Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wired wirelessly with Bluetooth

I've always had a little bit of spite for those Bluetooth headsets I see everyone and their brother using, but I finally got one.

I remember our last vacation, in the Atlanta airport, this guy was looking right at me and talking. I answered back, but then realized he was on the phone. He wasn't holding a phone - in fact, I couldn't even see his phone. But he had a little contraption on his ear which blinked every few seconds, which was connected wirelessly via the Bluetooth technology, to his cell phone.

It wasn't the first time I'd seen one, of course, but it annoyed the hell out of me. I thought I would never own one. Part of the reason, though, was the cost. I'd looked at them at the US Cellular store (my wireless carrier), even Walmart, and you can't get one for less than $50. They used to be around $75, so they have come down... but a guy I work with said he got one for about $30, shipped.

So I did some research online. I started with, because if you spend $25 or more on certain items, the shipping is free. However, I couldn't find one under $30 I liked. They all had some problem or other. So I went to, where I've spent close to $3,000 over the years in computer hardware. That's no exxageration, either, and I'm almost ashamed of the total. (I spent just under $1,000 at one time buying the parts for this computer when I first built it, and I've probably dumped another $500-$750 into more parts for this computer. The rest must just be miscellaneous purchases.) Anyway, Newegg didn't really impress me with its sub-$30 earpieces. (For the record, Newegg has the least expensive one, at $13.) So I looked a little higher.

Plantronics is a name I know and respect from a few jobs, I know they make corporate-level headsets and speakerphones, but most of their products are too expensive for the casual consumer to own. So I was surprised when I found a Plantronics earpiece for about $25. I wasn't interested though, because it got mostly bad reviews. So when I started looking at slightly more expensive Bluetooth earpieces, their Plantronics Explorer 370 caught my eye. It looked better than their entry-level unit, and only had one review, and it was good. So I Google'd the name, and found more positive reviews on various blogs. I decided to go for it.

$41.98 shipped - it was a little more than I wanted to spend, but still less than the cheapest one at Walmart. And I have the confidence of knowing that I did my homework and found one that is generally well reviewed.

Now that I have it, I have a few complaints, but overall I'm satisfied. It's not a very good fit, for example. It has a molded piece which fits inside the ear, and it's tricky to insert. Once it's set up, it's not entirely comfortable. It's not bad, but I feel it could fit better. By contrast, my coworker's earpiece doesn't have the molded piece, just a speaker, and he says he can't really feel his on his ear. And his is a Motorola, which as he points out, you really can't go wrong with. I've never had a bad experience with Motorola technology, but the Motorola earpieces I researched were of low quality (and I could not find the one he has). Also, the instructions say that if you receive a call and press the "call control" button on the unit, it will accept the call. I tried that when Jen called, and it instead rejected the call. So I have yet to learn all its features.

As you can see, it's kinda discreet, but not as discreet as perhaps some of them. It's also kinda neat-looking, dark blue with a rugged black rubber grip. I had selected the basic 370, which was black and silver, but for some reason upgraded me to the Sport version, which I considered but did not choose because I didn't like the look. Still, I'm not going to complain about the swap - at least it's not yellow and black like some of those "Sport" electronics. (If it were, it would have been sent back unopened.)

Overall I'm happy with the unit, though. I talked to my mother for about 5 minutes, and she hates when I put her on speaker or use a handsfree solution (wired). She claims it sounds bad and complains until I "take her off the speaker". Well, after 5 minutes of talking I finally said "you don't even know I'm using a handsfree do you?". She admitted that I sounded a little different, but she said it wasn't enough to complain about. Also, when Jen called me, I left my phone on the desk and did the Verizon-patented "Can you hear me now?" test. Even in the bedroom, about 30 feet away, she could still hear me fine. But when I laid on the bed, she said I was starting to break up, but it got fine as I got off the bed. So if my phone is in the bathroom or something (where I have the charger) it should be fine. At work I carry my phone in my chest pocket and the Bluetooth in another pocket, and when I take calls I take them on the Bluetooth, so it's within a foot of the phone - shouldn't be a problem then.

Next step - to pair my Bluetooth with my PC and use it as a microphone, e.g. for voice chat.

Monday, May 26, 2008

No longer supporting terrorism

It was perhaps too harsh, an ad which ran shortly after the 9/11 attacks; I don't know who sponsored the ad, but it basically said that buying gasoline was the direct equivalent of supporting terrorism. The backlash was huge, the ad got pulled - but dammit, it had a point. We have to buy gas - unless you live in Chicago or New York City or a few other cities where public transportation can be a viable alternative to driving, you must use a car to get to and from work, to do so many things that have become a part of our daily lives. And the gas, of course, comes from the Middle East. Or... does it?

There's been an email going around, also as a bulletin on MySpace and other social networking sites, and other blogs have posted it as well. It claims to be from a petroleum-industry insider who's "fed up" with high gas prices and sits down to share some tips to save money at the pump. Sounds too good to be true... well, it is. It's chock full of lies. What's true and what's not I don't know, but when it said who buys their gas from the Middle East and who does not, I found an error. I can't remember exactly what it was, but it prompted me to head over to the Department of Energy's website. That site is a bloody mess, but after about 30 minutes of research, I found the list the email promised I'd find: A list of all the major oil companies, and how much (if any) oil they buy from the Middle East. That proved the email a hoax, because many gas companies (like Hess - what we call "Trade Mart" here in the South) were listed in the email as not buying gas from the Middle East, while the Department of Energy clearly states that they do.

There are two gas companies around here which, according to the Department of Energy, do not buy any gas from the Middle East: Shell and BP. So, as of a month or so ago, I decided to buy my gas exclusively from Shell and BP whenever possible. (When you're on the road, sometimes your choices are limited.) I've found that there are Shell stations right on my way to and from work.

Now, whether buying gas from the Middle East constitutes supporting terrorism is highly debatable - and I'm certainly not saying that everyone who does get their gas from a station that buys from the Middle East is supporting terrorism, I'm just saying that I'm now sure that I'm not supporting terrorism. I spend about $200 a month on gas, that's about $2400 a year, and I've decided to take that $2400 away from the Middle East and give it to, well, I don't know who, I just know it's not who we're currently at war with. It might be a country that doesn't like the US much, whatever, but it's not from a region in which American troops are being killed or injured on a daily basis.

Some would argue that most of the Middle East gas comes from Saudi Arabia, and that the Saudis are our friends. They may be on good terms with us, but just last week President Bush went to the Saudi king and told him how gas prices are hurting the American people, and asked if he could please take action to get the prices lowered. The Saudi king politely told Bush "no". Again, I'm not entirely sure and I'm not saying that the Saudis are supporting terrorism - I don't know nearly enough about the region and its politics to make that kind of call. (And for the record, I harbour no ill will towards Arabs, living here or over there - unless, of course, they're fighting American troops.) I'm just making a safety call and buying gas elsewhere.

And some would argue that the high gas prices are not a result of the Gulf War II aka the War on Terror, but look - gas was under $1 a gallon before 9/11. I can understand inflation - $2 a gallon is fair, I suppose. But nearly $4 is ridiculous, and anyone saying the prices more than doubling in the last 12-24 months is not a result of our country's actions overseas is overlooking something. I know there's a lot about the fuel industry I don't know, but I know gas prices have doubled as the War on Terror has (more or less) turned in our favour. Call it coincidence - I sure don't.

I don't urge my readers to buy from Shell. That would put me in the same boat as the con artist who wrote the email forward. Rather, I urge you to hit up the Department of Energy's website and find that list yourself, and make a list of gas stations who don't buy from the Middle East, and then strike out gas stations which aren't in your area, and then only buy from those gas stations. In World War II, women back home (this was, of course, before women were allowed to serve in the Armed Forces) supported the war effort by, among other things, taking up their husbands', brothers', and fathers' jobs back home, kept the economy going. Nowadays, those of us (of either gender) who aren't serving in the Armed Forces can support the war effort, by buying gas that doesn't come from the Middle East.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Know your rights during a police encounter

Hey all, I know it's been a long time, but I've been busy. This month marks one year this blog has been up, and I'd like to get into posting more stuff. Natually a lot of it will involve video, whether created by me or found online, as online video is one of the best perks of having broadband (overlooking the world of BitTorrent, that is).

This video falls into the latter category, found online. Not sure how I found it - one minute I was looking at Deus Ex videos, next thing I know I came across this - and watched all 45 minutes of it. (I thought YouTube videos could only be 10 minutes, guess I was wrong.)

Watch and enjoy... and pass the link along to your friends and family. Also remember what the video says: laws vary from place to place, so make sure you know your local laws as well.