took my bags and walked with me out to the pull-around area in front of Jamaica, where an air conditioned van was waiting. He loaded my bags into the van (tagging any that I wanted to check with bell services versus checking into the airline) and drove me over to the Customs House (where bell services and checkin/checkout is). There, the BAGS services folks checked my ID and checked my bag for the airlines, as well as printing out my boarding passes (on awesome Mickey boarding pass paper!). The whole process took less than ten minutes, door to door. It’s possible other moderates have this, but, Caribbean Beach Resort is the first one I’ve found. I really loved that they provided a van to haul you and your stuff so that you a) don’t have to wait on the buses and b) don’t have to drag your luggage all over the place.

After that, I hopped on the internal resort shuttle. I let the driver know that I was transferring to catch a bus to Animal Kingdom, and he radio’d to find where to take me so that I could catch one right then. Between that and the bag check process being so fast, I was at Animal Kingdom well in advance of rope drop, such that I was front of line at a turnstile. I had brought some cans of soda with me, still cold from the fridge in my room, and I dosed up while reading Ender’s Shadow on my Kindle. Being front of line allowed me to dash back for the first Kilimanjaro Safari of the morning. As I’d heard, the animals were much more active, and the “guides” were more willing to stop, on the first safari of the day.
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We had an oryx stop our safari at one point because he stood in front of the truck and then licked it for awhile.
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After the safari, I walked the trails. Then, I headed over to Camp Minnie-Mickey to see the Lion King show. While I was waiting on a park bench (and getting my camera changed with indoor lenses instead of my telephoto), someone fuzzy reached around behind me! It was Chip! He had snuck up on me and hugged me from behind. 🙂 I was so happy! So, of course, I had to take that chance to get photos with some of the characters before the show.
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I ended up with a perfect spot for Lion King, elevated but with no one in front of me to block my view.
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After that, I did a little bit of shopping around and walked the trails around the Tree of Life before calling it a day. My cellphone was low on power, so I decided to go ahead back to the resort so I’d have time to charge my phone before heading to the airport. (Of course, at the time, I thought I wouldn’t have a ton of time at the airport!)

If you follow my Twitter feed, you know that my flight got delayed out of MCO and then my flight from ATL to home got cancelled after many delays. So, my trip home wasn’t that great, but I’m still so happy I decided to go on this solo trip. It was really fun, and I enjoyed the efficiency of just doing what I wanted to do. 🙂

Wild Africa Trek Review (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)

This past Thursday, 24 Feb 2011, we went on the Wild Africa Trek tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We’ve never done any of the Disney tours, but we had heard really good things about the Wild Africa Trek on AllEars.net and on our podcasts. As soon as I heard about this tour, I was desperate to go. As much as I love zoos and getting “up close” to the wildlife, this was a no-brainer. DH, Moo, and I went, and we got to go at the introductory price of $129 per person. The price is now $189 per person, and it may go even higher during peak season. Included in the price, in addition to the 3-hour tour, is a water canteen (stainless steel, very nice) and a code for a free Photopass CD ($150 value) of all of the pictures from your trip, NOT just the ones from the tour. You also get a light meal during the tour. To go on the tour, you must be at least age 9, able to walk on groomed trails and climb 1-2 flights of stairs, and between 50 and 310 pounds. Park admission is required and is not included in the tour price.

This tour embodies what you expect from Disney, a real example of “the Disney difference”. They take care of everything that you can think of during the trip. It is an amazing experience, not to be missed,. Our tour was at 1pm, and, as instructed, we arrived at 12:45pm. The check-in host was also our tour guide, Jeff. Jeff signed us, had us sign the waiver for the tour, and explained that this was our last chance to use the restroom for the next two hours. Then, we waited for a few minutes for the rest of the tour group to arrive. The tour maxes at 12 people; we had 11 on our tour. Jeff led us “backstage” through a gate and down a short path to an open air hut that is hidden behind a copse of trees from the park. (I should note, too, that Jeff is a stone cold hottie, at least in part because of his wicked sense of humor.) At the hut, our other tour guide, whose name I unfortunately don’t recall (I never saw her nametag, but she did introduce herself at the beginning), was waiting for us. Here, they reminded us that we couldn’t bring any loose items with us on the tour. Any bags we were carrying and anything in our pockets needed to be put into a locker. We were allowed to bring a hat, glasses/sunglasses (they provided a neckstrap), and a camera so long as it could be attached to our gear via a carabiner and/or neckstrap. The back half of the hut had a bank of lockers for our use, and the lockers were amply sized and individually coded. (On a similar tour at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, guests used a shared locker.)

Next, we were each weighed. The scale’s display was located hidden behind the counter, so only the tour guide was able to see. Based on our weight (presumably), we were assigned gear vests. The first gear vest they gave me was going to be a tight fit, so I asked for a larger one. The next size up, whatever it was, was comparatively huge on me, and they had 2 sizes larger than that available. So, the vest they put you in doubles as a safety harness. There are leg straps that go around your legs, kind of similar to a zipline harness. You also have a giant and heavy cable that goes from the middle of the back around you and clips to a spot in the upper left of your vest. The tour guides were very helpful in getting us all into our gear. One piece of advice: wear shorts that are at least knee length! Otherwise, it’s easy for the shorts to get caught in the legstraps and start wedgie-ing up on you. While you’re never hanging from the straps (as you would in a zipline), you really want a layer of fabric between the straps and your skin for walking. The guides showed us how to carabiner our cameras to the vest. I was able to bring my dSLR on its neckstrap. I tethered it to the vest just as an extra safety, but that wasn’t required. I could not bring any extra lenses, so I used my 40-150mm (80-300mm equiv.) as it’s a good all-around zoom lens. Moo didn’t have a strap on her digital camera, but they had little rings and straps for anyone who needed one in order to attach their gear.

Along with the gear, we were issued an earpiece and radio unit (tethered to the vest). Using the earpieces (which made us look like Secret Service!), we could hear our guide talking in our ear, even when we were separated. This also allowed our guide to talk in a lower speaking voice to avoid disturbing other guests when we were walking through the public areas. (I’m told that these earpieces are standard for Disney tours, and I think they’re terrific!) We were also issued a water canteen that we could keep after the tour. The canteen was plain and unlabelled, aside from our names written in marker on the lid. I do wish it had some kind of logo of Animal Kingdom or the Wild Africa Trek logo on it.

Our next step was a practice bridge. Since this tour requires crossing rope bridges with widely spaced planks, we were sent across a mini-bridge to start. The mini-bridge was about 7 feet off of the ground and maybe 10-15 feet long. It simulated the distance you have to step between planks as well as the “swinginess” of the longer bridges on the tour. Once you’ve crossed the mini-bridge successfully, the tour guide removes a blue tag from your vest, indicating that you’re cleared for the tour.

There was a water and juice station set up to enjoy while you were waiting on the other guests to get through the mini-bridge. The juice that they provide for the tour is really delicious. The only thing that could make it better is rum. 🙂 Jeff told us it was a pineapple-orange-guava juice blend. Then, we were off! Jeff did most of the talking, while the other tour guide took pictures that would be included in our PhotoPass. We were initially guided out of the backstage area and into the public space. Jeff did some “in character” talk about the part of Africa we were in, the fort and its purpose, and the wildlife preserve. (One common complaint about this tour is that the guides generally stay in character, meaning they act like you’re a tourist visiting an African wildlife preserve. But, our guides also answered questions that were somewhat out of character, like how often the animals are fed. If you’re wanting to hear about how the park was created, though, like Keys to the Kingdom, this is not the tour for you. They “preserve the magic”, to use Disney lingo.) Our first stop was at a tree along the way, where we learned about its potato-like fruit and its uses. Then, we were taken down the Pangani trail through the Gorilla area. The gorillas weren’t out when we went by. We also went over to the platform near the okapi and meerkats, but it was very crowded. As a result, our walk through Pangani was quick…which was fine by me since I can see the Pangani trail anytime.

Just before we went backstage again, our guide took a quick photo of our entire group, noting (in character) that he could compare it at the end to make sure we all made it back. Then, we started along a groomed (but unpaved) trail through the back area. We crossed one suspension bridge (not the rope bridges, just a regular bridge) overlooking the hippo pond that is visible from the Pangani trail. Then, after a brief walk through the woods, we got to hook up to a metal track and go out on an outcropping over the hippo pond that is visible when you’re on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. A cast member was there feeding the hippos lettuce so that they’d be nearby for us.


The metal track attached to our vest’s cable, and it basically kept us from being able to accidentally or intentionally jump into the hippo pond. I had heard some early reviews about being able to lean out horizontally over the hippos, but that was not the case. Our tour guides told us to stay behind the wooden edge of the outcropping.

After we were untethered, there was another brief walk to our first bridge. Along the way, we were able to look over the savanna to see some okapi and other hoofed animals. Then, we got into line to go up to the bridge. The order you get into line at this point will be the order that you go across the first bridge, as you’re all tethered to the safety bar in order. They send three people over the bridge at a time (one toward the end, one toward the middle, and one starting out).

The bridges are around 170-180 feet long, and they are roughly 70 feet above the ground. There are slats missing such that you have to do a long step or mini-jump in a few sections. Also, the bridges are definitely wobbly! The first bridge just goes across the Kilimanjaro safari tour’s road. The second bridge goes over a pit of crocodiles!

In retrospect, I really wish I’d taken more time in the middle of the bridges to take photos. I tried to take video, but it was way too shaky to post or use.

After crossing the crocodile bridge, we got harnessed to another metal track to get a closer look at the crocs.

Then, we got to go out onto another overlook to see the crocs up close. They were surprisingly active, slipping in and out of the water and sunning with their mouths gaping.

After the track and another short walk, we got to take off our vests and board a truck to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari. But, unlike the regular safari, we got to stop frequently to take photos and get questions answered about what we were seeing. Finally, we visited a “boma” house that overlooked the entire savanna for our meal and a bathroom break. We got more of the delicious juice as well as two tins of delicious food. We spent around thirty minutes at the boma before heading back out for the rest of the safari and the walk back to our original hut.

All in all, it was an absolute blast. I highly recommend the tour for anyone that enjoys seeing wild animals up close or anyone looking for a little something extra at the Animal Kingdom. It’s not really a thrill-seeker thing…thrill-seekers will find it tame, I think. Between the safety gear and the safety nets, you never feel like you’re going to fall during the bridges.Once I get the photopass photos, I’ll post those and add a link to them from here. I’ve seen the photos, and they’re awesome…around 170 of them in total, including lots of super-zoomed shots of the wildlife that we saw on the trek and the safari. I think the tour is well worth the money, especially with the free photopass. We paid nearly as much for a similar tour in San Diego and didn’t get any photos of ourselves (though they provided a pre-printed photobook with stock photos of what we theoretically saw) nor any refreshments, and there wasn’t the thrill of crossing the rope bridges.

Edited to add – Disney photopass photos: [zenphotopress album=42 sort=random number=5]

(You can also access all the photos from our trip at The Gallery of the Org* > Disney-2011-02)

Review: If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name

If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: News from Small-Town AlaskaIf You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska by Heather Lende
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very interesting portrait of life in SE Alaska. After going on an Alaskan cruise this past summer and being enchanted by the beauty of the place, this was a very good reality check. The book is a collection of short vignettes of the author’s life in Haines, AK. She started as the gossip column journalist but ended up taking over obituaries, giving her a unique perspective on the community of Haines.

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Toy Story 3 (Comer Charity Event)

Toy Story 3 poster - June 18 release date

Notice that release date? Yeah, guess what? I’ve already seen it. Today! May 15th. 🙂 We were the first people in the WORLD to see the complete movie! 🙂 I signed an NDA and submitted to handing over all electronics and being body scanned before seeing it…so, suffice it to say, I can’t tell y’all anything about the movie EXCEPT that it was OMGWTFBBQAWESOME!!!!!111!1!!!!!

This was part of a charity fundraiser for the Comer Children’s Hospital. (I know, I know…I violated my donation rule, but it was *toy story 3*…a month in advance!! And you haven’t heard it all yet!!)

And, as if simply seeing the movie early wasn’t enough, we also got to enjoy a VIP brunch with:

  • Lee Unkrich – director of TS3 as well as Finding Nemo and others 🙂 I never got to talk to him, but my friend did, and he signed her Finding Nemo DVD and drew a Nemo fish on it 🙂
  • Darla Anderson – producer of TS3, as well as Cars and others 🙂
  • Joan Cusack – didn’t really talk to her, though I got a few distant pictures…she generally had a crowd around her
  • Jeff Garlin – who was incredibly nice and funny, smelled good, hugged me nicely (politely) and could have had me for a song 🙂
  • Bonnie Hunt – who totally cut in front of us in line and then bogarded Jeff Garlin for like twenty photos in various arrangements with her friends and family. I swear, I’ve been to weddings with less configurations of family and guests.

We got a goodie bag full of TS3 gear as well as a few items from other sponsors, plus VIP comfy seating for the movie and free movie snacks. And, we each got an ID badge made for us on site in minutes, and it’s one of those thingies that has two pictures merged so that it’s kind of animated. So cool! See below!

Awesome filled id badge for toy story 3 preview! It is motion-y! on Twitpic

Afterward, we went to the Disney store on the Michigan Mile and totally became the envy of the cast members there. It was awesome because the merch for TS3 is already there, and we were like the only people in the store (besides the cast) that actually knew who everyone was! 🙂 Bwah ha ha! All your TS3 are belong to ME! 🙂

Review: Sony Dash

Introduction to the device:  The Sony Dash is marketed as a “personal internet viewer.”  In my opinion, it does not live up to that name.  Others are more accurately calling it “glimpse internet” and “upgraded alarm clock.”  It’s a 7″ touch tablet designed with a weighted wedge style, meant to sit on a countertop or bedside table.  Sony basically licensed or bought the Chumby OS and added its own internet video service as well as re-designing the UI a bit for the larger screen.  I was attracted to this device because I liked the idea of a Chumby, but it seemed overly bulky and too small of a screen.  The Dash takes all the good parts about a Chumby and adds a bigger screen and a better design.

I’m giving a lot more detail below, but to sum up:  what you think of this device is largely going to depend on what you want from it.  To me, this device’s best tagline would have identified it as a “wake-up station”…telling you everything you need or want to know as you wake up to begin your day.  So yeah, in short, it’s a glorified alarm clock.  Imagine though, if you will, if your alarm clock could:

  • tell you weather and traffic at a glance
  • have multiple alarms per day, each with their own sounds, configurable in any way you want…if you want to wake up at a different time each day, with a different tone each day, it can handle that.  (Really, if you’ve ever used your cellphone as your alarm clock, consider everything your cellphone can do as an alarm clock…this can do all the same stuff, without you ever having to worry about all the problems of cellphones as alarm clocks…and if you don’t know what the problems of a cellphone as an alarm clock are, ask me, and I’ll happily iterate them for you.)
  • quickly show you a few e-mails, status updates, or photos
  • let you go to sleep/snooze to a podcast or internet video

If you look at that list and think, “wow, that’s exactly what I want in an alarm clock,” then you’re the target user for the Sony Dash. Sadly, they’re not marketing it to you at all. Really, they’re barely doing anything to sell this device. I’ve seen exactly zero ads. Were it not for Engadget, I wouldn’t have even known it was available or what it was. And, stupidly, what Sony is doing is positioning this so it goes up against things like the iPad and Archos tablet. Sony should be positioning this as the best damn alarm clock in the world. That’s their mistake and what will, IMO, make this device fail.

On that note, I’ve seen alot of reviewers poo-poo the Sony Dash by saying “oh, my cellphone could do this” or “oh, my iPad does this better”. Well, your cellphone and iPad don’t do what this does, because neither of those devices are meant to sit still on a bedside table. Your cellphone and likely your iPad get up and leave when you do, which makes them nearly useless as an alarm clock unless you are a single person living alone. Even if you are a single person (or if you are willing to have separate devices for each person), you’d need to buy several accessories to make a cellphone or iPad sit as nicely as this does on a surface. So, long story short, a cellphone and an iPad appeal to a broader audience, no doubt, but, this device hits a very necessary niche for which the iPad and cellphone are ill-designed.

Below are a few of my favorite things about the Sony Dash:

  • Very fast and easy setup on the device — you can use the device without going to the web, but there are quite a few apps that require configuration via the web, and the web config has issues (see Cons list)
  • Design is sleek.  It looks damn cool on your bedside table.
  • Pleasing UI, simple to navigate
  • AccuWeather weather (a plus over other weather services, IMO)
  • Sits securely (can be rubbed by cat without falling over)
  • Bright and colorful screen, videos look great
  • Completely customizable alarms and alarm clock
  • “night mode” that dims the screen and shows only the clock, when the next alarm is set for and the weather in black and white…though I did notice today that it’s got a little “mom” that writes itself in in cursive, which is kind of a cool “surprise” bit of chrome
  • Price is just about right, in my opinion.  It’d be better at $99, of course, but at $199, I think they exclude some of the really basic users that would potentially not understand the device while still making it cheap enough to be a gadget-head impulse buy.  It’s well under a netbook price point, even less than some cellphones that have the same functionality.  Plus, $199 is the start…my guess is that retailers are getting ~30% from this which gives them room to discount it in the future.  (If Sony ripped out everything but the alarm clock and weather functions, shrank the screen, and got it to $99 or $79, that’d be a very nice product…would beat the heck out of the “executive neverlate alarm clock” which is just terrible on so many counts and sells for $80-$120 depending on where you go.)
  • Usable touch keyboard, fine for posting to Twitter or Facebook, but I wouldn’t use it to type a long e-mail
  • Really good selection of default sounds loaded
  • Was able to access my Amazon purchased videos and play them easily, and since I haven’t bought anything else that does that yet (except my PCs, of course), that’s a nice feature for me. 


Now for the bad news.
  There are three issues that, in my opinion, are near blocking issues.  They’re on a level where, if I weren’t an early adopter geek (who also happens to be desperately in need of a really good and customizable alarm clock), I’d have returned this device already based on these issues:

  • USB drives are not working yet.  This is huge, because they promise this on the box, and it’s the only way to access your own music from the box (no DLNA or other wireless transfer support).  It says “coming soon” if you attempt to play music from a USB drive.  Were I not in love with this as my alarm clock, I’d return it based on this alone.  That Sony let it out the door with this broken is just insane.
  • The web setup is a mess.  The site itself looks shoddy, like no one actually cared enough to make it look nice…and the configuration area is not easily accessible from Sony’s main site.  You have to go to Sony’s “MyEssentials” site (a term/brand that is in no way associated with the Dash), and that site is not linked from the Sony Dash page on Sony’s site, nor from Sony’s main site.  Logging in from Sony’s main site and clicking on “my devices” takes forever to load, so I never found out if I could get to the Dash config site from there.  To find the config site after the initial setup, I ended up going to chumby.com, trying my Sony login, and then Chumby re-directed me to the MyEssentials site.  Basically, the setup on the Dash itself is so simple, but as soon as you hit the point that you need to use the web to configure something, you’re lost.  For this reason alone, I can’t recommend this for non-geeks…which sucks because if this were fixed, I could see this being a really nice gift for a number of non-geeks in my family.  I mean, this is basic stuff that they blew off, and it speaks volumes to Sony’s lack of commitment to this device.
  • No web browser…which I wouldn’t care about if there were more apps or if this weren’t being sold as a “personal internet viewer”…but to call yourself an internet viewer and not have a browser is just sad.  Plus, this makes the apps themselves frustrating.  Most of them are just ported iPhone apps, which means they assume you can click links to view more.

There are also quite a few minor issues which Sony/Chumby could resolve in the next few months via software updates:

  • Not enough “apps” (really, they’re widgets)…lots of popular news and info sites are not represented, and the apps themselves are not the greatest quality. 
  • The layout options are limited.  There’s only two layouts, and neither of them are satisfying.  For example, there’s no layout that has two app panes.  You can’t customize shortcuts in any of the layouts, either, so you can’t (for example) make sure that the Amazon Video shortcut is the first (or only) one available.
  • Not easy to switch between “channels” (different views with different apps…for example, I have a productivity channel that has my Gmail and Gcal in it and a separate social networking channel that has all of my social networks and news feeds), takes 4 steps to switch plus a not-insignificant load time.  Basically makes the channel feature useless because it’s too annoying to switch channels.  You’re better off just loading all the apps you want into your default channel.
  • No copy/paste functionality…a pain if you’re wanting to post a status to multiple sites
  • No podcast browser.  NYTimes podcasts are accessible via their pre-loaded app, but if you want any other podcasts, you’re SOL.
  • Chumby’s little flying monster logo still shows up on most of the apps, which could confuse people as to what it is or why it shows up, since Sony does not acknowledge Chumby’s existence at all in the Dash’s UI or setup.

Then there are some issues which are, admittedly, by design.  That is, Sony never intended the device to have these features and will probably never give it these features, but they’re features that I really think would have made the device better and more usable to a broader audience.

  • No accessible internal memory…and assuming they get USB sticks working, there are two issues with this.  First, you have to keep your USB stick in all the time if you want to wake up to an MP3.  Second, knowing that you have to keep a USB drive in it, the little rubber cover over the USB and 3.5mm port makes that uglier than it needed to be.  I do think if you got a nano USB drive, the rubber cover might close over it, but you shouldn’t have to do that.  They should have made the USB port more public (not to mention that IT SHOULD WORK) since they knew people would need to keep memory in it.  Or, heck, put in an SD card slot instead, to align more with the picture frame type device.
  • No DLNA or wireless drive access…again, this is mostly a problem because there’s no accessible internal memory.  If I could tell this to wake me up to an MP3 that is loaded on my Zune (which has DLNA) without having to connect my Zune, that’d be sweet. 
  • No battery – it must be plugged in to use it…and I complain less about this than Engadget or other reviewers have because the design of this is clearly meant to be a fixed device.  It’s heavy and relatively bulky, and it’s weighted to be stable on a surface, not to be carried around
  • No multi-touch – which, if they implement a browser, will be a bigger deal.
  • No line-in to allow a separate PMP to use the speakers and/or screen (so, no waking up to music from your iPod) — this one is something that is a big nice to have. I think with this kind of device, anything you can do to make it have more than one purpose is a good thing.  If I could plug in a PMP or smartphone and have it take over the screen and speakers, that’d be a very nice feature.

Dante’s Peak

Okay, no one expects this movie to be the height of cinematic excellence, but it’s just cracking me up tonight:

  • The USGS rep cautioning against putting the town on alert…well, of course, he dies later, because that’s what happens to wrong people in movies. But the whole idea that two people die in a hot spring and the town isn’t *already* on alert due to the news and media talking it up? ::eyeroll:: I mean, two people dying in a lake that suddenly became acid would surely warrant a blip or two on CNN, much less the state and Seattle (nearest urban area) news. And I’d credit a lack of news coverage in “ye olden days”, but the scene at the end of the rescue from the mine shaft is lit with at least twenty flash bulbs….so the two deaths in acidic hot springs didn’t warrant a blip, but the rescue of a USGS worker and a family that was idiotic enough to be still on the mountain does?
  • Pierce Brosnan is so stoically British as they’re evacuating from Grandma Ruth’s house. “Rachel, Ruth, we really must go,” he says calmly as a fire erupts over one wall.
  • The idiot kid who goes up the mountain for Grandma…has he not heard of a phone? And I can’t imagine that his mom had the town pull out and review evacuation plans but didn’t actually tell her kids a plan just in case…and the plan surely doesn’t involve driving up the mountain. Then again, this is a parent who simply tells her kids that the mine shaft “isn’t safe”, not grounding the kid for going in there and not telling him the reason why it’s not a good idea.
  • Grandma Ruth wades through an acid lake to pull the family to safety…but the sad part is that if the adults were doing what Pierce Brosnan’s character did, wrapping their arms in fabric and rowing together, Grandma’s sacrifice wouldn’t have been necessary.
  • Ridiculous dog rescue scene…but of course, we had to save the family dog. Grandma can be left to die on the mountain, but we have to risk the truck to save the family dog.
  • Speaking of Grandma’s death, the special effects guys couldn’t manage to make her wounds look real in any sense of the word. The kids’ scrapes later on look far worse than Ruth’s legs from the wading through acid, and yet we get this super-dramatized scene where she just can’t go on.
  • Pierce’s arm is supposedly visibly broken…we have a scene where he points a flashlight at a bone protrusion…but he still uses that arm to push himself up a half scene later, without even a mild moan of pain. Maybe shock has set in?
  • We’ve got a really crappy national guard that a) crosses the town bridge when there’s clearly a giant mass of logs coming right at it and b) doesn’t tether the clearly ill-equipped minivan to one of the Hummers? Hell, I can’t imagine a National Guard that wouldn’t simply tell the USGS crew to abandon the minivan and get in the damn Hummer.

Review: Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1) Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The similarities between this book’s mythos and Twilight’s are too many to count. If you’ve read Twilight, you’ll slip into this one pretty easily.Much like Bella in Twilight, the lead character in this book is pretty flat. The author made her “disabled” with telepathy (kind of the opposite of Bella), which allows her to be interesting. Also, much like Bella, she falls for someone right away…who turns out to be a vamp, who initially seems to blow her off, but who eventually turns out to lurrrrve her with all his vampiric heart. I’m through the second book now and I still for the life of me don’t understand Sookie’s interest in her vampire lover, Bill. The reasons given in the first book fall apart by the end of the first book. And, the author seems to toy with the notion of pulling them apart in both the first and second book of the series only to wimp out of actually doing it. (And it totally feels like a wimp out. The “fight” gets resolved far too neatly.) The effect, IMO, is that I, as the reader, don’t feel very fond of her lover and am rooting for him to get run over by a car more than the author intends. It feels like he’s abusing his relationship with Sookie in that he has trysts (and expects no reproach) that he doesn’t permit her to have, at least not without a temper tantrum from him. By the end of the first book and certainly by the end of the second, you’ve met two other supernatural beings equally interested in Sookie and equally better suited for her than the original love interest, in that they both seem to deal with her better than her lover.Then, there’s the mystery aspect. I’m not a mystery fan, and I was surprised by how invested I became in solving the mysteries along with Sookie. That kept me hooked.So, point being, turn off your feminist prickles and just settle down with this one. If you think about it too much, the relationships and character development might bother you (much as with twilight). However, if you’re a Twilight fan (not a Twihard, just a fan), you’ll probably enjoy this one.

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Review: KY Intense Gel for Her

By popular demand, here is the video review that I recently did for the Amazon Vine program, for KY Intense Gel for Her. 🙂

I don’t know when or if Amazon will post the review, but I had fun doing it. Heck, if I can someday make a career out of reviewing sex products, I’ll be a happy camper. 😉

Kindle 2 – Audiobook Controversy, Review

I’ve had quite a few folks ask me what I think of the Kindle 2, because I’m a huge advocate of the Kindle. Thanks to a friend, I’ve had an opportunity to use one. As a previous Kindle user…well, frankly, I don’t like it. I think the 4-way navigation is slower and more annoying than my Kindle’s scrollbar navi. The Prev/Next buttons were intentionally made harder to press because of all the whiners who kept complaining about them, and they’re so damn hard to press now that I feel like I’m going to bruise my finger to get through a book. (Amazon – You could have solved the problem just by making the buttons smaller, as you did…you didn’t need to bump up the force sensor to max, too.) They didn’t improve the software in any particularly helpful way. Yeah, text to speech is nice, but I can’t ever see myself or any common consumer using it for very long. What Kindle desperately needs is folders, and Kindle users have been screaming for them since the beta period. Kindle also desperately needs to promote its browsing capability. They need to get textbook manufacturers on their e-bandwagon. And really, they need to stop using Apple’s walled garden model. It’s particularly stupid since THEY…yes, Amazon…managed to kill Apple’s music store by offering DRM-free content. They need to innovate a way to resolve content provider’s DRM concerns but yet still allow a post-purchase marketplace for re-sale and lend/borrow. The technology is out there to bridge the gap until content providers latch onto the DRM-free bandwagon.

Then, there’s the Authors’ Guild controversy over the Text-to-Speech. The controversy is stupid, and I can’t sum up why anywhere near as well as these folks, so here’s some links:
Engadget’s Interview with Paul Aiken, Executive Director of the Author’s Guild – Paul Aiken’s circular and terrible logic really speaks for itself.
Wil Wheaton vs. Text 2 speech – I adore Wil, and stuff like this is why.
Neil Gaiman’s Excellent Summary

Review: World of Goo (WiiWare, Windows)

On Friday night, I downloaded World of Goo from the WiiWare channel. It has consumed most available moments on the 1st floor TV ever since.

The quick explanation is that World of Goo is like Lemmings but with Goo. If you enjoyed Lemmings, you’ll enjoy World of Goo.

The game is a relatively simple physics puzzle, using the Wii remote to guide and direct goo. In each level, you are given a basic goal of getting a predetermined number of goo balls into a tube. Once a goo structure nears the tube, a suction is created that both helps to hold the goo in place and sucks any attached (but not used as part of the structure) goo balls into the tube. Goo structures are created by dragging and dropping goo balls to form trusses, ropes, balloons, and towers. Goo is not the most rigid stuff, as you might expect, so you spend a fair amount of time shoring it up through architectural means. Extra goo balls beyond the level goal get sent to your World of Goo Corporation area, where you can build them into a tower. There are hints that building a high tower will unlock some sort of minigame. Also, from the World of Goo Corporation, you should be able to see clouds representing your friends’ World of Goo Corp. structures. (I can’t vouch for this as none of my Wii friends have goo structures yet. I’m also just assuming that this will be clouds from my Wii friends and not just from the people who play the game on my console.)

Controls are all done through point and click of the Wii remote. There are no waggle controls (that I’ve found so far). It’s a one player game, and aside from comparing to others in the World of Goo Corp area, there’s no opportunity for player interaction.

Gameplay aside, the aesthetic of World of Goo is very pleasing. It’s quite Tim Burton-esque. The animations and graphics are darkly adorable. Storyline (as well as gameplay) is primarily conveyed to you via signs that animate with exclamation points until you click to read them. The signs are written by The Sign Painter, a character who continues to become more ominous as the game progresses. While signs initially give you good advice and gameplay tips, in chapter 2, the signs sometimes offer a seeming tip that will actually destroy your progress. I get the same kind of intermittent chill from The Sign Painter that I got from GlaDOS in Portal’s early stages.

I’m only just beginning chapter 3 of the game. As best as I can tell, I’m about 45% through the game, not counting the potential mini-game or completing the “OCD” (Obsessive Compulsive Distinction) challenges for each level. So, you might finish the game faster than you like. Still, I think it’s worth the download.

AT&T Uverse Review for TV/Tivo functions

Previous setup: DirecTV satellite with 2 tivo DirecTV receivers, each capable of receiving and recording 2 channels at once. 3 televisions. BasementTV and BedroomTV had tivo units. 1stFloorTV was a mirror of the BedroomTV (we used a remote transmitter to control the BedroomTV tivo from the 1st floor).

New setup: 3 AT&T Uverse receivers (1 per TV) with one being a “total home DVR” receiver on 1stFloorTV.

Installation:
The installation took several hours, in part because we were also getting phone and internet installed. Also, our house requires running wiring behind walls, through ceilings, etc. The tech was pleasant, friendly, and knowledgeable. He had no problems with the times where I just wanted to do something myself (e.g., set up our home wireless LAN) rather than be shown or given an install CD that had who-knows-what on it.

Pros of Uverse vs. DirecTV with Tivo:

  • Access to OnDemand programming: Comcast subscribers in our area have had this for quite awhile. Being able to just pull up a random Discovery channel tidbit or a 20 minute comedy standup is great for moments when you just want something in the background. Comedy Central’s selection is great, with several South Park episodes and lots of standup. We also watched this week’s Survivor via OnDemand (since it was recorded on our now-disconnected Tivos), and it was great. You can still skip through commercials in OnDemand viewing, same as if you were watching a show you recorded yourself. But, the commercials tend to be rare anyways.
  • Having 3 separate TVs of programming: As you saw in the setup descriptions, we really only had 2 TVs with unique programming. This meant that if Scott wanted to watch a football game on the first floor, I couldn’t go to the bedroom and put away laundry while watching Discovery channel. Also, we constantly had to remember which Tivo had what show…particularly in the new TV seasons where we were often recording 3-4 shows in the same timeslot. And that leads to…
  • Being able to watch a recorded show on any floor: If we record MythBusters, we can watch it on any floor. No more having to decide where we’re going to want to watch the show in advance.
  • Having an option to record shows at or around a certain timeslot only: Okay, this mainly helps with Daily Show, so I’m going to use that to illustrate. Daily Show is shown on Comedy Central about six times a day. Five of the shows are repeats, one showing is new. But, Daily show doesn’t mark any of its showings as “new” or “repeat” so there’s no way for DVRs to know which instance is the new showing versus a repeat. For tivo users, this generally means that you either record TDS based on time (every weekday at 10pm for a half hour) and occasionally miss a show because it’s special or moves for some reason, or you tell it to record all daily shows, and just accept that if you don’t watch it each day and/or clear out the crud each day, you’ll miss it (because it got overwritten by the 5 new instances the next day). Uverse lets me say “record Daily Show, and only record the instances that start around 10pm”…from what I’ve read, it will record instances +/- 1 hour of the selected time. This is a great way to work around the problem with Daily Show and other “dailies” like it.

Cons:

  • Pausing Live TV: We can only pause live TV on the 1stFloorTV (where the DVR is). We can’t pause TV in the basement or bedroom. This is a huge pain in the ass, and it’s made worse by the fact that there’s no reason that we *shouldn’t* be able to do this. All the receivers must have some kind of temporary hard drive to cache the recorded shows and OnDemand. Why can’t it be used to let you pause and resume live TV, even with a limited duration? TiVo lets you pause for 30 minutes.
  • Recording TV can only be done from 1st Floor or Internet: If you want to record a show, say the cooking show that you’re watching right now, you better be on the 1st floor. You can’t just tell any TV to record a show and have it send the command to the DVR. Again, this is stupid, and they should be able to do this. The result of this is that we have to run to the first floor, interrupt the person who is watching TV there, and quickly go to guide, hit record, and then go back to what you were doing.
  • Not enough options for how many instances of a show to keep/erasing schedule: So, in TiVo, I can tell it to keep only 2 episodes of Scrubs, no matter how many opportunities it has to record Scrubs. This is great for syndicated comedies. I can keep just a couple of episodes of Scrubs re-runs on hand at all times without filling up the DVR, since it’s on 24 hours a day these days. On AT&T’s Uverse, it won’t let me edit erasing schedule at a show level. I can set a particular episode to be kept forever versus deleted based on space, but that’s it. Seriously, that’s the only erasing option. That’s ridiculous. I have no idea how much disk space this thing has, either, so I don’t know how soon this is going to become a major problem for us. I can’t tell it that I really want it to keep Pushing Daisies new episodes at a higher priority than Mythbusters re-runs…as in, delete Mythbusters first. Maybe OnDemand will replace my need for a few random syndicated comedies, but right now, I can’t even risk setting any syndicated comedies to record.

Summary:
We really like the Uverse setup, but the cons are HUGE problems for us. We were getting tired of DirecTV’s lack of reliability, hence the change. Still, I’m not sure this is going to work. Not being able to control when and how shows are deleted is a major problem. Not being able to pause live TV on every floor is a main problem. The sad part is, I think AT&T could fix all of these problems, but I don’t trust them to do it fast enough. We’re going to give it another week, and if we’re still unhappy, we’re switching back, probably…and who knows what penalty we’ll pay for that….

The Way of the Owl

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien

My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
I started this book one night intending to read just the first chapter before bed. I had to force myself to put it down at chapter six lest I miss out on a good night’s sleep!

I’ve never been a bird person, but O’Brien’s heartwarming account of her life with Wesley the Owl may make me a convert…for owls at least. O’Brien mixes scientific fact with personal anecdote in a way that is clear and compelling. By the end, you feel like you’ve learned something about owls, but most of all, you’ll have experienced one owl’s life in a unique way.

A tear or two escaped at the end. The Way of the Owl is not always happy, but it is rewarding.

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I [heart] The Daily Show!

I owe thanks to rmjwell for pointing me to last night’s ep. I’d gone to bed early and missed it. Also, my dear husband has me on political overload right now and probably will have me overloaded until the election. Thus, I’ve been minimizing my exposure to political stuff so as to not want to throw things at my dear husband when he does his nightly political braindump. 🙂

Fortunately, you can watch the entire episode for free at TheDailyShow.com. That’s exactly what I did while I ate my brunch of chicken noodle soup and Goldfish crackers. The best bits were the numerous instances of Republicans at the RNC completely reversing their positions on topics such as teen pregnancy, double standards for female candidates, and the validity of a small town governor’s experience. If there’s anything that The Daily Show does well, it’s that kind of bit. I know they must have a horde of interns reviewing footage to get those perfect contrasting clips, and I’m happy for it. I hope the mainstream* media picks up the banner.

* Or, is TDS considered mainstream now? Hmm.