Product Review: Meep! Tablet

Two words: Epic Fail

Nutshell version: the Meep! tablet by Oregon Scientific is an unmitigated piece of crap.

A better option would be buying some off-brand tablet you’ve never heard of, running an older version of Android on an outdated processor, on sale from some outlet online. Really, you’ll be happier.

Or let them play Tetris on your old flip phone you haven’t yet recycled. It’ll keep them just as occupied.

A brief rundown:

  • Battery life: none. My old, dead 3rd gen iPod has more battery life.
  • Parental controls: none. Registration portal is unreachable most of the time, and when it is, it’s non-functional.
  • Apps: basic, pre-installed, freebie games. You can enable the Google Play App Store—if you could register the unit on the Parental Portal (see above). Most of the other features—like text chat—are also hobbled until you can enable it.
  • Customer Support: none. Their customer support phone number, like their parent portal, is also unreachable. If you do manage to get through, expect to be disconnected while waiting for someone to pick up.
  • Screen: soft plastic. If you’re old enough to remember Space Fidgets [https://www.google.com/search?q=space+fidget+toy], those liquid crystal-filled disks that changed colors when you ran your finger over the back, you’ll recognize the color distortion around your finger as you jab it into the unresponsive screen. If you drag your finger around it leaves trails. The laptop I’m writing this on has a more rigid screen. (And in case no one told you, never poke your LCD screen.)

Opening the box, following the Quick Start guide, the first step is setting up Wi-Fi. That’s a no-brainer—no issues.

Step 2, according to the instructions, is connecting to their Parental Portal. But first, you need to perform two system updates. That it requires system updates right out of the box is (almost) to be expected—most computers do. But you can’t do anything with it apart from playing the pre-installed games until you do. Did I mention we purchased this as an Xmas present? Because that’s what every kid who’s just opened presents wants to do—wait for updates to install.

It doesn’t come with any games you can’t find (near equivalents of) in the App Store. Considering its biggest selling point is complete parental control of content, some might consider it odd three of the games intended for school-aged children involve shooting, and one blowing things up.

Most of the features are hobbled, until you can register a parental account through their portal. Only you can’t register through their portal, because it’s non-functional—even when it’s reachable. (And for two days now it has been consistently unreachable.) The portal doesn’t work with most browsers, including—get this—the tablet itself! That’s right, their tablet can’t access its own portal.

They claim this is by design. (I did get a reply to my initial irate e-mail.) They say this is to keep the kids from accessing the parental controls. Because any kid who could get past the password wouldn’t be able to get onto their parent’s computer, right? Or their iPad. Because they have an Apple iOS app for parental control—of their Android tablet. (No, they’ve yet to develop an Android app to control their custom Android interface.)

They do not explain why they only let Google Chrome or Apple Safari access their site. They claim it’s because their site uses HTML5 (ooh, you mean like most other modern websites?), and doesn’t function (well) with “some older browsers.” Instead of letting the user be responsible for their own experience, or simply upgrading their Internet Explorer or Firefox, the browser check on the front page won’t let any other browsers in. The three HTML5-compatible browsers I have on my phone didn’t work.

Oh, but that’s assuming you can get onto their site. In their reply they claim their site is “undergoing some maintenance.” During Xmas. No, it’s not completely overloaded by every parent who bought one trying to register it at the same time. They decided to bring their developers in, over a holiday, when a bunch of kids might all be opening them at the same time, to do “maintenance.” Right.

So when you do get onto the site, you watch the little video that shows you all of the things you’re about to do. Then, assuming you don’t want to see it every time you visit, you check the box that says, “Don’t show this again.” And that disables the login screen on the following page. What the check box should say is, “Don’t show me this, or any other of that other fancy-pants HTML5 code, including the login screen, again. Ever.” So you go get another computer and try again. You go to create a new account and enter the serial number and… that’s it. The portal doesn’t go any further. The buttons do nothing. Must be that “maintenance.”

I put the thing down around 1 AM with what looked like ⅔ of battery left. The next morning it was dead. We plugged it in to charge overnight. I unplugged it at 8 AM, set up Wi-Fi again, then turned the screen off and set it down. By lunch time we picked it up again, and it was dead again. Seriously. It was off and it didn’t last 5 hours.

I won’t take (too much) issue with the forward-facing camera, as most other child-oriented tablets don’t have a rear-facing camera, so, y’know, the kid can actually take pictures with it. Except the camera quality is crap, too. In anything other than bright sunlight the pictures are too dark, and they’re extremely jagged and pixelated. The camera in your old flip phone has better resolution.

I’ve convinced my kid to give it up so he can get a better one (a feat in itself). This is going back in the box and back to the store.

Published in: on December 27, 2012 at 10:10 am  Comments (2)  
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Please Don’t Text While Skiing – Lowering the Bar

Depending on your view of Social Darwinism, this is either the Worst. or the Best. Idea. Ever.

Please Don’t Text While Skiing – Lowering the Bar.

Published in: on November 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Call centre brings in prison labour at £3/day, fires regular workers – Boing Boing

Again this is how US corporations will become competitive in the global labor market.

Oh, and who is it that pays for the incarceration of this cheap labor? The rest of us.

Call centre brings in prison labour at £3/day, fires regular workers – Boing Boing.

Here’s the kicker: there used to be such things as Debtors Prisons. Couldn’t pay your debts, you got locked up. (Because that won’t put you any further in debt.) They were abolished not that long ago.

They’re on their way back.

The Most Honest Women’s Magazine Cover Ever | Adweek

This is what I used to do for a living.

(not exactly, but in a way)

The Most Honest Women’s Magazine Cover Ever | Adweek.

Honesty? Honestly...

Good Enough To Pay For

Entertainment has always been available for free. The street corner musician. The traveling actors troupe. The [*shudder*] the mime. The “digital revolution” doesn’t represent a change so much as a return to the way things used to be.

You know, where your only entertainment options were what was directly in front of you and you had little to no control over how good it was.

There are many file sharing sites today where musicians—struggling or no—can post their works where the understanding is people can download them for free, and have an option to pay what they wish if they think it worthy.  This used to be called “passing the hat,” where a performer’s hat was literally passed through the crowd and people could contribute what they wished. Or not. You were interested enough to stay through to the end, and this is probably how they’re going to pay for their next meal, so you throw in a couple coins. Perhaps out of guilt. You see, they’re standing right there.

Fortunately you’re spared that guilt hiding behind your keyboard.

But what if they’re not any good? What if they’re more annoying than anything else? What if they’re just a couple of guys who can acceptably carry a tune (and it’s always the same tune, isn’t it?) as stroll through the subway car with their hands out? It’s certainly better than the ones who simply walk through with their hands out with nothing besides guilt to offer in return.

What if you want to hear something enjoyable? What if there’s no cello player at your train stop? No saxophonist near your car park? No one playing guitar outside your office? Of course you’d be willing to pay for it, but again, only for the good ones. How much effort are you willing to put in searching for it? How much crap are you willing to sift through to find something you like? So you need a middle man—someone to match your need to be entertained with an entertainer. A good one. You need a curator. And they expect to be compensated.

You pay the guy who owns the space for performers to perform because he’s done the work of getting performers that people will pay to see. The record company determines which musicians people will pay to listen to. The record store decides which albums go the shelves. The radio station picks which songs people will sit through advertising to hear. It’s worth their while to curate—to find the good stuff—because you’ll take your money elsewhere if you don’t get what you like.

And so we have the commercialization of Art. It’s now a Thing You Can Sell™.

Unfortunately there’s power in being the one who collects the box office receipts. Hence the stereotype of the cheap theater owner paying a pittance to performers; the ruthless record producer entrapping musicians with crippling contracts; the sleazy studio executive ripping off writers. Even the sanctimonious publisher, self-appointed arbiter of quality.

Walk into a book store (the ones that are left) and look at the staggering number of books. Then just try to imagine the even more staggering number of submitted manuscripts for every one that eventually gets published. There’s a running gag in Hollywood that you can walk up to virtually any random stranger and ask, “how’s your screenplay coming?” and they’ll tell you. Even the best-written screenplay needs teams of people to produce into a film. Now, thanks to the internet and the democratization power of technology, anyone can “publish.”

You want something to read? Oh, there is no shortage of things to read, no matter what your tastes are. But how much of it is any good? And how much crap do you want to wade through to find it?

Oh, I’m sure there are just as many people who enjoy Twilight fan fiction as there are who enjoy checking out whatever bands happen to be playing locally. OK, maybe not that many. But I know people who prefer independent film to major studio releases; people who’d much rather sit and listen to who ever is playing at a local jazz club than the homogeneous drone of pop radio; people who’d rather crack open Charles Dickens again than read about Swedish girls getting tattoos and playing with things.

Amazon.com, a retailer, has decided to get into the publishing game. Personally I find that laughable. They had better do a damned good job of curating talent if they want to be taken seriously. You can find good books on Amazon, but going to Amazon doesn’t mean you’ll find a good book. Anyone can publish anything on Amazon. I can publish a book on Amazon. I can publish this on Amazon. But Amazon isn’t betting they’ll make any money selling my inane ramblings. No, if I want to be published on Amazon I have to pay them.

But what happens when it’s no longer a Thing You Can Sell™? Look at porn. OK, let me rephrase that—let’s use the Adult Entertainment industry as an example. How do you continue to charge for your wares when you’re competing with every third co-ed with a web cam, coupled with everything you’ve ever produced—everything you’ve paid to produce, paying models, camera and lighting people, lawyers, et al.—repeated endlessly across Tumblr, for free? When you figure it out, tell someone who works in porn. You’ll make millions.

Playboy, the long time gold standard of the Naked Chick™ industry, has decimated its staff over the past few years. Hemorrhaging cash, they exist for the sake of nostalgia. Like the music industry found out, it’s a lot harder to charge for something that’s available for free almost everywhere.

Turns out, it’s the producers, the manufacturers, that end up hurting—the theater owners, record companies, publishers—and it’s those producers from whom people feel most comfortable and rationalize it’s OK stealing. The creators? Well, it’s not like too many of them were terribly well off any way. You’ve at least heard of them, which is better than the obscurity they were plucked from.

If those companies want to survive they have to shift gears from producing talent to curating it. I don’t mind paying a cover charge if I know the band’s going to be good.

Problems with gov’t employees? Have ya’ read Dilbert?

Ever read Dilbert? Have ya’ noticed Dilbert doesn’t work for the government?

There’s been a lot of talk lately—I’ve seen it and heard it and read about it in a number of sources—denigrating the public employee; the government worker. Everyone has at least one anecdote about an ill-tempered, inefficient, ineffectual, lazy, disinterested leech, sucking down a taxpayer-provided paycheck they perceived owed to them, without any regard to producing any actual work for said paycheck. But whenever I hear someone proclaim that such a “worker” is endemic to people who are paid with tax dollars, I wonder, has this person ever worked with more than a dozen people, anywhere?

First, let’s get one thing straight, the “government employee” covers not only clerks at the DMV and IRS, but your local firefighters and teachers. (And don’t try to sidetrack my discussion with stories about ineffectual teachers, who only retain their position because of tenure–yeah, I have those stories, too. But for every one of those, I have more about teachers who did what they did for love of what they did, whose mission it was to impart some amount of knowledge onto those unwilling to learn it–some of whom made a real difference in the way I see the world, for the better. No, do not denigrate teachers around me.) And as I write this, I do realize there are those who believe even the fire department a waste of tax money, who feel it should be all volunteer, funded by generous donations from the wealthy (who would be able to if only they didn’t have to pay taxes), and if no one showed up to put out the fire in your house then it should be your problem. No, I will not point out where that attitude is likely to find them. To those people, well, I would tell them to get the fuck off my blog, but they’re incapable of reason.

Has anyone here ever worked for a large corporation? How about a company with more than two-dozen employees? In more than one location? Ever had to deal with someone who was, shall we say, less than efficient? Did you ever have a coworker who was only in their current position because it was the only place that would tolerate their personality? Or enjoyed their job because, no matter how trivial, how menial, it afforded them some small amount of authority over others?

And yes, the stereotype of the “government employee” exists for a reason. I have family who’ve worked within the government, and they’re full of stories of employees they couldn’t coerce to actually do any work. But I feel that reason is because so many of us come into contact with them, more than the employees of any other company. We’ve all been to the DMV and the Post Office.

But think about the other, private, for-profit companies we’ve all had to deal with. The cable company. The phone company. Certainly those are models of efficiency, aren’t they, since profit is their only incentive?

The one thing the government agency doesn’t have is sales people. When you call the cable company to inquire about service, you can hear them smiling over the phone while bending over backwards to get you to sign up. “We’ll even send over a masseuse, to rub your shoulders and ease away any stress caused by the install.” You want to share anecdotes? Tell me about all the times you called this private, profit-making company asking for satisfaction.

How about the phone company? “Would you like a decaf soy latte while you wait for me to transfer all the numbers from your old phone to your new one? Shouldn’t be but a moment. Sorry for the delay.” Tell me about what happens when you call back to that company whose stock is traded publicly on the market. Surely they’ve managed to cut through bureaucracy and red tape, right?

And I haven’t even gotten to the real irony. Those pedagogues railing against “government waste and inefficiencies?” Do I need to point out that many of them are government employees? Politicians whose very job it is to be in charge of those bloated systems, who continue to proclaim, year after year, no matter who is in charge, that they could fix everything, if only everyone else would let them—they are the ones touting “smaller government,” and (gads) “privatization,” attempting to perpetuate the myth (yes, that’s right, myth) that a privately run corporation, with only profit as its motive, is somehow more efficient than government.

Because private corporations, like Enron, aren’t prone to the corruption we see in government. You see, opening the field up to private companies, like Comcast and Cablevision, fosters real competition, and with increased competition, among companies like AT&T and Verizon, prices will come down. And with reduced government interference through regulations, international conglomerates like British Petroleum would be able to better address the needs of their customers, who are free to go elsewhere if they’re dissatisfied.

Oh, no, let’s not have Big Brother further their socialist takeover and monitor the water we drink and food we eat. Let’s take some personal responsibility for the contaminants we ingest. If we’re not happy with our private water supply, or electric company, we’re free to employ someone else. Let’s make sure our money doesn’t go to anyone undeserving—and if they need it, that only shows how much they don’t deserve it—and pay for schools for other people’s kids. I mean, the only reason someone would become a cop in New York City is for the government pension, am I right?

Let’s all agree to call bullshit when we see it. No, I am not asking you to excuse the woman at the Social Security administration who got angry with you for filling out a form wrong, nor the person in the unemployment office who spent 20 minutes reading to you out of someone else’s file—after you pointed it out. No, I’m not suggesting it’s excusable because you can’t get Verizon to take off a download fee you swear you never incurred, or a bank to reverse the insufficient funds fee they charged you when you withdrew too much money from their own ATM. I’m asking you to remember that these are people. People who are being told what to do by other people. And those people don’t always have interests that are in line with yours.

Published in: on August 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

there is no SATA Clause…

New copy of Disk Warrior that can’t repair failing directory because of hardware error: $100

Testing by Apple technicians, who did the same Google search I did to assume it’s a failing drive, but ascertained it was not a bad logic board: free at store

Instructions on how to pry open “no user-serviceable parts inside” iMac: free online

New hard drive to replace drive reported as “failing” by hardware test: $85

SATA drive dock to replicate old drive to new, but still doesn’t work because new drive reports same bus error: $20

New SATA cable, which should have been the first thing checked/replaced but which turns out really isn’t the cause anyway: $4

New Mac, with the new OS and Intel chip that I really wanted/needed anyway, which is still cheaper that most other hardware fixes: about $1,000

Being able to field strip a “non-user serviceable” iMac blindfolded from taking it apart so many times and knowing more about error messages and SATA drive replacement than most technicians, instead of just buying a new machine and being done with it: two weeks of my life I won’t get back.

McCain thinks he deserves health care but you don’t

stop by and tell your representatives how you feel
clipped from www.americansunitedforchange.org

  blog it
Published in: on March 12, 2010 at 8:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Walmart’s raping of the disadvantaged continues

For those of you who haven’t seen the TV ads yet (which curiously show a nebulously interracial couple), Walmart is getting into the check cashing business.

Don’t have check cashing establishments around your home? You probably live in an area that’s doing OK. They’re a staple of neighborhoods that aren’t doing so well, financially, along with stores that sell liquor, menthol cigarettes and cheap comestibles barely deserving the term “food.”

If you have a check that’s made out to you, say, your paycheck, they’ll cash it–for a fee. Seems reasonable enough. Walmart offers a “discount” service of “only” $3 for a check up to $1000; $6 for checks up to $5000.

But why would you need to cash it? Why couldn’t you just deposit it into your bank account? Banks cash checks for free–assuming you’ve got cash in your account to cover it. Assuming you’ve got a bank account.

It’s yet another instance of being charged a fee for not having enough money.

Most banks expect a minimum deposit–they charge fees if you fall below the minimum. If those fees are higher than the $3/check, or up to $12/month (or more) Walmart is charging, then saving money means, well, not saving your money.

Not that saving your money is Walmart’s aim–the ad shows you all the things you can buy, like mp3 players and computers, presumingly from them, with the “up to $200 per year” you could “save.”

And who are these people, the ones who cannot afford to stockpile even one paycheck in a bank? I was one of them. Not for financial reasons, though–I didn’t have any ID–I couldn’t prove, to the satisfaction of a bank, who I was. Curiously, the rules at the check cashing stores were different. Mediocre, even questionable identification was sufficient to turn a check into cash, but insufficient for saving it in your own name.

These are also Walmart’s own employees, most of whom are part-time, at their management’s preference.

Assuming a biweekly paycheck at double minimum wage, full-time, after taxes you’re still likely to come in under the $1,000 check to meet the $3 price. To restate that, after two weeks of full-time work, you’re taking home less than $1000, which is a crime in itself. After 26 paychecks, throw in your tax refund check and you’re paying $85. If you work for Walmart, that’s paying your money back to your employer for the privilege of them paying you.

That’s assuming you don’t get an employee discount.

Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 3:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Father/Son Valentines are just Icky

OK, first, let’s dispense with the tired stereotype of the absent-minded, romantically clueless male, running to the card shop at the last minute to load up on armfulls of roses and chocolates and find that perfect paper sentiment that expresses his undying love in a way he never could. Or diamonds, when he comes to understand that isn’t enough. Shall we? There were two other people buying cards with me today, and neither of them were male.

I’d rather not buy into the whole, “if you love me, you’ll cut down those living flowers so I can watch them die in front of me, then I want you to exploit children and poor people at the behest of an African warlord so I can have a rare, shiny rock, and make sure you purchase someone else’s measured sentiments from the industry responsible for making you feel worthless for not participating,” thing.

The chocolates are tasty, though.

I have memories of being in grammar school, and cutting and gluing the same manufactured sentiments for my classmates they were compositing for me. Many of the 3-4-year-olds in my son’s class worked on similar sentiments. Admittedly, there’s a big, “aww” moment when your preschooler throws his arms out and yells, “happy valentime’s [sic] day!”

Call me a purist, but the purpose of the day honoring St. Valentine is to celebrate romantic love. Not, “I love you, man,” love. I’m not any more comfortable with my 3-yr-old son expressing romantic feelings for the girls in his preschool than for the boys. It’s just not appropriate.

I love my family. I love my son. My wife gets Valentine’s Day cards.

Yeah, I know a lot of people use the occasion to express their, shall we say, less romantic feelings for the people close to them. But I’m not eager to meet the father who’s expecting the, “Be my Valentine, Dad” card that I saw today from his son.

Published in: on February 13, 2010 at 10:24 am  Comments (5)  
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