What?? A ‘Magnificent 7′ Remake??

I do not usually care much for reboots.  There are exceptions.  The new Star Trek movie entries have been exciting.  But I was pretty skeptical about a Magnificent 7 remake.  I am such a huge fan of the original, that I thought there was no way a reboot could do it justice.

Well, I watched the trailer.  Now I’m looking forward to it.  I do however agree with one of the commentators.  Great trailer ruined by a crappy Kanye West “song.”

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Bodhi Linux Makes old Emachine Laptop Fly

When HP recently unloaded it’s 11 inch chromebooks on employees for an excellent price – $129 for devices that list for $279 – I couldn’t resist.  I wasn’t sure what it would be good for, but for that price I figured I could afford to find out.  Quite a lot, as it turns out, but that is a post for a different day.  Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine got his Dad’s old eMachine D620,   These were built by Acer about 5 years ago, and were decent but performance was not spectacular.  They were built around an AMD Athlon 2650, single core CPU running at 1.6 Gigahertz, and sporting 1 Gigabyte of memory.  Probably the worst thing about them was they they came with Vista.

Related – see Chromebooks: Suitable for Writing?

The laptop was running pretty slowly by the time my buddy got it.  I agreed to tune it up for him, thinking I would remove viruses, spyware, and any unnecessary software, and optimize the hard drive.  It was still abysmally slow after that, at least compared to what I am used to.  I decided that I could not, in good conscience, leave him with Vista.  I thought sheesh – the Chrome OS performs pretty well on my chromebook with lightweight hardware, and Tim doesn’t really need much besides a good browser (he uses Gmail) – why not?  I’ll reload the OS using Chromium!

Well, I did manage to get Chromium running on the laptop, and it was pretty snappy, but there was something wrong with the video support.  There was constant distortion in sawtooth shaped patterns across the screen.  I tried fiddling with the Xorg configuration, but it didn’t seem to help, and I couldn’t find anyone else who had put Chromium on one of these devices successfully.  So I went to the Internet in search of modern, light-weight Linux distributions.

Several came to light, but for various reasons I opted for Bodhi.  I don’t regret that choice at all.  Bodhi was easy to install – like most modern distributions, you can use a program like Unetbootin to create a bootable flash drive, boot into Bodhi Linux, and take it for a test drive.  That went well, so I used the “Install” option to install it on the hard drive, replacing Vista completely.

Bodhi comes with a lot of configurable GUI options, like replaceable profiles, themes, and icon sets.  I set him up with a desktop profile and a nice theme, installed the Chrome browser, and showed him how to install additional software should he ever want it.  We installed Chrome apps for Youtube, Netflix, and Gmail (the 3 things he usually uses), and off he went.  It’s been a couple of weeks now, and my buddy is completely happy with his laptop.  He says it runs better than it ever did for his dad.

I had one issue during the configuration.  The chrome browser would not let me install any chrome apps, extensions, or themes.  I found a thread about the issue, which is evidently a known bug in the most recent versions.  The solutions is to downgrade to a previous release.  It was only a temporary setback, and hopefully they’ll have this bug fixed soon.  In the mean time, the older version is running fine.

Bodhi Linux Download Page

Old version of Chrome if necessary

Next installment – Bodhi on an 8-year old HP Pavilion Desktop along with a new SSD.  Hint: it flies even faster.

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Bubblews Revisited

I previously relayed my first experience with Bubblews as a writing site, which was a short-lived disaster.  While there were a lot of detractors, there were also a lot of writers saying they were making some decent extra money from the site, so I decided to give it another shot.  Created a new account, and over the past year I’ve posted a couple of dozen “bubbles.”  Over that time I’ve spent some time interacting with other bubblers there, which seems to be a necessity in order to make any headway.  I’ve accumulated about $28 there so far, which isn’t a great return on investment in time.  Indeed, residual earnings there seem to be pretty non-existent for most people, earnings come in the first day or two after each article is posted.

The site is fraught with plagiarism.  People not only copy earlier postings in their entirety, but sometimes complete articles posted elsewhere.  Management is aware of the problem and taking steps to deal with it, but some of their recent actions seem counter-intuitive.  One of the changes they’ve made is that they no longer pay 1 cent per view, 1 per comment, and one per “like.”  The new model is apparently now dependent on from where the views come (countries outside the US, the UK, and Canada are worth far less, because advertising revenue pays less for those views).  Details of the current formula have not been released, but Bubblews management is saying that it will probably be tweaked more in the near future.

Currently, there is no way to tell how many “views” a post has received, not even for one’s own posts.  I have an issue with that.  I rely on the number of views an article or post gets to evaluate how successful it is compared to other posts.  Leadership there explains that Bubblews is not a writing site, it is a social network that shares revenue with its users.  My problem is that it is not a good social network when compared to services like Google Plus, which far outshines Bubblews in terms of features.  I don’t see it taking any sizable membership away from facebook or G+, but could attract writers and bloggers who want to use it as a revenue stream, but only if they stop telling people that they aren’t a writing site.

I’ll keep playing with it for the time being, even if I have a suspicion that my time would be better spent writing well-crafted articles on HubPages or elsewhere.

If you’re curious, check out my profile on Bubblews.

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Star Trek TOS: Continuations

I’ve been a fan of the Star Trek: The Original Series practically all my life.  At the age of 6 through the age of 8, I was enthralled every week as the crew of the Starship “Enterprise” explored bold new worlds, rising to new challenges posed by strange, alien life-forms.  Challenges met by combining intelligence and skill with futuristic technology.

As I grew older, I enjoyed the spin-off series and movies, but none of them quite measured up to to the original.  ”Voyager” came closest, as it seemed to me that Janeway was the only captain with Cajones almost as big as those of Kirk.

Recently, I’d begun hearing about a number of fan-produced videos continuing and extending Star Trek story from the time-frame of  the original series.  I imagined guys like Leonard, Sheldon, Rajesh, and Howard using consumer vid-cams with sets made in someone’s garage or basement.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  Thanks to a recommendation someone sent me on G+, I was fortunate enough to watch the first episode of ‘Star Trek Continues.’  In a nutshell, I was astonished at the production quality and dedication to authenticity.  After a little research, I discovered the Star Trek Continues (STC) was the newcomer, and that Star Trek: Phase II (previously known as Star Trek: New Voyages) is an award-winning fan-produced series that was started over 10 years ago.  While STC only has one episode, ST:PII has 7 episodes currently available.

I wondered why the folks behind STC wanted to start their own project, rather than joining forces with the ST:PII folks, but my inquiries were not met with forthcoming explanations.  I garnered what information I could find on-line, and watched several episodes and vignettes from both camps, and created an article comparing and contrasting the two (see Star Trek Continues vs. Star Trek Phase II).  One can watch an episode from each production embedded in the article, but all the existing episodes are available on Youtube.

True fans of the original series will find a great deal of material to enjoy from both of these amazing projects.

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Spelling and Grammar for Writers

Most of my writer friends are very good when it comes to grammar and spelling.  Even most of their “quick and dirty” postings use proper English constructs, complete sentences, and decent grammar.  It never ceases to amaze me however how poorly some people who call themselves ‘writers’ actually write.

I’m not saying they don’t know their subject matter, although sometimes that too is an issue.  What I’m saying is that there seems to be a growing trend to skimp out on the editing in favor of just getting the information on-line.  My friend Jeremy Ellwood put it succinctly, responding to the prevailing attitude:

“LAWLZ so what i can rite how i want”
Well, technically, yes you can. And you look like a 5-year old with a learning disability when you do.”

We can forgive Jeremy for beginning a sentence with a conjunction, the sentiment is spot-on.  Maybe people simply don’t realize how sophomoric their prose appears when spelling and grammar is ignored.

Don’t look like a 5-year old with a learning disability.   Check out Jeremy’s Guide to Grammar – The Internet and Cynicism.

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Star Trek Continues or Phase II Article – Responses from the Producers

I recently wrote an article comparing the top two fan-produced continuations of Star Trek (the original series).  At the outset of my research, I reached out to both production companies asking them for an interview, or at least a comment for the article.  The email was slightly customized for each group, but the essential questions were the same, and they went out originally on October 27th.

In the case of Star Trek: Phase II, it was via a form submission on their web site.  I received an automated response email right away, stating that a real person would eventually respond, but the subject had been automatically changed to “STP2: Web Contact – When will the next episode be released?”

For Star Trek Continues, it was a simple email to the address listed on their ‘contact us’ page.

A few days later, I sent an addendum to both places, by replying to the automatic response I got from ST:PII, and by simply sending a new email to the STC folks and including the original text.  In both cases I added a request asking for permission to use their respective images in the article.

To date, I have not received a response from ST:PII except for that first auto-response.  I haven’t decided for sure, but I think I prefer no response to the one I got from the Star Trek Continues folks.  Here is the exchange in it’s entirety:

My name is Joe Poniatowski, and I occasionally write stories and articles.  Some would call me a “citizen journalist,” but my articles have appeared on both on-line and printed publications, examples on request.

I’m writing an article to compare and contrast “Star Trek Continues” with “Star Trek Phase II” (previously known as “Star Trek New Voyages.”  Incidentally, your show will get the nod, at least in terms of authenticity and production quality.
I’m hoping that you would like to comment for the article.  Preferably even an interview?  The main question of course is, what made you decide to create a new project as opposed to collaborating with the Phase II folks?
Any insights or related commentary would be appreciated.  I can be reached at this email address, or by phone at nnn-nnn-nnnn.
Oh, and one more question: can I use any images from Star Trek Continues in the article?
The response from Star Trek Continues:

We have no interest in being compared to any other production for any reason.

We would not be interested in releasing the use of our images for any article pertaining to this kind of topic.

Thank you,


So, what do you think?  What would you prefer?  No real response, as from Star Trek: Phase II, or a curt ‘we’re not interested at all in supporting your article idea’ from Star Trek Continues?

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Thinking about posting on Bubblews? Proceed with caution.

I recently noticed that many of my contemporaries – fellow authors on sites like HubPages – were posting articles on a relatively new site, ‘bubblews.’  I thought I’d give it a try, so I created an account, and proceeded to write an article about Ingress (the Android game).  My first mistake was editing the article directly on the bubblews site rather than editing it off-line and uploading it.  I know better than that.

An hour or so after publication, the article had received several hits, and I’d already accumulated $1.15 in my bubblews ‘bank,’ so I thought things were going very well.  A few hours later however, the links to the article no longer worked.  When I tried to log on to bubblews to see if I could figure out what was wrong, I could not log in.  The password-reset option failed as well.  Other articles loaded fine, it was just mine that seemed to have a problem.

Turns out, bubblews deleted my account, article and all.  Why?  I can only guess, since repeated inquiries to them have been ignored.  My guess is that my account was deleted because my article contained an image representing the Enlightened faction in the Ingress game.  I used that symbol legally according to the ‘fair use’ clauses in U.S. copyright law, but that is the only possible reason for account deletion that I can imagine.

A search on the Internet quickly revealed that this is not an isolated incident. Continue reading

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How to Mute a Circle in Google Plus

I’ve been playing around a lot on Google Plus.  It seems to offer the best features of StumbleUpon (find and share cool, useful, and interesting content on the web),  Facebook (keep up with friends, relatives, and co-conspirators), and news aggregators (follow streams of text, pictures, and videos on trending topics as they emerge).  So far, I like it a lot.

One thing I discovered is that some people and organizations I like to follow put out more content than I can keep up with.  I don’t want to “block” these people, which would prevent their posts from showing up for me at all in my stream, I’d just like to throttle their input a little.  There are also a few people whose content I really don’t want to see except when I’m in the mood, and don’t want to have to block / unblock them individually.  One example is the number of authors on HubPages that I’m following but who are not following me in return.

A search in Google for how to do this turned up a lot of people asking for this functionality, and even a browser plug-in that lets you do this.  The plug-in however is for Chrome, which isn’t my main browser (Opera is, in case you’re wondering).

It turns out that a few months ago, Google Plus added radio slide controls that let you determine how much or how little content produced by the members of each circle contribute to your home stream.  Click on the picture for a larger view.

Radio Slider for controlling Circle Traffic Radio Slider for controlling Circle Traffic

The other options, aside from “Show Nothing” from the selected circle, include “Show some posts,” “Show most posts,” and “Show every post.”  I tested all of the various settings with each of my circles, and indeed, “Show nothing” does prevent posts from people in these circles from showing up in your stream, but you can always select these circles explicitly and see all of their posts.

The slider control doesn’t appear for me on my various portable devices – it looks like you have to set your preferences using a full desktop version of a browser.  Once set however, the settings do take effect on portable devices running the G+ application.

You find the slider by clicking on your G+ “Home” button, then selecting a specific circle from the tabs, or from the “More” drop-down.

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Some Cool Android Apps to Scan, Measure, and Analyze

Inspired by the impressive capabilities the “Tricorder” applicatilon instilled in my normal Android devices, I decided to do a little research.  I specifically wanted to find applications that interact with the physical world in interesting and meaningful ways.

I came up with a list of applications that can turn your phone into a metal detector, a document scanner / photocopier, a heart-rate monitor, a telemetric measuring device. and even a geiger counter.  All these apps are freely available on Google Play.  See the complete list, including my own tests, descriptions, and download li.ks on my Cool and Useful Apps Hub.

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Goodbye Google Docs, Hello Google Drive

Anyone who has logged on to Google Docs recently has seen the message that “Google Docs will soon be upgraded to Google Drive.  Google Drive will be the new home for your files.”  We’re given the option of getting started now, so I decided to give it a try and post my impressions here.

My first thought was that Google had figured out a way to monetize Google Docs – since we will have to pay for storage beyond 5 Gigabytes.  Granted, 5 Gig holds a lot of documentation, but Google wants to house all your files from everywhere – pictures, videos, and presentations, in addition to documents on which you wish to collaborate.  I can see that 5 Gig getting eaten up pretty quickly for some people.  Additional storage starts at 25 Gig for “less than $2.50 a month.”  Our current household data storage on our networked FreeAgent drive is about 100 Gigabytes, so I won’t be backing everything up to GD quite yet.

Getting Started on Google Drive

Clicking on the ‘Get Started and Learn More’ link took me to a page with highlights of the GD service, along with a short promotional video, all pointing out how I could share and access files seamlessly from my phone (Android and iPhone), tablet, PC, Mac, and Chrome OS.   Then there was the next button, “Get started with 5 GB free.”  There, I was given a welcome screen, offered another video (which I didn’t watch), and yet another button “Try Google Drive.”

After clicking that, I was finally taken to the Google Drive interface, which looks a lot like the Google Docs interface.  A message appeared letting me know that I could revert to the Google Docs UI at any time in the settings menu, but I don’t know how long that will be available.  If you were comfortable with the old interface, you’ll be able to work with this one – most of the original options and look-and-feel have been preserved, except ‘collections’ are now ‘folders’ and there is no ‘home’ view.  ’Star’-ing items is the same, and files can be dragged from one folder to another.

Google Drive for the PC

I convinced my wife to sign up for the service, and install the optional PC component.  She is not an IT expert, but the setup was easy enough for her.  Basically this application creates a new folder on your PC, and anything you put there is synced to your Google Drive.  She copied some of her real estate files to the new folder, and they were available on the web a moment later.

Google Drive for Android

I then downloaded the Google Drive app for Android on my Epic 4G Touch phone.  After accepting the TOS, I was able to access all my folders and files.  This post is not intended to be a real ‘how-to,’ but suffice it to say that I was able to load my files, edit, re-save, and share them with specific people, all from my phone.

Of course, my low-cost Sylvania tablet has access to the Google Market (excuse me, I mean “Google Play”), but like most apps that I actually want, Google thinks GD is incompatible with my device.   I worked around this in two ways: 1st, the excellent X-Plore file manager running on the tablet has native support, and connects to Google Drive.  This shows my folders and files there just like the local folders and files, and I can open them directly in OfficeSuite Pro.  This worked without a hitch.  Next, I logged on to drive.google.com using the tablet’s stock browser (Android 2.2).  At first it just gave me the old Google Docs interface, but once I switched from the ‘mobile’ version to the ‘desktop’ version, I was able to access the full GD functionality.  Oddly, whenever I finished editing something and went back to the main screen, it would switch back to the mobile version.

Out of curiosity, I tried copying the .apk file for the Android version of the app from my phone to my tablet.  9 times out of 10 that will work fine, even for apps Google claims are incompatible with my tablet.  This time however, the app would not install.

There you have it, Google Drive accessing files via the web, Android phone, and PC.  I have no Apple products with which to test.  I got to thinking about the 5 Gig limit for free storage.  My wife now has an account.  With her account and mine, we have 10 Gig.  We also have two kids, which brings us up to 20 Gig…




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Switching from Vonage to NetTalk Duo

Updating by request (thanks,  Chad), June 11th, 2012)

Well, we’ve been using the NetTalk Duo as our only home phone system for about 4 months now.  Overall, I’d say it is a great value, but there are a few things that could be better.

1) We were unable to activate a new credit card with the company’s auto-activate phone line.  We tried 3 different times with 2 different phones hooked to our home system, and it just never worked.  It worked the first time with a cell phone.  I have not tried to search NetTalk’s forums for this.

2) Sometimes there is a long wait between completing dialing a call and the first ring.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does we might wait 30 seconds or longer before we hear the first ring.  The first few times it happened I thought it had maybe missed one or more digits during the dialing and I called again.

3) Sometimes the service does drop digits when entering a code.  For example, if I join a conference call for work and have to enter the conference code, some digits are sometimes missed and I have to enter them again.  If I slow down just a little, it seems to work reliably.

These issues are really nothing more than minor annoyances, and don’t occur at all most of the time.  Call quality seems to be on par with Vonage.  The number porting process went without a hitch, although it took 3 or 4 business days to complete.  For less than 1/10th of the cost of Vonage, I’m happy we made the move.

Oh, there is one thing I really wish the NetTalk Duo did that Vonage did: flash the voice mail indicator on our home phone when someone has left us a message.  They do let us know via email (which I get on my cell phone) when we have a message.  The only other way we know is if we pick up the house phone and dial the 2-digit voice mail access number. Continue reading

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Post New Article on Yahoo! Voices or HubPages?

I have written a new article on using disposable email addresses from spamgourmet.com to protect your email address from spammers. I deliberated a little bit on where to submit it – Yahoo! Voices or HubPages? It is a rhetorical question at this point, but here are the pros and cons.

Yahoo! Voices:

This used to be Associated Content, one of the advantages of publishing articles there  is that they often pay a little bit up front for pieces they think will have broad, long-lasting appeal.  Another ‘pro’ is the brand recognition garnered by any Yahoo! site compared to HubPages.


 HubPages has its own set of advantages over Yahoo!.  For instance, one always has the ability to update or delete articles on HP.  Images and video can be embedded throughout the article, as well as automatic support for the inclusion of interactive maps, polls, and quizzes.  Both sites share advertising revenue with the authors, but on Yahoo! it is all in their control.  HP lets you, at your own discretion, include Ebay capsules and Amazon ads, as well as adsense.

Historically, HP has paid better in terms of residual income, when the earnings are adjusted by the number of articles I have on each.  I have 5 times the number of articles on Yahoo! Voices than I have on HubPages, but my monthly income from Yahoo! is only about 30% higher.  So the financial incentive seems to point to choosing HP, but…

I originally elected Yahoo! anyway.  My intent is to link several other articles to this one, including some privacy policies on various web sites.  I figured the Yahoo! name would carry more weight.  However, Yahoo! rejected the piece with the following canned text:

 ”…we do not publish content that contains affiliate marketing links, nor do we publish content related to, about, or linking to websites that contain such content (such as programs offering incentives to click links or ads, read emails, or surf other websites).”

I can assure everyone, there were no affiliate links in the article, nor were there links to any sites promoting incentives to click links or ads, etc.  There is a link to spamgourmet.com, the service the entire article is about, which is a non-profit provider of disposable email addresses.  There is a link to Smokers Kastle’s web site, which is used in a hypothetical way for providing real examples of how disposable email addresses can be used.  Finally, there is a link to a posting here on JP about hosted email servers as a means to combat spam and malware.  None of these sites host any kind of link or traffic-generation incentives.  A few ads are here, but that in itself shouldn’t have led to the reasons I was given in the rejection notice.

I didn’t bother trying to argue with Yahoo! or edit the article.  As you might have guessed, I published it without incident on HubPages.  Please check out How To Fight Spam with spamgourmet.  I hope the article does really well there, just so I can thumb my nose at Yahoo!.

Posted in On Writing, Publications, Security & Privacy | 5 Comments

Quality and Customer Service Suffering

With the United States firmly entrenched in the post-industrial stage of socio-economic evolution, companies must place a greater emphasis on service offerings and customer service in general.  Here are two good examples of what they shouldn’t do, unless their goals are to alienate customers and garner negative feedback and publicity.

Arpin Van Lines Loses Urns and Customers
When my father passed away last year, we inherited a house full of belongings in Arizona to deal with.  Some of it went to Good Will, but the rest of it needed to come home to Michigan with us for dissemination to family members and for sale.  Since the collection included several pottery urns (somewhat fragile) and a baby grand piano (extremely heavy), we decided to enlist professional movers.

Broken vase delivered by Arpin Van Lines

Re-assembled vase with Gorilla Glue showing

First problem – delivery took over a month.  At one point the company told me that the driver was bitten by a spider and had to be hospitalized.  OK, I get that, but the company couldn’t say where the truck was, or when it might be back on the road.  They rarely called me back when they said they would.

Once they did arrive, they couldn’t re-assemble the piano completely.  Whoever took it apart wasn’t available, and the guys that came with the truck couldn’t figure out how to re-connect the foot pedal assembly. Continue reading

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Big Oil Financials – 3 Companies making $271 Million per day

2011, 1st quarter financials are in. Gas is near or over $4.00 per gallon. Royal Dutch Shell reports earnings of $6.9 Billion. That’s about $76 Million per day. How about our old friend Exxon? $10.65 Billion, or $117 Million per day. Read that again. Exxon Mobil is profiting $117 million dollars a day. Finally, how is the beleaguered BP? With the recovery expenses of the oil spill we would expect to see the company in some trouble. The fact is, their profit was $7.124 Billion in the 1st quarter. Poor BP – they’re only earning $78 Million a day. Must be a real drag.

What’s it add up to? These 3 companies alone are raking in over $271 Million a day in profit, and we’re expected to pay $5.00 per gallon of gas by mid-summer.

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HubPages Referals, and News of the Weird.

Earlier I mentioned that among revenue sources available when you publish on HubPages is their referral program.  Too bad I didn’t fully understand how to use it right off the bat, as a family friend read my first Hub and decided to create her own account and publish there.  I missed the boat on having her sign up with my referral code, but OK.  Anyway, she wrote an insightful piece on the trouble with Verizon Phones and Data Plans.   Do me a favor, check it out and leave a nice comment for her.

Another friend, a fellow Yahoo! Contributor Network publishes a weekly article called News of the Weird World.   It is a great series if you like oddball stories from around the globe.  Apparently, partly as a result of the changes Google has made to their search algorithms, Tony isn’t getting the readership he needs to make this endeavor worth the effort.  Check it out.  You’ll probably find the eclectic collection an interesting weekly diversion.

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