Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thanks for the memories Space Shuttle

I remember watching the very first NASA Space Shuttle launch on television back in April 1981. I was almost seven years old. Today marked the final flight of the shuttles. It's sad to see this magnificent, but flawed, vehicle retire, especially when the US has no replacement.

It felt funny visiting the Powerhouse Museum last Sunday and seeing the mock Shuttle cockpit standing over the other displays of space paraphernalia, knowing that Atlantis was up above the Earth on its final mission.

I hope we never stop gazing upwards.

The launch of Columbia on the very first shuttle mission © NASA

Atlantis lands on the last mission © NASA

Atlantis on its final mission as seen from the
CSIRO Parkes Radiotelescope
© John Sarkissian/CSIRO

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I'd rather a robot than a dumb model: Android vs iPad 2

I bought my wife a Android tablet for her birthday. Then I had to take it back and replace it with an Apple iPad 2. It should have been the other way around.

I have to admit that, when I visited JB HiFi (I had a voucher), the iPad 2 felt so much sexier in my hands than the Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet. It was light, sleek and responsive. If I had a choice of which one to take on the train every day the iPad would win hands down. But I was purchasing a wifi only tablet to replace a heavy notebook PC that sits beside the bed and occasionally makes it to the kitchen to display recipes.

B wants to

  1. View websites
  2. Check her Gmail account
  3. See photos
  4. Play basic games
How do the two tablets stack up? Well, I never got to use the Iconia, but I did check the specs and I own an Android phone (HTC Desire).

1. View websites

I've read that some websites automatically serve mobile pages to all Android devices, regardless of whether they are tablets or phones, while iPads are often treated separately to iPhones. However, I've had few problems with websites on my HTC Desire. I really like the common url/search functionality of the address bar, a feature it shares with Google's Chrome browser, and I believe that in the tablet version it has tabbed browsing, a must-have for me. The phone and the iPad share a "new window" system.

Where the iPad really falls over is in the lack of Adobe Flash support. B can't view things like Masterchef videos, Sydney Morning Herald videos, the ABC for Kids website, all things that would be really useful from a tablet.

I have no such issues from my Desire and often content displays better than on my Intel Atom based netbook. I can amuse Alex with a Playschool episode in the car thanks to the Flash support on Android.

2. Check Gmail

Considering that both Android and Gmail are Google products you'd expect that they would be better on the Android tablet. I have no real quibble yet with the iPad mail client, but I do like the Android notifications system and the ability to put widgets on your home screen so you could easily check email without needing to open a dedicated client. Plus Android supports Google Talk - good for when we are apart.

3. See photos

The Iconia offers Acer's Clear-fi DLNA client out of the box, and all our photos are available from a DLNA enabled networked hard disk. My Windows computers can view them, my phone (with Twonky Media installed) can view them, my Playstation 3 can view them, one of my televisions can view them, my digital photo frame can view them. Like my phone, the iPad requires the downloading of a third-party DLNA client (though I believe that newer versions of various Android phones have this feature included).

Where the Iconia comes into its own is the ability to mount an external USB drive through the USB host socket. It also has a mini-SD socket and presumably you could mount full SD cards it you attached a card reader to the USB socket. Photos, music and files can then be transferred using a simple file explorer rather than going through iTunes. More on that later.

4. Play games

The iPad probably has the edge here thanks to the number of applications available through the Apps Store. There are still plenty of games for Android, enough to keep her happy I'm sure.

Other comments

The need to use iTunes with the iPad really irritates me. I have other Apple software installed and their constant updates are a real pain. I just want to drag and drop files from any computer or device I care to hook the iPad into, not go through an overblown program. The iTunes account sign up process also feels like an invasion of privacy.

The Iconia offered flexibility and I could see it largely replacing a laptop, especially if using an external keyboard for faster typing. The ability to plug in external devices would be great for travel, where you may not have access to a PC running iTunes.

I love the ability to use widgets on the home screen of Android devices. They are great for checking Twitter posts, RSS feeds and email. The iPad screen is really just icons.

Using the iPad 2 feels like you are constrained to do everything the Apple way and it's irritating how many want to slavishly follow them. I'd rather freedom.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

There's a duck in my bed

"Quack quack!" said Alex, as he slept beside me. "Quack quack!"

I think he was asleep. Or maybe he just wanted to make me laugh before returning to sleep this morning.

Sleeping in is such a wonderful thing.

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