Posts by: Steve Manke

Apple CarPlay Audiobook Workaround

CarPlayApple’s CarPlay solution does fantastic things for the daily commute by bringing the iOS experience to the dashboard.  Many car manufacturers have already signed up to bring CarPlay support to their lines in the near future.  Some have already integrated CarPlay into existing models.  It’s a technology to consider if you’re in the market for a new car.  But many will be interested in adding CarPlay to their existing ride by way of a third part, or aftermarket, headunit.  Numerous aftermarket stereo manufactures have already released systems that support CarPlay.  The most recent hardware supports CarPlay as well as Google’s alternative: Android Auto.

In an effort to cope with an 2 hour+ commute each day, I added a Pioneer AVH-4100NEX to my 2007 Trailblazer.  An impressive aftermarket car stereo, it has a fast, responsive touch screen and excellent CarPlay support.  Siri can be activated with a long press of a button on the bezel of the headunit.  As is the case with all of the current Pioneer models, the iPhone must be attached to the headunit via a cable in order for CarPlay to work.  Apple has added Wireless CarPlay to recent versions of the iOS but Pioneer models such as mine lack the wi-fi capabilities required to leverage the wire-free version of CarPlay.  So, in the case of my AVH-4100NEX, the USB cable is my friend.
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The Mountain by David Golemon

The MountainThis is book #10 in the series and a truly outstanding release. Over the course of the first 9 books, David Golemon created characters his readers feel at home with. With the Mountain, he mixes things up in new and interesting ways. Much of the book takes place in the past—pre-Event Group. Historic characters, during the time of the American Civil War, are explored for much of the book. It gives Golemon a chance to introduce some powerful and dynamic new characters while teaching readers things we never knew about the present day Event Group. The experience is well conceived, skillfully executed, and results in an exceptional tenth book in the series.
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The Legend of the Winterking: The Crown of Nandur by J. Kent Holloway

winter_king_1I’ve always believed that it’s the characters who make any book great.  Love them or hate them (you can do both), if the reader feels something for the characters, you have the makings of something special.  In fact, this magical world has a great deal of character of its own.   The Legend of the WinterKing is an epic fantasy tale with captivating heroes and foes pushed into a thrilling and mysterious adventure. The story uses traditional elements like pixies, ogres, trolls, and elves to create a rich, non-traditional and unique realm with countless secrets.  The mystery of the Great Divide and separation of worlds is a fantastic concept.  And the way we, as readers, learn of the characters and explore the world keeps the pages turning well into the night.
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An Example of What’s Wrong with Reporting Today

A post on The Verge today had me in a tizzy.  I continue to rant against this kind of reporting. Why even post a story like this? Take a look at this excerpt:

“US authorities also discovered location data contradicting the suspect’s testimony in regards to his location during the time of the incident. Additionally, it was determined that Bravo used his phone’s flash light nine times. The Independent cites police as saying Bravo used the function while attempting to conceal the deceased’s body.”

A phone’s location data should be easy to recover. That seems logical. But if authorities were able to tell when and where he was when he activated the phones flashlight, I think we need to have a serious talk about what kind of data the phone is logging. But the story doesn’t cover that obvious point! It just slaps us in the face with that profound fact and then continues to tease the fact that someone was apparently foolish enough to ask Siri how to hide the body of the person he had killed.
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Sin by J.M. LeDuc

Sin by JM LeDucIt’s hard to take a topic like human trafficking a write a compelling thriller that doesn’t leave the reader feeling gutted and angry at the word.  It’s too sensitive of a topic, and one that cuts us to the bone.  That’s why I felt some trepidation when I thought about reading Sin by J.M. LeDuc.  I thought I knew what I was in for and I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready to walk down this particular avenue.  Still, reviews of this book had been stellar and if the buzz was any indication, this was a book that I simply had to read.

By the end of the first chapter, I was digging the book.  The by end of the second chapter, I didn’t even realize that I was already starting the third.  Things never slowed down from there.  Not only did I love this book, I drank it in.  There was a solid mystery to keep things moving, and there was enough action and suspense to satisfy fans of that genre as well.  But the heart and soul of this book is, as it should be, its main character: Sinclair O’Malley.  That’s alright, everyone just calls her Sin for short.

Sin is a powerful female protagonist who’s just dripping with character.  She’s written with a sharp wit, a strong moral campus, and a propensity for harsh language.  Add that up and you’ve got yourself a commanding female lead character that will leave you wanting more.
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Consumer Alert: These Scammers Don’t Work for Comcast

scam_shield_iconI received a call last week that was just too nasty not to share (listen to the recorded call below).  A man named Dean claimed to be calling from Comcast, and he wanted to offer me a special deal on an upgrade to my broadband internet service.  When he explained the particulars of the deal, it became instantly apparent that the deal was entirely too good to be true.  First of all, I was being offered a major increase in both my downstream (50Mb/s) and upstream (19.3Mb/s) bandwidth.  And this would cost only $25 per month for the next two years.  The only requirement from me was that I pay the first year of service in advance: 12 months@$25=$300.  If I did that, I would be guaranteed the $25 per month price for the next 2 years, and they would even give me a free Kindle Fire HD as part of the promotion.  Comcast had partnered with Amazon for the promotion, I was told.

Sound too good to be true?  You better believe it!  So when good old Dean told me about this amazing offer, I explained that I was in the middle of a meeting and asked him to call me back the following day.  It gave me time to get some recording software installed on my phone.  I wanted to properly document this “special offer.”  Dean dropped the ball and didn’t call me back the next day, but he did call me the day after.  And I recorded all of the details in their fraudulent glory.
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Haywire by Justin R. Macumber

9780983765585_p0_v2_s260x420Like science fiction?  Are you a fan of old school action/adventure stories?  If this is you, Haywire is a must-read book.  This story is science for the sake of fiction, and that’s what makes it shine.  It’s a fast paced novel that doesn’t get bogged down in the technical aspects of space travel or try to sell you on the plausibility of technology that exists in this futuristic look at our world.  The story doesn’t spend time explaining the politics of the future or try to tell a less that subtle cautionary tale of what’s to come.  Haywire is, from page one, a quick moving story about interesting characters.  Space is the setting for this book.  There’s no dull, heavy handed lesson in science or technology to slow the pace of the story.  If you’re looking for an in-depth explanation of space travel, or how wormholes helped humanity reach out into the stars, you won’t find it here.  That’s not what this book is about.  It’s far more grounded in the lives of the characters, and that’s what I loved about it.

When an alien race attempted to invade our solar system, the people of Earth created an army super soldiers who were powerful enough to drive them back to where they came from.  What happened after that is entirely unknown.  100 years passed and no one on Earth knows what became of the aliens or Earth’s super soldiers.  At least, until one of those soldiers returns home.  She is sick with an alien infection, and she is the only one with a chance of stoping the next great threat to Earth.
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Xom-B by Jeremy Robinson

xom-b-by-jeremy-robinson-smallThis is, by far, one of the more unique genre fiction novels that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  And while the title implies a zombie based plot, the book is more distinctively science fiction than it is horror.  Set in the not distant enough future, this is at its core a cautionary tale— an all too plausible, “what if” scenario that at first seems somewhat farfetched.  But by the end of the book, odds are that you’ll find yourself no longer considering the events of this book as implausible as they might have first seemed.

First and foremost, Xom-B is the tale of one man’s wide-eyed and innocent discovery.  It’s told from the first person-present perspective.  While at first this point of view was a little jarring and unfamiliar to me, it soon became more comfortable.  I have no doubt that it was the right perspective from which to tell this particular tale.  So much of what happens is made much more effective by the real-time first person point of view, and I think my initial discomfort from the perspective came simply from the fact that so few books utilize this perspective.
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Influx by Daniel Suarez

influx_iconInflux, the latest novel from Daniel Suarez is certain to be another smash hit.  Daniel’s first book, Daemon was a bestseller and foretold technologies that are only currently seeing the light of day.  Modern tech like Goole’s still-in-production Google Glass, and lesser altruistic advents such as the recently dismantled Silk Road.  Part two of Daemon was titled Freedom™, and was another massive success.  This was followed by Kill Decision which proved to be only moments ahead of its time since it dealt with drone warfare and posed a question that is becoming crucial at this very point in time: should automated systems or artificial intelligence be allowed to make critical life and death decisions?

Book number four from Mr. Suarez, Influx, deals with a fictional government agency who’s mandate is to police leaps in technology that are deemed disruptive.  The BTC, or Bureau of Technology Control, is proactive in its efforts, striking at scientist and innovators before they can bring key innovations to market— innovations that are certain to change the world in some profound way.  When such a technology comes to the attention of the BTC, the innovator behind the discovery is offered membership into the unique and secret organization.  But only if he or she agrees to keep their discovery from the world and continues development while working for the BTC.  But what happens when someone refuses?
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The Best Way to Blanket a Home in Wi-Fi

wireless_iconA recent Facebook post started me thinking that this was a subject worth covering.  Here’s the original question:

JR: Computer people, what is the absolute, most amazing and powerful wi-fi extender I can get? My current extender is slow and totally unreliable, needing to be reset frequently. I’ve read reviews online, but can’t seem to come up with an obvious choice.

It’s a great question with a few possible answers.  First, let’s make some assumptions about the environment.  Like most folks in this situation, I’m betting that this is a larger house with the router located at one end and that the wi-fi reception on the opposite end is the real problem.  Upstairs and downstairs variations are likely not the issue.  There could be obstructions in the middle of the house the interfere with the signal.  These are typically kitchen related.  The refrigerator and stove can really tank a wi-fi signal.

So what’s the best way to extend the range of the wi-fi router?  There are extenders, but as the question suggests, your mileage may vary.  What are the alternatives?

Option 1: Replace the Router
Replacing the main wireless router with an 802.11n or an 802.11ac version could be the ticket.  If the original router was 802.11a, 802.11b, or 802.11g, then these newer versions offer greater ranger in most situations.  But there’s a catch.  To take full advantage of that greater range, the wireless adapter that’s part of your computer should also be 802.11n or 802.11ac.  If it’s not, you’re not going to get the full range extension.  And upgrading the hardware at the computer could be impractical (adding a card of some kind) or impossible (some laptops, and all tablets).  At some point, the price becomes an issue and option 1 might not be the best route if you’re dealing with legacy hardware.

Also keep in mind that 802.11n and 802.11ac routers drop in performance to match the requirements of the oldest connecting device.  This means that, if you have an old device (only 802.11b 22Mb), your super fast 100+Mb wi-fi will down-step the performance of the entire network to accommodate that old device.  Some of the latest hardware circumvents this issue by putting the older hardware on a different frequency, but in far too many cases, having an old device on a modern network will cause the entire network to slow down.  Worse yet, depending on the router, it might also limit the range of your wi-fi network as it works to accommodate those older specifications.  Few people see that coming.  It’s difficult to anticipate and even more difficult to diagnose, so be aware.
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