Attention, my fellow i-Device-owning peeps

As a Big Fish Games employee, it is my duty to inform you all that we’re having a massive sale of all our iPhone and iPad games this weekend–every last one of ’em is .99 a pop. Go! Buy a few! You’ll be paying my paycheck, and hey, I’m FOR that. :D

I am personally very fond of Hidden Expedition: Amazon on the iPad (excellent soundtrack, fun plot, monkeys, and a dorky professor you have to find using clues left in his scattered journal pages), and Atlantis: Sky Patrol has some fun marble-shooty action going on, with a bit of retro, art deco sort of look to it. Drawn: The Painted Tower is gorgeous. And Azada is a nice family-friendly game that those of you with i-Devices AND kids might enjoy playing along with a youngster, since it’s all about various and sundry classic stories.

Search for Big Fish Games on the App Store, or, if you want a super-quick way to get to all of our i-games at once, you can find ’em on our site right over here.

On the awesomeness of technology

Something that has really come to light for me in the last couple of years is that I’m really, really, really tired of the “my choice of technology is better than your choice of technology” attitude so many of my geek brethren espouse. Whether it be “Linux is better than Windows” or “Macs are better than PCs” or “Open Source is better than paid software” or “my smartphone is better than your smartphone”, I have yet to see that this is anything more than the simple human tendency to divide up into camps and loudly proclaim how one’s camp is superior to everyone else’s.

And you know what, folks? When it comes to geek technology, this is really kind of silly.

When you get right down to it, no matter what operating system it runs, a computer is pretty goddamn awesome. So are smartphones–I mean, c’mon, you guys, we are all carrying around tiny computers in our pockets. And when I think about this, especially when I think about how computers used to be gigantic boxy things that would take up entire rooms, it’s even more amazing to me.

I’ve been thinking about this this week because I’ve gotten the expected amount of shit for the fact that I’m getting an iPad. But really, I’ve been thinking about it ever since a coworker of mine showed up at work preemptively expecting that the team was going to give him shit for having a Windows phone. That struck me. If you’re going around automatically expecting your fellow geeks to hassle you about the device you’ve chosen to purchase, that really takes a lot of fun out of having it. And it shouldn’t, because again, computers are awesome. And smartphones are just tiny computers.

So I would now like to take this opportunity to celebrate all technology, no matter who makes it. I invite folks to join me in the comments to express love of whatever technology you have and why you love it. I’ll start!

I love my MacBook because it’s clever enough to dual-boot between OS X and Windows 7.

I love Windows 7 because it’s a version of Windows that is not only not sucky, it’s elegant, doesn’t get in your face with the UAC dialogs, and able to play nicely with Bootcamp.

I love Linux because I’ve found it to be an excellent platform to write Python code on. Also, excellent for running our home servers at the Murk, and for playing Nethack on, and hosting my web pages and blogs!

I love Open Source because of healthy respect for the ethic of creating programs just because you love to code.

I love paying for programs I need or games I want because I myself work in the computer industry, and I love supporting my fellow geeks for their work.

I love Firefox because c’mon, FOXES, how can I not?

I love Safari because it’s fast.

I love Internet Explorer 9 because whoa, hey, a version of Internet Explorer that’s actually fast and compliant to recent web standards? Awesome! Well done!

I love my iPhone because it’s a tiny, tiny thing and yet it lets me do so much.

I love my nook because it lets me carry around an amazing number of books with me, and in one small sleek package.

I don’t own one but I love seeing other people’s netbooks because small, cute technology that can go toe to toe with bigger laptops is awesome.

I don’t own one but I love hearing from friends who own Android phones or Windows phones just because a friend saying “I have a toy and it does this really, really cool thing” is awesome, too!

I love flatscreen monitors because yay for occupying less desk space, not to mention no longer throwing radiation at my poor neck.

And I’ll save telling you about why I love my iPad after I’ve actually had some time to break it in. :D

Your turn, people! What technology do you love, and why? (And remember, this is not about ‘I love technology X because it’s not technology Y’–please, let’s not snark. Let’s make this a celebration of all things that are awesome. Thanks!)

The iPads have shipped!

I got the news this morning: my and userinfosolarbird‘s iPad 2’s have shipped! ETA: this Friday! We haven’t decided on names yet, though, and this will clearly accelerate the naming schedule. Not to mention I’ll have to make a point of swinging by the Apple Store this week so that I can buy my iPad its own cover.

Meanwhile though I thought I’d expound a bit on what exactly I plan to do with mine, since Dara and I have been asked a time or two what we’ll do with them.

First and foremost, I plan to put Big Fish Games releases on it! I’ve been an avid player of our Mystery Case Files and Hidden Expedition games, and the iPad form factor is very well suited to the Hidden Object genre of casual games. In fact, I’m thinking I’ll probably enjoy them more on the iPad than I will on my laptop, since I just have to tap the screen to select the object rather than doing a mouse click. So that’ll be easier on my hands.

And I’ll play other games on it too of course–Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies are obvious choices, but I also have a couple other games I’ve been playing on my iPad (a Mah Jongg game and a Kakuro game) that I’ve been enjoying, and I expect to enjoy them on the iPad as well.

Secondly, I want to see if it’s possible for me to write effectively on it. I already know I can thumb-type fairly well on my iPhone, but the tiny screen has proven to me to be less than ideal for how I work on a novel. I’m hoping greater screen real estate on the iPad will counteract that problem. Again, this will be a question of being easier on my hands. I’ve been very fortunate in my life to NOT have suffered carpal tunnel yet like so many other folks my age who’ve worked in the computer industry, and I figure any preventive measures I can take to keep avoiding that problem will be wise.

I also figure that it’ll be a better writing device than the laptop for when I go to conventions or something, such as the forthcoming Norwescon. It’ll be more portable, and last a lot longer on battery life, and shouldn’t heat up like my laptop does.

Third, I fully expect to use it as a reading device, despite the fact that I’ve also got the nook. I do have a small number of books I’ve purchased from Amazon as well as a whole lot of PDFs, neither of which are easily readable on the nook without going through a bunch of hoops that I don’t wish to go through. And, if for whatever reason my nook breaks or something, I can read my B&N books on it as well with the nook app.

Fourth, if I find it’s not a good writing device, I will probably shift to using it to monitor Facebook and Twitter and my RSS feeds and such, while segregating the laptop to be writing ONLY. The idea here would be to encourage myself to have a mental space of “if I’m on the laptop I’m writing, DAMMIT, so no looking at the Internet”.

Fifth, I fully expect to use it to watch videos, perhaps on airplanes or trains or something. I do have some Torchwood I need to get caught up on, and now that I’ve been clued in to the wonders of Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo buys for movies, I expect I’ll have a few more interesting digital copies of movies showing up in my library. (Russell Crowe leads the way, AS HE DAMN WELL SHOULD, with The Next Three Days. XD )

A lot of this is, I grant you, perpetuating the whole idea that “bah, iPad users are just consumers of content!” (An attitude which annoys me, as I’ve already ranted about on this blog; after all, us creative types need people to consume and appreciate our content, so it is not at all nice to snark at people who do so.) On the other hand, a lot of this is also stuff I already do on both the iPhone and the laptop, including my own creative output. The overall idea here is going to be finding out whether the iPad will serve me as a better device than the laptop does, or what. And all in all, I expect to enjoy the hell out of it!

And I’ll see if any other amusing things to do on the iPad present themselves. For example, userinfospazzkat has been overjoyed with the Garage Band app on his iPad (he’s got the original model), and has had great fun creating little musical compositions with it. (Take that, ‘iPad users are only consumers of content’ people. ;P :) )

iPad users who may be reading this, tell me about anything awesome you’ve done with your devices! Especially if you’ve found ways to be creative with them, and what apps you’ve found that let you do that!

Help Solarbird and me name our new iPads!

Thanks to shiny bonus goodness, (and to the iPad 2’s just coming out) userinfosolarbird and I have succumbed to this particular form of Apple shiny! We’ve opted for two white models, each with 64G capacity and Wi-Fi only, since we didn’t feel like shelling out for an extra 3G plan on top of what we’re already paying for my phone. We had to order them from given that they cannot be found for love or money ANYWHERE in the Puget Sound area (my lack of surprise, let me show you it), and so now we get to wait until mid-April for them to show up.

Which means of course that we have plenty of time to consider a CRITICAL QUESTION: what in the world are we going to name them?

As I’ve mentioned before our usual computer naming scheme at the Murkworks is to name all our computers after Elfquest characters. But as these are iPads, they’re not quite in the “computer” category, and neither are they in the “auxiliary devices” category, so the floor is really kind of wide open!

Here are the options we’ve considered so far:

  • “Kim” and “Shego”, from Kim Possible (mmm, femmeslashtastic)
  • “Ichimaitan” and “Nimaitan”, based on the Japanese counting system for flat things (hee hee hee), and also on OS tan girls
  • Naming them after two Go-Backs, given that Go-Backs tend to be less clever than other elves ;) (note: “Kahvi” is already claimed as a name of Dara’s studio workstation)

Any other clever ideas? Submit your nominations now! Bonus points for any references to names that go well together in pairs, especially if they’re twins, since these are the exact same model of iPad! I’ll do an actual poll at the beginning of April. :D

The Nook Report, Part 2

Now that I’ve had a few days to read on the Nook, here are my thoughts on the experience.

First and foremost, I am sold on the virtue of a one-use reading device for a reason I hadn’t foreseen: if all the device does is show you the books, there’s nothing on it to distract you from actually reading the story. There’s no “oh wait I’ll just check Twitter/Facebook/LJ/my email/the news/etc.” going on. I really like that. It makes reading on the Nook feel a lot more like reading on a real book.

I was pleased to note as well that the screen refresh stopped bothering me. Apparently I’m not the only one this has happened to, so that’s good to know. If you’re thinking of getting an e-ink reader and the initial flash of screen refresh is weird to you, feel free to take this as consolation!

I’m still disappointed with the device’s general lack of book organization, though. The lovely scrollable display of color book covers only works with your Barnes and Noble content; if you’ve got a lot of non-B&N books, like my Fictionwise and Stanza and Drollerie books, then they all get put into your “My Documents” bucket. Which doesn’t have the scrollable cover capability. This is a drag, and I really wish that Barnes and Noble would allow for, at least, treatment of Fictionwise and content the same as B&N content, since they do after all own both of those properties.

Really, though, I’d prefer to just see it give you a way to access all your books the same way. One of the reasons I wanted to shift to a reading device was that I found it annoying on the iPhone to have my library spread out through five, count ’em, five applications. Having the Nook force me to split my library into B&N content and non-B&N content is the same problem, only less severe.

I could do the workaround of just manually sideloading my B&N content to the My Documents directory, sure. But the problem with that is that the display of your content from My Documents is really rudimentary. You get a listing of titles that you can either sort by author or sort by title, and nothing fancier than that; it’s not even visually broken up by first letter or anything.

I did at least discover that the “Reading Now” button on the main screen does take you directly to whatever book you’re currently reading, which is good to know. Before I found that, my only means to get back to whatever book I’m working on reading was to page through the My Documents listing till I found the right file. And since I’ve got 16 pages of files, that’s annoying. The “Reading Now” button is an acceptable workaround until something fancier is implemented, and I really hope something will be. At least, there should be a menu to let you jump to the appropriate letter of the alphabet as I see in several of the reader apps on my iPhone; more elegant would be a little bit of search capability that would let you type in a bit of the pertinent author or title and jump straight to those works.

All in all, despite my issues with the file organization, I’m enjoying the experience of reading on it. It’s very convenient at lunch since I can just lay the Nook on the table in front of me, and it’s bigger and more readable than the iPhone. It’s also easier to manipulate, for me; I find the pinching of the side to turn a page nicer on my hands than having to tap the iPhone’s screen, especially one-handed. (Thumb-tapping on the iPhone one-handedly, I have discovered, weirdly strains the muscles at the base of my left thumb.)

I haven’t yet tried its music playing capability and probably won’t, since the iPhone has that functionality covered nicely and I’m used to having a tiny music player nestled in my pocket. Plus, again, don’t need the distraction from reading! Apparently there are folks who can read and listen to music at the same time, but I’m not one of them.

And now, the Nook report!

Nookish goodness arrived at my house today! Therefore, as promised, here’s my overall initial review post.

First and foremost, y’all may have heard that the Nook comes with insanely complicated packaging. This is absolutely true. When you first get into it, there’s a little slip of paper that has–I kid you not–a seven-step procedure for freeing it from the various layers of packaging around it. This all had the advantage, I suppose, of making damn sure that it got to me intact. But when you have to have special instructions for actually unpacking the thing, I think they might have gone just a touch overboard, y’know?

My reaction on getting it out of the first layer or so though was “It’s a Microsoft Ship-It award!” Because it looked like this, you see:

I had to get userinfospazzkat‘s help to actually liberate the thing; he’d already done the same with his own nook, and his hands are stronger than mine, so he was able to do the last couple of steps to pry the thing out of its plastic support tray. Once that was done, I was able to do the fun part: powering it up, getting its updates on it, and most importantly, firing up the books.

Overall I like the design and look of it. Once I put it in its cover, it’ll be about the size of a small hardback book, and not so heavy that it’ll be onerous to carry in my backpack. I’m not much of a fan of the way the screen flashes when you turn a page, but other than that, I find the e-ink very readable, at least in direct light. It’s not as useful in low-light conditions, so this may be an issue when reading on the bus after dark. I may have to resort to the iPhone as backup reading device then. I am also amused that its default screensaver is the various pictures of authors that anybody who’s ever been in a B&N store will remember as being the artwork on the walls. I like that enough that I’ll probably keep it, for now.

It downloaded updates on its own, which was nice, and it cheerfully went and got all of the ebooks I’ve already purchased from the Barnes and Noble ebook store. This was I admit a trifle confusing UI-wise, since I’d set some of my books as “archived” because I’d already read them, and got confused because I had to tell the thing to go ahead and download those–but I didn’t have to do that with the rest of them. But it was all good in the end.

Getting all my non-B&N content onto it was super easy. You can plug it into a USB port and have it mount as a drive, which is lovely. You can then dump as many files as you like in whatever directory structure you like onto it, which is also lovely. But there are several organizational issues with how the device actually shows you the files, to wit:

  1. Whatever directory structure you use is entirely irrelevant, because the actual device will just do a flat display of all the files it finds; it doesn’t care about your folder structure.
  2. There is currently no way to organize your titles past “sort by author” or “sort by title”, in the “My Documents” section; in the “My Library” section, where the B&N content resides, it’s a little nicer and you also get “Most Recent” as a sort option. But what I would really want to see here is the ability to mark a book as Read somehow, whether that be by a tag or by moving it into a Read folder or what.
  3. After looking at the lovely lists of titles and cover thumbnails in the iPhone’s various reader apps, the black and white file list is really kind of boring to look at. But this is only a mild objection on my part since the tiny cover thumbnails would lose something on this display and not really be worth displaying.
  4. A lot of my PDF files are coming through with really weird mangled names. I don’t know why that is, if it’s a metadata problem on them or what. I may have to see if I can fix those in Calibre or something.

Tomorrow I’ll give it a good test run with actual reading, and report back on that. So far at least I’m favorably inclined to it, but man, I hope they improve the organization of files on the device in future firmware releases.

And oh yes, I also had to take a picture of this, because Kendis says hi:

I was going to do this anyway

But the Amazon vs. Macmillan brouhaha over the weekend has pretty much bumped up the priority on this: I just dropped my first round of shiny royalties on a Nook. The actual device and a pretty cover to put it in pretty much comes to roughly the amount of royalties I got, and that’s quite fine with me. Barnes and Noble thinks it’ll ship probably around the 12th, so it’ll be a couple of weeks before Nookish goodness actually reaches my house; this too is fine, since it ain’t like I’m lacking for things to read.

(Technically, I am not going to spend those exact moneys on the device, I think–just because it’ll be nice to keep them in the account they’re sitting in, quietly gathering interest. I’m actually paying for the thing out of my primary account. But I figure that as long as I have the money, I don’t really give a flying damn what account it comes out of. The important thing is, shiny candy-like buttons! And ebooks!)

I’m also feeling the need to show Macmillan authors some solidarity, so I think my next round of ebook buying is going to be all Macmillan authors! I need to round out my John Scalzi collection anyway.

Since the cover I wanted isn’t actually available yet (a nice leather green one with an embossed quote about how a good book is the best of friends), I have instead selected the punctuation-themed one with a big ampersand on the front and a question mark on the back. This has the added bonus of being nethack-y, and will likely make me do a double-take the first few times I read something on the thing, thinking “AIGH THERE’S A DEMON ON MY NOOK”. Or, if I look at it from the back, wondering if I’ve actually identified this scroll yet.

The obligatory iPad reaction post

And now, for my answer to the question much of the rest of the Internet has been asking: will I buy an iPad? (y/n)

Immediate near-term answer: no.

I am of course an Apple user. Maybe not a hugely ardent Apple devotee per se, but I do quite like my MacBook and my iPhone, which still have plenty of useful lifespan left in them and which satisfy my current computing needs quite nicely. For that reason alone I’m not seeing any reason I need to get a third device.

The more pertinent question for me might be, will I buy an iPad when my current laptop eventually needs replacing?

Current answer to that, although possibly subject to change depending on how future generations of the device develop: no.

One: the size and shape of it would make me reluctant to carry it on my daily commute. While the weight is good, just 1.5 pounds, the size and shape do not convince me that I could safely carry it in my backpack. Plus, I would absolutely not put it in my backpack without a protective shell of some sort, which would add extra weight. Also, just the sheer shape of it makes me wonder whether it would fit into the size and style of backpack I carry anyway.

Two: While the lack of keyboard doesn’t bother me at all–I’m quite used at this point to the virtual keyboard on the iPhone and using one on the iPad would not be a problem–the lack of ability to multitask does. If it can’t let me run my usual suite of programs at the same time, it’s just not an effective home computing device for me.

Three: Lack of storage space local to the device is not a huge dealbreaker for me, but it is a point of concern. I’m used to syncing my iPhone with my laptop when I get home in the evening. But if the iPad were to be my home computing device, I’d clearly need some ability to sync it up with one of our household servers. Syncing my personal documents out to a third-party site such as Google Docs or MobileMe or whatever is not really a path I want to go. Those options are fine as off-site backups, but when it comes to working copies of whatever writing I’m doing, I want them local and on my house LAN.

Four: While as an ebook author I am very much interested in the iPad serving as a new way to get ebooks to people, I’d be way more interested if the iBooks store opens up to other Mac devices and ideally other platforms as well. Selling books in epub format is good. Selling them without DRM so that you could read them in whatever app on whatever device you wish would be better. Right now though the fact that the iPad has an iBooks store isn’t enough to make it nudge that Nook I’m eying out of the running for “e-reader device I’m most likely to purchase.”

Last but not least, since Sarah at Smart Bitches called Apple on this and it bears repeating: speaking as a female computer geek, I gotta say, seriously, ‘iPad’ as a name? Um, no. ;) While the issues I’ve touched on above might improve as the device develops, I’m sorry, the part of me that’s still twelve years old will be giggling over that name for some time.

But hey, we’ll see what happens. In general I’m in favor of shiny computing devices, so if this one finds its niche, more power to it. And I’ll be interested to see what people say once they actually get them into their hands.

iPhone thoughts

And now that I’ve blown an entire evening, some initial thoughts on the shiny, shiny iPhone goodness!

The interface is a win although I will need to take a bit to get used to typing on the virtual keyboard. I’m still kind of slow and pokey at it. I don’t think this’ll be a problem even if I remain slow and pokey at it, just because when I write, I oftentimes get ahead of my fingers when trying to compose the prose. Being forced to type slowly may well help me think things through better.

Definitely grooving on the variety of apps available. I installed a lot of them tonight and very much like QuickOffice’s ability to let me mount the device as a drive over Wi-Fi and drag and drop files across. Not as elegant as an actual file sync, but the various options I’m aware of for that don’t appeal to me right now. So I’m pondering if I can do something clever with rsync whenever I have the device connected. The one minus to this app is that I discovered it doesn’t actually do RTF format, just DOC, so I’ll have to jump back to writing in DOC format. But that’s okay.

Meanwhile, I also installed Amazon’s mobile app as well as the Kindle one (and tested the latter by buying an actual Kindle book I was thinking of getting just because the new style of cover on the series annoyed me and I didn’t want to look at a physical copy of it), the Facebook app, the Touchterm SSH app, the WordPress app, and Stanza.

Stanza turns out to be a bit of a problem, I fear. Most of the ebooks I currently own are in PDF format, and Stanza is not terribly clever about rendering PDF files. Fortunately, however, QuickOffice turns out to solve this problem for me quite nicely because it can read PDF files. Which means I can finally read all the Drollerie Press ebooks I’ve bought. Yay!

I got all my music and podcasts and audiobooks and videos and such synced onto the thing, and broke it in as is right and proper by playing “Ordinary Day” as well as my video of Russell Crowe’s surprise GBS show encore of “Folsom Prison Blues”. <3 All in all I do believe this device and I are going to get along nicely. Now I just need an appropriate icon to convey my feelings of "oooo shiny".

Okay, iPhone users, let’s talk apps

Shiny new iPhone goodness is mine! I picked up the lovely thing this morning and am endeavoring to keep from playing with its shiny, shiny, candylike buttons while I’m at work. This is not, however, keeping me from pondering what apps I want to slap onto it the moment I get home.

I know I’ll need QuickOffice, for compatibility with Office files and ability to write on the device. The ability to mount the device as a drive over Wi-Fi and then to drag and drop files back and forth will be very helpful.

I will also need an ebook reader of some sort. Stanza seems highest priority on this, as that’s the one I keep hearing about, but I’m willing to be swayed to other suggestions if folks want to chime in? Note that almost all of the ebooks I have right now (free ones yoinked from various places) are in PDF format, but I have a couple of Microsoft Reader ones as well. Chances are high that I’ll probably buy further books either from Fictionwise or from Amazon’s Kindle store, and I know Stanza in theory talks both of those formats. Anybody got any counterarguments on appropriate apps?

And I’ll need a Sudoku app. Just because I use the old iPaq pretty much only for playing Sudoku these days and I will clearly need to be able to do that on the iPhone. Although I am wondering how you’ll do a proper Sudoku game with the iPhone’s touchscreen.

Just about everything else I’ll be doing on the iPhone will be functionality that comes with it. But talk to me, people; are there other cool apps out there that you cannot live without? If so, tell me about them!