1. Ever since I bought my car several months ago I've been looking for a
decent audio platform to put on it. My primary concern was support for the
excellent Vorbis audio codec - this is the
codec I use most often in my music archive due to its superiour quality (I spent
hours and hours comparing best-case rips encoded with LAME [MP3] and Vorbis and have found
Vorbis to be the better codec - I'll write another post about that if anyone's
interested), smaller footprint and patent-free nature.
Although Vorbis (and its container format OGG) has seen lackluster support
from hardware vendors since its introduction in 2001, the past two years have
seen thoroughly improved support for the codec -- most portable players
(including oblique Chinese models) now support Vorbis just fine. Cars, however,
are a completely different issue: there are exactly four car-oriented products
that support Vorbis (the Vorbis wiki contains a complete list)
and I wouldn't settle for 'just' an MP3 player. For a time I was considering
building an ITX-based car computer, orevaluated products such as the PhatBox;
eventually I settled on a more mundane in-dash CD receiver called Yakumo
Hypersound Car. The decision was mostly based on the cost of the more exotic
solutions and the much higher risk of someone trying to break into my car.
The Yakumo is very difficult to get; you can either get it from
Amazon UK (but they don't deliver electronics overseas) or from certain
German vendors. I eventually ordered the unit from a very efficient
eBay shop and it finally arrived last week.
Anecdote: Israeli tax is murder; not only did I have to pay the
16% European VAT (having bought the unit from a German reseller), which I may or
may not be able to get back, and the €40 shipping fee; on top of that I had
to pay an additional 15% customs tax and 16.5%
Israeli VAT, and that's on the shipping too! So bottom line, a €96 unit cost me
close to €200, shipping included. That's an insane amount of money to pay just
for the privilege of buying something you can't get in your own country, and
even if you could you'd probably be forced to pay the local importer handsomely.
And imposing a tax on the shipping fee should be proper illegal.
Installation was a breeze (any experienced technician should be able to
do it in 20 minutes; I'm not an experienced technician so it took close to an
hour with my dad helping out), and with everything hooked up I inserted a
freshly-burned CD, held my breath and... woah! Iris playing in my car in gorgeous
Vorbis! That alone was worth the price of admission. I do have some qualms with
the device, though, primarily the lackluster display (yeah, OK, blue
backlighting has been out of fashion for at least a couple years) and the
awkward navigation (you can't easily navigate by album), but considering the
very reasonable initial cost of the unit, which also comes with an SD
card-reader, USB port for mass storage devices and remote control (!) and the
so-far excellent sound quality which easily rivals the generic JVC CD receiver I
this product comes highly recommended. Update (after a short period of constant use): I do NOT recommend this product.
2. I just got my second Microsoft
Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 (a.k.a Ergo 4000). It has replaced the
trusty Model M; we'll see if it lives up to the hype. I actually got one last
month, but returned it the same day because Hebrew character engraving looked as
though they were hand-drawn by a five year-old with severe ADD.
This one feels a bit different but is so far extremely comfortable; I'm
astounded that no other keyboard features a cushioned hand-rest like this
one, it makes working with the keyboard infinitely more comfortable to the point
where I don't know how I managed to live without it all these
years. I've used Microsoft Natural keyboards for the last ten years so the
ergonomic ("split") design is one I'm very familiar with. There are some
differences though - some keys are aligned a bit differently and require
different finger movements, but so far I seem to be getting used to the layout
very rapidly. The tactile feel of the keyboard is also different from the
Microsoft Natural Elite I've been using these past few years ('till I switched
to the Model M); it's softer and at first seems slightly less responsive (during
the first couple hours of working with the keyboard I was very prone to the
classic manglign-of-the-last-two-lettesr syndrome) but as soon as you adjust the
strength with which you depress the keys it becomes very natural (no pun
intended). Unlike my dad's crappy Microsoft Desktop Multimedia keyboard
this one has the f-lock enabled by default, and so far I haven't touched the
extra keys or zoom slider. At $65 it's not cheap but not prohibitively expensive
either (unlike the $80 Logitech
MX1000 mouse I use).
So far, so good. I'll post further comments on the keyboard when I've used it
for a while.