Saturday, September 30, 2006

Cheap Grumpy Bastard

Actually got my cell phone last Tuesday. UPS was reluctant to leave it with a neighbor, so I stayed home from work until it was delivered. I was late by a half hour.

It does what I demand from a phone: sends and receives phone calls. It also has a web browser. The last time I used a cell phone with a web browser a few years ago it was slow, clunky, and damn near useless. It's nice to see that with a few years technical progress the browsers in today's cell phones are still slow, clunky, and damn near useless. Unless you buy a monthly bundle they also charge per page view and per email or IM message sent.

One thing that has improved is the voice dialing. The last phone I had with voice dialing had to be trained. This one needs no training, which is kind of neat. However, it's still a feature I'll never use. It's quicker to use speed dial.

Of course, the phone gives me lots of opportunities to spend more money. They make it easy to download ring tones, which are tremendously overpriced. Why do people pay $2.00 or more for a 15 second snippet of a song, when an entire song costs $0.99 on iTunes? Are the record companies charging a boatload for licensing, or are the wireless companies making a boatload of profit? Both, I would guess.

The phone doesn't come with any games, which is fine with me because cell phone games always suck, but they do offer downloadable games... for a price. They have a weird pricing system. You can buy a game for $4.00, or rent one for 30 days for $3.00. A person who doesn't want to buy a game probably won't be tempted to rent one for a discount of $1.00.

They also offer images starting at $1.50. Why do people buy these things?

I won't have to pay for these extras anyway as I won't use them for the most part. I may try a game or two to test out, but I suspect they'll suck. I find custom ringtones annoying and don't need them. If browsing the web and receiving email wasn't so slow and clunky I might have been tempted to get a package for that. And I don't need to pay for pretty pictures on my phone.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Tribes are in Great Danger

I read the Perry Bible Fellowship every week. Some weeks it's funnier than others (like any comic), but when it's funny, it's really funny.

This week's comic cracked me up.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ebooks in Linux and Windows

I've owned a Palm OS device in one form or another for a few years now. My first Palm was a Palm m500 that I bought on sale on a whim, without really considering whether or not I had a use for one.

I was a little worried about my girlfriend's reaction, and was sure she was going to give me shit for wasting money. Turns out she loved it. She is very organized and keeps a notebook full of lists of things she needs to accomplish, and thought this would be a good replacement.

When I told her I was worried she would think it was a waste of money she said, "It is for you!" I ended up giving her the Palm and bought a Sony Clie PEG-SJ20 for myself. My girlfriend found she still preferred keeping lists in her notebook, but used it as an address book and for playing games like Bejeweled.

The SJ20 turned out to be perfect for what I eventually ended up using it for: ebooks. The screen, although black and white, was high resolution and very readable even with the backlight on. The m500 screen turned into horrible green-on-black letters with the backlight on, good enough for casual use but not for sustained reading.

I am able to store literally dozens of books on my Palm in a package small enough that I can always have reading material available to me whether I am waiting in line, on the bus, or in bed. My Palm was invaluable when I would go out of town for work.

I found lots of sources for ebooks, but it took me awhile to find ways to be able to read them on my Palm. If an ebook is available in a Palm format it is very easy, but sometimes an ebook has to be converted into a Palm-readable format.

There are lots of different readers for the Palm but I have two that seem to cover everything. I use eReader for books already formatted for that reader. It's a free program, but there's a pro version available with a couple of more bells and whistles. I find the free version does everything I need.

I also use Plucker, which contains a reader that installs on the Palm and desktop software that will convert text or HTML files to Plucker-readable files. It will also allow you to download webpages for later viewing on your Palm. It available for both Linux and Windows.

OpenOffice can read RTF, text, HTML, .doc (Word) and many other formats and save them in Aportisdoc format, which can be read by eReader. Of course, it is also a full featured office suite. Also available for both Linux and Windows.

.lit files are a proprietary Microsoft format that is mostly used with PocketPCs. To be able to read them on my Palm I first run them through the unfortunately acronymed Convert LIT. For Windows I use the freeware ABC Amber LIT Converter. Each of these programs "explodes" the .lit file into HTML and jpg files, which can then be converted with Plucker.

Of course, once the files are ready they have to be transferred to the Palm. I use KPilot, which is a Palm Desktop replacement for Linux. There are others available, but KPilot has been the most reliable and easiest to use for me.

If you have any questions about converting, transferring, or using ebooks with a Palm feel free to contact me through email or the comments. I'll try to help you as best I can.

Work Weirdness

I started a new job almost 6 months ago, and there are still things I find strange that I am going to have to get used to.

For the most part the people are friendly. Really friendly. Almost too friendly. When I go on a coffee break or lunch I usually prefer to sit by myself and read a book, unless I happen to get my break at the same time as someone I know and like.

Point is, I'll be sitting by myself reading, and very often someone I barely know will sit down across from me and start a conversation. I don't think most people who know me would consider me to be unfriendly, but I would really rather read than try to keep up my end of a conversation with a stranger.

I've never really been good with small talk. I can do the basics like talk about the weather or complain about work, but I don't really enjoy it. I couldn't care less about sports, and that leaves a big gaping hole in my small-talk reportoire, but it doesn't seem to really matter. Sports fans are like religious nuts, they don't care if you care, they just want to keep talking about their favourite team, or favourite god, or something. I'm sure I could get the simile to work if I tried a little harder. Could probably offend less people too.

I got a promotion recently, and everyone seemed to know about it. My promotion wasn't posted anywhere, it just got around by word of mouth for some reason. People I didn't know were congratulating me and asking how I liked my new position. Although I was flattered, I found it a little creepy at the same time.

It sounds like I'm whining: "Boo hoo! All the people here are too nice!" I like the people I work with, and need to stop being such a curmudgeon.

My workplace is also unionized. I've never belonged to a union before. Each position has a set wage, which means I'm working next to people who have been there for years and yet I'm making exactly as much money as they are. It doesn't feel quite right to me, and yet I still accept my paycheque every two weeks.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Playlist Cheese

I had set up Kopete, the instant message program I use for, well, instant messaging, to display the music I was listening to.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, until it became apparent that my playlist is way too cheesy to announce publicly. Having it revealed that I have Technotronic on my computer is just way too embarrassing. So far nobody has found out about my secret collection of Roger Whittaker, but I'm not going to take any chances.

Disabling that feature hasn't saved me from embarrassment, though. I had my iPod on when I came in to work today, and somebody asked me what I was listening to. I'm about 6' 4" tall, and just shy of 300 pounds. I couldn't tell her I was listening to Frou Frou. I told her I was listening to Satan's Hate Squad. She looked at me oddly and walked away nervously. No, that didn't really happen. I told her I was listening to Frou Frou. She looked at me oddly and walked away nervously.

Exceeded Expectations... So Far

Telus has really surprised me. When I signed up for a cell phone plan I was told I would get an email confirming delivery of the phone within 3-5 days. "Right," I thought, "I'll believe that when I see it." The reason for that thought was a terrible experience I had with them when trying to get internet access, a story I may share another time.

I received an email on Thursday letting me know that it was being shipped. I was mildly surprised, as that was only 4 days after I ordered it. I expected to actually receive it next week. Early next week was the hope, but I wasn't holding my breath.

Got home from work today to find that UPS had attempted delivery of the phone, and that they'll try again on Monday. Well, colour me surprised. And on Monday I don't start work until 4:00 PM, so I should even be home when they try.

I'm spending a lot of time writing about a stupid cell phone I don't even have yet, but right now that's the big event in my life. Sort of sad.
Finally decided to get a cell phone with a monthly plan. Up until now, I've mostly had pay-as-you-go phones for personal use. It has actually worked out cheaper for me because I don't do a lot of talking on the phone; I give out my cell number to only a few people and don't do a lot of chatting.

I used to be required to have a cell phone for work, and I think that explains why I have sort of an aversion to them. At one point it was possible that I would have my work cell, the on-call cell, a pager in case they couldn't get a hold of me on either cell, and a personal cell. That's 3 cells and a pager, for one person. I still cringe whenever I hear the ringtone of my old work cell.

I've been cell phoneless for about a month now, ever since I ran my last one through the laundry. And I only had it for about 3 weeks. I should really buy big, brick-like, Soviet era military surplus cell phones so they are more noticeable in pants pockets.

Frankly, the real reason I've decided I need to get a cell again is that I'm playing around with Asterisk (an extremely powerful PBX telephony package, which doesn't begin to describe what it can really do) and I've found it a little difficult to tell if what I'm doing is working if I can't call it. I can't call from my home phone because the Asterisk system is connected to it.

I decided I wanted a camera phone this time. Don't need one, just think it would be handy to have a device that could take a really bad picture of some random boring event while I'm talking. Then I could send it to everyone I know.

I didn't like my options for a camera phone in pay-as-you-go world. Virgin Mobile had a decently priced camera phone, but if you want to transfer the pictures to your computer you have to upload them to a website for 50 cents a picture. I'm not interested in having the pictures that are stored on my phone held for ransom.

Bell Mobility had a decently priced PAYG plan and a good selection of phones, but the phones were all more expensive than I wanted to pay. It looks like they aren't willing to subsidize the price of phones for PAYG plans in the hopes of recovering the cost later.

I finally went with a basic monthly package from Telus. With a one year contract I was able to get a free camera phone. I got an email from them today letting me know that it is being shipped, so I'll find out exactly how good a free camera phone is early next week, I guess.

Monday, September 18, 2006

This is not a geek's blog. Not entirely. While I do, perhaps, have some geekish tendencies like running Linux, a fondness for gadgets (but not a budget for them), an interest in science fiction literature and movies, and a deep like for science and technology, I have a lot of non-geek interests and characteristics.

For instance: My job is not in any way related to anything tech-related, I have a girlfriend, and I play Dungeons and Dragons. Just kidding. I haven't played that for a couple of years.

I don't watch a lot of TV. I only watch two shows regularly: House MD, which I got hooked on through my sister, and Battlestar Galactica. I will also catch My Name is Earl, Family Guy, and Dr. Who on occasion. I watched The IT Crowd when it was on, and would love to see more.

Point is that there probably won't be many TV reviews, although I've sort of been roped into discussions on certain episodes.

There will be philosophical discussions, manifestos, rants, and gratuitous use of words like "concordantly" and "ipso facto".

That's about enough for a post with no actual content. It's 4 AM, and time I went to bed. Thanks for reading.