Friday, November 20, 2015

Sengled Pulse LED Light with Wireless Speaker Review

Here's a gift idea for the techie who already has everything: Sengled Pulse, a smart bulb that combines the energy efficiency of a dimmable LED light with the high-quality audio of a JBL Bluetooth speaker. Just screw the Pulse bulb into any standard light socket and pair them up with the companion Android or iOS app. You'll find the Sengled Pulse app on the Google Play store or the iOS store. Once Pulse is paired to your device, you can adjust both the lighting and sound from the app. It's that simple. There are no speaker wires, power cords or remote controls to deal with and you can have up to 8 bulbs working in unison with each other up to 100 ft apart.
Sengled Pulse bulb LED with Bluetooth JBL Speaker

The LED light part of Pulse has a brightness of 600 lumens which works out to being equal to a 40 to 60 watt standard light bulb. The light bulb uses only 15 watts of power (with a peak of 30) when both the light and speaker are being used. The dimmer is only accessible when using the Sengled Pulse app, and the bulb cannot be connected to external dimmers. The speaker inside the Pulse bulb is powered by JBL, a leader in speaker technology. The speaker provides 13 Watts @ 8ohms; 100Hz-20kHz frequency response, which gives Sengled Pulse a beautiful depth and surround sound effect. The sound can be controlled without the app, since the light connects to your phone just like any other Bluetooth speaker. But when using the app you can pair lights/speakers together to create left/right stereo or mono sound.

For me, the Sengled Pulse bulbs bulbs are amazing. At about $170, they are a bit on the pricey side. And they're a little too bulky to be used inside a ceiling fan socket without removing the fan's decorative flair. I installed these the recessed lighting in my kitchen/dining area, which makes it perfect for listening to music while eating or having a dinner party. And, that made me think. I wish you could group the lights by room. So rather than control ALL lights, or ONE light, I could control the "Living Room" and "Dining Room". I also wish Sengled Pulse was compatible with my Wink hub. Overall, though the Sengled Pulse is a solid performer, and while it's not a high end home theater sound, the sound is good enough that I can't tell the difference between the low resolution free Pandora audio vs a higher bit rate MP3 from my Google Play library.

You can purchase a Sengled Pulse set (One master bulb and one companion) off of for $149.99.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Strathmore Who's Who Scam

The Who's Who Scam is one of the oldest ones out there. The companies involved sell memberships in worthless directories that appeal to a person's vanity. You might get an offer to appear in "Who's Who in American Registered Nurses" or "Who's Who in Community Theater". Generally, the publication being pushed upon you will be reflective of your profession or hobby. The telemarketers involved usually start by cold calling you in order to verify your personal information which will be included in their directory and then sold to other telemarketers. Once your interview is completed, you'll be asked to make a payment in order to receive your certificate and a copy of the directory. The price tag for everything can be around $700. You'd think that nobody in their right mind would fall for a Who's Who scam, but, I'm told that the reps can be very convincing when they appeal to vanity and the need for making networking connections. Plus, the fact that a product and service are being offered and delivered makes the whole practice seem more legit. But, you should ask yourself how trustworthy and elite a Who's Who directory is that has such low criteria for inclusion. That's the metric of what makes a Who's Who publication a scam in my opinion.

The particular Who's Who scam that called me recently came to me courtesy of Strathmore World Wide. The caller ID entry that came up when Strathmore World Wide called was (516) 554-0111, which is a number that is not in service, so you can't call it back. That's a huge red flag. NEVER trust a call from a number that cannot be called back. Anyway, the Strathmore rep called looking for Charles Brown, owner of Brown and Brown Hair Salon. When she questioned me about the salon, I pretended to break down and cry, admitting that I had only said that I owned a salon so that I could feel like a big shot and get my name into the Strathmore Who’s Who for Executives and Professionals. When she asked if I had any executive qualifications at all, I told her that I had watched an entire season of "The Apprentice". The fact that the rep was so desperately reaching for some kind of qualification is, in my opinion, the big red flag that Strathmore Who's Who for Executives and Professionals is a blatant scam.

I'll allow for the possibility that there may be some reputable Who's Who publishers out there. If you to find yourself on the other end of a call from one of them, ask them the following questions before you give out any personal information:

  1. How was I selected? Was I nominated by someone specific or did I meet a certain criteria? If the rep answers broadly or is otherwise vague, you should be suspicious. 
  2. How many others made the cut? Too many voices in the crowd and you'll want to be suspect. 
  3. Who writes the bio? Most legitimate agencies will ask for background information and then write the bio for you. If you're asked to submit one yourself, it's most likely a vanity directory and not worth your money. 
  4. Are all entries the same size? The sure sign of a purely vanity directory is an upsell charge for a larger and/or more prominently featured biography. Most legitimate directories will even the playing field by having everyone have the same sized entry. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Big Fat Greek Wedding Gets A Sequel

The first trailer for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" was released today. Now, before you go on ranting about how it's an unnecessary sequel and that it won't be any different from the first one and that Nia Vardalos hasn't written anything even remotely funny in the last 14 years, let me tell you this:

I attended the My Big Fat Greek Wedding panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year and the footage that they showed there got a tremendous reaction. In anticipation, hundreds of people were there cosplaying as Toula Portokalos and Ian Miller. I even saw a few cosplaying as Gus. It seems that the My Big Fat Greek Wedding cimenatic universe (heretofore abbreviated as the MBFGWCU) still has many tales left to tell. Now, I don't know if the My Big Fat Greek Life television show is going to remain in canon or not. We'll have to wait for the premiere of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 for the answer. Still, rumor has it that Universal has already signed Tom Everett Scott to appear in a post-credit scene as Guy Patterson from That Thing You Do!, thus tying the two Playtone properties together and expanding the MBFGWCU. This, of course, will lead to the third entry in the MBFGWCU, Three Greeks And A Baby, plus the fourth entry, Four Greek Weddings and a Funeral.

Seriously, though, while the first My Big Fat Greek Wedding film was a critical and a commercial success and did big business almost solely based upon word-of-mouth, it owed its success to the one woman show that Nia Vardalos based the movie on. Vardalos was able to road test a number of the elements that went from the play into the movie. That hasn't been the case for stuff for her subsequent efforts like "My Life In Ruins" and "I Hate Valentines Day" which were absolutely disastrous and felt like first drafts in dire need of refinement. And, I suspect it's the same for  My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. It's just another attempt to cash in on some movie nostalgia. Which is too bad, because the all-ages family charm that was integral to the success of the original seems to be absent in the sequel. The scene in the trailer where Toula and Ian are about to boink in the car and are caught by the family lacks subtlety, is completely unrealistic and seems indicative of the kind of jokes that will permeate My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. If Playtone and Universal wanted to really capitalize on the popularity of My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a minimal amount of effort, they could have just made it part of The Fast And The Furious franchise and called it 2 Fat 2 Greek.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Review Of The Peanuts Movie

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a huge Peanuts fan. I grew up watching their holiday specials. I turned in a rousing performance as a tree our first grade production of "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". I have been pushing my community theater group to do a production of  "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" for years. And, as a condition of accepting a role in my theater group's Christmas review show last year, I insisted on being assigned Linus' famous recitation of Luke 2:9-14 from "A Charlie Brown Christmas".

I've been excited about "The Peanuts Movie" for months. I've been eagerly showing the trailer to my kids in order to get them interested in seeing it with me. We saw the movie yesterday afternoon and, I have to say that, while my expectations were probably impossibly high, The Peanuts Movie went a long way towards satisfying them. The premise of The Peanuts Movie involves Charlie Brown and his attempts to win the heart of The Little Red-Haired Girl. The B-plot involves Snoopy writing a fantastical novel in which he battles the Red Baron to save his own love interest. It doesn't sound like much to base a movie on, but the underlying message of honesty, courage and being true to yourself is something that fans of The Peanuts Gang have come to expect from anything with Charles M. Schulz attached to it

First off, I want to commend Blue Sky for not casting "names". Each character in the Peanuts Movie is voiced by a child actor which is what Charles Schulz would have wanted. I can only imagine how fast he'd be spinning in his grave had Fergie been cast as Sally (which would be somewhat legit considering that she voiced Sally in "Snoopy's Getting Married"). Second, I also appreciate that The Peanuts Movie exists within its own timeless environment. The kids don't use cell phones or computers. They still have landline phones with twisty cords. They write letters instead of sending emails. Snoopy uses a type-writer instead of a word processing program. It really adds to the charm of The Peanuts Movie. Unfortunately, because of this, when modern pop songs are used in this setting, it creates a cognitive dissonance that threatens to take the viewer out of the movie.

I only have three other nitpicks, and those relate to continuity:

  1. Linus has traditionally been shown as being younger than Charlie Brown, yet, in The Peanuts Movie, they're in the same class. This change was most likely made in order to quickly move the story along. 
  2. Linus and Lucy's younger brother, Rerun is not mentioned. It's possible that he's the kid that Charlie Brown helps out a few times through the movie, but if he is, he's not mentioned by name. 
  3. Peppermint Patty and Marcie don't go to the same school as Charlie Brown, yet, in The Peanuts Movie, they do. Again, it's a change that was probably made for brevity. 

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. It's a sweet, charming, delightfully fun film. It's like getting a warm hug from my childhood. There's something for kids who are new to Peanuts and adults who have been longtime fans. While I liked the Charlie Brown plot the best, my two younger boys preferred the Snoopy plot. My boys giggled at Snoopy sneakily eating Charlie Brown's cupcakes while I was moved by Snoopy offering him the last cupcake after yet another spectacular failure. My pre-teen daughter was not a fan of the movie overall citing that she found very little to identify with.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A New Star Trek TV Series Is Coming In 2017....On CBS All Access

Star Trek is returning to television, just in time for its 50th anniversary. Alex Kurtzman, producer of the latest big screen Star Trek adventures, is beaming down a new take on the series which will air exclusively on the CBS video on demand app, CBS All Access (after an initial "free broadcast" of the first episode on CBS proper). This will be the first original series developed specifically for CBS All Access. No details about the premise, characters or timeframe involved have been released yet, but, since Kurtzman is executive producing, it's a pretty sure bet that this new Star Trek TV series will take place in the alternate timeline created in the 2009 Star Trek movie.

The Trek fan in me is happy that a new Star Trek TV series is officially being developed. However, my phasers are currently set to "skeptical" because this is an obvious attempt to shore up the fledgling CBS All Access app. Also, Alex Kurtzman has been responsible for writing some absolute crap over the past few years, including Transformers, Cowboys and Aliens, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But, at least his usual writing partner, Roberto Orci, isn't involved. So, the glass might actually be half full here.

Still, as a discerning consumer of entertainment, it's going to take a lot to get me to pay $6 a month for access to yet another streaming site. This new Star Trek tv series is going to have to be really good right out of the gate in order to win my hard earned cash. No more of this "take two seasons to find its legs" crap that Trek has become known for over the years. Otherwise, I'll just wait until the series has completely aired, sign up for a free week on CBS All Access, binge watch the new Star Trek TV series and then cancel my subscription. If the show is as bad as Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Enterprise were, I may not even do that.

I know that we, as consumers, have been begging for more a-la-carte options and that this CBS All Access thing has spun out of that. But, here's the rub: I already pay CBS for content via my cable subscription. There were a series of big contentions recently as the various networks demanded more money from cable providers for the privilege of rebroadcasting over cable what the networks were already broadcasting for free over the air. Cable bills went up as a result. And now those same networks want to charge me for that content again? Not happening. Cable subscribers are already paying for multiple CBS owned stations. There's no excuse not to air it on any of those except to extort cash. Which isn't very Star Trek like.