Entries Tagged 'Reviews' ↓

From Russia with Love

Back in July, Link TV aired one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve seen in recent years. It was the story of fiendish addiction, intimidation, and high-stakes legal feuds set against the backdrop of Cold War tensions. And the cause of this real-life drama? A video game.

The BBC documentary, Tetris: From Russia with Love, chronicled how a simple, black-and-white, silent computer game started out as a prisoner behind the Iron Curtain, then suddenly escaped and went on to become one of the most popular titles of all time. Well-written and artfully photographed, the first half of the show focused on the birth of Tetris, explaining how Alexey Pazhitnov came up with the original idea and programmed it on his Electronika 60 (a Russian clone of the PDP-11) while working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

The second half of the show was arguably more exciting, but it focused on the business aspects—contract disputes with the Kremlin, million-dollar royalties, that sort of thing—and ironically, that’s when I got a little bored. I was much more interested in the video clips of “ancient” computer systems. For instance, check out how big the floppy disks were back in the early 1980s:

Floppy disk of the 80s

Still, the documentary is well worth watching, especially if you played Tetris as a kid or have any interest in video game history. If it ever comes back on the air, I highly recommend tuning in.

Treo 700p revisited

Back in May, I covered the Treo 700p announcement, declaring it a worthy replacement for my current handheld, the Treo 650. I had always intended to upgrade, but I couldn’t justify the expense until recently: Last month, my service contract with Sprint expired (making me eligible for a discount on the Treo), and my wife’s cheap Nokia 6225 finally bit the dust. Solution? I got a new 700p; my wife got my old 650.

Treo 650 and Treo 700P

The Treo 650 (left) and Treo 700p (right)

Now that I’ve actually had a chance to use the Treo 700p, I can offer a more thorough review. First, the cons:

  • I thought cell phones were getting smaller and sleeker, but the Treo 700p is just as thick and chunky as the model it replaces. After eighteen months, you’d think Palm’s hardware engineers could slim their flagship product just a little bit. Instead, the Treo remains (unofficially) the world’s fattest cell phone.
  • The Menu key, a rather frequently pressed button, has been moved. It’s no longer found on the middle-right, which was a perfectly natural location for thumb usage when holding the phone in your left hand (and still very accessible when holding the phone in your right). Instead, it is now located all the way down on the lower right. Not only does this make the Menu key nearly impossible to push when holding the phone in your right hand, it requires an awkward reach of the thumb when held in the left hand. Why, Palm, why?
  • The 700p has two phone buttons: a green button to answer calls and (just below it) a Phone hard key to switch to the dial pad. There’s no reason for this redundancy: On the 650, a single Phone button worked perfectly fine for both functions. Worse, the extra button takes up space that could otherwise be used for the Menu key (see above).
  • With its faster EV-DO radio, the Treo is now able to play streaming video. It’s a nice idea, but I found the quality to be terrible. Instead of spending $10/month on Sprint TV, I’d rather just use my video iPod.
  • Sprint now requires the purchase of a $40/month “Phone As Modem” plan if you want to use the Treo to give your laptop wireless Internet access. (The 650 only required the Vision plan at $15/month.) Luckily, a hack is available that disables the need for PAM. Full details are in my updated step-by-step guide for Bluetooth dial-up networking.

And now the pros:

  • Speaking of Bluetooth DUN, this feature had to be enabled and disabled manually on the 650. It was a tedious process of switching to the Bluetooth preferences, turning on DUN, then getting a warning message about Bluetooth devices not working when DUN is enabled. On the 700p, this entire process is automatic. DUN enables and disables itself on demand, so there are no warning messages to deal with.
  • The keyboard has a better feel. The keys are slightly bigger and easier to push.
  • Internet access is noticeably faster. Although certainly not “broadband-like” as Sprint claims, the speed is a big improvement over the 650. In terms of raw performance, the 650 is like having a wireless dial-up connection, while the 700p is more like ISDN (somewhere between dial-up and broadband). Raw speed for downloads is about 10 KB/s on the 650 and at least 20 KB/s on the 700p, although there’s still an awful lot of latency when surfing on the 700p. Still, net access on the 650 was sometimes painful, but on the 700p it’s usually acceptable. A case in point: The Internet access at home temporarily went down last week, so I used the 700p’s DUN feature as a backup. After a few minutes, I almost forgot I wasn’t on Wi-Fi anymore!
  • My favorite new feature in the 700p is one that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere: It now charges directly from a USB port! So, instead of carrying yet another AC adapter with me when I travel, the same USB cable that I use to sync my Treo with my laptop can also be used to charge it.

That’s four pros and five cons. As you can see, I’m not quite as thrilled about the 700p as I was back in May, at least not as an upgrade from the 650. Given that the operating system, processor, and screen haven’t changed at all, and the form factor is almost the same (and worse in some ways), it’s hard to justify the cost. The only substantial improvements are the EV-DO radio and the ability to charge from USB. Keep that in mind if you’re a 650 user looking to upgrade to the Treo 700p.

Just Right cereal now available on Amazon

I consider myself a cereal connoisseur. It’s true: I’m as picky and eclectic with cold cereal as the French are with wine and cheese. Keep that in mind when I say this: Kellogg’s Just Right is the pinnacle of deliciousness. It brings a refined and sensuous enjoyment to epicureans who have the good fortune to taste this scrumptious blend of dates, raisins, and almonds. It is, of course, just right.

For those without the good fortune to have tried this cereal, it tastes a bit like müsli (but with extra sugar). Perhaps that’s why I like it so much: My part-German heritage still craves that Old World flavor.


You can imagine my disappointment, then, when the two grocery chains in my area removed Just Right from their shelves. My protests led nowhere, and I resigned myself to pale imitations.

Today my luck has changed. Amazon now sells hundreds of grocery items through the mail, and I was able to order a 5-pack of Just Right cereal for $20. I think I’ll start stockpiling it; who knows when a natural disaster might once again separate me from my beloved…

Firefly… finally!

I must be the only geek in the English-speaking world who’s never seen even a single second of the Firefly TV series. (My excuse: I was in Japan when it first aired.)


I finally fixed that problem by renting the series on DVD from Greencine. I just watched the first episode this evening, and I was quite impressed. Some notes:

  • Exciting story, interesting characters, fine acting, great special effects (especially for a TV show), solid pacing.
  • All-around top-notch production quality. Bonus: It appears to have been shot in HDTV. Very progressive for a 2002 show!
  • Firefly is one of the few (only?) sci-fi shows that is set in outer space but has no aliens. (Not in the first episode, anyway.) I’m not sure if I like that or not.
  • Whenever the camera cuts to a wide angle from space to observe a ship blasting off, there are absolutely no sound effects. This should make those who complain about realism in certain other sci-fi shows very happy.
  • Why is it that whenever a spaceship visits some far-away planet, it happens to possess an Earth-like atmosphere and bear a striking resemblance to southern California?


Firefly in southern California

All in all, this is a series no self-respecting sci-fi fan should miss. I wish I had gotten around to seeing it sooner.

Treo 700p Announced

The Treo 650 has been my constant companion for the past year-and-half. (Come to think of it, it’s with me more than my wife is!) It’s my cell phone, my calendar and to-do list manager, it gives me turn-by-turn driving directions and Internet access wherever I go, and it even trounces me at chess. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want something better. The rumor mill has said for many months now that someday Palm would release a new and improved smartphone, the Treo 700p. Well, today is that day.

Treo 700p

Looking at the specs, this new Treo is mostly identical to my old 650:

  • Same screen (320×320 pixels)
  • Same processor (312MHz Intel)
  • Same operating system (Palm OS 5.4)
  • Still no Wi-Fi support (a lot of people complain about this, but I’ve never understood the need for Wi-Fi on the Treo)

But there are some welcome differences:

  • Four times as much memory (128 MB vs. 32 MB), although supposedly only 60 MB are available to the user
  • Slightly better Bluetooth (version 1.2 vs. 1.1), which should mean slightly faster speeds and fewer interference problems. This will be nice to have when syncing and when using the Treo for dial-up networking.
  • And speaking of dial-up networking, the 700p has a 1xEV-DO radio instead of the old 1xRTT, which means Internet access should be a lot faster. (This is probably the single biggest difference between the 700p and the 650.)
  • Higher-resolution camera (1.3 megapixels vs. 0.3 megapixels), although this doesn’t matter to me since I always use a real camera for taking pictures
  • Slightly different form factor (but identical to the previously released 700w). I like the bigger buttons and slightly modified layout, but I’m not sure about the squarish-looking keys.
  • Built-in voice memo application (not sure whether I’ll use this)

All in all, there’s enough here to get me to upgrade, especially considering the improved Internet access speed. (It’s so nice when you’re stuck in a hotel room and you can connect your laptop to the net just by pushing a few keys on your phone.)My wife will now get my Treo 650 as a hand-me-down. Now, don’t complain; her old phone was a low-end Nokia candybar model with no Bluetooth support. With the 650, she’ll finally be able to use our wireless headset and avoid those neck cramps she gets during long calls.