Monday, November 28, 2011

Carrying the Fire

I wanted to post my initial impressions of my new Amazon Kindle Fire. This isn't meant to be full review, but I did want to capture these while they were fresh and while people were thinking about Christmas gifts.
I've had my Kindle Keyboard with 3G for a little over a year now and I still love it. I have read a lot on it and take it with my often. I also play games (especially Every Word) on it and occasionally browse the web on it - courtesy of the free 3G connectivity. Most of all, I love the fact that I can just charge it about once a month. I mention all of this because these things actually make for a tough act to follow for it's new brother - the Kindle Fire. Maybe it is more of a half-brother, because other than the name they don't really have any relationship at all.
The Fire is a true tablet computer. It has a gorgeous IPS screen - the same type of screen as the iPad in fact. And it can do a lot more than the Kindle reader devices. You can read and edit Microsoft Office documents, you can play Angry Birds or a gazillion other games, you can browse the web in all its glory. And you can consume all sorts of media on it - especially if that media comes from Amazon. It does Facebook, you kids can do your Twittering on it, it does Pintrest, it has a servicable email app (and you can get others from the app market - including those that support Exchange sync, which is lacking in the included mail program).

When I first heard Jeff Bezos announce the Fire, I wasted no time placing my preorder that very morning. It wasn't perfect (more on that in a moment) but it looked like a solid device and seemed to be well integrated into the Amazon family of services. I waited for the release on November 15, scouring the interwebs a couple times a week looking for any scrap of information I could find.
Finally the glorious day arrived and my Kindle Fire arrived at my house - while I was on a cruise to Mexico. :-(One of my older kids was home from college soon after it arrived and I gave her the go ahead to unbox it and play around with it. When I got home I wasted no time in playing with it.
The very next day we headed out for a roadtrip to share
Thanksgiving with family out of state - and the Fire came along.

While it certainly won't win any beauty contests, I am impressed with the device itself. It is solidly constructed and not in the least "plasticy" or cheap feeling. The size and weight feels pretty good in the hand. The battery seems to deliver on the 6-8 hour lifetime Amazon claimed. For the most part, the device is very responsive to touch input, though not as silky smooth as the iPad. The soft keyboard is good and very usable. The automatic screen rotation is a bit too sensitive at times - particularly when the device is held more flat; certainly not unique to the Fire, but a little annoying. I found the speakers and volume really lacking - especially given the media-centric nature of the device. The memory - totaling only about 6GB of available space - has been completely usable so far and I've installed what feels like a lot of stuff without a problem. Obviously, more would be better if you intended to store pictures, music and video on-board. You wouldn't find a 6GB MP3 player very useful. Amazon seems to be relying on their "cloud" for unlimited storage of music, books, and videos you buy from Amazon. All well and good, but it won't help you on an airplane flight.

The biggest failings of the hardware are clearly the lack of even a low res camera and an SD card slot. To be clear, I'm not even looking to use the SD card to boost media storage, but I would like to be able to look at pictures from my camera on a bigger screen and use some kind of cool app to organize them. Another annoyance, though of less importance to me, is the exclusion of a microphone. No microphone and no camera mean no Skype or other web calling and conferencing. Not to mention no snazzy bar code price checking apps, and no Shazam to tell me what song is playing.
On the software side, almost the biggest complaints are the poor performance of the
much touted web browser (my phone is faster over 3G than this browser is over wifi) and the inconsistent availability of common gestures such as zooming in and out.
I know pretty well what this hardware is capable of, and I'm puzzled why Amazon is not using that potential to deliver better performance.

My absolute biggest software complaint, though, is that there is no notion of "users" or "profiles". So when I play Angry Birds, I see that my kid has already unlocked a gazillion levels and I have to remember where I left off. My browser faves are everyone's browser faves. My saved passwords are everyone's saved passwords. I get that this is not my PC, but my Xbox isn't a PC either and it has profiles. I just think this is super lame. (I would say "uber lame", but apparently that is uber lame now.) 

I've seen a lot of haters talking smack about the unique Fire user interface. I actually applaud what Amazon has done here. It is visually interesting and quite functional. I guess I'd call the home screen a "carousel-shelf" sort of effect. The upper part of the screen looks like a bookshelf that permits flicking quickly through your most recently used apps, books, and other media items. In the Fire world, a movie is an app, so is a book, so is a game. I think this matches closely to how people actually think of things. You don't think "I'm going to open the eBook reader and read 'Animal Farm'," you just tap the icon for the book.
Let's face it - the normal Android UI sucks. Kudos to Amazon for bringing their own innovations here. We'll see what people think about it.
Similarly, a lot of internet chatbots have complained that the device is based on Android 2.3 rather than a newer version. Here's the simple fact...none of the target customers of this device care what the OS is. It could be MSDOS 2.3 for all it matters. From most people's perspective, "Amazon" is the operating system.
There are lots of apps in the Fire app store and I had no problems installing and using them. Amazon's "free app of the day" program is very cool. In addition to a few games, I also picked up that aforementioned Documents To Go app, which normally retails for $14.95 and is really quite an impressive MS Office stand-in. The free Netflix app on the Fire is probably the best mobile Netflix experience on any device right now (yup, better than the iPad - but I'm sure they will bring that version up to par soon enough
When I wrote the original draft of this post, I had planned to end it with this ignoble conclusion:
So what am I planning to do next with my Fire? Well, unfortunately, the answer is "return it". The reason is really not related to the device itself. Most of its quirks could be fixed by a software update. The biggest proble is that I have just found nothing that I do on the Fire that I couldn't do as well or better on my ASUS netbook (link). In fact, when I'm traveling, I can connect my netbook to the internet by tethering to my phone. I can't do that on my Fire. Connectivity is the feature I want in a device.
Tablets in general just don't do much.
I was discussing this conclusion with an iPad devoted sister-in-law and she pointed out that her iPad was great for checking Facebook, watching YouTube videos, playing games and checking her email. I agree. But I already have a thing that does all those things in my netbook and does them faster and with fewer limits. She also pointed out that while the iPad keyboard isn't the greatest for writing a lot of text, she has a friend who bought a keyboard case for his iPad - creating in the process the world's most expensive and least capable netbook. :-)
Amazon has an interesting offering in the tablet scene - but it turns out that scene is just too lame.
But an interesting thing happened on the Fire's way back to its box to be sent back...  my wife loves it and has put the kibosh on sending it back. This makes a certain kind of sense. She is also out of the house a lot, but when she is out she is either actually doing something or is with someone. When she's with someone, she is much more curteous about not having her mind elsewhere (or her face in a screen) then, well, me, for example. When she's home, she is well covered by WiFi.
The Fire is an interesting device. It is easily, easily, the best tablet you can buy right now for $199. I say that not just because of the device itself but the whole app and content ecosystem and package of services that stand behind it. I've very interested to see the forthcoming 8.9 and 10 inch successors next year. It has been widely spoken of that this first iteration of the Fire was a stopgap that Amazon chose because the ones they really wanted to sell couldn't be built in quantity in time for Christmas this year. To meet that timeline, they went with an existing design - the Blackberry Playbook. I look forward to the next one.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Are we a nation at war or not?


"We are not at war," a veteran who served in the Army for eight years told me Wednesday in Maryland. "Only some of us are."
I wasn't initially sure how to feel about that statement. The painful events of the next 48 hours showed that he was on to something.

So begins today’s post on The Unknown Soldiers, a blog by columnist Tom Sileo. Tom gives a brief bio of six 101st Airborne soldiers killed in Afghanistan on March 30 and asks why we didn’t hear about this on the news. It’s a good question. Seems like a couple years ago we heard lengthy reporting about every US casualty and a constant running count of our total losses in Iraq and Afghanistan – but no more.

For older people who think of war through the prism of Vietnam, it is important to make the point that these are different times. These are not wide-eyed 19 year old draftees, or men who are out of options. These are professional soldiers who could do other things if they chose to do so. These are men who have enlisted or re-enlisted, sometimes several times, since the war in Afghanistan began in the aftermath of 9/11 almost 10 years ago. 

Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Burgess, 29
Pfc. Dustin J. Feldhaus, 20
Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, 28
Staff Sgt. Frank E. Adamski III, 26
Spc. Jameson L. Lindskog, 23
Pvt. Jeremy P. Faulkner, 23

They had parents, wives and girlfriends, some of them had children. Spc Lindskog was a combat medic, a 68-Whiskey (Army MOS 68W), who was caring for his wounded comrades when he was killed. I wonder if we’ll see any politicians or pundits up-in-arms about this violation of the Geneva Conventions? I’m guessing not.

While I don’t know the circumstances of these soldiers, I do know personally many soldiers who have volunteered to go to Afghanistan and Iraq. In my reserve unit, we recently had one of our officers who transferred to another unit just so he could go back and keep doing his job. It’s not bloodlust or crazed desire for the ugliness of war. It’s quiet professionalism and a sense that there is a burden that needs to continue to be carried, even when their friends and neighbors seem to have lost interest. I’m reminded of my own post from October 2010 about Medal of Honor recipient Robert Miller, where I quoted George Orwell speaking of “rough men ready to do violence” on our behalf.

I’ll end with Tom’s closing words from his post:

Are we a nation at war? I still believe the answer is yes. Yet we are also a nation at a crossroads. We cannot think about war only when it's convenient or when someone from our town is killed. To stand by as this pattern develops not only dishonors the brave men and women volunteering to fight, but puts at risk everything they fight for.
To me, being a nation at war means uniting behind our troops and paying attention to their sacrifices. The time for America to do both is now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fun new multilateralism…now including al Qaida!

In a previous post, I questioned the wisdom of involving ourselves in Libya’s internal civil war.


Now that we’ve let dozens of expensive missiles off the chain and lost one of my favorite airplanes (and shot some friendly villagers in the rescue of the pilot), I still think it’s a really bad idea.

In fact, a couple days ago, I coined the “Pulsipher Doctrine” to reduce the decision making process for involvement in military campaigns to simple mathematics. In this case, binary mathematics…

“If France and Italy are strongly in favor of the operation, don’t do it.”

       Pulsipher Doctrine, version 1

truckAs Jay Leno said last night, “Do you notice how shiny all the French planes are? It’s like they’ve never been used before!”

However, after reading press reports today of al Qaida support for the Libyan rebels, I have revised my doctrine:

“If France and Italy, or a worldwide terror network whom you are already fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines and many other global garden spots, are strongly in favor of the operation, don’t do it.”

      Pulsipher Doctrine, version 2

That’s right folks…this fun new multilateralism is SO expansive and open minded that we’ve found ourselves indirectly allied with our mortal enemy. That can’t be a very good sign.

Kidding aside, let me list a few of the obvious problems with our involvement in Libya:

  • NATO is not the right organization for this. NATO’s charter is to defend member states (Libya isn’t one) against aggression – this is Article 5 of the NATO charter. Article 5 is why NATO was involved in Afghanistan after 9/11 – which is the first time Article 5 was ever invoked.
  • A “No Fly Zone” doesn’t normally involve interdiction of ground operations – a.k.a. blowing up tanks.
  • We don’t know who we are supporting. The same is true in Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, etc. Not every conflict involves good guys and bad guys. Sometimes two bad guys fight. Is that the case here? We don’t seem interested in finding out. The British sent a team in to make contact with the rebels in early March, and the rebels captured them and sent them packing in disgrace.
  • Finally, no one in the administration, from the president on down, seems to be able to elaborate on any plan or goals. They can tell us “no ground troops – ever” and “we’re going to quit soon”, but aside from informing Gadhafi of our limits, the rationale is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. If it is about saving oppressed people, there are plenty of those around who are daily being shot at and threatened and we don’t seem as eager to engage in those places.

So after complaining about two wars in Muslim countries – including one “war of choice”, President Obama has now chosen to start a third. What’s more, the “coalition” that Obama has joined (when he wasn’t busy with his NCAA brackets) is half the size of the Bush’s “unilateral” attack on Iraq. As reported, Bush’s coalition consisted of:

Coalition Countries - Iraq - 2003

Afghanistan Albania
Australia Azerbaijan
Bulgaria Colombia
Czech Republic Denmark
El Salvador Eritrea
Estonia Ethiopia
Georgia Hungary
Italy Japan
South Korea Latvia
Lithuania Macedonia
Netherlands Nicaragua
Philippines Poland
Romania Slovakia
Spain Turkey
United Kingdom Uzbekistan

Coalition Countries – Libya – 2011



Denmark France
Germany Greece
Italy Jordan
Morocco Norway
Poland Qatar
Spain United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom al Qaida*

*Italy and Germany were on the list, but have sort of bailed out at this point. Luckily al Qaida has been added to the Libyan coalition based on the new information reported above. And with so few members in the coalition, another participant does help pad the list.

As a side note, just let me say about the Iraq coalition, anytime you can get Ethiopia and Eritrea on the same side of anything, that’s pretty good diplomacy.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Target: Libya

oilrichThe news lately from Libya and hearing the names of important places in the conflict like Ras Lanuf, Sirte, Brega, Benghazi stirred my memory to a past military career - not my current one, my old one. I thought back to 1987 and my memories of anxious hours spent in missions over some of these exact same locations that occupy the news coverage right now.

I dug out one of my old target maps of the AO (Area of Operations) and memories came flooding back.


DSCF0359Missions start with a target briefing. In this case, you can see the target is the oil terminal at Ras Lanuf – so much discussed of late. Get ready for some $5 gas, people. We all have to sacrifice!



DSCF0365The next step is to select the proper armament for the mission. In this case, I will be taking one stick of Sidewinders – for self-defense against Libya’s still capable air force. I’ve got a couple Mavericks for stand off attacks on patrol boats or surface to air missile sites. For the actual target run, I’ve selected a mix of laser guided GBU-12 bombs and incendiary cluster bombs. How about a little fire there, Scarecrow?  Perfect for attacking an oil facility.

DSCF0369Sitting in the dark, my palms began to sweat. I review the map and mission brief. Then I kick the tires, light the fires and take off into the dark. 
My eyes wander between my various displays and controls and out the cockpit to see the inky blackness of the Gulf of Sirte. An alarm sounds – stealth or no, a patrol boat has a radar lock on me.

DSCF0378It’s already dawn as I approach Ras Lanuf. One of the things I remember about Libya in the 1980s was the startling lack of dimensionality in the structures.

I hit the target, drop down to Angels 2 and book it out of the air defense envelope.

Yes, I remember those many hours sitting in the dark office room of our Japanese apartment flying mission after mission over Libya, Iran and eastern Europe. Good old Microprose Project Stealth Fighter on the Commodore 64. So intense and yet so educational. I feel well prepared to watch the news now.
And I’m very glad that I still have my original C-64 (and several others). I also have my original copy of Project Stealth Fighter that I waited excitedly to be released back in 1987 (along with two other pristine copies I bought in case anything happens to the original).


On the other hand, maybe I should have spent more of those nighttime hours with my lonely newly married wife instead.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The new Microsoft “Transform” tablet…

…and I scored one for FREE!!!
You gotta love working at a company where you get great swag like a free tablet just for showing up at an all-hands meeting for the new, reorganized Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB) group.

This new tablet is super portable, lightweight and runs basically forever. These aren’t available publicly yet, but I am giving you a first glimpse right here.

ClosedYou can see here that this new tablet has a very familiar and approachable look. Other than the little Xbox logo in the corner, you could easily mistake this for any traditional pad of paper.

A deeper look shows that the while the familiarity remains, this is a much more sophisticated device.


FamiliarUIBy quickly flipping open the “smart cover”, the tablet is instantly ready for you to use. No long boot up sequence. Notice that it looks like a regular sheet of paper, but with a twist. The Transform tablet “pages” are imprinted with a special SmartGrid that actually helps the user keep their lines straight – both horizontally and vertically. And turning the pages requires just a swipe of a finger – although in this first release you do sometimes need to lick your finger first. That should be fixed in an update to be released soon.



The ability to manage your calendar and contacts is a must for any serious tablet contender. The Transform tablet doesn’t skimp on in these areas. The calendar shows a full year at a glance and allows you to zoom in on a single month, week or day simply by holding the tablet closer to your face.


When it comes to contacts, the Transform tablet allows you to store as many as 10(!) friends – which is way more than anyone who works in the software business will ever need.


GamesLike it or not, there’s no disputing the fact that the less sophisticated iPad has shown how important it is to have a lot of fun and engaging multiplayer games available. The Transform tablet not only has great games available right now, but thanks to the Smart Pad multitasking, you can play any number of games at the same time – limited only by how many fit on the page at the same time.

notesGames are not enough though. You need productivity too. Thankfully, the  Transform tablet support rich handwriting and drawing capabilities. You can easily take notes during a meeting and use simple gestures to make quick changes and modifications and save the notes for later use. You can easily add headings, bullets, and add emphasis – simply by using the gestures you already know!

I know what you are wondering…“Will this tablet connect with my the phone I have today?” You’ll be happy to know the answer is a resounding “YES!” You can easily set your phone on top of the pad to prop it up, or you can put the pad on top of the phone to keep dust off your phone. And you can use the phone at the same time as you use the tablet.

I, for one, am SUPER EXCITED about that Microsoft is finally, finally stepping into the tablet game and that they’ve not simply copied what competitors are doing. For example, it was a decision to go beyond just leaving out Cut & Paste (as with Windows Phone 7) but to eliminate electronics entirely – saving weight and improving overall reliability! How else to describe that than BOLD!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Musings on tyranny, rebellion and national sovereignty

The recent events in the Middle East and Africa – Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Oman, Bahrain, etc. - have me wondering about the right of sovereign nations when it comes to internal rebellion.

lincolnMany southern contemporaries considered Abraham Lincoln a tyrant. In fact, after shooting him, John Wilkes Booth famously jumped to the stage and shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis” (Latin for “Thus always to tyrants” and also the state motto of Virginia). To this day, there continues to be a slow simmering debate on the topic, as illustrated by Dave Gibson’s article from 2005. Brad Schaeffer rightly referred to “Lincoln the ‘tyrant’ – the Libertarian’s favorite bogeyman”. At the very least, it can be agreed that Lincoln suspended aspects of the Constitution in order to save the whole of it. To his defense, his was neither the first nor the last administration to take such measures during wartime and that historically seems to be within the authority of the Executive under our system. 

Clearly, I’m neither equating Gadhafi with Lincoln, nor coming out in libya1favor of tyranny generally here. Many of the leaders in these country were at best benign dictators and often far worse. Rather my point is to what extent the recognized government of a sovereign nation has the right to put down uprisings – particularly organized and armed uprisings – within its own borders. Despite press reports – which seem forever drawn to the romanticism of the “peasant uprising” – when the “protesters” start to look like the ones in this picture manning the anti-aircraft gun, they stop being civilians and start becoming legitimate military targets.

In all the political debates about Libya, no one is debating that Gadhafi is the recognized head of state of the recognized government of Libya and has been, unfortunately, for decades. And yet, there seems to be a strange level of comfort with other nations telling that government what they should do – perhaps at threat of force. As US Defense Secretary Robert Gates called out in Congressional testimony today, even imposing a no-fly zone requires a military attack against Libya.

Consider, though, if today South Carolina attacked Ft Sumter and seceded and the US federal government moved against them, would the UN put a no fly zone in-place and urge restraint? Would Lincoln have listened? Should he have?

One genius of the US as a federal republic is that it is NOT a democracy. Thomas Jefferson famously regarded democracy as “mob rule”. Plato, in his criticism of democracy, quoted Socrates:

“Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike.”

Nation-states are not required to commit governmental suicide in order to legitimize every form of popular protest. If this were the requirement, we’d have had no recourse against the Confederacy, slavery would not have been abolished, and other portions of the United States would probably have seceded in subsequent years for other reasons.

When there is sufficient energy in a society to stand up for themselves and force a change (for better or worse), then those people and groups need to be willing to take the risks and establish their own legitimacy before other nations rush in to make things “right”. In fact, it is this very type of well intentioned external meddling that has led to long term instability in countries from Cuba to the Philippines to just about every country in Latin America. As a society, these countries were bestowed with representative governments before they had attained the level of literacy, education, and financial stability to prevent them from sliding into corruption – which is the tendency of all forms of government.  


Friday, February 25, 2011

Re$istance is futile

220px-3_ResistorsAs I mentioned in my last post, I felt drawn to buy a netbook but was trying to resist because I couldn’t think of any kind of good reason. Well, to the surprise of no one, I did actually go ahead and buy it anyway. I’m not much for resisting the temptation to buy stuff once I start thinking about it – and I guess I’m doing my part to keep the economy going. I decided to go for the ASUS 1015PN in gloss white. I went definitely wanted the dual core CPU and was swayed to the NVIDIA graphics by the small price difference.

The netbook arrived just a couple days before a trip, so I got a chance to put it through its paces for real. It is a sweet, sweet PC. Since this one has a 10” screen, which is just a bit larger than my daughter’s 9” netbook, the entire thing is just a bit bigger. This is actually a good thing, as it allows for a pretty nice and usable keyboard. I was able to work on it quite naturally. The battery life is excellent, approaching about 7 hours of actual use if you have the WiFi off, the screen brightness low, and the CPU power saving on.

The only problem I experienced was that the memory upgrade that Amazon suggests for this model is not actually the right one. I returned that and ordered the correct one directly from Crucial. It didn’t arrive until I got back home but it snapped right in and worked like a charm.

I’d installed Microsoft Office 2010 and while it worked fine and had some nice features – like the customizable ribbon and sweet Excel Sparkline graphs – it was just too dang big and slow loading for my tastes. Plus, the Office Search Commands add-in doesn’t work on it and I really like that. I’m just in the process of uninstalling 2010 and putting Office 2007 on in its place. Outlook remains a complete stoopid pig of an application in either version – so at least they are consistent. <sarcasm> Someday the Outlook team will discover multithreading. That will be cool. </sarcasm>

So what did I do with my netbook?

  • Worked on documents for my current project on the Xbox team
  • Cruised the web via my phone’s 3G connection while my wife was driving through the middle of nowhere – thanks to USB tethering
  • Edited some photos
  • Played games (I’d loaded up Microsoft Arcade, Revenge of Arcade, etc.)
  • Played around writing some C# code in Visual Studio and my Java environment (jGrasp)
  • And, yes, blogs, Facebook, etc.

I’m pretty happy with it. Since I was short on RAM while I was on the trip, I stuck a spare 4GB SD card in the slot and gave it to Windows 7 ReadyBoost. This actually did seem to make a difference over time as it cached things for the programs I used frequently. Now that I have the 2GB of RAM in, this probably doesn’t make much difference, so I’m going to pull it out.

dvdAlong with the netbook itself, I also picked up the matching external DVD drive and a snazzy black and red neoprene case. The drive is nice. Not sure about the vertical orientation yet. It is pretty hard to get the discs in and out of it in that position. (but it looks great)

The great thing about this ASUS netbook is that it is small and portable like an iPad, but it actually does useful stuff in addition to web browsing (<ahem> with Flash) and games. True, it isn’t instant on like an iPad, but it comes back from sleep in less than 4 seconds – which is pretty instant.

So 5 stars for the ASUS 1015PN netbook. Just make sure you get the correct RAM for it and don’t blindly accept Amazon’s recommendations.

“It’s so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up”
                                                                 Ferris Bueller

Here’s what I’ve currently got loaded – the bold items are the things every netbook should have:

  • Windows 7 Ultimate – OK, not everyone has these laying around and it would make for a spendy upgrade from the included Windows 7 Starter. I needed at least Home Premium to get Aero, changeable wallpaper, etc. and with Ultimate, I can also use Remote Desktop to connect to my netbook from another computer and control it remotely. Starter was completely capable of getting the job done, but I didn’t want to be missing anything. (I did remove Windows Media Center after installing Ultimate though.) 
    ***UPDATE*** I forgot to mention one of the big reasons to update to a better version of Win7. Starter Edition doesn’t support Nvidia Optimus which automagically switches between the low power Intel graphics and the better but more battery hungry Nvidia Ion graphics. If you are running Starter, you will have to manually switch between them and restart after you change the setting – which is definitely NOT magical. 
  • MS Office 2007 Ultimate - Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Outlook
  • Search Commands – this is a free add-on for Office from Microsoft’s OfficeLabs team. Basically, it helps you find stuff that got moved around when they added the ribbon. Very handy even now
  • MS Visio 2010 Premium – for all my diagramming needs
  • MS Project 2010 – occupational hazard, gotta have it
  • Microsoft Security Essentials – Free, downloadable and excellent virus and malware protection
  • Firefox – I’m looking forward to IE9, but for now, Firefox is my default browser
  • Adobe Flash Player and Reader – can’t live without these
  • MS Digital Image Suite 2006 – yes, it’s old and no longer made, but I quite like it. I do have Photoshop on my desktop machine now, but I still use Digital Image most
  • Corel Painter Essentials 4 – fun painting and sketching program
  • Amazon Kindle PC – it’s Kindle…for the PC
  • MS Arcade – Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Missile Command, Tempest
  • MS Return of Arcade – Dig Dug, Pac Man, Galaxian, Pole Position
  • MS Revenge of Arcade – Mappy, Motos, Ms. Pac Man, Rally X, Xevious
  • MS Windows Live Essentials – Messenger, Mesh, Movie Maker, Photo Gallery, Writer, Mail
  • MS Visual Studio 2008 – for my code writing needs
  • jGrasp – (and Sun’s Java Development Kit) for my other code writing needs
  • MS Home Server Connector – so my neato Windows Home Server can back up my little notebook
  • Skype
  • MagicDisk – a free app that lets you store CD images. This means I can play Age of Empires without having the actual CD plugged in
  • Age of Empires 1 & 2 – still my favorite RTS games
  • MS Streets & Trips 2010 – sometimes you just need a map when you don’t have web connectivity – like on an airplane, or in Idaho

I also have about 15GB of music on there too. Basically our entire home catalog minus the Christmas stuff, kids stuff, and most of the church stuff. (I should not that those categories are about another 10 GIGABYTES all together – that’s a lot of Christmas music.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Netbook Ruminations

I’ve been lusting after a netbook lately. You know, like I did for my Kindle last Fall.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Netbooks have really grown up quite a bit. The two I’m looking at are the ASUS 1015PEM and the ASUS 1015PN. Both use the new dual CPU Intel Atom 550. Tnetbookhe 1015PN has an actual Nvidia graphics card instead of just the Intel onboard graphics. The cool thing is you can switch back and forth between them. The Nvidia when you are playing a game and need the 3D power; the Intel when you are just doing web browsing or watching a movie or whatever. The tradeoff being battery life. With the Intel you get like 10 hours to a charge.

Of course, there’s no free lunch. The 1015PN is about $380 on Amazon, while the 1015PEM is about $325.

I don’t really play much in the way of games on the PC anyway, which kind of begs the question of why I’d pay the extra 50 clams. (the PN also has Bluetooth and USB 3.0 and HDMI and other geeky stuff, but nothing really cool – like an ice cream maker or something)

And the REAL question is - why do I feel so drawn to these things? What on earth would I do with it? When I’m off doing Army stuff, like I will be soon, it would be handy to do email and web browsing and stuff. Unlike an iPad, I could run Office or even Visual Studio if I wanted to, and I could view web sites with Flash. But most likely, I wouldn’t do any of that.

So I’m kind of at the point where I wish I could come up with some semi-compelling reason to buy one. But I can’t. Bummer. I’ve probably never gotten over my tech-envy when my daughter bought a netbook back in 2009. Or it could be that it is just more entertaining to think of spending money on a netbook rather than getting the brakes done on my car.

And I should clarify that I do still love my Kindle. I use it all the time and just finished a 350 page book on it. Come to think of it, I also use the Kindle for email and Facebook and games. It weighs nothing, the battery goes for weeks or a month, and it has free 3G wireless.  

Thursday, January 27, 2011

“Hey…what are you reading?”

I know I need to get caught up on my experiences at the Army’s Warrior Transition Course and the holidays and <gulp> my oldest daughter’s engagement, but I just wanted to do a quick post on a couple books I’m reading.

Level Up

levelupI’ve been a big fan of Scott Rogers since I first saw his talk “Everything I Learned About Game Design I Learned From Disneyland” at the 2009 Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. Some people share my my appreciation of Scott’s work; and some people don’t. That’s cool, I’m not saying he’s the end-all-beat-all genius of game design. (After all, I’ve played Pac Man World and it kind of sucks.) But having seen the talk and felt his enthusiasm for the subject first hand, I had to pick up his book Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design. I’m about 3/4 of the way though it on my Kindle and I’m really enjoying it. It is an outstanding exploration of the details of designing fun and engaging experience in interactive storytelling in all its facets – from Mario Brothers to Alan Wake. I really recommend this for anyone in the industry and for anyone who really enjoys gaming.

A Theory of Fun

On the other hand, I also checked out A Theory of Fun by Raphtheory_of_fun Koster (courtesy of the Microsoft corporate library). Superficially, these books cover some of the same ground, but my what a difference. Raph’s book is not without merit, but the presentation of the material is really quite poor – especially in comparison with Scott’s book. Beyond just the material itself, the production values of the book – which is filled with very crude doodle-like illustrations – really detracts from the material that is there. It’s not fun, it’s not interesting, and it isn’t fun to look at. Scott’s book is all of those things and more. I feel like Raph’s book sets out to be a little more academic while specifically claiming that it isn’t.

Other stuff…

I was getting my stuff together for my upcoming Reserve weekend and was putting on my ACUs to make sure everything was in the right place and they were presentable. It was kind of weird to be reminded – oh yeah, I really am in the Army. In December, we just asushad a one day assembly where we had an ASU inspection, a legal briefing for an upcoming deployment, and then a Christmas party in the evening, which was very nice. It’s weird to remember that just a couple months ago I was wearing it constantly.

Here’s a picture of me and the delightful Mrs. Pulsipher in the living room on the way to the party.

As a final note, can I get an “amen” from the congregation on those great Xbox numbers in the Microsoft quarterly earnings released today? And remember, you can never have too many Xbox consoles, games, Kinect sensors, and LIVE subscriptions. Stock up!