Sunday, April 27, 2014

New laptop

Not for me, this time, but for my wife.  Her old laptop was 6 years old, and it was horrendously slow, had a battery life of less than two hours, and would freeze up at inopportune times.  It was also a 15" screen monster to lug around. So she wanted something new, with a long battery life, and that was light and easy to carry around. My suggestions were either one of the Lenovo Yogas, or a Macbook Air. After going around to Best Buy, the Apple Store, and the Microsoft Store so she could try out the various models, she settled on the Lenovo Yoga 11S.  I think it was a good choice.

You can see a review of the Yoga 11S here, but it's a little outdated.  The main complaint of the reviewer is that it uses the old 3rd-generation Intel Core processor, instead of the new power efficient, 4th-generation Intel Core processor (Haswell), which has a significantly longer battery life. But the model Kristin bought has the Haswell processor. It was also cheaper, at $799, though it has half the RAM and SSD as the reviewed model, which is disappointing.  On the bright side, it has an SD card slot, and you can get SD cards up to 128 GB, doubling the non-volatile storage (though it will be slower than the drive).  She got it at Best Buy, which wouldn't be my normal choice, but as I didn't see any better specs or prices for it available online, there wasn't any reason not to walk out the store with it.

My main complaint is not with the laptop, but with the operating system. The Yoga comes with Windows 8.1.  I grabbed the Windows 8.1 Update as soon as I could, which is supposed to improve it greatly, but it's still one of the most annoying, least intuitive operating systems I've ever used.  That said, if you're going to deal with Windows 8, you absolutely need a touch screen. There are some things I've still only figured out how to do on the touchscreen in Windows 8 (and a couple I've only figured out how to do on the touchpad).

The Yoga also converts into the a tablet mode by folding the screen over 360 degrees. The keys and touchpad are still there, just deactivated, and it feels a little odd to be holding the tablet with your fingers pressing against the keys with nothing happening, but it's not as bad as I would have thought. (The Thinkpad Yoga, the significantly more expensive model that I'd probably get if I were getting a laptop today, fixes this problem by locking the keys in place and lifting the tray so its flush with them, but the cheaper 11S doesn't do that.)  I also think the Stand Mode, with the keyboard on the bottom and the screen at a 45 degree angle, works well.  I'm trying to convince Kristin that it might work for cooking with online recipes, but she's skeptical, mainly of online recipes.

Overall, I'd recommend the computer, but only if you think you can tolerate Windows 8.

And now for the tangential Windows 8 rant:

The one thing Microsoft needed to do with this operating system is leave the basic productivity functionality of Windows intact, to give us the most fundamental part of the Windows experience--the windows themselves. People started using that GUI in the first place for the ability to shuffle between programs, to use them side by side and have easy access between them. True, there's still the desktop on Windows 8, where you can do that for some applications, but many of the programs only appear to run in the full screen mode. And the desktop has been stripped of so much of its basic functionality that it's a shadow of what it once was--the most fundamental one being having easy access to every program on the computer.  That used to be in the Start Menu, but now there's nowhere on the desktop where you can do the basic task of finding your programs. You can only do that from the Modern interface, so you have to switch to the Modern interface from the Desktop, to start up programs that will then run on the desktop (if you're lucky). 
I honestly think that Microsoft just lost it the day they invented Windows 8. They saw that they were losing sales to tablets and their simplified OSes such as iOS and Android, and decided that that was what people wanted now.  They somehow missed the fact that Apple doesn't use the iOS interface on their notebooks, because that's not what people want on a notebook or desktop. For productivity, the window interface is still the best, and Microsoft was simply insane not to realize that people would still want a fully functional window interface on their productivity computers. While the iPads and tablets of the world may be number one for consumption, people still use laptops, with keyboards and touchpads, for productivity. If Microsoft really wanted to make an operating system that would work for both, then both sides of the operating system needed to be complete. People could have accepted the Modern interface as a application under the desktop, but making the desktop a Modern App was full-on crazy. 
But you've probably heard tons of people complain about Windows 8 on the Internet, so you probably don't want to hear my complaints. Besides, I've only had a day to play with it, and it's possible that it'll grow on me, somehow. Like a Lovecraftian horror, where the insanity caused by the Great Old Ones is contagious, and even the creations of those driven insane by it slowly cause insanity in the minds of those exposed to it.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Latest review at Black Gate

My latest review is up at Black Gate. This month, I'm reviewing E. Catherine Tobler's Gold and Glass. Here's a sample:

The Egypt of Gold and Glass has a mystic resonance, especially as we see it from Eleanor’s perspective, to whom Egypt is more home than the Ireland where she was born. The power of Egypt’s ancient history and mythology provide a strong foundation on which the author builds her own mythos, of gods and magic lingering in a world of airships and mechanical horses. One in which Eleanor’s own connections, to the Lady, and to the ancient Egyptian gods, are sure to play a pivotal role.
I hope you enjoy it.