The 50 Euro tablet

So I was ambling through the bottomless pit of despair that is Frankfurt Airport’s Terminal 1 to pass the time before my Lusthansa flight back to civilisation, when I felt the uncontrollable urge to enter one of those ‘duty free’ electronic shops sprinkled freely around the airports of this world, drawn like a particularly stupid fly to a liverwurst roll to its earphones, cameras and Iphones of pure gold. After ignoring the usual offerings by Beats for the 3gazillionst time, my eyes swiveled to a table that was decked out in tablets, particularly to one that was rather small and looked a bit podgy (the tablet, not the table). This was the Denver TAC-70111 , a 7″ tablet running Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean) by the Danish importer DENVER, sold new for 50 Euro (£ 41). I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t resist. This was just too tempting. While the best girlfriend ever rolled her eyes, I jumped like a little puppy to the check out, where the manager knowingly commented that they had tested the device at their shop and pronounced it better than expected.

As we had a good hour to wile away before our departure beyond the channel, I unboxed it and started to play around with it. First thoughts were obviously underwhelming: no Bluetooth, no mobile data, no camera on the back of the device. No home button. 512 MB DDR3 ram and 4 GB storage. But, it booted without problems, updated itself quickly and was by all means a fully functioning tablet, albeit with the speed of a pony that is carrying an overweight, hippophobic American tourist on Blackpool beach.

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Quick size comparison: Note 3, TAC-70111, Ipad Air

The screen is not particularly bright and has a sub-par resolution of 800×480, but is moderately responsive. There is a micro-SD card slot that will expand the built-in storage, a micro-usb adapter and a AC adapter, so the bare necessities are certainly there. The main problem is undoubtedly though the CPU: a single core allegedly running at 1.2 GHZ and there is no specsheet on the net that actually names it which is decidedly dodgy. JFDP Labs’ Hardware Info gives the following specs and makes the hardware manufacturer out as another Shengzen company, Itek :

Processor: ARMv7 Processor rev 2 (v7l)

Cores: 1

Max Frequency: 1200 Mhz

After many hours of research and downloading more hardware info proggies I am now convinced that this is a Allwinner A13 platform, a Chinese all-in-one computer that pretty much runs half the entertainment infrastructure of the world. Now this isn’t the world’s fastest processor and Mobo, but together with a mali 400mp graphic unit, the little thing is able to play content on the BBC’s Iplayer without hitch:

 

If this is stuttering, it’s your connection, not the tablet.

Now, for 41 quid I already had hours of geeky fun, a functioning toy to play with on the train and a possible gift for my nephew, though he’s not going to get it before I installed Cyanogenmod on it. Would I advise you to buy one? If there’s only a smidgen of nerdblood (technical term) in you, you’ll fire up your browser now and buy it this very second.  You might have more fun than that time when you tried to install OpenBSD on your first Gameboy.

Stay tuned for the report on Cyanogen insertion.

The Pursuit Of Making Your Favourite Music Sound Better

So I recently bought a SACD player.

A what?

A Super Audio CD player.

Why?

Good Question. There are a few albums that I like so much, I would really, really like to listen to them as close to the original as possible. While I do have my trusty turntable, some albums are just not available (or very expensive) on vinyl. There are also some albums that were recorded so perfectly, that a crap transfer to CD with loads of compression on the way can just ruin your listening experience. That’s where the SACD player comes in. The main difference between your normal CD and the SACD format is bandwidth: A CD packs ca 400MB of digitized music, while a SACD contains 3.7 GB. There is also a difference in encoding (PCM vs SDS) but that would be too technical. Anyway, the ultimate selling point is that the listening experience is much closer to the original recording (especially for old material that was recorded analogue) as the format is almost lossless. So yesterday my poor postman brought another package to chez fordie, containing this:

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It looks very nice on the mantlepiece, next to the royal family  next to the other gear and so far was has been given the nod by the best girlfriend ever. The first SACD I bought was of course my all time favourite, the original Bossa Nova album by Getz/Gilberto. The experience is indeed impressive, with Astrud and Stan even more present in the room and now I am on the hunt to find my top ten albums ever on this format. My current charts on Last.FM suggest that I am going to struggle to find the majority of the albums I have listened to most over the last 5 years, as the chart looks like this (and yes, I know, my taste in music is atrocious):

  1. Matt Bianco
  2. Incognito
  3. ABC
  4. Steely Dan
  5. Pet Shop Boys
  6. Crowded House
  7. Mezzoforte
  8. The Style Council
  9. Was (Not Was)
  10. Level 42

There doesn’t seem to be any SACD releases out there by ABC, Incognito, Pet Shop Boys, Was (not Was) and Level 42, but there are plenty of great jazz and classic recordings out there, and as the Steely Dan records are really the most important (as most meticulously produced) I am sure I’ll be able to gather a nice little collection. There is quite an active community around SACDs and I’m sure that I will be able to source everything I need to be an even happier listener.

Now all I have to do is find the 40 quid for the Japanese SACD of Aja.

Like A Headless Server

My Apple TV is dying. It’s the beautiful, sleek first generation model that worked really well within the best girlfriend ever’s living room design (and not like these pokey, hockey puck resembling newer ATVs), but it’s now 6 years old, and it makes funny noises at times, has the odd flicker and, like a geriatric projectionist gets rather hot and refuses to play the chosen film until you feed him Werther’s Echte or it’s Carry On movies all the way. Last night it refused to play ‘Castle’. The best girlfriend ever almost had a heart attack. So I started to research alternatives. It needed to be cheap and the old IBM ThinkCentre I had lying around was just what I needed, but its motherboard threw so many BSODs that even an XP install was torture. So a new machine it had to be. But within reason please, as ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’ (Mrs Cosmopolite, Nr 3 Quirm Street). A small form factor would be nice, so mini – ITX was the motherboard size of choice. After looking around for a bit, I found this:
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This is the charmingly named Gigabyte GA-E350N WIN8, a 17x17cm teeny weeny little powerhouse with some interesting properties like an old PCI slot and serial port, so clearly made for people  who still have some legacy hardware lying around. Just like yours truly. It comes with a nice AMD E350 dual core CPU, so no need to buy a new one. It has decent Radeon onboard graphics, but this being for Castle – serving purposes it’s not really that important.  Admittingly, it’s not the quickest chip in town, but Castle is not the hippest show in town either.  Now all I needed was a nice case. There is still a Macintosh SE/30 lying around in the garage that was ruined by corrosion on its motherboard, but that’s going to take a few weeks to get ready, and time was of the essence, because you never know how long the AppleTV will be working. So an alternative case had to be found. After some deliberation, the postman delivered this: The snappily titled Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced USB 3.0 Mini ITX Case. It is rather beautiful. And it fits so much stuff! And the best thing: you don’t have to buy a new PSU, but can just use your old ATX PSU. Genius! So, after unpacking, I was looking at this:

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Mmh. It looks nice and clean. See whether I can get this working.

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Ok, so that’s how you fit in the hard disks. I wonder if I can get a few more in there…

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Motherboards fits…

It's a bit like a weird game of Jenga

It’s a bit like a weird game of Jenga

Three! That will fit a lot of Castle

Three Terabyte,  That will fit a lot of Castle

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So you slide your old PSU in there from above…

Something is happening!

Something is happening!

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It is accomplished!

So, software. Well, I thought about Debian and Open Media Vault, but both were being bitchy about my ancient external USB DVD-Rom and refused to install (and were bitching about Grub2), so in the end it was an old legit XP OEM disc that I had lying around. Which is fine with me, because it runs Itunes and can now serve the soon to arrive hockey-puckish AppleTVwhatevergenerationtheyareatnow. And it stores all the action shots of my mouse and bird cams. And it serves music to the various Revos that are strewn around the house. All that for less than a 100 quid.

It’s good to be a Nerd.

What to do with an Ipad

So I had my Ipad now for 4 weeks, and it’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. People still stare at the thing (not so much at me, thanks heaven) when I fire it up on the train and can’t seem to be able to peel their eyes away from it. Initially I was a bit concerned about its potential uses and that I might have bought the most overprived email reader ever, but over the last 2 weeks or so I have slowly but surely started to appreciate its strengths.

So, what is it good for?

Reading

You might think that’s a bit obvious, but since you can import pdf’s into the book reader, I carry a lovely little collection of white papers, studies and manuals around with me that I can read at leisure on the train without showering everybody in paper. The ebooks available on iTunes are still a bit few and far between (not if you’re a Jeremy Clarkson fan though), but if you keep looking you can pick up some pretty good deals. Reading is a joy, especially on busy train rides, as you can use the iPad one handed and switch between pages with your thumb.

Video

Thanks to the iTunes store I now carry a 2 or 3 seasons of my favourite TV shows always around with me, which makes train journeys and flying much more fun. It’s also much easier to watch than with my Macbook. Try unfolding a Macbook on Ryanair or Easyjet! With a good set oh headphones you can forget the world around you and enjoy watching a group of total strangers hunting another group of strangers on a desert island after a planecrash.

Music

As a pure music player it’s a bit bulky, but if you’re reading anyway, it serves this purpose as well

Email and Web

With a zippy 3G connection or Wifi no complaints. Flash would be nice, though.

Everything else

I have suddenly started to take notes during meetings, as text entry is quite easy. Killer applications like Korg’s ielectribe halp with creating beats on the train.

Is it worth the 700 pounds? Likely not.

Is it oodles of fun: Definitely.

Should you have one? It depends. If you have a long commute on the train or if you travel regularly, definitely!

Otherwise, spend half the money on a decent netbook.