Monday, November 30, 2015

Mayday wants to sleeve my whole game collection?

I already have most of my games nicely sleeved -- some with Mayday sleeves, some with FFG, some with UltraPro, etc -- but it intrigued me that Mayday is having a contest to give you enough sleeves to cover every game in your collection. That could save me some cash for sure.
I'll bite.

The contest is here in case you also want to enter as well.

(And yes, disclaimer: blogging about the contest gives you entries into the contest)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Arrowverse theory, still

So we're all caught up to the present now. And I still wonder if my theory holds water...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Arrowverse theory

CAVEAT: I am neither up-to-date with Arrow/Flash (up to Episode ~15 in season 3/1), nor have I ever watched Gotham, Supergirl, or any other recent-ish DC Live Action TV show.
Please don't spoil me, but there are some minor spoilers here...

I have a theory (and it's not bunnies or midgets).
This might not even be an original theory, since we aren't all caught up, but this is my blog :P

Ever since we started watching Arrow, the comparisons to Batman could not be missed, with even just the basic premise: a rich socialite experiences traumatic events in his life and becomes a masked vigilante.
But specific elements of the greater Batman story do appear throughout the show as well:
The Suicide Squad.
Harley Quinn locked up in an Argus facility.
Constant references to Bl├╝dhaven, home of Nightwing.
Ra's al Ghul and the League of Assassins.
In Flash, there's even a headline in the "future newspaper" related to Wayne Tech.

Even these few details point strongly to Batman's existence in the same universe.

But where is he?
Why aren't Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne old party buddies or business partners?
Why not even the faintest mention of Gotham City?

Now, you could say "because DC/WB lawyers, movies, contracts, yada yada".

But I don't (want to) think so.

At the same time, there is this show Gotham. (again, I haven't watched it)
A young Bruce Wayne loses his parents and sits idly watching the criminal goings-on in Gotham City. He isn't Batman yet, and might never become the Dark Knight in the continuity of this show.

But what if...

What if...

What if Oliver Queen *does* show up in Gotham City some time in the future?
What if Oliver Queen meets young Bruce Wayne, much like he found Roy, and decides to train him?
What if The Arrow and STAR Labs help to create the Batman?
(What if Cisco names him?)

What if this is all an elaborate secret buildup to a new Batman show "done right"?

Alright, I've gotten that off my chest.
Go ahead and tell me that something I'll see in the future leads to a contradiction of my idea.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Dark Tower

tl;dr skip to the end if you want to see my crazy spoilery theory about "the ending" of the series...

Back in high school, I have a hazy memory that I actually ... read... books.
One of the authors I couldn't get enough of was Stephen King. Christine, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Tommyknockers.. I read a whole ton of his work.

And then I came across the Dark Tower trilogy. It was a different sort of story than his usual stuff. A fantasy adventure in a strange world. A twisted Wizard of Oz with "cowboys" and magic doors.
I loved it!

Indirectly, my love of the Dark Tower "trilogy" was forever preserved in my high school yearbook caption, as I (the foolish young nerd) wrote an obscure reference to an RPG character (NERD!) that I had named after Roland (NERRRRRRRDDDDDDDD!)

If you're not familiar with the series, I'm not going to explain it to you very well. I couldn't do it justice. But it's basically the story of the journey of Roland, the Gunslinger, toward.. uh.. The Dark Tower.. which is as mysterious as it sounds. Along the way he is joined by a group (a ka-tet) of traveling companions, mostly from "our world". The story is very metaphysical and self-referential, sometimes weird with strange monsters, magic, and science.. and so hard to explain without giving away some spoilers about the nature of the Tower and ka.

But the ending of the third book.. is so... infuriatingly dangling. Acknowledged by King himself, it was just the place he decided to stop.
Those of you who have not yet read the books (and you should!) do not have to wait the excruciating 5-7 years to resolve the cliffhanger at the end of The Waste Lands. Like binge-watching an old series on Netflix, consider yourself lucky in this regard.

That being said, when the fourth book -- Wizard and Glass -- came out in my college years, I tried to read it. I really did. But... I just couldn't. I dunno why. It starts with a semi-satisfying resolution to the cliffhanger, but is mostly told as a flashback with character background that I didn't appreciate at the time. I wanted to know what happened next, after all this time waiting; not hear about what makes Roland tick!

So I went more than 15 years without picking it back up again. During that time, the 7-book series was concluded (mostly) and I have even spent my fair share of time logged in to a server named after a mystical word that's a central part of the last book. ;)

Just recently, in my wise old years, I decided to start listening to audiobooks to encourage more exercise.
And "just to see how things go", I decided to start this ordeal by listening to the whole Dark Tower series, from the beginning. The first 3-and-change books would be familiar enough that I could sort out the technical details while not having to pay 100% attention to the narrative.

The first book was actually significantly revised when the 5th/6th/7th came out on the scene, to put it more in line with some of the later ideas (but I have a theory about that too. See the spoilery part below). So there were parts where I said "huh. I specifically don't remember this part that I would have remembered." as I listened.
But I made it through the first 3 books again.. and the 4th book which was much easier to tolerate and appreciate this time around. (Still slightly dissatisfying that most of the book was such a tangent to the "current action", but at least I hadn't waited 5 years between books this time, and didn't have to wait another 7 for the conclusion).

And then I heard all-new-to-me parts of the story .. from book 5 onward it definitely gets... weird .... in lots of ways, some which would require a spoiler just to use a single word on how weird it gets. But it's amazing.
And the way the story ends.. I am satisfied with it.

There's apparently a new book that takes place between books 4 and 5, a couple of short stories, and a series of comics, and I might even check these all out.
Also, due to the.. multiversal .. nature of the story, there are lots of other works by King that tie into The Dark Tower, subtlely or not. I don't know if I'd count those in a completionist sense, but it's cool to know those references are there.

I definitely recommend this series, and I kind of regret not keeping up with it as it was being released.
On a general arbitrary review scale, I rate this series a GRRRRR!

Blogger's "spoiler tag CSS" didn't work properly -- sorry if you saw it already. But I've just moved my spoilery comments to a Google Doc. If you're interested in some minor spoiler-ridden commentary, go take a look here: Spoily thoughts!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Xbox Watch TV!

So I wasn't sure I was even going to try this, but I was impressed by the Kinect so far and I had some extra time last night to fiddle around:
I plugged my cable box into the HDMI port on the Xbox One, and went through the full setup process.

I am ... undecided on whether to keep it this way, and I'll be looking for feedback from my wife (and to a lesser extent, my son) on how it makes things easier or harder.

The Pros:

  • Even more video stuff that can be done without changing the TV or Receiver input. (Not quite 100% there yet, but mostly because the Chromecast is so convenient for pushing youtube to the big screen).
  • The Kinect indeed does its magic to pass (a limited number of*) IR codes to the cable box without an IR blaster.
  • Voice commands (when they work*) are pretty living-in-the-future neat. It recognizes pretty much any channel by name.*
  • While watching On Demand video* (or, probably, if you have DVR functionality and are watching live tv, but we don't), the "playback control" commands (pause/play/etc) work too.
  • The OneGuide integration puts everything available to watch in one place. And there's even a "mini-guide" that can pop up during TV-watching.
  • There is no degradation to video or sound that I can see, even though it adds an extra "hop" in the chain for TV. I had read about some concerns about support for surround-sound, but the option was there (maybe it was a more-recent system update?) and I am satisfied there.
  • You can, of course, switch between watching TV and doing other Xbox stuff without necessarily even picking up a controller or remote.
  • If you need something that isn't covered by the Xbox interface, you are still able to control the cable box normally.
  • In theory, I could ditch the cable box entirely, use this functionality with a cheap Digital Converter Box just to get the basic channels, and use the FiOS App for the paid channels, and it's still somewhat integrated and saves us $10/month.
    • But then we lose On Demand functionality which we still kind of need for some channels' content because we don't have a DVR and would rather not do anything illegal.
      • But we could use the web and Chromecast, or Amazon Prime, for the "on-demand-esque" content that isn't accessible from some other app.
        • Don't you wish the IE browser on the Xbox supported Flash, or these streaming sites supported non-Flash? That would have been another solution
          • With all of this nesting back-and-forth, maybe I should move on to the Cons.
The Cons

  • Did I say "when they work" with the Voice Commands? Yeah. Xbox, I said "Watch BBC America", not "BET"!
  • The only cable-TV-related commands that are passed through the Xbox are channels by name; you can not specify a channel number, nor is there channel up/down functionality.
    • Lack of channel up/down kind of makes sense, since the Xbox is using IR and not CEC. It is completely blind to the current state of the cable box. But it would still be nice.
    • With a proper Universal Remote (like we do happen to have), you can still fake it with a physical remote and pass certain buttons through to the cable box. But you shouldn't have to do that! And in my specific case, I don't quite have enough Universal buttons left to do everything. Because....
  • ...You also don't have control over things like On Demand. You can use the actual cable remote (or the aforementioned Universal Remote) but this can get terribly confusing and almost defeats the purpose. Especially if you want to send the up/down arrow keys, or "Back", or "Menu", etc to the cable box to navigate menus, while sending the same keys to the Xbox is for entirely different functionality that you don't want to override.
    • And if you get things out of sync in an unexpected way (for example, accidentally leaving the cable box in a menu and then saying "Xbox Watch NBC"), the Xbox voice commands can end up putting your cable box in a funky state.
  • In order to do anything with the cable box, the Xbox needs to be fully 100% powered-on. This is not exactly happy for the electricity bill.
    • It would have been nice if the HDMI passthrough was actually a passthrough when the Xbox was off. But no.
  • Relatedly, if you really want the fully-integrated immersive experience without having to hit any special buttons, you really need to have your cable box turned 100% on while the Xbox is turned on all the time. Due to Kinect magic, you can pair their power-states (and this kind of thing works well so far in my experience) but you shouldn't have to.
  • This would all be much nicer and simpler if the Xbox could just use a damn CableCard! Or at least if the US could support DVB. Please?
I'm sure there's more, but that's a long enough rant to get us started.
Leave further questions in the comments, or come find me elsewhere!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Xbox On!

As promised in my previous post, after receiving my $50 store credit, I immediately placed an order for Kinect.

I took it out of the box, and set it up in the location that I thought would be perfect: Just on top of our Center speaker.
But from there, even at the lowest angle I could adjust it to, Setup complained that it couldn't see my floor.

So, physically, it has ended up in one of the most dangerous places in the room: Right in front of the TV, on the stand, right in the path of oncoming flung dog toys, visiting toddlers, or other disasters.
But for now, it's fine.

At first, it was a little difficult to get used to the gestures, and to get it to hear us just right (still getting used to that).

The free dance game ("Dance Central Spotlight") that comes with the Kinect unfortunately has a major bug: Apparently if you play with 2 players, and both players receive an Achievement notification, the whole thing locks up. So it can only be played with Notifications disabled. That's a bit disappointing.
But we did end up downloading Just Dance 2015... which works a bit better, but is also disappointing in a way (or at least we haven't discovered all the settings yet): In previous Just Dance games, at least on the Wii, you were able to have separate "Dancer Cards" for each person, which kept track of time played, calories burned, personal bests, etc. This seems to only allow you to play one at a time, and assign random names to you while dancing (so, instead of "OssianGrr" and "Eli" and "Talita" dancing, we are forced to be named "Crazy", "Happy", and "Sunny" or whatever). Meh.
Other than that, I do see the benefit of getting exercise out of this, and the dance games are obviously less-forgiving than the Wii ones, since the Kinect is actually watching how you move and not just guessing from a few Wiimote gestures.

Incidentally, when we were setting all of this up, there also happened to be a known Xbox Live Outage, which made some things a little difficult.

Now, gestures:
Gestures in the main UI are kind of silly, but I'm getting used to it. I guess there's a point to being able to switch tasks and scroll with "grabs", but I think mostly I will default to the controller.

User recognition:
It's almost perfect. The Kinect camera sometimes needs some coercing to recognize me, Eli, or Talita. But it's only been a few days, and I think it's training itself whenever we click the complaint button. And it hasn't had any false positives. Only nondetection.
That being said, it's a (theoretically) super-convenient feature.

Voice controls:
Just like some other rants I've given, this suffers from a few problems.
When it works, it works awesomely! Nice that I can say the name of a game and it goes there, and stuff like that.
And "Xbox On" is a nice touch when it's in half-powered-down state.

But: Anyone in the room can shout commands which can lead to some master trolling (taken to an extreme, see here: ) and I presume that if someone said "Xbox Sign Out" in a netflix show or something, it would pop up the interface just like when "A Serious Problem" in my audiobook was interpreted as "Hey Siri!".
Recognition of the voice of the primarily-logged-in user would be an amazing feature (Android does this! It's possible!), or at least customization of the trigger word.. but at least since this isn't a mobile device, there is slightly less chance of it overlapping with someone else's device.

Controlling other stuff with the Kinect:
This is a bit of scary voodoo.
I was under the impression, all along, that if I wanted the Kinect to control my TV or other components, I'd have to have some sort of hydra of IR blasters sticking out of the xbox. It doesn't support CEC control, and it's just basically Infrared passthrough.
But no...
The Kinect is facing outward. Away from everything.
And magically, it "just works" to turn my TV on and off, control volume on the receiver, etc etc.
This means it must be blasting out quite a bit of infrared light, enough to maintain a signal after bouncing off of non-reflective surfaces. I wonder if that's healthy.
That being said, I don't care if it's healthy. It's impressive!

Right now, I have it set up so that when I turn the Xbox on, it turns my TV on (apparently my TV has unique "on" and "off" IR codes! Another great discovery!), and I can use my voice to control volume/muting on the receiver. Pretty amazing.
When the xbox turns off, I don't turn anything else off yet. That kind of changes the setup a bit more than expected, but I might still play around with it.
And, as well as this is going, I might even try out the HDMI-passthrough from cable box after all. I've heard some negative things about this interface -- and I'm not 100% keen on needing both the xbox and cable box on at full power every time I want to watch certain content -- but there's only one way to find out if it works for us.

The poor PS3 will probably not be powered on any time soon for much; ironically it has now been *downgraded* to a games-only machine.
The Wii will likewise probably get *less* usage, but not *none*.
The Chromecast is still the best way to fling youtube (and some other occasional content) at the TV.

All of these have to be taken into account, though. when I decide how much power and control to hand over to Xbone.
And of course I'm not the only one who has to use all of this ;)

More commentary coming.. There's definitely a lot more to say about Xbox than there is about the iphone or other "new gadgets" I've mentioned...

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Xbox Adventures.. Phase 1

So... yes! I am a proud new owner of an Xbox One, and we've spent the last week or so with it.
It came with Halo: Master Chief Collection, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Assassin's Creed Unity (which didn't arrive for a few more days).
And somehow I was convinced to get a game Eli would play, so we got another Batman game: Lego Batman 3.
Plenty of games, and it wasn't even intended as a "gaming machine".
I have played a bit of Halo (I never actually played any of them before) and some of the others... only reinforcing my bad reflexes and sense of direction and how bad I am at consoles :)
I haven't even bothered to sign up for my free trial of Xbox Live Gold yet, but if you want to be my Xbox Buddy, I am OssianGrr

As for the media stuff.. overall, great.
The FiOS app works well, and integrates with the "OneGuide" which is an interesting side effect. (This is the thing that's meant to work with HDMI-passthrough IR-blastthrough cable boxes, which I'll get back to in a moment).
Netflix, Amazon, all the usual media apps..
Unfortunately I didn't make the connection until after logging in to all of these accounts that the SmartGlass app can use your phone's keyboard, and therefore LastPass, instead of needing to use a controller to navigate an on-screen keyboard to type my random jumble. Oh well, useful for the future anyway.

We created 3 separate accounts on the system: One for me (really the "primary" account), one for Talita, and a "Kids" account for Eli with limited privileges.
Oddly annoyingly, even the "PBSKids" media app locks out 75% of its features when a 7-year-old tries to use it, but that's not really that bad.

There are some media apps that seem to be missing on the Xbox One, but are allegedly on the 360, so maybe they'll catch up soon.

And unfortunately, our receiver's "universal remote" didn't work over IR with the Xbox, so I ordered a new cheap universal remote (this one), which works absolutely great with all of our components. Despite being a little clunky to program, I recommend it as a cheap alternative to Harmony remotes.

We've experienced a couple of strange glitches, like starting up to a dark screen -- or in the middle of a Netflix movie, the screen turning into vertical lines -- but they haven't happened often enough for me to be worried.

It's definitely quieter than the PS3, and that on its own is a benefit.

One other media-related thing, which is silly and inconsequential: long ago, I bought a Region 2 DVD set of a UK-only Red Dwarf release (The Bodysnatcher Collection, note the amazon UK address). And I could play it fine on my PC with VLC, or I could watch the ripped videos, but I like the preservation of menu structures and subtitles, bonus features and such.
I tried ripping and re-burning the DVDs to make them regionless, but the PS3 still didn't like the fact that they were PAL format.  Well, good old Xbox can play the burned copies. Yeah.. really silly for something I'm probably never going to actually watch again.

So, now that we're getting used to the interface, I've got a $50 Microsoft Store credit which I'm going to apply to buying a Kinect at some point. That will change everything.. again.
So, expect a new blog post about that when it arrives.

And then  I find out that in a few months, they're revamping the entire UI of the home screen.. so it will be another learning curve.
Hopefully stable after that.

Oh.. and speaking of HDMI-passthrough cable boxes?
After we get the Kinect, which is needed for the whole IR-blaster setup, I might look into this. The article is about using a digital tuner box to get OTA channels on the Xbox interface, but allegedly it also works with cable-from-the-wall if you're paying for service. If that does work, then we could theoretically ditch the cable box, save on monthly cost, and truly have all* of our mediastuff going through the Xbox itself.

Overall I am not disappointed.
I'm very happy with my purchase!

* Except for the Chromecast, which is still useful and convenient for pushing certain types of content. And with missing "apps", and no Flash in the Xbox IE browser, Chromecast is still a convenient way to legally, freely, stream certain content to the TV without a cable box.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mobile Adventures, and on to Xbox Adventures

I have been an iphone user for about 2 and a half months now.
I must say, I think I've adjusted well.
I've gotten myself to the point I was always at with Android: Dozens of apps installed, but using only 5 or 6 of them regularly, of course.

I'm adjusting to all of the quirks of iOS.. missing some features of Android.. but still overall happy.
I'm using my old Note3 "as a wifi device" a lot less than I expected to, and that's a good thing.

Since I'm on T-Mobile's "JUMP" plan, I fully expect to be moving on to the next iphone6+-sized iOS device when it's released (or early next year when I'm "paid up").
As for T-Mobile.. I do sometimes lament the lack of service especially inside buildings, but I am sticking with them because their crazy CEO is working on some amazing things.

Now on to another "new chapter": The Xbox One.

Yes, although I coined the term X-odus way back during the first E3 of the new console generation, the XBone has come a long way. I've finally ordered one (small thanks to a few simultaneous special promotions aligning after the release of the new 1TB model), to partially replace my aging "60GB back-compatible" PS3 which has a fan you can hear from Texas.
With the number of media apps and features available on Xbox One, the primary purpose here isn't actually for gaming. There will obviously be some of that (especially after I add the kinect; part of the promotional stuff is a store-credit I can apply to that later) but mainly I am enamored with the idea of a truly singular integrated, searchable, UI for all streaming and local-media sources.
Depending on how things go, down the road I may even be able to eliminate our FiOS set-top-box entirely (while still paying for the necessary evil of TV) and still have access to all of the channels we care about.

Due to the promotion, the console comes with 3 games:
Halo Master Chief Collection comes in the box. I have never played a Halo game. I had a PS1, PS2, and PS3 (in addition to the Dreamcast and other older consoles) but never an Xbox. So I'm willing to give that a shot.
Assassin's Creed Unity comes for free whether I like it or not. I've only played the first AC game and I enjoyed it until it got repetitive, but this one only has a "resale value" of 6 bucks so I will definitely hold onto it.
Batman Arkham Knight was the game I chose for free from their limited additional list, and I'm also looking forward to it.
I do think I might take extra advantage of trade-in programs at Gamestop going forward, before the games lose their value, though.

I will provide further updates on this, the setup process, the gameplay, and the stupid stuff I test with it (Can I finally watch my set of PAL Red Dwarf DVDs on my TV? With or without region-stripping? Stay tuned...), soon. If I remember the blog is still here.
It might even arrive before July 4th weekend, but doubtful...

Bonus news:
At the end of July, the original store of Ossian merchandise -- will be gone. Printfection changed their business model a year ago or so, and they only grandfathered their old personal stores in a buy-only state (no adding new products). So, for now, is the "main" place for Ossian merch, although I'll need to find another source for GRRillin' BBQ aprons and maybe a few other things...
Ossian's 10th anniversary is also quickly approaching, coincidentally, so stay tuned for that.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mobile Adventures: the first week

So it's been about a week and a half since I've officially been an iphone user.

I'm still a little confused about itunes, and particularly whether I can have it installed on multiple PCs to sync with the same phone, and I'm too afraid to try.
And it took me a little while to realize the dextrocentric interface where "swipe left" is favorable over the lefty-instinctive "swipe right", and stuff like that.

I wish there were an app drawer rather than putting everything on homescreens.

Not all my videos/pictures are uploading to G+, which I thought I'd set up.

Drawing with finger is not nearly as easy as drawing with my S-Pen stylus, and the "capacitive styluses" (styli?) that do work with iphone are weird and not as precise.

And there are certainly other quirks I haven't quite figured out yet.

But overall, I am happy.
There's a lot less lag in running apps, and with the camera, etc.
Everything I need to do works, and none of my complaints are things I can't get over.

I still haven't completely given up on the Note 3 as a "tablet", and still definitely have some android-specific apps I intend to keep running there, but I am slowly decomissioning some of the stuff on it so I can use them less and less primarily.

I should have been keeping more detailed notes, so that this would be a more interesting blog post, but.. so it is.

Please leave any questions in the comments so maybe you can shake things out of my memory that are more noteworthy.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mobile Adventures, Chapter 1 and a half

The new iphone arrived today!

Initial setup has begun (but is stalled; see below).

First off, powering on the phone for the first time took an awfully long time. Several minutes.
One would think that maybe it was formatting the (usable part of) the 64GB userspace.

That worried me a bit.. But as soon as I saw the "Hello", I started getting to work.
I answered all of the questions, set up Apple Pay and iCloud, and still had trouble with the fingerprint scanner but eventually got it working (although it required me to take off the protective plastic before my real screen protector comes tomorrow).
And then I was presented with a very familiar iphone home screen.

Now what?

After confirming that Safari was working (on wifi) -- and had my Chrome bookmarks, which I forgot I had already set up to sync with icloud -- the next step was to actually make a call!

I dialed my home number.

And got connected to the T-Mobile customer service center.

So OK, I followed the prompts and figured there was something I needed to do to finish activation.
I said "Activate a new phone" to their prompt, and got through to an operator.
He told me that, yes, he needed to activate the new SIM card.
Could I remove the SIM and read him the numbers on it?

Well.. uh.. no, I'm calling you from this phone!

So I had him call back on the landline, successfully removed the nanosim, and somehow found a good enough light source and still have good enough eyes to read off the gigantic stream of numbers on that tiny sim:

The phone worked. I was able to make calls. Thanks, operator dude.

Let me try all the other stuff out..

iMessage: check.
Hotspot: check.
Visual Voicemail... what? voicemail shows a keypad and dials the vm number?

I called support back. They did some fiddling on the account, told me to reboot multiple times, Reset Network Settings, reboot again, but still.. the "default" iOS Visual Voicemail was nowhere to be seen.

She said it might take awhile to get working, and she'll call me back in a few hours to confirm.

So, meanwhile, I'm not touching anything on this phone. I can't afford to start configuring anything and need to do another reset (or worse, get an entirely different phone).

Hopefully this will resolve itself. It's such a stupid little thing, but I thought it was a standard feature of iphones...

For now, hopefully I'll at least be able to use the iphone as "a phone" + "a mobile hotspot for my old android tablet to do my networky things"...But I assume this should be a relatively easy fix anyway.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Mobile Adventures: Migrating carrier and platform all at once. Chapter 1

I've been a Verizon Wireless customer since Verizon Wireless existed. And I've had the same mobile phone number for all this time.

My first "smartphone" (my 3rd or 4th actual cell phone) was the good old Palm Treo. After fumbling around for a couple of years with a Palm III, modem, and patch cable to my Motorola StarTAC, this phone was a real dream come true. It combined the PalmOS I was used to and a phone in one "small" package.

When I was up for phone renewal, and the iphone was still an unproven first-generation device that didn't even have 3G capability, I decided that I didn't see the huge deal about smartphones anymore, was a little tired of the phone "app" being able to crash, and instead I took upon myself the LG Dare; a "feature phone" with a touch screen that pretended to be smart.

But then came Android.
When I was up for upgrade from my Dare, I sided with my nerdy Linux instincts -- as well as the physical keyboard slider -- and got the original Motorola Droid.
I loved that phone. I rooted that phone. I wish I could have kept it forever.
But it did have a few flaws -- mainly a lack of RAM -- and I also eventually broke its USB port so it could no longer charge :(

But in the last days of my Droid, there was a new hope.. the Galaxy Nexus. NEXUS! A line of Android phones for developers with pure un-skinned Android, "guaranteed" to get the latest updates directly from Google!  A cool curved screen!

Sadly.. as much as I loved this phone as well.. it never lived up to the Nexus name. Verizon held back on updates. I eventually did (begrudgingly) root it, but it was never perfect.
I began to get jealous of my iphone-having friends, with their consistent interfaces and easy backup that didn't require "jailbreaking". But that screen.. with my experiences in Android so far, the iphone was too small and had too few buttons.
So I bought an ipad, to have "the best of both worlds" (in theory).
And that would keep me with Android for another generation.

After an unfortunate incident with a treadmill and a headphone cable in the gym, I lived for 6 months with a cracked-screen Galaxy Nexus. Despite the fact that I was paying for the replacement insurance, I didn't want to pay $99 for a refurbished replacement _and_ worry about my backup hacks not working.

And I waited..

The Note 2 looked interesting -- a mini-tablet that also worked as a phone, to satisfy my Android Tablet desires at the same time as carrying a single device around.
But it was near the end of its life cycle.
So I waited for the Note 3.

And that's what I have now.

Side-note which becomes important later (the story is almost over, don't worry):
Somehow, when I bought the Note 3, there was a mix-up with the SIM card and they never marked me as "on-contract". So I was on a month-to-month agreement with Verizon, and could break with them at any time.
Except my wife, currently with her iphone, had just signed a new contract as well.
That made it tricky.

And for all the hatred I held toward Verizon, they still without a doubt had the network with the best coverage.

Nonetheless, after a year and a half with my Note, we were having a discussion on how to save money, and the subject of cell phone bills came up.
A friend had recently switched to's "GSM Beta", so we'd talking about the T-Mobile network.
At this point, out of abject curiosity, I found T-Mobile's "Test Drive" program, something I wish existed for all carriers: They send you a free iphone for a week, with unlimited talk/text/data. You do whatever you want with it, and bring it back.
Signed up for it.
And, to my surprise, the network wasn't half bad! There were still a couple of dead spots, but in the name of saving money, those were worthy sacrifices. Where it did work, it worked at-least-as-well as Verizon, if not better data performance.

OK, I was sold on the network! And my wife was kind of sick of hearing about it, but she was on board.
The good news (which turned out to be moot; I swear this story is short!): newer Verizon phones, like the Note 3 and definitely the iphone, are unlocked for GSM networks and "just work" (sort of) on T-Mobile's network.
There were mixed reports on whether the Verizon Samsung Galaxy Note 3 would work on T-Mobile (spelling it out for search engines) . But it would at least get a voice signal and maybe onto the HSPA+ network. Good enough.

As for ting vs. T-Mobile?  Yes, ting gives you a lower monthly bill on paper, but T-Mobile has the benefits of data roaming and crazy promotions (like 2 lines with unlimited everything, still way cheaper than Big Red).

So we pulled the trigger! T-Mobile would even pay off my wife's Early Termination Fee if we traded in a phone. I've got this fully-functional Galaxy Nexus sitting around, right? Even though it has a cracked screen, they just have to take it. Right?

So we got all ready to go to the T-Mobile store. Walked in. Told them we wanted to switch..
First, I asked if I could try an appropriately-sized SIM card in my phone to see what would happen. Lo and behold, it got a connection.. on the H+ network, but -- again -- that's good enough for my usage if it means saving money on a new phone for awhile.
So we said "Yes, let's do this".
"Oh, in case you didn't hear, just like last week or so we changed the trade-in policy so the phone has to be in perfect condition. Do you have something to trade in?"
So.. no, they would not take my Galaxy Nexus. :(
But the thing about iphones.. one of the things that I really envied about iphones .. you can back it up, wipe it, and restore a pristine image of your backup without shenanigans, including the current state of your open apps.
So my wife was more than willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and upgrade her Verizon iphone 5s to a T-Mobile-branded iphone 6.

And that's where we were until about last week. No major problems on the network, she's loving her phone, my phone is working and -- surprise surprise -- it even got onto T-Mobile's LTE band!
There are a few flaws with my phone on the network. The special control codes that start with * don't work. I had to modify the DTMF Tones setting to get touchtones to work at all.
Some other minor stuff.
And I still suspect that my phone's antenna is just adequately picking up the T-Mo signal while any newer phone could be better.

And I'm generally frustrated with Android, especially in the Verizosphere.  My phone is stuck on 4.4.4 until Verizon (yes, they still control my updates) decides that my phone is lollipop-worthy.
Good luck with that.

So... fine.. especially due to the T-Mo "jump" program (wherein I can trade my phone in after I've paid half the price to get the next big phone), here goes a year-long experiment.
Thus begins my transition from android (galaxy note 3) to ios (iphone 6 plus), and I'll be trying to document it here on my blog.

My plan is to still keep my Note 3 around as a wifi-only "mini-tablet", and certainly not re-pay for paid apps on a different platform if I can help it. But to use the iphone as a primary phone, and see where it takes me.

The new phone should arrive Thursday, but I may not start using it until next week when the case arrives (the phone is effectively "leased" now, so it's extra important to keep it in pristine condition).

Did you actually read this far? Thanks for caring!