Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wanted: my next laptop

After 4 years my trusted Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo M1425W is slowly but surely reaching the end of its lifespan. It’s been a great companion and there have been few days since December 2004 when I didn’t use it.

However all good memories and emotions aside I can’t help but notice that there’s been a fair bit of progress when it comes to mobile computing, all the while my laptop is showing its signs of aging, most annoyingly in the form of a 40 minute battery-life (if I’m lucky that is).

Thanks to the excellent work that Sascha, Steve and Joanna (of, and respectively) are doing of covering the netbook, UMPC, MID and broader laptop market I consider myself quite well informed when it comes to the latest trends and the greatest products in that area.

So naturally I’ve been drooling over devices such as the OQO 2+, Samsung NC10 and CTL 2go Convertible Classmate PC at one point or another. However after some soul-searching I realized that a netbook or other ultra-mobile computing solution wouldn’t cut it for me and that I definitely want something with more oomph.

First of all I feel that my iPod touch and OLPC XO (which I got via the “Spend 90% of your spare time contributing to One Laptop Per Child, Get 1” program;-) combined with the Nokia 6120 smart-phone are doing a pretty good job of supporting me in my digital-life while I’m away from the desktop. In fact I’d go as far as saying that I’m connected enough as it is and over the past few years I’ve come to enjoy the natural downtimes that do occur every now and then.

Secondly, while I do tend to travel a fair bit each year it’s not like I’m constantly on-the-road where every 200 grams of device weight and 10min of battery life count. Though what I do know is that my current 15.4” laptop with its 40min battery life is simply both too heavy and short-lived to do much good when I’m away from home.

Thirdly, while a lot of people are talking about cloud computing, software-as-a-service and all those buzzwords I’m personally still very much about my local processing power and locally stored data. So neither a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor nor a 160GB hard-drive are going to cut it for me.

Now that I’ve established what I don’t want the issue is to define what I do want:

Reasonable processing power: I don’t need a quad-core system but a dual-core >2.2GHz is definitely something I’m looking for. In terms of RAM 2GB are the minimum but I’d rather have 4GB.

The graphic sub-system is one of the more difficult decisions. Most days I’m happy with anything integrated but looking into the future I definitely want a GPU with decent high-definition encoding support. Plus every now and then I do like to play a game at a LAN session so for those moments a dedicated graphics solution would be useful. One way to solve this would be to go for one of those hybrid solutions which are switchable between low-power integrated and higher-power dedicated GPU.

The next - and maybe most important – decision is the display-size which obviously also impacts the general form-factor. Anything below 12.1” is too small and once you go above 14.1” the devices tend to become too bulky and heavy. Also in terms of resolution I’m torn between 1280x800 and 1440x900. The one thing I do know is that the display should really have a LED backlight, I honestly don’t understand why anyone still uses CCFLs. Plus I still prefer the non-glossy displays even though in this day and age one often doesn’t have that option anymore.

In terms of battery-life anything over 3.5~4 hours of typical use would make me happy. Other interesting would-be-nice features are bluetooth and a 3G option. Oh, and the laptop should also be relatively quiet when not pushed too hard.

With these requirements in mind and after looking around for a bit I’m currently quite interested in Dell’s XPS M1330. Lenovo’s X200 and Lenovo’s T400.

My final decision will also be influenced by what the u:book - an initiative by universities around here to offer high-quality laptops with often impressive student rebates twice a year – options are in late February.

I’ll keep you posted on my decision and please do let me know if you know of any products that might be of interest to me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My personal Macworld 2009 highlight…

While everyone seems to focus on the relative lack of news coming from today’s Macworld keynote I’m personally quite intrigued by one of the things shown off there: the Keynote remote app. This small app allows you to control Keynote slide-shows via your iPhone / iPod touch.

[photo via Engadget]

I’ve done a handful of presentations about OLPC in 2008 and have therefore spent some time thinking about the best way to give these kinds of talks. One thing that personally always bugs me when watching presentations (mostly at university) is the person giving the talk being hidden behind his/her notebook. The most popular alternative, walking around and then returning to the notebook to switch to the next slide, isn’t all that great either. Plus I’ve given at least one presentation where my notebook had to be hooked up to the beamer all the way in the back of the room which would have made switching to the next slide a real pain in the rear.

Remote controls to the rescue! While the Macintosh owners out there have been able to use the small Front Row remote included with their computers for this purpose for quite some time the majority of users (myself included) have to look for alternatives elsewhere. After some research I stumbled across the Nokia Wireless Presenter which gives me some basic controls over my slideshows via my Symbian S60 mobile phone connected to my laptop via Bluetooth.

However looking at the photos  of the Keynote remote app I can’t help but feel somewhat jealous. Having things like the notes to the current slide on there for example is a really nice feature. Other useful information I can think of would be a timer to tell you how long you’ve spoken and some of the other things you get to see when you use the presenter’s mode on Keynote or PowerPoint. Because what’s the point of having a remote if you have to walk back to look at your laptop’s screen for all that other information?

So, Apple, please also make the Keynote remote app work with Windows and PowerPoint. I’d even pay for such an app!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's a Free World...

Boy, do I hate it when I go to the cinema and see a movie that really disappoints me…

I went to see It’s a Free World… and I can’t for the love of God understand why that film has an IMDB rating of 7.1. At best I would give it 5-something. I’ve seen a bunch of not-so-great movies over the past 12 months or so but I’ve hardly ever been as disappointed as when I walked out of the cinema tonight.

Seriously, on how many levels can you mess up a movie? The main character was simply appalling and superficial, the acting was less than impressive and even if those two things had worked the core of the story remains utterly questionable.

The basic story is quite simple and does have potential (IMHO): a young woman called Angie losses her job working for a British employment agency hiring Polish men and women to work in the U.K. Then she decides to start a similar business together with a flat mate, subsequently turning into a real a**hole on oh-so-many levels. She neglects her son, doesn’t take meaningful advice from her parents and, worst of all, treats the workers she hooks up to job like s***. The consequence of her actions is a serious mess of a life to say the least.

Oddly enough the movie is somehow based on the premise of the viewer connecting with the young women, yet I can’t remember ever seeing a character in a movie that was so unsympathetic. As one of my friends with who I watched the movie put it: Vito Corleone from The Godfather was a nice fellow compared to her. I’d go as far as saying that Nicky Santoro from Casino was portrayed  as a more likable character.

The thing is that even if “Angie” had been a character to connect with  the focus of the movie would have been questionable to say the least. Foreign workers (both legal and illegal) being abused by European individuals, companies and the (often informal) structure set up to support said abuse in itself is a very interesting and important topic. But why-oh-why focus on a small fish in the sea and her shallow excuses for profiting of other people’s misery? Should that be some sort of grand excuse or justification? Why not tell the story of one of these workers and their families instead? Or look at what the life of Karol, a Polish guy Angie grows quite fond of, is like instead of merely using him as a support-character of some sort.

At the end of the day I can’t help but feel that at least part of the description on the movie’s German Web site is accurate in that It’s a Free World demonstrates some of the worst kind of the Old Europe way of thinking that’s unfortunately still prevalent and therefore a “current yet timeless story.


Monday, January 5, 2009

William Gibson – Pattern Recognition

Occasionally, most often at airports and train-stations, I randomly browse through a book-store and buy something that sounds interesting. Seeing that I’m really bad when it comes to actually reading books - I spend way too much time reading stuff online and in magazines -  I tend to have piles of unread books sitting next to my bed, on my desk and in my shelves.

The other day, while I was thinking about which books I wanted to read over the Christmas holidays, I stumbled across William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition which I bought at one point or another but never got around to reading. In fact I had totally forgotten that I even owned it. Anyway, between Christmas and New Year’s I finally managed to read it, in fact finishing the last 130-pages in one sitting during a train-ride to Berlin.

Admittedly it took me awhile to get into it but after the first 50-pages or so I really got into the swing of things. The story takes some time to unfold but once it does it the things going on in London, Tokyo and other places quickly become exciting. Especially the descriptions of various lives and streets in London are outstanding and worth a read in itself. As is the way experiencing jet-lag is illustrated as the soul being leagues behind when it comes to travelling and having to be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.

It’s these thoughts and the portrays of cities, characters and especially moments in time that make the book such a good and entertaining read. Plus it’s got that quality where you simply don’t want to put it down and keep telling yourself to read one more chapter a couple of times before you realize it’s 5AM.

P.S. It was only while selecting some tags for this post that I found this old entry where I mentioned buying the book while I was in San Francisco. In this case it’s good that the Internet never forgets because obviously I do… ;-)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I watched Woody Allen’s latest movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona tonight and have to say that I liked it quite a lot. While it’s not nearly as good as Match Point, which I absolutely loved, in many ways it’s a classic Woody Allen movie and very entertaining at that.

Much has been written about Penélope Cruz in the role of the ex-wife Maria Elena and there’s little that can be added aside from saying that it’s an absolutely breathtaking performance. It’s been suggested that Cruz should be nominated for an Oscar and I certainly think that her performance would merit one of the little golden statues.

Javier Bardem performance as the irresistible artist Juan Antonio is also top-notch. All throughout the movie I tried to remember where I had previously seen him but it took a visit to IMDB to see that it was Mar adentro. In that movie, one of the secret gems which I saw in 2005 and on some level one of the most touching films I’ve ever seen,  he plays a quadriplegic fighting for euthanasia and the right to end his own life. Both times he brings an amazing energy and astounding depth of character representation to the big screen.

Rebecca Hall, a very young actress, plays the role of Vicky and does a  very good job at it. (Looking at her IMDB profile I discovered that she’s going to on the screen again in late 2009 as part of Dorian Gray. Having liked the book when I read it some years ago I’ll try and see the movie when it hits the cinemas.)

Scarlett Johansson, who I absolutely loved in Lost in Translation, as Cristina on the other hand is somewhat of a disappointment. Her performance remains shallow and I can’t help myself feeling that it’s the 4th time that I’m seeing Johansson play the same character on a different set. I can’t quite pinpoint it but it seems to be that she’s always being cast for portraying a young woman who’s somehow not really quite sure what to do with herself and has a feeling of not fitting in with her environment.

At the end of the day it’s really simple: If you liked previous Woody Allen movies you should go and see Vicky Cristina Barcelona as it’s a good fun and one of the best movies that is currently in the cinemas (here in Austria that is). If you’ve never liked Woody Allen then you’ll probably also don’t like this one…