Pokémon Fun Reshuffled

This past weekend, I played something besides a video game: Pokémon TCG. My interest was rekindled by last Friday’s release of the new Champion’s Path expansion. The previous one, Darkness Ablaze, helped fuel the flames. And the new Standard Rotation reinvigorated the playing field.

Eternatus
Eternatus

Put Down The Controller

Yeah, I paused Final Fantasy X, docked the Nintendo Switch, and fully diverted my attention to rebuilding an all-new battle deck. With the recent Eternatus cards, how could I avoid revitalizing my Darkness game!?

So I took my Dark-type deck and started swapping out old cards. Thankfully, one of my favorite strategies remained intact with Weavile GX; I love his Shadow Connection ability! But now I can use his Nocturnal Maneuvers to set up my new main attacker, Eternatus VMAX.

I won’t bore my non-Pokémon readers with too many of the details. Yet you might relate.

Eternatus VMAX

Stratagem

Pokémon is very involved; it engages the brain’s problem solving capacity. The numerous cards and abilities are somewhat daunting, but the game boils down to a few basic strategies. And while that translates to costing a lot of time and money, it’s also much fun.

The strategic part captured my brain this weekend. With so many new cards and abilities, I saw time fly by while my mind weighed all the options. You can be imaginative in discovering sneaky tricks or certain knock-outs in the game. But you must always weigh the trade-offs with the benefits. And Pokémon TCG is balanced well; it requires careful planning.

Family Fun

So for the first time in months, my whole family went to the Pokémon League meet-up. My kids and I had fun! I scored great trades for new cards, adding them to my arsenal. Then it was time to start testing my revised Dark deck. It worked, but it has weaknesses; no surprise. So I’ve begun addressing those and will tweak my deck to victory.

And I can’t wait for more! It’s nice to have good family fun, especially during otherwise stressful times. Balancing books, video games, movies, and all forms of escapism is a great problem to have; I’m thankful.

A cool bonus: playing Pokémon with my kids helps me be involved with them more. For example, my oldest son asked me to help him tweak his new Water-type deck. So I’ve started suggesting certain cards and strategies to him – even made a good trade. And my youngest son, still too young to actually play, enjoys trading cards with daddy and his brothers.

Weavile GX

So bring it on. I’m eager for the next expansion, Vivid Voltage. It might electrify the game even better, giving the family more to buzz about.

Lastly, speaking of buzz, The Pokémon Company and Nintendo announced yesterday that the newest expansion, The Crown Tundra, for the video game, Pokémon Sword and Shield, will be released on October 22. The biggest news to me: it includes ALL the legendary Pokémon from previous games! That means I’ll finally be able to catch my favorite, Zygarde!

Gotta catch’em all!


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Evernote Is Ever Better

We live in a world of mobile apps. Many companies make different types; pick your favorite! As a nerd, I like trying out apps. And I’ve flip-flopped again. In search of the ‘perfect’ Notes app, I went from Evernote to Keep and…I’m back on Evernote!

Evernote_Lockup_Primary_RGB

Noteworthy Return

First of all, I had rediscovered Evernote last October with enthusiasm. Read about that here. Then I kept being drawn to Google Keep. Check it out.

But now I’ve been spurred to switch back to Evernote full-time. The catalyst was the company announcing its totally new app for iOS.

Naturally, this nerd took note.

Looking at Evernote again, I liked what I saw! There were some new-to-me things:

  1. The web interface looks and works better than ever. That’s not hyperbole.
  2. The Android app widgets are great.

Web App

Since refinding Evernote last year, I knew the company was updating the browser interface. Yet it had a few issues – growing pains – so I felt I couldn’t rely on it. That was a bummer. But now it looks like all those issues are fixed; the web-app experience on my Chromebook has been stable and consistent.

The refreshing layout is attractive: clean, elegant, and simple enough. And its features are great too. For example, it has basic text editing options that Google Keep lacks. Also, it has…folders! Of course, they’re called, “Notebooks.”

One of the biggest yet most basic reasons I’m back on Evernote is to utilize its folder system to store my notes. You know, because – a place for everything and everything in its place. The approach is simple: notes in notebooks (and notebooks in stacks if you like).

Also, there’s a tagging system, so besides organizing notes into broad notebooks, I can label notes with more detail. This lets me sort stuff into categories and sub-categories. And it comes in handy for filtering or searching, so I can find the notes I need.

Tags and Notebooks help me order my mixed thoughts; they’re a sweet combo!

In contrast, Google Keep has only a labeling system to sort notes – no folders at all. It’s less ordered and looks like a big spread-out pile of colored post-it notes. I get it, but it’s just not how my brain works. I like simple, but not oversimplified.

Widgets

On my Android smartphone, the Google Keep widget is practical but ugly. While appearance is subjective, I think there’s some objective fact to this. The translucency, tight text, and limited empty space all make it look like a phone book clipping (remember the Yellow Pages?)

On the other hand, the Evernote widget is pleasing to view. Not only does it look very nice, it’s highly customizable! You can tailor your Evernote widget in a number of ways.

For example, besides choosing what notebooks you want to see or save notes to, you can change the widget color, which action buttons appear, arrange their order, and show/hide images or tags.

Web Clipper

The Web App and Widgets are fantastic. And I’ll add one more thing – Web Clipper. It’s just awesome! Web surfin’ and note nerdin’ are super nice with this powerful and elegant capability. It’s easy to learn and use, giving you several options to capture content from a website and make a note of it.

Grab a whole site, grab only a windowed portion of it, or just grab the link to it. And you can add tags and remarks right in the clipper window. The clipper makes it easier to note things without jumping between two apps.

evernoteProduct-UI-Google-Pixel

#Everbetter

Evernote is a company dedicated to one thing – notes! It’s their singular focus, so they aim to excel and achieve success at it. All their eggs are in the notes basket; they don’t want to drop it.

Google, Apple, and Microsoft offer fine Notes apps, but note-taking is not their bread and butter. These big companies want to offer everything so they can be your one-stop provider, trapping you in their ecosystems – walled gardens. It works, but I think it’s easier to trust a company and service that’s purpose built to provide the thing you need.

Evernote’s popularity and utility have fluctuated over the years. But course correction began in January 2019. Ian Small, CEO, has led the company on a huge and sincere effort to fix things for the better. And for the future.

There’s even a dedicated behind-the-scenes video series on YouTube that shows what and how Evernote is improving; I enjoyed it!

Entrusting your personal thoughts to a notes app and service is as important as backing up your kids’ pictures to a photos app and service.

Evernote’s committed effort to earning my trust, and my notes, is noteworthy.


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HP Chromebook 14 Review

It’s been about a year since I started using a laptop full-time to manage my WordPress blog and surf the web. The iPad I used was great…as a tablet. But pushing it to be more caused frustration and disappointment. Why force a tablet to be a laptop when you can just use an actual laptop?

So I bought a Chromebook.

HP Chromebook 14

For a blogger who types a lot, you gotta have a keyboard. iPads are glass slabs without a physical keyboard; laptops have them built-in.

You can use a bluetooth keyboard with an iPad; I tried. But it lacks palm rests and isn’t lappable…unlike laptops! When you type a lot, you notice these things.

I’ve owned different laptops over the years:

  • Windows notebooks from Dell and Asus
  • A white plastic MacBook designed by Apple in California
  • A Samsung Chromebook

But my latest is the best.

Hardware

Body

My HP Chromebook 14 has a smooth white plastic lid with a mirrored chrome “HP” circle logo in the center. There’s one simple long hinge that holds tightly. The base is a matte silver aluminum, tapering to the front. The clamshell design is sturdy, compact, and lightweight.

Display

Screen-time is easy. The IPS display, despite being 1366×768 across 14 inches, appears bright and even. Text is smooth and mostly sharp without blurred edges; reading isn’t a problem. Watching video is satisfactory. There isn’t any contrast wash-out or discoloration at extreme viewing angles.

Controls

Keyboard

The keyboard is a backlit pleasure to type on. Backlighting is an adjustable range from dim to bright. Tapping out letters flows nicely on the quiet tactile keys with just the right amount of downward travel and springy return. They feel neither wobbly nor cheap.

In the year I’ve used it, not one key has ever gotten sticky! The keyboard performs as well today as it did 12 months ago when I removed it from the box.

Trackpad

It’s smooth to the fingertips and works precisely. Two-finger scrolling is a breeze, so is swiping right to go back in the browser. Soft-tapping with one or two fingers never fails.

Pressing the track-pad down makes a nice click sound and has a firm yet soft feel. And you must click from the middle half to the front; the back is the hinge so it doesn’t depress.

Touchscreen

The HP Chromebook 14 model I have does not flip the display around into tablet mode. So the touchscreen is convenient for web page scrolling and the occasional icon tap.

Also, as much as I type text, it is sometimes easiest to place the cursor simply by tapping the screen where I want it. Touch input is responsive, and the display does not depress, warp or discolor.

hpchromebook14box

Sound

The speakers, by B&O, are upward facing from the top-rear of the base. They truly sound better than you’d expect from a skinny flat mobile computer; they’re the best I’ve heard in a laptop. The sound is very clear and full, lacking bass of course.

Since they face upward from behind the keyboard, you never need to position the laptop carefully so as to not muffle the sound on your lap or couch.

Webcam

I rarely use the webcam outside of a few Zoom or Google Meet videos. Yet I’ve noticed it has a nice wide viewing angle. And the resolution looks good. It’s not blurry, grainy, or washed-out. And it seems to do well even in dim ambient lighting.

Ports

There’s a USB-C port on the left and right side; both allow charging. And it has USB-A on both sides. The right side also has a 3.5mm headphone jack plus a microSD card slot. The only thing missing is an HDMI port. That’s inconvenient; you must use a USB-C adapter if you want to plug into a large monitor or HDTV.

Performance

Specs!

  • CPU – Intel Celeron 3350 Dual Core
  • Memory – 4GB RAM
  • Storage – 64GB eMMC

Those aren’t bad for a Chromebook. And mobile computing on this one is great. Everything works fluidly. Web browsing, of course, is quick and easy. Running Android apps from the Google Play store works well.

Battery

One of the greatest features is the 9 to 10 hour solid battery life I get from my HP Chromebook 14. With screen brightness usually around 80%, I finish my blogging work or YouTubing and get tired of sitting or standing long before the battery gets close to being drained. It can go a full day unplugged with moderate usage.

Software

Chrome OS

The Chrome operating system works beautifully. It’s still simpler and easier to use than a traditional Windows PC or Mac. I type truck loads of words in Google Docs and other apps, and I manage a mountain of pictures in Google Photos. The only things I don’t do on my Chromebook are CAD, video editing, or PC gaming.


Rating 8/10

Rating: 8 out of 10.

After using the HP Chromebook 14 everyday for over a year, it looks and works as well as the day I bought it! There’s a teeny bit of cosmetic wear and tear, but you must look for it. It travels in my backpack to work everyday as I commute.

There has been one issue with it on the software side, which was a Google cloud sync error between Google Drive and the Files app. The solution was surprisingly quick and easy: Powerwash. I did this on two separate occasions.

Each time, the Chromebook reset like new and kept all my Google account data intact by reinstalling apps and settings. The process took less than 10 minutes. When done, it was like nothing ever happened. All my stuff was there!

Most people only need a browser for most computing. A Chromebook bonus: your Android phone apps also work here!

For mobile computing, my Chromebook is fast, easy, delightful, and reliable.

HP Chromebook 14-CA137NR

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Finding A Favorite Game

The other day, one of my sons asked me what my favorite video game is – totally fair question! My reply was, “I don’t know.” Then I wondered, “Why don’t I?”

I’ve played many video games over the years, some of which are considered to be among the all-time greats, like one of Nintendo’s Zelda games.

The reason, I think, it’s hard to nail down my mostest-bestest-favoritest video game ever is because it depends on what kind of game I’m in the mood for. They span different genres. Like:

  • Platformer
  • Dungeon Crawler
  • First-person shooter

If you wanna know what game filled me with the most wonder, I might pick a sprawling open-world adventure game full of exploration. If you ask what game makes me most tense, I’d throw out some edgy shoot’em up. Or a game that’s the most fun…Mario in 3D! What game is most engaging to me? One of the Final Fantasy RPGs for sure.

You see, it kinda depends.

So the list of my “favorites” are games that had the most impact on me in some way. They’re in no particular order. And I had to shorten it for brevity.

TitleGenre
Super Mario 64Platformer
Zelda: Breath of the WildAdventurer
Zelda: A Link to the PastAdventurer
Animal CrossingCasual Life Sim
Turok: Dinosaur HunterFirst Person Shooter
Super MetroidMetroidvania
MinecraftOpen world Sandbox
Final Fantasy VI (FFIII SNES)RPG
Final Fantasy VIIRPG

Most of these games had a way of drawing me into them, like when a book or movie captures your attention.

Story, atmosphere, strategy, graphics, music, suspense, or a combo of these immerse me in a game. It’s about world building. The better a game does that, the more I like it. But I’ll add that despite the quality or ability of some games to do this, I don’t always get pulled in. And I’m not sure why most of the time.

Maybe someday, one of my favorite games will rise to the top as undeniably the best of all. Or maybe I haven’t played the best one yet!

Until then, I’ll have to play more video games.


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Apple Watch Not So Ancillary

This week, Apple announced its latest steps in mobile computing, yet it omitted its greatest mobile device of all: the iPhone. Nor were there new laptops, particularly their forthcoming ARM based version. For now, Apple’s advances in portable gadgets focused on the Apple Watch and iPad, which are not as ancillary to mobile computing as Apple would have you believe.

The example shown by Apple, which established mobile computing in 2010, indicates that there are four mobile devices worth having: laptop, smartphone, tablet, and smartwatch. Interestingly, in 2010, the lineup was almost the same save one: laptop (MacBook), smartphone (iPhone), tablet (iPad), and mp3 player (iPod).

In a reality distortion field, you need four mobile devices. But in reality, mobile computing excels with only two devices for you: laptop and smartphone.

I’ve reasoned before how the laptop and smartphone squeezed the tablet out from between them. Basically, laptops are still better than tablets at computery “truck” level tasks. And smartphones are still greater at tablety “car” level things. 

The smartwatch, though, is objectively much better at certain “bike” level tasks than your smartphone or laptop. So it could be the device, small as it is, that finds space between your iPhone and Macbook.

The Apple Watch has sensors that the other devices lack. And its form factor, tied to your wrist, gathers data about your body in ways your other mobile computing devices never could. In fact, with this week’s unveiling, Apple showed it continues to expand its smartwatch capabilities utilizing yet more sensors.

The watch is unique enough that marketing it becomes easier than it is for iPad. Apple’s tablet is too similar to its smartphone and even its laptop to be distinguished. The iPad is really just another version of both, an iteration of the form factor of a computer.

Apple Watch, on the other hand (pun accepted), thinks different indeed.

Here’s how the marketing goes:

  • Macbook – your portable computer.
  • iPhone – your phone/music player/communicator.
  • Apple Watch – your wellness partner.

You see, each gadget is distinct enough to focus on specific use cases.

The Apple Watch has increasingly become about wellness (health or fitness) above all else. It’s an area of everyone’s life that can use computational power.

The iPad just makes sedentary couch surfing easier, an antithesis to mental and physical wellness. But if you have an Apple Watch, your rings will tell you it’s time to quit watching Apple TV+ on your tablet and get moving. So that kind of works. Apple could even market it well:

“Less Movie. More Moving.”

Despite the utility of Apple Watch, I still think it’s not as ancillary to mobile computing as Apple markets. Generally, for wellness, you neither need a fitness band nor a gym membership. Just wear a good pair of shoes and get moving.

For mobile computing, all you really need is a laptop and a smartphone. And it seems Apple is saving the best for last in 2020, as they’re said to be planning new iPhone and Macbook releases later this year.

Until then, we’ll wait to see what changes to mobile computing may be coming. Will Apple further iterate the lineup? Or will it enthrall with a gadget revolution? Like this week’s announcements, I think the former.


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