Dell Axim

My newest toy showed up on Friday, a few days ahead of schedule. I got a Dell Axim X3 pocket PC. I know I’ve railed on Windows CE devices in the past, especially as a former Palm OS user. I’ve always thought they were underpowered, with an anemic version of Windows trying to run full-sized apps in a downsized way. But as the Palm becomes more and more lacking and the hardware behind mobile Windows becomes more powerful, I’ve become more interested in these machines. And I haven’t been entirely happy with the Danger Sidekick, either. It’s a good machine for a few things, like mail and instant chat, but it’s entirely worthless as a game machine, and I don’t like the fact that you can’t add or modify any of the existing apps.

So I think the sweet spot in price and performace finally happened, mostly due to Dell offering the X3 at a slightly reduced rate. Most Pocket PC machines start at about $300, and price modifiers include processor speed, WiFi, or Bluetooth, with features like physical size, looks, memory, and expansion slots fitting in there also. I thought about getting some sort of wireless, but as neither my work or home is equipped, I worried that it would become a huge money sink, with me eventually spending a grand on routers and wireless access points and cards and whatnot. So I hemmed and hawed on different configurations and different manufacturers before I finally went to Dell.

Dell originally released the X5, and now came out with the slightly smaller X3. The X3 is also available in a WiFi version that’s called the X3i, and I decided not to spend the extra $50 on it, although now I wonder if that was the right decision in the long run. (In defense of the no-WiFi version, it gets much better batter life, and I don’t need to rush out and buy all that extra shit and spend the next 9 weekends configuring it.) Anyway, there’s a low-end X3 with half the memory and a slower processor, but I spent about $270 on the version with a 400mhz XScale processor and 64mb SDRAM and another 64mb of flash ROM. I’ve had pretty good luck with my Dell laptop and other Dell machines at work, so I figured I’d be okay with trying them out with this, too.

My first impression was that this thing is LIGHT. I mean, it’s lighter than the cheap 4-function calculator you get free with a fillup at your local Marathon station. There’s absolutely nothing inside of it, and the battery, which is smaller than a nine-volt and a third as thick, also feels completely hollow. It’s also a very good-looking unit. The cradle is very strange, because the front of it is chromed, but the chrome is see-through, like mirrorshade glasses. There’s a blue glowing Dell logo inside the cradle, and when it is on, it looks like a hologram or something.

Windows Mobile 2003 (the marketspeak name for the latest WinCE) is pretty weird at first. Many of the GUI rules are different than Windows or just not there. Instead of right-click menus, you click and hold on an item, and a menu comes up. And because every window takes up the whole display, it’s a bit off when you are running more than one app at once. There is this switcher app you can run that lets you swap in and out of things fast, but it takes a few minutes of dicking around to get the hang of everything.

The interface dumps you into a “Today” page by default, where you can have your appointments or other various things show up. There are a lot of apps included, like pocket versions of IE, Word, Excel, a book reader, and Windows Media Player. I immediately got the Bubb Rub video and dumped it to the device. It was pretty easy to do: there is a link on my desktop of my Windows PC that now goes to the Pocket PC. So I just dragged the file to that directory, and a couple of seconds later, it was on the handheld. The Windows Media Player lets you do a landscape full-screen mode, and the 3.5″ screen showed the video with as much color and clarity as a TV set, if not better. This thing will be excellent for watching movies on a plane.

There is a single Secure Digital slot on top of the unit for memory cards and expansion. I almost wished I would have paid $100 more for the X5, which includes SD and CompactFlash, because there are far more peripherals with CF. I hope that the new generation of SD-only handhelds will push manufacturers to make more devices for SD. I went out on Saturday and picked up a 256mb card, which should last me for a while. I also eyed some of the shrinkwrapped software; there are a couple of dictionaries and games out there, in the $20-$40 range, shipping on SD cards. Maybe when I grow bored of the freeware on the net, I’ll consider that.

I now need to install a bunch of junk. I didn’t bring the cradle home this weekend, so I filled the SD card with stuff from the web. Most freeware consists of an installer that runs on a desktop machine and shoots the installation through the ActiveSync conduit and onto the handheld, so I can’t do that without the cradle and it’s assorted services. I did manage to get AvantGo set up before I left work on Friday. This runs a program on your Windows machine to grab various web news articles and then smash them down into a handheld-friendly size and push them onto your PocketPC. So I’ll be able to catch the news and a few articles from Wired on the train.

Not much else going on. I finished reading Idoru by William Gibson, and had mixed feelings about it. There was a lot of cool imagery, neat technology ideas, that made part of it really appealing to me, in a Snow Crash sort of way. But it also really felt like he phoned this one in, and it’s one of those “two people with plots colliding” thrillers where halfway through the book you know how it will all end. It was not horrible, but it wasn’t Gibson’s best. I started reading something else that I am not really into, and I have a huge Amazon order that got delayed that is finally shipping, so I’m finding it hard to commit to anything in order to keep my plate clean.

P.S. a random aside – if you read this and you have an AIM username that I don’t know about, mail it to me. I always keep mine open, but I feel stupid looking for those of friends or whatever. And if, for whatever reason, you don’t feel comfortable emailing me or commenting about anything (tinfoil hat, etc.) you can use this to write me. It tracks your IP and hostname, but maybe for some reason this would be better than putting my name in a mail program and hitting send, who knows. I mostly use it so I don’t have to put my real email address on all of my web pages, although I still get more spam than ever.

over and out.


Missing Emerald City, sort of

Re new nephew, his name is Wesley Douglas Owens, and all is well. I know that me gloating over a new nephew is very unkonrathian given that I hate kids, but I’ve found that I’ve actually enjoyed having my first nephew Phillip. My younger sister managed to be a good mom and raise a kid that’s smart, funny, and well-behaved, and I’m more than certain that Monica will be a good mother too. And what’s weird is that I remember when I was Phillip’s age, and being around him is almost like a portal into my past, the days when I spent all of my time playing with Legos and the last Star Wars movie was bigger than Jesus. So that’s cool, and I’ll enjoy watching another one grow up.

There’s a new guy at work who came to us from Seattle, and when I first talked to him on Friday, it turns out his wife also worked at WRQ, my last employer in the Emerald city. I always have the same conversation when I meet another Seattleite, similar to the one I have when I meet a fellow Hoosier that is expatriated and living in New York. It’s the conversation that starts with where you lived, where you worked, where you hung out, and goes into how much you miss Safeway or the Upstairs Pub or Garcia’s, and how cool it was to hang out in the Pike Place fish market or the Irish Lion, and how you can’t get good salmon or parking or whatever else. But this conversation was even more detailed, because we talked about the offices on Lake Union and the benefits policies and the Fourth of Julys on the terraces with the fireworks on the lake and the company picnics at Mount Si. And then I thought more about it, and realized it has been FIVE YEARS since I left. FIVE YEARS.

That’s a real sack of bricks in the gut right there. I guess when I talk about Seattle, there are a lot of reasons I’m finally glad I did get out when I did, and try something new. I mean, it’s not hard to create a list of reasons why the place hit the shitter around 2000: the vanishing job market, the WTO riots, the vaporware monorail and the taxes that prop it up, the taxes for the two stadiums (a quarter billion dollars to a football team that was 6 and 10 in 2000, so they can play six home games a year in a non-multi-purpose stadium), the traffic, the Microsoft millionaires driving up the rents, etc. etc. etc.

But I still miss it. Seattle was a far more liveable city if you can overlook the flaws. I mean, New York has way more to offer to most people, but the quality of life issues are so horrible, and you’ve got to spend some cash to avoid them. I have a lot of good memories of Seattle though. I think the real problem is that the Seattle in my mind is Seattle 1997, and I can never go back to that, just like I can’t go back to Bloomington 1992.

Speaking of getting out of New York to improve the quality of life, I’m thinking about vacations in a vague sense. I might try to skip out of town for a week in August, to spend it in cooler climates or at least in air conditioned hotel rooms for the worst part of the heat. I bought some book called 1001 things to see before you die or something, it is a giant flip-through book that you read when you are bored rather than when you want to travel, but it has all sorts of crazy ideas in it. I’d like to do something cool and travel-oriented like drive a dune buggy around or go rally racing or even snowmobiles, but I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. Maybe I’ll just go to Coney Island and ride the kiddie go-karts.

OK, gotta go write…


New nephew

My sister Monica had her kid this morning, after about 15 hours of labor. It’s a boy, and was something like 7 pounds, and both are healthy and okay. I didn’t get any other details yet, but photos are forthcoming. So I’m happy to have another nephew, as this will mean another round of buying all of the toys I wanted as a kid. If she had a girl, I would have had no idea what to do, unless I just stuck with Lego anyway.

It’s mostly been a boring weekend, and my biggest excitement was going out into Queens to shop at Target. That used to be part of my big weekend routine, going to Target to get the usual junk, like deodorant and cases of Coke and film and batteries and other supplies. I really miss having a Target just a quick drive away, like I miss having a car to drive to places like that to convenience shop. I can always walk to the crap grocery store here, but then you have a choice of like three kinds of deodorant, and each one is $20. At Target, there’s a wall of deodorant bigger than the grocery store down the street. Unfortunately, the Target in Queens Center didn’t really do it for me, as it’s pretty small and split up into two floors, and it’s fairly run down. It’s nothing like the Super Targets that spring up all over the Midwest. Oh well.

I’m allegedly going to the bookstore today so I need to get moving…


5th grade teacher sadist

Back in the fifth grade, I had this sadist sociopath of a homeroom teacher who, in the interest of not getting sued if his kids ever decide to google his name, I’ll simply call Mr. Cool. Mr. Cool was not, in fact, hip or neat or whatever; I chose the somewhat ironic name because his real surname is a phonetic synonym for cool. In reality, Mr. Cool was a high follower of one of those overly zealous splinter factions of Christianity like the Mennonites or Quakers or something, the kind of we-think-the-bible-is-a-literal-document idiots that people in New York cannot fathom actually exist when a discussion on gay marriage or posting the ten commandments in courtrooms.

Okay, Mr. Cool. He looked like Les Nesmond’s older brother, with a bad comb-over and a lot of generic clothes and everything but the bow-tie. He came from Kansas or Iowa or something, and like I said, was really religious, but also had a short fuse, and while Jesus may have said to turn the other cheek, this guy would rather put his foot in your ass when you crossed him, and that’s a talent that seldom works out in a fifth-grade classroom. Other than flooring the whole group of us in science class by pulling out a bible and reading Genesis when we got to the part of our book about how the world was created, he also had a bad habit of going completely apeshit when you fell short of the stature of, say, a military school’s ideal behavior model. So pretty much everybody in my class got yelled at or shook or smacked in the back of the head, and regular hellions like Gary Rink got beaten within inches of their lives on a daily basis. In the fifth grade, I was old enough to know that something was wrong with this guy, and it probably wasn’t right for him to be hitting kids in class. I mean, I couldn’t look up the exact law or rule or anything, but I knew the guy was whacked, and I dreaded every day of the fifth grade because of him.

Another reason the fifth grade sucked is that instead of sticking to the books (or his god damned bible), Mr. Cool used to have us do these asinine projects that were meant to broaden our horizons. The most corporal of these was the 50 states and capitals book, which was a thing where we had to draw a picture of each state with its capital and three or four major cities and all of the rivers and stuff, and then list its resources, populations, and other interesting and/or useless factoids. To a fifth grader, fifty pages is a damn book, so this took more than a Sunday night to prepare. And Mr. Cool knew what encyclopedia we had in the school library, and would bust your ass if you simply copied shit out of there. I’m sure he meant good by this sort of thing, and probably got the idea because some Jesus magazine like Reader’s Digest had a fear-inducing article about how kids couldn’t name more than five states or their major cities and the Russians would be using that to our advantage and killing us all Real Soon. And I guess it was better than the fact that my dad had to memorize all of the states and capitals, and could still rattle all of them off faster than I could currently name off a random list of, well, anything. (To be fair, there were only 13 of them when he was in school. Sorry dad, old joke.) Anyway, he was always coming up with dumb shit like this for us to do, little take-home projects which would have been great if we all had Beaver Cleaver families, which none of us did.

So one weekend, he came up with this great project: to prove to us that TV was warping our minds with Satan, we were to completely abstain from the glass teat for the next 48 hours. The project was to tune out and then see what we did with our time when we didn’t rot our minds with cartoons. And in some fit of stupidity, I actually mentioned this assignment to my mom when I got home, and she thought this was a real great fucking idea. So I had both parents lording over me about this stupid assignment, and instead of watching the usual cartoons, I went outside and tear-assed around the neighborhood on my BMX bike.

Granted, I watched a lot of TV back in the day. In fact, since we only got five channels and didn’t have a VCR, I watched pretty much every damn thing on, even if it totally didn’t appeal to me. I mean, I remember religiously watching Barney Miller for the plot, because I was too young to get any of the jokes in it and I needed a way to kill time until WKRP was on. (And it’s not like Johnny Fever’s dope addicts or Herb’s attempts to diddle Loni Anderson would have been that funny to a completely uninformed ten-year-old like myself.) BUT, I also spent a lot of time away from the tube, too. I had a regular gang of friends, and I rode my bike around a lot and killed bugs in jars and buried army men and played out Star Wars episodes two through ten with the unending amount of 3″ tall plastic figures I had and everything else. So I guess I could survive a lack of TV with no problem, except one:

Superman was premiering on TV that Sunday.

Fuck! This was the original Superman movie, with Christopher Reeve and Margo Kidder and live action and all of that shit. I never saw it in the theater because half the time when I asked to go to a flick, my parents would say “god damn it! That’s going to be on TV for free next year, why do you need two bucks to see it now?” And not only that, the network was going to show an extended version of the film, with all kinds of scenes showing Clark Kent growing up and pushing ten-ton locomotives on tracks and bending shit and using his heat vision and everything else. And my sisters were going to get to watch it, even though they didn’t give a fuck about Superman at all. I loved Superman! I had a paperback book of all of these old Superman comics, and I could tell you backwards and forwards every plot of every one. That January, I even had a superman CAKE for my birthday. And I couldn’t watch it because of that stupid Quaker Jesus freak motherfucker and his stupid assignment! I was so god damned pissed that Sunday night. And the next morning, when I got to class, every fucking person but me had completely forgotten about the assignment about an hour after they got home, except me.

Anyway, I haven’t watched TV in a week now, and I’m back to being TV-less thanks to, not a Jesus freak, but a lack of cable TV. (OK, maybe the people who found out I had illegally had cable and cut it worship Jesus. Maybe it’s even Mr. Cool, fired from teaching and working a minimum-wage job at Time Warner. Who knows.) It hasn’t been that bad this time, though. It’s just a matter of not caring anymore about the regular shows. I will miss ER, but that’s about it. I also miss the background noise, like during a meal, but I have DVDs for that.

Fuck, I feel like there’s more to talk about, but I’m tired and want to do nothing but read for a while.