Archive for July, 2009

New Feeds

The regular feed update – this one is fairly substantial with new blogs from all over the place.

Astronomy Picture of the Day – excellent images from NASA that truly inspire discovery

Humor
Apokalips – I like this comic. It is fairly new to the scene.
Overcompensating – This is a great webcomic, fairly classic, not-so-classy. I was absolutely hooked with Awkward People Island.
Thinkin Lincoln – not sure why this wasn’t on my list yet – the comic is enshrined on our Internet Wall (along with xkcd and dinosaur comics). Quality has gone down lately (since the Bermuda Triangle arc), but the author just switched to a weekly format, so that should help. After all, Space Trips are only A Question of Science in the Two-Party System 🙂 [bonus win]

Politics
Paul Krugman Blog – one of the most influential economists of our times. His daily political musings are interesting and often turn me to other cool resources.
Paul Krugman – his New York Times opeds

Tech
Wired Top News – Fills the void in tech reporting that Ars Technica doesn’t cover. Great general geeky science stuff.

Cognitive Science
Neurophilosophy – good blog on the brain and philosophy from Science Blogs.

Productivity
Study Hacks – good blog on becoming a better student, following many of the principles established by the rest of my Productivity section: doing less is more (to an extent)

Unsubscibed
DailyTech – DailyTech sucks. There is little to no editorial process – every single article has at least 3 typos and just wrong information. I could write better stuff in 7th grade. They also lag behind the rest of the tech journalism world by 2 days or so. I’ve kept subscribed to them because they had general science news and great hardware review overviews, but now that I’m a redditor, I don’t need this.
Reddits – see the reddit post

The master subscription list has been updated.

New to RSS or Google Reader? How I Do Google Reader

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Reddit

This week I signed up for reddit. My Google Reader had accumulated 5 or 6 subreddits, so I was pretty much using the site already. The same thing happened with Twitter – I was following 6 or 7 people through Reader and finally decided it was time to give back.

The site is basically a much better, more filtered version of Digg. It’s not as good-looking, but it’s way more functional. You subscribe to different topics you are interested in and the main page aggregates all these “subreddits” on the main page, so the articles that show up should at least be relevant. You are able to vote articles up or down and comment. You can also submit new articles, or submit a general question for fellow redditors to use. There are 5 tabs on the top of each reddit: what’s hot, new, controversial (voted equally up and down), top (best of), saved (your bookmarks in that reddit). These can lead to really cool hive mind things, like a list of best TED talks.

My reddit subscriptions are mostly for tech stuff: reddit.com, politics, technology, programming (proggit), science, linux, cogsci, Python, javascript, Ubuntu, hardware, compsci, cyberlaws, tedtalks, java, PHP. If you join up, I’m JaimieMurdock.

Because reddit is not responsible for lost productivity, I’ve set a 20 minute limit for every 6 hours in LeechBlock, which is in effect all day every day. It takes some enforced self-control not to be consumed 😉

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Netbook Overview

Netbooks are a new computer form factor designed to provide extreme portability at a low price for wireless access anywhere. They achieve this through a small chassis and low-power hardware. Netbooks are secondary computers, aimed at people who already have a kickass desktop or a bulkier laptop and just want something to can bring to class, lounge with on the couch, or browse with at the coffee shop.

Six months ago I got a refurbished Dell Mini 9 netbook for $240 from Dell Outlet. The size still elicits a “wow” – at every lecture this semester neighbors have asked if they can play with it. (sometimes during the talk!) The overall netbook market has settled on a 10″ standard.

General Notes
Hardware
There are dozens of netbooks and almost all of them have the exact same specs: 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB RAM, no DVD drive, 9-10″ screen, integrated graphics, 1024×600 resolution, and a webcam of some sort. Things that will vary widely are battery life and keyboard size.

The lack of a DVD drive will probably bother some people, as will the presence of integrated graphics. Both of these are non-essential to the netbook philosophy, which dictates that everything important is on the internet. If not, you need a more powerful computer anyways. nVidia’s Ion platform aims to change the graphics issues, but has seen slow adoption.

Operating Systems
Windows 7 has been touted as the best choice for a Windows netbook experience. Although not formally launching until October 2009, the release candidate can be easily acquired. The redesigned task bar helps promote minimalism and new optimizations make it run smoother than previous Windows incarnations. Vista is all but impossible to use functionally. XP is offered on almost all netbooks, and is the preferred choice over Vista.

I prefer Linux, which has finally matured enough for mainstream use. Several vendors ship with Ubuntu Linux. I find that Ubuntu to be far more usable than Windows, especially the painless updates and streamlined software download and install process. I tried the Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) which is optimized for small screens, but I wasn’t a fan of the particular application launcher. My final configuration was a self-remixed version of the Desktop Edition, adding the uses the Maximus, Window Picker, and Human Netbook Theme packages.

I just got an invite for the Jolicloud alpha, which looks like a promising netbook OS with a much better app launcher. I’ll update with impressions later.

Specific Models
Dell Mini 9
My netbook is the Dell Mini 9 – “little-guy”. It is about the same size and weight as a standard hardcover book (see above). The display is an amazing LED backlit display with great colors and contrast – it has been favorably compared to the MacBook Pro displays. The build quality is very solid. There are no moving parts in the entire chassis due to the low-power Atom processor enabling a fanless design and the use of a solid state drive. In addition, every component is extremely easy to access – requiring only the removal of 2 screws to get to the wifi card, hard drive and RAM (see below). On the standard 4-cell battery it gets about 4 hours of battery life on full brightness with wireless enabled.

There are two caveats. First, the keyboard is wonky due to the 9″ form factor. Dell decided to sacrifice the standard layout to ensure that the letters were near normal size. My typing speed is about 20% slower than on a full-size keyboard when punctuation is required. Also the solid state drive in the base model is only 4GB. Since most of my data is on the cloud, this isn’t a big deal. If you need more space, there is an SD HC slot on the side and the hard drive is easily replaceable.

The base Dell install of Ubuntu 8.04 is okay, but not excellent. The OS is bundled with the Yahoo web apps suite linked everywhere, which was frustrating since I live on the Google cloud. The application launcher was very well done. Software updates were a pain since Dell used an LPIA Linux kernel instead of the more ubiquitous i386 kernel. In usage, there is no difference, but it does mean that the package manager is severely limited. You can also order the computer with Windows XP.

All in all, I think the form factor of the Mini 9 is well worth it, and doubt I would toss it around as much if it were slightly bigger. The keyboard can be overcome, especially when you recognize that it is meant to be a secondary computer. If I need to do serious work, I’ll get on my desktop.

Dell Mini 9 next to an exemplar hardback Dell Mini 9 internals

Other Reccomendations
LifeHacker has an excellent Hive Five article on netbooks: Five Best Netbooks. It focuses on 10″ models, which seem to be the emerging standard. The Asus 1000HE has received much praise.

If you are interested in a 9″, the Dell Vostro A90 is the same as the Mini 9. The Mini 9 has been removed from the main page, but it appears you can order it here.

Purchasing Notes
If you are an IU student looking to purchase a netbook, remember the IU Dell Partnership Program. You’ll be asked to authenticate via CAS and then taken to a custom Dell page with 7-12% discounts on all items.

Everyone should look into the Dell Outlet. The prices are severely lowered and all computers come with a standard 1-year warranty. My Mini 9 came from the outlet, and I have been completely satisfied.

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Recovery

Just went to Bloomington Bone and Joint for another appointment with the doctor and therapist and they declared my elbow healed, with full motion and no restrictions! I’m extremely ecstatic as this was supposed to be a 6 week process, and I’ve done it in 3.

deCycles 2009 seems to have gone really well – Patti/Signe, Stacey, and Andrew got back on Sunday. The prevailing sentiment is that the trip brings you to overwhelming highs and lows, but it’s a completely different mental state – one of those “you have to experience it” things. They all seem to have grown through the experience, especially in “get-up-and-go”-ness.

Of course I’m bummed that I couldn’t finish the trip, and it sucks that I’m in every article as “one of the two who couldn’t make it”. I still made something out of the past two weeks though:

  • Put in over 30 hours, which turns into a lot of money.
  • Earnestly started on the InPhO paper.
  • Enjoyed some time reflecting and set two (reasonably) ambitious goals for the next year:
    1. Establish an emergency fund of $1,000 and leave debt behind by January.
    2. Publish/present at least 3 times by next May.

Also, I have to get back on the bike and get really serious about training. Sure, I put in 650 miles before deCycles, but they were sporadic – 150 miles one week, 0 the next two. In order for it to become a lifestyle, I need to be consistent. There’s still 3 1/2 months before winter and next semester has a lot of free time for group rides. I’m thinking short 20-25 mile rides on MTWR (2 hours tops) and then longer 50+ mile rides over the weekend (mornings at 9). Let me know if you’re interested! Company for the weekend rides would be especially awesome 🙂

This year’s deCycles is going to nag at me for a long time. There’s not much of a silver lining, but dwelling on “might-have-beens” isn’t gonna do anything. There’s still the Hilly Hundred, a return trip to Wisconsin (potential route – Bike 4 Trails, Great River Road, Wisconsin River Valley, Madison) and maybe deCycles 2010. Things happen, so I’ll take solace in only being down for 3 weeks.

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New Feeds

A few more sites to be aware of…

Humor
passive-agressive notes – Saw this site at NACAP two weeks ago during the Facebook Forum. If you like this kind of thing, you should subscribe.
Zero Punctuation – Yahtzee, the British-born Australia-based video game reviewer, is an unending source of comedy gold: Sims 3 review

Productivity
The Art of Nonconformity – This guy is awesome, and wants everyone else to be awesome too. I agree. Chris has some unconventional ideas on how to be awesome, but that’s because awesomeness is unconventional. His life-manifesto “A Brief Guide for World Domination” is definitely worth reading. He also travels a bit. Start with the articles listed on his writings page, they’re pretty cool.

The master subscription list has been updated.

New to RSS or Google Reader? How I Do Google Reader

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