Daily Archives: December 14, 2012

Meet the Mandolele

I enjoy playing the ukulele but sometimes wish for a robust sound than I can get out of one, while still maintaining a compact size. So I wandered into the local music store and took a look at this mandolin hooked up on the wall. After strumming it a bit, I turned to the proprietor and asked him if it would be possible to tune it like a ukulele, so I wouldn’t have to learn a whole new set of chords. His response was “if you’re buying it, sure.” And so the mandolin is now tuned like a ukulele, although the G-string on this one is tuned an octave lower than it usually is on a uke. I can make the same chord figures, and the chords sound right, so from my point of view it’s all good.

The mandolin does indeed sound more robust than a typical uke, an artifact of both its steel strings, and the fact there are eight strings on the instrument. To be clear, there are 8-stringed ukuleles out there, but they weren’t in the local music store at the time and I wanted something at that moment and I also wanted to support a local business rather than farm it out to the Internet. Beyond that, I do like the sound of the mandolin. So again, from my point of view this was the right choice.

I don’t know if actual mandolin player would find it heresy to tune a mandolin like a ukulele, but if they do I can live with it, and they don’t have to play my mandolele. Or perhaps “ukeolin”? I think “mandolele” sounds better. “Mandolele” it is.

 

Tech Notes on the XPS One (and Windows 8)

People always seem to be interested in my thoughts when I get a new chunk of technology, so herewith, some thoughts on the new Dell XPS One 27, and the Windows 8 operating system that goes with it.

First, a glitch report and how it was resolved: One the first day I had the new computer it had a problem accessing the hard drive after it had gone to sleep. Resetting the computer didn’t work. I ended up calling Dell about it and after a few transfers, got to the department that apparently exclusively deals with the XPS line of Dell machines. My problem was a known bug; apparently some combination of Windows 8 and my hybrid hard drive (it has an SSD component for fast startups) creates a problem. We went into the BIOS and fiddled with a setting or two and everything was groovy from there. So good marks on Dell for dealing with the problem quickly; on the other hand it would have been nice to have this known bug addressed before the thing was shipped.

That bug aside, the machine is very nice, speedy with lots of RAM and drive space. The screen in particular is lovely with a bright 2560×1440 screen. I had been hesitant to get a 27-inch screen before this point because it’s just so damn big, and there was no point in getting a screen that large without a commensurate bump in screen resolution; everything would just look worse. At this resolution everything still looks smooth and the extra real estate on the screen is useful. The video driver does perfectly well on the games I’ve played on it so far. On the audio side its built-in speakers are plenty loud and full for the home office. The touch screen I’ll address in a bit. The included keyboard and mouse are adequate but nothing to write home about; I’ll probably upgrade those.

The fact the machine is an all-is-one has some theoretical drawbacks but also real-world advantages. The theoretical drawback is that it’s difficult to upgrade if I want to do that; all-in-ones aren’t really built to be user-serviced. However, the fact of the matter is that even with towers I’ve had I rarely added into them, and when I did I had a tendency to break the machines one way or another; I just have bad luck with computers that way. So that theoretical disadvantage is not much of a real-world problem. The real-world advantages include having the whole computer on the desktop, rather than a tower having to be located on the floor, taking up space with cables everywhere, and the fact the all-in-one is much quieter than the vast majority of towers I’ve ever had. As I get older I appreciate not having so much ambient computer noise in my workspace.

As previously noted the XPS One comes with Windows 8, which requires a bit of a learning curve because of how it handles start up and accessing programs and apps, and also because it encourages touchscreen use with its gestures and swipes and such. The learning curve isn’t that onerous, and I’m adapting just fine, but three days in I’m still not finding a huge personal advantage in having a graphically-oriented start screen rather than just the traditional Windows start button. It’s neither particularly faster or more useful to me, and the start apps in particular make me wonder what advantage they have over, say, using a same feature inside a Web browser. For example, I’m currently using Livestrong to help me count my calories; there’s a Win8 app for it. It’s pretty, but I can just as easily access the Livestrong Web site, particularly as I am usually in the desktop mode anyway, on a browser.

I think what it comes down to is the Win8′s start screen is designed to help people consume what’s online and do specific discrete things through their computer, rather than help people create things on and with their computer. That’s probably fine for most folks, who are using their computers for Facebook, games, Netflix and the occasional e-mail. But for those of us for whom the computer is a creative work tool, its less useful. The good news is that it’s not in the least onerous to get to the desktop and just use the computer like we’ve always used it.

With that said, I’ll note there are things which I wouldn’t mind app-ed out and put into the Win8 Start Screen environment which are not there yet. I wouldn’t mind having a Rhapsody or Spotify app in that environment, so I could swipe in, set it up and forget it, but neither of them are there (they are available as standard Windows programs, of course, and you can put a shortcut on the Start screen to them, which will punt you into the desktop environment). There is an XBox Music app, but I already pay for two music services and am not particularly keen to add a third, particularly one that doesn’t play nice on a cross-platform basis, considering I have Android and iOS machines. I don’t doubt in time those apps will show up, but they’re not here now, and they’re examples of things that should be. Other apps that would be useful but not there as far as I can see: Twitter and Facebook (Google+ is there through the generally excellent Google Win8 app).

As for the touchscreen of the Dell and the touchscreen compatibility of Windows 8, both work very well, so long as the program you’re using supports the touchscreen in some manner. In a general sense it seems one may use the touchscreen to approximate mouse clicks and such, including right and left clicks (in a practical sense this is often imprecise and one is better off using a mouse or trackpad). I had noted previously that one obvious result of touchscreens is a smudgy computer, to go with one’s smudgy phone and tablet. We have entered the era of smudgy computing, and I think in general people are going to have to resign themselves to that. In the case of the XPS I have, it has ten-point touchscreen capability, so I have many opportunities to smudge up the screen to my heart’s desire.

And yes, I do find myself touching the screen more than I might have expected. Partly this is due to having spend enough time with touchscreens on the phone and tablets that it’s not an alien thing to do on a desktop, and partly because there are some things for which it really is just easier to reach over to the screen and touch it rather than reach for the mouse or keyboard. I’m pretty sure as things go along there will be more reasons to use the touchscreen, so I’m glad I sprung for one.

In all: I’m pleased with the purchase so far, and aside from that one glitch, I’m working with both the XPS One and Windows 8 perfectly well. We’ll see how it goes from here.