webcams and IM

Microsoft is making webcams now:

The new product announcements are straightforward. The US$100 model will feature a wide-angle lens with a 1.3 megapixel sensor, while the US$50 model comes without wide-angle and with a VGA resolution sensor. One interesting feature of both is a large button on the top of the cameras that users can tap to bring up instant access to a buddy list, which should make placing a call as simple as a making a couple of clicks. The whole idea of the new cameras is to make videoconferencing and blogging as simple as possible for less technically-inclined users.

This is interesting news. Continue reading “webcams and IM”

Dell XPS M1210

Andrew at NotebookReview has a review of the much-anticipated XPS M1210 laptop from Dell. This 12″ laptop is a truly impressive unit, from both perspectives of performance and design. Some of the highlights compared to the old Inspiron 700/710m models that it replaces:

– higher resolution screen (1280×800 rather than the 1024×780 that is standard for most 12″ models)
– option for dedicated graphics (GeForce Go 7400)
– integrated rotating webcam with directional microphone
– full connectivity suite, including Bluetooth and EVDO
– long battery life (claimed up to 7 hours, but Notebook Review estimates up to 4.5 which is impressive)
– Media Direct quick boot to play movies, music and view photos

As Andrew points out, despite the small screen the M1210 isn’t an ultralight laptop – with all the bells and whistles it weighs almost as much as my 14″ T42 (just under 5 pounds). But the laptop really is an all-around performer – small enough for comfortable travel, powerful enough for any computing tasks and media playback, and robust design build with cool yet professional styling. This thing would be at home on your desktop or as your travel box.

region encoding for HD-DVD

It seems that the new HD-DVD format will have region-encoding much like the present DVD standard. Since the competing Blu-ray standard will also have region encoding, it seems that we consumers will never be totally free of this annoyance technology, which fundamentally serves a single purpose: limit choice and distort the free market. Of course, the unintended consequence will be more piracy, not less, as well as driving more and more users (like myself) into the arms of BitTorrent for our video viewing.

One interesting thing to note however is that Blu-ray will combine the Americas and Asia into a single region. The impact of this upon US anime fans will be quite significant, as we will be able to import the latest discs from Japan and watch them on either the Playstation 3 or the new Blu-ray players (which are going to be expensive, it must be noted).

For those interested in more details about the limitations of the new DVD formats, here’s something worth knowing more about – the Image Constraint Token. In a nutshell: users without an HDMI-compliant TV will have a forced-downgrade of video quality.

black is beautiful


I’d been using an IBM Thinkpad T40 for the past couple of years for my research. It was a fine machine, ordered and paid for by my advisor. After my graduation though, he needed his sizable investment back of course, so I began researching what I should replace the machine with.

My needs were 1. thin and light, given that it would be used for travel to conferences and on the bus, 2. fairly powerful given that I will be running IDL and MATLAB, and 3. rock-solid and dependable. These requirements, along with a lot of help from the forum at, led me right back to IBM/Lenovo’s T42. I chose the T42 instead of the T43 primarily because I could get a faster hard drive. I spent about a month and a half researching models from Fujitsu, Asus, Toshiba, and HP before finally deciding that the T42 was indeed the machine for me. I placed an order in November and the machine was received early December.

Here are some specs:

* Pentium M 1.86 GHz
* 14.1″ SXGA screen
* 1 GB RAM
* 7200 RPM, 60 GB hard drive
* Bluetooth and Wireless 802.11b/g
* model part number 2373m3u

I ran some basic benchamrks on the old machine before sending it back to my advisor and will run the same ones on my new one soon for a laster post.

One of the major issues I faced was whether I should wait until the new Yonah (dual-core) Pentium-M chips were released in January. I decided to buy right away, however, because new T60 model with Yonah would be more expensive anyway, and I also needed a machine asap since my advisor needed the old one back and couldn’t wait until January (esp with ISMRM 2006 on the horizon)

I got a very solid config at a very reasonable price, which I think will be more than sufficient for the next few years to handle whatever I need. I could have saved another $150 had I purchased from an ebay reseller, but I think that the peace of mind of buying direct from Lenovo was worth the markup.

I notice via Brian that Apple has finally played catch-up to IBM and released a black laptop of their own. If I were a Dell user I might have some envy, but come on, a glossy screen and iPod lacquer finish? And what’s with the chiclet-style keyboard? It reminds me of the Apple IIc.

I love my ThinkPad. The keyboard is the best I have ever used on any computer, laptop or desktop (and I’m not alone in that assessment). The wireless antenna is built into the screen lid, so you get tremendously stable and sensitive WiFi reception. The components are top-drawer quality and the support software suite for rescue, recovery, administration, and security is astounding – easily several hundred dollars worth of software alone. Even the small touches, like the built-in keyboard light and the hard-drive shock protection are designed with the actual user experience in mind – not bells and whistles (like the integrated iSight on the macbook) that have no contribution to actual productivity.

Yeah, I am a partisan. But unlike in politics, my partisanship doesn’t require that I hate Macs – in fact the day the Merom-based Mac Mini comes out, I am buying two! A laptop is an intensely personal choice and everyon’es mileage may vary, but this is the best computer I’ve ever owned, and where else to share my love for it than here?

Yahoo Babel Fish

Yahoo is now the host of the classic Babel Fish translation service, formerly hosted by Altavista. It now also supports Japanese!

For example, try: 七国山病院 (the CatBus sign from Totoro, courtesy of Steven). The Babelfish gives us “Seven national mountain illness institutes”. I noticed from Steven’s link that 国山 can be interpreted as “realm” and Steven also mentioned that 病院 (“illness institutes”) is actually hospital, so the sign translates as Seven Realm Hospital. The Babelfish isn’t capable of translating these compound statements and is more of an atomic processor on the individual characters.

Naturally, it also works in reverse: try “Seven Realm Hospital” and you get the output 7 つの王国の病院 which when I feed back into the Babelfish, turns out to be “Hospital of seven kingdoms”. Realm and Kingdom both get translated as 王国. What my point is, I have no idea, other than to probe the assumptions in the Babelfish engine. As a toy for gaikojin otaku like myself, it’s neat 🙂

Plus we must all bow to the universality of Douglas Adams. Just like 42, the Babel Fish has entered the mass lexicon. Have I mentioned that the Guide entry on the Babelfish, as related in the BBC Radio Scripts, is the most hilarious version by far? You just can’t beat the dry delivery of Peter Jones as the Book. It’s like comparing black and white to color television.