Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Google Car Home on the Galaxy Nexus

If you're like me and were a bit frustrated that Google does not make available their stock Car Home app for their flagship phone, I have good news for you.  I found a way to get it installed and working.

How I did it:
Follow the instructions here.
Just type 'Google Car Home' whenever it refers to Google Wallet.
The app will install, but then give you a message that it's not compatible. You will not see it in your apps - however if you go to settings-->apps it's in the list - there is just no icon available.
So there is a final step, install this app.

All this app does is give you a toggle to launch the default car home app. If you have more than one installed, it will as which you want to use.
I've used Google Car Home on my Verizon Nexus today and it works great. I've also changed the colors now so they match 'ICS blue'.

So there you have it!  Google Car Home on your unlocked, unrooted completely stock Galaxy Nexus!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Time Flies

Happy New Year!

I'm shocked to see over a month has gone by since my last entry.  I've been dealing with some tech issues that I love to populate this blog with, but (correctly) the holidays took precedence and I've had a wonderful few weeks with my family.  Hope each of you has enjoyed time with your loved ones as well.

Now then, where did I leave off?  I have to admit I went on a real tech-related bender the last quarter of last year.  I got some really cool stuff.

Last October I went to MLG Orlando with my oldest gaming buddy - I'll just use his handle: 'Essobee.'  Essobee and I 'met' virtually when the Xbox live service first launched.  I can't even remember how I came across him, but he and a group were playing Ghost Recon regularly and I joined in.  I was never very good at FPS games (or any other game, for that matter) but always enjoyed them.  We ended up going through just about every shooter made for the Xbox over the next couple of years.  I have to admit my favorite times were still when some guys would come over to my apartment with a couple xbox's and we'd hook up 3 tvs and play Halo late into the night.  But I digress...

Essobee eventually talked me into the City of Heroes MMORPG and I built my first gaming pc for $500.  I played Warcraft 3, City of Heroes, Command and Conquer Generals, Starcraft (the original) and eventually Battlefield 1942.  Wow - that was a great game.  When Battlefield 2 came out Essobee and I joined a website that organized teams with a military hierarchy and had battles which lasted all day two days a week.  They tracked victories and armies would gain or lose territories based on the results.  Pretty cool stuff.  Somehow Essobee and I lost touch for a few years, probably me getting married, buying a house and having a son had something to do with it.

Then in summer of 2010 Essobee sent me a note and said 'hey, did you know that Starcraft 2 came out?'  As it turned out, my laptop can play the game and we were right back at it having a blast.  I set up a forum (Essobee jokes that I just can't help but organize the hell out of things) and dragged my brother and some friends into the world of Starcraft and we've been having a lot of fun with it for well over a year now.  Even after the cost of a gaming pc, gaming remains a relatively inexpensive hobby when you consider it to other activities.  A movie costs at least $10 a person for 2 hours of entertainment (if you are lucky and the movie is actually entertaining). A video game costs $60 and you might play it four to ten hours a week for a year or longer.

Essobee has always been the king of cool stuff, and I've always been responsible with money to the point of being cheap.  He'd build and awesome gaming pc, I'd build the cheapest one I could that would still play the games I wanted to play.  I was jealous, but my wife and I didn't have two dimes to rub together and I could never justify getting something better than good enough.  I was always jealous of the high end stuff Essobee would buy - not in a bad way - I was happy for him but certainly hoped for a day when I could afford the same.

Well over the past few years a combination of opportunity, hard work and good decisions has gotten my wife and I to the point where we do a little better than just getting by.  We're very grateful for this, and while we are not materialistic, we enjoy the opportunity to splurge on something special we'll enjoy once in awhile.  It's off-topic but I'll share my opinion on spending money: there is nothing at all wrong with buying nice stuff you'll enjoy, as long as you don't expect it to make you happy and you can pay cash for it.  This is the rule we live by, and it serves us very well.  That's it for the public service announcement.

As I said, Essobee has always been the king of cool stuff, and last summer he told me he was building a new pc.  Let me just say that if NASA needs a little extra computing power, they call Essobee now.  When he turns his machine on, 17% of the apartments in his complex lose power.  It's a beast.  I don't remember if I asked what he was doing with his 'old' pc or if he offered first, but I ended up buying it from him.  To call it his old pc is kind of a joke - it's still better than 90% of the gaming pc's on the market.  He built it himself, it's done really, really well and he gave me a fantastic deal on it - I'll always appreciate that.  I think he even said at one point it was worth it to him to know it was going to a good home.  Befriend a nerd, folks - we're pretty cool people.

For once in my life, instead of having a machine just barely good enough to play the game I was enjoying so much, I now had an awesome rig that could not only play the game, but allow me to stream on which is something I love to do.  In fact I loved this pc so much that the floodgates started to open a bit here.  I'm not going to lie - with each new cool thing I got, I would think of just one more cool thing that would make everything perfect - until I thought of the next thing...  I didn't put our family in the poor-house or anything, but when Christmas rolled around I told my wife I was pretty well set.

To begin at the beginning we have the gaming pc: Intel Core I7 920, 6 GB ram and a Nvidia GTX 285.  Soon I realized that it was no good to have a fancy gaming pc but use my old wireless logitech mouse, so I got a Razer DeathAdder - this is a great mouse by the way.  Having a great pc and mouse was terrific, but looking at the game on my old 19" monitor just didn't seem right, so I found a deal on a Viewsonic 24" monitor.  Of course I didn't want my old monitor to go to waste, so I set that up as a second monitor for chat windows and such while I'm in game on the main screen.  As I said, a lot of the reason I wanted a big rig was to stream, so I got a great HD webcam from logitech - I highly recommend this one.  This webcam captures crystal clear video in almost any lighting condition - I can't say enough about it.

Now things get really good.  The office I was using for my gaming shares a wall with our bedroom.  If you're married and you play video games, you already know where this one's going.  As a married man, your prime gaming time is after your spouse goes to sleep - unless your gaming is waking your spouse up.  Then you are what we call 'royally screwed.'  Somehow we managed to argue about things for a few months before realizing the solution was in our bonus room - a finished attic above the living room on the other side of the house.  Can I get an AMEN?  This room has been used as our storage and it took me the better part of two days to carve out a niche for myself and still I couldn't be any happier.

I call it, of course, the Man Cave.

I went to Staples and got a simple and solid glass top desk which was extra-wide so it has plenty of room for the keyboard and the mouse and the dual monitor setup.  It was on sale for $100, from $200 I think.  I ordered a Tempur-pedic office chair, and let me just say it's the most comfortable thing I've ever sat on.  Then the sales guy, who was refreshingly helpful, tells me they have a close-out on a dorm-room size refrigerator.  How could I say no to the kid?  It's very large and cost only $70.  That fridge is stocked full of lime flavored sparkling water, organic cola, and Celcius energy drinks.  The only thing I'm missing up there is a toilet.  Oh - I also got a great deal on an air-conditioner for the window - because the room is a finished attic it gets hot as Hades up there in the summer, but this unit keeps it very comfortable.  It even has a supplemental heater built in, though I haven't needed that yet.  I'm surprised to find that the computer pretty well heats up the area around the desk enough.

Throw in a set of Michigan State Spartan coasters, and by October last year I had a fully-functioning Man Cave and was happy as can be.  Which brings me back to where I started - my trip to MLG Orlando with Essobee.  To do this trip justice I'll have to take the time to write another entry dedicated to it, it was a great experience.  For now the only reason I bring it up is that while we were there Essobee discovered - and purchased - one more thing that I learned I just couldn't live without.

Just about everyone of the 'FPS-kids' walking around MLG had on a particular headset around their neck that I've never seen before.  We stopped and asked one group about them and the kids told us they were made by Astro, sold online and at a booth at MLG events, and that the quality was outstanding.  We went and took a look at the booth and the headsets, while they were very high-end, were priced at $250 which I never dreamed of spending on a headset.

The event started on Friday, and by Saturday afternoon Essobee had purchased a pair.  Nevermind he already had an outstanding headset at home - these were better.  As for me, I had a plantronics headset I had purchased maybe 7 years ago, and suddenly I'm thinking that for all the stuff I upgraded, I still had the same old headset...  Lucky for me my wife doesn't mind me spending money on stupid guy stuff and we had just purchased her a set of furniture for the family room so the headset for me seemed like a fair trade.  I got the green light and Sunday purchased my MLG Edition Astro A40 Audio System.

I'm not going to pretend that $220 for a headset isn't stupid - but this thing sounds absolutely amazing.  It has Dolby Digital 7.1 Surround Sound and I hear things in Starcraft that I had no idea were there.  The Siege Tank sounds like nothing I've ever heard before.  Astro wisely packages this product very well so help justify the price - it came with every kind of cord you need to hook it up a variety of different ways, including a fibre optic cable which is quite expensive.  It also came with a rugged travel case and they threw in a set of vanity tags (switchable ear plates for looks only).  The mixamp has a great feature which allows you to independently control game volume and team chat volume.  Furthermore, the mixamp works with the Xbox as well so now I can watch movies late at night without disturbing the house.  In fact, I later ordered a second mixamp to leave connected to the Xbox downstairs just for this reason.  This stuff is expensive, but it's well worth it in my opinion.

For those of you concerned about the economy, you can see I've certainly done my fair share to get us back on track.  I probably should feel guilty about my spending spree but I love my equipment and enjoy it almost every day which makes it seem pretty worth it.  Sadly, I'm not done yet - I have a few more fun tech purchases I've made recently but this has run on long enough so those will be a story for another day.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Internet is Radio as it Should Be

I love my XM Satellite Radio.  I got it for Father's Day three or four years ago, and I can't imagine not having it.  I only listen to a few stations regularly - but I have those stations wherever I go and I love that.  For its size, Atlanta has a shortage of good Sports Talk radio, which is what I listen to primarily.  With my XM I can tune into ESPN anytime I like, as well as classical or anything else when the mood strikes me.

As far as music goes though, I find XM extremely limited.  It may seem ridiculous to say that about a service that has over 130 channels, but it's true.  There is the old joke about cable tv - 100 channels and nothing good on - that applies to XM as well.  Within about a year I had a become familiar with the play lists on most of the stations, at least those I would listen to in the first place.  When you factor in personal taste, there are maybe 30 music stations on XM that I would want to listen to.  I guess I've gotten old because Pop music sounds like total crap to me now.  The Classic Rock offering on XM is very limited, and the Alternative stations are about the same.  Call me naive, but I didn't expect XM to have playlists - I figured sooner or later I'd hear a bit of everything.  Not so much.

Then I discovered Pandora.  I know, I'm a bit late to the party on this one - but don't the coolest people always arrive last?  Pandora is a super concept - listen to music, give it a thumb's up, thumb's down, or no rating and the magic behind the curtain will learn from your likes and dislikes.  Pandora will continue to funnel you new music that you may also like based on your feedback.  The amazing thing is, it works - really, really well.  Pandora suggested to me what may be my new favorite band: the Black Keys.  They've been around for maybe a decade, but I hadn't heard of them.  There are numerous other songs and bands that I would've never heard that Pandora has introduced me to, and I love listening to my custom station when I get the chance.  It is called McDeadagain Eclectic for anyone who might care to have a listen.

So I had a great internet app for music and xm in my car for Sports Talk radio, but this was a bit limiting.  Sometimes I wanted to listen to Pandora in the car and other times I wanted ESPN while working.  Furthermore, I was maintaining a second subscription to XM for my wife's car which I only used maybe once or twice a month.

Now that I have a reliable phone (the Droid Razr) on the most reliable network (say what you want about Verizon Wireless, their 4G LTE network is fantastic) I have a solution that will allow me to listen to what I want, where I want, anytime AND save me around $100 a year.

First I cancelled both of my radio subscriptions with XM and signed up for an internet-only subscription.  The customer service rep gave me a year's subscription for $91 - that's just about $7.50 a month and includes more stations then my traditional subscription did.  Your mileage may vary, but the rep I worked with was extremely accommodating.

Next I installed the Pandora and SiriusXM applications from the Android Market onto my Razr.  Harder to find was a good car dock application.  In another case of a company making a very, very dumb decision, Motorola apparently left a means to access the standard car dock mode directly off the Razr, electing instead to make this launch automatically WITH the Motorola brand Razr car dock.  This is a very poor decision on their part.  I did find a free app that would launch the standard car dock mode, but it is extremely inflexible.  It only allows for one application shortcut to be added, otherwise you get what they give you.  How un-android!

Luckily there are a lot of car-dock apps available in the android market.  After some research I've decided to pilot Car Dock Home v3 for awhile.  It's not pretty, but it's extremely flexible and simple to configure - which is good enough for me.  I'll always take function over form.  This app launches a blank layout and allows me to customize seven home screens with up to six large icons each.  Now I have Bluetooth, navigation, Xm, Pandora, and phone dialer apps all right on my home screen along with an option to exit car mode.  The orientation rotates automatically with the phone.  Too bad the stock car mode doesn't work this well.

Now with my phone all set up and ready I just needed a way to listen to it in my car.  That's right, I don't have Bluetooth in my car!  I drive a ten year old Oldsmobile Alero - it's a classic.  Luckily I had a friend point me towards a Bluetooth FM modulator.  After a quick search on I found a gizmo that seems a bit too good to be true.  The Gogroove FlexSMART X2 is a pretty cool gadget.  You plug it into your cigarette lighter and pair it to your phone via Bluetooth.  It will auto-search for the clearest FM channel, then you tune your car stereo to that channel.  It has play and fwd buttons that will work with Pandora (and also reverse in case you are playing mp3s).  It has a built-in hands free function for calls and according to the reviews the sound is great both for music and calls.  I'll know for myself soon - it will arrive today.  If this wasn't enough, it also comes with three cables you might need and includes a usb charging port (suprisingly, many of these devices have usb for data, but not charging).

It's also worth mentioning I found a great universal car mount.  It cost only $15 and works great, I just about any phone made should fit well in this.

So I went from paying for two XM radio subscriptions and having limited access to the media that I want, to paying about 70% less to have everything I want in the palm of my hand.  I love technology!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mechanical Keyboard:Believe the Hype

If you don't like romances you might just want to skip this one, because I'm in love with my mechanical keyboard.

There's not really a lot more I can actually say about my new Ducky DK9008G2-B.  I've already described the features in my previous article.  The truth is you just have to type on this keyboard to really understand the difference.  I think I end up finding longer ways to say things just so I can type a few more words.  Seriously - it's that good.

The Cherry MX Brown switches are as-advertised.  They require just the right amount of force to push down so that I'm not working too hard but they have nice resistance.  After each keystroke they pop back up ready to go to work again.

The board itself appears solid and quality-built in every way.  It is NOT flashy and I'm glad.  My advice to anyone in the market for a mechanical keyboard is function over form.  Get a standard board built well and I don't think you'll regret it.

In fact, I liked my first Ducky so well, I bought another, less expensive model for work.  This model, the Ducky DK1087-B uses the same Cherry Brown switches and appears to be of the same build quality as the 9008 series, but has no ten key pad.  This is fine for me, and in fact I may use this board for gaming as I don't need the ten key pad much, if ever, on that computer.  This board was about $40 less than the first one I got so while it's not cheap at $98, it's still 30% less than the other model.

Both keyboards can be found on and at this point they get my recommendation.

Finding Value in Google Voice

I've had a Google Voice number for a few years now; as soon as I heard about it I signed up and waited patiently for my invitation.  However, as feature-rich as the service is, I never did switch over to using it as my primary number for a couple of reasons.

First of all, when I started using Google Voice I had issues with call quality.  It reminded me of the initial VOIP services (I was an early adopter of that too) in that it was plagued with static and some echo issues.  I use my phone a lot for business and it wasn't of a quality I could rely on.

Even if the call quality had been excellent - and at this point it may well be - I still couldn't use Google Voice as my primary number because of my plan minutes.  I believe every major carrier offers free mobile to mobile to other callers on the same network - Sprint even offers free mobile calls to ANY other mobile number.  However, when you use Google Voice your call is routed through a Google Voice number and this means that every minute of every call you make counts against your plan minutes during daytime hours.  I've always tried to keep my minutes as low as possible to save on my monthly fee so this isn't something I'm willing to overlook.

Here's a description of how Google Voice makes a domestic call for you straight from the Help section of the site:
Each time you place a call, instead of dialing the number you want to reach, Google Voice dials a US-based direct access number. The Google Voice server then forwards your call to the actual destination number. This allows for faster call setup and the ability to place calls without a data connection. These direct access numbers may show in your phone's call log, or on your phone bill.
A unique direct access phone number is assigned to each person that you call. The direct access numbers are stored in the Google Voice application, not in your Contacts. They can be purged from your phone at any time by signing out of the Google Voice app.
Note: Direct access numbers are assigned randomly, and may include numbers that are out of your local calling area, or even out of state. If you don't have a nationwide calling plan, you may be charged long distance rates by your carrier.
Searching the internet a bit you can find some creative attempts to 'game' the system by adding the Google Voice numbers to your friends and family plan and forwarding calls, but it was a bit more than I was willing to go through and I never had a high level of confidence in any of the methods outlined.

However Google Voice and Google Voice Lite do offer at least one great feature that I've cannot now live without: visual voicemail.

Nothing used to drive me nuts more than sitting through one voicemail after another on Verizon, who wouldn't let you delete a message until you'd heard the entire thing (and of course you were using minutes while listening).  In fact, I don't want to listen through my voicemails at all - most of the time I just call the person back if I want to speak with them or ignore them if I don't.  In other words, I think some genius designed visual voicemail specifically for me.

Problem is, Verizon wants to charge $3 a month for this feature.  This is so absurd I'm not even going to go into it - suffice it to say as much as I love visual voicemail I'm not paying extra for it - our wireless bill is already north of $200 a month.

This is where Google Voice rides in on a white steed to save the day.  With my Android phone (the Droid Razr) I can simply configure Google Voice to be my voicemail for my existing number.  I don't have to give anyone my Google Voice number and they have no idea it routed to my Google Voice voicemail.  Unbelievable.  I have no idea how this works but I think it's cool as hell.  It's highly configurable and works great.  I can choose to get a status bar notification, email, and/or text when you miss a call or receive a new voicemail.  Additionally, I have a Google Voice extension in my browser (Chrome) to alert me if I have any new messages or missed calls.  Furthermore I can send text messages if the mood strikes me - and let's not forget the website has all these features and more.

The only glitch I encountered - and I set this up on three different phones - was the final step in the process of setting up Google Voice on the phone.  It just sat there working for minutes, I don't know how long it took to finish the process but it happened all three times.  Nonetheless all phones have Google Voice up and running as voicemail so don't worry if you experience this glitch.

I should also add Google Voice gives tremendously flexibility for voicemail messages, you can sort your contacts into groups and have a different greeting for each group, for instance.  I won't go into all the features but it's got everything I could imagine.

We set up my wife on Google Voice Lite.  As the name implies, this is a limited feature version which doesn't actually provide her with a Google Voice number.  It simply sets up voicemail for her, and she also uses it to make international calls at competitive rates.  Because we use Android phones, she can direct dial internationally and Google Voice will automatically be used to make the call.  For anyone else you have to do a little extra work by calling your own personal access number and then the international number you want to call.  Cost is handled by buying credits on the Google Voice account and these can be automatically reloaded at a level you determine, or you can manually pay as you go.

Google Voice has a great feature set and is the best visual voicemail I've used - and best of all it's free.  If you're interested it's now open to anyone, you can get on board here.