Retiring the Zen Micro

My old Zen micro 5gb served me well for the last three years, however during the last semester the on-off-lock switch became unresponsive, requiring a cleaver hack to turn on and off the device. This was my first hard disk based mp3 player, and I’m returning to a flash based device (so that I can run while listening to music). For Christmas I received the 8GiB Creative ZEN, which is sort of the spiritual successor of my Zen micro.

Let me be the first to correct the others out there that make it seem like you have to transcode everything to WMV to play on it. While it is true that the ZEN needs mpeg1/2 files transcoded, they don’t have to be transcoded to WMV. The ZEN does natively support Xvid/MPEG4-SP/DivX in addition to WMV. Since I do have many mpeg music videos I will have to transcode some, but MediaCoder does a good job at that. Most users would transcode anyways as playing a 720p video on a 320×240 screen is overkill and would eat up battery life in order to scale the video while playing, the size benefit is there too, 30MiB or less for most music videos under 5 minutes in length. Hope you all are having a merry Christmas.

-John Havlik

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Never trust the weather forecast, very rarely is it correct. Today, day number 5 or 6 in the rain-a-thon that we Minnesotans have experienced turned up fairly dry. The sun even managed to peak out from behind the clouds a few times today. Thus, at 47 degrees and mostly cloudy, today was the best day for running in the past several days. Seizing the opportunity to try out the birthday gift from my parents, I went for a quick 20 minute run.

It turns out, if I had done an out-and-back of my route, I would have covered 3 miles. I did not realize that the start lap button must be pressed before the Forerunner will record the run, I ran over a mile before figuring that out. Hence, the GPS recorded 1.72 miles but the actual route was more on the lines of 2.72 miles according to (a very cool site by the way).

The GPS is not sensitive to running under power lines, which is good, but I can not say the same for the heart rate monitor. From the get-go it said I was at 100BPM or higher (not even close to resting heart rate). Most of the time it though I had a heart rate near 190BPM, and for a good stretch of time it was at 204BPM. Doing quick math, 204BPM is near to what my max heart rate should be. This high of a heart rate is not possible to sustain for extended periods of time with out heart failure. According to this, I should have collapsed during my run. After the run I did a little pulse vs. heart rate monitor and found it off by nearly 40BPM. For one moment I was able to get it measure an accurate heart rate of 74BPM at rest, it then spontaneously jumped to double that. The heart rate monitor will need to be figured out eventually, but for now every thing else works.

When just looking at the Forerunner, it looks a bit awkward due to the L shape of the body that wraps partially around the arm. When running that oddity makes sense, as the GPS antenna is located in this part and the way human arms move when running this part of the GPS is always facing the sky. The weight of the Forerunner, which is not that high to begin with, is transparent while running. Design wise, Garmin did their homework with this GPS and created a very nice product.

The feature lacking Garmin Training Center (GTC), which allows the transferring of data to and from the GPS, is basic but useful. GTC creates nice graphs and has data/lap view and statistics. Its mapping is practically useless as at anything under 1 mile = 1 inch scale is considered over zoom and has literally no local roads, what it does do though is plot your course on the map accurately. Hands down, the best feature of GTC is the import/export data options. Data output is in a nice XML formatted document, which will make life easy for me when writing WP Trainer. With this one run and the data from it I will be able to begin writing WP Trainer as no “hacking” of the export files will be necessary, and my experience with RSS will really help here as both are XML documents.

The Good:

  • Fits well
  • GTC software exports a XML formatted document
  • GPS locks in quickly after initial region discovery, even locks in when indoors in some cases
  • Accurate even in non-ideal conditions
  • Software and firmware updates are easy
  • Not-evil software, easy to disable windows tray icon

The Bad:

  • Had to install a firmware update for the new day light savings time
  • Heart rate monitor is inaccurate

The Ugly:

  • GTC software maps leave much to be desired, Garmin could learn a lot from Google Earth

-John Havlik

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Viva La Vista

Eye candy; two words that accurately describe Vista. My main gripes with Vista are the layering and hiding of many features that previous Windows versions have. The most obvious to the new user has to be changing the background/display settings. When right clicking on the background there no longer resides a ‘properties’ option, but instead a window for themes/visual settings exists. The old properties menu has been butchered to only show the first two tabs, with settings having its own window. After getting over these setbacks of ‘hidden’ options, I really like Windows Vista.

The lack of anti-aliasing support for the windows + tab replacement for alt + tab, and in the new photo management application is very annoying. Speaking of the photo manager, I’d say it’s almost as good, if not better than iPhoto, and is multitudes better than Pisca. Web 2.0 inspired tag organization along with other methods makes organizing photos a snap. One photo belongs in three tag categories? that’s fine and supported. This is particularly useful for creating slide shows for special events with pictures from different categories. In the slide shows that have about 10 different themes that can be chosen from so far, the edges of some photos, when using a theme that lays the photo down at an angle causes sever aliasing along the edges. This better be fixed by the final release.

Other minor gripes are about Foobar2000 not being able to play files, it is shut down because of an access violation. Songbird also fails to load due to missing DLLs. I guess I expected a heavily optimized application such as Foobar2000 to not load at all. Running in compatibility modes didn’t resolve the problems with these audio applications.

As a linux user, I see many ideas from linux desktops migrated into Vista. What comes to mind is the ‘protected’ administrator mode, and new user folders. Even as an administrator in Vista, programs don’t automatically run in administrator mode. Just as in linux with root users, Microsoft is migrating away from everyday users being able to do everything to their system. While this is a good idea, I constantly find myself needing to run applications as root in Gentoo to do the things I need to do, but that’s because I am typically doing server administration. Now in linux every user has their own folder and their desktop is somewhere within this folder, the same sort of thing has been in windows for a while. What is different is the new focus on the user folder being the main folder for the user, with the documents folder for documents, not downloads, which now have their own folder on default. The entire ‘My’ thing is gone from Vista, instead of My Documents, or My Music there is just Documents and Music folders located in the user’s folder.

Other perks of Vista include automatic support of all plays of sure devices, without having to install drivers or anything. I plugged my Zen Micro in and was ready to transfer music, it just worked. The search for drivers on the internet feature on XP that usually doesn’t find what you need now works with Vista. Originally the driver for the onboard sound wasn’t found, within seconds of going though the install driver wizard my sound chip was recognized and working, without me going to a single website to download drivers, which I had to do for XP. The new searching is nice too. There is no run program anymore, search takes the run program’s functions now.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]