Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lenovo Mix 2, 8" Windows Tablet


I had already made three trips to the local Best Buy to lay hands on Lenovo's 8" tablet. What made me pull the trigger and get one, I'm not sure. I think it's like I said before, this is toy territory.
No pen input or 64 bit processor means I'll be using my Miix 2 to primarily consume, browse, and play.

It does run full Windows 8.1 and comes with Office Home and Student for free. One could use the tablet as a productivity sidecar, but I am more curious about how well it runs games, plays video, and browses the web.

The Bad

Other than the usual WiFi connectivity issues that seem to plague my Windows 8.1 devices, they ship the device with a really short USB cable to charge it with. Some folks might complain that the Miix 2 has only has a mini USB port, micro SD slot, and headphone jack. Personally, I like the simplicity and thinnest a limited port selection grants the device.

It comes with Windows 8.1, one of the worst versions of Windows I've used but one of the only tablet optimized desktop operating systems out there. I could complain (again) about all the things I dislike about Windows 8.1, but until there's a touch friendly version of Ubuntu, this is pretty much what everyone is stuck with. Grin and bear it as it were.

The Good

With devices designed for consumption it is the screen that is most important. There are tablets with higher resolution screens, but for my purposes 1280 x 800 in an 8" form factor is dazzling. It will also be better for scaling in both new and older programs and games. The pixel density is plenty, and I didn't notice much of a difference between my iPad 3 and the Miix 2 when looking at my photos or digital artwork. I think there's a point where the eyes don't care anymore. 

The second most important thing is how the tablet feels in the hand. The Miix 2 does not disappoint, being very thin, light, and comfortable even in one hand. The rounded edges and slightly textured back panel are a pleasure to hold without being so course you can't put decals or stickers on the back of the device.

Finally, there is durability to consider. In the two days I've owned the device I've managed to drop it once. "Drop" falls somewhat short of describing what I did. While fumbling with my scarf I tossed the Miix 2 into a wall, whereby it ricocheted over into another wall, and then finally came to rest on the floor. My wife gasped audibly but having already logged a charge cycle with the device I had some notion of how tough it is. The device survived without a scratch.

Fallout 2 and my library of games from the Windows Store all run just fine. I get a little nostalgic loading old games to the device because of the limited hard drive space. I have to choosy about what I load, like it was 1989 all over again. Games load and run very quickly provided you're playing older or tablet optimized games. I haven't tried anything more modern as there is no room.

Battery life is more or less as advertised. I think I get slightly more than the advertised seven hours but I have the screen brightness turned to the lowest setting all the time. Yes, it's plenty bright like that except for the brightest ambient conditions.

I used the Miix 2 to Skype with my family and used both cameras during the conversation. It's as good an experience with Skype as I've had with any other device. It took a minute for the service to spin up but once it'd been running the picture and sound quality was good. There was some break up on my end but I think that was a connection issue as opposed to something with the device.

Recommended Accessories

Bluetooth Mouse and Keyboard - You'll need these for actual productivity and playing older games that aren't touch screen capable. I'm using the Microsoft Sculpt Mouse and a Logitech Backlit keyboard with mine. Edit: DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT install the Logitech SetPoint software. It is crap. Just pair the keyboard using the Windows Bluetooth Utility.

6" Micro USB to standard USB Cable - As already mentioned, the cord that comes with the Miix is really short.

Capacitive Nub Stylus - Wacom makes a good one. Everything else I've used has worn out quickly.

Micro SD Card - 32 GB is not a lot of room and if you have any audio or visual media you'll want to store it off of the primary storage. SanDisk is what I use.
Ear buds/Headphones - The speaker on the Miix 2 isn't bad, but headphones are recommended.

Case - I had a Waterfield Designs/SF Bags keyboard case/bag laying around. It has four interior pockets and a partitioned external pocked. It holds the tablet, Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, cables, micro SD cards, and capacitive stylus with ease and in a compact form.


Stuff I Might Try

I'm thinking about getting an external battery, like what people get to recharge cell phones on the go. If I could find one that could fit in my SFbags Keyboard Case with everything else I'd have a pretty good travel machine. Also, a wall outlet charger with two USB ports would be pretty great as well.

I'm still on the hunt for a suitable sleeve when I just want to carry the tablet and leave my "travel kit" behind. The Samsung Note 8.0 has very similar dimensions and anything that isn't a vacuum formed fit would probably work. I'll update if I find anything decent.

How to add RAM to your Miix 2?
Like this:


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inspiron 3000 11" [3137] + Ubuntu

Grabbed up one of Dell's Inspiron 3000 (3137) 11" notebooks on the cheap for the purpose of tinkering in Ubuntu and as a travel computer. It was long overdo as traveling is nerve-wracking enough without hauling a $1500+ piece of equipment through security. Dropping my MacBook Pro and dinging the side should have been a hint the first time I traveled to Kansas.

I'm not throwing this up as an in depth review, just a few thoughts on the machine you might not see elsewhere. Being the wanton violator of warranties, I cracked it open to swap hard drives. Serendipity often being my ally, my back up drive and the one that came with the Dell may have come off the same Western Digital assembly line as they looked absolutely identical.

Windows 8 runs really (really) slow. Remember back in the late 90s when you'd have to wait for a program to load and the whole machine would just freeze up while it struggled to push it forward? Yeah, it's like that. Upgrading it to 4GB of ram and a solid state drive would make this a very capable machine and still under $600.

There were three things that made me look at this machine, in spite of it possessing weak specifications.

1. Long Battery Life - Dell advertises that it gets excellent battery life which in manufacturer-speak means anything over 5 hours. When I lifted this thing out of the box, it felt heavy and well-built in my hands. Opening it up revealed that half what's inside is a battery. I haven't managed to run it through a full battery cycle, six hours of use later, and it says I have three hours left.

I bet with the right solid state drive one could squeeze out another 30 to 45 minutes beyond that. Battery life is huge for me. I like being able to go anywhere I want to work if I need to vary my environment but I hate worrying about finding a plug-in. This device effectively dispels that anxiety.

2. 64 Bit Processor - I'll spare you the technical mumbo jumbo, but I prefer running operating systems and programs in 64 bit mode for various reasons. That Intel is making low-watt Celeron processors using 64 bit architecture is pretty great. One of the chief reasons I avoided many of the Windows Tablets was because they were 32 bit.

3. Touch Screen - I like having one, and it feels like Dell doesn't make you pay for it with this device. It works great in Windows 8 and as good as one would expect in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. The touchpad is roomy, a boon most of the time except when you're typing in Ubuntu as the palm rejection function never works properly.

This is one of the few computers I've bought for under $400 that felt like I was getting more than what I paid for. A "netbook" this is not. The build quality is excellent, keyboard is decent, and it has a great array of ports that include and SD card reader. Ubuntu 12.04 loaded up without a hitch. There are still some errors in the background but nothing that effects the user experience or performance. WiFi and Bluetooth just worked which was nice.

I read some complaints about the screen being dim. Maybe I'm just used to living in a cave but I have it turned down one tick above the lowest setting and have no problem seeing the screen, even if it is a bit glossy. If you plan to run 64 bit Ubuntu, there is no need to upgrade the hard drive or RAM unless that's just your default with a new machine. Stock hard drive and 2 GB of RAM works fine for me.

In all, I was happy enough with the purchase to put a UPW sticker on the lid after making sure it would pair with my Wacom wireless tablet.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Mavericks, A Few Days Later

Maybe it's just the contrast with having to struggle with Windows 8.1 over the last four days, but I really like Mavericks. When you use a computer every day it is the nearly imperceptible things that make the experience enjoyable or something that frays the nerves. What Apple generally delivers is stability and reliability, and Mavericks is no exception. 

The Bad:


Mail 

This application is still as problematic as it has always been. Since 2009, across multiple versions of OSX I always have to make sure the app is off and my machine actually shuts down. Otherwise I'll open the lid to a resume situation where my battery is dead because OSX got hung up on the Mail app while trying to shut down. 

That said, it's still the best email app I've used on on a desktop OS. I don't know that I've ever used a "good" email application except on the iPad. 

iTunes

I won't rehash what basically the entire Internet has already said about iTunes. It's awful, will probably always be awful, and if you've bought into the ecosystem you're doomed to continue using it. 

In iTunes defense, I've never used even a decent media management application before. Everything I've tried is somewhere between the "stinks like poop" and "this makes my mind hurt" categories. 

iWorks

Like I said before, the new versions are pale shadows of what they used to be and lack a lot of functionality. If you can scare up a copy of the older versions or already own them, you're golden. Otherwise, you'll have to wait for the improvements Apple has promised. 

The reason for this is that Apple rebuilt these apps from the ground up to be 64 bit, and getting them back to their former awesome will take time. 

The Good:


System & Resource Management

My 2009 MacBook Pro was given new life by Mavericks. Aside from the failing battery, it runs and handles noticeably better than before installing the update. Everything I do feels like it isn't leaning on the system as much and the laptop can just do more. That almost imperceptible lag between operations, saving, opening applications, and similar is shorter or just absent entirely. 

With only a few very system intensive applications do I see the icon bounce on the dock or the spinning beach ball of doom. Everything just seems to go when I click it. Where I was constantly checking Activity Monitor to see what was slowing my machine down, I never even look now. 

For me, this is huge. 

Familiarity

For me, this aspect of OS updates is pretty important. The biggest weakness of some software and hardware manufacturers is not that they can't identify when they've done something wrong. The real problem is when they can't recognize when they've done something right. 

There is a lot of what I like about Mavericks are the same things I liked about Leopard and everything in between. 

Anything Apple adds to the OS, I can pretty much ignore if I want and stick to the core UI and means of navigating and organizing my apps and data. If I don't want to use Mission Control or Launchpad, I don't have to. 

There was no pressure to update to Mavericks and Apple didn't lock my machine with a gray bar and a link directing me to the Apple Store. That's a big deal considering the very tacky way Microsoft has decided to "encourage" people to update. 

Like Windows 8.1, Mavericks was advertised to be free. Given the work day hours I've spent struggling with Windows, only Mavericks lives up to that marketing.

I'm not bitter or anything. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Windows 8.1 Surface Pro Follow Up

My Surface Pro had become so useless by lunchtime yesterday I decided to completely reinstall the operating system and the Windows 8.1 update. I would like to say that maybe eight months of heavy use contributed to the OS being corrupted, but it was fine before the 8.1 update. A full battery cycle later, I can safely say the full reset was the way to go. If you’re planning to go to Windows 8.1 via an upgrade through the store, back up your data and fully reset the machine.

You don’t need to do the system clean that takes hours, but install nothing but OS updates until you’ve upgraded to Windows 8.1. Once you have 8.1 on your system, install your applications and any updates for them. So far the machine runs as stable as Windows gets without all the issues I was having before. Performance is back to where I’m used to it being. This is probably normal SOP for Windows machines, something I’d forgotten in my four year journey with the Mac OS.

One thing I discovered through all this is a troubling issue with Start Menu or “Metro” applications. Even after you swipe down to close them, they continue running in the background. I haven’t found any way to kill them except via Task Manager. I discovered this as I was running through them to see if there were any I wanted to use. While sitting idle beside me on the couch, my Surface Pro kicked on its fans prompting me to see what was running the system so hard. The five Metro apps I’d opened were still using up system resources and pressing the system.

I keep the Task Manager open on the desktop side to kill these apps by default now. There is probably some rudimentary resource management software that shuts these apps off completely at some point, but if it stresses my Surface Pro, I can’t imagine what it would do to a user unaware of such things with an Atom powered device. I get that there will always be some user level resource management, but the degree required with Windows 8 hurts the experience, in my opinion.

I have to just treat it like a game, where I am required to manage resources or my space ship will run out of gas or overheat and blow up. Maybe Microsoft could just build that into the OS so keeping apps from burning up your machine or running down the battery had one of a variety of quaint game interfaces? I’m probably being really sarcastic now, but for reals… Microsoft fix this.

Fortunately for me, I use few enough apps and the all run in desktop mode I can ignore the start menu entirely, leaving a few seldom used desktop app icons there to keep the taskbar. While this works great on my workstation, it isn’t the best way to go on my Surface. It has a smaller screen and I like having the scaling at the native 100% making everything tiny in desktop mode. To that end, the Start Menu or Metro interface works as a springboard so I’m not squinting at icons on the taskbar and the touch interface works for me a little more than it works against me.

Stylus input is, post full reinstall, back to being stellar. As I’ve said before, I would really like a device with an 8” form factor, but I don’t think I’ll endure any portable computer I buy lacking pixel accurate pen input. You will need to recalibrate the pen after a full reinstall, but this is a very fast process one can access from Control Panel -> Tablet PC Settings.  

I’ll be following up with Mavericks next week after I have had a chance to use it more.

Update: [11/13/2013] After battling with Windows 8.1 over the last day or so, I'm throwing in the towel and downgrading. Many of the problems I thought were fixed by a full re-install returned. Having external disk management, WiFi, or the touch screen input fail on my Surface Pro at regular intervals is extremely annoying. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mavericks vs. Windows 8.1

I thought that comparing these two operating systems wouldn’t be entirely fair as I was installing 8.1 to my Surface Pro and Mavericks to a 2009 MacBook. I thought Microsoft would have the advantage with the release of their OS and hardware being closer together. This didn't end up being the case by a long shot.

I tried to keep this under a thousand words for easy reading, but if you're curious, and you know how to, contact me with your questions. 

Installation/Aftermath
They both take quite a bit of time to download and install. As always make sure you have your device running on AC power and give yourself an hour or more to get it done depending on your connection speed. 

Microsoft basically forces you to upgrade from 8.0 to 8.1. If you don’t, they lock your machine with a gray bar and a single option allowing you to go to the store. When I go to the store, the option reads “Windows 8.1 Preview” or something like that. When I clicked it, I was not sure if I was getting the full version or the preview version. Searching around the store did not yield any clarity. 

Windows 8.1 will mostly hose your system. You will have to re-install applications, drivers, and nothing will work as well as it did with 8.0. Peripherals will cease to work, the OS will “misplace” external drives and SD cards at random and generally anger you beyond any threshold of sanity. Your device may also experience boot failure requiring that you shut down and try again. 

At intervals, my Surface Pro will tell me it’s trying to repair itself and diagnose a problem at boot up. This (of course) always fails and I have to reboot to get the device to function. While I’m using my Surface, it will lose track of the SD card, the Type Cover, cease accepting touch input, constrain the pen to a tiny corner of the desktop, and engage in other extremely frustrating shenanigans. Windows 8.1 turned my very functional and useful device into a baldness and anxiety generator. 

This is a stark contrast with Apple’s new OS offering. 

Apple doesn’t force you to update and the process if very simple. When the update is complete, your system will function as it did before, if not better. Your mouse, keyboard, monitor, external drives, and so forth will function like they did and you may have to update a few apps that have been optimized for Mavericks. 

My laptop runs cooler, faster, and with slightly greater speed. It boots quickly, but still takes a while to shut down. Overall, system performance has improved and after several hours of use I could begin to feel or garner a sense of the boost. Apple doesn’t always deliver a smooth OS update, but they pretty much nailed it this time around. 

Application Comparison, In Brief
Adobe/Autodesk – These are better on a Mac for a myriad of reasons. I’ve adapted to using them on Windows but in the back of my mind, I know the experience is better with Apple’s operating system. 

Browsers – I tend to use Chrome over Safari or Internet Explorer and the mobile equivalents of both depending on the OS I’m using. I don’t love one browser over another really. 

Calendar – Apple’s calendar application is better in almost every possible way. I could write a thousand words about why it’s better. 

Cloud Computing – SkyDrive is far more useful than iCloud but somewhat less reliable when coupled with other 1st Party Applications. Microsoft Office can’t be trusted to sync documents to the cloud unfortunately, while iWorks does a fine job of working with iCloud. That SkyDrive has an apparent file system and can be used to store any sort of file gives it the advantage where I’m concerned. 

Contacts – Microsoft’s “People” application leans on your social networks, has a better UI, and means of adding and syncing contacts than Apple’s “Contacts” app. 

Content Creation/Management – Apple has their iLife applications, Garage Band, iMovie, and iPhoto while Microsoft has a few content management applications that basically pale in comparison. Microsoft has MS Paint and Fresh Paint though, which I love. 

Dictionary – Apple’s built in dictionary app is super handy for anyone who writes. I have got it on the dock and open whenever I’m writing. 

Emulation – There are a number of options for both. I do not struggle to find ways of playing ancient games in a DOS box with either Microsoft or Apple products. 

Games – This is a battle of ecosystems. Still, I’d rather look at Microsoft’s Xbox integrated Games App over Apple’s Game Center any day. 

Mail – Microsoft’s Mail app has come a long way, but Apple still has the upperhand in my opinion. 

Maps – I use Google, in a browser. 

Metro vs. Launchpad – Launchpad and the Metro/Start Menus are a best answer to the UI question asked by all cursor driven operating systems. What is the best way to access, array, and execute applications loaded on my machine? Both are still failing at this in epic fashion, but at least Microsoft gives you the option to boot directly to desktop mode now. 

Music – Apple and Microsoft are competing in this category for the purpose of inventing new and horrible things to do to users. Microsoft’s Music App is worthless ad-fueled crap you should just delete. iTunes is not much better, but it does not subject you to advertising except for defaulting to Apple’s Music Service/Radio tab once after an update. 

Video Chat – FaceTime and Skype are very competitive products. I use them both. 

MS Office vs. iWorks
I used Pages 09’ to write two full length novels, three novellas, and a quarter million words worth of game design documents. Previous to that, I used nothing but Microsoft Word and Publisher for everything. The newer versions of Office are slick and feature rich but crippled by unreliable save/load (with Word anyway) with SkyDrive. However, I love OneNote and its extremely fluid pen input. I need to find a home for all my notebooks and pens, as I no longer need them so long as I have OneNote and a device with a stylus.

Apple recently identified and systematically removed everything I loved about Pages making it barely worth using. They have recently promised to start adding features back in, and Microsoft has been improving their presence in the cloud but it’s really hard to rebuild trust once it’s been lost. The upside is that Apple didn't remove my previous version of Pages from my Mac or the file associations thereof. 

I understand they’re making a device that runs Pages 09’, MS OneNote, and has a touchscreen with stylus. It runs on Unicorn Tears though. 

Conclusions
I’ve had fewer issues with 8.1 on my Lenovo Workstation (which is extremely confusing) than I have with my Microsoft Surface Pro. After much bug chasing, Windows 8.1 still loses track of my external drives and is far slower to boot and shut down than 8.0 on my Lenovo. I wish I could say the same with my Surface. I’m going to try and do a fresh install of the OS and then update again. 

Maybe I’ll have better luck the second time around. 

It’s a strange world when I think Microsoft and Lenovo are making better hardware than Apple, while Apple seems to have the upper hand in the software department. I really like the way Mac OSX runs on a computer, and the reliability it provides. But, I really like stylus/pen input, and that doesn't seem to be part of Apple’s design paradigm. 

At the end of the day, I'm a hardware guy and I’d rather endure Microsoft’s substandard software and have a great machine with a touch screen and stylus. 

Edit: A few frustrating days later, I'm downgrading to Windows 8.0. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Toy Territory - 8" Tablets

Ten years ago, I bought a Handspring Visor Prism running the old Palm OS. As a handheld computing device, it was the best there was at the time. In a way, I think I've been looking for something to replace it for a long time.


Apple's iPod Touch and my Windows Phones have been the closest thing I've owned to a handheld device since. As much as I miss the ability to hold a computing device in one hand, I also missed the Stylus. The Handspring didn't have a high resolution screen or a touch optimized OS, but it had a really good stylus for the time.

There a number of new devices coming out this month, and I've been mesmerized by them. I certainly don't need something with an 8" form factor for work, this is strictly toy territory. All the same, I really want one to play with.

Dell Venue Pro 8 Inch

These seem to have hit the market earlier than the others and the reviews have been positive. The Windows button being mechanical and situated on the side opposed to capacitive and up front is really attractive. The rubberized back looks good too.

No stylus worth mentioning, if the Dell support forums are any indication.

Lenovo IdeaTab Miix 8 Inch

It's Lenovo (a good thing), and otherwise the same as the Dell. Rumors say there might be a 128 GB version offered down the road, which is a pretty mighty advantage if true.

The stylus snaps into the screen cover in this snazzy sort of way. However, it's a capacitive stylus, no better than your finger really.

Acer Iconia W4 8 Inch

It looks better than the Iconia W3, but it's still being manufactured by Acer. Looking at the rest of their line, that might be a good thing or a bad thing. It used to be I wouldn't even look at their hardware, but they make a decent Ultrabook now.

No stylus worth mentioning.

Toshiba Encore 8 Inch

Not a lot out there on this device yet.

Stylus? I've no clue.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0

It looks like it's been made of cheap plastic and the camera sticks out the back slightly leaving a bump on the back side. It's kinda ugly. It's running Android, which I'm not a fan of. I haven't even used an Android device since 2.0. This device retails $100 higher than the Windows 8 tablets and has half the hard drive space.

Stylus? By all accounts, reviews, and customer feedback it is supposed to be excellent. Also, it tucks inside the device just like my old Handspring Visor.

Update: Microsoft has an Android Version of it's OneNote app, but from the reviews I've read... no pen input functionality. Boo.

Other Devices

Samsung is probably my only hope at this point. I've seen reports that they are building a dual booting Windows RT/Android device. My hope is that they make a Galaxy Note 8.0 device that runs full Windows 8. I'm not holding my breath as it would be more expensive and less competitive of them to do so. At the same time, they'd be filling a niche no one else has so far.

The hardest part is being patient and waiting to see what the manufacturers have up their sleeves for the Christmas season.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

People Who Make Stuff

Creative iteration basically amounts to doing the wrong thing correctly, over and over again. Preserve your mistakes, keep things you hate, and make sure the rose-tinted glasses stay in the drawer. It's intuition for people who make stuff - good stuff anyway. 137 layer Photoshop texture or 85,000 page novel... same mind muscles, doubt, depression, and triumph.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Visually Rendering Rue

I've drawn Rue a half dozen times now but this is the first time I did so without trying to ape the way Paizo goblins often look in the supplements. This little goblin is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters and he captures my imagination in all sorts of ways. I've written like 4k words of back story and felt the need to render him visually aside from my weekly Pathfinder RPG.

This was my first try with the Copic pens/colors in Sketchbook Pro and I like the way he turned out. They take a little longer and I'm still figuring out how best to use them, but that'll come in time I think.

 
Rue swallowed noisily, as he approached the counter. Mort, the shopkeeper looked down at the tiny goblin, his face clouded by no small amount of bafflement. Rummaging about in his purple sack, Rue managed to find enough coin for what he wanted it and pushed it shyly onto the counter.
 
“What is it you think you want?” Mort asked gruffly.
 
“D’oes man-rags,” Rue said, pointing to a set of winter garb hanging in the corner behind the counter.
 
Mort looked at the coin on the counter considering whether he was actually going to go through with the transaction. Then, he looked at the tiny goblin shivering in the cold, with only a potato sack and a length of rope to wear. Worse, the goblin’s ears began to droop the longer he equivocated.
 
“Alright, but it won’t fit you,” he said at last, the goblin’s pitiful appearance finally swaying him.
 
“Rue makes it fit,” the tiny goblin replied, producing some cloth shears.
 
Mort laid the outfit on the counter and counted the goblin’s coins. Satisfied, he nodded to Rue who slowly pulled the outfit down to the floor. To his dismay, Mort watched as the tiny goblin vanished inside the outfit and began making hasty alterations from the inside out.
 
“You can’t do that in here,” Mort said, slapping his palm on the counter.
 
“Leave him alone,” Haifa hissed menacingly, putting a small bottle of weapon polish on the counter.
 
There was a flurry of motion from inside the winter outfit as spindly goblin limbs began to make their way out of the elbows and knees. Finally, the goblin’s comically large head emerged from the collar sporting a wide grin. Rue gathered up the excess around the middle and the extra bits flopping about, tethering them off to the rest of the outfit so they wouldn’t get in the way.
 
“Lookin’ good,” Haifa said, putting her purchase in her backpack.
 
“Yup. Deez are good man-rags,” Rue replied, smiling at his own sartorial splendor.


Wacom Cintiq Companion

Like a lot of people probably, I received an email from Wacom announcing their new Cintiq Companion tablets. I clicked it assuming it was just new peripherals and not stand alone computing devices. I was seriously blown away by what I saw when I went to the site.

Some background first. I've been using Macs since 2009 but have had to go back to using Windows machines because Apple hasn't been serious about creating workstation grade hardware for quite awhile now. They are finally getting around to updating the Mac Pro. I could, and probably have written a while blog post on that subject.

Anyway, I've been using my Surface Pro quite a bit to create digital artwork, and it's fast enough to handle working in 300 dpi when I'm doing something for print. The screen resolution is great and the color gamut sufficient. However, it's a 10" screen and there are no physical controls beyond the pen. For ticky-tack stuff I end up on my Lenovo workstation with a Wacom tablet wishing there was some way to have the benefits of both in a single device.

It sounds like Wacom may have gone and done just that. From the specifications it appears to have a lot of what I'm looking for, including a 64 bit OS and 13.3" full HD screen display. I'm sure there are already people grumbling that this doesn't have Haswell, but I'm just happy someone is making a tablet device, with pen input, with this form factor.

Check it out for yourself here.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Privacy Intrinsic


My guinea pig, Pickle, loves to run and I'd always felt bad that she didn't have a bigger living space in which to do so. I don't think she cared one iota, but after some looking I found her an eight square foot living space. She really likes it, but she kept going to the bathroom on the side where her litter wasn't. After giving her box a thorough cleaning, I moved her makeshift canopy over to the side with the litter. I'd used a ferret swing to give her a place to hide under if she wanted. Sure enough, the added privacy over her litter did the trick. 

Pickle's old living space.

If privacy is important to such a guinea pig in some intrinsic way, how vital is it to a human being? I don't think our society, institutions, government, and business do enough to protect people's privacy. It should be really hard to find someone desires seclusion. These days it generally amounts to a single payment of $19.99 on one of many find-a-person dot coms or similar.

The collection of data by our government is worrying as well. I do think dangerous criminals and terrorists need to be tracked and stopped, but not at the expense of engaging surveillance on innocent people. President Obama dismisses these intrusions into people's privacy as being necessary for national security, but like so many of our leaders before him, he hasn't considered the cost or unintended consequences of collecting such data. 

The Government shouldn't be above the law, otherwise it loses the confidence of the people in trying to enforce that law. If corporations have to seek our consent to be tracked or have our personal data stored, so too should our government if for any other reason than collecting a fair tax or registering a vehicle.  

The analogy here is obvious I suppose. This is uncharted territory for the US Government because they are collecting this data with the knowledge of the public, but without it's consent. It's a dangerous experiment where we are all the guinea pigs. 

Pickle expressing distress at having her new living space partitioned with a wall (I removed it).


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Four Years


The sum of a person goes beyond merely the rules they've decided to follow or ignore. We each are equally composed of habits, vices, loves, hates, and everything in between. I understand why people become hard toward others that they don't agree with. 

I get it. Really. 

I don't believe in second chances. People need more opportunities than two if they're to figure things out. We should call it somewhere around five to seven chances to figure things out. The first three times we make a mistake, we barely even know what we've done is wrong. The fourth and fifth times generally start to tickle the conscience. After that the mind starts to grasp what the body may have done. 

The veneer of the wood from which each of us is carved has it's own grain even if it isn't representative of what's underneath. To wander around raw is too painful. Even to go against the flow of our own facade, false or otherwise, hurts even worse. 

Pain is the first motivator of conscience. The initial indiciation we've gone and messed everything up. Then comes the fear people will judge you, because only Heaven knows anyone else has made mistakes. Sins don't pile up on the soul, and they don't leave a stain either. To assume anything could burden the soul is simply to deny the divine entirely.  

Some things are inviolable. Unfortunately, the mind and body don't quite make the list. Nor do the relationships we try to maintain with both. All sorts of earthly organizations try to rule us through a fear of what will happen outside of this life, while ignoring the straight up facts one doesn't need faith to realize. I worry more about the hell we can create for ourselves in life than any awaiting in death. 

To live is to live with regret though. Even when one of my fellow humans forgives or validates me, I can't help but feel guilty for having troubled them at all.

Here comes the tangent.

I've spent a lot of time strongly disliking Henry David Thoreau and his four years of civil disobedience. It felt cowardly what he did. I think deep down what I really felt was envy. Four years of solitude to just think and write, barely a bother to anyone. In September of this year I'll have had my four years to think and write, and at just a couple years different in age from when Henry did the same. I don't liken anything of what I've done or written to Thoreau but I understand why the man did what did. 

I get it. Really.

This probably reads like something a first year college student would write after being assigned to read Thoreau and thinking they have something lent to them from the past of a great man. Yep, pretty pathetic. It's true though, the works that endure the greatest amount of time seem to resonate with me the most. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

January - June 2013: Workspaces


Since I decided to write full time in 2009 I've constantly refined, moved, and defined my workspace. More than just moving things around, I've gone from various chairs, to a standing desk, and back to a sitting desk. The state of my workspace has become a window into my work and my own well being. 

I didn't abandon the standing desk because it wasn't a good set up for me. I still have it sitting in the basement in the event I want to go back to it. I was tired after the first six months of the year and the thought of standing for 8-10 hours a day was difficult to reconcile with my physical state. It was a decision arrived at through what I still feel was wisdom garnered over the last three years. 

After a summer of riding my bike, resting, working out, eating better, and finishing a great many things, I'll need my standing desk back I've no doubt. I'll be stronger, and ready to create new things as opposed to relying on my common endurance to merely finish things. My own creative cycle is not unlike a very long day where one wakes, works on their feet, tires, finds a place to sit, and eventually rests. 

Having endured every level of emotional and physical strength over those three years, and keeping track either through word or photograph has helped. Even if you don't keep a log as a creative person, the best thing one can do is take a picture of your workspace and date it. Sometimes looking back at my old workspaces has given me far more perspective than a log ever has. 

Refining the tools one uses and the way they work within ones workflow hasn't been as enlightening for me. I've gone through something like four laptops, two ultrabooks, a netbook, two tablets, a desktop, and two smartphones trying to strike the right balance. The search goes on for the best device (or devices) for my own process and workflow. I think if someone made a device like the Lenovo Yoga, with a backlit keyboard, pen digitizer, sim card equipped, and 12-hour battery life that would be ideal. At least on paper.  

Finally feeling somewhat settled in Wichita I've been productive. Not as much on my Windows Phone game as I would like, but I've done more work on my novels in the last two months than I did in the six months previous. My log and recollection seems to indicate that this is an exaggeration but it certainly feels that I've done more lately than the first part of the year. 

In 2010-2011 I wrote three novellas, all part of the same story. It's a story I've gone through different phases of loathing for (hatred, disgust, etcetera). Previous to moving to Kansas I probably hadn't looked at them for a year. They really did frustrate me that much. Having given the work some space I came back to them and found I liked them better having been granted some much needed perspective in the interim. 

If you're a writer particularly, keep everything. Your work may yet have merit in a different time or in that odd situation where you find yourself to be a different person. Hey, it happens occasionally.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Taco Time

Whenever I visit a Taco Time in Boise, I get consistent professional service and a good product for my money. I've gone there for years and never had a bad experience. Over the years it's left me to ponder something though. Why can't I get that level of service and value almost anywhere else?

I've gone through several banks and insurance companies because they weren't even half as competent as your average Taco Time employee. To put things in perspective, being half as good would still be pretty darned good. I've been to all the Taco Time locations, dozens of time,as each over the years and never had them mess up my order - 100% accurate.

I wonder if it has to do with the management or training program? My wife and I had to deal with several banking institutions, insurance companies, and government agencies relative to selling our house and moving from one State to another. In all those dealings, I met not a single individual (other than our Realtor and her Photographer) that possessed the skills Taco Time employees exhibit.

To look at the individuals serving in our Government, rare is the one I would trust to handle a taco or take from me a list of things I desire. Taco Time has slowly become the means by which I measure a great many things. Would I trust this person or organization to make my Taco; fast, friendly, and accurate?

So many times the answer has been no.

I think it would be great if there was a website where people could rate everything by comparing it to their best experience as a consumer or citizen.

How was your experience with X today?

1. Does not live in the same ballpark as Taco Time.
2. Not nearly as good as Taco Time.
3. Almost as good as Taco Time.
4. As good as Taco Time.
5. Better than Taco Time!
 
It runs through my mind all the time. What would this person (insurance agent, banker, President of the United States) think if they knew I was comparing them to a taco place? Having this as a means to measure my experiences makes life more fun for sure.

In my own work, that is what I strive for... to be as good as the Boise Taco Time restaurants. In a world without heroes, I have at least one.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Surface Pro, 3 Months Later

I've logged just under 100 hours on my Surface Pro and while I have few complaints, it is not a device I would recommend to everyone. The best the device has to offer is not what most people need. I haven't bothered to re-read my old post about this device. Apologies if I end up repeating myself a little bit.
 
This device is designed for work. While the coating along alloy bits chip and scratch, the device is rugged and can take a beating. I ended up buying a thick laptop sticker and cutting it to size and applying it to the back. Otherwise, the thing is extremely resilient.
 
I find the four and a half hours of battery life, while nerve-wracking at times, adequate because of how quickly the device takes a charge. As long as I find an outlet once a day, my Surface Pro chugs on.
 
I've struggled with the pen somewhat. I had downloaded the newer Wacom Driver but recently went back to the original one deployed with the device by Microsoft. Having my cursor trapped in the upper left hand corner of the desktop every other reboot got old, and I don't need pressure sensitivity in Photoshop just yet. Later this summer, when I start painting covers for novels and larger resolution textures for my Windows 8 game, such will become more inconvenient. Sadly, for the portability, there is no better option currently. I like Sketchbook Pro better in some ways anyway. Telling myself that is only going to go so far though.
 
I've deleted every metro app except for Camera, Skype, Skydrive, and Windows Phone. Microsoft's unwise placement of ads within the included metro applications became intolerable. If I pay good money for a device and an OS, I will not endure ads, period. I've sought out third party or open source replacements wherever I could and found plenty of options. However, I'd like to offer kudos to Microsoft for actually allowing me to delete the apps. Sadly, Apple Inc. won't allow such acts of reason within iOS, you have to resort to hiding them in a folder.  
 
I ended up procuring both versions of the cover; type and touch. They are both equally useful depending on what I'm doing and they are light enough I put both in my bag. I'm glad my wife coaxed me into eventually getting the touch cover after much prevarication. If I'm using the device casually, to draw, or away from my desk, the touch cover is way better than the type. For serious text generation, the type cover is a better choice.
 
The regular updates the Surface Pro receives makes it work better and better each month. It runs like my old hand built XP machine, using minimal resources to keep the system running. It so clean and uncluttered that I sometimes prefer it to my W530. I love my workstation, but it works best plugged in with plenty of power and Ethernet cable connected. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, do not pay to upgrade a laptop's WiFi connectivity to anything Intel if you can help it. From what I've seen, they do not support their own hardware and care nothing for the end user.   
 
I thought space would be an issue, but between getting the 128GB version and mapping a 32GB microSD card, I've got plenty of room to spare, 56 GB to be precise. I could even see someone using this device as a righteous mobile gaming platform by rotating games and being careful with hard drive space. I've had my own delusions of running a Steam Version of Fallout: New Vegas and an Xbox controller with it on the road.
 
Getting the device to work for me and the effort required trying different configurations, mapping drives, and similar is mostly above the skill level of the casual user. That isn't to say it was rocket science, or that a non-techy couldn't figure those things out. However, they are less likely to do so and would likely endure the faults of the device with no small amount of frustration.
 
Anyone looking at a Surface Pro should first put a Surface RT or a Lenovo Yoga 11 RT device in their hands first. For most people one of these two devices is going to fit the bill far better than a Surface Pro would. If you find that either of those devices lacks necessary functionality (64 bit OS, Adobe Creative Suite, etcetera) then look at the Surface Pro, but only if you think having pen input is essential. There are some great ultrabooks on the market right now, with more to come if Haswell is half as good as the hype.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Treesizeverse's Fold Top Rucksack & Carry All

I love bags. Really, the best part of making a new acquisition is the part where you find something to carry it around in. I've had really cheap bags that I loved (and still love) and expensive bags that were too much bag, even for me. Looking at Etsy is always a dangerous activity if you like bags, gizmo carriers, and similar.
 
There is a wide array of stuff out there, but the stuff that always caught my eye seemed to all be made by the same guy, Ronald Ceuppens. Even from the pictures, I could tell this guy was an artist relative to how his bags were crafted and arranged. His shop is featured on Etsy here.
My wife noticed I was looking at his wares longingly and asked which bags I liked the most, and she'd get one for me for my Birthday. Turns out she got me two.To say I am blessed would be an understatement.
 
The Carry All is built kind of like an old engineer's bag you can sling over one shoulder. It's crafted of emerald blue waxed canvas with leather handles. It has two interior pockets within the main compartment and expands to carry a lot of stuff. It's tall, so you could roll up a light jacket and stick it on top and probably still zip it up.
 
 
The rucksack fold top is made very similarly with almost the same leather and the a similar waxed canvas. Unless you look really closely you cannot tell they aren't a matched set. The rucks sack is very svelte but holds a lot of stuff due to it's height and width. You could put an 11" MacBook or Lenovo Yoga in lengthways and the buttoned interior pocket would be perfect for and iPad or Surface RT/Pro but you'd want to be careful setting the bag down if the device didn't have it's own case.
 
 
The snaps on the outside are tight enough you could put a light jacket or similar between them and the outside of the rucksack. there are two spacious exterior pockets that don't get entirely covered by the flap, so I wouldn't keep gizmos in there if it's raining, but everything in the main compartment should be really comfy and safe.
 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Jetpack Librarian

 
Last year my wife asked me if I would design a mascot of sorts for use on literature and a web presence for the Southwest Idaho Library Association. The SWILA conference has come and gone so it's alright for me to share this. Thanks Elle and Nick for all your advice relative to creating this. The one below was my first attempt. In hindsight, I think I'd just seen Prometheus when I rendered this one.
 
 

Monday, May 6, 2013

18 Days in Wichita

The new workspace.
 
I woke up this morning and headed straight to work. I had my online meeting, which I wasn't really awake for and had my breakfast. It felt like a normal day.

The morning mail arrived bringing a large envelope and a box. In the envelope was our mail from our home in Boise, collected and sent to us by friends. In the box was my battle mat left mistakenly at the last table top game I ran in Boise. Also, there was a box of plastic zombies begging to be assembled, painted, and unleashed on unsuspecting D&D player characters.

Reminders of my old home and the friends who still lived there.

My wife and I have been in Wichita for almost three weeks now, and being the adaptable guy I am, things already feel pretty normal here. I kept a travelogue of our journey and even wrote several blog posts in the time we've been here. None will probably ever see the lights of the Internet.

Writers write to write.

In logging time, I've been less productive in Wichita than I was in Boise, but in moving to a new place, people take a happiness hit. There's also all the time spent trying to reaffirm and redesign relationships and connections with the people you no longer share a county with. I feel like much of that has been sorted out.

X-Files night happened via Facetime, I'm making a Pathfinder Character for a table I'll be telecommuting to, and I'm already planning to keep up with all my old friends via similar methods. The Internet provides in that regard. Even as I still struggle with routers and connectivity on both ends, it still works. I get a glimpse of the faces I want to see.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of my uncle and cousins in Kansas City, exploring Wichita, and meeting more new people. I really had no doubt we'd make it all work, it's just that the mind can't always conceive of the outcome, however certain, and this produces a certain amount of anxiety.

Sadly, I continue to ignore my novels in favor of creating textures for a Windows Phone 8 application and doodling in my spare time. It took a lot to get me to render visuals (sometimes called artwork) when I live in Boise. The past week or so, I've really wanted to draw and I've had to put my knee to the back of my poor old Intuos 4 pen tablet once already. (They bow with use.)

Fair weather artist, winter writer? Maybe. The happier (or sunnier) I am, the harder it is to write and easier it is to make visuals.

Our new home in Wichita is really nice, located on a quiet street, and near to all kinds of places my wife and I have enjoyed visiting. It even has a basement suitable for some old school table top gaming. I went with a sitting desk this time around, because I wanted to be able to sit across from my wife while we worked or played in the evenings.

Moving can put stress on a relationship, and there were certainly moments when my wife and I struggled to communicate amidst the process. The moments when we worked well together really happened as a result of my Father and Brother coming with us. Liz and I did the whole journey in the truck together which really helped in avoiding and mitigating some of the trouble encountered along the way.

Wichita is an interesting place. It feels like a really big used book store where you have to wander the shelves to find what you're looking for and wander you will. The good news is that we've found some pretty nice places to eat, shop, procure used books, and wander for it's own sake. In between those places are vintage buildings looking for renters, old industrial areas, and neighborhoods that look to have been forgotten by time.

I like driving in Wichita (a big compliment coming from me) and I'm looking forward to finding places to ride my bike. I've been told there might be a bin of used RPG books at a particular used book store not far from my home. Having already found a few treasures (GAZ2 with map!), I'm enthusiastic about engaging in more exploration.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lenovo Yoga 11

Having had a chance to play with a Surface RT, I knew I wanted a similar device. I like my Surface Pro but while the form factor is great for getting work done, it is less than ideal for generating text and casual computing.
 
Set Up
 
As always, make sure you run Windows Update and reboot a couple of times before you freak out and call tech support. When I got mine it barely functioned and as each update was installed my Yoga 11 slowly came to life. If you don’t already have a Microsoft Account, you’ll want to get one, particularly for RT since the Windows Store is the only way to get applications.
 
If you want to be able to store media, grab an SD card and be prepared to go online and figure out how to set it up as a drive. If I can figure out how to get it to work, I’ll post an update with the directions. So far, I’ve found a bunch of help online, but haven’t had a chance to try any of it out. Saving documents works fine, but setting it up to work with apps that play audio or video takes a little more finessing it sounds like.
 
Also, You’ll only be able to use specific mice, keyboards, printers, and similar with Windows RT. If you aren’t sure about a particular product, go here.
 
Hardware
 
The built in keyboard has a little bit of flex, but it is still better than my MacBook Air, or any device I’ve used with a similar form factor. The key arrangement is great for writing, and the function keys are assigned to useful shortcuts by default. You can still get to F1-12 via the Fn key if you need them. It is comparable to the keyboard on my W530 and a little nicer to use because of the slim profile and pebbled feel of the palm rests. No doubt, I will make text in serious quantity with this device.
 
The track pad takes some getting used to. At first you’ll think it is loose or something, but it has a little space to reject accidental clicks and your palm. Like with my MacBook Air, I think my Bluetooth mice will probably find very little use with this device. Haven’t tried hooking up any other peripherals but it did seem to charge my phone a little while it was connected.
 
The screen, port selection, hinges, and feel of the devices exterior are all great. It is a little heavier than you think it would be for the size, but that’s probably because of the rugged construction and size of the battery. Having a device that outlasts my iPad is going to be pretty useful for generating content and casual computing alike.
 
Port, button, and speaker arrangement are really well thought out. I'm never bumping the power button by accident and my hands never block the speakers working in either laptop or tablet mode.
 
Software
 
Windows RT is surprisingly good in spite of the limitations imposed by only having access to pre-load and Windows Store applications. Word, OneNote, Excel, and Power Point 2013 are pretty great. In particular, I really like Word and OneNote and using them on my Yoga 11 makes me want to upgrade from 2010 on my other machines.
 
Netflix, Adobe Reader, Kindle, Dropbox, Galactic Reign, and Xbox Smartglass were some of the first apps I loaded. In the little bit I’ve had to test each one, they seem to work as I expected. My only quibble so far is with the Adobe Reader app. Their desktop version is pretty good, but the Metro app needs a serious hug. As usual, with mobile operating systems (except iOS), I struggle to find a decent app to read PDFs with.
 
I’ve found that the device multitasks well, which was something of a surprise. I can have 4-6 tabs open in a browser, 2-3 Word Documents, OneNote, and Netflix running in snack mode without much in the way of slow down. I really thought I’d be having to exercise some more stringent workspace management to keep things going and maximize battery life, but RT seems to take care of that for me somehow.
 
The absolute best thing I’ve found about Windows RT? Virtually no OEM bloatware. It came loaded with EBay and two other applications that took one second each to uninstall from via the Start menu. The programs and features list had a single item, a pointing device driver.
 
Other Thoughts
 
I really like Windows RT. I was pretty sure I would after most of the tech bloggers gave it the thumbs down, I’m contrary that way. It’s extremely clean, minimalist, and capable with regard to generating content and casual computing. What it lacks in processing power and application access it makes up in pure battery life and usability.
 
In fact, most of my major quibbles with the hardware and the software are easy to forgive because most, including the single channel WiFi are in the name of preserving battery life. When I don’t absolutely need my Surface Pro, the Lenovo Yoga 11 is what I’ll be carrying. When you work mobile most of the time, having one less cable to carry around or worry about is really nice. Even added together, my Yoga 11 and Surface Pro weigh less than my workstation.
 
Lenovo makes a really nice device, but they’ve outdone themselves with the Yoga 11. If RT will work for you, and you want something that is more laptop than tablet, it is probably the absolute best device. If you want something that feels more like a tablet, get a Surface RT. The Surface is lighter and seems just as capable with only slightly less battery life.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Pen is Mighty

I’ve had about ten work days with my Surface Pro now, and I’ve discovered a few things about the form factor that had eluded me previously. I doubt anyone who bought a Surface Pro knew to the extent it would change their personal and professional computing. Let me tell you about my friend, the pen.
 
When you go into Microsoft Word 2010, you won’t immediately see pen functionality until you actually have the pen hover over the screen. When you do, you’ll see Ink Tools pop up in the menu along the top. When you open it, it gives you the option to use five different color pens, at two widths, four different highlighters, and an eraser. There are also menus to evoke custom widths and colors.
 
Yeah, it really is just like writing on a physical document in a lot of ways, except you can erase the pen marks. My wife prefers I print out copies of my work so she can mark it up as she reads. This functionality will save me a lot of printing and shredding in the future, and more than a few trees I would imagine. This was really driven home recently as I had to destroy a large volume of documents as we prepared to move our home elsewhere.
 
I really did think my pen would sit in a drawer and my Surface Pro would lose nothing to stay in landscape mode. My OneNote App, a favorite after using it on the iPad, is full of handwritten notes now and I always make sure I have my pen when I’m working mobile. I’ve recolored textures in Photoshop and done more than a few pretty decent drawings in Sketchbook Pro.
 
There is still no pressure sensitivity in Photoshop, but everything I’m doing there currently doesn’t require that functionality. I do hope Adobe and Microsoft get that resolved soon.
 
I manage to consistently squeeze out four hours of battery life, but I’m generally running in battery saver mode with the brightness at less than 50%. I don’t really notice a big slowdown and turning off the wireless radios really helps. Good workspace management is your friend here, and shutting down programs and services to limit power consumption really does help.
 
With some careful planning, I can work mobile all day long by lingering in places that have power outlets at least once a day. The Surface Pro does charge really quickly and leaving it off to charge while I bleed in a Moleskine on my lunch hour provides me enough battery life to get through the afternoon. It’s kinda funny actually, but as long as I feed my Surface Pro when I’m feeding myself, I always have battery power when I need it.
 
As I hinted earlier, the big news is my desire to occasionally use the device in portrait mode. Reading PDFs, working in OneNote, and surfing the web is often a better experience holding the device lengthwise. I’ve seen quite a few tech reviewers warn that the weight will prevent the Surface Pro from being a decent tablet, but that hasn’t been my experience.
 
In consuming media I’ve found the best way to go is not to remove the keyboard, but to detach, reverse its orientation, and fold it to the back so the felt is against your fingers instead of the keys. This makes it a little nicer to hold and the lip of the keyboard extends past the edge about ¾ of an inch further, bouncing more of the sound emanating from the top of the device toward you. With warmer weather approaching, I do miss my iPad and the longer battery life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Surface Pro: Observations

 
I quit my incessant whining and picked up a Surface Pro. A few folks have asked that I share my impressions of the device. I’ll try to stick to things the professional tech writers usually decline to address or the elements of the device they all seem to be completely wrong about.
The very first thing I noticed is how clean the OS install was. There was no OEM bloatware, anti-virus software, or other digital debris. Clean and fresh it felt, and I couldn’t find anything in the programs list I wanted, or should, uninstall.  I proceeded to install all my software which went really quick while I continued to work at my workstation. The next thing I noticed was that my Surface Pro was loaded with a watermarked and invalid version of Windows 8 Pro that could not be activated.
 
Tl;dr Version: I had to return the device and get another one. Don’t let it discourage you from getting one, apparently the malfunction my first one suffered is markedly rare, I hope.
 
My next Surface Pro was likewise unfettered by useless crap the likes Lenovo, Dell, and friends like to load machines with. I loaded my programs quickly, which included Office Pro 2010, Photoshop CS6, Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro, and the Windows Phone SDK. Oh, and Minecraft, of course.
 

Some observations:

 

It’s not a Tablet

It’s been marketed, compared to, and held beside tablets and a few enlightened Ultrabooks but it does not fall into either of these categories. If I had to push it into an existing stratum, it’d be closer to an Ultrabook, but it only somewhat resembles one. The Surface Pro is definitely a design outsider and won’t appeal to everyone, but to certain other folks, it will be just what they’ve been looking for.
If you like to draw, particularly in programs like Sketchbook Pro, you’ll find a decidedly improved experience. I find myself way more inclined to just sit and doodle, something I have not done in a long time. Rendering visuals has always been something I had to set myself up to do on the computer, but with the Surface Pro I feel like there are fewer boundaries between me and making a sketch of concept work.
For every other piece of visual rendering software, Photoshop included, I still prefer an external tablet to the Surface Pen interface. Because that software pretty much requires keyboard shortcuts to be efficient, grabbing up the Surface and just drawing on the screen isn’t practical. You’ll still want to carry your portable Wacom for that, but the experience isn’t diminished and the color accuracy is really good requiring almost no correction later at my workstation.

Touch Enabled Applications

Microsoft has a few good touch enabled applications, but they aren’t quite there yet. The calendar app needs more options with regard to setting recurring events, and the SkyDrive app needs better management and editing options with shared folders. By way of example, you can’t set an event in the calendar app to recur at custom intervals, such as a two-week pay period, or table top RPG session interval. Nearly every app pre-loaded on the device is like this, almost there and yet miles away, lacking just enough functionality to be useless.
Relative to the Calendar app, I’m looking at you as well Windows Phone division. Fix it so I can set it to two week or custom intervals. Go-go. I don’t want to carry Apple’s iPod Touch just to keep track of my calendar.

EDIT: The SkyDrive App does have the functionality I've been whining about. At some point in the last couple of weeks, or I was too dumb to find it. It's a great application and allows for the manipulation and management of personal and shared folders.
The Windows Store is rife with touch enabled games though, and while that’s not really my thing, the Surface Pro could be a pretty awesome mobile gaming platform. It’ll run regular games requiring a Desktop OS and many mobile games one would play on their phone. If you’re looking for a device that can run Fruit Ninja and Skyrim, the Surface Pro could be a really good choice.

Battery Life

Be prepared to pack your charging cord. Buy one of those zippered pencil cases at Wal-Mart made out of wetsuit material and stick the power brick in it. Put that in your bag and carry it with your Surface Pro. You will need it. Microsoft extends its apologies by having a handy USB charging port on the brick for your cell phone so that it is at least providing an extra service for taking up space in your bag.

Type Cover & Pen

Even as thin as it is, it’s still better than any keyboard on a mobile device I’ve used, that wasn’t Apple or Lenovo. I winced when I laid down $130 for it, but I’m glad I did. I wish I’d acted quicker on the limited edition Year of the Snake which is now out of stock. I think they still have the blue one with skulls though.
Some of the reviewers complained about the pen falling off the side while they hypothetically walked down the street carrying it. I’m not sure why anyone sane would do this, unless they were looking to get mugged or basically failed at the Internet. I mean, there is an array of awesome cases for sale on Etsy for crying out loud!
Sticking the pen to the side seems like workspace management as opposed to a place to store it in transit. I have my workspace partitioned between two shelf levels to keep my design notes and materials from devouring my writing utensils and being able to stick the Surface Pen to the side while I work is pretty nice. I think almost every reviewer harped on the pen thing and totally missed the point of why it is there, granted I’m not sure what Microsoft’s marketing hype led everyone to think on that particular point.

Peripherals

My Surface Pro synced up with my Lenovo LT1421 better than my Lenovo W530. I had to visit a website, download drivers, and reboot with my workstation, but with my Surface, I just had to connect and wait a few moments. Every other external display or input device has loaded up similarly and I’ve had no trouble pairing my Surface with another device.
You’ve only got one USB port; Bluetooth capable devices are your friend.
Also, get a case or two. As I stated earlier, there are a number of great cases out there and the best place I’ve found to look, other than the Microsoft Store, is Etsy.

The Bad

Microsoft has gone out of its way to convince the public that this device is a tablet and that it can compete with other tablet devices. I’ll be able to pass my iPad to my wife after she’s forced to turn hers in, but it’ll hurt. There are many things the iPad does markedly better than the Surface Pro, but these things are not intrinsic to the devices, it’s still a Microsoft versus Apple thing.
If Microsoft could improve the touch enabled applications people use every day and the battery life of the Surface Pro, they would have an iPad killer. Until they do that with their own pre-loaded applications, there is no incentive for independent developers or big names to do the same. I don’t have to look hard to find a better calendar app, chat client, cloud storage, or email client than what comes loaded on the Surface Pro, whereas I all but ignore the marketplace with my iPad for the same functionality.

The Good

I really like the display. I’ve not seen a screen this nice on anything that small other than the iPad’s retina display. High density displays really pop on smaller devices and struggle to impress me on larger ones like Apple’s new MacBook Pro line. Seriously, Retina display MacBooks are the worst idea I’ve seen Apple come up with in a while.
Aside from being great for consuming media, it’s very good for creation as well if you’re the type that sets color to display. Like I said earlier, you will have to adjust somewhat if you have a color calibrated monitor for finishing your work, but the adjustments I’ve had to do were really minor and worth the time to have a more mobile work machine.
It’s clear holding the device in your hands that it was developed using some of the most advanced rapid prototyping methods. I wish the microSD card slot was behind the kickstand like on the Surface RT, but that would be my only quibble with port placement and overall build quality. There have been some complaints about having a single viewing angle with the kickstand, but it hasn’t been a problem for me.

Conclusion

The Surface Pro isn’t for everyone. You can’t just hand it to anyone and have them acquire the same outcome with the pre-loaded applications. However, the more tech savvy folks will be drawn to this device not for what it can do out of the box, but for the potential it has if set up properly. Developers, professionals, and folks looking for a daily carry that’ll talk to the network at the workplace will find great things in the Surface Pro.
 
Regular folks looking for the really good tablet computing experience Microsoft advertises as a feature of the Surface Pro should, unfortunately, buy an iPad. If Microsoft fixes the touch enabled applications that come pre-loaded with the device, I’d amend that assessment.