This weekend Jupiter, Mercury and Venus were nice and close together, so I decided to try and get a photo just after sunset. While the quality is not the best – it was great to get the opportunity to capture this event before the clouds set in.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of many different kinds of stationery, but that doesn’t mean I want to have to think about which pen or pencil to use at any specific time. However, there have been two pencils that have been fighting for my top spot for a while now…
Uni 0.5mm Kuru Toga Roulette
I have used various Kuru Toga pencils since they first appeared on the market, starting with the original all-plastic design, moving to the amazing High Grade and then to the perfected Roulette model. Each of which has been even nicer to use than the last. The main idea behind the Kuru Toga design is for the lead to rotate as you write, ensuring that the pencil end never gets flat on one side – a trait to most mechanical pencils which means that your writing is not consistent. This gives you an amazing thin line, which added with my B grade lead is dark and bold enough for the majority of writing tasks.
Before using a Kuru Toga I used to manually rotate the pencil every now and then just to make sure I was still writing with a sharp tip. While this is not the biggest problem the world needs to solve, I applaud the Mitsubishi Pencil Company for coming up with an elegant and solution to the problem.
The Kuru Toga Roulette is solid, well weighted, and built with high quality plastic. The grip on the Roulette version is a painted metal which could potentially scrape, but at the moment has held up very well. As with most mechanical pencils, there is also a small eraser at the end which can always be used in situations where there is no full sized eraser available to use.
Quite simply, the Kuru Toga Roulette is the most advanced and gorgeous looking pencil I have ever used. But is that enough?
Uni 2mm Field Lead Holder
Enter the 2mm Field Lead Holder. I first started using a lead holder regularly in August 2012, even though I’d had one in my pencil case for a while. On the technical scale it’s pretty much at the opposite end to the Kuru Toga – it’s a stick of 2mm lead with a plastic and metal surround. There’s no rotating lead and not much in the way of fancy technology.
It is also not ideal for writing mathematics or large amounts of text – but I haven’t been doing this much since finishing my university course a couple of years ago. Usually used for drafting, sketching and other art works, the larger 2mm lead actually started to look really nice when set on the Moleskine notebooks I use for my personal and professional endeavours. The thick, bold lines are fantastic for making lists and doing mind maps or diagrams.
Between these two pencils I have decided on both.
Most of the time, I use a squared Moleskine notebook for work. Here the Uni 2mm Field Lead Holder is used to make task lists, draw diagrams and make notes.
The Kuru Toga Roulette is used in my Moleksine weekly diary – making smaller notes, mind maps and task lists.
Brad Dowdy also reviewed the same pencil this week, great minds think alike!
The Field series of lead holders feel much stronger and more expensive than the original lead holder design I reviewed back in August 2012. The plastic is more solid, the metal seems better, and the mechanism is also a little neater.
- Thick bold lines, especially with B lead
- Feels good in the hand and nicely weighted
- Has a basic sharpener in the end
- You need a pencil sharpener and eraser with you
- The point on the lead gets flat, so you need to rotate it
I have primarily used mechanical pencils for my note taking more than a decade now, and there are two particular kinds that really stand out in my memory. The older Pentel model that I first really grew to like, and the modern Uni Kuru Toga pencils made by the Mitsubishi Pencil Company.
I have used no less than four different designs of the Kuru Toga (and a number of colours of each) but all of the Kuru Toga pencils share the same important feature – the lead automatically rotates as you use it.
Long term users of mechanical pencils will surely know the biggest problem is that the point of the lead becomes flattened on the edge that is drawing the line. The trick is to manually rotate the pencil in your hand as you write to avoid getting uneven lines. Here’s where the Kuru Toga’s rotating lead mechanism comes in handy – it does all the work for you so that all you need to do is write.
- A true innovation in pencil technology
- High quality black plastic components
- High quality painted metal grip
- High quality silver coloured trimmings
- Not easy to get in the UK
- Not super cheap at $16 + tax + shipping
* Mitsubishi actually produce leads specifically designed for the Kuru Toga. I have not tried them out yet though.
When Windows Phone 7 first came out, I immediately started looking to use the new development tools to create an application. Pokémon Black and White were out around the same time, so I figured creating a Pokédex-like application would be a good idea.
Unfortunately, not much over a year later The Pokémon Company International went after a number of the Pokémon apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. They asked Apple, Google and Microsoft to remove the offending applications from their respective stores. My app was included*.
Eventually, The Pokémon Company International released their official Pokédex applications for both the Nintendo 3DS and iOS. (at time of writing, there is no official app for Windows.)
The Pokédex app for iOS has a different focus from my app, aiming directly at listing out all the information rather than focusing on checking off the list (though you can use it this way using tagging). This is great, as the information contained in the application far outweighs the data I managed to collect for use in Pokéject. Including some rather cool 3D models.
Personally, I believe the 3DS version to be a lot weaker – the user interface is pretty horrible looking, and I found it a lot harder to navigate. The biggest complaint is the lack of ‘multi-tasking’ on the 3DS. I would like to be able to check off my Pokédex as I play my game. This isn’t possible when both are applications on the same machine.
I thought about reviving Pokéject as web application, going as far as porting a large amount of the source code over to ASP.NET – however I recently started using the iOS version – which contains much more data – and decided it would not be worth the time investment.
So this is the end of the Pokéject project. It’s been fun, but the official versions contain way more information, I suggest people use them moving forward.
* A recent check shows that there are still a number of Pokédex apps in the Windows Phone store, though the most popular and best presented ones were removed long ago.
I recently acquired an iPad mini for a reasonable price. I had been thinking for a while that if I had any iOS device it would have to be an iPad – simply for the apps. Having an iPhone would involve a major investment into an ecosystem that I have no interest of using. The iPhone is great for both the Apple and Google ecosystems, however am invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, and I already have my computing needs pretty much set.
Here are the devices I tend to use on a daily basis:
- Surface – main computer
- Laptop – development
- Lumia – portable device
- Xbox – entertainment
In addition to these, I do also have a couple of extra ‘dedicated’ devices:
- Nintendo DS – Pokémon
- Kindle – reading
So where does the iPad fit in? I see it as one of these extra devices, in the same league as the DS and the Kindle. What’s this devices dedicated purpose? Running apps that Windows doesn’t have*.
- iPad – apps
Here are some examples of the apps I’ve installed so far, that don’t exist on Windows:
What am I specifically not using it for? No email, calendar or contacts – this is already on my Windows machines. No music or photos – I already use Xbox and SkyDrive for this stuff. No social networking – I get notifications for Facebook and Twitter on my Windows machines already. I simply do not need another device with these features.
Do I think I have too many devices now? Well no, not really. I’m ok with the amount of stuff I have – though I’m always looking to reduce things. To me, having an iPad is significantly more useful than having something like a microwave.
* Interestingly, since getting the iPad I’ve already been thinking about a time when I don’t need to have it, and all the apps I want are on Windows. That’s the dream.
There was a little stir about the Facebook Beta for Windows Phone when it came out. Check out the comments on the official post. A few news sites covered the release, which ended in similar comments. This got me thinking about my view on the situation…
Why has the Metro design gone? Where is the uniqueness of Windows Phone?
Yes, as immediately noticed by those who care – the app doesn’t use the Metro hub pattern that the previous app used, but in my opinion it doesn’t matter because Facebook have their own design language.
In March Facebook announced an update to the News Feed that will bring a lot of design elements from their mobile applications into their main web application, here they clearly state that they’re after a consistent user experience across all of their platforms. While there’s no doubt that the design borrows heavily from Android and iOS apps, but – more importantly to me – it also is very similar to the mobile web experience, which was my primary way of accessing Facebook throughout the day.
But the principles are forward looking and similar to Metro, Facebook are focussing on stories and imagery, removing clutter and keeping their distinctive look with the typography and colour choices that users are familiar with. See below an example of how the same information is displayed on both the old and new versions of the Facebook app for Windows Phone. Which one looks more like Facebook?
By focussing on Facebook design language rather than Windows Phone design language, they’re actually following one of the most important UI principles for Windows Phone – content over chrome. Where the Facebook experience is the content, and the previous Metro UI treatments – like larger fonts and the main panorama – were essentially just chrome.
Does this mean the end of the Metro design language? Obviously not.
My personal view is that the built in templates that come with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are to be used as starting points. You get a lot of good design for free that way, but if your application has its own way of doing things then the Microsoft development tools will allow you to craft them. Real designers make the best decisions from the options that are available to them. In this case, the consistent Facebook experience makes the most sense.
A few members of The York Astronomical Society had the good sense to go out and enjoy a (rare) clear evening this week. On Tuesday the 2nd of April, I took these photos of the comet C/2011 L4 (Pan-STARRS) with my Canon 7D.
As you can see from this photo, the great galaxy in Andromeda is also visible, even with a standard digital DSLR camera – and no telescope.
Above is a slightly closer view of the comet in the early evening sky.
While my personal aim is always to try and capture these things with my camera, other members of The York Astronomical Society brought their telescopes and charming wit for all to enjoy.
If you live near York and are interested in astronomy then check out YAS on Facebook.
When I had my first Windows PC, I spent a large amount of my time in the DOS environment, playing with scripts and trying to optimize memory. When I went into Windows I had access to cool applications like Solitaire… but most of the things I had ran in DOS.
Windows 8 is like that today, most of the applications I need to complete tasks – be that for work or for personal endeavours – are well established on the Desktop UI paradigm. I tend to use laptops mainly, but when I’m working I plug the laptop into a monitor and a keyboard to get stuff done.
I use a lot of utilities in the desktop for various development tasks, including F#, Python, Ruby, Vim, Filezilla, WinMerge, Fl.ux, KatMouse – all of which are portable applications which do not require installation. I keep these inside my Scripts folder and usually access them via PowerShell commands.
Because these applications sit inside my Scripts directory I get a number of benefits:
- I can sync the tools between computers (manually or via the cloud)
- I don’t need to sit through loads of installs on new machines (and remove the icons from the start screen!)
- I can be sure I always have a rich development environment for when I need to build software
On top of my scripts, I also run a number of proper desktop applications that require installing. Chrome, Office, Visual Studio, SQL Server, the Windows SDK and a few more.
Once I have all these applications installed, Windows 8 gives me everything I need to get tasks done. I have Email, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, and an extremely rich development and scripting environment thanks to Visual Studio and PowerShell.
My Desktop doesn’t include a number of things – apps don’t want to see there. No instant messenger, news readers or weather apps. That kind of information is made visible directly through the start screen and its use of Live Tiles. Clicking on the tile takes you to a full screen application that brings your focus to the task at hand.
The full desktop is just one click away. If I want to check if a Visual Studio build has completed I can just flick back to check. This combination of the new and old interfaces seems to work perfectly for me. Taking all the distractions out of the desktop, and moving them into their own space. If I want to play a game of Solitaire – it takes over the full screen, giving me a rich experience. One click in the top left hand corner and I’m back in the desktop with all my windows exactly as they were.
Am I going to continue using the desktop to access applications and consoles? Yup. Windows 8 has more than this though. The new applications we have today are pretty good. The Bing app has turned out to be extremely useful, for example. But where the new apps currently lag is in the more complex tasks like photo manipulation or music creation.
These kinds of experiences would be better in the full screen UI, and I’m very interested in finding out what the likes of Adobe and Propellerhead Software come up with in the future. But at the moment their products like Photoshop and Reason will have to be accessed via the multi-tasking desktop interface.
Many windows features are still only available in the desktop interface. Most notably File Explorer. There’s no way of casually browsing your file system through the new user interface. Sure you can select files to open inside of other applications – but if you fancy just browsing around – you are out of luck.
Through my use, I can say that Windows 8 has surpassed Windows 7 for its ability to get stuff done with a mouse and keyboard. The new start screen is also going to provide a rich user experience for touch input, and the new applications will really shine in these finger friendly scenarios.
While Using Windows 7 now feels like going back in time, I still think there is work to be done with Windows 8. It’ll be interesting to see if Windows Blue brings any changes to the desktop interface.