Wednesday, April 17, 2013

MacBook Pro Survives a Six-Foot Drop onto Airplane Floor, Seems Fine

I love the Lowepro Pro Roller carryons.  The one I have has a open-ended pocket which lets me put a laptop or iPad into the carryon quickly.   This pocket is elastic, and holds the laptop and other flat items pretty securely.  The only problem is that the top is open -- there's no strap or way to close up that open end.  I was boarding a plane, swung my Pro Roller up into the overhead bin -- and wham!  my MacBook Pro dropped out of the carryon, landing like a brick. 

I opened it up in a panic to make sure it was still working.  It seemed to be fine.  It's two weeks later, and I am using it as usual.  I hope that I am not jinxing it now that I am writing this.  Thanks Apple for making a great product (and for the hard drive sensor thing, which I assumed saved my hard drive). 

Credit Card That Allows United Club Access Proves Its Worth!

I used to fly a LOT, so don't think that I am elitist by what I say in this post.  If you fly a lot, you have to develop ways to cope with the delays and frustration of air travel today.

I have a love/hate relationship with the airlines that I use.  I've been a Platinum, Silver, Gold, etc member of American Airlines and United Airlines for 30 years.  Those are levels of elite status that one attains by flying 25,000 and 50,000 miles.  This year, I am a United Silver member, which is their lowest tier.  As a United Silver member, you don't get a whole lot of benefits.  With Gold status (which you get by flying 50,000 miles in a calendar year), you get a lot more benefits -- three free checked bags at 70 pounds each, the ability to reserve United's Premium Economy seats at no charge, when you buy your ticket.

I flew to Australia and Bali twice last year, but I still didn't hit the 50,000 mile mark.  So I decided to buy a United Airlines-associated credit card that gave me access to United Clubs, as well as priority boarding and two free bags when I fly.  The credit card costs $395 per year, and I have had to think long and hard this year when the card came up for renewal.  The card's official name is "United MileagePlus Club Card" and it is marketed by Chase Bank.  

United Club access  has proven to be important when my flights get canceled or connections are missed.  The agents in the Clubs are very good at rebooking flights and are very helpful, far more helpful than the poor beleaguered agents outside in the terminal.

I recently took a trip to Maui, my flight arrived into LAX late due to fog, and I missed my connecting flight to Maui.  The United Club agent upgraded me to first class on the next flight, something that has not happened to me in perhaps 20 years of flying.  I do routinely use miles and elite status upgrades/coupons to fly business or first class, but being upgraded at absolutely no cost, for my inconvenience, was a pleasant surprise. 

I had to wait 9 hours for the next flight but I can now do that easily, with my laptop and wifi access, especially if I am able to hang out in a United Club.  Now, when a similar thing happened to my wife and me a few years ago, my wife acted like waiting 8 hours for another flight was terrible.  There's a difference between folks who travel a lot and those who don't.

Hey, and United very nicely put me in a first class seat on the way back from Hawaii too.  Thanks, United!  

AT&T GoPhone Service Has Two Web Portals for Account Summary and Auto-Pay Setup

If you are a user of the AT&T GoPhone service (which I use myself and recommend for folks who don’t want to spend more than $10 per month or so on a cell phone):

There’s a lot of confusion regarding how to refill these phones online and how to set your phone for automatic payment.  This is because AT&T has two separate web pages to do these things.  

Here's a comment from Amazon regarding this problem: 
"But my biggest gripe is AT&Ts service. The website for the AT&T go phones is difficult to navigate, has limited payment options, and for someone who is used to a no contract monthly Virgin Mobile Plan, it's almost a burden to use. Go phone payment plans require you to fund an account upfront for a set dollar amount. My issue is you can't set up monthly automatic payments. I've tried, for two months now. Also, changing the data plan is awkward. "

Here's the solution:

1.  The web page to add money manually, keep track of your account, minutes left, date of expiration of your minutes, and to see your account summary is at:

https://www.paygonline.com/websc/index.jsp

You can also use links on this page to add features like a texting plan (eg, 200 texts for $4.99 for 30 days).  You can also put money into your account from here, but you most definitely cannot set up your account for automatic payment here.  There is a link that says “Automatic Feature Renewal” on this page, but that is for renewing feature packages like text packages, not for automatically paying, say, $25 every three months to keep your minutes active. 


2.  The web page to set up your account for autopay is at:
https://www.myprepaidrefill.com/MobilityUSWeb/displayAccountSummary.do


Is this ridiculous?  Yes.  Is it hard?  Now that you know that you have to go to a separate page to set up autopayment, it should not be that hard. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Experience with the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition -- Frustrating Camera, but Good Customer Service

video

I bought a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera (from my favorite retailer for any kind of underwater camera gear, Reef Photo in Fort Lauderdale, FL) after reading some of its specifications and abilities, all of which are good if not ideal.  Great, buttery-smooth slomo footage possible (it can shoot at 720p at 120 fps, for instance).  The ability to shoot 12MP photos at a rate of 30 photos per second.  They finally fixed the housing so that it can shoot sharp images topside -- and also underwater.  Finally!  I don't know why it took them so long to get this done -- all it took was replacing their dome port with a flat port so that the camera could focus underwater.

Like many early adopters, I got a camera that did not work as it should.  I spent HOURS trying to get this camera working like it should.  I spent HOURS downloading and updating the firmware.  I could never get the wifi working.  Even worse, once I gave up on the wifi, I took the camera to a test shoot in Maui and Oahu, to try to shoot waves at my favorite surfing shots.

The camera was frustrating as hell to use even in its most basic mode (eg no wifi, just manual presses of the buttons).  It would work fine on land, once secured inside its housing.  I could turn the camera on and off, and I could turn the video on and off.

 I'd swim out all the way to a site, through surf, then get set up.  This process would take up to an hour and involve a lot of work.  I would then turn it on, and it would get stuck on a mode showing the video camera.  I could not turn it on or off.  From there, I could not turn the camera on  or off, or take a picture or video.  There was nothing left to do but swim all the way back to shore, find someone's towel to borrow, wipe everything off, and take off the Battery Bacpac, the battery door on the camera, and then finally pull the battery out of the housing to reset the thing.  Reverse the process, put all batteries back, seal the camera.  Test that it turns on and that you can turn the video on and off.  Turn the camera off to save battery power (with the Battery Bacpac and internal battery in the camera, the power would last about 45 minutes maximum if left on rather than being turned on and off).  Swim out to the surf spot.  Get set up.  Turn the camera on.  About half the time, ARGGH!  the camera was stuck again. 

I got so tired of having to go back to shore and borrow someone's towel to take the battery out, that the last time this happened, I just swam out beyond the surf line and opened the housing, took out the camera, took off the Battery Bacpac, took off the battery door on the camera itself, and took out the battery in the camera.  I had to juggle all these pieces while treading water and trying not to drip in the housing or on the camera, or having a wave drown the whole thing.  Talk about a pisser.

However, when the camera actually worked -- it was GREAT!  It takes buttery-smooth slomo at 120fps at 720.  The GoPro site actually has a decent explanation of how to process the footage using software.  I attach an example of a video that I took.  I've dreamed of getting a classic shots of a  surfer/boogie boarder in a tube, then having the camera slide to an underwater view of the wave with the surfer visible from underwater.  This kind of shot is too easy to take with the Hero camera now. 


I contacted GoPro before leaving, asking about the problems I was having with the wifi turning on, and I was pleasantly surprised by their quick response and good communications.  They took 24 hours to reply to my initial email contact, and gave me a textbook "you are a newbie and you should read the instructions" reply.  But after that, I was able to talk with a real live person at GoPro who has promised that he will handle the replacement camera upon my return from Hawaii.  I'll report on those communications when and if I get the camera replaced. 

I hope to get a replacement when I get back that works, and from now on, I only have to travel with a small carryon!  No more huge giant cameras and housings!


For those of you with Hero 3 cameras, I have a separate blog entry below that describes my problems.  Hopefully this will save you some time.  It's obvious to me that I have a defective camera that does not have proper working wifi. 

Problems I Had with the GoPro Hero 3 Camera, and Surprisingly Good Communications with GoPro's Customer Service

I bought a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera (from my favorite retailer for any kind of underwater camera gear, Reef Photo in Fort Lauderdale, FL) after reading some of its specifications and abilities, all of which are good if not ideal. 

Like many early adopters, I got a camera that did not work as it should.  I spent HOURS trying to get this camera working like it should.  I spent HOURS downloading and updating the firmware.  I could never get the wifi working.

However, when the camera actually worked (without using wifi to control it)-- it was GREAT!  It takes buttery-smooth slomo at 120fps at 720.  The GoPro site actually has a decent explanation of how to process the footage using software.  

I contacted GoPro before leaving, asking about the problems I was having with the wifi turning on, and I was pleasantly surprised by their quick response and good communications.  They took 24 hours to reply to my initial email contact, and gave me a textbook "you are a newbie and you should read the instructions" reply.  But after that, I was able to talk with a real live person at GoPro who has promised that he will handle the replacement camera upon my return from Hawaii.  I'll report on those communications when and if I get the camera replaced. 

For those of you with Hero 3 cameras, here are the communications that I had with GoPro about my problem.  Hopefully this will save you some time.  It's obvious to me that I have a defective camera that does not have proper working wifi. 

Here are my email communications with GoPro. 

-->
    On 3/21/13 10:18 AM, GoPro wrote:

> *Update for Case #xxx - "can't turn wifi on GoPro"*
>
> Hi Norbert,
>
> Unfortunately it sounds like there could be a fault with the camera, and
> we'll need to go ahead with replacing your unit under warranty. To get
> the process started, can you please reply via e-mail with a copy of your
> purchase receipt to show you are within the warranty period, the
> camera's serial number located on the silver sticker inside the battery
> compartment, and also follow the below link to enter your return
> shipping info for the replacement camera:
>
> Enter Address Here.
>
> Once we hear back, we'll be able to provide you with a RMA (returns
> authorization) and returns instructions.
>
> Our apologies for the inconvenience, but we'll do our best to get you a
> fully functioning replacement as soon as possible.
>
> Many Thanks,
> xxx Y.
> GoPro Support
> gopro.com/support
>


>>   *Message History*
>>   -----Original Message-----
>>   From: xxx Norbert Wu
>>   Sent: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 02:07 pm PDT (GMT-07:00)
>>   Subject: can't turn wifi on GoPro
>>;
>>   Dear GoPro: Thanks for the instructions, but I already tried them
>>   several times to no avail. I read your manual, I looked at YouTube
>>   videos, I checked your website, and I've now spent a good 12 hours
>>   trying to make the wifi on this camera work. The instructions that
>>   you just sent are basically the same as those elsewhere. The Hero3
>>   Black edition camera that I have simply is not putting out a wifi
>>   signal. I cannot see any wifi network on the camera with my ipad
>>and
>>   it won't pair with the remote. I can see the remote's wifi network
>>   on my ipad just as soon as I power it up. When I turn on the
>>wifi on
>>   the camera, the blue light blinks and the front LCD panel shows the
>>   very small wifi signal. However, it shows "wifi off" on the LCD
>>   bacpac. I believe after 12 hours of testing that this camera's wifi
>>   radio is not working. I am not a noob or an idiot. I have been an
>>   underwater photographer for the past 25 years
>>(www.norbertwu.com). I
>>   was trained as an engineer. I consulted for Apple Computer in 2005
>>   to develop their Aperture software. I know computers and
>>cameras, so
>>   I'd appreciate your not sending me a repeat of what you have in the
>>   user manual. As I stated before, I plan to use this camera for a
>>   trip to Maui from March 25-April 3. After April 3, I would like to
>>   return this camera for a replacement unit that actually works as it
>>   should. The camera I have now will work OK for the surf photography
>>   I am hoping to do in Hawaii. Thanks for taking this complaint
>>   seriously. Norbert Wu, cell phone xxx
>>;
>>   -----Original Message-----
>>   From: (GoPro Customer Service Representative)
>>   Sent: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 01:42 pm PDT (GMT-07:00)
>>   Subject: can't turn wifi on GoPro
>>;
>>   Hi Norbert,
>>;
>>   Sorry to hear that you are having trouobles using the Wi-Fi,
>>;
>>   Can you expain what steps you are doing to use the Wi-Fi on the
>>camera?
>>;
>>   we are also going to send you instructions on how to pair the
>>Remote
>>   to the camera and to the GoPro App hopfully this will help.
>>   If your Wi-Fi Remote and HERO3 lost pairing.  They will need to be
>>   paired in order for your remote to control your camera.
>>;
>>   You will need to complete steps both on your Wi-Fi Remote and your
>>   HERO3 to get them paired.  Here’s how to pair your remote and
>>camera:
>>;
>>   To get started, make sure your camera and remote have full charge
>>   and are powered OFF.
>>;
>>   HERO3 pairing steps:
>>;
>>   1.  Power ON HERO3.
>>   2.  Press the Wi-Fi button on the left side of the camera with the
>>   lens facing you.  You’ll see a blue LED blink every couple of
>>   seconds to show that you camera’s Wi-Fi is turned on.
>>   3.  Now that the blue LED is blinking, press the Wi-Fi button one
>>   more time to show the Wi-Fi menu on the camera’s front LCD screen.
>>;
>>   Now that you’re in the Wi-Fi menu, you need to select some
>>settings.
>>     To navigate the menu, use the camera’s front (Power) button to
>>   highlight menu options.  Use the camera’s top (Shutter) button to
>>   make selections.
>>;
>>   4.  In the Wi-Fi menu, press the camera’s front button until “Wi-Fi
>>   RC” is highlighted.
>>   5.  Now that it’s highlighted, you want to select it.  Press the
>>   camera’s top button to select “Wi-Fi RC”.
>>   6.  On the next screen you’ll have some options.  One of them is
>>   “New”.  Press the front button until “New” is highlighted.
>>   7.  Now you want to select “New”.  Press the top button to
>>select it.
>>   8.  If you see “Detach current remote?”  Highlight and select
>>“Yes”.
>>;
>>;
>>   After that, you should see two arrows moving towards each other on
>>   the camera’s screen.  This means that the camera is in pairing
>>mode.
>>;
>>   Now you have to get the remote into pairing mode white the
>>camera is
>>   still in pairing mode so they can find each other.  Note – the
>>   camera is in pairing mode only when its screen shows the two arrows
>>   moving towards each other.
>>;
>>   Remote pairing steps:
>>;
>>   1. With the remote powered OFF, press and hold the red Shutter
>>   button on the remote.
>>   2.  While continuing to hold the red button, press the white Power
>>   button once briefly.  The remote will power on and show two arrows
>>   moving towards each other.  You can let go of the red button at
>>this
>>   time.  Now the remote is in pairing mode.
>>;
>>   After one minute or less, the camera and remote should each show a
>>   checkbox on their screens.  If the Remote asks you to pair another,
>>   press the white button to highlight no, then press the red
>>button to
>>   select it.
>>;
>>   If the remote shows a radiating Wi-Fi signal after the camera shows
>>   a checkbox, press the red button on the remote.  This should make
>>   the Remote’s LCD screen mirror the camera’s front LCD screen,
>>   indicating that pairing was successful.
>>;
>>;
>>;
>>   Here are instructions on how to set up your HERO3 with the GoPro
>>App.
>>;
>>   1.  Run any updates for your device’s OS, then download the GoPro
>>   App to your smartphone or tablet if you don’t have it yet.
>>;
>>   If you already downloaded the app, make sure that you have the
>>   current version.  You can find this information on your device in
>>   the App Store for iOS or Google Play for Android.
>>;
>>   2.  Power ON your camera.
>>;
>>   3.  Press the small Wi-Fi button on the left side of the camera as
>>   the lens is facing you.
>>;
>>   4.  Press the small Wi-Fi button again and look at the camera’s LCD
>>   screen to see the Wi-Fi menu.
>>;
>>   5.  Press the camera’s front Power button to highlight “GoPro App”.
>>;
>>   Note – if you don’t see “GoPro App” in the menu along with “Wi-Fi
>>   RC”, then you need to update your camera’s firmware before you can
>>   use the GoPro App.  You can update your HERO3 firmware here:
>>     http://gopro.com/support/product-registration/hd-hero3-cameras/.
>>;
>>   6.  Press the camera’s top Shutter button to select “GoPro App”.
>>     This allows your phone or tablet to connect to the camera’s Wi-Fi
>>   network so that you can control the camera.
>>;
>>   Now that we have the camera ready to connect to the GoPro App,
>>let’s
>>   get your smartphone or tablet set up.
>>;
>>   1.  In your smart phone or tablet’s Wi-Fi Network settings menu,
>>   connect to the camera’s Wi-Fi network. You should find the name of
>>   your camera listed in your available Wi-Fi networks for you to
>>   select.  By default, the name will be something like “GOPRO-BP-….”.
>>   The default password is “goprohero”.
>>;
>>   Note – You may have changed the camera’s name and Wi-Fi password in
>>   “Step 3 – Camera Setup” when you updated your camera’s
>>firmware.  If
>>   you do not recall the name and password you set, you’ll need to
>>   manually update the camera’s firmware again.  If you need to do
>>this
>>   and are unsure how to, please let us know and we can send you
>>   instructions.
>>;
>>   2.  Once connected to your camera’s Wi-Fi network, open the GoPro
>>   App on your phone or tablet.
>>;
>>   3.  Tap “CONNECT + CONTROL”.
>>;
>>   You should now be able to control the camera and view preview with
>>   your smartphone or tablet.
>>;
>>   I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions.
>>;
>>   Many Thanks,
>>   xxxx.
>>   GoPro Support
>>   http://gopro.com/support/
>>;
>>   -----Original Message-----
>>   From: xxx Norbert Wu
>>   Sent: Tuesday , March 19, 2013 02:43 pm PDT (GMT-07:00)
>>   Subject: can't turn wifi on GoPro
>>;
>>   I have spent hours trying to get the GoPro wifi working. The blue
>>   light turns on, but it does not seem like the wifi is working on
>>the
>>   camera. I've tried updating the firmware twice, using a PC and a
>>   Mac. I've tried connecting the remote with the camera dozens of
>>   times to no avail. I can see the remote's wifi signal on my iPad as
>>   soon as I turn it on, but I cannot see the camera's wifi signal,
>>   ever. If I turn on the wifi button on the camera, the blue
>>lights on
>>   the camera will blink, but I don't believe that the wifi has indeed
>>   been turned on. If I have the LCD back on the Hero3 camera, it says
>>   "wifi off" even if the blue wifi light is blinking. I hope that you
>>   can help or let me return this unit for one that works

>>   3. Thanks, Norbert Wu, cell phone xxx

A Tip if You Are Traveling Through Maui Airport (OGG)

I love Maui, and indeed, all the Hawaiian Airlines.  The one thing that I don't like about visiting the Islands is the long wait to get through security, that I've experienced in both Kona and Maui.  In Kona, after you get through security, you have a long wait in an outside area that can be very hot and crowded.  There's a small restaurant in Kona, but it's usually full.  Not a good experience, but I have not been back there in several years. 

The Maui airport is more comfortable and larger, but here's a tip.  At the OGG airport in Maui, there is a main security line which is always long and crowded.  It’s the first line after you check in for your flights.  If you look around, however, you will see signs for  “security checkpoint 2”.  You should confirm that there is a second security line with an agent, then continue walking another 50 yards, and you will be in a peaceful, uncrowded security line with two X-ray machines.  I got through in 5 minutes.  In the main line, I’ve stood there for an hour on a good day.  
 

My Stay at the Aqua Palms Hotel in Waikiki

I traveled to Maui and Oahu with an old college surfer friend in late March.  I wanted to test the slo-mo capabilities of my new GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera at my favorite surf sites on the island.  In Oahu, I stayed at the Aqua Palms Hotel in Waikiki. 

video

This hotel is located in a nice section of Waikiki, right across the street from the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  I booked the room several months early and got a very good rate for Waikiki.  The thing about Oahu is that there are not many hotels that are outside of Waikiki except for very large expensive resorts.  All I want in a hotel room is that it is clean, safe, relatively inexpensive, and easy to get into and out of.  This hotel met all the criteria.  Parking is $20 at the hotel and I never had trouble finding a space.  The wired internet in the room was very fast and reliable.  The room included good working A/C, a mini fridge, and a microwave.  Overall, the hotel is getting a bit old but the management is responsive and responsible, and the rooms are well maintained and clean.

The only complaint I had about my stay (and this is not the fault of the hotel) is that there was construction going on below my room, which was on the "city side" of the hotel rather than the side facing the ocean.  A pile driver and construction noise started at 7AM every day and went on until 5PM.  Luckily I am not sensitive to noise but this would have driven most people crazy. 

The other problem I encountered was that the hotel messed up my reservation and sent me several emails that my stay had been cancelled.  I had to call the hotel about six times over six months to re-confirm and explain the situation (I had booked originally through booking.com but then cancelled that reservation and booked directly; somehow the hotel got confused).  The hotel manager(s) took care of this problem but it did cause some worry.  

My room was on the top  (11th) floor, I was told that the larger rooms had a sofa (I asked for a larger room); there was a bit of wait for the elevators sometimes but not a big problem, and the room was fine.  The top rooms are quieter, especially at night, and the temperature was perfect.  I usually sleep with the room cooled by A/C; here, I just left the balcony doors open and the temperature was just fine.