Kindle 2

First, the results of my laptop hunt.  Thank you so much for all the suggestions — there are a lot more ultraportable options than I realized.  I narrowed it down to two wildly different possibilties:

  1. The Lenovo ThinkPad X200s.  I missed the 200s on my first survey — I didn’t realize Lenovo had one under 2.5 lbs.  It’s got perfect geek-oriented engineering (tough metal hinges, spill tray, incredibly rugged, Linux-friendly, etc).  It’s just a little bigger than I was going for — it’s pretty large for its weight.
  2. The Sony Vaio P.  I love the form factor — 9″ wide but only 4″ deep; you could slip it in a pocket.  And the 220 PPI screen is everything I could want.  It’s shiny and pretty and only weighs a pound and a half, and when I played with one I fell in love.  But it’s a Sony, which means shiny appearance but no openness — repairs suck, and Linux will only work haltingly.

In the end, I decided neither was worth the cost just yet while I could squeeze a little more life out of my old laptop.  A new battery, hard drive, and some antibiotics, and it could last another year.  But if I had to pick now, I’d go with the X200s.  The ability to toss it down a mountainside and have Ubuntu boot when it lands trumps gadgety sexiness.  But only barely.

Kindle 2:

On a contrary note, I have a Kindle 2.  I’ve been really happy with it so far, other than the PDF support being poorly documented (it claims to handle PDFs natively in some of the literature, but you can’t actually just plop them down on the drive — it requires passing them through Amazon or converting them yourself).  But it handles html, text, and some other formats fine when just dropped on it via USB — it’s a lot more open than the Kindle 1.

I’m surprised at the talk of the cost being too high.  For me, the comparison is to a laptop with a cellular broadband internet card — $1440 for a standard two-year contract.  The Kindle 2 doesn’t have a full web browser, but if you’re favoring text-heavy websites (news, blogs, mail, wikis), it’s perfectly sufficient.  Plus, it’s a nice screen and has many-day battery life.  All in all I think it’s a more-than-reasonable price for something that lets me read reddit on the street corner so as to better shout at sheeple about government conspiracies.

The xkcd sysadmin, davean, notoriously scornful of any new technology, took a look at the Kindle 2 after it arrived this afternoon.  He spent several minutes playing with it, discovered he could use it for email in a pinch, confirmed that an ssh terminal could be hacked together using the browser and javascript, and bought one for himself within the hour.

Bottom line, I think it’s a really neat device that fills a niche that nothing else really does.  And seeing the prices, I’ll probably even buy some ebooks and magazines.  But the web access is the real reason I got it.  And if the advertised free access to Wikipedia and other text-y websites is curtailed, (as the Terms and Conditions suggest could happen), the Kindle’s battery life means that I can camp out drunk on the Amazon lawn yelling at Jeff Bezos for quite a while.


I will be in Ireland this Saturday, at SkyCon at the University of Limerick. I’m guessing they found me through my LimerickDB project, which may not be what they think it is. Since they rejected my original idea for a talk, which was based on John Cage’s 4’33″ I will be talking about doing internet comics for a living, and related subjects such as frozen pizzas and MarioKart.

My apologies to everyone who’s extended a speaking/convention invitation who I didn’t get back to — the answer is usually ‘no, thank you’, but I’m too meek to say so (which is probably part of why my email piles up so badly). I love traveling and talking to people all day, but it’s so exhausting that I only do a couple of them a year.

A Math Problem


Sue and Bob take turns rolling a 6-sided die. Once either person rolls a 6, the game is over. Sue rolls first. If she doesn’t roll a 6, Bob rolls the die; if he doesn’t roll a 6, Sue rolls again. They continue taking turns until one of them rolls a 6.

Bob rolls a 6 before Sue.

What is the probability Bob rolled the 6 on his second turn?

The answer is not 5/36.

I love puzzles which are simple to state but have a fiendishly tricky or counterintuitive answer. I just threw up a page on the xkcd IRC wiki to hold some of the better ones I’ve found over the years. I’ll be adding more over the next few weeks as I remember or find good ones. Feel free to add some of your own!

Edit: Buttons and then Daniel Barkalow got the correct answer first.  Here it is, rot13‘d.  Check your answer against this before posting smugly or people (I) will tease you:  gjb friragl svir bire gjryir avargl fvk, be nobhg gjragl-bar cbvag bar creprag.

A Laptop Problem

(Warning: boring nerd rage ahead)

I need help finding a new laptop.

For the last couple years, I’ve have a Fujitsu P1610 (which replaced my stolen P1510). It should last me for another year or two, but I’m pretty hard on my computers. This one has started developing problems typical of an overused, aging machine — your standard hardware failures, screen damage, random crashes, unexpected hangings, paradoxical package syndrome, retrograde memory leakage, Hamitic keyboard, fan tearing, Indian screen burn-in, dysfunctional Haskell, LCD torsion, tab key thrombosis, trackpad sclerosis, dry RAM syndrome, scroll-wheel arousal, systemic rainbow failure, peristeronic disk fragmentation, hyperactive tilde key, heat-sink apricity, kernel duplicity, space bar plasticity, and cross-site chlamydia.

So I know that in the next year or two, I’ll be in the market for a new laptop. Here’s my problem: as far as I can tell, nobody makes the laptop I want. I really only have two criteria:

  1. Weight under 2.5 lbs
  2. Screen at least 1280 pixels wide

This isn’t an impossible combination. My current laptop fits it. The Fujitsu Q2010 fit it. The Fujitsu U820 fits it but is actually too small and light (the size of a CD case, with a 270 dpi screen!). The problem doesn’t seem to be technology. And, given the recent popularity of netbooks, it’s probably not lack of demand for small laptops, either. Everyone just seems to assume that if you want small, you also want a cheap and crappy display. Is there nothing between the netbooks and the Lenovo X series (which are a bit bulkier than I want)? Other than buying a laptop that is several years old (hunting down a Q2010) or has a touch screen that I don’t really want (the newer model of my current one, the P1630), do I have any options?

(Side note: I find it odd that there are so few laptops with high-DPI screens (>175)? Everything above 150 on that Wikipedia list is either a Fujitsu or a smartphone. Aren’t we supposed to be moving out of the era of pixels by now?)