Scott Hanselman

Arusha Tanzania 2006 - Trip Rollup, we're back

December 31, '06 Comments [3] Posted in Africa
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Ngorongoro Hanselman Panorama SmallWe're back from another African trip. Mo and I try to go each year, or at least every other. This trip was unique in that we went to Tanzania, rather than South Africa (iGoli) or Zimbabwe like we usually do. This necessitated learning some kiSwahili and was more of an adventure than going to the places we're used to. It was also special because it was my parents first time out of North America - the first major passport stamp for them (Mexico and Canada don't count, IMHO).

Here's a collection of photos from the trip and a listing of the posts from my informal travel diary that were posted as the trip went along:

Feel free to check out the Africa category (paging controls at the top) for our other trips to South Africa, Morocco and Zimbabwe.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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HD-DVD Player for Xbox 360

December 31, '06 Comments [5] Posted in Reviews
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The whole HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray thing is so ridiculous. That we didn't learn from the VHS vs. BetaMax fiasco and are doing it again just kills me. Of course, some folks think the battle is more like the DVD-Audio vs. Super Audio CD (SACD) wars (skirmish?) where neither won.

Personally, I think HD-DVD will eventually win. Not because of technical superiority (it's not) or cheapness (it's cheaper so far to buy and produce) but because of one simple thing. The name. HD-DVD says what it means. Blu-Ray? Huh? People like simple Acronyms. Also, Sony is coming off as a little snooty in this whole thing.

Anyway, enough of that nonsense, here's what's up. My Christmas gift this year was an HD-DVD Player for the Xbox360. It's US$199, but it comes with an HD-DVD copy of King Kong as well as the larger-sized XBox 360 Remote Control, which is nice. The drive also is a USB Hub adding two USB ports to make up for the one in the back it takes away from your Xbox.

Here's the worst part about HD-DVD. Once you've seen a movie you love in HD-DVD, you'll be unable to tolerate a DVD. I did a test on my wife, on 37" LCD from 10 feet away, she immediately noticed the difference between the DVD version and the HD-DVD version, and she's not one who typically noticed these things. It's like getting new glasses - You're ruined without them.

Yes, the picture is amazing, and I'm only watching it in 720p. I'd need to get a Sharp Aquos 1080p TV to get any better. But the picture is just part of it, there are subtle things like being able to access the main DVD menu without stopping the playback. There's 7.1 lossless audio. There's picture in picture multiple-video stream extras. I've got Superman Returns, Batman Begins, Serenity and King Kong and they are truly excellent in every way.

One other cool thing. You can use the HD-DVD Player on both Windows XP and Windows Vista. XP requires drivers, Vista doesn't. WinDVD8 apparently plays HD-DVD movies, a Vista doesn't support HD-DVD out of the box.

Ah, one OTHER cool thing. Apparently more and more HD-DVDs (like Superman Returns) are "combo DVD/HD-DVDs" with DVD on one side and HD-DVD on the other. That is pretty slick and if I understand correctly, unique to HD-DVD. That would make me more likely to use HD-DVD if it's true.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Getting Quoted is Fun

December 31, '06 Comments [3] Posted in Musings
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It's fun to be quoted. Of course, if you're quoted, it might be because your clever, or because you just talk so much that statistically someone was bound to eventually write down something you said.

  • Raymond Chen's got a new book out called The Old New Thing: Practical Development Throughout the Evolution of Windows. If you haven't read Raymond's blog, do. Got peruse the archives now, it's gold. The book looks great and as his blog is awesome, I was asked for a quote about Raymond. I don't give quotes lightly (believe it or not) so I wanted to be thoughtful. Somehow it got into the first page of "praise for Raymond Chen."
    • "Raymond Chen is the original raconteur of Windows." - Scott Hanselman, ComputerZen.com
  • Both MikeG wrote forewords for the new O'Reilly book Windows Developer Power Tools: Turbocharge Windows Development with More Than 140 Free and Open Source Tools by Jim Holmes and James Avery. A lot of these tools are on my tools list and I wanted to make sure the book was good if I was going to include a foreword, so I was on the technical reviewers team. I had a fun back-and-forth with Jim because I was a little "crisp" about early versions of the book, but I got a nice Christmas greeting from Jim about my "crispness" and I'm glad he appreciated the way my early reviews were intended. Long story short, it's a good book, the integrated a lot of the early feedback we gave and the result is excellent. Pick it up!
  • I've been blogging, podcasting and screencasting about Cardspace, and Mary Jo Foley called me to talk about it. Kim Cameron mentioned the article on his blog. I'm very positive about the underlying protocols that make CardSpace (the Windows implementation of this suite of WS-*-ness) and if it continues to go cross platform, things are going to get better around secure identity.
    • Scott Hanselman, chief architect with Corillian Corp., a Hillsboro, Ore.-based financial-services integrator, is bullish about CardSpace’s prospects. “CardSpace is going to change it all. It’s likely the biggest thing to happen to security since HTTPS. CardSpace changes the game for consumers. It’ll take a few years, but after IE7 and FireFox and MacOSX all have CardSpace implementations – and it won’t take long – we’ll see Identity 2.0 happen,” Hanselman said.

I've been quoted a few times this month, mostly because some folks asked me for my thoughts, and partially because I won't shut up. Regardless, it's kind of cool.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Zune vs. iPod Video vs. iRiver Clix

December 31, '06 Comments [15] Posted in Gaming | Movies | Musings | Reviews
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Due to a number of amazing events this last few weeks I somehow find myself back in the states with:

  • An iPod 80gig Video
  • A 2gig iRiver Clix
  • A 2gig iPod Nano
  • A 30gig Black Zune
  • A Playstation Portable (PSP)

Now I certainly don't need 5 things that play music and show pictures (and some show video) so I need to do some analysis to see which is right for me, and which is right for the wife (and brother, and parents, etc).


iPod Video

The iPod is usually considered the device to beat, but since iTunes 7 was/is such a phenomenal POS (on both the Mac and PC, there is virtually no one who thinks it doesn't suck exponentially more than the very reasonable iTunes 6) it's possible that the iPod is losing its status as "de facto MP3 player" as in "just buy an iPod."

I saw a skater kid in the Amsterdam Airport last week with a Brown Zune and I asked him "why'd you buy a Zune" and he immediately answered "because it's not an iPod." Apparently Apple is starting to feel like Microsoft has for years. Sucks to be on top, eh?

Good Stuff

Video: I'm using the Video feature way more than I thought I would. It made the 25 hours of flights (each way) tolerable. The screen is bright and clear.

Massive: The 80gig iPod is expansive to say the least. I've got my entire audio collection of over 6500 songs as well as 5 feature length movies and every digital photo I've ever taken on this thing, and I've still got 15 gigs free.

Easy: It's so incredibly easy to buy music off of iTunes and get it on the device. That's a +1 for the WAF. Buying movies and TV shows works great also.

Flexible: I bought a bunch of TV shows for pay-cable channels I don't have and took them with me to Tanzania this year. The iPod supports a standard Camcorder Video Cable (just swap the Yellow and Red RCA wires) and outputs PAL and NTSC. We used it as a one-way Tivo while we were there and had a blast. No less than three spontaneous dance parties broke out while using my iPod in Africa, and because I had my entire music collection with me, I was able to blow the minds of the folks who asked if I had Pitch Black Afro on my 'pod. I said, "please. Who are you talking to. Of course." and proceeded to party the night away.

Bad Stuff

DRM: The DRM can be confusing if you have more than one computer. I've personally gotten confused while "authorizing and deauthorizing" computers, especially during OS upgrades. There used to be a program to turn the songs you bought into MP3s, but it's not working anymore with iTunes 7.

Slow: It's pretty slow if you have 6000+ songs and you say "shuffle songs." It tends to lock up and scrolls slowly. iTunes is virtually unusable on Vista in the current version without disabling Vista indexing and a bunch of other crap I shouldn't have to sweat.

Battery Life: Video just sucks the life out of this thing. I have a "backpack" that has 4 AA batteries that at least quadruples the battery life. Still, a hassle.


iPod Nano

Good Stuff

Tiny: It's small. Not Shuffle small, but "wife's small purse; isn't that cute" small. I find myself using this device the most so far for around town, walking and such. It's just so a great size.

Bad Stuff

Storage: There's an 8gig version now, but most are 1, 2 or 4 gigs. I find the 2 gig one just a little cramped. Wife doesn't notice though.

No Video: A nit, and the screen is small, so it doesn't really matter. They included tiny photos though, why not video?


iRiver Clix

What a surprisingly fun little device! It's an odd size compared to the Nano, much thinker (like 3 times as thick) but comfortable. It feels familiar in its size, but I'm not sure what it reminds me of. It has a very interesting interface in that the whole front screen "click-tilts (my word)" in each direction to provide navigation. Right is "forward" and left is "back."

Good Stuff

Tiny: It's small and pocket-sized. Not as easy to drop in as the Nano, and not something you'd want in your front shirt pocket, but still, small.

Video: It's the smallest video player I've seen, and it's got a great screen. The video is about 15fps by my reckoning, and it's kind of complex to get video on to the thing in the format it wants. I'm still struggling with some obscure messages from Windows Media Player 11 about converting some of my video.

Photos: It's also a nice little photo viewer. Both Music and Photos - using Windows Media Player - are downsized automatically in order to squeeze as much as possible on the 2 gig version. The screen is very clear and Album Art looks great.

Radio: There's a built-in FM Radio that supports recording of the stream. A surprising and very nice feature, I say.

Games: It includes an implementation of Flash and there's a number of downloadable Flash Games to check out. Most are lame, but Sudoku is nice.

Windows Media Player: The Clix is perfectly integrated with Windows Media Player and was the easiest device to sync of all these. I just say "fill it up as much as you can with a random 2gigs from my collection." And it was handled. That's all I ever wanted from iTunes.

Bad Stuff

Storage: There's a 4gig version, as the 2gig is a little cramped, but if you don't mind 64kbps audio (many don't - do be such an elitist!) then you can automatically get a LOT more on as the Windows Media Player 11 stuff gets one thing right - auto squishing of audio while copying works great. That's about it. It's a great little device.

Urge: Urge is the music marketplace for everything but Zune. It's aight.

 


Zune

The OOBE (Out of the Box Experience) on the Zune is very familiar. It's iPod-like, but it does have a different, more organic gestalt. I like it. It's the bizarro iPod from another parallel dimension. The interface is similar to Windows Media Center, but different, smoother, faster, cleaner. I was, and continue to be, impressed. It's more intuitive than the roll/scroll interface of the iPod, and it's faster and more responsive with thousands of songs loaded.

Good Stuff

Decent Size: It's probably the same mass as an iPod, it's just a little less wide, and a smidge taller. The round directional button does beg to be rubbed like an iPod, but maybe that's me. The whole device has a nice texture that's very matte - not gloss like the iPod - so I suspect while the screen will likely scratch, the Zune itself doesn't show many fingerprints.

XBox 360: It plugs in and is charged by the Xbox360. Works great and the Xbox recognizes it as a Zune. Of course, the Xbox recognizes ALL the devices I've got here, but the Zune gets a cute little icon on the Xbox. :P

Screen: The screen is very nice, and is rotatable portrait/landscape. Album Art fills the screen and looks great. It comes with a clear sticker on the screen that I wanted to use as a screen protector, but they put text all over it, so that was a bummer.

Radio: The iPod requires an adapter for FM, the Zune has a tuner built in that includes RDS (Radio Descriptive Service) that gives you the name of the current song. The iPod also has RDS.

WiFi: The Zune will find other Zunes and you can send or receive music over them. While the music is shared, there's DRM added that lets the receiver only listen to the song THREE times, then it disables that song. They can later buy that song. Odd, but better than nothing. WiFi can be turned off to save batteries.

Zune Marketplace: Includes an all-you-can-eat feature where you get complete access to every song on the marketplace for a timed period. I'm doing the 14-day trial. A nice way to find new artists, like Rhapsody. iTunes should take notice to this.

Bad Stuff

WiFi: See above.

Odd Stuff

Software: The Zune software is Windows Media Player 11, but it's not. You do Zune stuff in Zune but you kind of know you're talking to your Windows Media Player Library. There's a whole separate Zune Sharing thing, but it's unclear if you're configuring standard Windows Media Sharing from an alternate interface. You can run both Windows Media and Zune thingie at the same time, but when I tried to sync the Clix in one and the Zune in the other at the same time, I had to reset them both with a paper clip. Not sure if that's USB or the software freaking out. Also odd, the Clix shows up in Vista in My Computer as well as in the "Sync Center" but the Zune is no where to be found in either. Note that you need an upgrade to the Zune software to work on Vista. The Zune desktop software has crashed twice for me in one day, so something will likely be fixed on Vista soon.

 


PSP

Good Stuff

Screen: Seriously, drink in the screen. It's amazing. Glorious. Perfect.

Wireless/Browser: It includes 802.11 and a very capable Web Browser, as well as support for Podcasts (RSS with attachments).

UMDs: The industry hates UMDs as a proprietary media, but I love their size and relative cheapness. If you spend a lot of time on planes, grab a few movies (or rip and squish DVDs) and you're set from LA to New York (or PDX to JRO).

Games: Of course.

Oft-updated Firmware: You can update the Firmware over wireless and it's always adding new features. It includes Sony Location-Free TV now, as well as a features for connecting to PS3s.

Homebrew: This thing is forever being hacked into, and you can run Linux and all sorts of MAME Emulators and such.

(added from comments from Laust M. Ladefoged) AUTO-Podcast Downloading:

I think you left out the single most important feature of the PSP and what basically sets it apart from the other devices in your list (at least for now), namely its ability to wakeup from standby and automatically download all the podcasts you have subscribed to via WiFi.

This feature was added with the recent v3 firmware and has completely changed the way I have access to my prefered podcasts.

My PSP wakes up about 6 in the morning, automatically downloads the latest podcasts, ready for my listening when I put it in my pocket on my way out the door - no longer any need for syncing with my computer anymore, so nice.

Bad Stuff

Music and Storage: You can get a 2gig 4gig memory stick and there are 4-8gig hard drive add-ons, but it's not a very great music player. It IS a great movie machine though.


Conclusion

I'd say this:

  • You want the ultimate media player? Get a Zune or iPod video and base your decision on a combination of your politics and the features. Both kick ass. The wireless social Zune stuff is slick, but I have only met one other person with one. That'll eventually change. Buying TV Shows and Movies on iTunes is fabulous and seamless. My Mom and Dad run around the country in their RV, and I think they could use an iPod Video as a "disconnected Tivo" very easily, connected to their little 13" TV. However, the screen on the Zune is larger and nicer than the iPod. Both a great. I'm still torn on this one.
  • You want a little media player?
    • You want video? Get an iRiver Clix. It's got a great screen, a smooth interface and long battery life. (I haven't run out yet).
    • You don't care about video? You might still get a Clix, unless you want a really thin player, then get a Nano.
  • You only care about the screen? You want games first, video second and music third? Get a PSP.
    • The PSP has a fantastic screen, but it's max 2gig capacity (unless you get an external hard drive) and poor battery life make it a niche device for geeks. Of course, I am a geek, so I take it everywhere as well. The combination of Videora and a DVD Ripper makes it nice for up to 4 feature length films.
  • You hate DRM and are concerned about using iTunes or Urge or Zune Marketplace? Don't use them. Buy CDs and Rip.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Arusha Tanzania 2006 Day 24 - Travelling with an Infant

December 25, '06 Comments [3] Posted in Africa | Musings
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It's Christmas Eve, in the evening, and we're getting ready to travel back home. We leave on Wednesday, late, flying to Dar es Salaam, then Amsterdam, then Minneapolis, then Portland. Z turns 13 months old on Friday.

Traveling with an infant, especially internationally, proves to be non-trivial. Here's what we've done to stay sane.

  • You can either buy the child a seat of their own, booked as a discrete individual, or you can take them as a lap child. It's good to know if your child likes being a lap child or not. Good to figure that out before you go. We'd taken Z around the states already on planes when he was <6 months old, and we'd just gotten back from Spain and he doesn't mind sitting on one of our laps.
  • Check in early and get on the plane early. The best thing about traveling with a baby is that you can board the plane first. DO take advantage of this. Also, make sure that you check in as early as possible and in person for the flight, because you can get the baby bulkhead row. That's the row that has an optional baby crib that snaps into the wall in front of you. There are usually at least 2 of these are planes like A330s. Check seatguru.com for details on how your plane is configured. The weight limit is 20lbs, but you can often make a "deal" with the flight attendants for larger babies, and have them put the tiny crib on the floor at your feet. The only caveat is that the crib can only be there while the fasten seat belts sign is off.
    • Note that there are no can openers on planes, so if you need to open a can of formula, you're screwed. Take the kind with the pop-top.
  • How strongly do you feel about car seats? Think about this because car seats are not ubiquitous in the developing world. We brought Z's car set along with us to Tanzania and installed it in my Sister-in-law's car. Traveling with a car seat can be a hassle, but they make car seat "totes" that completely encompass the car seat and include a handle so it can be checked like luggage. They are very much worth the money. Alternatively, you can lug it around and "gate-check" the seat, but they are explicitly not-warranted by the airlines, and if you've got dangly cords and bits, they will likely not make the trip.
  • Do you bring your own food? Z is not a picky eater at all, in fact, he'll eat just about anything, including your shoelaces. However, we like to be conservative and "augment" his eating if we feel he didn't get a full meal, so we bought some small pallets of baby food. Rather than bringing separate baby jars, ask the stockboy at the grocery store if you can get some baby food before they separate it into jars. You want the original packed boxes. This makes them easier to bring along. We also brought formula as a supplement in one-liter cans that don't need to be refrigerated until they are opened.
  • Weigh, then weigh again.  We are allowed two checked bags each, weighing 50lbs each. We spent more time weighing than anything else during the packing process. While I personally never check a bag when traveling for business, even internationally, when you're with a baby and give that weight allocation, why not use it? We figured a +/-2lb margin of error and got all 4 bags to 48lbs on my scale. They weighed 51lbs at the airport and they let us in without paying extra. Since we were bringing gifts along with diapers, formula and food, it was worth the effort. We're now 24 days into the trip and we've got exactly as much food and diapers as we needed.
  • Diapers. Depending on where you are going, check ahead of time if diapers (whatever kind you use) are readily available. They are available in TZ, but they are wicked-expensive, and not easy to find in large quantities. We didn't want the hassle of cloth diapers on this trip, but if we were in a hotel we might have brought cloth and cleaned them in the sink.
    • Be prepared for blowouts. We had a "baby-blowout" in the Amsterdam airport and had to run through the airport holding an overflowing baby. However, we not only had all the equipment we needed, but we had access to the family bathroom that let us rinse everything that we needed.
    • Bring a change of clothes for yourself in case the blowout happens on the plane, on you.
  • Bring a pram or stroller. Seems obvious, but an umbrella stroller should be brought, over a big elaborate one, especially if you're in a developing country. We've mostly carried Z, but now that he's pushing 23lbs, when he doesn't want to walk, it's nice to have the umbrella stroller. I consider them largely disposable items and use them until they disintegrate.

All in all, the trip here, baby-wise, went well, and we expect as much on the way back home later this week.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.