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Apple's iPad - some observations

I just typed "iPad" into the mental_floss back-end search engine and was amazed to discover that we haven't yet written anything substantial on this possibly game-changing device. There was this post, the interview with Chris Anderson of Wired magazine talking about the future of publishing vis-à-vis the iPad, but that was about it.

So, here's a post about the iPad because I went to the Apple store yesterday and gave it a whirl after reading this amazing Boing Boing post by Cory Doctorow over the weekend touting all the reasons why you SHOULDN'T buy the iPad. (And if you're considering one, absolutely read the post.)

Disclaimer: this isn't an official review of the iPad "“ just some observations.

Observation no. 1: I couldn't believe how many people were fighting to get their hands on the device! Not to buy it, just to try it. And the way some people were excited just to see it, as if they'd just discovered nirvana. I actually overheard someone say this, "Holy sh*t! There it is! Would you look at that! Wow!"

The table where they had the iPads on display had several rings of people standing on their tippy toes to see over the people in front of them as they waited impatiently to get their hands on it. The only other times I saw something like it, was when I visited the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem and when I visited the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

Observation no. 2: There's no Adobe Flash on the iPad. Why? If you could watch free TV shows on Hulu, then why buy them on iTunes? If you could play Flash games on sites like Miniclip, why buy them at the App Store, where Apple takes a 30% cut of every sale. This, by my way of thinking, is the biggest flaw of the Apple tablet. It's hard not having Flash on my iPhone, but on this larger device, you can't really live without it. So you have to believe that sooner, rather than later, someone like Brightcove will come along and release an app that gives you a workaround. Or Apple will cave to public pressure. Because too many sites rely on Flash to bring you their content. So this will have to change. But for now, it's a big black mark.

Observation no. 3: If you like reading books on the Kindle, you'll totally love reading them on the iPad. The screen is bright, the text pops, and the user experience is rich and fast. I think a lot of people will buy the iPad just for the e-books, especially since it's infinitely cooler looking than the Kindle and has that Apple cachet. The New York Times once wrote a piece about how Apple has a monopoly on Cool, and when it comes to e-book readers, this is no exception.

Observation no. 4: Pictures look amazing! You can stretch them, turn them, poke them and pinch them however you want and they just leap off the screen.

Observation no. 5: This thing is FAST! I don't know which version I had in my hands yesterday, but it was the fastest machine I've ever played with. No wait time on anything "“ at least none that's noticeable or annoying. I remembered back to the early "˜90s and how we had to wait for the dozen blue bars on AOL's homepage"¦ and wait, and wait, and wait. I knew back then that the day would come when there was no load-time. That day has arrived.

Observation no. 6: It's easier to type on than the iPhone, that's for sure. Still, it's no walk in the park.

Observation no. 7
: I'm going to have to go back and play around with it some more before I decide if I need one now or if I'll have to wait for the next version.

What about you all? Anyone buy one yet? What do you think?

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Love Gordon Ramsay's Sick Kitchen Burns? Try His Insult-Loving Alexa App
Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images
Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

You can now invite Gordan Ramsay into your kitchen to evaluate your cooking. Or his voice, at least. Amazon Alexa’s new Gordon Ramsay skill features audio critiques from the notoriously foul-mouthed celebrity chef.

The interactive app was developed by the audio company Ground Control, which also produces podcasts like the former vice president’s news show, Biden’s Briefing, and various other Amazon Alexa skills.

For better or for worse, the Gordon Ramsay skill’s canned audio doesn’t actually require you to cook anything, as I found out when I decided to try it out on my own device at home. I was too busy (read: lazy) to actually whip up a dish, and decided to fool good ol’ Gordon instead.

“Alexa, ask Gordon Ramsay what he thinks of my lasagna,” I shout from my couch, take-out curry in my hands.

“The stench of your cooking violates the Clean Act,” he tells me. Rude! At one point, he calls me a doughnut. Somehow, this isn't a compliment. “I’ve seen better food in my dog’s food bowl,” he complains.

I try to take a different tack. “Alexa, ask Gordon Ramsay what I should cook for dinner.” Unfortunately, the chef has no suggestions—he only provides insults, not ideas. You have to ask something in the vein of “Critique my beef bourguignon,” or “Are my cookies bad?” (The answer is always yes, and probably will be bleeped.)

The virtual Ramsay will also get impatient if you don’t tell him to stop or ask him to judge another dish. “Wakey wakey,” he chides me when I don’t respond to his last sick burn. "Give me a f***ing question!" he yells at another point. If you want him to go away, you’ll have to speak up. “Stop!” I finally protest. Alexa asks me if I’d like to share my experience with my friends. No thank you!

“Try again tomorrow,” Ramsay signs off. “Hopefully by then, you’ll have learned how to cook.” Somehow, I doubt he'll like my lasagna any more than he does now.

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Ready to Cut the Cord? 12 Cost-Saving Alternatives to Cable
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By now, you’ve likely heard about how much less expensive it is to forgo your cable package and fulfill your television needs with streaming services—heck, your friend/neighbor/cousin/chatty coworker has been droning on about it for months. You’re finally ready to take the plunge; but where do you start?

First, make sure your router is up to the task: Don’t invest time and money in setting up new subscriptions and gadgets only to wind up with buffering video. Look for routers with dual-band connectivity; Netflix recommends a download speed of at least 5 Mbps (Megabits per second) for HD quality video, and over 25 Mpbs for Ultra HD. Then, substitute your cable or satellite provider for one or a combination of these 12 options.

1. THE BIG THREE

Often referred to as “The Big Three,” Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime are considered the cream of the crop in online streaming because they offer outstanding original programming in addition to large catalogs of existing shows and movies. Subscriptions to all three can be fairly reasonable, with Amazon Prime starting at $99 a year or $12.99 per month. Netflix's standard plan goes for $10.99 a month now, while Hulu will set you back $7.99 a month with limited commercials, or an extra $4 per month with no ads.

2. FLAT ANTENNAS

Since 2009, television stations have been required to broadcast exclusively in digital, rendering old-fashioned “rabbit ears” obsolete. Now, you can watch live shows on networks like NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, PBS, The CW, and others by installing a flat antenna in your home. Models by Mohu (starting at $17.99) and Channel Master ($19) are affordable and easy to install.

3. OVER-THE-AIR DVR

The one drawback to relying on a flat antenna is that you must watch your shows in real time, with no fast-forwarding, pausing, or rewinding. Solve this issue with an over-the-air (OTA) DVR. Services like Tablo or Plex DVR allow you to record live TV shows and then store them on an external hard drive for delayed streaming. (The catch is, some of these services require you to purchase a corresponding device—they won’t work with just any antenna.)

4. TV STREAMING SERVICES

Want more TV channels than are available through your antenna? For $20 a month, you can subscribe to Sling TV to get 28 live-streaming cable channels, such as AMC, CNN, TNT, Comedy Central, and the History Channel. A $40 monthly subscription will give you access to over 40 channels, including ESPN. There are other emerging services that might work for you, too.

PlayStation Vue has multiple plans depending on your interests, and you don't even need a PlayStation 4 console to use it. YouTube TV has fewer channels and plans than the Vue, but at $35 a month, it has a solid selection of high-profile networks, including ESPN and FX. Hulu has also entered the game with a live TV service, touting 50+ channels at $39.99 a month (which also includes the limited commercials Hulu streaming subscription). DirectTV Now has a package that starts off at more than 60 channels for $35, and it tops off at $70 for 120-plus channels.

You'll have to browse through each individual service to find out which one is compatible with the devices you own and if these plans are more cost-effective than your current cable package. But with no equipment costs or long-term contracts, these services are worth considering if you're ditching cable.

5. SPECIALIZED SUBSCRIPTIONS

If you have more unique tastes than even Netflix can account for, chances are there is a specialized streaming service that can give you what you want. Fans of British television should check out Acorn TV, which allows you to watch episodes of Jeeves and Wooster and the original Prime Suspect on your smart TV or mobile device for only $5 a month. If anime is your thing, Crunchyroll professes to be “one of the few legal, official anime and drama streaming sites out there," with premium subscriptions starting at $7 a month. Cinephiles have a few choices for popular art house and indie movies: Check out Mubi, Fandor, and FilmStruck, which is a streaming service collaboration from Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection.

6. CHROMECAST

Google's Chromecast ($35) quickly turns any HD TV into a smart TV. Just plug the Chromecast dongle into your TV’s HDMI port and connect it to your home Wi-Fi network. Now you can stream various apps (including Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Now, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and more) onto the TV in your living room, while using your Android or iOS device as a remote control.

7. ROKU

Roku is a little black set-top box that connects your TV to the internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. It comes with a simple remote control and features more video streaming content than any other device or media streamer. You can even plug in a USB drive to play your own video and music files on your TV. Available in a number of models, including a USB stick version (starting at $49.95), many experts consider it the best and most reliable streaming device on the market today.

8. APPLE TV

If you’re an iTunes user who owns an iOS device and a MacBook, then Apple TV might be the best choice for you. Like Chromecast and Roku, Apple TV gives you easy access to the Big Three as well as HBO and Showtime; what sets it apart for Apple users is its seamless integration of iTunes and other Apple apps. It also comes with a nifty touch-surface remote that lets you swipe or use Siri to surf channels. With prices starting at $149, it’s the most expensive set top-streaming box for cord cutters, but it will be well worth the cost if you already live in the Apple ecosystem.

9. PLEX

If you already have a large digital movie, music, and TV library, you can use Plex to easily watch your media files from your computer or television. Sign up for and install the Plex Media Server (it’s free!) on your computer and it will catalog, organize, and label your files into a user-friendly interface that’s watchable on Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Android and iOS devices, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

10. STANDALONE PREMIUM NETWORK SUBSCRIPTIONS

In the past, if you wanted premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime, you’d have to include it to your cable subscription package at an additional cost. But the networks have gotten hip to the cord-cutting trend and now offer standalone subscriptions. HBO offers HBO Now for $14.99 a month, while Starz has a streaming service for $8.99 a month that is compatible with Apple TV, Android, Roku, Chromecast, and Amazon Prime. Showtime offers streaming for $10.99 a month, or you can add Showtime to your Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime accounts for an extra $8.99.

11. DIGITAL NEWS OUTLETS

There are also great streaming options for news junkies. While CNN and MSNBC don’t have standalone streaming services, the cable news networks are available on Sling TV. News outlets like CBS News, Sky News, ABC News, Bloomberg TV, Fusion, and Newsy, meanwhile, all offer free live streaming services for Roku and Apple TV.

12. SPORTS PASSES

For some people, watching live sporting events has been one of the biggest barriers to completely canceling their cable subscriptions. But over the years, major sports leagues and entertainment venues have started to cater to the demands of cord-cutters. Now you can watch live, out-of-market Major League Baseball games on MLB.tv, hockey with the NHL GameCenter Live, and basketball with NBA League Pass. The NFL and DirecTV are now offering NFL Sunday Ticket to non-DirecTV customers, so more people can watch live, out-of-market NFL games every Sunday. You can even subscribe to the WWE Network for $10 a month for access to an extensive back catalog library and every new pay-per-view event.

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