Saved Up Reviews

by redshift

Some of these opinions are long overdue. Since my last review, I have come into delightful contact with many varied areas of consumer culture. The following presents my take, which, of course, you should use as only a part of your research if you are spending your hard-earned and heavily-taxed money.

Sennheiser HD580 headphones

Sennheiser HD580

I’ve had a set of these for a few years now and have been nothing but impressed. Music is perfectly clear and full, and has a rich tone that can’t be explained if you’ve only used crappy earbuds or cheapo headphones. There’s a true soundstage – close your eyes and you can position every element of the performance as if you were there. I couldn’t class myself as an audiophile yet, but my HD580’s produce some of the best sound I’ve ever heard. Don’t expect them to block any outside noise, though.

The HD580 is the baby brother to Sennheiser’s HD600 and, more recently, the HD650. That’s a pretty good family to be in, I’d say. All three have a 300 ohm impedance. If you don’t know an ohm from an amp, impedance measures the resistance to your music that the headphones provide. The higher the impedance, the more power your music player needs to put out. For comparison, most earbuds have around a 16 ohm impedance. If you’re going to use real headphones like the HD580’s with a tiny portable mp3 player, you’ll need a headphone amp. (Some mp3 players have a decent output and can put out enough power themselves, but don’t count on it unless you’ve checked.)

That said, the retail price on these bad boys is $200 – $250, though you can get them at most stores for $150. If you’re serious about your music and have a decent source, I’d say it’s worth every penny.

Dune prequels – Butlerian Jihad, Machine Crusade, Battle of Corrin

Dune prequels

I can’t say that these books were a mistake or that they’re insulting, but they’re certainly not up to the legacy of Frank Herbert’s original Dune. There are better things you could be reading, unless you really, really need an explanation of Dune’s history.

First of all, the explanations given are lackluster and convenient. The setting: 10,000 years before Paul Atreides and the original Dune story, just before the creation of the Spacing Guild. The plot: Humans and thinking machines fight a long, bloody battle for their respective existences. The mistake: Almost everything in the Dune universe, or at least most of the strongest elements, are explained or created within a 100-year span of time, 10,000 years before the events we know. Apparently, very little happens after this century of intense drama, because the prequels could, with only minor changes, come directly before the first Dune. A century of intense action, then ten millennia of boredom before Dune. Granted, I haven’t read everything that Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have written, but I hope they have more planned for this massive hole…

If I had to pick one, I’d say that The Butlerian Jihad was, by far, the most entertaining of the three. The characters were at least somewhat intriguing and the story was entertaining. The pace was reasonable and I never lost interest.

The Machine Crusade took place decades later, which threw off the pacing and forced a lot of conclusions. Most of the people you meet in the first book have to die, purely due to age. What fun is that? By the characters’ own admissions, everyone is bored with the action.

The Battle of Corrin was almost forgettable, which is difficult to do with a trilogy-ender. I found myself having a hard time caring what happened, because half of the interesting material died in book two and the other half faded away in this book. All the while, loose ends were being mechanically tied up. Emotions were forced. “Look, reader! You must now feel this, and you must now dislike this character, for it is so in Dune!

Samsung SGH-X497 cell phone

My wife and I have had this phone for almost a year now, and I would not recommend it. I bought two of them because we had to switch our service to Cingular (accursed contracts!) and there was not a large selection. This phone was a decent size and looked friendly enough, without a lot of extra gadgets – no camera, for example, which is banned at many workplaces.

The size is, indeed, comfortable, but that’s about all I can say for this phone. This particular clamshell-style model opens to a somewhat awkward position that feels it might break at any minute. The number buttons are not well defined, and there are extra, dedicated buttons for such ridiculous features as instant messaging. It is not immensely configurable. Worst of all, though, is the godawful interface. It is so awkward to find what you want, and to simply move around, that I hardly use any of its features.

Needless to say, I’m not keeping this phone any longer than needed.

Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop

I never did a proper follow-up to my first impressions of the Inspiron 6000 laptop. I’ve now had it for 6 months and I’m quite happy. The machine has lived up to my expectations, performing admirably in any task I throw at it, and not having a single hardware defect to date. The screen is very nice – bright, clear, no dead pixels, and I’m loving widescreen. It’s truly hard to see how I could go back to a standard 4:3 monitor.

Wireless performs well, having very few issues in Windows with Intel’s native drivers. The Intel 2915 wireless seems to have a bit of trouble in Linux, mainly with connecting to my access point. I’ve also seen a few firmware error messages. Nevertheless, after a bit of tweaking it connects and serves for what I use it for. (Most of the time I have an ethernet line connected.)

It’s no slouch in the speed department, with its Pentium-M 2.0 GHz processor, but it’s not as fast as I was used to. When you have to make concessions for battery life, namely speed-stepping the processor and throttling the hard drive, you can’t expect stellar performance. Even so, it hardly lags. I wouldn’t recommend running a distributed.net client, though, as it heats the sucker up to about 75 degrees Celsius. Battery life with the high-power battery and good power management is easily 5 – 6 hours, or if you insist on bright screens and high speeds, probably around 3.

I would recommend this laptop to anyone, though I suspect Dell will soon phase it out for Intel’s new dual-core chips. I only paid $1100 for high-end specs and portability, which is hard to beat.

Brands

I received a Netflix gift subscription earlier this year, and would recommend the service. Their service is excellent, speed is impressive, and if you enjoy movies, the rates are easily worth it.

Two brands that I cannot recommend highly enough: Amazon and Falcon Northwest. I presume you are familiar with Amazon, but maybe not Falcon Northwest. Here are my experiences with both.

Amazon has impressive customer service, which is all the more surprising given that they often have the lowest prices and biggest selection as well. I recently ordered a birthday present for my wife from Amazon. Through online tracking, I saw that it was delivered – but there was no package at our apartment. My first suspicion was that one of the other people in the building saw a juicy package from Amazon and snatched it. (We don’t have a very good rapport with others in the building.)

I called Amazon, and with hardly a question, they sent another free copy of my order via two-day shipping, so that it would arrive in time for her birthday. How great is that? I’ve heard nothing but good stories about their service, and they’ve only confirmed it in my experience. (It turns out that our mailman marked the original package as delivered when it was still on the truck. I received it the next day, and returned the replacement to Amazon.)

Falcon Northwest makes some of the best gaming computers you can buy. If you have a couple bucks to spend, their support is the best in the industry and the computers are designed, built, tested, and serviced (in-house) by true professionals. We ordered my wife’s new computer, a Talon, from them a few months ago. They do some serious testing for days at a time on every machine that ships out.

If anything goes wrong with one of their computers, they pay to overnight the entire thing back to their offices and overnight it back to you once fixed. I haven’t had to do this yet, but I did call to ask about an adapter I needed – which they were not obligated to provide – and, without hesitation, they overnighted it to me. Copious documentation is provided, both for the novice and advanced user. Highly recommended.