American Apparel: never ever give them email. Ever.

Posted by & filed under Technology.

So… a while ago I was stupid enough to order something from American Apparel online and used my real email — it was for a friend of mine, and ordering process was easy and experience was pleasant like a nice and sunny day. Fantastic.
Except afterwards I got an email with marketing blah. Oh well, I’ll just unsubscribe then. Click on Unsubscribe, yes, I do want to unsubscribe. Confirmation in my email box, reading “one last goodbye”. Ha-ha-ha, I was so naive.

And then a week later I got another email.
Um… didn’t I unsubscribe? And got that Last Goodbye? Fine, I’ll do it again. Unsubscribe link clicked, everything is done, confirmation with second “last goodbye” received. Well, this time it’s for real, right? Wroooong! Ten days later — new email. “Get up to 70% off top designers today!”

WTF? At this stage their online systems are already behaving like an obsessive girlfriend that you just can’t break up with. It got me very angry. So, I blasted an email to a few addresses from their web site. Michelle reassured me that everything was removed manually and she let their team know about that glich (well I thought it was a glitch, right? I was naive) and I won’t hear a peep from them again.

That was in February of this year. Guess what happened today? That’s right. It’s been a whole half a year and their systems decided that I was bored and certainly need to get Yet Another Advertising Email from them.

This time the email included this perfect little gem:

You’re receiving this email because you purchased something from the American Apparel Online Store, but didn’t subscribe with us. Subscribe to our mailing list to receive exclusive offers, invites to sales and updates on our latest styles!

What! The! F*ck?!
You didn’t subscribe with them and that’s the reason they are sending you an email? You can’t win. If you subscribe, you get the email (duh, cause you’ve subscribed) and if you don’t subscribe you get one anyway. Except this time there’s not even a pretend “unsubscribe” link, because I haven’t subscribed, ha-ha-ha.

I guess I have to block everything that has their domain from ever reaching my mailbox ever again. Did I say “ever”? Aren’t companies supposed to follow CAN-SPAM act? American Apparel certainly doesn’t seem to give a hoot.

If you absolutely have to buy something from them, do it offline. Or use throw-away email address, because you’re not getting off of their mailing list ever again.

Bye, Sprint, hello Straight Talk

Posted by & filed under Reviews, Technology.

Well, I did it. I joined the ranks of people who scare the cr*p out of wireless carriers — prepaid users!

Mostly I’ve done it because Sprint pissed me off one final time™
Out of major carriers Sprint has been one of the last one(s) to offer unlimited data (now T-Mobile is back with their new unlimited plans) plus their prices used to be alright. Night and weekends from 7pm, unlimited mobile to any mobile, US+Canada messaging (yeah, I was surprised to learn that they don’t charge extra for texting people Up North), 450 “anytime” minutes, unlimited data, WiMax. Not bad. Plus I had a discount. Then they added “FU Smartphone Users” $10 fee, cancelled special hardware update perks, and in the last billing cycle wrote that I need to “re-confirm eligibility when upgrading your phone”. I know, they’re short of money, but cutting more and more of perks brought their price to the point where prepaid plans are cheaper. Their 3G is waaaay slow, WiMax is still spotty if you’re on the go, and upcoming LTE network is a bit off.

So I went back to GSM. Specifically, to Straight Talk. It took me a while to figure out which one of the MVNOs to choose. Practically all of them have a full range of plans, and generally all have sucky data options. I chose ST because:
a) they give you a choice between AT&T’s network and T-Mobile’s network, so I am familiar with the coverage, and you can use locked phone with corresponding SIM card.
b) $45 buys you unlimited talk/text/international text/data

Wow. I mean Sprint still charges you *for receiving* of international text messages. And here everything is included. I don’t use that many minutes for talk, but their $30 plan has only 30Mb of data, so, that was a no-go. AT&T’s network is bigger in my area, so I went with that. Minus is that you have to buy their SIM for $15 (unlike all the other providers, where SIM is a dollar) but I wrote it off as an “activation fee”.

Good:
- Native AT&T coverage
- International text is included
- Unlimited minutes
- Voice mail included
- Samsung Galaxy S II SkyRocket works just fine
- HSPA+ network is faster than both Sprint 3G and WiMax (I hit 3Mbps down)

Meh:
- Visual Voice Mail is not supported (the AT&T’s one, though iPhone version also doesn’t work)
- No LTE per APN restriction — don’t care much as HSPA+ is fast enough, though in retrospect it means I would have been better off with unlocked T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II, giving me more options should I decide to switch to T-Mobile’s SIM
- No call log/text log. Not critical, as minutes are unlimited, but sometimes it’s convenient to be able to log into your online account and copy/paste phone numbers etc

Bad:
- Data shenanigans, and it’s the biggest minus (but mostly on AT&T’s SIM plan).

Specifically — even though technically data is unlimited, people all over the web report that if you use it “too much” you get a warning, or get severely throttled, or outright cancelled for terms violation. That “too much” is very squishy and general consensus is that if you use under 2Gb a month and under 100Mb a day, you’re safe. I don’t use _that_ much data as I’m generally around WiFi networks, and so far I haven’t had any throttling and/or warnings. For those on T-Mobile SIM there seems to be less of a problem (perhaps T-Mobile charges Tracfone/Movil less, or their network is not overloaded like AT&T’s is). If you get terminated for using too much data, you have to call the support and ask them to turn your account back for a bit to be able to port number out (only active account allows porting out, but if you don’t care about your phone number that’s probably not an issue).

Another problem is that data is not very reliable. Frequently APN would just disconnect/become unresponsive after my phone is on WiFi for a long time. This manifests in data connection just “going away” (indicator shows that it’s connected, packets are outgoing, incoming once in a while, nothing works). Generally speaking after a bit it all comes back (sometimes it helps to switch phone to Plane mode for a while and then back, or do a quick reboot). Once it comes back, everything is fast and great. This doesn’t bother me too much, not yet anyway.

I also performed a number port, and that was an adventure. Looking back, I realize that I should have just ported my number when I activated freshly purchased SIM card. Instead I decided to run around with both phones and see which one fares better. But…

To port you have to call support and have a new SIM card shipped to you. I don’t know why, but their system simply doesn’t support re-programming of the phone number. So I’ve spent about 30 minutes talking to the support lady, then she shipped me out a new SIM with my ported number. Current temporary number got deactivated. Shipping took a few days (everything was free). Once I got the SIM, I had to call them again, to finish porting. That took another 40 minutes or so.

Representatives were very polite but it’s just a slow and tedious process. Then I was instructed to wait until my old Sprint phone stops working, and turn my phone back with the new SIM. All the remaining balance I had (about 20 days of unlimited plan) was successfully transferred. About an hour or two after finishing that lengthy chat number ported :) New phone said “Welcome to AT&T, your number porting is now complete”.

I should have simply ported number at the beginning, so if you know that coverage is fine in your area, just do that.

Otherwise, it’s a pleasant experience. And at $45 a month surely beats dealing with Sprint’s “let’s cut another little thing” issues.
Perhaps, when Sprint rolls out LTE everywhere I’ll switch to Ting. For now, Wal-Mart reselling Tracfone reselling AT&T is fine with me. Oh, and I get to roll custom roms on Galaxy S II :) AOKP JB ROMS FTW!

Update: As of October 2012 the data troubles seem to be gone, and I haven’t had issues with switching between Wi-Fi and HSPA+ in my area

Review: Darksiders II for PS3 – 4.5 stars

Posted by & filed under Reviews, Technology.


Darksiders II for PS3

Frankly, I didn’t expect to buy the Darksiders II. While walk-through videos of the first game seemed nice enough, the ads for the second were all over the place. But what the heck, Fry’s has a sale, so I actually bought the game on the release day. And I don’t regret it.

Unexpected: while I thought this will be something closer to the God of War, which I love, the end result was somewhat different. It’s not as much slasher/button masher/platformer, but more of a puzzle game with elements of the button masher. Most of the time spent trying to find the right door, move balls into the position and fixing total disrepair of the world of Creators that speak with Irish accent. I don’t mind at all.

The problem so far is in a very uneven level of the puzzles. Either that, or I’m having way too many brain farts. Specifically, puzzles are either very easy and straightforward, or completely and totally confusing. Using “dusty the crow” to “help” doesn’t always do much — on a few occasions where I was trying to fix the “tears” to the forge it would fly to the door, I walk through the door, request scouting function again and it would fly right back to the door. WTF? Useless.

But most problems are bosses. It took many, many deaths to figure out that you’re supposed to roll the ball at the giant beetle (balls are all the rage in the game :P ). Slashing it while it’s upright just doesn’t work. Even if you are directly underneath it and, theoretically, should catch it in the belly. But noooo, only when hit by a ball bug flops on the side and then you can slash it. Really?

The “items” aspect is a bit odd. You’re supposed to manage the inventory and figure out which kind of mittens and flip-flops to equip to make the Nephalem do better in battle (Diablo III much? :)). Add to that the fact that there are two levels of menus, and navigating all options becomes more cumbersome than solving puzzles and killing monsters. But it’s a minor problem, hence half a star penalty.

Graphics is not bad, but not stellar. Once the game got stuck (big hall with one mask from the wall, that’s supposed to attack you, had a glich, and I’ve spent 40 minutes trying to figure out what to do, because mask simply stayed on the wall after I’ve killed summoned creatures).

Don’t care much about DLC at this point, just want to finish the story and see if Death does the opposite of his name and restore humanity, wiped out in the first Darksiders.

Now excuse me, I have a Hercules monster to punch in the face.

Nexus 7: Nice Hardware, Disappointing Software

Posted by & filed under Reviews, Technology.

So, I’ve spent a few days with Nexus 7, the 16Gb version. And so far the experience is generally nice, and most of the positive aspects are definitely hardware based. I went for 16Gb because there is no memory card slot, and, unlike Google-ville, I don’t live in ever-connected utopia (especially as the tablet doesn’t have 3G either) and would rather have the files being on the device instead of suffering through downloads and having useless tablet when WiFi is not nearby.

The tablet feels a bit heavier than it “should” be by looking at it (and it gives you that “crewman of the star ship Enterprise” look). Definitely solid, and well constructed. Back material feels nice, though when you put the tablet down it gives that “thunk” that makes you a bit worried about what might happen if you’re not careful enough.

Screen is nice. Mine had one dead pixel from the beginning, but for now the screen doesn’t separate (if it will, the unit will be exchanged). Sometimes the screen looks a bit odd, like somewhat washed out in the brighter part of the spectrum, and default wallpapers are just awful. Horrible banding on the background doesn’t accentuate the screen, sorry. Generally good enough for reading, but every so often it would flicker while adjusting the brightness (probably a software glitch). Touch sensitivity is also good, and everything feels rather responsive. Mostly due to the habit, I frequently try to grab the unit “the wrong way” — with camera downwards :) But that’s what you get for not having even one button. Shame, really.

Specs say that the speaker is stereo, but frankly I haven’t noticed. Mostly because the form-factor is rectangular so there isn’t much space between left and right speakers hiding behind unified grille. When watching movies, just like with iPad, all of the sound comes out of one end, which is kinda silly (you get stereo sound squished into the right side, ha-ha). It’s good enough for the notification sounds.

It would be lovely if there was some sort of a light for notifications. A tiny LED, blinking when something happened? I guess I am too used to my Motorola phone, where I can always say what’s going on without even turning on the screen.

Charging seemed to be extra slow. Plugging it into computer’s USB port didn’t do much and after staying plugged for half a day it gained, maybe, 35% of charge? Standby time seems to be good enough, and, frankly, iPad also takes forever to charge. And I don’t think it even warmed up while being charged, though playing one of the Zombie games definitely made left/bottom quite warm.

And now the bad part: Jelly Bean in it’s default form is just awful. Gosh, I knew I didn’t enjoy “pure” Android UI but this is ridiculous. It’s like a severe case of experience schizophrenia, and each instance hate each other.
Aside from lock/volume buttons, everything else is done with screen buttons. So you always have that black mourning strip at the bottom. Yet for the “purity” of the experience you don’t get “menu” button. You get ugly wire-frame-like “back” (which sometimes turns into “down” to hide the keyboard), home and app-switching. I keep trying to hit the apps-switching, forgetting that that is not the Menu/Settings thing. Sigh

Some places have Settings dots at the top, others at the bottom. Adding that to the menu makes things somewhat more confusing, as in some cases there’d be maybe one useful function (aside from some “licenses” or “about” things).

Homescreen has no notifications. Which means if you cleared the notification area from mail’s message, you won’t see that there is 20 unread emails until you actually go into the mail program. I mean come on, everyone does the little number-on-top-of-the-icon thing, including custom Android launchers. But noooo, not the Jelly Bean.

Exchange mail and Google mail are, essentially, the same, but you can’t have one unified incoming mail view. On the other hand you also can’t hide the actual folders in the “main” view, so no, you can’t have a list of incoming mail. There’ll be a strip with Inbox, Draft, Sent on the left. Plus when looking at the body of the message, you get ugly header with generic icon, that theoretically should be updated with the picture of the contact (I’m kinda scared to allow some mailing contacts to be added, as everything is synchronized across the cloud).

Scrolling in half of the cases is sideways (applications, which then flips to widgets) and in half — down. So you’ll have to guess which is what (generally you get clues in terms of partially off-screen text), but speed of scrolling is quite good.

I’ve also tried the new Google auto-card feature, but so far I haven’t done enough things for it to be useful. Yes, it shows weather. And if you have something in the calendar, that will show up too. But that’s about it. Showing path to work is useless because as soon as I take the tablet out the door, there’s no WiFi (and for whatever reason, default Jelly Bean doesn’t want to connect to tethered connection, only my laptop does that). But it’s fun to play with.

I guess I’ll have to try to find an alternative launcher (my favorite Go EX launcher is currently having some widget problems, and I haven’t seen any other good alternatives for the tablet devices so far), which is the only blessing.

p.s. Oh, and because Nexus 7 has the NFC circuit, Google Wallet actually installed and seems to be working. I suppose it wasn’t meant to be used for paying for things, but given that people take photos with an iPad, I should try to pay for a burger with a Nexus, awkward it may be… :D After all, I’ve wasted about 30 minutes on trying to activate the Wallet functionality due to low WiFi signal…

The Dark Knight Rises: huh?

Posted by & filed under Reviews.

So, I have finally watched the Dark Knight Rises, the very last (for now) part of the Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga. And my primary reaction was “Huh?”.

I suppose I was a bit tired when watching it after a long day. I’m also not a big Batman fanboy — I mean I like the idea and some of the movies were alright, but I haven’t read the comic book, so I can’t really say, what plot lines the movie was based on and so forth. For me, this was just a continuation of the Dark Knight. And quite unsatisfying one at that.

Spoilers and whining below, you’ve been warned.

First of all, the movie didn’t seem to make much sense. Bane as the Evil Terrorist was supposed to both lure Batman out of retirement, torture him (for betraying that cult?) and destroy him and the city? Really? Which part was the main one? If destruction of Batman (pardon moi, attempted destruction of Batman) was such long and convoluted process, I’m scared to think how many weeks it takes him to make a breakfast for himself.
The Batman was “retired” due to Harvey Dent incident, what’s the point of trying to force him back into the suit?

If the Gotham City was supposed to be destroyed due to being a corrupt and bad place, why doing it after it was somewhat cleaned up? Why not trigger the bomb immediately, if that’s somehow was a grand idea of the cult? Or was this a clumsy and convoluted attempt to combine a personal vendetta with business of cult? Not sure.

Bane seemed a rather boring character in all. I suppose it was the mask, which restricted him to over-gesticulating and bulging eyes from time to time, plus extra pretentious speeches. At certain moments he was somewhat difficult to understand too. His motivation beyond “evil guy who wants to kill Batman” didn’t make any sense, nor did most of his actions. Heck, the Joker, who was an agent of chaos, seemed way more interesting than Bane.

Catwoman was rather fun — she had most one-liners, but there wasn’t much of her in the movie. She was instrumental in the final outcome, of course, but still, could be a bit more fun in terms of “cat-fight” between the Batman and her.

Miranda’s actions seemed clunky and odd. Revenge? Perhaps. Even after what her father did? Her involvement with the Batman seems just a fling, all while he also seemed interested in Selina and then, surprise, this billionaire girlfriend turned out to be a fake revenge-driven nutcase. Mmmm… okay…

Blake/Robin got a lot of screen time, and for a while I expected him to turn out to be the mastermind behind Bane’s madness with some greater purpose hidden somewhere in the shadows, but no, he’s just the Robin (or, perhaps, Batman’s replacement in the future movie).

Fights and chase sequences were rather fun. Gadgets weren’t quite plentiful but also fun, especially the new bat-motorcycle :) Other than that, the movie was kinda Meh — typical set of action genre inconsistencies (what, stock exchange suddenly forgot how to roll back fraudulent transactions? why didn’t Batman rip off Bane’s important-looking mask during any fights? death of the city by multi-month-long timer bomb?).

I hated the first film in the trilogy, which is probably why I don’t find the whole Ra’s al Ghul arc interesting or fascinating. I prefer the action-y parts. Or ironic parts. Or funny parts. Which is why the Dark Knight movie remains my favorite. At least for now.