Friday, December 25, 2009

Exotic Feline Breeding Compound, Rosamond, California

The EFBC has been a favorite destination as well as a favorite charity of ours for many years. We love cats, and love the way this place is run. It's privately funded and run by a great bunch of people who treat their animals excellently. Likewise, they're committed to a most laudable cause, saving large cat species from extinction by building strong breeding stock in captivity.

Shapur, a rare Persian Leopard
One of the EFBC's wonderful cats. Shapur, a very rare Persian Leopard.
Many of the cats there are on display, so you can enjoy them and learn more about them. Volunteer opportunities are plentiful, I wish I lived close enough or could visit more regularly. I don't mind cleaning out cat boxes of any size. ;)

Several times a year the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound holds evening tours where more of the center is opened to the (over 18) visitors. They're called Twilight Tours. Once a year a fundraiser called The Feline Follies is held, where guests can not only enjoy a wonderful dinner, buy art, and purchase items at auction, but they also get to enjoy the company of select "outreach" members of the cat community as well as other animals brought in for the event. There's nothing like getting to sit with a big cat, or have an "outreach trainee" cub cling to your arm.

Anny, a Snow Leopard
One half of the EFBC's breeding pair of Snow Leopards, Anny
If you can possibly visit, do so. Even if you can't, check them out on the web, enjoy the great cat pictures (no bars on theirs, I have to stand outside the enclosure so I've got bars in mine.) You can help them care for the cats by shopping online through their website, buying items from their gift shop, or using their Amazon link when you shop.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Nokia Ovi: Epic Fail

I decided to download some new apps to my sorta-new Nokia E63 today. My normal approach for putting apps on my phones is to go out looking for open source apps on the web using one of my regular computers, then transfer it onto the phone via memory card or Bluetooth. Today, I made the mistake of deciding to try out Nokia's Ovi software service instead.

First I went out via Wifi on the phone itself. Initially, I had the "Download!" item on the phone as it came from the factory. Upon contacting Nokia I got a message telling me I needed to upgrade to the new Ovi software.

OK. I upgraded. Then I tried connecting to Ovi. I got a message telling me Ovi wasn't available. Wonderful. At that point I had no idea whether that meant I'd just happened to hit some time when site maintenance was going on, or if my new software was no good.

Later I was able to connect (two days later. I should have mentioned I didn't just start this process today...)

You can go along, looking at possible downloads at Ovi, but you can't download without an account. The advice I got was to create an account on my PC, then sync with the phone so that it could use that account to connect to Ovi. *sigh*

I went to the only PC I have that runs a current version of Windows as required by Nokia's sync software. I logged into Ovi and created my account. I downloaded the software (after fighting my way through Nokia's awful website--I'm sure the Flash crud works fine on Nokia's LAN, but on my broadband it takes forever and you can't even tell what it's doing then once it's downloaded you get an error more than half the time. And don't even try to connect to Nokia's website from one of their phones!)

I got the software downloaded while I left the house for errands, came back, installed it, and discovered that I had no data cable and that none of my present USB cables was the right one for this phone. My cheap, half-the-price Chinese phones came with data cables, Nokia! What's the matter, can't turn a profit without trying to milk your customers for an overpriced data cable? Not only that, my Windows system is the only one in the house without Bluetooth. I didn't feel like burning more time on a wasted effort by trying to find a driver for the dongle I've got, so after the website, download, and install I just gave up. I'll recover the hard disk space another day.

I went back to Ovi on the phone, and found that I could just log in directly. Then I selected that I wanted to see only free apps. Then I changed catagories. And it started showing me for-pay apps. When you change categories you then have to go back and choose to see just free apps again. And even if you do, if they've got a "featured" app that's for pay, it stays there at the top of your list.

Four pages of apps in, the stuff I was finding for free was garbage. Adware and crippleware, mostly. About what I expected, I'm afraid, and why I usually just go looking for free open source software right off the bat. I was hoping to find a few decent simple time-killer games, though. They may be there, but I can't find them among the cruft.

What a waste of time and effort.

Do yourself a favor, if you do end up with one of Nokia's phones, learn to install apps without going through Ovi if you don't already know how. It'll be time far better spent than doing what I did, and you'll still know how to do it when you get a different phone. Like a cool, inexpensive little Sciphone, maybe.

My Articles on cell phones:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Face Off: Nokia E63 vs. SciPhone G2

I picked up a Nokia E63 cheap some time ago as a possible replacement for my Sciphone G2. I like the keyboard on the E63, and that coupled with a discounted unit price at a local brick-and-mortar induced me to buy.

The phone my G2 replaced was an older Nokia, a Nokia 3650. This was a great phone, I still had such an old phone on my hip for such a long time because I couldn't find a newer phone that gave me all the features it had, plus some tech upgrades, at a price I was willing to pay. For the longest time the best I could find was phones costing over $700. Everything selling for less would have meant giving up something I already had on the 3650.

As a result, I had a good impression of Nokia. I know all their phones aren't winners (otherwise replacing the 3650 would have been a no-brainer, right?) But still, I liked Symbian far, far better than WinMobile or any of the other OSes I saw on other phones. Giving up Symbian when getting the G2 was one of my biggest concerns.

Overall, though, the G2 turned out to be a great phone. I gave up my old 3650 to one of my kids shortly after moving to the G2. I took a leisurely pace when "moving in" to the G2, and after about 3 weeks I had everything configured as I like it, and was using all the features I'd bought the phone for without any problems.

The phone ended up having a problem after that, and the fine support at, from whom I'd bought the phone, had me return it for a replacement. When the replacement arrived, I was able to "move in" to the new phone easily enough (my only problems turned out to be with my service provider, T-Mobile, who turned off my internet service without my authorization then refused to reinstate it at my previous rate, only offering me the new rate of over double my grandfathered rate from before.)

Then last October I bought the E63.


I looked at the calendar and discovered that just three days short of two months in using this phone, I still don't feel comfortable with it. When I tried (and tried, and tried, but that's a long story) to do a firmware update, at one point it warned me it'd be clearing everything in the phone. Didn't bother me at all, I haven't personalized it at all past setting up the Wifi and pairing it with my workstation via Bluetooth. I don't stand to lose any data. It's not like it's my phone...

I'm starting to get used to some of the menus I use regularly. It's still not natural. Not even calling my wife.

The controls and menu layout stink. You're never sure what you should do, you're never sure exactly what you're going to get. Constant surprises keep you feeling this way.

This phone's keyboard is great. Otherwise, I call it a dog. I gave up my old phone about a week after I gave up my G2. I still have my G2, and I take a "vacation" from my E63 every so often by sticking my SIM back in it. My teenager is upset that she doesn't have my G2--she was really looking forward to it. With the Java apps on it, it pretty well kicks the butt of even the vaunted "Jesus Phone".

So, in spite of the G2's quirks, I still like it more than my twice-the-price first-line manufacturer Nokia E63:

Nokia E63 versus Sciphone G2

E63: Very nice physical keyboard.
G2:Soft keyboard, with the annoying trait of having to flip through multiple international keyboards when entering data that requires shifts between upper and lower case, etc.
Win: E63


E63: Either has none or it can't be found by mere mortals.
G2: Easily found and configured.
Win: G2

E63: Clearly documents which JSPs it supports, supports a wide variety of them.
G2: Less clear what it supports, but runs touchscreen capable Java apps well.
Win:E63 by a nose. Functionally the G2 is as good, but better docs of what standards it supports would be very nice.

General Phone Use:
E63: Awkward interface, usable but non-intuitive. Lousy menu structure, unclear about keyboard mode.
G2: Easy, intuitive.
Win:G2, hands down.

Signal Strength:
E63: Excellent in marginal areas (where I live and work is the definition of a marginal area.)
G2: Very good.
Win: E63, but not by much--the G2 outperforms every other phone I've tried but the Nokia E63 and 3650.

Call Clarity:
E63: Excellent sound and clarity, decent noise rejection.
G2: Excellent sound and clarity, good noise rejection.
Win: G2 by a nose.

Hands-free, wired:
E63: works well with an awful provided headset.
G2: works poorly with a nice basic headset.
Win: Nokia, at least it's usable though the headset is so bad you don't care.

Hands-free, Bluetooth:

E63: Mating with headset is a pain, works well after that.
G2: Mating with headset is a little challenging, works well after that.
Win:G2 by a nose.

Hands-free, Speaker phone:
E63: Easy to use, excellent volume level, poor volume controls.
G2: Easy to use, decent volume level, great volume controls.
Win: G2. Even though the Nokia achieves higher volume levels, the inability to control it easily during a call makes this point moot.

E63: Hidden in crappy menu structure, no good customization options.
G2: Easy to install, good menu structure (but not as good as the i68+), easy to customize.

Overall Ease of Use:
G2, hands down.

For all that, I haven't given up either phone...yet. I haven't checked for a firmware update for my G2 since I've gotten it. If the keyboard thing is fixed, I'll be ready to hand the Nokia to my teen. The keyboard is pretty much what's keeping me on the Nokia right now. But I'd swear less if I gave it up...

Edit, Dec. 18, 2009:
E63: No Data Cable Provided
G2: Data cable provided.
Win: G2

The more I try to get out of the Nokia, the worse it gets.

I can see why Nokia is having trouble...

My Articles on the Sciphone G2: