Archive for the ‘Awesome’ Category

A non-videophile’s review of the Epson EH TW-2900 projector

February 8, 2010

I’m not really a hi-fi enthusiast, but I do know the difference between 480i, 720p, 1080p, Blu-ray and HDTV, component and HDMI, et cetera. For the past few years I’ve mostly used a BenQ PE5120 480p widescreen movie projector as my primary video device, but as HD projectors have dropped in price I’ve been increasingly tempted to upgrade.

Epson EH TW-2200 and BenQ 5120

Over Christmas, I watched the first movie of the Star Wars series on DVD, and when you have to make the picture artificially bright to see any detail at all in dark scenes – so bright that you lose lots of detail in bright ones (think Kamino, for those who know Star Wars) – well, then it’s time to spend some money. Even if Star Wars is not released for Blu-ray yet.

I do have a Playstation 3, so all I needed to go HD was a decent projector. I didn’t want to spend a ton of cash, but I did want the full 1080p resolution. No point in half measures. Also, I have a small living room and poor placement options, so flexibility and low noise emissions matter a great deal to me.

After a few days of doing a bit of research, the Epson EH TW-2900 became the front runner among the projector candidates – I also read about Optoma and Sanyo projectors. Now having used the Epson for movies (Star Wars), HDTV nature bonanza (BBC’s splendid Planet Earth) and gaming (Rock Band 2) as well as watching TV online, I have to say I’m very happy. The projector is physically huge – especially compared with the old PE5120 – but it delivers on all my key criteria.

– Noise is low. It is at least as quiet as the older, lower-specced BenQ. Even though I have the projector underneath a table in front of the sofa, what little noise the projector makes has not bothered me at all. (I do run in “eco mode”.)
– Heat exhaust is forward and to the right. Very convenient when you’re sitting directly behind the projector.
– Screen size is good, even though there’s just 2,5 metres from the projector to the screen. (I use one of those fantastic IKEA projection screens. Ahem.)
– The picture is fabulous. Note that I’m no hifi expert, but to my eyes, the image quality is sterling.
– It has a high lumen output. Watching TV in a bright room works well, even without using the extra bright mode.

My conclusion: If you’re looking for a reasonably priced (I paid 11000 NOK) home projector with full 1080p and decent noise levels, you must consider this somewhat tank-shaped unit. I’m looking forward to many, many hours of movie watching on the Epson EH TW-2900 (not least Star Wars in HD, whenever that blessed day arrives!).

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Three months on – review of the Kindle 2

January 5, 2010

As a gadget enthusiast and wannabe bookworm, I jumped onto the bandwagon right away when Amazon released their Kindle 2 with international support. It arrived promptly via UPS after three days, and I’ve now had it for more than three months. This is a revised version of the review I wrote after using it for about a week, written for calcuttagutta.com.

26.10.2009

During my time with the device, I’ve read 5 books:
– The Children of Men (PD James)
– Knife of Dreams (Robert Jordan)
– The Gathering Storm (Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson)
– The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
– The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown)

When I unpacked the device originally, I was on a half-hour tram ride. It provided the perfect opportunity to give it a go. As I hoped, the battery charge was sufficient for immediate use. After switching it on, I could go online without needing to configure anything – marvellous. I searched up “The Children of Men”, bought it, had it on the device in less than two minutes and started reading. By the end of the ride I was well into the third chapter and having a good time.

The Kindle 2 is the right size. It doesn’t feel that solid, but it is pretty light-weight, which is more important. I’ll eventually get some sort of hardcover plastic protection for it, but so far it’s been getting along well with alongside my laptop in my backpack, protected by a cartboard folder.

The e-ink screen works well – the more light you have available, the better. It can’t compete with paper for constrast, but it reaches the crucial “good enough” milestone. View angles are great. I love the ability to adjust font size – being nearsighted, I turned it up a notch at once, and this makes it easier for me to have a comfortable reading position when using the Kindle as compared to normal books. The fact that the device is board-shaped means it is practical to read when holding it with one hand, and having the “Next”-button there on both sides means you can alternate hands. I’m really appreciating this – it means I can stand, eat and read simultaneously. The board-ey nature of the device also means it can be put down on a table and stay there without support while you’re reading – unlike, say, a pocketbook.

The device’s buttons themselves didn’t feel great after initial use, but after reading a few books on the device I don’t think about them anymore.

Navigating menus and surfing Wikipedia or the Kindle store is slow, but usable. The reading support (by an artificial voice) is surprisingly good, though not something you’d use unless you were desparate to read the book but unable to use your own eyes. I haven’t used the MP3 support yet. It is obvious that this is a dedicated reading device – and to me, that’s definitely a good thing. It translates to a good reading experience and long battery life – I have charged mine three times since getting it, read six books on it (my brother borrowed it to read one), and it is still at 50%. A book is supposed to be a book, not everything else a electronic device with a screen could possibly be, and I like that the Kindle is dedicated to being good book.

I’ve used the open-source caliber support application to convert PDFs and transfer stuff to the Kindle – works like a charm. As a result, I now have quite the mini-library with me wherever I go. And if you don’t have it on the device, the Kindle store is only a few clicks away. The books are a bit expensive, but not completely unreasonable – they cost about the same as a pocket book would cost from the bookstore.

I’d say the principal negative of the Kindle 2 is the lack of support for lending books to others when you buy books in the Kindle store. I really enjoy lending books, and I think many avid readers feel the same way – now I can only give a warm recommendation, unless I want to part with my Kindle for an extended period of time. And unless the book is in an open format, of course.

Two events really made the Kindle’s appeal dawn on me – first when I considered continuing “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, but opted for a book on my Kindle instead, and second, when I was reading a paperback I got for Christmas and quickly got fed up with how heavy and cumbersome it was to use while lying in bed. My arms got tired, I had to switch positions fairly frequently. That doesn’t happen with the Kindle. As long as you have enough natural light and a reading position less than 110% perfect it is easily my preferred reading instrument.

To sum it up – this is a nice device which works well as a e-book reader. I like it, and it makes me read more. It is easy to use, and at 2200 NOK taxes and freight included not that expensive. If you can handle not being able to lend books to friends (perhaps swapping Kindles is a substitute..?) I’d say the Kindle 2 is a good deal. Make sure you consider the Nook too, though the colour touch screen is a turn-off for me – makes it look less bookey and more like a tablet computer.

On a final note – I am disappointed that the publishers are trying to wrap DRM around e-books. You would think that after hopelessly trying to protect movies from piracy (1 movie = 700 mb) the publishing industry would realise the idiocy in trying to copy-protect books (one book = 2 mb, maximum). Getting bestsellers from the internet is easy if you want to, and there are compilations of books available – say 50-100 books in a package of 300 megabyte. Considering how easy piracy is, there is not much to lose by getting rid of DRM, and as usual, DRM harms the legitimate user more than the pirate – if I spend money on a book, I cannot lend it to others – if I pirate it, I can do with it as I please.

The lesson of the music industry is that you have to make solutions that are friendly to the consumer – with luck the book publishers won’t need 10 years to achieve the same insight. (For the record, I’m a very, very happy Spotify user.)

A day in the life of my Nokia N82 – and the beginning of the end of the laptop

April 14, 2009

Some days I’m so thrilled with what my smartphone can do that I can’t help writing about it. Perhaps this short blog brag will show you a few new uses for your modern Symbian device. And for how much longer will you and I need a dedicated laptop?

06:55: I’m half-way awake from the radio on the Wake-up Light (nice invention, by the way), the N82 sounds the proper alarm, and I get out of bed – instinctively checking my Gmail account. Their Java ME client is speedy, slim and has all the right keypad shortcuts (the new Nokia Messaging client is very nice, but not tuned for Gmail use patterns and thus not fast enough).

07:10: I make breakfast while listening to news on FM radio. I hooked up a pair of Koss Portapros and put the N82 on the kitchen table – thanks to its relatively powerful speakers, I don’t have to walk around with the Portapros on (or get a stand-alone radio).

The Economist in my pocket

The Economist in my pocket

07:25: Walking down to the metro, which doesn’t have FM coverage, I switch to listening to The Economist in MP3 format, which I downloaded over WiFi yesterday. Halfway there I check the real-time metro information on the built in web/WAP browser. WAP may be ugly, but it sure is fast!

latitude

07:30: Standing on the metro, I use Latitude on Google Maps to see if my colleagues have left for work yet. (They haven’t – I’m early :) )

I also pull up my RSS feeds on Opera Mini to catch up on today’s news. This is something I do periodically throughout the day.

09:00: Having settled in at work, I decide I don’t want to listen to any of the on-board MP3s, so I hook the N82 up to the local WiFi network. It is protected by a proxy, but Web is treated like any computer and lets me log into the proxy server. I then use Mobbler – a Last.fm client for Symbian – to listen to my friends’ Last.fm stations. Here’s my Last.fm profile, by the way.

Now and then the phone buzzes, without lighting up – this indicates that GMail (which is running in the background) has received an e-mail.

11:00: I make a few photographs of the screen on the Citrix client. It is a bit cumbersome to get printscreens out of there, and the N82’s  5 mpx and autofocus will do nicely for this – just illustration photos for a sildeshow. I also make sure to catch the herd of office chairs – they have mysteriously assembled in our wing of the office over the weekend. Hmmm.

12:00: I set the alarm for 14:44 – I have to phone someone then and am likely to forget unless I set an alarm. I also check Calendar, to make sure I’m free at that time.

13:00: I tell my 5800 XpressMusic-owning buddy about SymTorrent (which does what you might expect).

I also showed him Qik – a program for streaming video live to the web from the phone.  I give him a Qik demo, starting off by telling him to check my public feed – where he could see himself from a 90 degree angle :) Take a look at my Qik page for an example.

14:43: The person I was going to call beats me to it – we’re both busy, so we arrange a new time.

16:50: I head home, continuing to listen to The Economist where I left off. En route to the store I use Opera Mini to find recipies for pancakes.

17:20: Leaving the store, I read on AllAboutSymbian‘s RSS feed that Nokia Beta Labs’ Photo Browser is now available for S60v3 devices – meaning I can give it a go. When I get home, I quickly download it via Web and WiFi and check it out. It spends quite a while indexing my photos, which makes it seem slower than it is, but the transitions are pretty nice and for an early beta product this is not bad at all. Hopefully it will be way more mature when the N97 arrives.

Sports Tracker route summary

17:30: After dumping the food in the fridge, I find my running shoes and start SportsTracker. This is a GPS-enabled exercise logger. As I run around the neighbourhood, I upload my route to SportsTracker – take a look. The photo I take during the jog is automatically included in the mashup on the SportsTracker site.

20:30: I start writing this post and transfer a aforementioned photo to my Flickr account from Gallery via the local WiFi.

Conclusion

So – I manage to go through quite an array of features and applications in a day. I love the sense of having so much computational power and so many sensors with me all the time. Of course – there are privacy and security (and sanity?) concerns when using so many services so intimately and constantly bathing in a sea of information and entertainment – but I think we’ll be OK as long as we are aware of that and just leave the phone at home once in a while.

Interestingly – I did pretty much all of this, except writing this blog post, without using a PC. Creating content will probably always be more comfortable on a big keyboard and big screen, but I still believe the N97 will make a noticable difference in my mobile e-mail/blogging usage patterns.

Also – a N82, considering all of its sensors and connectivity features, is in many ways more powerful than my vastly more expensive Macbook. Hopefully CPU, memory and I/O capabilities will develop rapidly – letting me write a new post in 2-3 years time with a full keyboard and 20″ screen hooked up to my ph… mobile computer.

Or, if I’m out and about, I’ll use the phone inserted into a laptop shell consisting of a 13″ touchscreen and full keyboard. That’ll be the end of the dedicated laptop –  unless you need to do heavy number-crunching or 3D gaming.

My three complaints with the Macbook Aluminium

January 25, 2009
The cat appreciated the Macbook just as much as I did.

The cat appreciated the Macbook just as much as I did.

One of the Macbook Aluminium’s strong points is its cat compatability, as evidenced from the image above. And overall it is a fantastic laptop. In fact, it is easier to point out its flaws than its strong points.

I’ve had my Mac for about three months now, and these are my complaints:

  • The laptop easily slides around when placed on a smooth surface, such as a table. The rubber “knobs” on the bottom – which elevate the laptop from the surface it’s standing on and are meant to keep it steady – do not provide enough friction.When opened, the forward edge of the main chassis, where you will rest your palms when typing, is pretty sharp. Enough to be somewhat annoying to me, depending on what position I’m sitting in.
  • There are only two USB ports, and it seems only one of them is fully functional when running Windows – my external USB 2,5″ drive won’t spin when plugged into the other. Given the real estate on the left side of the laptop, Apple should have been to put in one more USB port and made all of them 100% functional.
  • And it does have its rough edges in Windows – the trackpad is a bit finicky – the drivers need some tweaking, and there is no right click-button on the keyboard.

You probably realise, given that these are my main objections to the Macbook Alu design, that I am pretty happy with it. In fact, I consider it the best computer I’ve ever owned.

Great keyboard, nice screen, splendid design (and quite robust), huge trackpad, decent graphics card and powerful specs, backlit keyboard, decent battery life. And you can run both Windows XP and OS X on it.

I use mostly Windows XP – it is faster, I can play games and it is less dependant on a pointing device (I am a keyboard enthusiast). However, it is nice to have OS X as a virus-proof backup, and I use Garageband and iMovie from time to time.

World of Goo – the best cooperative gameplay on the Wii yet

January 15, 2009

After checking out World of Goo on my PC and reading a few glowing reviews (particularly Eurogamer’s Wii review), I decided to buy it for the Wii using the WiiWare download service.

World of Goo - getting around

Multiplayer has always been my favourite aspect of the Wii, and Wii Sports/Tennis and Bomberman my favourite games on the console. (Haven’t had the time to play much Mario Galaxy or Mario Kart yet.) Both Tennis and Bomberman are competetive games – though the best part of Tennis is playing doubles – while World of Goo is a purely cooperative game (well, unless you have rowdy friends, at least).

Very briefly explained, World of Goo is about helping small gooballs get to the exit of a level by building structures with them. It reminds me of a classic game called Bridge Builder (or Pontifex). However, WoG’s puzzles are more varied, the art style is incredibly charming, the music is great, the gameplay is very well suited to the Wii remote, and best of all, the cooperative gaming is fantastic fun and totally hassle-free. When someone else is playing, you just pick up a remote and play along.

This is AWESOME, and the way every multi-player experience should be. Mario Galaxy does it, but the second player has too small a part in the gameplay to really compare with WoG. Left 4 Dead, where your squad of four players run around killing zombies in the first-person perspective, is the only other game I can think of right now that implements this so well (the L4D implementation is a bit more cumbersome, but then again it is a network game and a much more complex one at that).

Puzzle has never been this fun. We had a one-hour three-player session yesterday, and we careened back and forth between thoughtful placement of goo balls and total mayhem as we all extended the structure in multiple directions at once. I’ll give two examples –

World of Goo - building the bridge

One level has you building a goo ball bridge from one side of a spiky valley to the escape pipe on the other side. To make sure the goo bridge doesn’t get pulled into the spikes by gravity as you extend it, you place balloons on it. Place too many too fast in the wrong place, and the bridge will veer upwards, popping the balloons on the overhead spikes. Eventually, we figured out that placing the balloons as low on the structure as possible simultaneously with placing new goo balls worked well. Also, we could move balloons along the bridge as we extended it, to make more careful adjustments to its height. The fact that it really helped to be more people – we could do different things at once – makes the multiplayer gameplay feel very meaningful.

Another level requires you to build a huge tower of goo balls to get to the exit pipe far above. It took us a few tries to find the right balance of tower width at the bottom and narrowing spire at the top. Two times our tower project wobbled into chaos as we started madly extending the structure at the top. Total failures, but very, very, fun!

Try this game. Its single player mode is nice on the PC, but the gameplay really shines in the Wii cooperative mode.

Josh Woodward and how the music industry should work

October 10, 2008

 

Josh Woodward

Josh Woodward

About 30 minutes ago, as I was listening to a friend’s radio station on http://last.fm, I heard a song by Josh Woodward – “Midnight Blue”. I was doing something else entirely, but the song was good enough to make me task-switch over to my laptop and check who the artist was. In his artist’s description, it said he was giving his music away for free.

Fabulous stuff. I headed straight over there – http://www.joshwoodward.com/ – you can download 100+ songs in MP3 format. No hassle, just zip files and music. I decided I had to donate to this guy, considering his music is great and he’s letting everyone listen to it for free and share it as they like. Turns out I can’t actually donate – I mailed him about that and got a reply (within 5 minutes!) where he explained he didn’t want to make people feel they owed him anything. What a fantastic guy. 

Anyways – it is possible to order both CDs and lossless FLAC files of his music (which is awesome) for a fee, which you set yourself. I definitely don’t need the CDs, and the FLACs are also way overkill for me, but at least I can give something back to the man for creating such great music and sharing it with everyone.

I’m crossing my fingers and hoping other artists will follow his lead!

The ByteArts Rock Band guitar strummer replacement

May 25, 2008
DSC_4341

Just a quick post to let any interested parties know that the ByteArts Rock Band strummer replacement is great – more responsive than the standard strummer, yet less noisy than the GH variant – and not only that, their customer service is awesome as well.

I have bought two of these strummer replacements, but on the second purchase I gave them the wrong delivery address. The packet went from the States to Norway and back again, and I had started wondering where it’d gone when they e-mailed me and told me it had been mailed back to them. I provided them with the right address, and they promptly mailed the packet to me – without any extra charges.

This is what customer service is all about, well done ByteArts!

Transmission: A fantastic Mac OS X torrenting application

May 10, 2007
DSC_4341

I was actually trying to donate some money to the people behind Transmission, a fabulous BitTorrent client for OS X, but it seems they are not accepting donations.

Therefore, my respect and recommendations will have to suffice, at least until they start accepting donations. Transmission is very elegant, designed exactly like an OS X application should be – it is one of those applications that improves the aesthetics of your system. The interface is very, very clean. This is the first torrenting client I have tried where I have found every option I need without searching for it – where should the download go, which port is open and what are the download caps. And more.

On top of this, it uses a very small amount of system resources.

Bottom line – if you have a Mac, if you download stuff using the bittorrent protocol, you should try Transmission. Now!