Monday, November 19, 2012

Android Battle: SGN v RAZR

I'm traveling to Europe for the first time in two years, and as usual, the phone I have isn't global-capable. Thanks Verizon, for adding a great new technology (LTE) but not standardizing with other parts of the world.

But that's because I've got a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which doesn't have GSM capabilities, or EU CDMA. The Motorola DROID RAZR, however, does have GSM.  So I borrowed one (thanks Alan!) and off I jet to Germany next week.

So I've had a little more than a day to play with the RAZR.  I spent most of yesterday reloading apps (why didn't they download automatically?  I understand the sideloaded ones, but the Google Play stuff should have just appeared, right?), and found some things I do and don't like about the RAZR versus the GalNex.

Galaxy Nexus Wins

  • Jelly Bean. Hands down, this is the deciding factor.  I really like the Google Search Cards, voice activation, better gesture controls in the browser. At least the RAZR has Ice Cream Sandwich.
  • Buttons. I like the soft buttons on the screen, and their arrangement.  having to long-press home to switch tasks is a pain.
  • Skin/Launcher. Having 16 buttons plus the search bar on each screen is a bonus (although the hard search button on the RAZR offsets this a bit)
  • Lack of cruft. Moto and Verizon both pack this thing with a lot of useless apps
  • Feel. This might be just a matter of getting used to it, but the RAZR has harder edges, and the bulge at the top makes for an unbalanced grip
  • Battery. If I had the MAXX version, the RAZR would win. But the Nexus is removable, and I have the regular one and an extended one (only about 10% better, but beats a poke in the head with a sharp stick). I haven't used it enough to know what real battery life is going to be like, though.


  • Weight. Noticeably lighter and thinner.
  • SD Card slot.  Shameful that there isn't one of these in the GalNex.
  • Speaker. More powerful - the Nexus is rather quiet
  • Camera. Better resolution and with the one shot I've taken so far, better light sensitivity.
In general, though, why do Android phone makers not standardize on function buttons?  Having the soft buttons on the GalNex should be the best way, but I've seen pretty much every combination of Menu, Home, Return, Search, Apps when I look at different phones, and it's annoying.  Having a hard menu button at the bottom means that ICS apps that would put the menu button at the top don't do so, meaning I have to re-learn.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to break quartz with warm water - or warranty adventures with sous vide!

I'm a novice with sous vide, and proud to say that it's my first real DIY electronics project (see Make Magazine's project).  So I'd done a couple of things including the obligatory perfect soft-boiled egg, and decided to go for a tender slow-cooked lamb shank at the end of March, so that I'd have shank bones for a Passover seder.  After 40 hours on my countertop at 62°C, I was alerted to a problem when the woman from the cleaning service points at my sous vide and says "brrrroken?"

To my horror, the solid-surface countertop (DuPont Zodiaq) had cracked about 1/8" at the edge to a hairline right under the sous vide.
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The slow heat of a couple gallons of water on a slab of quartz resin that can't expand equally in all directions caused the whole thing to split through the weakest point, the thin edge by the sink.

I was horrified, thinking this was going to cost me thousands of dollars to replace, plus removing it could crack the tile backsplash and at six years old, replacing the tile might be impossible -- and it wraps around the whole kitchen.  I was relieved to see that the DuPont warranty was 10 years -- and it only mentions "extreme" heat as a non-covered reason (more on that later).

So it took a couple weeks for them to send out their warranty service company (Back to Perfection), who measured, took a pile of photos, and eventually called DuPont, because it was a bigger crack than they'd ever repaired (and they don't actually repair, they just slap some resin on to prevent further splitting).  They said they'd refer it to their claims department and get back to me in a couple weeks.

Three weeks later, they said, "Nope, not covered by warranty because it's heat."  I said "It's only 143°F, that's hardly extreme.  To me, extreme should be taking something out from a broiler or off a stove burner." They thought about it for a minute and said they'd appeal it.  A couple weeks later, they said they'd replace it -- the whole 19' section of my countertop!  It took three months in total to replace it, but they did a smooth job, didn't even crack one piece of the backsplash, sending a licensed plumber to re-attach the sink and faucet and even cleaned up after themselves.

Thanks, DuPont for standing behind your product.

For more pictures of my kitchen (we did a lot of the fit n finish including the floor and wall tile), go to my Flickr photostream.  Lots of pix of food, and the whole construction process.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Storytelling is back!

What I wanted to post about today is the glory that is the current crop of Saturday morning cartoons.  Four in specific: The Legend of Korra, Tron: Uprising, Green Lantern: The Animated Series, and Young Justice.  For years I've whined (offline) about the lameness of cartoons, from the meager pickings on networks on Saturdays -- which used to be a kid's paradise -- to the annoy-a-tron that is Cartoon Network.  There's still too much talk, too little art on CN (I can't even stand the ads for Adventure Time), but there's hope, in these four at least. Not only do all four have style, but they're telling intricate stories that don't expect an attention span of under ten minutes.

CN has created a one-hour block they call DC Nation, which includes Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series, and some short-short segments which are mostly pretty lame (although the anime-style Teen Titans and the Batgirl/Supergirl/Wonder Girl segments are pretty good).  GL is all CGI, and has some great character designs.  I'm not following any DC superhero comics these days, so I have no idea how closely it follows what's happening in the comics (except for the introduction of Red, Purple, etc. lanterns).  The plot is galaxy-spanning, and one of the keys is the design and characterization of Aya - the AI of their ship, doing a good Pinocchio process of turning her into a "real live girl."  I've got one major beef with this show, though: Of the four cartoons I'm watching, this is the most kids-oriented, yet almost all the female characters are extremely sexualized: wasp-waisted, sloe-eyed, and bikini-clad.  Sure, Hal Jordan is also an overly-male stereotype (ultra-wide shoulders, jutting chin) -- but no bulging package. For the audience this is aimed at, I'd have expected some restraint.

There's something to be said about the same issue in Disney Channel's (also CGI) Tron: Uprising, but if anything, they've toned down the hyper-sexualization of females in Tron: Legacy.  It's also aimed at an older audience (on Disney's XD block), and I'm more fond of the spindly-thin cell-shaded stylization of all the characters.  I've only seen two episodes (I think there's a third on the DVR), but they've put together a pretty rich world with more emphasis on the life-experiences of a basic program.  The main character is a mechanic leading the uprising against Clu, and has a slick little device for analyzing and modifying vehicles.  He's taking on the role of Tron, who for unknown reasons is taking a mostly offstage role (still voiced by Bruce Boxleitner) -- the most obvious reason is that he needs to hang back until the appropriate time in Tron: Legacy.  Style plays a big part here, between the character designs and the disc combat and lightcycle runs.  Happy to see it, have to see if the plot holds up over time.

Young Justice, also part of the DC Nation block, is in its second season, and to some degree, YJ is a continuation of some plotlines in the previous Justice League series' on CN (hey, why aren't those on Netflix?).  They definitely have strayed from DC canon (for example Beast Boy has his powers from an infusion of Miss Martian's blood), but in ways that drive the plots nicely.  Characters are pretty rich, and the plot is a long story arc that not only spanned the entire first season but carried over into the second -- with a five-year (story) gap in between! There's romance, intrigue, double-crosses, clever and stupid villains, basically everything you'd want in a superhero story.

But none of them hold a candle to Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra. It's a 70-years-later sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I think it's the best-written show on TV right now. They advanced the civilization of A:TLA 70 years, going from early steam age tech to a somewhat jazz-age, deco-styled "Republic City." Lots of nods to the original series (Cabbage Industries' logo is the hapless cabbage vendor whose cart was repeatedly destroyed in the first series, sports teams named Fire Ferrets and Wolf Bats), and the world is one I'd want to live in: Pro Bending League is a spectator sport somewhere between fencing and team handball; metal-benders run the police force (swinging on balletic cables which can be controlled to coil around evil-doers); and a deep plot around Equalists, protesting the status of benders over ordinary people.  It's a little more grown up than A:TLA (more romance, the violence is a little harder-edged), but not as much as Tron: Uprising, and it's certainly funnier, more clever, and just plain great.

If you had to add only one cartoon to your DVR, I'd say add Korra. If you had to leave one of these out, probably Green Lantern.  But we've hit a renaissance in animation, folks: Story is king again.