Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide

by Michael Alderete on 12/8/2004

Uncle Mark's Gift Guide Mark Hurst is a recognized technology and user experience expert, who writes a (now) annual guide to good technology and other gifts, called Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide and Almanac. There are good recommendations on things to buy for others, or for yourself, at a wide variety of price points.

It’s a great guide for a lot of reasons, but one of the best is that he doesn’t weigh you down with unnecessary choices. For example, there is only one digital camera on the list, he’s used it for two years, and has very specific reasons why it’s the only one he recommends.

Note to others: this is not a hint for what to buy me for Xmas. I already have all the things in this guide that I want. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

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USB beverage warmer: crazy or brilliant?

by Michael Alderete on 1/15/2004

I don’t know what to make of this USB-powered beverage warmer. On the one hand, it’s a weird use of a computer to power something distinctly non-computer related. And god knows I seem to get low-power warnings whenever I plug in anything but a mouse and keyboard into my computer via USB.

On the other hand, my coffee cup is currently sitting three inches from a USB port, with the remainder of my morning coffee, too cool to drink…

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Selecting the LG VX4400 mobile phone

by Michael Alderete on 1/5/2004

When choosing which of the dozen mobile phones offered by Verizon that we should get as our new phone, I spent (too?) much time researching the issue. I had a few criteria that were important:

  • Flip phone (or Rochelle’s purse dials randomly)
  • Can connect to my Mac OS X system (Windows-only not acceptable)
  • Tri-mode (digital and analog)
  • Customizable polyphonic ringtones

Several phones matched enough criteria to merit consideration. The LG VX4400, Motorola T730, and Samsung SCH-a530s all seemed fairly equivalent in most of their features. The LG VX6000 had a camera and a groovy OEL screen, but no analog capability, plus it was the most expensive. The LG VX3100 was the cheapest phone (by far), smaller, and had better battery life, but was B&W instead of color, and didn’t have analog or customizable ringtones.

In the end, it came down to the VX4400 and the Motorola. The LG had slightly better customer ratings, but the Motorola was on Apple’s list of iSync-compatible phones.

What swayed me to the LG was the vibrant communities of owners/users I came across, and an Open Source data synchronization utility called BitPim, which only worked with the VX4400, and had just recently been made to work on Mac OS X. While BitPim isn’t as polished or usable as iSync, it does one thing iSync does not: load custom ringtones and wallpapers onto the phone.

So far I’m pretty happy with the phone. Reception has been great, especially outside our house (which is a mobile phone dead zone). The form factor is excellent when in use, but a little big to carry around (I still love my Nokia 8860 best for the form factor; truly, an amazing phone that 4 years later has not been exceeded in that area).

And BitPim, while not pretty, was easy to install and connect to the phone, and has enabled me to download a great collection of ringtones (things that sound like a phone ringing, not rediculous classical themes and minuets), and a few custom graphics for visual ringers.

I still need to pick out a couple good games and use Get It Now to download them to the phone, so that when I’m 45 minutes early to a movie (I like to get a good seat), I have a distraction in my pocket that I can play with in public. Ahem.

What’s funny and gratifying is that Consumer Reports just this month released their latest reviews of mobile service providers, plans, and phones (subscription required to view). They liked Verizon best for the providers (unless you live-and-die by Push-to-Talk, then go Nextel), and the highly rated LG VX4400 was one of three “quick picks” that they selected as recommended phones for Verizon users (the LG VX6000 was another, and too expensive for us; the last, the Motorola 60p, wasn’t offered when we signed up). I would bet that the folks at Consumer Reports did even more research than I did!

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