Archive | 2012

The Benny Ling 2012 Photographic Year in Review: By the Numbers, An Introduction to Film, and Just Taking Photos

One of my favourite photos of the year was of this pink bike. Not this particular photo, but one of them.

2012 marks the first year I’ve taken photography seriously. I’ve always been interested in photography, but haven’t really gotten as involved with it as I did this year. It probably had a lot to do with the acquisition of my own DSLR kit late last year, and even more to do with doing my own photography — the shots I’ve seen other people take but have always wanted to apply my own spin or interpretation of, combined with the creative control a “serious” camera like a DSLR allows.

By the numbers

Lightroom says I’ve taken 7343 images with my 60D this year Of those:

  • 3493 were taken with the Sigma 30 1.4
  • 2105 were taken with the Canon 17-55 2.8
  • 662 were taken with the Canon 18-135 3.5-5.6
  • 632 were taken with the Canon 24-85 3.5-4.5
  • 200 were taken with the Canon 50 1.8
  • 251 were taken with a Samyang(?) 6.5mm fisheye

The Sigma’s high numbers are pretty easy to explain: it’s the lens that got busted out at my first ever wedding reception, and it’s usually the one that’s attached to my camera the most often. It’s usually the lens that I take when I’m going to an event at youth, and of course, being the fastest lens I own means it gets used quite a lot. Overall, I quite enjoy the Sigma — it’s a great piece of glass when you consider the price. Fast, with a great focal length for a crop sensor.

The 17-55 is easily the most expensive piece of glass that I own, and in a few respects it’s a better lens than the Sigma. Its numbers are lower than the Sigma on a pure photos-taken basis mainly because I don’t use it as much. I’m not sure why, because it can produce some truly great photos. It’s the lens I took with me to Melbourne that one time, the one I used at the Relay for Life, and what I do most of my landscapes with. But I seldom use it at youth events, purely because it looks (and feels) intimidating; people tend to shy away from it. It may produce some excellent photos, but it’s not exactly subtle. It’s heavy, too — almost a full kilo. In an ideal world I’d like this lens to be the one permanently attached to my 60D, but such is the advantage of an interchangeable camera system.

The rest of the numbers aren’t exactly special: the 18-135 was the first lens I owned, along with the 50 1.8, the latter of which doesn’t get much use due to the slightly longer focal length and the fact that I have the much better (sharper, faster) Sigma to use instead. Maybe when I go full-frame I’ll use it more, but that’s definitely for another time.

An introduction to film

Around April, I bought an old film camera, and experienced film photography for myself. Our family had an old film point and shoot before the days of digital, of course, but I rarely used personally. But the Yashica Lynx 14 I bought off an OCAU forum member made me realise that maybe there was more to this photography thing than just pressing shutter buttons. Perhaps it was the fully-mechanical nature of the camera, or maybe it was having to wait to see if my photos were any good, but film photography made me start enjoying photography all over again.

I ended up loving that Yashica Lynx — non-operational/slightly temperamental light meter and all — so much that it ended up with a stuck shutter, which was the end of that particular camera.

But by that stage I couldn’t give up rangefinder photography, which has more advantages than just looking the part with a fancy film camera. Long story short, I ended up buying a Voigtländer Bessa R2A camera, paired with a Voightlander Nokton 40 1.4 to replace the old (like, late 1960s-era old) Yashica Lynx.

The story continues…

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

I’m not sure why they call Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward the “spiritual successor” to the original 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors game. The events of the previous game are spelled out for you during the course of Virtue’s Last Reward and referenced throughout the game, so we can just drop the whole “spiritual” thing and just call Virtue’s Last Reward the sequel to the original game — and it’s for this reason I highly, highly recommend playing though the original game for yourself before playing the sequel.

The first thing you have to know about Virtue’s Last Reward is that it’s the sequel to one of the best games I played this year, 999. This alone made it a must play for myself, seeing as I was this close to giving 999 the prestigious game of the year crown (stopped only by the fact it wasn’t released this year).

The second thing you have to know about Virtue’s Last Reward is that it is every bit as good as the original, which follows that if you enjoyed the original, then Virtue’s Last Reward will be right up your alley.

And that’s pretty much all you need to know about Virtue’s Last Reward; it’s a spiritual successor to one of the best games I’ve ever played, and it’s every bit as good as the original. Now, normally this is when I’d launch into my usual spiel of what the game is about, how you play the game, and just how damn good the game actually is (and why), and I’ll do that in just a second, but I also want to explore the characters themselves — there’s lots to say about each of the characters, and maybe it’ll mean a different review than you might normally read.

Virtue’s Last Reward is similar to the original 999. Very similar, in fact. They’re both story-driven games interspersed with puzzles/escape sequences, and they’re both better described as visual novels than typical games. They’re similar to The Walking Dead, in ways; there’s lots of dialogue, quite a number of cutscenes, and they’re both pretty light on actual gameplay.

But you shouldn’t shy away from either 999, Virtue’s Last Reward, or even The Walking Dead because of how story-driven they are. These three games are perhaps the most powerful games I’ve played, and all because of how damn good the stories they tell are — it’s like watching a movie, only because you have some part in how things play out, you feel all the more immersed. It’s an intense feeling you can’t get from reading a book, and it’s all the more real because you have some part in what happens.

There are quite a number of similarities between 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Both games prominently feature the number nine; nine main characters, a door with the number nine, and all with the number nine bearing a kind of symbolism that’s echoed throughout the game. Both games follow similar a gameplay style, too: novel sequences interspersed with escape sequences where you have to solve puzzles and find your way out of a room.

Like you did in 999, you’ll make choices in Virtue’s Last Reward that affect the story. In fact, Virtue’s Last Reward introduces a new gameplay mechanic that means there are even more possibilities than there were in 999. The introduction of the Ambidex Edition of the Nonary Game means you’ll be making more choices than ever before. There are stages of the game where you’ll choose to “ally” or “betray” your partner — without giving too much away, it’s this alliance or betrayal that determines how the game plays out.

It’s also this same alliance and betrayal game mechanic that also means that Virtue’s Last Reward is a slightly different game. 999 featured multiple endings, and Virtue’s Last Reward does as well: but in 999, the endings felt much more final. Besides the icons on the save screen, you weren’t really given any indication of how you were progressing towards the multiple endings, all to get to the one true ending. 999 made you play through the game in its entirety every time you wanted a different ending — I lost count of how many times I played through the first escape sequence, or how many times the characters were introduced to each other. Fast-forwarding dialogue was a welcome addition, but there was still a lot of extraneous gameplay.

Virtue’s Last Reward is different in that you’re given a “map” from the start that outlines all the possible paths the game can take. You have no idea how things will actually play out, but this map and your newfound ability to jump between different paths means you’ll spend a lot less time playing through parts of the game you’ve already played, as you can just jump straight to the point where you made a choice, make a different choice to the one you already made, and play a different path. It might sound confusing at first, but it makes perfect sense when you’re playing the game.

And that’s one of the best things about Virtue’s Last Reward: there’s a lot of complexity buried within the game itself, but it shouldn’t take you long to see through it all and see the truth. I know that might sound a little ho-hum, but it’s true: you might not realise what’s going on as you go about your business and solve puzzles, but it’s all there. All you have to do is play the game, and join the dots.

You haven’t finished this playthrough. There’s more after the jump.

Back in the Saddle

There’s a gap in my Lightroom library.

It encompasses the period from October to November this year, and represents a two month period where very few photos were taken.

Why? I’m not sure myself, actually. It could have been any number of things: the iPhone 5 was released during that period, Uni exams were during that period, I got into the Twilight series, and many more reasons (some even more ridiculous than the ones I’ve already posted) besides. Maybe it rained a lot. Or maybe I didn’t leave the house because I was too busy studying for exams and/or re-re-re-watching the Twilight series.

Whatever the reason, there’s a gap in my Lightroom library.

And it’s such a stupid thing to get hung up on, but it’s more than just a time where I didn’t take photos, film nor digital. Perhaps that gap represents something entirely different other than just “a period where very few photos were taken”. For example, perhaps that gap points to a period where I was felt so uninspired that taking photos felt like the worst possible thing to be doing at that time. Perhaps I just didn’t feel like competing with others when it came to taking photos.

Or maybe — and I suspect this is closer to the real reason than any any excuse I’ve offered up this far — the gap represents a time where I was questioning my own photography compared to the photography of others. By this I mean: what sets my own photography apart from those taking photos with iPhones? Or with their Polaroids? What makes my photography special? Why should I bring my camera out to events when someone else can document it just as well with their iPhone, and share it instantaneously with others?

And, you know, it’s great that we live in a world that can be documented and shared instantly with others. It’s great that iPhones now approach the capabilities of the more advanced point and shoot cameras, and it’s even better that they have the advantage of being able to share their photos instantly via the ever-connected web.

But then I think about things like Instagram, and realise that as much as things change, the more they stay the same. Cute girls post pictures of themselves on their social network of choice garner more likes than should be possible in the blink of an eye, and the more popular individuals on one social network will be equally as popular on others. Haters gonna hate, and so on, and so forth.

I’m not sure why there’s a gap in my Lightroom library. Whatever the reason, I’m glad there is — otherwise I might not be taking pictures now, and maybe, just maybe, my photos wouldn’t be nearly as good as a result1.


  1. Both photos you see in this post are from September. Bonus points if you can name the place where the second one was taken. 

Hitman: Absolution

47 pointing his silenced pistol at someone threateningly

Agent 47 can point a gun like the best of them.

Confession time, once again: I have spent precious little time in any of the Hitman titles. Before Absolution, my knowledge of the Hitman series was limited to something about a professional contract killer with a barcode on the back of his head that read 47, with various ways of eliminating targets via use of disguises, varied weaponry and accident kills.

Going into Hitman Absolution, I was excited to play the latest Hitman title. Maybe this would be the one that sucked me right into the Hitman universe, prompting me to go back and play some of the older games in the series, just to see where Hitman Absolution got its roots from.

And as I played through Absolution, it did give me that feeling that I needed to play the previous titles — but for all the wrong reasons. As it stands, I’m not entirely sure whether I liked Absolution or not. You can have fun, but it’s few and far between, and even then, you have to look pretty hard for it.

47 holding a silenced pistol in front of a woman in the shower

The story starts here.

Which is a great shame, as Absolution has a great start: as a player, you’re quickly caught up with what happened in the previous game(s), and learn that your former handler from the Agency has gone rogue and taken a valuable Agency asset with her. As an Agent, you’re tasked with eliminating your former handler and recovering the asset, which is what I assume to be pretty standard fare for Hitman games thus far. But things take a turn just when you’re pulling the trigger on your former handler: you begin to question why she went rogue in the first place. Quite convenient, really, and it’s all very cinematic, very tense, and plays out quite well. After hearing her side of the story, you decide to go rogue yourself — you acquire the asset, who turns out to be this (let’s face it, somewhat attractive) young girl, and go into hiding — from the Agency, who now have a serious problem on their hands.

What follows next, story-wise, is a competent, if slightly bland, story based on Agent 47 finding out why this agency asset is so valuable; you taking back the Agency asset from those that have taken her, and finally, you eliminating the main villians (and, of course, anyone else that gets in your way). If you follow along with the story the whole way though, you’ll realise that it’s a little shallow; the game revolves around this agency asset a little too much in my opinion, and doesn’t spend enough time exploring the Agency side of things, or any other side stories. And maybe that’s just my perspective, given Absolution is the first Hitman game I’ve played, but the fact that the story itself is a little ho-hum is okay, because I wasn’t really expecting anything spectacular from what was supposed to be a gameplay-focused game, a game that truly excelled in the gameplay.

Which is disappointing on so many levels, because Absolution falls flat on its face in the gameplay stakes.

Continue Reading →

Bleak is an understatement

When we were five, they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. Our answers were things like: astronaut, president, or in my case, a princess.

When we were ten, they asked again: we answered rockstar, cowboy, or in my case, a gold medallist.

But now that we’ve grown up, they want a serious answer. Well, how about this: who the hell knows.

This isn’t the time to make hard and fast decisions, this is the time to make mistakes.

Take the wrong train and get stuck somewhere.

Fall in love. A lot.

Major in philosophy, because there’s no way to make a career out of that.

Change your mind, and change it again, because nothing’s permanent.

So make as many mistakes as you can, that way someday when they ask what we want to be, we won’t have to guess.

We’ll know.

You know, this is exactly the reason I don’t post about personal stuff all that often. It’s way too easy to get sucked into some kind of depression-vortex, where the only way is down and no matter how you try, you just can’t seem to see the sun.

That said, every once in a while you have to think about it. At least a little, to try and work things out a little more. Not necessarily dwelling on it for any lengthy period of time — because that leads to a road we’ve all been down — but just thinking about things for a bit, to try and get some kind of better understanding of what’s what.

So instead of burdening you with my lengthy and not-insubstantial woes about the future, you get a quote from my favourite Twilight movie, Eclipse.1

Seems like a fair trade to me.


  1. Which reminds me, I have to watch the final Twilight movie sometime. 

Dishonored

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I never played Thief. The first time I saw it being played was so long ago I can’t even remember the year, but it was a friend’s house, on his original-generation Xbox. I didn’t see a lot of gameplay, but what I did was enough to intrigue me.

Dishonored has been described as the spiritual successor to Thief, and it’s easy to see why: both are stealth based games, both revolve around assassinations of prominent characters, and both are set in some kind of steampunk-slash-industrialised England. Like I said — I’ve never played any of the Thief series myself, but Dishonored looked good enough that I decided to pick it up the other day.

And I’m glad I did, because Dishonored is my game of the year. More on this in a bit.

There’s a lot to like about Dishonored, wrong spelling of its title aside. You play the part of Corvo, a bodyguard of sorts who fails to protect his primary within the first few minutes of the prologue. What happens next is the story of how you escape from prison, meet up with some mysterious friends and benefactors, and begin exacting revenge upon those who wronged  you in the opening scene.

The story itself is all very cloak-and-dagger, and it plays out like any good conspiracy should: the bad guys all have ulterior motives, and you soon begin to start unravelling the real sequence of events that led up to your wrongful incarceration. There’s a bigger picture here, one that you might not fully understand unless you’re reading the myriad of letters and notes left carelessly on desks, or securely locked away in safes. The basic premise of the story is based around the tried-and-true concept of “someone did some wrong to me, now it’s my turn to find out what happened and/or slit the throat of everyone who was involved”, with perhaps a few non-optional side quests here and there. It’s all quite well done, to be honest.

But as good as the story aspect of Dishonored is, where it really shines is the gameplay. The combination of stealth and the option of non-leathal and lethal takedowns at all times gives you lots of choice — there’s always multiple ways to the objective to suit your gameplay style. Do you walk in the front door  with pistol in hand and sword in the other, ready to execute whomever you come across? Or do you use the side entry, tagging the guard with a sleeping dart before scaling the wall to get access to the roof, dropping onto a guard from the railing and taking him out like you’re Batman? There’s lots of choice in Dishonored, enough to suit whatever your playstyle might be.

The stealth aspect is particularly interesting. It’s been a while since I last played a good stealth game, and I think the last title that did this the whole “stealth combined with multiple access routes” was Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That game had similar choices when approaching objectives, meaning that you could either walk in and blow stuff up, or you could take the stealthy route, silently taking out guards and managing to do the most amount of damage without any alarms being rung. And say what you will about the Splinter Cell series turning to crap after whatever the last title was, but Splinter Cell Conviction was enjoyable because it employed stealth in a way that worked well: its excellent use of colour (or more specifically, the lack thereof) to tell you when you were hidden from enemies was a brilliant, brilliant move. Continue Reading →

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

How do you write a review of the best game you’ve ever played?

Excuse me, that was a little melodramatic — but how do you write a review of one of the best games you’ve ever played?

How do you even begin to describe the combination of an incredible storyline, fantastic pacing, and solid gameplay, all mixed into what is easily one of my favourite games of all time?

999 is one of those things I wish I could forget. Not because it’s bad, no, exactly the opposite: it’s so good that I want to be able to experience it all over again. I want to play it again, but it just won’t have the same impact as it did the first time around.

But where are my manners? I haven’t even told you about the game, and here I am, already singing its praises like it’s the best game I’ve ever played.

So we’ll start at the start.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a visual novel. It’s similar to games like Ghost Trick and more recently The Walking Dead in that the entire thing is completely story-driven. There’s parts where you actually play the game and make decisions that have some kind of impact on what happens, to be sure, but for the most part, you’re just along for the ride, wondering where it will take you.

999 doesn’t have any kind of spoken dialogue. It means the game comes of as rather text heavy, but that’s par for the course with these kinds of visual novels/interactive stories. The Walking Dead has endless cutscenes, and 999 has text. Lots and lots of text, seeing as that’s kind of the only way it can tell you what’s going on and how the story is progressing. It comes of as text-heavy at the best of times, but it works well — the text isn’t something that ever becomes overburdening at any point, is what I’m saying. The delivery of text is near-perfect, and you never feel like you’re being swamped with information.

When you’re not progressing the story through these semi-cutscenes (which can include the odd decision here or there), you’re playing the other part of the game. You see, gameplay in 999 can be broken into two parts: there’s the story-based cutscenes, if we can call them that, and then there’s the escape sequences. During these escape sequences you’re tasked with escaping from whatever room you’ve found yourself trapped in, and the sequences themselves play out a little like some kind of point-and-click adventure game. In most cases, you find objects, combine them with other objects, and then use them to escape the room — somehow. Sometimes your companions will give you hints on how to use the items you’ve collected, or hints on what you’re supposed to be doing to escape the room, but for the most part, you’re just left to explore rooms on your own.

Yes, you’re not the only one in this story. As the title might suggest, along for the ride are eight other individuals. There’s a few other characters that play minor roles, but for the most part, the eight characters and you are the only ones that really matter — when you meet the other characters for the first time, you’re not really sure who they are, what backgrounds they have, or why they’re with you. All you know is, something out of the ordinary is going on, and it’s up to you to find out what and why.

Actually, that’s not entirely true: the Nonary Game and associated rules are revealed pretty early into the piece by one of the so-called “bad guys”, and it soon becomes clear you’re just a pawn involved in some kind of game. A game where you have to find answers to questions such as: why were you chosen for the game? Why were the others chosen for the game? And perhaps the question with the most elusive answer of all: what is the purpose of the game?

The puzzles you’ll encounter as you play the game are fairly simplistic, for the most part. Usually you’ll be able to solve puzzles by combining objects, using objects with the environment and using some lateral thinking to work out how to escape out of the current room. No puzzle is impossible, although you might find yourself scratching your head on occasion when you just can’t figure out the answer. Random guessing will ocassionally reveal the answer, but some answers simply can’t be obtained by guessing every combination, and indeed, there are cases where doing so would take quite a lengthy time indeed.

Quite a few puzzles involve numbers and the concept of a “digital root”, as that’s one of the key concepts the Nonary Game is itself based around. The digital root is just the digits of any number added until only a single digit remains: for example, the digital root of 5, 7, and 3 would be: 5 + 7 + 3 = 15 = 1 + 5 = 6. Over the course of the game you’ll be using these digital roots to solve puzzles and progress though the Nonary Game; just try not to think about how the numbers do or don’t add up at any given time — there’s enough on your plate as it is without adding that kind of stress.

Solve the puzzles, make the right decisions, and maybe you’ll get to the end of the game.

But that’s just where it all begins.

Continue Reading →

On Starting Again, Earth-Scorching, and Legacy

You’re familiar with the scorched earth concept, right? Wikipedia says it’s a military strategy where a retreating force destroys anything in their path that might be useful to the enemy. It’s this idea that if the enemy captures that territory, it’ll be useless to them. The scorched earth concept is mostly applied to retreating forces since there’s a higher likelihood the enemy will capture that land anyway, but here’s the rub: it can also be used for advancing forces, too.

I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting an entirely new blog in my head over the past week. Not just “Benny Ling’s Bling 2.0”, but something entirely new and fresh.

On the one hand, the idea of starting again is exciting. Leaving all the old stuff behind so there’s no baggage, nothing tying me down or holding me back. Free to explore new horizons, a place to write about stuff I find exciting and things I’m enthusiastic about, and so on.

On the other hand, I’m the kind of person that would feel extremely sentimental about all the old stuff I’m leaving behind. I mean, I get sad throwing away parts of my childhood, even stuff that I have absolutely no rational use for today or in the future, stuff that I haven’t touched for years. There’s quite a number of posts here that are nothing more than short sentences on a particular topic — which is great, sure, but compared to some of my longer pieces?

When I first started this blog I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be a Tumblr-style reblog-fest where I’d repost any old trash from my social network, or whether I wanted it to be only about my writing. At first it was the former, and for a little while, I wrote a few bits here and there about cool things. But somewhere along the way I must have decided that maintaining such a blog was either daunting/exhausting/too-much-work or all of the above, because I soon stopped posting about stuff I had written and simply linked to stuff online that I thought was cool.

And don’t get me wrong, I still think most of that stuff is cool and/or worth your time, it’s just that, well, is my blog the right place for it?1 Do I want that stuff to have the same permanence as the stuff I’m proud of, the stuff that I’ve written personally? Stuff like my gaming reviews, pieces on why iOS is kicking Android’s butt, and putting together home servers.

Which is why I’m drawn back to this idea of starting again, and having a place for just my writing. It’ll mean less updates, even more sporadically than they currently are, but maybe — hopefully — it’ll mean an increase in quality.

Continue Reading →

My iPhone 5 Homescreen

It’s been a while since I last wrote one of these things, and after reading about how good the Windows Phone 8 home screen is (and the story of how it came to be), I realised even though this kinda thing only interests a handful of people, it’s still interesting to me.

So here goes.

My previous iPhone homescreens were organised according to what I’m calling a “loose Ben Brooks configuration”, that is, one based loosely upon the methodology upon which Ben Brooks organises his homescreen. The iPhone 5 introduces a new dilemma in this regard, which Ben has also covered, but I’ve come up with my own spin on things. Instead of not using the very top row (which Apple’s new human interface guides says not to bother about, UI wise), I’ve simply added an extra row somewhere in the middle. Why? Because it’s really not that much of an issue being able to reach the entirety of the iPhone 5 display — even when using it one handed — like Apple’s “Thumb” ad shows.

Anyway, to the apps:

First row: Mail, Tempus, Maps, Photos

Tempus now occupies the position previously occupied by Calvetica. It’s a calendar replacement by the same developers, but somewhere along the way, I fell out of love with Calvetica. While it was still a great calendar replacement, it wasn’t the same app it originally was, something even the developers themselves admitted. Tempus is the minimalist calendar replacement I’ve wanted — but it has to be noted this is the only app on my homescreen that doesn’t support the taller iPhone 5 display. The developers say it’s coming “in the future“.

Also  notable is the Apple Maps app, instead of the great Maps+ replacement. I want to like Apple’s maps in iOS 6 because they’re superior in a number of ways (vectorised maps, much lower data usage, heaps of caching), and this is my way of doing so. For the record, Maps+ is just a small swipe-towards-the-left away, if and when I run into any issues.

Second row: Camera, Clock, Passbook, Clear

Passbook is here because I’m a big fan of the concept — if only more retailers would jump on board, it would likely be on your own homescreen, too.

Clear is here because it’s my go-to for doing short lists, fast. The completely gestural interface is insanely brilliant, and I enjoy it a lot — it’s a great app for making short lists very quickly. I don’t use it for actual reminders (because I’ve got Reminders for that), but it is useful for short lists: to-dos, shopping lists, games I want to buy, and so on.

Third row: Facebook, Articles, Dropbox, Felix

Facebook was one of the apps “promoted” from the second homescreen to the first, thanks to the four extra apps I can have on the first homescreen. I don’t use it as much as, say, Tweetbot, but it’s still there when I need it to be.

Articles for reformatted Wikipedia articles, and Dropbox for accessing my Dropbox documents when I’m out and about.

Felix is one of the better App.net clients out there — you know, that semi-exclusive social network that popped up recently. By nerds, for nerds. Netbot could just as easily be occupying this position, but Felix has Helvetica Neue on its side.

Fourth row: Instapaper, Soulver, Notesy, Foursquare

Instapaper continues to be the best way to read later and Soulver remains the best calculator.

Notsey takes over from Elements as my Markdown-enabled, Dropbox-syncing plain text editor of choice — it doesn’t use Museo Sans like Elements does, but I was sick of the error messages Elements would frequently pop up. Notesy is perhaps a touch more customistable than Elements is, but otherwise, they’re pretty much the same app.

Foursquare was also one of the promoted apps from the second homescreen.

Fifth row: Phone, Pocket Weather Australia, App Store, Settings

Pocket Weather Australia (a.k.a. Weather Au) is the best weather app for Australians, period. After languishing in a folder in the second page for too long, it now gains a spot on the homescreen — with the “feels like” temperature for my current location as the icon badge constantly updated. It’s an insanely beautiful app that’s also available on Android, if you’re so inclined.

Dock: Tweetbot, Messages, Safari, Music

Tweetbot is among the few apps that mean I won’t be leaving the iOS platform any time soon. I’ve never seen an Android app that even comes close to the quality of Tweetbot, and it’s unique in that it’s perhaps one of the only apps that actually deserves a place on the dock. It’s amazingly good. Oh, and I occasionally use it for Twitter, too.

I still mourn the loss of the iPod app.

Miscellaneous

I’m actually using one of the default background wallpapers. Apple has done an amazing job picking out the default wallpapers that come with iOS 6 — a few are flashy, yes, but the rest are beautifully subtle, two-tone affairs suitable for use on both the lockscreen and the homescreen.

If you want to enable the numeric signal strength without jailbreaking, follow these instructions.

The Amazon Kindle Touch

I had honestly wanted to write a review of this new book reading gadget after actually finishing a book on it, but after buying a Kindle Touch over 6 months ago, that still hasn’t happened. It’s not that I’m not a slow reader or anything, it’s just that I don’t think I’ve gotten used to the idea of picking up another piece of technology to read a book, instead of, you know, picking up an actual book. (And plus, the Steve Jobs biography is a pretty massive book to cut your teeth on. And, to be honest, I haven’t made the time to just sit down a read.)

There are a few things that appeal about the Kindle Touch:

  • It’s a device that’s infinitely more portable than lugging around however many books. If you’re travelling and want something to read on the go, this is a huge plus.
  • It has Wi-Fi so I can instantly buy anything I fancy, or simply add it to my Amazon wishlist for later. No more maintaining lists of books I want to buy on scraps of paper, in emails, whatever.
  • The battery life is amazing. It’s the first device I’ve owned with battery life measured in weeks, not hours.
  • E-ink is where it’s at for reading books, because LCDs just aren’t up to the task.
  • Oh, and it works great with Instapaper — perfect for the long form content that’s a little longer than a bus ride or even a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Reading with e-ink is a little strange to get used to. It’s not altogether bad, just different. It replicates the reading experience of a book very well, even if it doesn’t have the same texture nor feel of an actual book. Really, the only issue with the e-ink display is reading in dimly lit environments — just like a real book, you need to turn on a light.

The response time of e-ink is perhaps the only real sticking point for potential Kindle users to be aware of. It’s something you’ll definitely notice if you’re coming from any other kind of display tech, unless you’re used to half-second refreshes. It’s totally fine for simple reading, but might present an issue if you’re trying to actually get things done on the device. It’s no productivity machine, and the built-in keyboard, whilst good for the odd Amazon store search or the occasional annotation, is best used where speed isn’t a priority.

Kindle 4 bezel (top)

Kindle Touch bezel (bottom)

But why the Touch version of the Kindle, rather than the normal, non-touch version? As much as I wanted a version of the Kindle Touch with physical page-turning buttons, Amazon don’t make such a device. Instead, the Kindle Touch is a capable device in it’s own right. Just about the only thing you might notice is the slightly more inset bezel compared to the non-touch, which means light can cast shadows more easily, as well as giving the device a more inset feel. It’s strange, especially coming from an iPhone where the LCD is as close as humanly possible to the glass so it feels like you’re touching the pixels. Not a huge deal, but definitely something to be aware of.

Book purists amongst you (apparently that’s a thing now) might scoff at ebooks. And honestly, I kind of do as well — there’s nothing like sitting down with a good book, feeling the paper on your hands as you turn the pages of yet another gripping tale. The last physical book I bought was probably the last book in the Artemis Fowl series, back in July — and why? Because I already owned every other book in the series in paperback format. At one point I even experimented with iBooks on the iPhone, seeing if I could read Artemis Fowl: The Atlantic Complex entirely in iBooks, even when I already owned the paperback version of that, too — I could, but it just wasn’t the same.

But you know what? Books might have battery life measured in decades, but they’re heavy. They might feel exactly like a book should, and I might be able to lend them out to others, but I can’t highlight and annotate passages (more out of respect of the book than wanting to go mad with a highlighter through my books) like I can on the Kindle. There’s no instant delivery — I can’t decide I want a book, search for it, and have it on my device in seconds.

The Kindle brings books to those who don’t have the space for a few books here and there. The Kindle makes books accessible. The Kindle means no delivery fees, no waiting — just books on demand. More books than anyone could ever read. There’s no such thing as a “sold out” book on the Kindle.

So I’ll continue to buy both physical books, mainly for authors that I really enjoy, and books on the Kindle. Maybe I’ll even buy both versions of a book, and then wonder why my place isn’t synchronised across books — then I’ll realise dead-tree books don’t have Wi-Fi, find my place, and read on.

All in all, I like the Kindle Touch. It’s a great device for reading, Amazon’s book selection is extremely good, and the hardware is on par for a device meant for long usage periods.

Now, if only they sold a version which had some kind of in-built light… and if only I had more time to read books on the thing, maybe I’d actually have finished the Steve Jobs biography by now.