Buy my Books!


The Sketchnote Workbook is a fully-illustrated book and video, showing how to use sketchnotes in new ways, along with advanced tips and techniques.
Learn about and buy the book →
Download a FREE chapter →
Watch a FREE video sample →


The Sketchnote Handbook is a fully-illustrated book and video, designed to teach regular people how to create sketchnotes.
Learn about and buy the book →
Download a FREE chapter →

Mike Rohde (Color - Square)

ROHDESIGN is the website of designer Mike Rohde, who writes on design, sketching, drawing, sketchnotes, technology, travel, cycling, books & coffee.
Read more about Mike →

SIGN UP! Get the Rohdesign Newsletter.

Tuesday
May202003

Palm's Tungsten Series Fares Well against iPAQ

Tungsten vs. iPAQInteresting article was posted today at Palm Infocenter about recent tests that show the Palm Tungsten T and Tungsten C faring quite well compared to the Pocket PC iPAQ h1910 and h5450 in several critical areas.

Specifically, battery life was significantly better on the Tungsten C, which pulled off eight hours at full screen brightness. The Tungsten C with Wi-Fi active ran 3:45 vs. the 5450's 2:10; over an hour and a half longer. The Tungsten C's 1800mAh battery certainly shines here.

If you look at the VeriTest PDF document (72k), you'll see that battery life was about equal between the Tungsten T and iPAQ h1910: both were at 4:15 with screen on full brightness. When playing MP3s, the TT came in at 4:30 and the h1910 clocked 4:32. The h5450 came in at only 2:27 with the screen on full brightness and at 3:40 playing MP3s -- battery life a bit more equivalent to a notebook than a PDA.

Days until data loss was another interesting section -- both TC and TT last about 20 days on 'standby' mode, where all battery life is focused on maintaining data to the point of deactivating the screen completely. The h1910 comes in 3rd at 10 days and the h5450 only offers 4 days. Better not forget the 5450's power charger on a long business trip!

Lastly, I found it interesting that identical information took more space on Pocket PC OS than on Palm OS. This included datebook, contact and address databases as well as Word and Excel files converted/stored in Documents To Go vs. Pocket Word and Excel. While the difference is subtle, I think this test indicates Pocket PC is a bit less efficient in file storage than Palm OS.

These tests got me thinking about comparisons between Pocket PC and Palm OS devices and how they're starting to match up in specs and pricing quite nicely. I think Palm OS has the advantage of a much simpler to use and faster operating system that's more efficient in both the number of taps to do things and in power consumption. Further, the Palm OS platform offers many more software titles and a wide array of physically different devices.

Yes, Palm OS still has the 4k memo limitation among other well-known problems carried over from the days of the Pilot 1000. However, when Palm OS 6 arrives, the playing field will shift even further -- Palm OS licensees will have the same hardware and in many cases better specs (320 x 320 hi-res for instance), integrated security, multimedia, XML extensibility, and efficient code that takes less space, runs more quickly and efficiently than Pocket PC.

That's when things will get interesting -- you'll have two platforms that are equal in megahertz and chips, that will probably be similarly priced and will most likely integrate Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or both. However, the Palm OS devices will come in many different shapes and sizes, have higher resolution screens, run faster and more efficiently, have better battery life and have some 17,000+ available apps to choose from.

Some PDA commentators suggested that PalmSource ought not try and beat Microsoft at its own game by matching specs... I never agreed with that reasoning. When I look at where Palm OS is going, the spec match game benefits Palm OS much more than Pocket PC, especially considering screen resolution and battery life. Palm OS seems to be catching up and aiming to pass by a stagnating Pocket PC OS especially if the upcoming PPC OS update is more of a bug fix than a significant leap.

I'm getting the feeling Palm OS might just be sneaking up on Pocket PC. Surprising, eh?

Monday
May192003

Post-Bubble Silicon Valley

This weekend I came across a great Po Bronson article called Life in the Bust Belt from latest issue of Wired Magazine. The article describes life in Silicon Valley now that the Internet bubble has burst, comparing it to Detroit of all places.

If you recall, I'd longed for a description of present day life in the Valley after reading Silicon Valley Boys -- I think Bronson's 'Life in the Bust Belt' article fits the bill quite well. As I suspected, everyone is a little closer to earth these days -- preferring a stable but less exciting job to living on the edge.

For the most part, workers are happy to have a life back. "It's just a paycheck now," said one woman I rode Caltrain with. "I'm all right with that." At San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation, I got into a conversation with a former headhunter, now doing HR. "The subsector of the industry that profited from chaos isn't counting on a recovery. Ever." She used to eat at trendy restaurants; now the highlights of her week are a regular dinner with friends (alternating among their apartments) and the volunteer tutoring she does at an elementary school. She says, "The question 'What do you do?' now refers more to 'How do you pay the bills?' than 'What is your purpose?'"

I'm not suggesting this article as a way to experience schadenfreude (finding malicious joy in others' pain). Rather, I think it's a way to get truer sense of how things have changed in Silicon Valley, for those who don't live there.

I actually disagree with Po Bronson on his view that the Silicon Valley is no longer an icon. Silicon Valley will always be an icon -- it just won't ever be the same icon of endless growth and prosperity it was in 1999. But who knows... nobody predicted what happened in the 1990s! ;-)

Saturday
May172003

Matrix Reloaded: Review

NeoI saw Matrix Reloaded on Thursday and have some definite thoughts about it, along with some still-to-be-determined thoughts. Overall, I thought Matrix Reloaded was a very good sequel film. For me, the strong need to see the film yet again, to figure out a few bits and pieces is a very good sign.

If you are going to see Matrix Reloaded, make sure you sit through the credits (about 5 minutes) as there's a little surprise at the end of the film. Trust me. :-)

Spoiler Warning! I realize that my non-US readers may have not yet seen the film, so I've activated the Moveable Type excerpt feature on this post to avoid spoiling the film for anyone who has not seen it. You're now forewarned that following the link below will share film details.
Ok, first off, I should say that I would have been perfectly happy with only the original Matrix movie. I felt it stood well on its own, sharing the story and leaving the viewer with a nice wrap-up at the end. It worked for me quite well as a single film and what a film it was!

However, I also liked the idea of a sequel, as long as any Matrix trilogy were designed originally as a three-film series. I didn't want to see the Wachowski brothers spin off two more films because the money was good, with no clear idea where they were going with Neo, Morpheus and Trinity. I was pleased to learn that the Wachowskis had always intended three films. This set my mind a little at ease, as I reasoned that a clear intention to tell a story with three parts (e.g. Lord of the Rings) had a greater chance of being good, than the "thanks for all the cash -- now lets make up two more films as we go" approach.

Still, even if the Matrix parts two and three were created with the best intentions in mind, I had a feeling that we Matrix fans had a pretty high standard set for these films, because The Matrix. was so well done. Even if the Wachowski brothers managed to create an excellent second movie, I was concerned that so much new ground was taken with Matrix that any movie to follow it might be somehow seen as less than the original. In fact, I was pretty certain of this.

I came to May 15th slightly mixed in my feelings: one the one hand I was excited about seeing Matrix Reloaded, finding out how the main characters deal with the machines and what new areas of the Matrix world I'd get to see. On the other hand I knew that this could very well not meet my own expectations compared to the feelings I have for the first Matrix film.

I felt the film was a success as a sequel. There many things I enjoyed about the film and a few details that I disliked. Let me start with what I enjoyed about Matrix Reloaded, as I felt that the majority of the film was perfectly suited to its task. I'll follow that with some of my criticisms of the film, things I'm unsure of (until I see it again) and my overall conclusions.

The Good Stuff
I'm very pleased with the visual appearance of the film overall. The greenish color shift of the Matrix seems very consistent with the original Matrix film. Cinematogprahy was excellent, with some very beautiful scenes to liteally drink in with your eyes and your mind. I was also pleased with the extreme comic-book-like camera angles, continued from The Matrix. I also appreciated the extension of the "classic" sense in the Matrix itself, with great classic and new cars, big, square trucks and the fashion blend of 1950s CIA agent clothing, shiny plastic coats and Morpheus' custom made, Italian shoes. Well done!

I love the way the film opens, with Trinity kicking things off -- from the outrageous motorcycle jump to the use of her helmet as a kung-fu weapon. Trinity opened The Matrix as well, so it should be interesting to see if she also opens Revolutions.

The big rebel pow-wow at the start of the film was quite interesting -- great background environments there! However, I wondered why about 10% of the Zion leaders didn't wear sunglasses -- maybe their residual self-image didn't include black shades?

I was a little surprised to find that Agent Smith had been freed -- I found it a funny little slieght of hand by the Wachowski brothers, who know you'll assume Smith is still an agent, when actually, he's become a rouge virus of sorts. Tricky. I actually have a gut feeling that Agent Smith may end up being a character much like Gollum was in Lord of the Rings -- mostly bad but there to serve some kind of purpose in the end. I could be collossaly wrong... but we'll see when Revolutions arrives.

Zion was well done, particularly the landing pad and views of the huge machinery that keeps Zion running. I loved the "lived in" feel that Zion had -- it was slightly industrial (like the dwellings with submarine doors) but very human and organic at the same time.

I also found it very interesting to learn about Morpheus being much more of a small faction leader, very much like a John the Baptist character in the Gospels. In Matrix you figure he's a big leader in Zion, but in Reloaded you find he's much more the exception than the rule.

Fight scenes were again very well done. I can't say that they were groundbreaking in comparison to the original Matrix, but this comes back to the idea that Matrix was so revolutionary, it would be hard to top. Some reviewers complained about the length of the staircase fight -- I didn't mind and found it an interesting take, with much more flying and floating -- it seemed almost like dance.

My favorite fight scene of the film was the Burly Brawl, where Neo and hundreds of cloned Agent Smiths battle to a draw in a playground. Just the idea of a single guy (Neo) taking on this many combatants was a sight to see. In one scene I laughed out lout when I saw one Agent Smith clone thrown against the wall of a building about 4 stories up and in another, where Neo was using one Smith for a bowling ball against twenty Smith clones, I had to smile. Even in the fight scenes the Wachowski brothers have a sense of humor. I found it particularly interesting that Neo comes to realize he cannot win the battle against all the the Smiths and flies away -- Neo is tempered a bit.

Of course, I love the freeway chase scene. For me, that was 18 minutes of pure fun. I switched between asking "how did they do that" to "WOW" several times. I loved that Niobe cruises up in a purple 1967 Pontiac Firebird. And the finale was pretty amazing too. All in all the freeway scene for me was alone worth admission.

I liked the albino twins: their phasing tricks and how they completed each others' sentances. Should be interesting to learn if Morpheus knocked them off, or if they will reappear in the next film.

I really enjoyed the Keymaster, though his name did bring back memories of Ghostbusters and Rick Moranis. Scary, eh? It was great to see this little guy and his necklaces full of keys, darting around. I especially liked the scene where the Keymaster pulls out a key to access a door and gets Trinity to remark "you do come in handy!".

The Not So Good Stuff
The Rave scene. If you've read any reviews or comments, you'll know this is one of the least favorite things mentioned. I'm squarely in the anti-rave camp. I thought it was too long for starters, which added to the dragginess of the first 45 minutes of the film. But the rave was also kinda cheesey -- while it dragged on I kept thinking of the Ewok dance in Star Wars Return of the Jedi. It was also cheesy in that these people are all dancing next to pools of molten lava -- come on now! Those dancers woulda had 3rd degree burns! So, I say trim this 8-10 minute sequence to 2 or 3 minutes tops, with much less emphasis on the rave.

Morpheus came off a bit too full of himself and over-serious. I suppose this is the idea, since he's a believer in Neo as The One while most everyone else thinks he's a nutter. Still, I wished Morpheus' lines were not always so serious and dire.

The Burly Brawl CGI. I thought this section was pretty good, but I suppose as a picky graphics guy I see all of the imperfections. While this was not enough to ruin the scene (which I really enjoyed) I was much more aware of the too-perfectness of Neo's coat as he fought and the too-smooth draping of his clothing. There were other little clues that made it feel like CGI, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I don't mind this "perfectness" too much because after all, the Matrix is supposed to be a stylized, computer generated environment.

Trinity's car getting shot on the freeway with no bullets entering the cabin. I was a bit surprised that Trinity didn't find 8 bullets lodged in her arm from all the shots in the Caddilac on the driver-side door. I mean, come on... is this thing armor plated? It didn't seem so in other scenes where bullets penetrate the car. I know... suspend belief. :-)

The John Woo-ization of Trinity jumping off the semi trailer on the Ducati. I about gagged when I saw this scene unfolding for what seemed like five minutes while the woo-ing choir swelled. Just jump the bike off the semi already! Maybe this was the Wachowski's tribute to John Woo (whos overdone style of cinematography I'm not terribly fond of).

What I'm Unsure About
I would really like to see Reloaded once again to clear up some details in my mind with the movie. This is a good thing for me -- I'm the type of person who really enjoys getting more detail from a second or third viewing. Sometimes (like with Lord of the Rings) I'll see the movie to hear the music and then go again later to look at background details. Through this process, I gain a fuller sense of the film.

A few things of note: I want to see exactly who the guy was intending to kill Neo before he gets on the elevator. I've read this is the physical representation of Agent Smith, but I could only remember the goatee.

I'd also like a chance to hear the discussion between Neo and the Architect again. Information was moving so quickly and so deeply at that point, I feel I've missed something. I'd love to process through that sequence once more.

I'd also like to see the portion with Merovingian and Persephone -- I was again pleased with the Wachowski's humor in Merovingian and would like to absorb the dialogue there once more to see how it fits in with the rest of the film.

Of course I want to see the freeway chase scene again and take its details in bit by bit. The action is so quick there, that I feel it deserves a second viewing to really get a feeling for what's going on on the freeway.

I'm not sure what happened to Neo that he was able to stop the sentinels at the end of the film with a telepathic thought. I'm not sure what this meant -- did Neo's powers extend to the physical world or is Zion also a Matrix? Hmmm.

I want to see Reloaded again for these reasons and more -- mostly that I enjoyed the film thoroughly and would love to see it again.

Final Impressions
My overall impression of Reloaded was that the Wachowskis are trying to throw viewers off balance. We're challenged by the conversion of Agent Smith to a virus, Morpheus' beliefs in Neo as the One are challenged and Neo's idea of free will and choice are being challenged. About halfway through the movie I had the distinct feeling that the Wachowski brothers were intentionally puling the rug out from under us... to prepare us all for their conclusion in Revolutions.

I think Reloaded is a great sequel movie but really couldn't stand on its own. But I believe that's exactly what was intended -- the Matrix is a story designed to be told in three parts, so the second film depends greatly on the first. And the third film will depend greatly on the first two. But in the end, we will have a whole film, much like Lord of the Rings will be whole this year. Because I believe this, I'm not bothered that The Marix or Reloaded have some imperfections, because the story is moved forward and will be unified in the third part -- Revolutions.

Finally, I'm pleased to see that the Wachowskis are having fun with a multi-faceted film. They're offering something for everyone and having a great time experimenting with all the ideas they've had bottled up in their brains for years and years. Philosphy, action, religious thought, software concepts, exploring choice vs. destiny and of course visual explorations. I think it's great to see these guys offered the chance to explore things nobody else has until now. Yes, maybe parts were explored but not all of these aspects in a single film. I applaud them for this daring approach.

I guess this review was more geared toward those who have already seen the film, because I'm curious to hear your impressions in the comments section.

I hope you enjoyed Reloaded as much as I have. Yes, it's not perfect, but overall a great bit of fun that I look forward to seeing again soon.

Wednesday
May142003

Excellent Tungsten C Review in TidBITS

Tungsten CI'm an avid reader of TidBITS, the excellent weekly Macintosh e-zine started by Adam and Tonya Engst eons ago (in Internet time). In fact, TidBITS was the inspiration for founding my own Palm e-zine, the Palm Tipsheet back in 1997 (which was sold in April 2003).

In the latest issue (680) Geoffrey V. Bronner, the webmaster for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College offers an excellent in-depth review of the Palm Tungsten C.

I really like that Bronner's review includes real field tests of the Tungsten C in a Wi-Fi environment at Dartmouth. When I did the Palm Tipsheet, I always felt writing practical articles like this helped people see how a device or piece of software could help them in a practical way.

Bronner found the Tungsten C a hands down winner over his previous Palm & Wi-Fi solution -- the Xircom Palm Wireless Ethernet Module for the Palm m515. He found that the Tungsten C had much better battery life, a better screen and better reception since it was designed to work with Wi-Fi networks rather than hacked via the modem connection as the Xircom was.

I'm going to email Geoffrey about SnapperMail as an email alternative to VersaMail, especially if SnapperMail manages to add IMAP capabilities before too long.

The best quote comes at the end of the piece:

"The demo unit went back the day after I finished this review, but I've already ordered one of my own. That's the greatest praise I can give."

'Nuff said. ;-)

Tuesday
May132003

MP3 & Critical Mass

iPod & iTunesBeen having some good discussions with a few Mac friends who are both very interested in the new iTunes Music Store and more particularly, the AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) format. This is the format Apple is using (with DRM features enabled) to distribute $0.99 tracks. AAC can also be used to burn personal music files from CDs, using Quicktime 6.2.

Matt is currently in the process of converting his entire music collection from MP3 to AAC, mainly because it takes so much less space on his drive. In our last discussion about his conversion Matt estimated he might save upwards of 10GB on his drive going to AAC from MP3. That's nothing to sneeze at!

Another friend, Andy, is also contemplating conversion of his music collection to AAC. Last week he told me that the quality of AAC is much improved over MP3 files with much higher bit rates. He claims AACs rival the quality of the original CD tracks even at 128 bit rates. He's also interested in space savings, as his drive space is limited and his music collection is quite substantial.

I can't comment on AAC sound quality vs. MP3, since I've not yet heard a comparison, though Matt posted an interesting tidbit on his weblog today questioning if there is any real difference between sound quality of an MP3 vs. AAC file, other than file size.

What I will comment on is this: the quality of AAC, even if it proves better sounding than MP3 is still not compelling enough to convince most regular people to re-rip their entire MP3 music collection. Here are my reasons:

MP3 has achieved critical mass. MP3 decoding can be found on more and more electronics items -- Craig Froehle mentioned buying a MP3 CD player with FM tuner for $40 at Best Buy just last week. MP3 players are now even available in mobile phones and car stereos. I fully expect to buy a fridge in the next two years with a 500GB MP3 player and Wi-Fi networking capabilities built-in. :-)

Most music players support MP3 and not AAC. Music players like my trusty Rio Volt SP250 can't play AAC files, so I'm out of luck whether I've burnt the AACs myself or bought from the iTunes Music Store. If my RioVolt and other devices like it offer a software or a firmware update, I'm pretty sure most regular users will not perform the upgrade. This leaves only the Apple iPod (an excellent bit of hardware) and Macs or PCs with Quicktime 6.2 for AAC playback.

Locations where you most often listen to MP3s are really noisy. Ambient noise surrounds any listener in a bus station, on a train, in an airplane, in your car or even your home office. Because of this ever-present ambient noise, any quality benefits of an AAC are going to be lost anyway.

MP3 is good enough for most listeners. I think of MP3 music as my own FM radio -- it has high enough quality to sound good in most locations, even with good quality headphones. FM radio is nowhere near the quality of CD music, but it has millions of happy listeners worldwide, because it is good enough.

So, if you're a stickler for better sound quality (which is still up for debate), you need more drive space, you have an iPod or only play converted music on your Mac or PC (with Quicktime 6.2), then it makes sense to consider AAC. Otherwise, AAC falls a bit short for those without a way to play tunes on a portable device, like me and millions of other people who use MP3s.

I do hope the iTunes Music Store does well. However I fear that until AAC reaches a wider audience and gains more users, it is destined to remain a cool yet minor niche format compared to the ever-popular MP3.