nine books

I started reading this post on the NY Times site earlier this evening. I had to stop and bookmark it for later, since there were so many interesting lists in the comments. If you’re looking for a good book to read, just run though the comments and pick one out! So many good books, so little time. I’d second the many recommendations for 100 Years of Solitude. Ditto for the Harry Potter books, the Dark Materials trilogy, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Shakespeare, Vonnegut, Borges, Bradbury, Flannery O’Connor, and a bunch of others.

And there are some interesting recommendations for books I haven’t read, but that might be worth adding to my Amazon wish list: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, for instance. I ran across a reference to one of his other books recently, but, prior to last week, I’d never heard of him.

The Road got a few mentions, and that’s another one I haven’t read. Looking at the description now, though, I see that there are cannibals in the book. I generally find that I’m disappointed by any book with cannibals in it, so maybe I’ll avoid that. And it’s got the Oprah stamp on it too, which is kind of scary.

And this list reminds me, again, that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Animal Farm. Sigh.

iPod Touch

I picked up an iPod Touch at CostCo today. Primarily, I’m just looking at it as a replacement for my Nano, which I’ll probably be selling to a friend for a few bucks. I like it a lot, though there are a few little annoyances. Here’s a couple of bullet lists of good and bad stuff:


  • The interface, in general, looks nice and works well. The multi-touch stuff works well.
  • Safari works well on most sites, and there are a lot of sites that are formatted either for the iPhone/iPod Touch specifically, or more generally for mobile devices, that work really well. The browser on the PSP, by comparison, doesn’t work nearly as well.
  • The screen looks pretty good. I synced a few episodes of Heroes down to the device, and they look nice.
  • QuickTime and PDF support in Safari. (I was actually pleasantly surprised about the PDF support. I wasn’t expecting it.)


  • Since there aren’t any physical controls, I’m not going to be able to use it without looking at it. That’s something that I take for granted on the Nano. I don’t think it’ll be too much of an annoyanyce, but we’ll see how that works out.
  • There’s one stuck pixel on the screen. It’s not really obvious, except on a solid black background, though.
  • The keyboard is a bit of a pain. It works, and I’ll probably get used to it, but I don’t think I’ll ever be using it to write blog posts or long e-mails. (It’s definitely better than typing on my Moto SLVR though.)
  • No Flash support. That kills some web sites that rely on it.
  • You can’t use a stylus on the screen, the way you would on a Palm. That kills some potential applications that won’t work with only finger controls, like maybe a drawing app or handwriting recognition.

We won’t see (approved) third-party apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch until next year. I’m hoping for a few key apps. First, a note-taking app. If I can get that, then I can probably (finally) dump my Palm i705. I use the Palm primarily for contacts, calendar, and notes. The Touch already has contacts & calendar; if they can just add notes, then they’ve got everything I need in a PDA. I’d like to see a good offline e-book reader, too. I don’t know if I’d use it a lot, but I’d like to have it. And maybe a couple of games that make innovative use of the multi-touch interface. Heck, even a simple solitaire game would be nice.


I don’t post about Somerville very often, but I thought I’d write a quick post to mark the passing of the Somerville Pathmark. I ran over there tonight to pick up some stuff, and found out that they’re closing tomorrow. I knew this was probably coming, due to the redevelopment plans for that center, but I thought there was still a chance that they’d leave Pathmark open. Oh well. I’ve been doing most of my shopping at Stop & Shop or Wegman’s lately anyway, but it was really nice to be able to just run across the street to Pathmark any time I needed milk or something. Now, I’ve got no grocery store in (easy) walking distance.

It looks like the borough is committed to opening up a new supermarket in that space eventually, so that’s good. And there’s some mildly amusing speculation and discussion on this over at C-N’s forums.

I was never entirely thrilled with the Somerville Pathmark, but it was a decent store, I knew where everything was, and it was usually pretty easy to get in, get what I needed, and get out. I hope all the employees manage to find decent work elsewhere, either at another local supermarket or maybe somewhere else in Somerville.

Hello from Ubuntu

OK, well, I’ve got Ubuntu working now. Here’s a few notes, in case they’re helpful to anyone else.

My machine is configured with one SATA drive and one older IDE drive. The SATA drive is my main drive, with Windows XP installed on it. I put Ubuntu on the IDE drive. The install went smoothly, but to get into Ubuntu, I had to go into my BIOS and change it so I’m now booting from the IDE drive rather than the SATA. The IDE drive now has GRUB on it, so that allows me to get into either Ubuntu or XP. And I customized GRUB to default to XP using Startup Manager, which I installed from the Add/Remove application, which is quite nice.

I’ve got an ATI video card, which worked fine by default, but of course I had to mess with it. I installed an ATI driver, then got the eye candy working using the method described here. It seems to be working OK.

I also installed a couple of other things that are pretty much necessary: The “Ubuntu Restricted Extras” package has the stuff you need to play MP3s and DVDs. And, for some reason, emacs isn’t installed by default, so you have to pull that down.


I decided to spend a little time this week playing around with Ubuntu 7.10. At work, I installed it on two old Dell Latitude notebooks that we had lying around. They’re pretty pathetic machines at this point. They’ve both got just 256MB of RAM, which is the minimum you need to get Ubuntu up and running. And, at that level, you really can’t run the graphical installer. Rather, you need to run the text installer from the “alternate” install CD. Once I figured that out, though, the installs went pretty smoothly. My plan is to use these laptops for some device configuration and network troubleshooting when we move to our new office. The one thing these laptops have that our new ones don’t have is a 9-pin serial port, which is pretty helpful for doing initial router configuration and stuff like that. And Linux is usually a bit better for general network troubleshooting than Windows.

Just for yuks, I’m now trying to install Ubuntu on my desktop XP machine, on a second drive. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to dual-boot cleanly, though I’ve sometimes had problems with that in the past, with other distros. I guess we’ll see how it works out.

Up until recently, I’d been kind of skeptical about Ubuntu. There are certainly a lot of Ubuntu fans out there, but I really didn’t think I needed to bother playing around with yet another distro. In the past, I’ve used Red Hat, Corel, Fedora, and probably three or four other distros, including some fairly oddball ones. I’m pretty fond of Red Hat and Fedora, mostly just because I’ve got the most experience with them. And I kind of liked the user experience on Corel Linux, but of course that got dropped after just one or two versions. Ubuntu definitely looks like a nice, user-friendly package. I’m looking forward to playing around with it.

Well, while I’ve been typing this post up, the install finished, and I rebooted the machine. It went straight into Windows XP, so I guess I need to do some research on the whole bootloader thing.

getting rid of stuff

I’m selling my old Toshiba E310 Pocket PC on eBay, if anyone out there is even vaguely interested.

I bought it back in 2002 mostly because my company was doing some stuff with Pocket PCs at the time, so I just wanted to familiarize myself with the platform, and also see if was any better than my Palm. Well, it never wound up replacing my old Palm i705 for day-to-day use, even though it was technically a better machine. (The i705 doesn’t even have a color screen.) I did have some fun playing games on it, and I also read a few eBooks on it. It was pretty good for that kind of thing. But I could never talk myself into using it as an organizer.

It does look a lot like the non-phone PDA is just about dead now. There’s really nothing new in that category coming out from either Palm or any Pocket PC vendor, except for some vertical market stuff.

Sony Reader

I was wandering around Costco today, and saw that they had the Sony Reader PRS-500 on sale for $250. I almost picked one up, but thought better of it. I’m glad I did, since a little research reveals that the new model, the PRS-505 came out last week. It’s available for $300 direct from Sony. I’ve been mighty tempted to pick one of these things up since they were first announced about a year ago, but I figured I should wait for the second gen, at least, assuming there would be one. Well, I guess now there is.

It’s still not altogether that compelling. It does 8 shades of grey (vs. 4 on the old one). Supposedly the screen refresh is faster. The interface seems to have been improved a bit. It appears that it still doesn’t support full-text search within a book, though. I really think that a decent search interface, along with the availability of a large number of technical reference books, would make this a killler device for programmers and other tech folks. And a partnership with Safari would be great too. Imagine being able to sync all the books on your Safari bookshelf down to this device. Safari’s nice, but you can’t really just sit back in a recliner and read a book off the Safari web site; it’s basically just good for reference. (I guess you *could* read a book off Safari, but I’m not comfortable doing it, even with my iBook. Notebook screens just aren’t good enough for extended reading sessions. At least for my tired old eyes.)

It’s still an interesting device, even if it’s only good for stuff that you’re going to read in a linear fashion — novels, mostly, and maybe some non-fiction. I like the idea of carrying a nice small device around, rather than carrying, say, the 1250-page Essential Ellison. Of course, they don’t have much Ellison available at the Sony ebook store. Heck, they don’t have any Tolkien, or any of the Harry Potter books either.

Maybe I’ll wait for the third generation!