Stacked

TransIP, a hoster in the Netherlands, has a free offering called STACK: free cloud storage for 1000 GB! It took me a few days to get an invite to activate it. It’s based on Owncloud, and they made branded clients. That means there are clients for phones and tablets, and every OS (including Linux!). In addition, you can mount the drive through WebDAV too. It’s reasonable fast, and you can store your Dropbox many times over in there. I’m a fan.

New phone

I selected my mobile phone, the 2013 version of the Motorola Moto G, based on the price/performance ratio. For 175 euros, I got a full-featured smartphone with excellent battery life and a great screen. And, because at that time Motorola was a subsidary of Google, the phone got updated to newer versions of the Android OS quite quickly too.

But the camera on that phone was… not that good. In fact, even in good lighting, the photos were really potato-quality. It got kinda boring that I could not make a quick snap that would be good enough to post here or on Twitter. That’s why there are cameras on phones in the first place!
So I figured it was time to look for a new phone. And if I was going to get a new one, I’d want a rather full(er)-featured phone that would last me quite a bit of time. But I did not want to pay full-price for such a phone — I’m cheap like that.

So I did some research on smartphones from China. I settled on the Jiayu S3 Advance. As you see from the specs, it’s a pretty cool phone: octa-core, 64-bits, good GPU, lots of RAM, 13 Mpx camera, even NFC!
I ordered from Pandawill, and it took them some time to send the phone, but in four weeks’ time it was delivered to me, with a silicon case and an English sort-of manual added by the shop. All for 205 euros! So far, I’m quite pleased with the phone. I will try putting a different ROM on it later on.

This setup with projecting an RPG map on top of a table is quite cool.

I like playing with maps, even though I dislike the tactical combat that D&D3 and Pathfinder have. I like gradually showing the map to my players when they explore more of the dungeon, or putting a marker on the map to show where something interesting is to be found.
At least, I do when I play face-to-face. Sitting around a table looking at the same map really gives focus to the game, and I like that. When playing online through Google Hangouts, I do not use maps — while I have a Roll20 account, I don’t use it because looking at the map in that context means that the players are not looking at me or each other.

Projecting the map is cool and all, but it’s expensive. (Just for a laugh, do a price-check on projectors that have a HD resolution…) And cutting up the map in sections and gluing those together is kinda fun — and works just as well.

Play-by-VOIP

Getting a group of players together for playing an RPG is a bit of a hassle. Luckily, I have a lot of local players so I can assemble a group rather easily. But I also know some players who are further afield, and getting together in any regular fashion is nearly impossible.
Two of these seemed quite enthousiastic when I mentioned on Facebook that I really liked The One Ring, so I thought: why not? I did some research and some preparing, and tonight I sent out an e-mail detailing the setup we’re going to use.

I am really excited to see how it will work out. And it’s great to get to play with people that I otherwise would not!

I’ve been buying quite a few RPG books in PDF format: either RPG-related Kickstarters or the super-cheap sets from the Bundle of Holding. I put all these in my Dropbox for easy access across various platforms.
I can read them on my desktop, but when I’m on the road or I just want to relax on the couch, it’s either phone or tablet. My phone (a Motorola G) has a nice screen, but it’s not that big, so you have to keep scrolling and scrolling to read the whole page. The tablet is bigger, but it’s also much heavier. If I want to get comfortable, I have to snuggle up and balance it on my knee or something, because it’s just too heavy to keep in my hand for extended periods of time.

I had been looking at 7″ tablets for a while, and even won an auction for an Acer Iconia A1-810 — but the seller was dissapointed with the final offer and decided not to sell. Still, I knew I wanted a 7″ tablet to read on, but I did not want to spend the EUR 200 that the newest Samsung tablets cost.
Digging around for a bit turned up the Asus MemoPad. The white variant (well, the variant with a white back) costs only EUR 120 — which was quite acceptable. I bought it, and I have had it now for a week.
I love it. The tablet is light, so it’s easy to hold in your hand. It’s small enough to reach the whole of the keyboard with my thumbs when I hold it in two hands — nice when I want to send a tweet or something. The back camera is pretty nice: better than the one on my phone (though admittedly that doesn’t take much). And the screen is nice enough that I can read a PDF page by page without having to pan-and-scan.
All in all, very satisfied with that.

Then last week, I was at a client and I had lunch with my main contact there. I had taken my company phone (an iPhone 5S) with me, and as I laid it on the table next to my plate, we got to talking about phones. He was in the market for a new phone, and wanted an Android phone. I told him about my ‘new’ phone, and that I had had a Samsung Galaxy S2 before.
His eyes lit up: turns out that his daughters both have a SGS2, and he has repaired the screens a couple of times — I guess teenagers can be a bit careless with their stuff… So he knew the phone, and he didn’t want to pay a premium price for a new phone. So a second-hand SGS2 would fit the bill quite nicely.
The next day, I brought my phone to him, and he was very impressed with how neat it still looked after three years. I warned him about the battery life, and then sold it to him for EUR 80. That nicely offsets most of the cost of the new tablet!

New phone

I got annoyed with the bad battery life I had on my Samsung Galaxy S2 — it’s now over 2.5 years old, and even the new battery I got is giving out — or perhaps I run an app that drains the battery too fast or something like that. After 24 hours, the phone is dead and refuses to start up again until I put it on the charger. While I don’t use my phone that often, I do want it to be available when I want to!

So I decided to invest a part of my stake in the profit-sharing at TNJ in a new phone. I wanted a modern one, with the newest version of Android on it, but I did not want to spend a fortune on it. I think I’m done with premium phones like the Galaxy series: yes, it’s an impressive piece of machinery, but I’m not going to get my money’s worth out of it with prices like that. So I decided to get a Motorola Moto G — the 16 GB variant.
It’s only slightly larger than the SGS2, so I can re-use the sock that klik knit for me, which is a definate bonus. Only drawback is that it doesn’t have a micro SD slot, so I have to make do with the 16 GB that’s on the phone. So far, it seems like I’ll manage fine.

Migrating is a breeze. I connected the new phone to my Google account, and all the apps I had installed on the SGS2 were downloaded and installed automatically. There was even an update for the OS ready, so that’s nice — I’m really running the latest Android version now.
The screen is roughly the same size as on the SGS2, but it has a HD resolution, which makes it very, very crisp. Video plays smoothly too, so that might be something to do for long train rides and the like. Battery life is excellent too, as advertised. Getting all my photos and stuff transferred was, again, a breeze with the Motorola Migrate app.

So far, I’m really pleased with my new phone!

Clever restaurant trick

We went into the city centre of Den Bosch today, to do some shopping and to enjoy a stroll through a beautiful city in the nice weather we’re having this weekend. We walked past a small restaurant, and I saw a really clever trick they had.

They had very small lockers in the entrance, each outfitted with a wall socket. You could charge your phone there while you dined! Obviously you would have to keep it locked up, because they are directly accessible from the street…
That means that you won’t be using your phone in the restaurant, but you’ll have a full charge when you leave. A very clever way to offer an incentive for getting those phones off the dinner tables!

I haven’t read the book myself, but I read a review of Reamde by Neil Stephenson. One of the commenters said that he likes SF and that he selected the book because of that, but that it felt more like a modern thriller in the vein of Tom Clancy.

This is because reality has overtaken cyberpunk, and all novels that deal with information-as-a-commodity, with the growing gap between haves and have-nots and with networks/systems of information (in my mind key characteristics of cyberpunk) — they don’t need SF components anymore. Everything is already here. You do not need to invent technology to tell a cyberpunk story anymore.

William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition”, published in 2005, posits technology that allows one to ‘see’ virtual objects at a certain place, determined by GPS coordinates. He describes mobile computers and video googles. And then GPS-enabled smartphones happened, and stuff like Layar implemented that precise technology, except less bulky.
His latest, “Zero History”, published last year, is also a very cyberpunk story, but it does not have to invent any new technology in order to tell the story. There are a few unlikely things thrown in (such as The Ugliest Shirt), but it’s not a whole new technology that’s needed for the plot.
It is also interesting that “Pattern Recognition” is the first book in a trilogy, with “Zero History” the last. One of the characters indeed remarks how her iPhone now does what she previously needed all that specialty equipment for.

So basically, we are living in an SF story. Specifically, a cyberpunk story. Not in the “Neuromancer”-sense, but in the sense that most of the concepts in cyberpunk have become reality in one way or the other. (And “Neuromancer”, which was published in 1986, does not have cell phones. Some younger readers think that’s a major plot point, but it is merely because there were no cell phones back then, and Gibson had not thought about then.)
No, we don’t have brain implants to ‘jack in’ to computers, but we do have brain implants that allow a blind person to see or a deaf person to hear. We have augmented reality in the form of smartphones or even Google Glass. It’s just that we understand these technologies, and that takes away the ‘magic’ of SF. Cyberpunk has indeed become a genre of the modern thriller.

I only wish that certain other aspects of cyberpunk had not become a reality too, such as the ubiquitous surveillance, the increased power of corporations and the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

Last week wednesday, the glassfibre modem was installed. Two guys came over, drilled through the wall, pulled the cable in and connected it to the modem. In no time at all, we were connected — but since the line wasn’t activated yet, not much happened.
Until last Wednesday, when we got the ‘do it yourself’ installation kit — basically a Wifi-enabled router and a short telephone cable. In the accompanying letter, I read that I somehow did not uncheck the option that would get me a technician to install it all for me, for the sum of EUR 70. Not only am I more than capable to connect a few network cables, I also need stuff like port forwarding configures — something the technician would not help me with. The activation date would be September 6th, when also the phone-line would be ported over to the new connection.

So on Thursday I called my provider and had them scratch the technician. And while I was at it, I asked them to activate the networking at that moment. There’s no good reason to wait for more than a week, merely because the procedures for porting the phone line take that much time. So the friendly woman at the other end checked a few boxes and it was connected.
That evening, I connected my laptop directly to the modem, but it didn’t work yet. So I called again, and it turned out that there was a second checkbox that needed to be checked — I don’t know why, but they checked that box, and ten seconds later I had a connection. It took me some time to set everything up, including DNS configuration and switching over the Wifi SSID and password to our usual thing (so that everything simply connects to the new router), but then we were up and running on our glassfibre connection!
Downloading a typical fansub episode (around 500 MB these days!) takes only a minute… Streaming from Crunchyroll at 720p (the native resolution of our TV — higher doesn’t make sense) is fast and smooth… I think I can get used to these speeds.

And klik had been complaining about her computer for quite some time now. With an Atom CPU and only 2GB, it had gotten a bit… anemic to do all the things she does with the machine. And so I looked at the most recent Tweakers.net Desktop Best Buy Guide, decided on the Basic System and ordered all the stuff I needed from two different shops. And then I found out that one of them sent through the mail, and the other through some courier service with the depot in Geldermalsen (about an hour per car from here)!
I was determined to have the courier leave a note and then have them deliver at the office, but that afternoon I looked out of the window and there was a truck of that courier service outside the window, delivering something to the neighbours below the office. I went outside and asked the truck driver if he had tried to deliver a package at our adress — he had. I showed him my driver’s license (to show that I am who I said I was) and got the package. That saved everybody quite a bit of time!
And then I found out that I didn’t have everything I needed after all — a Molex-to-SATA power cable, a 2.5″-to-3.5″ convertor bracket, stuff you find out you need once you open up the case to install it all. That came by yet another courier service — but this one has their depot mere minutes from the office, so that worked out well.
This afternoon, I installed everything, and klik is now enjoying her new machine! The faster processor, increased memory and the SSD is making for quite a smooth experience.

Communications

My cellphone contract is expiring on August 12th. Two years ago, I entered in a contract for around EUR 45 per month, in order to get the Samsung Galaxy S2, then the top of the line Android phone, and certainly a step up from my G1. But I make so few phonecalls with that thing that I never even made a dent in the call minutes.
Now, there are better Android phones out (mainly the S3 and S4), but my S2 still serves me quite well. In fact, I haven’t found anything that it won’t do. So there’s no need for a new phone, and there is no need to continue on my expensive contract.
So I went sim-only. I ordered a sim with a company that a colleague gave good reviews to. Now I will get 100 call minutes (or 100 SMS) and 1000 MB internet connectivity per month for only EUR 13. That totally works for me.

Also, we have a fibre-optic cable dangling in our garden. On August 21st, it will be connected inside our home. I’m looking forward to 100/100 internet speeds.