Jan 272007

While in Canada I had a friend pick up a new purchase for me. I’d been wanting to buy a laptop for a long time, but never was satisfied with the combinations available out there. My prospects were the Sony TX series, the Fujitsu 1505D, or a Panasonic Toughbook. Ultimately they all seemed to have a weakness in one area or another, and didn’t hit all of my (unreasonable) check marks:

1) less than 3 pounds
2) over 1024×768 resolution
3) over 3 hours of battery
4) up to 2gb of ram
5) decent CPU for occasional bridge & photoshop
6) decent sized keyboard

I was about to plunk down some money for the Sony TX series, and just live with the RAM and CPU limitation, but then I stumbled on a forum link to the Toshiba Portege R300. It seemed to meet all of my requirements. Except for one thing, it wasn’t for sale in the USA. It was, however, for sale in Canada. I thought about it, then had a friend order it online.

It was all a bit nerve wracking, as I had yet to find decent high resolution photos of the laptop, and there were no reviews online. But since all the previous versions of the Portege R series had been reviewed so well, I decided to take the risk. I’m happy I did. Aside from some minor complaints, I love the machine.

– Very portable: 2.65 lbs, 9.4 by 7.7 inches and 1 to 1.4 inches thick
– Great battery life – up to 6 hours, around 4.5 hours on full power, brightness, and wifi
– 1280×800 12.1″ LCD screen, good color & no bad pixels
– Powerful: 1.2Ghz Dual Core cpu, 1GB RAM, expandable to 4GB RAM
– Lots of connections – A/B/G Wireless, LAN, Modem, 3 USB, VGA, SD, CF Card, PCIMCA, headphones & mic
– Cool and quiet. Unlike some other laptops, this doesn’t seem to roast your lap. Fan is quiet when it actually runs.
– All kinds of laptop and hard drive protection (software & hardware), spill resistant (and full sized) keyboard,
decent trackpad instead of nub, finger print reader & Trusted Platform Module, 3 year international warranty.

– No optical drive. Not really a con for me.. I never use them.
– No bluetooth. The motherboard seems to have the chip for it, but the antennae is not built in – or vise versa. Tiny USB plugs are available, so not a huge deal.
– Position of the `/~ key took some getting used to, I was usually expecting the alt key right next to the keyboard.
– Power brick is not as light and streamlined as it could be. It all seems a bit silly to lug around a power brick that is almost 1/3rd the size of the tiny laptop. Brick is rated for 75W, but I’ve yet to see the laptop pull more than 45W.
– CF card reader is slow – around 1mb/second.
– The Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG chip used seems to be picky with a couple APs, or vice versa. It is a mini PCI-E slot, so I could replace with with an atheros, but I’ve got no clue if they have locked down the available wireless cards – IBM has.
– Slight LCD back-light bleed on full brightness


It has been used in the back seat of a van in -20 weather, fold down tables on air & train, and quite a few times in bed. I haven’t been gentle with it, but it seems to be holding up nicely. Ultimately it is meeting my main need perfectly – a compact machine that I can use for writing or photo editing on the road.

Jul 252006

Just before the release of Intel’s Core Duo desktop chips, AMD slashed its prices on its dual core cpus to stay competitive. I had been eyeing Intel’s new chips, but couldn’t justify the required full upgrade. I picked up an AMD 64 X2 4200 (dual 2.2ghz) to add to my system for under $200. With Cool N’Quiet enabled, I should use slightly less energy than I did before, with a little more horsepower under the hood.

I really wanted to use the X2 3800 SFF/EE chip, as it burns at a leisurely rate of 35w. Unfortunately, AMD only made those available for the new AM2 socket. Perhaps it was platform technology limited, but it would have been nice to see lower power CPUs available as an upgrade option for the thousands of existing AMD64 platforms.

I’m excited about the possibilities of the ultra low power chips on the horizon. Amazing things have already been done with Intel’s mobile chips, and VIA is doing a decent job on their processor embedded motherboards. I can’t wait to see what they can do with the next generation. Under two pounds, and 20 hours of battery life? Solar charging on the lid? Or maybe we can do away with plugs all together, and just pull strings to charge the battery.

Mar 282006

With my new toys, I’ve been producing a lot more photos. This isn’t a problem at home – I’ve got plenty of storage & backup space, desktop hard drives are huge and cheap. But they don’t help me much two weeks into a trip. I’ve got a few options:

Laptop route
I’ve been thinking about getting one for a while. At 2 lbs & the tablet features, the tiny Fujitsu Lifebook P1510D seems like a steal at roughly $1400. Certainly more money than the rest of these options, but I’d be getting a lot of flexibility with it. The main draw is that you get all the comfort of a laptop in a small package. It has a CF slot, so downloads at the end of the day would be pretty easy. The battery life is good, so it can always serve double duty as a media player. No optical drive limits my playing of DVDs though, but I can always rip a bunch and slap them on a hard drive or USB stick.

I am loathe to do much more than a little surfing on the internet cafes, so bringing my own laptop would reduce some of the key logger concerns. I guess the real question is how many net cafes let you hook your computer up to their connection. The other option is wifi, which seems to be popping up all over the place, but I doubt I’d want to depend on it in most countries.

The disadvantages of the laptop are pretty obvious. It can be a target. It is bigger and heavier than other options. But probably my biggest hesitation is that it is potentially a huge distraction. Will I be pouring over the days photos, rather than heading out to explore more?

Storage with a screen
The Epson p-2000 still seems like the best bet in this market. At roughly 1 lb and $400, it gets a decent bit of work done – photo download (though slower than other devices), viewing (not as big as a laptop screen, but better than the camera), plays movies (battery life isn’t super though), etc. Since it is relatively first generation, there are going to be better models out soon.

Portable hard drive/image tanks
These devices are basically a card reader attached to a laptop hard drive. Push a button and they dump the CF card contents to the hard drive. There seems to be two main contenders, the Nexto-CF and the PD70X/HyperDrive. There are small differences between them, but they essentially have the same benifits, and both cost around $200. I’m leaning more towards the Nexto-CF based on this guys impressions & use. Relatively light, easy, and simple, but you don’t necessarily know if your photos are crap until you get them back home.

The no hardware option
Burn to dvds in net cafes. CF readers and CD burners can be common at net cafes – I was pretty successful with this in Peru. I suspect it depends a lot on the country. Will have to do some more research to see how easy it is in Cambodia & Vietnam. Main problem is that it can eat up time getting these copied and burned to cd/dvd.

At this point I’m leaning towards the image tanks for cost & convenience, but am still on the fence.


May 132005

Burning Man Prep

Last year we used a shade structure from form and reform. It held up well, and it was nice to use extra tarps off the main structure. The disadvantage is that you have 4 supports around 5 foot, and 2 around 7 foot. That makes it a real pain in the ass to get in most cars. We are toying with the idea of flying to Reno this year, so this would definitely be out of the question.

Enter the next option. The noah tarp and a couple of extended poles look like they will perform fairly well in the wind, pack down to 2 foot, and will cover around the same area. The disadvantages are cost and flexibility. While you can put it up a number of different ways, the catenary shape would not fare well if you tried to use multiple tarps of the end points. Some loose burlap hanging off the sides might work though…

1 month update on my Dell 2405FPW

– I notice less eye strain. I didn’t expect that I would, since my old monitor had a high refresh and a very good DPI.
– I have yet to notice LCD ghosting – the screen refresh is more than enough for games/dvds/vidfiles.
– I love the widescreen aspect. Perfect for dvds of course, but more and more TV shows are moving towards the format (I just hope that people continue to encode them in WS). It is also much more immersive for gaming. Of course, even some modern games do not support widescreen resolutions, but that is changing. I bought this monitor expecting that and accepted the fact that I had to be forward looking. Playing games or vid files with the black bars isn’t horrible, I just miss the widescreen glory.
– A DVI connection to the monitor is a must. When I used the monitor with analog, it looked like crap. Banding, cross hatching and color bleeding. DVI made everything crystal clear. I couldn’t believe the difference.
– Blacks are not true black, they are more like a very dark indigo. This is just something you have to deal with until LCDs do not need a backlight (OLEDs?). On that note, there is a slight backlight problem with the lower right corner of the screen – blacks are slightly more indigo than the rest of the screen. I’m just being picky though, you have to look really hard to notice it.
– 24 bit color range (a limitation of current LCD technology as I understand it) has shown slight banding in rare cases (color gradients that go across the screen in web pages). It does very well on everything else though.
– After setting my gamma to 1.8, I found the monitor was just as respectable as my old sun monitor for doing photo work.
– The USB2 hub and card reader built into the monitor work great. Coping files off my camera and hard drive enclosure (both USB2) is just as fast as using the primary USB2 ports on the motherboard. It is very nice to deal with cables going just to the monitor, instead of all the way down to the tower.

In short, no buyers regret.

Photo roundup

rion has some good shots of the famous Tsukiji fish market in Japan. Interestingly it was the geoquiz question yesterday on theworld. Sadly, it seems there are plans to close the historic market and move it to the suburbs – it rests on some of the most expensive real-estate in the world. I am certainly no expert, but for some reason this seems to indicate that there might be some changes happening in Japanese food culture. I mean, Japan is the land of $82 square watermelons. To hear of them cutting costs with food (especially something related to the culture of premium sushi) seems very strange. Or, maybe they just really like malls.

thenarrative has some good shots, but I like this one a lot. I miss the clouds and the big sky living here.

daily dose of imagery has this great shot. At first glance it looks like someone has removed the upper structure from the picture with photoshop.

DIY Projector

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Feb 252005

Tom’s Hardware has an interesting guide up; Build Your Own XGA Projector. For around 300 bucks you can get a 15″ LCD, tear it apart, and put it on a used overhead projector. Tempting, but I worry about power consumption. Our rent is a very good deal and we don’t pay for utilities, so I am always hesitant to add anything that sucks power. Other information avaialable at DIYProjectorCompany.com, diyAudio.com, and avsforum.com