The Haphazard Blog

Tag: review

I Am Now a Mac Owner

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Computer Hardware, Life, Technology

Four or five years after I first considered getting a Mac (I was thinking a desktop tower back then) I now have a MacBook Pro, courtesy of my brother. I took it with me on vacation to the National Parks two weeks ago as kind of a trial by fire thing to learn the nuances vs. Windows with no alternative. This was partly derailed by how busy we were (out the door by 8 AM, back after 8 PM for dinner) and the poor Wi-Fi reception until the last night.

There are a fair amount of nuances that I have had to pick up. The command key is the equivalent of the control key on the PC. Made slightly more confusing is there is also a control key on the Mac. The multi-touch takes getting used to and anything requiring 3 or 4 fingers as gestures are out. I can manage some two finger gestures like scrolling, but pinch/expand requires 2 hands. I see the value in all these gestures, but it would be nice to have the option for some legacy touchpad stuff like scrolling by using the edges of the touch pad. Maybe alternative gestures for pinch/expand like double tapping and dragging from a corner for example.

Some other things that I had to learn was the symbol for alt key. For some reason, Apple makes heavy use of the symbol in the menus (to tell you what the keyboard shortcut for the command is) but then they did not print that symbol on the key itself. The other thing is the lack of the page up/down and home/end keys. Those keys are very handy when using web browsers or navigating documents. So that leaves me with the multitouch for page up/down or fn+arrow keys.

The Mac also has forced me to reconsider syncing stuff. Until now, I had my work PC that I used for dual purposes and a Windows laptop. I’d use remote desktop to gain access to my e-mail or webmail for my domain. Now with two operating systems and my desire to use the Mac for more than an interface to my PC (there is Remote Desktop for Mac), I’m rethinking my strategy. My first step will be to move my e-mail to Google Apps. This also ties into my newly acquired iPod Touch. It has mail, contacts, etc. So when I also get a smart phone in the future, that’ll be another thing to sync. Google Apps is looking like it will make the most sense. One obstacle is I will need to determine how large my mailbox is at this point. I have e-mail going back to 1996. In all honesty, I don’t really think I need to keep 99% of it, but I don’t know that I want to sift through it all either. I should investigate e-mail archival options.

I’ve managed to run iTunes on both machines using the same library. It will also let me sync from either machine. I’m going to start using iPhoto to manage my recent vacation pictures next. I also need to download the iOS SDK so that I can start to play around with making Apps for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch families. Also on the list is installing Windows 7 with Boot Camp (and eventually using Parallels) and getting an SSD. Eventually I will have moved my entire personal life over to the Mac. Overall, I’m pretty happy with it so far. I feel like I’m jumping on the bandwagon a little late, but oh well.

A couple quick comments on the iPod Touch. I’ve been using it for a couple days now and it’s also interesting like the Mac multitouch. I’m going to be a lot slower at typing on that than with a keyboard. I’m basically reduced to using one finger. I have also started to figure out that it seems I need to hit just a little to the right of what I want to avoid mistakes. Again, the pinch/expand gestures are a problem, and in this case more difficult because you normally wouldn’t have it on your lap or on a table when you’re using it.

It’s interesting that ~15 years ago, PCs were very difficult for people with physical disabilities to use and got easier with voice recognition, laser ice, trackballs and touchpads. Now there is a movement to gestures and multitouch that makes it more difficult again. The same thing is happening with video games. First there was the addition of tons of buttons and now the movement to full body movement. It’s interesting what computing power has done.

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Nikon S70 Review

by on Jul.12, 2010, under Photography, Technology

Nikon S70

I’ve been looking for a point and shoot camera that I can use. For the most part, it’s hard for me to keep the camera steady and press the shutter-release button. I thought a touch screen camera would be ideal. I could simply tap the LCD to take a picture. So with that purpose in mind, here are my thoughts on the Nikon S70.

First, if you can use a regular point and shoot camera, don’t get this camera. You can make adjustments to your settings and zoom way faster than you can with this camera. It will generally take noticeably longer to take a picture with this camera than it will with a normal point and click. I’m also not much of a fan of having to slide down the front of the camera to turn it on/expose the lens. It’s fine for the owner, but if you are prone to let other people take pictures with your camera, someone is going to slide that down and rub their finger across the lens.

Moving on to how the camera worked for me. Pretty much the entire back of the camera is a touch LCD screen except for a small part of the far right side, less than 1 cm. I found this means that you have to hold the camera in a way that avoids touching the screen. My preference would’ve been to hold the camera with my right hand and take pictures by touching the LCD with my left. Unfortunately, the way that I hold the camera, my right thumb is constantly touching the screen. So when I’m not hitting the “Home” icon, it will not register any other touches. How I envisioned I could use the camera wasn’t going to work.

I figured out if I had some type of small post connected where the tripod mount was, I could hold the camera with my left hand and work the camera with my right (I’m right handed). I found a simple 3″ long screw (1/4″-20 type) that I screwed into the camera. Now I was getting somewhere. I could hold the camera and take pictures. So, I took it out into the real world to use.

We went to the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita a couple weeks ago. I found that it was difficult to keep the camera steady (I believe I was essentially “balancing” the camera on my left hand and the screw just ensured it did not topple over vs. having a very good grip on it) to get good, level pictures. Also, most things weren’t at the best height for me to take pictures. It was best to be standing, to either get a downward angled picture or “eye level” picture. This limitation isn’t a function of the camera however. Just an observation in general about taking photos.

At the end of the day there were quite a few pictures that were blurry (too much movement when tapping the LCD) and quite a few had this inexplicable yellow tint on them that for some unknown reason would not go away. When the pictures came out right, they were very clear. I have included some samples below (I lowered the resolution, but I feel they convey the overall quality).

I came across one other problem with the camera. When I fully charged it via USB the camera would not turn back on unless I removed and reinserted the battery. This did not happen when I partially charged the camera. I didn’t investigate this much further than that since this camera really didn’t meet my needs. I returned it and will keep looking for something that will work better.

Given what I have learned from this camera I need to keep looking for a touch screen camera, but one that does not have an LCD that covers the entire back of the screen. I think that will be hard to find because if there is nothing there, it’s simply a waste of space. The more likely thing would be to have a camera that has all the buttons, but also allows a user to take a picture by tapping the touchscreen. Other far-fetched ideas would be if yo could partner with a camera manufacture and re-program the button functions and re-assign the shutter release action to another button. This would not make much sense for the vast majority of users. It would really only be for a very tiny percentage of people, but it would enable them to use a camera. A similar concept would be if the camera came with some software that would let the user “program” the controls in a way similar to how video games let you change the control scheme. Ultimately. the improvement in the cameras included with smart phones may have the most promise.

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Zen Vegetarian Cuisine Review

by on Jun.19, 2010, under Dining, Entertainment

I recently went to Zen Vegetarian Cuisine (note the menu at the website is not updated, but the items are the same or similar) in Wichita, KS and had a pretty good lunch there.

The concept behind this restaurant is to provide “Asian” food without meat. So take a traditional meal that you would find at a Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese restaurant and replace the meat with soy protein or tofu. It’s really that simple and I thought it was pretty good.

I ordered a “bento box” meal. It was the “Love & Compassion” which was fried soy protein (this was really good, it was crunchy, chewy and seemed hollow), pineapples, green and red peppers, mushrooms topped with a sweet and sour sauce. It also included a choice between fried rice and steamed rice. I chose fried rice, but in retrospect, the steamed rice would’ve been better because I just mixed it all with the main course.

Also, the bento box includes a choice of a couple soups (I went with the vegetable soup since the other was egg drop soup and our waiter wasn’t sure if they really used eggs in it or not), a spring roll, a cream cheese blossom (cream cheese deep fried in a wonton wrapper) and a bunch of tempura (for all the Indians out there, this is Bhajjiya or Pakora). It was a lot of food for lunch at a very good price. I was very surprised when it came to the table.

I also had a mango milk tea which was really good. There were what I thought was some type of black berries in it, but they were actually black tapioca pearls. Finally I had the mango ice cream for dessert. There wasn’t anything particularly noticeable about it that made it better than other mango ice cream I had before.

I really enjoyed the food at Zen. If I worked or lived near there, I’d stop in a every week or two. They had a lot of pages in their menu and you could try so many different things they have to offer.

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Panasonic Core Trainer

by on Jan.30, 2010, under Life, Physical Therapy

Panasonic Core Trainer

Last Friday I received a Panasonic Core Trainer to try for 30 days. After that I can purchase it or send it back. My interest in it was first raised when I saw they had developed it in Japan (called the JOBA). For physical rehabilitation, horse riding can be a component. It can help to improve the core muscles in an active way.

There are horse riding stables that specialize in this area around the country. When I lived in WV, as far as I knew, there weren’t any in the area. After moving to Kansas, I was told about a place about 45 minutes away. I visited there and spoke with the trainer. A lot of the talk focused on the potential risk of falling. This emphasis was off-putting (and they had an incident where a horse was startled with a patient riding him) so I didn’t take it up. Some time after that, I saw that Japanese researchers had created this. I thought it would be something that could help me strengthen my core (maybe I’ll be able to take a punch to the stomach :)).

It took a bit of time for it to show up in the United States and it had a large price tag. It wasn’t something I could just buy and hope it works well. It doesn’t seem to have penetrated at all here in Kansas. Not in local gyms or at any rehabilitation facilities. I then saw it was in use at the Center for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery in Detroit. I figured if they were using it there, then it must be something I could use. I spoke with someone who was monitoring the use of the device there and was told that quadriplegics and paraplegics were using it with good results.

One other concern I had prior to getting it was getting on and off of it. One feature that would help is if it was height adjustable (either manually (adjustable when not in use) or electronically (adjustable during use). Unfortunately, it isn’t. I do a stand-pivot transfer from my chair to the Core Trainer. I have to be sure to stand tall before sitting down or I will be on the edge. Because it has a rounded seat, you want to be sure to get to the crest or beyond. I’m 5’9″ – 5’10” tall. I’m guessing that around 5’6″ might be the threshold to be sure you can sit down on it without worrying you may slide off. I definitely don’t see being able to get on it without help. You still need to swing your leg over to the other side and one of the last things you want to do is lean backwards without any support.

I started using it last week and wasn’t sure what I should do. I started slow and over the course of a few days I sped it up to see how fast I could handle. I managed to get up to the sixth speed of nine levels. I also ride it with my feet touching the ground and without any additional forward or backward tilt. Around Wednesday the left side of my ribs were hurting. The likely cause was the Core Trainer. I also learned that it’s better to go slow and try to sit up (and stay up) as tall as possible for the greatest affect.

Riding it has been fun. I definitely can feel my core muscles working (and they were totally tired out at the higher speed). I plan to get back on it tomorrow (my ribs are feeling a lot better), but use it at the slowest speed. I just got a new mirror so I can watch my posture as I ride it. I found that I maintain a lot better balance by looking straight ahead. If I look down at the display/controls my posture and balance worsen. The mirror should help me stay as straight and tall as possible.

I received a couple DVDs today on how to use it effectively. There should be some very good information on them. They show people riding it with their legs in the air (not on the floor, dangling or in the stir-ups) and not using the handle. I think I’m a long way from that. I wouldn’t even think about not holding the handle.

One of the reasons I posted about the Core Trainer (and plan to continue to) is that I couldn’t find a testimonial that was relevant to my planned use. I’m hoping this will be helpful to others trying to find this information.

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Poblano’s Mexican Grill Review

by on Oct.06, 2009, under Dining, Entertainment

We went to Poblano’s Mexican Grill in Wichita the other day. It’s very much like Chipotle. They have a couple more options like Nachos and Quesadillas. And for vegetarians, there’s one other benefit: the pinto beans are vegetarian. (Chipotle’s pinto beans are seasoned with bacon.) It’s a very simple place. You go up, tell them what you want and tell them what you want in it (and how much). You pay, eat and you’re done. So you get your food quickly and are out of there quickly as well. It’s a great place for a quick meal with better ingredients than Taco Bell. Most of the things on the menu are right around $5. It’s a place I like and will definitely go back to again.

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Zakir Hussain Concert Review

by on Sep.07, 2009, under Entertainment, Music

Last night, I went to the Zakir Hussain concert in Wichita. I thought it was OK. Zakir Hussain has amazing skills in playing the tabla. The music was good throughout the first part of the show. The thing that really hurt this part of the show was his wife, Antonia Minnecola. She was performing the dancing to the music, explaining some of the story to the dance and as best I can tell was trying to teach the audience about music. I think it was supposed to be the beat (“duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-dah”). To put it bluntly, she’s old. Her dancing movements were not fluid at all. I spent way too much time thinking this. Since she was the only person dancing and I’ve seen better at Diwali shows done by kids who practiced just for a few weeks it was a huge distraction and just dragged down the performance. They really need to get a better dancer, or what would be better is a group of dancers.

The second part of the show was Zakir Hussain and another person playing the harmonium. This was where his talent really showed. I was sitting about 40 feet away from him. I can’t explain how fast his hands/fingers were moving while playing the tabla except to say they were a blur. It was amazing and did not seem humanly possible.

Some other entertaining parts of the show was the head of the Cultural Association of India in Wichita, Ashok Aurora. He was in full-on mini-tyrant mode from the beginning. Some highlights:

  • Before the concert started he told those who were seated that no one can get up for the next 45 minutes. He left out the part that he meant once the show started that Zakir Hussain does not want people to move around that are in his eye line because he finds it distracting.
  • As the show was starting, someone took a picture and he flipped out. First he tried to find the person and then after having no luck made an announcement that no photography was allowed and the next person would be removed. (May want to make that announcement before hand or put up a sign.)
  • Right before the intermission, Zakhir Hussain said he would be starting again in 9.5 minutes. Then Ashok told the audience we’d have a 15 minute break. So a lot of people left to get what was basically a light dinner. As you might guess, no food or drinks were allowed inside the theater so people had to eat outside the the theater. Zakir Hussain was ready to start at 9.5 minutes (in the meantime, someone outside was announcing “X minutes left” using a 15 minute count down) and people were constantly coming in while he was trying to talk. He’d wait (and you could tell he was getting real mad), then continue, then stop again. Every time someone would come in a flood of noise from people talking outside would come into the theater. Finally he asked Ashok directly what he wants him to do. Ashok went outside and yelled at everyone that they were closing the doors and no one would be allowed back in the theater. He caused the whole problem!

Here are a couple YouTube clips of Zakir Hussain:
Zakir Hussain’s Master of Percussion – Video has  slow frame rate, but you can hear how fast the beats are.
Longer Concert Clip

Updated 9/10/2009: Another person who went to the show told us she had seen him before and he (not his wife, she agreed she stunk) put on a much better performance. It looks like he took his anger out on us during the second part of the performance.

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