Ubuntu time!

I am, as you are well aware, a geek.  One of my favorite things to geek out about is open-source software.  I first got a whiff of it when I switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox all those years ago.  Not long afterwards, I started using an open-source alternative to the then-ubiquitous AOL Instant Messenger to avoid the same things I’d been plagued by with IE: viruses and ads.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve been following the games that are reviewed by guys at bytejacker, many of which find their way onto my hard drive and get played quite a bit.  Not all of those games are free, but they’re usually developed in the same spirit of most GNU-licensed software.  And then, of course, there’s NP1′s switch to WordPress this past winter.

One of the major purveyors of the free software movement is Linux.  Please don’t ask me to explain it in depth, but Linux is essentially an alternative type of operating system.  Instead of running Windows or Mac OS, you can run any number of perfectly functional and stable systems that are based on the Linux kernel, and in turn, there’s plenty of free, community-developed software to go with it.  You don’t have to pay for it.  How much did you pay to upgrade to Windows 7 or Snow Leopard?  Sure, they’re good operating systems, but think about it… you’re not really using the OS, you’re using the programs.  After trying to reformat my Dell Laptop for the second time in its lifespan, and somehow failing to get it into its previous operational condition, I decided to install Ubuntu, a very popular Linux OS.  Now I’m starting to wonder if there’s any real need for a closed-source OS ever again.

Doc knows all about Ubuntu.

Doc knows all about Ubuntu.

Okay, that’s a stretch.  There are a few programs here and there (especially video editors and games) that I’ll need a Windows partition to use, but for regular computer use, Ubuntu is a very nifty package.  For one, you can try it before you actually install it by booting an Ubuntu environment from a CD or a USB flash drive.  From there you can test stuff out and see if it’s right for you.  The basic desktop distribution is great, and I’m currently running the “netbook remix” on the laptop.  I can’t for the life of me get the netbook to actually boot from the USB, though, and I’m desperately trying to find a work-around.  And before you comment on this post, yes, I know how to change the boot order in the BIOS.  Not working.

My favorite stuff about using this OS so far: It boots and shuts down fast.  It runs very smoothly.  Not much need for looking for drivers; most devices just work under Ubuntu.  I did, however, have to plug directly into the router to get wireless drivers.  Also, there’s plenty of open-source solutions to mainstream programs, such as OpenOffice and the Rhythmbox player, which runs all of my music (even the ones with that weird iTunes codec, except iTunes Store tracks).

Not so favorite stuff:  Not much in the way of great video editing software, or games, although I’m sure there’s Windows emulators for that sort of thing.  And, um… that’s about it.

I suggest giving Ubuntu a try.  Just try the Live CD out and see what you think.  You might not become a believer immediately, but if your computer crashes on you or something, you might do yourself a huge favor by just making the switch.

Note: I’m using Google Chrome to browse the web these days, as Firefox tends to slow down the more you use it.  I’m quite looking forward to the Chrome OS, whenever that comes out, whether Google wants to charge to use it or not.

Netflix for Wii? Don’t mind if I do

I’m a big fan of Netflix.  A lot of people are.  The thing that I like the most about it is probably the fact that they’ve been trying to figure out more and more ways to get movies and TV shows to you.  The first innovation they came up with after the whole mail thing was to have movies stream right on your computer.  You don’t have instant access to their entire catalog, but they add plenty of movies all the time.  A year or two ago, they debuted the ability to stream through the XBox 360, and not long afterwards, they added the service to the Playstation 3.  That’s all well and good, but the Wii was still left out.  I realized that this was probably tough to do, seeing the technical capabilities of the Wii.  Sure, it’s capable of going online, but software restrictions make it hard to install a capable front-end program.  Also, the Wii doesn’t use the standard DVD format for its discs.  So how could they do it?

What is this I dont even

WHAT HAS SCIENCE DONE

Hey, who cares how they did it?  I got my disc in the mail and after a quick setup, I was able to pick movies from my queue that were available to stream.  You can also browse all sorts of categories for other stuff to see.  It’s not the most impressive stuff (lots of Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies™) but plenty of Criterion flicks, so it’s like when you burn the outside of your pizza rolls but the center is still frozen.  It all evens out.

So far, though, the best thing about it in my eyes is that I can watch a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on it.  I’m feeling a viewing of Future War coming on…

Altogether, though, I’m pretty happy with the latest development from Netflix.  I am impressed with the quality of the streaming video (looks great on the HD TV, newer movies are close to DVD quality) and the fact that I can watch all I want at no additional cost is pretty sweet.  If you’ve got a Wii, it’s kind of stupid not to pick this up.

Ravage gets a 21st century upgrade

If you love me, you’ll get me this for Christmas or something:

Ravage, eject!

Ravage, eject!

Back in the day, Ravage (as well as the likes of Laserbeak and Rumble) would spring from Soundwave’s chest as a cassette tape.  These guys were a great team for the Decepticons, and since nobody even bothers listening to CDs anymore (let alone mix tapes), Michael Bay’s new movies ended up having to pretty much skip over these characters.  But it seems logical to me that if Hasbro were looking to put them back on the market, the modern equivalent of those little tape guys would have to be USB flash drives.  Too bad Bay didn’t think this one up.  And it’s too bad that last year’s movie was such a damn train wreck.

Of course, I’m about a year behind on this sort of thing, so I imagine that these suckers are sold out already.  But it’s a real working drive, 2GB and it goes for ~$40.  Not too shabby, all things considered.

I enjoy television in a def that is high

The new motto of NP1 is “Playing catch-up since 2001,” and a couple of weeks ago I took another step towards seeming relevant when it comes to technology:  I bought an HD TV.  Now, I know that there’s plenty of folks out there who don’t have HD (and quite frankly, it’s not essential), but it’s getting to the point now that if you don’t have HD, you’re missing out.  It’s like my mother says about when Star Trek was first on TV and not everybody had color TVs.  It was getting to the point where if you didn’t have the newest, nicest TV, you were missing out.

But without a color TV, how will you know?

But without a color TV, how will you know?

I knew I was starting to miss out over the past year.  Little by little, I could tell that the widescreen aspect ratio of HD was becoming the new standard of videography for television.  I remember watching House a couple of months ago and watching as House and Foreman sat at opposite sides of the table, arguing over a lupus diagnosis.  At least, I had to infer this, because I heard their voices, but they were both cut off by my standard screen.  I only had Chase in the frame, looking listless and wan.  There’s plenty of other offenders (Verizon ads make no effort to take 4:3 into effect), and it gets on my nerves.  Try watching a David Lean movie that’s been “formatted to fit your TV.”  Try watching a David Lean movie in general, for that matter, you need a little culture in your life.

And so I went on the hunt for just the right TV to fit my needs.  Big, but not too big.  Capable of displaying 1080p resolution at a decent refresh rate.  And all for a price that won’t kill me.  When it came down to it, I went with a 32″ Insignia set that I’m quite pleased with.  I have a CRT made by Insignia (Best Buy’s store brand) which is quite good for standard def, so I felt pretty safe with the purchase.

The arrival of HD has caused a recent surge in hot-air balloon programming.

The arrival of HD has caused a recent surge in hot-air balloon programming.

There was, of course, a bit of a learning curve.  I thought I’d done all of my homework, but there were a couple of issues I needed to come to grips with.  For one, I knew that I’d likely need an HD box if I wanted all HD, all the time.  Still, I had a feeling that I could get something out of the direct cable line into the TV.  Sure enough, the local affiliates are available in HD, but that’s pretty much it.  Another thing I thought was weird was that there are something to the effect of “sub channels” in some cases:  WBZ is on channel 4, but then the HD version of the station is on channel 4-1.  I don’t quite get it, but it works, so I’m not complaining.  Now I can see the final episodes of LOST or the weekly NBC Sunday hockey game in HD as they are intended.  I’ve always felt that hockey is the best sport for HD viewing as the detail and speed are easier to follow in higher resolutions.  Anybody who complained about not being able to see the puck shouldn’t have any trouble now.

Another issue that I had to contend with was playing video games on an LCD screen.  As it turns out, there’s some settings to mess around with in order to get your games playable.  As far as my Wii is concerned, everything is easy to do.  Just a change of the Wii settings and a utilization of the TV’s “Game Mode” feature, and I’m stompin’ goombas and whatnot in no time.  HOWEVER, I found that the Playstation 2 has its own set of problems.  Long story short, the picture that the PS2 puts out is just fine for a standard TV, but LCD sets need to “process” the interlaced image before it hits the screen.  The result is a split second of lag between your button press and the corresponding command being onscreen.  Hence, my PS2 is now just a noisy DVD player… but a DVD player nonetheless, and with more screen settings, all of my movies look great now.  Am I saving up for a PS3 now?  You could say that.

I’ve never been one to jump on new technology the second it comes out.  Sometimes, it’s buggy and needs to be tested by the general public before I’ll bother to spend my money on it.  Other times, it’s bound to be upgraded by the time I think I’ll get the latest cool thing.  When it comes to HD, I think that I timed it just right.

I’m not impressed by the iPad

For at least a year, the sweating, greasy masses (of geeks) have been speculating amongst themselves about what Apple’s Next Big Thing™ might be.  After the touch-screen advances made by the very cool iPhone and iPod touch, geekdom decried that the next step could very well be a tablet.  Take into account the popularity of Apple’s Macbook,  which has proven that they’re fully capable of making a thin, yet powerful laptop.  Now look at the popularity of the Amazon Kindle and the Nook from Barnes and Noble.  They’ve proven that people are actually willing to read books and newspapers on a handheld device.  The iPhone gave us the ability to surf the web on our phone with relative ease.  Simply put, we are quickly moving toward a world in which we will all have Starfleet-issued PADDs.  Apple, logically, should be the entity to nudge us in this direction, seeing as how they revolutionized listening to music with the iPod and everything that followed.  It was a concept in motion, but it took Apple to make it cool.

Get ready to get told!

Get ready to get told!

We geeks love talking about the future of technology for two reasons.  The first can be seen in the previous paragraph.  We love to look at what we’ve got and where we’re going.  I was fortunate enough to hear the great Leo Laporte on the radio this weekend and he was talking about what he thought this new product might be.  His ideas sounded great, and sounded a lot like what I had in mind for such a tablet-like device.  “The great thing is that Apple really gets our imaginations going,” Leo said.

The other reason we like to speculate on upcoming tech is because we are almost inevitably going to be disappointed, and we take lots of pleasure in that kind of grumbling.  When Steve Jobs emerged with the iPad yesterday, I was left wondering where all of the features I expected to see were.  I expected to see a camera and some USB connectivity.  These just seem to be no-brainers.  The cheapest cell phone has this kind of stuff.  I also figured that there’d be some sort of OSX interface; instead it’s the iPhone’s operating system running things.  But I think that the biggest surprise was the fact that 3G is not standard on the iPad.  In the end, the basic model goes for $500.  So not only do I think it’s underpowered and underequipped, but also overpriced.

I’m sure that this is only the beginning for the iPad, though.  The iPod has been improved upon numerous times.  The iPhone had a newer, better version released only a year after the original.  It’s how Apple does things.  Only this is the first time that it makes me kind of angry.  I love Steve Jobs, but I feel like this is really the first time that he’s actually holding back on consumers.  Did Apple not flesh this thing out on purpose?  Is there a grand plan to come back in a year with a superior version?  I can hear him now…

“Oh… and one more thing…  I know that a lot of you weren’t all that enthused about the iPad when it launched.  You didn’t think there were enough features.  You didn’t think it was powerful enough.  Well, we listened to you, and that’s why I’m proud to present the newest generation of the iPad.  We’ve literally been working on it since launch of the original.  And it’s remarkable.”

Search your feelings.  You know it to be true.

Of course, I haven’t gotten my hands on this puppy.  Maybe it is cool.  Maybe it’s a great little gadget to have and a lot of fun to use.  But $500 to $829 for what pretty much turns out to be an underwhelming accessory is pretty steep.  I hate to say it, but Apple’s winning streak may have come to an end.