Category Archives: Cool

How to play SNES games on your jailbroken iPad

Hi everyone!  I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!  If you’ve ever wanted to play the classic games from the Super Nintendo platform on your jailbroken iOS devices (iPad or iPhone), I’ve made a new video showing you how to do it.  You can find it on Youtube at: http://youtu.be/nEM39hZIk_o.  These games may be old but they’re very good and that’s why they’re classics!  Enjoy!

Panasonic Lumix GX-7

Chic Photography

I’ve completely revamped my photography site, Chic Photography.  Come and check it out!  It has a much more modern look and incorporates pages, folders and galleries seamlessly.  The new site also provides a single stop for clients to view their own gallery, download their images and order prints.  I’m going to be working hard over the next few days to port a lot of contents over but it may be months before I get everything exactly the way I want it.  Anyways, here’s a sneak peek:

The main page of Chic Photography.
The main page of Chic Photography.

My Totoyta Camry Hybrid

I last wrote about my 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid more than 2 years a little bit after I bought it.  Now that I’ve been driving earnestly for some time and have put over 26,000 miles on it, I can give yet another assessment.  The Camry is a very good car.  It’s quiet on the highways and handles well.  It’s not exciting by any means but it’s a very good, well mannered car.  After this many miles on the car, I can really appreciate it more.

Long term, I’m averaging 40.5 MPG, highway & city combined.  This is quite amazing for such a vehicle.  There’s more than enough power and I’m never feeling like I’m driving a hybrid although because it is a hybrid, I’m constantly playing games so see how long I can stay in the “zone”.  This zone is the time when the car is driving purely on the batteries and no gasoline is used.  This becomes like playing a video game rather than a chore.

I do notice that driving habits has a lot to do with efficiency, as we’ve all read.  I drive consistently at 65 mph on the freeway via cruise control and have noticed huge gas savings.  I can certainly go a lot fast without any issues but going consistently at 80 will drop the MPG down to about 37.  That’s a pretty big difference.  The order thing that affects MPG is the gas mixture between winter fuel and summer fuel.  I get much, much better efficiency on the summer fuel mix by far.  I’m not sure why but that’s how it’s working out.

In terms of reliability, I’ve not had a single problem so far. Being a Toyota, I don’t expect any issues for a while. I can’t imagine that any future car I buy won’t be a hybrid.  There’s a very nice Avalon Hybrid out now as well as the beautiful, Avalon-based Lexus ES 300h.  That may be the next step up for me when I decide I need to move up.  No rush though as I’m still paying this one off!

Computing Banner

Transcend JetDrive Lite 130

Update 2014-07-10: After using this drive for nearly a month, I have some updates which were not apparent when I first reviewed the product.  The JetDrive still performs admirably and provides that much needed boost to my MacBook Air.  However I did notice a strange behavior that I need to let everyone know about: If you let your MacBook go to sleep rather than turning it off or you often use external USB card readers/devices, you may get a message saying that your JetDrive was not properly ejected.  My main concern here would be data loss, especially if you have a file on the JetDrive opened in an application when you put your MacBook to sleep.  I have not had this experience and have shifted to shut down my MacBook when I’m done with it (side benefit: saves quite a bit of juice).  However, this is enough of a concern for me to withdraw my recommendation of the JetDrive as I believe it to be a serious issue.  I’ll be reaching out to Transcend for their response on this and will update the post as I get more information.

Original review:
If you have an older MacBook Air that’s spatially challenged, then I have the solution for you!  Some older MacBook Air only came with 64 GB in their internal SSD.  That was upgraded to 128 GB (up to 256 GB in higher end configurations) in later models, upgradable to 512 GB.  While an SSD dramatically increases the performance of these computers on a usability basis, there are challenges.  Those with 128 GB or less (and perhaps even for those with even larger SSD capacity) will quickly find out that they have to do a lot of hard drive space management after loading their MacBooks with a reasonable amount of apps.  With apps, photos, music and videos, I’m often working with less than 10 GB of space free!  That causes a lot issues as well as system inefficiencies.

How can you add capacity to your computer?  I have a small, external portable USB hard drive that’s 2 TB in size.  Even though it’s one of those that’s exclusively powered through the USB port without an AC adapter brick, it’s still cumbersome to carry around and use.  You have to remember to plug it in all the time. I’m sure that most MacBook Air users have some type of external storage that they’re lugging around.  SD cards can work but they’re not designed for use as a drive and they stick out of the MacBook in an inelegant way that gets in the way of storing the computer.  Along comes Transcend and its solution:

JetDrive Packaging
The packaging for the Transcend JetDrive Lite 130.

This is essentially an SD card designed to function as a drive and is called the JetDrive Lite.  When I first read about it, I figure it’s the perfect solution and I had to get it for my MacBook Air (late 2012 model with a 128 GB SSD).  It was such a new product that it took a little bit to arrive.  When it arrived earlier than expected, I was super excited!  Looking at the packaging, it’s an MLC drive and that’s why it’s pretty affordable (around $90 for the 128 GB JetDrive Lite).  The difference between an MLC and SLC drive is important but these days they are minimized due to the controller and implementation more than the underlying technology.  There’s no detail on the controller of the JetDrive that I could easily find (read: 5 minutes of Googling).  However, the drive does come with a limited lifetime warranty and is rated for 10,000 insertion/removal cycles in terms of durability.  That’s pretty good to me and will outlast the useful life of my MacBook.

So how does it work and more importantly, how does it look?  Well, it looks GREAT!  Check out this photo I snapped of my MacBook 13″ Air equipped with it:

JetDrive Lite 130
JetDrive Lite 130 inserted in a MacBook.

It just disappears and it looks really good.  There’s no problem to putting my MacBook into it’s neoprene case and stuffing it into my bag.  It looks like it’s made for the computer.  The insertion was way easy but removal is a bit more difficult.  No tools are required but you do need a little bit of your fingernail to help so for those with freshly trimmed fingernails, good luck!  Based on the design, I would say that it’s not designed for people who frequently use the SD card slot of their MacBook.  If I had to swap the drives in and out several times a day I wouldn’t be happy.  But if it’s just a swap of once or twice a week, I think it’s fine.  The JetDrive is clearly designed to be left in your MacBook most of the time and that’s how I intend to use mine  It’s almost easier to carry a tiny SD card reader that connects to your USB port instead.  So now you’re essentially using an external card reader vs external hard drive if you’re a heavy SD card user.  But I think that’s a worthy trade off.

So how does it perform?  Quite well actually but I did run into one problem that’s worth mentioning.  The drive does work out of the box.  Plug it in and just go.  Performance is pretty good.  I’m not a technical, stopwatch measuring kind of guy but I would say it feels faster than a USB attached physical drive.  Long term reliability is a question I can’t answer yet but I expect it to perform well there as well.  The main issue I had is that the drive is formatted to exFAT by default.  While that worked fine on my system, I ran into a problem when I tried to load an Aperture library.  I received a message that the file system was unsupported.  After some quick investigation, I found that it was exFAT formatted.  This is nothing a quick trip to the Disk Utility couldn’t fix.  I re-formatted using the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition and then everything works great.  This does mean I can’t stick it into my Windows computer but I’m not sure it would be a good idea to do that anyways.

So would I recommend the Transcend JetDrive Lite 130?  Yes, I wholeheartedly would!  My only recommendation is to format it to the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system before you put it to use.  It’ll take you just a second to do so.  Good luck!

The new iCloud

I just logged into iCloud today and I must say, I like the changes.  It now reflects the new iOS 7 theme.  Gone are the skeuomorphs for Calendar, Contacts, etc. and in is the new flat theme of iOS 7.  The other thing that’s nice is that iWorks (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) are now in the cloud.  The other thing is that once you go full screen, your computer now looks like a Mac, even if you’re on Windows or a Chromebook.  The changes are drastic for some but in the whole I like what I’m seeing.

500 miles with the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

I’ve lived with the new Camry Hybrid for a week now and have put about 500 miles on it, including a trip to Los Angeles and back for work. Since I’ve taken delivery, I’ve managed to get an average of almost 42 MPG on a full size sedan. The Los Angeles trip clocked in at a crazy 46 MPG! I’m not driving much differently except that I make sure I’m accelerating smoothly, anticipate when I need to stop for lights, etc. and coasting appropriately and using cruise control more on the freeways. It’s pretty much what everyone else tries to do when gas prices go through the roof.

Overall I’m pretty happy with it and it should serve me well for years. I plan to drive this car as long as possible. I’ll keep reporting periodically on the driving experience and what it’s like to own a hybrid, cost wise. I was a bit worried that perhaps I made my decision too hasty to go with a hybrid compared to say a diesel, like the Volkswagen Passat diesel that gets almost 40 MPG in real life. But what swayed me ultimately was Toyota’s reliability, slightly cheaper gas prices compared to diesel and that in the real world the hybrid Camry gets more miles per gallon than a comparable diesel sedan.

New car buying guide

Are you in the market for a new car? Here’s my easy, new car buying guide to help you get a great price. Way better than the price you can get through Costco’s Car Buying program (because I’ve tried it). There’s almost no haggling or hassle involved in this but you must follow these steps.

1. The cardinal rule: Be firm. Always. An example: When you visit a dealer to look at a car, sit in it, test the headroom, test drive, etc. and then leave, they’re going to pressure you to make an offer then and there. Don’t. This is but one example but there are many along the process and if you’re not firm, you’ll waste your time.

2. Get the name of 4-5 dealers within a 50 mile radius from you.

3. Decide what car you are going to buy, down to the trim level & options as much as you can. Only you know what you can live with or without. Do as much research as you can from the car review sites. Test drive at any dealer you choose but leave as soon as you’re done. Thank them and tell them you’ll email them with your offer when you’re ready. BE FIRM!

4. Decide on a few acceptable colors. There’s more than a good chance that the dealer willing to give you the best price might not have the exact color you want. Again, decide on how important this is to you and work accordingly.

5. Go to http://amexnetwork.zag.com and enter your car model & zip code on the left side for new car. Select your options and price it out. Click on the bell curve looking graph that’s labeled “See what others really paid.” You’ll get a pop that looks like the picture below. This part only works on Flash enabled devices so sorry, no iPhones/iPads. I’ve found this is the BEST site for new car values. I’ve compared these prices to Edmunds’ True Market Value, CarDirect, ec. and they’re all significantly higher. You do not need to be an American Express member to use this site.

6. Average the Factory Invoice price and the Dealer Cost price. This will be the price you will offer and pay for the car. No more, no less. Your only adjustments will be to move up or down accordingly if certain options are not specifically available on the car a dealer might have on their lot.

TrueCar Value
TrueCar Value

7. Go to your bank or credit union and arrange your own financing and get pre-approved based on the value you get in step #6 (add to that tax & licensing fees). DO NOT GO THROUGH THE DEALER FOR FINANCING UNLESS THEY HAVE A RIDICULOUS OFFER (like 0% for 60 months or something). I got 1.79% on a 60 month term through my credit union. If your credit is only so so, you should still go this route. The bank/credit union you have an existing relationship with will almost always give you better rates than the dealer. If you’re paying cash, even better.

8. Wait until the last day of the month. Better yet, last day of the quarter. Email the dealers in your area with vehicles that closely match your criteria. Make them an offer on the price you got in Step #6 + tax/license. Tell them you have your own financing (or cash) and can close the deal quickly. Make sure you say in your email that you are emailing several dealers with the same offer. Tell them that you’ve done your research and know what the true cost to them are and that your offer is lower than the so called “factory invoice” but that’s your price. Tell them all you require is a “YES” or “NO” that they can do a deal at your price and that you will not accept any counteroffers from the dealer and that there’s no working with you on the price. Don’t be afraid to talk to them but repeat the mantra. You only need a Yes or No and you’ll move on. You won’t work with them, you won’t take counteroffers, you don’t care that it’s below the “factory invoice”… it’s simply can they sell the car to you at that price or not. That’s it.

9. When the responses come in, you can decide what your favorite colors are from the YES and go from there. Say no to GAP, extended maintenance, dealer security system, LoJack, under body coating and all that crap. Tell them you have very little time to do the paperwork and watch how fast they can go… it does not need to be a half day ordeal.

GOOD LUCK!

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE

So I did something this weekend that I said I wouldn’t do and that’s to buy a new car. The car I ended up with was the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid. Yes, I know, a boring family car. But this one gets 43 MPG! I was also looking at the much more stylish Lexus CT 200h. That car gets the same mileage but had a lot less room inside. Ultimately I went with the bigger car.

Normally I would have preferred to get a 2-3 year old car but a 2010/11 Toyota Camry Hybrid gets about 9 miles less per gallon… that’s pretty significant. The price different on the 2011 or even the 2010 was minimal. On top of that, Saturday was the end of the month and the end of the quarter. Pitting four dealers against each other, I got this brand new car for $24,950 + tax. It’s a very good deal I think. So far I like this new boring car! :-)

In the future I’ll give a more thorough review of the Camry and hybrids in general, but for now, I just wanted to let you all know!

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE

Making the switch to Schwab Bank

I recently made the switch from Chase Bank to Schwab Bank. After having use of the account for almost 1 month now, I feel I can make a report to all that might be interested.

First off, it was a pain to switch all of my bills over. That really isn’t Schwab fault though. The fault lies with the companies I’m doing business with. They don’t have a convenient way of switching banks online. Some want you to call them. Others want you to go through their agents. Others have outdated paper requirements. And on and on. But I can finally say that that’s all over with now. So that was Step #1.

Step #2 was to get my company to switch direct deposits over to the new bank. That was easier but may require me to accept a live paper check for one pay period. Not a big deal. I set it up so that most of the money goes directly into my Schwab account. I have $1 from every paycheck being direct deposited to Chase. Just so I can keep the account open for free as a back and to screw with them.

All of that was relatively painless. When it comes to using my new bank, I’m extremely happy. I did a cash withdrawal from a Chase ATM (!) where Chase charged me $3 for the privilege. Greedy bastards. Well, wouldn’t you know it? Schwab Bank promptly refunded me that charge. Nice. Then I headed over to Paris and made a cash withdrawal at the airport. No $5 foreign ATM fee. And the ATM owner didn’t charge me a fee either… that was HSBC… see that Chase? But that’s not even the cool thing. Schwab Bank gave me a great exchange rate. Almost as good as the going exchange rate that you can find on OANDA for example. And absolutely no foreign transaction fees! None. With Chase, I was out $5 for the actual foreign withdrawal, regardless if I took out $5 or $500. On top of that, their exchange rates sucked. And then they charged a 3% foreign transaction fee… that’s $3 for every $100 of spend. Those add up quickly. That was not the case with Schwab Bank at all.

The icing on the cake? I got $0.17 interest for a pretty low balance for the partial month in February. Yeah, it’s a pittance but better than $0 I’ve been getting since forever.

Overall I’m extremely happy with my experience and would whole heartedly recommend it. Aside from all of the startup housekeeping you have to do whenever you switch banks, it’s been a joy. And that’s worth sharing.

iOS 5.1 Update

iOS 5.1 update – If you haven’t updated your iDevice yet, this one’s worth it. The main feature that I love aside from the Retina Display support for the new iPad is that you can delete photos from your Photostream! Yay!

Ok, so it only affects the device you’ve deleted from but it’s still a welcome addition! I’ve been waiting for that for a while… sometimes you take a photo of temporary information (Internet hotel code, menus, etc.) and you don’t really want that clogging up your Photostream. The way it works also tells me that each device keeps a local copy of the stream at all times… which is cool since it means you can view them even without an Internet connection. A welcomed feature indeed!