Sunday, January 30, 2005

Bentley Announces Flying Spur

Bentley Announces Flying Spur (www.vwvortex.com)

Bentley Announces Flying Spur A little over two years ago Bentley Motors stunned the world by unveiling a Grand Tourer masterpiece, the Continental GT coupé. Now, only 12 months after the first deliveries of that extraordinarily successful car, we are proud to announce the arrival of the fastest four-door in the company’s history; a car that shares the heart and soul of the 198mph coupé from which it is born – the Continental Flying Spur.

I like this a lot! It's obviously reminiscent of the Continental GT, while while having the stately proportions required of a Bentley sedan...

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Week with a Mac

I have been using the eMac several hours a day for almost a week. It's time to stop playing and start talking about the experience.

First up: I'm having the time of my life. I chose the eMac over the other models because it fit my budget and needs -- I wanted an all in one to save on clutter, but the iMac was too pricey. The eMac isn't my favorite looking Mac but that's more than made up for by the quality of it's construction. It's simply stunning how well made it is; not a single flaw. Compared to PCs, Macs are expensive, but I've never seen any PC that impressed so much – before even switching it on! Even the keyboard is ultra-heavy, flex-free and stable -- even the shiny Apple logo on the front is optically perfect. The one button mouse drove me crazy so I substituted a Windows mouse that I had lying around. That works fine, but it sure looks suddenly ugly compared with the rest of the setup.

Using the thing.

It does take getting used to; like switching to a foreign car where the turn signal stalk is on the "wrong" side. Everything that I want to do – file management-wise – is still available but the more advanced features are more hidden, and the terminology is definitely different.

In Windows, if I attach my USB card reader then immediately another six drives appear in Explorer – nothing happens at all on the Mac. However, when I insert a card, there it appears as a new "Volume." It's the same with CDs and DVDs; the drive is invisible but the media appears.

The other interesting thing that took a little getting used to was the way applications are displayed; There's only ever one menu bar at the top of the screen that changes to reflect the application that's currently in focus. All too often I would close a window (thinking I'd closed the app) and go on and do something else while the app was still running in the background.

After a while I just figured, "What the hell," and left all the apps I normally use running all the time. Despite my initial reservations, this doesn't seem to slow things up at all. Right now I have Safari, Mail, iCal, Address Book, iTunes, Text Edit, Stickies and Photoshop all running in the background but with no windows showing. Marvelous!

Apart from Missing Sync (for talking to my Pocket PC) and Photoshop (which I'm still evaluating) I haven't needed to buy any software to cover my regular chores; all of the built in apps are really top rate (with the possible exception of Apple Works) which appears to have been ported from OS 9.

I don't think I'll ever get bored with how "posh" everything looks. Even formally crappy looking websites that I visit. All that blarney from Steve Jobs about how the people at Apple are "artists" seems to be true. It's like there's a tiny graphic artist with excellent taste inside the box who's redoing everything before you get to see it.

There are a few shortcutting programs that I had running in the background in Windows that I sorely missed at first; One was called Wonderful Icon for opening apps using the keyboard, the other was AutoCorrect Plus which would complete words for me. I haven't found any identical replacements, but I did find a real donationware gem called Butler that I'll gladly pay for. It's a system-wide menu, combined with a pasteboard, quick searcher, iTunes remote – you name it. It's absolutely freak'n brilliant! It's one of those super-flexible OS extensions (like Standalone used to write for the Newton) that really feels like it's only limited by your imagination.

One more thing to note before I finish up for today: In all of the past week – in all the playing and tweaking and installing this, that and the other thing – I haven't broken a thing. Not one frozen app or crash of any kind.

So, do I have any regrets? Not one. Am I impressed with the Mac? Can a duck swim?!? And this from the lowest-end model in the range (apart from the mini).

Now though, I'm lusting for a Powerbook – so I can take it everywhere with me...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Mac'd

I am writing this blog entry in a semi-translucent sticky notes window on the screen of my new Mac. I couldn't wait for the new mini, also, I decided to pass on my PC to someone else -- so I'd be needing a keyboard, mouse and monitor. So now I'm sitting in front of a gleaming eMac.

Couldn't be happier. It's a little weird, but I was prepared for that. The relearning curve is so steep -- after years of Microsoft; I think the trick is to imagine I'd never sat in front of any computer before, and take it from there.

My initial impressions: Beautiful construction, Beautiful interface, almost silent...

Monday, January 17, 2005

Mac mini Inspiration

Thinking about the Mac mini. Notice the use of lower case for mini. I'm not going to get into that; What I wanted to mention was the nagging feeling that the thing reminds me of something, and I don't know what it is.

I've already come across three other comenataries where they've asked: "What is it that this thing reminds me of." Be sure that in a few days someone will figure it out, and the mini will then be referred to as the (blank).

Just like the previous iMac was referred to as the anglepoise lamp and not the sunflower which apparently was its real inspiration -- and just as the iPod Shuffle will be referred to as the pregnancy test-kit instead of the stick of gum.

Back to the Mac mini, any guesses?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

StatCounter

StatCounter website

Thanks to Russell Beatie for the heads up. This is the best traffic tracker I've seen. Shows you where they came from, what they used etc, and it's free...

New Passat: "Fusion," or Confusion?

VW Vortex (http://www.vwvortex.com)

The previous Passat was distinctive due to its predominantly convex design theme. That "puffiness" and deliberate lack of trim elements gave it that special hewn from solid Germanic character.

This thing retains none of that. This is more a grab-bag of Accura/Lexus/BMW design cues. It's all thin and wispy and concave. Head-on is its best angle; combining Phaeton and Audi A6 clues, then we swing round to the messy Accura "A" pillar/hood/fender junction -- from there on back we have BMW's disastrous theme of too many horizontal elements and "jaunty" kick to the rear doors.

All those character lines crash to a halt as we swing round to the back end which appears to be a morph of at least four different manufacturers. The rubbing strips have been reduced to nothing more than chromed trim tape. Inside... Aagh... Where do I start? The door trims look like the old PVC stretched and stapled over hardboard doors from the 'Sixties; the seats are from an Alfa; the wheel is from a Yugo; the top of the dash is draped over something else altogether. Mmm. Did I mention the Pimp my Ride wheels?

That's enough. I'm done. Rant over. (Mutter. Mutter. What were they thinking...)

Friday, January 14, 2005

Mac Mini Pictures: It's Like Déjà vu All Over Again...

Am I the only one who's reminded of the original Mac when looking at these pics? Well, the first two inches of the original Mac at least. You have to squint to see it...

Maybe it's just late...

Two great quotes heard today:

The only really successful example of convergence: The Clock Radio.

Macs are incredibly easy to use -- once you know how to use them.

Mac Mini thoughts Part 2

What is happening to me?

I'm being swept inexorably into the Mac whirlpool! Although I'm a long time PC user, I've always been fascinated by the Mac world so I know more than a little bit about it. I also know that it's ridiculous to compare Macs and PCs spec for spec; you might as well try to argue a winner between gasoline and diesel, turboprop and jet, or PVR and DVD.

Better to simply consider: "What do you want to do and how do you want to do it?"

Now, my PC is showing its age. It's time for a replacement. Being the cheapskate that I am I'll keep the monitor, keyboard and mouse and replace only the box. I want the new box to be above all, tiny; quiet and beautifully finished. I want to write, communicate and blog. I want to edit photos and watch DVDs. I want to edit HTML and fly Flightsim. That's it. Oh, and sync with my Pocket PC.

Looking at the available PCs I see the Shuttle which is quite compact and quite well screwed together. It is more high end than I need though, and makes too much noise. And immediately -- there go my PC options. Everything else is shoddy to look at, or too bulky.

So what's the deal with the Mac Mini? Evidently it's as well made as everything else they make and I like its looks and size. I also hear that it's fairly quiet. I can migrate my jpgs, text files and music; and possibly my Outlook email archive. So that's my "stuff" taken care of. I recently discovered an app for syncing with the Pocket PC (see post below) so that's another thing checked off.

So what does that leave? Compatible apps and Flightsim. I'm going to flip over all the cards and say that Flightsim is not an option on the Mac. But -- wait a second -- I'll still have my old box. I can always drag it out for the four or five hours a month that I feel like flying.

See how I'm leaning now? The next quandary is what to do about stocking the thing with appropriate software. I'll need a text editor, spell checking, keyboard shortcutting, an image editor, a calendar, contacts, email, ftp... What? You're telling me that's all built in? (Well maybe not the ftp.)

Mmm. Now I've run out of excuses.

There's no turning back. I promise right now that I won't turn into one of those obnoxious sanctimonious Mac zealots (he says that now...) So, while I'm waiting for the Mac Mini to actually arrive, I'll keep myself occupied downloading Mac freeware to cover all the things I do now, but iLife doesn't. I'll also be at the Apple Store playing with the eMac which apparently is the Mini's close cousin.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

More Arguments For:

The distortion field is still in effect. Take a look at the interface. I just wish that the hardware leaned away from the white lucite, and more toward the brushed metal...

Another Player with No Display, Except the Time...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

iPod CouldaBeen

Mark/Space, Inc. - The Missing Sync for Pocket PC

Mark/Space, Inc. - The Missing Sync for Pocket PC

Now I'm rapidly running out of excuses. See below...

Mac Mini thoughts

I like it. Not only as a concept, but possibly for myself. I'm glad to see that although it's pitched as a low-cost Mac, it looks as well crafted as everything else in their lineup. I think I'd get a real kick out of having a small sleek looking box like that on my desk instead of the ugly black PC thing I've got now.

Having said that, I suspect I may be being swept along by the famous reality distortion field; this could be a slow – sexy looking box that I'll regret owning a few months down the road. Being the cheapskate that I am, I don't want to be forking out for go faster parts after the initial buzz has worn off. I really like the fact that so much software comes with it, but how much photo editing can I do with iPhoto, and can the pathetic video card handle DVDs and full screen Quicktime movies without stuttering?

Here are some other things I have no clue about:

  • Can a Mac handle a zip file?
  • Can a Mac play a Real Networks stream?
  • Can I rig my Pocket PC, or at least its SD card to sync with the Mac?
  • Is it noisy?
  • Will my PC keyboard emulate the Apple and Command keys?
I've hatched a cunning plan for when they make their appearance here in NZ. I'm going to take along my USB card reader loaded with a card that contains some hi-res images, zips and other such files and see how the Mac Mini handles them. If it takes 20 seconds to show an image because of the lack of video power and RAM then I've blown my price point before I even start.

I told you I'm a cheapskate...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Media Monkey

Media Monkey Website (http://www.mediamonkey.com)

Now that I'm starting to get with the program and and I've started ripping music to my PC, I decided it was time to catalogue it. I found this app called Media Monkey. The screenshot above is abviously squashed up to fit in this column, but you get the idea; it allows you to view your music files a million different way by accessing and showing the tags. You can also burn to CD; rip from CD; copy to mobile device etc.

It works just fine, and looks quite cool, however it saps the resourses of my ageing box more than a little. Still, it's probably the only viable iTunes alternative that'll run on 98...

Monday, January 10, 2005

Combination Tablet PC and Pocket PC

Here's an idea right off the top of my head: A Tablet PC that has a Pocket PC inside it. The Pocket PC would be the phone version with bluetooth and wifi. When it's inside the Tablet, the Tablet would share those features. So, you're walking around using the Tablet and you can make and receive calls and check your email using the Pocket PC's cellular; that is if you're out of range of anything cheaper.

They would be continually syncing when joined so at any time you could whip out the Pocket PC and go lite -- still with all your stuff. I think this device -- along with a dock to provide a proper keyboard, mouse and monitor when you're at home -- would be pretty darned cool.

It's not quite the Savi setup, but it could be available sooner, rather than later...

Prelude to Podcasting

I don't mean to blow my own trumpet, but -- toot toot!

Let me tell you why I'm so chuffed: I recently downloaded a podcast from a respected fellow who was detailing how he goes about making podcasts; I know it sounds a little geeky, but I was interested to know what sort of equipment he used.

Before his voice even got to a PC it went through a very expensive suspension microphone, then through two black boxes that filtered the clipping and background noises before being recorded into a compact flash digital audio gizmo.

Well, I thought the audio quality of his podcast was pretty good, and I wanted to have a go myself with the editing app he recommended, but I don't own a microphone. Then I remembered the teeny weeny hole in the top of my Pocket PC that's a mike for recording voice notes, so I figured I'd have a play with that.

After adjusting the gain to the highest quality settings, I recorded ten minutes of blurb onto my SD card and popped it into the PC.

Wow. I could not get over how good it sounded. Crystal clear, with virtually no hiss or background noise.

I wasn't sure how to get the sound from the pwi file into Audacity so I just imported it as raw sound and it worked perfectly. I then used the default Normalize and Amplify settings and exported it as a rather low bitrate mp3.

To my ears it sounds even better than the file that prompted this project. I feel I'm ready right now to start making podcasts; all I need is something to talk about!

So if you have a Pocket PC (mine's an HP 1910) record a voice note and play it back on your PC. The speaker on the PDA doesn't really do it justice...

Friday, January 07, 2005

BenQ Pocket PC Phone

When will it End?

Auckland in Summer. Rain Rain Rain. It's like in The Illustrated Man when he finds himself on that planet where the rain never stops...

I've got a new theory about the seasons. I'm surprised I never noticed it before:
It rains just as much in Summer as in Winter. It's just not as cold...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

An Ugly Brick with a Spectacular Screen

HP iPAQ hx4700 Review

I handled an HP HX4700 today. Just briefly -- I don't like the case or the touchpad idea, or the price of this thing. But the display is SPECTACULAR!!!

You have no idea how good it looks until you see one in the flesh. This is the best display I've seen -- on anything! Let alone a PDA. This display on a thumbwheel-controlled phone edition would be the ultimate (now, erase from mind and get back to 240X320).

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

PDA Navigation Brainwave

Under the left thumb there's a press to click thumb wheel with a home button above it and a back button below.

Clicking the wheel reveals a base menu arranged down the left hand side of the screen. Hilighting an item automatically shows a sub-menu and clicking the wheel moves into that menu.

All apps would be full screen. Apps would be smart enough to stay in the last menu as required. System wide and user defined menus would always be available from the root.

Numbers and auto completing words would also be accessible with the wheel. A touch strip could be used instead of a wheel. The response must be instant; no special effects!

A hot corner at the top left of the screen would enable pen input. Click and hold followed by a turn of the wheel would step through the running apps. Turning without clicking beforehand would scroll through the current app.