Any advice for an European train adventure (honeymoon)?

My fiancée and I are getting married next summer. And we’re tossing around the idea of going on an European adventure for our honeymoon.

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The basic premise of the idea is that we go for about 12 days and begin the adventure in London where we’ll take two days to explore Great Britain’s countryside (see the Jurassic Coast, Stonehenge, etc.). Then we’ll take the train to Paris where we’ll see the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, etc. We’re thinking we’ll spend a few days in Paris. Then we’ll take the train south to visit the Mediterranean coast of France, then head over to Italy and Rome.

My fiancée has a pretty solid plan for the trip. When she told me about it, it filled up about 12 days but as I write it all down here it seems I am missing some pieces and forgetting certain elements. But I’m also looking for any recommendations on a trip through Europe by train and any suggestions on what to see, what to do, and what not to do! My fiancée and I look forward to reading what you have to say!

On rebuilding my personal brand

Kelly Clay published an excellent blog post this evening on a topic that really hit home for me personally. She talks about how her personal brand lost its way and how she found it again. I need to find my personal brand again.

I’m going to try and do more blogging here again.

I’ve been meaning to do more writing anyway (I love to write). Maybe share some of my photography and stories around those photos. Talk a little tech too.

I also need to do something with my blog’s theme. I need something that reflects my personality. More bright colors! I’m open to suggestions on themes.

More to come!

Cinemagraph: The return of the animated GIF?

I took my first “cinemagraph” this past weekend with my Lumia 920 Windows Phone. Nokia provides an app that takes quick snapshots of movement that results in an animated .GIF file that can be shared. Many mobile phones have apps that take “cinemagraphs”.

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It’s kind of a neat concept but I can’t help but feel instantly transported back to 1997.

Thoughts on Nike+ FuelBand

In October, I hit the 200-day mark with my Nike+ FuelBand and as of today over 650,000 NikeFuel. A lot of folks have asked me about my Nike+ FuelBand and what I think about it.

The Nike+ FuelBand is a wrist-band that you wear everyday that calculates daily activity using it’s built in 3-axis accelerometer which measures your motion. Your everyday activity is measured by NikeFuel – you can read the definition of what NikeFuel is here. It also has an ambient light sensor that detects environmental light levels – the brighter your environment, the brighter your display. You then sync your Nike+ FuelBand to the Nike+ service where you can compare your NikeFuel with friends and set goals for yourself. [Note: you sync the FuelBand with the Nike+ service via USB through your PC or if you have an iOS device an iOS app via Bluetooth. For me, I simply sync through my PC.]

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What I like about my Nike+ FuelBand is the concepts Nike introduce for tracking everyday activity. I like how Nike has come up with a concept (NikeFuel) that measures that activity in a way that seems equal when compared to others. After setting a daily NikeFuel goal, its super easy to check how much NikeFuel you’ve earned throughout the day by simply pressing the single button on the FuelBand. The FuelBand also will show you estimated calories burned, estimated steps you’ve taken throughout the day, and the time. It’s also fun if you have friends who have FuelBands because you can compare with your friends through the Nike+ service and earn achievements you can share out to Facebook of Twitter. I like the actual design of the FuelBand which makes me feel like I am wearing some sort of futuristic watch.

But there are a few things I don’t like about the Nike+ FuelBand.

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For regular wear-and-tear on the FuelBand over the 7+ months of wearing it every day – the latch has essentially stopped working all that great. It still latches when I put it on. But movement of the wrist often forces the FuelBand to unlatch multiple times during the day and this behavior is increasing. I am becoming more and more concerned that my FuelBand will just fall off my wrist somewhere and I’ll lose it. Not good.

Also – the Nike+ service has a long ways to go. At times, the service won’t let me log in on multiple browsers. I’ve gone a few rounds with @NikeSupport on Twitter on trying to resolve and eventually the log in issues just disappear on their own. And the service is really hard to navigate and get around with multiple tabs (sections) that give you different information.

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For example – there are multiple ways you can earn NikeFuel. Nike has brought NikeFuel to other products too like the Nike+ SportWatch GPS. You can also earn NikeFuel through the Kinect on the Xbox 360 with Nike+ Kinect Training. But in the Nike+ service – these are calculated out separately in the dashboard (e.g. Nike+ FuelBand, Nike+ Running, etc.). It’s great to see data per product/device, don’t get me wrong. However, the service does not let you see total NikeFuel earned in a single day with all products/devices combined. There is no good “combined” view of everything and all activity. If you go on a run with your Nike+ SportWatch – you don’t want to wear your FuelBand at the same time. This is because the SportWatch calculates NikeFuel too. Wearing both the SportWatch and the FuelBand at the same time for a run will duplicate NikeFuel you earn for that run. So you wear your FuelBand all day, come home from work and put on your SportWatch and go for a run and then come back home and put your FuelBand back on – when all your activity is synced to the Nike+ service it adds to your total earned NikeFuel and you can see the data separated out but there is no daily combined view of what you’ve earned. It is super hard for me to see total earned NikeFuel between multiple devices using Nike+. This whole experience is a bit wonky – but only for folks looking to use multiple products/devices that earn NikeFuel.

The Nike+ service is Nike’s biggest opportunity to really improve the NikeFuel concept. Especially since Nike is pushing Nike+ with developers [also: see Nike+ Accelerator]. Imagine third party apps and devices being able to leverage NikeFuel in different activity-related or fitness-related ways? The Nike+ service needs to get more solid and designed in such a way that it gives a person a daily view at all combined activity and NikeFuel earned as well as allowing them to see things separately by product/device. The service definitely needs to be more reliable.

Despite the things I don’t like – I definitely think the Nike+ FuelBand is worth getting if you’re looking for something to track your every day activity and to have some fun with it.

I am really excited to see what Nike does next with Nike+. People are at looking at Google and their Project Glass as the revolutionary next-step in wearable technology. But Nike has already taken steps with Nike+ and the Nike+ FuelBand in terms of wearable technology and can be used today by anyone. But Nike needs to keep taking steps here. And I hope they do.

Why are people I don’t even know adding me as a friend on Foursquare?

What is the deal with people that don’t even know me trying to add me as a friend on Foursquare? I use Foursquare to check-in and share with my friends and family certain activities like dinner at a nice restaurant or visiting a Microsoft Store. When I check-in on Foursquare, those check-in’s can be seen by people I am friends with on Foursquare and also on Facebook as I share check-ins to Facebook as well. But I only want to share this with my friends and family – not at random with just anyone. Sharing my location isn’t like sending out a tweet that can be read by anyone anywhere on Twitter. I’m trying to understand the “why” behind getting random friend requests from people I don’t know on Foursquare. Why would a person feel the need to know where I am checking in – especially if they have never interacted with me ever online or in person? It just doesn’t make sense to me. Location-based social networking is meant, in my opinion, to be more refined and focused around close personal friends and family. It is not meant to be used in the same fashion as say Twitter is where something you tweet can be viewed so broadly. And if I ever were to want to publish a check-in and have it seen by just about anybody, I’d share it on Twitter. So… to all those random people trying to add me as a friend on Foursquare please stop. Your best bet for connect with me is by following me on Twitter. Your friend request on Foursquare will be ignored.

P.S. I wrote a blog post last year about staying safe while checking in online. The post is definitely worth a read for those of you diving into location-based social networking like Foursquare.

My first blog

I stumbled upon backup files of my first blog from 2004 this evening and had a good laugh. At the time, I had not found my “focus” yet in terms of blogging which of course eventually became Microsoft and Microsoft-related technologies (my first “real” blog was MSTechToday.com).

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I designed the website by hand using Microsoft FrontPage 2003 and a bunch of HTML coding. I wasn’t using any sort of blogging platform like WordPress. My “blog” was simply a collection of HTML webpages I linked together unsophisticatedly. Because there wasn’t any platform behind the website, whenever I wanted to add a update ( essentially what would be a “blog post”), I would create a new webpage, upload it, update the frontpage (index.html) with some sort of update linking back to the new webpage. Not really the most efficient way of doing things. I’m very thankful WordPress came along!

The content of my first blog was, as you can see in the above screenshot, a collection of just random life stuff. In 2004, I was a sophomore in college and worked at the local shopping center (a JCPenney store). The last “entry” or update I posted was 8 years and 2 days ago today and was an inside joke with a fellow co-worker.

The website was designed with my favorite colors at the time – I recall really liking greys and shades of blues. I also incorporated elements of my life into the design such as my family dogs, my bird, me and a banner ad for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon (new at the time). I did all the graphics work using Microsoft Image Composer 1.5. I loved this app. It originally shipped with Microsoft FrontPage 2000 which, if I remember correctly, was the only way to get the app.

It’s interesting looking back at this and remembering how much I enjoyed not just posting stuff to a website but working on the website itself. I had a lot of fun. In 2004 I was just beginning to realize how powerful a website and eventually a blog could be to reach people and share thoughts and opinions that would lead to discussions and engagement with people all around the world. Blogging is a powerful tool even today.

Of course, I look at my website from 2004 and my blog of today and really do think I need to update my blog’s lame design.

First Nerd Trivia Season of 2012 has begun!

A new season of Nerd Trivia has begun! Follow @NerdTrivia on Twitter and start answering questions!

This season will feature “theme days”. You can track your points and achievements on the Nerd Trivia website.

Nerd Trivia is a side project by work colleague and friend Laura Massey (@lauralollipop). Laura is regularly a co-host on Major Nelson’s Xbox podcast. Throughout the day, nerd-related trivia questions are asked via @NerdTrivia and followers have a certain amount of time to answer the question to earn points and achievements. Laura runs the show, I’m just a minion helping create some nerdy questions for people to answer.

ASUS’s P8Z68-V Motherboard and updating the UEFI BIOS

A couple of months ago, I purchased a P8Z68-V motherboard from ASUS to give my desktop PC here at home a much needed upgrade. This motherboard has built-in support for USB 3.0, SATA 6Gbps support, UEFI BIOS and a bunch of other super cool features. It also supports Intel’s second-generation Core processors so I picked up a second-generation Core i7.

After installing the new motherboard in my PC, I went out to grab the most updated drivers and BIOS updates from the manufacturer, etc.. The version of the UEFI BIOS that ships with the motherboard was a few months old so I naturally wanted to update it. I went to ASUS’s website, grabbed the latest BIOS ROM file, and put it on a USB thumb drive. To update the UEFI BIOS on this motherboard, you have to go in to the UEFI BIOS and fire up ASUS’s “EZ-Update” for the BIOS under “Advanced Mode”. “EZ-Update” will detect the ROM on the USB thumb drive and update the BIOS. Of course, this wasn’t happening for me. Every time I tried to install the update, it would throw an error telling that the update file (ROM file) is "is not a EFI BIOS". After scratching my head trying to figure out why I was getting this error, I stumbled upon this forum post on AnandTech. Apparently, if you try to update the BIOS using the update file provided from ASUS named with what they name it – it won’t work. You sort of have to rename the file (8 characters). Nice. It also can’t be in a folder on the USB thumb drive and the USB thumb drive needs to be formatted with FAT32. My problem though was simply the naming of the file. The real kicker is ASUS provides no guidance on this as far as I can see on their support website. Still, not entirely sure why ASUS simply just doesn’t provide the update files for the UEFI BIOS in the supported naming format right off-the-bat on their support website. So there you have it. If you have this motherboard and can’t update the UEFI BIOS, that’s why.

On a slightly different note, I am having a weird issue with this PC where unpredictably the PC will reboot by itself and be unable to find the hard drive in which Windows is installed on – leaving the PC at a weird blinking underscore state. Eventually, if I reboot and go into the UEFIO BIOS, look around, and reboot again – it’ll boot into Windows just fine. This issue happens at random and the PC can go weeks without incident. I had ran some diagnostics on the hard drive and as far as I can tell, the drive is fine. I thought updating the BIOS might solve the issue but no dice.

New season of Nerd Trivia has begun!

On August 9th last week, a new season of Nerd Trivia kicked off from @NerdTrivia.

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Nerd Trivia is an interactive trivia game that is played over Twitter. The questions specifically target nerd/geek content such as movies, TV shows, and games. Nerd Trivia is a side project by work colleague and friend Laura Massey (@lauralollipop). Throughout the day, trivia questions are asked via @NerdTrivia and followers have a certain amount of time to answer the question to earn points and achievements. You can find out more about Nerd Trivia at the Nerd Trivia website that recently launched with the current season. I think this is a really cool concept and I am helping Laura with supplying nerdy questions for people to answer which is exciting! I have endless amounts of Star Trek trivia and lot’s more of completely random nerdy movies and TV shows. Special thanks to Laura for letting me take part in this really cool project of hers.

So all you nerds and geeks out there – follow @NerdTrivia and start answering the trivia questions! Let’s see what you got!