Creative Zen

I have been the happy user of an Apple iPod 4th generation for a few years now. Aside from issues of hard drive failure, I was impressed most especially with the sleek design of the device, elegant in form and function, intuitive to navigate, and possible to control with one thumb often without looking. With the advent of the video iPod, the inevitable successor, Apple began falling into old, protectionist, sclerotic patterns. The formats which will play on the video iPod are limited only to Apple's proprietary format, supporting neither divx nor xvid, the most common formats for compressed digital video. Instead the video iPod owner was forced to convert their videos to Apple's format or even to rip their own DVDs. The Apple format is itself very low quality and conversion further destroys quality.

Last Christmas, while Apple was cashing in on $300 Video or Touch iPods and $2000 iPhones (inclusive of contract) I gave my partner a $150 refurbished Creative Zen M player. It is as good as new, for half the price of a video iPod. The Zen plays all the major video formats. I was really sold on it when a friend pointed out divx and xvid capability and the A/V converter cable available for $5 delivered. It allows one to watch video content from the Zen on a television in high quality. Creative further does not impose any inane software requirements to use their products, ie iTunes and the inexcusable Quicktime. For anyone interested in a portable media player, I strongly suggest considering Creative products.

Apple seems to have some major philosophical shortcomings: image over substance, dominance over compatibility. They have been guilty of this from the beginning. Though they are first to market with very nicely designed products, their greediness in trying to dominate their market and every file format that is used on their system or software that runs on their platform ultimately alienates users and erodes market share.

If you want an iPod, consider Creative: the interface is not as slick as Apple, but they are more functional and cheaper than the Apple version.


GWT Conference

In December of 2007, I attended the Voices that Matter: Google Web Toolkit conference in San Francisco. This was my first professional technical conference and I found it a very valuable experience. I had only been coding webpages for a year since discovering this technology. I was all at once surrounded by all the developers and experts who could answer all my questions and teach me so much more besides.

I was particularly interested to meet the engineers from Google, the company that fascinates me, gives me hope, inspiration, and a little envy. They were all brilliant, nerdy people as I suspected, deserving to work for the top firm in the world. All of my hopes for Google as a benevolent and beneficent force in society were strengthened and confirmed by the conference. If I have not said enough already about it, this technology is wonderful for any java developer looking to develop a web application. I have developed front-end database applications with this, basic marketing websites, and furthermore have developed a financial trading application with it, all in java with no knowledge of javascript or DOM.

I commend the Palace Hotel for hosting the conference and Prentice Hall and Addison-Wesley for doing a magnificent job organising and filming the conference. All the videos from every session are freely available on youtube.

Furthermore, given the wonderful time I had seeing friends and relatives in the area, I am all the more convinced that the Bay Area as the capital of technology is a good place for a person like me to establish myself. It has a horribly lacking transportation system unfortunately, but adequate enough if you have 2 hours to get from A to B. European engineers ought to redesign the entire infrastructure.

Panasonic Toughbook CF-74 Review

Here is a video of a Panasonic Toughbook, and another. Pansonic's line of well designed, and durable laptops is far superior to any other I have seen. Their retail price is absurdly high for this, but somehow maintain a more reasonable secondary market (ie ebay) where they can be found at a more reasonable price. My new CF-74 Semi-rugged laptop with 4 GB RAM cost $1750 on ebay.

It has a touchscreen! It is not a tablet that swivels, but of course other Panasonic models do have that. Using a stylus rather than a mouse or touchpad on a portable device is very nice. The electronic outlets like USB, card slot, and monitor output are well protected by covers. The built in handle is fantastic, and this thing is durable enough that I could beat and assailant while it was running and it probably would not impact performance, though I have not tried. I have not examined thoroughly what technology they have regarding disk drive breaking during device acceleration as the Macbooks have. Nonetheless the hard drives are also said to be well protected. It is highly water resistant and the battery lasts for 5 or 6 hours.

If you are willing to pay a bit extra for a truly well made and useful machine, I recommend buying a CF-74 if you can find it for under $2000.

I do want to mention that there seems to be no support for Linux on this device. Virtualising obviously should be no problem, but it is annoying to be condemned to Windows to be able to utilise all the hardware devices such as touch screen. I will report my results when I really start messing around with it.

A word on Macs: the Macbook pro I used last year with 2 GB runs about $2500. After a year of use, I acknowledge that the OS is nice to have. The capability of Apple, a Unix based very flashy graphical OS to also Parallelise Windows and Linux is impressive, but overall, Macs are just attractive designer products and trendy status symbols. They are not at all worth their price tag when it comes to productivity or usefulness. Anyone hardcore about Unix like my astrophysicist friends runs Linux on a cheaper machine like a Lenovo Thinkpad. Those machines can virtualise Windows or emulate using WINE as needed. My cousin who is a professional film maker does well to have a MacBook pro, but I would not recommend a Mac to anyone outside that field at this point.