Tags: gadgets

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Upcoming decision: Considering different cellphone plans for J-

| decision

J- currently uses a prepaid cellphone with Virgin Mobile in order to coordinate with us, her mom, and her friends. She’s had it for a while and has been pretty good at using it, although we’re not happy with Virgin Mobile’s billing and credits system. We’re looking around for a better cellphone plan for her, ideally something that limits the risks of accidental charges while allowing important contacts any time.

Mobilicity’s current 50% promotion looks tempting. Their least expensive plan is $12.50/month for unlimited talk and text assuming 12 months’ preauthorized credit, although you’ll also need to add the cost of the phone (probably $99.99). That comes out to around $250 plus tax for the year.

A comparable plan would be WIND Mobile’s Smart plan ($25/month) with unlimited calls and text. The phone would be almost free (put on the Wind Tab and paid off through phone use), so we’d be looking at $300 plus tax for the year.

Like Mobilicity, WIND offers a small discount for multiple accounts. I’m occasionally tempted to check out Wind Mobile’s $29 unlimited talk/text/data plan, although (a) I’m almost always in WiFi zone, (b) the Kindle is handy for looking things up if I really, really need to, and (c) the Nexus One battery life is a bit short, so I won’t be doing a lot of mobile browsing on the rare occasions that I’m outside a wireless network. I may switch within the next year, but I don’t mind holding out until then, as the promotional rate is good for only one year.

Will network coverage be sufficient? Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on the glossy maps published by cellphone companies. Coverage Mapper shows user-generated data for Mobilicity and WIND Mobile. Our neighbourhood, J-‘s school, and her mom’s place look like they’ll mostly be okay.

Decisions, decisions…

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Decision review: Lenovo X220 tablet PC (with graphs!)

| decision, geek, laptop, review

Mel Chua asked about my experience with tablets, so I thought I’d look at the results of getting a Lenovo X220i tablet PC last August.

J- needed a replacement laptop, so I passed along my Lenovo X61 tablet and took the opportunity to buy a new Lenovo X220i tablet. I kitted it out with maximum memory and a decent (but not solid-state) hard drive. For a while, I did my work development on it as well. After my work laptop got upgraded, I switched to using the new work laptop for development and work mail. Now I use the X220 for drawing, writing and personal projects.

The X220 arrived on September 1. From September 1 to October 27, I used it for work and life. My work laptop arrived on October 27. Here’s how that time breaks down:

September 1 to October 28 (58 days, 443 hours)
and occasional use during our trip to the Philippines

October 29 to November 4 (7 days, 21 hours; day before time of writing)


464 hours so far (probably undercounted)
Total cost so far $1300 = ~ $1150 + memory and hard drive ~ $150?
~ $2.80/usage hour (not including electricity, etc.) over 65 days

I think it’s definitely worth it, especially considering it’s only been two months. If I assume use of about 2-4 hours each day, that’s about 900 hours for the rest of a full year or a total of 1360 hours or so, which brings the cost per usage hour to about $1. If I use it for two or more years before replacing, cost per usage hour goes down even more.

I haven’t done as much drawing with the new computer as I thought I would, but that’s because building a personal dashboard has been filling my spare brain space, and I’ve been drawing on paper too. I should see about building in a routine of regular drawing lessons and exercises.

Other stats: I’ve been using the free Workrave program to remind myself to take breaks. One of the side benefits is that it can also report on some usage statistics, such as keystrokes and mouse clicks.


Keystrokes are reported using the axis on the left, and mouse clicks are reported using the axis on the right. For ease of comparison, I’ve made the keystrokes scale ten times bigger than the scale of the mouse clicks. This tells me that how much I kept using my X220 for programming while I eased into using the X420 (so my work hours are undercounted in the table above), and that I used the X220 very lightly during our trip (October 4 to October 15).

Total number of keystrokes: 2,287,106, or around 450,000 words if I were typing just words instead of programming, navigating my system, deleting and replacing stuff, and so on. I’m surprised to see my mouse stats: a little over 1 mouse click for every 20 keystrokes. I’m not entirely sure how Workrave handles tablets, so a lot of that might come from drawing. Unfortunately, I don’t have stats from my X61 – it might’ve been interesting to do a comparison and see if I did end up using it much more.

Also, I now have even more appreciation for the things I can do with time-tracking and Workrave data. =) Yay multipurpose or effectively free data! Who knows, maybe I’ll even set up things like ManicTime so I can automatically track at the application level.

J- is delighted with the hand-me-down X61 and has been doing her homework on it. She’s even started taking it to school. She draws with it, too. It’s getting a lot of good use.

Conclusion: Good decision. Would make the same decision again if I needed to. In fact, would have probably gotten a new tablet at an earlier decision point. =)

Other tablet notes for helping people decide:

If you need the finer resolution, pressure sensitivity, and visual feedback of a Cintiq, it’s a terrific pro tool. If you don’t mind not being able to see your screen and you’ll usually have a flat surface to work on, a small tablet is a less expensive experiment. Tablet PCs are much, much more awesome, though – portability means actually using it more often!

History: I saved up for the Cintiq because I wanted the reassurance of being able to see what I was drawing without having to rely on hand-eye coordination. I also reasoned that keeping the drawing functionality separate from processing (so a tablet instead of a tablet PC) would make it easier for me to upgrade the processor/hardware specs, because I could just upgrade the computer it was connected to.

Getting the Cintiq was a good decision at the time. It helped me learn how to draw more quickly and more confidently. I ended up spending my drawing time downstairs, though, so I bought a small Bamboo Pen + Touch for portable experiments. I used that one from time to time on the kitchen table, but I found myself rarely using it elsewhere because I needed too much desk space, and the separated visual feedback wasn’t much fun. When I got an X61 second-hand, that was amazing, and I had much more fun drawing with it. Later, I crunched the numbers and realized that buying a current Lenovo X220 cost about the same as buying a used X61, replacing the battery, and adding other stuff. When J-’s old laptop broke, we decided to pass my X61 down to her, and I got an X220. (Which is awesome!)

In short: a tablet PC was more than worth it for me, and way more fun than a regular PC or a regular tablet. I’d recommend that as the path of least regret, although not if it involves going to debt or eating unhealthily. A small drawing tablet is a decent way to experiment, but it’s not very portable. The Cintiq is not portable at all, and doesn’t get you that much more compared to a relatively recent tablet PC. Hope that helps!

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Dusting off my Sony Vaio U1

| geek


Years ago, my dad gave me his Sony Vaio PCG-U1 – one of the smallest laptops around. It had an 867MHz Transmeta Crusoe processor, 256MB memory, a 1024×768 pixel screen that measured only 6.4” diagonally, and a total weight of 820 grams with the regular battery. It used 30W per hour. It was tiny. It turned heads at computer conferences and at cafes. I even managed to sell advertising on it during one of my experiments.

The screen was small, but I managed to write a lot of code on it anyway. The two-handed mouse and scroll-switch even made it easy to use while walking around. I used it so much that the keyboard showed obvious wear and the mouse cap was completely worn away. I have a lot of memories bound up in this little device. It was quirky-fun. It had personality beyond that of my Fujitsu Lifebook, my later Eee netbook, or even my current X220 tablet.

During the Labour Day weekend, W- dusted off the PCG-U1 and worked on restoring it. He removed all the keycaps, brushed all the debris out, and painstakingly rearranged the silicone domes under keys until the regular keyboard worked again. He’s so awesome.

I don’t know what we’re going to do with it yet, but we’ll keep it around instead of donating or recycling it. I thought about just keeping a picture of it, but there’s something about picking it up and holding it that a picture just doesn’t communicate. It’s so cute!


  • Picture frame
  • Dashboard
  • Flashcards
  • Cooking recipes
  • Portable notetaking device when a tablet is overkill and a smartphone isn’t enough; say, if I want to use Emacs or speech synthesis

Ah, technology…

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Drawing with my tablet

| cat, sketches


Drawing with my new tablet PC is lots of fun. Instead of being stuck in the basement or near a table large enough to hold a laptop and a regular tablet, I can draw pretty much anywhere – like the couch where Neko loves to nap.

There are plenty of drawing programs for tablets. Some mimic traditional drawing media: pencils, charcoal, even oil paint. Some let you use all sorts of effects. Others take a different approach to drawing, with lines and shapes that you can draw and edit. I like the latter more, because I can tweak my drawings until they look more like what I had in mind.

My favourite drawing program is Inkscape. Using it in full tablet mode isn’t as convenient as working on the Cintiq because I don’t have all the buttons I’m used to, but I’ve been working on my configuration to make it easier to draw. I use mouse gestures to switch between different tools so that I don’t have to click on the toolbox, and I’ve mapped one of the buttons on the tablet frame to “Delete”.

Growing up, I hadn’t really thought of myself as artistic. We’d fallen into the habit of labelling ourselves, I guess. My eldest sister and I were academically and technologically inclined. My middle sister was the one who was good at photography and drama and all that stuff. In high school, the split became even bigger as I compared myself with classmates who created beautiful landscapes and still-life drawings in art and drafting. Gadgets and presentations lured me back into drawing. I got a Nintendo DS to play games and draw on it, discovering along the way that drawing was a lot of fun. I sketched a presentation on it, and the overwhelming response to that told me I’d stumbled across something more fun than illustrating my presentations with impersonal stock photographs. I’m beginning to think of myself as someone who can draw–perhaps not amazingly well, but enough to make me and other people smile.

I have a feeling this will definitely be worth the money I set aside for it. =)

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On a Lenovo X61

| geek, sketches

imageI’ve been saving up for a Lenovo X61 for a while. Drawing had turned out to be tons of fun, and l wanted something more portable than my much-enjoyed Cintiq 12WX. So when l came across a Craigslist ad offering the X61 at a decent price, I went for it.

It’s the computer I thought it would be. And it understands my handwriting! So now l get to experiment with my workflow to figure out what works for me…

By golly, the future is actually here.

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Wahoo! iPod Photo

| emacs, linux

So much for not being a gadget freak. =)

Dad got me an iPod Photo (30GB). After I formatted it to FAT32 using Windows, it mounted easily under Linux.
I used the excellent bbdb-vcard-export.el to export my address book to lots and lots of VCF files, which I then copied into the iPod Photo.

I downloaded a couple of speeches and podcasts for my spiffy new iPod.
I’m looking for audio books and poetry. Would anyone have a freely
distributable archive of Shakespearean sonnets in MP3 form? If not,
I’ll probably try using a synthesizer to make instant e-books, or I
can record them a poem or two at a time…

Downside? Adding new photos requires iTunes, which means I need to use
either Windows or a Mac. I guess I’ll really be bringing the Vaio with

Also, I’m really looking forward to
ipodlinux fully supporting the iPod
Photo. I’d love to run Linux on the device! I need to figure out how
to flash the bootloader on and how to recover from mistakes. If I get
that working, then I can help hack…

我々は問題解決と情報整理のためにコンピューターを使う。 We use computers to solve problems and to put information in order.

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