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    January 2, 2015
    Apple Japan’s “Lucky Bags”

    There are a lot of interesting New Year’s Day traditions.  My mother, for example, swears on corned beef and cabbage as a way to bring good luck in the New Year.  Other people and other cultures have different things.  In Japan, it’s not the New Year that brings luck, but merchants brings the luck.  Japan has a custom called fukubukuro, in which merchants put together grab bags and sell them to customers, with the bags running for 50% or less of the value of the goods inside.  If you’re very lucky, you’ll do great and get some great deals.  If you’re not, you’ll still get some great deals.  Even Apple has jumped onto the trend.  Here’s a discussion of Apple’s Lucky Bags in Japan, which can include everything from Macbook Airs to wireless headphones.

    So what does that mean?  Well, for $300 or so, you can get somewhere in the neighborhood of $750 in prizes.  The more you spend on your bag, the more goodies you get.  Now the bags themselves are randomly filled, and even Apple employees don’t know what’s inside, they’re just priced by tiers and it’s the luck of the draw as to who gets what.  Even if you don’t get the laptop, you still get a cool prize.  It’s the Japanese equivalent of Woot’s mystery box, and I for one hope it spreads.

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    December 30, 2014
    The Worst Apps For Smartphones?

    Everyone wants the best of everything, especially if it’s free.  When it comes to smartphone apps, most people will take a free good app over a paid great app, if only because dollars still have values.  Even if it’s only a few dollars, we want to save what we’ve earned, and most apps just aren’t worth it.  Some apps really aren’t worth it.  Indeed, there are a ton of apps and no real way to pick through them.  That’s where experts come in.  Are these some of the worst apps out there?  CNN seems to think so!

    My favorite app of the bunch is probably the Be Kimd app, which you see above.  All it does is dim the screen of your smartphone.  Useful, yes, but there are already ways to do that using your phone’s current settings!  I guess if you don’t know how to use your phone that might be helpful, but the usefulness of that app is very limited in day-to-day situations.

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    December 26, 2014
    Tricking Out That New Android Phone

    Shortly before Christmas, I finally bit the bullet.  On a rainy, cold December evening, I drove out to a wireless telephone store and upgraded to a smartphone.  After years plural of avoiding smartphones to avoid the fees that come along with them, I’ve finally succumbed to the allure of having a pocket computer and here I am, poking away at a touchscreen with an index finger like the rest of the world, playing games, reading email, browsing the web, and doing all that fun stuff that people do.  But with every new phone, you have to figure out what to do with said phone, and that means apps for maximum usefulness.  Here’s 10 apps that Android Central recommend for the new smartphone owner.

    Interestingly enough, most of the Google-centric apps, like Google Music, came pre-loaded on my phone.  All I needed to do was update them to the latest versions.  Other apps, like Evernote and ES File Explorer, are already on my tablet and a natural add-on to my phone.  To me, the winner is Zedge, because I’m not a huge fan of the default tones, and having cooler tones at my disposal would be awesome.  The Game of Thrones theme as an alarm tone is just the thing I need to wake myself up in the morning.

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    December 25, 2014
    Merry Christmas From Shaktronics

    In lieu of any actual posted content, I’m going to take a day with family and friends and to decompress and just ride out the rest of the holiday season on what I hope is a cloud of relaxed, fun stuff.  Like, for example, looking at some Christmas lights before they all start coming down around the beginning of 2015.  Since 2014 was the year of Frozen mania, it’s only fitting that the lights of 2014 are all set to songs from Disney’s newest masterpiece.  While we’re all still feeling festive, feast your eyes upon this awesome display.

    YouTube Preview Image

    So if you celebrate, Merry Christmas.  If you don’t, enjoy the random day off in the middle of the week.

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    December 24, 2014
    Wordless Wednesday: Happy Holidays

    Via Marvel’s Twitter account.

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    December 19, 2014
    T-Mobile Hit With $90 Million In Cramming Case

    Once upon a time, there was a commercial every few hours.  Get a horoscope, subscribe to something, and you’d get updates, text messages, and all kinds of other weird stuff.  It was a problem for phone users, because once these started, they tended to multiply, and they were practically impossible to get taken off the bill.  T-Mobile was a big offender of this, at least according to the federal government, and now they’re paying the price.  T-Mobile will refund customers $67.5 million dollars, state attorneys general $18 million in fines and penalties, and the Federal Communications Commission $4.5 million.  T-Mobile was one of the first companies to jump on the cramming bandwagon, and now they’re paying for it.

    “Mobile cramming is an issue that has affected millions of American consumers, and I’m pleased that this settlement will put money back in the hands of affected T-Mobile customers,” said Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez.  ”Consumers should be able to trust that their mobile-phone bills reflect the charges they authorized and nothing more.”

    Phone bills are super tricky, even now, but things are a little clearer than they used to be.  Now people are getting gouged on data plans, not horoscopes and trivia texts.  At least it’s honest gouging.

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    December 14, 2014
    Microsoft Now Taking Bitcoins

    It wasn’t Apple or Google that struck the blow that turned BitCoin into something closer to legitimate money, but Microsoft.  The company that was late to the smartphone party and who has struggled to catch up in most of the big consumer electronics areas–video games aside–is a leader in one key area.  Microsoft will now accept bitcoins as a way to add money to your Microsoft accounts.  One small step for cryptocurrency, one giant leap for Microsoft.

    “You can only use bitcoin to add money to your Microsoft account and then purchase digital goods at select Microsoft online stores.  You can’t use bitcoin to purchase Microsoft products and services directly at this time,” says Microsoft’s webpage.

    Of course, there are some conditions.  Once you’ve made the transaction, it cannot be reversed.  There’s a limit of $1000 per day for a personal account, with a limit of $5000 total for an individual’s account.  Bitcoins can only be used to add money to the Microsoft account, not pay directly for products.  Still, baby steps forward.

     

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    December 12, 2014
    Fun Friday: MacBook Axe

    There’s a phrase for a tough person who hangs out on the Internet talking about how tough they are and how good they are at fighting or whatever.  They’re called keyboard warriors, and they’re the toughest nerds to ever huddle behind a keyboard.  However, there’s always the chance that the combat is going to spill beyond the web and enter meatspace.  If that happens, you’ll need protection, like this MacBook Axe.

    The image was created by Arlen Abraham and posted on Twitter.  I have to admit, it’s really funny, and it kind of makes me want to etch an apple on the side of an axe and join in on the fun.  Of course, I wouldn’t do it with a real MacBook, unless it was a broken MacBook.  Then, all bets are off.  As funny images go, I got a real kick out of this one, if only because it’s such a crazy idea and such a distinctive look (as well as a goof on Kickstarter).

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    December 12, 2014
    Iowa’s Driver’s License App

    You’re driving, the cops pull you over, and then it’s time to do the information shuffle.  You have to find your registration, proof of insurance, and license.  The hard part isn’t usually the license, but Iowa is going to make getting a ticket even easier by making it smartphone accessible.  Iowa is going to have a driver’s license app available for smartphones.

    Apparently, the app pulls up like a standard app with a QR code, and it can be scanned by police like the barcode on the back of a normal driver’s license.  You just hand your phone over to the officer for scanning, or perhaps a portable scanner system will be available for use by the officers on traffic patrol, kind of like the hand-held radar detector.  Apparently the app will be fully secured and will connect directly to the Iowa Department of Transportation to ensure the latest in up to date information.

    Of course, there are civil liberty concerns…

    “There are so many logistical problems because of the differences in cellphones and the way people maintain their cellphones,” said defense attorney Nicholas Sarcone.  ”I see the greater potential for harm coming from purely accidental circumstances, where the police officer has to open the license and by mistake comes across something they shouldn’t come across.  In theory, it’s a really cool idea.  The thought of having my license on my phone is great, but it can be a problem.”

    Yeah, I don’t think I’d want any part of that, personally.

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    December 10, 2014
    Discontinued iPod Classics Selling For BIG Money

    It’s only been a year or so, but already absence has made the heart grow fonder when it comes to the iPod Classic.  The discontinued iPod Classic was dismissed by Apple after the company apparently couldn’t find the parts to continue to source the parts for the hard drive-based machine, which can hold twice as much as the biggest iPod currently being made.  Either the scarcity or the size has people taking note, and iPod Classics are going for up to $1000 on eBay and other popular auction sites.

    Since the device was discontinued, it’s been a hot seller on eBay, with models going for as high as $400.  Not bad for a retired piece of hardware that can’t be replaced when it goes bad.  Still, I guess the storage–up to 40,000 songs for a 16GB unit–is enough to make the device popular among the music world’s favorite fans.  Sure, you can’t stream, but who needs to stream when you have a lifetime’s worth of music in your pocket for free?

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