Technology Review…………Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook


Now that the prelude is over, let’s get down and dirty with the details.

HANG UP!!!!!


Can I get a word in here, seriously?

OK.  Joking aside.  Here is my real review.  Yes, it has crashed a few times.  Yes I lost a document or two already.  But that isn’t really a tech review, is it?

I am a man spoiled rotten by Apple and their near flawless products…So I WILL take it hard on this machine.

To begin with, look at that name.  Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook—-They should add a few more words, how about “Tablet Laptop Computer.”  That would do nicely.  And that would almost fully explain the machine.  It’s a Dell, so guess what?  Windows.  Not just any Windows, but shiny new Windows 8!  (Should I use the word Surface, or Pro, or Metro, or Windows Phone Mobile?  I lose track after awhile.)

I am going to start with the machine, then move to a review of the operating system.  You might say, “But SpartanNerd, that ain’t fair!”  Keep yer “buts” down.  This is how I would review a Mac, no?  LEVEL PLAYING FIELD, Hub City Geeks.

To review the machine, just look at these pictures.

Yep.  This machine is a transformer.  It transforms from a laptop into a tablet.

In laptop mode, you can tell that it is clearly inspired by Appl….I mean Intel!  It is an ultrabook, meaning that it is inspired by the MacBook Air, literally, but by saying that it is inspired by Intel, they are skirting the truth that must be mighty uggly to them.  And that has two “g”s.  It has a backlit keyboard, which is cool, but the letters themselves don’t light up.  This takes away from the “jewelry store” effect you get from first turning on a new mac, but it works essentially the same in every other way.  The keys are also “chiclet”style.  As you can see my standard issue model from work that I am reviewing here has a black and grey color scheme.  There is some shinier places on it around the edges, etc.

The trackpad is frustrating.  I am really spoiled with the Macbook Pro’s trackpad.  The one on the XPS 12 isn’t as responsive, seems to want me to actually click it, and doesn’t mimic touchscreen gestures.  In other words, it is a different language than the tablet part of the machine.  Someone might say, “Big deal.  You know it is in laptop mode.”  Well, as you get to using this thing, you start to see that this IS a big deal.  You have to teach yourself two different ways of communicating with the same machine.

One more, sort of minor thing.  Backspace and delete are DIFFERENT BUTTONS.  Has it been like this, and I just forgot?  And the little things count, so here’s another one.  I like to be able to open my screen and the keyboard stay put, because the heavier part doesn’t move.  Any MacBook Pro user knows what I am talking about.  But this don’t happen with almost any other computer, including the XPS 12.

Other things, you turn the machine on via a little switch on the left side.  It has a glowing light, also akin to a Mac.  The USB ports are on the right side of the machine, for when you get frustrated with that trackpad and decide to switch to a mouse.  The USB jacks on mine are very tight.  I have to pull really hard to remove my USB chord from the socket!  There are also battery lights on the right side that activate at the push of a button.  Sound familiar?

So, while you are in laptop mode, you also have the touchscreen that works.  I might sound like someone who writes for Macworld when I say this, but it IS awkward to reach up and touch the screen while you are laptop mode. It just seems wrong.  After awhile, your hand does get tired.  Also, me and every other technology geek out there have trained ourselves…”Don’t touch the screen!”   Now that we can, we feel like, “Why?  I have a mouse attached!”

So, is it a workhorse?  Hardly.  Read the first couple of sentences.  I don’t know how much RAM it has, or anything, but I guarantee it isn’t enough.  MICROSOFT WORD HANGS UP!  Keep in mind nothing else is running besides Outlook.  I hate to think I was playing an intense game on this machine ….shudder…..

I told the SpartanMrs. I would try and be nice, so here goes….It is light.  It is kind of cool looking in laptop mode.  I already like it better than my Desktop Windows machine.  How’s that?  I can sit in my comfy office chair and check my e-mail.  And not walk 10 feet to the uncomfy plastic chair.

Now, let’s transform it.  The transformation is spiffy!  But I have to wonder how long this mechanism will last.  My boss assured me that it was tested hundreds or thousands of times by a sweatshop worker robot.  We’ll see.  I have my doubts, mostly because the springs that make it click in place are made of plastic.  You flip the screen around, and collapse it over the keyboard.  Now you have a tablet computer.

This tablet is supposed to use the ol’ “metro” screen.  But it can switch to regular Windows.  See above for how well this works out.  The tablet stuff feels right here, but the desktop applications don’t so much.

This screen is NOT “oleo-phobic.”  It will pick up your fingerprints, streaks of oil and grime and dirt.  And because it is sort of big……much bigger than an iPad Mini (my preferred tablet,) you can’t easily wipe it on your pants legs.  So keep a hanky handy!  And did I mention elbow grease?

You press the “Windows” button at the bottom, to get a Home Screen effect like you would on an iPod or iPhone.  Other than that, I don’t know what to say, except that sometimes it gets stuck in an orientation that you don’t want, and it doesn’t readily switch the way you want it like an iPad would.  You have to exaggerate motions in the directions to get the re-orientation to trigger.

So what about this Windows 8 Operating System?  I would like to say a few nice things first.  I am glad it isn’t an IOS clone, like Android is apparently.  “Stolen product,” anyone?  The Windows Home Screen (formerly known as Metro, to techies out there) is kind of pretty.  I like how the “live tiles” update stuff.  This is arguably better than what an iPhone or iPad can do.  And the tiles don’t work like IOS icons.  BUT, they aren’t as easy to learn….not as intuitive.

I said a few nice things, but, it has the “I am going to make you work for it” philosophy that Windows has always had.  It isn’t an intuitive system.  I am afraid Apple took the easy ideas already, and patented them.  Not that I believe MicroSoft would have chosen the easiest stuff if they were first to the party.  Remember, they were the first people to market “tablet computers,” and were never able to bust the market open the way Apple did with their trained and groomed crowd of iPhone users.

Here is an example.  I was working in Microsoft Word.  I decided to switch and browse for some clip art with Internet Explorer.  I used the tablet version of the browser.  Then, I was like….”how do I get back to the desktop?  Well, the way this works, is you swipe from the top of the screen to the bottom to close a program.  I did that, which brought me to the Windows Home screen.  But I wanted to see the desktop….and I started to get frustrated, then I remembered.  Swipe from left to right to browse screens.

See what I mean?  If someone hadn’t told me how to do that, I wouldn’t have got it.

How about this, How do you make it sleep?  You flick the right side to make a menu appear, choose, “settings,” then hit the power button graphic, and choose sleep from the menu.  Isn’t that too much work FOR A BASIC FUNCTION?  I could transform it and close it clamshell style.  But that is too much work, too.

So what is my rating for this machine?

I give it a 5/10.  It is better than my old desktop (3/10.)  It isn’t a 9/10 like my MacBook Pro  (I mark down the MB Pro because the rubber pads on bottom come off too easily.)  What computer is a 10/10?  My desktop iMac.  (2006 model)  Maybe I’m going too easy on that one, the SpartanMrs. and I spent a long night replacing the hard drive in that one.

Maybe after awhile this tablet computer will become like “an old friend,”  But I have yet to really bond with it.

“Silly Rabbi,” said George, “Tricks are for Kids!”             (Nerdy quote from Captain Underpants #5)

I like putting these Nerdy quotes.  Comment people!


More about Shadow Era….Dark Prophecies

Dark Prophecies expansion

I dropped some Shadow Crystals on some booster packs of Dark Prophecies today….Here are my thoughts about the expansion….

One thing that is new is the idea of weakness…..For instance, some allies might be resistant to Ice damage, but hurt more by fire damage. Certainly not a new idea in fantasy stuff, but new to Shadow Era.

I put some new cards in my Majaya deck.  “Meteor Shower” is one of my favorites, hitting someone for 3 damage and setting all of the allies on fire.  SCORE!  My best trick has always been to use the “Voice of Winter” as my weapon.  This thing freezes any new allies.  So they might be frozen and burned if the cards fall right!  But now there is another new card, “Kelvin’s Charm,” which allows you the chance to make any weapon have the ability to freeze things when they are hit.  Wicked touch for a weapon like the “Wrath of Summer,” which also sets things ablaze.

I won four matches in a row today, with a 40 card deck, In every case, my life total was whittled down to almost nothing, and then Majaya’s spells really started their work.  I made a poor calculation once, and was still able to recover.

One of the coolest tricks was the “Scrying Eye.”  You play this as a support item, and then you can see the next card your opponent has on top….and you can use a shadow energy to shuffle his deck.  Needless to say, at the end game when card advantage is key, this tips the scale for Majaya.  “Boris Skullcrusher” has “Kings Pride” up next, pay out and shuffle.  Then he gets “Rain Delay,” a useless card against an all support user!

You see, the way it was before the expansion, Majaya couldn’t do what I wanted her to do….to be an all powerful loner.  She was too weak.  Now it seems that there are enough offensive spells, weapons, armor, and support to make this happen.  And this isn’t a common strategy in Shadow Era.  Everyone seems to be all about the YuGiOh style “Summon Monsters.”  No one is taking the “Blue” magic approach like me.  And that is going to be my beat for awhile.  I am leaving “Gravebone” and “Boris,” along with “Ogloth the Glutton,” because this is not my vision for the game.  Finally things seem to be right.

He looks awesome!  King He-Man, anyone?

Another thing….The Shadow Era website has some articles about two LEGENDARY CREATURES. One is “Karlstrad, Ruler of Gaderi” and the other is “Scourge Colossus.”  I have not seen these two in the merchant….(the in game store.)  The article mentions people finding them in booster packs…I bought ten boosters today, and got three EPIC cards, but neither of these LEGENDARY creatures.  Did someone say one of them was 4200 in-game gold in the comments?  Wow.

Well, I haven’t seen them in action, either.

I wish you really could trade your cards.  If there is a way, I haven’t figured it out.  This might be a way of scoring one.

“Five card stud, nothing wild. And the sky’s the limit”

Shadow Era: Call of the Crystals and Dark Prophecies review

My introduction to Trading Card Games, (TCGs for those not nerdy enough to know,) was actually not Magic: The Gathering, World of Warcraft, of Pokemon.  I knew OF these, but did not play them.  Then one day I got the itch to start playing cards.  I had been playing poker and such as that on the computer, and somehow came across a Macworld article about Shadow Era when I was doing research about cards.

I began to play Shadow Era, which was still in beta testing mode.  I jumped in apparently after the second big update was pushed out.  I had a hard time figuring the game out.  I mean, I read the rules, and sort of knew what to click…the game lights up the available cards, and in about two weeks I had it down.  Before we knew it, I climbed the ratings ladder up to near 200.

Then, I would get knocked back down every time they updated the game.  This happened sort of frequently.  What struck me the most was that they were still evolving the game as people were playing it!  My favorite card then (and now!) is Majaya, but poor Majaya started out as too good of a card, then they weakened her too much, until finally finding the right balance…..

You see, I can’t really explain this game without just talking about my experiences with it.  Basically, you have your cards, you draw a hand, make a sacrifice, which becomes your “mana pool” (to use a Magic term, Shadow Era calls it Resources)  and you can play your cards with the resources you build up.  Only certain cards go together, so Human and Wolf  cards won’t share the same weapons and armor, etc.

The creatures you play in this game line up with their hero’s card type.  So Majaya can play “Shadow” creatures.  Boris, on the other hand must play Human creatures.  DarkClaw must play wolves, etc.  These creatures are called “allies,” and can attack.  Your hero, in my case Majaya, can’t do much of anything except use Shadow Energy, which builds up every turn….

So there you have it….You are confused already….But this game isn’t confusing.  Just hard for me to explain.  It is really very deep.

I ordered some of the physical cards last year….They had sort of a “kickstarter” thing going on, where you could pre-order the cards and you would get bonuses.  This was the GREATEST VALUE EVER.  These physical cards were great, and perhaps I will review them one day, but they sent two whole sets of foil cards in addition to all that I ordered!  And slowly but surely, I received even more stuff, both by mail and on my Shadow Era digital account.  I still have a ton of “Shadow Crystals” to spend, which brings me to the next point.

This game can drain your real money, for digital goods.  It is a FREE game to play, but if you want better cards, you have to either grind against the AI, (boring,) or fork over the cash for shadow crystals, which you can use to buy digital cards.  So warning there!  But this isn’t sooo bad.  In fact, it makes it more like the card games you can buy at the store!

Shadow Era was my jumping on point.  After I started playing this, I introduced the boys to the correct way to play Pokemon, then we went on to try YuGiOh (didn’t like so much) and Magic the Gathering. (Love it, but stink at it!)

So, get on over to this site and start playing!  They just recently released their first expansion to the game, called “Dark Prophecies.”

Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra…Local Music Review!

             So this evening I had the chance to rehearse with the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and I would like to say, what a swell group of folks.  Sara Ioannides is a fantastic conductor, and an artistic genius.  This particular rehearsal was in gearing up for an educational concert, and the orchestra sort of did “dry runs” through the songs first, and then the conductor had them fix a few things, tweaking them to sound like they are supposed to.  I’ve heard this orchestra several times over the past few years…..They always sound good.  And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of “hired-in” musicians who come in from a long way off or anything.  They seem to be local people.

              How many of you Hub City Geeks out there did not even know that we had an Orchestra here in Spartanburg?  Clear some time with some special people and go and hear one of their concerts.  You won’t regret it!  Yes, you need to dress up!

NEW JERUSALEM! SpartanNerd’s insight.

Turns out, the SpartanNerd is a believer!  You beleedat?

Yep.  Bana fide.  Jesus fills this nerd’s heart.

And so, the topic at hand, from a nerd perspective….

NEW JERUSALEM, as described in Revelation 21 and 22.  (Yes.  In the Bible!  Don’t freak, Hub City Geeks!)

This thing is a total square!  Literally!  (How else can a real believer take the Bible?)  It is a cube.  1500 miles long, wide, and tall.

So that is a major deal.  Some perspective, our planes fly no more than 50 miles above the Earth. The International Space Station is 250 miles above the earth.

A 1500 mile long square side would go from…well, check out this picture.  Link

Now if this isn’t SpartanNerd-y enough, sorry.  Let me know by comment!

That’s word we Pray!

Spider-Man #7, Vintage Comic Review

Spider-Man #6 and #7
     Today I will follow up yesterday’s Spider-Man #6 with a review of the final part of the story, Spider-Man #7.
In Issue #6, we saw that the hobgoblin has done something to the kid, and caused his face to change halfway into a similar face to his own.  Also, Hobgoblin has called Spider-Man “The Devil,” and the Ghost Rider is on his way…..
     In Issue #7, we begin with a scene where Spider-Man seems awestruck that the Hobgoblin is as evil and psycho as he is.  Spidey immediately puts the kid in the front of his mind.  The kid, says, “He sent my Mommy to Heaven.”  Obviously this kid is being brainwashed.
We get a splash page on pages 2 and 3, Ghost Rider busts in, screaming “EVIL!”   Spider-Man just says, “Is the whole world going nuts?”  Of course, Hobgoblin calls Ghost Rider, “Lucifer.”  He sees Spider-Man as the Devil, and Ghost Rider as Satan.  See the connection?  Then we get some narrator blurb, sort of odd for a Spider-Man comic.
Page 4, The Goblin and Ghost Rider are having it out.  Spider-Man is caring for the kid.  he says, “Does it hurt?”
Page 5, the Goblin aims to crash into Ghost rider head on with his sled.  So you turn the page past the advertisement for NBA Hoops cards…..
Page 6, a sort of half splash page.  Ghost Rider is a ghost, remember, the sled goes through him, but he is still able to grab it and damage it.  So what does Hobgoblin do?  He summons a demonic dragon to ride!  Spider-Man, not so quick to the draw, decides to attack, just as the Goblin makes this happen!
Page 7, Spiderman knocks the goblin’s block off.  Ghost Rider more or less talks down to Spidey.  He starts swinging his flaming chain, etc.
Page 8 and 9, we get some banter between Ghost Rider and Spider-Man.  Spider-Man blatantly calls the Ghost Rider a rookie, (in this continuity he is.)  Then Spider-Man heroically calls him on the carpet and reminds him that there is a victim present.  When he mentions the kid, Hobgoblin goes berserk!  He gets on his demon dragon thing and rams at Spider-Man and Ghost Rider.  Spider-Man tells him to cool it, the building is not sound enough to take the abuse they are doling out.
Page 10 and 11, Hobgoblin, having ghost rider on the end of his new ride like a cow catcher might have a cow, rams him through the roof and over the city, where they struggle.  Eventually, the Hobgoblin throws the Ghost Rider back down, sort of like the Ghost Rider did to that criminal in the last issue.  When he hits the ground, it is like an explosion!  Spider-Man says he is getting out with the kid, as Ghost Rider crawls out of the crater.
On Page 12, we get to see the Goblin flying over head, yelling “Repent, Repent.”  Ghost Rider and Spider-Man briefly discuss the Goblin, about how crazy he is.  Spider-Man goes on to give the detail that he has transformed into a REAL goblin.  That kid is still talking nice to the Goblin, etc.
On Page 13, Spider-Man drops the hammer on the kid.  He tells him to cool it.  We find out here that the boys name is “Adam,” an imprortant detail!  Spider-Man decides to dish out some expert hero stuff on the maniac.
On page 14 and 15, the Goblin does what he did in the last issue, sending rays of power in every direction as Spider-Man tries to make some progress.  The Goblin creates some distance between Spidey and himself, and grabs the boy.  We get a panel where we see the ghost rider revving his bike…..  The Goblin hugs the kid, as the Ghost Rider attempts to ram the Goblin from behind, notwithstanding that he is holding the victim!  Spider-Man stands nearly helpless, seeing the catastrophe ahead.
On page 16, we get action.  No dialogue, but some Narrator boxes.  “God Save Him.”  No.”  “Not God.”  Essentially, Spider-Man rescues the boy as he flies from the resulting imact.
On page 17 and 18 we see more hits on the Goblin, while Spider-Man secures the kid.  The boy says “mommy.”  Maybe some sense has been knocked into him now.  Ghost Rider keeps on dishing out the justice, but the Goblin is out cold.  I love the bottom of 18.  Spider-Man is in his most threatening pose, posturing towards the Ghost Rider.  He is pissed!  And he begins a tyrade about how the heroes are supposed to protect the victims.  Not hurt them more.  And the Ghost RIder’s priorities are out of line.
Page 19, the Ghost Rider leaves Spider-Man, not really swayed.  He is apparently angry that he couldn’t hurt the Goblin even more.
Page 20.  The final page of this story.  Spidey always seemed really big to me on this page.  And Adam seems so small in his arms.  We never find out what happens to this kid, as far as I know.  I wonder if McFarlane has anything to say about it in hindsight?
The Letters column is titled “Crawl-Space.”  Basically, readers are writing in commenting on Issues #1-#4.  The writers mostly speak positively of the new title.  One reader talks about the “scripting,” which I think means dialogue.  I love the dialogue in those first issues.  And think it is even better here in issues #6-#7. But this guy thinks McFarlane’s writing “sucks.”  Otherwise, another writer writes in to defend McFarlane.  Apparently some people had been critisising him from the outset.  But the reader says that people should give him a chance…..Mcfarlane only did about 15 of these issues.  (14?)  Then he left Marvel to form Image and Spawn.  I heard Mad Max say, “Todd McFarlane took Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, and Hobgoblin, combined all three to create Spawn.”  This is very true.  A few cues in the costume department from Spidey.  The cape and powers from hobgoblin, the story from Ghost Rider.  There you go!
Over the years, my books have faded a little.  I re-purchased these books, having sold them off several years back.  (This was my Father’s Day present about eight years ago.)  McFarlane’s use of shadows and lighting is for the most part very masterful.  And you can see many details on the page that comics artists don’t always go the extra mile for.  Little jokes, like the Batman Pumpkin Bombs in Issue #6, and Spider’s all over Issue #1, etc, shows that he also had a good sense of humor in his work.  (I wonder if there was a bet about the Pumpkin Bombs?)  Some people think McFarlane has an anime style.  I disagree with this.  His art is his own style.  It doesn’t remind me of anime at all.  Doe anyone look line a Gundam pilot?  Or Yu-Gi-Oh?  Nope.  There are some ray blasts and things that might remind you of Dragon Ball Z, but aren’t these kinds of things in virtually all comics.

I think these books are like a good movie.  They seem to be a screenplay, the way scenes fade in and out, etc.  In later Spider-Man books, in the “Stan’s Soapbox” segments and all, we hear the first rumors of a Spider-Man movie.  We would later see this fall apart a few times, until the Tobey Maguire movies finally took off with sony in the early 2000’s.  (Wow, these were good!)  Another digression!  sorry!

The nerd just flows out of me sometimes!

I measure all comics by these two books.  So in the future if I am referenceing these books when I do a comics review, don’t be surprised!

“Fishy, Fishy!”