Halloween has been a non-holiday for me ever since I took my last trick-or-treating sojourn as a kid many years ago. I didn’t have many friends in my teen and college years to be invited to parties or to engage in trickery. Upon moving out, I discovered that exactly zero kids come seeking treats at your door when you live in an apartment. Except for handing out candy at my parent’s house a few random times, the only thing Halloween meant to me was that Mary Jane peanut butter kisses were available. Hey, at least it’s not candy corn.
When I purchased a house a few years ago, I figured that I was going to spend my future Halloween nights handing out candy to excited trick-or-treaters. As fate would have it, that never happened.
At least, it never happened at my house.
You see, I had joined the furry community a year before buying the house and as a result, made some new friends. One friend that lived nearby also owned a home, and he had spent the previous Halloween handing out candy while wearing his fursuit. (“Fursuit” is the term for the animal costumes that some furries wear) When the next Halloween rolled around, he invited a few friends and myself to come over and hand out candy.
I don’t own a fursuit myself. They can run in the few thousands of dollars so I like to joke that I have a mortgage and a car payment instead. My lack of costume made me the ‘handler,’ a person that helps out fursuiters by making sure they don’t trip over things or bump into kids. Since fursuit heads severely limit vision, a handler’s job is essentially to keep fursuiters from accidentally hurting themselves or others. In addition, my job was to take pictures and occasionally run into the house for more candy and bottled water to keep our three fursuiters hydrated.
The fursuits were a smash! After the trick-or-treaters got candy from each one of them, their parents often wanted to take pictures of their costumed children (and sometimes themselves) with the fuzzy people. It wasn’t unusual to have a large group of people congregated in front of the house: Trick-or-treaters collecting candy, parents taking pictures, fursuiters being silly and everybody having a great time together. We stayed outside until our supply of candy was gone. Despite being pretty bushed from all the running around I had done that evening, it was easily the most fun Halloween night I’d had in years.
The tradition continued with seven fursuiters showing up the next year and more and more joining the fun with each successive Halloween. Lucky for me, more handlers showed up, too! One guy even bought an ice chest that we filled up with candy before getting to work. There were a grand total of fourteen fursuiters last year, making the house a veritable bonanza for the trick-or-treaters in terms of the amount of candy and fun to be had.
I have yet to spend a single Halloween night at my own house. Instead, I have furries to wrangle, candy bowls to refill, pictures to take, and memories to make!
Realized after the fact that I overpacked and should have left my Bluetooth mouse/keyboard at home.
Observation from OG: There were no volunteers barking at attendees like at other cons
Wonder if it’s because the attendees seem to be a mite older here?
Regardless, perhaps other cons need to jazz up their marketing and call their volunteers something else to add prestige and respect to what is a very thankless job. “Volunteer?” Boring. “Enforcers?” Oooh.
Not sure what I’m going to do for Sunday. I pretty much saw all the booths yesterday
Made darn sure to charge my 3DS last night
Also remembered to fill my water bottle before leaving the house this time. Mmm, home water.
The weather was so nice I almost forgot my coat when I left
Now that the event is over, I can finally delete all those ‘PLEASE COME SEE OUR STUFF’ emails from devs.
Obligatory work item: My legs should not be this sore after the fact, need a gig where I *don’t* sit on my tail all day
PAX South is probably the best fan-run gaming convention around and I can see why folks love it so. Its not really my thing; if I go next year it’ll just be for a day. Plenty of my friends had a blast, though!
I have a trip planned for this weekend (to Furry Fiesta) and as I begin to pack, I ask myself the same question that I do every trip:
Do I bring my laptop along for the ride?
I have a smartphone and a tablet and while they both do a decent enough job at keeping me connected to my precious data out in the cloud, I always find myself going back to Ye Olde Laptop. I always need to have it with me whether I’m going to visit my folks or I’m at a convention or yes, even camping.
The most obvious advantage to the laptop over mobile devices is the screen size. My smartphone has a 4-inch screen and I have no desire to get a huge phone (or ‘phablet’ as self-important tech writers call them). The iPad mini is okay at 7.9 inches, but even then, a good chuck of that gets eaten away by the on-screen keyboard, and I have no desire to upgrade to a full-sized iPad or fork out a c-note for a decent keyboard accessory. Speaking of keyboards…
The second obvious advantage of a laptop is the presence of a full-sized keyboard. More importantly, especially to me, as a writer, the laptop keyboard actually has all of the keys. I’ll never forget how flabbergasted I was when I was merrily typing away on my iPad mini’s Microsoft Office program and discovered that there was NO TAB KEY. WHAT. THE. FRAK.
Speaking of ‘having everything,’ the most important benefit of having a laptop is that it has Windows. While iOS and Windows Phone can do lots of stuff, neither one can do everything. Even the Microsoft Office app on Windows Phone feels kind of half-assed (no tab key there, either *sob*) so if I need to do Serious Things I need to have Windows.
Finally, for all my tech knowledge and willingness to try new technologies, I tend to stick to old habits to a certain degree. I still use a desktop, rarely watch video on mobile devices, prefer to get media on physical discs and still have a checkbook. Based on that, it looks as if I’m stuck lugging around my old faithful 14″ Toshiba for the near future.
Or maybe not, I see there are Windows 8.1 tablets out now. Hmm… 😉
It was only a matter of time before I cracked and ended my ‘dumbphone’ experiment. But what to get next? I had already owned two Android phones in the past, both of which became progressively crappier as they got older, so Android was a no-go. I have no desire to own an iPhone, despite owning an iPad mini that I am happy with. Thus, I thought I would give the ‘other’ mobile OS a try: Windows Phone. I went to Ye Olde Electronics Store, picked up a Nokia Lumia 520 AT&T GoPhone, signed up for a $60 a month unlimited talk/text plan with 2GB of data, and hoped for the best.
This is actually my second exposure to a Microsoft mobile operating system. My first smartphone was a T-Mobile Dash (aka HTC Excalibur) back in the dark days of Windows Mobile 6. While it was not a bad device, Windows Mobile 6 was an odd duck and I switched from it to Android once I had the chance. So, I’m back to where I started, as far as smartphones go.
This review is based on my having owned the phone for three weeks, with my last phone being an Acatel 871A.
In terms of hardware, the Lumia 520 is basic: a 4-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 800×480, a 5MP camera on the back with no flash, and WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS. On the top left is a standard 3.5″ headphone jack, on the bottom center is a micro-USB charge/transfer port, and volume/power/camera buttons adorn the right side of the unit. Back, Start and Search buttons sit below the screen. (Side note: I really wish Search buttons on phones would go away, bring back the Menu button!) The phone uses a micro-SIM, and comes with 8GB of built-in memory that can be expanded using a microSD card. I like having the power button on the right center, though it took just a little bit of getting used to. The back has a rubbery finish, which I actually prefer, and I believe the screen is glass. The phone is solid without feeling too cheap. The only thing missing in terms of hardware is a front-facing camera and a status LED of some sort: my last phone (Motorola Photon) had a status LED which enabled me to quickly look at it and identify what the last notification was or charge status by its color.
Call quality has been good and I was able to successfully sync the phone with my vehicle via Bluetooth for hands-free operation. The phone’s speaker is quite loud; I don’t believe I have missed any calls yet for not being able to hear the ringtone, a problem I have had with other phones in the past.
I do have a few gripes with the hardware, the screen seems to love finger oils and gets dirty very quickly, so much so that I’m considering investing in a screen protector. While Nokia and Microsoft like to tout the Lumias’ super-sensitive screen, it is a bit too sensitive for me, but it can be adjusted. This is my first exposure to AT&T’s LTE service, and while its speeds have not been as awesome as I have become accustomed to on my Verizon iPad mini it is fast enough to do what I need and even video has worked well.
I’m sure many of you reflexively said ‘WINDOWS, EWW,” upon reading the title of this post, but I like Windows, and thank you for continuing to read. I have used Windows for years, it lets me do whatever I want to with it, and I know how to burrow into it and get my hands dirty if need be. Sure, Windows 8 does leave a bit to be desired, but I’ll take even that over OS X or Linux any day. While Windows is a great big negative for many people, (especially in the mobile world) it is a plus for me.
So, Windows Phone, then. The biggest difference between Windows Phone and its competition is the Start Screen and its use of ‘live tiles,’ instead of icons. Live Tiles display information in real-time, such as the number of emails you have waiting or random pictures of folks in the People tile. The system is pretty flexible in terms of letting you arrange them. One of the first things I did was remove of most of them, particularly the AT&T apps, most of which require monthly fees. I guess $60 a month isn’t enough.
Unlike Android and iOS, which arrange their home screens horizontally, Windows Phone does things vertically: instead of swiping right and left, you swipe up and down to navigate the Start Screen. Swiping from right to left pulls over a full list of apps ordered alphabetically, and tapping a letter in a list brings up a screen with the alphabet so you can quickly find things. I like the Modern/Metro user interface; one thing that I greatly appreciate is that text is actually readable. One beef I’ve had with previous smartphones is how darn tiny text is often displayed, so having big letters I can easily read is great.
While there is a minor learning curve with Windows Phone, the biggest adjustment I had to make is that Windows Phone does not have a ‘phonebook’ or ‘contacts’ app. Instead, your contacts are stored in an app named ‘People’ that can be synced to include your contacts from Facebook, Google, Hotmail or even Twitter. The integration with other services and social media websites is very impressive: When you pull up a person’s information in the People app you can see their latest status update and in addition to the usual ‘call’ and ‘send text’ options you can send emails, post to their Facebook walls, or even mention them on Twitter. Windows Phone does its best to sync your contacts with social media profiles, if it doesn’t catch one, you can actually specify which profile to match up to a contact. Very nice!
Another thing that has impressed me about Windows Phone is how quickly push notifications come: I will be chatting with a friend on Facebook on another device and my phone will beep within seconds of receiving a chat reply. It becomes mildly annoying but is a small price to pay for expediency.
One of the problems I had with Android phones is the lack of system updates: unless you buy a Google-branded phone or a super-pricey one you could expect one or maybe two updates at best, then either the manufacturer calls it a day or the carrier decides to be a jerk and not push any new updates through in the hope you’ll get a new phone. One thing I quickly noticed about Windows Phone is that I could not specify a custom ringtone for app notifications or e-mails. I did a little research and learned that Microsoft had pushed out an update that fixed the problem. I checked for updates, but none were to be found. Crap. Time will tell if that will change, but for now custom notification sounds are a no-go (you can assign specific ringtones to people, though). This is an annoyance, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to survive without my phone telling me “You’ve Got F-ing Mail.” 😉
And now we get to the elephant in the room: Apps. You may have heard that the Windows Store does not have as many apps as the other guys and yes, that is very true. I myself use very few apps (which made it easier to stop using a smartphone in the first place) but even then, there are some notable ones missing, such as Dropbox. Dropbox is a pretty significant omission, but Microsoft is more than happy to provide built-in SkyDrive support as well as a Microsoft Office app.
I like that there is an official genuine Office app included, even if it is a bit stripped down. Microsoft Office alternatives, in my experience, have ranged from ‘pretty good’ to ‘ick.’ So while it is a bit inconvenient to have to migrate my stuff over to SkyDrive from Dropbox, I think it will be worth it in the long run. If you are considering making the jump to Windows Phone and you are an app junkie, it would definitely behoove you to double-check and make sure your favorites are available on Windows Phone. The included apps do their jobs well, but the included HERE Drive + navigation app did get a little squirrelly during a recent trip.
The 520 is responsive, though I will occasionally see a “Resuming…” screen for a few seconds when switching from app to app (Quick tip: holding the ‘Back’ key brings up your currently open apps) but otherwise the phone performs well. I should note that I do not play games on my phone so I can’t vouch for its performance there.
I have been happy with my Nokia Lumia 520 and Windows Phone thus far. There was a bit of a learning curve involved with Windows Phone but now that I know my way around, it is a pleasure to use. While there are a few minor annoyances, my overall experience with the 520 has been positive. The Nokia Lumia 520 is a basic, but quality device that is priced right at $100. That it is a no-contract phone is icing on the cake; unless you are constantly streaming music and/or video, 2GB is enough data for most people.
That said, Windows Phone is not for everybody. If you like customizing your phone, get an Android. If you are highly invested in Apple’s ecosystem or have an iOS device that you already love, get an iPhone. If you are new to smartphones, actually like Microsoft and their services (Hotmail, SkyDrive, etc) I say that Windows Phone is definitely worth a try.
Nokia Lumia 520 gets 4 out of 5 Live Tiles.
The author received no compensation for this review.
As the final hours of the year tick away, I have to say that 2013 was a really good one for me.
After years of dealing with apartments and all that malarkey, I broke down and bought a house. Home ownership has been pretty awesome so far: I went from one-bedroom apartments to a two-bedroom house with a garage and a huge backyard and rabbits and I can barbeque and have friends over and I love it. Given the age of the house, home repairs and replacing things will eventually come but for now its been smooth sailing.
On the e-book front, I decided to try to sell printed copies of my work at a few conventions and events and failed spectacularly, at least from a business standpoint. I can count my total sales on my hands. People just don’t read much anymore, or at least not the types of folks that go to anime or furry conventions. On the plus side, I did get to talk to lots of folks, present some panels and if nothing else, hopefully inspire some folks to ‘go it alone’ themselves. I only published one new e-book (should have been two, but life and all that) and definitely need to up my output next year.
2013 was a fun year of conventions, camping, writing, video games, furries, cookies, home maintenance and most importantly, friends and family. I am optimistic that 2014 will be even better; my goal is to compete at least two story collections as well as the follow-up to “The Rules of Tech Support,” which is my best-seller so far. I am also hoping to attend some new conventions, make new friends, and well, get some work done on the house. So without any further ado:
Tech support folks are often accused of not caring about customer problems. Most of you won’t want to hear this (and the rest of you will nod your heads in agreement), but the unfortunate truth is that yeah, many of us in tech support really don’t care about your problem.
A tech support person hears so much wailing and gnashing of customer teeth over the course of their job that it eventually fails to have any meaningful effect. We eventually become ‘de-empathized’ and thus lose our ability to feel empathy or sympathy towards our customers. Most of us don’t start out with much to begin with so it doesn’t take very long to reach that point.
Why? A few reasons:
First, a tech can interact with a lot of customers, particularly if they do phone support. Let’s assume a tech talks to 20 customers over the course of a day: That adds up to 100 people over the course of a week, or 5,200 people in a year. Considering that the majority of them of them are calling because something is not working, a fairly high percentage of them are going to be angry, upset, and frustrated. While most people are civil, many are not, and of course, there are a few jerks, to put it politely. I submit to you that it is very difficult to hear all that negativity (to say nothing of the stupidity) and not have it affect you.
Secondly, techs get the same paycheck regardless of how many problems they fix or don’t fix. If a tech puts in extra effort its probably because you’re being nice, or at least civil, but there are usually no consequences for not being able to fix a problem. As much as I hate to admit, there are some problems that we can’t fix.
Finally, there is the repetition of hearing the same cries/pleads/screams for help day after day after day. When you hear every customer tell you their problem is a matter of life and death the phrase becomes meaningless. There is a saying that sums this attitude up best: “A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” The constant exaggerating by customers only aggravates us further; are we supposed to believe that a customer just sat behind a computer for three hours on a stuck install?
Don’t confuse indifference for laziness, though: Those jaded-don’t-give-a-crap support people are still going to do their jobs, but they are going to do it without a single shred of touchy-feely-ness. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I stopped caring, but I haven’t cared about my customer’s problems for quite some time, now. Unfortunately the lack of empathy and concern can be heard loud in clear in my ‘phone voice’ at work, and I’ve been called out on it on occasion.
But just like I do when I hear the cry of ‘it has to be done now’ or ‘it was working yesterday’ or ‘its your company’s fault.’ I sigh, fix their problem or tell them it can’t be fixed, and move on to the next person. Its just water off an apathetic duck’s back.