Retina iPad Mini Review

I said I didn’t want an iPad.

Well, I caved and bought one a few months ago.  I’ve been using it for a couple months now and I absolutely love it.  I loved my Nexus 7 (it has a happy home at my friend’s place now) but I had a couple issues with it, namely lack of decent accessories (I know, that’s a stupid excuse) and the nagging feeling that Google will discontinue support now that they are encouraging OEMs to make Google Play editions of devices.

I wanted an update to my tablet (been almost two years) and I felt like the best option for me at the time was the iPad Mini Retina 32 GB.  I got the “smoke grey” version and a blue iPad smart case because I wanted to protect the thing (it was expensive!).  And just today I picked up a Logitech “hinge” case that allows for more options when propping the tablet up for watching films and whatnot.  It actually kind of looks like I covered my iPad with a carpet, but you’ll see that in the pictures.

Speaking of… pictures:

2014-06-16 18.27.11Everyone’s seen an iPad mini by now, but here’s my setup start screen.  You can see the relatively small bezels on the sides.  I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I really don’t mind them at all.

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These next two are the cases.  I got the smart case at first and I love it, but I don’t see a lot of protection save for scratches and very short drops (like from the couch to the carpeted floor).  I went to Best Buy tonight and found the second case.  It’s a Logitech “hinge” case that is highly adjustable and has more options for propping the tablet up than the smart case.  The smart case is significantly lighter than the Logitech case, but I think the advantage in extra protection is worth it.

Anyway, this little machine went with me to Supreme Session in Omaha and was my main device to take notes and check email on.  I accomplished this with Evernote (I sprung for Premium; totally worth it when I didn’t have any online connectivity).  I love Evernote and I’m using it much more, but that’s another post for another time.  Anyway, I also picked up a stylus but I’ve not used it as much as I thought I would.  I was going to try to use Penultimate but it’s actually faster for me to type my notes directly into Evernote from the on screen keyboard than it is to try to write them in Penultimate.

In the next two pictures, you can see how the tablet is propped by the different cases.

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So, dear readers, you’re probably wondering where my pro and con lists are.  Right… here.

Pros:

  • Size.  I love this size.  I wouldn’t be able to wrangle an iPad Air easily, but this I can fit in one hand and poke at with the other, much like I could with the Nexus 7.  I like the 7″-8″ form factor; it’s perfect for reading, playing games, watching Netflix/Hulu in bed, and taking notes in Evernote.
  • The screen.  Oh my.  The screen is beautiful.  I’m glad I held out for the retina version and splurged on it instead of the cheaper original mini.
  • Speed.  This thing blazes.  I have a few beefs with iOS but that’s me, not the operating system.  I prefer some things related to Android (the notification shade, for one) but I’ve gotten used to iOS.  It works and generally gets out of your way.
  • Weight.  This thing is light.  It’s a hair heavier than the Nexus 7, but it also has a metal backing instead of plastic (I’m not knocking plastic here, but it’s something to consider) and a slightly larger screen.  Anyway, it’s lighter than the 11″ Macbook Air that I have (not that it’s heavy by any means).
  • Build quality.  Holy shit this thing is built well and has awesome fit-and-finish.  As a mechanical engineer, I really appreciate good fit-and-finish.
  • Battery life.  Holy whoa, I get almost two days between charges, more if it sits in standby.

Cons:

  • iTunes.  This program is really shitty on Windows.  It’s slow and bloated, but luckily, I can manage most of my stuff from the iPad itself and I don’t have to deal with the program.  I could transfer everything to my Macbook, but I’m limited on space there, so I don’t really want to.  I cheat and use dropbox a lot.
  • The aforementioned lack of decent notification shade, which is something I love coming from Android.
  • No back button.  You don’t realize how much you get used to that hard-coded back button on Android till you go to iOS.

So.  This is a definite buy if you’re looking for a new tablet.  If you’re happy with Android, get the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S, but be aware that the storage situation is slim.  I think it starts with 16 GB and doesn’t increase it, but you can expand to more with an SD card.  I’ve never had luck with that, though, so you’re mileage may vary.

 

 

 

MaxKeyboard Blackbird

I’m not exactly obsessed with mechanical keyboards, but I do know that I love a great computer experience, so I’m attempting to make my home computer the best it can be.  That does include having decent peripherals.

After I built my computer I was using a MS Natural keyboard that I’d had from about 3 computers ago.  I liked it, but I wanted something better, so I “upgraded” to the newest version of the MS Natural.  These are decent enough keyboards but they’re hard to game on.  They’re great for typing and keep your arms at a comfortable angle and whatnot but I wanted something better.

I went to Microcenter and found a Razer BlackWidow on sale for $75.  Granted, this is much more than I’ve ever spent on a keyboard (I usually used the ones I got for free with a PC purchase or the aforementioned MS Natural that was cheap).  The BlackWidow has Cherry MX Blue switches and it’s quite heavy.  It typed fairly well though, so I was happy.  Or so I thought.

I started hanging out on Reddit quite a bit more and found a community for people who tweak their workstations called “/r/battlestations”.  I looked over it quite a bit and I noticed a lot of people had mechanical keyboards and there were quite a few cross posts to another community called “r/MechanicalKeyboards”.  So I started hanging out over there and reading reviews and recommendations and discussion.  I noticed that the community didn’t have a lot of respect for Razer (I didn’t know why then but I do now) and I started reading more and more reviews.  I figured I wanted to try a different switch as well as get a smaller keyboard.

I agonized over this decision.  I read review after review and decided that I wanted a Ducky Shine 3 TKL with Cherry MX Browns.  I could not find it anywhere.

I also looked at customizing a WASD board but they had no backlighting and I figured I might as well get something with backlighting so I can use it more in the dark.  Besides, I think backlighting looks cool.  Well, their CODE keyboard had backlighting but not the switches I wanted, plus it was sold out.

So I started looking for alternatives and stumbled upon MaxKeyboards.  They have a limited selection of switches (blue and brown for the board I was interested in) but the biggest plus for me was the fact that they didn’t have any software needed for their boards.  The Razer needed their Synapse software drivers to work and it was becoming beyond annoying to deal with that updating all the time.  I needed a board that would work with no problems in both Linux and Windows.

So I looked through the choices and picked out the Blackbird.  I’d never tried Brown switches before but I’d read about them and they were close to the Blues I’d been using but with a less audible click, more of a bump.

Anyway, I ordered it from Amazon and it finally arrived up at my mom’s house and I was able to pick it up this past weekend.  I’ve been using it a couple days now and let me say… Wow.

Well, before I get more into the review, how about a picture or a few?

2014-02-09 18.15.40 2014-02-09 18.15.57Here is the box and what comes in the box.  As you can see, it’s a really simple affair, with the keyboard, the wrist rest, and a info sheet about all the lighting options.

The lighting options are easy to understand and most are activated by hitting the function button and then the page up or down button (to change brightness), the insert or delete button (to light certain buttons like WASD and the arrow keys during a game), and the escape button to change the lighting timer on the board.

There are also some other options to control volume and whatnot that are activated by hitting the function button and F1 through F6.  This is great if you don’t have easy access to your speakers.  I do, so I don’t think I’ll be using them much.

Anyway, how about a quick compare between the Razer and the Max?

2014-02-09 18.18.03The Razer is on top and the Max is underneath.  The Max is much smaller than the Razer and I can easily hold my arms in front of me to type instead of having them off to the left a little bit.  This will hopefully help my shoulders and back and arms to not get fatigued while using the computer.

2014-02-09 18.20.06 2014-02-09 18.19.26 2014-02-09 18.20.35These next photos show the board on my desk.  Also, my shoe is there for Reddit and keyboard SCIENCE.

Anyway, you can see how it sits on my desk and how it’s directly in front of the chair.

Typing on this board is a dream.  It’s easy to actuate the keys and not totally bottom them.  Well I usually do bottom but I don’t have to thwack them as hard as I do a membrane board like the one I have at work.

There’s not a satisfying click-CLACK like there is with the blues, but I’m very happy with the browns.  I love the sound they make and they’re not mushy at all.  Also, it’s quieter than my other board.  I’m not sure if my upstairs neighbor could hear me (I hope not) but if they could I’m sure they’re happy that I’ve switched boards.

I’m not really missing the keypad on the right; it makes for a quick switch to the mouse when I need it.  The only issue I will find is when doing something with numbers, but I have the Razer that has a keypad on it so I can use that for that application.

Now I want to get a Ducky for work.  I want the Shine 3 but if I can’t find that, I’ll settle for a Zero.  I should also look into getting either Blacks or Browns and putting O-rings on the keys so they’re not as loud.

Anyway, I love this board and it’s a 5/5 for me.  No extra crap, no special drivers, works in Linux and Windows (and Mac for that matter), and it’s small and backlit.  Everything I need.  Nothing I don’t.

Oh, and regarding the non-love for Razer that I mentioned above… I see why many people don’t like them as a company because their boards are… somewhat gaudy and light-covered.  Mine was not, but it was HUGE and I’m glad to have more desk space with the smaller board.  Also, some have had quality issues with their boards.  I’m glad I’ve not, but it’s always a possibility.  Oh, and they market to “gamers” so their boards are a bit pricier than they should be as well as having the lower quality.  So that’s a problem.  I still like my Razer DeathAdder mouse; it works well and I’ll be keeping it for awhile.

New Laptop Backpack

My Swiss Gear backpack ripped on the seam where the zipper is for the secondary compartment (the one where I stash my files/notebook).  I’m not sure what happened, but this shouldn’t happen.  Anyway, I’m going to see if my mother can sew it up and then we can donate it to Goodwill or something.  Because I’ve found something better.

Cue my trip to Microcenter to pick up a keyboard for my brother.  Well, I took my work laptop with me and started looking for a new briefcase.  My laptop is an HP Elitebook 8540w, which is a second-generation of the Elitebook line.  The model I have is a workstation CAD laptop and it’s heavy.  In the Swiss Gear, everything was heavy.  I think the backpack itself was heavy to begin with, and then adding everything I carry (laptop, charger, umbrella, files, notebook, mouse, etc, etc) it got really heavy.  Anyway, I wanted something lighter and initially I was looking for a messenger-style or briefcase-style.  I think they look more professional.  Well, I couldn’t find anything that I liked that was a decent price AND that fit my behemoth of a laptop.  What I did find was something that was $100 and it didn’t have all of the features I wanted.  I turned around to the backpacks and started loading my laptop into various bags (I’m sure I looked goofy to loss prevention) until I found the Everki Glide Laptop Backpack.  I tried it in-store, checked the price (under $80; score!) and decided to buy it by the virtue of my work laptop fitting it in and the pocket looking like it can accommodate a larger laptop (I’ll be upgraded to the 8560W which is slightly larger and heavier; hopefully I’ll have a decent additional battery too so there’s that addon the bag has to fit).

I took it home, cut the tags off, and started loading it.  It took everything I was carrying in my LL Bean book pack (from college!) except for my lunch and shoes.  It can carry my shoes but not my lunchbox, which is fine.

Anyway, how about a couple photos?

2014-02-05 18.31.39Here is the backpack empty and against my wall in the apartment.

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Here it is open and ready to receive my stuff.

2014-02-05 18.30.16Here is all my stuff.  The water bottle is substituted because I left my normal 20 oz one at work.  I also have an iPod Touch as well as a Nexus 7 and also usually a couple of pens and/or pencils.  Those are not shown because they don’t take up a lot of room and they fit in the pen/pencil slots.  The Touch was used to take the pictures and the tablet was forgotten, as it was charging at my charging station.  Anyway, from the top left:

  • Umbrella.
  • Laptop charger.
  • Water bottle.
  • Plastic bag (holds my shoes; I’m currently wearing boots into work because of all the snow).
  • Cloth bag with personal lady items, wipes, and some Shout wipes.
  • BigSkinny bi-fold cellphone wallet (I love it).
  • Portable mouse.
  • Tin with earbuds and charger for the iPod.
  • Zippo lighter (I don’t smoke but a lighter comes in handy).
  • Small day bag/purse in case we go out to lunch and I don’t want to be stuck shoving all my necessities in my pockets.
  • And my laptop.  It’s huge.

2014-02-05 18.34.49Here’s the main compartment filled up.  My umbrella and charger go on the bottom, the laptop in the sleeve for it, my notebook and tablet in the tablet sleeve, and nothing really in that zipper compartment.  I like to have options of where I can stash my stuff.  The shoes fit in my plastic Meijer bag and sit right in the center top between all my other things.

2014-02-05 18.34.55Here’s the organizer pouch thing and I have my wallet in there, the tin with the earbuds and charger in the flap pocket as well as the lighter, my small “personal item” bag in the bottom, and my cell phone in the pouch next to the wallet (you can’t see it because it goes all the way down!).  If I’d had some pens/pencils I’d put them in the slots next to the flap pocket.

2014-02-05 18.35.01 2014-02-05 18.35.12And with these two pictures, you can see how it looks when filled with all those things.  My water bottle goes on the outside pocket, as well as my small purse.  That outside pocket expands to fit everything you put in it.  I wouldn’t stretch it too much, but it does hold a lot of stuff.  I do suppose I could put my shoes in there, but I prefer them to be inside the bag.

2014-02-05 18.35.19Bag from the front when filled.

As you can see. this bag takes a lot of items and I hope it will last for awhile.  I’ve had it for about 2 days or so, so we’ll see how it holds up.  I’ve been carrying my laptop back and forth because of the snow.

Anyway, what I really like about this bag is that it holds all that stuff, but it’s light!  It doesn’t seem to weigh as much as my Swiss Gear ever did.  The straps seem to fit my back and shoulders better than the other one did.  It carries closer to my body and is easier to walk in.  Also, its slimmer than the old one and it fits through the turnstile door a lot better; I have no fear of getting stuck.  The interior is orange, so it’s easy to find what you’ve stashed in various pockets.  The inside of the Swiss Gear was grey, and seemed to swallow and lose things.

For right now, I’d give this bag a 4/5 for fitting most of my stuff (doesn’t fit my lunchbox), for being lightweight, and for being slim so I can carry my things in less space (and not get stuck in the door!).  I really like this bag and it looks different from the other ones everyone else carries, with the black main color and the orange trim.  I really like the padding on the back between my back and my laptop, as well as the corner guards that are built into the bag.

I will probably revisit this review in a few weeks to give an update.  Right now I really like it and it works.

I’d recommend this to anyone looking to carry a large laptop for work as well as its charger and other things and your files/notebooks.

 

 

 

 

New Beer

This time it’s “Solitude Abbey Style Ale”  by Vivant.

Interesting, to say the least.

This is a very smooth, malty beer that goes down like a good ale should.  You can see that it’s dark with a light brown, foamy head on it.  This is actually the second half of the can, as the whole thing didn’t fit in my glass!

A true pint, and a delicious one at that.

This beer is perfect for people who want something flavorful, malty, and easy to drink.  It has no “bite” like most IPAs do (and this is why I don’t like them).  It’s not too bitter.

Comfortable, I’d say.  It’s got a good mouthfeel, with no sour taste.  The end is bready, and I think I detect a hit of some sort of nut.

Anyway, this is yummy, and I recommend picking up a 4-pack from your local grocer.  I’m not sure if it’s only Michigan, or if it’s national, but it’s worth picking up if you like a bready style beer.  I do, and this is good.  It’s not something I want to chug, or something that I want more than one of in a sitting, but it’s something that’s to be savored.

Stars: 4.5/5

Notes:  Bready, malty, nutty.  Has a smooth mouthfeel.  I was maybe expecting something a little sweeter, that’s why it’s down a half star.  Overall?  Great.  Would buy again.

Podcast Review: Linux Outlaws

Linuxoutlaws

I’ve saved this one for awhile because I haven’t listened in awhile (oops) but I finally hit the live show today.  The best way to listen to Linux Outlaws is live, if you can.

Firstly, on getting the live show:

Be online on Mondays at about 2pm ET, and point your browser to Ustream here.  To get on irc, grab Xchat (or another irc program) and get in the chatroom at irc.freenode.org, room #sixgun.  Just chill and wait and see what’s happening, and enter into the conversation whenever you feel like it.  (For those not in the know, IRC is a way to chat with people online; I should probably write a little blog post about it.)  You can see some more information about listening live here at the live page for Sixgun.

If you can’t be online, grab the podcast.  It’s here, on feedburner.

I try to listen to all of the episodes.  I say try, but I usually fail; Dan and Fab put out a podcast a week (except during the World Cup, hah), sometimes two.  Like last week, they put out the Jaffa Cakes episode and a special about Bitcoins.  I still have to listen to both.

The podcast covers the linux world.  News, distro reviews (Dan did a great review of Ubuntu 11.04), distro releases, Microsoft and Apple bashing, and Beer of the Week.

I love the banter and (sometimes) arguments that come out of this show.

Fab is a Fedora fanatic, and Dan switches distros often, so there’s plenty of new linux information.

This podcast is good for people who’ve been using linux for a little while, but if you’re a newbie, I wouldn’t discourage you from listening to it.  There are plenty of great information and podcasts out there; this is just one of them.  Ubuntu UK Podcast and MintCast are also (supposed to be) great.  I listen to Ubuntu UK, but not MintCast as I’m currently being consumed by podcasts and can’t keep up with them.

Anyway, this is definitely a 5/5 star podcast.  I can’t remember if I’ve applied star ratings to these in the past, but I’m going to here.  It’s worth your time and effort to listen/watch live, as the IRC chat is amazing fun.

Podcast Review: Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me

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I started listening to Wait Wait a couple of years ago, on podcast.  I am never around when it’s on the radio to listen live, but the podcast is quite entertaining.

From the website:

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! is NPR’s weekly hour-long quiz program. Each week on the radio you can test your knowledge against some of the best and brightest in the news and entertainment world while figuring out what’s real news and what’s made up.

I like it because of the irreverent humor, the banter, and the (sometimes bad) jokes.  I think the Wait Wait presenters have the same type of humor and penchant for puns that I do, and that makes me smile every time I listen.

It’s mostly US-centric news, so my international friends might not like it, but if you want to listen to newscasters making fun of the news, this is totally your show.

I love Peter Sagal, Paula Poundstone, Carl Kasell, Tom Bodett, and Mo Rocca.  Everyone that’s on this podcast is hilarious, but those are my favorites.

Seriously, check this show out.  It’ll make you laugh and shake your head, sometimes at the same time!

Podcast Review: “Is This Thing On?”

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I’ve been kind of slacking with my podcast reviews, what with my internet being out, and then leaving for Tampa, and getting back and all that stuff.  So here we go with another podcast review.  (Oh, and I couldn’t get the ITHO podcast logo, so I’m going with Nick Tann’s logo.)

The Is This Thing On? podcast by Nick Tann is a weekly podcast that is very eclectic.  He has guests, track reviews, album reviews, and lots and lots of different music.

I love the variety.  If my readers couldn’t tell that I loved variety in my music, that is.

Right now, I’m catching up on podcasts, and I’m listening to #87.  Lots of rock and roll in this one and not a huge amount of talking.  Which is fine, because I generally prefer more music to more talking, unless I’m listening to something like Linux Outlaws.

Anyway, it’s hard to really categorize this podcast because each show is so different.  Usually it starts with an opening track, then it meanders around with other music and chat, and then some sort of review, and then ends with more music.  And Nick usually plugging a gig or two.  All in all, it’s a great way to spend an hour or so.

ANYWAY, check out Nick Tann’s Is This Thing On podcast.  It’s awesome.

The Sandisk Sansa Clip+

Sort of a review; I’ve been using the Clip+ for several weeks now, and I think it’s time for my thoughts.

This MP3 player is awesome.  It’s small and easy to fit in a pocket.  It doesn’t have album art (which is fine with me) and has a radio (which is a must for me).  It also recognizes my IDE3 tags, which my rather expensive Sony Walkman started refusing to do.

Oh, did I mention that this MP3 player was $50?  Fifty dollars for a player that matches/exceeds a $100 player.  Exceeds, because it has a MicroSD slot that allows me to increase the amount of music on it.  I got the 4gb model, and expanded it immediately with my 8gb MicroSD card.  Cool beans, considering I spent $20 on the SD card.

How about a picture?

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Simple, straightforward buttons; fast startup; few animations; and great sound.  What more could anyone want?

Regarding the radio… if you simply must have a radio, this is a good option, but it depends on where you hold for reception.  I’ve found that if you hold it in your hand, reception is decent, but as soon as you put it in your pocket, the reception gets cut off.  Oh well, I use it for my own music most of the time anyway.

It has a clip built into the back, so you can easily hook it onto your belt/pocket/pants so you won’t lose it.  Very handy.  I haven’t seen any weakness in the clip so far, but I don’t play with it.

If you read the reviews on Best Buy, you’ll find that there are lots of “old” people who are rather technophobic having issue with this product.  Overall, this is a great little MP3 player, and most people will find it perfect for their needs.

I wanted something that plays music, and that’s what I got.  I’ll try to fix the Sony in due time, but this works right now, and I’m happy.

Podcast Review: Good Game and Good Game Spawn Point

I’ll cover these two podcasts together because they both cover games and both have the same hosts.

I’ve been watching Good Game for a couple of years now.  I originally was looking for podcasts about Cricket from an Aussie perspective, but I browsed around and found this podcast, which is actually a regular show on Australian TV.

I look forward every week to the reviews of new games, gamer news, and other geeky fun that come out of putting two passionate people in a room and letting them review games.

This week, GG reviewed some 3DS launch titles.  I’m skeptical of the 3DS (partly because I can’t see manufactured 3D well), but I do enjoy the reviews of the launch games.

Anyway, this show/podcast has lots to love.  Games, geekiness, very cool hosts, and twitter interaction, what more could you want?  Really.

I love the way the hosts review the games, but they don’t seem to let personal biases come into play (and if they do, they will warn you that they don’t like that genre of game).  The balance is there, and clearly the hosts Bajo and Hex not only love games but understand them as well.

Good Game Spawn Point is “for younger gamers by gamers” and they clearly hit that with the games they review, but they don’t talk down to their audience.  This is the key, because so many shows for kids and games for kids really dumb things down.  Kids aren’t stupid; they may need something slightly simpler, but that’s no excuse for shipping a crappy game for younger gamers.  (It’s no excuse for crappy books for kids either, but that’s a rant for another day.)

I picked up watching this show because I was hoping they’d cover some different stuff than the adult show, and they do.  I was hoping for more DS stuff, and for the most part, it has lots of DS stuff.  Bajo and Hex cover plenty of games that I’d never have heard of if I didn’t start watching either of the two shows.

My favorite spot on both shows is the “Ask Good Game” feature.  I really like the questions they get and the way they’re answered.  Lots of fun, especially when they accuse DARREN of being a NOOB.

If you like video games, I highly recommend both of these podcasts.

Podcast Review: Rathole Radio

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I’d like to have a regular (read: weekly) review of podcasts that I listen to regularly.  Well, at least until I run out of podcasts…

So, I’ll start with Rathole Radio.

I started listening to Rathole Radio after it was mentioned on Linux Outlaws (review pending).

Rathole Radio is a podcast hosted by Dan Lynch every two weeks.  It’s broadcast out of Liverpool England and is a showcase for eclectic creative commons music.

Dan plays a little bit of everything; from rap and hip-hop to folk, country, electro, rock and roll, and nerdcore.  It’s very eclectic and I’ve found lots of good music through this show.  I don’t necessarily like absolutely everything he plays, but I don’t necessarily like everything that the regular radio or NPR plays.  As long as you’re getting exposed to the new stuff that’s out there, it’s all good in my book.  You never know what you’ll like til you listen to it.

He gets a lot of his music from Jamendo, which is a host for creative commons music.

Every week it’s something different.  He’s had interviews with both Jono Bacon’s metal project Severed Fifth, and MC Frontalot.

Recently, Rathole Radio has been hosting a live show called “Rathole Radio Roadshow“.  This year it’s going to be held at the Zanzibar in Liverpool.

So, if you’re into eclectic music, check this podcast out.  He also broadcasts live every two weeks on Sunday at 4 PM Eastern Time.  You can find the fun at the last link, and also in the IRC room: #ratholeradio on irc.freenode.net.  There’s a link on the live page to use a web-based IRC client, so you don’t have to know how to set up IRC on your computer if you want to participate.

Short Xubuntu Review

This is what my netbook looks like right now.  I’m running Xubuntu, along with Chromium, Wakoopa, Dropbox, and Gwibber.  I decided to go with Xubuntu because I wasn’t having a lot of luck with Ubuntu and it’s Unity interface on here.

How about a screenshot?

14_pm

Screenshot.  I’ve got my An American in Paris wallpaper. If you haven’t been following my Tumblr, I like Gene Kelly.  I really like Gene Kelly.

Anyway…

I don’t really have any problems with this distro.  XFCE plays really well with GTK applications, and KDE applications.  That’s one of the things I love about it.

The biggest annoyance I’ve found is that some programs don’t pay attention to the browser I’ve set as my “preferred” browser (which is Chromium).  CloudSN will open gmail links in Firefox or straight up Chrome sometimes, and I can’t find a way to force it to be my main browser.

I’m also using Pidgin (though not signed in right now).  I’ve gotten used to Empathy, and I actually prefer it, but Pidgin works pretty well.  I just have to make sure I enable the tray icon.

Onto the tray!  I’ve gotten used to the indicator applets, and I’m thinking about installing a panel widget that’ll emulate the indicator applets.  They’re just so clean and easy to work with.  I see why Canonical decided to go wtih them.

I’ve got four workspaces, and I can easily split what I’m doing between them.  I usually have a browser up on desktop number one, Gwibber up on number two, chat (xchat and/or Pidgin) up on number three, and whatever else up on number four.  I don’t have Compiz installed, so I don’t have the neat composting going on like I do on my laptop, but ctl-alt-arrow works just fine for switching workspaces.  So does clicking on the needed workspace in my panel.

Overall, this is a great release.  I really like XFCE 4.8 (enabled via a PPA); it’s matured quite a bit from when I tried it awhile ago.

I would heartily recommend this distro for a netbook, or even a laptop or desktop.  It’s lighter than Ubuntu and Kubuntu, though not as light as something like Lubuntu or Crunchbang.,  Xubuntu has a great selection of applications (including Gimp!) that will give a user (almost) everything they need to sit down and use their computer right away after it’s installed.  And since it’s based on Ubuntu, users have access to the massive Ubuntu repository, and access to the powerful PPA system.

I’ll be testing out the Beta of Ubuntu soon enough, and it might make an appearance on my netbook.  I prefer Xubuntu, because I get the full width of my screen dedicated to what I’m doing, not being taken over by a launcher-bar.  That’s handy, but I hate horizontal scrolling with a passion.  I hear it’ll be hidden in Natty; I surely hope.

Pinboard.in

I decided to take the plunge and try out pinboard.in.

At the time I signed up it was something like $9.17, but it’s gone up to $9.22 (due to go up with more subscribers).

Well, I did an import of all my delicious bookmarks, and found that it was a much faster process than importing into diigo. After importing, I noticed that my private bookmarks were kept (very important to me) private.

The look of pinboard.in is very similar to delicious, but it’s cleaner. I love the way it integrates with my Shareaholic extension for Chrome/ium. To save to Pinboard is the first link in my drop-down menu.

Anyway, how about a picture?

The default Pinboard.in look. Very similar to delicious.

It’s almost easier and faster to send to Pinboard than it is to send to delicious. First off, there’s really nobody to share with, so you don’t have to pick who you send links to. Second, it doesn’t have automatic twitter integration, so you don’t have to deal with that (I have twitter integration though Twitterfeed and my #pinboard hashtag). It’s simple, quick, bookmarking with tags and privacy options. Nothing else.

The navigation is really, really simple. A picture says a thousand words, so here’s a picture:

As you can see, there’s a way to choose what kind of tags you want, a search box, and a way to get to popular places in your account. I haven’t tried the note-taking functionality yet, because I have tomboy notes on all of the computers I use, so I don’t really need them. I guess if I got a Cr-48, I’d need the note functionality.

You’ll also notice that there’s “recent” and “popular” links up top. I’ll go over there sometimes to see what’s been bookmarked, just like I used to when I was on delicoius. Sometimes there’s some cool stuff in there, and if you explore other popular tags, you’ll find even more websites that tailor to your interests. There’s also a networking aspect to pinboard.in that I really haven’t had a chance to explore. I’ve added a couple of people who seem to post linux-related sites, but I’m not sure exactly what the networking will amount to. Pinboard sells itself as “antisocial bookmarking” and to an extent that’s fine. I’m using it as a repository of my favorite links, and I’m sharing through twitterfeed.

The actual bookmark list is very clean and easy to follow. How about another picture?

The bookmarks themselves.

Easy to see tags, when you posted the link, the link itself, and in light grey, you can make out “edit” and “delete” links. I seem to have a lot of GTD stuff in this screenshot. Ahem.

Onto tagging! I’ve gotten used to tagging my bookmarks, photos, blog posts, and pretty much everything else. I like the idea of tagging as opposed to folders. I can assign more than one tag to something and that something will show up in both of those categories; for instance, I have many links that deal with Ubuntu, Gnome, KDE, and Linux. I can assign the general tag of Linux, and have everything Linux-related show up, but if I want to narrow things down, I can go Linux -> Ubuntu -> KDE and get all the KDE links relating to Ubuntu. Simple.

Anyway, here’s what the tags look like:

Tags, oh, how I love thee.

So, pinboard.in is a great service to replace delicious. I’m sure Yahoo is regretting the decision to have that slide show up. I think they’ve lost a lot of their userbase. It might put some people off to purchase the initial login, but it’s well worth the $9-ish for it.

Wytches Brew: Review

I haven’t played through this Wytches Brew by NotSoft Games completely, but I’ve progressed far enough to surmise that this game is awesome.

It’s incredibly addictive.  If you just play the standard “Brew” option, you’ll find plenty of opportunity for improving your score.  This is fun enough, but the even more addicting part of the game is the story mode.  You play as three wytches who are wandering the countryside to find out where the Grey Brothers went.  They help people by brewing different potions.

The game is like Bejeweled in that you move the flowers (jewels) around the board.  The difference is that you can sacrifice some of your “candle wax” (life) and move the flowers farther around on the board, as opposed to only adjacent ones.

You have a cookbook to guide you.  Once you figure out what flowers go in what combination in what order, the game goes from being slightly confusing to seriously addicting.

I’m about a third of the way through the story mode, and I’m loving it.  This game is fun and complex, but simple enough to pick up quickly.

It’s kind of frustrating when the wytches throw more flowers out onto the board and it creates a 3-in-a-row that messes up your recipe!  Frustrating, but you still get points!

Another mechanic that makes the game a little harder is your cauldron at the bottom of the screen.  If you try to fill it up too much, it will overflow and your game will be over!  So, you have to keep your eye on your candles, your cauldron, and the flowers that you’re trying to match up.

How about some screenshots?

Wytches Brew 4

This is the start screen.  If you pick “brew”, you can play the standard matching game with no story and try to rack up as many points as you can.

Wytches Brew 2

This is the screen you get when you pick “quest”.

Wytches Brew 1

A story screen.  The models aren’t anything to be excited about, but this is a puzzle game.  There also don’t seem to be any consequences for messing up in the puzzle play; if people don’t get their potions, they’re disappointed, but not pissed off.

Wytches Brew 3

The game board screen.  This is where all of the gameplay happens.  You can see the flowers on the board.  Each wytch has a section of the board, and if you move the flowers around too much, you have bits of your candles melt.  The cauldron is on the bottom, and that’s where the flowers go when you line up three or more.  If you try to stuff too much into the cauldron, it’ll overflow, ending the game.  If your candles burn down completely, your game will end.  The box to the left of the cauldron is your cookbook.  I don’t have any recipes up on there, but you have to get the flowers in the right order.

See some official screenshots here.

I got the game for free through this offer.  It’s a very solid game, and for free, it’s even more awesome.

I guess I’ll get to a rating.  Overall, I’d say this is a 4/5.  The story mode is interesting enough to keep you going, so that’s a 4/5; the gameplay is addictive, so that’s a 5/5; and the graphics are fine for what you need them for, a 3.5/5.  The models of the wytches and other people are kind of goofy looking and they’re not animated, but for a puzzle game, kick-ass models aren’t really expected.

This is a great game; go out and get it and give it a whirl.  It’s very addictive and free ‘til January.

Evernote

Yes, Evernote.

This program/website is amazing.

Some background:

I’d tried this before, and I wasn’t pleased with it; I didn’t see what it would “give” me, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever use it.  Cue me going through my old accounts and getting rid of stuff.  I deactivated the account, thinking I’d never use it again.  I was wrong.

I noticed there was a new plugin for Tomboy that I wanted to try out that would sync with Evernote.  I wanted to try it out, and to do that, I’d need an Evernote account.  Cue me trying to get my Evernote account back, chronicled here and here.  I got my account back, and tried to sync my notes through Tomboy.  Well, the plugin didn’t work for me, so I decided to try something else.

Enter NeverNote.  It’s a Java-based program that interfaces with Evernote, and works pretty well on both my laptop and my netbook.  I can also use the Google Chrome extension to interact with Evernote; it works great for clipping webpages that I want to store for research and the like.

I also wanted to try the Windows version of the program, and I can say that it’s amazing.  Much better than Tomboy under Windows.

Now, if you mostly do text notes (I do), Tomboy will still be great for you under Ubuntu.  It’s integrated with the desktop, which is great.  Until the plugin is completed, NeverNote is what I’ll be using on Ubuntu.

Now I just need a mini-Android tablet so I can take notes on the go and upload them when I hook up to wireless.

Amazing; why did I not use this before?

Windows 7: A First Impression

So, I went out and actually purchased a copy of Windows 7.  This is my first operating system purchase ever.  I’ve bought computers with Windows on them, but I’ve never bought a copy of Windows for installation to my computer.

The reason?  Games.  I have a bunch of games that REFUSE to work in Wine and also won’t work well in a virtual machine.  Also, the Winter Olympics are coming up, and I wanted to be able to watch my favorite sports when I want, where I want.  Silverlight is required to run the internet video, and I wanted to have everything set when the games started.

It took me a couple of tries to install it, as I wasn’t doing it the “windows way”.

Tries 1, 2 and 3

I repartition using my Ubuntu disk, restart with Win7 inserted, and the Windows Installer starts up.  I attempt to install to the partition I’ve carved out of my /home directory and formatted and I got an error saying that Windows couldn’t figure out what to do with the partition.  I reformatted it several times, and decided that it wouldn’t work my way, so I’d have to partition again and install.  Argh.  The frustration level rises.

Try 4

Ok, so I repartition and finally get things set up to install.  The install process itself isn’t too bad.  If you’re not careful, Windows will take over your entire hard drive.  Since I’d already partitioned, I picked the first partition on my hard drive and let it go.

Like I said before, the actual install process isn’t bad.  You go through the whole authentication process that’s standard for Windows, and once you’re done, you have a desktop.  It’s pretty basic.

I had to find and install all of my hardware drivers.  This was a pain, as drivers had been updated to work with Win7, but were not all on the System76 website.  Many of the Vista drivers worked just fine, but I had to still find nVidia drivers, touchpad drivers (so I’d have the scroll area), LAN drivers, and camera drivers.  Most of these were found through the device manager, but I still had to find and install some drivers from the net.  Oddly enough, my wireless card was automagically detected, but my LAN wasn’t.  Strange.

Once I got my graphics drivers and rebooted, I had access to some of the Aero effects.  All I can say is, “wow”.  Microsoft seems to have gotten something right with this.  The transparency is great.  It’s not Compiz, but then again, nothing really approaches the flexibility and power of Compiz.

Installation of Programs

Now I had to go about installing my programs:

  • Flock
  • Firefox
  • OpenOffice
  • Some sort of Twitter/Status.net client (I chose MahTweets; review pending in a future post.)
  • Microsoft Security Essentials (Microsoft’s antivirus program.  Works really, really well and stays the heck out of my way, like a antivirus program should)
  • Wakoopa
  • Pidgin
  • Snarl (Popup program that supports several apps; better than guifications and fits in well with Win7.)
  • Songbird
  • Foobar2000 (Upon high recommendations from my brother, I decided to try this out. It’s not bad, but I totally prefer Rhythmbox. Heh.)
  • Flash support in Flock and Firefox
  • VLC
  • Games: Baulder’s Gate 2, Sims2, SimCity4, and Diablo 2.  They all work. Yahoo!

I still think I should do something with Hulu.  I haven’t tried out the Windows media center stuff yet.

Thoughts so Far

I’d have to say this is one of the best versions of Windows I’ve used.  I’ve used everything except ME and Vista (3.1, 95, 98, 2000, and XP).  This is a MAJOR upgrade from XP.  I really thought XP was the be-all-end-all of Windows systems, as it was an industry standard.  It had decent performance, clean lines, and a decent start menu setup.

Ah, the start menu.  I have not gotten used to it.  I can’t quite grasp the way it works.  Maybe I’m dumb, but I really, really, really liked how XP did it, as well as how Ubuntu does it with the menu bar.  I can easily find what I’m looking for, barring an unruly app that decides to insert itself into a non-conforming category.

UAC isn’t too much of a pain.  I’m still running as an administrator, so I should probably start up a root account and do some tweaking of my regular account.  That’s for next week.

The whole Aero thing works well.  The windows look very nice, especially after installing the correct drivers.  Windows 7 wouldn’t be the same without the Aero effects.

~~~~~~~~

All-in-all?  Windows 7 is a decent operating system.  I’ve only used it for about two days, but I like it so far.  It is nowhere near as flexible or easy to use as Ubuntu.  Installing codecs (including Silverlight, Flash, Java, etc) was very easy.  There’s still the “search, download, install” method of getting software, which I don’t particularly like.  Can you tell that I’m a Linux fan?  I really like the idea of a package manager.

Anyway, I’d say Windows 7 comes to a 3.5/5.  The reasons why include: overly difficult install prep and not playing nice with my Ubuntu install, search and download process of driver installation, the start menu changes, UAC (it’s annoying but can be fixed), and the price.  It’s a brilliant use of my PCs cycles though; it looks very slick.  We’ll see how it as after a couple of months of running.

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