Hughes Family: March 2014

I won’t lie- making this post feels like a chore. Maybe it’s because I’m especially grumpy today. Or maybe it’s because I know, deep down in my heart, that very few people really care. And yet I’m compelled by some force I don’t quite understand to keep posting the mundane, to divulge the uninteresting and to preserve the unpopular.I will never stop!

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We took our annual snowmobiling trip in early March. We went to up Daniel’s Summit in Heber again and the weather, snow and company were fantastic.

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Overall there were only a couple of small injuries and no one got irreparably entrenched. I was a bit under the weather going in and I figured I’d get worse after spending all day out in the cold. I ended up being sick for over a week but I’m pretty sure it was worth it.
Aside from cruising through the snow we had some great meals, fun conversations and we were introduced to Settlers of Catan – I don’t know how we had missed that one.

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My kids endlessly entertain and frustrate me. Here is Mike watching Netflix with his face against the monitor. Chloe having fun with yogurt (reminds me of my sister and her cottage cheese). Gabe doing sugar spelling… with his tongue. And Claire reading while arched over backwards (upside down). Such gifted children.

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Mike went bowling with his scout troop and the  other kids wanted to go too. My wonderful wife obliged but reported that by the third frame they already had “buyers remorse.” Do these look like the faces of grateful kids? Nope. But you’re welcome anyway.

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St. Patrick’s Day rolled around again. It was once more to dress everyone in green, eat clover colored pancakes, paint fingernails and party like an Irishman! I forgot to wear green and got pinched a surprising number of times.

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My birthday! I don’t know when it changed, but I wish my birthdays would crawl into a hole and die. This year I skipped the cake and party but got some nice gifts and dinner from Saigon cafe (delicious).

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In lei of throwing away my junk I’ve started listing it on eBay. I had forgotten how aggravating it can be. List junk. Answer annoying questions (“Hey man, call me about this part- got twenty minutes worth of questions before I part with my $10). Sell item. Get billed by eBay. Receive payment and pay Paypal fee. Pack item. Ship item (“Did you ship it yet? It’s been almost an hour since I paid”). Leave feedback. Wait for residual positive feedback that never comes. Net: $7. Or, another way to look at it: $0.75/hour. Yes!

 

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Other miscellaneous events from March: Fran and I repaired all the flats on our bikes. I think these are actually the residual flats from our trip to Moab! Took the kids over to work to play some darts. Darts are amazing when you’re a kid – it’s as close as you can get to that “being bad” feeling without actually doing anything wrong. And I broke my iPhoen screen (second time). Hooray for Apple care. Boo for being so sick you’re not able to hold stuff.

The People on the Bus Go Round and Round

In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins explains how important it is to have the right people on the bus. I’ve always thought this is a great metaphor for any group – obviously one where members are selected –  trying to accomplish an objective: a symphony, a relay team and, of course, a business team. Over the years I have thought a lot about the people on the bus.

Periodically in my company people hop off the bus and people get on. Sometimes we’re very sad to see people leave, sometimes we’re relieved. And occasionally we look at each other and ask “How did that guy get on here in the first place?” I’m always surprised at how difficult it is to determine the level of dysfunction in an active element. It’s only once certain people leave that it becomes clear they were not helping the business and, in fact, that they were harming it.

It is not my intent to pick on anyone who is no longer with us, regardless of the reason. I wish no one any ill-will (well, okay, I confess that I enjoy the idea of karma). That being said…

Recently we went through a substantial change in our company and removed two entire departments for various conduct-related offenses. Some of these people had been with our company for many years. One of the big concerns we had, prior to taking action, was the effect it would have on our operation. The contribution of these individuals with regard to our overall effectiveness seemed substantial.

Yes, we definitely struggled for awhile- we were down half a dozen members of our team. However, even with our reduced workforce people stepped up and we were able to accomplish the same amount of work as before. We changed some of our operating methods, restructured the departments and hired a smaller but more focused team to replace those we had let go. In the end things ran much better than before. And as we retrospectively analyse the previous team and department operations I’ve come to recognize several employee attitudes that diminish effectiveness and undermine company efficiency.

1. Laziness: Employees may not realize how easy it is to spot laziness. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Laziness, as I see it, is decision to withhold your best effort. Sometimes it’s easier to overlook laziness if the offender is charismatic, excellent at some job aspects or isn’t always lazy. But seriously- if you think you’re getting away with something guess again. Laziness, as I’m defining it here, diminishes effectiveness and, in the worst case, is almost the same as theft. If you’re lazy you don’t belong on the bus.

2. Entitlement: We have had our fair share of people come through our company who nurture a sort of “you owe me” attitude. They perceive an injustice in the system because they feel that somehow they have less. One example of this “injustice” might be a company owner’s nice car. If you consider that someone created the business, took that risk and associated stress, invested their money, time, emotional, energy, worked one hundred hour plus weeks and sacrificed for years and years… if you consider everything then maybe it’s not a big deal that person drives an expensive car. But if you have an attitude of entitlement then you perceive the car as a manifestation of greed. You feel that wealth is being withheld from you instead of realizing that the wealth is, in fact, being shared with you. An entitlement attitude – in any setting – always creates a negative experience. If you feel entitled to be on the bus then you don’t deserve to be there (even if you’re the owner).

3. I Know Better: Time and time again we’ve seen a visceral reaction when we are unable (or sometimes unwilling) to implement ideas proposed by employees who “know better.” One employee really sticks out in my mind. After this individual left we discovered a letter he had written (on his work computer) outlining everything wrong with our company. He was certain that, after only working for us for a few months, he understood our company better than we did. He incorrectly identified instances of favoritism, proposed promoting many employees who are now no longer with us (for various reasons listed here), misunderstood business policies, practices and even predicted the demise of our company. This employee gave us zero credit for the things that we had accomplished and had no faith in the company leadership. I believe that part of the “I Know Better” attitude is rooted in unwarranted mistrust. If you suspect the motivation for action is always negative it’s akin to wearing blinders. Ultimately if you really know better then you’ll know to hop off the bus.

4. “Awesomeitis”: Occasionally we’ll interact with someone who thinks they’re amazing and that without them the company would dry up and blow away. Typically this attitude is present in conjunction with many of the others noted here. Awesomeitis is used to conceal laziness. It is used to justify entitlement. It fuels the “I know better” attitude. We have had people threaten to quit with the belief that our company will be crippled. Ex-employees tell mutual friends that they were essentially “running everything.” Spouses wonder how “idiots” like us stay in business without their significant other at the “helm.” The truth of the matter is this: In every case where someone infected with awesomeitis has left, the company has been better off. There is simply no room on the bus for people with an inflated sense of their importance.

5. Pleasers: Sometimes an employee who wants to make you happy (at least to your face) can cause serious business issues. When an employee tells you what you want to hear in lieu of what you need to hear that mean that facts are being skewed or omitted.  “Everything is good!” The result is that you think things are under control when they aren’t. An unhappy employee gets unhappier, inadequate systems become overwhelmed and, in the worst case, you make important decisions based off of misinformation. When you run a business it’s critical that you know the factual state of things and pleasers aren’t able to present them. Additionally, pleasers tend to please everyone. If the owner hates something then the pleasers hate it. If a coworker hates the owner then the pleasers hate the owner too Such duplicitous actions only cause rifts, bad feelings and help to cultivate the aforementioned mistrust. Do you really want to please everyone?  Then escort yourself off the bus.

Okay, okay- so having the right people on the bus is important – more than important. Sure, sometimes it seems like having a couple of the wrong people on the bus isn’t a big deal and it feels good to have the bus full. But experience has taught me over and over that the wrong people get you to the wrong place. The difficulty – for us anyway – often lies in identifying the offenders while they are still seated. I imagine it’s something we will perpetually have to work on. In the meantime we have overhauled our hiring practices and we systematically screen for attitude elements that can destroy the culture and effectiveness of our company. The bottom line: A company is only as good as the team behind it. Make your team great. Get the right people on board, put them in the right spot (that’s important too) and you will get where you want to go even if you don’t know the final destination.

The ideas shared here are not comprehensive or definitive by any means. I’m open to the idea that I’m being unfair. I’ve always told people that if they don’t enjoy working for my company they can leave- no hard feelings. They can go start their own company and run it however they’d like. I wish them all the success in the world because their success does not diminish mine (and vice versa). But show me a successful company with employees heavily infected by any or all of the five attitudes I’ve listed here. Can’t find one? Didn’t think so.

A Business Story

Bob had an orange stand. Each week Bob was able to get 100 oranges and at the end of the week he had sold 100 hundred oranges. Bob was happy. Bob’s customers were very helpful and offered him business advice. Bob decided to hire a dancing cowboy to promote his oranges. His customers loved the cowboy! At the end of the next week Bob had sold 100 oranges and then he had to pay the cowboy. One day a man came to the orange stand and told Bob that he wanted a grapefruit. Bob told the man that they only sold oranges. The man said that the cowboy had given him a grapefruit on his last visit. Bob decided to sell grapefruits. Bob had an orange and grapefruit stand with a dancing cowboy. Each week Bob was able to get 90 oranges and 10 grapefruits and at the end of the week Bob had sold 90 oranges and 4 grapefruits and then he had to pay the cowboy. Bob was working harder than ever and making less money. Bob’s customers were very helpful and offered him more business advice. They told Bob to take pictures of all the oranges to help them decide which one they wanted to buy. Bob spent all week taking pictures while the cowboy danced. Bob was very tired. That week Bob was able to get 90 oranges and 10 grapefruits and at the end of the week Bob had sold 70 oranges and 2 grapefruits because he didn’t have time to run his stand. Then he had to pay the cowboy. Bob died poor, tired and unhappy. The End.

Notes: I wrote this story after “fighting” with some some members of a knife forum. Quite a few people were livid that my company doesn’t take pictures of each individual wood handled knife we sell. From their point of view I suppose it makes sense- since each piece of wood is different they want to see exactly what they’re getting. But if I sell every wood handled knife I can get as things stand why would I want to incur the expense of photographing them all? The assumptions people make about my business (i.e. the reasons that we do things a certain way) are often perplexing and almost always incorrect.  If I did some of the things they suggest I’d quickly be out of business. In any event, forum fighting easily makes my top ten “most frustrating things in the world” list.

Hughes Family: February 2014

Another month in paradise! When it rains it pours. February was filled with so many things that I was almost certain I was going to blow up (I mean literally explode… I think I came close). Now mind you, these things weren’t the fun stuff you make blog posts out of (well, actually some of the work related stuff I will blog about – but it wasn’t fun). Nevertheless, here are the Hughes family highlights:

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We had a couple of “kid dates” this month. I took the boys to try sushi. Mike seemed to like it alright, but Gabe wasn’t a big fan. I’m not going to give up on him though. I didn’t like sushi the first time to I had it either.
Fran took Claire to walk around the temple grounds. Afterward they went to Pier 49 Pizza… where they apparently ate salad. Silly girls.

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Claire recently acquired a Rainbow Loom (apparently she was the “last person on earth” to get one) and she has been hard at work making bracelets and necklaces. The Rainbow Loom is a pretty nifty invention that allows you to string rubber bands together in complex patterns & shapes.
Gabe is great at games that involve memory and now we’re trying to expand his ability to develop strategies (for more advanced gaming) by playing things like Connnect Four and Yahtzee. It won’t be long and he’ll be settling Catan with us.

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February was an exciting month for Mike. He and I made a Super Bowl bet. I lost and he got more time on his iPod. There was never a happier Super Bowl bet winner.  Fran gave Mike a job scanning photographs (digital preservation is important everyone!). I think this is a great part time job for kids.  Fun fact: Mike is left handed, but he’s learning to play the guitar like a righty. He gave us a concert of songs he’s learned so far; three strings down, two more to go.

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There aren’t too many movies the whole family sees in theaters (we usually just wait and rent them) but we made the trip for The Lego Movie. Our kids love Legos and they were extremely excited to see this movie. It’s a cute family friendly film with plenty for kids and adults (it made me feel very nostalgic since I used to glue my Legos together).

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On Valentine’s day the kids were served a holiday-themed breakfast and they dressed in their holiday-appropriate clothes (Mike wore a taped on sign that said “Hello, My Name is Sweetie Pie” on a dare).  Claire baked cookies for her friends & siblings. And that night we ate Raclette and had Zupa’s chocolate covered strawberries for dessert. Yum!

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Amid all the chaos the Blue and Gold ball added a little extra. Fran made Chili and prepared a slide show for the festivities. Chloe is at that wonderful age where it’s best just to keep her home so she and I spent a few hours working the Play-Doh.
And sadly we said “goodbye” to an old friend. Fran’s mixer has been with her since college and has helped make many meals and desserts. Gabe and I took it apart to see what was wrong, but the mixer was terminal (cracked parts).

Maingear Pulse 17 Laptop Review

maingear-pulse-17-laptopPrior to ordering the Maingear Pulse 17 I tried to find an online review, but I could’t find anything. Despite the lack of firsthand user experiences I decided to take the plunge and I’m pleased to report that I was not disappointed.

The Pulse 17 is expensive- let’s get that right out there. But you get an extremely elegant (and thin) gaming laptop with enough power for even the most demanding games. 3D Mark’s Cloud Gate benchmark was 3057 on my old Vaio laptop and over 12,700 on the Pulse 17. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag runs great in full 1080p and visually surpasses the Playstation 4 version.

At this point I’ve owned the Pulse 17 for long enough that other reviews are popping up now and I don’t think I’ll take the time to write anything comprehensive. Instead I’ll just link to the review that best sums up my feelings: Endgadget Maingear Pulse 17 Review.

Engadget ended up giving the laptop and 84 and I’m pretty much on the same page. The only place I really disagree with their assessment concerns the trackpad. I found it difficult to use- for some reason the location of my finger is perpetually a mystery to the pad (even after adjusting the sensitivity settings). It’s not a deal breaker by any means but it’s annoying enough to mention.

Another caveat – unrelated to the laptop – is Windows 8. Looking at stability testing and gaming benchmarks I opted or the 8 platform but almost immediately regretted my decision. This may sound silly, but I didn’t fully grasp that Microsoft had opted to remove the start menu. Ah! Luckily keyboard shortcuts have proven sufficient to overcome this obstacle. But still… Ah! The Pulse 17 doesn’t have a touch screen so that might be something else to consider if you choose Windows 8.

One thing I did that I doubt any other reviewer will do is subject my Pulse 17 to a drop test. Okay… I admit it wasn’t intentional. I was coming back from a business trip and the person unloading the rental car accidentally dropped my computer. It was a in a neoprene case and fell onto concrete from about three feet. “Graceful” is not a word I would use to describe thee way this laptop falls. The impact caused significant structural damage (the corner of the case was bent, the frame holding the screen in popped out and the computer no longer sat flush on a table). Despite the drop after popping the screen back in the laptop seemed to be okay.

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After visiting with Maingear and concluding that it would be “very expensive” to repair the cosmetic damage I oped to take the computer apart (all you have to to is remove all the screws on the bottom of the case and pop it off) and see if I could straighten things out. I was able to bend the casing mostly back into place and the computer sits nearly flat again. The only real issue left is some very minor dimpling on the far right of the screen where the impact occurred. Conclusion: For a laptop this big it’s surprisingly tough (also never let anyone else touch your computer…never ever).

Okay, enough with my sob story. The Maingear Pulse 17 certainly isn’t the world’s most powerful laptop (check out the offerings from Falcon Northwest) but it’s got to be one of the sexiest and most functional I’ve come across. I completely recommend the Pulse 17 as a replacement desktop and gaming computer.

Hughes Family: January 2014

I’ve decided to start blogging once a month about family stuff. Somehow the pressure to do even two posts per month started getting to me last year. January was a pretty low-key month and there wasn’t a ton going on (I confess it’s nice to have a break).

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This is technically work stuff… but I don’t want to write a work-related post about it. Seven of us from BHQ headed down to Las Vegas for the annual SHOT show. It’s always fun (and a lot of work) to visit with some of our vendors and look for new products. And it’s a blast to try out new restaurants around town. My favorite this time was an all you can eat sushi place called Umiya (Mastro’s gets “honorable mention”). Always fun to visit Vegas.

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The fam has been honing their skiing skills this January. Mike and Claire have it pretty much figured out and Gabe is still taking lessons, but well on his way! I stay home with Chloe for now, but come next year I think we’ll all be able to hit the slopes.

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Extended family dinners occur monthly, but they are always filled with intellectual stimulation and memorable anecdotes. This month, as part of our family book club, we discussed George Orwell’s “1984.”
I’m pleased to report that our kids have started helping out around the house (Fran made them). It’s great to watch them set and clear the table and then wash and load the dishes. Thanks kids- you have finally made me proud. 

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Fran and I went to see “Kiss and Tell” and the Hale Center Theater. If there’s one thing I like as much as movies it’s plays. Jim’s mom, Laura-Beth, had a role in this production so there was a great excuse to go see it. The play was excellent and quite funny.

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And I’ll leave all of you with this random piece of land. Where could it be? What is is? Everyone loves a good mystery. 

Hughes Family: December 21, 2013 – December 31, 2013

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It’s funny how much delight frozen water brings to kids. I guess it’s also funny how much I loved snow as as kid and how much I dislike it as an adult. Next time it snows I’m going to go out and build an igloo with my kids.

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We had our annual Christmas Eve dinner with Fran’s family. Per tradition there was amazing food and log shaped desserts (bûche de Noël). After dinner we had a nice Christmas program and sang holiday songs. If I didn’t have such chronic anthropophobia I’m pretty sure these kinds of parties would be awesome :)

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This year we decided to open a few gifts on Christmas Eve. That was a tradition in my family (well… we opened all of them on Christmas Eve). I have proposed it numerous times but was always met with rejection (bordering on outrage) so I was really surprised that Fran wanted to do it year with no prompting on my part. We settled on opening presents from extended family members and it was quite fun.

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We try to make Christmas low key but special. We start off with some croissants, hot chocolate and patience (the only thing I want for Christmas is to sleep in).

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We take turns opening presents and then we spend the afternoon playing with them.

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We go to my parent’s house for Christmas Day dinner. Prime rib roast and green bean casserole! After dinner we hung out for a bit and bask in the holiday glow (or what’s left of it).

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After hearing how great it was over and over we decided to go see Frozen. The whole family doesn’t usually go out together for movies but Chloe is finally old enough that she mostly sits though movies now. All she needs is a giant bucket of popcorn.

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On New Year’s Eve everyone was hard at work helping mom makes cookies and brownies for the party (from what I gathered Claire was the only one who was actually helpful).

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Before the party we ate dinner with the Browns (and Browns). The only thing that could satisfy this hungry group was a Chinese buffet!

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And then we partied like it was 2013. We had a few friends over, played a new game, ate ice cream (cookies and brownies too), took a trip down memory lane and enthusiastically ushered in 2014 at midnight. All in all a fun day!

And with a mighty “thud” the year was over. Cam congratulated himself on surviving 2013 and promised everyone that he would “accomplish miracles” in the coming year. He smirked as he said it knowing his only real goal was to read four book and exercise twice. The books were a good bet.

Video Game Nerd Stuff

I don’t exactly have time for a new hobby but I decided it might be fun to get back into video games (something not on my iPhone). It might be because everyone around me is getting a PS4 or Xbox One. Or maybe it’s because I can’t eat while I play. And possibly it’s because I need some kind of stress outlet now that I have given up binge eating (I will miss you…). I don’t know- but it’s fun.

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I kept hearing about Steam so I decided to check it out. Essentially it’s the iTunes of the video game world. I went out and bought a corded Xbox controller and downloaded Flashback and Ducktales Remastered. What a blast! Since I was using a laptop I tried out Flashback in my theater- too big to really keep track of everything, but cool.

My current Sony Vaio laptop is a few years old and not really built for gaming (for reference it scores about 30,000 on the new 3D mark… which is bad). Since I want to play games I decided to get something better suited to the task. Initially I looked at the Razor Blade, but reviews said the screen was really bad and for me 1080p resolution was a must-have. Eventually I came across the Pulse 17 from Maingear. I have a Maingear PC at work and really like it. The Pulse 17 is billed as a super slim gaming laptop and really pushed my buttons (visually and spec-wise). Since I wanted a laptop just for games I decided a 17″ screen couldn’t hurt and jumped in head first. I’m hoping to get it in the next couple of weeks and I’ll post a review.

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Dimensions & Weight: 11.3″ x 16.5″ x .85″ & 6 lbs.
Screen: 17.3″ Full HD Matte Anti-Reflective 1920 x 1080 (16:9)
Processor: Intel® Core™ i7 4700HQ 2.4GHz/3.4GHz Turbo 8MB L3 Cache HD 4600 [47W]
Memory: 16GB DDR3-1600 1.5V (2x8GB, SODIMMs)
Graphics and GPGPU Accelerator: NVIDIA® GeForce™ GTX 765M 2GB GDDR5 with Optimus Technology
Hard Drive Bay One: 512GB SuperRAID -Dual 256GB Plextorl® M5M mSATA] w/ TRIM [1080MB/s Reads]
Hard Drive Bay Two: 1TB 5400rpm 2.5″ HDD
Audio: Creative Sound Blaster Cinema with 2.1 Premium Speakers
Ethernet Adapter: On-board Gigabit Ethernet
Wireless Network Adapter: Intel® Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 802.11ac + Bluetooth [Up to 867Mbps]

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m enamored with portable gaming. The Game Boy, Lynx, Game Gear and Turbo Express represent hundreds of my childhood hours. Recently I came across the GCW-Zero handheld gaming emulator and I decided I had to try it out. The idea of one system that can play anything (sans physical cartridges) sounds amazing. I have a fair amount of experience with game emulators so I’m excited to try this out. Review forthcoming!

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CPU: Ingenic JZ4770 1 GHz MIPS processor
GPU: Vivante GC860, capable of OpenGL ES 2.0
Display: 3.5 inch LCD w/ 320×240 pixels; 4:3 aspect ratio
Operating system: Linux 3.x (OpenDingux)
Memory: 512 MB DDR2
Internal storage: 16 GB, most of which is available for applications and data
External storage: micro SDHC up to 32 GB or micro SDXC of 64 GB
Connectivity: Mini USB 2.0 OTG & Mini HDMI 1.3 out
Audio: Stereo speakers, mono microphone, 3.5mm mini jack
Other: Accelerometer (g-sensor) and vibration motors
Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4 GHz
Dimensions & Weight: 5.6″ x 2.8″ x .7″ & 8 oz