So I finally took the plunge and bought a new 20″ Apple iMac. I’ve got to say I love the machine in all its glass and aluminum glory, but I can’t let this transition pass without paying a little homage to my 400MHz Mac G4 tower that has served me so well for so long.

Macintosh G4I bought this machine in January of 2000 (my senior year of college.) It has run essentially nonstop since then at any time carrying out some or all of the following duties at any given time:

  • Ethernet router
  • Wirless router
  • Web server (with dynamic DNS)
  • UNIX development machine
  • MIDI workstation
  • Editing short movies
  • Rendering of POV-Ray images for Tom
  • Countless MAME games

The system came with a 10GB hard drive which I immediately upgraded to 36GB. The initial 128MB of RAM was removed to make way for a couple 512MB chips giving the system a full gigabyte of RAM. Though this mac originally came with Mac OS 9 I was able to upgrade it to OS X, even 10.4 without any problems. Now I don’t mean it ran part of 10.4 or it was in any way crippled. This 7+ year old machine runs the latest OS just fine.

The decision to replace the machine came for two reasons. One, I wanted a machine I could hook up to my TV. Two, when working with large files (high resolution movies and pics from my 7 MP camera) things really slowed down. It was also time for a bit more hard drive space.

So with over 7 years of runtime with, by the way, no maintenance required I can happily retire this old G4 and honestly say it owes me nothing. I only hope the new iMac does just as well.

mac, macintosh, os x, imac, g4, mac vs pc, computer, apple, apple inc, apple computer

The latest in the search for a better pointing device, Contour Design’s RollerMouse Pro claims to be the “World’s greatest mousing device” but how does it stack up in day-to-day use? Is it worth the steep $200 price tag? Contour Design offered me the chance to test-drive a RollerMouse Pro for a few weeks and here’s what I thought:

RollerMouse ProThe Device: The RollerMouse Pro doesn’t fit cleanly into any pointer device category I know. It’s not a track ball, not a touch pad, not a mouse, not a tablet. It has aspects of all these devices, but is truly its own device.

The long cylindrical roller is used to control a pointer. The cylinder spins up and down while sliding back and forth. A traditional left and right mouse button are complemented by a scroll wheel (with the standard functionality) and a centered double-click button. The cylinder can also be pressed down to accomplish a left-click adding further to the convenience of the device.

The RollerMouse Pro has two special function buttons (which are absent in the standard RollerMouse.) By default they act as a click-lock (click and hold) and scroll-lock (click and use the main roller to scroll.) A web mode allows the buttons to be used as forward and back in web browsers and the final mode allows custom software to be used to assign the buttons to additional functions.

If all that isn’t enough, the RollerMouse Pro is integrated with a wrist rest which improves keyboarding posture. The comfortable, high quality lycra wrist rest is removable for cleaning.

In use the RollerMouse Pro is highly functional with a comfort unmatched by any pointing device I have used. I used the RollerMouse Pro daily at work for several weeks prior to this review. For the first few days I found I needed to adjust the mouse tracking speed slower than I typically used with a mouse, but after just a few days of using the RollerMouse Pro I was back up to my typical (“twitchy” as many would say) high mouse speed with all the accuracy I have with a traditional mouse.

One of the RollerMouse’s claims is that since the user does not have to reach to their side the hand position is more ergonomic when mousing. While I am not an ergonomics expert I will say that while using the RollerMouse Pro I did find that some tension and aches I had in my right shoulder and lower neck absolutely disappeared.

The video below shows how the RollerMouse Pro sits below the keyboard so it can be used with only a minimal departure from the keyboard. To show how little movement is needed I have added stripes to the roller with some orange tape. During this video I moved the pointer all around the screen, from launching a web browser from the start menu, to selecting a link to Gmail, to scrolling around the page, to closing the window.

You can see how little movement of the cylinder was required for these standard tasks. While hard to show in a video, if you reach the end of the the RollerMouse’s movement before reaching the corresponding edge of the screen you can feel a click on the cylinder and it will continue the pointer movement to the edge of the screen. This behavior was easier than expected to get used to.

I found that using several fingers from my right (dominant) hand gave me the best control, but this second video shows how I was also able to control the RollerMouse Pro with just my thumbs (I used my left thumb to give some resistance on the cylinder while I controlled it with my right thumb.) This method allows the RollerMouse Pro to be used without moving the hands from the keyboard. I found this ideal when working in text-centric applications like word processing and shell sessions.

I used the RollerMouse Pro on both Mac OSX and Windows with no need for drivers on either platform. In both cases the RollerMouse Pro was recognized by the operating system as a standard mouse and all standard features were immediately available.

While there are advantages to being able to program your own functions to specific buttons it is invaluable that the first two modes mentioned above work without any additional software. I personally didn’t make much use of the two additional buttons between the main array and the roller cylinder. In the long run I might try to program them for copy and paste, but to me they neither make or break the device.

Conclusions: After setting up the RollerMouse Pro (which was a breeze) and using it for a few weeks I have found it significantly better than traditional mouses. It offers the advantages of a laptop trackpad (easily accessible with little or no movement from the home position on the keyboard) while offering a fast learning curve and outstanding range and accuracy.

While a price of just shy of $200 keeps me from recommending this to the casual user, for those who spend their work days at their computers the RollerMouse Pro has a lot to offer. The unanticipated advantage of the RollerMouse Pro was the liberation of a few square feet of desk space previously occupied by my mouse and mouse pad.

An ergonomic design, high quality construction, convenient placement, an integrated wrist rest and unbeatable functionality make the RollerMouse Pro a great choice for anyone who spends hours a day at their computer. It did take several days to get used to, but if you’re not sure if it’s for you there’s always the option of their 30 day free trial.

RollerMouse Pro or Classic? There are a handful of differences between the classic and pro versions of the RollerMouse (see the image below, pro on top.) The pro is only $10 more than the classic and features a larger opening for controlling the main cylinder, larger buttons and two additional buttons. All these features make it well worth upgrading to the pro version.

RollerMouse Pro and Classic


review, technology, mouse, pointer, hci, human computer interface

The funny thing about blogging is that occasionally the comments are as good as the articles. Here’s a comment from a reader named Scott who’s friend Shaun (who by Scott’s own proclamation shall remain nameless) demonstrates that the dangers of making a device like a potato gun go far beyond the obvious.

Scott writes:

(disclaimer) Do not try this at home, this test was performed by a self perclaimed perfessional tater gun tester!!!!!

My buddy Shaun who shall remain nameless for the entirety of this article, being of what he calls, sound mind and body he! he! he!, decided to make him one of those there tator guns, over the objections of his wife, who stated, you’re gonna put your eye out with that thing, to which he declared “what idiot could get hurt with a tator gun.” So from that point hopefully you all know where I am headed here, if not don’t try makin’ a tater gun without reading the rest of this story!!!

So the nameless fellow, refer to beginning of story, put all of his parts and pieces together, and perclaimed himself a perfessional tater gun maker, then atter that, nameless buddy decided to christen said tater gun, and perclaim hisself the new king of tater gun testers, by sticking his face over the soon to be designated tater launch area, and light off the former grill igniter while the PVC glue aroma was still quite fresh.

So at the unexpected report of da tater gun, all or the majority of his former eyebrows, and eyelashes perclaim his gun a success as they rushed by him!!! So the moron of this story, oops I meant the moral is, don’t be a testin’, or a lookin’ into that thar tater gun until after the put togetter stuffs has thuroly dissipated!!!

One for the record books, so please pass this around to all of your friends, so’s we can give my nameless buddy Shaun all the credit he justly deserves =), so in the words of good ol Bill Engvall, “Heres your sign Shaun ol buddy”

Thanks for sharing, er, sharin’ Scott. I’m more than happy to do my part to spread the word.

potato gun, make, funny, fun, accident, hazard, explosion

Bloc-Tronic ManualI have written about my Bloc-Tronic electronics kit before. My original article on the kit has garnered several comments asking if I could scan and upload the manual.

I’ve finally uploaded the first 100 pages to my images site! The entire manual is around 180 pages, so this is most of it and I hope to get the rest up sometime soon.

If you are lucky enough to have a Bloc-Tronic kit without manual, hopefully this manual will be of use. Also, since the experiments include schematics in addition to the block layout they could be done on a standard breadboard or even permanently assembled from components.

The experiments start off simple and get progressively more complicated. There’s everything from a volt meter to a radio receiver.

electronic, electronics, toy, block, educational, electronics kit

Don Burleson points out that Oracle has sent out some Cardboard laptops!

Oracle cardboard laptop


The outside of the laptop which showed up in Andy Armstrong’s mail July 5th read “We’ve taken the idea that the outside world is a dangerous place for unprotected content.” and the inside reads “And shredded it.”

Thanks to Zach for posting the full text of the interior which reads:

“To derive maximum benefit from your business critical content, you need to share it across a wide user base. But the more people who have access to it, the greater the threat of sensitive information leaking to your competitors. That’s just for starters; content proliferation also raises the risk of regulatory non-compliance and escalating management costs. You know you can’t live without your information, but you’d be forgiven for wondering how to live with it.

Oracle’s recently acquired Information Rights Management solution can help. A key component of our Document and Records Management portfolio, it enables you to share your information when and with whom you want – without fear of the outside world.

But it doesn’t stop there. Should the worst happen – and your laptop falls into unsafe hands – we can even scamble your content before anyone works out how to access it.

We’ll be in touch shortly with more details of how to shred your content management worries.”

So what’s the story? What bandwagon is Oracle getting on here? Only time will tell. Burleson thinks it may be another step in their “unbreakable” theme. I think it may be something with Application Express as a content management system. Something to do with enterprise blogs or wiki or some other web 2.0 kind of content management.

wiki, blog, web, web20, web 2.0, oracle, dba, rdbms, dbms, marketing, laptop

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