Well, I finally did it. A couple weeks ago, I finally bit the bullet and replaced my aging Palm TX with a brand spanking new fourth generation iPod Touch.
And so far? Fabulous.
I’d been reluctant to buy a device to replace my old Palm, as none of the new hardware seemed all that compelling. The Palm, with its 480x360 screen, has been comparable to anything on the market for a long long time. And from a software standpoint, it already handled what I did most with it: read.
But with the new Touch, with it’s gorgeous 960x640 screen, I finally had a reason to migrate. And in doing so, I realized just how much the limitations of the TX were preventing me from truly using the device.
In particular, with the Touch, I suddenly find myself using it to:
- Read and write emails.
- Check and post to facebook.
- Chat online with people on Facebook and Google chat.
- Browse the web.
- Follow my RSS feeds.
- Track my TODO items.
- Keep notes in my personal wiki.
- Look things up in Wikipedia and IMDB.
All in addition to the usual tasks of reading and listening to music. Most of this wasn’t possible on my Palm because either the browser sucked, or the applications simply weren’t available or comfortable to use due to the rather craptacular stylus-based input system. Plus, the increased resolution of the 4g Touch makes reading small text a lot easier, and so reading and browsing the web is far more comfortable than on the TX.
As for apps, so far, my absolute favorite discoveries are:
Trunk Notes. This has has replaced Wikidpad as my personal wiki, and allows me to create a web of interconnected text that can be browsed and edited from both my computer (through a web interface) or on the device itself. Suddenly my entire recipe collection, my set of guitar tabs, and loads of other stuff, is available wherever I am!
Appigo Todo. I’m actually getting things done. It’s bizarre.
MobileRSS. It is what it says, and it works well. Syncs with Google Reader. Easy-to-use swipe gestures for moving between items. Embedded browser. Good stuff.
Stanza. An e-book reader that integrates beautifully with Calibre, which runs on my laptop and acts as my e-book library.
Of course, there’s tons of little tools and utilities I’ve bought along the way (GoodReader for PDF reading and annotating, Tunemark for streaming music, Dropbox, Google Earth, Skype, iSSH…), but these are the ones I use on a consistent, day-to-day basis.
And yes, before you ask, I’ve also jailbroken. I’m not sure why, yet (although SBSettings is awfully nice), but it’s fun to get a shell on the thing, even if it’s just to say I can.
Geez, three weeks since my last update, and… well, frankly, not a whole lot has happened. Odd how, when you become an adult, your life suddenly becomes a lot less interesting from day to day. However, it goes without saying that at least a couple noteworthy things have happened, otherwise, why the post, other than to regurgitate my varied and disconnected thoughts into the digital ether?
So, what news? Well, first off, a photo from the garden. A while back, I decided it was about time to get some various plants planted. This included the usual garden, a mix of the everyday peas, carrots, spinach, and some zucchini, with rogue dill fragrantly invading the empty spaces, a hill of potatoes, just a few to see how they do, some sunflower plants, and last but not least, berry bushes, specifically raspberry and saskatoon. Well, in the weeks following, much has been afoot. The sunflowers are at least six inches tall, the various garden vegetables are coming along quite nicely, but most importantly, my raspberry bushes have started bearing sweet, delicious fruit. And to prove it, I even have a photo!
Incidentally, these are just the most recent of the ripened berries. I’ve already enjoyed a couple early fruit, and let me tell ya.. they are delicious.
Meanwhile, on the technology front, I finally decided to take the plunge and by my very own laptop. To be honest, the fact I hadn’t done this already was just a little bit ridiculous, and after spending many hours hacking away on the company tanktop (big, hot, heavy, and ugly), I finally decided the time was right to just buy one.
So, what did I buy? Well, I could’ve gone for a regular ol’ consumer laptop, something fairly inexpensive and functional, but such gear tends to be a little heavier, have poorer battery life, and most importantly, be somewhat fragile. So I decided to splurge on some gear that I knew would be heavy-duty, light weight, and generally capable of withstanding the abuses I’m likely to put it through.
I bought a Lenovo (previously IBM) ThinkPad. The T61, to be precise, which is the latest model in the T-Series.
Now, I know, ThinkPads tend to be a bit pricey, but for that, I got:
- A titanium roll cage,
- Best-in-the-business keyboard,
- Good battery life, which is even better with the Ultrabay battery I purchased,
- Quite thin and light, at just shy of 5 lbs,
- Quiet as heck.
Basically, exactly what I was looking for.
As for specs, it’s a 2Ghz Core2Duo, 2GB of RAM, 120GB hard disk, 1440x900, 14” wide-screen display (I would’ve prefered 1400x1050 standard-def, but they can’t be had… apparently the LCD manufacturers are shoving wide-screen displays down laptop manufacturers’ throats), nVidia Quadro NVS 140M video chipset, 802.11abgn, and a DVD-RW. Plus the usual assortment of USB ports, VGA out, a pair of PCI-Express slots, the Ultrabay, modem and NIC, etc.
As for software, it came loaded with Windows Vista business (which, for the record, isn’t nearly as bad as people claim, though I turned off Aero and SuperFetch pretty quickly), with the usual assortment of goodies, such as Office, and to my surprise, SQL Express 2005. In addition, after shrinking my NTFS partition by 40GB, I threw Ubuntu Gusty in, which, after a rough start, has worked fairly well (although sound doesn’t work at all, and I can’t adjust the screen brightness within X, which is pretty irritating). I even got suspend-to-RAM working after a bit of fiddling with settings in xorg.conf. I must admit, as a desktop OS, Ubuntu performs quite admirably, and is easily the closest I’ve seen to a truly mass-accessible Linux distribution.
So, overall, an excellent and worthwhile purchase! Of course, that basically blows my toy budget for the rest of the year.
I lied. The bastards gave me a trial version of Office. Oh well, OpenOffice it is!
So, I’ve been an owner of a Nintendo DS since shortly after the device launched. I picked it up originally because I planned to hack code for it… the idea of a cheap device with a touch screen and wireless really sparked my imagination. But, thanks in part to the original launch game, Super Mario 64 DS, which was just so much damned fun, I’ve found myself actually playing games on the thing.
So, why would I advise you not to buy a DS? Simple! Because, if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to resist the desire buy new games. Since I picked up my DS, I’ve bought:
- Super Mario 64 DS
- Warioware: Touched
- Advanced Wars DS
- Mariokart DS
And now, Tetris DS. And I don’t play my DS that much! Incidentally, of that list, Touched is probably the main one I regret, followed by Meteos. Touched just doesn’t have much depth (I finished it pretty fast, and there’s little replay value) and Meteos, while fun, hasn’t captured my imagination. It’s also a bit confusing. :)
Anyway on to Tetris DS. I gotta say, if you’re a casual gamer, and in particular, a casual gamer who grew up during the 8-bit console era, this game is, IMHO, a must-have. As a Tetris rendition, it’s pretty damned good, and reasonably faithful to the gameplay we all remember. About the only thing that bothers me is the inheritance of the infinite spin “feature” from Tetris Worlds, where you can continually spin a piece and move it around, even though it’s landed on the tableau.
In addition to the standard modes, the game also provides a variety of puzzle modes, versus modes, and a rather odd Catch mode. Of the new modes, I gotta say Push mode is the coolest. It’s basically a Tetris tug-of-war, and brings about some interesting new game mechanics. This mode can be played against the CPU, where the difficulty can be tuned from fairly easy to frustratingly difficult, or against people head-to-head or over the Internet.
Speaking of which, the head-to-head modes are very well executed. In a local Wi-Fi enabled game, you can have up to 10 players playing using a single cart, with various options available to adjust gameplay. Of course, you can also play online against people on Nintendo’s network. Unfortunately, the gameplay options are more limited, here: 2-player in Standard or Push mode, or 4 players in Standard mode. Still, online play is very well polished, as with Mario Kart DS.
But the best part for a retrogamer like myself has gotta be the soundtrack and visual themes for the game. For example, in Standard mode, you’ll recognize the music as remixes from Super Mario 1, 3, Link, and Metroid. Moreover, on the top screen, a demo of the game in question is played, and as you approach the next Tetris level, the character progresses through the game level (eg, world 1-1 of Super Mario Bros.). Quite clever! The other modes are themed differently. For example, Catch mode is based on Metroid and Push mode has a Donkey Kong theme.
Of course, if one isn’t a retrogamer, or (god forbid) you’re too old to remember the good ol’ 8-bit days, you might find this all quite annoying. But I love it!
So, in summary, I’d give this new Tetris rendition an 8. I just hope Nintendo could stop releasing such good games at reasonable prices, because, apparently, I’m unable to control myself…
Ugh, finally home. It was a good trip, I have to say… nice and relaxed for a change, rather than heavily regimented. And I got to spend money. Too much money. :)
And speaking of spending money, I’ve finally got some shots of my new toys. First off, I have a couple pics of my Palm:
Left-to-right, there’s a shot of it off. Second, an image of Blazer (the packaged web browsr) rendering this website. Lastly, we have ScummVM playing The Secret of Monkey Island. Pretty neat, eh? :)
Next, I have a pic of my newest toy, my snazzy earphones:
After using them for the drive back, I gotta say: awesome purchase! The noise isolation alone makes them worth every penny. Heck, for a while I just used them as standard earplugs. With the foam inserts, they drop high- and mid-range frequency noise dramatically (Shure’s claims are around 15db noise reduction), while still making it possible to listen to conversations when the music is off.
With the music on, the sound is excellent. High- and mid-range frequencies are really nicely articulated, and, with the plugs properly installed, the bass is surprisingly good. And I’m still amazed at how little power I need to drive these things. They literally require half the volume, as compared to my cheap Sony buds. This is, I suspect, a combination of noise isolation, relatively low impedence, and significantly reduced leakage (due to the plugs and the fact that the drivers are completely enclosed).
The gist: these are, hands down, the best pair of buds I’ve ever used. Very sweet.
Well, as it turns out, apparently I have money to burn, so on day 3 of our fateful trip, I bought myself a new pair of earphones. 130$ earphones. Though, I must admit, they are mighty sweet!
So, what did I buy? A pair of Shure E2Cs! Sound fancy? Well, damnit, they are! They’re referrered to as canal-phones, because, rather than just sitting outside the ear like standard buds, they actually fit into the ear canal. Moreover, they come with sleeves which cause them to act like ear plugs. The result is excellent sound reproduction (including bass, unlike typical buds) while providing incredible noise isolation (at low volume I can’t hear a conversation next to me), meaning you can drive them at lower volume, thus protecting my hearing. Good stuff!
Of course, that ain’t all. Lenore picked up a pair of sweet Sony cans for 100$ which sound incredible (though, I have to say, my Shures are pretty comparible). So, yeah, it’s been a decadent trip! And, tomorrow, the drive back… which should be a good chance to test the sound isolation capabilities of my new earphones.
My Palm has arrived! Definitely speedy, since I placed the order on Saturday, leaving Monday to prep order, Tuesday to ship, Wednesday morning to update the damn order tracking website, and Thursday at lunch time for arrival.
So now I wait for it to charge. What then? I have no idea… though I really should be doing something work-related. Maybe I’ll figure out how to check my email or browse the web.
So, I finally decided what to do with my Ralphbucks!
Yes, that’s right, I bought a PDA. It’s a Palm TX. It has a nice, large, bright screen (320x480… compared to your average Pocket PC which is at 240x320), a 312 Mhz XScale processor (about half the speed of the top-of-the-line models, but still no slouch), built in WiFi and Bluetooth support, and I’m sure many other bells and whistles.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “What the heck does he need a PDA, for?”. Well, among other things, I can:
- Read eBooks with PalmFiction
- Review Go games with PilotGOne.
- View skycharts with Pilot Planets.
- Work on Sudoku puzzles with Palm Sudoku
- Play interactive fiction with CliFrotz (HHGTTG, anyone?)
- Control computers remotely with pssh and PalmVNC.
- Use it as a Wacom tablet with PalmWac.
- Play various old-school emulated games with Little John PalmOS.
Not to mention all the things you can do with the stock software, such as:
- Access email or browse the web.
- Listen to my music collection (it natively supports OGGs!) or watch video.
- View/edit various document formats, spreadsheets, etc.
- Do organizey, day-plannery type things.
- Use it as a glorified calculator.
Basically, it’s gonna be totally sweet. :) Plus, if I get really bored, there’s plenty of free SDKs for this thing, meaning I can hack up my own software if I like!
So, look forward to reviews of the device after it finally arrives (though, as of this writing, Futureshop claims to have not even shipped the damn thing yet… bastards!)
Well, as usual, it’s been a while. This time I’m writing about another one of my many hobbies, in this case, Go. It’s a very old game from the far east (at least a couple thousand years old), with millions and millions of players in the East Asian region, and growing popularity in Europe and North America.
Anyway, I finally decided to spoil myself and sink some money into a decent Goban (board) and a nice set of stones. Up to this point, I had an el cheapo board with some glass stones, and even then, rarely had an opportunity to use it, thanks to a dearth of opponents (which is unfortunate, as Go really is a very enjoyable game, particularly for those who are interested in Chess or similar games of strategy).
However, recently a friend (the one who introduced me to Go) and I, along with a number of his buddies, have started a Go night on thursdays, so I figure I can finally justify getting a decent set, since it will actually get used. Below are a bunch of pictures of the set, which I purchased from Go-gamestore (a company conveniently located in Ontario!). I was lucky to get in on a sale which included a 1” Spruce standard Japanese board and a set of bi-convex Yunzi stones and bamboo bowls, all for $110, and that includes shipping!
First we have a shot of the set itself. Here you see the goban and the stones inside their bamboo baskets (eventually, I’d like to get some nice wooden bowls, but the baskets are not that bad, in actuality).
Next we have the board by itself. It’s got a slightly shiny finish, and the lines are crisp and clear, with only a couple flaws (the far side of the board in the picture is a little banged up… but, for the price, I’m not complaining).
Here is a shot of the board with a pro game in progress.
Next, a close up of the stones (admittedly not the greatest picture).
The back of the board, as it was originally shipped, had a nice, smooth finish, but was otherwise blank. I decided to take advantage of this and drew a 9x9 board on the back, which will come in very handy for Go night, since the other players are beginners, and thus haven’t graduated to a full 19x19 board, yet.
It turned out pretty decent, in my opinion. The lines were drawn with a fine Sharpie (though they’re still a bit thicker than I’d like), and I used an edge guide to keep the lines nice and parallel. The board itself is almost centered on the goban… apparently I neglected to measure twice, and so the whole thing is shifted 0.5 centimeters to one side. :)
The stones themselves are quite interesting. Traditionally, Go stones are made from slate, for black, and, believe it or not, shell for white. The white stones are made by boring out circular portions of clam shell and then rounding them off. This means that, for a 10mm-thick stone, you need a 10mm-thick shell! Thus, these stones tend to be out of the price range for your average Go player.
For normal people, typical stones are made from either glass (like my other set), or plastic, possibly with a weight inside (these are known as Ing stones). However, another variety of stone, invented by the Chinese, is the Yunzi. This stone is made from sintered (powered and melted down) jade for black, and quartz for white (in other words, they’re actually stones :). The result is that the white stones are very slightly translucent, and the black stones are, in fact, very dark green, though this can only really be seen when they are held up to the light, as you can see in the following image:
Like slate stones, black Yunzi should be oiled, which gives them a nice sheen. The stones are quite heavy (certainly heavier than my glass stones), with a slightly rough finish, and have a fairly high specific heat capacity, making them feel cool to the touch. They’re quite enjoyable to play with, and given their modest price, make an excellent higher-end stone for amateurs like myself (although they’re also the preferred stone for professional tournaments in China).