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Odroid Unboxing

February 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I got the Odroid a couple of weeks ago and I’m still playing around with it.  I’m a bit disappointed overall but I won’t get into that now.  Here is a youtube video I made on the unboxing of the droid.  Check it out to see the odroid in action, and watch me fumble through through odd controls and end the video abruptly:

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Open Source Roundup: Inkscape Vs Illustrator

Inkscape is a totally free vector art program. It’s pretty robust, but like many open source apps, it feels a little more old-fashioned than Adobe Illustrator, it’s retail cousin. For instance, if you apply a gradient to a shape in Inkscape, you can’t move it; you have to put your gradient on a new shape, place that over the existing shape as you see fit and mask it. Throwback functionality like this will make newbies and users who depend on illustrator‘s simplicity groan, but with patience you can do everything you can do in illustrator in Inkscape.

…Except edit .Ai files. Yes, while Gimp can edit PSDs and OpenOffice can edit Microsoft’s native formats, you can’t switch content between Illustrator and Inkscape so easily. While this limitation may hurt inkscape’s commercial applications (only a little, since it can make .SVG files) it is no barrier to using this excellent free tool for home art projects.

7.5/10 (and it’ll go up as the program improves, I’d wager)

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Kindle app for iPhone and iPod touch

April 23, 2009 1 comment

I’m not the most avid reader, but I did find some interest in the Amazon
Kindle. The Kindle itself seemed too expensive to me, so when I heard about
the Kindle app for iPhone and iPod touch I tried it out.

Let me start by saying that the Kindle app for iPhone is definitely not mean
to be your primary reading device. It’s really meant to be a companion to a
real Kindle. This being said, the iPhone app really does leave a bit to be
desired.

You get all the same books as you would on a “real” Kindle as well as
periodicals you subscribe to. You get super-fast downloads straight to your
iPhone or iPod touch. I swear it took like 30 seconds to download 4 books
to my iPhone 3G while on the 3G network. It would probably be faster on
Wi-Fi. That’s more than acceptable for downloading an entire BOOK to your
mobile phone.

The disappointments abound, however. The screen size of the iPhone is just
too small to read from. I know this isn’t really a fault of the
application, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. Also, because the iPhone
has an LCD display instead of the super-pleasant E-Ink display of the
Kindle, there can be some pretty hefty eye strain after reading for a
while. There’s no Landscape support, though I don’t think this is an open
API in the 2.2 SDK for the iPhone so hopefully we’ll see it on the next
version. There is no purchasing from the application, or even from the
Amazon mobile app. This is a deal-breaker for many iPhone users, I’m sure.

All in all, the application is OK. I can’t say that I would have paid for
it had it not been free. Once the iPhone 3.0 update goes live, we’ll see if
Amazon can add some of the missing functionality. I’m hoping to see all of
the application specific issues get fixed at this point.

Overall I give the Kindle iPhone app a 5 out of 10.

Amazon.com WidgetsKindle app for iPhone and iPod touch

Categories: Technology

NETGEAR WNDR3300 RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Router

April 16, 2009 Leave a comment

All the RangeMax dual band had to do was force internet down a 10-foot hallway. Seriously. Router at one end, computer at the other. A task so simple that wireless was only required to avoid clutter.

I had selected this router because it was the only n router available when I was out shopping- I’d previously owned two NETGEAR g routers, and while they were plagued by tragically short lives, they were functional, if weak. I’d heard this model was a bit sturdier, and I figured that with an n router and a n-capable card in my computer, I’d be able to cop a decent signal, cordless phones and thick walls be damned.

Unfortunately, this router was trouble from day 1. Setting it up was a breeze, but the n band signal was so weak I could barely detect it. Switching to a more specific broadcast mode let me use it, but that very evening, it dropped. Not only could my computer no longer see it, neither could my fiance’s laptop. It soon became apparent this was the norm. Cycling the router generally did nothing- rather the signal would lapse in and out, and sometimes would be visible while connection remained impossible.

This is a weak, unreliable router with spotty performance. When I can see other apartments’ g networks through the floor and I can’t see my own n network down the hall, I feel safe calling my router a failure.

2/10  (I’ll give this a bit of a break, because mine might be a lemon)

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

Connectland 4 Port Mini USB Hub

April 14, 2009 Leave a comment

When the USB ports on my last computer got a little funny after plugging in my printer, I became worried that the printer itself had damaged them. USB devices do fry ports, although it’s really rare. An obvious solution is to hook any powered USB devices to a cheap hub, and let them fry the hub instead of your ports.

This hub is pretty tiny- so small that the jacks on your USB cables won’t fit all the way in. They still seem secure, but this may be an issue for some users. The hub can carry power if connected to a powered USB bus, and it lights up really bright blue to indicate this. Fortunately, my computer is already an insane mass of glowing blue stuff, so it fits right in. It’s always on (provided your power supply is on) so it kind of acts as a night light to find your workstation by in a dark room. That’s cool.

The hub is very light, with a good solid feel. It’s probably light enough that you could stick it to a wall or bookcase, and the ability to accommodate up to 4 powered devices makes it ideal for connecting your desktop stuff to a single USB port. Owners of book-profile computers take note. The actual cord that hooks the hub to your computer is pretty short, which is odd for a hub; so I figure it was mostly built with desktop peripheral attachment in mind.

Overall, this hub exceeded my expectations for what it is: ablative armor for my motherboard in the event of a power surge from my printer.

7/10

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Open Source Roundup: GIMP

April 13, 2009 Leave a comment

As a Photoshop user of the old school I approached GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) with caution. I’d heard a lot of negative press about it- that it was not as feature rich as Photoshop, that it lacked Photoshop’s vast reserves of file types, filters, and pizazz, that it was not a worthwhile product. Even the official GIMP website warned me that my Windows install was totally unsupported, in a kind of wet-noodle down-with-Microsoft-and-get-Linux gesture.

Imagine my surprise when GIMP turned out to be pretty awesome.

First the bad stuff. The (unsupported) Windows build is not at all stable. Running in fullscreen can cause your tool palettes to vanish when you switch tasks, sometimes the color tools just crash it, and filter previews area  bit dodgy. You have to do some quirky old-fashioned stuff like manually adding alpha channels to layers, and selections are a pain to work with. The save dialog could also use some work.

And that’s it for bad stuff. In almost every other respect, GIMP can pull the weight of Photoshop. Blend modes, channel and layer management, a fully-functional history, and an array of filters are all at your disposal. Almost every Photoshop feature can be approximated in GIMP, and personally, I actually like GIMP’s pen tool a bit more than Photoshop’s. GIMP also supports about as many file types as Photoshop, although not all of the same ones. Would I be using Photoshop if it didn’t cost nine hundred million billion dollars? Maybe, but for a free product GIMP is above and beyond.

Caveat: I didn’t have much trouble learning GIMP because I’m used to image manipulation programs, but for a first-timer it could be more daunting than Photoshop. Do some tutorials, read some articles, and you’ll get the hang of it.

8/10

Open Source Roundup: OpenOffice.org

I recently rebuilt my computer, and even though I had a copy of Microsoft Office 2003 (the last release I like) sitting around, I decided to try just using OpenOffice instead. For those of you who don’t know about OpenOffice but somehow managed to find a blog that reviews it, OpenOffice is an open-source competitor to Microsoft Office providing basically the same features. Don’t get too excited, platform vigilantes- while OpenOffice is free and open, all that code forms the base for new releases of Sun’s StarOffice. And Sun is at least half as evil as Microsoft.

That said, OpenOffice is one of the best free software suites around. It does just about everything Microsoft Office does, plus extra. For instance, its draw application is capable of more features than Visio, including converting bitmaps to vector art, and OpenOffice applications can output to PDF without the benefit of any free or retail plugins. OpenOffice Writer, the chunk most people will be interested in, does everything Word does and can even open and create Word’s .doc files (why you’d ever want to make a .doc file is beyond me). Perhaps the most striking feature of OpenOffice is Spreadsheet, which is almost feature-identical to Excel.

OpenOffice is not perfect. Writer performs noticibly slower than Word, and its spellcheck and autocorrection features feel incomplete and second-rate next to Word’s. When working in the .doc format, Writer is vulnerable to the same poor performance as Word, generating errors in long documents and getting genuinely confused with track changes. As files are passed back and forth between Office and OpenOffice, they seem to degrade somewhat as well. This doesn’t happen when you open a  Word document in Writer, but after your files have bounced between the two several times you may notice a font off or some spacing gone here and there. It’s really no worse than what happens when you move files between different versions of Office.

Final verdict: Microsoft Office is a fine suite, but considering it’s free, OpenOffice has nothing to be ashamed of. OpenOffice has come a long way and I’d say it’s ready for prime time. Its adoption by business may forever be nixed because, frankly, American businesses don’t trust open-source applications, but for any user looking to save a few hundred bucks, it’s a great alternative. Businesses should consider this: right now, Office Ultimate is retailing for $679.95. Assuming your business has 300 employees, who all need office software, and assuming Microsoft cuts you a whopping 50% discount, you’d still save over a hundred grand by adopting OpenOffice.

Think about it.

8/10 (9/10 if you’re too poor for anything else)