The race for the Chromebook market is on

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Microsoft, it seems, is ready to start a war for the nacent Chromebook market. The Verge reports that there is rumours of a sub $200 laptop (basically the same design that HP uses for their Chromebooks) but running Windows 8 and using Microsoft OneDrive  for cloud storage. No release date yet.

At that price, Microsoft must be willing to “give away” their Operating System in exchange for OneDrive customers. If it works for Google, can it also work for Microsoft?  Also, how much is HP getting out of this deal, seems like there not much margin to around for everyone, does it?

XBMC changes name to Kodi

kodi-splash-600x336I heard the news today that our beloved XBMC, a program that any geek worth his salt has installed on his pc, laptop, Raspberry Pi, AppleTV, or Media Center PC has changed its name to Kodi. Apparently the switch responds to a couple of issues:

  1. The original name made reference to Xbox, a platform which is not really supported anymore by the software, and also made reference to Media Center, which the software has now outgrown as plugins have turned it into a more open entertainment platform.
  2. Kodi is a name which can be registered as a trademark and defended in case somebody tries to steal it or sue over the rights.

It’s going to be a weird getting used to the new name, but I can understand why they’re changing the name. I’m happy the project is still strong and being actively developed on so many different platforms. I use it daily at work and at home.

Read the official XBMC post about the name change here.

Sierra could be coming back

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For those of us who were fans of King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Hero’s Quest, here are some great news. The Verge has just reported that  Activision has readied a 13 second video of Sierra (the kind that you are forced to watch right before you start playing the game) for Gamescon in Germany. This could mean that Sierra could be making a comeback with some modern tech adventure games. I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed.

Minimalist writing tools

writing-smallI’m always looking for neat, new ways to write, even though I have very little time available to sit down and get any actual writing done.

Lately though, I’ve become enamoured with the new batch of very light weight, word processing apps that let you focus on your work rather than on the formatting and layout of your document. Office style word processors of today are full of menus, options and toolbars, and crowd your screen in such a way that it starts to be a source of distraction.

Maybe for business environments all of that crud makes sense, but when you want to sit down and dump your ideas into a file, and not be distracted, all of that busy “User Interface” seems to get in the way.

These new apps, which I first discovered on the iPad, share a same philosophy: present the user with a blank sheet of paper. On most cases there are no menus nor toolbars at all just a blank sheet of paper and a cursor blinking, waiting for you to start typing. On the iPad, a gesture on the screen will usually result in getting a menu for the limited amount of things you can do with your text: save it, spell check it, do limited formatting on it, save it to a Dropbox account, etc.

On the PC counterparts, moving the mouse up to the top of the screen will pull down the menu bar with the before mentioned options. Some programs will give you a very unobtrusive counter for words, paragraphs, and or pages written so that you can keep an eye on your output.

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The latest of these programs that I have tried is called: FocusWriter. It’s a beautiful, Free, light weight, cross-platform program that works on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. It’s so tiny, in fact, that it will even run really well on the Raspberry Pi, which is where I’m writing this on today.

The program clears the screen, presents you with a blank page to start writing and then… just gets out of the way. Even the font is beautiful.

Right away I can think of this as a great tool for schools on a budget. Want to get kids interested in creative writing in your school, but don’t have a very large budget?

No problem:
$35.00 Raspberry Pi,
$10.00 Keyboard and Mouse,
$10.00 Power Adapter,
$20.00 SD Card,
$10.00 for a really nice case,
$150.00 for a monitor

For $235.00 you can have a Raspberry Pi Workstation that you could not only use for teaching kids to write, but also to get them interested in learning to program. But that, of course, is topic for another post.

A few days ago I read an article about how George R. R. Martin writes his Game of Thrones books on and old PC with DOS and WordStar. He says he loves how the program just gets out of the way and lets him concentrate on his writing. So, maybe for real serious writers FocusWriter could also be a great option to leave DOS behind and move on up to a more modern, but always unobtrusive workspace.

I’m sad to report that there’s no version of FocusWriter for iOS yet. However there is no shortage of writing apps on that platform. The one I like to use (even though it’s not free) is called IA Writer. It changes your on-screen keyboard to something that is perfect for writing long-prose. Truly a well thought out app as well.

Is Minecraft the digital version of Lego?

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When Minecraft first came out I immediately dismissed it because of its 8-bit-like graphics. I admit I’m kind of a graphics snob. Having spent quite a bit of money on building my gaming rig to play the latest games in glorious “High Definition” with all of the parameters set to high, a game that defaults to huge cubes filled with low-res textures was not my idea of a fun experience.

Recently though the game has exploded on iPads everywhere. All my kid’s friends were playing it and pretty soon my kids were begging for me to install it on their iOS devices.

So I did… and oh my goodness… The things they build in this little virtual world of theirs are amazing: Roller-coasters, castles, houses, trap-doors, hidden tunnels, etc.

As a ex-Second Life junkie I know first hand the appeal of building three dimensional objects in virtual worlds. The iOS version of Minecraft is a much simpler version of a Second Life sandbox. And kids relate quickly to building things with blocks that have some virtual material attributes to them. It’s almost like a digital Lego set, except that different blocks have different behaviors you can assign to them.

It’s really interesting to me to watch my kids play in this simple virtual world. Perhaps the self-imposed limitations of the game are what make it more approachable than say Open-SIM, which is an open source version of Second Life. Maybe those limitations, and the fact that your builds in Minecraft are toy-like,  is what makes it so appealing to children in particular.

I’m just amazed at how these virtual playgrounds resemble the Lego sets we grew up with… Except now they’re virtual and you can literally play (in 1st person) in the set world that you’ve built.

Sierra Online Games

I’ve been teaching Marco to play old adventure games. We’ve started playing King’s Quest I (I have the rest of the King’s Quest series ready for him). I play the gold games using SCUMMVM on the Kid’s iMac.

It’s such a drag that nobody’s making adventure games like this anymore, they seem perfect for iPads… although I kind of like the older ones where you had to type your commands out because it teaches kids to have patience and type.

What is it with music?

Am I becoming old? I’ve always been very musically inclined. I took piano lessons when I was 4, practiced every chance I could. Didn’t really have the talent or the patience to become very good at it, but to this day I dabble with music as a way to amuse myself, relax, and have fun with the kids.

Music’s always been a very important part of my life. throughout my youth I was always a fanatic radio listener. A TOP 40′s fan. I would listen to the local radio stations count down the hits, my finger on the record and play buttons of my stereo, ready to record the songs that I really liked. Songs that I’d later play back over and over and over on my Walkman headphones.

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Songs that somehow meant something to me. I think it has a lot to do with the passion one has during their teens. Passion, romanticism, unconformity, girl troubles (to me girl troubles was falling crazily in love with somebody who would inevitably already be in love with someone else). The one “release” for the frustrations of adolescence was music (at least it was to me). There would always be that ONE song that explained exactly what I was feeling at the time – or so I thought.

I can remember a breakup with a girl in High school and later going home to listen to Sinead O’Connor sing Nothing Compares to You over and over again… crying.

As I look back to that time in my life, I realize that what I though were life ending traumatic experiences were really nothing more than the passion of youth and hormones raging through a body that’s not used to so much chemistry. A small brain still dealing with an inadequately, fast-growing body. An awkward race to find acceptance in a different world from the one you grew up in. A world that suddenly gives a lot of importance to “being cool”. A world that I was destined to be an outcast from, luckily I was outcasted with a bunch of really good friends who were just as geeky as I was, and whom are still my good friends to this day.

Now that I’m a busy adult, dealing with raising kids of my own, busy being productive and trying to leave some sort of mark on the world, I realize that I’ve lost a lot of the passion and romanticism for music I once had. I realize now, after having written a few songs of my own, that the very few artists are actually in it for the ART… Music business is really just a business after all. And songs are really just products to be licensed, relicensed, remixed and resold as many times as possible.

The mega-stars seem to not really car too much abot the music, but more about the bling. And the real artists who are trully geeling out on the music and creative aspects are not relly getting the airplay they deserve. Because, when you really think about it, after it’s been compressed, canned masterized for crappy sounding headphones, all music kinda sounds alike. And psycology has told us that all you really need is a catchy hook, and you’re set… Which is how the music industry has been “cranking out the hits” since the 60′s.

They follow a pattern of success… a formula if you will, and wait for the money to come in. Will this change? Perhaps, but it will take more than new distributions methods and paradigm shifts regarding the market. As long as it’s all run by people more interested in making a buck than by making really good music, it won’t change.

Headphones: in-ears vrs ear-pods

Apple in-ear

I’ve been using in-ear headphones for a while now. These are the type with the changeable rubber funnel that blocks out a lot of the outside noise. As soon as I saw that Apple had made their own version of the in-ear headphone (with microphone and volume control) I spent the $75 bucks and got it… boy was I disappointed with the sound quality.

They sound tinny and not much bass. They do fit really well, though, very comfortable, although when I run they do start to slip out… which is very uncomfortable. And slipping them back into your ear-canal when you’re running and sweating is  not a pretty sound (and I’m sure not good for your eardrum as well).

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A friend of mine bought a pair of the new Apple ear-pods. He told me he loves to use them while riding his bicycle and that they fit comfortably and don’t fall out. So I bought some. They cost $35 and they sound amazing! So much better than the in-ear model. They fit really well, and today I decided to try them out on the treadmill.

The first thing I noticed is that in a noisy environment the pods do a lousy job of blocking out the exterior noise. Very quickly you end up raising the volume almost to the maximum to overcome the exterior noise… which I’m certain will make me go deaf even quicker than the in ear model!

As for the comfort, yes they are definitely more comfortable than the in-ears, and thy don’t slip out at all… but having the volume up so loud and still having trouble to listen the music is not something I’m willing to repeat.

The in-ears are coming with me to the gym and when I’m out and about… the ear-pods have been relegated to my night-table, for listening to music or movies at night and not bothering the missus!

 

Work, family life, and geeky projects.