Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Juggler of Worlds

Juggler of WorldsJuggler of Worlds by Larry Niven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great book — I’ve got to read more of this series. It’s part of the "Ringworld" universe, but doesn’t deal with that story line directly. It’s a bit of a side-story dealing with, well, the dealings of the Puppeteer race and their dealings with humankind before the Ringworld was found. Great writing, great characters.

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Review: For The Win

For The WinFor The Win by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Honestly, this book is like "The Jungle" for our times, just it takes place in PC farms in Malaysia, India, and China. Interspaced a few times throughout the story of the characters are a few chapters about the economic principles of an increasingly multi-national world, written in a easy to understand fashion. The chapters that take place in China seem authentic with the current economic conditions there (low-educated workers streaming in from the countryside to be taken advantage of in the city-based factories).

The chapters in China with "Jie" (the pirate-broadcasting girl) — her introduction at all, really — seem a bit contrived, but hey: it’s a story. I’ll forgive it, and it helps move the book along.

I particularly liked the chapters dealing with the MMORPG "headquarters" — I can almost imagine a room like controlling World of Warcraft, subtly changing game mechanics and coefficients to keep players hooked.

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Review: The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, #12; A Memory of Light, #1)The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seriously — and I hate to say this — it was almost better than the last few books written by Jordan himself. :X

The amount of characters are kept to a minimum — the action is easy to follow, and you don’t feel yourself being overwhelmed by characters being introduced that you may have not read about in years. My only criticism — and it’s small — may be that perhaps some of the character interactions aren’t fleshed out enough… but no, I’m not going to go there. I’m happy with the way it’s written.

Rand, in particular, develops into an incredibly interesting character in this book — I personally thought his development had stagnated just a bit, and The Gathering Storm has certainly made up for that!

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Review: Foundation and Earth

Foundation and Earth (Foundation, #5)Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit, the series got much better as it went along! I didn’t completely like the direction it took in this book (what happened to the Second Foundation? Would’ve liked to have seen a bit more of them), and the ending, though still good, was maybe a bit too "oh no! tune in next week!" for my tastes. But other than, a great ending to a great series!

Now to the final, last, prequel book.

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Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wonderful, wonderful book. Seems to almost be more about the human element involved in maintaining a society that’s on the verge of collapse than it is about zombies — the zombies are almost just the backdrop for the story, only referred to as Z’s or "Zack."

This book will make you want to go outside and meet your neighbors for the first time — to make you wonder just how much "stuff" you really need to be happy.

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Comparing the Moto Droid to the HTC G1: First Week Impressions

Droid Professional Package
The "Professional" Package

After finally deciding to upgrade my venerable HTC G1 (which I reviewed here initially) that had served me well over the past year and a bit, I decided to go with the Motorola Droid.  It’s not the fastest anymore, and it sure as hell ain’t the prettiest (neither was the G1 — what is it with me and ugly phones?), but it’s the new Android phone for me.

Why the Droid?

Why the Droid?  Well, it’s already been out for about six months or so, and has developed quite the hacking community.  Even my favorite ROM for the G1, the Cyanogenmod, has a version available for it.

It’s easily rooted (mine was rooted in about 24 hours).

It comes stock with a 16GB SD card — very cool.  No need to upgrade this thing right off the bat like there was to the G1 and its pitiful 1GB card.

It has loads of custom kernels for it, some enabling the stock 550MHz chip to be overclocked to 1.3GHz, and even some that run at the stock 550MHz but with a much lower CPU voltage (enabling your battery to last much longer).  This phone isn’t going to be left behind in terms of speed for a while — I’m betting Motorola is even going to issue an update for it one day that will up the speed of the processor just a bit for newer versions of Android.

It has a hardware keyboard — not a very good hardware keyboard, sadly enough, but it’s good enough for things like low-level hacking of the ROM and telnet/ssh/console sessions, which is what I needed it for.

[This is probably my biggest gripe for the Droid — the hardware keyboard seriously sucks.  The keys are all flat, not spaced apart, and it’s honestly quicker to type with the onscreen keyboard, which I find myself doing nearly all of the time.  The G1’s hardware keyboard was an absolute dream to type on compared to the Droid.]

It’s received fairly steady Android updates, and now is one of only a few devices running Android 2.1 (including the HTC Incredible and Nexus One), so it’s pretty certain to keep getting updates in the future.  This was one of the biggest problems with the G1 — even though it was once Android’s flagship device, the G1 was made before the “recommended” specs for running an Android device were fleshed out, and thus, not only is HTC not bothering to produce any more updates for it, it physically can’t receive them anyway, due to hardware limitations.

The entire phone, from top to bottom, is supposedly released under open source rules at https://opensource.motorola.com — while this doesn’t benefit me directly, as I don’t spend the time to make my own custom ROM’s and kernels, it will most assuredly help the hacking community in the future when and if Motorola does drop support for the Droid.

And finally, the price!  It’s been out for six months and is now cheap!  Ha ha! :P   I got the “professional” bundle (as you saw above), including a rapid car charger, car mount, and desk mount, for a wonderful price.

The Unboxing

Tiny Droid Box
The Very Tiny Unboxing

Well, there wasn’t much of an unboxing at all, to tell you the truth.  The Droid was packaged in some of the smallest packaging I’ve ever seen — the phone was nearly the size of the box, and took up most of the space.  Other than it, the battery, the tiny wall adapter for recharging, and a single mini-USB cable, that was it!

That’s one small difference between the Droid (and all newer phones, soon) and the G1 — the Droid uses the newer (thought still standard) “mini” USB cable, which is much smaller and flatter than the older “micro” cable.  Make sense?

[It’s all because the EU decide a few years ago to make all manufacturers of cell phones in the EU market standardize to one type of cell phone recharger system — I have to admit, I like it.  No longer will you need give different cell phone chargers for your entire family, if they’ve got five different types of phones — on will work.  It reduces waste quite a bit.]

The battery door on the Droid was a bit of a pain to get off, but when I did, the battery snapped into place and I was well on my way to Android 2.1 goodness.

The First Week

What were my impressions of the Moto Droid after my first week?

The Good?  Well, number one, it’s definitely more compact than the G1.  Even though it actually weights a few ounces more (probably because it’s a solid chunk of metal), it still feels lighter, and it’s definitely much, much thinner, even with a hardware keyboard.  It feels solid in the hand, with a good degree of heft.

The battery lasts about as long as you’d think for a smartphone — nightly charging will become a ritual in your house.  Still, not bad — like I’ve said before, I wish I had a laptop with a battery that lasted a full day.

The screen is… well, the screen is out of this world.  The DPI is twice as high as most of the previous crop of LCD screens like the G1, and you can really tell — icons are incredibly clear and distinct, text is very easy to read, and pictures look amazing.  Not as deep as an OLED screen like on the Incredible and the Nexus One, but pretty damn nice, nonetheless.

Software-wise?  Well, one thing that I noticed right away when I needed to install my favorite Android applications is the speed at which they installed — fast as hell.  On my G1, I could install one application at a time; it technically allowed me to install more, but I’d be damned if it didn’t almost freeze up when I tried to do that.  On my Droid, I’m installing three or four apps at once.

The GPS lock-in is much quicker, too — 2-3 seconds instead of nearly 10, and the wifi lock-in, too.

The “multimedia dock” and car mount are also both very cool — somehow, the Droid “knows” that it’s docked in each (don’t ask me how, as even I don’t know), and loads up specific apps that respond to each; the “Car Home” app for the car mount, and the “Desk Clock” app for the multimedia dock.  I’m glad I shelved out the extra money for the official Moto accessories, at least in this respect.

The Bad?  Well, the home screen operations — paging left and right between app screens, launching the app tray — are kinda slow and jerky.  I know, I know — a little thing, but still.  When sat next to an Incredible or a Nexus One, you can really tell.  Even with the Sense UI skin on top of the Incredible, the Incredible is still zippier.

G1, Droid, and Blackberry Curve
In good company.

Also — the lack of a trackball on the outside of the phone that you can access without opening the hardware keyboard has started to nag me, just a bit.

I like using the software keyboard to type a lot of text, and when I make a mistake and have to put the cursor back to the where it was, merely tapping on the screen can sometimes take a few tries to get the cursor exactly where you want it.  With an external trackball, you could just roll it a bit and get the cursor exactly where you want it (I got quite used to doing this on the G1).

Final Thoughts

I like it.  It’s a good successor to the G1, so much so that I almost wish they had called it the “G2.”  As it was, Google, Verizon, and Motorola put a lot behind the marketing campaign of the original Droid, and it shows — “Droid” has now become a part of most people’s lexicon, insomuch as they at least know the word and know that it stands for a very nice phone (that’s not an iPhone).

I still need to get a nice case and screen protector for it, but all in all, it feels right at home.

Various Browser Benchmarks

I’ve been installing/reinstalling/testing a lot of browsers recently, so I thought I’d provide a little bit of data back to the programming community.

I tested on two different computers — my venerable Dell laptop and my largely MSI-powered gaming PC.

Some thoughts:

  • The newest Opera 10 build on Linux does not like the SunSpider benchmark.  Understandably, it’s a benchmark put together by the WebKit browser team, but still — it performed about as bad as I’d suppose Internet Explorer would (were it to run on Linux).  I ran it twice just to make sure, and it was about 10k milliseconds each time.
  • Chromium, whether it’s on Windows XP, or the pre-alpha build I’m using on Linux, is pretty damn fast.  Like scary fast.  Though, like I said, it is their own benchmark.
  • Seamonkey on Linux is consistently faster than Firefox 3.1b3 on Linux.  I have no idea why, since they’re supposed to be powered by the exact same engine.
  • It’s amazing how much faster an older computer (Like my Dell laptop) can feel when you use a browser that’s optimized to render JavaScript faster.  It seriously feels like an entirely different computer.
  • I tried running this test in Internet Explorer 6.0 via Wine, on Ubuntu.  I figured it’s not exactly emulation (since Wine Is Not an Emulator and all), but it kept freezing on one of the “base64” tests, and I got tired of waiting on it and killed the process.  Imagine that.

And now, the benchmark numbers, utilizing the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark (smaller numbers are better, all numbers in thousandths of a second):

Computer #1

Hardware:  Dell Laptop, Pentium 4-M 2.6 GHz, 1.5GB DDR Ram

Software:  Ubuntu 8.04 (x86)

  • 10572.4ms:  Opera 10 Alpha, Build 4214
  • 8435.8ms:  Flock 2.0.3
  • 8171.8ms:  Firefox 3.0.8
  • 5243.6ms:  Firefox 3.1 Beta 3 (Shiretoko)
  • 4701.4ms:  Seamonkey 2.0 Alpha 3
  • 1506.4ms:  Chromium Dev Build

Computer #2

Hardware:  MSI Mainboard, Athlon X2 2.5GHz (Brisbane), 2GB DDR2 RAM

Software:  Windows XP SP3 (x86)

  • 6930.8ms:  Internet Explorer 8
  • 2097.8ms:  Firefox 3.1 Beta 3
  • 952.4ms:  SRWare Iron 2.0 (Chromium)

Prilosec, Reviewed

Well, I’m finished with my Prilosec regiment — just got done with it a week ago.

Taking the pills was a bother, like I mentioned before — you have to take them immediately after waking up (or at least before you eat anything in the morning), and optimally not eat until about an hour afterwards.  Little to say, this was a rule I often ignored. :P

After 14 days — well, almost;  I forgot one day and had to skip it, but the information I found on the US government’s Medline Plus site told me that it was perfectly fine if you forgot to take a day’s pill.  Either way, after about 14 days I was done.

As far as I can tell, it’s working… the other day, we had a “chili cook-off” at my workplace, and not only did I try every type of chili there (four different bowls), I followed it up by drinking a Coca-cola.

If you’re a heartburn sufferer, you probably winced a little bit at that description.

So, I waited, and… nothing.  Not heartburn, no gas — nothing.

Am I cured?  Do I still need to “take it easy?”  I still will, probably, because of one semi-unrelated thing I discovered during my regiment.

You know those boxes of “Instant Brown Rice” you can buy in stores, under various brand names?  (I just buy the Wal-Mart brand, myself.)  Yeah — my stomach, really, really, really doesn’t like that stuff.  It’s happened several different times now, with several different meals, and it’s the only common denominator — one time the pain kept me up all night.

I guess it’s got something to do with the rice’s natural “quick-cooking-by-absorbing-any-and-all-water” properties.