• Unboxing the Q, I couldn’t help feeling that Google is trying to out-Apple Apple in its packaging and presentation. You get the same minimalist approach, only in black instead of white. Here’s the box, once you remove the sleeve.

    After you open the black seals (a second one is on the back of the box), you see the flat bottom of a Magic 8 Ball-sized black sphere–and nothing else.

    As with Apple’s products, the rest of the box’s contents are concealed until you lift a cardboard tab. But there isn’t much more to find–just a charging cable and a quick-start guide on a single cardboard square.

    The guide explains your cabling options (the Q connects to analog or digital audio systems, or to a TV via a Mini HDMI cable), directs you to download the Nexus Q app from the Google Play store, and provides a URL to visit for additional help. Honestly, it makes Apple’s printed manuals look like War and Peace–but I’m not sure less is more in this case. I wound up seeking guidance by clicking through much of the FAQs on the Nexus website.

    Anyway, I also snapped a photo showing the ports on the back of the Nexus Q.

    Note, by the way, that the Nexus Q doesn’t come with AV or ethernet cables (the ethernet hookup is for those users who prefer a wired network to Wi-Fi for media streaming). You must bring your own. That’s pretty cheesy for a gizmo that Google expects to sell for $299–and don’t forget, it doesn’t come with a remote control, either.

    I’m also disappointed that the Nexus Q doesn’t support 5GHz Wi-Fi–at this point, I believe that a streaming-media product should support dual-band 802.11n wireless, because in neighborhoods with multiple 2.4GHz networks, you really need the additional bandwidth of the 5GHz spectrum.

    At a full 2 pounds, the Nexus Q is surprisingly heavy for its 4-inch diameter. And when you lift it from the box, you realize that it’s not a one-piece sphere: The top half or so is a swiveling dome. The Nexus Q site says that swiveling lets you raise or lower the audio volume on whatever the Q is streaming without having to use the phone or tablet app; tapping the dome can mute audio (this is something I’ll test).

    I connected the Nexus Q to my HDTV using a Mini HDMI cable, to a HomePlug AV powerline switch using an ethernet cable, and to a power strip with the one cable that did come in the package. Immediately, the edge of the Q’s swiveling section lit up in blue–the specs say that the device has 32 perimeter RGB LEDs, and apparently they can change colors and pulsate based on the music you play (looking forward to seeing that!).

    A single LED in the middle of the dome also lit up, looking like a blue dot (it’s a mute indicator). My TV, meanwhile, displayed a black screen; at the top, “welcome” in several languages cycled through, and the URL of the support site appeared in smaller letters at the bottom.

    When I positioned the Nexus Q right in front of the display, a blue outline similar to the shape defined by the Q’s LED lighting appeared in the middle of the display. Here’s what it looked like.

    Although I found the blue lights interesting as a design statement, I also found them somewhat distracting, even without a TV show on the big screen. I’m going to look into whether users can turn off the lights, among other things. Stay tuned.

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  • When you enter Historic Arnolds Park Amusement Park, you’ll probably notice they’re sprucing up the lakefront.

    “No pollutions like antifreeze or engine oil, or any of the other things that you pick up on the ground, or any of those things that folks use on the ground or on their lawn or on the streets or anything is going to make it in the lake,” said Scott Pyle, the park’s general manager.

    Concert-goers will reap the benefits of a new filtration system that will keep the lake clean, as well as make the area dryer and mud-free.

    “Preservation Plaza over the last few years, with the heavy spring rains we’ve had has been kind of a soggy area for us, and this is going to dry it up and help us to better serve our customers that way,” said Pyle

    Not only is the lake getting cleaner and greener, but lights on the rides and along the walkways have already switched to LED technology. The goal is to have all the park lights converted to high-efficiency LED or fluorescent by the end of the summer.

    The Ferris wheel at Arnolds Park has more than 2700 lights. With the new LED technology, that’ll create an energy savings of more than 1000 percent.

    The park’s general manager estimates those lighting changes alone will save Arnolds Park around $2000 to $3000 every month. He’s hopeful those will go right back into the park.

    “Ideally, you know, that’s the goal. To save money on the things that we should be doing anyway and then take those savings and turn them into things that are a little bit more fun and exciting for our guests,” said Pyle.

    One major change already in place is electronic wristbands, which make for streamlined travel through the park.

    “It’s just a lot easier now, we don’t have to mess with all that paper and all those tickets,” said Di Lorenzen, the park’s communications director.

    Getting lost used to be a problem, but now Pyle has a G-P-S system on his cell phone to track each check-in point for both concessions and rides.

    “So, if Mom doesn’t know where her child is at, he can look at exactly the last spot where that child has been,” said Lorenzen.

    Compact, space-conserving hot tubs, lap pools and swim spas have expanded aquatic options for homeowners.

    Forget the cliche of the 1970s-era party animal hot tub. Today’s hot tub owner is more often an empty-nest baby boomer looking for decompression instead of action, architects and retailers said.

    “The No. 1 reason people own hot tubs is for relaxation and stress relief because from a physiological standpoint it actually does dilate the capillaries, lowers your blood pressure. It does relax you,” said Adam Burke, the owner of two locations of Atlanta Spa & Leisure in Cumming and Doraville.

    Burke carries a variety of hot tubs and jetted swim spas at his Georgia stores, including the Michael Phelps line of high-performance swim spas, which use propellers to create a current to swim against.

    “The swim spas have had a big uptick as the baby boomers have moved into retirement,” Burke said. “They have those aches and pains, hip replacement, knee replacement, old sports injuries,” making swim spas and hot tubs an ideal zero-impact workout.

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  • In its annual “Clean Energy Report Card,” published last week, Environment Ohio also graded each of Ohio’s four investor-owned utilities.

    FirstEnergy’s initial response was disappointment that Environment Ohio used year-old data for its critique.

    “By using 2010 data rather than waiting for the 2011 numbers, the ‘Ohio Clean Energy’ report distorts the fact that FirstEnergy is meeting or has met all of the renewable-energy and energy-efficiency mandates established by the state of Ohio,” FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin said.

    Julian Boggs, state policy advocate for Environment Ohio, said the report overall shows that ” renewable-energy projects are happening and that we are making huge strides on energy efficiency.”

    When landfill gas, waste digesters and individual homes with solar or wind are counted, Ohio haslicensed more than 3,400 megawatts of renewable-energy technologies, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

    In comparison, the Perry nuclear power plant constantly generates nearly 1,300 megawatts of power. FirstEnergy’s power plants in Ohio generate about 14,000 megawatts, with 9,000 more in Pennsylvania, mostly from coal-burning plants.

    Still, Boggs and others in the green movement say renewable energy and advances in efficiency and transmission upgrades will reduce the need for coal-fired power plants.

    Boggs said increased efficiency alone might hold down price increases if FirstEnergy and other utilities close power plants rather than upgrade them to meet environmental standards.

    The report card uses 2010 data that the utilities were required to file last year with the PUCO. The evaluation measures each company’s compliance with the major provisions of Ohio’s 2009 utility and energy law.

    That law requires utilities to use wind, solar and other renewable technologies — or buy power from companies that do — to supply an increasing percentage of the power they sell.

    The law also requires the power companies to help customers slash electrical consumption by adopting energy-efficiency measures, such as new lighting technology, more-efficient appliances, and high-efficiency motors, pumps and the like used in industry.

    FirstEnergy’s report card was not uniformly a D-minus. The group gave the company an A for its efforts to reduce peak demand and an A for its contracts with wind farms and companies using renewable technologies other than solar.

    For solar, it gave FirstEnergy a C-plus. But for energy-efficiency programs such as offering deals on compact fluorescent bulbs, the report card gave the company an F.

    Boggs said the bad grade was mostly due to the company’s slow startup of its energy-efficiency programs. He said he expects the next report card to be dramatically different.

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  • Hard drives, while a necessity, aren’t exactly a product that warrants much fervored discussion.  However, Segate’s latest GoFlex Satellite hard drive is a new breed of storage thanks to built-in WiFi and a battery, and it’s, well, kind of exciting.

    The Seagate GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage, model STBF500101, can store up to 500GB of data, and while it is geared largely towards iPad users, it can be used by any tablet, laptop or computer with a built-in WiFi or USB connection.

    The enclosure of the drive is all plastic, so it’s not the sleekest or most svelte of drives that I’ve seen from Seagate, but that’s a caveat I’m willing to accept given the unique feature set.

    Two small LED lights adorn the face of the drive indicating wireless status and remaining battery power.  A recessed power button is embedded on the edge of the drive and sits adjacent to the LED lights.  On the opposite side is a 5V DC port, which unfortunately is not mini or micro-USB.  Nonetheless, Seagate has provide not only a USB wall wart for charging the internal battery, but an unusually handy and small car adapter that isn’t any larger than a mini Bic lighter.

    Much like all of Seagate GoFlex line of hard drives, there is a proprietary port that is covered by a small plastic flap.  Remove it and you can plug in the included USB 3.0 cable.  The cover is small and black, so I could see myself easily losing it in the depths of my bag.

    The internals of the drive have been designed to be extra rugged.  Drop it or give the drive a sudden jolt while the spindle is rotating and it will automatically lock into place to prevent any damage to your data. However, I’m not sure I can say the same for the plastic casing.

    Accessing the drive takes about 45-60 seconds, but once connected it is as simple as opening your web browser and punching in any URL; by default your browser will redirect to the drive’s built-in menu system.  If you’re accessing the drive from an iOS device, you can use the aforementioned method or download the accompanying app from the iTunes store.  Both are a mirror images of one and other, though the app is useful since in theory it speeds things up a bit for an iOS device since it doesn’t have to waste seconds downloading additional data.  On the other hand you can upload a file to the drive when accessing it from a computer, something not available in the iOS app.  Simply navigate to “folder view” where upon an upload button will appear.

    A variety of tabs divide up the drive’s content by type.  So if it’s an MP3 files it will be listed under “music”, if a MOV file then under “videos” and so forth.    Unfortunately, the drive’s firmware hasn’t been designed to catalogue files and more importantly music using the embeded MP3 ID3 tags. As a result you’ll have to manually search and painstakingly crawl through you library to locate a track, though there is a search feature.

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