A travel gear note. As airlines and airports regularly lose or even destroy cargo luggage, I try to travel light, and having only hand luggage means also going faster. My old Samsonite must be now over 10 years of age, and even while it is still ok (it has a durable build), I wanted to check what kind of bags are these days.
There are interesting Bluetooth enabled, smart bags developed these days, but I decided to go for something cheaper and light, and then combine the bag with a Tile, a smart tracker that I can locate with my smartphone apps.
My choice was a new generation Samsonite bag, called Short-Lite Upright 55 cm model (quite a calling name). In the below pics you can see the changes that have happened in the manufacture and design, as well as in weight of these things. As there is often 8 kg (sometimes even 7, or 6 kg) limit to the weight of cabin baggage, every gram or pound matters. The size of this model is 40 x 20 x 55 cm, which falls within the regulated limits. It can hold 41.5 liter, and comes with 5 year warranty. Samsonite had a campaign with 30 % discount in price (€125, down from €179 – there are cheaper alternatives, of course).
Compared to my old bag, the weight difference is pretty amazing. Old bag is much smaller, yet it has weight of 3.2 kg, which is twice the 1.6 kg of the new, larger cabin bag. The structure is not build to withstand cargo treatment, but feels solid enough and this is after all a soft bag, that you take to the cabin with you. “Edistys edistyy”, as they say in Finnish: Progress Progresses.
The exact point when summer starts is hard to define, weather and calendar both playing their tricks. When your summer vacation starts can set a fuctional entry point for most purposes.
There has been more administrative and various reporting & statement writing work dragging into June than ever before. I am really looking forward to a break; no word that I would be using my hard- earned vacation days for writing my own research, like in so many summers before. That means that I wont be publishing anything, but – that is academic reality this year. My personal goal is to cut radically down administrative duties during the next academic year and work my way back towards doing my own research more. Lets see how that will work out.
Meanwhile, still a couple of days in the office, and then – off we go!
Another nice thing to try out: since the iPad version we got was a Wi-Fi only model, it was interesting to see whether it would be possible to share the mobile data connection from my 3G mobile phone with it, in order to go online outside a WLAN network area.
Turns out this is actually quite easy. I bought a JoikuSpot Premium software for my Nokia N900, put in few details, and after launching it up, joined iPad into the newly established local Wi-Fi network. Surfing just fine (with up to c. 500 kbs download speeds in 3G network area). Nice! The only downside is that the battery of N900 runs out really fast if you are all the time running JoikuSpot in it.
Here are the very first impressions: yes, Apple has created a very cool and smart device in iPad. I want one for myself (typing this with our gamelab iPad), even while I am not sure what I would be really using it for. Yet. The real power of this thing is in the user experience; it it so futuristic it feels like entering into sci-fi — and for me that is not a bad thing.
The UI logic is pretty much that of iPhone, the size makes huge difference though. The bright window into media, combined with the intuitiveness of touch, plus the fact that iPad is very fast, makes common tasks feel a bit magical.
There are the obvious downsides, too. Not having flash makes no sense to me at all. This thing would be the killer Facebook gaming device. Now, apparently Apple is trying to kill flash and make eveyone develop native iPhone OS apps. Shame on them. Also, the virtual keyboard is pretty ok, but it is not something that is intended for serious typing tasks. This is mostly a rich media plaything.
Together with rest of the UTA Gamelab folks we will continue to test iPad, but currently there is the technical limitation that there appears to be no way to get paid iPad apps (games, nor books, or movies) for testing. iPad apps are not yet available in the Finnish iTunes, and you need a US credit card or bank account to be able to buy from the US iTunes/App Store. Damn. Need to continue testing the free sample apps then.
I have been using my old trusty JBL LX2 speakers in my home theater and continue to be happy — the soundscape and overall quality of sound they produce is nice. I have a identical second pair that I have been using as the rear speakers, bolted to the concrete walls using a Vogel’s mounting system. All well, except that LX2 is a rather large and heavy speaker to be fixed in a small cellar room — and the old walls appear to have rather soft material in places so the bolts stated to give up. I had to take LX2s down and use some epoxy style padding to fix the wall (yikes!) and then hammer drill the wall mounts back into place. After that, I was too tired to do much searching for the actual speakers (nice prioritization, isn’t it?), so I just walked to a local Musta Pörssi and bought the first pair that looked like the size, weight and design that I — and my old walls — could handle. I walked out with a shiny white pair of Tangent EVO E4, which was not perhaps not such a bad choice after all. There are not too many speakers in the same form factor and price range (this was c. 150 euros per pair) that can deliver much better sound — or at least that is my impression after some googling around now. My amplifier is an old Yamaha (RX-V630RDS) which can handle DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 so mostly the rear speakers are only used for the effects channel in movies. I have a small collection of Super Audio CDs among which even smaller number make use of the multichannel surround feature. I have now been testing the E4s with LX2s with Peter Gabriel’s UP as a surround Super Audio CD version, and while it is clear that they do not pack the punch that my wall mounted, rear LXs were capable of, I should be able to live with this arrangement. They deliver rather crispy, clear audio and the bass area is not as direction sensitive in any case as the treble area. — And an added plus: I am no longer in similar danger of hitting my head to a massive rear channel speaker while writing these blog notes.
There have been several recent (and not so recent) improvements in Picasa web service that Google owns, making it serious challenger to Flickr, which I have long used. (See a list from here.) There is also a cost issue: the Pro account of Flickr is $25 per year (unlimited uploads, unlimited storage), but you can get 20 GB of disk space from Google/Picasa with $5 per year. Rather than cost, it is really the privacy controls that start to concern me more and more as the kids grow up. Picasa web albums makes it a bit easier to share private photo albums (you just enter email addresses and send the invitation link). This, and other reasons have led me to consider migrating my photo galleries from Flickr to Picasa. As I have several deep integrations set up (particularly all photos in this blog actually reside in Flickr), it is questionable whether this transition really makes sense. On the other hand, I hate being tied to any single service, without ability to change service provider when needed. Flickr has not been particularly dynamic in coming up with new functionalities recently. Yet, integration with my mobile camera phones and mail systems is something that works well with Flickr, and I am not sure how such things would appear under Picasa/Google. But we will see. I am using the holiday period to do some tests, experimenting first with the free Migratr tool to backup and transfer all my Flickr photos into the Picasa account. It appears a bit buggy/easy to crash, but lets hope for the best. It is interesting to see how the transfer works out, and having backups in several places is a good idea in any case.
Pictured is Dr Per Binde, who was the opening speaker of the gambling/gaming studies seminar which takes place today in the University of Helsinki premises. The seminar is organised by Pelitoiminnan tutkimussäätiö (Finnish Foundation for Gaming Research), and you can find more, including the presentation abstracts from the web page: