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RioVolt Review

Major Update –

I’ve recently flashed to the 1.11fr firmware, available from the Rio ftp site. This update adds a slew of features, and fixes many annoying bugs. I’ve indicated where things were fixed or how they differ from shipping firmware to updated throughout the review. Also added photos of the Volt. If you just want to see the Firmware updates, jump to the endSince I grabbed the firmware, Rio has seen fit to replace it with an identically named file that removes the Study mode. If you want study mode, here’s the mirrored original file for your use.

Rio Volt

The Rio Volt, the second major CD player to display ID3 tags, is a giant step up from the first, the Pine SM200C. Here’s a comparitive photo of the two units:

As you can see, the Volt definitely had someone with an eye for design make its shell, as opposed to the industrial-looking Pine box.

The Rio has some great features, and you can see the full list at their website, but let me give you a review from a (so far) satisfied consumer’s point-of-view.

The ability to display ID3 tags is a giant step up from the first generation of MP3 players, which showed only the track number. Maybe that works for players with a mere 32 megs of memory, and their 10 or so songs. But, when you’re looking at a CDROM of 100+ tracks, you definitely don’t want to muck about with a paper track list or a faulty memory (was that song 101 or 98?). So, the ID3 feature is great here. It shows the track title, then artist. If the ID3 tag is missing, the display reverts to filename display. Since most people write their MP3 filenames as the track title, that is perfect. If the ID3 tag is malformed, though (i.e., no artist field), the display will show the parts of the tag that are present. So, I have some songs that show up as Track - , with no artist after the dash. That’s operator error, not the fault of the device or its programmers. The display is a little narrow, showing only 12 characters at once. It does scroll, character-by-character, through the song title and artist continually while playing. It appears to truncate the entire scroll at 48 characters, however. So, if you have a long song title and long artist name, it won’t show it all. The entire title tag will display, and the artist will be cut off. As my personal example, many tracks with the artist field of Prince and the Revolution show up as some abbreviated version. The LCD also will display CDtext, if it is encoded on the standard Audio CD you can play as well. I rarely put straight CDDA disks in mine, since I have them in storage right now (middle of a move don’tchaknow).

The navigation through the CDROM is quite transparent, thankfully. After pressing the NAVI button, you see a two-line display of directory names, with [ROOT] as the first one. There is no [ROOT] entry with updated firmware; starts in root directory or wherever you are currently playing.. To enter directories, use the right-arrow on the joypad (also the FF command when in play mode). To go back a directory, use the left-arrow (RWD) or the NAVI button. To exit NAVI mode, just wait and it will time out, or tap one of the Volume keys. In NAVI mode, the +10 key continues to function, so if you have a disk with 100 songs in one directory, you need not arrow down from track to track.

A note about the NAVI display: if you have played the track once already, you see the track - artist name; if you haven’t played it yet, you see the filename. Again, the display scrolls, if a bit slowly for simple navigation. Perhaps some future firmware will include some compressed fonts for the display, which is quite readable currently (picture).

The display is very large and readable, as I noted above. It also is backlit. The backlight would be a battery-drainer concern, but it is only lighted when you first start it or when you tap a button. It stays lit for a few seconds after you use the controls, or is on constantly when the Volt is hooked to external power sources. With updated firmware, the backlight behavior when used with external power can be set to the same as when using batteries.

The Rio page claims a 15-hour battery life for the Volt. That may be true with 128 kbps disks, as the iRiver page claims. I have a variety of different bitrates encoded on my disks, as many people do. Here’s how the battery extending tech works: there is a buffer (I calculate it is 2 megs) which fills with data as the disk spins up for 15 seconds and starts a new track. The disk then stops, and the Volt plays from the buffer until it gets about 30 seconds from empty, at which time it spins for another 15 seconds and refills. This give the Volt a great battery life (only with MP3 disks) and also means that the anti-skip protection is perfect for about 70% of the time, since there are no moving parts most of the time. Here is my experience with the spin-up/down times for various bitrates.

Bitrate Time between spin-ups
192 kbps 60 seconds
160 kbps 75 seconds
128 kbps 90 seconds
96 kbps (god why?) 120 seconds

This is why I assume a 2 megabyte buffer. The drive spins before it is empty, obviously. I guessed it as a 30-second delay, but I could be off a little. With 128k tracks, that is 16 kilobytes per second, with a 120 second buffer, so 1,920 kilobytes, or about 2 megs. Also, the Rio and iRiver docs all say a 120-second buffer, which is at the “standard” 128 kbps encoding rate.

With a CDR of various bitrates, mainly 160 and 192, I ended up with 11 hours of playtime on the set of batteries that came with the Volt (not necessarily the freshest cells around). Of course, I usually use the player in my car, where there is no battery problem.

The playback is quite good, with audio on par with most good-quality portable CD players. The Volt supports a huge array of bitrates, and sampling rates up to 44 khz. The only tracks the Volt has choked on for me are tracks with Mp3 instead of mp3 or MP3 as the extension (a known bug in the shipping firmware), and a track that was encoded at 352 kbps (holy crap! What a disk hog). The 1.11 update fixes the mixed-capitalization bug.

The playback options are quite flexible as well: repeat song, repeat directory, repeat disk; shuffle directory, shuffle disk. The shuffle mode is pretty decent, with the strange effect of RWD not going to the previous track played, but just to another random track. Also, using NAVI mode to choose a specific track will drop the device out of shuffle mode. Not with updated firmware.

The Volt recognizes full Joliet filenames, so the files are sorted by the “Windows” name, not ISO9660 truncated names. Also, the Volt does not support M3U or PLS playlist files. It will play songs in album order only if they are named with sequential filenames. So, go ahead and make the rip as Jethro Tull – 01 Aqualung.mp3 and be happy. This will require a new mindset for me, since I have always archived my tunes with simple Artist – Track conventions, trusting the M3U file to keep them in order. Ah, well, blank CDRs are cheap. 🙂

The remote control (picture) is decent, but feels a little wimpy in your hand. I don’t have ham fists, and I think it’s delicate. My bud Cory can barely fit his fingers on a standard keyboard, so folks like him will probably hate it. The headphone and lineout ports (picture) are nearly identical in usage, with the only difference the addition of a ring around the headphone port to allow the remote to function. The lineout jack is powered, so the EQ and volume controls on the Rio affect the output. I know stereo purists will insist this causes distortion, but I don’t have good enough external equipment to test that theory. The remote can handle Play/Pause, FWD/RWD, Stop, Volume, and EQ functions. With the updated firmware and using Study mode, the remote does other things. See below.

OK, now you know I like the Volt quite a bit. There must be something wrong with it, right? Well, there are a few niggling things, some of which can be tracked to the roots of the device in Asia, others can be fixed with firmware flashes.

It takes about 20 seconds for the Volt to startup, read its firmware and index the CD before it starts playing. Not a huge deal, but if you want to jump in the car and hit play, it will be a few seconds before you hear anything.

There is a row of the display given over to hard-wired dancing guys and pulsing circles. These are just silly, they don’t seem to have any diagnostic meaning, and they aren’t even accurate beatmeters. I can only assume that when the Volt was designed in Korea, this was considered a cool feature. Anyone who has been to Korea or Japan can believe that the local culture would value cute kitsch over an additional line devoted to better track navigation, or maybe a bitrate display as the new TDK device is supposed to have.

The sorting system sorts capitalized filenames before lowercase files, in a Unix-y touch that may feel odd to Windows users. Simple solution: name your files all lower-case or all proper-case. As an example, ZZ Top shows up before Zapp on one of my 80s compilation disks. The update fixes this bug. Now Zapp is before ZZ Top.

The directory view in Navi mode can be a bit perplexing if you have subdirectories. The structure of one of my disks, for instance is ROOT->Prince->CD1/CD2/CD3/CD4, with the 4 CDs being all subdirectories off the Prince directory. The Navigation display shows Prince as an empty directory, and then the 4 subdirectories under that, rather than within it. This is fixed in the update. Now the directory tree is navigated in the same way as on the computer, with multiple subdirectories. This is supposedly being looked at as a firmware update, and is in fact already available on the iRiver version of the Volt. Whether iRiver firmware works on the Rio player is unknown and, understandably, the various companies selling this player try to avoid connecting the many different versions in any way. Branding über alles.

Finally, the ID3 tag standard allows for non-ASCII characters, such as umlauted and accented letters. The Volt will not display these. I have a couple Björk tracks, and her artist field is displayed as Bjkinstead. If this is unable to be fixed with a firmware update, just use the 127 ASCII characters exclusively. I think she’s used to being listed as Bjork by now anyhow. 🙂

I think the RioVolt is a great device, and the best on the market currently. The problems it has are tiny or aesthetic-only, and it is an attractive, useful player for MP3, WMA and standard CD disks. Sorry I didn’t review any WMA tracks, I think they’re the spawn of satan.

If you can afford the 170 dollars for this player, it is a great deal. If you want to wait a while, there are plenty of competitors gearing up now, and that TDK player is looking pretty decent.

New features available in the firmware 1.11 update: The navigation function has removed the entry for [ROOT] that made no sense, and just starts in the root directory. The directory is now navigable through all subdirectories, rather than putting them all in one big list. Great for those that organize their MP3 archives in multiple layers of subdirectories. Unfortunately, there is no way to play a set of subdirectories together. For instance, I have a set of 4 bootleg Prince CDs in subdirectories under the main directory Prince. If I were using WinAmp, I could tell it to play everything in Prince, and all 4 albums would play in order or shuffled. There is no way to select a directory with the Volt, only a song. So, you can’t have it play everything in a directory, even if that directory includes a song or two itself. All you’ll get is whatever MP3 or WMA files are in the parent directory, but nothing from the children. No big deal, but something that could make it a bit better if there is sufficient demand for that feature.

Resume mode has been added. Like the resume mode on my old Sony Discman, the RioVolt can now resume at a specific location in a specific song, if you enable the resume feature.

Study Mode – I’ve played with this a bit and can’t figure out what it would be good for. You can now set the remote to control other features, in the following manner: stop is “jump back 10 seconds”, EQ is the Prog button. Also, the Prog button on the main unit can select the speed with which you search within a track. I’ve been told that some folks listen to old radio shows of 45 minutes or more, and it takes forever to FFWD through the track; here ya go. The speeds are 1x, 2x, 4x, and 6x. For me, just listening to music and not Berlitz CDs or old radio shows, Study Mode is useless.

Beeping can be enabled or disabled, a nice feature if you want it and annoying as shit if you want the beeps to stop. Unlike the iRiver updates, which turned on beeping and you had no choice, SonicBlue has given us the option.

Backlight can be set to two different modes now as well: On or Off. These are misnomers. On means that it is on all the time when using external power, but it turns itself off when you are not using the buttons if it’s running on batteries. Off only affects the behavior when using external power, and makes it behave like it was using batteries, using the backlight whenever you touch a button but not when it’s being ignored.

There is one undocumented new feature, as well. The +10 button now also can jump forward one directory, when held down for 1.5 seconds. Very flexible. Overall, I like the SonicBlue 1.11 update much better than the 1.10 update from iRiver, mainly because of its ability to choose which features you want. Especially getting rid of beeping.


Once upon a time, there was a U.S. President who campaigned on reforming immigration laws, in an attempt to make them more compassionate and humane, as well as addressing the practical issues of dealing with the millions of undocumented folks already in the country. He proposed a guest worker program, increased border security, and a path to citizenship for many of the (otherwise) law-abiding undocumented immigrants living in the USA. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act passed the Senate but died in the House (both houses were controlled by his own party). The President tried again the following year, and that version of the bill failed to even get a vote. The President gave up on immigration reform, and worked on other issues he had the ability to fix. Of course, the POTUS of which I speak here was G.W. Bush. He couldn’t convince the GOP or the Democrats to implement his version of the DREAM Act. The opposition to his reform plans were many: rewarding people for getting here illegally, not generous enough to family members, the guest worker program was somehow both too lenient and too strict, etc.

President Obama then tried to implement similar legislation. A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives co-sponsored the bill in 2009. It failed.

The House passed a DREAM Act in 2010. Five moderate Democrats in the Senate voted against cloture, so it failed.

It seems a lot of people have very short attention spans for politics, and don’t realize that the issue of people who were brought to this country illegally, before they could make the decision for themselves, has been one that has been grappled with for a long time. The very first version of the DREAM Act was introduced in 2001. For a long time, offering any sort of legalized status for these people was controversial even in the Democratic party – the big labor unions (AFL-CIO in particular) lobbied hard to prevent a guest-worker program and other methods of legitimizing “illegals,” for fear of undercutting the wage structures of unionized workers.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is an odd beast. President Obama only formalized it after his second attempt to get any traction on immigration reform met with a stony silence from the GOP-controlled Congress. And it’s never been tested by the courts to see if it’s actually legal. The President has pretty broad powers for prosecutorial discretion and prioritizing enforcement of federal laws. When many states began decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, the federal government had the option to keep prosecuting federal drug laws (which they did through the first several years of the Obama administration), or prioritize other laws to worry about. Throughout his administration, President Obama’s immigration priority was enforcing the employment side – he deported more people than every 20th Century President combined.

When he announced he was no longer going to target parents of US citizens or people who were brought to the USA as children, that was merely prioritizing immigration enforcement resources, and clearly legal to almost every scholar. When he created a program to provide some form of legitimacy, though – registering and allowing them to come out of the shade – that’s where some folks say he crossed a line. One constitutional scholar said, in 2011, “With respect to the notion that [one] can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.” You just know who I’m going to reveal is the author of that line, right? Come on, you know. What’s the most ironic way to go – yep, that was Barack Obama. And he didn’t say that just once – he is on record repeating that phrase almost two dozen times over the years. A federal court struck down the DAPA program, which delayed deportation for those who had citizen minor children at home, so there’s a strong belief that DACA would go down if it ever did get challenged in court.

Once the genie is out of the bottle, in this as in so many things, it’s hard to put back in. Nearly 800,000 people have now put their names in federal government databases, with their workplaces and home addresses, and they will soon be hunted again. This is one of the arguments against using executive actions to circumvent or tweak (depending on how generous one is) legislative guidance – it can be undone very easily. These thousands of people, many of whom have no memory of living anywhere but in the USA, are now fair game to be sent to a foreign land with nothing but the clothes on their backs. That seems like an unreasonable thing to most people with any compassion at all. The US government promised not to screw them over if they came out of the shadows, and now they’re apt to get screwed in epic fashion.

Maybe, just maybe, this particular goat fuck will spur Congress to actually enact the legislation that many in their halls have been calling for since the turn of the millennium. But, I wouldn’t bet on it. It seems the previous seven years of “just say no” has become the only thing they know how to do now.

MLMs Are Pyramid Schemes

You can call it multi-level marketing, you can call it network marketing, you can call it Alfred, but the facts are that MLM-based home businesses are almost universally pyramid schemes (even if they are technically legal) that will drain money from 98 percent of the participants. It’s sad to see how many people get sucked into the ever-growing array of these things.

There are a wide array of articles in the wild that will give many details on why MLMs are generally poor businesses to get involved in. I’ll give a few links to those throughout and at the end, but I want to just look at things from a basic critical-thinking viewpoint first. The main issues with MLMs that I see are that they require you to create your own competition; and that in order to be financially secure, you need to be at the top of the line, which is almost certainly not the case for anyone who didn’t invent the particular business franchise. A couple other points are how much you’ll alienate everyone in your life, and how most MLM-based products are either over-priced or utter garbage.


So you want to sell cosmetics, or hair care products, or weight-loss devices, or whatever it is that the particular “business opportunity” your best friend got you to buy into over drinks one night. That’s cool. But, the day of door-to-door sales is over, so how do you get people to buy your thing? You could set up a real storefront, but that requires even more money as a sunk cost before you make sales. You could go to vendor shows, but you’ll soon find that there are five Scentsy distributors at every major show, so how do you get traction there? And as you get frustrated not making sales, that bestie who got you started will be there to tell you about passive income. This amazing feature of the multi-level sales model allows you to make money when someone else sells something. All you have to do is go out and recruit people to sell in their own area and you can get a piece of their pie as well as your own. Wow, that’s amazing. But wait a minute – where are they selling, and where is your mentor selling? You all live in the same town, and now you are all trying to sell the same thing to the same market. Gee, that seems sustainable.

There’s a reason you see one guy owning multiple Burger King franchises spread across a city, but you don’t see a BK owner encouraging someone else to build a Wendy’s next door – businesses generally don’t want more competition if they can avoid it. Yet, the MLM model essentially requires that you create your own competition in your own town. The only way to really make any significant down-line income is to recruit more than one person to compete against you. And then you end up with five Scentsy distributors at every show.

Getting Rich

Math is hard. People tell us that all the time. And some math is hard. But simple two-dimensional geometry is not that difficult. Almost anyone can figure it out.

Many MLM plans suggest getting five down-line distributors working for you at each level. So, your five direct “subordinates” would also recruit five people each. And now you’ve got 30 competitors trying to sell the same perfume you’re selling. But, you no longer even try to sell anything, because you’re managing your down-line. And how long can that down-line build? Well, funny you should ask. Let’s look at each “generation” down the line, and you’ll see how difficult it is to make money if you’re not at the very top of the food chain.

One generation below you, five people. Each of the first generation recruits five people and that’s 25 in the second generation. Each of them recruits five people, and that’s 125 in the third generation. There are 625 in Gen4, over 3000 in Gen5, and the entire population of the earth couldn’t fill the thirteenth generation. This looks a lot like a very fat pyramid, but I’m sure that’s merely a coincidence.

Who makes money at MLMs? The founders. They get people to work for them, and the top couple tiers even have a good chance at making a lot of money. Once you get below four levels from the top, you’re lucky to make anything like a real salary. And for most of us, the middle class and working class folks that see an opportunity that only requires a small initial investment – you’re the one paying for the folks above you. Well over 95% of MLM distributors or vendors (or whatever fancy word that means “participant” they use) lose money. When Amway was sued in 1982, the state of Wisconsin found that the average income for a direct distributor (which is one that has a down-line working for them) was a loss of nearly one thousand dollars per year. Adjusted for inflation, that’s over $2500 today. In 1995, over 65% of NuSkin’s profits went to 200 of their 63,000 distributors. Yes, 99.7% of the people lost money or broke even.

Alienation of Affection

If you use social media, you have almost certainly seen many posts from friends, family, and acquaintances who are trying to get you to come to their product party. Yay, day drinking and playing with makeup! Wooo! And then she tries to get you to be in her down-line, and the hangover hits hard. Nobody wants their friends to harass them to buy their stuff. This is not a thing that anyone has ever hoped for.

But, if you want to maintain that passive income, you need to be actively seeking new members of your team, and helping your down-line members recruit more members as well. You can’t just rest on your laurels, because people quit. People quit MLMs as soon as they realize they’re never going to make more money than a real job, or when their spouse tells them they have enough damned Mary Kay and now they can’t afford the bankruptcy lawyer they are definitely going to need soon. In 1999, a big MLM company stated in court that their drop-out rate was one of the lowest in the industry, at a mere 5.5% per month. So, those thirty people in the two levels right below you? One of them needs to be replaced every few weeks, if you’re lucky. In 1995, Excel Communications stated they had a drop-out rate of over 85% per year. Hopefully you’re good at making friends, because you’re going to be annoying the hell out of the ones you already have.

Hard to Sell

An Amway distributor named Sidney Schwartz thought that Amway’s analysis of their products, where they claimed to be cheaper than their competition, was flawed. His own analysis, which he posted for the world to see (in contrast to Amway’s summary-only approach) showed that most of their products were about twice as expensive as equivalent products at the grocery store. At least nobody claims Amway’s soaps and cereals are garbage; they’re just pricey.

Many of the products sold through MLM companies fall into the over-priced category. Some of them joyfully embrace that, such as Pampered Chef. Marketing luxury products at prices above the local store is easier to do that marketing commodity items for luxury prices. The various MLM jewelry companies (Stella & Dot, Premier Designs, etc.) generally sell necklaces and bracelets you can find nearly anywhere for less. It Works, the much-hyped body wrap that was everywhere in 2015, very clearly does not work despite its name.


I’ve got a small business. I’m not in any way opposed to entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial spirit. But, if something seems to good to be true, or if it seems too easy, it’s wise to be skeptical. If someone is trying to help you start a business, it’s a good idea to ask what they’re getting out of it before you commit.

With the KARE Crafts business, I have attended many local vendor shows. Most of them have been craft shows, and everything there is made by hand, by the people selling it to the public right there in their booths. It’s authentic, it’s real, and it’s almost universally a bargain. Going to general-interest vendor shows can be a very different experience. The vendors have to compete to get in because most small shows only want one of each MLM brand represented, and even in a small city like San Angelo (population under 100,000), there are more Younique and Scentsy distributors than are sustainable. It’s like the small business equivalent of a strip-mall. You know, no matter where you go in the USA, you’ll see the same Tupperware and Herbalife products.

Worse than the sameness and blandness of the MLM dominance of small businesses, though, is the lack of profitability. I’d much rather see my friends and acquaintances making money for themselves than losing money in the likely-vain hope that one day they’ll get the big check.

Additional Reading

It Works does not – a quick explanation of how there’s no way “It Works” actually works

Report to FTC detailing how 99 percent of MLM participants lose money

Amway: the Untold Story – one distributor’s story of his years selling Amway products

Pink Truth started as a community to discuss the truth behind Mary Kay’s pink façade, but they’ve grown to include forums covering a lot of other MLMs that target women (which is their traditional target)

False Profits promotes a book by the same name, but has a lot of articles discussing the various “get rich” schemes, including MLMs and Ponzi schemes

See you on DW

If anyone is still using this thing, I'll be over at Dreamwidth soon, also as andysocial. If you're over there too, please friend me.

Think About It

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates

It’s no surprise that I spent a lot of my supposedly formative years living an interior life – lots of reading, computer programming, games, etc. This is not to say that I never went outside. I had a dirt bike that I loved to ride in Minnesota, and camping had not lost its luster for me in those early days. Taking the L.A. River to Seal Beach on single-gear beach cruisers (in the years before anyone was pretentious enough to use the term “fixie”) was another great way to spend time with friends. I say that these were my supposedly formative years, because I think I’ve continued to form since then, with a nice burst of formation happening during my Army service. Travel truly is enlightening, and being forced to work and live with people from other backgrounds is a fine way to expand the mind as well.

I’m guessing a significant number of people live a life that Socrates would consider unworthy. They don’t examine their decisions, their beliefs, or their biases. They react to things which make them feel strongly, and don’t wonder if they’re being manipulated (intentionally or not). These people can’t comprehend that others do spend time thinking about why they should or should not believe things. Talking with them can be fascinating, but not for long. It’s like talking to the old Eliza chat program – it resembles a conversation, but nobody is actually conveying any information to the other participant.

Philosophers have come up with a number of terms and concepts regarding ethics. One of the concepts in ethics that is applicable to politics is “utilitarianism.” The basics are that we should make decisions based on the least harm or greatest benefit that the results would create. So, we should choose policies that have the best end result, regardless of the rationale for those policies. Deontology is another concept, which says we should make decisions based on the inherent rightness or wrongness of the actions, regardless of the eventual consequences. There’s a lot more depth to both of these concepts, and to the varying interpretations, but this should be a good start.

When we look at the society we have today, and the society we might dream of it becoming, we can think of doing the right thing, or we can think of doing the thing which produces the best result, and sometimes they’re even the same plan. That balancing act is tough to handle at times, but I’m not willing to just appeal to authority and make what someone else says is the One True Choice.

My views on society are, like most thoughtful people I know, not always perfectly coherent. There are always holes where I may not have spent enough time thinking through a position. Many times, I have to admit ignorance and try to avoid forming a concrete opinion on an issue that others have expertise and personal experience with. I’m generally on the side of utilitarianism, but there are times when you just have to do the right thing (apologies to Spike Lee). Fortunately, we rarely encounter a real-life version of the Trolley Problem in our lives.

This is all well and good, you say, but what the hell is the point? I’m mostly wool gathering, but it’s been prompted by seeing the sheer volume of people who will parrot nonsense, and when challenged, rely on “well we’ll never agree.” Yeah, if we can’t talk without rancor, we won’t agree. If we can’t both acknowledge the other as a fully-formed human being with opinions which are honestly held, we won’t agree. If we can’t put aside the silly name calling and tribalism and try to understand why we believe things that others think are ridiculous (and they believe things we think are ridiculous), we’ll never agree.

I’ve seen a few of my friends recently try to engage with people who have differing political views. My friends have all (and this is why they’re friends) been unfailingly polite, and attempted to defuse the defensive posturing to get to a core, “why do you say that” answer. Alas, I’ve never seen this end with a sharing of views. I’ve seen the defensive person just disappear or disappear after the “agree to disagree” comment, but at no point explicating WHY the opinion was held in the first place. It’s truly maddening.

So, I can only come to the conclusion that some significant number of our fellow humans don’t think much, and can’t understand those who do. Everything must be simpler when all answers are obvious, and nothing has nuance or subtlety. I don’t live in that world, but it sounds like a cartoon to me. I’ve found that humans are rarely caricatures. I know many gun owners who are in favor of stricter gun control. I know people who are pro-choice and pro-gun, in favor of environmental causes and also in favor of nuclear power. None of the people I would consider friends would call someone a “libtard” or a “rethuglican” except as a clear joke. I think the nation and the world would be better off if we could stop with the tribalism (and that’s what party politics are) and start trying to see the common humanity in our fellow people.

And, seriously – think about things.

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. – Thoreau


Anyone with whom I may once have chatted remember their ICQ number? On a whim, I tried to get back into that account recently, and their system is insane. Basically, they want a bunch of information that is ONLY available once I log into ICQ. Since I can't log in, this is a challenge.

Anyway, I was 4092887

Apple Birdy

Happy Birthday, corto!

She is real!

After more than a decade living within reasonable driving distance, I have finally met cappy in real life. I was beginning to suspect she wasn't real. ☺

Tablet Time Warp

Just over two years ago, I bought a Motorola Xoom tablet. It had been the top Android tablet of 2011, which is damning with faint praise. But, it was $600 for the Wifi-only model or $800 for the 3G model when it was released. I got the 3G model but never used the 3G part of it, and only paid $200 18 months after it was released. Needless to say, it did not do well in the market of the time. This month, I splurged and got myself an Nvidia Shield tablet. This is at the top of the Android tablet market for 2014, so it seems a good comparison can be made about the progress of Android in the tablet space over the past three-plus years. It’s a mixed bag, to be sure.

The first thing you notice about a tablet when you pick it up is how it feels in your hand. The Xoom weighs 730 grams (over 1.5 pounds), while the Shield weighs 390 grams (less than one pound). The Shield is so lightweight, I’m constantly amazed at how much it can do. Of course, the reviews talk about the Shield as being heavy, so apparently less-powerful tablets are lighter. But, the Shield can play Half-Life 2 and Portal! Besides weight, there are other physical aspects of the tablets that strike me. The Xoom feels like a tank. Its body is primarily metal, with a plastic strip to expose the various antennas. The Shield feels delicate. It’s all-plastic, and my first one had a crack when I took it out of the package (RMA time!). For this reason, I’ve ordered a hybrid shock-absorbing hard case for the Shield. If I’m going to be using it to take credit card orders at craft shows, I want it to be protected.

Once you get the thing in your hand, you’ll turn it on. The Xoom has a 1280×800 screen (160 ppi) that can be described as adequate. Colors are a little washed out, and viewing angles are not bad. The Shield’s 1920×1200 screen (293 ppi) is really nice. It’s only 8 inches, instead of the Xoom’s 10 inches, and so it squeezes a lot of pixels into a small space. The tablets with even higher resolution might be just chasing specs, since this has no visible pixels at normal viewing distances. The colors don’t shift, the blacks are blacker, and the whole feeling is just nicer. Even though it’s 2 inches smaller, I can read pages at least as easily on the Shield as the Xoom. It does seem that both screens are a bit dim, so sunlight is a tough place to use them. Both devices also have stereo speakers, but the Xoom has them facing away from the user for reasons that remain inexplicable. The Shield gets loud and the speakers face front.

What about power? Whooboy, have things changed in the performance realm. Xoom and Shield both use Nvidia Tegra chips. The Xoom is a Tegra 2, a dual-core 1Ghz CPU with a 400Mhz GeForce GPU. It was quite a nice piece of kit for 2011, but programmers have been expanding the capabilities of Android apps and Google’s own services since then. It’s feeling pretty sluggish today, with pauses and hiccups aplenty. The Shield SOC is the Tegra K1 32-bit variant. This has a quad-core 2.2Ghz CPU with a Kepler-class GPU. Overall, the power of the K1 is in the same ballpark as an Xbox 360 (which came out in 2005, so don’t get too excited). Benchmarks are phenomenally different between the two systems – Xoom gets an Antutu score of 5000, Shield is over 40,000. 3dmark Icestorm on the Xoom gets 1290, but 31500 on the Shield.

But, what about daily usage? That’s where things get frustrating. In 2012, I was struck by how frequently I ran into portrait-only apps on Android. I have not seen a huge increase in non-Google apps that use the landscape orientation, other than games. In fact, some apps which did work on the Xoom in landscape last year were updated to be portrait-only this year. TiVo is a big offender here. It was late bringing out an Android version to begin with, then it produced two – one for phones and one for tablets. Earlier this year, they merged the two, but dropped support for landscape mode and dropped support for the older app as well. In fact, loading the app which worked just fine would cause it to immediately close with the message that you needed to get the new one, regardless of the fact that the new one didn’t bloody well work on the device. So I ended up with no TiVo-branded app on my Xoom. There are a number of apps which work in landscape on the Xoom but force the Shield into portrait mode. Apparently the programmers figured the smaller screen meant, “treat it like a big phone.” For some reason, the popular casual games Simpsons Tapped Out and Family Guy Quest for Stuff are buggy as heck on the Shield, but work just fine on the Xoom. I’ll be generous and give them some time to fix them, but the Shield did come out in July.

Even Google’s own apps are not perfect when it comes to landscape mode. The Google Inbox program (which is starting to grow on me) works in landscape, but doesn’t make very good use of the extra width. Worse, it forces you to perform the quick setup steps in portrait mode. If even El Goog doesn’t care enough about landscape to allow their programs to work exclusively in that orientation, the likelihood of anyone else supporting it enthusiastically is pretty low.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my Shield. I got it during the Black Friday promo, so it came with not just Trine 2, but Half-Life 2, Portal, Half-Life 2 Episode 1 (upcoming), and the Shield Controller. The controller makes the smaller screen less cramped for games that support it, that’s for sure. That I can play Portal or some very impressive racing games on a device that weighs less than a pound is just amazing. That it cost half what the Xoom did less than four years earlier is really a testament to Moore’s Law.

Testing Crosspost to LJ & G+

I’m testing a new plugin for WordPress to post to Livejournal. The old one seems to be inserting random characters in my posts, and breaking URLs and otherwise not functioning as desired. The fact that it hasn’t been updated in a year, while WordPress has been updated a dozen times since then, leads me to blame incompatibility between new WP and old plugin.