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So You’re Switching to Android and Think You’ll Miss Your iOS Games

It’s true. I made the switch to Android late last year. Many found this shocking as I like Apple’s stuff. People would look at my huge slab of an Android Nexus and say, “dude, that thing is huge” or, “sidetalkin’!”. After playing with it for a few minutes, their reactions were usually changed to something like, “hey, this isn’t that bad” or “I could see myself using one of these things”. The Android team should be commended for 4.0 aka Ice Cream Sandwich (abbreviated as ICS). It’s a surprisingly nice OS.

But one area where iOS has a distinct advantage is in games, or so I thought. They have some awesome titles. For most of them, I’m pretty happy playing on my iPad as it’s a great platform for games. There were a few that I always had with me on my phone though. Games that made sense on a phone, were kind of casual and easy to get into but you can put them down at a moment’s notice to do something else. And I’ve found them on Android.

Orbital (Bitforge Ltd). $4.00 for the “pro” version, Free version to try, but trust me, you want the full game. It’s simple, it’s fun, has a two player head-to-head mode and entertaining noises. I have probably logged more hours on Orbital than any other game on my iPhone. And now it’s on Android! Sweet.

Dungeon Raid (Fireflame Games). $3.19CDN. I used to play this a lot on short-hop flights, in line at the grocery store, couch surfing or well, anywhere. Kind of a connect-three dungeon RPG thing with different character classes and abilities. Humorous loot names and scary monsters. It has endless replayability.

Tiny Tower (Mobage). Free! OK, this is a new one to me having never played it on the iPhone. But with it winning Game of the Year on iTunes I figured I’d give the Android version a try. Also, the price is certainly right. Not disappointed! Takes only a few seconds to keep your tower running. It will haunt your dreams.

Other standbys like Doodle Jump, Flight Control and others will keep your thumbs entertained for hours. You don’t have to fear, there are plenty of good games on Android. You’ll just have to buy them all over again.

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon, #1)Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I put off reading this for so long, I’d forgotten why I never read it. It certainly came recommended from many sources.

A great, sprawling book like the city fixture for which it’s named, Perdido Street Station is a modern fantasy with hints of steam punk. Set in a city not unlike a Victorian-industrial London, it answers the question of what the world might be like if magic were just another form of science. In the city of New Crobuzon, humans co-exist awkwardly with Xenians (weird human-animal hybrids) and Remade humans forged from metal machines and other creatures. As readers, we’re given glimpses of still stranger beings that exist in and around the city.

China Mieville is a wonderful world-builder. His books breathe with convincing setting and life. The city itself a character in his book (not unlike The City and The City which also offers a setting as a main feature) is teeming with activity and color. It exudes a convincing reality that is equal parts lively and filthy. The dream-like quality of the world hints at nightmarish potential early on before delving headlong into it.

With all of this it would be easy to forget to write a story about characters the reader might actually empathize with, and yet even some of the most alien come to life and pull you into their story. At its core, it’s an adventure story about a group of characters facing impossible obstacles, and it’s a real credit to Mieville’s writing that he manages to imbue these characters with real heart and feelings.

A great read. I will add mine to the list of many sources of recommendations.

View all my reviews

I won’t be going to the iCloud anytime soon

Apple released OS X 10.7.2 this week and they’ve flipped the bit on the iCloud service making it available for everyone. This service replaces MobileMe which I’ve been a user of since it was called .Mac. I use it for an email account, some convenient webdav storage (that happens to be pretty slow) and for its syncing service. Well, that last bit just got a lot less useful.

iCloud won’t sync Keychain items or Email accounts between computers anymore. If you’re like me and have multiple machines, these features are really valuable and don’t have a viable replacement. Some users have started linking their Keychains files to a directory on Dropbox and using that as a cheap solution, but this doesn’t take merges into account. If you update your keychain on two computers at the same time, you’ll have to pick one or the other which means losing information.

MobileMe’s going to be active until June of 2012 which gives Apple plenty of time to create a solution, but I have a feeling they won’t. That leaves it up to a 3rd party. So far I’m not aware of any decent alternative. I know a lot of people are fans of 1Password but I gather they’re really targeted at saving your web passwords, which is still a useful feature but not really what I’m after.

So it’s kind of a weird thing. I’ve been a paying customer of a service I’ve gotten value out of for nearly 10 years. Now Apple is replacing this service with something free that doesn’t do what I originally paid for. Oh well, I hear iCloud supports Windows Vista.

Broken D300 Compact Flash Release Switch

This week I experienced what might be considered a “catastrophic failure” of the CF card release switch on my Nikon D300. It broke right off! I’d had the card out to offload some photos, went back to my camera, put the card in, closed the hatch and noticed a little black bit of plastic hit the floor. I picked it up and looked at the back of my camera to see a hole where the CF release switch was supposed to be.

my broken D300 CF release switch

This was very distressing to me. Especially as I’m going to be going to a photo workshop very soon now.

I called Ivan’s, our local camera shop and asked them about the chances of getting it repaired. “Not very good,” was the gist of the reply. Apparently there’s a backlog and some cameras are taking several months to get fixed if it needs parts that aren’t in Canada. And there is apparently a bit of a parts shortfall these days. Not good at all.

He did give me Nikon Canada‘s number though and suggested I give them a try. “Maybe if they get a call from a customer, they’ll be able to help you out.”

This gave me a bit of hope. I called The Canadian Source of All Things Nikon and was shocked to hear a human answer the phone after the first ring. She transferred me directly to customer service who then sent me directly to the parts department. I explained that I had a broken release switch, and did they have another? “Let me check,” the parts tech said and put me on hold. She came back promptly and said she’d have to call me back. I left her my details and hung up.

Hunh!

She didn’t call back that day so I ordered a USB cable from Amazon. I could still get about 300 14-bit RAW shots onto my 8GB CF card before I filled it up. More if I shot in 12-bit, which I usually do anyway. My hopes of hearing back from Nikon were not great at this point, but I held on.

The next day, Deb asks me if I’d seen any results on the web for my broken button. I said I hadn’t. My search string was weak, but she managed to find this thread on the D200/D300 Users Group on Flickr almost right away. Apparently it’s a pretty common thing. Deb also read through and discovered that by prying the rubber grip back, it exposes a catch release slot over the door. With her fingernails and a toothpick, she was able to pop the door open. Nice, though repeated applications of this hack would almost surely destroy the rubber grip on the back and compromise the dust seals there.

Later, I downloaded a D300 Repair manual. It’s easy. Just search for that and grab a PDF.

Then a little after noon, the phone rang. I recognized the 905 number and greeted the parts technician. “We have your part!” she said, excitedly, then paused. “… but we can only ship it via Purolator”. I laughed and said I didn’t mind paying $15 dollars shipping for what must be a pretty cheap part (it’s 5 bucks). She sounded relieved and I gave her my shipping info. She said it’d be there in a couple of days.

Wow!

I am so used to having dismal customer support experiences that I was totally unprepared for how awesome Nikon would be to deal with. In fact, I expected nothing to come of this and was considering all kinds of crazy options. Deb kept telling me that I should “just go and buy a D7000″ but I was pretty uninterested in doing that. My 4 year old non-S D300 is such a familiar machine that I didn’t want to give up on it. I don’t care that it doesn’t shoot video or has fewer megapixels. I love the control layout and I can pretty much run the whole thing in my sleep. Or at night. In the dark.

I’ll take some pictures when the switch arrives and document the repair for others in case they need it. I probably should’ve ordered two replacement switches for when this one fails in another 4 years.

And, as I was writing that last sentence, the Purolator guy rang my doorbell with the switch. Honestly, I’m a little amazed at just how awesome this is. Total time to receiving this part is under 48 hours since I placed the call. All done over the phone, no internets clogging up the communications. Just humans. Thanks, Nikon!

My iPhone 5 Predictions

Announce in September alongside release of iOS5.

iPhone 5 will have a dual core (A5) processor, 1GB of RAM, a slightly larger screen edge-to-edge but approximately the same form factor. Camera will be upgraded to 8MP.

It will come with an aluminum back.

Available in 16, 32 and for the first time, 64GB sizes. White and Black.

Hostage, by Robert Crais

HostageHostage by Robert Crais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gripping.

A burnt-out cop settles down in a small California town to deal with the aftermath of a hostage negotiation gone wrong. Separated from his family, and unable to communicate about his traumatic experiences, he withdraws into himself.

Then a bungled robbery turns into a hostage situation and he’s in charge.

Your typical thriller. The intensity keeps getting dialed up as more intrigue and plot-twists are piled on. A good summer read.

View all my reviews

Panasonic Lumix GF2

I’ve wanted a capable, smaller camera for a long time. I’ve been consistently disappointed with point-and-shoot class cameras. I’ve used a Nikon CoolPix P5000 that I was never very happy with. Good people have extolled the virtues of the Canon S90, but it never really appealed to me despite having pretty decent performance. None of them were particularly cool, though the Canon G10 and up were strong contenders. They kept pulling RAW capture from them though, which was always baffling.

And then things started getting interesting. I heard about the Fujifilm X100 around CES (or was it Photokina?) earlier this year and it sounded pretty special, even without any actual units capable of producing images, people were going nuts over it. Sporting a proper Fujinon 35mm-equivalent F2 fixed lens, this was a totally different point and shoot. A range finder camera with an innovative prism allowing it to work as either a straight optical or an electronic viewfinder. And man, it looked great.

Unfortunately, once the hardware started shipping, the reviews weren’t off the charts. With a $1200 price tag, I’d kind of expect this little gem to be the best thing short of a Leica M9 you can fit in your jacket. While the image quality is great, the performance seems a little average. Noticeable shutter lag and some confusing controls make for a fiddly experience and more than likely, some lost shots. Then again, I’ve been eating up CoffeeGeek‘s reviews of his X100 and he’s making it sound pretty sweet. They’re also, apparently not available due to manufacturing shortages in Japan. If you’ve got one, consider yourself very lucky.

Lumix GF2, 20mm F1.7

Enter the GF2. I did a bunch of reading, comparing some of the different available cameras like the Olympus E-PL2, the Canon G12 and the S95 as well as the new Nikon P7000 and Lumix LX5 and the Sony NEX3. The Micro Four Thirds (m4:3) cameras were looking more and more interesting. Despite an aging sensor, the Panasonic GF2 had some very innovative features. Not all reviewers were keen on the touch screen, but I was willing to give it a shot (or several thousand).

One big advantage over the fixed zooms was the interchangeable lens format. I wanted to keep the camera as compact as possible while providing a solid, fast lens. My primary focal range when I’m walking around with my D300 is a 24mm (38mm equivalent on full frame) which mapped very closely to the Panasonic 20mm F1.7. As a pancake lens, it’s quite compact, though not quite as svelte as the 14mm F2.5 pancake that came with it.

In addition to some processing improvements over the GF1, the GF2 eschews many of its predecessors’ hardware controls in favor of a very well-implemented touch screen system. This was a concern of mine and something some reviewers haven’t been too kind about, proclaiming the GF2 a  “dumbed-down” camera. In practice though, I find the touch-screen both very intuitive and surprisingly fast to access frequently-used controls. The touch screen controls are very customizable via the Q-menu functions allowing you to set your preferred controls on a dock-like, scrollable menu. Augmenting the touch screen is a command dial which does dual-duty as an extra selection button. In manual mode, the command dial toggles between F-stops and shutter speed. In aperture priority, between aperture and exposure adjustment.

<3

It is also Very Fast. Not just for a point-and-shoot, either. The GF2 is under a second from power-on to recording a shot. Shutter response is instantaneous with no noticeable lag. Focus is quick and intelligent. The 23-point AF system has a bunch of features I haven’t really played with yet. I did play a little with the focus-tracking system where you select a subject on the touch screen and the camera magically keeps it in focus as it moves around.

My one beef is the Q-menu button does double duty as a programmable Function button. There’s one other button on the top of the camera that serves as a “noob” button for novices, the GF2′s “Intelligent Auto” button would be a lot more useful if it were programmable to something else. I don’t see myself ever using iA mode. Maybe a firmware update will provide a programming option. Please. In any case, the one programmable button means having to use the screen to access the Q-menu feature if you want to program the button to do something else.

Image quality from the supplied 14mm lens is excellent. The optional 20mm pancake lens is even better, providing great low-light performance and impressive bokeh. Lens distortion on both lenses is surprisingly minimal. Noise-levels at ISO 800 are stellar. Even up to 1600, you can take a decent shot – the Foveon X3 sensor giving a nice film-like grain. Color noise is acceptable and easily removed in a decent image editor.

happy to be out

Yes. I like this camera a lot. Having spent a week with it in a bunch of different lighting situations, I’m more than happy with the pictures that come out of it. I’m really happy to have a portable, well-built camera to carry around.

See some more pics here.

Lossless sale on Bleep

After posting my over-long screed on lossless audio yesterday, I was happy to see Bleep is running a sale on Lossless audio. Check it out!

I finally replaced my copy of Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and picked up a couple of albums by Four Tet and Seefeel to go along with it. All in glorious FLAC.

Also, while I’m pimping Bleep, you should check out their podcast. It’s really good if you’re into that whole electronic kinda thing.

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