it’s not an ipad, but it’s not bad at all.

So Tamara brought her Kindle Fire along when she came up to Upper Cryogenica to house-sit. I got to play with it for a while (and watch an episode of Archer on it), and I was fairly impressed with the little thing. It’s handier than the iPad, and it does most of what I do with the iPad on a regular basis—browse the web, read e-books, do Facebook and Twitter, listen to music, and watch movies.

(My main bookreader isn’t the iPad, but the basic Kindle with the e-ink display. I prefer the look of e-ink to text on an LCD, and the readability in sunlight is kind of a big deal when you often take your e-reader along to the playground.)

The iPad is more capable, and the interface feels faster and more responsive, but I’d seriously consider a Kindle Fire if we didn’t already have an iPad. It’s definitely more portable, and covers 80% of the iPad’s functionality for most users. If there’s anything I dislike about it, it’s the shiny plastic bezel that picks up fingerprints like mad (and makes the device feel a bit cheap), and the limited storage space. Cloud or not, I want to have the option of putting a bit more than a few playlists of music and two or three movies onto my portable media tablet, especially when I travel to locations where Wi-Fi coverage may be spotty or expensive. Also, the 8-hour charge is a bit on the short side. On the whole, though, it’s a neat device and a perfectly cromulent budget tablet at less than half the price tag of an iPad. Only our ownership of an iPad is keeping me from buying one to supplement the e-ink Kindle.

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viking neck knife.

Because the sheath covers more than half the handle and locks the knife via simple friction, the little Mora makes a dandy neck knife. The blade is skinny and lacks a handguard, and the overall profile of the knife is very slim, so despite its 4” blade, the Mora tucks away under most any cover garment.

A neck knife makes a lot of sense in cold climates, where it’s easier to reach down your cover garment than to dig through multiple layers of clothing to get to your belt knife. It’s also fully ambidextrous—you can reach the knife equally well with either hand. Lastly, it’s fast to deploy even with gloves—you don’t need to undo snaps or work a mechanism to get the blade ready for use.

Take a $15 Mora, some Gorilla tape, and a length of paracord with a knot on either end, and you have an inexpensive, tough, versatile, sharp and easy to maintain fixed blade utility knife that’s a breeze to carry.

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totally ergo.

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My one problem with the standing desk was the height of the keyboard. If I put a keyboard on the lower part of the desk, it’s too low for comfort, because the desk surface is about three inches below my elbow, and I have to bend my wrists up to type. Placing the keyboard on the higher part of the desk where the monitor sits is better for the wrists, but I have nothing to rest my hands on as I type. I tried putting a riser under my regular keyboard, but the angle was still all wrong.

Then I saw this thing at BestBuy and took it for a little test drive. It’s a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. Say what you want about Microsoft, but on occasion they come up with some decent hardware. (Their Optical Trackball, now discontinued, was the best trackball on the market, and used models fetch crazy-high prices on fleaBay whenever they surface.)

At first I hated it. Not the feel, mind you—this is one comfortable keyboard. It has a padded faux leather palmrest, and the size and shape are just right. What I couldn’t get used to at first was the split design. I’m not a touch-typist, and the split layouts are pretty awkward when your fingers routinely cross the center line of the keyboard. But I loved the feel, and Newegg had them on sale for $24.99 with free shipping, so I decided to give one fair shakes for a few days. I put a standard keyboard in front of the monitor as frustration insurance, and gave my hands and fingers some time to readjust to the new keyboard.

On Day Two, I put the other keyboard back in the parts bin, because I was constantly reaching for the split type instead.

The split design works very well (it keeps your hands at their natural alignment angle instead of forcing them to bend to conform to a straight line board), but the killer feature for me is the negative tilt. It comes with a detachable riser piece at the front of the keyboard that tilts the whole affair downward at a reverse slope angle:

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That’s the ideal angle for this particular keyboard shelf on this desk for someone my height.

It’s not perfect—I prefer mechanical keyswitches, and I could do without all the extra buttons at the top that make an already large keyboard about the size of a park bench, but the damn thing is so comfy and works so well that I can forgive its shortcomings. Now I can run around in Skyrim dominate noobs in BF3 compose epic prose in total wrist-and-hand comfort.

p-p-p-powerbook.

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This past weekend, I engaged in some mutually beneficial voluntary exchange of property with friends. They wanted to set up a home theater PC for their big-screen TV in the basement den, and they had a nice PowerBook G4 they no longer needed. So I traded them my Zotac HTPC, which had been hooked up to our TV but rarely used because we stream Netflix through the Wii.

Looking at the PowerBook, you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s a 5-year-old machine. They look deceptively like the current MacBook Pro models. It’s clad in aluminum, and the keyboard is backlit, which is a nice feature for someone who often writes in low-light conditions—say, early in the morning before the kids get up, or late in the evening when everyone’s in bed. The very last PowerBook model made before Apple went to Intel chips and renamed the line “MacBook”, it still has capable hardware under the hood. It has 2GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive, and a really nice high-res display. The G4, being retired technology, is not suitable for HD video streaming or gaming these days, but it’s perfectly capable when it comes to running Scrivener or Word, and it browses the Intertubes as fast as anything else out there.

A good exchange of value is when both parties walk away from the transaction happy, and they did. My friends have a sweet HTPC and can stream Netflix to their TV, and I have a nice portable writing rig that runs all the software I need to chip the prose from the walls of the word mines.

dispatch from castle frostbite.

(looks up from breakfast)

Oh, hi there, imaginary Intertubes pals!

I’ve been kind of sparse on the Twitters and the Interblogs for the last week or two. To those who got concerned enough to check up on me via email: NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. I AM FINE. Just a little busy with Real Life, that’s all. I was most emphatically NOT kidnapped by a gang of rogue Girl Scouts and locked in the basement dungeon in their troop’s secret HQ, fed a diet of Twizzlers and flat Mountain Dew, and forced to crank out reams of Twilight fanfic. NO, SIR.

The Munchkin Wrangler wordsmithy has a new primary computational device—a store-bought Gateway box running Windows 7. When I put Robin’s machine together a few months back, I ordered a parts kit from TigerDirect and put together a really fast budget rig with a quad-core processor for under $400. I wanted to repeat the process for my new machine, but our Windows and Office family pack licenses have been distributed among the existing computers in the house, and the added cost for even an OEM license of Windows 7 Home Premium would have made a parts kit system just as expensive as (or only very slightly less so than) an off-the-shelf store computer. So I went out and bought the ready-made solution, which means that the Nerd Club will be by very shortly to collect my club card. (“You bought a STORE BOX? And it’s not even running LINUX? FOR SHAME.”) The new box is a Core i3, one of the new Sandy Bridge processors, and much faster than anything else I’ve owned so far. I took it home, replaced the wimpy 300W PSU with a 500W Antec unit I had in the parts bin, and stuck a GeForce GTX 460 into the PCI-E slot. It runs like a Geiger counter near Fukushima, and it’s so quiet that you have to actually put your ear against the case to hear that it’s on.

(Plus, it has running lights along the front of the case, and the Gateway logo lights up. That’s how you know it’s a fast rig, you see.)

(TL;DR: New computer, yay!)

Things at the Castle are hectic and in a permanent state of low-level stress with occasional spikes of OMGWTFBBQ—in other words, business as usual. But hey! Next month the winter will start full throttle, and then I get to put “Snow Removal” on my daily plate of chores as well. Grown-ups have SO MUCH FUN. They get to do WHATEVER THEY WANT. It’s not fair!

(Lyra and Quinn have discovered that delightful phrase despite only a very nebulous grasp of its meaning. To them, “It’s not fair” means “I don’t agree with it”, which—come to think about it—is also how a lot of grown-ups understand it.)

Anyway: the state of affairs here at Castle Frostbite. Not captured by girl scouts—busy as fuck—new computer—looking forward to shoveling snow (“New England Home Gym: FREE HOME DELIVERY”)—life’s not fair. That’s all for right now. Carry on, then.

lunch at wendy’s, 1976.

Playing with the Hipstamatic app on the iPhone.