Sunday, December 1, 2013

Best Games of 2013

Well, it is nearing the end of the year again and I think it might be time to call the best game of 2013. Yes I know 2013 is not over yet, but I think enough of it has passed to make this call.

A year later...

So, what has changed since the best games of 2012?

Not a lot, in my experience. To be fair, I'm not an uber-gamer these days. I play some casual games on my iPhone, and some on my PC to relax. I buy very few games in a year. However, I have been playing games for decades, so I believe I know a good game when I play one.

I still play plants vs zombies on my phone occasionally (10 minutes waits are perfectly filled) using the "It's raining seeds" mini-game or if I only have 5 minutes then I might play the mini-game "Column like you see 'em", which is also fun but I have a fairly strict strategy that almost always wins (Tallnuts in row 2, magnets in row 3 of the initial pot plants from the right. That is, sacrifice the rightmost row of pot plans).

So, what about PvZ 2 then? Is the latest the greatest? Well, I have played it, for a while. It's fun, I guess, but for some reason I'm over the basic mechanics of the game. I'm also not a fan of the balance where you basically have to make micro-payments to stop the game being a huge pain in the butt. I'm old school and don't mind making a one-off payment for a game, but once that has been done, don't ask me to pay again (or a subscription - ugh.). So, PvZ2 is not in the running this year.

The runner up is ...

Last years winner - Minecraft. It is still a great game. Amazing, in fact. And Mojang continue to innovate the game mechanics which, on the whole, improve it and keep it fresh. I don't always agree with the design decisions they make, and there have been changes that have left me a little cold. Now that I have said that, I'm trying to think of an example. Boat navigation controls perhaps, or that annoying brightness shift when you are under cover. Oh, and the whole zombie hoard thing got way out of hand for a bit there. But there have been lots of positive developments too - new biomes and world generation (well, above ground), new materials including colored glass, and many many bug fixes. The performance is now pretty solid so that "seeing through the world" in patches is now pretty much a thing of the past, and the black lighting under overhangs are mostly gone too. It is a game that continues to be refined, and now more than ever you can enjoy the game without bugs ruining the immersion. It is a bit like watching a movie with the projector breaking down or flickering or whatever - this doesn't happen any more and it is a pleasure to watch.

The problem I have in Minecraft is that I feel like I have pretty much done it all now, several times over. My saves folder contains over 100 worlds. I do like the early game, so I will often just create a new character and build up to the point where I have a base with everything and I have been the the Nether and gotten brewing going. I have played custom maps such as skygrid, docm77's world, survival islands, the wool challenge, the hermit challenge (you have just one day above ground then it's underground forever - can you defeat the dragon?). I play on our home server too with family and friends, but I'm not into public servers and things like the Hunger Games variants. Anyway, for the first time I am finding that I am getting bored when playing - I don't really have any ambition to do anything and it seems a little pointless to play more. I am not devaluing the playing I have done - I have enjoyed every hour of it and there have been an extraordinary number of them. The game has been one of the best value investments in terms of entertainment I have ever made, without question. I have tried also Feed the Beast, which adds all manner of new mechanics such as pipes, electricity, quarries, flying, new worlds, hundreds of new items. This makes the game fun for a while in a different way, less survival and more engineering is how I would phrase it. After a while you can more or less stop digging as your machines do all the work, but they need tending in different ways.You are taken back to the point where you do not know the recipe for things or what resources are good for, and this rekindles to the initial thrill of discovering the game. But ultimately FTB is more complicated but not necessarily more satisfying, and I have found myself going back to vanilla survival.

And the winner is ...

Candy Crush Saga. Easily. I play this game on the family ipad, with my daughter sometimes helping me. We are over level 300 now, and have a strict policy of no paid for power ups. There is a new feature of the "daily booster wheel" which is likely to make things much easier for the really hard levels. I know this is just a variant of similar line-'em-up games such as Bejeweled, but it is so well polished and addictive it is unbelievable. There is something very satisfying about finishing a particularly tricky level and have that three star appear. It is a game based on luck, but skill and attention to detail plays a part too. It is a game you can play a little and often, partly limited by the 5 lives you get which can be decimated on something like a timed level.

There have been a few levels that I have almost given up the game on. Level 97 is horrible, for example. There are other levels that look fine, then you have to get 300 red candies or something similarly crazy. Level 70, 147 and 158 were annoying. Level 213 was a complete monster, but they have nerfed it I think since I played it (they removed many of the jellies). Anyway, there are some selected levels that you come across that you may get stuck on for a few days, or even weeks. It is part of it.

Anyway, this game gives me regular pleasure, so it is my top pick for 2013.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gerber Dime Review (vs Leatherman Squirt P4)

I'm going to write this review over a quiet drink - you have been warned. I have been using a Leatherman Squirt P4 as my every day carry for over 3 years now, and it has served me very well indeed. My review of it remains my most popular post to date, and I am happy with that. I find the P4 so useful that I bought a spare one just in case I lost my old faithful. But it seems the world has moved on since I last checked the mini-multitool segment, and there are some new and interesting models in this space. One that caught my eye via a YouTube review was the subject of today's post - the Gerber Dime. I got mine new on eBay for a very reasonable $30 AUD or so. Here they are side by side...

It is about the same size and weight as the p4, and has a set of pliers as the main tool. There are other tools on the handle accessible without having to open the device further. In short, it is pretty similar the P4 in its basic attributes, but there are more than a few differences to make this interesting.

One thing that strikes you (or at least, did me) as soon as you see the Dime is the prevalent bottle opener. This is fixed, and can not be closed into the handle in any way. Let me start the tour of this device the with this component then. I think there are two questions that need to be settled about this bottle opener - is it annoying to have sticking out like that all the time, and is it any good...

For reference, the opener on the P4 works, but you have to go about it fairly slowly in case you crack the glass - taking a minimum of 2 levers and sometimes up to 4 to get a stubborn cap off. When you have had a few beers, this is more than it should be, and I have had an observer comment by an innocent bystander that they thought it was a bit, well the words they used was "pathetic". The Dime in contrast is a very built for purpose bottle opener, and it is a lot more effective. I would even go further to say that this is one of the main improvements over the P4. If I have to go to a gathering where beer opening may be involved - grab the Dime not the P4!

As for the second question - let me first say that I keep the tool in my pant pockets all day every day. The chance of being poked or snagging somehow on a thread is significant. And it is near to some anatomical parts of me that I am fond of, and don't like being harassed. Many people keep their multitool on their key ring, so keep this in mind - but I don't. Anyway, I was not sure if it was going to be  a problem or not when I ordered it and I am pleased to say that it has not caused any problems in pocket. In fact, in a quick hold of the device, it helps you orient yourself as to which way is what. This is a good thing.

Backing up slightly, the key ring issue. it is located right next to the bottle opener, in what I consider to not be an ideal location. I have not tried it, but I imagine it would not be great to use if it is connected to a key ring and you need to open a bottle, unless you open the tool first. One extra step makes it that much less convenient in my book, but then again I think I'm a fussy bugger. Another issue I have with the key ring is that the place it is joined to on the Dime is fixed, protruding and fairly sharp thin metal. I'll be honest here - I took a fairly drastic and immediate step when I got the Dime. I decided that the keyring was not for me, so I used my angle grinder and within a few moments it was gone forever. For me this simple mod was a fairly significant improvement. No more keyring. 

This leads into another observation I have about the Dime, at least, my particular sample. Overall when I got it it felt like a lot of sharp edges, and very stiff to get certain tools out. The flat head screwdriver, in particular took the tip of my strong finger nails off twice, and I could not get it open without a fight. This is a useful tool, so I wanted to be able to get to it much more easily. This led me to my second mod, well, more of an adjustment than a mod really. It also highlights another feature of the Dime over the P4 too - the Torx screws that hold the tool together. I took off the scale to reveal the two drivers. There are actually two metal washers as well, one on each side, to keep thing spaced and moving. I greased these and reassembled, but found the tool still stiff, so I opened it back up and had another look. I took a slight gamble and bent, ever so slightly, the back bar that provides tension to the driver. It worked perfectly, and as it was just millimetres, it is possible that this is within tolerances and other samples do not have this problem nor need this adjustment. What I am saying is that you can take a few weeks or months (years?) to get to a nicely moving device, or you can help things along a bit and take it apart an shove it in the right direction. That's what I did, and I am glad I did. Be bold, and reap the rewards!! Fortune favours the brave, and all that.

So now I am conveniently talking about the flat head screwdriver, so let me carry on with this. It is tapered, but man, only just. It takes very close observation to see it, at first I thought it wasn't tapered at all, but it is, just. The P4 has a nicer large flat head screwdriver, but it's also a bottle opener, so, I guess it is a close call. The P4 is slightly finer, which I like. What I mean by that is that the blade of the screwdriver is thinner, fitting into thinner slots of screws. Few things are more frustrating than a screwdriver being too thick for the job, so this is a score for the P4. Overall the Gerber large screwdriver works, but I would but I would not say it is exactly a joy to use.

I need another drink. Hold on.

Ah, that's better. Now, where where we? Oh yes. The large screwdriver. It works.

But let us now move on to more interesting things. The tools that the Gerber Dime has that the P4 does not. There is a tool here that is fairly, in my mind at least, unique. So what is it? Well.... the "consumer package opening tool". Sounds like a real gimmick doesn't it? Well, it isn't so much, it is genuinely useful, although you still have to be careful with it. Basically it is a way of getting into hard plastic packaging with relative ease. Think of the times you have struggled with the heat-sealed edged plastic packages. They may contain a USB device, or a new wonder-gadget, or the kids Christmas present, or whatever. The point it, people hand you shit simply to UNPACK because they can't do it and they expect you to be able to. This tool can do the job, better than scissors, but probably only just. The tiny blade section is designed to cut the plastic and run along the edge to unseal the product. You need to take care that you don't score the product in question at the same time or slip out and dig the tool into your nearby warm flesh. That's just plain embarrassing, not to mention painful. The example on my tool is only semi-sharp, so it does the job but with perhaps more force than I am comfortable with. I have not tried to sharpen this tool because I am too damn lazy I think, but that is where it is at. It is a one-sided tool, so that is not a great thing but does allow for a clean cut. I like that this tool is there, and I have used it a few times, but I think genuine caution and care are required to use it. Overall, a good thing in a mini-multi tool except that it consumes TWO spaces for otherwise smaller tools. The two tools that are missing, at least on the P4 as a result, are the small screwdriver and the awl.

Do you need a small screwdriver? Do you need an awl? Not all the time, that's for sure. But sometimes they are useful, yes. Definitely. I miss them. I clean under my fingernails with them, for example. Wait. Did I just think that or say it? Oh, nevermind.

Let's move on to more comfortable ground - the main blade. This should be easy, right? The blade on the P4 is not strong, in fact, I'd say it is fairly weak. So on the Dime? Well, it is stronger, but also *different*. For a start, it is is not a one sided affair, so YAY! for proper beveling. I think it is hollow ground even, but just by fractions of mm. Here is where it is very very different though - it is a REVERSE TANTO blade. Like, what? Yeah, ok. I'm an old fashioned kinda guy, like most of you (except the gals, and welcome ladies! Leave a comment, to prove you exist!). And to me, a drop point is the way to go (aka P4 blade), but the Dime Tanto is workable. It only just provides enough point to get into packages and puncture things you need to with a small blade. Only just, and angled right too. But once the thing is punctured, you are all good. The blade has a nice belly, it is sharp enough, and overall good enough to handle anything you are prepared to throw at a 3.5cm (almost 1.5 inch) blade. Which is probably not much, but a lot of the irritating thing in life!

If you want to skip the above paragraph - the blade is a bit quirky, but good - better than the blade on the P4.

One last thing before I move on. Like a good monkey, I have learnt that to get the blade, see the Gerber logo first, on the green side, and you are good to go. Of course, if you have a crass red Gerber, or some other ungoldy colour, you need to adjust. I like green.

So, now, scissors. We need to talk about those. Or at least, I need to. I'm just a voice inside your head at the moment. Hello? ....Is there anybody out there? (sing in a Pink Floyd voice). Ahem. Sorry. That was the rum talking. My fingers are back in my control (I think). Scissors. Focus. Yes. They are good. And the P4 doesn't have any at all, so in comparison, they are infinitely good (divide by zero error, anyone?). No, really. As far as mini (or even slightly larger) tools go, these scissors on the Dime are good. Spring action and a sense of a fine edge. A++ to Gerber on this one, and deserving of the patent they have on them.

What's left then? The Phillips head screwdriver. This is similar to the one on the P4. It is a 2D affair, and gets the job done surprisingly well. You don't want to apply too much torque, but a normal amount will get the job done just fine. It's on par with the P4.

Is that it? Holy crap, I have forgotten the main tool - the pliers! These are a claimed three-tools in one I recall - pliers, multi-grips and wire cutters. Ok, I might have made the middle one up, but you know what I mean. Let me be serious for a moment. The pliers on the P4 are good - enough to justify it's existence. The pliers on the Gerber Dime? Again, different, but in a way just as good. They are finer - easier to pluck eyebrows, and importantly open wider. But they are not as grippy. And in wire cutting ability about the same. Overall, not disappointing at all, quite ok. I will say that I did take a fine sandpaper to the whole tool, and the tip of the pliers got a good sanding. As it came, it was sharp cornered and not particularly friendly to the user. Once lightly sanded however, it was on par with the P4.

So now, the tour of tools is over, which I am sure is a relief to you. You may be left with an empty feeling though. What is missing? Is there something we have forgotten?? Well, yes. I suppose so. The Dime does not have a metal file. At least, not one worth a dime (do you see what I did there?). There are some cuts on the Phillips head screwdriver but they are more decorative than functional. So the P4 has that over the Dime, but it is not a big win as I rarely use this tool.

Is there anything else? Well, yes, and this is perhaps the only and main criticism of the the Dime. There is no fine tool - a fine screwdriver or awl. You will recall that this is where the scissors go. And look, scissors are useful, but so are the Awl/Fine screwdriver. The acid test is that in everyday use I have missed these fine tools. You may need them to adjust a fine thing like a screw on a set of glasses, or scrape dirt from a fine groove, such as in a phone or keyboard (or fingernail!). There are honestly millions of uses of a fine point (but not a blade), and you can probably imagine a few yourself if you try for a minute. So that is the one place the Dime fails in comparison to the P4. When I first got the Dime, this seemed like a deal breaker. I gave it a chance though, and I am glad I did.

So. I have crapped on for ages now. My glass is dangerously low. I need to come to a conclusion, to wrap things up here. How does the Gerber Dime compare to the favourite-of-all-time-mini-multi-tools the Leatherman P4? Well, to answer the question I think I need to say that I have been using the Dime as my EDC (Every Day Carry) for some months now. The acid test is simply this - do I miss the P4? Do I want to grab it instead of the Dime each day?

I want to say that I love the P4. My example, at least, is the most wonderful tactile device I think I have had the pleasure of touching. The Gerber Dime is different, in may ways, and not as refined, but it is at least on par, if not a fraction (and I emphasize FRACTION) above. It is a very close thing, and subject to much debate and personal opinion, but I would recommend purchasing BOTH devices. Use the Dime as your EDC, and have the P4 as your backup. That's what I do. It works, and for now, I am a happy man.


I like comments, so please add yours if you have something to say!


Update 2014-09-25 : My trusty green dime scissors broke after about 1 year of use. Actually, the scissors were fine, it was the tension bar that provides the spring action that broke, so they simply did not spring back. That was enough for me to buy a new one on ebay, and I went the red this time. Actually, as I write this I don't knwo where it is - usually it is in my pocket. I have my leatherman squirt P4 on me now as a backup and it feels very much like a downgrade now.


Update 2015-01-15 : The red dime I purchased also failed on me, this time within 6 months. The issue with this one is that the backstop for the blade bent under pressure (and possibly a screw that was a fraction too lose). I could not bend it back and I didn't like the blade bending back in use. Despite this, I am still a believer that the dime is currently the best mini-multitool out there. I replaced it with a black one this time and I feel that this is ever-so-slightly more sturdy. I have not modded this one by removing the keyring attachment, and it has been fine - this seems less sharp on this model. The black coating seems to be holding up remarkably well so far.

Out of curiosity, I also purchased a "Bear Grills Compact Multi-tool" to give it a try. In a few words this is a very solid device, chunkier and sturdier than the Dime and is pleasing in the hand, but lacks scissors in favour of two blades (one serrated).The tweezers are lame also, so I find it overall less useful due to the tools available. I'm still using the Dime in preference, it just seems lighter and better.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


So, the other day I thought I would record my thoughts. This was while going on a train journey into the city for a conference, and I had quite a bit of time to think and observe as it started at 10am. I stopped and got some breakfast along the way - eggs benedict with smoked salmon, yummmm.

Anyway, I am going to list these thoughts here with the minimum possible explanation of what I mean by them. Actually, I'll write what I wrote my notebook (paper one) in bold, then any further explanation in plain text.

  • High tech nose pick. In the train I was impressed by almost every traveller having a laptop, tablet or smartphone. I was thinking how as a species we were quite advanced, then I saw a guy pick his nose and eat it (in a way that he thought nobody would see) and my pride in us all was instantly deflated.
  • Balls Head, Waverton. I saw this sign at Waverton station that said this, and I have seen this sign before, but had no idea what it was - a pub, a building? So I looked it up using Google on my phone. Its a park, quite a nice one apparently.
  • iPhone Chinese text entry. I was sitting behind a chinese lady who was having an SMS conversation and I got to see how she did her text entry, which was somewhat curious if you have never seen it before (as I hadn't until then). Basically she typed using english keybard a few letters then picked a Chinese character from a few above the keyboard as suggestions. It looked quite slow, and I wondered how a speed race of english vs chinese typists would go.
  • Year Pause. You know you are losing it when you write the date and pause on the year part - and think to yourself "fuck! really?"
  • Change can suck. Or at least, it can seem that way at first. I had decided to get my breakfast at a little cafe I used to haunt when I had a job briefly in the city. However, when I got there it was closed permanently and was now a miniature convenience store. I was seriously dissapointed, but walked not more than 20m down the road and found an alternative, which in many ways was better.
  • No-newspaper. The cafe had a newspaper for the patrons. I read it in about 5 minutes, and it had zero of interest in it for me. No news. I get all my news from the internet these days.
  • #1 at No. 1 Espresso bar. The cafe was called No. 1 Espresso bar. When I ordered, the table number I was given was no 1. I know it's only a small thing, but it seemed like a was a winner in a little way.
  • Ghost of Steve. It took me a while to recall what I meant by this. What it was was the realization that Steve Jobs still lives amongst us -- I kept seeing people using phones and tablets and computers that he had a part in creating.
  • Logo on breast. This is an old thought that keeps coming back to me every now and then. Many women wear work-shirts with a logo on them, which is located on their breast. So, it gives you a free ticket to look there, right? I read slowly, sometimes.
  • Served by machine @ supermarket -> 1 less interaction. A supermarket I visit occasionally has changed the express lane to be based on self serve checkout machines. I don't particularly like them. Actually, I particularly don't like them. And further to this observation of "progress" is that human to human interaction is being eliminated where possible (eg automated phone answering services).
  • Modern day class : Cafe in city - people serving vs people served. Usually we think we are in a classless society, but I think there are some if you look.
  • Most people seem addicted to coffee. And phones. Self explainatory, this one, but it really hit me as I watched people going about their day.
  • Style from Laziness. The sign in the cafe was missing the center of the letters that were cut out. Was this "hip" or just being lazy?
  • Stats above head idea. This thought is again an old one that pops into my head occasionally. The idea is to imagine if only you could see certain things about people written in glowing text above their heads - for example, how long since they last had an sex. Or how long they have left to live.
  • Telepathy - phones. It occurred to me that the telephone is in effect a telepathic device. We can via a phone call project a thought to someone any distance away. The internet is too, I suppose.
  • Telepathy - for real, how would we have to change? If we could read each others thoughts directly, what would our society be like? Private thoughts are good, a lot of the time, especially for men!
So that is a stream of random thoughts I had in around an hours time. I like observing the world in a random way and thinking about the people I see and the secret (to me) lives they have. In the city everyone seems so busy and self-concerned. I don't know if I am alone in taking pleasure in observing people. I also enjoyed having my headphones on and listening to my own music, so it had a soundtrack too.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Raspberry Pi

Today I want to have a ramble on about the diminutive Raspberry Pi. If you have not heard of the "Raspberry Pi" then let me fill you in. Firstly, it's not something you eat. It's the name of a very small, low cost, low power, silent computer. It is meant to be a very low cost computer for the education market, possibly in 3rd world countries.

By low cost, I mean really low at around $40 for the model B 512MB spec. Amazing as that is, there are a few gotchas with the Pi and the sticker price is one of them. You see, for this you don't get much - just a small white box with a circuit board in it basically. So the first thing you will want to get, and I suggest you do this at the same time, is buy a case for it. By case, I'm not talking a normal PC desktop case. This is about as big as a deck of cards. More than a few people have made cases themselves out of Lego - I kid you not - and it seems to fit it fine. So, you might consider that!

Now, back to price. The problem after the case issue is the other cables you are going to need. There are quite a few, depending on your setup, and it doesn't come with any of them. I will describe my setup, which I think is pretty typical. For this you need a HDMI cable (or HDMI to DVI cable) for the video out. You will need power via a 700mA minimum micro USB adaptor. If you had an old Blackberry or Samsung phone you might have one of these lying about - just check that it has enough juice as not all of them are strong enough. I highlighted micro in the previous sentence because it is a different connector to the mini USB that you may also have lying about (for cameras, typically). To network the device you will need a network cable. To control the computer you need also a USB keyboard and mouse. If you are computer geek like me, you will have at least one of each of these things just lying around. If you don't though, it will add significantly to the cost of the Pi. Woolworths are selling keyboard and mouse for under $20 (total!) and for gods sake please do not splurge on a HDMI cable for more than $10. Some stores will try and sell you very expensive cables ($60+) and you simply do not need them in this case. If you can wait a day or two, eBay is the cheapest place for this stuff.

Is that it then, to get you going? Well, not quite. There is one more thing you will need - storage in the form of an SD card. This realistically is a minimum of 4GB, but I would suggest 8GB or even 16GB. This is also when some frustration may set in as not all cards will work with the Pi. I suggest that you check out the compatibility chart here. Actually, it gets worse. You see, cards may work but the read/write speed may be very slow. This is not a fast computer by any stretch, but having a very slow card really doesn't help. I was lucky and recycled a Sandisk 16GB card I last used in a digital camera and it not only worked but I found was one of the fastest cards around. You can pick up a 8GB card for around $15, so it's no major drama if it doesn't work - it'll just be annoying. I'd buy this part in a store, not on eBay myself.

The other gotcha with the Pi is about its size. Yes, it is small ... however... when all the cables are plugged into it you are likely to have cables coming out of 3 if not 4 of the sides and this makes it take up more room than you might at first imagine. Think octopus or spider and you are getting the right mental image.

Now back to that SD card, which is a replacement for a hard disk drive in normal computers - it is where the Operating System (OS) and all your installed applications and documents are going to go (assuming you don't also attach an external HD, or use a shared drive on a server, or some sort of cloud based storage).

So you might be thinking - Windows 7 or Windows 8? Um, no. This baby only runs on Linux and to be honest, only very specifically prepared versions at that, due to the fairly rare ARM processor which is the brains of the beast. This may or may not be a complete turn off for you, and perhaps I should have mentioned it in the beginning, but hey, a $40 computer is not going to have the grunt to run the full behemoth that is Windows. I will discuss in a bit how well the Pi performs overall under Linux, but lets say for now that it is probably fast enough, depending on what you are trying to do.

The good news is that Linux is not only small, relatively fast and fun to learn - it is also free (Download it here). There is even a choice of different flavours, but at the time of writing Raspbian is the preferred setup and the one I would recommend. It certainly helps to have another working computer to set things up with - preferably one with a SD card slot too. You will need to get the ISO onto the card before it will boot off of it, and this is perhaps the second major frustration most of us will face. You can get around this by buying a pre-loaded card, and this might be a good idea if you are fearful of this step. The reason I don't fully recommend this is that most of these seem to be on slower and smaller 4GB cards. Besides, I feel that "getting is working" is part of the fun. But if this idea sounds totally stupid to you, then buy the card, please - it's around $10.

One very last thing you will need is either a computer display or a TV. Note that not all computer displays have HDMI ports, so check first that the one you intend to use has this. Almost all monitors have a DVI port these days, and a HDMI to DVI cable can be found on eBay for $5, so that's what I have done. I did use the HDMI on our TV to start with, but found in awkward in terms of my posture, so I moved it back onto my desk. You can't use the VGA port sadly, that's even more common on monitors but slowly going the way of the dodo and the Pi does not support it.

So as you can see, but the time you add the case, power supply, HDMI cable, keyboard, mouse, SD card, network cable and display, you could be up for a lot of additional $ on top of the price of the Pi itself. You may have spares of many of these things (as I did), but if not then factor this into the overall price. If you want the cheapest computer money can buy, you might be better off looking at a low end netbook, like the Asus eeePc.

OK, so you plug all the cables in, power last, and then it will boot for the first time. There is no on/off switch by the way - if you want it off turn off the power or pull out the cable. Lights (LEDs) will come on the Pi board to show that it is alive. The screen should come alive with text scrolling up. It will look somewhat crazy, but after a short time will stop. I'm not going to turn this into a blow by blow tutorial, but there is some more configuration (eg expand the SD card to use it all), you log in as user "pi" and password of "raspberry" and then you can start the GUI (graphical user interface) with the command startx. You read that right. It doesn't even start a GUI unless you tell it to (to be fair, you can set it to automatically do this).

From there I embarked on a few different things. First, I had to fix up the keyboard layout which defaulted to UK (I have US layout), then the screen resolution which was also wrong. Google on another computer helped alot. Then I updated the system (this takes a while, and is fascinating to watch). Then I logged onto the Pi store, it's pretty empty but one thing of note is LibreOffice. If you have an 8GB card, then install this free version of a productivity suite like Microsoft Office. With this done, you could in theory and possibly in practice use this little computer for everyday web browsing and word/excel/powerpoint type documents. You can get a PDF reader for it, and with a bit of arm twisting, even play flash although Youtube sucks (it's a slide show rather than video).

I have played a bit with Ubuntu and Linux in general before, not really much - but enough to know how the commands mostly work. Quite a bit is done using a console, and knowing how to use the sudo command to give elevated privileges is pretty critical (eg sudo raspi-config) . Be aware that Linux is case sensitive, and the slashes for directories are the "other one" than windows. There are not GUI control panels for everything like there is in windows or on a mac.

So, now that I have fixed the main configuration issues I had, what am I using this computer for? Well, to learn more about Linux (and I guess Debian more specifically, and Raspbian even more specifically). There are also various programming languages installed by default, and these are cool. I urge you to check out the MagPi magazine (start from Episode 1!). This magazine has running articles which introduce you to various languages and tips.

You may be surprised to learn that I am actually writing this blog entry using the Pi. In terms of responsiveness, the Intel i7 based computer I use as my main computer leaves it for dead. I have read that the Pi is equivalent to a Pentium II 300Mhz computer, which sounds pretty dire. Sometimes I will click on something, and there is a long pause as it processes the command. I guess I am used to everything being fairly instantaneous these days, so I notice it these delays and if you are in a hurry it could be annoying. If I have some serious work to do, I'll do it on the PC. If I want to learn about Linux, or have a second computer going for whatever reason, I will power up the Pi. It doesn't take long to boot, it is silent and it is fun to see what it can do. If your initial expectations are low, you will be surprised what it can achieve. If you expect it to be as good as a normal desktop computer, you are likely to be horribly disappointed. I got a quake clone running on the PI, but it is so laggy that it is effectively unplayable. Minecraft on the Pi is ok if you don't run it fullscreen, but it is like the mobile version (creative only) and I'm a survival kinda guy, so it is only a curio due to this. If you want a games machine, I'd say look elsewhere, unless it's retro gaming via MAME.

One area I have not explored, and you could argue is one of the main strengths of the Pi, are it's ability to use the pins on the board to control other equipment. This gets into the world of electrical engineering, which is not really my passion, but provides a lot of fascinating possibilities for this low cost controller. You could embed it into all sorts of things, and the Magpi has an article of someone who is using it as the brains for a robotic arm on a movable platform. If you love the smell of solder, and think in terms of wiring diagrams, then this thing is probably heaven.

Something I have noticed is that I now sometimes compared other purchases "how may Pi's I could have bought" with the same money. For example, the other day the family stopped for a coffee (2x), some hot chocolate (2x) and one pastry. This cost me as much as half a Pi. To fill my cars petrol tank from empty is two Pis!

Another thing I wanted to mention is that the SD card based OS allows you to simply swap out a whole new OS by simply shutting down the machine and changing cards. I intend to get an extra card or two ($10-$15 each) just to do this. Imagine being able to change a PC from windows 7 to 8 or XP so easily.

My next challenge is to perhaps remotely control the Pi desktop (ie like RDP or VNC), or set it up as a thin client. I am not in a hurry, I just tinker away and have fun. Don't get frustrated if something isn't working out. I could not get it to print for example - but that is more the fault of Fuji Xerox than anything. I still might be able to get it to work, we'll see. There are a lot of people out there doing the same thing, so google is you friend. I have spend a long time reading posts where people are solving the same problem I have, and it is interesting to me to see this dynamic in play. The "free" spirit encourages people to be generous with help, which is nice to see. Where I can, I will add my voice, and this Blog entry I suppose is a part of that idea.