Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The PS4 Doesn't Support CD Playback

Call me primitive, but I've still got a lot of CDs in my collection and I still play them from time to time. While doing some reasearch on the PS4 vs XBoX One debate, I discovered that the PS4 does not play CDs. Why is that? Well, one might be inclined to think that Sony wants to push their music loving PS4 customers into a Music Unlimited subscription. However, I've heard it said that in order to get a Blu-Ray drive to play CDs, you'd have to use two lasers: one for Blu-Ray and one for CDs. So, it seems like a cost-saving decision to me I think it was a cost saving and space saving decision.

Okay, fine, I can get behind that, I guess. CDs are a dying medium anyway. And, yet, the PS4 won't even support MP3 playback, so it's not like I can stick a bunch of songs onto a USB drive and play them from the PS4.  And forget about DLNA as well. Sony is supposedly going to add in support for these things eventually, but, as a guy who got a lot of uses out of his PS3, this is one issue that can tip the very shaky PS4 vs Xbox One debate squarely towards Microsoft.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Does Walmart's Savings Catcher Actually Work?

I'm sure you've seen the commercials for the Walmart “Savings Catcher” program. You basically use the program to scan your Wal-Mart receipts and have Walmart determine if you  could have paid less elsewhere. If Wal-Mart finds a lower advertised price in your area for any of the items you bought, they give you the difference goes on a gift Wal-Mart gift card (that can only be used at Walmart, of course). But does the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app actually work?

I've been using the app on my Samsung Galaxy S4 since October 1st and I've already gotten a little bit of money back. Out of six receipts, Wal-Mart has refunded back money to me on three of them for a total of $2.21 after about $250 spent. Eligible products are currently limited to only grocery and health & beauty items and receipts older than 7 days are ineligible.

So, based upon my own experience, I'd say that Walmart Savings Catcher is not a scam and might actually be worth trying. Look at this way: You’ve already spent the money; why not see if you can get any of it back? If you have any qualms about whether or not Wal-Mart is mining your data with the app, you might want to avoid using Savings Catcher, as I don't particularly know how they store your receipt data and how long they keep it.

Another thing worth mentioning is that American Express and Wal-Mart have entered into a partnership for the Savings Catcher app. American Express has a prepaid debit card called Bluebird which Walmart sells for $5. If you have a Bluebird card and choose to put your Savings Catcher reward onto it, American Express will match the refund Walmart gives you which, in effect, doubles your refund. You can connect your Bluebird card to the Wal-Mart app, which then creates a sub-account to your Bluebird called "Walmart Bucks." The next time you go to Walmart to make a purchase and use your Bluebird card, it'll automatically use whatever's in the sub-account first, and then use your main account for whatever's leftover. And before you run out to buy a Bluebird card, you need to know that if you already have an American Express Serve account, you won't be able to get a Bluebird card.

Personally, I'm not a fan of the Bluebird card, so I won't be using it. The American Express reward matching is good through February.

What do you think? Has the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app worked for you? Do you think it's a scam? Do you think it's just not worth it? Would you be willing to buy a Bluebird card so that you can double your rewards? Sound off below and share your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Some Pumpkin Flavor Ideas

It's Fall and everybody is going pumpkin crazy again. And who doesn't  love a good Pumpkin Spice Latte from the local coffee shop? If you're in the mood for something a little different, yet still want that pumpkin taste, then you might try some pumpkin cider. I happened upon a few bottles of Sparkling Spiced Pumpkin Cider from Nature's Nectar. It's bottled by the Aldi corporation and, as far as I can tell, it can only be bought in their stores. A bottle will run you about two dollars.

Sparkling Spiced Pumpkin Cider comes in a nifty flip top which makes the bottle great for re-use. It's also non-alcoholic, although I'm thinking it would taste even better with a shot of rum. Or, you might toss in a shot of Jack Daniels, heat the whole thing up a bit and call it a "Jack O'Lantern". Here's the real kicker: Nature's Nectar Sparking Spiced Pumpkin Cider isn't really pumpkin cider at all. No pumpkins were pressed into juice in order to make this delicious concoction. No, Aldi pumpkin cider is just sparkling apple cider with pumpkin spice added. Had I not read the label, I would have had no idea because you can really taste the pumpkin in it. It actually tastes a lot like sparkling pumpkin pie juice.

Pumpkin Pie Pudding

If you're still in the pumpkin mood, then you might try making a little pumpkin pie pudding. It's a really simple recipe. All you need to do is whip up a package (5 1/10 oz) of your favorite vanilla pudding, add in a can of pumpkin (15 oz) and then add a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon also works). The kids and I made this last weekend and it went over really well. For some extra fun, buy some popsicle molds from your local dollar store and put the pumpkin pie pudding in them. Freeze them for a few hours and you've got pumpkin pie pudding pops.

Monday, October 6, 2014

How I Fixed My HP 110 Mini

I bought my My HP 110 Mini back in 2009 and it has been a pretty solid netbook computer for several years now. I initially upgraded it from 1gb of memory to 2gb which made it seem to run Windows 7 quite a bit faster. About a year ago, I accidentally cracked the screen which meant that I could no longer use the display at all. I resorted to using the VGA output on the HP 110 Mini to plug into my TV so that I could use the free version of Hulu on it. Recently, however, I was able to find a replacement screen fairly cheap and decided to fix it. It was an easier process than I could have hoped.

There are a few video tutorials out there that will help you replace your cracked HP Mini 110 screen and they range from overly talky to completely useless. Personally, I think that, if you intend to replace your HP 110 Mini screen yourself, then using the official maintenance and service guide is the best way to go. Using the guide from HP, I was able to replace my screen in about 10 minutes. Before you begin, though, you'll want to make sure you have a set of precision screwdrivers because you'll be working with really tiny screws.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Visiting Oak Ridge Cemetery

I traveled to Springfield recently to give a lecture on virtual desktop systems. While I was in town, I decided to visit Oak Ridge Cemetery which is famous for being the burial site of Abraham Lincoln. Oak Ridge Cemetery also boasts an impressive World War II memorial and is also home to several ornate tombs belonging to a number of former Illinois governors.

I've uploaded an album of photos to Sharalike. The album includes some pictures of Lincoln's Tomb and the World War II memorial. Have a look at them:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Double Letters In The Chrome Address Bar

A very weird thing happened in the advent of my Samsung Galaxy S4 getting Android 4.4.2. Whenever I would try to type a URL address into the Chrome address bar, the letters would be repeated. So, I would type "m" and end up getting "mm". Sometimes, I could type "msn" and then I'd get "msnmsn". The letter and phrase repeating never happened anywhere else but in the Chrome address bar. I had thought that it was an issue with autocomplete or predictive text, but that's not the case.

I had two keyboard inputs enabled. Using both the Samsung keyboard input and the Swipe keyboard and having them both using predictive text seems to be the culprit . Turning off the predictive text option on Swipe solved the problem.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

An Audience With The Mayor

I met the Mayor of my town last night. I had finally cleared away enough time to get my hair cut and moseyed on over across the street to my local barber shop. Upon walking into the one-chair shop, I saw that the Mayor himself was in the chair getting a trim. I was impressed, not only because the Mayor was hanging out just like any other regular Joe at the barber shop, but also because His Honor seemed to have lost a considerable amount of weight from how he looked in his campaign photo.

I took my seat and waited my turn. While I was waiting, I talked with the other folks there about the state of the local economy, the weather and other fairly mundane things. Another customer entered and the conversation among the group lulled. A little uncomfortable with the silence, I looked at the newcomer and said "What do you think about the Mayor?". I had thought that my tone indicated that I was asking the guy what he thought about having the Mayor in the barber shop. However, the customer thought I was asking for his opinion on the Mayor and went into an expletive-laden rant about the Mayor.

The barber silenced his clippers for a moment and asked the customer if he knew what the Mayor looked like. The customer seemed a little incredulous and indicated that he did. The barber shook his head while the Mayor just smirked. A few moments later, the barber finished the haircut and the Mayor strolled out of the shop without saying a word to the customer. The moment the door closed, the rest of us erupted in laughter.

I felt like a Kennedy.

Monday, June 2, 2014

White Sox

I'm not a huge fan of sports. To me, a sport is something one does, not something one watches. But, I do have to admit that there's something appealing about the atmosphere that encompasses a day at the ballpark. So, on Friday night, I put on my Spider-Man Jersey (#62), slipped on my vintage White Sox cap and set out to watch the White Sox get clobbered by the Padres at U.S. Cellular Field. My oldest brother and my sister were both in attendance, because, after all, watching a game isn't any fun unless you've got someone to watch it with. The general air of excitement made me forget that I was paying $8 for a beer and $7 for a bratwurst. I didn't even mind dropping $50 on some over-priced White Sox apparel.

The one thing I do regret is sharing a nacho helmet with my brother. That greasy mix of seasoned beef, chips, gooey cheese and sour cream made my stomach cry.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Taming Of The Shrew

I spent the last month working on a production of Taming of the Shrew with one of the local community theaters. Under normal circumstances, tackling Shakespeare is a difficult process, but we had less than four weeks to become familiar with the play and get our lines and direction down. This made it nearly impossible to get the show running smoothly before opening night. But, as we always do, we pulled together a troop of newbies, casuals and veterans to make it work.

Taming of the Shrew tells the tale of the courtship between Petruchio, who comes to town hoping to marry a wealthy woman, and Katherine, a scolding, headstrong shrew. Petruchio uses psychological torments to tame Katherine while a sub-plot develops between Katherine's sister, Bianca and the numerous suitors using devious means to woo Bianca. The whole thing is introduced via a framing device where a mischievous nobleman tricks a drunkard into believing that he is a lord and that his life as a drunkard was nothing more than a long fever dream. The nobleman then has the play put on for the drunkard's diversion. Basically, it's the inspiration behind that Julia Stiles film "Ten Things I Hate About You". So, imagine "Ten Things" set in the 16 century.

I played Grumio, servant to Petruchio. Grumio is a sarcastic man with a quick wit who interprets his master's orders in the most literal sense possible. There's a lot of comedic moments with Grumio, and it's important to play him as foolish yet wise.

Throughout the play, there were a number of issues that cropped up, most often due to cast members who had to pull out of the production for one reason or another. I was often looked to in order to help iron out issues with replacing absent actors or helping present ones with their methods. After 8 shows at this theater alone, I'm seen as a "veteran". I find that immensely gratifying, as I never thought I would ever be considered a veteran of anything. It's yet another sign that I've been putting down deep roots in the community.

We've got one more weekend of shows to do, and, after a rocky start, it seems that the cast is finally ready to meet this show head on and deliver an amazing performance.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kit Kat Finally Comes To Verizon And The Samsung Galaxy S4

The KitKat 4.4.2 Android update has been making its way around various versions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 for weeks now. As a Verizon customer, I'm used to having to wait at the back of the line for an important OS update, but the wait for KitKat has been particularly long. My phone finally received it this afternoon.

New Features In KitKat


  • Better Memory Management - Google has made some improvements under the hood that results in better memory management and smoother mulit-tasking.
  • Improved Google Now - You can now activate Google Now by simply saying "OK Google". The contextual cards feature have also been upgraded. Google Now cards will try to predict information you need based on your location, favorite sites or TV programs.
  • Hangouts Upgrade - Google Hangouts now supports SMS and MMS and promises better video and voice calling along with location based sharing and animated gif support. 
  • Better Caller ID - The phone app itself appears to have been redesigned as it now has a Google Now integrated search bar. Google Maps will also be used to search for names behind numbers that have not been identified in your contacts. 

As usual, this update from Verizon comes with a significant amount of bloatware including:

  • Verizon Cloud - With Verizon's "More Everything" plan, you get 25GB of cloud storage. Use this app to access it. Or, do what I do, and disable it.
  • Isis Wallet - It's an app where you put in your credit card numbers and loyalty card numbers so that you can pay via the app at any physical location that takes contactless payments. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Overflowing My Data Cap

I got my replacement phone in the mail last week and quickly went about re-installing all of my old apps. I also made sure to pluck my old SD card out of the old phone and put it into the new one. I had still been using the damaged phone to take pictures and videos, especially of cast rehearsals, even though my Google Photos backup could not connect to the network. It was when I re-installed Google Photos that I made a huge mistake.

Google Photos Auto Backup will automatically backup all photos and videos you take by uploading them to your allocated cloud space. It gives you the option of always using your cell network or waiting for a Wi-Fi connection instead. In my haste to get everything done, I selected the option to always use the cell network. Several hours later, while I was sleeping and while my phone was uploading the pictures and video I had taken during my offline time, Verizon notified me via txt message that I had exceeded my data cap. Not only that, but I was informed that I was going to be automatically billed $15 for another gig of data. Four hours later, just before I woke up, I got another txt informing me that I had exceeded the 1gig extra cap and that I'd be charged $15 for yet another gig of data.

My exceeding the cap is totally my fault for not completely reading the notifications on Google Photos, but, wouldn't you think that any additional data expense should be authorized by me before Verizon adds it? I'm sure there's language in the contract that allows Verizon to add a data charge to my bill without my authorization, but, still, it's a pretty shitty thing to do.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Samsung Galaxy S4 Stuck In Airplane Mode

During rehearsals last night, I put my Samsung Galaxy S4 into airplane mode. Upon leaving, I tried to resume service only to find that my phone was stuck in airplane mode. The option to turn airplane mode off was greyed out, and when I pressed it, the phone didn't do anything. I rebooted the phone to no avail. I then tried turning on various networks manually and that seemed to push the Galaxy S4 out of airplane mode, yet I still could not connect to any Verizon services. Instead of the happy-friendly 4G LTE indicator icon, I had the dreaded circle swoosh in the upper right hand corner of the phone. Going to Settings->More Networks->Mobile Networks would hang the phone. Even pulling up the dial pad would hang the phone.

There are a number of posts on the Internet referencing a similar problem with the T-Mobile network and the Wi-Fi calling feature. T-Mobile users are able to force their phones out of airplane mode by re-pointing the phone network preferences via the Wi-Fi calling menu.. Unfortunately, Verizon doesn't offer Wi-Fi calling, so that fix wasn't even an option for me. I bit the bullet and did a hard reset of the phone, but when I got to the activation screen, the phone wouldn't connect to the Verizon network and the activation failed.

The folks at Verizon tech support are unaware of any issues related to what happened to me, but, I think my experience coupled with the T-Mobile issues are indicative of a greater problem. It seems to me that there's a bug with the antenna software in Android 4.3.  Thankfully, my Samsung Galaxy S4 is still under warranty, so I'll have a replacement in a few days and I won't have to bother with the issue any further. However, if that weren't the case, I still have a few things that I would try in order to get the phone working properly:


  1. Replace the SIM card (I'm almost positive that the issue resides here)
  2. Root the phone
  3. Upgrade to Android 4.4

So, if your phone is stuck in airplane mode and you're not a T-Mobile customer and you can't get a warranty replacement, try one of the above three options. And let me know if it works. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Oven Has Arrived

After weeks of waiting, my oven finally arrived on Monday. It took a while to install due to an issue that popped up during the install of my cabinets. The gas line comes up from the floor, banks to the side with an elbow joint and runs through two sets of cabinets via an 18 inch galvanized steel pipe. The installers messed up the 18inch pipe somehow, which meant that I had to replace it with a 6 foot flexible gas hose. All it took was a little wrangling with a manual wrench and the application of some teflon tape.

I haven't had a fully functioning oven in about 3 years. Back in 2011, the stove went out, leaving only the burners functional. I got used to preparing foods via the microwave and being creative with the Pizazz Plus Pizza Oven. After I took out the old oven last month to make way for the new one, I had to start adapting to life without burners. Just boiling water became a challenge. Getting a hot plate helped immensely.

Now, though, it's not anything I need to worry about. I've already tried my hand at making oversized muffins and Cheddar Bay Biscuits. And now I've got my eye on making some Cafe Du Monde beignets.   

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Is Here

If you've gotten your hopes up that the new Windows 8.1 Update 1 will include the re-introduction of the traditional Start button, you're going to be disappointed. That feature was only just recently announced at the last Microsoft BUILD conference. It's on the Windows road map, but you probably won't see it until Windows 8.1 Update 2. That being said, there are a few notable new features in Windows 8.1 Update 1.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Changes:


  • Apps purchased from the Windows App store can be pinned to the taskbar
  • Cursor gestures now have a small delay before triggering
  • Power and Search buttons have been added to the Start screen
  • Right-clicking a Live tile spawns an actual right-click menu rather than showing charms
  • Windows Apps can be closed and minimized with the mouse
  • You can now boot directly to the desktop

 I'm not a huge fan of the Metro/Desktop hybrid that Microsoft seems to be pushing with Windows 8, but I will say that Windows 8.1 Update 1 includes enough small changes that I no longer hate the interface. I'm only slightly annoyed now.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Comic Con Saint Louis

The gang and I were in the lovely city of Saint Louis this weekend to spend a Saturday at Wizard World Saint Louis Comic Con. I had never been to a comic book convention before, so I was pretty excited at the prospect of mingling with some celebrities, browsing the wares available at various vendor tables and generally having a good time. I walked away with some art-work and some t-shirts, and, although I was pretty pleased with what I had gotten, I ultimately felt like the entire show was a bit of a let down.

The overall buzz lacked a certain aura of excitement, which is something that I am used to sensing whenever I attend Gen Con. I think the lack of awe and wonder was most evident in the general lack of cosplayers. Certainly, there were a fair amount of people who dressed up, but I noticed a real dearth of hardcore cosplayers. The high price of celebrity autographs and photo-ops was also a huge turn off for me. Clearly, celebrities should be able to make some money off of their image and their signature, but when William Shatner charges upwards of 90 bucks for you to have your picture taken with him, something is taken away from that aura of celebrity. For me, anyway, that celebrity becomes more like a one-person corporation than a celebrity. I felt particularly bad for Ralph Macchio who was charging about $30 for a photo op and had few takers whenever I passed by.  I guess it's a lesson in supply and demand and charging what the market will bear, but there has to be a better way for everyone involved.

I got a lot of enjoyment out of visiting with a number of artists and purchasing a few prints. Jim Ferguson became a particular favorite for his interesting and evocative "Making A Scene" art work. I bought a few 80's prints from him and regret not having purchased more.