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You are the cure

Great public awareness campaign and website from the Government of Alberta on the dangers of texting and driving.  I am amazed that despite the Saskatoon Police Service cracking down on it and the large fines that come along with it, many people I know text and use their phone while driving.  It’s not that hard to put your phone on vibrate, put it face down and ignore it when in the car.

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Christmas Gift Guide: Gift Ideas for your Tween Boy | 2010 Edition

Mark is now ten which makes him officially impossible to buy Christmas gifts for.  He is too old for kids stuff and too young for adult things.  We have tossed around hundreds of ideas for Mark and here are a bunch of ideas that we thought could make your Christmas shopping a little easier this year.

I don’t know what is the right age to get your son a cell phone is.  If you think this is the year, check out this Samsung m330 through Virgin Mobile.  Virgin has a $10/month plan that offers 100 anytime minutes and for $5 more, you can get 100 texts.  It has a camera phone, takes videos and is small enough to slip into their pocket.  A tip from a friend of mine: To keep your kids from burning through their minutes, he made it mandatory that their phone was active if they wanted to go out.   With that rule, they rationed their minutes like it was a precious commodity.  $60-$70 (with no contract) at Best Buy / Future Shop / Virgin Mobile / Walmart.

A lot of gift guides this year will be touting a PS3, a XBox 360, a PSP, or a Wii and for good reason.  There are a lot of really good games out there for all of those systems.  They don’t get the same kind of attention but have you thought about giving a H0 Scale train set or a slot track race track.

Bachmann Trains Santa Fe Flyer Ready-to-Run H0 Scale Train Set | The Santa Fe railroad was famous for hauling freight across the deserts, mountains, and cities of the American landscape is the Santa Fe Flyer. Powered by a Santa Fe EMD FT diesel locomotive with its distinctive war bonnet paint scheme, this powerful train handled the ever-changing terrain of the Southwest United States.  The advantage of any train set that is H0 scale is that you can add more cars, engines, and track over time as you can afford it.  It makes a great gift now and for the future.  $50 from Amazon.

While we are talking about H0 scale trains, Model Power has a starter set (power unit, 36” circle of track, and four cars) for about $50.  The enjoyable part about a H0 scale train set is that there are thousands of accessories and different pieces that can be added for years to come.

If your kid is a reader (and even if he isn’t), you will want to check out the stories of Obi-Wan Kenobi / Darth Vader / Luke Skywalker by Ryder Windham.  With most boys being Star Wars fan (and who isn’t), you may want to check out these biographies of some of the main characters in the Star Wars saga.  While you are looking at books, don’t forget the classics.  I bought Mark a copy of The Hobbit this summer and he was enthralled by such an old school book.  Don’t forget  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  In other words there were great books before J.K. Rowling invented Harry Potter.

Go Amp Gaming Amplifier | If the target of your affections is a gamer, here is a fun addition to his Sony PSP or Nintendo DS and is a good way to get some better sound out of your portable gaming system.  It’s a small portable amp that plugs into the headphone jack on your portable game system and does a good job of increasing the volume of any game system.  Since First Act knows it’s target audience is hard on batteries, it turns on & off automatically when headphone jack inserted or removed.  $3 at XS Cargo of you can purchase at $40 from Amazon.

Polaroid a200 Digital Camera | This camera is an entry level camera for first time photographers.  For years I have passed down my digital cameras to Mark and what I found is that he never used the zoom or any of the other advanced features.  That being said, neither did I which is why my Kodak point and click with it’s 110 film was so much fun.  It personified point and shoot.

The camera has 8MB of internal storage which allows you to store 120 images or video for $30.  The bad part of the camera is that it’s internal memory is wiped if the batteries run out and it doesn’t have a lens cover which means you will always be fighting smudges and dust on the lens.  Then again it is a $30 camera.  Pick it up at Amazon

Polaroid DVF-130RC Digital Camcorder | We gave Mark a compact digital video camcorder last Christmas and he has loved it.  Over the last year we have given several others out as gifts and the recipients have really liked them.  It’s a point and shoot camera that captures VGA quality video at 30 fps.  Yeah that isn’t HD quality but with most of us sharing digital video via Facebook and YouTube more and more often, the lack of HD isn’t as big of issue.  It’s got 16MB of built in memory so you will want to make sure to toss in a SD card in along with it.  In most places you can get anywhere from a 2GB to a 8GB card for under $10.

While I am not an avid golfer, I enjoy the game and so does Mark.  The City of Saskatoon makes it affordable for parents to go golfing at Silverwood Golf Course.  Now while Silverwood is a nice short golf course by itself, it is designed for beginner golfers and during the summer has several specials that make it even easier to take a younger golfer along with you.  Mark’s clubs were bought second hand but it’s fun to add a new putter, a package of golf balls, or even some golf gloves to the mix.  Now the best part about golfing with Mark is not the golf game but the two or three hours we have talking about life, cracking jokes, and enjoying a snack afterwards.

Speaking of sports, Wilson has a great junior sized football which is quite a bit easier to throw and catch then a full sized CFL, NCAA or NFL football.  not only is the ball a little lighter, it is designed for kid sized hands so when they through it, they can get a spiral with it.  Not only is it good for them, it is good for you as it makes it easier to through the deep post and look good while doing it.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra for Wii | I know GI Joe was cooler when I was a kid but this is the version that kids these days have now.  You can choose from twelve G.I. JOE characters, each with unique weapons and abilities, and unlock additional COBRA characters.  It’s a fun adventure game and will give him hours of fun in front of the Wii.

Mario Kart for Wii | While you can play Mario Kart by yourself, where it gets to be even more fun is when you have the entire family racing each other.  Of all of the video games we have as a family, none gets all of us playing together like this one.

iPod Shuffle | It has 2 GB capacity for about 2000 songs and you can play up to 15 hours on a single charge.  With a press of the VoiceOver button, you can hear the song’s title and artist, playlist menu, or battery status. Available from Amazon.  A far cheaper 2 GB option is this MP3 Player from Nextar.  It comes with a small clip on it making it perfect to hang off a lanyard for safe keeping.

Season 1 | Season 2 | Season 3 of Survivorman | Mark (and the rest of us) is a huge fan of the show and it’s a perfect way to spend a cool winter night watching Les Stroud spending seven days in some of the harshest climates known to man without food, water or shelter.  He’ll watch them again and again.

If he is already a fan of Surivorman, check out the Survivorman You Sweat You Die T-Shirt | The back of each t-shirt is printed with “You Sweat you Die” and Les Stroud’s autograph.  While I don’t generally notice tags on the inside of the shirt, this shirt features a great one with washing instructions that include the “will to live”.  I love it. So will the kid that you are shopping for.  The DVDs and shirt are available from Les Stroud Productions.

Settlers of Catan | The Settlers of Catan from Mayfair Games is a strategy game where players collect resources and use them to build roads, settlements and cities on their way to victory. The board itself is variable, making each game a little different from the next. Each round of The Settlers of Catan is intended to keep three or four players ages 10 and above engaged for up to 90 minutes.

Risk |Can you accomplish the military objectives before your opponents? With an updated map and all-new playing pieces, increased rewards for bold moves, and easy to learn rules, you’ll be ready to take on whatever lies ahead. Test your nerve with the Basic Training game–a quick and easy way to play. Or, see if you have what it takes to dominate in the fast-paced and strategic Command Room game. Finally prove your courage in World Contest-an updated edition of the classic Risk game. The decision is yours. The time is now. For 3 to 5 players ages 12 and up.

Tech Deck Display Case | Tech Deck’s all over the house?  Yeah our house too. Pick up a wall mounted display case so they can show off their Tech Decks and keep them from getting underfoot.  Toss in some new Tech Decks along with it$15 at Wal-Mart

If he is a skateboard fan, you may want to consider getting him a new skateboard .   While a skateboard is an expression of one’s self, toss in some money for him to get some stickers and accessories.  $25 at Amazon.com.

Last year I recommended BBC’s epic documentary series Planet Earth.  Mark loved it, Wendy loved it, I am sure Oliver loved it.  It was great for the entire family.  This year BBC has come out with Life and it has the same kind of positive reviews that Planet Earth had.  $38 at Amazon.com

Air Hogs Remote Control Helicopter | With the world’s record for the smallest remote-controlled helicopter, the Air Hogs Havoc Heli goes where no other flying object can.  They can be safely flown inside the house where their small size and light weight mean that if your pilot in training does make a mistake, both the vase and the helicopter will survive. $30 at Amazon.com

The Wave Original Street Surfer is an inline action board that blends the sensations of surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding.  It has a fun design where no foot propulsion is required. Riders simply hop on, twists their hips back and forth in an S-shaped motion to achieve forward movement.  It gives riders the ability to perform all sorts of neat tricks because it runs on two wheels rather than four. $90 at Amazon.com.

Magic Igloo Maker | This is only available in Canada and would make for a great Christmas gift anywhere in the country (sans Victoria).  It is a specially designed plastic mould that makes interlocking snow blocks to create big, strong, safe igloos easily and quickly!  According to the website, a large igloo takes anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to complete (depending on how hard you work.  After building it, both body heat and a small candle will cause the snow to melt and the inner surface to harden.  While there are not likely to be a lot of predators in your backyard, it will make is stronger an last longer into the spring. $39.99 for two molds.

If you can find what you are looking for, make sure you check out one of the other 2010 Christmas Gift Guides

In case you are looking, here are the 2009 Gift Guides

Christmas Gift Ideas and Gift GuidesIf I missed anything or if my suggestion made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.

LG Bliss Review

LG Bliss cell phone

I was reading a couple of reviews for the LG Bliss and while I was okay with my Samsung Link, I would really liked a better web browser and some more app options.  Wendy went out and bought me one and I have had it for the last week.  Here are the pros of the phone.

  • Decent web browser.  Not as good as the iPhone’s but decent.  I can use Gmail’s text based or regular mobile interface as well as Google Calendar.  It is exponentially faster than the Samsung Link’s browser and hey, it actually renders websites properly.
  • The touch keyboard isn’t that bad.  After a week of using it, I have become fonder of it and faster using it than I was at the start of the week.  It is just something to get used to but is quite usable.
  • 2 megapixel camera.  While I won’t be printing off a bunch of photos taken with it, it is good enough to upload to Flickr.
  • Virgin Mobile only charges $10/month for unlimited web surfing.  That’s a great, great deal.  With the speed of the browser, it’s a service that I will be using a lot more rather than reaching for my iPod Touch.
  • The speaker phone is quite a bit louder than my Samsung Link.  I can toss it on the passenger seat and actually drive while having a conversation which is useful when I forget to grab my Bluetooth earpiece.

Cons

  • While it has a decent text messaging inbox, it doesn’t handle e-mail which I was sad about.  The inbox is so well designed that pop3 or IMAP capability would be amazing.
  • While Google java apps install, they won’t work because of the touch screen.  Quite annoying and the phone would go from good to amazing if it worked with Google apps.
  • I miss the “recently texted” list that the Samsung Link has.  It’s a great way to keep those that I am in constant contact with in easy reach. 

Overall, it’s not a smartphone and if I was RIM, I wouldn’t be that worried that it was going to eat away Blackberry marketshare but it’s cheap ($119 with no contract), works well as a cell phone, and pretty good as a digital media and web browsing device.  If you are a Bell, Virgin Mobile, or SaskTel customer, you may want to check it out.  As for the Samsung Link, it’s a great texting phone, has the Virgin Email App installed, is a great price ($69.99) but doesn’t get along that well with the web.  In the end, it kind of comes down to which you care about more, the web or email but both are good phones.  Wendy has a Samsung Link and I am happy with the LG Bliss… we don’t have any regrets with either purchase.

New cell phone

Samsung r610 I generally upgrade my cell phones about every five years or so.  To say I am a late adapter in this area would be an understatement.  Not only that but Wendy’s cell phone is almost 8 years old so she was due for a new one as well. 

After looking around for months, I decided to get a Samsung r610 and make the move to Virgin Mobile.  Believe it or not, it is also my first phone with a camera in it.

Everyone seemed shocked that I didn’t get a iPhone or a Blackberry but I have my iPhone touch which handles my e-mail, schedule, and has a enough games on it to keep Mark happy when he has to wait on me so I don’t really need a smart phone.

What I liked about Virgin was their rates and the fact that it used the SaskTel network in province.  While Fido and Rogers work okay in the cities, I need to leave the major highways once in a while and with Virgin I don’t have to sacrifice any coverage.  Now I just need to figure out how to send a photo via e-mail that I take.  So far, no success.  I hate to think that I need to crack a manual.

How to Block Cell Phone and SMS Spam

I have posted about this before but some idiot spammer is using a fake @jordoncooper.com address as a return address to spam cell phones with.  Since this costs some people money, they are upset but as I have said, I don’t have anything to do with it.  This is a personal site that doesn’t sell anything.  Whoever it is, they are using a fake address and header so they don’t get tracked down and so they don’t have to deal with all of the angry e-mail about it or incur the wrath of those who are being charged by the message. 

On the suggestion of some of you, I have talked to my ISP about it and asked them to make sure there isn’t a security hole in WordPress or in my site that someone is exploiting.  They looked into it and it isn’t coming from my domain.  Their reply was

…the spammer is just using your domain as the return address so they don’t have to deal with the bounce messages and to try to throw people off the scent (so to speak).

In addition to this I have set up a Sender Policy Framework which makes verifies which mail has been sent from my site and which is sent from a forged address and gives that information to spam sites.  Sadly that information isn’t used by most cell phone carriers.

How to block cell phone and SMS spamThere is a solution!  When looking into the problem, I found this blog post from David Pogue of the New York Times on how to block cell phone spam.  It blocks messages from the web while allowing SMS messages to go on through.  You can also block domain names (like jordoncooper.com which is fine since I don’t send e-mail from it anyways). This way it blocks the moron who is using my domain name in vain AND allows you to keep getting your SMS messages.

Finally, this is a non-commercial hobby site with no revenue stream.  It would make sense to go after the site that is selling whatever products the spam is promoting.  They are the ones that would benefit from the spam and are probably the ones paying the jerk who is spamming you and making my life difficult.

I wish I could offer up more help but I haven’t even seen the messages that are being sent out.  Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.