postheadericon Masterkey: Your Mobile Phone

No other device in the history of technology shows us how much humans love gadgets and wish them small enough to fit into our purses and pockets. The smartphone of today is the perfect example of how we make technology our very own: engraved, named and otherwise covered in glitter and bobbles of our own choosing.

In doing so, we have created new industries and built businesses so large that they rival any in human history. For example, Apple (capitalizing on merging a music player with a cell phone) is now charted on the same pie with the Dutch East India Company, Saudi Aramco, and Standard Oil as being histories largest moneymaking organizations.

A short walk down memory lane illustrates just how, as a species with the power of speech and the use of an opposable thumb, we have come from communicating across distance using smoke signals, telegraph, and vacuum tubes to what would look like black magic to anyone born before 1900 AD.

The magic of the mobile began before World War II, with wireless radiotelephony connecting passengers bouncing on the high seas with their loved ones on land. The cost of wireless phone call then: a mere $100 USD per minute in today's dollars. In 1946, mobile telephony made debuts in automobiles, with devices that weighed more than the average teenager, at 80 pounds or more.

These bulky (to say the least) devices had other limitations; as only 3 customers in any given city could use this pubescent cellular system at a time, and folks in the olden days waited 30 minutes or more to place a single cellular call. But of course, the innate human desire to miniaturize and improve would prevail, and by the 1970's or so researchers had figured out how to create switching networks for mobile devices using cell towers that soon blanketed the landscape of all metropolitan centers around the globe.

The first true handheld consumer cell phone wasn't put into production until 1983; the DynaTAC 8000X weighed almost 2 pounds and cost about $4,000 USD – dubbed "The Brick" and was just as portable as one. This mobile took over 10 hours to charge and had only 30 minutes of talk time. Clearly our urge to personalize and miniaturize could not stop here.

This primitive mobile could only do one thing - make calls while on the go – which was clearly not enough for those fascinated with the thought of communicating with anyone, anywhere. In comparison, the 1983 $4000 "Brick" does pretty much what the 2012 Samsung Guru E1081T does, but this newer mobile phone costs just a few thousand rupees and weighs in at 700 grams. The Guru also plays a few rudimentary games, takes photos, and sports a 128x128 pixel color screen to boot.

And here is where the true magic of this evolution unfolds, not in making a mobile communication device that is small and cheap, but in making one that does literally everything one would desire a pocket device to do.

Only our imagination is the limit for features and functions of the current-day mobile. For the past decade or so, our phones have incrementally begun to include features such as time displayed in all world time zones to the ability to speak the time to us. Some microprocessors in today's mobile phones rival the ones installed in laptops and even desktop computers, so of course they can now do whatever those devices do, only they fit in our pocket - plus make the occasional call to family, friends and coworkers.

This new type of mobile, dubbed the smartphone, is the culmination of all our desires – we want it all – the very height of all gizmo technologies combined into one device that fits in the palm of our hand. Telephony, photography, videography, audiology, entertainment and advanced computation synthesized into a single unit that weighs little more than a juicebox full of Orangina, and costing a little more than a fancy toaster. Well, just a bit more.

My latest "precious" cost less than Nrs. 60000, and is a prime example of this pinnacle of communication perfection so desired by what seems to be everyone on the planet. The Galaxy Note II, like the latest iPhone from Apple, takes better pictures than most inexpensive digital cameras on the market, can record HD video clips and instantly post them on Facebook, and can answer any question asked of it at the tap of an icon. If I attach a keyboard, mouse and HD display, I instantly have a personal computer. If I detach those gizmos and tap another icon, I have an odometer that records my morning workout. If I tap another icon, I have a portable music player with access to the entire world of audio recordings as offered by iTunes (recordings that soon will number in billions instead of millions). Another tap, and I am tapped into any movie or TV show imaginable, while on the go or sitting in my living room.

My phone has become a part of me, in the most personal of terms. Within lies my net worth, and allows me to purchase products by tapping a retail register while out shopping. Or I can tap my wife's phone, and share with her all things captured digitally. In this sense, our phones are becoming extensions of ourselves, containing all the personal bits of us shared over vast social networks and through multitudes of electronic gateways – a far cry from the very first mobile, that DynaTAC 8000X.

So where is all this going from here, we must ask. What further developments will shape the current smartphone into what it's to become after just a few more years of technological magic?

I asked this of my favorite retailer of gadgets and gizmos, Anil Maharjan, the Senior Sales Executive of the WORLDLINK STORE in Jawalakhel, who reports that the hottest selling smartphone there is the Galaxy S III and Note II:

"I would like to see solar smartphones that charge by sunlight, and that have even tougher glass and waterproof components, and that have even better audio systems built-in," says Anil.

I agree, as Anil is one smart dude when it comes to phones, and in selling phones. Today's personal wonders are not very durable (thousands are ruined in toilets each year) and there is nothing worse than depending on a device, and then noting that the battery is long dead. Solar power and longer-lasting batteries will fix that, but what about this for an evolutionary idea: the complete devolution of the device!

Yes, there are many researchers that think that the days of the mobile device (as we know it) are numbered, and this pinnacle of communication power is about to explode and fragment into even smaller pieces. Basic chaos theory I suppose, or like with every sun, there is a supernova.

In the laboratory, designers are already prototyping this devolution of the smartphone by separating features and functions and placing them into surprising places, like watches, eyewear and fabrics. Thus taking the personalization and miniaturization of the current smartphone, and weaving that power of smartphone even closer to our skins...perhaps even under our skin!

Apple is expected to transmute the iPhone into a wristwatch, Samsung is experimenting with flexible materials that will make communicating with your shirt sleeve possible, and Google already has eyeglasses that do and show all. It's anyone's guess how this will shakeout, but one thing is certain: the mobile phone idea that first started out weighing more than your teenager and costing more than your car, will soon become feather light and as affordable as a new pair of shoes.


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postheadericon The Android Invasion, Here and Abroad




In the universe of mobile phone operating systems, it's been a little over 5 years since the Android invasion began. For those who have been hiding under a rock since the assault began, Android is what runs most modern smart phones on the planet today, all compliments to Google Inc. 

Close to a half-billion Android phones will be sold this year, and that number has been increasing over all others each and every year since Google first released Android into the wild during 2008.


In today's smart phone universe, Android rules the world market share at 75%. By comparison, Apple's iPhone currently has only a 15% share, with all other phone operating systems (for example, Windows 7/8 phones) fighting for what's left – a meager 10%.

For today's consumer, that means that the next phone you buy will probably be running some version of Android, and that phone will do far more than just make calls, surf the web and display the weather report.

Google's first Android phone sold (code-named Cupcake) did little more than that, but today's incarnation coded Jelly Bean, will rock your socks off in innumerable features and function. For example, I just picked up a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (the new phablet-style phone) but I don't use it to make calls; instead I bought this device to put a needed PC in the living room. That's right, by simply docking this amazing device to a HD monitor with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, I now use my "phone" to occasionally call the wife, but more often than not, to run multiple web browser windows, handle my email and other messages, edit photos and documents, play games, and in general, compute what needs computing.

A video of how this can be whacked together is here: http://youtu.be/9nh2NSLgaII, and this setup is highly recommended for anyone looking for a mini PC replacement on the cheap.

But today's Droids (running multi-core processors and sporting multi-megapixel cameras front and rear) are more often seen functioning as phones and tablets, outdoors and on the move. For example, Sushila Rai of Kathmandu says this of her new Samsung Galaxy S3, bought locally at the World Link branded shop in Jawalakhel:

"This phone is absolutely amazing, I can log into my office's Lotus Notes to read my mail, and do something fun like watch YouTube or play a game, even if I am in a taxi and on the way to work."

Sushila is also an iPhone user, but now prefers the Samsung look and light feel over the iPhone, as well as the super smooth operation. "Not a single problem," says Sushila.

And as sales patterns here in the Valley show, she is not alone when choosing an Android phone over an Apple one, with iPhones selling for about Nrs. 15,000 or more above an equally outfitted Samsung – and with the new iPhone 5 selling for a whopping Nrs. 75,000 plus! In fact, the penetration of Android across the price spectrum of phones has proved to be it's key selling point in Nepal, as Android phones can be found for as little as Nrs. 15,000 or so. PriceNepal.com shows decent smart phones, like the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10, selling for just that.

This means that as well as well-off corporate execs, students are also being indoctrinated into the Android way of life, and just like the rest of the planet, Nepal is well on it's way to becoming another Android nation. But are all Droids the same, just as all iPhones basically are? Not really, and this is where the Android ecosystem breaks down: last year's models of HTC or Sony Ericsson phones may not be running the latest and greatest from Google - Android 4.2 - and they may never. Even with the newest phones on the Nepali market (the Samsung Galaxy line), you may have to wait months for updates, which come from Samsung and not Google.

This release paradigm is akin to Microsoft's strategy of yore, when everybody and their brother manufactured PCs with the operating systems coming tweaked by each manufacturer of the hardware, and not from Microsoft itself. In the Android universe, things operate likewise, with different flavors of Android running on many models of phones sold by all of the top phone and tablet manufacturers.

But clearly delineating itself from the Apple iPhone, most models of Android phones can be rooted and tweaked back to the way you would like them to be: running the latest and greatest - plus extras. This ability to customize your phone without voiding the warranty is what makes the Android OS a favorite amongst app developers and phone hobbyists alike. That's in stark contrast to Apple's iOS6, which is a closed ecosystem and very difficult to customize.

And just as within the PC world, the downside of mobile computing within an open system vs. a closed system is simple: security. While Android is clearly rocketing past even Apple's iOS6, the one "gotcha" here is that ever-persistent presence of malware. Nasty invaders from hacker space can more easily make it's way onto your Android device than onto an Apple one, and so says Anti-virus giant Symantec, "Google does not appear to perform a rigorous security analysis on some of its marketplace (Google Play) apps."

So, word to the wise: be careful with what you play with on Google Play, and note that after rooting your Android phone, it may be open to all invaders - malicious or otherwise.

Which One To Get...

While Nepal retailers offer limited stock amongst the top selling Android phones of 2012, here is what I would look for:

Samsung Galaxy S3 I know this phone intimately, as my wife and I both share this one to some extent. Selling in the low 60's around the Valley, this Android 4.1 phone sports the best AMOLED screen on the market, has a great camera, and is expandable in storage to a whopping 64GB using it's extra mini SD slot. The S3 is the top seller in 2012, as well as a sure winner for anyone needing a really (really) smart phone. Sells in the low 60s' all around town.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 This phone is basically an updated S3, but with a bigger screen (5.5 vs. 4.8 inch) and has a pen to boot. I use mine more as a tablet than a phone, and those with smaller hands will want a Bluetooth headset to make calls. Buyers note: The Note 3 due out soon is rumored to have two SIM slots and a better screen. The Note 2 currently sells around town in the high 60s'.

Sony Xperia S After Sony ditched Ericsson, things only got better, and the new Sony Xperia uses the same engine that drives Bravia TVs, and this phone plays media just as well, in blazing speed. Caveat: just as in the olden days, Sony is slow to update software, and the latest version of Android will be slow to get. Sells in the high 30s' or low 40s' around town, and my best buddy in KTM swears by these new Sonys. 


Google Nexus 4 This pure Google phone released just this year shakes things up price & feature wise, and is probably the best value on the market today. Great hardware (from LG) and the latest Android version is installed direct from Google. While not readily available in Nepal, this top model sells in America for half the price of an iPhone. Expect to pay in the Nrs. range of 35K - 45K if you can find here. 



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postheadericon Smack Down: Win8 vs. Mountain Lion


For those of you that follow the battle between the reigning champion of the PC World, Microsoft, and the forever contender for that title, Apple - then this Smackdown is for you. These two mega stars have been having at it for decades, and in all the many Operating System bouts they have fought – with me watching ringside and home and in the office, I've always favored the David of this Goliath matchup.     

You see, I've been using both normal PCs and Apple computers for decades, and have witnessed the winners and losers firsthand and in my face. For example, clear losers every time are any "point O" release of Mac cats: Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, etc.. For Microsoft, an example of a bloody face-in-the-mat knockdown was Windows Vista.

The record shows, however, that after the Microsoft Vista loss, the folks in Redmond replaced Vista quickly with Windows 7. Windows 7 is a winner for any heavyweight title, and is ruling over both home and office today. But during this reign, for those purchasing new sleek shiny Apple machines, wild cats have ruled over the Mac landscape (Lions and Leopards).

Of this writing, there are two new contestants  in the ring: Windows 8 and Mac OSX 10.8, otherwise known as Mountain Lion. These two new operating systems are different characters in many ways, yet both operate dutifully and well. 

The new Windows 8 interface is a beauty. And as you have probably already heard, you can walk up and "swipe it" with a touch-enabled display. And what you wind up pinching and sliding and poking looks very colorful, bright, and very smartphone-like – only bigger! Finally, a fresh, new and innovative interface from the Goliath of the industry. Even Microsoft's new tablet, the Surface, uses a scaled down version of Windows 8 to get you were want to go. 

In comparison, Apple's new Mountain Lion is a mere upgrade from the previous Mac OS, plain ol' Lion. The ML interface here is even more colorless than it was before, and is just an inner and indiscreet aluminum frame on your otherwise beautiful Apple world. Elegant, Steve Job's-like, but after so many years of personal use, down-right boring! And as predicted by the experts – buggy - in this early stage of the new release.

Ira Karki of Bagdol, a student who just got a new HP laptop running Win8 in Bangkok, has this to say about her new machine: "This laptop is fantastic, easy to use, and only cost me 33,000 NRs."

Even for me, the clear winner is Windows 8 - this time around. Oh how the tables have turned, since it's been a long time since I've seen something come out of Microsoft that actually shocked me, in a good way. Win8 is just as socially connective as your smartphone, and it's a great OS for kids, students, and anyone using the Internet to consume content like peanuts and popcorn. In an additional twist, Apple's Mountain Lion is more business like... and very formal, when compared to the new Windows. It wasn't like that in the olden days, but that's a grumpy old man story. Instead of listening to that, look to the corners for a blow-by-blow of the latest OS war.

Windows 8 Clearly Wins With New Moves
Touchscreen users will be delighted, assuming of course one pairs up Windows 8 with a touchscreen machine like any of Dell's new LED screens, laptops, and All-in-ones. New machines like the Inspiron One 23 and 27 have large touchscreens that are both fun and practical to use. I'm sure both kids and serious professionals alike will be glad they can now move things around on their screen - using fingers or toes – you choose. 

Too Close to Call on Technicalities
The technical winner here is not so clear, as both systems are rock solid and at worst, have some annoying early-release bugs. On one hand, the genetic differences between Mountain Lion and the previous release are tiny, whereas the difference between Windows 7 and Windows 8 is huge in comparison, and may cause a bit of confusion (or consternation) for those die-hard window's users out there. Both new OS's have annoying little bugs, but those are expected to be exterminated later on.

Judges Choice Award
If there was such a thing in my virtual world, I would give an award to Microsoft for finally doing something original for PC users, just as Google has done for phone users. It's high time that these Goliaths (and the David's too) of the industry give the people what they want: something fun, bright, and full of new stuff to play around with. Yet at the same time, work fast and efficient, especially when using the OS to get a job done. But here is my secret: when it comes time for me to work, I always turn to my trusty Apple iMac (circa 2008) and run Mountain Lion - I just wish now that I could fold it flat and use in a Windows 8 way. But if I decide to buy that Dell Inspiron, I could... and I just might.


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postheadericon A Sony PlayStation 3 Review - Years Late


I know, you are probably thinking, "Why is he reviewing a gizmo now that first appeared in 2005?" Well, even though the Sony PS3 is almost technically an antique on today's gadget timelines, I found the one I just bought last week down on Durbar Marg an amazing device – even if one near destroyed by it's maker – just as Dr. Frankenstein did to his ever-popular monster.

When this super gaming console first debuted in May '05, it was ahead of its time by sporting a Blue-Ray DVD drive, WiFi, two HDMI ports, three Ethernet ports, and six USB ports. Although the max hard drive was a paltry 60 GB (by today's standards), this console was a pretty good deal at $600 USD. However, by the time of the official release in 2006, the PS3 had been slimmed down considerably (some models loosing WiFi, and all shipped with less ports).

Sony, in traditional schizophrenic style, went on to produce several generations with varied specs, but the console was/is widely & wildly popular with gamers, selling over ½ million units in the first two days of USA sales. World-wide, folks lined up outside of retail shops and like an Apple release gone horribly wrong, and there were dozens of reports of robberies and fights between consumers all jostling to be the first to own one.

Since 2006 or so, it's estimated that over 45 million units have been sold, and revenues for PS3 games and accessories has always shot through the roof each and every holiday season since – in short, the PS3 has been, and continues to be a tremendous cash cow, even as the impending release of the PS4 looms in the near future.

I would have waited for the PS4, but my Nepali nephew Anson came from the UK to visit this month, and I just had to have something for an eight-year old to do - besides taking my dog for a walk – which to be honest, even bores me at times. So we plunked down about Nrs. 50,000 for a 160GB Slim, with all kinds of controllers and games. It seemed outrageously overpriced to me, but the kid had to have something.

What I liked about the system is the fine compatibility with all the other Sony products that I own, and it's relatively easy setup. What I don't like about the system is how Sony took a fine piece of technology, and locked it down tighter than the top of a tuned madal. Come on now, do I really have to "jailbreak" another device to play around with the innards, and install custom apps and firmware and whatnot ?!? I felt I was monkeying with my iPhone again. You see, I had hoped to install a Linux distro on the device after my nephew left, and also to play games at Nrs. 50 a pop instead of the market price of Nrs. 5,000 – which is just insane anyway.

But no, Sony has made sure you can't do any of the cool things a hobbyist used to do with a computer in the olden days of Commodore and Atari consoles (you can tell how old I am by that statement). It seems Sony has followed Apple's lead, and your purchase is nothing more than a portal to the Sony PlayStation Store – which by the way, despite all the bad press a few years back of getting hacked, is actually decent enough. There you can find games in the Nrs. 1500 range, if you have a decent Internet connection and an international credit card.

But I was really looking forward to tinkering, as most video games pretty much bore me to tears... however, I do recommend any of the FIFA or PES Soccer games, as they are difficult to master and provide hours of entertainment just learning how to dribble the ball. But for Nrs. 5000+, I would expect that I could learn to play the game for real, and go beat the boys outside by the Zoo!

Anyway, it's always nice to see some bit of technology that can stand to the test of time – 7 years now – and still be relevant in the real world. If I had bought this device back in 2009 (when my model first came out), I would be happier than I am today with the purchase because of the recent Sony lockdown, but I am still happy regardless – and my nephew sure is – he just loves Lego Batman 2!

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postheadericon R.I.P. Flash for Android


This week Adobe Corp officially laid to rest one of it's elderly technologies that has grown long in the tooth over the years and is now finally being retired, at least on Android devices. Adobe announced that Flash will no longer be supported on Android devices newer than 4.0. That means that the next generation of mobile devices that will have "Jellybean" - won't have Flash.

Some of you may be wondering, "What is Flash, and will I even miss it?"

For those of you who play games on the web, or visit rich multimedia websites like wechoosethemoon.org or moodstream.gettyimages.com, you were using pages developed on the Flash platform. But for most all of us, we have been using bits of Flash on websites for years (animated buttons & banners, videos in the .swf format, and other eye-poppers on web pages for example) and it's been ubiquitous to all but the geekiest of us.

Personally, years ago I used Adobe's Flash editing suite to create museum walkthroughs and other engaging sites where multimedia was needed along with a way to pull in data from different sources and display all of that (to include audio) onto a single browser screen. Those sites were fun to develop, but a bear for users to view unless they had a super-high speed Internet connection, as they do in America.

Even large familiar sites like YouTube and Facebook's Zynga gaming pages were using Flash to deliver videos with overlays and lot's of interactivity. But over the past year or so, developers have been hard at work porting all their Flash bits over to the new kid on the block, HTML5. For example, when you upload a video today to YouTube, it is no longer converted into a Flash movie, but instead into a HTML5 wrapper that your newer browser will understand. And back about a year ago, Zynga purchased the German game engine developer Dextrose AG, in order to get in-house help for porting popular games like Cityville into HTML5.

Steve Jobs rightly predicted Flash's demise years ago, and refused to allow the Flash player to be used on Apple's mobile devices going back as far as the iPad 1. He caught a lot of flak for that decision then, but now in hindsight, it appears to have been the right one. His major objection to the Flash platform was that it was closed (owned by Adobe) and was unreliable, a poor performer, and a security threat. In addition, it was a battery killer for any mobile device and not "touch friendly," as for most Flash applications, you need a mouse to make it go.

And now it seems that Flash's creator Adobe agrees...but just because Adobe has decommissioned Flash for the Android market, that does not necessarily mean that your Flash player on your PC or Mac is now dead in the water – but it's days are certainly numbered.

For common folk, this should not be an issue, but a blessing, as soon you won't have to worry if that "Update Flash Player?" message on your computer is a virus or not (google Flashback for info on that) and getting "missing" Flash Player errors in your browser is soon to be a thing of the past. But for developers of websites, this is a big deal. It means retooling back at the office, and a bit of retraining as well.

Web developers are going to want to look at Adobe's own Edge for creating Flash-like content, as well as Hippo Animator and Hype (for Mac developers). These tools provide a GUI that will help you do what you used to do in Flash, in HTML5 clean code. Other tools of note are initializr.com, which says it will get you going on a HTML5 project in just 15 seconds, and of course the official website for the HTML5 standard at html5.org. Another cool page for those starting out is switchtohtml5.com, which will take your HTML4 coding and create a new framework for you to get started with, based on your old pages.

So what began as FutureSplash back in 1995, 17 years later we can finally put Flash to rest, and move on to something more lightweight and easier for all to experience.

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postheadericon Musical Tech Talk


Like the game of musical chairs I played as a kid, music technology is constantly shifting and vying for the ultimate throne to rest upon. Some argue that Apple's iTunes has already taken that seat, and will be tough to turn out as the reigning king. And with over 400 million plus active iTunes accounts tied to credit cards, it's hard to come up with who could possibly succeed.

But I am guessing that most of my dear readers don't have an iTunes account, let alone an international credit card enabling them to buy just about any song online, at about 88 rupees a pop. However, from what I've seen regarding the way you are all organizing your music collection, I want to tell that using iTunes, regardless of the type of plastic in your wallet, will be of great benefit to all involved.

You see, iTunes is more than an online store and super cash cow for Apple; it's also a media library that you can use to organize your growing collections of music, movies, and television shows. If you already have an iPod or iPhone, you are already using, or should certainly be...

To get iTunes, it's a free download from the Apple website, and comes in Windows and Mac versions (www.apple.com/itunes/), so download and install that. If you already have a version on your computer, make sure it's the latest - Software Update is your friend here. Now, from what I see from my Nepali friends is that they have .mp3 or other media files scattered to the 4 winds on their drives, and iTunes will fix that for ya. Just make sure you go to Preferences/Advanced and tick "Keep iTunes Media folder organized" as well as "Copy files to iTunes media folder when adding to library". That way all your stuff is stored in one place (you can set that location while you are in Preferences ticking off all of the above). Make sure you remember to later delete the files that you imported into iTunes, as you no longer need.

Now, whatever file you drag into iTunes will get sorted and displayed; Artist & Album names, Genre, etc. and then you can add to that information in so many ways: automatically download lyrics and album art, for example.

Now most folks that come to me for software repairs or other advice, have an iPod packed full of stuff, but none of that is inside of iTunes. We won't go into how copies of stuff got onto the iPod in the first place, but keeping your only copy of all your stuff on one small device, is just ... well, silly. Eventually, something bad will happen to it. So you need to get all that stuff to your hard drive. One way to suck an Apple device dry is to use a utility like iRip 2.1 to transfer the contents of a device directly to iTunes.

Now that you have your massive collection safely inside iTunes, you can do lots with it, like sync just the stuff you want out to your devices: iPod, iPhone, iPad or any Android device. Yes, that's right, there are free (and paid) apps for that in the Android Store – doubleTwist and Sailing Media Sync to name a few. So now you have a completely catalogued and searchable/sortable collection of nice stuff, with an easy way to spread some of that stuff to all your portable thing-a-ma-bobs. Of course, you are now going to want to be extra careful with your stuff, so making sure you that you include the new iTunes folder in your periodic backups are very important.

Now, for those without an iTunes Store account tied to a credit card, there are some fun things to do outside of just organizing and syncing stuff. You can read reviews on the latest releases and see your favourite artist or show's iTunes Ranking, which is becoming ever more important within the entertainment industry. No more is it the Top Of The Pop Chart that's important, it's an artist's iTune ranking that really counts.

For those that do have a credit card that the iTunes Store will accept, so much more fun awaits... from buying music albums to your favourite season TV serial, in HD, and without any annoying adverts - the shopping is endless there. Other paid options include iMatch, a new feature that will cloud-source your entire media collection. That means that anything you can use to log into iTunes from (your pal's iPhone, your Dad's computer, your sister's iPad. cyber café, etc.) you will be able to play any song from your library there. iMatch costs $24 USD a year right now, but I am hoping that will drop, perhaps to "free," we'll have to see.

Well, if you have any questions about using iTunes, feel free to comment below and "May the Music Be With You."

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postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: Fourths Gone Bye


Having now spent over a decade of "Fourth of July" days in Nepal instead of in America, it's getting harder for me to remember just what goes on during this holiday back in the motherland. Of course, it's American Independence Day, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 - but for most Americans (as I recall) it's more about a day off work, beer and barbeques in the backyard with friends and family, and culminating into big bangs from a huge fireworks display.

But as a kid who grew up in the antique footsteps of the American Revolution, it was always just a bit more for me. After all, on the walk to school each day I passed a commemorative sign extolling the fact that "George Washington Slept Here" and I was but just a few dozen kilometers from some of the most famous of revolutionary battlefields: Fort Ticonderoga, White Plains, Trenton, Saratoga, etc.

In fact, the very primary school where I learned to read and write was named after a soldier and one of the lesser known American "founding fathers," Gov. George Clinton. The halls were lined with busts of revolutionary generals and battle scenes along the Hudson River, which was always in view from the village that I grew up in. I also remember the Gadsden flag hanging in my 6th grade home room (coiled rattlesnake labeled Don't Tread On Me) and the Ben Franklin cartoon snake "Join, or Die" was fascinating to me as well, being a lad with lots of captured snakes in aquariums whilst growing up.

But the essence of this environment must have really sunk into my young growing bones, as I grew up despising the Brits on some level (How dare King George for treading on my forefathers) and always hated the idea of being taxed... for anything, including my very first paycheck working on a loading dock after school let out. I grew up believing in what Thomas Paine wrote in the "The Crisis",

"Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER" and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth."

That, and growing up in a neighborhood comprised of 50% Black Americans – all descendants of real slaves – instilled within the fiber of my being that tyranny, taxation without representation, and slavery of any sort was a huge no-no. Yet, just as David McCullough says of American life in his seminal work "1776":

"Bribery, favoritism, and corruption in a great variety of forms were rampant not only in politics, but in all levels of society."

I saw little change from that scenario in 1976, in the very spot where those battles against just that were fought, and apparently won.

In other words, I was highly disillusioned from the get-go, and after having spent an entire college semester studying Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States", my disillusionment only got worse.

So I guess it's no surprise that on my first July 4th in Boudha Nepal, the party that I hosted had a cake with not an American flag in frosting, but the Tibetan one, and inscribed with Happy Birthday HHTDL (& America, in small letters).

And on this 4th just past, a decade later, I did have the traditional hotdog and beer - but courtesy of Nina&Hagars with a Nepal Ice, and not Nathans & Coors – and while sitting on my small deck overlooking a small section of Dhobighat, I enjoyed my celebration of independence watching a few large cows grazing in front of a small cold store, where a simple man was squatting - repairing an umbrella - with chickens and mangy hounds at his feet while unshod baboos danced around a ball of string. And it was during this small celebration of Independence Day that I had a revelation, an epiphany of sorts...

No matter what flag we are under and no matter what century of our precious birth, we all seem to have the same struggle: the common struggle of wrestling free from those forces that bind us, in all cases whatsoever, in all ways possible - physically, mentally, economically and spiritually – and it is just these forces of social nature that we must oppose, diligently, or succumb to almost unnoticeably as we move through the remaining days of our lives.

-- END --

Writer's bio for this episode: Herojig is quirky kinda expat, now retired and living happily with Nepali family & dog, and who has high hopes for the liberation of all human beings, under all colors of flag.

Ps. This was the last Kuire Ko Kura published in the Republica.


read more "Kuire Ko Kura: Fourths Gone Bye"

postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: State of the Unions


It's no joke that the state of worker's trade unions around the globe is dire, and in many cases, labor unions are being dismantled or outright destroyed. This week's results from the recall election in Wisconsin USA, where Republican Governor Scott Walker's win to keep his seat, was just another nail in the coffin for a healthy & unionized workforce in America.

This blow to workers in Wisconsin, who now have a diminished membership and very few rights left (as far as collective bargaining and the right to strike goes), hit me hard, and on a personal level. You see, my very first job was a unionized one, working as an apprentice meat packer in a frozen food factory back in the early 70's. That's when unions still had teeth and were aggressively fighting for fair wages, better working conditions, and essential benefits for worker retirement and health. Jimmy Hoffa was still alive and kicking, and the number of unionized workers in America held at about 30% of the workforce (down from 35% in the 1950's). Today, that percentage is less than 12% across the board.

Now depending on your political stance, you may or may not agree that worker's unions are essential, or even relevant in today's modern age of global capitalism and world-wide market forces, which seek to squeeze every dollar of profit possible from any business venture, regardless of the toll taken on the worker. Fiscal conservatives in America have long ago decided that labor unions, hotbeds of left-leaning Democratic thinking & political funding, had to go. And now that Wisconsin has fallen – a testing ground for conservative thinking – the rest of the country is sure to follow. 

As a younger man in the workforce, I myself was not so naïve to think that belonging to my Local 101 was going to be an end-all to all my work-related problems. It was easy to see that the Meatpacker's Union that I belonged to was mobbed up and corrupt as a fake two-dollar bill. Union dues constituted a large chunk of my paycheck, and it was clear that workers were just pawns in a larger game of power and control over local and state politics, as well as fodder used when battling with business owners. But it was a choice of the times that was the lesser of two evils: to either have some say with employers, or to have no or little say when it came to getting your fair share of fruit from one's labor. 

But then I got a better job, one where the hacking of dead meat was not required, and I could go home every day with clean hands and not even a crinkle in my suit and tie. I had worked my way through college and joined IBM, where the cubicles were neat and tidy and you could work all day or night and hardly break a sweat. All the benefits were there (at some level), and today I now rest retired knowing that some pittance of a pension is coming my way each month. 

At least I got something...even if just a pittance.

It's clear to me (after the fact) that being unionized would have given my fellow IBM'ers and I a better deal in the end. But throughout the 80's and 90's, the logic went something like this: either work for a company or organization that allowed unions - and then trust in your union leaders to negotiate the best for you – or - work for a company that banned unionization in return for the promise that the company would take care of your needs. There was no middle ground, no other real alternative, you were either unionized or not.

And now, at least in America, the choice is "not" for 93% of private sector workers. The only folks still left unionized are government workers, where about 35% of those folks have some form of organized representation in the workplace, but with 65% without. Yet government employees have very limited collective bargaining rights, with right-to-strike banned in most cases, and influence on politicians is on the wane as membership drops to record lows. 

For Nepal, I think this trend in the state of the unions in America is foretelling, regardless of my limited experiences here: feeling the heat of many a burning tire in the street and reading the newspapers regarding the many labor battles with businesses, as well as following the campaign to ratify (in full) ILO Convention 87. Workers are still struggling here, all within the confines of awful choices and limited support from the government, and in the middle of a global economic meltdown. 

In short, the global floor of social protection (as described by the ITUC, which represents 175 million workers around the world) is disintegrating plank by plank. From the Eurozone to Kathmandu to Wisconsin, austerity measures now seem to outweigh the need to stimulate growth in employment. 

So I pose these questions dear reader: is there a better way... a rethink on the way we have chosen to organize as trade unions, or not? Are there really only two choices in this day and age of Internet access, iPads and smartphones? Shouldn't we - as a collective global citizenry - be thinking of remodeling the ways of business and employment? In other words, can't we come up with something better than the institutions we have now, and that have clearly failed us?

Isn't it time for a more global human (and humane) union movement? You tell me.

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postheadericon Tech Talk: Windows 8 Release Preview


The Windows 8 Release Preview was made available for all to download and install this week, and follows the first public preview dubbed The Windows 8 Consumer Preview from back in February of this year. If you didn't catch my review then, here's your chance to catch up on the latest developments in the WIN world...

There's a lot coming down the pike for Windows users, as Windows 8 represents much more than an update to Windows 7, Vista, and XP. Based on what I see in this week's preview, Microsoft is attempting to re-invent itself into a tablet-friendly OS provider, as well as raise Windows to be on par with it's biggest rival: Apple's OSX Lion / Mountain Lion. And from where I sit (in front of the new Metro UI), they might be able to pull that off...

I won't go into all the new features of WIN8 (there are tons), but here is my top-5 list that I think you might enjoy:

1. Windows to Go
Windows To Go is a new feature (advertised but not yet working) that allows you to boot windows from a USB stick or hard drive. The implication here is that you can take your windows system, complete with programs and data, and boot up and run things on any other windows machine. Or, you can have different Windows system configurations (say one for your kids, or work vs. play, etc.) and then can just boot the system you want to work with at the moment. Mac OSX has had this feature forever, and it's the one feature found on Apple computers that previous to Windows 8, was found no where else.

2. New Metro UI
Metro UI is the new interface that has been slapped over top of the Windows desktop that you have known and loved since the days of XP. Essentially, the Start Button has been replaced by a colourful Start Screen, which is "gesture-enabled" (meaning you can swipe and pinch things as you do on your smartphone) and has big blocks of content easily arranged and in your face. For example, a synopsis of your most recent Mail message is one block, the last Facebook update or Twitter is in another, your next appointment from your calendar is in another, and so on and so on – just swipe left forever. And if you have a touchscreen, like the one my pal Sandee from Logix sells on Butterfly Road, you can do all this exploring without a mouse or trackpad. Microsoft is banking on Metro UI to become addictive, so much so that you go and buy a Windows Tablet when they arrive later this year, which will also use the same interface.

3. Wrapped in Ribbons
For anyone who has used a newer version of MS Word or Excel, you either love or hate the ribbon metaphor found there. The "ribbon" is that part at the top of an app that makes finding features and functions faster (depending on your mind set: old school vs. adaptive). Well, that ribbon is now found in many other Windows apps like Explorer. I'm a fan, how about you?

4. One Sign-In Works Everywhere
Also new in WIN8 is the ability to use your Microsoft account (HotMail ID/Password combo, for example) to sign into any computer and get access to all of your content and settings. This is great for folks who have several computers at work or in the home, and want their cloud content (mail, bookmarks, music collections, Sky Drive files, Windows Store purchases, etc.) wherever they are, regardless of the machine they are using. 

5. Better Family Safety
A security centre has been created (dubbed Family Safety) that gives concerned parents more control over what their kids do on their computers, and Family Safety has options to monitor their activity as well as flat out control what they are doing (both internet connected and not). 

In addition to my top 5 (yours may differ), another feature worthy of note is the all new Windows Defender, which is now a real-time anti-virus program, so running out and buying a Norton or other Anti-Virus program right away is no longer required – one comes with!

To try out Windows 8 ahead of the planned final release late this year, download the preview @ windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/download, or if you are Mac user, fire up the latest release of Parallels Desktop for Mac, and that will help you install a virtual version of the Windows 8 Preview. That's what I did, and even as an Apple dude, I really like the improvements that I see so far. 

read more "Tech Talk: Windows 8 Release Preview"

postheadericon ECS: #TwitterMadeEasy!


Twitter is one of the most popular websites in the world, and is also the de facto social networking tool for messages under 140 characters, with over 140 million users tweeting at a rate of 350 million per day. Twitter is used to send out a Facebook-like status message (tweet), and to follow tweets sent from your favorite celeb, friend, retailer or news outlet.

Initially started in 2006 as a way to SMS a text message to a small group of friends, Twitter quickly expanded to allow users to send links, pics and videos out to the entire Internet population, to the point where any major event in the world was being tweeted at alarming rates. Take for example the 2010 World Cup, where fans tweeted at a rate of 3,000 tweets per second within the minute following Japan's win over Cameroon. This new social behavior now repeats everyday for every major newsworthy event on the planet – as well as not-so newsworthy events as well...

Pears Analytics (a US market research firm) reports that 40% of tweets are "pointless babble" while another 38% are conversational in nature, with other smaller percentages of the traffic being self-promotional (6%), pass-along info (9%), spam (4%), and hard news (4%). The impact of such chatter in our daily lives now ranges from annoying & irritating to inspiring & rallying, as seen in the recent Arab Spring Rebellions where millions were tweeted into action. 

But what if you are not already one of the millions being followed on Twitter, or following another? Here is a quick guide to getting started, and some tips on following your favorite celebs, writers, or organizations:

#Step 1 – Get A Twitter Account (https://twitter.com)
Setting up a twitter account is as easy as setting up any other website account, where all you need is a verifiable email address, and perhaps a profile pic and Facebook account for connecting the two together (i.e. your tweets can also be posted to your FB wall or FB pages). 

Once you have an account, the fun really begins, and you can either download the Twitter app for your smartphone, or begin tweeting / following from your computer's browser window – you choose, as the interfaces are pretty much the same. But remember, each tweet that you send out can only be 14 characters long.

#Step 2 – Learn The Basics
There are just a few new terms to learn to become prolific on Twitter, and the first one is the hashtag (#). Hashtags were originally used to make searching in the flood of tweets easier, for example entering #ladygaga in search would show you other tweets marked with that same hastag. Your own twitterings can then be added to the pool of Lady GaGa tweets by adding that same hashtag to your own tweet, for example "I like #ladygaga" Think of hashtags as keywords or tags, although the use of hastags is evolving in the twittersphere.  For example, the hastag #FF stands for Follow Friday, where every Friday, you can use this tag to recommend to all others who to follow, for example, "#FF I'm recommending @wangle because he posts really good blogs about Nepal".

Then there is the @Reply tag, that basically gives out your (or someone else's) Twitter screen name. For example, all of your tweets will be automatically prefaced by your profile name (first,last) @ screen name. Clicking on the @ symbol always shows you the profile of the tweeter, and depending on the app being used, you can quickly add them to your "following" list, send them a private message (DM) or even start a twitter chat with them. Another good-to-know twitter word is RT (retweet), which is like forwarding an email in the olden days – for example tweeting "RT @friendsname I like #ladygaga" tells your followers that your friend tweeted you and likes Lady GaGa as well. 

For more help with the basics, don't forget to visit the great tutorial site at https://support.twitter.com.

#Step 3 – Have Fun With The Rest...
Once you have an account and you are following and tweeting others, there is even more fun and usefulness of Twitter to be found. For example, now whenever you see a twitter "follow me" website icon, a simple click or tap will add that blogger or website to your "following" list. You will immediately start getting tweets from that person or place, and conversely, by clicking on a "tweet" icon you can instantly send out a link for the web page that you are reading to all of your followers. The link sent is called a short URL, as remember, you only have 140 characters to tweet with, so a long URL just won't do! If you need to create a short URL of your own, no problem, just navigate to www.tinyurl.com, which takes the longest of links and makes them 16 characters or less – perfect for tweeting!

read more "ECS: #TwitterMadeEasy!"

Who the heck is he?

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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