Jul 142014

I picked up Bloons TD 5 ($2.99 Appstore), by Ninja Kiwi, from Amazon last Fall, when it was free. It then lingered in the cloud until I saw a review that recommended it (and I’d finished playing through Plants vs. Zombies). It’s become my current game obsession, as it has for another family member that saw me playing.

Essentially, Bloons is a military strategy / tower defense game. You place your towers on the “board” – the scenery of each particular level, which an include land and water features (with towers that only work on one or the other).

In-App purchases are available, of course, but it’s quite playable without using any (including match play, although I would not try it anywhere without a decent internet connection.

Five-star tower defense with unrivaled depth and replayability – now featuring 2-player co-operative play!

Build awesome towers, choose your favorite upgrades, hire cool new Special Agents, and pop every last invading Bloon in the best ever version of the most popular tower defense series in history.

Bloons TD 5 delivers hours of fun and challenging play to fans and new players alike, with awesome features like this:

  • 19+ powerful towers with Activated Abilities and 2 upgrade paths
  • 30+ Tracks
  • Two-player co-operative play on custom co-op tracks
  • 10 Special Agents
  • 10 Special Missions
  • 250+ Random Missions
  • New Bloon enemies – tougher Camos, Regrower Bloons, and the fearsome ZOMG
  • 3 different game modes
  • Freeplay mode after mastering a track
  • 3 difficulty settings and family-friendly theme so anyone can play

And that’s just the beginning – a long list of planned updates will keep Bloons TD 5 fresh, fun, and challenging for many months to come. Now it’s time to pop some Bloons!

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Nov 052013

I ordered a Kindle Fire HDX, which arrived on Friday, along with the Standing Polyurethane Origami Case, which has several features that I really like (although I’m not crazy about how it looks). Below are some of my impressions over the last couple of days, along with some photos of the new design for both the Kindle Fire and it’s case.

The first surprise was when UPS arrived – this Kindle comes in a plain brown wrapper, unlike most of the previous models, which used a branded shipping case (and no doubt made them the target of thieves, once left on doorsteps). This package though, only had a required warning of the lithium batteries inside to give away it’s contents. Once I opened that smiling brown wrapper, I found a simply wrapped (frustration free) box that would look at home on retail shelves (which is no doubt one reason behind the change). Inside that box, was the tablet itself, along with a charger block and USB cable. The charger is 1 Amp and you’ll want to use it for the Fire HDX, as it complained of low output (and warned of long charging times) on other chargers I tried, including a 1.8A charger that the older generations of Kindle Fire I have have been quite happy with. The new charger works fine for the older tablets, though, so I can stay with only one charger that I rotate between devices.

Here are a couple of pics showing the front and back of the HDX. You can see there is one camera, in the front (I wish this one had a rear camera also, as I suspect the larger HDX will be a bit tricky to hold up and take pics with, due to it’s size). What you may not see very well in the picture of the back is that there has been a big change in the beveling around the back edge of the cover, which makes it fit better in your hand. Also, the stereo speakers are much louder than the ones on the previous model – I can listen to the NY Times using just the built-in speakers, while I often used an external speaker on the Fire HD. The external speaker port is on the side of the case, near the volume controls and the USB charger/interface port is on the opposite side of the case, near the on/off button. One rather odd consequence of the beveling on the back: both ports are in the case at an angle, so the USB cable or headphone connectors angle upwards when in use, rather than laying entirely flat.

Next I opened up the Origami cover that I ordered. Amazon has changed up all the colors (I really wanted the Honey Yellow they had in the previous covers). I ordered Citron, but sort of wish I’d picked the purple, as I think I would like the darker color. As you can see from the pictures below, there are button impressions that line up with the buttons on the back of the Fire HDX. This cover is magnetic, so it pops into place easily (and is a lot easier to get off than the covers from the previous Fire HD models, which required prying off one corner at a time). As you can see, the origami folding means that the cover front has a heavy design on it, when it’s protecting the tablet. Included with the tablet are directions on how to fold it up (which I promptly did wrong, the first time): if you fold it before trying to prop it up, it’s easy to tell when you have it correct, as the magnets pop it into place and hold the shape, as shown below. You can then prop the case up at two different angles, for easy viewing without having to hold the case yourself (which is much better, for watching movies, as well as reading — it helps deflect any glare from overhead lights).

The next surprise happened when I turned on the Fire HDX – instead of the lengthy “welcome” procedure, there were only a couple of screens to confirm registration and set up WiFi and I was ready to start testing it out. Checking the various categories, I could see that it only downloaded a list of the last few books and filled in the other categories first. I have a pretty large library on Kindle, so it looks like it may take a few days for all the books in my archive to appear, but (so far) I am not seeing the same extremely long delay to get into the Books tab. If that keeps up, it will be a huge improvement.

After downloading a few apps from the Kindle store (including The Washington Post for Kindle Fire app, since access is free this month), I looked for Dropbox — unfortunately, the app in the Amazon store isn’t marked as compatible with any of the Kindle Fire tablets. So, after a bit of surfing around, I finally located the page to download the app directly from Dropbox. You do need to enable installation of third-party apps on your Kindle first (Settings | Applications | Apps from Unknown Sources). After installing Dropbox, I could access the apps I generally install on my tablets, including Aldiko (which I use to read DRM’d EPUB books on the Kindle, such as the ones I buy from Sony or Kobo. This last is something you can’t do on the eInk Kindles; I’ve included my Paperwhite (the original model) in the pic below, so you can see how the screen size compares. The HDX is a bit heavier than the Paperwhite, but seems to be considerably lighter than the 7″ Kindle Fire HD that I got last year (some of that may be the cover difference). For playing games, the case on the HDX pops right off, so you can shed even more weight when needed (I don’t suggest removing the Amazon cover from the older HD models very often or even the Paperwhite – a bit of torque is applied to the screen when prying it off, which must be done one corner at a time and you can break the screen if you are not careful; that isn’t a problem with the new Origami case, due to the magnetic attachment, rather than snapping entirely around the screen).

One app I really wanted to try was Netflix. It had been working on my Kindle Fire, but I’d seen rumors that the latest update had broken it. I did a quick check in the Amazon store and my HDX wasn’t listed as supported or not supported (which is a bit odd; it’s as if that one app didn’t known I had registered the device, even though the HDX showed up on other apps). I tried the older version of the Netflix APK I had saved (I copied it from a tablet I had it installed it on using the Google Play store). Installation went fine, but the app stopped just after it started. I rebooted the Fire HDX and when I retried the app, it offered to update — unfortunately, that version didn’t work, either. So, off to send an email to Amazon complaining that Netflix didn’t work. I did get a reply several hours later, telling me that Netflix wasn’t supported, but that was actually erroneous info; apparently someone at Amazon either found the problem on their own or fixed it after my email — within an hour, a new update pushed out to the HDX, it rebooted on it’s own and suddenly Netflix showed up as a compatible app in the Amazon store. The update also fixed an error that caused apps that you already owned to show up with purchase buttons, instead of download buttons. After removing the old version of the app, I installed the one currently at Amazon and had Breaking Bad playing a few minutes later!

So far, I really like the HDX – listening to audiobooks is better, I like the new case and (so far) the Books tab is working much better than the one on the HD models (and the 2nd Gen Fire, which has a different OS from the original Fire). I’m hopeful that this last item will continue, as I could not use the HD to read any books that were not in the carousel or on the Favorites page. Speaking of Favorites – that feature is now gone … but there is a Home page feature, that appears to be the almost the same thing, with the addition of showing you the books and apps that you accessed recently, along with anything to mark to show on your home page. Swiping up from the bottom of the page when the carousel is displayed will bring up the home page icons – swipe down and they disappear and the carousel can be viewed instead. For videos, you can now download Prime videos, rather than having to view while connected to Wi-Fi, which means I’ll finally be able to use this feature; our internet connection isn’t good enough to view video online (and we can’t get the company to fix it; it used to work fine for Netflix and Amazon video). Streaming just doesn’t work here (for Amazon or Netflix), so I use it when I’m somewhere else with a good WiFi connection; the new Prime downloading, though, I can let run all night and then watch an episode when I get the time.

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 Posted by on November 5, 2013 at 12:30 PM
Nov 052013

Last week, Amazon debuted their new weekly literary magazine, Day One, which is currently on sale for $9.99 per year (unlike most Kindle subscriptions, it’s an annual price, rather than monthly, although you do still get the first 30 days free, and the regular price will be $19.99/year). Each issue will contain a short story and poem that are, in some way, related, along with original artwork for the cover.

I wanted to wait to discuss it until I’d read my issue, so here is my review. I was, long, long ago, once the editor for a literary magazine and know that it is difficult to both find the gems to be featured and pairing two together makes it exponentially more so. The debut issue does quite well in this regard. I will say, I predicted the direction of the short story fairly early (there were really only two choices), but that didn’t stop me from needing a tissue when I finished reading. That left the poem, which I understand most won’t be as interested in, the author interviews (and bios)

If you order today, you’ll still get the first issue. Even if you skip the poem, it’s worth subscribing for the short story alone. The next issue should be released tomorrow and will contain Clare Beam’s short story, The Saltwater Cure, set in 1932, and Rest Stop/ Fresno County Line/ January, a poem by Morgan Parker that explores starting over after the loss of a relationship.

So far, the negative reviews at Amazon are focused on the geographic restrictions, the magazine/azw format (that most would not even consider as an issue) and one person was upset that he could not figure out how to “Keep” his issues (which was an option on my Kindle, plus it’s fairly easy to download a copy for offline backup now, from the Manage Your Kindle page, although the backup will be DRM-locked).

Book Description
Day One is a weekly literary journal dedicated to short fiction from debut writers, English translations of stories from around the world, and poetry. Each issue showcases one writer and poet and includes an introduction from the editor, an interview with the authors, and occasional bonus content. Day One features cover art commissioned from emerging artists and illustrators, and readers will learn more about the artist and the genesis of the cover each week.

Kindle Magazines are fully downloaded onto your Kindle so you can read them even when you’re not wirelessly connected.

You can read more about the magazine and the authors and artist featured in the first issue here.

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