R.I.P iPod Touch, Welcome Creative Zen Stone.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Let us bow our heads and mark the untimely passing of the beautiful iPod Touch. Touch, you were with us for such a short time – a mere 7 months – yet your sleek looks and remarkable screen resolution made you a treasured part of life. Your 16GB of flash memory for music and podcasts, your ability to store and view photos and videos, your quick and seamless integration with Gmail, and most of all your stunning web-browsing ability quickly made you indispensable. Who could have predicted that a short tumble onto the mat at the back door would cause such tragic damage?

And when you came to life after the accident, I still loved you – scars and all. You were damaged, but still functioning. I could live with your cosmetic flaws – you were my Touch. But alas, I could not know these were merely your death throes. The next morning your screen grew jumbled, and I held you in my hands as you sputtered out those last garbled flashes. And then, it was over. Rest in peace, Touch.

So yeah, I dropped my freakin' iPod Touch, and the screen cracked and it died. The DAY BEFORE I was due to leave town for ten days. And only 7 months after I paid almost $400 for it. I'm pretty crushed about this, especially in light of the “6 Things I'm Allowed to Spend Money on Rule”. A new iPod Touch definitely does NOT fall into any of the acceptable categories. This will be a true test.

To replace the iPod, I bought a Creative Zen Stone Plus (with speaker), a cumbersomely named but clever little device.

It's advantages are these:

  • It's bigger than an iPod Shuffle, but still really small.

  • Even though it's really small, it has a screen for keeping track of what's going on.

  • It doesn't require iTunes and can be loaded with a simple drag-and-drop interface that works fine with the Eee's Linux operating system.

  • It came with a silicone case and a belt clip, so it's already equipped for use while running

  • It has an FM radio, a microphone and recorder function, a clock and a stopwatch.

  • It's rechargeable and charges from a USB port, or from my existing AC iPod charger (which supports different voltages).

  • And best of all, the built-in speaker, though tiny, is remarkably functional, and will fill a small room.

It's disadvantages are:

  • You can load music in folders, but it won't support a complicated folder structure – all the folders on it appear in alphabetical order, regardless of how they're nested when they're loaded onto the device.

  • It plays files in alphabetical order, so if you want things to play in a specific order, you have to modify the file names accordingly.

  • As soon as you turn the device on, it starts playing whatever file was last selected.

  • The menus are annoying to navigate and not very intuitive.

  • The play/pause button is very small and inconveniently located.

  • The screen blanks out very quickly, so to play or pause a track you have to hit play/pause once to wake up the device and then again to actually do what you want

  • And, worst of all, the device doesn't seem to remember your place in a file if you navigate away from it. This is a huge problem when listening to audiobooks or podcasts, which make up the vast majority of what I listen to. In fact, this problem could be a deal-breaker.

What it comes down to is this: I love the speaker, but I hate hate hate the “go-back-to-the-beginning” problem. I'm now on the hunt for other options. Maybe I can find another non-iPod device with a speaker, and without the reset problem. Or maybe I should take a lower-end iPod (a new iPod Touch would just beg to be stolen). I suspect I could find an appropriate Linux-based substitute for iTunes, in which case I could stick with the Linux operating system, which is my preference. I could couple this with the tiniest external speaker I could find, though this is adding more devices to carry, charge and lose. More research is required and suggestions are welcome.

On the Road with the Eee PC

Friday, August 8, 2008

I'm off on a ten-day trip to London, Toronto and Ottawa. I'm visiting friends in London, seeing friends and family and hopefully doing some Big Trip shopping in Toronto, and attending a conference in Ottawa.

I'm looking at this as an excellent chance to try out a bunch of Big Trip related gear, including the Eee (on which I am composing this right now, quite comfortably). I'm also bringing a lot of the clothing I plan to travel with, and I'm in possession of a new MP3 player, the Creative Zen Stone Plus with speaker (more on this in a separate post). Because this trip will include three cities in ten days, and feature travel by air, train and public transit it should be a decent test of everything from luggage and clothing choice to on-the-road laundry, internet access and footwear.

The bag I'm traveling with on this trip is the eBags Weekender Convertible, purchased online for $74.87 from eBags.com. In this context, convertible means that it can be carried by a handle like a suitcase, but also has stow-away straps that convert it to a backpack. I've also added a shoulder strap that gives a third option. I bought this particular bag because I was keen to get my hands on a convertible carry-on sized bag and the price was right. I'm skeptical that the eBag has the wherewithal to stand up to the rigors of 12 months of heavy-duty traveling, but for my purposes right now, it's sufficient. I'll write a detailed post about my top luggage contenders at another time, but my current picks are the Rick Steves Convertible Carry-on and the Tom Bihn Aeronaut.

I'm also carrying a day-pack that I'd hoped to fit in to the eBag so that I would truly be one-bagging but logistically that seemed tricky. I need to figure out a way to have a small daypack packed with on-the-plane essentials that will fit in the carry-on, but be quickly and easily extracted once on the plane. What prevented me from doing that today was the fact that the daypack seemed a bit bulky to be crammed into the eBag. More research is required.

I tried to weigh my luggage this morning - including the eBag and the daypack - using the highly scientific bathroom-scale method, and it looked like my total luggage weight was about 28 lbs. This is far too much – I'm hoping to be near or under 20lbs in total. Later I weighed the eBag alone with a luggage scale at the travel gadget store in the airport, and it was about 22lbs. I'd really like to get a proper luggage scale for testing all this out. More research is required.

While I'm in Toronto I'm hoping to hit the Tilley store to pick up 3-4 pairs of their “Unholey” travel socks (guaranteed for 3 years, and light enough to dry overnight!). I'll also look at convertible pants and collared shirts. My other big quest is for the perfect pair of shoes. Ideally I'd find a single pair of shoes that is comfortable enough to wear all day, every day, and that's also waterproof (or very quick-drying), and dressy enough for a dinner out, and rugged enough to take on safari or to hike the Inca Trail. A tall order indeed.

In case it's not abundantly clear by now, one of the things I'm really enjoying about planning this trip is figuring out exactly what gear to bring, and how to pack it. There's really nothing I like better than a good bit of planning, and the next ten months are going to be all about planning. Stay tuned for posts about all the various bits of gear, clothing, and luggage that I'm planning on taking.

Six Things I am Allowed to Buy

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Once I conceived this big plan for house-selling, stuff-storing and world-traveling, two things became clear. First: this is going to be expensive, and second: I have a lot of stuff. Therefore, I've instituted a rule that for the next year I'm only allowed to spend money on the following things:

1. Consumables - food (groceries and restaurant meals), gas for the car, toiletries, running shoes (Non-runners may not understand that this belongs in "consumables", but runners will agree right away.), gels, Bodyglide, beer...
2. Immediate but unforeseen needs - perhaps the water heater gives out, or the car needs new struts (ok, that's actually a foreseen need since I've been warned about it already, but you get the idea)
3. Gifts for other people
4. Items that do not occupy physical space (movie tickets, DVD rentals, race registrations, hockey fees, iTunes downloads, massages, etc... this is a gratifyingly open category)
5. Items related to fixing up the house for sale.
6. Items directly related to the trip - gear, clothing, travel agency fees, tickets, guide books, laser eye surgery (Ok, this is a stretch, but the trip was my motivation for taking the plunge.)

Note: mortgage, property taxes, utilities, home and car insurance, investments, etc.. are not included in the ban. I'm really talking about discretionary spending here. And about not accumulating more stuff that will just have to be stored, sold, given away or abandoned.

A test post, sent by email.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

This post was composed in Gmail and emailed for posting directly to my blog. I have also attached a photo to the message. I wonder what will happen?