Throwback Thursday: Computer repair kit

In the late 1990s, I took a college class in computer hardware repair. It was one of the useful classes I’ve ever taken. Because of that class, for years, I’ve been able to work on my own computers. I have saved money adding my own hard drives and upgrading memory rather than hiring someone else to do it.

I took this picture today of the computer repair kit that I bought at RadioShack (remember them?) around the time I took the course. I’ve been using the same tools for 20 years now.

Here is what the case looks like zipped:

Here is what the contents of the case look like – notice that you can still see the instruction sheet in the kit. The object in the right-hand corner is a fold up magnifying glass.

Lots of fun memories here.

#throwbackthursday

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All new Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet announced

Amazon has announced an all-new Fire HD 10 Tablet. The 10.1″ tablet comes with Alexa Hands-Free and features a 1080p full HD Display (224 ppi). At only $149.99, Amazon has shaved over $80 to $100 off the price of the old Fire 10.

This tablet is a huge improvement over the old one:

  • The previous generation only had a 1280 x 800 display (149 ppi). The new tablet is 1920 x 1200 (224 ppi).
  • The old Fire had 1.5 GHz processor, the new one is a faster 1.8 GHZ.
  • Old tablet cost $229.99 to $259.99, this one is $149.99.
  • The previous generation required you to push the home button for Alexa, the new tablet will be voice-activated and hands free (after an update).
  • The new Fire weighs 2 ounces less and is marginally thinner than the first version.
  • It also promises better battery life.

In order to bring this tablet in cheaper than the previous version, Amazon did seriously downgrade the cameras in this device. The new version has VGA Front-facing camera and a 2 MP rear-facing camera with a 720p HD video recording. The previous Fire had a 720p HD Front-facing camera + 5 MP rear-facing camera with full 1080p HD video recording. Since most people do not buy these tablets for the cameras anyway, this will probably not be a deal-breaker.

(You can find the specs for the previous generation here if you want to compare.)

I passed on the previous tablet model because at only 149ppi, it didn’t offer a good enough resolution for reading and watching video for my tastes. This one may be a different story. There are no third-party cases and covers for the new tablet available yet, but given past experience, new one should be popping up soon.

The new Fire 10 HD will be released on October 11, 2017. Amazon is offering the tablet on a payment plan of 5 monthly payments of $30.00.  You can pre-order the tablet here.

What do you think of the new tablet?

Daily Deals: New Amazon Tap and Echo and Dot refurbs

Today, Amazon is offering the Amazon Tap Alexa-enabled portable bluetooth speaker for only $80. (The device normally retails for $130 and the refurbished models generally sell for this price.) This was the first Echo device that I bought for myself and it’s still my favorite. I like to use it out on the deck and it is my favorite speaker to pair with my phone for listening to audiobooks and music around the house.

Originally, the Tap was not voice activated. You had to “tap” on the device to give it a command. A later firmware update added the voice-activated hands-free option for the Tap. This feature can be turned on and off on the device or through the Alexa app.

The tap is a good choice if you need an Alexa device in a portable Bluetooth speaker. Certain features like multi-room music sync and device calling that are available in the Echo and the Dot are NOT included in the Tap. If those features are important to you, the Tap is not the right device for you.

There are also some other deals on refurbished products in the Echo line. The Amazon Echo is currently out of stock, but you can get a certified refurbished Echo for $80. There is also a refurbished Echo Dot for just $38. Amazon Certified Refurbished devices come with a one year warranty.

Kobo begins monthly audiobook subscription program

Kobo is launching their own monthly audiobook subscription service. The service is $9.99 per month in the US and the monthly cost varies by country.

Key elements of the program are:

The program offers a 30 day free trial. Your first audiobook is free.and yours to keep, even if you cancel.

Each month you get a credit for $9.99 monthly credit. One credit equals one audiobook. Credits are added to your account once a month on your recurring billing date.

For Super Points rewards program members, you can earn Kobo Super Points with each purchase.

Books can be listened to on or off line. There are, however, a couple of limitations. You can listen to audiobooks on the Android app (system 4.4 and above) and the iOS app (9.0 or higher). You cannot listen on the following devices:

  • on kobo.com
  • in Kobo Desktop
  • in the Kobo App for Windows or BlackBerry
  • on Kobo eReaders
  • on Kobo Arc 7, 7HD or 10HD tablets

If you use the Kobo app for iOS, there is an additional complication: You can’t purchase anything through the Kobo app for IOS; you can only play items you have purchased. According to the FAQ:

Due to an agreement between Kobo and Apple, the Kobo App for iOS doesn’t include our store. If you use an iOS smartphone or tablet, you’ll need to purchase (or exchange a credit for) your audiobook on kobo.com. Once your transaction is complete, your audiobook will then appear in your Kobo App for iOS.

Once purchased, the books are yours to keep, even if you cancel your subscription. Audiobook credits are non-refundable and a credit card is required for signup.

Kobo is starting its program with only one subscription plan, one credit for $9.99. According to the company, future plans include plans with two credits a month, and annual subscriptions with 12 or 24 instant credits all at once.

The service will be available to Kobo customers living in Canada ($12.99 CA), the United States ($9.99 USD), the United Kingdom (£6.99), Australia ($13.99 AU), and New Zealand ($13.99 NZD).

Kobo is obviously trying to compete with Audible. Audible charges $14.95 per month, plus 30% off additional purchases.

The service will be live on September 12, 2017. Make sure you have updated to the latest version of the Kobo app for your device.

Are you trying the service? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

Nook closes support forum

As of September 7, the official NOOK forum at Barnes and Noble is shutting down. From the posts on the site, it seemed that posting activity had dwindled to a small number of posts. Users of the forum received an email on the closure.

While the forum may be closing, assistance is still available from Barnes and Noble. According to the post,

Though the forums will no longer be around, we’ll still be here to answer all your support questions at https://help.barnesandnoble.com/ and on social media at the following links:

• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/barnesandnoble/
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/BN_care
• Instagram: https://Instagram.com/barnesandnoble

If you are looking for another forum, there is still an active community of Nook users at NOOKBoards.

You can also find discussions for Nook users at the NOOK forum on mobileread.com.

Update: Playster cancels accounts for excessive usage

Yesterday, I posted about user claims that Playster is apparently cancelling users’ memberships because they are consuming too much content. The service is marketed as offering unlimited access to media content. There are a series of complaints, most dated over the last ten days, on sites like Trustpilot and Pissed Consumer, all claiming that their accounts were unjust flagged by the system’s fair use algorithm. These users then found their accounts cancelled or suspended. All of the members seemed to be heavy users of audiobooks.

I reached out to Playster for their side of the story. Here is their response:

Playster’s fair use algorithm has two major goals: to deter fraud and help us keep the service unlimited for all audiobook lovers.

After discovering cases of average consumption exceeding 24 hours per day, concurrent streaming on multiple IP addresses and other activity that appeared to be in violation of our terms and conditions, we felt we had no option but to take an extra cautious approach with accounts resembling any of the following:

  • Commercial use;
  • Automated consumption;
  • Recording or duplicating content;
  • Unauthorized sharing, leasing or distribution of content;
  • Public broadcasting;
  • Multiple accounts created with the same device, IP address or credit card
  • Accounts using a blacklisted device, IP address or credit card;
  • Use of a VPN or Proxy IP.

We realize some accounts may have been flagged unjustly, which is why all members were refunded their last membership charge and everyone affected was invited to submit an appeal form, so that we may address all concerns in detail with the attention they deserve. If anyone hasn’t received the appeal form or has any questions, they can email support@playster.com.

Several items on the above list are troubling to me. First, flagging an account solely because of an IP address can be a recipe for disaster (please google records companies charging 80 year old great-grandmothers with infringement for details). For a variety of reasons, IP addresses are not always unique. People create accounts from workplaces or apartment buildings that share internet access. IP address alone is not sufficient reason for denying access to an account.

Perhaps most troubling is the assumption that the use of a VPN or proxy IP suggests illegal actions. There are host of valid reasons to use a VPN for both privacy and security concerns. The use of a VPN should not imply illegal consumption of content.

Playster’s response said that members were invited to submit an appeal form. None of the complaints I read on either Trustpilot or Pissed Consumer mentioned being offered an appeal form. In fact, several of them have commented on the lack of response and long delays in hearing from customer service. At this point, no one has said that they were able to get their account reinstated.

If you have had an experience with this issue, please let me know in the comments. Are you a VPN user? Were you offered an appeal form? Was customer service’s response?  Did you get your account reinstated?

I will follow up on this story as more information becomes available.

(You can read my review of the Playster service here.)

Is Playster booting customers for reading too much?

One of my most popular posts on this blog is a review of the all-you-can-read subscription service Playster from March of 2016. Today, I received a disturbing comment on that post that claimed that Playster is apparently cancelling users’ memberships because they are consuming too much content.

According to commenter manderleylife, their account was flagged by Playster’s algorithm:

On Aug 19 I got an email from them: We’re contacting you to let you know that your Playster membership has been flagged automatically by our fair use algorithm. As a result, your membership has been frozen while we investigate why the activity on your account triggered this algorithm. To put it simply, they said my usage resembled “commercial use, automated consumption, recording/duplicating, sharing or using multiple accounts created with same device.” Playster “investigated” it and said they couldn’t determine if I was doing anything illegal so they were cancelling my membership!

Manderleylife stresses that they didn’t share or illegally use content; they were listening to audiobooks for perhaps 6-7 hours each day. Note that Playster markets its service as offing unlimited reading.

Manderleylife also pointed out that other members (also avid readers) had also had their memberships frozen and cancelled. A brief search on the internet showed a series of complaints, most dated over the last ten days, on sites like Trustpilot and Pissed Consumer. The stories are startlingly similar. All claim that their memberships were cancelled even though there was no proof of wronging other than heavy usage.

These reports showcase the problem with the all-you-can-read (or listen to) model. Avid users can indeed go through a high volume of content through the legal use a service. Just ask Scribd, who in February, 2016 had to put content limits in place and deleted most of their romance titles from the catalog, just to stop the financial drain.

While Scribd changed their system to stop the bleed, it does sound like Playster is cancelling memberships of users who are consuming more content than they are comfortable with. Unfortunately for Playster, they have marketed the service as unlimited. Cancelling memberships with no clear evidence of wrongdoing is not the right way to treat your customers.

I am reaching out to Playster to see what they have to says about the situation. More to come…

(Note: There’s an update to this story with a statement from Playster here.)