Fan Lights Now CF

Almost all of the light bulbs in my house have been converted over to compact fluorescent bulbs using 75% less energy, but I was never able to replace the little lights in the ceiling fan of my bedroom until today. Today at Home Depot I saw that they had compact fluorescent fan lights. cfbulb.jpg The fan has candelabra bulbs in it that burn out all the time, so it would be nice if I could find something that wouldn’t burn out and would be more energy efficient. These have a kind of chubby shape to them and you can see a skinny helix inside the bulb despite the frosted glass that covers it. They’re certainly not as attractive. But they were also only $1 each. So I bought three of them. They are made with the narrow base that my light fixture uses, but they come with adapters so they can be screwed into a regular base. One of them has some flicker to it, so I will take that one back.

They seem to take a little while to get to full brightness. It isn’t just a few seconds, but maybe 30 seconds or more. The tint of the light is decent, but they aren’t quite as bright as the old bulbs I had in there, which are labeled as 25 watt while these CF bulbs are labeled 15 watt (and actually use 3 watts). Here is a mix of the bulbs installed for comparison with the incandescent bulb on the left and the CF bulbs in the middle and on the right:

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Palm Repairs

A couple of weeks ago the switch on my Palm TX stopped working. I did some searching and found a good post on a Palm forum by Woz of Oz (if it is not Apple co-founder and Dances With the Stars contestant Steve Wozniak, it is someone who wants you to think it is him) that said you can use the center button to turn on the Palm and get the clock pop-up, which leaves you in whatever program you were in last (whereas the Calendar, Memo, and other buttons turn the Palm on but take you to those programs). So I have been doing that lately. To turn it off you just wait a minute and it goes off on its own. I’m hoping Apple releases a nice update to the iPod Touch next month and I can use that instead of the Palm.

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SunriseXP and Plucker

Today is the day that AvantGo became AvantGone. I was looking for a replacement and found a discussion about the topic. The simplest replacement seemed to be MobiPocket. This used to be a $20 piece of software for reading e-books, but Amazon bought the company and now it is free. Though they want you to buy e-books from their store, they also let you set up RSS feeds for free. I knew nothing about RSS feeds, so this morning I downloaded the software and tried to figure it out. I found some RSS feeds for the New York Times, Space.com, and The Economist and sychronized. Eventually it seemed to be working okay and I was off to work. But when I went to read the articles, the ones from Space.com were good (though a little jumbled with text for credit and ads), but the Times and Economist were just headlines. I guess headlines work fine if you add them to your My Yahoo home page, but not for offline reading.

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End of AvantGo

One of my favorite uses of my early laptop computers was as an offline browser. I had a program that would download a page and everything linked on that page. By pointing it to the table of contents of that month’s Business Week, Atlantic Monthly, or Scientific American, I was able to download all of the articles. Then I could read them on the go and they would come up instantly without any sort of wired or wireless connection. It was great for the train.

When I ditched the laptops and got a Palm, there was a similar piece of software called AvantGo. It was designed to download sites of its partners, but you could also tell it to download custom sites. I used it for a while to download US News and World Report and still use it to download my blog and movie reviews. Since I am reading on the train and it goes underground, even wireless networks can’t provide this kind of service (if I wanted to pay for them, which I don’t). I use it to get most of the New York Times, movie times, movie reviews, space.com, and Tidbits (a Mac-oriented newsletter).

In the latest AvantGo download they announced they would no longer be providing mobile service as of June 30. Apparently they have become obsolete in an age of smartphones and data plans.

This was one of those programs that really made the Palm useful and unique. I don’t think offline browsing was ever really embraced by the general public, but I love it. And as far as I know there isn’t anything to replace it. They mentioned a program that is available, but it doesn’t run on Palms. There are RSS feeders, but I’m not sure what exists for Palm and if I can get the entire articles at once so that I can read them later without being connected. Unlike Amazon’s Kindle, the content was all free. And unlike smartphones, there was no data plan I had to buy. I could still carry around my dumb phone.

I know eventually I will replace the Palm TX I have now with an iPod Touch, but the Touch still lacks some key functionality that the Palm has like synching with an Access database, Word and Excel documents, and my Outlook calendar. AvantGo (or some kind of offline browser) was one of those things I wanted for the Touch to have too.

Lately I have been watching movies on the Palm on the way home from work so I haven’t used AvantGo as much, but I definitely use it every week. And with my newspaper subscription running out soon and the price doubling, I was thinking I would be synching every morning to AvantGo so I could still read the news on the way in. Oh well. A great idea, now thrown on the heap of obsolescence.

Palm TX Review

I’ve been meaning to write a review of the Palm TX on Amazon for a while. After writing a brief review of a replacement Palm stylus, I decided to write up the TX too. Here it is:

4 stars

Very Good

I have had my Palm TX now for about 3 months. I have had a Palm Vx, m515, and now this one, and its capabilities blow the others away. The screen is fantastic. I love the extra space and resolution, plus the landscape mode. Having wifi is a huge plus even though I don’t have a wireless network at home or work. With the better processor, this is also super fast. It sorts through 300 records in Smartlist in about a second.

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TV on the Go

The iPod video is pretty neat because you can take videos with you on the iPod just like with songs. But it has a pretty tiny screen. The Palm TX has a much larger screen (3.8 inches diagonally vs. 2.5 inches for the iPod) that offers more detail (480×320 vs. 340×320). So there was promise there.

The problem was I couldn’t move my DVD’s to the Palm. I found two great pieces of software. One is DVD Decrypter (so glad I live in Denmark) and the other is PocketDivXEncoder. DVD Decrypter lets you move the DVD to your hard drive and PocketDivXEncoder then makes it pretty easy to convert the files to the right resolution. I was able to convert a 25 minute episode of Seinfeld (I now own seasons 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6) to a file that was 180 MB. Once I get it on the SD card, I then used a nice media player called TCPMP (with codecs for MP4 video and MP3 audio installed) to watch the show, full screen (landscape). It looks really good as long as you are in the right light conditions (the screen picks up a lot of glare on the Copenhagen Metro train).

The process is kind of slow. Ripping takes a couple of minutes per episode and translating takes another 20 minutes or so. Then it takes a few minutes to move the file over to an SD card, but a lot of this can be done away from the computer. PocketDivXEncoder lets you queue multiple episodes and will even shut down the computer when it is done if you want to go to bed or leave the house. By doing that, I can get the 5 or 6 episodes that might be on a DVD of the 4 DVD season set up in about 15 minutes, then let it crank away for about an hour.

Some guidelines for PocketDivxEncoder: The default audio quality of 7 is fine, but video quality can be dropped down to 60 (instead of 80) and still get good quality (images get jpeggy lower than that). I had one series of shows that was widescreen, but did this by using black bars at the top and bottom. This caused the program to default to a resolution 426×320 (a ratio of 1.33:1 like regular TV) instead of using the full width availabe (480×320 for the Palm TX), so I had to manually change it to 480 and let the back bands overrun the top and bottom. Under advanced options, I selected 2-pass encoding and B-lines which slow down encoding time, but increase quality without increasing file size.

For DVD Decrypter: Make sure you are in IFO Mode and you will see a tree of content divided by folders named VTS and in those are PGC subfolders which in turn contain the episodes of a show with the minutes in parentheses (these are net minutes after the commercials are taken out; even the disclaimers are removed). Pick one of those and a folder on your hard drive to store it in. Half-hour shows are usually around 23 minutes and hour-long shows are 46. Short things are menus or extras.

Graffiti is back!

The main drawback of owning the new Palm TX was that Palm had to abandon the Graffiti handwriting recognition system for Graffiti 2, which was awful. After exploring alternatives and getting excited about my new keyboard, I drug out my Palm VX to do a speed comparison. On the first try I got 24.7 words per minute (after weeks of practice I was up to 23.3 wpm with Salamander writing the most common words, for which it is optimized). Wow. Plus I realized that with myKbd I had to look closely at the keyboard to tap the right keys, but with Graffiti I can look at what I am copying down and not look at the Palm.

So I went back and looked for the files. I found some updated files dated in April 2005. Before installing them I did a Hot Sync to back everything up (with the other files my Palm wouldn’t boot and I had to do a hard reset, wiping out its entire memory to get it to work again). Then I put the files on the SD card, moved them over to the Palm, and did a soft reset. It took a while to boot and I thought it was frozen, but then the prefs screen popped up! I was in business. It is even compatible with myKbd, which just replaces the old Palm keyboard.

Salamander

After making what I thought was a much improved myKbd key layout, I found out why the other designs put the space in the middle. In a separate e-mail (and in the options in the program), Alex pointed out that if you are sliding through letters (rather than pecking them) and you run across the space key in the middle of the word, the space is ignored. This opens up a lot more digraphs and trigraphs since now you can slide from E to 8 other letters (instead of 5 on Metropolis if you ignore this feature or 6 on my layout). In fact, all of the letters that touch the space key have 8 letters they can go to, and they are all very common letters. The stylus travels further than if they are touching, but you still get to slide which I think may provide a speed advantage.

salamander

If I give those key combinations one point then Metropolis goes from 14 to 21 (out of the top 30 digraphs and top 15 trigraphs for a maximum score of 45), QUONG goes from 17 to 25, and because my space key is off to the side I stay at 24. I came up with a new design taking advantage of this feature and it has a score of 20/29. More on that later.

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Graffiti Alternative

I’ve been pretty frustrated with my new Palm TX’s Graffiti 2 software for inputting text. With the old Graffiti I could get about 20 words per minute (a word is 5 keystrokes, including spaces). That’s a lot slower than I can type (60 wpm or so) but in a pinch it lets me write fast enough that I don’t usually forget what I’m writing about. With the new Graffiti I am getting 10 words per minute. I could probably get that up to 15 with practice, but it is still slower since some letters are now two strokes (f, i, k, t, and x) and others are easily confused like u and v. So I’m also getting lots of typos.

On the Brighthand website (kind of like iLounge for handhelds) people mentioned a program called MyKbd by Alexander Pruss. It turns the writing area into a screen of hexes, each with a letter on it. You tap the letters you want, just like on a keyboard, but he has made it faster than a keyboard by putting the most frequently used letters next to each other, optimizing it for people using a stylus. He took it further by letting you slide from one hex to an adjacent one. Naturally he put t and h next to each other so you can just slide from the t to the h and “th” appears on the screen. And e is after that so that you can write “the” with one well-placed stroke.

Some IBM engineers used computers to optimize the layout of the keys with the following result, called Metropolis:

kbd-metro.gif

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Palm TX

After waiting through much of October to see what new products Palm might introduce and seeing only updated Treos (which include phones), I decided to buy a new Palm T|X, which originally came out last year. Amazon had them for $260 instead of the usual $299. Since I couldn’t get a commission on my own purchase, I bought it after visiting The Opossum Society of the United States which I noticed was an Amazon Associate after doing research there for my post on finding an opossum in the back yard.

Naturally, Amazon was very slow so after ordering it two weeks ago it took 8 days to arrive, by which time I was out of town. So I didn’t actually get it until Dad’s birthday on Wednesday. The TX has many advantages over my old m515. It has a faster processor, larger high resolution screen (the graffiti area is usable screen space now), can accept up to 4 GB SD cards, and best of all has WiFi capability, allowing it to tap in to wireless networks.

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