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More kicking of tires

I’m still trying to get used to this new infrastructure, and my actual writing is sapping away any momentum I might have to do this, but I keep thinking of neato ideas I might eventually do on here.

Case in point: I am attempting to write this entire post on the iPhone. WordPress has an app for that; it lets me enter text, take pictures, and do minor administrative tasks like approve comments, all from my little touchsceen. Yes, I have to type from a glass keyboard, but once you get going, it is not too bad.

It’s weird to think that when I started this journal in early 1997, my cell phone was this analog Sony model with a pull-out antenna that incurred massive roaming charges when I was not in western Washington and could barely store my favorite five speed dial numbers, let alone text message or run apps or browse the web. The most portable computer I had was a Mac Classic, which was luggable, but still required AC power.

The idea of typing away on a machine like this phone and then jetting it across the ether to my web page was completely unfathomable. Cell phones were not even that old then; I think nobody had one five years before. Now in some countries in Europe, there are more cell phones than people.  And I can carry a little Mac in my pocket that’s probably ten times faster than that old luggable mac.

I saved this as a draft, came home, and now it’s the next day and I’m editing it at home in a web browser.  But it’s still exciting that I’ll be able to use this to jot down the occasional note or two, all from a thing smaller than a deck of cards.

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Too much stuff

I have too much stuff. Every morning, the trip from the shower to my car involves about 200 items: keys, name badge, ipod, phone, food, drink, wallet, books, turning on computers, turning off computers, checking the weather, checking my email, checking the traffic. My keychain has only seven keys, but it also has a keyless entry fob for my apartment, a key remote beepbeep thing for the Subaru, and an army of those little plastic things from grocery stores that you scan to save an extra dime. But the keychain is FULL because car keys are now so bulbous and coated in plastic-rubber and contain microchips, so there’s no room but there’s also a lot of room because of the space between the not-key things, and anyway my keychain barely fits in my pocket now.

Getting into my car takes forever, because I need to reassemble this environment every time I drive to work. I have to wear a coat, because it’s 30 out, but my garage is about 65 or 70 inside, and my car instantly heats up because it has an electric heater, and I can’t wear my coat driving because of that, so basically, I carry around a coat for the walk from my car to the inside of my office. I plug in the iPod, I set up the bag, I put the drinks in the holders, I put my food on the dash, and I realize astronauts do less when they climb into a space shuttle.

The iPod is the only real solution that does work for my situation. I used to carry around dozens of MiniDiscs (or, earlier, tapes) and I would spend between three and six hundred minutes a morning trying to decide what to bring with me, what five albums would fit in my pocket and keep me going for the day. Now, all of my music is on one device. Plus it holds podcasts, which is a new way to keep from going nuts on my drive. But it’s another thing to charge, to sync. I almost never use my phone, because it’s another device with a rechargable battery that is immensely useful, until a few hours later when it becomes a lifeless brick. I will spend a year of my life docking and undocking and charging and plugging in and changing batteries. Maybe I could get a power cord in the car, a power station, but I still need to sync the iPod. And all of that crap is basically like putting a “steal my shit” sign on top of my car. And yeah, some of you are saying “go get an iPhone”, but I would need twenty iPhones to hold all of my music, plus I’m too blind to read the display, plus here’s a little secret: I seldom if ever use a cell phone, let alone texting and paging and all of that shit.

I can’t get to my computer from work anymore. And I now use a mail program that doesn’t let me telnet home and read my mail. And using my mail from a central place is fucked for 28 other reasons. So now I send my mail to both my home and to gmail, so I can read mail during the day. The two are completely unsyncronized, so when I read 20 messages at work, I have to come home and mark 20 messages as read. And the little arrows that tell you when you’ve replied to a message are now useless, because maybe I replied on gmail, maybe at home. And I almost never get to sit down at my computer at home, because I’m either at work or don’t want to be in front of a computer. And the laptop is a portable, but it has an external drive, so when I go on vacation, I don’t have iPhoto, iTunes, or Time Machine backups. So I can’t sync my iPod when I’m on vacation – I have to bring an external charger to juice it up.

I have a laptop at work. Every night, I have to unplug everything (power, ethernet, external mouse, external keyboard), shut everything down, and lock it in a drawer. Every morning, I reverse the procedure. You could torture terrorists down at Guantanamo by forcing them to shut down and restart Windows a few times an hour. I’d rather leave it on my desk, powered up, forever. Plus my laptop doesn’t start the first time you start it – the BIOS thing goes to 70% and locks up, then you power it up again. This is the same laptop that, about once a week, locks so hard, I have to unplug it and remove the battery to restart. This typically happens 20 seconds before a meeting where I have to present something.

No problems with my car. It’s great. See the pictures. Also, I posted pictures of our honeymoon. Yes, I’m aware I look like a mongoloid in every single picture ever taken of me. I’m also aware of Flickr, and I know it would be neat and hip and Web 2.0 of me to post everything there, but it’s a pain in the ass, and so is my method, but it’s another one of those “too much shit” moments. Life would be easier if I took one picture a year, and just emailed the jpg to everyone else, but it doesn’t work that way.

I now have to maintain two wardrobes, and have twice as many clothes to wash. Granted I am not wearing a tuxedo and top hat to work every day – I think my best pair of pants, or at least best fitting, were bought from either Old Navy or Target – but I can’t wear jeans and t-shirt anymore, and I hate wearing dress clothes at night. Too much stuff – we now need to throw out or reogranize and get some more space so I can buy more clothes I don’t need.

There was a guy in my dorm in college who ran into some trouble with the bursar, and one day he threw open the door to his room and yelled “everything’s on sale!” and he meant it. People went in and were buying his tapes and clothes, and a friend of mine bought the watch off his arm for $20. And sometimes I think that’s a pretty noble thing to do. (And yes, I realize Larry has been preaching the “dump on eBay every god damned thing not screwed down” mantra for a long time, so credit where it’s due.) When we were in the Bahamas, when I was watching families gathered around the communal well (which was basically like a drinking fountain at the 44th Street Port Authority, but not as clean) with their plastic jugs so they could go home and mix up some stone soup and feed the goat in the back yard, and it just hit me that I have far too much shit. I have hundreds of books I’ve read once and will never read again. I have at least 15 items on my desktop that run on lithium ion batteries. I have at least 500 DVDs, and I watch an average of one every other month. I have a car that, when I pay it off in 2012, will be worth about $100. My land’s first contract had me making payments until 2022. (I got a shorter contract that ends in 2014, but I’ve been making higher payments for a while, so the debt is below four digits now.)

Comedian Lewis Black talks about the Enron/Tyco/Global Crossing crowd on one of his CDs I was listening to last week. He marvels at how these people stole billions of dollars, and used it all to do nothing more than buy crap. (I mean, if I had billions of stolen dollars, I would parlay it and buy Somalia, not a house with 200 gold-plated bathrooms. Instead of playing Halo on Xbox, you could start a real war with Ethiopia every weekend.) And I guess I think more and more about how stupid it is to play the “he who dies with the most Lord of the Rings commemorative glasses from Burger King wins” game. Some of it is that any time I’m in a store and see something that looks neato, I think “where the fuck would I put this?” and then I set it down. Like all of the baseball stuff – there’s suddenly an insane amount of worthless stuff available: commemorative chunks of plastic, car flags that say “NL Champions”, minted coin sets in display cases, and don’t forget the signed balls, bats, jerseys, hats, shoes, socks, gloves, jocks, bags, and luggage. If it can be made by sweatshop labor in China, it’s now available with a “2007 Wild Card” logo on it. Now if it’s something I can use for something, maybe I’ll get it. Like, I bought an NL champion t-shirt at Target last night for $9. I’ll wear it – I’d wear almost any t-shirt for $9. I’d even wear a Dallas Cowboys shirt if I was certain it wouldn’t feel like fiberglass insulation against my skin. But what use is a chunk of plastic molded into a three-inch tall likeness of Carlos Beltran? It’s six square inches of space in your house you will have to pay for but never have back.

I’ve babbled about this too much. I’ve started a new eBay pile, and I think I’m starting a new joint bank account that will be the “buy a house fund”, and I’ll see how much I can collect. I have at least a thousand dollars of computers I’m not using in this room, which is a start.

Of course, if you disagree with me and think it’s great to collect a lot of stuff, you’re always welcome to go buy a bunch of books.

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Full spectrum

I bought a full-spectrum light box. It’s actually not a box, but a bunch of weird-colored LED lights in a thing that’s about the size of a portable CD player or alarm clock. It’s used for light therapy, to allegedly curtail seasonal affective disorder and mess around with your sleep cycle in some beneficial way. I probably should have bought one of these when I lived in Seattle, when I was pretty much ready to hang myself by December of each year. I was skeptical, but I’ve read more about it, and a doctor told me to try it. I’m also always keen on spending sums of money on things I will use three or four times and then pack in the closet. Actually, I’m hoping to slowly wake up earlier and sit in front of the light as I’m at my computer, typing away at… well, whatever I should be doing on here.

Next year is the ten-year anniversary of this journal. Sure, there weren’t ten solid years of updates, but 4/10/07 will be ten years from the first update. I’ve thought about doing a ten-year book or zine or collection or something. (Actually, I got the idea because Julie at apeculture.com was talking about doing it for her site.) There are basically three reasons why I’m not sure I would do it. The first is that I did this already for the Seattle years of the journal. Second is that despite it being very readable, it sold almost no copies. And third, I’d have to dig through all of this shit and figure out how to do it in such a way that’s neat or funny or cool or something. Every once in a while, when I’m truly bored, I go back and read a bunch of old entries and find some real gems in there. But I wrote them, so I don’t know if they would be as interesting to others.

Not much else to report. I’m doing christmas cards and still reading the Bunker book, which is still pretty good. It reminds me of Papillion in places, except written a little better and no-bullshit. I’ll have to check out his fiction books sometime soon.

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Knee update #863

Knee update #863: the MRI preliminary results are back, and it is a sprain of the MCL (the ligament, not the shitty cafeteria restaurant in the mall.) So, no surgery, no cortizone, no complications, and I just need to keep it in the brace for a bit and it will slowly get better. I am pretty much off the cane now, although I used it today. No real pain. There’s still some swelling and fluid buildup, but that will go away. If it doesn’t subside in a week or so, I can go back for another draining. And in a month, maybe some physical therapy to strengthen things back up. Otherwise, no further drama, and it’s pretty much back to business as usual.

I had to make a couple of quick edits in the glossary, and it got me thinking maybe I should do some more, or at least add all of the half-written additions I have in the queue. I also may have some new photos to add. All of this makes me go back to my original, four-year-old plan to wrap it up into a print book. I have another project going now, but it’s slowly stalling and maybe I should go back. I don’t know. I mentioned over in livejournal that the IDS actually quoted me on something in an article recently, which I guess shows that there’s something good going on there. (Or it proves that stuff comes up in google, and someone needed a quick source.) Anyway, something to think about.

I got a new watch, because the Casio one I bought for my birthday in 2004 has been spazzing out. It has a tiny battery to preserve state, and a larger rechargable short-term battery for the watch’s function, which is charged by a solar cell in the battery face. Either I don’t get out enough, or the short-term battery has some kind of nicad memory lapse, or both, but it kept dying on me, and would require 20 hours of “charging” under a lamp to work for 8 hours. It also had some other problems, like this auto-sleep feature that pretty much constantly shut the watch off on me. So I bought a new watch (and of course, the old watch has worked flawlessly since.)

I bought a Timex Ironman DataLink USB. I had an old Ironman DataLink, which I think I got for my birthday in 1998, but the old one used this weird gimmick where the watch had a photo-eye in it, and the software on your PC would make the screen flicker with lines of data, which basically made like a 2 baud modem. The software only worked with a narrow range of Windows PCs, of which I never owned one and had to use a girlfriend’s computer to load up the watch. But it would hold phone numbers and reminders and other random shit. The new watch has the same features, but has a special USB cable that clips to the side of the watch – there is no plug, just four contacts on the watch. The software is much more advanced, and the watch is slimmer. It has one of those metal bands with a clasp that don’t adjust at all, which drove me mad because it didn’t fit my tiny wrist. I eventually figured out you can punch out some of the links on the band with a tiny screwdriver and make it smaller. So I have a new toy, and maybe eventually I will find out how to download new tones or programs to it. I don’t even have phone numbers yet. But it’s still neat.

Food’s here…

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Xanadu House and 80s nostalgia

I sometimes have this weird nostalgia that’s much more complicated than just “remember the 80s,” but rather a deep nostalgia for what I saw as cutting edge or a glimpse of the future way back when. It’s hard to explain, but it’s that weird feeling I had twenty years ago when I looked at some futuristic computer or technology, and I had this premonition that in the year 2000, this would be “it.” And the feeling is stronger when there are a lot of other interconnected memories or feelings about it. And the other day, this totally happened in a way that is easily explained, but probably still doesn’t capture what the fuck I’m rambling on about.

Okay, Wikipedia had a featured article the other day about The Xanadu House. No, it has nothing to do with Olivia Newton-John or the Rush song from Farewell to Kings. It was a series of three houses built as demo/museum units by the architect as a showcase to “the home of tomorrow.” They were made of sprayed polyurethane foam and looked something like Yoda’s house or maybe something a Hobbit would live in. They were a very 70s-looking design, and I could totally see something like them in a Roger Dean-airbrushed Yes double gatefold album cover, or maybe done up on the side of a van with a wizard shooting lightning bolts that lit up along with the 8-track player.

Okay, the outside did look pretty borderline artschool-project, but the inside was the interesting stuff. There were computers everywhere: controlling the lights, monitoring the bitchin’ hot tub, cooking your food; measuring your calories and watching your weight; integrated into the Elvis-like wall of TVs, one tuned to each station (total: 3); and everywhere else. The house was a full-on wet dream of automation. Now you see why I was somewhat pulled into reading all about this house and scouring the web for more info. I’ve still got this land out in Colorado with nothing but cacti and prarie dogs on it, and the idea of building some huge, fucked up, unconventional structure like a geodesic dome or a decommissioned jet airliner or a giant tube made out of a million egg cartons and some nuclear-proof epoxy solution is pretty appealing. Add to that a slew of computers that I don’t really need and that’s damn near what-I’d-do-if-I-hit-the-Lotto material for me.

But as I dove deeper, I found a lot of threads that pulled me back to when they got this house built down in Florida, in 1983. These computers back in the day weren’t a bunch of IBM blade servers or anything; turns out the builders were using a slew of good old Commodore 64s in the styrofoam innards of this dream palace. The TVs weren’t giant plasmas like Bill Gates would have, but rather the old-school, silver, two-knob not-so-flat CRT sets like you’d find at your Aunt Barbara’s rec room back in ’80. The online shopping system wired into the food-processor kitchen used a 12″ analog laserdisc for its info. The “home gym” consists of the same non-resistance exercise bike your parents bought back in ’78 and used as a clothes rack for ten years before unloading it at a yard sale. This wasn’t a Jetsons home as much as it was my Christmas list from 1983.

And that’s when this unfamiliar house became a home I knew, at least in proxy, for some weird reason. I was IN Florida, in Orlando, in 1983. My parents loaded us up in the station wagon and drove south a thousand miles, first to Tampa, and then to the Disney kingdom. And we didn’t go to the Xanadu house, but it looks a lot like the kind of place we would have stopped. We hit a lot of roadside attractions that trip, and a lot of the gift shops and historical viewpoints, from Tarpon Springs to the Atlantic coast, had the same tacky yet “futuristic” sign that graced the front of the Xanadu house. Everything about the old pictures, the way they were framed, the style of the furniture, just rubs some weird brain cell deep in my head that makes me think of a million memories that have nothing to do with this house and everything to do with my own life.

For example, I remember, again on the trip, going to a Showbiz pizza with my family. For those who don’t remember, Showbiz was similar to Chuck E. Cheese, the pizza parlor where you bring the rugrats for birthdays and parties. But back in the day, Showbiz was very oriented toward arcade games, and had a fuckload of consoles, including duplicates of many popular games. And at that time, the big deal were laserdisc-based games like Dragon’s Lair. Nobody seems to remember this particular fad, but these machines had a big giant laser disc player in them, and when you jerked around the joystick, different scenes from this Disney-eque cartoon would play. The game totally sucked from a playability standpoint, but everyone was too busy circle-jerking over the fact that the output was basically like DVD-quality animation and sound, and this was at a time when most arcade heroes were 16 by 16 pixel sprites. I remember staring at people playing these games in amazement, thinking this was the future of arcade games. Of course, the future was that nobody wanted to pay 50 cents per game (this was one of the first two-coin titles), the laser players crapped out and took forever to load, and in another year, the entire coin-op arcade game industry would take a crap and completely implode, meaning nobody would be too interested in the progress of games for another five years. (About when Nintendo started slapping NES guts into consoles and charging people to play games on a console you could just buy and play at home on a TV – that is if you could find a NES, which you couldn’t, because Nintendo was in the middle of a price-fixing, fake-supply-problem war.)

And I went to Epcot on that trip, which was right when it opened and they had a lot of cool displays about the future and how science would win everything. (They’ve long since ripped all of this shit out and replaced it with “Bob the Builder’s Why Every Kid Should Buy More of My Garbage” exhibits.) And the exhibit showed electronic cars that we’d all drive to work in 1997, and ways to raise more food for the world through hydroponic greenhouses we’d all use when we went to Mars, and so on. Epcot was originally going to be a huge experiment in sustainable living, but when Disney realized there was no money in that, they had GE, GM, and AT&T drop these huge advertisements for life in the future. And the same thing is, in 1983, it all seemed so fucking feasible that in 20 years we’d all have video phones and TVs with smellovision and pod cars, and I remember that view of the future so vividly. And now that future is in the past, and none of it happened. I used to read in Compute magazine about how, maybe if we all tried hard, cars might have a single microprocessor in them, and it would be so cool to get so much blazing power out of an 8-bit 6510 wired into our engine. And now, I’ve got at least twenty processors sitting on my desk, in my watch, in my camera, in my mouse, and none of them are doing anything remotely as interesting as what I thought they would be. I have ten times the computing power of that Xanadu house sitting in the battery charger to my camera, and none of it is being used to automatically cook my food or turn on the jaccuzi when I get home from work. And that’s sad, in a way.

The house has a much more sad ending, though. It ran as a museum until the ’90s, then sat vacant, as Florida mold consumed the sterile white interior. Squatters broke in and tore up the interior, and eventually, last year, the owners bulldozed the place, and plan on putting in a condo on the land. There are a lot of pictures on line of the interior in disrepair, and then the dozer taking out the foam walls. Very sad stuff.

Anyway, I forgot what my point is, other than to somehow describe that feeling I get when I look at an old Amiga or something. I remember the summer of 85 when all of the computer magazines were abuzz about that thing like all of the glamour mags are currently abuzz about the Jessica Simpson divorce or something. I mowed lawns and babysat and applied at every McDonald’s and Hardees within 10-speed distance of my house to scrape up money for that A-1000, and never made it. Just looking at the magazine pictures was like a view into the future of computing, something that could draw multiple windows and 4096 simultaneous colors! Looking back at the old beige-platinum machines, I imagine this massive future, but then I realize that my old Palm Pilot is probably faster and with a better screen.

Ah well, enough rambling. I’m still reading this Neil Armstrong book and it’s going to take me forever to finish. Better invest some more time into it…

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New iPod

I bought a new iPod yesterday, to replace the second-gen 20 Gig one that I’ve had for a few years now. The battery was starting to go, and it’s on the second battery, plus I wanted more space and all of the new features, so I went to the Apple store and ponied up the plastic for the new one. They are really starting to nickel and dime you, though; I had to pay an extra $39 for a dock, and it didn’t come with a cable. I also had to pay $39 more dollars for a cabled remote. You’d think at least one of those two would be included on the highest-end model, but then you’d think people would want a model that held more than 100 songs, and I guess nobody does.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that iTunes (at least on the Mac) properly behaves when given a new iPod. I assumed that there was a direct iTunes to iPod relationship, and I would go through sheer hell getting all of the old tunes onto the new guy. But it turns out that there is a profile for each iPod, and the profile does the library to iPod mapping. So I could have one iPod only sync a subset of my library, or something weird like that, and it’s no problem. My old iPod will go to the Konrath Museum of Old Technical Devices, to be forgotten about for a decade or two, until people are like “What’s an iPod?”. Or something.

The new color iPod display is incredible! I have not messed with the photo features, which are kind of useless to me. (The iPod “Photo” model was rolled into all of the models as of the last rev.) But the screen is incredibly readable, very crisp and smooth. It’s also nice to see a few new features in the BIOS (or is it OS? whatever.) You can enable and disable the items shown on the menu, so I can finally make that stupid podcast link go away.

One of the coolest non-features is that a little thumbnail icon of an album is shown when you are playing a song. The JPEGs are put into the MP3 tags by iTunes, sort of. The pain in the ass is, there isn’t a “go find every single album cover” button or script. The closest I’ve found is that Konfabulator has an “iTunes buddy” that shows the album cover in a little widget. It hunts all of the Amazon sites and finds the image for you, and then shoots it into iTunes, which then gets it into the MP3s and onto your iPod. But this would only really work if I sat and listened to every single song in my playlist to get the tags fixed up, and that would take about 7 years. If you know of any other solution for this, let me know.

I’ve been pulling albums to add albums and stay under 20 gigs for about a year now, so it sure is nice having about 2.5 times as much space to add more stuff. (You don’t really get 60 gigs; it’s more like 55 after formatting and that crap.) I’m now on a mad rampage to rip all of the b-string CDs that I previously didn’t add to iTunes. Because I’m in the middle of moving, I have a third of my CDs in the new place and the rest back in Astoria. I think most of this weekend will involve shuffling CDs around. And I’ve decided that the days of having CDs out on shelves and racks is over. With most of my stuff being retired to “backup” status, I am planning to pack away things in corrugated plastic boxes. Each box holds a hundred discs, and those will go on a shelf or in a closet or something. I don’t really feel a need to have my house look like the back storage room of a store in the mall. My DVDs are now put in binders, which massively saved space. (About 99% of a packaged DVD is air.) And the CDs will now be hidden. The books – that’s still a big issue.

I have been at war with IKEA over trying to get a new desk. I ordered a $100 desk about three weeks ago, and they sent a vague response basically saying “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Today, they responded, saying that shipping would be… another $100 bucks, plus about $40 of tax. (And to be fair, Sarah handled war-dialing them and trying to keep track of the order, so most of the credit for dealing with these idiots goes to her.) I just ordered another desk from Staples. Maybe I’ll get that by the end of the year. I’m currently working off of a small folding card table that sort of freaks me out, because it’s the type with legs coming out of the middle, and it sometimes makes a little creak and changes height by a couple of millimeters. I have fears of the Mac and giant monitor falling to the floor when I get up to move my chair or something. It’s a brand new table, and very nice for the occasional dinner party, but I don’t think it’s suited for all of my computer gear.

Oh, I now have three pair of those white iPod headphones, and I don’t use any of them. I guess I could “look cool” and/or get targeted by thieves, but I really hate those in-ear things. I’d sell them on eBay, except anyone can buy them new for $12 or something. Oh well.

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Shuffling

I’m listening to MP3s on random shuffle on my PC, which is new to me. I know, this is something I was supposed to start doing five years ago, which is also when I was supposed to chuck my CD player and receiver and start stealing all of my music. I used to listen to a lot more music in Seattle, when everything was in one room and my bed also served as my couch, my kitchen table, and the place where I read, wrote, watched videos, and played music. Now I never seem to want to find a CD I like, and except for the times when I’m writing and I listen to the same handful of discs, I usually turn on the tube when I need background noise. I need to stop doing that.

I have been interested in some kind of master convergence solution that would somehow solve all of my media woes and not cost a fortune. I was just having this discussion with Ray last night, although his idea is more like a credit card-sized drive that holds fifty gazillion terabytes and can wirelessly communicate with every type of electronics in his house or anywhere else. He’ll never find this, and with about 20,000 CDs in his house, he’s never going to find any kind of mobile drive to hold all of that. I have less of a problem, as I don’t need a car unit, and my iPod takes care of most of the mobile issues. Also, if my stereo is up loud enough, you can hear it in any room, so that solves the multiple-speaker/multiple-zone problem.

I saw a writeup on a new system by Sonos which is promising. You hook up your computer to their box, and then you have a ~$500 unit per zone. Each unit talks to the PC wirelessly, and has a built-in amp and inputs for other audio components (turntable, CD, iPod). Each one operates on its own; you can be listening to something downstairs while someone upstairs has another song going. The whole thing is controlled with a very slick handheld remote that has a color screen driving a good navigation system, and touch controls that look easy to use. I like the controller a lot, but I already have a good receiver and don’t like the idea of paying for another one and then somehow wiring it in tandem with my DVD sound setup. I also like its general looks, but I don’t like that it probably requires me to run in Windows all the time.

My predicament now is that I dual-boot into Windows to use my iPod software, so all of my MP3s have been stranded on a different hard drive. I just got NTFS mounting to work in linux though, so now I can just fire up xmms and point it at that directory and it works. But I am playing through the tiny speakers built into my LCD, which are about as big as the one in the back of my watch. I need to figure out a way to string some cables across the room and get the signal to my receiver. Then I need to figure out how to get XMMS to run so it isn’t microscopic. Also, it would be cool to do some kind of web-based control for it so I could fire up a browser on my laptop in the next room and change songs. Or maybe I should do something useful, like clean my bathtub.

I’m now listening to an Asia song from the Over the Top soundtrack that rhymes fire with desire. I think all of the songs on this soundtrack do, though. Anyway, I think I’m going to either write or play videogames.

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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.

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general

2.4 Mhz of raw computing power, in the palm(s) of your hand(s)

Still hot as hell here. I think I hit my upper bound on hot food, too. I never really got used to spicy foods, as I lived in the Midwest and ate a lot of really bland stuff. In college, I worked with a lot of people into the cult of the chile pepper, which seems to be prevalent in computer geeks for some reason. I had horrible stomach problems for years, so I didn’t get started on this, though. Since I moved to New York, I’ve slowly tried to introduce hot food to my diet, but I can only do it to a certain extent. I do okay with a chicken vindaloo, and I’m to the point where Tabasco is pretty middle-of-the-road. But I’m nothing like a coworker who is both New Mexican and of the aforementioned chile/tech geek cult, who can put ten ounces of pure nuclear habanero sauce on a single taco without flinching.

I don’t know if I mentioned that I bought a Tandy 102 from EBay. They are very neat little machines, especially given their mid-Eighties vintage. They have a full keyboard and a 40 by 8 character LCD display. Their 8-bit processor and up to 32K of RAM ran a tiny OS with BASIC, a text editor, and some other basic stuff like an address book and calendar. What’s cool is that the whole thing ran on 4 AA batteries for twenty hours, and when you hit the on switch, the thing immediately came on, more like a calculator than the five-minute wait on a current Windows laptop. It has a serial port to connect to a real PC, and should be a neat toy to play with on the train or while sitting in bed. Maybe I’ll run a serial cable from it and use it as a dumb terminal off of my Linux box. Of course, I have a real VT240 collecting dust in my closet, so I probably won’t do much with it. And the size on this places it smack-dab between my SideKick and my laptop. But for only $45, it’s not too bad.

I’m currently in the process of re-reading a bunch of Asimov stuff in order. In my senior year of high school, I only had to take a couple of classes in the last semester, so I had a few study halls, an hour that I worked in the theater, a piano class, and a lot of other filler. I had high hopes of reading every book in the library, or at least the ones I found interesting. After I read every World War II book cover to cover, I started reading all of the SciFi they had in the place – Bradbury, Orwell (okay, not really SciFi) and I worked through a lot of the Asimov. I don’t think they had any PKD, which would have been great too, although it seems like all of the good anthologies of his stuff have come out in the last decade or so. Anyway, I am reading through the robot books (I, Robot,The Robots of Dawn, The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun) and I’m considering going into the Foundation books, but it depends on how I do on the other stuff. I did some digging around, and I never knew that Asimov actually died of HIV complications. He had a heart bypass in 1983, and he got a bad blood transfusion. It was kept secret at his death, until a biography that came out last year. Pretty weird.

OK, I need to go write, if that’s at all possible in this heat.

Categories
general

walking, iPod

I went for a long walk today, because I figure I will take more than one when I’m in Hawaii and I could use a shakedown cruise or two. I found that my iPod doesn’t like being in a loose pocket when I walk somewhere between a fast walk and a jog; it tends to lock up and requires a hard reset, which isn’t good. Normally, I keep it in a small holster-type bag, but I didn’t this time. This will be my first trip with the iPod, so I’m trying to test out any use beyond its regular daily pattern, just so there won’t be any surprises.

The walk was good though. It was in the low 70s, and I got all the way to Queens Plaza before I chickened out of walking over Queensborough Bridge. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around SoHo and record shopping at a few used places. I managed to score a copy of the out-of-print Henry Rollins The Boxed Life 2-CD for only $4.99. I had it on tape, but it’s good that I have it digitized and ready for my long trip. That album is pretty much the reason I became a writer. I used to listen to it during my long walks to Colonial Crest, and it made me start carrying a pen and paper so I could collect my thoughts and eventually develop them into writing. And that was almost ten years ago – ten this fall. Weird how time flies. I bought an album today that I hadn’t heard in TWENTY YEARS. That’s a bit weird to me.

I updated the music collection page [long since gone], although I think I may have missed some things, and now I really think I should develop some sort of database system that is fed via a barcode scanner. The collection is now above 800 CDs. That isn’t the shocking part; the shocking part is that I really don’t consider that to be a lot of CDs. I really want to get above 1000 in the near future. Maybe I need to start scamming CD clubs again.

Okay, almost bedtime.