Get an Amazon Echo Without an Invite

The Web giant on Tuesday announced that the Echo is now available to everyone, no invite needed.

Until now, only those with an invite could purchase Amazon’s new Echo smart speaker, but that’s about to change.

The Web giant on Tuesday announced that the Echo is now available for everyone, no invite needed. Even better — it’s also getting a price drop. Originally priced at $199 (Prime members got a temporary $99 price), you can now order it on Amazon’s website for $179.99. It’s slated to start shipping on July 14.

First launched in November, the 9.25-inch cylindrical-shaped, voice-activated speaker does more than just play music: It provides news and weather, creates to-do lists, sets timers and alarms, and even tells jokes. The always-on device is connected to Wi-Fi, and reacts only when you say the “wake word” of your choice. The Echo can then answer questions like “What time is it?” or “How tall is Mount Everest?”

Greg Hart, Vice President for Amazon Echo, said customer response to the new device has been “incredibly positive”

“We’ve been working hard to build more as quickly as possible,” he said. “We are grateful to our early customers for their incredible engagement and for providing us with invaluable feedback to help shape Echo as it evolves — with their help, we’ve been able to add features like Audible, Pandora, home automation, sports scores, calendar, and more. We’re excited to get Echo into the hands of even more customers and continue to invent new features and experiences.”

The Echo received a Good rating in PCMag’s review, earning points for its excellent voice recognition, attractive design, and solid sound quality. It lost points, however, for not having a built-in battery and distorting sound at high volumes.

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2486582,00.asp?kc=PCRSS05079TX1K0000994

Get an Amazon Echo Without an Invite

St. Petersburg photographer fired over gay marriage support

By Laurie Davison, Reporter

Last Updated: Monday, June 29, 2015, 9:26 PM

ST. PETERSBURG — 

A St. Petersburg-based wedding photographer is getting international attention after a client dropped him for showing his support of gay marriage.

Clinton Brentwood Lee said he changed the profile picture on his business Facebook page to show a rainbow flag following Friday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage.

“You know I wanted to show my support for everybody in the community because people are people to me and I think everybody should be celebrated,” Lee said.

He said he was shocked when an unnamed client contacted him to cancel his services for her upcoming wedding.

Lee said the woman wrote, “My fiance and I support traditional marriage between a man and a woman and don’t want our money going to places that support otherwise.”

He said she also asked for the $1,500 retainer back.

“My reply first off was, ‘I don’t know what to say,'” he said.

Lee said he was not contractually obligated to return the money.

Instead, he informed the former client that he would be donating it to GLADD — a gay advocacy group.

Lee said some people have criticized him calling him a “crook” and agreeing with the couple’s decision to cancel. But he said most of the responses he’s gotten have been supportive.

“Somebody saying if companies like yours had taken a stance when I was a kid I might not have felt so different and wouldn’t have tried to commit suicide or you’ve helped me, you’ve made me feel proud to be who I am,” he used as examples.

The story has gone viral with mentions on media outlets like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.

Lee said he’s already gotten more than 400 new friend requests on Facebook and his business page has been “liked” by thousands of people.

As he gets ready to move his photography studio to a new location in St. Pete, Lee said he welcomes everyone’s business.

He said his job as a photographer is about celebrating love.

http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/bn9/2015/6/29/gay_marriage_support/?cid=rss

St. Petersburg photographer fired over gay marriage support

808 Audio NRG Glo

There are many Bluetooth speakers in the sub-$100 realm, so it can be hard for any one to separate itself from the pack. The 808 Audio NRG Glo attempts to do this with an LED that pulses to the beat of your music. Its most appealing features, however, are its $49.99 price and its modest-but-solid audio performance. Throw in speakerphone functionality, and it’s a worthy contender. We’ve certainly heard weaker speakers that cost more, so if the pulsating LED intrigues you, read on. If you don’t need the light show, the Editors’ Choice JBL Clip+ offers better audio performance and a more portable design for the same price.

Design

The cylindrical NRG Glo is available in black, blue, or gray, and shaped almost like a lightsaber. It doesn’t shoot out a beam like the Jedi weapon of choice, but it does have a glowing blue LED ring around its top panel. This is where the speaker is housed, behind a hexagonal-patterned grille. When music is playing and you press the Glo button, the LED starts to pulse to the beat. With five different pulsing modes, it’s not the most tantalizing lightshow we’ve ever seen (the JBL Pulse still holds that distinction), but few people will consider the speaker for this reason alone. 

Luckily, the 5.5-by-2.2-inch, 11.2-ounce speaker packs some decent punch for its price, despite having only a single driver. It projects sound upward, while the rubberized coating on the bottom panel prevents it from dancing around tabletops.808 Audio NRG Glo inline

Located around the base of the speaker are a micro USB port for charging (a cable is included) and a 3.5mm Aux input. The Power/Pairing button, the Glow button, and a microphone for speakerphone calls are also located around the bottom of the speaker. The pairing process with an iPhone 5s was quick and simple, and filled with audio cues that you’ll either find annoying or learn to live with. 808 Audio estimates the NRG Glo’s battery life to be about 12 hours, but your results will depend on how loudly you play your music.

Performance and Conclusions

On tracks with intense sub-bass, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the NRG Glo can get quite loud without distorting. Some distortion creeps in at maximum volume levels, but this is more or less expected in a sub-$50 speaker.

Related StorySee How We Test Speakers

Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less heavy bass content, gives us a better sense of the NRG Glo’s overall sound signature. A track like this won’t distort even at maximum volume, and the driver provides an excellent level of crispness for Callahan’s baritone vocals and the guitar strumming. This is a sound signature dominated by the high-mids and highs, but it doesn’t sound thin.

On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop’s attack gets enough treble edge to remain sharp and slice through the dense mix, but the low-mid presence stands out the most. The sustain of the drum loop sounds rich and powerful, at least when you consider the size of the driver. The oblong shape of the speaker allows passive radiators inside to imply a bigger bass response than the driver can deliver on its own. Bass fiends will need to spend more money on a more powerful system, but the NRG Glo is at least able to muster some semblance of low-frequency response.

One annoyance: The NRG Glo tends to lop off the beginning second or two of a track you just navigated to, or at least this was my experience with an iPhone. It’s not uncommon in budget Bluetooth speakers, and we’ve heard more expensive speakers do it as well, but you’ve been warned.

At $50, the NRG Glo is simply a decent-sounding Bluetooth speaker and a solid value, light show or not. If the price sounds right, but you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker that’s a little more rugged or pocketable, the JBL Clip+, the Divoom Voombox Ongo, and the slightly pricier Jabra Solemate Mini are all strong options worth checking out. If you’re looking for the least expensive portable Bluetooth speaker you can find that isn’t junk, the LifeNSoul BM101 is a tiny waterproof option that could hit the spot. 

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2485105,00.asp?kc=PCRSS05079TX1K0000994

808 Audio NRG Glo

Get an Amazon Echo Without an Invite

The Web giant on Tuesday announced that the Echo is now available to everyone, no invite needed.

Until now, only those with an invite could purchase Amazon’s new Echo smart speaker, but that’s about to change.

The Web giant on Tuesday announced that the Echo is now available for everyone, no invite needed. Even better — it’s also getting a price drop. Originally priced at $199 (Prime members got a temporary $99 price), you can now order it on Amazon’s website for $179.99. It’s slated to start shipping on July 14.

First launched in November, the 9.25-inch cylindrical-shaped, voice-activated speaker does more than just play music: It provides news and weather, creates to-do lists, sets timers and alarms, and even tells jokes. The always-on device is connected to Wi-Fi, and reacts only when you say the “wake word” of your choice. The Echo can then answer questions like “What time is it?” or “How tall is Mount Everest?”

Greg Hart, Vice President for Amazon Echo, said customer response to the new device has been “incredibly positive”

“We’ve been working hard to build more as quickly as possible,” he said. “We are grateful to our early customers for their incredible engagement and for providing us with invaluable feedback to help shape Echo as it evolves — with their help, we’ve been able to add features like Audible, Pandora, home automation, sports scores, calendar, and more. We’re excited to get Echo into the hands of even more customers and continue to invent new features and experiences.”

The Echo received a Good rating in PCMag’s review, earning points for its excellent voice recognition, attractive design, and solid sound quality. It lost points, however, for not having a built-in battery and distorting sound at high volumes.

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2486582,00.asp?kc=PCRSS05079TX1K0000994

Get an Amazon Echo Without an Invite

Allegiant cancels 6 flights after emergency landing

CLEARWATER — 

An Allegiant Air flight heading to Pittsburgh was forced to return to St. Petersburg for an emergency landing.

The plane made an emergency landing Wednesday at the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport due to pressurization problems. It was the second emergency landing at the airport this month.

The airline cancelled six flights at the airport Thursday, citing “operational needs.”

Three of those flights were heading to Tennessee, upstate New York and Oklahoma. The other three were coming to St. Pete-Clearwater from those same locations.

We reached out to Allegiant air looking for answers and received the following statement.

“Allegiant is currently operating in our peak travel season, flying a very heavy schedule of flights each day. In addition to this high demand, we have a had a number of unforeseen and unusual events that have taken aircraft out of service…. We never want to delay or cancel a flight, but the safety of our passengers and crew is our number one priority.”

Allegiant Air customer Jim Sweger waited 45 minutes, then another hour with customer service trying to rebook his flight to Pittsburg after the one he was on last night had to turn back around with cabin pressure issues.

“My luggage is in Pittsburg right now and the car rental all messed up,” he said. “I have to go to the rental agency now and try to straighten that out.”

Now, through their union, Allegiant pilots are calling on the airline to invest in maintenance.

“Passengers shouldn’t have to wonder if their Allegiant flight will be the next one to make an emergency landing,” said union president Daniel C. Wells.

For some passengers any fixes may come too late.

A passenger who said her Allegiant flight was also cancelled last night is done with the airline.

“I’ll never fly with them,” said Kathey Schroeder, passenger. “I’ll just lose the $200 voucher. Or give it to somebody else who wants to jump on because I’m done.”

Schroeder said she already returned her rental car is stuck here looking for a way to get to the airport in Tampa. She said her husband is booking her a flight there on a different airline.

Officials from the Nevada-based airline apologized for the disruption and said they’ll offer affected passengers a $200 voucher for a future flight. Officials say they’re also waiving change fees and fare differences for passengers who have to reschedule.

http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/bn9/2015/6/18/allegiant_cancels_6_/?cid=rss

Allegiant cancels 6 flights after emergency landing

St. Petersburg Realtor robberies suspect bonds out of jail

ST. PETERSBURG — 

The man accused of robbing two Realtors at gunpoint is back on the street.

Paul Pinkston posted $500,000 bail and at 8:15 p.m. on Friday.

Detectives arrested Paul J. Pinkston, 58, around on Monday after watching him throughout the day and following him to his home on 10200 Gandy Boulevard.

Pinkston, an Air Force veteran, is charged with one count armed robbery and one count kidnapping with a deadly weapon.

Two female real estate agents were robbed, and one tied up, in two separate showings last week.

According to police, Pinkston called real estate agents last week, said his name was Robert Evans and that he was interested in buying a home.

When he arrived to meet the agent, he pulled a gun and robbed one of them, police said. Seeing another home later, Pinkston is accused of zip tying the agent before calling her husband and demanding a $50,000 ransom.

Neither woman was injured in the attacks.

http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/bn9/2015/6/12/realtor_suspect_bond/?cid=rss

St. Petersburg Realtor robberies suspect bonds out of jail

Altec Lansing BoomJacket

Altec Lansing’s BoomJacket ($199.99) is built to withstand the great outdoors, or even just being dropped several times. Its rugged shell and extra features like voice control help it carve out a unique niche in a crowded field of water-resistant portable Bluetooth speakers. The BoomJacket’s extra features make it a good choice for backpackers, but for everyone else, it’s a bit expensive for the sound it offers. For the same price, you can get the Editors’ Choice Braven 805, which isn’t nearly as rugged as the BoomJacket, but offers much better audio quality.

Design

Measuring 7.5 by 3.1 by 2.9 inches and weighing in at an even two pounds, the BoomJacket feels a bit bulkier and more dense than most portable Bluetooth speakers, but it won’t weigh down your backpack too much. Our review unit was aqua blue with a black, removable shock-absorbing sleeve that looks like it would protect the speaker if you threw it hard against a brick wall (but don’t do that). Altec also offers a version in red and black. 

The BoomJacket is submersible and sand-proof, with a rating of IP67. It even floats. The bottom panel is compatible with most standard screw mounts (mounting hardware is included), so you can fasten it to almost anything. In other words, this is a very outdoors-focused speaker.

The front face houses a rounded grille that hides dual 2-inch neodymium drivers. The back panel pushes out the work of the passive radiator, which is there to help increase the sense of bass. Unfortunately, it also makes the speaker vibrate intensely. It’s a good thing it has the rubber sleeve to keep it from vibrating off of flat surfaces.

The top panel houses a Power button that immediately puts the BoomJacket in pairing mode, plus Volume Up/Down buttons. There are no playback controls, which is a bit annoying; you’ll have to rely on your mobile device to switch tracks.Altec Lansing Boomjacket inline

Pairing the BoomJacket was a quick, simple process with an iPhone 5s, and if you have an NFC-enabled device, you can just tap to pair it with the speaker in an instant. The back panel houses a snap-shut, protected bank of connections: a mini USB port for charging the speaker, a USB port for charging other devices, and a 3.5mm aux input for wired listening. The BoomJacket comes with a USB-to-micro USB cable for charging, a wall adapter, and a 3.5mm audio cable. Altec Lansing estimates the battery life to be roughly 40 hours, which is a hefty number, but your results will vary greatly depending on how loudly you play your music.

One defining feature you’ll either love or hate (I enjoyed it) is the voice-controlled caller ID and call answering/ending. When you receive a call, the speaker will announce the name of your contact and then ask whether you wish to answer. Say yes, and you are connected. Say no, and the call is ignored. Hands-free answering is pretty great, and it requires no additional setup after pairing. But you might rather not have the names of your contacts blurted out over your music by a Siri-esque voice.

Performance and Conclusions

A transient peak, in audio, is when a brief moment of a song is louder than the others–think of a snare drum hitting hard in an otherwise quiet section. With pop music, we don’t hear this much because most music is mastered to smooth out transients. Classical music, jazz, and a few other genres, however, tend to not use as much dynamic compression during the mastering phase, thus the quiet passages are quiet, the loud passages are loud, and a forceful drum hit in a quiet section really will stand out noticeably. The digital signal processing (DSP) on the BoomJacket seems to handle these peaks by dipping the volume noticeably for a moment. It’s certainly better than the drivers distorting, but it’s a jarring quirk if you listen to classical music or other transient-heavy genres.

Related StorySee How We Test Speakers

On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the dipping is far less apparent. At top volumes on the speaker and sound source, this track flirts with distortion without ever really getting into ugly territory. The deep bass response is implied more than delivered, despite the speaker itself getting quite loud and powerful. This is the sound of a system that is using a passive radiator to vibrate and deliver resonant lows in combination with the two active drivers. Passive radiators do indeed add plenty of punch (and vibration) to the mix, but you need to go with larger drivers for truly deep bass.

When listening to tracks with less deep bass content, like Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” the BoomJacket reveals itself to be a crisp, precise, mids-focused speaker. Callahan’s rich baritone vocals get a pleasant treble edge, and the higher register percussive hits and guitar strumming take center stage alongside the vocals. This track’s drums can sound unnaturally thunderous on speakers that boost the bass in a major way, but that isn’t the case with the BoomJacket; mids, not bass, rule the mix.

On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the attack of the kick drum loop gets some extra high-mid edge from the BoomJacket that lets it slice through the mix as one of the most prominent forces.  The highs are boosted enough here that we hear the vinyl crackle of the loop a bit more than we normally would, while the sub-bass synth hits that anchor the mix are once again more implied than delivered. We hear their raspy top notes primarily, while most of the low frequency content is more subtle. It makes for a crisp, punchy sound that is perfect for outdoor usage, where treble fades away without walls to box it in.

Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound bright and clear, with little in the way of added bass presence to help the lower register instrumentation match the intensity of the higher register strings, brass, and vocals. However, when the volume is high, the BoomJacket can let out a slight hissing sound. At more moderate volume levels the issue disappears, but take note that it can be quite noticeable during quiet classical music passages.

We’ve tested rugged, portable Bluetooth speakers that sound fairly similar to the BoomJacket, but for less money, like the Divoom Voombox Party and the Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker. The same-price Braven 805 offers a slightly better listening experience at the expense of some ruggedness. If you want big bass out of a Bluetooth speaker, you’ll need to spend significantly more money on a less portable system. The pricey, outdoor-friendly Soundcast Melody isn’t very attractive, but it sounds fantastic. For $200, the Altec Lansing BoomJacket is a wonderfully designed system with innovative features, but the audio experience could be more compelling.

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2484809,00.asp?kc=PCRSS05079TX1K0000994

Altec Lansing BoomJacket