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Nov 022009
 

So I quickly install the CD in a virtual machine, login, get delayed by doing something with a passphrase, install the “guest additions”, and reboot. But why doesn’t Ubuntu include the drivers for various different virtual machine environments ? It would certainly make it easier to quickly setup a machine to test the feasibility of switching or upgrading.

One tiny little niggle with the first boot – the passphrase request to “unlock” the encrypted drive (I wanted to say “unencrypt” there but of course it doesn’t actually do that) is a little less than obvious. It should perhaps be a little more “in your face” – a popup. And of course the new Ubuntu boot straight into X might look a little prettier than the previous mechanism, but it isn’t quite “geeky” enough for me (my OSX machines are set to boot in verbose mode to scare those who think the command line is scary). This new startup is supposedly significantly quicker than previous releases; I’m afraid I didn’t notice. Perhaps it is of concern more to others than to me, but I rarely restart my machines – my somewhat less than totally reliable main machine has been up for 7 days, so a faster boot time is not of great significance to me.

I couldn’t seem to find anything to tweak the desktop effects settings. Perhaps not that important, but sort of peculiar. I dare say there’s an addon to do that.

I next dove into “Software Centre” to find a couple of applications that I use, but couldn’t. Admittedly they are somewhat towards the geeky side of things, but they are not that unpopular (zsh and enlightenment). Dropping to a terminal window and they were quickly found using apt-cache. Perhaps the Software Centre intentionally hides things to make the default list of new application choices a little less scary ? Maybe, but it needs an easily found button to say “show more”. Of course the Synaptic package manager can still be found, so this isn’t a real problem although having two ways of installing/removing software could be.

After I installed my favourite window manager (Enlightenment for now), I went on to try setting it up in my usual way with a .xsession file. No luck! It seems that Ubuntu’s version of gdm has accidentally (?) removed this functionality. This is quite a serious problem for those who like to run seriously customised environments. Perhaps not Ubuntu’s major audience, but it seems rather unfortunate to remove this functionality as it will seriously annoy those like me who prefer their own environment.

Going back to the default environment, I take a quick look at Firefox to realise that there is no Flash plugin. A dive into the Software Centre fixes that, although it would have been nice to be taken through a “wizard” when starting Firefox for the first time to suggest installing a number of proprietary extensions (and explain why they are not installed by default). Not that it does not install with a good selection already, but a browser without flash is perhaps not what people are expecting (although there are advantages in not having flash or turning it on only for those pages you want it turned on for).

Browsing through the settings, and I find the theme browser which does not really offer much choice by default – you have to install some additional themes. The choice of backgrounds is fine, although I’m not too sure why the frog was included (I chose the falling coffee). The most obvious improvement here, would be to include a hint on how to include your own photos as a background – quite possibly the first thing that many want to do! At least the Font tab defaults to using a method of rendering suitable for LCD panels (I’m not sure if this is new with the Koala).

In the keyboard preferences, the Layout options are somewhat confusing. Admittedly the number of options here is bound to make it more confusing, and those who choose “Layout Options” are likely to be self-educated to some degree. However it may be worth looking again at how the options are described. Oddly enough the Mouse preferences shows an option to “Show mouse pointer position when Control is pressed” but does not allow you to enable it!

Going through the applications, most (without extensive testing) seem fine. However Empathy (the replacement for the Pidgin instant messaging client) does seem a little on the flaky side with a few “misfeatures” – for instance the “Room” dialog box is a little immature and it is not obvious what you should do with it. Are you supposed to know some sort of “server name” ? Seems a little odd.

This may get added to when I find the time and patience to do more, but I am sure there are plenty of other far more complete looks at Ubuntu 9.10 out there!

Oct 312009
 

Well the story is fine, the cinematography as good as you would expect from a large budget show (although there’s a little too much digital noise in some of the darker scenes), the sound excellent. What’s not to like ?

The formatting of the BD disks themselves of course. Whilst the actual content is pretty good, the way that it has been put together sucks. You can tell those putting it together tried pretty hard to make the blueray experience feature filled, but they forgot the one real reason why people buy boxed sets. They buy them to watch the show.

And too much gets in the way of that :-

  • There’s an especially irritating piracy warning. If I dare to pirate the disks, the FBI will apparently use extraordinary rendition to kidnap me from the UK and fine me $250,000! If there is anything more irritating than those pointless anti-piracy messages, then it is an anti-piracy message that has not been “localised” – people get more than a little annoyed by US-orientated messages.
  • We get an annoying little message from the director about how good the disks are. This would be bad enough if it only appeared without our requesting it once, but it seems to show up every time you change the disc for the next one!
  • Similarly when you start playing an episode on a new disc, you get an annoying pop-up warning you that certain features will only work if you have a recent blueray player. It is the wrong place! If certain features won’t work it will be noticeable more in the menu than in the playback!
Oct 282009
 

So I decided to treat myself to a decent pen for a change. A Cross Apogee rollerball (specifically with gel ink which I’m a very big fan of) …

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It is a little fatter than I’m used to but it is already feeling pretty comfortable. It is a heavy pen, enhancing the feeling of quality. If you are considering getting a decent pen, the Apogee could well be a decent candidate.

Oct 282009
 

I am not an audiophile – perhaps indicated by buying a QTV-2 rather than something more “serious”. I certainly did not want some sort of complicated setup that required tons of wires and another complicated remote control. So the QTV-2 looked like a fairly simple way of improving the audio on my TV without going to a great deal of effort.

So I took a chance and bought one. It’s a large box when it turns up, and unpacking it reveals the speakers themselves – packaged in a flat array designed to bolt onto the back of the TV, various accessories including a bewildering array of bolts, washers and “spacers”. I instantly thought “Uh oh! Looks complicated”, but it turns out that most of the bolts and washers are unnecessary – they’re provided to allow the speakers to be strapped to the back of a range of different TVs. So why cannot TV manufacturers come up with a standard fixing mechanism ?

After spending about 30 minutes connecting the speakers to the back of the TV – fairly easy, although I would have one of those TVs whose connectors are a little obscured by the speakers! After a brief attempt to use the the RCA connectors (unsuccessful because I could not be bothered to hunt down the TV manual!), I resorted to the headphone connector and managed to get the sound working.

For a while I was listening BBC News 24 (or whatever we are supposed to call it now), and immediately noticed that I could lower the volume and still hear the talking much more distinctly than with the TVs speakers. In addition the sound seemed to fill the room much more.

Switching to a film (2001 on Blueray), started to show the benefit of the subwoofer  much greater bass; probably a touch too much, but that will be because of the sound adjustments for the TV speakers. But the overall effect was far greater detail in the sound and a greater ability to speech even when mixed in with other sound.

Overall, worth having if you are not interested in a full home cinema system. It greatly increases the clarity and quality of sound over standard TV speakers. In fact in a noisy environment such as my flat (with a high volume of traffic outside the window), it is possible to decrease the volume and yet still hear the sound from the TV clearer than before.

Jul 282009
 

There are many other places you can find technical information on the Olympus EP-1 – this is merely the first impressions from someone who has only just unboxed one, and taken it out for a quick spin.

It’s small. It is not a point and shoot, and so it is quite a bit bigger, but it sure beats my Canon 1DS for size, and even my Epson RD-1. Providing you are not wearing tight jeans, you can certainly slip it into a roomy pocket with the 17mm pancake lens. The 14-42mm zoom lens increases the size enough that you would need a jacket pocket to be comfortable.

The included camera strap is far too short. Admittedly I’m tall and I like my cameras to hang low, but this really is titchy. The camera itself feels good and solid – whilst it is no tank, it should survive a few knocks and bumps.

After charging the battery (why do the suppliers not charge these up themselves?), the first thing most of us will do is to dive into the menus to see what things can be fiddled with. Well the answer is a lot. In fact at first it is a little scary how many options there are to fiddle with even before you turn on the “customize” menu item. But after you get used to the idea that the menus are complex because there is a great deal to customise before you go out, then it becomes a little less scary. After all any camera that allows you to move the focus button from a half-press of the shutter (which I really hate) to an alternate is going to have lots of options. And I’ll put up with a lot of complexity if I am allowed to move the focus button!

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Out and about, the camera is reasonably comfortable in the hand. The lack of a “proper” viewfinder is a little distracting at first, but the key thing to remember is that this is a view camera which do not have small viewfinders. Sure holding the camera out to look at the LCD preview screen is somewhat problematic in terms of steadiness, but in practice it is perfectly possible to get used to it.

In fact I do happen to have the optical viewfinder for the EP-1 (for the 17mm pancake lens), but I have not used it in anger.

This is not a camera to replace a “proper” DSLR, but is a good choice for someone who finds the current crop of P&S cameras to be a little too small and limiting. I will probably find myself lugging a big DSLR just as much as I have done in the past, but I will also have a decent camera with me for those times when I would not normally carry a “proper” camera.

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