Daily Archives: May 6, 2011

In Progress Product Review

I made a couple of substantial purchases last week and people have been asking me what I think of the purchases so far. So in the interest of consumer information, your in-progress product reviews:

1. The Mini Cooper S Countryman All4: I may have got the sequence of that title mixed up, it’s a lot to get one’s brain around. We’ve been very pleased with it so far. It took both Krissy and I a day to get used to the new gear shift in it (it’s a six speed and has the reverse to the left of the other gears on the shift column rather than to the right) but once we did that it was smooth sailing from there. My understanding from reviewers is that MCSCA4 has a little less pep than other Mini models, due to its relatively larger size and weight (the latter largely thanks to the all-wheel drive), but since we’re coming to it from a base-level 1997 Suzuki Sidekick, we notice this not at all. We do notice that it’s pretty fast, pretty quick, and a lot of fun to drive.

The thing is also a bit like a TARDIS, in that it’s small on the outside but seems rather a bit larger on the inside (I understand other Mini models pull this one off, too). From the inside it feels like I’m driving a small SUV, and then I get out and look at the thing and go, oh, right. That’s a little weird. But it’s neither here nor there in terms of the driving.

There are some things to quibble about it. The “center rail” thing it does, in which things like cup holders and cell phone holders are clipped into a rail between the seats, is something I think works better on paper than it does in real life; I’m not especially impressed with its utility. Part of this may be due to the fact that the cell phone holder clip-in fell apart the first day we had the car, and anyway was too small for my Droid X, which now typically lives in one of the built-in cup holders near the dash. I’m also of the opinion that the plate-sized speedometer in the center of the dash is a bit of wasted real estate; the speed information is repeated in a small screen on the tachometer directly behind the steering wheel, and once I saw it was there, I never again looked at the analog one.

Finally, I’m not really in love with the fact that the car wants premium gas, which is a slightly larger gas price bite each time at the pump. Some other Mini owners online have told me that in their experience the premium gas thing is really more of a guideline than a rule, but you know, I think I kind of want to listen to the manufacturer on this one.

But these are relatively small quibbles, and in a larger sense the driving experience of the car is a very good one. And thanks to all the rain and mess that’s passed for weather this spring, we’ve already had reason to be happy we sprung for the all-wheel-drive version (note the mud at the wheel wells). Overall, we’re pleased with our purchase so far.

As an aside, I do have mild trepidation about sort of unwittingly wandering into the BMW food chain. Mini is currently owned by BMW, and so now we’ve been unintentionally punted into a higher and more seductive tranche of car care service. For example, when it’s time for the car’s routine maintenance (free for the first few years), some guy will come up from Cincinnati to take the car down to the dealership, leave a loaner, and then, when the car’s all tuned up, drive it back to us. We don’t have to do anything. That’s dangerous, man. This is how they eventually upsell you to a 7 series car. I plan to be strong and resist.

2. The Nikon D5100: I talked about the new camera a little when I posted the set of pictures I took with it at Penguicon, but to add to that I can say that in general I’ve been quite pleased with it. A lot of that is simply due to the fact that it’s just a better camera than my previous dSLR, the D70s, thanks to a better sensor (in terms of light sensitivity and detail) and better software inside the camera. This is not entirely unexpected since the D5100 is six years newer than the D70s, which is back a couple of generations at least in terms of digital photography technology.

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, see the two pictures above, of the same (mostly underlit) mess on my office table. The one on the left is taken with the D70s, the one on the right with the D5100, both without flash and set to “auto.” The pictures are cropped but otherwise untouched. You can see a substantially larger amount of noise in the D70s picture as well as far less photo definition. The color is also a bit off. Much of that can be addressed in Photoshop (or, honestly, by not taking underlit photos), but the nice thing about the new camera is that it means I have to do relatively less fiddling about to make pictures presentable, and that makes me happy.

That said, the D5100 comes with some consumer-oriented stuff I’m not likely to mess with all that much, like its “effects” menu, which allows one to specify certain effects in camera. That’s cute and all, but if I am going to fiddle with a photo, I’d prefer to do it in a full-featured photo suite and not in a relatively limited camera setting that just gives me what I get and I have to like it. There’s also the video setting which I haven’t really played with yet (no reason to so far), but which I am looking forward to trying. The idea of shooting 1080p video with a nice sensor and a decent piece of glass will make holiday video taking more inviting.

The only real complaint I have about the D5100 so far is that the battery life is a bit on the underwhelming side, but I have to see if that’s more to do with the way I’m using the camera than a native issue with the battery. We’ll find out.

So: Car and camera — so far so good. If that changes, I’ll be sure to let y’all know.

Speaking of Little Fuzzy

While you’re counting down the days waiting for Fuzzy Nation to come out, why not pick yourself up a copy of the book that inspired it, and whose story my novel reboots? It’ll be fun for you to compare and contrast the two novels — and best of all, because Little Fuzzy is in the public domain, you can check it out for free. Project Gutenberg has the novel in ePub, Kindle and other electronic formats, and you can also find a free version directly on Amazon (Barnes & Noble doesn’t have it for less than 99 cents).

If you find yourself enjoying Little Fuzzy (which I suspect you will), Project Gutenberg has other public domain Piper titles for your perusal. It’s a good way to get (re-)acquainted with one of science fiction’s past masters.

And Now, a Sample of the Fuzzy Nation Audiobook

I hear that many of you like them there audiobook thingies, which you listen to while you travel in your cars or whatnot. I fully support this — listening to an audiobook is much safer for you and others than trying to read and drive at the same time. That’s bad. Don’t do that. Listening to an audiobook? Perfectly fine.

So I’m happy to say that there will be an audiobook version of Fuzzy Nation, available from Audible on the same day as the book release (which is May 10 — ZOMG NEXT TUESDAY). The audiobook is read by none other than Wil Wheaton, who fans of my previous audiobooks may remember did such a fantastic job with The Android’s Dream and Agent to the Stars. He continues his streak here, in my opinion. But you don’t have to take my word for it: Here’s the first chapter of the audiobook for your ears to delight in. Delight, I say!

The folks at Audible wish for me to inform you that as an extra added bonus, those of you who buy the audiobook of Fuzzy Nation will get a special added bonus: Audible’s version of Little Fuzzy, the H. Beam Piper novel mine is a reboot of, for no extra cost. That’s pretty sweet.

The Audible page for Fuzzy Nation will go live on Tuesday, so be looking for it then. Until Tuesday, enjoy the sample.